Saturday, February 24, 2007

Please Enter Your Number & Stay in the Line

By Keith Fisher

Have you ever wondered how the human race survived in a world without microcomputers, credit card numbers, and cell phones?

I have heard of a time when we were all people, before the George Orwellian society reduced us to a series of numbers. We should have seen it coming when the phone company gave out phone numbers that would ring eight or so houses in an attempt to reach the one person who wasn’t home. Perhaps we should’ve resisted the government when they issued nine digit social security numbers.

Recently, I was the butt of a joke. I choose to call it a joke. Otherwise I would run screaming into the night because of the loss of my mental faculties. Do you know how to dance to the digital Loonie Tunes?

The company I work for switched health insurance carriers at the first of the year, coinciding with my wife’s visit to a doctor. She gave them our health insurance card and they billed it to the old insurance. Without the correct insurance card they sent me the bill.

I couldn’t ask the insurance specialists at work to help because I now work Graveyard shift and they go home before I wake, so I called the insurance company.

I had to find their phone number and was put on hold. I had to give my SS number, my address, birth dates, and my company’s new name, (because they changed the name). They gave me an insurance card number and promised to send a new card to my address. (Wasn’t that nice?)

Armed with an insurance card number, I called the billing department for the doctor’s office and had to leave my phone number because the whole department had gone home early. I called back and got an operator and had to give her all my wife’s information, they also wanted MY information and discovered the records show that I still work at my old job. I corrected it and they wanted to know the name of the insurance (not just the company name).

It reminded me of the time I tried to convince a credit card company that the number they called was my private cell phone number. And no, I wasn’t the person who was on their records. And no, I don’t have a capital one card. And no, I don’t want one.

Small wonder that in this day and age, we all stress out. With all the numbers and passwords we must keep in order to function today, it’s a miracle we can remember the difference between a noun and verb. Let alone diagram sentences.

So if I use a password in my writing instead of an adjective please forgive and remember there are no periods in an email address. Uh . . . “I” before “E” except after uh . . . In order to verify your Identity, please tell me your mother’s maiden. You need a minimum of five characters for a pass . . . go or collect $200.00 . . . please enter the last four digits of your social security . . . In order to assist us in serving you, please enter your account number followed by the pound sign.

Do you remember the Porky Pig cartoon character? Bbbbb that’s all folks.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Learning the Craft

By Keith Fisher

The other day, I struggled with a novel I found lying around the house. I say struggled because it was hard to read. The concept of the plot appeared to be heading in an intriguing way so I battled to keep reading it.

"What was so hard about the book?" you ask. I’ll tell you, but first, let me tell you a story.

About ten years ago I submitted a novel. It was a labor of love. It was a book everyone needed to read. It told the story of a family’s experiences in a way that would touch hearts and change lives. It was a good story.

Of course I got a rejection letter. But it was a nice rejection letter. I was told that it WAS a good story but perhaps I would benefit by attending a writer’s workshop somewhere.

Ten years later I look back on that experience and realize that the publisher was right. The story was told not shown, there were point of view problems, and the characters were flat. In short, my book wasn’t ready to be published.

At the same time, the other novel, (the one I struggled with), was submitted to the same publisher. I doubt it sold very well, at least I hope not, because it would explain why LDS fiction got a bad rap. If this sounds like "sour grapes" I suppose it is. But I’ve had time to learn about my mistakes and will eventually be a better writer when my book gets published.

It might be interesting to note however, a published non-fiction author wrote the hard book I mentioned.

While reading the book, I was reminded of everything I’ve read about not telling but showing, point of view mistakes and "head-hopping". The big problem was the author let the protagonist’s mind wander all over the place. Normally this can give depth to a character but I found myself skipping whole pages because the subject had nothing to do with the story and it went on and on. When a writer dedicates page after page to a character’s ramblings it becomes narration (not unlike non-fiction).

I read once that some non-fiction writers have a hard time crossing over to fiction because of the tendency to tell.

So what can we learn from all this? One lessen is, that it helps to know someone in the publishing business, but most important for me is to remember to get it right before it gets published. As much as I want to see my work in print, I also want to give my readers a wonderful experience, to help them come away with the realization that they have been reading for hours and didn’t notice time passing. I want them to buy my second book because they had a great experience with the first one.

Here are 2 writing tips I am learning. The first is about showing and telling from Sol Stein (a writer, editor, and publisher).

He was nervous. tells.
He tapped his fingers on the tabletop. shows.

As for point of view, if you’re writing about what’s in the head of a character and in the next sentence, you switch characters, it’s called head hopping and it’s confusing because the reader isn’t sure who’s head they are in.

My hope:

May all your creative writing, always prove to be perfect prose. As for the book in question, I finished it and the author never answered the story question that kept me reading. I might dig a deep hole and deposit it in the bottom. (Just kidding).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Long Stem Red Rose, Dinner, and a Box of Candy

By Keith Fisher

According to Wikipedia, in about 496 BC, Pope Gelasius I proclaimed a feast to be celebrated every year on February 14. This was to honor three martyred saints of ancient Rome. One of them was allegedly Saint Valentinus. The feast was slated to replace an old Pagan holiday of Lupercalia that had been celebrated for many years on February 15.

In the Middle Ages, the legends and the feast became associated with romantic love.

William Shakespeare (or was it Marlow?) gave us Friar Lawrence who in his compassion married the star crossed lovers and set into motion events of woe that young girls swoon over.

Ah love, at this time of year we (husbands) are once again, brought to the brink of insanity by the uncertainty of the moods of our dear sweethearts.

What type of bribery, trinket, or dead flower will please our true love? What kind of maniacal, sadistic punishment will we be forced to endure if we (heaven forbid) forget?

But what about receiving? Is it harder to find the perfect offering, or graciously accept a gift that you would never buy for yourself? In fact if you received it from anyone, (other than your true love), you would hide it in the dark recesses of the downstairs closet, never to be seen again?

Is this the kind of behavior inspired by true love? Well, if we use the example of Romeo and Juliet, then yes it is. What causes this behavior and leaves men sleepless, wallowing in a cold sweat, well into the night?

Ah love. I have heard it said that it is "a many splendored thing". (Try that word on your spell checker) It’s what causes mouths to go dry, dinner to go uneaten, and teenagers to plot their imaginary suicides, knowing they will never be allowed to show their faces in public again.

You may have guessed I am not a romantic fiction writer. If I were, I would write pages about the beauty and wonder of the day we have set aside for expression of the evidence of that knot in the pit of our stomach.

I implore you, in the interest of sanity, let’s go back to having a feast on February 14. Of course it means that we (husbands) will have to remember to express our love, everyday, in everything we do. We will have to start courting our wives again and go back to the time when we, as teenagers . . .

Uh, Never mind. It’s Saturday dear reader, barring Sunday you now have three days to get something for your true love. Try to avoid the last minute rush when white-faced husbands invade the local department store, settling for the last teddy bear and a chocolate bar.

If the unavoidable happens, try to repress the anger that rises because of the chuckles of the female store clerks who just know their sweetheart has already purchased a valentine that will knock their socks off.

Don’t tell them you saw their sweetheart at the other store, the one that was sold out of everything.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Hobnobbing With the Upper Class

By Keith Fisher

I put in my paperwork. I’m planning to attend the LDStorymakers Writers Conference again this year. Even after forced changes in occupation, I have been scrimping and saving to make this possible.

You might ask why I would take a vacation day, spend all my money, and go to all the trouble of attending the conference. I’ll tell you:

I am not the writer I want to be. I know you’re shocked, you thought I was perfect. The truth is, I manage to put words together on these electronic pages every week and I fake my way into believing I can write, but the reality is; I have more to learn than most, and who better to learn from, than published authors.

If I were wealthy, I’d attend every writer’s conference there is and perhaps come away with great improvements in my craft. It couldn’t hurt to network with great writers and publishers either. Yes, if I were wealthy, I would perhaps attend so many conferences that I wouldn’t have time for writing.

So why LDStorymakers? I can explain it with the words of the late Ben Bracken. I have mentioned this story before in this blog but I think we can still learn from it; last year, I attended the class taught by Tristi Pinkston titled: Using Believable Inspiration in Fiction. I heard someone ask Ben about the class and he said with a tear in his eye, "It was like attending church."

For those of us who have chosen to write LDS Fiction it’s like a breath of fresh air to hobnob with other writers who have the same beliefs. To be with those who have the same struggle with appropriate words for a story, those who endeavor to write the spark of inspiration that we know will touch the heart of someone seeking guidance from Deity.

This Year I will attend the writer’s boot camp again. I love the smell of red ink in the morning. It’s quite an eye opener to have someone critique your wonderful manuscript and realize how much editing you must do. I once read about the concept of the boot camp in a book on writing and wished I could afford to travel back east and attend one. Last year I was thrilled to be part of one and this year I get to do it again.

That’s what makes this conference so special for me. Hope to see you there.