Thursday, July 31, 2014

Query Trenches, Or, So You've Written a Novel. Now What?

by Katy White

For those of us who want to publish novels, a time will come, if it hasn't already, when we finish the herculean task of writing a book. In many ways, it feels like the hard part should be over at this point.

We all know it's not.

By now, we've discussed things like edits, critique partners, more edits, beta readers, more edits, lather, rinse, repeat. Once we have our manuscript super clean and polished and pretty, the hard part should be over then, right?


Welcome to the Query Trenches.

Querying is a lot like dating. There's a reason why Bridget Jones called her married friends "smug marrieds." Because (assuming you have a good marriage, which I hope is the case for every married person!) not having to date is infinitely more enjoyable than dating. Similarly, not having to query anymore (whether because you've landed an agent or an interested publishing house or because you have decided to self-publish) is just so, so much better than querying. Yet, it's a necessary step for most writers' journeys.  

So what is a query? Although every agent/agency will have personal preferences about query format, you can think about a query as the back-of-a-book blurb. You want to condense your novel into around 250 words and make it sound absolutely fabulous. Introduce the main two or three characters, show the reader what those characters want, set the stakes, and end it. You need to give enough detail to make sense and arouse interest, but not so much that you give away the ending or important twists. Nathan Bransford gives this explanation:
A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop. (Don't worry, you won't catch fire and die during the query process though it may feel precisely like that at times). In essence: it is a letter describing your project. 
The first thing to know about writing query letters is that there are as many opinions out on the Internet about query letters as there are, well, opinions on the Internet. You will find lots of dos and don'ts and peeves and strategies and formulas.... The important thing to remember is that you will need to choose the ideas that work best for you.
As the immortal Douglas Adams said, don't panic! Write the best letter you can, be yourself, don't overthink it too much, don't sweat it if you realize the second after you sent it that you made a typo or accidentally called me Vicky. If an agent is going to get mad or reject you over something trivial like that they're probably not the type of person you'd want to work with anyway.

Fantastic advice from someone who reads queries for a living. And writes queries for a living.

Here are some excellent resources to help you better understand queries and to see some examples of successful queries:

Query Letter Mad Lib - essentially a plug-and-play query generator, from none other than Nathan Bransford. An excellent place to start you on your query journey.

Query Shark - In my opinion, this is hands down the best place to get a feel for what not to do, as well as an understanding of what an agent honestly thinks about the queries that she sees. The infamous Janet Reid keeps it real, yo.

23 Literary Agent Query Letters That Worked

Anatomy of a Query Letter 

Also, here are some resources to help you find reputable agents (you should NEVER pay to have an agent agree to work with you!): AgentQuery, Preditors & Editors, Writer's Digest New Agent Alert (it's always helpful to find people who are actively building their client list), and Literary Rambles (the blog host interviews reputable agents who rep from picture books to young adult and includes what the agent is looking for and how to format your query for that agent. INCREDIBLE site!).

QueryTracker is a great resource to help you organize your agent search and keep track of your submissions and responses.

And lastly, if you haven't already, consider joining and participating in a writer's organization (e.g., I'm a member of SCBWI and ANWA), as that will help agents know that you're serious about your craft.

Please sound off in the comments below with your query questions, advice, and any additional querying resources you may have. And stay tuned in two weeks for Query Trenches Part II, where I'll share additional resources beyond the query itself!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Religion and the English Novel

by Anna Jones Buttimore

I did my degree in English Literature (ironically, at a Welsh university) aeons ago - I graduated in 1990 with a respectable 2.1. There was a bit of a "what next?" moment following graduation, during which I briefly considered doing a Masters. Instead, as befitted a woman of my educational achievement, I took a minimum wage job in the stockroom at Argos.

If I had decided to go ahead and do that Masters degree, however, I know what subject I would have chosen. "The Puritan Influence on the Development of the English Novel." It's a fascinating subject, and of particular interest, I think, to those of us who are both avid readers/writers of fiction, and of a religious bent.

Were it not for Christianity, you see, the idea of the novel--a piece of fiction written in prose--might never have been born.

If you've studied ancient literature you'll know that for a long time most of it, from Beowulf to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, takes the form of poetry. My theory (I would have been looking into it more deeply had I done that Masters) is that this is because storytelling evolved from singing. Before it was easy to write things down, people remembered long stories and legends by turning them into songs which might be performed by bards and storytellers, as well as being sung by mothers to their children. The rhyming verses and melody made these often very long stories easier to memorise so that they might be handed down accurately.

When they finally got to be written down, of course they lost their tunes, and so long, eloquent poems are all we have now. But for centuries, it seems, all fiction was in the form of poetry. The idea of using non-rhyming or metered prose to pass down a story just hadn't been conceived.

Maybe the first piece of prose which might be considered a precursor to the novel is the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, as well as some of the tales themselves - although most are in verse.  There are several contenders to the title of the first English novel, but the two main ones are John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (1678), and Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe.

What do these books have in common? They are all about religion. Canterbury Tales is an assortment of stories about individuals in a motley bunch who are on a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury. Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory in which Christian, representing man, struggles to carry his burden (sin) to the celestial city (heaven). Robinson Crusoe, which many contemporary readers, used to their fiction being in the form of poems or songs, believed to be a true story due to its simple descriptive narrative style, focusses heavily on Crusoe's religious awakening and conversion, and contains many moral messages. Gulliver's Travels, first published in 1726, is a satire of human nature, and Pamela, the first epistolary novel, is subtitled Virtue Rewarded. Jumping forward in time, even such characters as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens used writing to make moral and ethical points about the societies they lived in. The Narnia books of C.S. Lewis are another example of religious metaphor.

The Puritans became a major political force in England from the mid-seventeenth century. They were unhappy with the reformation, and felt that the Church of England was still too similar to the Roman Catholic church. They advocated a purity of doctrine and practice, and were strident and evangelical about their beliefs. They battled the Bishops and clergy of the Church of England through hellfire sermons, pamphlets - and books. The great advantage to writing moralistic books was that they had great popular appeal and were widely read by the public, so the authors could disguise their preaching as entertainment.

Daniel Defoe was a Puritan moralist. John Bunyan identified himself primarily as a Christian but followed certain Puritan practices. Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels, was a Doctor of Theology and Dean of an Irish Cathedral, and his book might be viewed as political and anti-puritan, but again with a moral message for society. Samuel Richardson, author of Pamela, was a pious puritan who had hoped to be a clergyman by profession.

In modern times, there is still a thriving market for religious fiction. Five of my six novels were published by LDS publishers (the other was self-published) and five of the six have a religious aspect. My Haven trilogy (being republished over the coming year) tells of how the faith of one kind woman has a profound effect on those around her. Easterfield, my only historical novel, is about giving up everything to follow what is right. The Saved Saint is about how misunderstanding and opposition can have devastating effects, and Honeymoon Heist is... well, the couple in it happen to be LDS.

I think this blog post is almost as long as my thesis would have been, but it is fascinating to see how religion and the desire to impart ones beliefs to others has led not only to the development of the novel in the first place, but to many of our most beloved works of literature.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoreau is my homeboy: Strap on your hiking boots and step up your writing.

by Merry Gordon

When I’ve stared at the blinking cursor so long it’s burned a permanent vertical line in my retinas, I think of my favorite inspirational writing quote:  “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I remember the first time I read that, how it resonated with me. I poked around a little until I found attribution for it in the form of one Henry D. Thoreau, author of Walden and all those other things I pretended to read but didn’t in AP lit.

So I finally picked up Walden for real this time and soon I was crushing hard on Henry David…he of the original hipster neckbeard, the skinny-dipping and cabin building, the civil disobedience. This guy had a solution for writer’s block, one that hadn’t occurred to me in the asphalt jungles of suburbia:

N A T U R E.

I don’t generally do nature. First off, I’m from Cleveland. It wasn’t too many years after I was born that the oozing Cuyahoga River was so polluted you could set fire to it. When we went swimming as kids, it was in our underpants in a plastic kiddie pool in the driveway, not in any of Ohio’s less-than-pristine waterways. I have always lived within ten minutes of a Target, I wore hiking boots with lace slouch socks only when the outdoorsy/vintage look was hip, and the closest I got to the forest was the Woodland Pine scented candle we put out every Christmas. I didn’t even go camping (without flushing toilets and suitcases and a 3-jet hot tub on the balcony) until I hit my mid-30s.

But this year I slung a backpack over my shoulder and resolved to try the Thoreauvian approach to writer’s block anyway.

Step one:  Get into nature. Not just get out into nature…get INTO it. Nature is messy. It’s beautiful mountain vistas and trailside wildflowers, but it’s also mud and pine sap on your adorable new L.L. Bean boots and a cloud of mosquitos swarming across your perfect blood orange sunset. Embrace the less-than-National Geographic moments. The unexpected contrast between the mundane and the sublime is often enough to jar your mind back to inspiration.

Step two:  Write. Journal, blog or blurb like crazy. Thoreau would have killed it in the blogosphere (in fact, he is…over 150 years after his death). His journals filled 47 manuscript volumes, and most of the time I can barely manage a 140-character tweet. Thoreau observed and recorded everything…some really sweeping, epic stuff, like the divinity in a snowflake, and some really boring stuff, like tables of plants blooming and water levels. Point is, he mined the little, sometimes tedious details in flora and fauna until he struck literary gold with such nuggets as, “We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” That’s deep.

Step three:  Look for connections and metaphors. Ultimately, going out into nature is as much an inward journey as an outward one. If we look at the natural world as a microcosm of the infinite and search to see our connection to it, our once barren creative fields suddenly emerge white and ready to harvest (ooh!—see what I did there?). Thoreau was acutely aware of this. Even humdrum rural sights like the stream he walked by nearly every day of his life provided food for thought:  “Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it, but when I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away but eternity remains.”

Getting my nature on didn’t come naturally. At first, stripping myself of the suburbs to connect with Mother Earth seemed a little too granola for a girl whose hiking is generally confined to full parking lots at outlet malls, but being outdoors lent a meditative quality to my thoughts that the agitation of day-to-day life in a major metropolitan area never would have allowed.

I still live in the sprawl, but I don’t restrict my headspace to my zip code anymore. My “woods” consist of a few vacation snaps on the fridge and a half-dead succulent on my kitchen table, but if nothing else Thoreau has taught me a little more about how to simplify and live deliberately, and that’s something worth putting on paper.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why it is Time to Start Calling Yourself a Writer. Right Now.

by Kasey Tross

Once upon a time, there were two people, Mike and Ted. They both enjoyed creating art. They both had other interests as well, but art was at the top of the list. They did it whenever they had a chance. They studied great artists and tried to expand their artistic horizons with new techniques. Art was their passion.

Mike was very talented, but since he had another job, he never really called himself an artist. When it would come up in conversation he'd say something like, "Oh, I just like to make art sometimes.” In his mind, however, he dreamt that someday he'd have the time to create more pieces and the guts to get it into a gallery, or enter an art contest or something. But he just wasn’t sure if he had any talent, so he rarely shared his work with anyone.

Ted felt the same way as Mike. He dreamed of making it big with his art someday and being able to quit his regular job and do it full time. But Ted was so passionate about it that when it came up in conversation, Ted would say, "I'm a computer consultant. And I'm also an artist." Ted, like Mike, had never had a piece on exhibit, and never sold any of his work. His work wasn't any better than Mike’s, and, like Mike, he didn’t know if it was any good. But because he created it and he was passionate about it, he boldly proclaimed to the world that yes, he was an artist.

Eventually, word spread that Ted was an artist. Friends found this side of him fascinating, and one day, a friend who had spoken with Ted about his passion passed his name on to a woman who happened to be looking for an artist to do a low-budget mural in a public space. The friend got Ted in contact with the woman, Ted showed her some of his work, and before Ted knew it, he had a paid gig.

Because the mural was in a public space, Ted the Artist got his name in the paper, and because he had done such a nice job, the woman passed his name on to other professionals, who began to offer Ted more regular jobs. His confidence soared, and the steady work pushed him and improved his skills. A gallery soon approached him for an exhibition, and after a few years of commissions and some gallery sales soon Ted was able to quit his job and become a full-time artist.

One day Mike saw Ted’s art in a gallery. He sighed and said to himself, "I wish I could be a real artist."

The moral of the story? You are what you say you are. Mike was a real artist, but he refused to believe enough in himself to call himself an artist.  And because he refused to believe in himself, nobody else believed in him either.

I shared this "Tale of Two Artists" because Ted's story is similar to mine, though I’m still in the middle of mine. I had a couple of confidence-boosting accomplishments (like winning the short story contest right here at MMW and being invited to become a regular contributor) that pushed me to finally call myself a writer. Because I "came out" as a writer, someone recommended me to one of their family members for a paid gig, which I accepted and completed, and soon I had another friend asking me for help with a project, for which I would be compensated, and then, before I knew it, another friend-of-a-friend happened to be getting in on the ground floor of a new local magazine and offered me a writing position there.

All of these things didn't start happening until I owned the title of writer. Once I did, it was like people said, "Oh, you're a writer? Well why didn't you say so?" When the work started pouring in and I started completing it- and not just completing it, but getting paid and putting smiles on my clients' faces, I realized, I can do this. And I can do more. That was when I started writing my book. And then I started attending writing classes and conferences. Because I am a WRITER!

If you are reading this blog, if you are passionate about writing, then please, please, call yourself a writer. Ignore that little voice in your head that says, But I've never been published. But my work isn't even that good. Now J.K. Rowling- THERE'S a writer.

Just stop it. You. are. a. writer. Get over yourself and admit it already. Because when you believe in yourself? That is when the magic begins...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Planting Some Seeds

by Becky Porter

My kids go back to school this week which is insane even by Arizona standards.  

I know some amazing moms who get all dewy-eyed as they send their children off to the first day of school.  In fact, I know some moms who would be a wreck if they were in my situation: ALL FIVE of my kids will be in school for the first time ever!!  My youngest (I'm not allowed to call him "my baby") will be starting kindergarten!

Now, before you pull out a hankie and cue up the tears, I have to inject a dose of reality.  Sorry.  I adore my children.  Really.  I happen to know that they are some of the most amazing kids to grace the face of this earth.  But, I am not crying.  Oh no.  Friends, I am dancing!  I am absolutely giddy!  Think of all the wonderful things I can do for the three hours of morning kindergarten!  If you can't come up with any ideas, I can help you out there.

I have always loved the first day of the school year, even when I was a kid.  There's a line from that Meg Ryan movie, "You've Got Mail", floating through my head--something about a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils.  I adore office supplies.  I have a strange compulsion to buy colored binder clips, patterned file folders, and dozens of composition notebooks every summer.  I long to grab everything in those tantalizing stationery aisles and toss them into my overflowing red cart (ahem; don't judge my Target addiction).

But the main reason I love a new school year is because it signifies a fresh start, a clean slate.  It is the symbolism of a fresh pack of crayons and a blank book that speaks to me.  And so, I set goals in August or September.  I make lists and more lists (I have to do something with my cute new notepads and pens!) and make grandiose plans.  Too often, I lose my lists and my enthusiasm about the same time which is, oh, approximately two weeks after I start working on my goals.

As I was flipping through my August issue of the Ensign magazine, I read an awesome article by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf that made me ponder what I can do differently this year.  He states, 
"Just as earthly seeds require effort and patience, so do many of the blessings of heaven.  We cannot put our religion on a shelf and expect to harvest spiritual blessings. . . . God's answers to our prayers do not always come immediately--sometimes they do not appear to come at all--but God knows what is best for His children. . . .our goal and great joy is to walk in the footsteps of our Master and Savior and to live good and refined lives so that the promised and precious harvest of God's priceless blessings can be ours."
Patience.  There's something I've spent a long time not having.  But I'm working on it.  And this time as I set my goals, I'll be doing more of it on my knees seeking the guidance of my Savior so that I can become the person He needs me to be.  He created me for a purpose.  He is the Master Gardener.  It is my job to put down roots and bloom.

*What seeds are you planting?  Any goals you can share with us?* 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Conference Notes and Insights: Part 2 Lacey Gunter

Here is my last set of notes and insights to share from WIFYR14.  Hope they are helpful.

Notes and insights from J Scott Savage:

1. When your confidence is shot as a writer it can severely impede your creative process and motivation.

2. If you define your personal success on how well a book sells or how well it meets sales expectations, you will inevitably find yourself thinking you're an unsuccessful writer, no matter how well you write. Your job is to write great books, it is the publishers job to sell them.

3. In some situations your participation in helping market a book will have no effect on sales and you can use up all your profits trying. In other instances your participation in helping market a book can have a sizable effect. It is difficult to predict before hand which will occur though. So if you enjoy the marketing, go for it. If you don't, spend your time writing your next great book and don't feel guilty.

Great idea from Shawn Stout:

Write down what your current writing schedule/routine is. Next write down what you would consider to be your ideal writing schedule/routine. For most of us, it is unlikely you'll be able to change enough in your life to make your ideal a reality. But, comparing the two, you may be able to find one aspect you can change today that will bring you closer to your ideal.

Notes and insight from Michelle Witte:

1. Don't take the time to tell the reader things are typical, just let the reader assume it.

2. You don't need adverbs if you use strong verbs.

3. The level of visual detail needed in today's publishing market is far far less than what it was before the internet was around. People's attention spans are much shorter and the world is a smaller place where people are much more exposed to different environments.

4. Remove redundancy in your details. Respect your reader enough to have gotten the information the first time.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Writing - in a Nutshell


I created some badges this week that wrap up the writing life in four quotes. 

Is this TRUE, or what?!?!

 Been there.  OUCH.

Absolutely!!  Rah, rah rah!!

4.  And finally...
Love that Denzel!

For me, that's it in a nutshell.  What about you?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Critique Groups

When I began writing  in 2010 I sat at my computer blissfully unaware of gerunds, queries, things to avoid on page one, and the whole publishing process. I wrote because it was a dream I'd had for a long time, one that I finally tackled when my best friend called me and told me she was writing a book. I'm grateful for the ignorance at the start of my writing life because it let me explore freely and focus on getting ideas and stories on the page.

That said, once I attended my first writing conference in 2011 (Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers WIFYR) I realized I had a ton to learn. I needed to hone my craft. I needed to learn grammar. And, I needed feedback from people who didn't already know (and love) me. What I needed was a critique group.

Five members of my WIFYR class created one. And my writing improved significantly. Over time though, we've gotten to be such good friends that we've become cheerleaders and beta readers, but not so much critique partners. So when I moved to North Carolina where SCBWI is strong, I joined Capital Eyes, a critique group that meets once a month just fifteen minutes from my house. Introverted me was nervous to meet new people, even kindred writer people like myself, but I didn't have anything to worry about.

No only have I made really good local writing friends, but I've also been able to pool from all of their knowledge and grow my craft even more. So if you're nervous about getting your writing out there, about others reading it and possibly NOT liking it, I would encourage you to still take that step and get outside feedback. Join a local or online group. Reach out and let yourself be vulnerable and watch your writing self develop. You just might make some great friends in the process. And you just might write the next big thing. Besides, you need someone to thank in your acknowledgments page.

Write On.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The almost right word and the right word...

By: Kristi Hartman

Ever since I was a child I have loved listening to music.  I would sit on my bedroom floor, legs crossed, pushing the rewind button on my cassette-tape player over and over so I could listen to my favorite song repeatedly.  

My taste in music has changed over the years, and certainly the technology has as well.  But one thing has not changed, and that is my love for music.  One of my all-time favorite things to do in life is drive in the car and listen to music, while I attempt to sing along.  I remember after getting my first car in high school, carefully selecting the CD's from my collection and sliding them into the sleeve of a case logic cd holder, and driving around town listening to my favorite jams. No one was there to tell me my taste in music wasn't cool, or that my singing was bad. It was just me, my car, and my tunes.  

Fast forward an undisclosed number of years and things haven't changed much as far as my love for music. The car rides, however, have changed drastically.  I often listen to a variety of music, but now I have 2 and a half people in the backseat who always have a constant opinion about what's on the radio.  Being the music lover that I am, I try to have them listen to a variety of songs and artists, just so I'm not stuck listening to Kidz Bop or Disney on Pandora constantly.  
Most of the time, it works... 

Part of the reason I love listening to music so much is I love to listen to the lyrics.  Songs tell stories in such a short period of time, that I love to listen for the message or story they are trying to tell.

One artist in particular whom I have listened to ever since my case logic days is Sarah McLachlan.  
I was lucky enough to see her in concert about 3 weeks ago at Red Rocks amphitheater in CO, and let me tell you, she gave me chills the whole time.  Her talent for singing amazes me, as well as her ability to write and craft words together beautifully.  Song writers like her are such an inspiration to me as an aspiring writer, because they have so much to say in so little time, that when combining the right music and words something awesome happens.

It is a constant reminder to me that we don't need thousands upon thousands of words to have a great story to tell.  Sometimes it's just a matter of using the right words.

Mark Twain once said:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter- 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

Have you ever had that experience, where you suddenly think of the perfect word and BAM! It's amazing.  The sentence shines off the page in all its glory like the sun among the stars.  

Unfortunately for me, that experience doesn't happen all the time.  But, the few times it does, I soak it up and think to myself, 'Yep.  I can do this.'

We don't need to worry about hitting so many thousands of word counts all the time (although that really helps get our creative juices going), sometimes we just need to find those right words to help us tell with our story.

Have you ever had those sun-shiny moments of writing?  How do you keep it going?

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Post About Not Much- But it comes with a WRITING SPRINT!

I had a whole, long, nicely written post for today, and I was getting ready to put it up and I just...didn’t. I don’t know why, it just didn’t feel like the right post. Go figure.

So now I am left with...not much.

Remember those goals I set about a month ago? Well, I am still slogggging through that book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. It’s not that it’s boring, it just has a lot of big words and heavy concepts and requires me to digest each sentence with intense focus and that’s hard to do when you have 4 kids home for the summer.

The good news is that the book is giving me great insight into my WIP. I’ve realized that the first draft was just the skeleton of my story with some added fluff. Now it’s time to remove the fluff and add a heart, lungs, and circulatory system. It needs guts. And they’re coming, one juicy organ at a time.

Yeah, that was gross. Sorry. Did I mention that I had a whole other nicely written post for today?

Ahem. Anyway, the bad news is that I can’t watch a movie or read a book now without my mind dissecting the story elements. Ooh, there’s our hero. I think that guy is a Threshold Guardian. Aha! He just refused the Call to Adventure. Entering the Special World...okay, we’re approaching the Inner Cave. Is that person a Shadow? Ooh, I think I just caught some symbolism there...that guy is definitely a Mentor.

You get the idea. Like I said, great for fleshing out my own story, not so much for sitting and enjoying a Friday night movie.

So, I am eager to finish off this book because:

1. I won’t let myself read any other books (even FUN ones!) until I am done. Must. stay. focused.

2. I won’t let myself dive back into my manuscript again until I’m finished. Because chances are good that if I did that a) I would get distracted and not finish reading the book or b) I would still be reading the book and get 5 more epiphanies about my WIP and have to go back and rewrite AGAIN. Because I have an epiphany about once every 3 pages I read in this thing.

Okay, with that said,


"But wait," you say, "I thought you just said you weren’t working on your MS until you finished that crazy book?"

Indeed reader, you are correct. But I do have a good idea about the general direction I want to take the story now and I need to spend some time tweaking my outline. I go running every morning and my brain goes even faster than my feet (like 5 miles an hour instead of 4) coming up with new ideas for my story and I need to get this stuff out of my head!

So meet me here, tonight, at 9pm EST (that’s 7pm MST, 8pm CST). I know it’s a bit early for some of you, but do your FHE early and then unload the kids on the hubby or put them in front of a movie and come join me! We’ll write as much and as fast as we can and post our progress (either in word count or, in my case, just a general summary of what we’ve accomplished writing-wise) every 15 minutes. It’ll be fun! We’ll cheer each other on! We’ll celebrate our awesomeness and pat ourselves on the back for being amazing!


See you tonight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Imagination -- a Double Edged Sword

Having a good imagination can be an amazing thing. One need only pick up any fantasy book to see what I mean. Only someone with an awesome imagination can create whole worlds in which characters live and breath simply by stringing words together. I love having a good imagination and I'm really grateful for the ability to imagine things in my head and make them real on paper. But sometimes the ability to imagine the worst case scenario, for example, (which is important when writing a book) is not so great in real life applications.

This summer I sent my 14 year old daughter to Alaska to spend some time with my sister. I flew many times as a child all by myself starting at the age of 10. Therefore I didn't think I would have any problems with putting my teenage daughter on a plane by herself. Boy was I wrong. Every worst case scenario I could think of went through my mind and I was a mess.
The photo I took before she went to the airport
I even took a picture of her before she got on the plane so I would have a picture of exactly what she was wearing if anything should happen. This is the point when my daughter started rolling her eyes. I know it's illogical but I often find myself thinking of the worst case scenarios in many situations. This causes lots of fear.

This is when I have to remind myself that I know the anecdote to fear...FAITH. When my imagination runs away and I find myself afraid to even let my kids step out the front door, I say a prayer. My prayer is to remind myself that I trust God completely and as long as I have faith in Him all will be well. Even in hard times, even when the worst does happen, through Him there is no reason to let fear in. My favorite scripture in times of trial is John 14:27
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

What more can I ask for than this? My faith brings peace. Faith is there "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Hebrews 13:6)
So when my imagination holds me hostage inside, I can free myself with faith in my loving Father in Heaven.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Embrace Your Antagonist!!

by Jewel Leann Williams,

Stephen R. Covey said it in his book SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE:
            Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Of course, the late Dr. Covey didn’t mean it how I’m about to use it. This is, after all, a writer’s website, not a Franklin Planner seminar. So, what do I mean, “seek first to understand?”

I’m talking about your antagonist. First, let me throw another adage at you—

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

                                    Alexander Pope

            So, with regards to the writing…. what do these two things have in common? Well, since I already said I’m talking about your antagonist, what I propose is to really, really get inside the head and heart of your bad guy.

            I’ve actually been playing with the idea of writing my next story from the point of view of my antagonist FIRST, sort of as a pre-write, THEN writing it from the point of view of the protagonist. Then I stopped playing as I realized that I can’t even get a paragraph in any of my WIP’s written at all, let alone “pre-write” and silly things like that.  

C'mon, give 'em a big ol' HUG!!!

            But, think about it. If you write from first person, from your antagonist’s point of view, you can really see, feel, hear, taste, touch, love, hate—all of those emotions that we usually only reserve for our main character—doing it for your bad guy will not only deepen your portrayal of him, but also allow you to play with your readers a little. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either. I remember some of the books and stories that disturbed me the most were the ones where I invested my emotions in a character or event and then had that turned on its head, making me realize how flawed I was. The best example of that for me was “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. I still feel icky as I recall being caught up in the excitement of the town’s preparations for the yearly ritual. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” The whole story is one of anticipation, and I couldn’t wait to see who won. Then BOOM. The lottery was to see who the town would stone to death. I had been excited about that. I felt complicit in the murder. Like I said, the story, the cautionary tale about the dangers of conformity, has stuck with me for my entire life, mainly because of how it made me feel.

            Would your story be well served by the reader identifying with the bad person, even just a little? Some stories really wouldn’t—but some would. When you want your antagonist to really be able to toy with the protagonist, have him toy with the reader. Have your audience AGREE with him, ROOT for him, and then drop the bomb—it will resonate, deeply.

            Even if your story doesn’t need that sort of turnabout, really understanding your antagonist can help you to see different facets of your protagonist—you can see him through the eyes of his enemy. Often we, as the creators of the story’s hero, tend to want to make him or her perfect. We may overlook flaws, or at least minimize them, like we would with our children, or our friends. Having the unvarnished, snarky, cruel truth exposed will allow you to see your protagonist’s little cracks and chinks, those things that make them real. Those “evil” insights will deepen your characterization.

            I hope I’m inspiring ways that you can get to know your antagonist—and reasons why you should. I love those stories where the bad guy is sooooooo good at being bad, and I suspect that the authors of those books really dive deep into learning who the antagonist really is, as much as they do their protagonist.

            It’s like I always say, “The bad guy is the protagonist in their own story.” (Really. I do say that. There’s even a story involving devil horns and red fuzzy handcuffs to illustrate how that’s MY saying. Ask me about it sometime.)            

            Do you have any great ideas for how to understand your antagonist better, or thoughts on how to use that understanding to further your plans to conquer the world write a better story? 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beating the Biography Blues

What does one get for the father that has everything?   I’m serious, he really has everything.  Looking for a 57/83 inch drill bit?  Yep, he’s got it.  How about a nice copy of the June, 1985 edition of National Geographic.  Yeppers!  A left-handed socket wrench only for fixing blenders.  Oh, yes…that too. 

            So, getting something at Christmas or birthdays for a man in his 80s that is a card-carrying member of the ‘Hoarders Gold Club’ has been a challenge.  I want to honor my father, but not empower the man to add to his stash.  My mother has threatened arson more than once.
            It occurred to me that people in my father’s age bracket are focused on legacy building; financial legacy, Church service legacy, and of course, personal history legacy.  And it was in this last category that I chose to focus my efforts.  I’m so glad that I did because what came out of the experience of recording, transcribing and writing what would someday be a nice softcover family ‘must read’ (along with the blues associated with some things not going so smoothly) have been priceless for me as well as my family.
            Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons that I would like to share about writing a person’s biography.  It does not matter if the person you are writing about is a relative or just an acquaintance, the methods are still the same:
1.     Before you do anything, find your objective center.  To retell the life, the whole life, of an individual accurately and fairly, you must approach the project as if it were a paid job assignment.  Kicking back and sharing a few laughs and memories is nice, but it lacks strategy and organization.  If you are interviewing and writing about a close family member and you think you might become overly emotional (sadness, gratitude, anger, joy, etc.) then make a list of those topics that need to be dealt with separate from the biography process. 
2.     Create your universe.  In other words, take the time to outline the direction that the interview will take.  Try to strike a balance of chronological continuity without getting bogged down in the details too soon.  You can always add sub-topical areas as desired after the initial interview. 
3.     When you and the subject are ready, arrange a meeting time.  Set a limit of an hour for the first meeting, followed by more at later times.  This will allow you to demonstrate to your subject that you are interviewing them with a clear plan and that it won’t be an endless meeting.  Most adults, even relatives, have a limited attention span. 
4.     During the interview, tell the person what topic you are about to question them about.  Then, ask open-ended questions.  Make sure the recording device you are using is unobtrusive; it can stress the subject when they see it in front of them.  Do NOT take notes; the subject will feel obliged to let you catch up on your scribblings, which will often break their train of thought.
5.     After transcribing the recordings, edit the first script for writing conventions and send a copy to the subject.  It may seem odd to edit so soon, but you don’t want the subject to fret about these annoyances.
6.     Do a quick genealogy of family and friends.  Get the contact information of these individuals.  Create a document in which your subject gives authorization for any relative or friend to share personal information with you, the interviewer.  Sometimes, relatives and friends are reluctant to be candid unless they have the subject’s blessing to do so. 
7.     Once a complete interview has been conducted and transcribed, read over the script several times.  Glaring questions or topic areas that need deeper exploration should be identified.  Send these questions to the subject prior to the ‘details interview’, along with a current copy of the script.  This will give the subject time to do a nice memory jog on what they've already said and hopefully spark deeper memories that could prove invaluable to the overall biography.  Then, make another interview appointment, but do not set a time limit.  At this meeting, it’s time to ask the hard questions and press the subject a bit.  It’s at this point that my questions would be more like: ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘What do you wish you had done differently in that awkward situation?’ Remember, if you still have unanswered questions when reading the biography, then so will everyone else that reads it.  You want to close as many open-ends as possible.
8.     Edit several times and get a ‘buddy reader’ to give it a once over.
9.     Believe it or not, now comes the hardest part of the whole biography process:  Obtaining photographs.  Sometimes, getting people to find pics of their early life can be a difficult challenge.  You might want to prompt what kind of pictures you are wanting so the person doesn't get bogged down going through endless boxes or albums and trying to decide which pictures they think you might want.  Of course, their opinion plays an important part.
10.  Assemble and self-publish.  There are numerous self-publishing websites  to choose from:  Lulu is very popular, as is Create Space and Completely Novel.

            This 10-step process may seem tedious, but it works.  If you write a biography using these steps (or your own amalgamation) you’ll actually find yourself having fun and getting the creative release we authors are all hooked on. 
            Back to my father’s biography.  I've really enjoyed the process, bumps in the road notwithstanding.  My father rolled out a story one day that nobody in the family had ever heard.  Apparently, he and a teenage buddy hopped a train from Arizona to Los Angeles so that they could ‘go to the beach’.  They nearly died of dehydration as they crossed the brutal desert and didn't count on the truancy officer (For the more youthful MMW among us, a truancy officer was a type of law enforcement officer that patrolled the neighborhoods during the school day looking for kids who were ditching school.) arresting them.  So apparently, the beloved patriarch of our family was a youthful jailbird.

            The hardest part of this process was the accumulation of photographs.  There have been numerous hurdles: The house fire of 1948 destroyed a lot of them; the box that has some pics is out in the hot shed;  or worse, ‘I don’t know where some of the photographs are’.  It’s made me get creative and ‘think outside the box’ in order to get what I believe will help make a great biography to honor a great man.       

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Procrastination, Thy Name is Katy

by Katy White


Le sigh.

Since graduating college over a decade ago, I've never quite been able to shake the notion that summer means a break from all my cares. Like two months worth of Saturdays.  Unfortunately, as we all know, that doesn't translate to real life. And it doesn't translate to my writing life, either.

Since my cruise a couple of weeks ago, I've been struggling to get my fingers moving. So I went on a quest to find some inspiration, reading great quotes from famous authors. They all centered around one thing (spoiler alert!): you just gotta sit down and write.

Surprise, surprise.

The annoying part about this is that I was on a serious roll right before this weird lull hit, writing several hundred to a couple thousand words a day for the three weeks prior! And now, pfft. Nothing. Maybe my motivation is the Bermuda Triangle's latest victim (okay, okay, I know that's not possible. We were nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle!).

Alas, here's my cry for help. Words of inspiration, a challenge, heck, a triple dog dare! If you have any rut-busting tips, please, comment below! I'm begging you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Poem about Garments

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Garments are not something we Mormons like to talk about much. After all, is anyone ever completely comfortable discussing their underwear with strangers? But they are, nevertheless, a quirk of the LDS faith which seems to fascinate outsiders.

Personally I think they're great. Cheaper to buy than regular underwear, more comfortable, and available in a huge variety of fabrics suited to all climates. No VPL, and for us bigger girls no chubb-rub when wearing skirts. It's also a rare honour to be able to wear them. I waited ten years to get to the Temple, so I really don't take for granted what it means to wear this symbol of a precious covenant relationship.

Anyway, endeavouring to be (more) respectful in explaining what garments are all about, I have written a little poem. Well, maybe not so much written as stolen, since it's based on "The Cross in my Pocket" by Mrs. Verna Mae Thomas. I hope you'll feel free to use it whenever you are next asked why Mormons wear "magic underwear". (*Sigh*)

I wear special clothes on my body
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I will keep covenants
No matter where I may be.

These garments are not magic,
Nor are they a good luck charm
They are not meant to protect me
From every physical harm.

They’re not for identification
For all the world to see
But simply an understanding
Between my Saviour and me.

When I dress each bright new morning
In garments fresh and white
They serve that day to remind me
To remain clean in His sight.

They remind me, too, to be modest
In my words, my deeds, my dress
And to strive to serve Him better
That others I may bless.

When I’m feeling sad or despairing,
Or in a scary place,
These garments remind me that always
I’m encircled about by His grace.

And when my path seems rocky
And I feel all hope is gone
I remember promises given
The day I first put them on.

I wear this symbol of purity,
Hidden away from sight,
Because in the blood of the Lamb of God
My garments and sins are washed white.

So I wear special clothes on my body
Reminding no one but me
That Jesus Christ is Lord of my life
And He has set me free.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Reading Girl's Guide to Romance, or the Care and Feeding of Literary Crushes

by Merry Gordon

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man (in possession of a good fortune or not) might just be a hard sell on a writer chick.

You know why?

Because writer chicks are reader chicks.  And I don’t care how good you single men are:  Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott and a whole entourage of fictional top hats and tail coats got to our hearts first. 

For all the ladies who had a “type”—tall, dark and imaginary—and all the guys who’ve ever had to compete with a character, I give it to you straight:  the three stages of classic literary hero love (and how I lived happily ever after beyond the last page).

Chapter 1: Childhood
Little Women

I could never work myself up to pitying those penniless March girls.  Who needs money when you’ve got a hot Italian next door?  ‘Laurie’ Lawrence was everything my prepubescent heart could have desired:  quick smile, nice tan, and black eyes and volatile moods just European enough to make him mildly dangerous—all those “By Jupiters”! (Stop snickering.  At twelve, a couple of stick-on tattoos can turn you into you Jezebel.)  But my copy of the book was the abridgment, which left off charmingly with Laurie beginning to cast significant glances Jo-ward (squeee!).   Eventually, I stumbled upon Good Wives, the second part.  I threw that book across the room 3 times.  Beth dies?  Jo ends up with some old German dude?  And MY LAURIE hooks up with snottypants AMY?  What the heck, Louisa May Alcott?

Chapter 2:  Adolescence
Wuthering Heights

On to high school.  My hair was chemically enhanced.  Some of my classmates were chemically enhanced.  I wore black combat boots, too much eye makeup, and listened to the Cure.  I frequented cafés and used bookstores, which is where I found my next fixation:  Heathcliff.   I was so smitten I considered begging
Cover Girl to make their Oil Controlled Pressed Powder in Corpse so I could mimic the tubercular pallor of my new gothic heroine, Cathy Earnshaw.  That girl knew a Bad Boy when she saw him:  rebel, loner—oozing brutal sensuality, but sensitive enough to cry (and soak a tree in his own blood in a fit of lovelorn agony). Suddenly, the paltry passions of high school boys were hardly enough for me.  You want to hold hands under the bleachers, varsity football boy?  That’s nice.  But would you dig up my dead body thirteen years after my demise for one last kiss?  Now that’s hot. 

Chapter 3:  Young Adulthood
Pride & Prejudice

When sociopathic obsession and borderline necrophilia stopped being cool, I discovered Mr. Darcy—which is to say, the BBC helped me discover that Colin Firth would win a Regency wet t-shirt contest.  Having seen the miniseries in its six-hour glory, I devoured the book and fell in love with Fitzwilliam. He ruined college.  Frat boy come-ons under a haze of Axe now seemed so obvious after Darcy’s refined desire.  “What does he even do?” my male friends sulked when I found them wanting in comparison. Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  Gentlemanly things.  Horseback riding.  Letter writing.  Daydream inspiring. Tight breeches wearing. What’s that you say, Mr. Daaaahhcy?  ‘Every savage can dance’?  I am excessively diverted.  Let’s skip the ball and sneak back behind this shrubbery and I’ll put on my new lip gloss and show you what else every savage can do…

What was I looking for?  Just the boyish charm of a Laurie and the fieriness of a Heathcliff all wrapped up in the polished passion of a Darcy.  That’s do-able, right?

Apparently not.

But since Saturday nights alone with my books didn’t exactly satisfy, I found myself a nice guy.  He wasn’t rich (or Italian, for that matter), and he wasn't much more demonstrative than a casual arm around my shoulder.  While his manners were good, he lacked that urbane air of refinement. I never tried to change him, but I didn’t exactly put Laurie and Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy back on the shelf for good, either.

I  justified. 

I rationalized. 

I could have my boyfriend by day and my literary lovers by night and be faithful to all of them.

And it worked out pretty well—for a while. 

One night I was sick, and my boyfriend showed up anyway.  Reluctantly (as sinus infections aren’t nearly as romantic as consumption), I let him in and we watched Wuthering Heights for the umpteenth time.  As I sighed over the end credits, he turned to me. “All your lit crushes.  Is that really what you want?—I mean, they look good on paper, but is Heathcliff going to pick up Mucinex for you?” he asked, tenderly passing me two pills and sweetly ignoring the Kleenex plugs issuing from my snot-streaming nostrils.

Reader, I married him.

He was right, of course.  Laurie’s charismatic rich boy naiveté would probably get grating when it came down to choosing car insurance or anything remotely practical (on the other hand, with his money we could just hire someone to do it and I could live like the trophy wife March sister Amy).

I had grown out of the emotional sturm und drang of Heathcliff—date nights that could end in impulse tattoos and restraining orders seemed less appealing the older I got. 

And while Mr. Darcy might be a perfect theoretical mate, I couldn’t imagine him scraping toddler vomit off car seats, or comparison shopping for tampons, or any of the other utterly ordinary acts of gallantry my husband performs on a routine basis.

Yes, writer/reader chicks are a tough crowd. But eventually we all come to a crossroads in our literary lives:  either we’re living in someone else’s stories, or we’re writing our own.  The latter is infinitely more satisfying, even when it doesn’t make for a great page-turner.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doing the Hard Thing

by Becky Porter

           I woke and stared somewhat sullenly at the sloped canvas roof soaring a few feet above my head.  The air in the tent was pleasantly cool, but my mind did not dwell long on the weather.  Mechanically, I adjusted the pillow that was slipping off the end of the metal cot, part of my brain noting the morning songs of the varied birds in the trees outside.  I was plagued by that vaguely grumpy feeling adults get—or maybe it’s only me—when they know they are about to do something that should be done but that they don’t want to do.  This, after all, is what it means to be “grown-up”. 
 With a small sigh and a furrowed brow, I untangled myself from the sleeping bag and climbed off the bed.  My toes curled a little as they hit the rough wood flooring beneath.  I padded the few steps to the tent opening and, lifting the thick canvas flap, gazed out on the gorgeous cool stillness of early morning at Philmont Scout Ranch.  The scent of wet earth mingled with the fresh, sharp tang of the trees; I breathed it in deeply, and with that breath came a deep sense of certainty and peace.
We had arrived at Philmont almost a week before, rain coming down in sheets as our minivan full of kids, suitcases, sleeping bags, books, pillows, Scout uniforms, and excitement (but not a single working umbrella) pulled into the long, winding drive.  The past few days had been a wonderful blur of inspired training and revelation for Jeff; bonding with new friends for me; and pony rides, archery, crafts, games, and camp songs for the children.  Oh yes—and hikes.  Long, hard hikes.  Half-day hikes for the little ones and 7-hour ordeals for the older ones. 
“You can do this!” I had told each of them.  “You can do hard things. I believe in you!”
They had listened.  One by one I had encouraged them and sent them off.  One by one they had come back, flushed with the power of accomplishment, eager to tell me how hard it had been and how they had persevered.  I played my part well, exclaiming and commiserating and lavishing them with praise.
“I knew you could do it!” I said. “In our family, we do hard things.  It wasn’t easy but you finished, and I’m so proud of you.”
These were the thoughts I had later that morning as my sneaker-clad feet crunched across pine needles, leading me up and over rocks and under tree boughs.  It was my turn to hike.  I was backing up my words with my example, and my middle-aged, out-of-shape body was protesting almost every uphill step of the way.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the women at the front of the hike, ladies who bounced their way up the mountain in their hiking boots with backpacks slung confidently over their shoulders, but I was determined to stay in the middle of the pack.  It was sheer pride and grit that kept me there, puffing like a locomotive, as we climbed steadily.  I reveled in the strength of my legs and thanked God for my healthy body.  I gazed at deer just down the mountain from us, their bodies taut and still. And, at some point, I thought I was going to die if we didn’t stop soon.  I ached to be done.
Why was I out here?  Sweat dripped down my face and the locomotive was puffing harder than ever.  I began to hate those smiling, delusional women at the front of the line who acted like this was a stroll down the street instead of the grueling new form of torture that any sane person would recognize it to be. 
After about an hour and a half, our male guide stopped.  The trail wound up in an S-curve like some reddish-brown malevolent snake on the side of the wooded hill.  The guide stood above us and his words struck apprehension into my weary brain.
“We’re almost to the top, but this last part is the hardest.  It’s a set of switchbacks that climb steeply.  If any of you want to stay here and wait for us (we’ll be coming back the way we came up), you can do that rather than climb the whole way.”
We had already hiked almost two miles and climbed close to 1,000 feet and now he was telling us that the hardest part was ahead?  I will be forever grateful to my newfound friend, Katie, who recognized the moment I began to waver.  She played the part for me that I had played for my kids.
“Come on, Becky. You can do this,” she encouraged in her soft voice. “You will always regret it if you don’t go to the top.”
And so I pushed on.  I did the hard thing that I had not wanted to do.  I pushed myself up that set of switchbacks, one plodding foot in front of the other, huffing and puffing but never falling back.  I climbed over huge rocks, made more immense by my exhaustion.  I moved forward when I thought I couldn’t, and when I reached the summit I burst into tears. 
No words can describe the exhilaration I felt when, after coming back down and riding the bus back to camp, I looked my children in the eyes and said, “I did it!  It was hard and I did it!” 

I found that doing the hard thing is just a series of small steps, one after the other, until you reach the summit a new, stronger person for your effort.


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