Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Wise Old Tree Root

By Keith fisher

At one time in our life, my wife and I were living in a one-and-a-half-bedroom house with a nice yard. It was in a great neighborhood and we liked the ward. Since the house was too small for us, we decided to remodel.

I wanted to keep my garden space so the plan called for a second story. In order to accomplish that, I needed to shore up the foundation. (Now don’t laugh). Since I had to dig around the foundation, which was on top of the ground, I decided I would dig a basement by hand under the house.

(I asked you not to laugh.) I’m sure you can imagine some of the problems that arose. I was even knocked to the ground and partially buried by a giant dirt clod (about 4 feet by 8 feet by 2 feet). I was more careful after that.

Anyway, the point is, that while I was digging I discovered many wonderful things; cool rocks I haven’t Identified yet, tools and antique gizmos that were left behind by 90 years of occupancy, I even found a can of arsenic that was almost full. That sounds like the makings of a good plot for a book doesn’t it?

One of the things that I found was an old root, suspended in the ground between several rocks. I was resting between shovels full and looked it over. It occurred to me that there was a great object lesson in that root. That old root was once young and trying to grow perfect and round and in a straight line, but because of the rocks in its way it grew crooked. The real lesson for me was the flat spots where it had forced its way between two hard objects. It continued to grow even though it had to change the plan.

There are many lessons we can learn from the root but here is one that you may like: when plotting our stories we often write ourselves into a corner. We get to a point when we know our plot won’t work or it’s too unbelievable. We need to remember the root and grow around it. Make our story fit and take it in a different direction. When we discover we can’t go around it, we must make it work by going back and rewriting the beginning. In that way we are like the root as it flattened out and filled the small space between the rocks. The root fulfilled a purpose and overcame obstacles that were placed before it.

I finished the foundation, but never put a floor in that basement. I didn’t finish our renovation plans. Instead, we moved two blocks to the north. When we moved, I brought that wise old tree root with me. It sits on a shelf above my desk and reminds me of the changes I must make, to be the writer (the person), I want to be.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Clearing out the Cobwebs

By Keith Fisher

Twenty years ago, I lived for Saturdays. It was my special day. Weekdays were okay and Sundays were great because I could worship, serve, and rest. But Saturday was the day I could do my thing. I enjoyed camping, fishing, and extra curricular activities but most of all I loved yard work.

My routine was great until other things began to take over my Saturdays. I started planning family reunions, teaching Dutch oven cooking, and cooking for groups. Yard work got shuffled to the back burner. Although I enjoyed the other things, I felt the pangs of regret when I saw the weeds in my lawn. I started referring to my once beautiful garden, as a "weed patch" and I kept promising that next year it would be better.

Recently, on Saturday morning I woke up and bolted out the door. I had a free morning so I planned to try and salvage my "weed patch". After mowing the weeds and testing the sprinkler system, I started with the easy jobs. I discovered my yard needed far more than one day to get it back into shape but I was working on it.

Far too soon, I had to put my tools away. I remembered a prior commitment. Before getting ready, I sat at my desk to make some phone calls and eat my sandwich. Of course, I turned on the computer and opened Word as always. Glancing at my project folders brought to mind the scene I‘ve been planning. "It’ll only take a few minutes," I said.

I was in heaven. The words were flowing from my fingertips faster than my mind could formulate them. I had reached a state of nirvana that I dream about, but can’t quite reach during my usual writing time.

It was beautiful. The things my characters were saying amazed me. They were solving their own problems and neurosis’. I was having a great day. Then, I remembered my appointment. With sweet sorrow I dragged myself away from my desk and rushed to one of those other things I mentioned above.

I began to wonder if the yard work is really that important to me. If I could write every Saturday, as well as I did the other day, who cares if my lawn grows to be four feet tall? Maybe I could schedule my life so I could write on Saturday morning. Of course as some friends have pointed out, I would probably get a visit from the lawn police.

Then I discovered a connection. Maybe the yard work had the effect of clearing out the cobwebs in my brain.

I thought about my weekdays and how I come home from work and try to write after a long day of filling my brain with cobwebs.

"Aha," I said. "Maybe if I schedule my yard work for an hour before I write . . ." You know where I’m going with this. I can have my cake and eat it to. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Even if it doesn’t help me to be a better writer, it’s better than having the neighbor’s Virginia Creeper vine take over my house.

(Note: I wrote this in advance and as I post it this morning I have to postpone my yard work due to rain and colder weather. Perhaps I can clean out the basement storage? No, that would be too scary. I heard there are things growning down there.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Good Business Practice?

By Keith Fisher

I sat at my desk the other day, intent on finishing the edits to my manuscript submission and something crossed my mind. In the business world, it is common to hand out business cards so your clients and contacts will remember you and your contact information.

Over the years it has become almost second nature for me, to hand out a business card or a hat or something to those I do business with, so it occurred to me that I need an author’s business card to put in the package with my manuscript.

Being one of those people that won’t let unfinished work dissuade me from starting a new project, I started work almost immediately on the new card. Of course I needed a copyright free image so I spent some time on the library of congress website. (That’s part of my day job anyway, so I wasn’t really wasting time).

After finding four images that I liked, I couldn’t decide which to use. Naturally I tried them all, but which style and design worked best? About half way through the style thing I remembered I had a program on my old computer that would help me. My daughter wouldn’t let me use my old computer because it’s now her computer (at least she thinks so).

I spent some time finding the software and setting it up to run on windows XP. When I finally got it running, I was making really cool business cards. Now I need to take my design to a printer in order to do it right. While I was fine tuning my business card, I read parts of LDS Storymakers Publishing Secrets and realized that "Oh yeah, I’m going to need book marks and stickers and flyers and…"

I know that I need to wait for an actual cover picture of my book in order to do those last things, but I started to play with designs. I came up with an awesome bookmark that lists the titles of the seven "soon to be released" novels that are in various stages of development. I also listed my website on the bottom.

That created another problem. I don’t have a Keith Fisher the author website. I always planned to start an author site but I was waiting until after I get published. It occurred to me that it would be better to have the site running now. That way, a publisher can check it out. Which brings us back to the reason for business cards.

I know a little about Html and using software to build a website so I spent the better part of a week working on the site and tying it the other sites I work on. I knew I needed server space so I went shopping for that. I knew I would need greater security so I began to study the ins and outs of scripts. (A monumental task for me.) I want my site to be really cool like Rowling’s or Dashner's, not like the other sites I’ve done…

Did I mention that I haven’t finished the editing? To be fair to myself I did do some writing. I had a great idea about changing the hook in one of my novels. It’s really cool, and it gave me the solution to the mystery. Now I know how it turns out… did I mention I need to finish those edits? Well maybe tomorrow… I am reminded of a scripture in Ecclesiastes, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven".

All of these things are good business practices but I need to get my edits done. Wish me luck.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Cooking up a Bestseller

By Keith Fisher

As I have mentioned before, I’m a Dutch oven cook. My wife and I have traveled around Utah and Wyoming competing in Dutch oven cook-offs for many years. It can be an ego boosting experience to win one of those competitions and realize that you have done well and other people think so too.

At first, we never thought much about it. We just did what came naturally and we prepared the food the way we liked it. Then we found we had to make it look pretty. Sometimes it seemed that we were being judged more on artistic ability than the taste of the food. We were lucky to be blessed with an idea of what good food tastes like, and I was blessed to have an artistically talented wife.

At this point I could tell you about some of the things that I have seen others cook but I don’t want you to salivate all over your keyboard. I could tell you about the way that I slow cook a pork roast to make it so juicy, that when you slice into it, the juices run and it’s so tender it almost disappears on your tongue. But I’m not going to do that (grin).

Besides this is a writer’s blog.

During our second year of competition, we noticed a nice little lady who attended almost every cook-off. She visited with all the cooks and watched what they did. She asked questions and tasted the free samples. She took notes in her constantly changing notebook.

Her note taking wasn’t unusual in itself. We often had spectators taking notes about how to make this or that, and how many coals to use for which size Dutch oven. Those people would go home and try our advice, perhaps build a cooking table like mine, or just get the courage to get their cast iron out of the basement, remove it from the box, and try it out.

What on earth does this have to do with writing?

Then one year at the World’s Championship competition, We discovered the same little lady who had taken so many notes was cooking and she was very good. A couple of years later, she and her daughter won the World’s Championship.

When am I going to get to the writing part?

When my friend took first place, I listened to one of my Dutch oven peers as he told me "She is good because we taught her everything we know." He seemed disappointed, like his secrets had been stolen, but I chose to look at it another way. I agreed with him that she had learned from us, but I pointed out that she had improved on our collective wisdom and made it better. I consider it to be a great compliment to know I had a small part in her success. The beautiful part is, she has gone on to help those who will listen, and she continues to take notes.

As writers in our little circle, we help each other and we learn from the masters who consider themselves one of us. If we are smart, we will take notes. If I ever amount to anything in the LDS publishing world, I hope that all my published author friends will consider it a great compliment because I admit, other than blessings from our Father, I owe it all to them.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

In the Palm of Her Hand

By Keith Fisher
One day at work, I was involved in a "what will happen in the new Harry Potter book" conversation. I enjoyed listening to all the theories and conversations about plots and who has done what in which book. I came up with the totally off the wall suggestion that Harry is re-living his life and in reality he is his father and Hermione is his mother. "Ew," was the comment expressed at my off the wall plot.

You should know that I’m not a fan Harry Potter . . . Before you decide that I’m weird and string me up for misbehavior, think of this: I‘ve seen every episode and all the Star Trek movies. I glanced at few of the books too but I don’t enjoy them as much as the video media.

I have been involved in many discussions about Star Trek and seen others turn away with grins on their faces because of our obsession. The conversation about Harry Potter was like that except we kept getting more people into the conversation and no one was shaking their heads or turning away. I have a working knowledge of Harry Potter because of what I hear people say about him.

I was listening the other day when I was struck by a realization. I thought about the series of HP books and all the mania that has risen from them. I watched as my friends recited this or that about HP. And I thought about the author. What a great sense of power she must feel to have the reading public in the palm of her hand.

She is successful, not because of the money she has made, or the castle she lives in, and certainly not because of being published; she’s successful because she created believable characters and made everyone care about them. Not only do they care but they obsess. I learned a lesson about my own writing while I listened: I realized I want my characters to come alive for my readers as they have for me.

So to that end, I attend classes and conferences, read books and write. Now that I’ve got your attention,

Chapter One
"Shut up and go to sleep," said one of the boys as they passed by. She looked like a cornered animal, ready to strike out at anything that came close to her. Denise noticed the girl because she had shared a class with her in high school. Denise thought her name was Amy.

Crouched on the ground with her back against a large stone, Amy had beads of sweat on her forehead. Her hair was matted and dirty, like she had been rolling in the dirt. She was crying and clutching her jacket as if it were her lifeline. Her eyes were wide open as if she was frightened by something Denise couldn’t see.

Feeling sorry for Amy, Denise kneeled down next her to try and help. She turned and glared at Denise as if she were waiting for an attack. Denise carefully stretched out her arm and tenderly touched her cheek to wipe away a tear. The action was met with a shriek and a backward lunge that caused Amy to bang her head on the rock.

If Jeffrey R Savage can do it in his blog, I ought to be able to do it here. Seriously though, How am I doing? Do you want to read more? Do you care what happens to these characters? What was your opinion of the boys who passed by?

I want to be remembered for what I wrote like the author of Harry . . . what’s her name? You know . . . the author with the castle? Oh yeah, J.K. Rowling.