Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Time

by Cheri Chesley

I hope everyone had a beautiful Christmas filled with the true spirit of the season. My family had one of the best we've had in a while, and it really meant a lot. I want to say thank you to all my extended network of friends and family who post beautiful and meaningful messages online for me to read and glean a little vicarious Christmas spirit. I appreciate it.

It's also time that I say goodbye, at least to being a regular fixture here at Writing Fortress. Starting in the new year, I am devoting more time to writing stories and less time to writing blog posts. Not that I don't love it, but I've managed to fill my plate with so many blog post assignments I'm not being the prolific writer I need to be. Besides, after a year of posting almost every day in various blogs, I'm running out of things to say.

Cedar Fort has brought on a lot of new writing talent in the last year, and I'm sure one of them will happily fill my spot for Writing Fortress. You will get a fresh, unique perspective to this blog--which is always a good thing.

As for me, I hope to bring my readers more stories, both as published novels and e-books. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to blog for you. And I will miss the comments and often useful advice given me here.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry CHRISTmas!

                                               Wishing you all a very merry CHRISTmas!!

                                                                     Trina Boice

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing A Query

Writing a lousy query is easy. Writing an engaging query is hard. Since no one wants to write and submit something that's lousy, and writing a good query can be a challenge, let me share a few of the basics I've learned as I've been studying queries. Hopefully, as I refine my query over time I will write a strong query that helps me find success.

A query letter is a single page cover letter designed to introduce your book to prospective agents or publishers. It sounds pretty simple but it's not. It is often recommended that a query contain three concise elements that will inform the agent or publisher about the work being submitted, and also about you.

The Hook: This is a tagline that is meant to hook the readers interest. Just like a potential reader needs to be hooked when they pick up a book as they decide whether or not they want to read it, the hook in the query must interest the agent/publisher enough that they are enticed to read the manuscript.
So how dow we hook the reader? In a concise sentence we should introduce our main character and the conflict that drives him, and we must give a feel for the genre and and audience we're writing for.

Synopsis: Writing an entire manuscript is an incredible accomplishment, but distilling all of that work into one or two paragraphs is a real challenge. What are teh main conflicts of the story and how does it impact the main character? Why should we care?

Author Bio- This is simply information that the agent/publisher may be interested in knowing. Do you have work or education experience that makes you an expert on the subject matter? Have you been published or won any writing awards? This section should be brief and is not intended to be a full resume, but it can share valuable information with the agent/publisher.

The query is a professional letter, but it should also grab the readers attention and give the reader a feel for the voice and tone of the manuscript. Otherwise it will be bound for the round recycling bin.

Format: Typically, query letters are single spaced, 12 point font with everything aligned to the left. There are no paragraph indentations but there should be a space between paragraphs. Be sure to include the name of the book (duh), word count and genre/audience in the body of the letter. Also, DO NOT FORGET TO INCLUDE YOUR CONTACT INFO so the agent/publisher can reach you if they are interested.

I know this is basic and I do not claim to be an expert on this, but I do believe the sources I've read. So as I begin my query process for my new manuscript, I will be following my own advice. I will write a query and edit, and rewrite, and try again.

One last thought--Research the agent or publisher you're querying. Seek out those who fit your work so you don't waste their time or yours. Good Luck.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sharing the Gift of Words

My very first publishing credit came in 2009 when a short story I'd written a couple of years before was included in Stolen Christmas and Other Stories of the Season, a compilation put together by the mysterious and insightful LDS Publisher.

The story, called Believe, Mr. Thomas, was my attempt at allowing Santa Clause to be 'real' while staying consistent with the the typical adult view of reality. (Anyone who's been up until 2:00 am on December 25th using special wrapping paper and trying to disguise their handwriting will understand what I mean.)

I was very proud to have my story in print, and bought copies of the book for everyone in my family. (After all, anyone related to an author knows what gift to expect for Christmas. But I digress.)

Since that time, my excitement at having a 1,500 word story published has been eclipsed by the release of Bumpy Landings, and I'd all but forgotten about Mr. Thomas.

Fortunately, my sister remembered. She teaches a section on writing and literacy at her elementary school, and each December she reads my story of Mr. Thomas to her class as an example of creative writing.

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting Utah for business and stopped by this sister's house to pick something up on my way to work. As we chatted, she got a funny look on her face and said, "I just realized I'm going to be doing your story in class today. If we move that section to first thing this morning, would you like to stay and read it to the kids?"

I hmmed and hahed, not really sure. It'd been a long time since I'd read the story, and to be honest I wasn't sure presenting it to the class would be the best use of my time. But I had some flexibility in my morning schedule, so I agreed to think about it. She handed me her copy of Stolen Christmas, and I read through my story while she finished getting ready.

Would it be too boastful to admit that after reading the story again, I found that I still loved it? Too bad, because I did.

I agreed to share the story, and had an absolutely wonderful time reading it aloud to a receptive and appreciative audience of fifth graders. My first public reading! And as my sister led the class in discussion, she pointed out little bits of technique and symbolism that even I hadn't realized were there.

I spent the rest of the morning with that warm glow that only comes when we share our talents with others, and I realized how truly blessed I am to have an active imagination and a smidgen of writing ability to turn my ideas into stories that can entertain and inspire.

My muse is loud and demanding, but hers is not the loudest nor the most insistent voice in my life. (Lately she's having trouble cracking the top five.) But those few brief moments of joy that I felt reading to a group of kids reminded me of just how important writing has become to me in my life. It's a wonderful gift, well worth the extra effort it takes to carve out some writing time from a crowded, hectic schedule.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a story that needs some attention.

(You can read Believe, Mr. Thomas as it originally appeared on the LDS Publisher's blog. If you like it, pick up Stolen Christmas and enjoy the other great stories inside.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Web Presence a Must

by Rebecca Talley

We've all heard the advice that we must have a web presence if we want to be successful authors. Yet, many of us disregard that advice. Why?

Maybe we think it's too hard to create and maintain a website and/or blog. Or maybe it's too intimidating. The truth is, it isn't. If I can do it, anyone can :). Setting up a blog through Blogger is very simple. If you aren't interested in blogging but simply want a presence, you can set your blog to have static pages. Wordpress is also fairly easy but takes a little more technical expertise. Authors who want a presence need, at a minimum, a blog.

Websites may be more involved but there's plenty of software and tutorials on how to create and maintain a website. I host my website through Yahoo. I created the website using Wordpress which allows me to upload a blog entry each week (you can also set up entries to post automatically). My website is specifically dedicated to writing. I have articles about writing as well as tips and advice. My blog is more personalized and casual and allows readers a chance to get to know me. I have all the info about my books on my blog as well as my website.

Imagine a reader hears about your book and wants more information about that book. Or, maybe someone reads one of your books and wants to know more about you. When we want to know more about something or someone what do we do? We Google. Now imagine this excited reader tries to Google your name but comes up with nothing. No website. No blog. No information at all. At the very least you have a frustrated reader and at worst, a lost opportunity to introduce yourself and more of your books to someone who already likes your writing.

I discovered an author that I wanted to learn more about. He's a very popular author in the LDS market. I Googled his name but found nothing. I checked other search engines but still found nothing. I wanted to see if he'd written other books, but I couldn't because there was absolutely no information about him. This has since been remedied and he has a very nice website.

As authors, we want a web presence. We want readers to find us. We want them to know about our other books, if we have them. We want them to worship us--okay, maybe not that, but we do want them to find us. Some of my best experiences with readers have been through website contacts. I've received emails from readers that truly touched my heart--something that would not have happened if I didn't have a small web presence.

I cannot emphasize how important it is to have a web presence. If you do not have one, consider creating one as soon as possible. Even if you only have a blog. You never know when a reader will want to learn more about your work, contact you, or send others to your website or blog. When someone Googles your name be sure they can find you easily. Be accessible.

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's HOW Many Shopping Days till Christmas?

by Cheri Chesley

12 days. Shopping wise, anyway. Can we panic yet?

Most of my shopping is done, thankfully, which is a far cry from last year (and, to be honest, all previous years). I await one more delivery, and then I can call it good.

The thing is, there's more to Christmas than shopping. Some years ago, during one of those leaner Christmas seasons, I purchased a doll pattern. I was going to make my daughter her own doll. I don't even know how long ago I did that. I have 2 daughters now, and have never used the pattern. In my overactive imagination, I envisioned this sweet moment when the girls opened their boxes to reveal something I was able to lovingly hand craft for them. Something that will remind them of my love for them every day.

Over the weekend, I made new stockings for my twin sons. They turned out pretty awesome, and as one of them talked about how it will be cool to have these forever, I realized I had another opportunity to make the dolls for my girls. They have great stockings with fun family stories attached to them already. One was made by a beloved aunt; the other my daughter picked out for herself at 6 months old. I'm not going to cheapen those memories by making them new stockings.

When you think about it, the homemade doll is something of a pioneer tradition. That makes it special. Of course, I'm terrified I will mess up. I can't figure out the instructions for putting on the yarn hair to save my life. Wish me luck. I know I'll need it.

Good luck to all of you with your holiday plans. And have a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Getting Celebrity Endorsements

by Trina Boice

Getting a famous celebrity to endorse your book could bring huge recognition and sales to your marketing efforts!  But what if you don't know any famous movie stars or industry experts personally?  No worries!  Ask anyway!  I've found that those who succeed in life are those who are persistent and brave....that's definitely true for authors too.

Here are some steps to consider while you're working up your courage: 

1.  Reach for the stars!  Do a quick brainstorm of the celebrities or experts in your field and create a Wish List of everyone you would want to endorse your book or project.  Think big.  Of course, they should actually have something to do with your target audience, platform or subject matter.

2.  Do your homework about each famous person on your list so that when you write to them you can mention something specific they did that inspired you. 

3.  Make it easy for the celebrity to say yes to your request for an endorsement or testimonial by showing them 2-3 quotes you've written ahead of time that they could choose from.  Of course, don't offer the same quotes to everyone on your list; personalize them for each celeb.  Offer to do a video or written testimonial for them to use on their web site.

4. Don't think of yourself as a little peon.  Just be brave and ask!  The worst that can happen is they'll say no.  Most famous people love recognition and love to be quoted.

I found a cool web site that offers a paid membership access to celebrity contact information at    They have all kinds of examples of regular 'ole people like us and how their books, products, and fundraisers earned a LOT more money when they were endorsed by famous people.  Check it out!  Your new BFF celebrity may be waiting...

- Trina Boice -

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Life is Like a Novel

I'm the author of my life, creating my own character; me. Only unlike most characters in books, I am real, and I can create, to a large extent, the plot of my life. (Which can be anywhere from exciting and fun to problematic. But it helps to know that a good problem or growing experience is essential to a good novel.) The point is to celebrate and enjoy my life journey.

One of the ways I do this is to remember that sometimes trials can eventually become funny with enough time. Such as the following experience I wrote in my journal several years ago. Names have been omitted to protect the innocent. :)

"My Day From Heck:

A couple of weeks ago I returned home after a shopping trip. My 14-month-old child fell asleep on the way home, so I left him asleep in the truck (which was parked in the garage) because I knew he would wake up if I put him in his bed, and I wanted him to have his nap. While I unloaded groceries, my seven-year-old daughter made herself a PBJ snack and my three-year-old girl wanted some too and was beginning to get upset that I wanted to finish unloading the groceries and bring the baby in before I made her one.

The phone rang at that moment, and it was one of my oldest child's teachers calling with some difficult-to-hear information about said child's classroom behavior. Now most parents do not enjoy hearing such news about someone they gave birth to, at least I didn't, and I was close to tears.

During the phone call, and while trying to defend my child and bring in the remaining grocery bags from the truck all at the same time, my three-year-old began screaming because she wanted her older sister's sandwich and tried to grab it from her. I took her by a sticky jam hand up to her room and closed the door, but that only muted the sound.

When I got off the phone, I was so close to tears that they almost leaked from my eyes. But I didn't have time to just sit and cry since my baby was still in the car, my three-year-old was still screaming in her room, and I still had a mound of grocery bags to go through.

While descending the stairs to the garage from the kitchen, (this was in a four-level split), my three-year-old ran out of her room crying even more because she had wet her pants.

So, thinking things through, I told her to take off her pants while I got the baby from the truck and then I'd come up and help her. But when I stepped back into the house with my sleeping baby in my arms, I heard a man's voice coming from the front door asking, "Is your mom or dad home?"

I sped up the stairs and found that my wet three-year-old had opened the door for a young man selling pizza coupons, only she had obeyed me first by taking off her wet pants, and stood at the door in nothing but a shirt and jam all over her face and hands.

Now at this point I could have just given up, but that wasn't really an option. Instead, I sent the man on his way, put down my baby who promptly woke up, and grabbed a wet cloth to wipe down my sticky-wet daughter, only to find her chasing the man down the sidewalk still wearing only her shirt."

Seven years have passed since this day, and now I look at it and laugh. I also look at it and think, that was a bad day? I've had many since then that would make this day look like nothing. But I try to remember the blessings, and I have much to be grateful for. I also try to imagine that life is like a novel, and a good novel is one where each page and each scene is worth reading.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Words and Symbols Mean Something

Today is Pearl Harbor Rembrance Day. As F.D.R. said, it is a "day that will live in infamy." We lower our flags to half-staff and we remember this somber occassion by paying tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and we express gratitude to God for the blessings of living in such a blessed nation. The flag is a symbol of our nation's strength and goodness but also a reminder of the blood that has been shed for the cause of freedom and liberty.

As with all aspects of our lives, we can learn lessons that we can apply to our writing.

Words and symbols mean something. As writers we probably all agree. Every year on this date, F.D.R's words are etched in my mind and I'm reminded of the reported internal political struggel he faced before giving that speach. He defied many of his closest advisors because he believed those words needed to be spoken. What words do we believe in?

We write for many different reasons but most of us have a desire to be published so that our work can be seen and enjoyed by others. We look at what's popular, what genres are hot and we devise fantastic stories based on what we think will sell to an agent or publisher. This is fine, and smart, but there are times when we shouldn't seek popularity and sales. Sometimes there is a story that needs to be told that may never see the light of day. It may be unpopular or politically incorrect, but if we believe in the words, we should press forward and write them boldly.

We remember that sometimes a good fight has to be fought. We don't seek after conflict or war, but we recognize that sometimes it may be necessary to protect our lives, families and ideals. Sometimes the pen is mightier than the sword. If we believe in our words and can convince others of their strength we can fight the good fight without the shedding of blood. We can give honor to the words and symbols that matter.