Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Minute for Madeleine—CEOP Appeal

While vacationing with her family, 4-year-old Madeleine McCann was kidnapped in Praia da Luz, Portugal in May 2007. British police have released new age-enhanced pictures of Madeleine along with an online video appeal for information in the case, asking Internet users to spread this message worldwide. Titled "A Minute for Madeleine," this short film can be viewed on the CEOP website (link below). As a parent, my heart goes out to the McCanns and as a blogger, I'm happy to respond to the request to post these links. Having followed Madeleine's story from the beginning, I've never given up hope that she will be found alive. Please pass this message on, and maybe together we can help bring about a happy ending for Madeleine and her family.

60-second video "A Minute for Madeleine" on Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) website

Fox News article

Find Madeleine website

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Archived Interview: T.A. Barron, author of The Lost Years of Merlin and The Great Tree of Avalon

Originally published in the October 2006 edition
of Writer's Tips from Jorlan Publishing


LJ: What events in your life helped to mold you into the writer you've become?

TB: I have done many things—built a mountain cabin, studied at Oxford, run a growing business, started a family—but I have always written.

When I was in fifth grade, I liked to tell stories so much that I started my own little magazine, called The Idiot's Odyssey. As an Eagle Scout, I won a scouting speech and essay competition that sent me to Washington to meet the President. Even when I was president of a business, I often found myself getting up at 4 a.m. to write, composing during meetings, or scribbling in the back of a taxi.

Finally I had to make a choice, to do what I love best, because life is too short not to follow your passions. So here I am, still telling stories. Writing is the hardest, and most joyous, labor I know.

LJ: How much research do you do before you start on a new book, and is research an integral element of your writing process?

TB: Extensive research is a must. If I as a writer am going to convince you as a reader to come with me to some fantastic place or time, I must first win your confidence. Your trust. The only two ways to do that are: first, to engage every one of your senses fully; and second, to do my research.

I spent almost a year reading texts about Merlin before I began to write The Lost Years of Merlin books. Starting with the ancient Welsh Mabinogian, I read the poems of Robert de Boron, the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and as many Celtic ballads as possible. That's just the beginning. Then, of course, I read more modern treatments such as The Once and Future King by T. H. White. My attitude was, if I was going to be so bold as to try to fill in the gap in Merlin's lore about his youth, I had better know as much as possible about the rest of Merlin's lore. Also, this process filled me with the richness of Celtic language and imagery, as well as the music of the old names. In the end, I created Fincayra and all that came with it, but I hope that these new threads still fit into the greater tapestry of Merlin myth.

LJ: What is your plotting process—do you outline the book, the chapters, and the scenes?

TB: Normally I need some sort of aerial photograph of the terrain of a quest. So I know the approximate beginning, ending, and the dangerous marshes or inspiring peaks in between. This means writing an outline, which you could call my trail map. Then I intentionally lose the map, so I can find out what the terrain is like on the ground. Often my characters tell me to turn right when the map says turn left. In such cases, I always listen to my characters. Then I rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite, researching whatever is required. In the end, the journey has included several surprises and experiences I would not have predicted.

LJ: How much time do you spend on writing? Are you disciplined and structured—do you have a set block of time or a certain number of pages that you expect yourself to write every day, or does it vary?

TB: Essentially, I write all the time, even when I'm traveling, shaving, going for a hike with my kids, sleeping, whatever. It happens on many levels when you are immersed in a project. I always write the first draft with a blue felt pen and a pad of paper, because that is a good chemistry for me. And I do lots of rewrites. How many? As many as it takes to get it right! Like a good stew, novels get better when you boil them down and integrate all the ingredients. Most of my novels take six or seven full rewrites and two years to finish.

LJ: How do you go about getting to know and understand your characters? How do you bring them to life for the reader?

TB: To develop a character, I watch people around me and look at the small things: how they talk, how they walk, how they gesture. I try to go inside them to look at their motivations. Then I throw them in—let their actions introduce them. Any good character is immersed in relationships, a particular place, and a gripping situation. So you just have to jump right in and show the readers—don't just tell them—what the characters are like.

LJ: What's the best advice you were ever given as a writer? What's the best advice you can give us as writers?

TB:

1. Remember that you *are* a writer, even if you are not yet published. You have things to say—important things—and you deserve to find a voice of your own.

2. Writing is a craft, something one learns by doing. So there is no substitute for constant practice. (And that, unfortunately, requires constant discipline.) The bad news is, no matter how good you get at the craft of writing, there are always things you can learn to do better. And the good news is—exactly the same. That is why writing is a wonderful way to grow as a human being…even if it is also full of struggle and anguish at times.

3. Be honest. Deep soul-searching leads to more compelling writing.

4. Write through your passions. That energy will flow into your writing; breathe life into your words.

5. Now for some practical advice: Get yourself an agent. It's just too difficult to get published without one. How do you find an agent? There are professional writers' organizations, such as the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Mystery Writers' Guild that could be helpful. Or you could track down whoever was the literary agent for a published book you admire by contacting the editorial division of the publishing house.

6. Finally: Don't give up. Remember, when you receive those rejection letters, that every writer including Shakespeare has had the same experience. It's part of the process. But if you persist, and you have something to say, the chances are good that you will eventually succeed.

7. Ignore advice from other writers.

LJ: Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and expertise with us!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fiction & Reality: Prof. Umbridge & Pres. Obama

Dolores Umbridge, soon to be the first ever "High Inquisitor" at Hogwarts, speaking to students in her class:

"As I was saying, you have been informed that a certain Dark wizard is at large once again. This is a lie.... The Ministry of Magic guarantees that you are not in danger from any Dark wizard. If you are still worried, by all means come and see me outside class hours. If someone is alarming you with fibs about reborn Dark wizards, I would like to hear about it. I am here to help. I am your friend..." (p. 245, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling)

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, elected on a platform of "change," speaking to American citizens at a New Hampshire town hall meeting:

"Where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed. Because the way politics works sometimes is that people who want to keep things the way they are will try to scare the heck out of folks and they'll create boogeymen out there that just aren't real." (NYTimes.com)

Obama's White House posted a blog stating, "There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there.... Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to [us]." (WhiteHouse.gov)

Wow.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Archived Interview: Rebecca Waugh, former editor for Dial Books for Young Readers

Originally published in the August 2005 edition
of Writer's Tips from Jorlan Publishing


LJ: What are the most important elements a writer should include in a cover letter? In a query letter? Do we really have to sell you on the manuscript in 3 seconds?

RW: For me, the best cover letters are short. I want to know if you've published any children's books or published in children's magazines. Let me know if you've won any awards or have relevant experience working with children. If you're submitting a picture book there's no need to summarize the story. If it's a novel, I like to see a few sentences describing what it's about but not much more.

I know it's hard to boil an entire novel down to two sentences (!) and make it sound enticing. I wouldn't agonize over it, and simply let the manuscript speak for itself because that's what I'm going to look at anyway. I don't like query letters; I prefer to receive the full manuscript if it's a picture book and the first three chapters plus a synopsis if it's a novel. You don't have to sell me in the first three seconds, but you do have to hook me by the first page, otherwise I start to skim.

Actually, cover letters that try too hard to "sell" me on a manuscript tend to have the opposite effect. When someone is more concerned about the marketing of their manuscript or convincing me that the subject is a hot topic, it makes me suspect that the writing and the story aren't strong.

LJ: What makes you say "NO!" when you consider a manuscript? What makes you say "YES!"?

RW: That's a hard question to answer. If a story is very dull or confusing, that will make me say "no" immediately, but not much else. There are a fair number of stories I read that are pretty good, but they just aren't compelling enough to stand out in a crowd. I've got to love it, not just like it.

LJ: How can writers improve the odds of a) getting past the slush pile, and b) having a manuscript accepted?

RW: I think the one great misconception about slush is that the manuscripts aren't read. That isn't true! It probably takes longer for a manuscript to be read, but eventually someone will. The only way to have your manuscript accepted, whether it's in the slush pile or submitted by an agent, is to write a really good story.

LJ: If you ask a writer to resubmit a manuscript after making suggested revisions, does that mean it's a "sure thing"?

RW: Unfortunately, no. One of the reasons I suggest revisions is to see how well the writer will respond to my comments. I want to see if the writer is capable of making the changes that I
think the manuscript needs in order to be publishable. And in a broader sense, I want to know that we have the same vision for the manuscript. It's not unusual for editors and authors to disagree on minor points, but if we disagree about major structural changes, well then it's better to go our separate ways and not sign a contract.

LJ: Do you see advantages and/or disadvantages to a self-published author compared to an unpublished author?

RW: I think it depends more on the author, and how much time and money he or she wants to invest in self-publishing. In recent years there have been some children's books that received a great deal of press because the author was able to sell more than 10,000 copies on their own and that sort of attention helped them get publishing deals with big commercial publishers, like Penguin for example. But it takes significant time and money to promote a book on your own. Unless you are able to sell a really large number (thereby showing that you aren't just selling to close friends and family!), sending a self-published book to an editor is not going to give you an advantage over a regular manuscript.

LJ: It has been said, "You can't get published without an agent and you can't get an agent unless you've been published." How do we get around that paradox?

RW: The best way to get published is to work hard on your manuscript and make it the best it can be before sending it out to editors or agents. I work with authors who don't have agents, and authors who do.

LJ: Editors are swamped with "slush" to the point that they take as long as two years to send out a rejection letter ... yet many of them still insist on exclusive submissions. What are your thoughts on that, and do you foresee it changing?

RW: I don't insist on exclusive submissions because I understand most writers have to wait so long. And, unfortunately, I don't expect the average wait will get any shorter, because I don't foresee editors becoming less busy—reading manuscripts is only one part of an editor's job and there's actually not a lot of free time during the day. We've recently changed our policy at Dial to deal with the amount of "slush" we receive. As of August 1, 2005 our guidelines for unsolicited submissions now tell writers not to include a SASE and we'll only respond to manuscripts we're interested in. If you haven't heard from us in four months, you can assume we're not going to pursue your manuscript. At least this limits the waiting period and it really does save time not to respond to every submission. And again, we do read all our mail.

LJ: We love to hear about famous authors' rejections because it gives us hope to think that they were once where we are now. But how does that happen? Do they just slip through the cracks until an editor recognizes their potential, or does their writing improve as they pass through the refiner's fire? Have you ever rejected a manuscript that went on to become a bestseller?

RW: Editors definitely make mistakes. I've never rejected a manuscript that later became a bestseller, but I've rejected manuscripts that other editors have gone on to sign up. Weirdly enough, I like that aspect of publishing. Personal taste still matters. The flip side is when books that I love don't sell well; that's pretty disheartening. I can't speak for any famous authors who've gone through the rejection mill, but I have had authors tell me that reading the criticism and learning what didn't work has helped in the revision process. Also, I think sometimes when enough editors turn down a manuscript, a writer might consider giving it a break and trying something new.

LJ: Here in the U.S., the predominant themes at children's writer's workshops are: a) lengthy books won't sell because children have a very limited attention span; b) you must establish your main character's name, gender, age, and conflict within the first few sentences; and c) don't use adverbs, passive sentences, big words, exclamation points, or dialogue verbs. But wildly popular children's authors such as J.K. Rowling and Cornelia Funke break all of these rules. Did someone forget to tell the kids, or do you think something different (and more effective) is being taught in Europe? Are we Americans putting too much emphasis on rules at the expense of natural storytelling?

RW: Big question! Well, I can recognize the reasons why workshops would lay out these guidelines, and if you approach them that way—as guidelines instead of hard-and-fast rules—they can be helpful. It's a common problem I see that many manuscripts go on and on because the authors don't know where to stop or are trying to cram in too much. Telling people not to write too long is another way of saying: focus on your story arc and make everything count. The same goes for establishing the main character's identity in the first few sentences. That's not necessary in a literal sense, but I think it's true in the sense of establishing where your story is going in the first few sentences. I feel I can tell when an author can't decide what the story is about. (Of course it's possible I've been wrong!)

And I've heard this advice about not using adverbs, which I have to admit confuses me. Definitely don't overuse adverbs or passive sentences, etc. But ultimately it depends on your individual style as a writer. And when it comes to big words, I think the best thing to do is to ask yourself why a big complicated word is necessary. I suspect people who use them are people who just love language. I love knowing obscure words and their definitions! But using a really big word has to make sense within the context of the story. Ask yourself if you think most kids will understand it from the context. The older the audience you're writing for, the less of a concern it is.

So, yes, I do think it's better to focus on storytelling and not following "the rules."

LJ: What types of manuscripts are you most interested in seeing right now?

RW: I'm seeking funny or inventive picture books with a story that kids will easily relate to (not poetry or mood pieces); mystery/historical/humorous/realistic fiction for middle grade and YA; and narrative nonfiction that is not strictly school-oriented.

LJ: What's your best advice for us?

RW: Write a story that you care about.

LJ: Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and expertise with us!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's with all the colons in Deathly Hallows?

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out in the summer of 2007, I pre-ordered two copies to be delivered to my mom's home in Arizona, where my daughter and I would be vacationing. We happily read and read and read together, taking breaks to eat, swim, and sleep. It was an idyllic setting in which to share and savor the long-awaited conclusion to the series.

So, last month I decided to take the book along with me to re-read on our latest trek to AZ. After two years, I had forgotten quite a bit, making the deja vu experience even more fun. I can see why Deathly Hallows is J.K. Rowling's favorite installment. She masterfully weaves the story to a close. Compulsive editor that I am, though, I can't resist pointing out something that bugged me. It started as one little punctuation mark on p. 2: "There was a rustle somewhere to their right: Yaxley drew his wand again..." Hmmm. The editor in me thought the colon should have been a plain old everday period, but the reader in me didn't care...until there was another...and then another...as many as half a dozen on a single page! This flurry of colons became annoying and distracting, jerking me out of the story, the author presumably trying to expound on the thought to the left of the colon with the thought on the right.

Kate DiCamillo used colons similarly in The Tale of Desperaux, but not in such excess. I'm guessing there are probably upwards of 2,000 colons in Deathly Hallows. That's way too many for one novel. It's like a snowflake that grew into a flurry that became a snowball that got out of control and buried the book and reader in a veritable avalanche of colons.

Maybe nobody else noticed...Rowling's editor certainly didn't. Maybe I'm the only one bothered by punctuation quirks? I doubt it, considering how much attention is given to exclamation points in writing workshops. Maybe Rowling overused the colon subconsciously. The editor should have caught it, though. But then again, perhaps s/he was too carried away with the story to notice.

That would be understandable.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Everybody Makes Mistakes

Don't get discouraged about making mistakes in your writing. Learn from them, and learn from the mistakes of others, including published authors.

Nobody sits down at the computer and cranks out a perfect first-draft manuscript.

Nobody.

And sometimes mistakes even appear in published books after careful editing and revising. I'm not just talking about typos, either. I'm talking about glitches in characterization, plot, voice, etc., that are like speed bumps in the reading. Sometimes the bumps are almost imperceptible and sometimes they cause readers to catch air in their seats. I read a book this week that got me thinking about the latter.

The book is an oldie: "Spindrift," by Phyllis A. Whitney. First, let me say that I have loved her books ever since I was a teenager and she is one of those authors I hold up on a pedestal. So I was very surprised by the mistakes in this book. But pondering what didn't work for me as a reader has helped me learn as a writer. I recognized in practice some principles I already knew in theory.

1. Stay current by reading new releases. Nostalgia led me to pick up "Spindrift," which was copyrighted in 1975, so obviously some of the stuff I noticed wouldn't have been considered "mistakes" 35 years ago when she was writing this book. Still, it's been a helpful exercise for me to identify these things.

2. Don't start with an information dump. The first five pages (hmmm...that sounds familiar) were solid flashback/recollection.

3. Have a strong protagonist. The main character, Christy, was weak and not very bright. Knowing there was a killer in the house, she would immediately blab about anything she discovered, what she intended to do, and so on. Also, she allowed her interfering mother-in-law to control not only her own life, but her small son's as well.

4. Have a strong premise. One of the big "threats" was supposed to be that the mother-in-law could send Christy back to the hospital where she'd been sedated for months because she had a come-apart after finding her father shot. Even back then, I don't think someone would have that kind of power over doctors. The idea wasn't believable. What doctor is going to keep a healthy young woman hospitalized and heavily sedated because she insists that her father's death was not a suicide?

5. Write a satisfying ending. Ooh-boy. The bad guy blurts a confession to Christy, and then expects her to love him even though he murdered her father and even if she loses her son. So then she does an abrupt about-face and decides she's still in love with the husband she couldn't stand throughout the whole book and ends by saying she doesn't think her "foolish eyes would ever be blinded again."

There were other problems that I won't mention. The point is, writers can learn a lot about both what to do and what not to do by reading. And it's fun...the book was entertaining in spite of the speed bumps, because Phyllis Whitney was a master of suspense and goosebumps.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Interview with Heather Horrocks

Click for ordering info at Amazon.
Heather Horrocks has taught online writing classes for JorlanPublishing.com; she co-founded Word Garden Press and self-published two books, Women Who Knew the Mortal Messiah and Men Who Knew the Mortal Messiah; and her latest title, How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini is being released in May—by Deseret Book, the largest publishing house in Utah. Watch for her new series of novel plotting classes to be offered here at JP in the fall. It was a pleasure to interview "our" very own Heather!

Q: Tell us about your new book and why you wrote it.

A: Sophisticated New York playwright Lori Scott feels like a failure when her producer boyfriend calls it quits on both their relationship and her first play. On a dare, she throws a dart at a map and ends up moving to Brigham City, Utah, where she plans to set aside writing, religion, and men to focus on her new career substituting as The Garden Guru for the local paper. But fate has something else in mind. When she accidentally lights her house on fire, Lori has no idea of the sparks that lie ahead. Will she be able to resist the charm and persistence of local firefighting hero John Wayne Walker? Will old hurts and fears cause her to turn her back on the best thing that's ever happened to her? A delightful contemporary romance about following your heart, finding true love, and wrestling with a basket full of zucchini!

I wrote it for several reasons. I was working to create a line of romantic comedies, novels full of witty dialogue, books that were entertaining as well as uplifting. I was playing around with titles, and that old beach movie popped into my head: How To Stuff a Wild Bikini. I just thought it would be funny to switch Bikini to Zucchini—and others seem to have agreed. Also, it was right in the middle of August and neighbors left a bag of zucchini on our porch...which got me thinking. Hmmm.

Q: What sparks a story?

A: Almost anything can, but I do love to come up with really catchy titles and plot from there...things like Old Maid of Honor, Sunbeams On the Loose, Bat Out of Heck, Free Agency—And How to Enforce It, Holier Than Thou (Heavenly Donuts, Down-to-Earth Prices), and Remember the A La Mode, all of which are plotted and/or written, as well as others like Giraffic Park.

Q: How did you master the art of novel writing?

A: After many years of wannabe writing (even completing a novel, a teleplay, and a few children’s books), I decided to get serious (the exact thought was: “I’ve either got to start writing, or stop saying I’m a writer”). I had already joined the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, where I offered some of my first-draft pages for a critique example (I was so scared, I nearly didn’t go back the next time). Because I did that scary thing, I was invited to join a critique group class where I brought ten double-spaced pages a week and got them back critiqued the next week. This helped me become aware of the passing of time when no writing was getting done (as in, “Oh, man, it’s Wednesday again and I have class tomorrow night; I’d better write my ten pages quick!”). I had a great teacher, and I learned a lot from her. I’m also a great student, always wanting to learn more and striving to master techniques. For novel writing, you have to master both the craft of writing well and plotting with a satisfying ending. It’s helped that I also teach writing and plotting classes, as that has forced me to figure out things I might not otherwise have done.

Q: What is your plotting process? Do you outline?

A: I definitely do outline now; as a New York Times bestselling author, Kevin J. Anderson, said at a conference I attended: “If you don’t outline, then your entire book becomes your outline.” And that’s unwieldy. I used to be a seat-of-the-pants writer, but nowadays I have the most awesome plotting group ever. There are three of us, and we call ourselves a "conspiracy group"—you know: two or more people plotting together. We meet every month or two for an intense, approximately 14-hour plotting day. We stay until we have a skeleton of a book, usually about 45 scenes. We take turns on whose book we’re doing, so every third time, we’re plotting one of my books. In the couple of weeks following the plotting day, we flesh out the outline until we have 65-75 scenes. We’ve now done 35 books this way, and in the process have learned a great deal. It reminds me of a story my father, an oilman (I grew up in South America and the Middle East) told about being called out of retirement in his mid-60s to head up some of the teams putting out the Kuwait oil well fires. Before that time, if there was an oil well fire, Red Adair’s specialty team would be called in, but because there were so many fires to be put out, they tried many different techniques and quickly learned what didn’t work and what worked most efficiently (a jet engine blasted directly at the flame would put it out and the men would then immediately cap the fire, and this allowed them to put out several fires a day). With us plotting so many books so fast, and committing to stay until they were done each time, and with me documenting everything we’ve done so that we remember, we’ve also learned an amazing amount about what works most efficiently. Often even the order in which you do your plotting makes a huge difference. (I teach classes in the Salt Lake area based on our plotting days; I’m also working up an awesome series of online classes that will be offered on JorlanPublishing.com this fall). And I finally learned the real difference between a synopsis and an outline—the outline contains all the information needed for you, the writer, to write the book; the synopsis contains the information needed for you, the writer, to sell the book to an agent or editor.

Q: Okay, you have 12 novels either finished or ready to finish. How do you produce so many stories?

A: To start with, I've been working at this seriously for 16 years, and it's possible to generate a lot of ideas and pages during that much time, even when you mess around here and there. Getting together with my group to plot regularly has given me another 8 plotted novels that I haven't even started writing yet. It allows me to choose what is wisest for me to finish at any particular time.

Q: How do you come up with your characters?

A: I interview my prospective characters in depth before I plot them into a book. I ask them all sorts of questions about their baggage and what they want out of life. I ask them what others in their life think about them. And I ask them what the worst situation would be for them—and then I always put my characters in that situation they don't want to face. I do always make my stories end happily, so I figure it's worth a little angst for them for awhile.

Q: What kind of writing routines do you follow?

A: Unfortunately, in the choice between the tortoise and the hare, I'm usually the hare, making wild dashes here and there—writing a first draft in two weeks, for example—and then not doing much for awhile, and then making another huge push. Now that I need to write three books a year (two for Deseret Book and another to get my mysteries going), I'm working this year on making some gentler but more steady tortoise pushes in between the wild hare rushes. I'm trying to learn how to unclutter my life, including my schedule, to accomplish what I want to accomplish and keep the self-sabotages to a minimum.

Q: What advice do you have for establishing a productive writing routine?

A: Do something writing-related every day. Set small "deadlines" for yourself. I have my one-day plotting days. Two weeks to whip my outline into shape. Two weeks to do a BI2W (book in two weeks, because, though I have written a first draft in four days before, it’s too hard of a schedule). Then I have to force myself to do regular revisions of those first-draft pages. Give yourself lots of smaller achievements to celebrate.

The most important thing is to START. If you have to, set a minimum 15-minute-a-day goal, just so you can get started (because 15 minutes is not intimidating enough to stop anyone!). And because you’ll probably spend more than 15 minutes once you do start. So STARTING is the first part of the equation – and STOPPING is the second. Get your writing done and behind you, so you can enjoy the rest of the day without that nagging feeling of having to get back to it.

And never, ever lose heart.

Q: Do you set daily page or time goals for yourself?

A: It depends on the week and what part of the book I’m working on. Sometimes it’s all about tricking myself into being productive, day after day. Plotting is all day and sometimes all night. Outlines consume many, many hours a day for about two weeks. The first draft takes many hours, but I usually have a scene count goal; for example, if my book has 66 scenes and I have 10 days to write them (for my BI2W), I’ll aim for 7 crummy, fast, first-draft scenes a day (I can do this because I already have my character’s goals and setbacks in place in the outline phase). I’ll also do a scene count goal for revisions, though that’s usually 1-3 scenes a day rather than 7.

Q: At what point did you sell "Zucchini"? From a book proposal or completed manuscript?

A: The journey for “Zucchini” has been an interesting one. I’d actually written about 8 novels before deciding to get wiser about my market. You know, what you hear all the time—study the market. What did that mean for me? I decided to pursue two paths. The first path would be romantic comedies for Deseret Book. I chose this market because there was nothing similar to my chick-lit type books on the LDS market and so I thought they might be open to my books. I also don’t care for the smut and language that goes into so many national romances and I figured an LDS publisher would be thrilled to accept my cleaner romances. The second path would be two mystery series (the “WhoDunHim Inn” and the “Bad Mothers Club”), which I’m working on selling on the national market (cozy mysteries don’t seem to have the smut problem that romances do).

Anyway, I came up with my plan. I was going to write four romances for Deseret Book, whether they bought any of them or not. And, if they didn’t buy any of the four, I’d turn my focus to my mysteries. Deseret Book actually rejected the first one I sent (“Old Maid of Honor”) but because the editor gave me lots of suggestions, I thanked her and asked if she’d given the suggestions in the hope that I’d revise and resubmit. She had, so I did. Next I sent “How To Stuff A Wild Zucchini” and “Sunbeams On The Loose.” My fourth, partially completed, is “Bat Out of Heck” (and, because of my awesome plotting group, I have another four plotted and outlined, ready to go). Deseret Book chose to put out “Zucchini” first because they felt it was the strongest, and they’re hoping, after this year, to put out two a year. I’m totally thrilled, of course.

Q: How many books did you self-publish before selling this one?

A: So far I have brought two incredible books into the world of publishing. My inspirational books (“Women Who Knew the Mortal Messiah” and “Men Who Knew”) have definitely been a walk in faith for me. I certainly never, ever planned to self-publish. In fact, I was offered three different contracts for “Women Who Knew” and each time I was impressed to say no. So, after fighting the impression to form a small publishing company and put the books out there myself, I finally faced my fears (and my resistance) and just did it. I founded Word Garden Press and printed “Women Who Knew the Mortal Messiah” in 2004, followed in a couple of years by “Men.” I’m now working on “Women Who Knew the Great Jehovah” about women in the Old Testament who are in Christ’s lineage. And these are some very challenging stories. I triple-dog dare you to make the story of Tamar seducing her father-in-law inspiring. (I’m just finishing that story and, incredibly, it is an inspiring story — but it took quite awhile to bring it around to that place.) I’m hoping to have that book out sometime later this year.

Q: Did self-publishing help or hurt you when approaching traditional publishers?

A: I think on the national market they wouldn’t have made much difference either way. Because I’d signed a distribution agreement with Deseret Book Distribution for the two inspirational books, and had some rapport there, I did mention them in my initial query letter to the Deseret Book Publishing editor (and she was familiar with them).

Q: What is the question that makes you laugh, at least inside?

When people ask when I find time to write. There is no time to write. We're all incredibly busy, with careers, families, and getting dinner on the table. It's a matter of deciding you're going to make it a priority. And my smart-aleck answer doesn't work any more—when I was younger, I would tell people there are four hours between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. But my body doesn't do that any more. So now I'm more apt to answer seriously—just get a little in every day toward your dream and the pages will add up to books. (Back to the tortoise theory here.)

Q: What was it like to get "The Call" when you sold How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini?

A: Absolutely fantastic. And, after all those years, sweeter than it would have been earlier. Like now, instead of people looking at me with pity in their eyes because I was still going for my dream after all those years, I could become a success story that could inspire—if you persevere for 16 years and 2 months, you can win the dream that would have been forever lost if you'd quit at 16 years.

Q: If you hadn't sold How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini, do you think you would have kept on trying to get published? What made you keep going up to this point?

A: If I could have given up writing, I would have done it years ago. At times of discouragement, I've threatened to quit—after all, I'd have time to keep my life in order, time to spend with my family, time to sleep enough hours, even time to keep my house clean (ugh!). But I have learned that I can't quit. It's something I have to do, just like I have to breathe. So because that is true for me, then I may as well get on with it.

Q: Any final words of advice for the aspiring author?

A: Don't lose heart. Keep going—despite every discouragement, every rejection, every disappointment. I just read a great quote by an accomplished mountaineer, Lincoln Hall, who scaled Everest on his second attempt, but then tragedy struck and he was left for dead so that all the men didn't die trying to get him down—and then he was found barely alive the next day. Later, he said, "There may have been some luck involved, but luck is of no use unless you have a never-give-up attitude." In addition to mastering the craft of writing and plotting, you must cultivate your own never-give-up attitude, because that might be all that gets you to the peak and back safely. To quote one of my favorite movies (Galaxy Quest): "Never give up. Never surrender." So I wish you good luck in going for your dream, no matter what your dream happens to be.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Awards

[caption id="attachment_14" align="aligncenter" width="156" caption="Whose Ears Are Whose?"]Whose Ears Are Whose?[/caption]

My rhyming picture book, Whose Ears Are Whose? was awarded an Honorable Mention this month in the 16th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards! The notification letter stated, "Competition was particularly fierce this year so your accomplishment is truly impressive...We're extremely pleased at the quality of the winning books, and indeed, at the level of self-publishing quality evidenced by a great many of our entrants."

Whose Ears Are Whose? was previously named a First Place Winner in the League of Utah Writers 2008 Publication Awards and a Finalist in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in both picture book and poetry categories. It's available for purchase on JorlanPublishing.com; PuffballPress.com; Amazon.com; and at your favorite bookstore.