Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hook, Line, and Sinker

By Keith Fisher

It’s time to dust off my tackle box and head out to my favorite fishing hole. Unlike today, when I was a kid, there was a fishing season in Utah. My family always got together for the season opener. I remember waking up before daylight so we could be the first ones in our spot. We clearly should’ve been granted squatter’s rights, or at least first cast into the lake.

The number of anglers lining the shore on opening day rivaled the number of those waiting in line on the day after Thanksgiving these days. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but in those days, it wasn’t uncommon to never see another angler all day. So we were shocked to see another person within fifty yards on the opening, and everyone competed for the same spots. The rules were clear—the first people out got the best spots and therefore caught the most fish.

In order to catch anything, I learned to tailor my tackle to make it appealing, and fishing for different species required different tackle. Since I was a kid, prone to line tangles—fishing for trout from the bank at our favorite reservoir—I required a certain kind of rig. My dad started with a bubble for weight, then a swivel to keep the bubble from sliding off. He tied a hook on the end of a leader and a loop at the other end. Next he’d clip the leader into the swivel. I’d fill the bubble with water, bait my hook, and cast in.

When I got older, I noticed that Dad used two hooks tied at different ends of the leader. The loop was tied between so each hook hung at different levels. This gave him the advantage of multiple kinds of bait, and increasing his chances of catching fish. I wasn’t allowed two hooks because I was, well, as I said above, prone to tangles.

In my dad’s tackle box, there were many kinds and sizes of hooks. Different hooks for different reasons. The key to catching fish was in choosing the right hook for the type of fish and the location.

One time as a Boy Scout, I got bored fishing for Pike below the dam at Yuba Reservoir. I noticed the Perch came up next to the shore. I dropped my hook in the middle of them and immediately caught one. Now, you should know, Perch in those days were trash fish. They are considered to be delicious now, but old prejudices diehard. Anyway, somehow I noticed that if I dropped a bare hook in the water, the Perch would take it, and hook themselves. It was easy, and we had great fun feeding the Perch to the Seagulls.

Now, I’m passing the legacy on to my daughter and I don’t have to wait for the season, but I learned something this week. I attended the League of Utah Writers meeting in Provo where Jeffrey S. Savage (J. Scott Savage) taught about hooks in query letters. I had a rare moment of clarity, and began to think of metaphors and similes. I decided to share a few with you.

As writers, we are fishermen. We submit our manuscripts, hoping to catch the eye of publishers. There are different kinds of publishers just like there are different kinds of fish. The hook we use depends on who we are submitting to and what kind of bait we have. With any luck we will catch a publisher and land a book contract.

In workshops and conferences, we’re taught the value of a good hook. As in fishing, we’re only as good as our tackle. Unlike the perch I caught with a bare hook, a publisher isn’t liable to bite a hook that isn’t appealing. So we need to use bait that will entice and lure someone to read our manuscript. We must write a first paragraph that will make the reader want more. We must write the second paragraph so they will continue. But first we must get them to read the first paragraph.

We do this by baiting the hook in our query in a way that explains the story, but more than that, it must be enticing, it must make the publisher want to look at the first paragraph.

Jeff talked about four elements to look for in a query and explained why they are important:

  1. Who is your protagonist?
    You must decide so your readers will have someone to care about.
  2. What is your protagonist’s noble, goal?
    What must be accomplished? What is driving him/her to the end?
  3. What stands in the way of reaching the goal?
    What major obstacles stand in the way of number two?
  4. What happens if the protagonist fails?
    It has to be dire circumstances. There has to be a real consequence.

If the answers to these questions are sufficiently intriguing, your query will be noticed. You can also use these questions when plotting your next book. If you can dream up great answers, you may have the beginnings of a best seller.

Good luck in your writing and your fishing (submitting)—see you next week.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Warning! Graphic Images!

By Keith Fisher

It’s been six weeks since my wife was awakened early in the morning by our nervous cat. She needed a midwife, the cat . . . not my wife. Anyway, it was a Sunday morning and we ended up being late for church. It was a magical event for our family, but by the time the sixth kitten was born it was pretty monotonous. The cat wasn’t very thrilled either.
My daughter started naming the kittens almost as fast as they were born. "Don’t do that," I said. "We’re going to have to give them away . . . what’s that? No, we’re not keeping just one."

Well, as I said, it’s been six weeks . . .

When the cat got, uh, in the family way (this is a family blog), my daughter assured me some kids at school most definitely had permission . . . well, you know where this is going. Does anybody want a kitten?

Okay, to be fair, I won’t tell you how cute they are, or how they purr when you stroke their fur. I won’t even tell you they all have blue eyes like their mother. On second thought . . . I will tell you, they all have cute meows that’ll melt your heart.
Did I mention it’s been six weeks?
You’re probably wondering what all this has to do with writing. Well . . . I’m shameless. I’m going to have a literature contest and, anyone . . . well, everyone who gives me the correct answer gets a kitten. But you better hurry. I only have six.

Did I mention it’s been six weeks?
Okay here's the question . . . what is the name of our blogck . . . uh, I mean blog . . . what’s that? You want a harder question? Darn. Okay . . . who is your favorite author and why?

Now, there you have it. Leave your answer in the comment trail and tell me where in Utah County you want to meet your new kitten. Oh so cute . . . just look at the pictures. Provide the right answer and you’ll be happily stroking the fur on your new kitten. Did I mention it’s been six weeks?
Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Just Fifteen Seconds

By Keith Fisher

Before we get started talking about whatever the subject for today’s blog is, I want to take a minute and tell you about the great marketing program J. Scott Savage is using. It’s called a blog tour and he has asked all those bloggers who are interested, to sign up for an advance copy of his new book. All you have to do is promise to blog about it. I told him I would help out, so be looking for my humble opinion. The book is called Farworld and you can sign up at

Now on to other things:

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes. Millions have quoted this statement, made by Andy Warhol, in 1968. Many people look to this statement with hope, thinking they will someday, be granted fifteen minutes of their own. Consequently, we tend to joke when we see someone posing for news cameras or when we see the crowds outside the studio of the Today Show in New York.

With increased population and thus fewer chances, it seems the estimate has changed to fifteen seconds. Because of our origins, we believe mankind was destined for greatness, but most of us would be happy to simply be remembered when we’re gone. Sometimes our fifteen seconds can be hard to grasp.

In my life I have been blessed with many fifteen seconds of fame, starting with my baby blessing, baptism, priesthood ordinations, missionary farewell, and homecoming. My wife and I were blessed to win The World Championship Dutch oven Cookoff and I was interviewed on television. I have had my picture in the paper many times, been interviewed on the radio, and even had an editorial published.

All of these things have added joy to my life, but none of it compares to the fifteen seconds when I will hold a printed copy of my first book and realize people are actually going to be able to read the thing. It will be joy beyond compare to run my fingers over the spine and know it wouldn’t be possible without all the help I’ve received throughout my life.

I am so happy to see my good friends get their books published. They deserve it—they have helped me along the way. I can think of no greater joy than to see one those friends receive an award for their work and to know what has gone into it. I hope that in some small way, I will have had a part in helping them. Then I will have been blessed with another fifteen seconds, but the fame will be in the hearts of my friends.

Good luck in your writing—see you next week.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Getting a Flat Tire on the Information Highway

By Keith Fisher

Is it really Saturday? It can’t be! I'm not ready.

Did you ever have one of those weeks when you had too much to do and not enough week left to do it in? To top it off, I went online last night with two computers. I was attempting to get tickets for the Miley Cyrus concert at Stadium of Fire . . .

I felt like I was giving a dog a bath. I’m not talking about a nice, well-trained dog, the kind that loves baths. I’m talking about the independent happy go lucky dogs that won’t stay in the tub. If you ever try it, I recommend old clothes or a swimming suit, because you’re going to get wet.

To add insult to injury, I also went online yesterday to apply for a job. We live in an unusual time in the world. It’s a time when we don’t need to see anyone. We can talk to people, work with people, even date people, and we never have to leave the privacy of our home. It’s all very convenient, but I miss pounding the pavement dropping off resum├ęs. Even when we had to physically stand in line to get tickets, at least we knew where we stood. We could see how far back in line we were.

The application was rejected, well, it was accepted, but some electronic gremlin told the system that according to my application, I wasn’t qualified for the job. How does it know? I guess I checked the wrong box, but then again, how am I supposed to find out? It's not like I can talk to a real person to discover the problem.

So, were you wondering what happened with the tickets?

I made it all the way through and gave my credit card number. When I clicked the button to finish, an error message popped up telling me something about my email address. While I went back over the form looking for the problem, another message popped up telling me my tickets were no longer available. Can you imagine my frustration? I slammed my fist down on my desk and almost made it collapse. Then I hit it again. I spent the next forty-five minutes trying to get back in, but it told me the tickets weren’t available.

I have been, and still am, a huge advocate of the information age. I was messing with computers at the end of the seventies and early eighties. But sometimes I wonder if we are losing something in our lives.

We even have online critique groups to help us with our writing. What a great service, but I’ve been involved in another, more personal group lately. Oh how nice it is to touch a paper manuscript. To read out loud and use a red pen. To talk to real people and find they have the same problems with writing I do. Above all, to get support. And if I get something wrong, I can find out what it is. All I have to do is ask.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.