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.