Friday, December 28, 2007
The best part of the fiction in many novels is the notice that the characters are purely imaginary. Franklin P. AdamsUS journalist (1881 - 1960)
Last week I published a list of woman of the year candidates that were characters from some of the books I read in 2007. This week I want to share a list of man of the year candidates using the same criteria.
As the beginning quote insinuates, sometimes the characters in fiction are larger than life, but other times they are people who waste the space in a manuscript. If those characters were real, I would be tempted to pull them aside, slap them silly and tell them to wise up. I am often disappointed in the male characters in the books I read.
If the author is a woman, the male protagonist is sometimes portrayed as selfish, whining, juveniles, who the female protagonist can control, dominate, and be better than. In the same vein, women who are written by men, are often brainless helpmeets who wouldn’t think of having a thought of their own. Of course there are many authors who create characters that live. Those characters possess all the good and bad qualities that real people have, and if they are created well, they have something that can be admired, respected, and emulated. Those are the characters we will remember forever.
In my reading this year, I found many men who have taught me something. First on the list is Macon Fallon from the book Fallon by Louis L’Amour the author of this book created many strong male characters over the years, some were revisits under a different name, but I chose Fallon because he came to the realization that having love and respect was better than walking away with everything else. The character was very much a man, even admitting his total lack of understanding of women.
Next we need to talk about Sam Carson. Here is a man who tries hard to fix problems but he knows that he can do little, if anything, that would make a difference. He’s the kind of man who could use a good dose of feminine wisdom but we like him all the same. Sam is on the pages of False Pretenses by Carole Thayne.
Next is Robert Harlan in A Perfect Day by Richard Paul Evans. This man is a great example of what could happen to a writer who finds more success than he can deal with. Almost too late, he realizes what’s most important in life. It is a good lesson for writers but more than that, I can relate to the character. He is real and he is written well. One might suspect there are elements of true story but the author refutes that rumor in the dedication.
Last but not least is a man who reinvents himself several times. He passes through trials most men never deal with in their lifetime. His behavior, at times, is so frustrating I want to shake him, at other times I want to be like him. A man could learn a lot from this character. His name is Gene Thomas from the Hearts of the Children series by Dean Hughes.
After complaining that there was a lack of male characters these days, I set out to find some, and I found a pile. I must not end before I mention two more,
Ken Sugihara is the protagonist in Nothing to Regret by Tristi Pinkston
Owen Richards from Race Against Time and the sequel, Pursuit of Justice by Willard Boyd Gardner.
This list is too short but space is limited. If you think back on all the characters you’ve known over the years, then think of why you remember them, what must be done will become clear. Think about the character of Wil Anderson. He was the character John Wayne played in the movie The Cowboys. It’s true the actor developed that character and made him what he is, but Wayne had great building blocks to start with, and they were provided by a writer.
Good luck with your writing in the New Year. Woo Hoo! 2008, and you thought you’d never get through 2007.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Every year, magazines and other publications announce their pick of woman or man of the year. Even though we may not agree with the choices, the candidate has usually done something noteworthy and deserving of praise.
Since it’s the end of the year, I decided to mimic that tradition and announce my choices of woman and man of the year. I won’t be choosing from a list of people in the news, nor will I choose a real person—I’m choosing characters from the books I’ve read this year. I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your character, or I didn’t get to your book. I hope you agree with my choices.
First, is a woman who really shines in False Pretenses written by Carol Thayne. Here is a woman who is true to her heart and her principles. Never compromising, always caring. She is personified so well in her 1960’s ways that it is hard to believe she isn’t real. Her name is Sunny Day, and she is one of my picks for this list.
Next, is a woman who is so convincing as one of the boys that I was stunned to see her as a beautiful woman. She made her choices long ago, and she’s fiercely loyal to them. She’s the best friend a young man ever had, and the best wife that young man could ever choose. She is Tiffany Gibson and she lives in a novel by Alma Yates called Race to Eden.
Next is a woman who’s one section of internal dialog earned her high marks in the believability scale when she begins her prayer convinced she is right but suddenly realizes she really doesn’t know and humbles herself to ask and listen. It’s the way most of us approach the Lord and it’s written well. Her name is Ruby Soderberg Alder and she lives on the pages of Seven Days for Ruby by Blaine and Brenton Yorgason.
One could not make a list like this without including the practically imperfect woman who admits to her obsession for food, and follows her heart instead of her mind. Of course I am talking about Shaundra Covington in the series by the same name, written by Jeffrey R Savage.
Perhaps most deserving of all to be on this list is the creation of an author who, like all of us, makes mistakes in our writing but I’ve never seen a better character creator. The character she created lives in the hearts of many, and is so convincing with her flaws and ethical standards that the reader is surprised when she shows a slight change of character. She is fiercely loyal to her friends and fights for them, and with them. Always prepared to the point of being obsessive, my best choice is Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.
That’s my list, such as it is. I don’t have the space to list all the noteworthy women I have found on the pages I’ve read this year and some are best forgotten, but almost all should be mentioned, the authors as well. Next week, I’m going to do my list of men and boys, but keep in mind it won’t be easy. There aren’t as many male protagonists in books these days, especially LDS fiction.
Good luck with your writing, and reading, see you next week.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Christmas has always been a magical time. In this day of so much stifling affluence and abject poverty, it sometimes helps to remember Christmases from the past. Did you ever notice that Christmas was always happier and more magical in our childhood than it is today? Or was it?
One of my favorite Christmases was the year a group of us slept in sleeping bags around the Christmas tree on Christmas night. It was during a time before the ease of freeways, and rather than drive home on icy, two lane, roads, my family made a pilgrimage visit. We stayed over at one house or another and Christmas was at my house that year.
I received a cool penlight in my stocking that morning so I spent most of the night turning it off and on, driving everyone crazy. There were board games, great food, and family togetherness. There was also, the snore of my uncle and aunt the next morning as I sneaked past them to retrieve my clothes from my bedroom. "You just don’t go into the bedroom where a married couple are sleeping," mother said. "Especially if they are newlyweds." Now that I am older, I know she was right.
All in all, that Christmas went down as one of the best two-day events of my life.
Years later, when I was in high school, I tried to rekindle that magic by inviting my recently divorced aunt and her family to stay with us for Christmas. This was after Freeways and they only lived thirty miles away.
My mother was surprised they accepted my invitation, and she was nervous to have the houseguests she wasn’t expecting. I was somewhat disappointed—it wasn’t the same—the magic was different.
In my memory, the earlier Christmas was wonderful, magical, and memorable. I ask myself, why can’t Christmas be like that these days? When I talked to my parents about the holidays of my childhood, I discovered they remember things differently. I got a penlight in my stocking because it was cheap and my parents were struggling, and my mother was frazzled over the logistics of taking care of so many guests. My parents don’t talk about the magic I remember.
We often say Christmas is for the kids, and the magic is in the eyes of your children, and that is true, but what if you don’t have kids? As adults, are we doomed to a life of checkout counter battles, shoveling snow, and cursing our fellowman?
Then there was the year my daughter was born. She was two months old at Christmas time. We placed her in an oversized Christmas stocking and took pictures. We joked that Santa had brought her and she was our Christmas present that year.
The year, my wife had emergency surgery to save her life was a magical Christmas too. I spent money we didn’t have on a Christmas tree. She didn’t like it, but I did my best to make Christmas magical for us. I was just grateful she was still around.
You see it’s a matter of perspective. Children don’t obsess with worries like parents do. To a kid, there is magic in almost everything, especially Christmas. Like the year my daughter was born, we can draw magic from special events and circumstances, but I see adults who thoroughly enjoy Christmas. Between the giving, the singing, the good will to men, and worshipping HE, who gave us Christmas, they are convinced it’s the happiest time of the year.
So, I challenge all of us to find the magic. Have the time of your lives—cut loose, and succumb to the joy. It’s tapping you on the shoulder. Just turn around and take a look. If for no other reason, be glad you made it through another year. As for me, I’m trying to look at it through the eyes of the child I once was.
Good luck in your writing, and Merry Christmas.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I made procrastination into an art form this week. I’ve been writing the family newsletter and I got bogged down playing with PhotoShop. When I worked as a typesetter I could knock out a two-page newsletter in a few minutes, but trouble with Word, and Page-maker, added time to the project, all the while, I could see my edits slipping further and further from my grasp.
You may wonder why I’m telling you this . . . well, it’s Friday night, I don’t have my blog written, and that is my excuse.
Although I have been working on a blog this week and I hoped to be finished last Monday, but well, you know what happened. I’ll get back to it this week I promise. Then again, I noticed that Danyelle Ferguson tagged me for another game. Maybe I’d better do that instead.
I saw a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show once, where a writer was trying to plot a story. He kept typing and striking out what he wrote. In the mean time, the characters were behind him acting out what was on the page. It was hilarious—the characters had to stop what they were doing and switch. I don’t remember all the particulars, but the writer killed one of them, then changed his mind in favor of killing someone else. The actor fell dead only to stand up and push the other actor down.
The sketch ended when the writer finally got tired of it, took two aspirins, and walked away. The characters were left to deal with two large, white, tablets crashing down on top of them.
Sometimes things go that way, and there’s no harm in taking a chocolate break, but we need to remember to get back in the chair as soon as possible. It can be hard to continue a story after distractions take us away from it. We can’t give up and drop large, white, tablets on our characters.
Now that I’ve said it, I need to practice what I preach, instead of taking aspirins, I think I’ll toss the other stuff, and get back to my characters. They’ve been beckoning to me since I drifted off into regions far removed. Good luck in your writing, and let me know what it is, that steals time away from your work.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
I know, I know, I'm late posting this. It's Sunday and in my haste to get it written I probably messed it up. please let me know where my errors are.
I have a birthday coming up and it is one of the big milestones. You could change the spelling and say it’s a millstone . . . hanging around my neck . . . as someone drops me into the water . . . from off the pier.
All joking aside, we all have moments when we pause to assess our lives and discover, with horror, that we aren’t even close to realizing our goals. We look back on all the mistakes we’ve made, the wrong turns we took, and the missed opportunities. So we ask ourselves if we have done everything we could do in order to make our dreams come true.
However, don’t feel sorry for me, or for your self. When I begin to feel like there isn’t enough life left to fulfill my dreams, I remember what it took to get where I am and all the wonderful blessings along the way. There's a great line in a John Lennon Song, he wrote, Life is what happens, when were making other plans.
So when you stumble and fall, when you get a rejection letter and you feel you cannot type another word, think of the successes you’ve had in your life. The first time your children cleaned their room, the day they came home with a good report card, and the way God has taken care of you, especially during those lean years.
Keep writing! Never give up your keyboard until the day someone pries your cold dead fingers from off the keys. Then, when our books get published and we see someone reading it in an airport or crowded checkout line, we can remember the journey. I just hope it happens before my next birthday. Like white lines on the freeway at seventy miles per hour, they’re passing by. To quote another seventies song, Are you reeling in the years? Stowing away the time?
Good luck in your writing and watch out for over-the-hill writers. It's hard to keep from racing after you reach the summit. Try and help them slow down a bit and remember, I won't be one of them . . . I refuse . . . I'm going turn around and go back . . .
Friday, November 23, 2007
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you remembered to give thanks to God for all his tender mercies. Myself, I got some writing and editing done. For which, I am truly grateful.
Have you noticed, when writing a book, an opinionated author must try to keep his/her opinions to themselves? If not, the author could be guilty of the cardinal sin of losing point of view and we all know what can happen if we do that.
But have you also noticed, if we put those opinions in the mouth of a sympathetic character, it can be said, and sometimes accepted? This can, however, be a two-edge sword that could hurt us on the back swing. But, you say, it was the character that said it not the author right?
I realized the implications when I read something that Dumbledore said in book two of Harry Potter and I wanted to write it down. Do I give Albus Dumbledore credit or do I give credit to JK Rowling? The character isn’t real, right? Or is he?
Without getting into the whole Stranger than Fiction mania, Keep in mind that in the end, it was JK Rowling who said it. Therefore, if what was said was something embarrasing . . . ah, there’s the rub as Hamlet said in his/Shakespeare’s soliloquy.
What was the quote? Dumbledore/Rowling said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Also, I discovered a section of self-dialog that I wanted to show you. In the book, Seven Days for Ruby by the Yorgason Brothers Ruby is worried about her friend. She prays for him and makes a discovery,
"Dear God in heaven," she prayed in desperation, "I’ve got troubles, real troubles, and I don’t know where to turn. Johnny is innocent, I feel he is, I know he . . .
"Lord, is Johnny innocent?"
I absolutely love this passage. Not only does it show the way we sometimes go about our lives but it’s well written. Now there are flaws in the story, of course there are. None of us are perfect and neither is what we write, but we can try, submitting our best work and maybe someday one of our characters will be quoted, but be careful. Keep a muzzle on your character’s opinions. Like children, they could have a tendency to embarrass.
Good luck with your writing, keep trying—believe you can be published—you can touch lives.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I think it gets worse every year. This year, I noticed two radio stations started playing Christmas music on November first. Not that I hate Christmas music, but it gets a little old by December Twenty-fifth, especially if the radio station plays the same twelve songs day-in and day-out.
I know the holidays haven’t really started yet, but I got irritated at the store the other day. The source of my displeasure, although mild, will only get worse by the time New Years rolls around.
It’s always a surprise when the season that should promote goodwill turns normally kind people into ruthless, ungrateful, and selfish children. The long faces and angry looks are enough to turn anyone’s heart away from the spirit of giving.
While shopping, I noticed no matter how hard I tried to be courteous, I was met by people who acted like they were somehow entitled, perhaps by theological decree, to be first in line and they somehow deserved the right-of-away more than I did.
I was taught to say pardon me when I cross someone’s path, and to recognize the kindness of others who let me pass first. On another occasion, I was in Deseret Book trying to see the bottom shelf without bending over and a man stepped in front of me to look at the racks I was searching. I didn’t count minutes, but he stood there for a long time. If you know me, you can imagine some of the things that crossed my mind.
Maybe I’m just oversensitive, but judging by last Christmas, I know it can only get worse.
Perhaps this year, we could all pray for strength to look past the rudeness and try to see what God sees in the man who steals our parking place, or the harried woman that butts in line at the grocery store. I know God loves them as much as me and I can use all the help I can get to remember that.
Now for a note about writing—awhile ago, C.L. beck challenged Darvell and me to provide a list of top ten kissable women characters. I’ve thought about it and I think I'll pass. Keep in mind that married men, if they know what’s good for them, will avoid thinking about other women.
Because I want to remain married, I decided to not take the challenge, but I want to point out how real some characters seem to be. An author who came to know them on an intimate basis has painstakingly developed those characters we remember best.
My advice to all of us would be to take the time to develop your characters. If you can put your character into a completely different type of story and the character is still real, you know you have succeeded.
Good luck with your writing, and good luck with your shopping. I hope to see you sane on January second.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
For those of us who look forward to weekends, Friday is the day of days, the light at the end of the tunnel. This week, however, it sneaked up on me before I knew it was coming and I was blogless.
To make matters worse, I inflamed my Sciatic Nerve (not sure of the spelling), and had to spend the day lying on my back reading. It’s painful to sit at my desk to write.
This is my longwinded way of apologizing for the condition of my (ouch) writing. And the (ouch) tardiness.
I want to share a condensed quote with you, however, it’s by David G. Woolley, and it hangs on the wall in front of my desk,
"Writing fiction is storytelling, but we must be more than storytellers. Ours is an art of communicating emotions, creating suspense. Describing the grit and grime and smell of a place. If we do it well, we transport the reader to a place just beyond eternity without leaving the Lazy-Boy. It sure ain’t easy—but it is doable."
Good luck with your writing.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
I was attending a writer’s conference once when I heard someone make an observation. In essence, she said that it was good to be around people who understood a statement about trying to get her characters to behave.
We writers are a weird lot—we spend our days, and late nights, listening to our creations. Then we sentence them to death, or worse, without any regret. We tell ourselves it’s all for the good of the book.
I know, I know, you’ve all seen it before, but recently, I finished watching Stranger Than Fiction. I hated the build up, but I loved the ending. Like most of you, I knew what the story was about before it started. Overall, the parts about the writer were very gratifying, but I have some questions for you:
Did you cry when the author couldn’t bring herself to kill Harold? How many of you could identify with her, to the point of feeling anxiety? Wasn’t it nice to know there are others like you?
I don’t want to spoil the movie, but when you see it, ask yourself, how real are the characters you create? If you saw them in a crowded airport, would you know them? If a character walked into your writing place, would you need to be introduced to them?
If you answer these questions the way I did, then you’re a writer. If you sometimes need to stop the car and get out because you recognize a scene from your story, then you are a writer. If you schedule vacations around research, then you are a writer. If you watch the spectators instead of the football game, then you are a writer. If you stand at the edge of a high place, trying to imagine what it would be like to fall off, then you are a writer.
There are many examples of this kind of behavior—perhaps you could name many more, but now that we established that you are a writer, start working on it. Be warned, however, people will think you’re odd when you try to explain the concept of a character who won’t behave or leave you alone. Then you will know that it’s not the fiction that’s strange—it’s the authors, but take heart, you’re not alone.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
As I mentioned before, I have avoided reading Harry Potter. I’ve seen portions, but I’ve never seen the movies. No particular reason, I just haven’t been much of a fantasy fan. Recently, I acquired the whole series except The Deathly Hallows. Since I was between novels anyway, I decided to read HP for a change of pace.
In the story, there’s a place called The Leaky Cauldron. The image that name presents is the reason this blog has the title it does. Think of it—a vessel that cannot hold any liquid. Put a fire under it and the fluid will extinguish the flames.
I was just finishing the second book in the series when I heard the news. Apparently, the author announced that Dumbledore is gay. (See the article.)
When an author writes a story, there are many facts created about characters that never make it into a novel. The reasons are varied but basically, too much exposition can bog a story down. The reader gets lost in a sea of non-relevant facts and they lose the story.
In the case of HP, the author created a character that teenagers love, the image of that character is set in our minds, and the book series is immensely successful. So why announce this now? Did Rowling let it slip accidentally? Was it an effort to boost her popularity? Nothing more than a publicity stunt? Could it be she’s succumbing to the clouded judgement of the moviemakers that want to include something more in the next movie?
Whatever the reasons for it, HP will never be the same. Setting aside the influence it could have on teenage readers, I can’t read it without thinking about the implications. It might have been different if the author had included that information in the book originally, but now I look at the character differently—I’ve been tainted.
I hope the character will survive. I want the kindly, caring, old man, to live on. As one of the internet news articles said: Put Dumbledore back in the closet.
To all aspiring authors may I suggest, if it wasn’t important enough to include in the book, then, leave it in your heads—especially if the information is as controversial as the information above. Don’t put out the fire under your cauldron by poking holes in it.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Once again I didn’t get the challenge answered and G. Parker tagged me for another. The trouble is, I have been snowed under. Every time I try to carve out a moment to write I am called away for another of life’s moments. This week I have been trying to get organized to submit part of my Dutch oven cookbook. I’ve been cleaning up after the yard sale, and trying to get my night job in line.
While cleaning up, I discovered something that may mystify you as it did me. We took a truck to Deseret Industries and were told they wouldn’t take certain items. I have the back for an office chair. It was brand new when the chair broke so I saved it, hoping I would rebuild the chair.
Brand-new and they wouldn’t take it.
"Do you have the bottom part?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"Then what good is it?"
"It can be used by someone who is trying to fix chairs."
"We can throw it in the dumpster for you."
"Unbelievable," I said.
I drove away wondering where I could find a home for it.
Do you want it?
I also went to the book fair at school this week. Pretty good racket—the teachers bring you in to talk about your kids, and your kids drag you into the book fair. The problem is that it’s not all books. The kids want to buy the toys too.
I purchased an eighth-grade level grammar book. Maybe it will help my writing. I’ll let you know. Good luck in your writing, and let me know if you need a new back for your office chair.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
She climbed out of her car and stepped up to the first table, not knowing what treasures she would find there, or how much they would change her life.
My wife and I have been hoping to have a yard sale all summer. With the press of day to day activities, and booked weekends, we never quite got the chance. When she, who must be obeyed, came home with a couch and love seat from her mother’s house, she decided it was time. I returned from my camping trip and heard the edict: "We are having a yard sale this weekend!"
She scrambled, and I survived on four-hours of sleep per day while getting ready for the big event. We hoped it would clear our house of clutter and perhaps, bring financial rewards. I also put my writing projects on hold. Now my head feels like my house, stuffed to the rafters with ideas for new projects, waiting for the chance to be displayed in the yard sale of an unpublished book.
During my forced vacation from writing, I discovered that even though I’ve missed it, I felt relieved from the daily word counts, and the work of polishing submittals.
When our yard sale began, my writer’s heart discovered a bag full of metaphors and similes. I watched a young mother sorting through my daughter’s old clothes, and asking what the prices were. I looked at her selections and realized we had also purchased most of those items from yard sales, and our prices were pretty much the same. Life had completed one of those endless circles, giving purpose to our existence on earth.
Many of the standard character types attended the event. There was the successful businessman who drove up in a pickup that cost more than my first house. He was appalled that we wouldn’t drop the price on the antique Christmas tree ornaments.
The old man, who wanted the brand new, never used, hole-saw set but offered seventy percent of the already rock bottom price. He dropped the item and stormed off when we wouldn’t go that low. One woman surprised me when she gave us more than the quoted price. "I like your prices," she said. Also there were two young men who said, "Stop the car dude," They jumped out to purchase two wigs and provided a comedy show for my daughter and her friends.
The big lesson I learned is how much we, as a society have changed since I was a young man fresh out of high school. In those days, people rented until they saved enough for a down payment on a home, they waited to purchase furniture until they could afford it, and they used yard sales or discount stores to help make ends meet. Today, many kids grow up thinking they are somehow entitled to everything. They wouldn’t be caught dead at a yard sale, and a used anything should be thrown away.
Today, used refrigerators have no more purpose than to take up space in landfills or to store apples against the winter. At least the latter is a worthwhile purpose. Of all the things I gleaned from the yard sale, perhaps the most important, were the feelings of joy in remembering the precious moments of my family’s life. Like when someone purchased a toy that Santa brought for my daughter’s second Christmas. The tune it played drove me crazy then. Now the tune brings happiness in remembering, and the toy went to a good home with another baby who loves it.
Last week I promised I would answer the challenge of Tristi Pinkston’s tag, but I wanted to give a writer’s tip. I was plotting a book in my head the other day and remembered the way the Titanic movie was written. It’s a story told from the point of view of the old woman. However, for continuity, there were other points of view that needed to be told.
I wonder how it would read if the script was a book and we didn’t know the story. We would read about the old woman remembering then suddenly, switch to the poker game and Jack’s point of view. Without the visual explanation, the reader might be left to wonder who the character is. Perhaps the old lady was once a poor man trying to get to America.
I wrote a story that begins with one character remembering in the prologue then switches to third person omniscient and introduces other characters in the normal way. I was afraid the continuity would suffer. It has been a struggle to transition point of view, but even though the whole story has been told in one character’s Point of view, I think I did it in an acceptable way. I’ll let you know how it turns out, or perhaps you can tell me when it’s published.
Good luck with your writing. See you next week.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
I’ve been camping in the rain and snow this week, listening to conference on the radio, and being with my family. In other words taking the day off, (If you believe that, I have some waterfront property for you to buy.) Anyway, I decided that since Tristi Pinkston tagged me for another Meme, I would take advantage of it and fill in my responses.
However, over the course of the weekend I didn’t get the challenge completed so I will curtail it until next week. Let’s just say the weekend hasn’t been going well.
I was to be camp cook for my family’s Elk hunt, but I ran into adversity and I wasn’t able to relax the way I wanted to. Cooking in snowstorms has never been a problem for me, but dealing with a petty demagogue who has a Napoleon complex is.
I realize I have left what happened to your imaginations. Suffice it to say that, Power, even perceived power, can corrupt the nicest campground host.
I also realized that it must be hard for some writers, to write certain scenes. Having no experience with some situations, we are left with our imaginations and the depictions of the media.
But on the other hand, we are sometimes better off to interview others, and read about experiences in order to get our descriptions correct. Perhaps it is better to leave Hemingway’s invitation to glory unheeded. Get out there an experience life but be careful opening pretty boxes, you never know what might be inside.
Good luck with your writing and see you next week.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
I asked if he was writing and he referred me back to the earlier part of our conversation when he mentioned he’s going to learn how.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
I’ve heard it said that the LDS market is mostly female. At a workshop, I heard Willard Boyd Gardner say he discovered he was writing books for men to be purchased by women. I’ve also heard other male writers say they write for women.
I was told one of my books was written for women and I thought I wrote it for everyone. My editor suggested women want to see the feelings of my characters. Since then, I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my male mind around the idea of being motivated by feelings, but then again, I always thought I had a sensitive nature. (Don’t laugh guys, you should try it sometime).
Anyway I started doing a little research and discovered the people who buy and read fiction are predominately women. Not just LDS fiction, but national market too. I don’t actually have any numbers, but let me ask you, how many men do you know that read fiction?
While you think about that, let me remind you of another fact: There are more women on Planet Earth, than there are men. I heard the statistics came in around three to one.
With a market like that, perhaps we all should write stories for women to read. I’m not just talking about romance, but all genres. On the other hand if more men wrote for men in the LDS market perhaps we could persuade more men to read. (If you write it, they will read.)
I’m still going to try and write for universal audiences. Hopefully we can persuade more men to read, but I’m going to put on my analyst’s suit, get my characters on the couch and ask them how they feel.
By the way, I have written about 10,000 words in the BIAM challenge. I know others have larger numbers but I started late.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I don’t know how you do it, but my writing largely consists of what many call free writing. I sit down and start typing sentences, knowing where I want the story to go. It’s tremendously gratifying when I get into the zone and ideas flow faster than words. Lest you think it’s like that everyday I should mention, I have days when I know where I want the story to go, but I have no idea how to get it there. When it happens I usually put the story aside and work on one of my other projects.
It’s because of all those projects, and the need to edit them, that I resisted the BIAM (Book in a month) challenge issued by Nichole Giles from this group, and by Tristi Pinkston. I felt I needed to finish editing.
With the myriad ideas for other projects and three books that need to be finished, the call of the zone was haunting me. Editing is the most important job we can do as a writer. Good editing can make or break a book, but it’s drudgery. I’ve never been in the zone while editing, and as I said, the promise of flowing words was sitting there, alone on the shelf . . . Well, I couldn’t just leave it there, now could I?
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. I escaped to the joy of the open range of writing. I put my edits aside, and began to climb the mountain.
I remember when, as a kid, I put my chores aside in favor of going camping, riding horses or playing make believe. "I promise, Mom, I’ll get it done later," I said.
In like manner, I promise I’ll get the edits done too . . . later. I’m going mountain climbing with my friends. I’m a little late getting started and I haven’t set my goals yet, but I’ll keep you informed if you’re interested.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Recently, in another blog, there was a discussion going on started by Julie Coulter Bellon. It was about the mysterious disappearance of socks when they go through the cleaning process. After careful deliberation, I believe I have the answer to the mystery.
Unfortunately, the solution doesn't solve the problem. There is an unseen force in the dryer, something that is performing a sock makeover.
I had a pair of matched argyles, the only one I owned. One of them came up missing until I discovered it had magically changed color. It still looked like the original, but was a different shade, therefore unusable together. Since then, I have discovered more socks that have met the fate of the rogue sock plastic surgeon.
I have heard that some identical twins spend their whole life trying to distance themselves from their twins. Maybe it's a psychological sock problem. It couldn’t have anything to do with washing them with whites.
Now with that solved, we can move on to other things. I started reading False Pretenses by Carole Thayne this week and I love it. I met the author at the LDStorymakers conference and I was ashamed to admit I’d never read her work.
I found a copy, and I’m in awe of the masterful way the author brings the reader into the lives of the characters. I began to care about these people from the moment I met them. Don’t tell me how it ends I’m looking forward to savoring the story.
Now about me, I followed the link in Tristi Pinkston’s blog and found that in the year I was born,
- Dwight Eisenhower is president of the US.
- The First civil rights bill to protect ‘Blacks’ voting rights since reconstruction is approved by Congress.
- Hurricane "Audrey" destroys Cameron, Louisiana killing 390 people.
- National Guardsmen bar nine black students from entering a previously all white Central High School in Little Rock.
- Russians launch Sputnik I, first earth orbiting satellite.
- The FBI arrests Jimmy Hoffa and charges him with bribery.
- Vanna White, Osama bin Laden, Sid Vicious, and Melanie Griffith are born.
- The Milwaukee Brewers win the World Series.
- The Detroit Lions win the NFL championship.
- The Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup.
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac is published.
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss is published.
I hope you have a great Saturday. Perhaps I’ll see you at the Utah State Fair. Look for the Dutch oven cooking.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Do you remember the old cliché of the mechanic who assessed the damage on your car and said, "I’ve got some good news and some bad news . . ."
I went to court the other day. Before you start worrying about me, I was there to give moral support to my friend who was being charged.
The bad news is he didn’t show up, the judge issued a bench warrant and set bail. The good news is I stayed for awhile and watched the human drama unfold for longer than I had intended to be there.
I work nights and the session was cutting into my valuable sleep time, but I watched as ordinary people dealt with some of the more difficult circumstances in their lives.
I found myself wishing I’d brought a notebook because the stories unfolding before my eyes were rich with conflict and reality more than I could ever dream up. The characters standing before me were as diverse as they were complicated.
I stayed until I absolutely had to leave or suffer from sleep deprivation, but I’ve got material for many stories to come. I have ideas for plots that I may never be able to write.
I also gained insight into how court is conducted these days. I sat in on court sessions before, but things have changed. For one thing, they show a DVD before they begin. It tells the accused about their rights and explains the procedure. Another is the addition in the state of Utah of an interpreter.
I watched a police officer and the bailiff stand up and approach the clerk in an effort (I assume) to protect the court from the more volatile of the accused. Others may have missed the drama in that moment, but I wrote whole stories about it in my head.
The point, if you missed it, is take notice of simple moments. Glean something from every event. Get out and experience life. It will help in your writing.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
We buried our family pet this week. It’s never a happy occasion, but we’ve had Cocoa for 17 years. She was my Valentine’s gift to my wife and the only pet my daughter has known. She was a good cat.
Cocoa was showing signs of her age and it was a blessing to see her pass, but it’s never easy. We buried her under the big pine tree in the back yard.
Also, this week, I’ve been working on a blog. It’s a fantastic idea that will touch and delight you. It will bring you to tears and leave you with a sense that all’s write with the world. (Get it? all’s WRITE).
Okay, I admit I’ve got nothing. I really did have a blog but I discovered I’ve already written it. The experts say one of the signs of old age is repeating your self. Your self.
I started reading another book by one of my favorite prolific authors and discovered a pile of obvious mistakes. I was mystified. "How could that author do that?" I asked. It’s almost like the publisher printed the first draft.
Just to give you an idea: in almost every chapter there are info dumps and exposition that should be dialog. The author lost track of details. In one place, the police are coming over to have a very important conversation but they don’t come, the conversation never happens.
Recently I had a very good friend look at a manuscript and make suggestions. It came back full of red ink so to speak. I look at it and wonder how I could’ve ever considered sending that to a publisher, it wasn’t ready. If I were a best selling author with name recognition, the publisher may have printed it and I would’ve had to live with it.
I’m going to continue reading the book but I have to put it down frequently in order to recover.
I guess I went ahead and wrote this blog even though I didn’t think I would. See what happens when you get me talking (writing)? I tend to run off at the mouth.
Anyway, have a good week and get out the polishing compound. Start rubbing on that manuscript of yours. You never know; a publisher may lose his/her mind and set it in print. Then you’ll have to live with it forever or until you buy every copy back.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
By Keith Fisher
I’ve noticed a trend in some of the books I’ve been reading lately. Some of the prolific authors tend to use the same names over and over again. I caught myself doing it one day when I gave a new character a name and realized I used the name in another book.
As authors I think we tend to use names and people we are familiar with, instead of expanding our horizons. To keep from falling into the trap, there are many places on the internet that list names. I found a great one at Mongabay.com. Unlike most name websites, it lists last names too.
On a related note, I was clearing out spam and old emails from accounts I don’t use anymore. The process took the better part of an hour, but as I was deleting, I discovered something interesting. I was erasing a list of names. Not just first names, but first names with last names.
Suddenly I was paying more attention to the sender column than the subject lines. I found some great antagonist names in the sender line of the most aggravating spam emails. Don’t you think that Cialis would be a great first name for a female villain?
But I did find some good name combinations and the work of creating has already been done for me. There were normal names like Betty Collins but there were a lot of unusual names too. Names that readers will remember. Like Tyrone Watson, and Alexander Thompson.
There were many unusable names too, like Unwanted Fat, and Hair Replacement. But I got a kick out of the thought of using Sears Sale. It kinda sounds like She sells seashells by the seashore. Instead we’d use Sears Sale sold socks in his solid stand built by stinky silkworms. It’s not much of a tongue twister, but its cute none-the-less.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Thanks to Nicole for tagging me. This time I was able to get in the game almost at the beginning. I love to play these games because one, they give me something to write about. Two, I get to find out who’s thinking of me. If my friends mention me, It makes my day. Here are my answers to the questions:
Four Jobs I've Had:
Inside sales Rep Amico-Klemp
Service Station attendant (back when the term service station meant more than gas station)
I could give a lot longer list but you don’t have the time.
Four Places I've Lived:
Four Favorite TV Shows:
This Old House
Most of the sitcoms before 1980 (but that’s not current).
Four Favorite Foods:
Roast Beef and Potatoes.
Hamburger and Eggs.
Almost anything cooked in a Dutch oven.
Toasted Tuna sandwich.
Four Websites I Frequent:
All the blog sites I can find about writing
Four Places I'd Rather Be Right Now:
Kanarraville, Utah (running a general store and writing books)
Fishing anywhere in Utah
Hunting in Alaska
A large stone mansion, (if JK Rowling can get one, so can I) only mine will be on the edge of a cliff, looking down on a large body of water. IT would be in the United States in a place where I have to commute by helicopter. Can you imagine landing your helicopter in the church parking lot on Sunday? But I digress.
Four Movies I Love:
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World
All the Star Trek movies (especially First Contact, but then I like Generations too. Oh I’ll just go with my first answer).
Mr. Blandings Builds a Dream House (Cary Grant)
Four Bloggers I Tag Next:
This is difficult. I’m not sure who has been tagged already. I’ll take a shot in the dark:
Julie Coulter Bellon
LDS Publisher (but she’s probably too busy this time of year. She probably wouldn’t reveal any secrets anyway so I’ll tag . . . . . . .
Mary Higgins Clark
I knew this was going to be a good blog this week. Hopefully you have learned something about me that will help you decide to buy my books when they come out. If not, send me an email and I’ll talk you into it.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
We had a cloudburst here the other day. It wasn’t a press stopping, earthshaking experience, but it was welcome none-the-less. We’ve been mostly missed by the current monsoon in the area of Utah where I live, so I was happy to watch the rain as it fell in sheets.
I was reminded of a television movie about WC Fields. Apparently, he was an insomniac but he could sleep if it was raining. I’m not as sleep deprived as he was, but I’m also soothed by the sound of rain. I love to listen as the drops hit the ground. I love the sound of the water collecting into runoff, forming tiny rivulets on their way into the gutters then it races to the storm drains.
The cloudburst lasted but a few minutes and was finished almost before it began but it left a mark. The streets were wet, the grass was watered, and the humidity climbed. The swamp-cooler became ineffective. It was uncomfortable.
You may wonder where I’m going with my rain inspired writing but I just wanted to tell you about the storm.
Just kidding. There is a point here that pertains to writing.
Sometimes we write the storm but forget to write the effects. I once heard someone say, we have a character throw a ball, but we never see it get caught. It stays in our story hanging in the air forever. It never has the opportunity to hit the ground or be caught by someone.
On the other hand, we pull a handy water bottle from a backpack but never tell the reader where the backpack came from. These things are left hanging in the reader’s mind like the nagging question "Did I turn off the gas before I left on vacation?"
We can’t have a rainstorm without it making the streets wet and the humidity rise. Likewise, a character can’t let go of the string without watching the balloon as it wafts toward the heavens and gets caught by the breeze and carried away, disappearing into the sky.
Keep telling your stories but if you need to relax, I’ve got a Gentle Rains CD. It’s a wonderful storm and it helps when the rains don’t come.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
I wrote three blogs this week but I couldn’t get excited about the subjects. Tristi Pinkston tagged me for the Moaning Meme but I couldn’t get riled up enough to rant. (Perhaps next week.) I’m still recuperating from the huge family reunion we hosted a couple of weeks ago. The ladies in my family had girl’s night out, and they went to Lagoon for two days. I was left alone for a night.
I’ve heard a lot lately about the new Harry Potter book. I can’t wait to read the book she writes next. It should be a great test of her writing abilities. After all, how do you top the success of HP?
I know I’m rambling, but it’s been that kind of a week.
I’ve been getting great feedback from the proofreaders of one of my manuscripts. One of those readers pointed out an error in tense that I began to fix. Then I remembered why I wrote it that way.
In his book, Stein on Writing, Sol Stein suggests some ways to give exposition and back-story without making it sound like an endless flashback. He said to write in the present and give the story immediacy. Try to tell the past in the dialog that happened then. If you must write a flashback, segue into it, then write like it’s happening now. He said to avoid the words had or then. According to him, the cardinal sin is to use the word had twice, such as: Evelyn knew she had had enough.
Using had in that way is grammatically correct, but it sounds funny—it often puts your writing into the past tense and into the realm of flashback, back, back, back,
(Is there an echo in here?)
The point is to keep the reader in the story. He suggests that if a reader senses a flashback, they tend to read past it in order to stay in the immediate story.
So I’m debating with myself. Should I keep it the way it is? Or should I bite the bullet and do it the way my English teacher wanted it? Send your comments and tell me what you think.
On a related note, one of those wonderful appreciated, tremendously helpful, kind, thrifty, brave, reverent . . . proofreaders, is a blogger and offers writing advice. I expect my mistakes will be part of a blog soon. I’m biting my nails.
By the way, remind me to tell you about the appreciation program I’m developing for my proofreaders. I can’t tell you about it now, because you’d all want to read my manuscript and I need to get it finished.
I’ll keep you in mind for the next manuscript though. It should be done in a month or two. If you want to be a proofreader, send me an email and I’ll put you on my list.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Years ago I saw a cute cartoon of an old man lying on his death bed. He motioned for a young man to come closer. When the young man did, the old man gestured to come closer still. The young man leaned down with his ear to the old man’s mouth, the old man touched the young man on the cheek. He said, "Last tag." and died. The young man was mortified. Who was he going to tag now? The old man was dead and the young man would be IT forever.
I just discovered G. Parker tagged me for this game on her blogsite. Then I found that Kerry Blair tagged me too. Lest you think I’m not a good sport, I decided I’d better play. To Gaynell, Kerry, and any others who might have tagged me thanks for thinking of me. Since everyone has already played I won’t be able to tag anyone. I guess I’m the victim of the last tag.
What were you doing ten years ago? Selling a house, buying a new one, and getting ready for a new arrival in our family.
What were you doing one year ago? Learning to be a typesetter, and re-writing a novel.
Five snacks you enjoy: Soft, cold, and gooey—depends on the day, and time of day
Five songs you know all the lyrics to: Love at home, Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, Peaceful easy Feeling in fact most of the 60’s and 70’s music. (I’ve been listening since it was new). Number five would be Happy Birthday to you.
Things you would do if you were a millionaire: Buy a castle in Scotland, write best sellers like a young lady we all know. Actually, I’d start businesses in areas on the decline. (Create jobs in places that can’t support the next generation.)
Five bad habits: Coveting Nichole’s convertible mustang, internalizing innocent comments, procrastination, messiness, and snoring.
Five things you like to do: Family things, being in the zone with my writing. Camping, hunting and fishing.
Things you will never wear again: Most of my wardrobe. not because I don't like it but because they don't fit.
Five favorite toys: My computer, Camp Trailer, Swamp cooler (this time of year), Fishing pole, and Nichole’s Convertible (Have you checked the garage, Nichole).
Where will you be in ten years: sitting on my front porch with a shotgun threatening my daughter’s boyfriends. I will have my laptop beside me (still doing re-writes).
Five people to tag: Anyone who wants to play.
That was fun, stay tuned next week for an amateur writing workshop where I re-hash lessons I’ve learned before.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
We’re hosting 70 or so this week in a family reunion so I didn’t have time to edit. Please excuse this rough draft.
Last week, I took my daughter fishing. She’s nine and she’s a girly girl. She likes catching fish but she says ewww a lot when she disembowels them.
Judging by how much she nags me to take her fishing, I think she’s wise beyond her years. She knows she needs to capture moments with her dad before he can’t make them anymore.
At one point during our day together, she got bored and decided she wanted to fish with a lure. She was continually casting out and reeling in, when she hooked a big one. I enjoyed helping her with the struggle of landing it, but I noticed it was harder than it should’ve been. When she pulled the fish close to shore I discovered the reason why.
She had hooked the fish by the dorsal fin and had to pull it sideways through the water. It wasn’t an easy task, but she did it. Stupid fish, I thought. It didn’t know enough to get out of the way of the goofy looking man made bobble.
She said, "That was awesome." I said, "Yes it was awesome. My heart was full.
I began to think of all our life’s awesome moments, tucked away in our brains. Many people wish they could retrieve those moments from their gray matter in order to share with future generations. But they never do it, thinking they can’t write.
As writers we have the talent, and we’re developing the skill to tell the stories and transplant the feelings that go with them. It is our blessing to share those moments with our posterity. Or we can transform them into fiction and share it with everyone.
There are millions of moments writers draw from to tell a story that will touch the hearts of their readers. We all have similar moments in our memories. I hope you can use the moments to write a story that sparks a memory. While you’re at it, Live life and make a memory.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
I was going to write a patriotic piece for Independence Day, but with all that has been written, I decided to post something else.
Have you ever asked somebody—usually someone close to you—for an opinion about your book, and they say, “Well you’re not insert their favorite author here ”?
Dealing with rejection is a common thing in the writing business. We learn to develop a thick skin, but being negatively compared to another writer is hard. Especially when that writer doesn’t even write in the same genre.
When asked what kind of books I write, I often say I write LDS fiction. I’m writing four mysteries, one historical, one fanfic*, and the rest are adult contemporary fiction. “A little like Dean Hughes,” I say, when pressed further.
I like having my work compared favorably to his Children of the Promise and Hearts of the Children series. I also loved Midway to Heaven. Being compared UN-favorably to him may not be fun, but I could use the criticism to improve my writing. Or I could reject the opinion out of hand.
I am developing a response for those I reject. I’m going to wipe my brow and say, “Phew . . . I was afraid I might be copying. I’m glad to hear I’ve developed my own style.”
In having others read my work I discovered a distinct difference in taste. Even though I write for everyone, some people aren’t going to like the way the story is told. So I’m adjusting to the largest group.
I’m not giving up on the others. I figure I can do what Dan Brown did. When everyone begins to talk about my book, the others will wonder what they’re missing.
Hang in there, consider the source, take comfort in the good reviews, and write for the largest group of readers.
*Fan fiction (also commonly spelled as fanfiction and frequently abbreviated to fanfic or occasionally just FF or fic) is a broadly-defined term for fiction about characters or settings written by fans of the original work http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_fiction
Saturday, June 30, 2007
First, have you ever wondered what the LDSwritersblogck group looks like? Here for your approval are we.
Fist row left Nichole, Connie is directly behind her. Darvell is next to Nichole and Karen next to him. Behind Karen is Gaynell and CL (Inky)Beck is behind Darvell. I am the large guy in the rear. Thanks to the Giles’ for inviting us to their backyard for brunch.
Now the Blog:
Last week I promised to keep you informed about my attempt to rescue my book, The Award. As you may recall, I am re-writing my first novel.
The work was going well—I was making notes for changes—ideas were coming faster than I could write them down. In the middle of it, I heard from some of my proofreaders about another work in progress.
The readers pointed out some story problems and typos I hadn’t noticed. Putting The Award aside, I set out to fix the other one. That’s when I discovered another facet to the subject of my blog last week.
As we polish our craft, all writers learn better ways of telling a story. We apply our knowledge to our new projects, and they are better than the old ones.
After fixing the errors, I started changing semicolons and ellipses to em-dashes and found other problems in the exposition. There were obvious errors I wouldn’t have paid attention to before.
I guess that’s the danger we face in taking a long time to write a book . . . or is it a blessing? I embarked on yet another re-write of a project I had sworn I would never touch again. Learning more about the mechanics of writing can cause re-writes, but the knowledge will make it a better book.
And when I get tired of the re-writes, I can go back to my other works in progress and make all the changes to those books. In the meantime, If I hurry, I can submit my book before I learn something else and take it apart again.
From my ramblings, you may think it’s better to learn all you can before you start to write, but keep in mind that 99 percent of good writing is learned by doing. Keep writing and if you have to scrap 4,000 words and start over, don’t despair. I have heard it took hundreds of failed attempts for Edison to invent the light bulb.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Have you ever seen, or perhaps been, one of those children who just had to take the new clock apart? Then having spread all the pieces out, you were fascinated to figure out what caused the tick?
When I was younger, I enjoyed taking things apart to fix them. I think my average was about 50/50. Sometimes the thing worked again, sometimes it didn’t. Often times I ended up with a few extra parts. I just chalked them up to redundancies.
As I get older, I find I need to document and catalog each piece or I’ll forget how they all fit together.
Recently, I entered a first chapter contest offered as part of the LDStorymakers’ conference. The genre was suspense and I had been working on a new book, a great book, a magnificent book, a book intended to grab your emotions and hold them to the last page. Surely, I thought, it would win. I edited, proofread, and edited again.
As an afterthought, I decided to enter a chapter from my first novel, the one I never submitted. I had been revising it as part of my writing exercises. What the heck, I thought, I’ll send it in. Did I tell you the other one was going to win anyway?
Imagine my shock when the chips fell, the great chapter, the magnificent chapter, the one that couldn’t lose? It didn’t even place. You guessed it. The afterthought, the writing exercise, the book I have ignored all these years took third.
As I mentioned before, I have several books in different stages but I’ve added this one to the rotation. It’s called The Award, and it should be ready for submission by Halloween. Like the clock, I have been taking it apart to see what makes it tick. I’ve been amazed at how badly I wrote back then, but I’m awestruck by the basic story and the way I told it.
When I take the chapters apart or rearrange them, I often find parts left over. Redundancies not needed to tell the story. I also found that it’s working. The characters are making changes and taking the story in new directions. I had to kill a character that took a prominent roll in the first version. She volunteered, and I saw she was right. She will be back in another story.
Just like the catalog I mentioned above, the original story is a framework. It’s better than a first draft, because I have invested so many years in it.
Perhaps you have an old story, something you never showed anyone. Perhaps it’s a new story that isn’t working. May I suggest you take it apart to see what makes it tick? If it doesn’t tick, find out why. Spread the parts out in a big circle, you’ll need a catalog in order to get the pieces back together. Don’t be afraid to throw out the redundancies. If the story works, you don’t need them.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands . . .” These words from the Declaration of Independence are remembered for lofty ideals. They are used as a symbol of freedom by millions.
Basically, it says that sometimes people need to change their ties to other people or in this case, a king.
You may ask, “Why didn’t the author just come out and say it?” Because it was written during a time when people labored over the right words to use in a mere letter to loved ones. Writing was an art form. It called upon the reader to examine the beauty of the written word.
Thomas Jefferson was commissioned by the Continental Congress to draft a document that spelled out their intentions and provided a symbol that rallied a people who would soon be called into war. The Declaration (with a few changes from Jefferson's editors) was the result of his labor.
Life is different today. With all the competing media, the average readers don’t have time to decipher magnificent writing that makes them think. They like plain English they can read quickly.
With role models like Jefferson, Dickens, Whitman, Shakespeare, and others, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the literary long-winded. We try to impress our peers with twenty-dollar words and fifty-dollar sentences.
We want to imitate opening lines like, "It was a dark and stormy night", or "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times", and "Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done". These are lofty sentiments that say it all, but if an author of fiction used opening lines like those today, chances are it would not be published.
We must reach into the heart of a reader and grab their attention from the first word. We cannot express ideas that cause the reader to pause and reflect on the beauty of the fifty-dollar sentences.
We are told that if the reader pauses, they will move on, and we have lost our chance to entertain. Therefore we must write words that are familiar, that conjure images quickly processed, making room for that which follows.
David G Woolley, author of the Promised Land series said, “If we do it well we transport the reader to a place just beyond eternity without leaving the Lazy-Boy. It sure ain’t easy but it is doable.” I echo his sentiment, It isn’t easy—but we can do it.
Have you ever taught a 12-year-old Sunday school class? The students tune out the teacher most of the time. There is however, a very small attention window, a short time when you can teach. A teacher must be prepared to fill the window. Writing fiction is like that. The rewards are immense, but oh! How I wish I could write fifty-dollar sentences that waft elevated themes to the heavens.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Have you ever tried to put air in the tires of an old bicycle that hasn’t been used for a long time? Most often they won’t hold air. It leaks out in many places. The same thing happens when you take an old brain and try to input new information into categories for later retrieval.
In the past, I suggested you try working on more than one project at a time. The idea was to keep writing while you work through a story problem, and return to the main project when the problem is cleared up. The method worked, because it allowed me the luxury of being able to choose which project to work on that day. The system even spilled over into research.
Lately however, the futility of my strategy hit me over the head and caused me to rethink.
I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately, and I noticed it showed up in my writing. While editing a contemporary novel, I caught myself adding mystery to the exposition. This was a mistake because although I wrote suspense into it, this novel is not supposed to be a mystery.
In like manner, after reading High Stakes by Jennie Hansen and many other western novels, I found myself adding nineteenth century wisdom, and western dialog to a novel set in present day New York City.
One of my projects is set in mid-nineteenth century-California. While working on it, I found myself foreshadowing events that would give the reader a clue to solving a mystery that I never intended to write into the book.
Like the bicycle tire, my brain is leaking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, some stories could use a shakeup to make them better. But it can also confuse a reader and make me scrap 40,000 words in order to re-write the project I have already drafted to conclusion. Seems counterproductive to me.
Another symptom of brain leakage, was when I forgot the last name of my protagonist and started calling him by the name of a character in another book. The other day I had to skim back over 200 pages to find out whether or not I had established a certain fact vital to the story. Have you ever forgotten if she had green or blue eyes? With brain leakage this happens frequently.
I’ve decided to admit my defeat. I’ll still be working on more than one project at a time, but I’ll divide my projects by genre and stick to it. I think I’m also going to be selective about what I read during the time I’m working on a certain project, and I need to update my fact sheets, character profiles, and timeline outlines.
I’ll talk about those next week and keep you abreast of how my plan is working. In the meantime, just scratch a rough spot near the hole and let the rubber cement set a little before sticking the patch over the leak . . . (If only brains were like bicycle tires).
Saturday, June 2, 2007
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that behind every successful man—there is a good woman. To apply it to OUR endeavor we could say: Behind every successful author—there is a man or woman who believes. The person who has read every bad sentence ever written, but is still proud. The person who hopes for, weeps for, and prays for the writer in their life.
This is especially true of the authors of LDS fiction. Can you imagine knowing there will probably never be a large return on the investment—but supporting it anyway?
I would like to pay tribute to the person behind the author. To that end, I changed the lyrics of a song written by Steve Gibb and recorded a few years ago by Kenny Rogers. Please excuse the bad poetry but I didn’t have much time.
While she lays sleeping,
I stay up late at night to write a thought
but sometimes it’s so hard to fix a plot
It’s good when I finally get it said, and I go to bed
While she lays dreaming,
I stumble to the kitchen for a bite
Then I think of my protagonist and his plight
Just waiting for me like a secret friend, and there’s no end
While she lays snoring
I kneel beside the bed to say my prayers
She stirs, and she casts away my cares
with a goodnight kiss, she asks about the story, the pain and the glory
While she lays waiting,
I get back up and wander down the hall
The muse must be answered when it calls
She turns over on the bed to go to sleep, she starts to weep
But she believes in me, she knows my dreams are in the heart of me, She knows that maybe on that special night, when my prose is right . . . until then, she prays.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
It’s the old story of a boy and his dog. As in all stories of this type, the boy died . . .uh . . . I mean the dog died. These stories are usually sad, but there’s always a final scene when your breaking heart is mended, there is solace.
Although in the perennial story, when the loyal majestic dog is killed defending its master, there are puppies, and the protagonists can find consolation in knowing that there will be another dog.
When I was a boy I was lucky to have such a dog. Her name was Peggy and she was a good companion. When I slept outside, she kept my feet warm inside my sleeping bag. She didn’t die heroically saving me; she just died. I’ve had many dogs since, but none were quite the same as Peggy.
I was about nine when she died, and I was heartbroken. I made a headstone; I made a coffin. We had a family funeral and we prayed we could see Peggy again in heaven. Because of my loss, my parents purchased a used book titled: All Dogs Go to Heaven by Beth Brown. Published in 1944 by F. Fell—New York. It’s an interesting novel told from the dog’s point of view, but it’s not cheesy like the Don Bluth animated film.
Even though I intended to read it, I discovered it was fiction and therefore it couldn’t provide real answers to my questions. Whatever the reason, I never discarded the book.
While moving books from shelf to shelf the other day, I came across it. My curiosity was piqued so I set down to read. I was delighted to find a human protagonist who was a struggling writer. In the back of the book, on two pages in my nine-year-old handwriting, was a note explaining my feelings about my dog and a desire to see her again.
My discovery was made more poignant because I had written so many large words. I remembered my mother’s story about my first or second grade teacher telling her that I could carry on adult conversations. It wasn’t an epiphany, but I realized (as others before me), I must have been a writer before I was born. It seems I’ve spent my life unlearning what I already knew.
So, here I am, some forty-or-so years later, learning about life from a dog who died years ago, gleaning encouragement and still hoping of seeing her again. Who knows, maybe she might teach me how to punctuate sentences and stop using adverbs, or she can teach me about em-dashes VS semi-colons. It wouldn’t be teaching an old dog new tricks. It would be helping me remember what I once knew.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
In Oliver, written by Charles Dickens, there is a classic line, delivered by the title character as he offers his empty bowl to the man in charge and asks, “Please, sir, I want some more.” In one of the movie versions, the man shows his rage when he answers, “More? You want more?”
In my struggle to acquire time for the important things in life and fulfill obligations, I’ve been feeling like Oliver lately. Perhaps I can take my clock to the man in charge, get on my knees, and beg, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
I read the blogs, and talk with people; it seems we all share this dilemma. Hopefully our blog has been helpful in your struggle to become a published author, but let me take a personal moment here.
Do parts of this sound familiar?
I wrote a few months ago about my job change. Although the graveyard shift can be hard on everyone, my schedule was totally interrupted. After about six-hours of sleep, I wake at the crack of 2 or 3 PM, and sit down to write, and usually get one sentence into the computer before my daughter comes home from school.
After shuttling the car, cooking dinner, and every little minor emergency, I finally get back to my writing and discover it’s time to get ready for work.
Back in the days before being relegated to the hours of darkness, I usually wrote late into the night, getting the same six hours of sleep, and finding time at work to help proofread the writing of my friends. Life was bliss.
Now there is no time at work for proofreading, and the two hours after ten PM have vanished. I once was a morning person, Now I’m forced into the afternoon, (and somewhat grumpy at that).
In an effort to help you become a better writer, and to avoid self-aggrandizing, I usually offer a solution at this point in a blog, but I’m too tired.
Well . . . perhaps if I write in the morning, before going to sleep . . . it would give me a whole day to reflect on my story . . . but I have to be awake when my daughter comes home . . . that would result in less sleep . . .
Whatever the solution, I’ll keep you in the loop. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get ready for work. As for my commitments to help proofread, let me just say, I’m not really flaky just confused. Will it help to receive suggestions after it’s published?
Please Sir . . . May I have some more?
Saturday, May 12, 2007
At work the other day, I was paying close attention to the images floating past on my computer screen, and listening to old music through my headphones.
Because of the music, my mind began to wander to my teenage years with a mixture of happy and sad emotions. Suddenly, out of nowhere (I still can’t remember what led up to it), A phrase came to me for my work in progress. I stopped the scanner, turned off the music, and wrote it down. It surprised me for two reasons: One, because I haven’t worked on the scene where the phrase will appear since the draft, and two, because in the draft, I worked hard on the phrase, but couldn’t quite get it right.
Since most of the writing I’m doing these days is editing, I thought I would borrow a page from my friend Tristi Pinkston and show you how I used the words that came to me.
This is the way I wrote it in the first draft:
Jesse started to pick himself up, but Joseph gripped Jesse’s shirt collar and pulled him up to face Joseph. He gripped the collar with his left hand, and doubled his right fist. He pulled the fist parallel to his ear. He intended to break his brother’s jaw.
Then after a little exposition, I wrote:
Joseph was struck by the look on Jesse’s face. He looked calm, not at all scared, but Joseph could feel the quickened pulse in Jesse’s neck as Joseph held him by the throat.
This is what I wrote down at work:
With his fist drawn back to the side of his ear, he looked into Jesse’s eyes.
So after a little reworking, I changed it to:
Jesse struggled to lift himself from the floor, but Joseph pulled him up by the shirt collar and held him close. With his fist drawn back to the side of his ear, he looked into Jesse’s eyes.
Joseph was struck by the look on Jesse’s face. He looked calm, not at all scared, but through the shirt collar, Joseph could feel a quickened heartbeat in Jesse’s neck.
It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there.
Many writers talk about getting ideas at odd times. Like others, I get some of my best ideas in the shower or in the middle of the night while stumbling toward the bathroom. Most of us hurry to write down the fleeting thought and never wonder about the source of it.
Perhaps we should take a moment and thank the source of the muse, whoever he may be.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
I was in our local everything for a dollar store the other day. I was looking at frames for my writing award, but that’s another story.
Anyway, I perused the do-dads and do-hickeys, when I stumbled upon a sight that saddened me. In the school supplies section, I found several shelves devoted to books, not just pocket size paperbacks, but hard cover 80,000 word novels.
Normally this wouldn’t be anything new for me but I had to remember I was in the dollar store. These weren’t just discounted books—they were one step away from give-away, (or throwaway).
I studied the unfamiliar titles, and checked out the unknown authors’ names. I imagined the hopes and dreams, the late into the night, all consuming urge those authors must’ve felt to write their books.
I imagined their elation when their publisher delivered the good news, the hard work of going through the process to see their book in print. Perhaps it didn’t sell well, and the publisher printed too many copies. Whatever the reason, the book had been relegated to the discount store.
As writers, we’re familiar with this story, but I was left with a feeling of sadness for the books that never really saw the light of glory. I was sad for the unknown authors who would’ve been the next Mary Higgins Clark or Ray Bradbury, if only their books had seen more shelf life, or inspired controversy like Dan Brown’s.
But I have to remember, at least the book was published, the author still has a chance.
I agree with Jeffrey Savage’s desire to have many people read his books even if they borrow the first one, or check it out from a library somewhere. If a book is good enough, people will remember and purchase their own copy of the author’s next book.
If the unknown authors I spoke of continue to write, then having their book in the extreme discount section could be a good thing. At least it will get their book into the hands of many. So the sadness I felt may be premature. It may be harder to get a publisher, but those forlorn copies of unexplored prose might be the great-grandfathers of a bestseller someday.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
In Microsoft Word there is a keyboard shortcut you are probably aware of. When you open a document and use it, the cursor will go to the exact spot where it was when the program was closed and you saved your work. Just hold down the shift key at the same time hold down the F5 fuction key.
This is very useful when editing, because you don’t have to remember where you left off. I’ve been doing this a lot lately, and I have discovered a weakness that I hope you can avoid in your writing. I can edit a 600-word article or blog with no problem—I just read it out loud five million times, correcting as I go.
My problem comes when I think of my 80,000-word novel. I have purchased books to assist in the process and they are helpful, but they do nothing to help me tackle my 80,000-word mountain. It seems hopeless and I fear I’ll be stir crazy and blubbering to myself after reading through it five million times.
This is where Shft-F5 comes in. I’ve discovered that if I go scene by scene, I can tackle the task in bits and pieces and once I get one scene perfect, I can move on. Of course this is for the line edits. (The time when I find a better way of saying something, or correct grammar and misspelled words). If I find a hole in the plot during the process I can mark the spot where I was, and come back to it by using the edit/find function. (ctrl-F) I use a %%% mark, because I’m not likely to type the percent symbol in simple prose.
Does this method sound crazy? There are many methods used by writers, such as checking the content first, then the line edits, etc. I have used those methods, but with my latest work in progress, I’m having a hard time. Every time I look at it, I find myself crossing methods and getting confused. I can’t help it, my attention span is getting worse, do you think it’s the old age thing?
So, with tools like shift-F5 to help me, I will take my 80,000-word mountain and climb it; chuck by chunk, scene by scene, until I reach the top and look down upon my masterpiece. My friend reminded me of alt-tab because when I get reader’s feedback in an electronic format, it helps to have two windows open, then I can switch between windows. Switch to see the comment—switch back to fix it on your manuscript.
I’ll use F7 to ask for a spell check, then ctrl-S to save it. I hope you find an editing method that works for you and don't be afraid to try a new way.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
There are many fun tag games floating around these blogs. The other day, Marsha Ward honored me by tagging me in this game. Oh how fun it is to find out something new about yourself. As always, to give all my fellow bloggers a chance to tag someone, I will only tag one.
1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your birth date only - without the year.
2. List 3 events that occurred that day:
1793 - New York City's first daily newspaper, the American Minerva, is established by Noah Webster.
1958 - Red Scare: The John Birch Society founded in the United States.
2006 - Shuttle Discovery launches on the STS-116 mission at 8:45 P.M., the first night launch in 4 years (STS-113 being the last).
3. List 2 important birthdays:
Like Marsha, I am also surprised at all the actors and musicians born on MY birthday—Notice I didn’t say I was born on theirs?
I already knew this, but I share a birthday with Donny Osmond —Not just the day, but the year too— I don’t know what time he was born, but I came into the world at 5:45 AM. Here are the other two births I found:
1608 - John Milton, English poet
1942 - Dick Butkus, American football player
4. List 1 death:
1165 - King Malcolm IV of Scotland
5. List a holiday or observance:
Scandinavia (specifically Sweden): Anna's Day. Recognizes everyone named Anna, and marks the day to start the preparation process of the lutefisk to be consumed on Christmas Eve.
As you can see, I went a little further with our history game. I found the Time Magazine website and found a cover for the day I was born. I found an article inside:
Short of a hot war, or imminent danger of one, illness could hardly have struck the President of the U.S. at a worse time.
Along with the endless daily flow of documents and visitors and decisions, plus weekly policy sessions of the Cabinet and the National Security Council, the year end brings to the presidency a heavy seasonal load: 1) drawing up the Administration's legislative program for the congressional session ahead, 2) preparing the massive federal budget for the coming fiscal year, 3) drafting January's State of the Union, budget and economic messages, and 4) briefing congressional leaders in advance on the Administration's planned requests for legislation and appropriations. In December 1957, with Sputnik still orbiting, and the U.S. economy showing signs of droop, the President faces a crushing array of special major problems.
Now I get to tag another blogger:
I choose . . . Inky . . . CL Beck come-on-down.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
When I was ten, I wanted a guitar for Christmas. Not just any instrument, but a Fender Stratocaster. Santa Claus compromised and gave me a Harmony Rocket. It’s a hollow-body, double pickup, electric guitar that never stays in tune.
It was the nineteen-sixties and Santa couldn’t afford an amp. Hence the reason for the hollow bodied guitar. Well, to make a long story short; my dad built me an amp. It was just a wooden box with a car radio speaker and an electronic circuit board.
I plugged into the amp and quickly discovered that I couldn’t face toward it with my guitar, or turn up the volume because the feedback would blow my family out of the house. I wonder if that was by design?
I never got a proper amp and I learned to love playing a 12-string acoustic that I purchased from a second hand store. As I once expressed my artistic desires in music, I now lose myself in the worlds of the characters I have created. In the effort of learning to write, I have acquired a taste for a different kind of feedback.
The feedback that writers get is a good thing. We learn better ways of writing and arousing the interest of our readers. We talk about how the loving brutality of the red pen can be so helpful. We ask our proofreaders to be brutal. Meanwhile we try to develop a thick skin and continue the process of honing our craft on our long climb to the summit of our righteous desires.
There are times however, when feedback can be like the noise from my amp. In our exuberance as readers, we want to be helpful, but we forget to remember to add the positive, along with the critical. People need to feel they’re improving or their effort seems futile.
In like manner, the recipients of the red pen sometimes forget to sift through the advice, gleaning the positive from it. We CAN be better writers, but it will take time and practice. We can help others by being sensitive when our friends have those weak and in the basement moods. In turn, they can help us through our low points. Together, we will become the writers we were meant to be by encouraging each other.
I want to thank all those who lift me. I am becoming a better writer and reaching my goals because of my mentors and friends. Positive feedback left in the comments trail of this blog have been helpful. I hope I have lifted you in the process.
Good luck in YOUR writing career.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
A few weeks ago I started a two-part blog. Since part one only drew one comment, perhaps I need to spice it up a bit.
I was drawn into an argument at work the other night. The subject was homosexuality and whether is should be shown in an LDS novel. The comment was this:
“You mean a person can’t show real life in a book?”
Do I have your attention yet? Or are you yawning with anticipation, preparing to skip over my thoughts to laugh at the great humor of C.L. Beck? I don’t blame you, but since you’ve read this far, you might as well read on.
I was going to include quotes from JK Rowling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others but in the interest of shortening the subject and finishing the promised two-part blog, let me just say:
I know there will be a time when my children read other works, written by authors who for whatever reason, find it necessary to use language or describe situations that are not needed to tell the story. When they do, I hope they will be able to understand, without embracing those lifestyles but for now I will privately ban certain books in my family.
To sum up, I would never publicly ban a book. Banning only increases sales for undesirable literature and burning a book is so adversarial to me; I would be tempted to take retribution if I witnessed a book burning.
There is some bad Literature out there. There's a lot of good also. My suggestion is to leave the bad alone, and keep your standards, both in reading and writing. Try to convince other writers to write good stuff, then someday everyone will write books that we wouldn’t be afraid to let our children read.