Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are Characters Kings or Pawns?

By Christine Thackeray

So, my twenty-three year old son convinced me that I had to read the wheel of time series. I have to admit I've been intrigued ever since Brandon Sanderson was contracted to finish the epic fantasy saga, and I at last gave in. At the expense of my laundry room and kitchen I've spent the last four days reading constantly. The story has been engaging and Jordan's vocabulary is thrilling, but I've had a few character issues that make me leary.

"The Eye of the World" begins with three rural boys driven from their homes on a great adventure. Each of the boys has unique interests and personalities. All three are led by a mysterious woman and her champion guardian. The story clips along until they split up and return together. For a time, when they reconnect in smaller groups, some of their motivations seem forced in order to continue the conflict. You'd think these childhood friends would be ecstatic to see each other, but they have petty issues, blown out of proportion. The resolve is clever, but my question continues- how important is it to have characters be true to their personality types? More than once I've been plotting a story and knew what I wanted my character to do but couldn't make it work realistically. With Robert Jordan he just does it and throws in enough magic dreams and Trolloc attacks that you totally forget you were frustrated with motivations.

When a character is not genuine, I get frustrated with the project and often stop reading. Like the horror movies where the babysitter hears a sound upstairs and goes into the attic to be killed. Yeah, right. Call 911, dummy. On the other hand, if the conflict isn't stepping up, like Heather said, I also lose interest. In the end, I suppose it is a matter of weighing cost and benefit. You can stretch a character to the bounds of believability if it's exciting enough, right??? As authors what do you think? As readers does it even bother you?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Story Structure: Ocean Waves or Stairsteps?

By Heather Justesen

I've spent quite a while mulling over one of my writing projects lately, trying to decide what wasn't working. Now don't get me wrong, the characters are terrific (if I do say so myself), the set up is good, the chemistry between all of the players is working nicely, but I still felt like something wasn't working quite right.

Then it hit me--I have plenty of conflict but it looks like ocean waves instead of a set of stairs.

You see, for conflict to push the characters to the end of the book, you have to keep upping the ante. Ocean wakes may have some nice crests, but the conflict comes back down again to a former level (or close).

Stair steps on the other hand keep building upward. One conflict stacks on top of the next until you reach the crisis at the end--and it keeps the reader riveted in their seats. If things don't continue to get worse for the character then the story stagnates.

Yeah, that means I need to do a little more tweaking to the story, but hopefully it'll help me make it the best it can be.

In other awesome news, I saw a preview of my book cover for my next book, Family by Design, and it rocks! Last I heard the book is supposed to be available in January, and seeing the cover has me all kinds of excited. I'll post it up here as soon as I get the final version.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nominate a Novel

by Rebecca Talley

Have you read a great novel by an LDS author? A great novel by an LDS Cedar Fort author? Would you like to recognize that novel? You can!  Just visit The Whitney Awards and nominate your favorite 2011 titles. The deadline for nominations is December 31, 2011.

If you aren't familiar with The Whitney Awards here's some info:

What are the Whitneys?

The Whitneys are an awards program for novels by LDS authors. Elder Orson F. Whitney, an early apostle in the LDS church, prophesied “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” Since we have that as our goal, we feel that we should also honor those authors who excel and continually raise the bar.

The Whitney Awards honor novels in the following categories: General Fiction, Romance, Suspense/Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Youth Fiction, Historical, Best Novel of the Year, and Best Novel by a New Author. Novels can be nominated by any reader (via this website or by mail), and nominees are voted on by an academy of industry professionals, including authors, publishers, bookstore owners, distributors, critics, and others.

The awards were founded in 2007 and operate as an semi-autonomous subsidiary of LDStorymakers.

Who are we?

The 2011 Whitney Awards Committee is comprised of six members:

•Josi Kilpack (President)
•Annette Lyon
•Heather Moore
•Jana Parkin
•Sarah M. Eden
•Luisa Perkins

For more information about the roles and responsibilities of the committee, see the official rules.

The Whitney Awards are sponsored and endorsed by LDStorymakers, the authors guild for the LDS market.

For more information on The Whitney Awards or to nominate a book (yes, go nominate one right now!) you can visit The Whitney Awards here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Laughter is the Best Medicine

by Cheri Chesley

Right now I'm watching 3 grown men try to fit a couch out the doorway. I promise, I am not laughing. No, really.

Today I had to take my daughter to the dentist to have some fillings put in. At this dentist, they give kids nitrous oxide, or "happy gas," to help them relax. My daughter was nervous about the whole experience, so we went ahead with the gas first to give her a chance to settle down before anything got started. They also have TV's in the ceiling, headphones, and the patient gets the remote. Spongebob was just starting.

"I love this show!" my daughter exclaimed.

Within just a few minutes, she was in la-la land with a capital LA! "Spongebob!" she yelled. "Spongebob! I'm here!"

Of course I have video. What kind of a mom do you take me for? lol

Packing to move is stressful. Today, I experienced my daughter's "happy gas" taking the edge off my stress and worry. I haven't laughed so hard in ages. I was still smiling when I wrote the check. Best money I've ever spent.

I did have some slight concern, because her antics had the dentist laughing pretty hard. But it all worked out fine. And fast. Within 20 minutes, she was done. It took her another 45 minutes to come back down to earth. She was the hit of my chiropractor's office. No lie.

What does this have to do with writing? I'm not sure, but it was too funny not to share. Maybe it can serve as a reminder that writing, like life, needs some humor in it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Contrast in Literary History

                                                                      by Trina Boice

I thought the following news reports this weekend about what's happening in the literary world were interesting.  Are they a sign of what our culture has become or simply an odd juxtaposition of contrasting news stories?

For example, one news report stated that while Charles Dickens might have written that he wanted no “monument, memorial, or testimonial whatsoever” to be erected in his name, the UK‘s first ever statue of the great author is nonetheless set to be created next year to mark the bicentenary of his birth. Do you think he'll be rolling over in his grave or slightly pleased?

Designed by sculptor Martin Jennings, known for his bronzes of John Betjeman in St Pancras and of Philip Larkin in Hull, the statue will be placed in Guildhall Square in Portsmouth, the town of Dickens’s birth.  

 Another report that I found amusing said that a group of Franciscan friars furious at the theft of bibles from their church in Florence several days ago have taken the unusual step of praying for the thief to be struck down by diarrhea. Friars at the 15th century church of San Salvatore al Monte, which was a favorite of Michelangelo, were irritated when a rare and expensive bible disappeared from the lectern, and they flew off the handle when a replacement bible donated by a worshipper also went missing and within a few hours. 

And finally, the concise Oxford English Dictionary (OED) just released its newest updates, The Daily Mirror reported. They include the word made famous by Sasha Baron Cohen‘s “Borat“: Mankini, as well as jeggings (leggings that look like jeans) and sexting (sending sexual text messages).  Now would Charles Dickens being rolling over in his grave?

Watching a Writer Write

                                                                  by Trina Boice

One of the things I love about writing books is that I get to meet other authors.  I especially love getting to know creative fiction authors who think outside of the box.  Many of my non-fiction books have become best-sellers, but writing engaging fiction seems way too hard to me.

A good author friend of mine, Steve Booth, has just started a new project that is really imaginative and engages readers in a new way.  He's inviting readers to participate in a story as it unfolds online at:

Here is what he had to say on his latest blog post as he explains the project:
"Over the last several months, we have been working on a new way to present fantasy material on the web. Of course, there have been many excellent examples of storytelling – eBooks, multi-path stories, even full-blown, immersive role-paying games.

These all fall short, however, when it comes to one thing — engaging readers in the creative (and sometimes challenging) process of writing a story from scratch. What we thought would be very cool, interesting for all, and also instructive, is to actually create, under the watchful eye of an author, a short story, interactively, over a period of several weeks, and to let everyone have a chance to contribute and make suggestions about how it should go. In short — you get to do the fun stuff, and I have to do the work. We call it an ‘eStory’.

Each new iteration of the eStory will consist of two or more parallel story tracks, based on the suggestions and selections made by all those that wish to contribute. Thus, although I have a pretty good idea of where our tale will lead, it is in a very real sense ‘organic’ – how we get to our destination has not yet been determined.

SO… if you’re curious, if you’ve ever wondered how folks come up with these fantastical characters and worlds, please join us on our adventure. We’re calling it ‘The Legend of Talimar’.  In addition, it will be possible for anyone to comment, critique, ask questions, and suggest alternative paths that might be interesting to follow.

After everyone has a chance to respond, we will create at least two, or perhaps more alternative paths for the story to take, like the waters in a stream parting around a rock.    Later on, the two paths will rejoin the main plot of the story, but in the interim, new and interesting things will be revealed; things no one had suspected; things I never considered, perhaps!

After a number of installments (we're thinking like 10-12), we'll conclude the tale with a really cool climax and finale, and we'll provide some special secrets for those who also want to continue with the follow-on volume, Dark Talisman."

Go support my buddy and check out his fun project at:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Did The Unthinkable...

Yes, it pains me to admit it, but I actually went to see Cowboys and Aliens last weekend. My gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen. I am ashamed of myself. You have my confession and now I will attempt to make amends, to warn others of the pitfalls of this movie, and on a larger level, of failing to follow your own gut feelings. I have learned my lesson, now I hope to share it with you…

When I first saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens in the theater months ago, I laughed out loud. I was embarrassed by the volume of my laugh so I looked around, hoping no one noticed. But I was confused. I thought it was a joke because it sounded so absurd and the trailer was pure corn, but I was the only one laughing. (Click here to see my blog post about bad titles) Woops. Lesson learned. But I tucked away in my little brain the thought that I would NEVER see that movie because it would be a pure waste of time and an utter humiliation if anyone knew I had seen it. My trusty gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen.

Over time I read a couple of interesting reviews and saw some new trailers that made the premise of the movie seem more appealing. I was gradually being boiled in a pot of water and I wasn’t smart enough to jump out and eventually I succumbed to the pressure.
Here are a couple of my problems with the movie…

1) It was stupid (My first impression was correct- the title was lame, the action cheesy, the

writing was weak and the acting questionable at best)
2) The movie was one giant cliché
a. Aliens invade earth to steal our resources (Wow, never heard that one before)
b. A band of mismatched heroes try to save the day (We’ve got the tough guy, the preacher, the ethically challenged tycoon, a kid, a dog and a good looking chick)
c. They made a half-baked attempt to answer deep philosophical questions about redemption and race relations (Seriously? It’s Cowboys and Aliens)
3) The movie was too long. In its defense, I would probably say the movie was too long if it were only 1 ½ hours. I just wanted it to end. As is, it ran a full 2 hours. (Literally, as the very last frame faded to black I found myself wishing it would fade more quickly)
4) There were too many distracting inconsistencies (I was about to share some examples but found it too frustrating)

In short (I know…too late) the only thing redeeming about this movie was the large pile of candy wrappers at my feet when it concluded. Mmm Candy!

So why mention this on a writing blog? Because from a storytelling point of view, these problems I had with the movie can also be problems in our writing.

1) Does our concept pass the smell test?
2) Is our action and dialogue realistic?
3) Do we write using clichés?
4) Are our characters original?
5) Is the length appropriate for the genre?
6) Is the story consistent within the framework we’ve established?

At the end of the day, we have to love what we’ve written. If we find inconsistencies that cause confusion we must assume that others will have an even bigger problem with it. Go with your gut. If you like it, write it. If you write it and it doesn’t turn out as you envisioned, rewrite it or maybe even scrap it.

When you are satisfied with your work, let test readers have a go. What are their honest feelings about the chapter, scene or book? Then ultimately you make the decision about what remains. Go with your gut. It’s your decision and you are the one to live with it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mr. Fixit Learns The System

Here at my house, things tend to break down. A lot.

This is due primarily to the fact that much of our stuff is old and currently without hope of replacement. Yes, there is a financial component to this situation, but the truth is even if we could afford to replace this stuff, there are other factors at work.

Which is why there has been a new dishwasher sitting unused in our garage for two years while the old one rattles and leaks its way through every load. But that's another story for another blog post.

So with equipment in constant need of repair and limited funds to hire out the work, I have been required to call up my handyman genes and figure out the secret workings of washers and dryers and aerobic septic systems. But this hasn't always been easy.

Back in my grandparents' era, equipment was built with access and repair in mind. The workings were generally laid out in a way that invited understanding and tinkering.

These days, equipment is presented to the user as a "black box," where the inner mechanics are hidden behind a sleek exterior, often without screws, bolts, or any other obvious points of access. Things are just supposed to work, and when they don't you throw them away and buy a new one.

Fortunately, these days also present us with a treasure trove of information, and if one is willing to do a little research and put in some effort, the hidden clasps and secret access points can be discovered, and even someone like me can replace a washing machine snubber or repair a compressor motor. The information is all there--we simply need to access it.

One thing I have learned is that no matter how complicated or intricate a machine or device is, there is a system to the way it works. It's rare that I get step-by-step instructions for the exact project I'm working on, so I have to use my knowledge of the system to create my own repair plan. Understanding that system demystifies the process, and allows me the confidence to move forward with the repair. Usually all it takes is a few hours, some band-aids, and two bars of soap (one for washing off the grease, and the other for washing out the mouth).

The same has been true with writing and publishing. There is a system to this process, and the secret to success is in the understanding of it. And yet, within the system there are so many variables that it's impossible to follow a preset course. The best any one of us can hope to do is learn enough about the system--the mechanics of story structure; the quality of voice; the tricks of dialog and characterization; the quirks and idiosyncrasies of publishing and selling--and then push forward with a plan of attack custom made for our own unique projects.

Fortunately, the information is all readily available on blogs, websites, twitter chats, and at writing conferences. We live in a day and age where the publishing world is much more complicated than ever before. And yet the information we have at our disposal is the best it has ever been.

Study, learn, and understand the system. Then bring out your band-aids and your soap, and get to work.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Black Steak Sandwiches

A while ago, my eight-year-old boy informed me that he wanted for his night for dinner, black steak sandwiches. I kept trying to think of what he was referring to, and after a few minutes of listening to his descriptions like, "You know, those things that are black and crispy?" I finally realized he was talking about bacon, and he wanted BLT's for dinner.

Do I really burn the bacon so often that our entire family now refers to BLT's as Black Steak Sandwiches? Apparently so. It turns out that I burn them because I try to multi task, like slicing the tomatoes, washing lettuce, etc. and then remembering, oh yeah. I'm cooking bacon, too.

So recently when I've made BLT's, I stayed at the pan the entire time flipping the bacon over and over, and they turned out beautifully. I was able to do this because I farmed out the other tasks like slicing tomatoes.

I've realized that sometimes in my life, especially the summer, I try to do too many things all at once and then I get burned out. Sometimes I need to just stop everything, focus on one thing, and delegate other things. This brings much needed balance into my life. I've discovered that during the summer when my kids are home from school, writing and editing take a back seat, but I still like to read a good book or two, to sharpen the saw, so to speak.

I hope everyone has had an awesome summer!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Your First Chapter: The Hook

by Rebecca Talley

If you’ve ever seen the movie Funny Farm with Chevy Chase, you might remember the scene on the fishing boat when one of the characters attempts to cast his fishing line into the lake. Unfortunately, he accidentally hooks one of the other occupants in the boat. When Chase’s character, Andy Farmer, provides “aid” to the injured angler, slapstick comedy follows as he tries to unhook his fishing companion. This scene illustrates an important concept in writing fiction.

The Hook.

I thought about this concept during our last family fishing trip. Many fish nibbled but weren't caught by our hooks. Other fish took a bite, but the hook was only slightly attached so they wiggled off and freed themselves. The fish that had swallowed the hook and had it imbedded deep in their throats were the ones we caught.

That’s what you want to do: catch an editor. Don’t let him only nibble at your chapter, sink that hook so deep he can’t possibly wiggle away.

Editors are busy people. Thousands of manuscripts go out to editors each year. Most editors have to read on their own time because there are so many manuscripts.

Generally, a manuscript has a few pages, sometimes only a paragraph, to entice the editor to read on. As a writer, you must hook the editor immediately.

How do you hook an editor and/or reader from the beginning?

Start with the very first sentence. Make every word count. Draw in your reader from the first few words. Play with the words until you have the finest sentence you can construct.

One of the most famous first lines is, “Call me Ishmael,” from Moby Dick.


That line communicates a multitude of information about the character and about the story because Herman Melville likened his character to a well-known person from the Bible and those familiar with the Biblical account of Ishmael’s story know what’s in store—a perfect hook.

Pack your first paragraph with a punch. Use active words and make the reader feel as if he’s right there in your story. Don’t waste words because this may be your one and only chance to capture the reader’s interest. Make your character shine, dangle a mystery, or write crisp dialogue. This is your moment to show a potential editor that you know how to write.

Some may argue that the first paragraph should include description to set the stage while others may say that you must begin with action and still others will insist that beginning with dialogue is the only way to go. Is one way better than another? That depends on the story--ask yourself how your story begins. Different stories demand different beginnings, but regardless of how you choose to begin, make it shine.

Make the first page the best that you can. Revise it until it says exactly what you want it to say. Make each and every word work for you. Make it impossible for an editor to stop reading. Don’t give him any reason—spelling or grammatical errors, shift in POV or tense, awkward sentence construction, passive sentences— to put it down. Draw him in from the very beginning.

Generally speaking, the first few pages are indicative of the rest of the story. If they hook an editor, chances are he’ll read the rest of the chapter and will be much more likely to keep reading. Don’t leave your best writing for the end of the book. You must begin strong to keep interest.

Don’t confuse your hook with your story question. They may be one in the same, but the hook is designed to compel the reader to keep reading beyond the first chapter. Whether it’s discovering a dead body, finding a mysterious object, or meeting a creepy character, you need something compelling enough in your first chapter to convince an editor to turn the page. It’s also a good idea to tie your hook to your story question.

Of course, the rest of your story will have to follow the dynamic first chapter, but the more you can pack into your first chapter, the better chance you have of keeping your readers. Never underestimate the power of the hook.

(This is an excerpt form my ebook Hook Me: What to Include in Your First Chapter. If you'd like to read the rest, it's available at Amazon or Smashwords for $0.99).

Monday, August 8, 2011


by Cheri Chesley

As I type this, my husband is behind me answering my son's question, "What is a coma?"

It calls to mind a conversation I overheard my twins have on our way to a wedding reception.

Twin B: You're lucky I didn't devour you when we were single cells.

Twin A: How do you know I didn't almost devour you?

Well, at least no one can say my life is boring. :)

Very soon, my family will embark on the next chapter in our lives. In this upcoming chapter, I anticipate more writing time and more ebooks--and also more time spent with my kids.

We're moving. To a very small town. I'm really looking forward to it. Fortunately, so are the kids. My husband's parents need some help, and we just happen to be at a point in our lives where we can offer it.

I remember being told that my children will provide a great deal of inspiration for my writing, and that I should diligently observe them and their interactions. I'm finding that guidance particularly easy to obey. These kids I've been blessed with provide me with an unending supply of angst, happiness, anger, sadness, laughter and silliness. They are a constant blessing in my life.

Don't forget to stay tuned to my personal BLOG for updates on my writing activities and upcoming books. I'm waiting right now to hear from the publisher on a recent submission. That never ceases to be a nail-biting experience. :)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Everything You Should Know About the Book Industry

                                                                  by Trina Boice

I recently attended an awesome webinar, hosted by bestselling author, Arielle Ford, and marketing guru, Mike Koenigs.  Together, they talked about why some authors make it big, while so many other authors fail. 
You can hear part of their discussion at:

Because Arielle has worked all aspects of the industry (author, literary agent, publisher), she's definitely worth listening to.  She talked about what publishers and agents really look for and what successful authors always do first.  Do you want to know what that is?

The biggest take-away for me was to create a book with the end in mind or, in other words, start with the marketing first before you even begin to write.  Publishers are looking for an author with a platform.  A platform includes your "hook" and why your material is better than anyone else's, but also includes your fan base and how you can prove to a publisher that you already have "x" number of adoring fans who will buy your book the minute it hits store shelves.  While we authors love to think our writing is all about the craft, publishing houses are more interested in the saleability of our work.  Being an author also means having a head for business.

So here's a tip....begin branding yourself even if you haven't started writing that Great American Novel yet.  Create a platform and name for yourself that will get people talking even before your book comes out.  Publishers are looking to authors more and more to participate in the marketing process.  Long gone are the days when an author handed over a manuscript and the publisher did all the rest of the work to bring the book to market.  There is much an author can do to increase the success rate of her book.

Check out the following video to hear more about what Arielle has learned from her many successful years in the industry:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2 Cool Things- Library & Catalog

1- Caldwell County Library: Caldwell County is a rural Missouri county rich in LDS Church History. In fact, in 1836 the county was created by the MO State Legislature for the sole purpose of LDS settlement. In late 1838 the LDS population was forced from the State by the infamous Extermination Order issued by Governor Lilburn Boggs.

Since then, the County Seat has moved from Far West to Kingston Missouri. The entire county boasts a population of less than 9000 people. Caldwell County is a small, rural, economically challenged county. Last year, an initiative sprung up to create the first Caldwell County Library.

I sent notice via blog posts and email to various writing friends and LdStorymakers requesting book donations for this library. I have been shocked by the positive response. To date I have received @200 LDS authored fiction and non-fiction titles as well as nearly 2000 other books and movies collected and donated by LDS authors. The Library officially opened in July with a large contingent of LDS literature. Very appropriate for a special county like Caldwell County.

Thank you all for your support.

2- Books and Things Catalog: Cedar Fort announced last night at the LDS BA dinner that they are taking over the Books and Things Catalog. The Books and Things catalog is the Independent LDS Bookstore equivalent of the Deseret Book and Seagull Book Catalogs. Over time, Cedar Fort will make adjustments to the catalog as they explore ways to add articles, author profiles and entertainment news to the listings of releases.

This is great news for Cedar Fort authors. I am excited about this new direction for Cedar Fort Marketing and I think Cedar Fort should be commended for the effort. Instead of begging and pleading for Cedar Fort Books to be accepted into the Seagull and Deseret catalogs, Cedar Fort has their own medium for advertising to bookstores. Fantastic!

Way to go Cedar Fort!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Minor Adjustments Book Trailer

So I decided to hop on board the book trailer bandwagon and create something for Minor Adjustments, officially coming out next week. A huge thanks to the brilliant Jon Schmidt for allowing me to use one of his awesome compositions. Love him!

What do you think?