Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's Your Story?

As writers we have stories we want to tell. Some stories are sad but some are empowering. Some are hysterical while others are pathetic. We share ideas and experiences through powerful “what if” types of circumstances. We imbue our characters with heroic traits and fatal flaws because we all possess a portion of both within us and the story we tell is in many ways an extension of ourselves. We tell stories to entertain but also to educate and when all is said and done our goal is to make some kind of difference in the life of the reader, and if we accomplish that in even the smallest way, with a laugh or a cry, or sharing an “ah ha” moment, we feel successful.


Sometimes we forget that not only do we tell stories, we ARE a story that is still being written. Our lives, our pains, our successes and failures all make up the story of who we are. Every person is a story. Some stories may seem more compelling than others but that is largely due to the way in which the story is told and of course, the ending. Some stories are short while others are long but we are all in the process of writing our own story. Are we writing the kind of triumphant story we hope for or are we living a tragedy?


Are we the hero or the villain? Are we the main character or do we relegate ourselves to the periphery of our own lives, content to stand in the background to be controlled by the dominant forces around us? Do we succumb to our fatal flaws or do we overcome them in a way that would make a reader cheer and cry for joy because of our success?


Our characters grow organically in ways we never imagined. This often happens because of unique circumstances that force them to face challenges they didn’t anticipate. We too will have opportunities to grow as we face challenges we would rather skip. Life cannot be planned out perfectly to avoid every danger and pain, sadness and heartbreak, but like our characters we can have a plan. We can and should have a destination in our mind that guides us through our trials; otherwise we will wander aimlessly as mere subjects to be acted upon.


Would we care about the Lord of the Rings trilogy if Frodo Baggins gave up before finishing his mission? We couldn’t really blame him could we? His task was difficult, seemingly impossible. He could have quit, easily. He had numerous setbacks, but what value would that story have? Likewise, what value will our story have if we allow our flaws to dominate our lives? Conversely, how thrilling will our story be when we embrace our inner hero?


This is the story of who I am… The ending is yet to be written.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Experience in attending a great wrkshop for writers, Continued

Tuesday's class began at 8:00 a.m. We talked about Elements of a Story. The setting of your story includes the time and place that the story occurs even if it's an imaginary setting, because your characters grow out of the setting. The characters surroundings helps to define who they are, to a point.From there the characters begin to create their story, their conflicts, their weaknesses and strengths.

In a story there should be 3 to 6 major characters.

The Protagonist, Antagonist, Contagonist, Sidekick, Guardian,

There must be a flaw in every story. Maybe the heckler turns into the guardian or visa versa.

The Contagonist is usually the big fight at the gate (so to speak) and usually falls somewhere along the way.

The villain needs a background story - a growth cycle. He or she can be bright, comical, etc., yet somewhere along the way becomes the villain.

give the Protagonist a sidekick. Give the sidekick interesting storyline or monologue. But keep it small.

Tie the characters together. Go for multiple reaction by making them unpredictable yet believable. Let them change and grow throughout the novel. It isn't necessarily the character himself, or herself, who is interesting, but the process of change

Give your character a background. Interview them. Get to know them personally.

In closing, one more comment, and I quote from Mr. Farland. "For each of your characters, you would be wise to look at them and not worry so much about how many nose hairs they have or what the social security number is, but to consider what kind of growth that character might experience in you tales."

See you in two weeks and have a great day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Celebrate with Me!

Saturday night, I tied up all the loose ends of my second novel, The Tyrant King, and put together my submissions package to send to my publisher. Okay, I admit it. I started Saturday MORNING and finished (barely) 1am Sunday.

But, I finished. :)

Tonight, my hubby, kids and I are going to pop open a couple of bottles of sparkling cider and toast the new book--with likely a little prayer that it will be accepted. I'm inviting all of you to join the celebration. Have a yummy dessert. Treat yourself to your favorite dinner. Have a piece of cake. But, overall, take a few minutes to put your feet up and enjoy the sensation of a job well done.

Because that's what I'm going to do!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I've Already Blogged About Hotdogs and Shower what?

                                                                 By Trina Boice

So, you've joined the ranks of bloggers on the Internet!  Great!   You quickly wrote about everything you were passionate about and now you're starting to draw a blank, eh? 

Some days the ideas and words flow quite easily, but then there are the days when you just can't think of anything original or worthwhile to say.  Don't force it.  The most important thing about blogging is to be authentic.

Sometimes you just need a little inspiration to get you started.  I recently discovered a cool tool that does just that.

Brian Proctor, the son of Bob Proctor (The Secret) was interested in receiving inspirational quotes and stories that would set the tone for each day. He created a free auto-sending email service (before it was common to do so) with an inspirational quote Monday through Thursday and a story on Fridays.

When you sign up for his free emails you'll receive plenty of inspiring ideas that can quickly get your own creative juices flowing. Enjoy!

To start receiving great blog ideas, click on this little box:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Even horror has its place

By Heather Justesen

So I've spent tons of time in the past couple of months reading books for the Whitney awards. I still have five left to finish off in the next three weeks--which probably seems like a lot, if you don't realize I've plowed through nineteen since the first of February. Five should be a breeze, right?

I just finished Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, whose first book, I am not a Serial Killer, won best book by a new author last year (okay, so it was a tie, but that's still awesome!). I've put off reading these books because I'm seriously not into horror, even though I bought IANASK for my husband almost two years ago. I don't like to be creeped out, and while suspense is fun, being scared--not so much for me. But to my surprise, instead of finding them totally creepy (only creepy in places, and rather gory here and there, but maybe it didn't bother me much because I've developed a warped sense of normal since I became an EMT), I found them darkly fascinating and very enjoyable.

You're probably wondering why I'm talking about Dan's genius when I've read almost thirty other finaling books already--all of them great. I admit, mostly it's because it's what I read last (about an hour ago). On the other hand, it's the perfect example for this post.

Ah, and now I get to the point. You see, as writers, we're told to read in our genre--everything we can pick up--so we can learn the rules and ins and outs of how things are done. On the other hand, reading outside your genre (and Mr. Monster was WAY outside my normal reading) helps you to become a better writer, gives you thoughts and ideas about what else is out there, different ways to attack your own writing, and may even be the inspiration to fix a plotting problem that's been giving you fits.

And reading for the Whitneys has exposed me to so many great books and new authors I've never read before. That by itself has made it all worthwhile.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lost Work- Urgh!

By Christine Thackeray

This week I experienced the blue screen of death for the first time. My sons laughed and said it happens every once in a while, but they hadn't lost fifteen pages of brilliant work. (No, I hadn't saved for the last hour.) (Okay, so maybe it just felt brilliant but we'll never know because it's LOST forever.) Even after rebooting the computer I couldn't trust it so I forced my husband down to the electronics section of Costco to blow part of our tax return and got a new computer. (Yeah!)

Still, it got me thinking about how I save my work. I know some people use flash drives but they damage so easily. My husband has an external drive that he uses but if ever he was unavailable and I had to access anything on it, well, it wouldn't happen. Two USEFUL options that I've found help is if I mail my manuscript to myself intermittantly. This way it's saved in both my outlook files and on the MSN external server. My husband has also installed an application called "dropbox" and by dumping my manuscript in there, I'm able to access it from any computer.

It only takes once to turn a casual save button clicker into an avid backer-upper.

So how do you back up your files?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Interview with Larry Brooks

by Rebecca Talley

Larry Brooks is a successful novelist and a popular writing guru. His blog has a huge readership and has won awards for its outstanding advice and tips. Larry is a personable guy who's always willing to answer questions. I've read his ebook Story Structure and his newest book, available in Kindle and print formats, Story Engineering. Excellent resources. His advice and explanations are easy to understand and have enlightened and empowered me to, hopefully, improve my fiction.

Larry Brooks is also the keynote speaker for the LDStorymakers Conference May 5-7 at the Salt Lake Sheraton,, a conference you definitely don't want to miss if you're serious about writing. I am so excited to hear him speak because I've been reading his blog for some time now and his take on writing really makes sense to me. Be forewarned, though, that he is not LDS and his language can be colorful at times on his blog and in his books.

Larry has agreed to do an interview. Be prepared to learn a ton just from this interview.

Why is story structure so important?

Because structure is actually more than structure. Like a building, structure has a role: it bears weight, it provides safe access, it provides efficiency, it becomes the foundation for aesthetic beauty (think Effiel Tower on that one, yet the design is all engineering).

Structure is the machine that dictates pacing and dramatic tension. Without it, too much or too little is revealed too soon or too late. A cynic might ask, "who says?" The answer is proven by the marketplace -- publishers don't buy books and readers don't read books that don't have that solid pacing and dramatic tension.

Certain things need to happen in a certain order, and at certain places within a story that works. There is some wiggle room, but very little. This disappoints those who thought they were getting into some kind of "free-form no rules do-what-you-want" craft... but the contrary is true. At a professional level of writing and publishing, structure is the foundation of story.

How did you come up with the Six Core Competencies?

I was looking for a new, clearer and more accessible way to wrap my head around the craft of storytelling. I'd hear this grad-school rhetoric, like, "You hero's quest is dictated by the sub-text of his subliminal need as demonstrated by the backstory, and in context to the agenda of that antagonist who is merely a catalyst for the hero's exposition and the ultimate denouement of the dramatic arc."

All of that is true, by the way. But it's pretty much elitist mumbo-jumbo, too, leaving newer writers cold and frustrated. There had to be a better way.

The model of the Six Core Competencies was developed over many years of teaching fiction at writing conferences. It began as "the four pillars of story," which later became a sub-set of the 6CC when I added two  "executional" (my word, spell check doesn't like it, either) core competencies to the list.

Virtually anything and everything you can come up with pertaining to the goal of writing a story falls into one of these competency "buckets," each of which has its own standards, criteria and techniques.

What are the Six Core Competencies?

Four are elemental, two are executional.

The four "elements" of story are: concept, character, theme, and structure (plot exposition).

The two "executional" core competencies are scene development and writing voice.

A weakness in any one of these will kill the story. You have to be solid in all six to get into the game.

Can you explain the difference between idea, concept, and theme?

A good challenge that, and an important one. Because when a writer doesn't know the difference they may head down the wrong road. It is made all the more challenging because an "idea" actually can be one of the other two.

An "idea" is the initial germ or spark that begins the search for story. It can be generic, such as: "I want to write a mystery that takes place in a military academy." Is that a concept? No, not yet, the criteria for concept asks more of us. Same with premise, there isn't enough to it.

Then again, an idea can be more specific. "Write a mystery that takes place in a military academy involving the son of a controversial senator." Better. The idea is heading toward conceptville. But it doesn't get there until...

... you add a "what if?" component. Something that asks a dramatic question that sets the stage for a story. Such as: "What if the son of a senator attending a snooty military academy is killed when it is revealed he's been dating the wife of the head master?" Juicy. And conceptual. There's a story there. There was no story at the "idea" level, but now there is.

As for premise, this becomes an expansion of the concept through the addition of character arc and agenda. Just as concept uses a "what if?" tool, premise uses this: "this is a story about..." and goes on to overview the dramatic landscape, with the inclusion of theme and character. In this example: "This is a story of a young man trying to live out from under the dark shadow of his disgraced senator father, who falls for a woman who needs his help to rescue her from her abusive husband, who happens to run the military academy he attends. The story is about the murder of the young man and the ensuing coverup, plumbing the depths of the lengths people will go to in order to avenge a broken heart and protect a false legacy at all costs."

You could say it's a matter of degree. But really, it's story planning at its highest level. If a writer begins writing with only that first idea, the story will have no focus, no pace and no arc. It's a recipe for a rewrite, because all that draft could ever be is a tool in the search for the story.

What are the five elements that each story must have? Can a story be successful without them?

A hero who must achieve something, with whom we can empathize and root for.

An antagonistic force that blocks the hero's quest, thus summoning the heroic core of the protagonist.

A hero who becomes just that, conquering inner demons and ultimately becoming the primary catalyst and instrument of the story's ending. The hero can never be rescued, they must achieve something, even if it isn't what he/she set out to accomplish.

A story must have a solid structure. Four sequential parts, each with a succinct narrative mission. Each separated by a prescribed (non-negotiable) narrative milestone (shift, twist or new information) that speeds things up, deepens stakes, empowers context and fuels the forward motion of the exposition.

A combination of vicarious reader experience (they must be taken for a ride), thematic weight (they feel it as they read it), character arc (the hero's rewarding journey) and a sweet writing voice that doesn't seek to become a distraction to the story it tells.

And no, a story cannot be successful without all of these thing in play.

You're not only a successful novelist and a popular presenter at writing conferences, but you also offer a manuscript critiquing service. What is the most common mistake you find in the manuscripts you critique?

A violation of all of the above princples is commonplace, and understandable. Writing a great story is really hard. REALLY hard. Most mistakes can be assigned to the writer not yet wrapping their head around what I call the six core competencies, they leave something unclear and unexecuted in that regard. The idea and the resultant concept isn't strong enough. The character/hero isn't three dimension. The story doesn't matter, it elicits a "who cares?" response. And most of all, the structure is off, usually by way of far too much expositional description, side-trips and lack of scene focus.

That last one is the stuff of professionals, and it's the best writing tip I know: each scene you write should have a clear, efficient and compelling mission to fulfill. A piece of narrative exposition to deliver. This isn't characterization -- that is incumbent upon every scene to delivery. Rather, each scene needs to propel the story forward. Not with a bunch of stuff, but with one compelling piece. We should build our scenes around what chunk of narrative information, whatever it is.

This is the art of it. Where do you start within a scene? How do you know when and how to cut to it? What makes a scene dramatic, keeps it from lagging? What details are important, what aren't?

Always the writer's call. Those who get it, who develop a sensiblity in this regard, go on to write successful stories and possibly have a career.

You get to that point by internalizing the six core competencies, which ultimate blend together and depend on each other, and, when done well, become a sum in excess of their parts.

Hope this stuff helps excite you and propel you toward even better storytelling! Thanks for having me.

Thanks, Larry for dropping by. Great information!

I told you this was AMAZING stuff. I LOVE it. Visit his blog for more info on writing. His book Story Engineering, is available at Amazon as well as bookstores.

If you want to see him in person and learn from a master, come to the LDStorymakers Conference. You won't regret it!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Control Issues

I'm sorry this post is a little late today. This weekend--heck, the whole WEEK--has failed to follow any kind plan.

This was Spring Break at our house, and what was originally envisioned as a multi-state road trip, with numerous bookstore appearances, book signings, and a family visit to the Happiest Place on Earth, dwindled and degraded until it was one long, partial-family daytrip to Houston.

I would like to say I handled the disruption with flexibility and good humor, but truth be told I was rather sullen and grumpy, spending the bulk of my time preparing for a business trip and wishing something--ANYTHING--would go the way I had planned it.

The coup de grace came yesterday, when the washing machine died and resisted all of my desperate, ox-from-the-mire-pulling efforts to repair it before leaving on this above-mentioned, week-long business trip. And since I failed to fix the thing myself, I'll have to let someone else fix it. There is simply no way for me to do the repair myself.

And now, cruising at 32,000 feet, I have to wonder if I have developed some control issues.

If I have, I blame my writing habit.

When I write, I need to have a solid idea of what I'm going be writing. Sure, I allow my characters leeway within a scene to do what they want. After all, there are few things as fun and exciting as putting a handful of imaginary people into a situation and having them provide laugh-out-loud entertainment. But if they don't eventually show up at the destination I had mapped out in my exhaustive, multi-page outline, I have to scrap the scene, reset the starting variables, and try again.

Of course, the fact that I CAN start over, and boss these characters around, is one of the things I like most about writing. Which probably proves I have control issues.

Now if I could just figure out how to controll the rest of my life.

Or maybe I should learn to let go a little; let life happen, and give up a little of that control.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The 4 C's of Writing with Emotion

I’ve recently been thinking about favorites. What makes a book one of my favorites? Why do I like a particular movie better than all others and what makes a song something I need to hear over and over. As I’ve created lists of favorite movies, books and songs lately I’ve realized that in each case, the book, the movie or song speaks to me and touches my emotions. It tells me a story and makes me feel something. Maybe it reminds me of a pain I’ve felt or makes me laugh at something stupid I’ve done. But ultimately, if I’m going to reread, re-watch or re-listen, I want to feel good at the end. This doesn’t mean everything needs to end perfectly in a utopian world with kittens and unicorns, but after being reminded of the sting of life I want to feel hope that things can be better and that even the most challenging struggles can be overcome. Some people prefer tragedies but I prefer hope.

In lending we determine an individual’s credit worthiness based on the 3 C’s: Capacity (ability to repay), Collateral (security), and Character (the likelihood that someone will repay- i.e. credit history). Today I’d like to refer the 4 C’s of writing with emotion. Perhaps we can evaluate the emotional worthiness of our work to make sure we pack the emotional punch we intend in connecting with our readers.

How do we convey the emotion that we want our reader to experience? Answer: the 4 C’s.

Content- This is the stimulus, or substance of what is meant to elicit the emotion. Maybe it’s the tragic death of family, or a child, or the pain of unrequited love. Maybe it’s anger or the fear caused by physical danger or emotional distress. In Defensive Tactics, Jimmy faces each of these emotional situations as he overcomes the tragic loss of loved ones. He finds himself in physical danger when he is unwittingly drawn into the heat of an FBI investigation. Hopefully the reader can feel the emotion of these situations. The themes must be broad enough to appeal to a large audience but feel personal enough to help the reader empathize and relate.

Conflict- This is the turmoil and tension created by the emotional situation. This drives the story forward and grips the reader by the throat to let them know, “You’d better keep reading. You can’t stop now.” This prompts us to read on so we can find out what happens.

Context- The emotion must advance the story, not act as a distraction. The emotional situation has to fit into the action of the story and not serve only itself. It needs to mean something in the larger scheme of things. How does the fear of physical harm move the reader? How does the understanding of Jimmy’s tragic past make us care about his future? How do we allow a glimmer of hope to penetrate the gloom of Jimmy’s life?

Character- If we don’t care about the character, we don’t care about the story. If I don’t feel a connection or have an emotional investment in the individual, I won’t care about what happens to him. I won’t tear up when he sits alone in a chapel, staring comatose at an infant casket and I won’t cheer for him when he starts caring for others more than himself. I must be able to invest in the character enough that I will invest my emotion in his story.

These 4 C’s must weave together, binding the reader to the story. Hopefully at the end, the reader will think about the characters and maybe even apply a lesson or two to their own lives. Hopefully, we will leave the reader feeling an emotional connection to the story so that the next time someone asks them if they’ve read any good books lately, they’ll remember ours.

What books have you invested in emotionally?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Online Critique Groups

by Rachael Renee Anderson

Probably the brightest thing I did this year was become involved in a critique group. Even though I live in Utah, where there are many other LDS writers, I wanted an online group for its flexibility. Turns out that online groups can be just as effective, if not more so, than meeting once a week with a regular group.

Over time, our group has adapted, tried new things, and now we have a model that works great for us:

1) We've decided to keep our group at 6 members or less. Any more, and it's too big.
2) We utilize each other for help with: plot outlines, writer's block (if we come to a standstill and need a push), and final review. Or any other questions/concerns we need help with.
3) When we've written and revised our ms, we give it to various friends or family (alpha readers) to look over, mainly for plot holes, incongruities, etc. One group member wrote a middle-grade fantasy and had several jr. high school students (his target audience) look it over for him. Then after we receive alpha comments back, we revise yet again before turning it over to our group, which operates as follows:

  • We ask one member (whoever is available at the time) to begin reading it. Once they have 4-5 chapters done, they upload it to our group message board before continuing on. This gives the author the chance to revise the chapters before another member of our group looks it over. It's sort of a review, revise, review, revise process. That way, each version gets better and better, resulting in a ms that's ready to be submitted.
  • We've decided that 2-3 thorough critiques are the perfect number to request from each other. Editing a full ms takes a lot of time, and with 6 members in our group, it gives us the chance to say "can't do it" if we are particularly busy or don't have the time. In other words, we don't need to critique every ms in our group.
Note: Look for members who are willing to participate as much or little as you--people who will be fair and not take advantage of the group. A group can't be effective if everyone doesn't pull their own weight. For example, if we want 3 people to look over our finished ms and we plan to submit two books in a year, we know we should critique 6 other manuscripts throughout the year to keep things equal. It's sort of an honor system.

Another note: As you critique, be sure to be completely honest. Most authors can handle criticism, and it won't do any good if you can't be honest (sometimes brutally so) with the manuscripts you read. But be sure to point out the good also. (This is a biggie!) It's easier to only write comments about the problems you encounter, but there's definitely something to the saying, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." After all, the main purpose of a critique group should be to lift, inspire, motivate, and make each other a better writer. That can't happen in a negative setting.

If anyone else participates in a critique group, I'm sure we'd all love to hear some of the things you've learned as well. What works/didn't work for you?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Autopsies

                                                                          By Trina Boice

I just discovered the coolest book art and wanted to share it with you.   Using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, Brian Dettmer carves one page at a time.  He's known as "The Book Surgeon",  layering pieces of old, thick books into magical masterpieces.  Nothing is relocated or implanted, only removed to showcase a new "look" at the original book.

Dettmer manipulates the pages and spines to form the shape of his sculptures. He also folds, bends, rolls, and stacks multiple books to create completely original sculptural forms.

"My work is a collaboration with the existing material and its past creators and the completed pieces expose new relationships of the book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception," he says.

"The richness and depth of the book is universally respected yet often undiscovered as the monopoly of the form and relevance of the information fades over time. The book’s intended function has decreased and the form remains linear in a non-linear world. By altering physical forms of information and shifting preconceived functions, new and unexpected roles emerge."

Dettmer is originally from Chicago, where he studied at Columbia College. He currently lives and works in Atlanta, GA.     To see more of his creative love for books, check out his solo art gallery show at   I don't know about you, but it makes me want to write thicker books.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New Mormon Ads Make me HAPPY!!!

By Christine Thackeray

This morning I opened my computer and this video was playing. One of my kids had watched it and left it running. So I'm cracking eggs and listening with half an ear to this woman talk about her art and then she says that for a while she thought that being a mother meant she couldn't do it, but then she realized, "Hey, this is what God gave me and wants me to be." So she is BOTH a mom and an artist.

At this point I'm nodding my head, thinking 'smart lady' and wondering why my children are listening to some random artist talk about herself. Then she ends with "I'm an artist and a Mormon." I had no idea this is where it was going. Wow, was I HAPPY!!!

For some women, their project in life is their house, decorating, scrapbooking and shopping. I DETEST all those things because to me they are temporary and BORING. I love to create, to study and learn something that's been hidden for years. I love to challenge my mind, and I love to write something that feels genuine. I so believe that my gifts are part of who I am, and I hope to teach my children that motherhood is an artform. We aren't stapled to one particular cookie cutter and part of me wonders with strong women like Emma and Eliza Snow at the beginnings of our church whoever thought we were.

Anyway, next time you're feeling guilty, weird or off center about writing or being who you are, listen to a few of these (there are at least eight or nine) and know it's great to be YOU.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Character Imperfections

Nine years ago, I wrote my fist novel. It is still sitting on my desk in manuscript form, collecting dust, because it was never published. There are many reasons it was rejected, and one of them was because the main character had a huge flaw. She was perfect.

She was perfectly beautiful, perfectly behaved, perfectly everything and it was rather boring and maybe even a little annoying.

So when I wrote my second novel, I gave my main character, Lexi, some imperfections, something to make her relatable and approachable. She came alive and seemed very real, experiencing embarrassment, fear, insecurity, bravery, anger, and other emotions that we all experience in our life journey. This, in my opinion--because I created her so of course I would feel this, made her seem loveable, relatable, and unique. And if there is one thing I have learned as an author, it's that you want your reader to relate with your main character on some level, because when they care about the character, they care about what happens to them throughout the rest of the story. (You can read all about Lexi in Deadly Treasure. A novel based on the real life mystery surrounding the Lost Rhoades Gold Mines.)

So why is it hard to look at our own imperfections and flaws and feel loveable, relatable, and unique? The song "Freckles", by Natasha Bedingfield, was awakening for me. Some of the lyrics are: "A face without freckles is like a sky without the stars, why waste a second not lovin' who you are." Now, "freckles" could easily be changed to "wrinkles" for the aging, or even "pimples" for the youth. In any case, "those little imperfections make you beautiful, loveable, valuable, they show your personality inside your heart, reflecting who you are."

Not only are we still loveable despite our little imperfections, but maybe we're more loveable and valuable because of them. (Unless, of course, it's stealing or something like that. But then that would be a major character flaw, not a little imperfection.)

So take a step back and picture yourself as the main character in your life novel. What quirky little imperfections do you posses? I bet most of them make you unique, relatable, and loveable.

Listen to Freckles on YouTube.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Anatomy of a Successful Book Signing

After several signing engagements with The Rogue Shop, I've learned a thing or two about what what makes a successful appearance. There are several things you can do to prepare that will increase your chances of placing more copies of your book in loving homes. Then there are the things that are out of your control, but can have a big influence on the outcome.


You'll want to show up at the store about a week before to introduce yourself to the manager and hopefully get a poster with your book cover and the time and date of the event posted right on the front door. Create events on Facebook and Goodreads and invite everyone you know via email. If the event is in a smaller town, it shouldn't take much effort to get an item in the local newspaper.


The store should provide you with a table and chair, and maybe a tablecloth. Bring your own, if you have one that better fits your theme and color scheme. Have plenty of bookmarks or pencils or other promotional items on hand. If possible, have your setup close to the front door, facing it. You'll want to be in a position to greet everyone who comes in with a big smile.


Are your prepared to answer the question "What's it about?" in a compelling way? This should be the shortest and strongest of pitches. If you hit those who approach your table with "It's YA dystopian fantasy about monsters that eat kids for lunch," you might get some blank looks. On the other hand, "It's an exciting and scary story about a world where a small group of brave kids discover that they are being raised as food for giant alien invaders!" might grab more interest, especially if you say it with enthusiasm. Hand them a copy of your book and smile. Even if they aren't in the market for your book themselves, they will scan their brain for ANYONE they can buy it for before they hand it back to you. If they do walk away, make sure they have a bookmark and a friendly "Thanks for stopping by!"


The bookstore manager and employees can be your greatest allies. If you make the effort to introduce yourself to all of them, and talk to them during the slow times, they will warm up to you and make an effort to direct customers your way. Bring them a small gift, even as little as a fun-size piece of candy, to show your appreciation. Go out of your way to be pleasant and you will be invited back regardless of the sales numbers.

My first signing was at an LDS chain store, the largest in the area. The date scheduled was the day after their new catalog, in which my book was prominently featured, hit mailboxes. It was a Saturday afternoon and there was plenty of traffic in the store. I was prepared and had everything set up the way I like it. Unfortunately, the store's manager was NOT prepared. She only had 5 copies of the book in stock, and they sold out within 15 minutes. I spent the rest of the time passing out bookmarks and listening to the life stories of a couple of older people who needed a listening ear. I listened, because I had little better to do.

My third signing was vastly different. It was the same chain, but the store was much smaller, located in a strip mall well off the main road. The manager told me it was one of the chain's least busy stores. However, she was much better prepared than her counterpart at the other store. She had ordered in 20 copies of my book and had featured it on the "New Releases" shelf right inside the front door. I came in a week prior to give her my poster, but she already had one up announcing the event. When I arrived on the Saturday of the event, she had already sold 7 copies, so there were 13 left. She or her employee at the cash register greeted EVERY customer who entered the store and asked, "Have you met our visiting author, Michael Knudsen? He's right over there!" This being a small, low-traffic store, only 12 customers approached my table during the 2 hours of the signing. But get this--every single one bought a copy of my book. That's right, 100% presentation to sale ratio, not one person walked away empty-handed. I credit the store manager's enthusiastic attitude and salesmanship for much of the result.

We'll all have some bad ones and some good ones. Sometimes, you'll strike out after the best efforts at preparation. Other times, you'll sell book after book and wonder where they all came from. The best thing you can do is prepare and show up with a burning knowledge that your book is well-worth the price being charged, and only available for a limited time. Sell yourself and people will feel good about taking a piece of you home with them in the form of your book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cedar Fort March Releases

Here are the new releases for March:

The Guardians of the Hidden Scepter by Frank L. Cole

The Crazy Daze of Motherhood by Jane Still

Eat Free: No Gluten, No Sugar, No Guilt by Rhiannon Lawrence

Conversations with a Moonflower by Christine Hall

10 Days Until Forever by David Peterson, illustrated by Tera Grasser

Life on the Narrow Path by Clark Burbidge

Portrait of a Mother by Michael Young

The Sweet, Still Waters of Home: Inspiration for Mothers from the 23rd Psalm by Carol Lynn Pearson

Einstein's Trunk by James Haberkorn

The Tomb Builder by E. James Harrison

Looks like a fantastic list!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Best. News. Ever.

It started out like any ordinary day. Ate oatmeal with sliced almonds. Went for a run. Spent some time with my work in progress. Went to the mailbox to get the mail. Flipped through the latest issue of one of my favorite magazines.

And that’s when I saw it: The most wonderful, jaw-dropping, month-changing news. On March 29, 2011, a modern-day spin-off of Sweet Valley High called Sweet Valley Confidential will hit bookshelves.

I may have attempted a cheerleader-style celebratory jump. (Attempted being the operative word.)

But really, hearing the news was like reading that a long lost friend was coming back to town. Or that my favorite discontinued nail polish color was back by popular demand. I immediately marked the release date on my calendar, looked up the books on Amazon, and took a walk down memory lane that brought a smile to my face.

My relationship with Sweet Valley High started in fourth grade. A girl in love with books, I politely obliged when my teacher assigned Island of the Blue Dolphins, but ran to the library during recess and stuffed my backpack with as many installments of the Sweet Valley High series as the librarian would let me take. Elizabeth and Jessica were my friends—girls I looked forward to spending time with, girls I learned from.

They were some of the first influences on me as a reader, and in a lot of ways, some of the first influences on me as a writer. After all, I’m still the girl who politely reads Kafka and then fills her Amazon cart with stories described as “fun,” “frothy,” and “funny.”

I guess I’m not too far from that fourth grade girl. And I guess I kind of like it.

So tell me: What books filled your backpack way back when? I’d love to know.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trust = r(eliability) + d(elight)

We all know that trust is hard to earn but easy to lose, kind of like money. Without trust, society plummets into chaos so it is important to build and maintain relationships of trust.
Why would we work if we didn't trust that we would be paid by our employer for our effort? Why would we marry if we didn't trust our spouse to be loyal and loving? Why would we invest our time in an activity if we didn't trust that we would find some value? The answer to these questions is...We Wouldn't and We Don't.
Another way of saying we don't "trust" someone or something, is saying that we don't "believe" they will do what they say they will do. We base these judgements on our own experience and the trusted experience of others. If I work at my job and my paycheck bounces, I have lost trust in my employer because I don't believe my employer is reliable enough to pay me. I don't believe I will experience the benefit from the work. At this point it may be difficult to rebuild my trust in that employer. If it is possible to regain trust it will take time and consistent demonstration from that point on that I will be paid on time and my check will not bounce.
Trust also plays a role in how we choose our media, be it books, TV, movies, music or internet news. Let me share a simple formula for trust that I recently came across.
r is Reliability and d is Delight
Maybe this is too simplistic but lets take a look. If I value reading books that don't glorify inappropriate sexual relationships, foul language or excessive violence and gore I will seek out those kinds of books from sources I trust. I will trust those sources because they have demonstrated to me that they are reliable in their clean content and I will delight in reading a story that jives with my moral sensibilities. Through my personal experience and the experiences of others who I place my trust in, I believe that I can find good, clean reading through publishers and writers that cater to the LDS audience. If I were to purchase a book from a trusted publisher or author and found graphic sex, language and violence in that book, the trust would be broken. If, after a period of time I found them to be reliable again so I could delight in the reading, my trust in them would be restored.
In business we call this "Know your customer" and in writing we would call it "Know your audience". "Trust comes from meeting and beating customer expectations." We must know who we are writing for. We must know what their expectations are and we must be consistent in both the quality of the story we tell and the content with which we tell it. If we fail to meet the expectations of our readers we will lose their trust.
I used the example of clean, PG rated reading as something I value and expect but in every aspect of writing we can either build or destroy trust. We can build trust through our style, language, plot strength, believability of characters, so on and so forth.
As we prove ourselves to be reliable in providing quality, well-crafted stories that are clean and appropriate we will bring delight to our readers. When the reader delights in our book they will seek out our next book. They will return to our publisher for similar books and we will have established a valuable relationship of trust.
What can an author do to gain the trust of his reader?
Has an author ever lost your trust? How or why?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Thoughts that make us think

Okay,there is a lot to be learned from a few words. Read carefully.

Christy Mathewson: You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat.

Michael Jordon: I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.

Johnny Cash: You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistake, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.

Tom Clancy: Nothing is as real as a dream. the world can change around you, but your dream will not. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away.

Leonard Bernstein: To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time.

Now, from the mouth of Yogi Berra

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Never answer an anonymous letter.
A nickel ain't worth a dime.
You can observe a lot by watching.
It ain't over til it's over.

Have you noticed that even Yogi's twists of logic carry wisdom?

Well, that's all for today. Thank you for stopping by and have a great day.