Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bragging About Your Baby

By Keith Fisher

How many of us when asked about our children would say, "He/she is a good boy/girl but they are just like the other kids." Would we say it different if their life depended on how much we brag about our kid?

This has become a real dilemma for me. Not that I have trouble bragging about my kid, (My daughter is more talented than yours.) but bragging, even explaining about my book can be hard.

Last weekend, we were the hosts for a block party and someone asked whether I plan to write a cookbook. Since I was half of the 2005 Grand Champion Team at the World Championship Dutch Oven Cook Off, it is a question many people ask. (See I do know how to brag.) I told the inquirer at the block party I had been approached by a publisher for that reason, but I was going to try and use that submission to bring attention to my novel.

"Do you write fiction?" he asked. It surprised me that he didn’t know, because after letting the secret out, I’ve been embarrassed to have so many people know about my investing so much time without a clear return on my investment. I have yet to be published so many folks think I am deluding myself.

Yes, I write contemporary LDS fiction, I said. Then the inevitable next question, "What have you written?"
"I am in the process of writing five . . . right now I’m getting ready to subm . . . well, it’s a story about a girl who . . ." That’s my dilemma, how do I sum up a complex story in a few words that will intrigue someone and make them want to read the book?

Yes, I have trouble writing query letters. It was easier when I could send in the whole baby, bath water and all. Also, in order to submit to Cedar Fort we are asked to fill out a marketing survey and send it with the submission. It’s an easy form to fill out and I am more than happy to say I will do everything I can to help sell my book. There is one question however, question number four . . . I copied it here:

What does your book say that no other expert or author says?
It’s a fair question. I realize that the question is designed to assess the writer’s belief in his/her self. When I start to answer, I’m sure I have a dumbfounded, "deer in the headlights" look on my face and I am left feeling as I did at the block party.

I know the very life of my baby hangs in the balance, and my stage fright causes me to wish my latest book was more unusual. I want to say: "You have to read the whole story to get the full impact." Then I look at other books and ask the question in light of what other writers have written.

I have discovered that many stories, albeit they are told differently, are pretty much the same. So I came up with an answer to question number four, although I won’t put it on the form. Tell me what you think.

I told this story as it was given to me. I’m sure that other writers could tell the story, but the inspiration came to me, not to the other writers. Like the missionary who just happens to be in the right place at the right time, with just the right personality, I told this story in order to touch the hearts of those who need solace and to hold the attention of many others.

My daughter may never be valedictorian or become President of the United States, but she has the potential of touching hearts for good and making others feel good about their lives. My book will do the same.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Other Mormon Pioneers

By Keith Fisher

In my blog last week, I mentioned the writers that were published before the market got so tough. It is those writers I would like speak of again today.

Like many of you, I remember going to an LDS bookstore and seeing the scriptures and many non-fiction books about the scriptures. There were other things as well like construction paper, carbon paper, and pictures that depicted the Savior. The fiction books, if there were any, were "G" rated novels that were safe for children to read.

Then came a revolution. Many brave souls started to write fiction, about LDS people or LDS subject matters. There were artists who began to paint, songwriters who expressed their love of the Lord, and many people who followed there dream of being published.

Much of the fiction from that time was mediocre by today’s standards. I re-read many of those works looking for ways to improve my writing. I often stop to examine whole chapters and notice some rule has been broken. I resist the urge to use a red pencil out of respect for the book.

The other day, I was re-reading a work I enjoyed about twenty years ago. I became incensed, wondering how that writer got published when I’ve been rejected for breaking the same rules of good writing. Then I went to the public library with my family.

While I was there, I picked up a copy of a new book by an author I met at a writer’s conference. I am learning from that book too. I have found plot twists that completely astonished me. Something the other author was unable to do. While I was perusing the shelves, I turned a corner and discovered a surprise. Taking up almost two shelves, were books that were written by the author that I had criticized.

I have enjoyed his stories. I have learned the lessons he taught me, but I had no idea that he had written so many books. Then it happened: I realized that although he and many others have broken many of the writing rules we follow today, they were pioneers. We trudge in their footsteps and creep along rewriting, restructuring, and discarding our latest inspiration because it doesn’t quite work.

So in the spirit of the Pioneer Day season, the time that we celebrate our Mormon pioneers, I say hooray for the pioneers of LDS Fiction. Without them the market would not be what it is today.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Finding Four Leaf Clovers

By Keith Fisher
Do you remember four-leaf clovers? When I was young, they fascinated me. In every patch of clover, on every lawn, there were billions of three-leaf clovers, but a true four-leaf clover was rare and considered lucky. Some believed that four leafs were a myth. I knew they were real because I had seen one.

I’m not talking about the clover that grows in alfalfa fields. They are huge by comparison and may have four leaves. I’m talking about the patches that grew in lawns.

It became an on-going quest to find a four-leaf. Sometimes we spent hours lying on our bellies over a patch of clover, looking for the Leprechaun’s leaves. There were many clever lads who would remove two leaves and put two stalks together, providing the illusion of a four-leaf. But if you looked closely you could tell that it was a fake.

We didn’t notice at the time but clover patches were also rare in lawns. When I grew older and I had to take care of my own lawn. I learned that clover is an undesirable lawn weed. Growing up can certainly change a person’s perspective.

When I think back on those lazy summer days and our quest for a lucky charm, I realize the lessons of life that I learned: Persistence, perseverance, patience, hope, organization, sharing, humility. I also learned to talk with my friends.

As the memories of my youth begin to fade, the lessons learned while lying on the lawn are still there. In my writing I have learned (through rejections) to have patience, to be persistent, to keep looking. Just like looking at every three-leaf to find one four-leaf, I am learning to look at every word and every sentence while editing. I am noticing the poorly constructed sentences of the clever lads, those who were published before the LDS market got so tough. I am realizing that I need to learn to do better. Above all, I am learning from all of you, my writer friends. I learn from your wisdom.

The one lesson that I didn’t learn in a clover patch, the thing I have needed most as a writer is overcoming my pride when I realize that an editor is right. My writing has improved from the support of a writer’s group and I realize that any success that I attain will be (in part) due to my writer friends.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

By Keith Fisher
Many years ago, I was a kid. I new I was a kid because I had to do what I was told by a woman who felt a certain responsibility for how I turned out. Of course I still have to do what I’m told by a woman who feels a certain responsibility for me, but the new woman has greater power.

Getting back to when I was a kid; I remember working hard in the garden and feeding the animals. Or was it working hard at getting out of work? Well, that’s another issue. We had great times as well. My friends and I would often pack a lunch in the morning and go exploring for the day. We explored the gravel pit, the old house, the canal, the sand dunes, and the turkey ranch. There were fishing trips to Utah Lake too.

Life was grand in those days but one of the most poignant memories of my kid hood was when my father sat down to read to us. He stretched out on the couch and we stretched out on top of him. In a few days he read the best book of all time.

I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia with my eight-year-old daughter. While reading this and other books, I have learned some things about writing, about my daughter, and about me. Mostly I re-learn lessons. Like when she was two and we read the little red hen story. Oh how I wish the hen realized who gave her the seeds, the water, the farm, and who made the seeds grow.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, we all know that we must read to perfect our writing. I am trying to kill two birds with one stone. I read to my daughter and learn how other writers write. I am crossing Genre but I still learn. Oh, and the best book of all time is an obscure novel called The Ghost of Dibble Hollow by May Nickerson Wallace. I remember the story of that book. My daughter will remember what we read as well, but I hope she will remember me the way that I remember my dad. Through it all though, I will learn something.

(I pulled the book off the shelf after writing this and re-read it. My daughter wasn’t interested in it but for me it was research. I discovered that there is another way to spell cookie and Wallace used it.)

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Midnight Editors

By Keith Fisher

I wish I were the kind of editor that I am in my sleep. Sounds strange don’t it? Read on. About two days ago I went to bed after editing 20 pages of my manuscript. I was so full of it. You might say I had red ink running out of my ears. I rolled into bed about 1 or 2 AM (It’s like the difference between 95 degrees and 100, when you get to that point, who cares how hot it is). Anyway, I had no trouble falling asleep since I was tired and thinking of my character at the time.

At that point I’m a little fuzzy on the details as you might well imagine. Life gets pretty unclear at 3 AM or so (as I said, 3 or 4, who cares). I was talking to someone and corrected my syntax. Do you think that is strange? I think not. After all I don’t want an editor marking up my dreams with a red pen.

Now before you think I’m crazy, you should know, I woke right up and started a debate with myself. Should it be worded this way or should it be the other way? I got up to go to the bathroom (an older person’s thing) and I continued the debate. When I came back to bed I had it all worked out. I was satisfied that I had saved a bunch of red ink and the time of an editor. I was able to fall asleep again knowing that the world was safe.

With all that debate, you would think that it was one of the hardest words of all time wouldn’t you? A word like snuck versus sneaked or how do you spell tomato? Well . . . I like to think it was one of the mysterious words, but the truth is . . . I don’t remember the word . . . I was asleep at the time.

Have you ever corrected the grammar of a newscaster as they spoke? What about the scriptures? Are you plagued with midnight editing? If you have any of these symptoms don’t worry. It means you’re a writer, you’re getting better at the craft, and unless you start correcting your spouse’s speech, then you’ll be OK.

Just be careful and don’t let anyone see you arguing with yourself. It would not be good. When you are a published author, look me up. I will be staying in this spacious white room with soft walls, soft everything. (Smile)
I’m really not crazy I’m a writer. (Smile)