Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Defeat Your Personal El Guapo!

“In a way, all of us have an El Guapo to face some day. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo, for others a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous guy who wants to kill us. As sure as my name is Lucky Day, the people can conquer their personal El Guapo, who also happens to be the actual El Guapo.”

Check out the inspirational speach here. Are you inspired? I am.

As writers, we each face our own personal El Guapo. We face obstacles that prevent us from being the writer we desire to be. For some, finding the time to write might be their El Guapo, for others commas might be their El Guapo, for others character development or dialogue. For me, El Guapo is the doubt that my writing will ever measure up to be what I want it to be.

So how do we face our personal El Guapo? Practice. Persistence. Patience.
Check out my post on Happy Gilmore and the 3 P’s of Writing.
Good luck to each of you in facing and defeating your personal El Guapo!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

THE ALIAS by Mandi Tucker Slack

The Alias by Mandi Tucker Slack is much more than just a “girl power” kind of book. Yes, there is an abused woman who fights back. Yes, she is brave and willing to do anything to protect her son. (What mother isn’t) She is strong but proud, independent but vulnerable. This book has something for everyone: Romance, Action, Intrigue and a development of characters that makes you feel good when you finish. I may not sit down to read a straight romance, but I enjoy the book that successfully involves all of these elements. The Alias is a winner.

The story is centered around an woman who flees her abusive ex-husband and hides out on a Utah ranch. When the FBI locates her to ask questions about her Ex’s business dealings, she realizes she may not be as well hidden as she thought. If the FBI can find her, so can her ex-husband.

Mandi knows how to turn a good phrase and keep the pace of the story racing. I need a fast pace to keep from getting bored and Mandi succeeded in keeping my attention, teasing with tension and conflict in every chapter.

I’m the kind of guy who identifies the ending of a story within the first ten minutes of watching a movie or TV show. (My wife and kids REALLY love that) I ALWAYS know who did it the moment I’m introduced to the character. I recognize a plot twist is coming before it happens. Pretty impressive, huh :>)My keen eye is attuned to these kind of things and while a few of the plot twists are predictable many keep you on your toes, guessing, wondering until you reach the satisfying resolution.

Again, this is more than just a “girl power” book for women. Men can definitely enjoy this as well and I recommend it. The Alias is a quick and enjoyable read.

You can purchase The Alias here By the way you can purchase The Alias on E-book for only $3.99 which is a FANTASTIC price on an LDS e-book.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crater Lake Book Cover-

Which cover do you prefer?

Please leave a comment or contact me privately to tell me which one you like better and why. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Assassination of Governor Boggs by Rod Miller

Rod Miller's novel, The Assassination of Governor Boggs is a creative attempt to answer the mystery of who shot former Missouri Governor, Lilburn Boggs.

After leaving office as Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs maintained a residence in Independence Missouri, the location of the original violence and atrocities perpetrated against the Mormon Saints. On a stormy night, an assassin took his best shot, trying to rid the world of Governor Boggs and his nefarious activities. Many supposed, including the Boggs family, that the Mormons were behind the assassination attempt, and specifically that Porter Rockwell shot Lilburn Boggs under orders of Joseph Smith. To the surprise of the doctors, the newspapers and his family, Lilburn Boggs, the Governor who issued the infamous Extermination Order of Missouri Mormons survived the attempt on his life and lived for another 17 years.

Despite having many political and business enemies Lilburn Boggs believed the Mormons were behind his attempted assasination. He lived in fear the remainder of his days, expecting the Mormons to come and finish the job. Because of this fear, at least in part, Boggs moved to California where he became a man of substantial influence. This historical novel begins after Bogg's death when his son William engages the services of the Pinkerton Detective Agency to solve the crime that occurred 25 years earlier. Calvin Pogue is the detective assigned to the case.

The Pinkerton Man's investigation leads him to California, Nauvoo, Independence and Salt Lake City as he attempts to piece together the motive, facts and evidence of the 25 year old crime. Pogue is an honest seeker of truth and is determined to follow the evidence whereever it leads. He is a likeable and determined character.

Rod Miller uses this account of a fictional investigation to add context to the Missouri Persecutions of the 1830's. Through Pogue's dispassionate interviews with lawmen, LDS apostates, LDS leaders such as Brigham Young, Emma Smith, sympathizers like Alexander Doniphan and even Porter Rockwell himself, he explores both sides of the conflict that presumably led to the assassination attempt. Each character speaks with a unique voice consistent with the era and Miller does a nice job salting the story with authentic details of frontier life in the 1860's.

As church members we usually only read and hear apologetic accounts that hold out all Missourian's as mobbers and evil-doers, while all Mormons were pure, faithful and innocent victims of a wicked government led by Lilburn Boggs. Miller regales us however with accounts of Mormon enforcers called Danite "night riders" and we quickly see that both sides possessed the power to behave badly. As is generally the case, there is rarely pure evil and pure righteousness personified in fallible human beings. Every person, whether it's Lilburn Boggs or Porter Rockwell share a split personality of good and evil. Some traits are nobel and strong and worthy of emulation, while others serve as examples of what not to do.

I enjoyed this story a great deal. Rod Miller is a unique storyteller. It took me a couple of chapters to appreciate how he juxtaposed early interviews in the investigation with pieces of his final interview with Porter Rockwell. Because the interviews didn't always follow a linear time line, we sometimes heard repeated accounts by secondary sources to the investigation. While these redundancies sometimes slowed the pace of the story, they also served to reinforce the truthfulness or inconsistencies of the different interview subjects. When we read a secondary account of the same events, as the reader we draw our own conclusions about the trustworthiness of the account, just as Detective Pogue did.

I enjoyed learning more about Porter Rockewell and Lilburn Boggs and I always appreciate an engaging church history story.

On a personal note, I served my mission in Independence Missouri. Following my mission and schooling I moved to a small town in Caldwell County Missouri near Far West where I still live and currently serve as the Bishop of the Far West Ward for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have a deep love for this area and the rich LDS history and I believe there is much we can learn from both the successes and failures of the early saints.

Understanding the weaknesses and mistakes of the early saints can be educational if we recognize the saints for who they were; imperfect people who lived during a dangerous and challenging time that in many ways is impossible for us to fully appreciate. Sometimes we base our faith on the actions and behaviors of people we look up to and when we find that a person isn't as perfect as we once thought, we become disillusioned. This can be one of the risks in studying church history and I hope readers will remember this and not make the foolish mistake of judging the gospel doctrine and worthiness of the church based on the imperfections of individuals.

This book asks many direct questions and leads the reader to ask many more of his own. While I may not agree with all the conclusions of Pogue's investigation I certainly enjoyed the ride and the creative way in which the history and the associated questions were presented. My one major criticism of this work concerns the final chapter. I won't describe the issue because it could be a spoiler for the reader, but I found the final scene, which I believe is purely fictional with no basis in fact, to leave the reader with an unfortunate bias which could influence their conclusions.

So did Porter Rockwell attempt to assassinate Lilburn Boggs? And if so, did he do it under order of Joseph Smith? You'll have to read the book and make your own decision.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in tasting the flavor of the Missouri period of the church. It is an enjoyable read during which you have the opportunity to learn.

Check out my interview with Rod Miller.

Monday, September 12, 2011

5 Authors...2 Events...1 Day

I am happy to announce 2 multi-author events that will be held on Saturday September 24th. The first will be from 10-12 at the Far West Country Book Store near the Far West Temple Site at 2650 NW State Rt. D, Cameron Missouri, 64429. The second will be at the Eden Bookshop at 118A N. Main St. in Liberty from 2-4. There will be something for everyone.

Participating authors include...

-Instructional: Danyelle Ferguson- (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ

-Children: Leigh Legere- Do Antelope Eat Cantaloupe?

-Docrtinal: Stephen K. Chase- The Second Coming

-YA Suspense: Tamara Hart Heiner- Perilous

-Legal Suspense: Steve Westover- Defensive Tactics

Come meet the authors and have your books signed. It will be a fun morning.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bravado Vs. Confidence

The NBC/Politico sponsored GOP Debate on September 7th provided opportunities for the Republican Presidential primary candidates to make their case to the country. They had a chance to declare why their leadership would be superior to the current administration and their Republican competitors. There were some good moments in the debate and most of the eight candidates took advantage of the opportunity to attack their rivals.

I know it's early in the political season, but it seems to me that there are two leading GOP contenders, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Spoiler Alert: Rick Perry and Mitt Romney don't like each other much. Shocking. Both men have good hair, dress nicely and have both been governors (Rick Perry is currently the Governor of Texas). But placing those superficial elements aside, I want to know who these candidates are. Judging them by what they have done and how they behave is more important to me than judging them by what they say. Talk is cheap and political speak is worth almost nothing.

I want a leader who will fight the good fight for the most worthy causes. I want someone I can believe in even if I don't agree with them 100% of the time. I want someone who is confident and capable, but not arrogant or condescending. That brings me to my question.

What is the difference between Bravado and Confidence?

Bravado: (as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary) Defiant or swaggering behavior. A pretense of courage. A false show of bravery. A disposition toward showy defiance.

Confidence: (as defined by Full trust. Belief in the powers, trustworthiness or reliability of a person or thing.

Based on those two definitions, it is clear to me that I want a leader who has confidence in himself and in whom I can place my confidence. Bravado, on the other hand, I don't have much use for.

Of these two candidates, who most exudes Bravado and who most exemplifies confidence? Why?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Every Note Matters- In Writing Too

I LOVE the musical Les Miserables. It is a fantastic play based on a wonderful book. My kids all know the music because I play it often. The music enhances the story of despair and redemption and is a real treat to watch live. I am absolutely a fan.

With that said, I was recently enjoying a Broadway cast recording and I was really disappointed by one of the characters, Fantine.

Fantine lived a difficult life. She worked in a factory and paid an innkeeper to watch after her daughter, Cosette, because she couldn't afford to keep her. She sings I Dreamed A Dream about how her hopes had been crushed. It is a beautiful song, but on this particular recording the feeling of despair was overridden when I almost chuckled in a couple of parts. Why did I lack such sensitivity? There were certain notes that just didn't resonate. On the line "But he was gone when au-TUMN CAME," Fantine sounded less like a jilted lover and grieving mother and more like a thick accented Russian Soldier. Her focus was so centered on the the wrong syllables that the moment was lost. The rest of the song was wonderful, but those two ending notes ruined the song for me and now I can't listen to it without anticipating those two disturbing notes.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but I don't think so. Later, Fantine has a dramatic death scene where she sings Come To Me, begging Valjean to take care of her daughter. Again, a beautiful song, with just a couple discordant notes. At the very end of the scene she sings, "Tell Cosette I love her and I'll see her when I WAKE!" And then she died. Huh? Even though she was the one dying, she hammered the last note in such a way that I wish I would be put out of my misery.

So what's the point to criticizing this one version of these two beautiful songs? Simple-It doesn't take much to pull the consumer, whether he be a listener, a viewer, or a reader, out of the moment and destroy the valuable setting, mood or character you have been developing.

Just like every note matters to the listener, every word matters to the reader.

One simple example: In my first book, Defensive Tactics, the scene was set at night in downtown Kansas City. The beautiful and refined heroin was under distress and she "hollered" something to her approaching rescuers. "Hollered" just didn't fit. She wasn't going to a hoe-down at Uncle Bart's barn so based on her character, location and situation, "Hollered" was the wrong word and pulled the reader out of the story. I had a couple of people comment on this prior to the final printing so I made the change and "yelled" and "screamed" worked better. That one discordant word could have pulled the reader out of the story just long enough to scratch their head. Was it a huge deal? Probably not, but I don't want to leave my reader with a bad impression, like "WAKE" did for me.

By the way, did you notice, and were you annoyed that I said the "heroin" instead of the "heroine"? Simple things can be a distraction.

Here is a link to I Dreamed A Dream, the way it should be.

And click here to hear a good version of Come To Me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interview with Rod Miller: Author of The Assassination of Governor Boggs

For those of you interested in LDS Church history, I have a special treat for you today.

Rod Miller is the author of the historical novel, The Assassination of Governor Boggs. The book was released in May by Cedar Fort Publishing. I have been reading this book and find it fascinating. I am happy Rod has agreed to answer a few of my questions. Perhaps you will gain some insights into church history as well as the writing process as I did.

Steve: Please tell us something about yourself that you are usually too humble to admit.

Rod: While I am no more intelligent than average, maybe less so, I am pretty well read and have a head full of retained information on a variety of subjects.

Steve: You are a published writer of fiction (short stories and novels), non-fiction and even poetry. What led you to writing and what approach do you take when sitting down to begin a new project?

Rod: Writing has been for me, since junior high school, a way to get things done. I have always approached it in a very practical way—I learned how to spin insufficient information into creditable answers to essay questions on tests, wrote for school newspapers, got a degree in journalism, wanted to write for agricultural magazines. I got sidetracked in college and for a few years afterward into broadcast production, but soon enough ended up back at a typewriter (that’s what we used in the olden days) writing commercials. That led to a long career (still underway) as an advertising agency copywriter. Again, writing to get things done.

It never occurred to me to try “creative” writing. I had no education or training in creative writing and the whole idea seemed foreign to me. But, some fifteen years ago I took a notion to try to write some poems, just to see if I could. Success there led to short fiction and eventually a novel, then some nonfiction. Somewhere along the way I adapted a juvenile novel for the screen for a filmmaker I worked with on commercials, and that became a movie (Bug Off!). I wrote some articles, mostly on assignments that more or less fell into my lap, for cowboy magazines (still doing that), and a bunch of essays on writing poetry. I just sort of jumped into it all, without really knowing, in the sense of being educated, how to do what I set out to do. Getting most everything I wrote published only encouraged me to blunder along, trying new things. Everything (if anything) I’ve learned about writing I learned from reading—whether by osmosis from pleasure reading or by instructional reading on my own.

Like most writers, I suppose my approach starts with an idea. Some ideas seem to lend themselves to poetry, others to fiction, some to nonfiction. I mull it over for quite a while, deciding if I think I can make it work—if I have the necessary information, if I can convey that information in an interesting way. For some reason I am drawn to unusual formats and structures. Very little of what I’ve written, whether fiction or nonfiction, follows a traditional, chronological path, or the normal introduction, exposition, conflict, climax, resolution, conclusion kind of structure. With me, it’s always a jumble of some kind or other, from pulling apart timelines and rebuilding them, to pulling in materials from elsewhere to tell parts of the story, to using multiple voices—anything, it seems, but straightforward storytelling. I can’t say why.
Plotting and character development and all that stuff doesn’t get much attention (which probably shows in my writing), I just sort of let those things happen on their own. Most of my emphasis is on putting words together and trying to write interesting phrases and sentences and paragraphs and so on. I guess that comes from all my years in advertising, where time and space force you into using economical yet powerful language. And, I suppose, that’s why I was first drawn to poetry, where, again, the words matter more than anything.

In any event, I concentrate my effort on making sentences read well, as well as say something. I think good writing inevitably leads to good reading; that if it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying well. I don’t know how successful my approach is, or if I pull it off, but that’s what I set out to do, from poetry to fiction to history to essays to magazine articles to advertising.

Steve: What inspired you to write a novel based on a fictionalized investigation into the attempted assassination of Governor Lilburn Boggs?

Rod: History has interested me for longer than I can remember. I’ve always wanted to know what happened and why. And I am naturally skeptical, which always leads me to multiple sources and a broad-minded view. So much of the Mormon history we see is “celebratory” or “faith promoting.” As a result, we tend to overlook the complexity of history and are satisfied with a simplistic, one-sided version of what happened—a version that sets out to make a point and leads us inevitably toward that conclusion, rather than relating what really went on.

Porter Rockwell has always fascinated me. He was a remarkable man, with extraordinary abilities and strong character. At the same time, he was a capable and cold-blooded killer. Regardless of which side of the law he represented in a given situation, he did not hesitate to do what he believed needed to be done. The shooting of Lilburn Boggs was one of many crimes he was accused of, and remains an unanswered question. There’s usually a good story in an unanswered question.

Like most Mormons, I knew very little about Lilburn Boggs. My knowledge was scant and very one-sided. I knew there had to be more to the man. And, frankly, the more I learned about him the more impressive he became. Certainly, he mistreated the Mormons and his Extermination Order remains one of the most heinous official acts of any government against its citizens in the history of this country. But, there’s always more than one side to a story, and, as one of our leaders once said (to paraphrase loosely), every man is better than his worst sin.

After researching the lives of these two men, the shooting, and all the related events, I decided there wasn’t enough documented material for me, at least, to tell the story in nonfiction. Through fiction, I thought I could take what is known and spin it into an interesting story. Finally, fiction is, many times, a better way to tell the truth than nonfiction, as you can concentrate on truth rather than facts.

Steve: Did you have any “ah ha” moments as you were researching the history for this book?

Rod: While it may not rise to the “ah ha” level, learning about Lilburn Boggs was a revelation. He was a pivotal figure on the Western frontier, accomplished a great deal, was widely respected, an inspiring leader, and a dedicated public servant all his adult life.
Other than that, I had read about the assassination attempt many times over the years in various places, and had studied a good deal of history about the Mormons in Missouri and the attendant difficulties, so most of what I learned I already knew, on some level. The research mostly refreshed my memory, added detail, and filled in the gaps.

Steve: What are the main challenges you faced in writing this form of historical fiction?

Rod: Putting words in the mouths of real people is intimidating. You never want to misrepresent them—not only in what you know they said, but also in what you think they might have said, what motivated them, their attitudes, their beliefs, their influences. Whether it’s well-known figures like Porter Rockwell or Brigham Young, or obscure characters like Bill Boggs or Jacob Harlan, I tried to be careful in speaking for them.

Almost as intimidating is speaking for made-up characters. The few that are sprinkled throughout the book are there to convey information on behalf of people who were no longer available to speak for themselves. Even though the characters are fictional, what they say has to represent the facts and tell some version of the truth.

Steve: How can a reader differentiate the fiction from the fact in this story?

Rod: If I’ve done my job properly, they won’t have to, or want to. While the book includes invented characters, imagined conversations, and dramatic re-creations, it does so only to allow known facts to be presented. To the best of my ability, every incident and event related to the assassination attempt in the book recounted accurately. I’ve tried to tell the story from as many viewpoints as possible, using several characters representing many facets of the history. While each character tells his own version of the truth, which may differ from other versions, each tells the truth as he knows it, based on information I took from available sources. So, while everything in the book may not be “factual” it is, as much as possible, the truth.

Steve: Have you had the opportunity to visit the Missouri Church historical sites? Do you have a favorite?

Rod: Way back in the late sixties I visited Kansas City two or three times for the national FFA convention. The trip included a visit to the Liberty Jail, so I have always had a soft spot for that place. But, on revisiting it while researching this book, I was terribly disappointed in the version of history related there. Terribly one-sided, woefully ignorant of (or deliberately ignoring) documented events, and intentionally forcing a distorted conclusion onto visitors. It’s not that what they tell you is wrong; what they don’t tell you so misrepresents history that it might as well be wrong.

We visited Independence and located some of the places relevant to the book, including finding the location of the jail where Rockwell was held (long since gone) and the Boggs house where the crime was committed. We also wandered around the Temple site and other places in Independence. Just outside Missouri, we visited Kanesville and Winter Quarters and the Visitor Center there. That was the end of a trip along the Mormon Trail, in reverse, across Wyoming and Nebraska. My favorite trail site is the North Platte crossing in Casper, Wyoming. My great-great-grandfather was one of the men from the pioneer company Brigham Young left there to operate a ferry in the summer of 1847.

Steve: What lessons do you draw personally from the Missouri era of church history?

Rod: While there is no disputing the persecution the Saints received there, and no justification for the extent of their mistreatment by the people and the government of Missouri, that troublesome period was not nearly as one-sided as most Mormons believe; beliefs based on limited information gleaned from official sources, but mostly from folklore. I was never told, for instance, about Mormon night riders burning most of three Missouri settlements to the ground, or the theft of a shipment of government arms on the way to militia troops, or intimidation and threats against a judge. In many instances of violence, the Mormons gave as good as they got and were sometimes the instigators. Like most of history, there are many sides to the Missouri story and I grew up hearing only one of them. So, I suppose, the lessons of skepticism and the need for further study were reinforced.

Steve: Governor Boggs and his “extermination order” of 1838 are infamous to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Will readers gain a better understanding of Lilburn Boggs and his motivations through reading your book?

Rod: Perhaps not about that unfortunate event specifically, as I did not include much about it, it being somewhat outside the scope of the main tale the book tells other than as a motive for the crime. But, I hope readers will get enough of the “Missouri” side of the history to understand something of the situation that existed, and see it from more than one point of view.

Steve: Please tell us about any other projects you have in the pipeline.

Rod: There are a couple of magazine articles in the works for cowboy-type publications, two anthologies that include short stories of mine about the West that are just hitting the market, and I’ve got another short story almost ready to write. A publisher has the manuscript for a short novel of cowboy tall tales under consideration and I hope to get word on that soon. There’s another novel in progress, probably 25% complete, that I am just getting back to. It’s not historical, but pure fiction, using, loosely, the life of biblical King David in a Western setting. I have most of the research and some of the writing done on a work of popular history, recounting important but relatively unknown incidents in Western history. And there’s always poetry—I just had a poem accepted for a forthcoming anthology, and another due to appear in a cowboy magazine. Finally, I’ve completed another essay on writing poetry that will appear on in the near future.

Over the next few weeks and months I’ll be presenting workshops at the League of Utah Writers annual convention (September 16-17), the Idaho Writers League annual convention (September 23-24), the Writers of the Purple Sage poetry workshop and retreat (October 21-22), the Heber City Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Buckaroo Fair (November 4-5), and I’ll be doing a book signing in Ogden, Utah (December 3).

And, of course, I have to go to work every day and teach Primary every Sunday.

I plan to post my review of this book next Wednesday but in case you can't wait to purchase, please click here to order from Amazon. You can also order online from Borders, Cedar Fort and Deseret Book or of course you can always visit your local LDS bookstore.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kansas City Temple- Construction Update

These are some of my favorite pictures for the Kansas City Missouri Temple Construction Blog.

Construction is on schedule and while we still don't have a firm completion date, we expect open houses and the dedication to take place in early spring 2012.

John W. Hardy has been announced as the President of the Kasnsas City Area Temple.

Temple presidents are called to oversee all activities performed at the temple. They serve voluntarily, usually for a period of several years.

The new Liberty Missouri Stake Center is being costructed next to the temple. We expect to have Stake Conference in the new building in October 2011.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Did The Unthinkable...

Yes, it pains me to admit it, but I actually went to see Cowboys and Aliens last weekend. My gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen. I am ashamed of myself. You have my confession and now I will attempt to make amends, to warn others of the pitfalls of this movie, and on a larger level, of failing to follow your own gut feelings. I have learned my lesson, now I hope to share it with you…

When I first saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens in the theater months ago, I laughed out loud. I was embarrassed by the volume of my laugh so I looked around, hoping no one noticed. But I was confused. I thought it was a joke because it sounded so absurd and the trailer was pure corn, but I was the only one laughing. (Click here to see my blog post about bad titles) Woops. Lesson learned. But I tucked away in my little brain the thought that I would NEVER see that movie because it would be a pure waste of time and an utter humiliation if anyone knew I had seen it. My trusty gut told me not to do it, but I didn’t listen.

Over time I read a couple of interesting reviews and saw some new trailers that made the premise of the movie seem more appealing. I was gradually being boiled in a pot of water and I wasn’t smart enough to jump out and eventually I succumbed to the pressure.
Here are a couple of my problems with the movie…

1) It was stupid (My first impression was correct- the title was lame, the action cheesy, the writing was weak and the acting questionable at best)
2) The movie was one giant cliché
a. Aliens invade earth to steal our resources (Wow, never heard that one before)
b. A band of mismatched heroes try to save the day (We’ve got the tough guy, the preacher, the ethically challenged tycoon, a kid, a dog and a good looking chick)
c. They made a half-baked attempt to answer deep philosophical questions about redemption and race relations (Seriously? It’s Cowboys and Aliens)
3) The movie was too long. In its defense, I would probably say the movie was too long if it were only 1 ½ hours. I just wanted it to end. As is, it ran a full 2 hours. (Literally, as the very last frame faded to black I found myself wishing it would fade more quickly)
4) There were too many distracting inconsistencies (I was about to share some examples but found it too frustrating)

In short (I know…too late) the only thing redeeming about this movie was the large pile of candy wrappers at my feet when it concluded. Mmm Candy!

So why mention this on a writing blog? Because from a storytelling point of view, these problems I had with the movie can also be problems in our writing.

1) Does our concept pass the smell test?
2) Is our action and dialogue realistic?
3) Do we write using clichés?
4) Are our characters original?
5) Is the length appropriate for the genre?
6) Is the story consistent within the framework we’ve established?

At the end of the day, we have to love what we’ve written. If we find inconsistencies that cause confusion we must assume that others will have an even bigger problem with it. Go with your gut. If you like it, write it. If you write it and it doesn’t turn out as you envisioned, rewrite it or maybe even scrap it.

When you are satisfied with your work, let test readers have a go. What are their honest feelings about the chapter, scene or book? Then ultimately you make the decision about what remains. Go with your gut. It’s your decision and you are the one to live with it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The $50,000 Honesty Lesson

Nate Smith made the shot of a lifetime. During a half time competition at a hockey game, the 11 year shot a 3 inch puck through a 3 1/2 inch hole 90 feet away. WOW! The reward for making the impossible shot is $50,000. As you might imagine, Nate and his family were extatic. There is just one problem.

The raffle ticket chosen to name the participant was for Nick Smith, Nate's twin brother. Unfortunately, when Nick's name was called, Nick was out of the building and unable to take his shot, so his twin stepped into his place. For fun, Nate donned the helmut, held the puck, and shot. The amazing thing is, he actually made it.

Here's where the story gets REALLY interesting. The next day, the boys father called the contest sponsors to let them know that Nate took the shot, not Nick, thus putting the $50,000 reward in jeopardy. The sponsor stated that legally, the person on the ticket is the only person permitted to take the shot and therefore, the Smith's may forfeit the reward. The insurance company responsible for the payout is reviewing the case.

Pat Smith, the boys father, said telling the truth was "the right thing to do." WOW! WOW! Pat Smith and his boys are willing to risk $50,000 because the wrong twin took the shot. That, my friends, exemplifies true strength of character in a situation that would be easy to rationalize.

Click here to view the video.

So here are the questions.
Would you tell the truth if it would cost you $50,000.
Should the Smith's be awarded the $50,000 prize?

This father is teaching his children a fantastic lesson. I applaud him for it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Defensive Tactics- Anniversary

One year ago today my first novel, Defensive Tactics, was released by Cedar Fort Publishing. In the past year I have learned a lot and accomplished a number of things.

1- Since then I have written a mid-grade fantasy called Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island that is set to be released in March 2012. Crater Lake is an adventure set at pristine Crater Lake in the Oregon Cascades. When an evil spirit chief causes all the adults at Crater Lake to be sucked into the ground, Ethan must race to free them before their fate is sealed permanently.

2- I am almost finished with the sequel to Defensive Tactics. I hope to be ready to submit for approval and publication within the next month or two. The working title is Mormon Gold. This story follows Jimmy, Paul and Emily on another FBI investigation when kids from a youth group go missing on a church history trek.

There have certainly been some ups and downs. My patience has been tested as I have worked to become a better writer and I learn about the publishing business.

Overall it has been a great year. Everyone always asks how Defensive Tactics is selling and I usually reply "Eh..." Numbers haven't been great but for a first time author with no following, publishing contacts or knowledge of the industry, whose book was accepted and printed within 4 months with no time for advertising or marketing from the publisher, for an author with no understanding of marketing or his role in helping to sell the book, I am very satisfied. I've learned a lot from mistakes I've made that I hopefully will not repeat. I've met TONS of great new authors online who are supportive and have excellent knowledge to share.

I am excited for my next release in March and hope to have a quick release on Mormon Gold shortly after that. This has been a great year and I look forward to increased future sales.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2 Cool Things- Library & Catalog

Caldwell County is a rural Missouri county rich in LDS Church History. In fact, in 1836 the county was created by the MO State Legislature for the sole purpose of LDS settlement. In late 1838 the LDS population was forced from the State by the infamous Extermination Order issued by Governor Lilburn Boggs.

Since then, the County Seat has moved from Far West to Kingston Missouri. The entire county boasts a population of less than 9000 people. Caldwell County is a small, rural, economically challenged county.

Last year, an initiative sprung up to create the first Caldwell County Library.I sent notice via blog posts and email to various writing friends and LdStorymakers requesting book donations for this library. I have been shocked by the positive response. To date I have received @200 LDS authored fiction and non-fiction titles as well as nearly 2000 other books and movies collected and donated by LDS authors. The Library officially opened in July with a large contingent of LDS literature. Very appropriate for a special county like Caldwell County.

Thank you all for your support.

2- Books and Things Catalog: Cedar Fort announced last night at the LDS BA dinner that they are taking over the Books and Things Catalog. The Books and Things catalog is the Independent LDS Bookstore equivalent of the Deseret Book and Seagull Book Catalogs. Over time, Cedar Fort will make adjustments to the catalog as they explore ways to add articles, author profiles and entertainment news to the listings of releases.

This is great news for Cedar Fort authors. I am excited about this new direction for Cedar Fort Marketing and I think Cedar Fort should be commended for the effort. Instead of begging and pleading for Cedar Fort Books to be accepted into the Seagull and Deseret catalogs, Cedar Fort has their own medium for advertising to bookstores. Fantastic!

Way to go Cedar Fort!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Follow Up Questions for Kirt Forakis- Marketing Director At Cedar Fort

I appreciate Kirt taking the time to answer the questions I posted yesterday. As I read and prepared the blog I had a few other questions pop into my mind. I asked Kirt if he would answer my follow up questions and he is gracious to answer.

Steve: How is the marketing budget for a project decided? Is there a standard marketing package or is the marketing plan created for each unique project?

Kirt: Each project is a little unique and and we decide as a team what a budget will be. We don’t focus as much towards “how much,” but rather what types of advertising will work for a particular book. Some books will get a budget that is used towards traditional marketing, but it is not as effective as it once was. We would rather focus time and effort on social media. Authors are able to reach hundreds and thousands of people with little or no money spent. Authors can participate in blog tours and interact with followers through Facebook and other types of social media. Authors should not feel bad if they do not get a budget for traditional marketing. In most cases this just means that we feel an author can reach their audience better through social media and face to face interactions. There will need to be a unique marketing plan for each book as well. The type of book will determine the type of blogs an author will want to engage in and so forth.

Steve: What is your philosophy for expending marketing dollars to get CF books into Deseret Book, Seagull and other catelogs?

Kirt: This is a topic that I have not gotten fully involved with and can get back to you later.

Steve: How does Cedar Fort plan to increase marketing and distribution within large chain stores such as Wal-Mart or Costco from regional to national participation?

Kirt: This falls more on our sales team, however as a marketing department we provide our sales team with ammunition. We need to get our sales team anything that will help get books into those chains. This is why we seek for book reviews, press releases, public relation info and more to support a book. If an author has any info, stats or material to help our sales team, we would like the material sent to us. The authors who put in the time to provide ammunition, such as press releases and developing large followings on social media, have a much better chance getting into large chains and selling well.

Steve: Will the marketing department discuss with the author the plans they have regarding the breadth of marketing? (ie LDS bookstores only, or Regional, or national plans)

Kirt: Most books that are LDS can expect to be more regional. There are some LDS books that have an appeal to a larger audience and sometimes we don’t know that until we see a demand for it. As we work with the authors, we will inform them of our efforts and what direction we are moving for their book.

Steve: A while back Mr. Mortimer stated that Cedar Fort plans to offer advances for books that have national appeal. How does this play into Cedar Fort's marketing strategy?

Kirt: If we have a good notion that a book will have a national appeal, we will focus our efforts a little differently. Again, this comes down to what type of book and the audience. We work as a team to form our plan geared towards each book. Online and social media is already national so we would just need to teak what is being done on it a little. As far as traditional marketing, we will consider our options and where the money will be best spent for an individual book.

Conclusion: Hopefully these posts over the last 2 days has shed a little bit of light on the marketing philosophies and workings within Cedar Fort. These interviews may have raised questions for you personally and I encourage everyone who has questions to work closely with their production team at their publishing house so that you are able to gain knowledge and understanding about the business side of publishing and also to ensure that you are satisfied with the end product. It has been nice getting to know Kirt and I appreciate his time and willingness to participate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Interview with Cedar Fort Marketing Director- Kirt Forakis

I'd like to welcome Kirt Forakis and thank him for taking the time to answer my questions. He is the new Marketing Director for Cedar Fort Publishing and has important insights into the author and publisher relationship regarding marketing. While this information is specific to Cedar Fort, it may also be useful to others of you working with a different publisher.

Steve: Please tell us something you are normally too shy or humble to admit about yourself.

Kirt: I won Utah state champion in physics and represented Utah in Nationals and was on the Deans list almost every semester in college.

Steve: As Marketing Director, how will your marketing experience strengthen Cedar Fort as a publisher?

Kirt: Cedar Fort wants to get more involved with social media and gorilla marketing and I have seen success using both methods. I will help Cedar Fort expand their marketing avenues using proven methods and creative thinking.

Steve: How has your previous experience prepared you for this new role?

Kirt: First, I love marketing and advertising. It is a passion for me and I never stop learning or trying new ideas. Second, I have a lot of experience. I have used almost every advertising method I can find and have used several different ad campaigns and designs. Tracking is also important to me and I have tracked most the campaigns I have run. I have a good idea of what types of advertising tends to work and what does not. I have experience organizing and managing events, giveaways, websites, social media outlets, design teams, customer service, PR and media relations.

Steve: What is your marketing philosophy?

Kirt: In short, marketing needs to generate results and wow your audience. I believe you need to capture the attention of your audience within a few seconds and from there have a call to action that creates a direct response, preferably a purchase. From there, it needs to be as easy as possible to move from the advertisement or media to the decision making and purchasing phase.

Steve: What should writers expect from the publisher in terms of marketing effort?

Kirt: We will be using our experience and creativity to help authors reach their audience and reach their goals. Authors are the best marketing tools and so our goal is to teach them and give them direction in their efforts. We will work with authors throughout the entire process to help create a marketing plan and other materials that will be useful to make their book successful.

Steve: What should the author do personally to market their work?

Kirt: Everything they can! A publisher can only do so much and go so far. The author holds the keys and can make the difference between an average selling book and a top seller. Authors need to finish two important steps for their book to sell well. First, write a great book and second, do a great job marketing it. We will be producing an author training packet that will outline what an author can and should be doing to market their book that will contain details, examples, tips and screen shoots. Again, we will be here to help along the way and get authors started in the right direction.

Steve: What is your vision for marketing LDS based fiction and non-fiction in the LDS community?

Kirt: This will depend on the demographics for the book. There are several ways to market a book and first you start with “who” you are going to market to. Once you know the “who”, then we can plan the “how”. There are several LDS websites, blogs and social media sites that appeal to certain markets and we will find the ones that work for individual books. We already work with some LDS based media and authors are encouraged to find more places to talk about and discuss there books.

Steve: What is your vision for marketing Non LDS based fiction and non-fiction regionally and nationally?

Kirt: Again, this depends on the “who”. We have several media outlets for national and regional, but the genre of the book with direct the process further. For example, we will focus cookbooks to media that involves cooking in general. The author is advised to seek out any form of media related to their book and contact them. Some will request the publisher to contact them and we will contact corporate in such cases. Using marketing material will help your chances of getting on these media outlets such as reviews and press releases. These items should be thought through and included in the marketing plan.

Steve: What should every author understand about the marketing process at Cedar Fort?

Kirt: First, we need to start getting support material such as reviews, press releases, endorsements and so forth. These will be useful for creating buzz and initial sales. It is good to talk with authors over the phone or in person to make sure we understand each other and establish a good working relationship. Second, we will put together a marketing plan that outlines the “who” and the “how” for the book. It will include an outline and details for dates, goals and possibilities that need explored by the authors and by us. Social media will need to be set up and authors will need to be interactive on them to generate followers. The authors will then start plans for a launch event, book signings and interviews. We are here to help. We will work with corporate and other places where an author can get stuck such as Deseret Book and Barnes and Nobel. Training material is being created as fast as we can and will be a valuable resource for authors for a step by step of the marketing process.

Thanks Kirt. I look forward to seeing the Author Training Packet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spurt Writing

I sometimes find that I don't spend the time writing that I ought to. A day will go by and then two. Then a week, three weeks, a month. Yikes. Maybe the rest of you aren't slackers like I am, but time can easy float by without any writing accomplishments. Why is this? I want to write. I like to write. How can I let so much time pass without writing? There are a couple of simple answers.

1- Life is busy. Shocker! It doesn't feel like I have enough time to make meaningful progress on my WIP. I am a slow reader and a slow writer and I need a significant period of time to commit. I can't sit down for 20 minutes and knock out a page on my WIP and then get back to my other activities. It just doesn't work for me.

2- I lose focus and get out of practice. Then I start procrastinating because I know it will take even longer to get into the flow of writing my scene.

3- I don't feel creative. Maybe my creative energies are spread too thin. My well is only so deep and I have already depleted my creative juices at work, church, family etc. Do you ever feel this way?What can we do about it?

Spurt Writing- short writing periods of 5-10 minutes. What are the benefits of Spurt Writing?

1- It is easy to find 5-10 minutes as opposed to a 2 or 3 hour block of time to write. If I don't have enough time to spend on my WIP then I can spend a shorter period of time writing something else. Anything else.

2- It allows me to stay fresh and in practice in organizing my thoughts by observing and describing what I see or feel. Short spurts help me to avoid long writing haituses. Instead of writing on my WIP I can spend 5 minutes describing how to fold a paper airplane out of the brochure on my desk. I can describe the taste of a sour Skittle. I can describe the smell of the berry hand sanitizer that glopped onto my shirt.

3- Writing helps me generate creativity. I often start writing with no clue whatsoever what I want to write. Once I start writing the scene or character takes on a life of its own. If you don't know where to start, begin with a "what if?" senario and see what happens.

As writers we must organize our thoughts and find interesting ways to describe the world we are creating. We can practice this even when we can't write. If there is no keyboard around and you don't want to waste your time scribbling something down because you know you won't be able to read it later, and you haven't had a chance to write today, spend 5 minutes describing OUT LOUD the way your body feels as you're working out. Describe the pain, exhaustian, exhiliration. Describe out loud the way the leaves flutter in the wind or the muggy dampness of the air you're breathing. Speaking often helps me find the proper rhythm.

If you find you are not spending the amount of time writing you would like, start with the short spurt. Take 5 minutes and describe simple things at your home, or in your garden, or thoughts that pop into your mind as you hear a verdict in a high profile murder case, or the emotions you feel when a driver cuts you off in traffic. It can be anything.

For me, this helps. Fine, I don't have time to write a chapter today, or even this week. There's no use beating myself up about it. But maybe something I describe in my Spurt Writing will spark some creativity and find its way into a later work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Happy Gilmore sometimes lacks patience and self-control. When he gets frustrated he punches out game show hosts, throws clubs and attacks alligators but when he needs to focus on an important task like making a winning put, he thinks of his “happy place.” He envisions little people riding stick horses. He lounges on a hammock while his grandmother wins oodles of money at the slot machines. His “happy place” calms him down and helps him focus by regaining a proper perspective about what he wants most.

George Castanza attempted a similar retreat into the happiness of his mind by meditating and calmly saying “serenity now” when he felt distress. He was not quite as successful as Happy. Pity.

As a writer I sometimes feel frustration and perhaps even distress from time to time. Usually, these moments occur as I struggle to remain patient. I have been learning to be more patient with myself as I write and edit, and re-edit and re-edit. Patience is also required during the weeks and even months of waiting during the query process. Then, once the manuscript is accepted it is more waiting, often for a year or longer until the book is released. Although these long, painful delays are a natural part of the writing and publishing process I must remind myself that patience is a necessary attribute for any writer.

The other night we had 2 kids playing in 3 baseball/softball games. My son’s team ended up losing 18-3 but mercifully the game ended early. I watched error after error. I felt like yanking my brain out of my head by the roots of my hair, but instead I sat back, took a deep breath and muttered “serenity now.”

Next I headed over to my daughter’s softball games. This is her first year of softball and the pitchers consistently walk batter after batter, usually allowing the maximum of 6 runs each inning, nearly all runs scored by walks. UGH! Seriously. “SERENITY NOW!”

While I am very proud of my nine year old scoring four times on walks, three hours of watching a double-header gave me a bit of a headache. At moments I sat back and closed my eyes and imagined my “happy place.” I imagined a place where the pitches don’t roll over the plate and the batters occasionally swing. Then I thought of Peanut Butter M&M’s. Mmmm. Then I thought about a plot point in my WIP I’ve been stuck on for a couple of weeks. Then I thought about my hopes for my next release and dreamt about pie in the sky scenarios for wild success. Ahh…”serenity now.”

After calming down I regained perspective on what matters most. I watched and cheered with every new walk and I went crazy every time someone swung the bat. I remembered how thankful I am for my family and the blessing it is to sit in the sun and watch my kids have fun. I reminded myself that proper perspective and patience is critical in every aspect of life. Writing is no different.

Remember, when the agent or publisher has been holding onto your manuscript for three months and you haven’t heard a word from them, “serenity now.” It’s going to be okay. Be patient, go to your “happy place” and keep busy writing on your next WIP. Life is good so don’t stress the wait.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WARNING: This may seem REALLY stupid...but I'm fine with that.

Cedar Fort recently accepted my 2nd novel, Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island and it is set to release in March of 2012. Naturally I'm thrilled. This is a mid-grade fantasy set at Crater Lake in the Oregon Cascade mountains.

I've been thinking about the importance of Crater Lake to my novel. It really couldn't be set any place else. There are so many facinating details about Crater Lake that bring life to the story. Wizard Island really is a small volcano sticking out of the water of the crater which was created by the collapse of a massive volcano 7700 years ago. There really is a rock structure in the lake called the Phantom Ship. There really is a place called Danger Cove. These real settings create a realism within the story that allows me greater latitude in building the mythology of my fantasy world. Without the realism and consistency, even in a fantasy world, the story will fall flat.

I recently went to a wax museum with my family. Yes, it was a little creepy but I found myself evaluating each wax figure for authenticity. I had my picture taken next to Angelina Jolie and Jessica Alba (much to my wife's chagrin) and even through the craftsmanship of the wax figures was impressive, they didn't look real. The figures didn't look right and therefore were not believable. So I had my picture taken next to Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff. Guess what--same problem. But then I got my picture taken next to Danny Devito as the Penguin from Batman. Wow. That was a chilling and believable depiction.

So what does a wax museum have to do with a fantasy world set at Crater Lake? In both cases believability matters...alot. The moment I start pointing out problems with the wax figure or the setting of the novel, the magic is gone. The experience becomes empty as the emotion and awe is stripped away because of imperfections and inconsistencies.

I think of other settings that have captured my imagination and to me they often feel more like a main character than simply a place where the story takes place. I think of Hogwarts with its moving stairs, enchanted pictures and roaming spirits. I think of the vibrant Land of Oz, the Bat Cave and the magical Fablehaven. These settings don't simply allow the action to take place, but they push the conflict and action forward. They are not merely the backdrop, they are dead center in the story. Hopefully Crater Lake will be center stage as well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Retirement Quest Website

The state of today’s economy is insecure, causing concern in many people and fear in many others. It used to be that we relied on our retirement income to see us through our golden years, but we now have to face the reality that we must take action to ensure our well-being in the future. How do we go about this? What steps do we take, where do we go, how do we know we’re doing it right?

Financial advisor John Hauserman, CFP®, has created a no-cost website as a tool for you to use on your financial journey. This site features the amazing Planning Map, designed to help you think like a financial planner. You can begin by setting up an account at no charge, complete with your zip code which will enable you to save your progress, but your information will never be sold or given away to any outside party. Or, if you prefer, simply skip registration with a single click. As you chart out your financial situation, you will never be asked for account numbers or personal information.

As you go through and create your personal profile, you’ll feel in control of your future—a sense of freedom and independence that perhaps has been missing since the economy went downhill. You will get the tools you need to help:
1. View the financial planning process from the eyes of a CFP® professional in a user-friendly format that most find easy to understand
2. Get the whole story on various investment products, not just “the good stuff” that financial (snake oil?) sales folks talk about
3. Find useful links to government and other helpful websites
4. Identify if a financial advisor has been thorough in their duties
5. Identify and avoid fraudulent advisors
6. Make better financial decisions

You’re invited to stop by the RetirementQuest® website and see for yourself if this is a tool you can use. Again, it’s no cost, and all you have to lose is your financial stress. Those who take action now will find themselves in a much better place later—why delay your future security? Plan ahead and be prepared.

Securities and advisory services are offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, member FINRA/SIPC. A Registered Investment Advisor.

Check out the website and let me know what you think.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Trained By An Apostle

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a training meeting presided over by Elder Russell M. Nelson. Also in attendance were Elder L. Whitney Clayton, Presidency of the Seventy, Elder LeGrand R Curtis Jr, 1st Quorum of Seventy and Elder Deschler, Area Authority Seventy. David Burton, Presiding Bishop had intended on atttending but did not make the trip. Also in attendance were the Independence Missouri Mission President Van Komen and the St. Louis Temple President, Oscarson.

This training was similar to Stake Priesthood Leadership Trainings I've attended in the past with a couple of differences. 1- The trainers were all General Authorities and 2- All attendees were members of Stake Presidencies or Bishops. Approximately 151 Bishops and Stake Presidencies from 11 Stakes were in attendance.

You will not be surprised to hear that the training was a spiritual feast. I was able to meet and be interviewed by Elder Nelson about 1 1/2 years ago when our Stake Presidency was reorganized. You can read about that great experience here. I want to share just a couple of small tidbits.

1- The very first thing he said when he spoke was "Thank you for marrying the girls you married." It was a wonderful expression of love for the women in our lives that make our service possible. Without them we would be unable to serve in the way our Heavenly Father desires us to serve.

2- He trained about being watchmen on the tower, protecting the vinyard and the need to keep balance. We must keep balance in our lives (work, church, family), balance in our time managing the separate affairs of Wards and Stakes and balance in teaching all doctrines of the church.

3- He taught that in counseling with individuals we will spend less time and be more effective if we focus on teaching doctrine to the individual instead of focusing on behavioral changes. This seems obvious in many ways but a very important concept.

4- Elder Claytons spent a good deal of time training from Handbook 2, especially the sections on Melchezidek Priesthood and Quorums.

5- Elder Curtis spoke about the Parable of the Pearl of Great price and the need to remain focused on the Pearl instead of the beautiful box that holds the pearl. We discussed various representations of the pearl and the box.

6- Elder Deschler taught about never comprimising the time required for personal scripture study and prayer. These are a priority. He also spoke about strengthening and empowering Elders Quorum Presidents and High Priest Group Leaders.

7- In response to a question Elder Nelson stated that the church will not equalize Mission expenses for senior couples the way they do other missionary service, but they will begin capping the expense paid by the individual for housing. Any housing expense over $1400 per month will be subsidized through the Church Mission Fund.

8- The purpose of the meeting- We have a Temple that will be dedicated in Liberty by next spring. I expected this meeting would have something to do with the dedication, but it wasn't even mentioned. Elder Nelson stated that these types of meetings will be held in an effort for the Quorum of 12 Apostles to be more visible and have the opportunity to meet more of the Stake and Ward leaders.

This training was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was truly amazing how fast 4 hours flew by.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Word Abuse

I have been reediting a manuscript over the past couple of days and I came across many words that I abuse WAY too often. What are these words? Let me tell you.

1st- Just about anything that ends in "ly" but even more specifically...

Words of timing- finally, immediately, suddenly, quickly, instantly, occassionally
(These are some of the most overused words of all time- it seems everything happens "suddenly"- especially during intense scenes)

Words that soften absolutes- nearly, only, merely, simply, really, definitely, just, almost
(Instead of saying his heart stopped with fear I soften it by saying something like, "his heart nearly stopped with fear")

Words of sequence- continue, began, started
(Instead of saying someone did something, I tend to say they "continued" to do something, or "began" doing something. This often weakens the sentence)

Words that show emotion or repetitive actions- smile, grin, look, glance, nod, move, breath, sighed
(I tend to write giving screen directions as if directing a film. I don't need to tell the reader every time the character gives a lopsided grin or sigh.)

Was- This is a category in a class of its own. "Was" tells the reader about something instead of showing. We want the reader to be involved. We want them to feel like they are there, seeing and feeling the action, not being told second hand. Be very cautious of "was".

Repetition in writing causes boredom for the reader and it is often a sign of laziness on the part of the author. It lacks creativity. Of course many of these words will be used at multiple points in a manuscript but we should be cautious not to over use. If you fear you may be using words too often perform a simple test.

Go into the edit function of Microsoft Word and click on FIND. Enter whatever word you want to search or even letters you want to search like "ly" and it will autimatically move you from one "ly" word to the next and you can then decide if you are overusing. I found that I needed to delete at least half of my "ly" adverbs and adjectives and I don't think I'm alone in this. Many times a simple deletion did the trick, but other times I was forced to rewrite the entire sentence, which made it stronger. The edit featuer is fantastic. Don't be afraid to use it.

The words you abuse may be different than mine. Be sure to keep a watchful eye.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island

I am happy to announce that I have a contract with Cedar Fort for my next novel, Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island.

Crater Lake is an absolutely gorgeous and mystical setting for this mid-grade fantasy. Many people know the beauty on the surface of Crater Lake but they don't know the evil that exists beneath. They don't know about the dangers of Wizard Island or the curse of the Phantom Ship. Ethan and his friends are about to find out the hard way.

Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island is a fun mix of adventure and fantasy with some scary stuff mixed in.

Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island will likely be released in the spring of 2012.

Here is a brief synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Ethan has just one goal: rescue his parents from the earthen prison that devoured them. Simple. While visiting his crazy Uncle Bart at Crater Lake National Park, Ethan’s world collapses like the once majestic Mt. Mazama. All that remains of Mt. Mazama is Crater Lake—and a colony hidden beneath. All that remains of Ethan’s family is his bratty sister and the hope of a happy reunion.

When Chief Llao causes the earth to swallow all the adults at Crater Lake National Park, Ethan will do anything to rescue his parents, even if it means helping Chief Llao and his people escape from the detention beneath the lake. Ethan must decipher the legends of Crater Lake and rally his friends to find the key to the Prison of the Lost, figure out how it works and free his parents before their captivity becomes permanent.

Sign up to follow my blog for updates on book production or follow my Crater Lake Blog Here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The First Five Pages

Agents and publishers receive thousands of submissions from authors who have spent months and even years writing their masterpiece. With each new submission the pile on their desk grows into a mountain, out of which they must mine the shining gems.

Agents and publishers simply don't have the ability to read every submission in its entirety. The mountain is too high and their time is limited. They will read through a query or maybe a chapter, but even more likely they will only read the first paragraph or the first few pages to get a feel for the writing to see if they want to continue reading.

As a newby writer I've been surprised to see a number of blog contests judged by agents. Some contests are based on the first page, one was based on the first paragraph and one on the first line. Can a trained eye really spot potential in just a page, paragraph or sentence. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. But regardless, most of the time that's all the opportunity we get.

What does this mean for a writer? It means we need to have our work pop out of this mountain of paper and shine from the first sentence, paragraph, page and chapter. If that catches a publisher or agents attention they will continue reading. Check out a short post on writing The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide to Staying Out Of The Rejection Pile on my blog. After reading this book I refocused my attention on my first five pages, looking at it from the perspective of an agent or publisher who may be weary of mining and simply trying to find a good reason to reject the manuscript. Every author needs to view their own work with a critical eye to polish the gem to a shiny gloss.

I recently had an opportunity to be one of many judges on a first chapter contest. I had a wonderful time reading the entries and evaluating the chapters. In almost every case, I could tell after the first paragraph or page which chapters should be taken seriously and which chapters I would need to struggle through. Is it fair to make such quick judgements? Yes.

Remember, the mountain of manuscripts agents and publishers read through is huge. We need to polish our gem and then present it to them, hoping our story fits their publishing needs. As I read these chapters I found myself wishing that the writers had spent more time polishing the grammar, working through holes in the plot and finding consistency in their voice. I wished the conceptual framework had been flushed out better and that the story and writing required me to keep reading, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. The fun part was finding the stories that did just that, and there were many.

While I was in school I often had the dream that I showed up to class only to discover I had a huge assignment due or a major test I knew nothing about. I didn't know what was expected and therefore I wasn't prepared to succeed. It is critical that we know what is expected and have the tools we need to be successful. I recently wrote about the Enjoyment Factor which helped me to judge Whitney nominations. I'd also like to share some criteria from judging first chapters. Though I didn't develop these first chapter criteria I'd like to share a couple of the categories. It's like being told what will be on the test so we can properly prepare.

The Hook: Does the story pull the reader in and hold their interest? (Immediately)

Conflict: What is at stake in the story and how is tension used? (Conflict drives the story- does it matter and do we care?)

Characters: Are these compelling, real people whom the reader cares about? (Is their dialogue believable?)

Setting & Mood: Does the story make the reader feel like they are really there? (utilize sense of touch, smell, sight, taste, emotion. Use detail to bring the setting alive but don't over do it)

Pace and Style: How well does the writer use words to move the story along? (Is it quirky and sarcastic or dark and forboding? Is there sufficient conflict to move the story forward?)

Resolution/Read-on Prompts: Does the reader want to keep reading? (Conflict creates a need for the reader to continue as they seek resolution- utilize read-on prompts at the end of paragraphs, pages and chapters)

Mechanics: grammar, spelling, etc. (Be sure to follow defined formatting guidelines)

Overall Enjoyment: Was this a story you’d recommend to others? (Be honest)

I strongly recommend The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. It offers fantastic, real life examples, tangible suggestions and guidelines that will help you polish your work.

Question: When you read a book for enjoyment, how many pages do you read before deciding whether or not the book is worth your time? 5 pages? 10 pages? 50 pages? 100?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't Sign A Rotton Contract

Click here to read a great post about publishing contracts. I'm linkin my blog to it so I always have easy access. It's good stuff. Pay special attention to "minimum wage for authors."

Thanks to the Passive Guy for posting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Power of A Title

What does a title say about your work? I don’t know about you, but sometimes I cringe and shield my eyes with embarrassment when I see a ridiculous title. It’s kind of sad, really. As writers we can spend months or even years writing a wonderful story that becomes our baby and then the baby is beaten over the head with the ugly stick of a bad title.

Am I the only one who sees this? I don’t think so.

A title is often a reader or viewers first impression of a book or movie. They make their first decision about the worthiness of the work by hearing the title. If the title seems reasonable and interesting they may look at the cover. If the cover is attractive they may read the blurb on the back and if the blurb intrigues them they may thumb through and read a couple of sample pages to get a feel for the writing. If I’m right in believing that a good title can help a work in reaching the right audience, a BAD title can really hinder the success of a book or movie when it screams to the audience “I’m not worthy of your time,” or “I’m too stupid for you to bother with.”

What should a title tell the audience about the book or movie?

1- It may hint at an important thematic element
2- It may introduce the audience to a main character
3- It may give a peek into the story
4- It may clue the audience to the genre, style and tone
5- It may provide mystery and intrigue

Lets look at a few examples of good and bad titles in movies and literature.

Cowboys and Aliens- Okay, they lost me already, but the good news is the title gives a clear image of what the movie is supposed to be. It clues the audience in to the genre and style. So why is it bad? Because it sounds ridiculous, in my humble opinion. The movie may have some redeeming qualities but I am not willing to give it a shot. Someone, somewhere must feel different. I just haven’t met that person yet.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed up Zombies- Attack of the Killer Tomatos- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies- etc. etc. See my comments for Cowboys and Aliens. These titles are BAD and they tell me that the movie or book is also BAD. But at least they’re honest. They are not pretending to be something they’re not so the audience can go into the experience with their eyes wide open.

Pooh Gets Stuck and Cooking with Pooh- These are BAD titles because…do I seriously have to explain it? Maybe my middle schooler is rubbing off on me but come on. Many titles with “Pooh” in the title are going to seem a bit…funny. Future titles such as, Tigger Plays with Pooh and Pooh Runs would be just as bad. Sorry for the gross out. The good thing about these titles is it clues the audience into the genre and introduces the main character. And though I‘ve never read it, I suspect Cooking with Pooh is about…cooking. I like knowing what I’m going to get.

Water For Elephants is another title I absolutely hate but it does manage to accomplish at least part of what it intends. To me the title sounds kind of artsy so if it is appealing to the artsy crowd—Mission Accomplished. An alternate title might have been Carnie Love. Carnie Love tells me a little more about what the story is about, but would misinform me about the tone and genre of book/movie. If I saw Carnie Love on the Marquee I would expect something with Adam Sandler, not a dramatic love story.

Here are a couple of my other favorites, just for fun.

I’m Gonna Get You Sucka! – What assumptions do you make from this title?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer- This introduces us to the main character, explains the genre, style and tone of the movie, and tells us what the movie is about.

So while many of these titles are a bit silly or painful, they may not actually be as bad as we think at first glance. I actually appreciate the honesty and creativity of these titles. I doubt anyone who does a Google, Amazon or Goodreads search of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies, will find multiple books or movies using the same title. I personally prefer a more concise, pithy title, but to each his own.

Check out my blog for some of my favorite movies with titles I love.

What is my point to all of this? Simple. Take the time to create a memorable title that informs the reader in some meaningful way. Come up with an entire list of titles. Chances are pretty good your publisher won’t LOVE the working title of your novel. Spend the time to come up with alternatives. If you don’t, they will. It’s a little strange to me that a writer may spend months or even years writing their book but only give the title secondary thought.

A title does matter. It can be powerful, serious or funny, mysterious or foreboding. Give your choice of title its proper attention and choose multiple titles that fit your work. Make sure you love them and then submit them to the publisher. Maybe the publisher will still edit your title, but don’t shortchange yourself by failing to give your title its proper attention and abdicate the naming of your work to someone else.

What do you think? I would love to hear your comments about the titles you hate.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Autism Awareness- Guest Blogger Danyelle Ferguson

Filling the Spiritual Cup for People with Autism and Their Families
By Danyelle Ferguson

April is Autism Awareness month. Throughout the month we hear a lot about signs to look for, the stress of raising a child with autism, and even about legislature bills and hope for a cure. But one area that hasn’t been discussed is how to help individuals with autism and their families be a part of their church congregation.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to regularly attend church with a child who has behavioral, sensory, and transition issues. For a good eight years, my son couldn’t handle the lights in our chapel, the echoes from the microphone system, or the crowds of people. During the majority of those eight years, my husband and I took turns staying home with our son during the larger congregational meeting, then going with him to attend his Sunday school classes. We were lucky to have people in our congregation who worked in special education. They volunteered to help our son understand the church routine and adapt lessons so he would understand the teachings. But most church leaders are overwhelmed and unsure how to serve and help families with special needs.

Today, I’d like to share a few tips for church leaders and congregation members to help individuals with autism, as well as some ideas of how to support the whole family.

1. Ask if the child with autism is using any techniques at school to understand his schedule. Many children with special needs use a picture system or a written detailed daily calendar so they know what to expect. If there is something the child is using successfully at school, then take that concept and use it at church too. Many school teachers are happy to provide any special instructions that may be needed to create the schedule.

2. Find out about the child’s interests, hobbies, and strengths. Then become his friend. Talk to him about the things he’s interested in. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to express gospel teachings. For example, if a little boy loves to play Mario video games, then talk to him about how Mario is a good friend to Luigi. Then reinforce that concept with how Jesus wants us to be good friends with everyone. If the little boy asks if Jesus loves Mario, then say yes. To that little guy, Mario is just as real as you are. Be willing to enter the child’s world and share your teachings in a different way that is appealing to him. He’ll not only remember what you taught him, but he’ll also start to seek you out because he enjoys talking to you.

3. Take the time to figure out how you can help the parents refill their cups each week. Give them an opportunity to take a break and attend their Sunday school classes. When parents have the opportunity to decompress and enjoy church services, then they are much happier in their lives all around. They are better parents, better spouses, and have more patience to take on the challenges that await them during the upcoming week.

4. If the child with special needs has a difficult time during the larger congregational meeting, then friends could ask to take the child for a walk in the halls. If you often sit near this family each week, you could bring a few quiet items in your bag that this family’s kids would enjoy. If the parents need to go out with cranky kids or diaper changes, you could offer to sit with their other children. It’s often little things that make a huge difference. I often felt like our family was the misfit family of the congregation. It was other families who showed us a bit of extra love who helped me feel welcome and accepted at church.

5. Pray for the family and let the family know that you are praying for them. The power of prayer combined with the knowledge that others are praying for you is powerful. Answers and miracles come through prayer. Be specific in your prayers . . . and also be willing to listen for promptings to follow when they are given as well.

There are a million other things I’d love to share with you as well. This is just the tip of the “advice” mountain. Overall, what I feel the most important thing a church leader can do for anyone living with autism (or any other special needs) is to genuinely be interested in them and show love through friendship and service. Do as the Savior taught and “Love One Another”.

Danyelle Ferguson is the author of (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ. She enjoys helping others along the journey of special needs through parent support group presentation, church program trainings, and answering emails from her readers. You can find out more about Danyelle on her website:

Give Back to Your CommunityIn conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, Danyelle is donating 1 copy of her book, (dis)Abilities and the Gospel, to a church, charity or library, for every 10 book orders she receives through her website. For more information, visit her website:

*I'd like to thank Danyelle for sharing these tips with us about Autism Awareness and how a church family can assist and teach children with special needs. Check out her website for details on her new book (dis)Abilities and the Gospel: How to Bring People with Special Needs Closer to Christ.