Friday, February 27, 2009

Writing Journey: Part VIII

Part I Part II Part III Part IV
Part V Part VI Part VII

(Wow. This series is getting long . . .)

So Covenant wanted another historical from me.

Problem #1: Historicals take research. Research takes time. If you recall my previous discussions about trying to maintain a readership, I didn't have lots of time.

Up to this point, drafting and revising a book had always taken me over a year per book. I didn't have more than a year to draft and revise and polish before submitting something if I was going to "ride the wave" of House on the Hill's success as they'd requested.

This was April. I figured that any "wave" would be long gone if I didn't turn in a book by the end of the year so a new book could be out within a year and a half of HOTH.

Problem #2: What in the heck kind of historical should I write next?

I'd gotten enough reader mail to know that a lot of people were chomping at the bit to know what happened to Abe. Even though I had never intended to continue his story, I figured that a book about the next chapter of his life would probably work.

So I thought about him. I figured he'd go to California next, because that's what he'd been thinking about at the end of the last book. I knew Abe would never leave Utah without his mother, and she'd never leave Utah unless she could settle somewhere else with Latter-day Saints. California seemed to make sense.

Except that:

Research uncovered Problem #3. California at this point no longer had any faithful LDS groups. They'd all been called home to Utah. Any Mormons left there were basically apostate.

ARGH!

I vented my frustrations to my husband. I didn't know what to write anymore. He had a brain flash that made so much sense I don't know why I didn't think of it:

Why don't I write about another temple? I could do a bunch of novels about temples.

DING!

I loved the idea! But I still needed a new place for Abe to go. Thanks to a friend on the LDStorymakers list (the dear and late Linda Whiting), I was connected to historian Norma Ricketts, who had edited a collection of journals.

Her book was about the Honeymoon Trail, which Mormons in Arizona (there were lots of Mormon settlements there at this period! Yes!) took to reach the St. George Temple. (Another temple! This could work!)

Arizona Mormons went up the trail to the temple to be married or sealed, which is how the trail eventually got its name.

(Side note: Contrary, to popular belief, the nickname didn't get attached to the trail until a journalist dubbed it "The Honeymoon Trail" in an article in the early 1930s. But I digress.)

I researched my head off over the next several weeks, learning about the Honeymoon Trail and the St. George Temple.

But I still had no story.

I made notes in the margins, I jotted down ideas in a notebook, but nothing really stuck. I was getting panicky. I knew plenty about the trail. I could have written a paper about it, but I still didn't have a plot, and I had no characters beyond Abe.

Then one day, several weeks after starting my research, Maddie appeared in my head fully formed. I knew who she was. I knew her past. I knew what she wanted out of life. I knew her personality.

And I knew right away what my story would be about.

I wrote that book faster than any I'd ever done before, including research and revision time. I submitted it in December and crossed my fingers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

WNW: Mormon Edition

Because we're a "curious" people with lots of quirks, I thought I'd throw in some Mormony word missteps for a change of pace.

I'm not going into common phrases that crop up in LDS prayers, testimonies, and the like. Instead, here are four common word bloopers you find frequently at church.

Three are pronunciation errors. The last one is a common scripture word mix-up that I think is important to understand correctly, because it impacts the meaning of other scriptures as well.

The first two I credit Lucy at An Ordinary Mom for pointing out to me:


Ensign
As in the official Church magazine.

The title is NOT pronounced, "en-sun" (the pronunciation used for a low-ranking military officers) but "en-ZINE" (an emblem, or sign).

Until recently, there was even a notice on the contents page explaining the pronunciation.


Patriarchal
Note the last half of this word. Is there a T in it? No, there is not. This is a four-syllable word.

But sometimes people panic because it's a biggish word and so they add an extra syllable. They pronounce "archal" as "article," yielding, "patri-article."

Wha-ha?


Melchizedek
I had a religion teacher at BYU point this one out to me, and ever since, it's been a peeve. Note the last three vowels in this word: I, E, E. They're all pronounced as short vowels.

It should be Melch *I* z *E* d *E* k.

But invariably, you usually hear people flip the I and the E, yielding:

Melch *E* z *I* d *E* k.

Say it aloud over and over with the *I* sound first, and the last two syllables with a short E. Say it again to drill it into your head. :)


Strait and narrow
Here's one that most people hear as one thing and assume it means the same thing as the homophone does.

What most people think this means is that the path is STRAIGHT (opposite of curvy) as well as narrow.

Not so.

STRAIT is a synonym for NARROW, as in a "strait jacket," which is narrow and close-fitting. So it's basically redundant: the way is "narrow and narrow."

What we forget is that Isaiah, Nephi, and other prophets often used repetition as a poetic technique to emphasize phrases and concepts.

In this case, the path wasn't both this and that. It was this and this some more. In this case, the passage emphasizes the narrowness, the closeness of the path, and the phrase is "strait and narrow."

Recognizing that emphasis makes the next part make more sense:

"and few there be that find it" (3 Nephi 27:33)

If the way is narrow, it'll be harder to find, right? The amount of straightness (curviness) isn't relevant.

Then remember what comes after the "strait and narrow" part? Yep:

"wide is the gate and broad is the way which leads to death"

using both WIDE and BROAD is the same technique: it repeats the concept, since wide and broad mean basically the same thing here.

Plus, it makes the second line perfectly parallel to the first line: they're both repeating one simple idea (first the narrowness of the path to life, then the wideness of the path to death).

It wouldn't be parallel if STRAIT meant "in a direct line" (STRAIGHT). If it meant that, in order to be parallel, the second half would have to say something like:

"But curving/meandering/winding is the gate and wide is the way"

Instead, both cases simply have repetition for emphasis, a very common technique in scripture.

Here are a couple of example pulled from Isaiah as I just scanned over the pages randomly. Note how the second line in each is essentially a repetition of the first one, just using slightly different words.

Isaiah 50:3
I clothe the heavens with blackness and
I make sackcloth their covering

Isaiah 38:18
For the grave cannot praise thee,
death can not celebrate thee

Isaiah 35:3
Strengthen ye the weak hands,
and confirm the feeble knees.

There are dozens and dozens more like that.

I keep a running list of WNW ideas. If you have any Mormon-isms you'd like to me add (or any other ideas), leave them in the comment trail!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Questions: An Experiment

It's getting close. I talk about it so much that you probably know what I'm talking about (and are probably sick of it): the release of Tower of Strength.

Depending on how quickly it ships from the warehouse, the book could be in stores in a little over a week. Woot!

So . . . for most of March and a good chunk of April, I'll be doing a bunch of fun bloggy stuff in celebration.

One big thing readers should have fun with will be March 9th thru 13th (that's a Monday thru Friday, beginning two weeks from today). On those days, I'll have a week-long giveaway bonanza.

Multiple prizes will be given away each day. You heard that right! Lots of cool prizes!

Stay tuned for more about the giveaway week, like how to enter and get lots and lots of additional entries and other good stuff.

There's more exciting book/bloggy fun coming, and I'll announce them as they arrive.

For now, though, I thought it would be fun to start next week by answering reader questions.

Is there something about me you're dying to know? (Heck, is there something you're mildly curious about me?)

The questions could be anything about writing or publishing or about me personally (How long did I have braces? Dental hygiene habits? Favorite movies?) Whatever crosses your mind.

Depending on how many questions I get, I'll either answer them all on one day or spread them out over next week.

So here's my request: Leave a question in the comments, and I'll answer it sometime next week!
This could be fun, provided I don't get only one question or something even more embarrassing, like none at all. :-D

Monday, February 23, 2009

Real-Life Bloggers

Saturday I had a ball going to a bloggy lunch hosted by KristinaP. I was amazed at how many women were there. One brave husband showed up to boot.

It was such a ball putting names (and blog titles) to faces, and I must admit, there were plenty of blogs I hadn't heard of before (but now have to check out, of course).

There were a couple of bloggers I knew but almost didn't connect with. Like right at the end as a few of us were chatting before walking out of the restaurant, I asked one woman I hadn't spoken to what her name was.

"Amber."

"Of . . .?" I asked.

She knew what I meant: What's your blog?

"Soggy Cheerios."

"That Amber?! I'm Annette Lyon!"

"No way!'

We both squealed and then chatted like old buds. (According to Amber, I look tall in my avatar picture. Even with the 3-inch heel boots I was wearing, I was much shorter than she expected. I love random stuff like that.)

This kind of reunion happened several times, like when I stumbled on Jill from Thou Shalt Not Whine. After my squeal, I immediately had to discuss her son Max's singing of Journey's "Lights." Listen to it. It's worth every second.

I also got to meet Sher, Erin, Author Bee, Tink, Shauna, Kathy, Susette, Jo, Wendy, Bonnie, and even the famous Boob Nazi. And of course, Kristina herself, who (naturally) brought along her Snuggie. (I'm sure I'm forgetting someone I met. Check out Kristina's list of who attended.)

The lunch lasted nearly three hours, and there was much talkage in the land.

I feel a bit cool because I'm on Kristina's blog in two pictures. The first is almost like "Where's Waldo," because all you can see is (barely) my face.

One minor problem with attending this kind of lunch: you meet new people who are fascinating . . . and now you want to check out their blogs (as if my Google Reader isn't already bursting at the seams).

It was a ball, and I'm glad I went. I just wish I would have had more time to talk with Sherrie.

Thanks for putting it together, Kristina!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CD Giveaway!

No, not here. But I highly recommend hopping over to Sher's place and entering the giveaway for her upcoming CD.

Not familiar with her work?

Maybe this will ring a bell. She's the one who arranged and performed the music on my promo video for Tower of Strength. (Was I lucky, or was I lucky to be able to use her work? I know!)

Take a listen, be wowed, and then go over to her giveaway post and leave a comment to enter!

Also, check out her music site here, where you can hear more of her stuff and even pre-order her CD.


video

Friday, February 20, 2009

Writing Journey: Part VII

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

"We have the evaluations back on your murder mystery," the managing editor told me over the phone.

"And?" I gulped and held my breath.

"And the readers feel it's a little dark."

Ya think? The story was about a serial killer. That sort of ensures that the story will be dark.

Turns out that wasn't the primary issue. House on the Hill had been out just a couple of months by this point. "And here's the thing," she said. "Your historical is doing really well."

I hadn't known that.

Another thing with being published that people don't usually know: you're often in the dark about sales. I get a statement twice a year, in February and in August. Those are the only times I ever see sales numbers. HOTH came out the first part of February, so I'd get my first statement on it in August. The call was early April. I was months out from having any clue how well my book was selling.

This time I had gotten one clue that it was doing better than my other two books had, but it didn't come from Covenant directly. A newspaper reporter from Logan called for an interview, and one of her questions was how I felt about the book selling out of its first printing in just a few weeks.

I sat up. It what?! Cool! That was news to me. The reporter had gotten that information from Covenant, but they hadn't told me.

So I knew that much when the managing editor called. I guess selling out of my first printing in less than a month was highly unexpected for them. In a happy way, of course.

When I got my royalty check at the end of the summer, the news was somewhat confirmed.

With book #1 I got that microwave.

With book #2, I bought these adorable stools for my kitchen counter, stools I still love:



Then with royalties from HOTH, I bought something that looked like this:



And sod.

So, yeah. In comparison, the royalty check was quite a bit bigger, which mean I sold more, which meant I hit a readership nerve somewhere along the line.

Back to that spring-time conversation, though: "We feel like you're good at the historical thing, and we'd like you to ride the wave." While they didn't outright reject the murder mystery, they said they wanted to "shelve" it indefinitely.

At first I was irked. I'd spent a year on a useless manuscript. But then I saw they had a point. I already had three very different books out. If my next one was totally different from them, my readership would get dizzy.

In a sense, publishing creates an author brand. I can list a bunch of authors, and immediately you know what "brand" they represent:

  • Stephen King
  • Danielle Steele
  • John Grisham
  • James Patterson
  • Nicholas Sparks
Right? You know right away what to expect when you pick up any of their books.

Did my readers have any clue what they'd get when they picked up one of mine? Not really. And putting out a murder mystery next would only muddy already-murky waters.

Here I was in the same predicament I'd been in after LWY: I had nothing else ready to submit. If I wanted to have another book published without a 2-year (or more) gap, I'd better hit the keyboard, and do it hard.

(Lesson for aspiring writers: commit to a genre early on!)

So, problem: What the heck should I write next?!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WNW: "Think" Is a Noun?

One night at critique group several years ago, I corrected a sentence Lu Ann had written. It went something like this:

"If you think that, you've got another think coming."

Naturally, I changed think to thing, because, first off, think isn't a noun, and second, the phrase isn't, "you've got another think coming" but, "you've got another thing coming."

Duh. Of course.

But when I mentioned it, she insisted, "No, the phrase is, 'you've got another think coming.' You think one thing, but you're wrong, so you have another think coming after that."

I argued with her, saying that she'd heard it wrong, that think made no sense.

"But that's how we said it in Indiana when I was growing up," she said.

In the end, I offered to ask my father, Mr. Linguist, what the correct version of the phrase was. His gut reaction was the same as mine, that it was thing. But he decided to ask around at work to see what others in his department thought.

The response surprised both of us: his non-scientific survey revealed an almost even split between the two forms but with (horrors!) think getting slightly more votes.

What the . . . ?

He did a little more digging and found out that think used in this phrase has been around slightly earlier than thing, and that another thing coming likely came about because:

1) Think and thing sound so similar that if someone heard think used this way, they could easily assume the person meant thing, especially since

2) Let's face it, think really doesn't make that much sense here. You have another think coming? Don't you mean another thought?

A lot of the opinions varied based on where the person's geographical background was. And sure enough, people from the Midwest (like Lu Ann, from Indiana) all insisted on another think coming.

It still makes me twitch.

Think is a verb, folks, not a noun.

Except . . . even the OED has one tiny entry listing think as a noun . . . including "to have another think coming." Dating from 1937. Darn it.

Rather grudgingly, I reported back to Lu Ann that think in this phrase indeed predated thing.

"I knew it," she said with a grin.

Apparently, I had been the one with another think coming.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

As Requested

After the wedding memory meme last Saturday, several people asked to see my bridesmaids' dresses and my dress. And my ring.

I found one great picture that shows off my bridesmaids' dresses and my dress pretty well. It's a goofy picture we took for the fun of it (the pose is so unlike someting Rob or my bridesmaids would really do that the very idea is hysterical). You can see how the bridesmaids' dresses are the same pattern as mine, but with a few tweaks (shorter hem and sleeves, different colors, buttons).

As I said before, I loved the point the bodice comes to in the front. The point is hidden in most of the wedding pictures because I'm holding the bouquet in front in it. One reason I love this picture is that you can see the whole dress. For the most part. You can't really see the hand-pieced lace on the sleeves, the bodice, and the point, but you really have to be close up to it to see those pretty details anyway.

My little sister is the one of the far left holding the bouquet. Next is Rob's sister. Sheryl, whom I've known since we were four and a half, is next. Remember this post? Yeah, she's the one people always think is me or my twin or my sister.

(We've been friends for 31 years. The confusion still happens. I've never been able to see it.)

Last in line is my awesome friend Janee (known in these parts and elsewhere as J. J. Panda, if you recall a few posts about her like this one and this one). She got me through a lot of tough times in high school and is still one of my rocks.

As for the ring, I had the hardest time trying to get a decent picture of it; either the flash made a huge glare and you couldn't really see it, or I used no flash it was blurry.

A photographer I am not.

It's got a single round diamond in the center, and each side has three smaller stones edging it.

Here's my best shot:

Monday, February 16, 2009

About a House

After writing last Friday's Writing Journey Post, I decided to share another tidbit connected to House on the Hill involving one of the significant houses in the book.

As I mentioned in the notes at the back, the house Lizzy's family moves into is based roughly on my grandparents' home on Main Street. It was one of the very last homes standing on what became a commercial center.

When I was a kid, it was rather fun to drive past Fred Meyer, gas stations, and restaurants and then pull into the driveway of this small white house in the middle of a city with traffic whizzing by.

The business next door kept changing, and each time we went up, we'd guess if it was still Pizza Hut or a tire place or something else.

My grandparents both passed away before I was out of grade school. For years, the house was rented out to university students. Eventually the family siblings decided to sell the house. I knew this on some level, but it didn't really register.

The summer before my senior year, I went up to Utah State University in Logan for drill camp. As we drove along Main on the bus, I watched carefully for the house and pointed it out to my teammates.

I had a great week at drill camp. On our last day, I ran into my uncle, a professor at USU. He was on his way to mail a letter to my father (his brother) but instead gave it to me to deliver. On the way home, I watched for the house but didn't see it. I figured I just started looking too late and didn't remember the area well enough to catch it.

But that's not what happened.

The letter informed my father that the property had been sold and the house razed. It had been demolished a couple of days before . . . while I was at drill camp. I felt punched in the gut.

Then I realized that getting a last glimpse of the house was a tender mercy from above. I've always been grateful for that last chance to see the house that held so many happy memories from my childhood.

House on the Hill is dedicated to my grandparents, August and Frieda Luthy, who lived in that house, as well as to Keith Jensen, my grandfather-in-law, who became like another grandpa to me. I was saddened that he didn't live to see the book or the dedication.

. . . at least in body.

I like to think that all three of them saw it from where they are now and smiled.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Looking Back on Valentines

I saw this meme at Sher's place and decided it was the perfect thing to do for Valentines Day: a look back at our wedding. We're a couple of months out from our 15th anniversary. Wow!

1. Where did you and your husband meet? I told the whole story here on our last anniversary, but in short, we ended up as cha–cha partners on a BYU back-up summer ballroom team.

2. How long before you kissed? About 5 or 6 weeks after we started dating, but that would be months after we met. Totally my fault there that it took so long. He was one patient guy.

3. Who kissed who first? He did, but not until he was sure I wouldn’t duck again. (Long story. Like I said, patient guy.)

4. How long from the time you met until you were engaged? About five months. We met in June, danced as partners for two months, started dating in August, and got engaged in December.

5. How did he propose? On my birthday! He was treating me to this totally awesome, romantic evening, which I attributed to my birthday. He was acting a bit nervous, which should have clued me in, but it was my birthday! It was such a surprise (I was expecting it to happen around Valentines Day) that it took me a second to catch my breath before saying yes. In that second, he about passed out, thinking I would say no.

6. Did he pick out the ring or did you? He did. He even brought a female friend of his along and spent ten hours over two days searching for it.

7. Do you still like the ring? I love it! I’ve never been one for rings with lots of swirls and the like. It’s symmetrical, simple, and very, very pretty. Perfect.

8. Where was your wedding and reception? We got married in the Logan Temple. The reception was in the BYU Garden Court.

9. How many bridesmaids did you have, and who was your maid of honor? Four total: My new sister-in-law, my two best friends from high school, and then my little sister was my maid of honor.

10. What color were your bridesmaid dresses? They had black velvet bodices and white tulle skirts, based on the same pattern as my wedding dress. They held deep red roses, so the color combination (if I say so myself) was quite striking.

11. What was your bouquet made of? Red roses, mostly.

12. Who gave you away? Not applicable for a temple wedding.

13. Did you cry during your wedding? No. I was too excited. For a second during the ceremony I remember thinking, “Holy cow. It’s happening. I’M GETTING MARRIED!!!”

14. What style was your dress? My mom, seamstress extraordinaire, made it for me. All silk, sweetheart neckline, hand-pieced lace. I loved how the bodice came to a point overlaying the skirt in front. Simple details like that brought me joy.

15. Was your wedding kiss sweet or sexy? Being as it was in the temple, over the altar, sweet!

16. Who caught your bouquet? I don’t remember.

17. What flavor was your cake? This is the one thing my hubby asked for with the wedding: a chocolate cake. Of course, I had oblige there. (As if I would say no to chocolate . . .)

18. Did you smash the cake onto each other's faces or feed it to each other nicely? We were nice.

19. What was "your song" that you danced to at your wedding? “It Might Be You” by Stephen Bishop (also known as the love theme from Tootsie).

20. What did you serve your guests to eat? Chocolate-dipped strawberries, macaroons, and eclairs. We also served the cake, which looked so stinkin' cool—each layer looked like it had a satin ribbon bow around it, but it was edible.

21. What did your friends do to decorate your car? The typical balloons and soap writing, lots of balloons inside the car. Totally my fault. Halfway through the reception, I remembered that my suitcase was still in my parents’ car. I asked some friends to get it and put it in our car. SO I TOLD THEM WHERE OUR CAR WAS AND HANDED OVER THE KEY. How dumb was THAT?

22. What was your favorite wedding gift? I’m not remembering offhand. I know my husband loved getting toolbox with tools—it was the only gift even remotely for him. My dad’s department at work chipped in for a vacuum, which was very much appreciated.

23. What was the worst wedding gift you got? I don’t remember anything really awful. A few things less useful, but nothing really bad.

24. Where did you go on your honeymoon? To a condo in Midway belonging to a couple who'd served in his mission. We drove the Alpine Loop, went to a movie, had brunch at the Homestead, and just hung out together for a few days. It rocked.

25. Looking back, is there anything you would have changed about your wedding? I would have had the ceremony a little earlier in the day. I wanted to be well-rested, so we put it late morning. But then I was too excited to sleep past 6:00 anyway! Because of the later time, other parts of the afternoon was rushed, what with trying to get back to Provo from Logan in time for the reception.

Happy Valentines Day, Honey! Love you!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Writing Journey: Part VI

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

When I set off on the adventure of writing a historical novel, I went into it refusing to allow myself to commit a personal pet peeve.

I'd read historical novels with chunks that were thinly disguised history lessons. You probably know what I'm talking about: a real historical event must be shown because, well, it was real and important and happened right then, but it doesn't have much bearing on the actual plot. But it MUST be shown! So characters A and B just happen to be at the real event, and therefore, it's in the book.

Peeve, peeve, peeve.

To me, that isn't good storytelling. That's shoving a history lesson down the reader's throat. In my mind, the history should be the backdrop to the story, the hanger on which the plot drapes. It should impact the story in natural ways. It should never be so far into the forefront that it's what we see at the expense of an actual story.

Think Gone with the Wind. Yes, the Civil War was a huge part of the story. But the point wasn't the war. The point was Scarlett and Rhett. In theory, the story could have been set during another war.

I decided early on that any history I included in this historical novel experiment would be relevant to either characterization or plot (and preferably both). It would NOT be there for the sake of being there.

I sat down with my notes about the Logan Temple and analyzed them. The book I relied on most told about the construction by topic: here's a section on the lime kilns, now one on the wood camp, then the plasterers, and so forth. It wasn't at all chronological.

That's why, during my second read, I made a master chronology. Then I analyzed what happened when, which events were near one another, and which months not much took place. I wouldn't cover the entire construction of the temple, I knew. Seven years is a long time to stretch a story without boring readers to tears. So what period should I focus on?

I decided on some of what I felt were the events I most wanted to talk about, which meant the book would begin right before the cornerstone dedication. At this point, I had a pretty good idea of some of my characters and a good chunk of the plot.

I'd already discovered Abe, who has turned out to be my readers' favorite character to date. He was "born" after I read a paper published in Nearly Everything Imaginable from Brigham Young University Press. The book has research papers all about life after the Utah pioneers' arrival, what daily life was like for the next generation. Which I was writing about. One paper was about Mormons who indentured and adopted Native Americans. Ding! A lightbulb went off in my head. I knew immediately that one of my main characters fit that description.

I also knew exactly when I would place the epilogue, because there was a way cool thing discovered inside one of the temple walls during the late 70s demolition and remodel that is (as far as I know) still unexplained. I wanted to use it, giving a possible explanation for why it was there and what it meant.

I began the first couple of chapters. Then I totally rewrote them. Probably six or seven (or heck, twenty? It felt like that) times. (I have serious first-chapter issues; just ask my critique group.)

When I finally made it into the first real temple construction stuff, I ran into a problem: I really wanted to show the cornerstone dedication, but at that point, I had no plot or character reason for doing so.

Dang.

I had to set the manuscript aside for a week or so before moving on. I couldn't get myself to throw in that real event just for its own sake, no matter how cool it was. (Peeve!)

Eventually I realized where the cornerstone dedication fit: it's where we begin to learn much about Lizzy's faith issues (characterization) and, more importantly, she first lays eyes on Abe (plot!). With those two pieces, I was able to move forward.

This book was an interesting writing experience for me on several levels. Placing characters more than a hundred years in the past was extremely different than setting them running loose in a modern-day setting, of course. But the story itself morphed several times. It started out being a more light-hearted, surface-level story, but my editor made me dig deeper and find the other layers (it's an onion!).

She pushed me and even gave me a 2-week deadline to do some significant rewriting. The final version ended up much longer (by nearly 100 manuscript pages) than the one I turned in. Best of all, some of my favorite scenes are ones she forced me to uncover. (Can you see why I mourned in sackcloth and ashes when she left the company?!)

I submitted the historical while we were still in the rental (well after we were supposed to be OUT of it, but we won't go into the pains of house construction). I didn't hear back for over three months, well past the time I should have.

See, one nice perk to being an in-house writer is that your submissions go through the evaluation process much faster than those of someone submitting cold, which takes much longer. But for me, by book three, I knew that this was longer than I should have to wait. I finally got up the courage to inquire.

Angela's response: "No one told you? It was accepted weeks ago. Sorry about that." I was too happy to be annoyed.

This book's title and cover were easily my favorite yet. House on the Hill just fit. And no more stock photos! Instead, I got actual artwork, details from paintings by Al Rounds (the Logan Temple) and William Whitaker (the girl). I loved the cover. I still do:


I was apparently rather clueless. After writing a historical novel, I didn't realize that this was my forte and what I should keep doing. Either that, or my writing attention span was the size of a gnat's.

Whatever the reason, for my next project, I landed on what I thought was a totally cool idea for murder mystery, a sequel of sorts for Lost without You, set ten years later.

[Angela is now a high school senior. Her cop father is now a detective. Angela's best friend is murdered, and he's on the case. Booyah!]

When I told my husband about the idea (including more detail than what I just told you), he said, "But hasn't Angela been through enough?"

Well, yeah, I guess. But isn't it a cool idea?! (Writers are so sadistic.)

I submitted that mystery next. When I heard back, it wasn't my editor calling. The company's managing editor was on the line. The head honcho. I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. I gulped, wondering if I was in trouble (with no clue why I would be). I couldn't imagine what she'd be calling about.

What she said wasn't at all what I expected, and it sent my feet on a path I'd follow for years to come.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

WNW: The Power of a Hyphen

I love punctuation.

I adore how these little marks allow writers to "conduct" the music that is their sentences and paragraphs. If a writer knows how to use punctuation well, the meaning is clear, rhythms flow, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Fine. That's a slight exaggeration. But the basic concept is sound.

One of my favorite punctuation situations involves hyphenated compound adjectives, because leaving off a hyphen with these little buggers is a classic way of inadvertently creating writer bloopers.

What?! Hyphenated compound adjectives sound as interesting at burnt toast?

Try this on for size:

Not long ago, there was an episode of Monk where sportscaster Bob Costas guest-starred. Bob expressed his gratitude for a time earlier when Monk had saved his life from a situation involving a demented cat salesman.

Bob tells the story to Captain Stottlemeyer of the San Fransisco Police. Since Monk is known for catching murderers and solving apparently unsolvable mysteries, the good Captain and the audience are all picturing the demented cat salesman as some shady dude who sells cats on the side then takes on the role of psycho murderer in his down time.

Not so.

Bob clarifies: The cat was demented. It tried to kill Bob, not the salesman.

In which case, he wasn't talking about a demented cat salesman.

He was talking about a demented-cat salesman.

Now the image shifts: Bob was nearly killed by something like this:



Amazing what a little hyphen can do, don't ya think?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Today Is the Day!

Today is the big day many LDS readers and writers have been waiting for: the announcement of the 2008 Whitney Award finalists!

Yay!

Spires of Stone was a Whitney finalist last year, and I couldn't have been more thrilled over that. Whitney committee members aren't eligible for the award, and since I didn't have an '08 release (so wasn't eligible anyway), I offered to serve on the '08 committee. Among other things, it meant I got to be a judge for two of the categories.

It's been a fantastic experience so far. I've had the opportunity to read a lot of books I never would have picked up otherwise, books nominated by readers.

That's how the program works; it's reader-driven. So if you think an '09 release by any LDS writer deserves to be considered, whether they publish in the LDS market or the national one, nominate it!

Some of the books have been stellar. Some . . . haven't been. But every book taught me something.

I believe the existence of the Whitneys (the brainchild of Robison Wells who has put in hundreds and hundreds of hours of work into it) will make writers and publisher up their game, continually improving the quality of their fiction. It'll also help readers looking for quality LDS fiction to find it.

The next step is when the Whitney academy, made up of hundreds of industry professionals (writers, editors, reviewers, bookstore owners, publishers, etc.) read and then vote on the finalists. They'll cast ballots in several genre categories (General, Romance, Speculative, Youth Fiction, Mystery/Suspense, and Historical) as well as for Best Novel of the Year and Best Novel by a New Author. The Whitney Gala will be in April after the LDStorymakers conference.

I can't wait!

Even though it's too late to nominate a book for the 2008 award, be sure to keep the Whitneys in mind as you read throughout '09. You can nominate all year long at the Whitney website.

A big congratulations to all the finalists!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Writing Journey: Part V

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

I'd been writing for years and years (buckling down and getting serious for eight years by this point). That meant I'd written lots of manuscripts. What that didn't mean was that they were all good. It also didn't mean I had several just lying around, ready to be submitted.

In fact, one of them in particular is so awful I don't think I'll ever open the file again. I call it one of my "learning experiences." (What NOT to do . . .)

I had a problem, though: if I didn't submit something else very soon, I'd end up with a two-year gap between my first and second books. I was working on something else (more on that in a minute), but I wasn't anywhere near done with it. At the rate I was going, trying to finish it might take a year or more . . . which could mean three or four years between books.

Not a good way to build a readership.

As things stood, I'd spent nearly 3 months on promotion and about that long again adapting to life with another baby. I hadn't done much by the way of writing during those months. I was burning daylight.

I decided to pull out the manuscript that Covenant had requested I revise and resubmit more than a year before, the one I'd sent in right before LWY. It was the book that sparked my lunch with Valerie, and Covenant had shown interest in it, right? So I sat down and revised the puppy . . . yet again.

This time I made changes based on what Valerie had told me about the market, which meant some hefty revisions. For starters, I aged my protagonist by six years (the average Covenant reader isn't going to go for a high school graduate as a protagonist; that's way too young), so Annela now had a dream of going to the States for graduate school instead of college. I had to redo several opening chapters because a 24-year-old isn't going to be living at home, but I needed to get her there temporarily for the rest of the story to work. Stuff like that.

I submitted it and hoped for the best.

Within a few months, the book was accepted for publication (yay!), but of course, I didn't get lucky by landing another release date only 5 months out. Turns out my books would be nearly two years apart anyway: LWY hit shelves July 2002, and this one would come out February 2004.

Our family ended up moving right in the middle of edits. This caused a couple of problems.

First, I'd just gotten my first royalty check, with which I bought a fancy-schmancy microwave. My hubby got an equal amount from the check to buy a guy toy with. (Wait. You thought writers are rich? Hahahahaaa!) I was not about to leave my hard-earned (and did I mention fancy? I mean, it had a setting for melting chocolate!) microwave behind.

We took it with us even though it wouldn't match my new kitchen. But we were installing a little kitchenette downstairs (for future popcorn popping and whatever when kids have friends over to watch movies), so that's where it is now. It still brings me joy:


The second issue moving caused was losing access to my computer. I remember being in a panic because I couldn't retrieve a file I needed, and I might miss an important deadline. At one point, in an effort to get me an edit, I ended up having Angela e-mail a file to my dad. It was nuts, but it all worked out.

I got the title and cover after we were somewhat settled in the rental we'd be living in while our house was being built. (For me, memories of where things happened are inextricably linked to the events themselves, so I gotta include that. Stupid rental. I hated that place.)

When I first heard the title, At the Water's Edge, I thought it worked pretty well on a couple of levels. Annela is on the verge of baptism at the opening, so symbolically, she was at the edge of the water. And then a lot of significant things take place on a big stone protrusion (nicknamed "The Elephant Rock") at the beach. So again, the water was meaningful.

But the cover? Mmmm . . . Honestly? It's my least favorite:



My biggest reason for not liking the cover is that the book takes place in Finland, a land of lush pine forests. The picture on the cover, on the other hand, looks like it could have been snapped in Saudi Arabia.

When my husband and I got to visit Finland last fall, I made a point of visiting the real Elephant Rock, where a lot of the book takes place.

Here is a photo of me with my parents on the Elephant Rock (the angle is such that you can't see the elephant head shape, but it'll give you an idea of the setting):

And looking out from the rock to the water:


Let's all laugh now. :)

Even though I didn't feel that the cover matched the book, I didn't make a stink over it. First off, I didn't dare; I was still pretty timid. But I also trusted the marketing people, figuring that if it was eye-catching enough to make readers pick up the book, then the cover did the job even if it wasn't accurate. (In the end, I'm still not all that sure the cover did its job, but I digress.)

In the final proof stage, I came across some funky symbols in the text where Finnish letters belonged: every time there should have been an A or O with dots on the top (like Ä), there was some weird symbol instead. I kinda panicked.

My beloved editor, Angela, assured me they'd all be fixed. In my paranoia, I asked her to fax me the affected pages so I could see for myself that they'd been corrected before the book went to press. (She was always great at accommodating my control issues. I was timid on the cover, but not on the text!) And phew. They were all fixed.

This book was the first and only time I've gotten a radio ad for advertising. The commercial was silly and fun. The term "chick lit" was pretty new, and someone in marketing misunderstood what the term meant, figuring that "chick lit" simply meant books women like (akin to "chick flicks"). So the ad refers to ATWE as "chick lit." Which it totally isn't. I didn't care; I got a radio ad!

(To hear the commercial, click on the link at the bottom of this page of my website.)

Right around this time (following the release of LWY and during the revision/submission stage of ATWE), I finally got the guts to start writing a book that had practically been burning a hole into my psyche for some time. It was the one I had only a few chapters of written after LWY came out, so it hadn't been an option for submitting second.

For years, I'd felt drawn to writing a story about the Logan Temple. The very thought of attempting to write something historical scared me off (let's all laugh again . . . I had no idea what the future held!).

But the story simply wouldn't go away; it nagged at me. I'd already read Nolan P. Olsen's book about the Logan temple. Twice. I was drawn to the book originally because there's family history in Logan, including the fact that my parents were married in the Logan Temple, and I chose to be married there as well. I knew that somewhere in Olsen's book was a story I had to tell.

For a long time, I was just too chicken to do it.

Before our move, I attended a city-level writing workshop where Marilyn Brown, a historical novelist, spoke. Her sheer excitement over her research and writing was contagious, and I left with the courage to finally try my hand at a historical novel.

After submitting At the Water's Edge, I had no excuse to avoid the historical anymore. I buckled down to finish this project that was totally different from anything I'd ever tried before, a fact that was both thrilling and absolutely terrifying at the same time.

**Edited to add: I got the rights back to ATWE a few years ago, got a new cover designed, and put it up as an e-book. Here's the new cover, which looks so much better: a woman who looks Scandinavian, with a blue (watery?) background. Love it.**


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

WNW: A Place for “Ain’t”

I’m all for using correct grammar. (You know that, right? Especially if you’ve read Word Nerd Wednesday for any length of time.)

That said, the word nerd in me has much joy discovering fun and interesting grammar tidbits in odd places.

One such oddity is the word ain’t.

While I won’t advocate the average person using it (particularly if you hope to sound educated), get this:

In English, there is a grammatical place for ain’t. Really.

Check it out:

First off, let's look at the basic “to be” chart with all the regular pronouns.

Singular:
I am
You are
He/She/It is

Plural:
We are
You are
They are

With me so far? Good. Now let’s negate them:

Singular:
I am not
You are not
He/She /It is not

Plural:
We are not
You are not
They are not

Simple so far, yes?

Now, since we generally speak in contractions, let’s make these into contractions, starting with the plural side this time:

Plural:
We aren’t
You aren’t
They aren’t

Now for singular, starting at the bottom:
He/She/It isn’t
You aren’t
I . . . ????

There is no contraction for “am not.”

What could you use? I am’t???

Eureka! I ain’t!

See? English has a grammatical hole—a vacuum. And vacuums tend to be filled. So I ain’t came about because of that hole.

Grammatically speaking, the existence of ain’t makes perfect sense.

But since we’ve be taught that ain’t is wrong, we compensate by making a contraction instead out of “I am” (I’m) instead of “am not,” yielding, I’m not.

According to my trusty OED, ain’t has been around as a contraction of “am not” quite a bit longer (since 1778) than won’t has been around as a contraction for “will not” (since 1857).

Don’t (even older: 1670) and won’t were debated by the educated masses and often derided at first until they were accepted as perfectly fine. So why are these two acceptable but the other one isn’t?

No reason beyond ain't losing the roll of the grammatical dice. The debate could have ended with ain't being standard and won't being "wrong."

Note that none of these contractions are grammatically superior than any of the others. If anything, ain’t makes more grammatical sense than the others. There’s a specific hole it fills, after all.

We’re just used to one of them being “wrong,” and as a result, it’s not part of the standard dialect used by educated speakers.

This is one more example of how dialects (even Black English Vernacular, which frankly sounds totally random and incorrect compared to Standard English) actually make sense when you break them down. They have patterns and rules of their own, even when the users don’t know it.

It also shows that the standard dialect doesn’t necessarily make any more sense than another dialect. It’s not better or superior in any way; it’s just the standard.

Naturally, we still need to know the standard and use it, so you won’t hear me using ain’t, even if it’s technically not grammatically inferior.

Post Script:
And in rather horrifying news, Birmingham, England has decided that apostrophes are no longer necessary. They've been abolished from street signs.

City councillor Mullany said, "Apostrophes denote possessions that are no longer accurate, and are not needed. . . . More importantly, they confuse people."

Um, WHAT?!!!! Read the article here.

Monday, February 02, 2009

One Month! And, I'm Old.

Yesterday, I was informed of the following by my six-year-old:

"Mom, if you were in cat years, you'd be dead."

Um . . . thanks, cutie. I can already feel my joints creaking . . .

Fun stuff: We're only ONE month out from the release of Tower of Strength! Yes!

So even though the release is a little way out, I thought I'd put up a fun doohickey video thing I put together about it.

Keep in mind I'm not a photographer. When hubs and I took these photos, it was on a research-gathering trip to Manti. It wasn't until much later that it occurred to me to use some of them this way.

(Have to say that it was awesome picking out buildings were certain events happen in the book, and a few of them are in the video.)

One of my favorite parts is the music. It's an arrangement of "Come Thou Fount" with some "If You Could Hie to Kolob" thrown in. It's arranged and performed by the talented Sher. (Be sure to check out her music website here.)


video