Thursday, July 29, 2010

It's all in the tool box

By Heather Justesen

This week I had an ambulance training with a couple of local search and rescue guys. We learned about rope rescue and how to work as a team effectively while repelling, and then ascending a steep hill with a patient in tow. It was quite fascinating stuff, and I already have plans to use that some day (oh, the story ideas I've gotten from EMT trainings!) It was fascinating to see what a difference a single pulley made in easing the group up the hill, and how knowing the right knots and having the right equipment could broaden your options.

I bring this up not just because it was a dang cool activity that I can't wait to repeat with the whole posse in September (though that's true), or to point out that I did an awesome job of repelling (though that's true too--even if coming up again towing a patient was a bit trickier, but I'll blame that on the sage brush).

I mention this because the activity was about training as a team, and knowing each other's strengths and weaknesses and how to make the teamwork more effective.

Who's on your writing team? Do you have people you can brain storm with? People who are good at punctuation and grammar? People who point out where you prose isn't working as well as it could, or where your phrasing is a bit didactic or cliche? Do you have team members who cheer you on and help you see the good points in your writing so you don't become discouraged?

I think all of these jobs are essential--especially as we first start out writing. Until we can learn how to write better dialogue every time, we need people who can point out where it works and where it doesn't, and help us learn the difference. If you're a comma dunce (like I used to be, and still struggle with sometimes), then you'll need someone on your team who's a comma queen (or king) and can help you learn when and why to use them, and when something else is better.

We may not have every tool in our writing tool box that we'd like, but if we work with a team of others who have different strengths and weaknesses than we do, we can all pull together and accomplish far more than we could apart. And as we collect those tools over the years, we can share our skills with other writers who are where we used to be.

'Cause there are a lot of other comma dunces out there--and you never know when that comma dunces' prose will inspire you with fabulous plot twists you hadn't considered before.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Becoming Kate by Dixie Owens

Back Cover:

Elizabeth Lindsay, wife and mother of two, is in an auto accident. She awakens in a hospital with strangers calling her Kate. She learns that she perished in the accident and is the donor for the first successful brain transplant. Her mind and memories now reside in the body of eleven-year old Kate. She's not supposed to have a personal memory, but ... Elizabeth is faced with an overwhelming situation. How does she resolve her death and rebirth? How does she stop being Liz and start becoming Kate? It s a story about love and letting go, of redemption and second chances.

Cedar Fort sent me a review copy of Becoming Kate by Dixie Owens. The premise is very intriguing. It opens up some thought-provoking questions. Is the spirit, or soul, of someone in their mind or in their heart? Both? Are we, as a society, playing God when we do organ transplants? Is there a difference between a heart or liver transplant and a brain transplant? What would it be like to be "transferred" from one body to another?

I enjoyed this book, I'm not a big fan of multiple point-of-view characters and this one has several. I felt like it was trying to cover too many storylines at once and it would've felt more intimate if the author had chosen to stay in one or two points of view. I felt like the storyline with the brother wasn't fully developed and his relationship with his girlfriend felt forced. I cried at the end, but I did feel it was rushed.

However, I thought Owens weaved an interesting story and developed the main characters. I could really feel for Liz/Kate as well as for Marcy and the positions they were in. I really liked Liz/Kate. I think she has a great use of  language and I enjoyed the images she created with her word painting. I liked her original metaphors and similes. She has an easy-to-read writing style.

I recommend this book. It made me think about things. I don't think I'd want to be transferred to another body through a brain transplant because I'd want my family, not someone else's What makes my life beautiful is my family and mortality wouldn't hold its appeal for me without them.

Even though, CFI sent me this copy, it in no way influenced my review.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Coming Clean

I have a confession to make. Aside from being an author, I am an avid reader. In fact, avid may not aptly describe my habit. I lose sleep to read. I forget to eat while reading. I can read for hours and never grow tired or bored.

A little over a year ago, I discovered the wonderful world of LDS fiction. Up to that point, I read the same books over and over because I liked the stories and also because I knew there would be no hidden surprises such as gratuitous sex, violence or language. But now I'm like a kid in a candy store with a credit card.

Except I do have to rein in my spending once in a while.

Without counting, I know I have purchased more than 50 books over the last year. I want to support my fellow authors, so I go to book signings when I can. And I buy the book. Some of the books in my shelves have been free because I did reviews. Some I've even won from blog contests and other contests.

Unlike the kid in the candy store analogy, these books aren't going to give me a stomach ache the more I read them. In fact, I often feel uplifted, edified and educated. And all while losing myself in complex plots, difficult character challenges and tons of excitement.

But, seriously, I'm running out of room in my house. Some of my bookshelves are already two books deep.

I know I could find the books used, or at a library, but that rational thought doesn't hit me when one of my author friends has a new book out. I'm so excited for them and I want to share in that. These last few months, due to severe budget restrictions, I've had to turn down several book signings because I couldn't justify the expense of driving from Tooele to UT county three times in a month. It's been really hard for me, but I know my friends understand.

Maybe some of that is selfish. If I support as many authors as I can, maybe they will in exchange support me when my book comes out. That sounds rational, right? It's what we all want: to sell our books.

But I tend to forget that when I'm having so much fun reading great, quality literature.

Bye for now. I'm going to go read something. :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Path

I would like to use this painting of "The Path" as a comparison to writing a novel. Can you see the secret, magical garden in the background where all things are possible? Where ideas flow? Where stories come alive in the mind and the words appear on the pages just as they should . . . all the comas in the right places?

See the path? It's the path we take on our journey to become the author we see ahead of us, Sometimes the path is smooth and easy to follow. Sometimes the path is covered with weeds and we stumble over the rocks hidden beneath. We fall and we have to pick ourselves up and clear the path before we can continue on.

I campare that to writing a manuscript, which lacks something that is needed to catch the publisher's eye. and we've scraped our knees when we fell. So we bandage the scraped knees, take a deep breath, pull the weeds and clear away the rocks so that we can see, with a fresh eye, what we need to do to get to the secret garden of publication.

The path becomes visible again, the knees have healed, and we've learned a new secret. It's called the secret of rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until what we have is what is we really wanted in the first place. What a great learning experience. What magic.

Now, I have to go to the kitchen and help make bacon and french toast for 5 grandsons and their parents. Have a great day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Blessing and Temptation of Good Ideas

I like to think I have some pretty good ideas. Chances are, you have some good ideas, too. Who's ideas are better? The reality is, it doesn't much matter.

It's commonly said that ideas are cheap, and my stack of notebooks filled with unfinished story concepts is pretty good proof of that theory. An idea - even a good one - is worth next to nothing. True value comes from the implementation.

The problem with implementation is that it takes time. And effort. And, in many cases, financial investment. Since these resources are finite, and ideas are limitless, trying to decide which ideas are worth the necessary commitment can be paralyzing.

(Did you catch that? Fear of Commitment - my manly contribution to the blog this month.)

But seriously, knowing which ideas to throw your time and talents behind, and which ones to set aside, is one of the many hard things this writing gig demands.

With cheap, easy, good ideas coming at us from all directions, it's tempting to let a shiny new concept distract us from a project that has progressed from "fun" to become "work." Yet abandoned projects are little better than shiny new ideas. It's the ability to see a project through to the end that provides true value.

Ideas are cheap.

Implementation is priceless.

How do you maintain your focus and keep yourself from getting distracted by every fancy new idea that comes your way?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Believe in your dreams

By Heather Justesen

I know I was supposed to write yesterday, but an appropriate topic eluded me--until this one slapped me upside the face.

We've been having a discussion in one of my online forums the past couple of days. One of the women there expressed her frustration because her parents not only didn't support her writing, but have been very negative about it, even telling her it's a waste of time to write, or to attend conferences to learn more.

It amazed me how many people in my group have experienced similar sentiments from their families, whether the detractor is parent, sibling, or spouse. I admit, I got lucky in that my uncle was a published author many times over, producing dozens of books and games throughout my childhood. In my family's minds, this made my pursuit of writing a totally doable and sensible option, so I've never gotten anything but support from them.

On the other hand, I do remember the first time I told my MIL I was writing and her telling me that was a nice hobby, but what was I going to do with my real life? Thankfully she changed her tune when she finally read something I'd written, but it did give me a small taste of what these other friends of mine have had to go through.

The fact is, you'll hear similar stories of discouragement and frustrations from a good percentage of published authors. I think this applies across the board, regardless of what your dream may be. I'm sure there are brilliant surgeons out there who were told they'd never make it through medical school; there are artists with their works displayed in major museums and galleries who were told they were wasting their time; and every other possible vocation will have similar stories.

Why is it we allow others to tell us that we aren't capable of reaching our goals? If our friends and neighbors would support me in learning how to play the piano, why wouldn't they support my desire to write? And why is it that writing isn't considered a reasonable way to spend a couple of hours a day, but watching television for the same amount of time is perfectly okay?

Here's what it boils down to: The Lord has given us talents and desires to grow and use in different ways. We don't choose those talents that are given to us, but we do choose what we make of them. If you want something enough, study, research, and keep moving along, eventually you'll reach your goal.

Does it matter what that goal is? Does it have to be the same one now as it will be in twenty years? No. I know lots of writers who are mothers with full-time jobs on the side and will be thrilled to manage writing a book in twelve months, while others in different circumstances may write four or five in the same period. Another group may not be interested in books, but maybe they want to put together a collection of short stories to share with their kids--is that a waste of time if no money comes of it?

Okay, so I may have rambled a bit. Here it is. If you want to become an accomplished pianist you practice, take lessons, and study theory. If you want to become a doctor or nurse you study, practice, and learn about people, and if you want to become a published writer you write, read, and study the craft of writing until you learn enough to reach your goal. The Lord wants us to develop our talents, to become more than we are, and if we sit back and let our family and friends tell us we can't reach our dreams, we're wasting our opportunities.

Eventually when you reach that goal, those who told you you'd never make it will learn you were so much more than they realized. And perhaps much more than you ever thought you could be.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Upside of Down Book Trailer Teaser

by Rebecca Talley

What do you think?

How do you feel about book trailers? Have you seen some amazing ones? Do you watch them? Do they influence your book buying habits?

Monday, July 12, 2010

How are you Derailed?

I had a plan this morning. I'd get up, put up my post and get on with my day.

Then I checked my email.

And I've spent the last hour and a half looking for my eyeglasses prescription.

A while back, I dropped my glasses and scratched the protective lens coating. I needed to replace them, but I've been putting it off. Today in my email there was a reminder from the site I get my glasses that they're having a big sale the next two weeks. But I need my prescription.

And I can't find it. And I'm letting it get to me.

But let's turn this around and use it as a lesson. How often are we so easily derailed when it comes to our writing? It happens to me all the time. I check my email, go to Facebook, do my networking--but by the end of the day I haven't done any writing. Sigh.

There are good distractions. Family. Even keeping up our networking with our writing friends is important. But it has to be done in moderation. I'm trying to limit my visits to FB to three times a day. Once in the morning, once while the baby is napping, and once in the evening. In the meantime, I can focus on my kids--since they pretty much don't let me do anything else lol--and I can write when they go to bed.

But sticking to the plan is difficult. As I type this, my daughter is next to me moping about how her best friend is gone for the next two weeks, and will miss her birthday. I know I need to talk to her about this, but I also need to get this post out. Focus, focus. :)

In short, life is full of distractions. The trick is finding your focus, and working hard to stick to it. Good luck!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It's My Turn- Now What?

By Christine Thackeray

I think the last few times I've posted here it has been on the wrong day, but it really is MY TURN. I just got home from a wonderful family reunion and went by Cedar Fort to pick up my new book. What fun to hold it in your hands for the first time, although I haven't seen it in stores, and it's not on the DB website yet so I'm biting my fingernails because I know sometimes they pass, which is a REAL BUMMER.

Speaking of Bummers, a recent back injury forced me to cancel a number of book signings, but one of my cousins called the other day and when I bring my daughter out to BYU in August, she's going to do a big book club with me as the keynote speaker. Wa-hoo.

It's funny how these books are just like our babies in a way. "Lipstick Wars" is like my testimony of visiting teaching, a warning of trying to be too perfect, the importance of diversity in friendship and the meaning of real service.

So my husband decides to read it. The first time he has ever read one of my books. At the end of the first chapter I stick in a teaser which he says is totally cheating. I show him where all the clues are to understand this new character and that it is a fair literary device used by many well-known authors. He'll have none of it. Then each chapter he critiques something that could have been better. My character should be smarter, and her neighbor is stupid for being so mean. I tell him it is called conflict, the basis for book? That if they weren't flawed with problems we all carry, what would be the point of writing it? He's still reading but I can see why he is a nonfiction engineer. I love him just the same.

In my defense my sister read it with her dentist husband and , WOW, they loved it. Read here. So if you get a chance, read it and tell me what you think.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Are Creative People Disorganized or Is It Just Me?

I'm in the process of cleaning, re-organizing, and de-cluttering my home room by room. The reason for this is 1) to give my children responsibilities and something productive to do during the summer, 2) to help my household (and hopefully my life) run smoother so I can make time to write each day, 3) because I'm tired of the little white dust that has settled on top of my curtains, and 4) to prove that not all right-brained creative people live in chaos. (I've heard the definition of CHAOS is: Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome.) That's way too stereotypical, and it certainly doesn't apply to me.

So, while I was going through a room the other day, I received a phone call asking if I would please send a baby picture and a recent school picture of my daughter with her to YW that night. Sure, I could do that. Eager to get it done, I set off to find her pictures, which I knew exactly where they were. (See, I am organized.) Only the box they were in was completely stuffed full of pictures, so it took a while to go through all my "organized" packets to finally find a baby picture. (I think the baby in it was her. It wasn't labeled, so it could have been a picture of my other daughter, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.)

The whole time I was looking, I kept coming across pictures and thinking, "Oh, I remember this. I remember when my kids were that young. Oh..." When I finally found the picture I was looking for, my leg was numb from sitting on it so long. But the weird thing was, my daughter's current school pictures were nowhere to be found. Then I remembered that there was a stray picture of her by my computer desk. I found it in less than two minutes. Aha! But it was crinkled and unusable.

Alas, I did have a picture of her on my computer that I could just print out. That would be the best solution under the circumstances. Once I logged on to my computer and scanned through the hundreds of family pictures saved on Picasa, I finally found it. But when I went to open the picture to print it out, it disappeared as soon as it appeared, over and over, and over again. This was really annoying because I was trying to get "organized" and still had a number of things I needed to do.

I thought that maybe my mouse was going haywire or perhaps my computer had gotten one of those viruses going around. I tried exiting or logging off, but everything I clicked on disappeared as soon as it appeared. Somehow, though, I managed to restart my computer, and while it was restarting, I went to work in another room. When I returned, with a fresh pair of eyes, I noticed the source of my computer's haywire-ness. It wasn't the mouse. It wasn't a virus. The corner of a book on my desk had fallen onto the escape key of my keyboard, so every time I had clicked on something, that book was escaping me out of the program as quickly as I had entered it.

Now I agree, as most book lovers do, that books are a great way to escape, but lets face it, maybe I am a little disorganized and have just a tiny bit of the right-brained creative chaos thing going on.

When I really think about it, could living in a slightly chaotic condition be preventing me from writing as I'd like? I believe so. When my time and home are not organized and scheduled, I constantly feel that there are more important things that I need to be doing than writing. For me, I need to be relaxed and feel it's okay to write. When I'm thinking about all there is that needs to be done, it squashes my creativity. So with that in mind, because I believe in personal growth, my goal is to have more order and organization in my home and in my life so that I can crank out more books and have fun while I do it.

So, are creative people disorganized or is it just me?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Peek in the Past – The Journey Begins

Boarding the ship Sylvania in Liverpool at the age of twenty-one, and heading for America, was more of an emotional upheaval than I ever anticipated. Watching my family standing on the quayside, waving, slowly shrinking as the ship pulled further and further away, brought on such a mixture of excitement, sadness, fear, and panic that I was tempted to jump overboard and swim back to land.

I had the promise of a secretarial job in Washington D.C., and temporary accommodation in a downtown hostel, but supposing something went wrong? What was I thinking? I didn’t know a soul in America. Was I crazy? Why this urge to exchange my comfortable life for travel, anyway?

It would be over eighteen months before I had answers to these questions.

Gradually, as land disappeared and the mood of everyone on board lightened, my adventurous self overcame my faint-hearted self and the journey became easier to bear. I soon realized how very little I understood about life, about people and their countless differences. Many of those passengers attached themselves so firmly in my mind that some would end up in my stories in years far ahead.

Passing the Statue of Liberty and finally setting foot in the USA all felt as though it were happening in a dream. But it was real, and things were looking up. I even had a couple of new friends—two girls in the same boat (pun intended), heading for the same Washington D.C. hostel.

To cut a long story short at this point, things didn’t turn out quite as expected. Do they ever? The job didn’t materialize; the hostel was awful (no air-conditioning in sweltering heat); and money was running short. What to do. What to do?

In determined British Bulldog fashion, six of us who came through the same agency (Pauline, Pat, Liz, Shiela, Judy, and I), got together, rented an apartment in Maryland, and found ourselves new jobs in the city. And this was just the beginning of my great adventure.

Tune in for more next month and read where two of us moved to next. Nope, it wasn’t Australia :-)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today I was reading an article my husband had found by Business Week called Thirty Ways to Wreck Your Career, and I was amazed at how many of these apply to being a writer. Though they all covered different aspects of behavior, there were several that jumped out at me. The first thing they mention is not living in the moment--or rather those who spend all of their time dreaming about the great things they are going to accomplish, but don't put in the work to succeed.

I'm always running into people who want to be writers. Some of them--the ones who are likely to succeed--are actually writing. Scads of others have a story they want to tell, but there's always something getting in the way. They have a demanding job, they have kids, maybe there's just too much going on in their lives.

Sometimes these are legitimate reasons--the fact is, when I have too much stress, I can't create. All of my attention is being sucked up by the crisis I'm dealing with, and that can make writing nearly impossible.

For most of us though, those excuses for why we can't make time to write are just that--excuses. I know writers who have full-time jobs, families, and many other demands on their time, and yet they still manage to crank out a book every year or two.