Thursday, February 24, 2011

Defensive Tactics- Review by Mary Walling

Check out Mary's review of DEFENSIVE TACTICS. I appreciate her taking the time to write this. Here are a couple of my favorite lines from her review.

"In this suspense filled novel, you will meet a cast of characters that you will either love or dislike. They will make you laugh, bring a tear to your eye or make you angry."

"Once I was able to sit down and give the book my complete attention, I could not put it down. I finished it in 2 nights and would recommend it to everyone who enjoys a good suspense filled book."

Thanks Mary. Read the full review on her BLOG.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mafia to Mormon

I recently read Mario Facione's book, Mafia to Mormon: My Conversion Story, and I was blown away. Written by a man who was functionally illiterate into his middle-age, this story proves the loving care and watchful eye of our Father in Heaven over each of His children. He knows and loves each of us, even when we stray. The eye of the Shepherd is upon us, yearning for the day that we return to him.

In Mr. Facione's case, he didn't stray off the path, he was never on it--until a miraculous set of circumstances forced him to evaluate his life and what he really wanted.

Maybe others have wondered as I did in my youth why some men and women seem to have been granted a special opportunity to repent and return to the loving arms of the Savior. I think of Saul who persecuted the Apostles before seeing an angel and I think of Alma the Younger who experienced a similar miracle while actively seeking to destroy the church. Is it that these individuals were foreordained to do a special work? Or maybe, like in Alma's case, he had the powerful prayers of his prophet father pleading for him? The truth is, we have all been granted the miraculous opportunity to repent and come unto the Savior. That is what the atonement is all about.

Mario is the son of Italian Immigrants and the only thing he knew about religion growing up is that when someone dies, you put on a suit. When someone gets married, you put on a suit. He didn't grow up with a religious background. His father wasn't a prophet, in fact his family had ties to organized crime in Detroit, but like Alma, and Saul, and each and every one of us, our Father had a plan for Mario.

Even though he was associated with the Italian Mafia and was not seeking religion, our Father reached out to Mario and provided him with a portion of his spirit so that Mario could feel what he was missing, and see the path to eternal life.

I'm not going to tell you Mario's story here, because that would deprive you of reading it for yourself. But I will say that it is inspiring to know that each and every one of us can change, if we have the vision to know what we truly want and need, and if we know to what source we should look for a remission of our sins. This vision and understanding comes to each of us through the Holy Spirit.

My publisher, Cedar Fort, also published Mafia to Mormon. They were kind enough to seek out Mario and request authorization to give me his contact information. I am grateful to them for the effort and thankful for Mario taking so much of his time to talk to me as I asked him a number of questions. The man is leading an interesting life and is kind and generous. I could tell by speaking with him that he is truly converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and will do anything required to be a true follower of Christ.

From a life of organized crime to a life serving in the temple, teaching his family the gospel, watching his sons serve missions and experiencing his children being sealed in the Holy Temple, Mario's life today is worlds apart from the life of his youth. We are all capable of this kind of change, and even if our change of lifestyle is not as drastic as Mario Facione's, we all must be willing to give up whatever prevents us from being a true disciple of Christ. We all have just as much need for the atonement of Christ in our lives.

I hope you take an opportunity to find this book and read it. It is short and intriguing and well worth your time.

You can buy Mafia to Mormon here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Writing Anarchist- Rules and the Power of Suggestion

I suspect many people will disagree with the concept of this post. I welcome the disagreement, or I should say, I welcome the dialogue. Sometimes all it takes is a question or a challenge to get our juices flowing and we find that we are more passionate about a subject than we even realize. I hope that is the case with the questions I pose today.

Lately I’ve been pondering the rules and qualities that define good writing. Or more to the point, what makes one book better than another. I am reading a LOT right now, much more than usual, as I prepare to cast a somewhat informed vote for the Whitney Awards. I have heard some wonder if there are certain criteria we should all consider in judging. I’ve heard responses both for and against the use of a uniform evaluation form. Unfortunately, as yet I have come up with few conclusions but many questions.

I would like to ask a series of questions and get responses from the readers.

1- Are there certain norms and rules that fiction writing should follow to be considered worthy of accolades and general acceptance? Are these norms and rules the same today as they were twenty or fifty, one hundred or two hundred years ago? Why or why not?

2- Why do we accept certain rules and norms? Do we do it because a teacher or mentor told us we should and we want to sound smart or are there hard and fast rules about what defines quality in writing?

3- Are there generally accepted rules we question but follow in an attempt to go with the flow in appeasing the gatekeepers?

4- Does the average reader care about following the rules of grammar, punctuation and point of view or are they in it for the story and characters?

5- What is most important to assessing the quality of a book: Story, technical skill or conveyance of emotion?

6- How do we obtain the best writing education? Continual reading to discover what we like and how we can emulate it? Classes that teach classic technique or writing conferences where experts and peers share their wisdom? Practice?

7- Is writing merely popular art that changes to meet the expectations of the audience? Or does the audience change as it becomes accustomed to the changes in art?

8- Which artist produced higher quality work—Picasso or Monet? Faulkner or King?

9- Are the differences between these authors and artists only stylistic or do they adhere to some different rules?

10- Are there some rules that should NEVER be broken if a writer wants to be taken seriously?

Am I a writing anarchist for questioning the value and method of how we arrive at our writing rules and norms, or am I merely an ill informed schmutz? Be honest. I can take it.

Like many readers I know what I like when I read it. I also know what I don’t like. I recently started reading a book and WOW…it is really bad. But I wonder how much of my taste is based on the rules I’ve been taught and the norms of the culture in which I live, instead of an acceptance or disapproval based on pure truth, innate quality and superior writing? Do I value what I’ve been trained to value?

In considering Whitney finalists I will suggest only one conclusion. I will vote for the books I enjoy. I will vote for the stories and characters I love and the themes and style that make me feel something. I’m not smart enough to evaluate in any other way. Am I wrong?

Please choose a question to answer. Don’t worry about being right or wrong or looking foolish. I think I’ve already established I’m the biggest fool here so just tell me what you think. Hopefully we can learn together.

FYI- I have developed a simple worksheet I use when evaluating my Enjoyment Factor of a book I am judging. Check out my Enjoyment Factor Worksheet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Enjoyment Factor

The Whitney Awards reward excellence in writing by LDS authors and are announced at the annual Whitney Awards Banquet in May. I enjoy the opportunity to support LDS authors who provide quality, clean reading.

This is a VERY simple Enjoyment Factor Worksheet I complete within a few days of finishing a Whitney Finalist book. The higher the score = the higher the enjoyment factor and rating for the book within a particular genre. I then compare to the other books in the genre. If I have a violent reaction to the results of the Enjoyment Factor Score I go with my gut. Facing the reality of a decision provides clarity, but this is a starting point to help me come to a reasonable decision.

Circle the number that best describes the level of agreement with the statement. One is the lowest and five is the highest level of agreement.

1- The story is original and engaging

1 2 3 4 5

2- I got lost in the storybook world

1 2 3 4 5

3- The story compelled me to continue reading

1 2 3 4 5

4- I care about the characters and they seem real to me

1 2 3 4 5

5- I gained greater insight into myself or others through the character development

1 2 3 4 5

6- The pacing, plot development and conclusions are reasonable and entertaining

1 2 3 4 5

7- The writing enhanced the story and did not distract

1 2 3 4 5

8- The story has value beyond pure entertainment

1 2 3 4 5

9- I experienced an emotional response to the story and characters and I found myself thinking about the book after I finished

1 2 3 4 5

10- I would enthusiastically recommend this book to intelligent friends and family

1 2 3 4 5

How do you calculate your Enjoyment Factor?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Female Characters We Love to Love

I find myself constantly evaluating characters in books, on TV and in the movies. What makes them interesting and loveable. Sometimes we love to hate them--Why? Sometimes we cheer for them and become so emotionally involved with these fictional characters that they feel like a friend. Okay, maybe I'm starting to sound a little pathetic, but isn't it true?

I recently wrote a post about the character of Mattie Ross from True Grit so today I thought I would mention a couple of my other recent favorites female characters.

1- Catniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games Trilogy. Big surprise.

In a nutshell--Catniss is young, strong, loyal, mentally tough, resourceful, conflicted emotionally, skilled, dangerous. She faces incredible danger and unfair circumstances but is victorious because of her inner strength. She is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. She can be emotionally cold and morally ambivilant but that just gives her texture and makes her feel more real.

2- Veronica Mars from the TV show. Who? I said, VERONICA MARS. Cool name and a cool girl.

Like Catniss, she is young and headstrong. She is witty and cute. She's an intelligent private investigator (even in high school) who is able to manipulate adults and fellow students to get the answers she needs in bringing justice to the world. She follows her own moral compass which may not always line up with yours or mine but she is consistent and true to herself. She's the kind of friend you want when you get into a jam because she will find a way to solve your problems and make you look like a superstar.

Mattie Ross, Catniss Everdeen and Veronica Mars. Strength, loyalty, intelligence, honesty, resourcefulness are all inspiring characteristics.

Do you have a favorite female character? What makes her interesting?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Character Assassination- Why?

I saw the Coen Brothers adaptation of True Grit this past weekend. I have not read the book and I haven't seen the original movie for which John Wayne won his only Oscar, so I watched this movie with fresh eyes--no expectations, no pre-conceived notions and no grudges about Jeff Bridges repalacing John Wayne. I didn't care about any of that.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. The story was compelling and the acting was strong, but by far, what I loved most about this movie was the main female character, Mattie Ross.

Mattie is a fourteen year old girl with just one goal--find the man who murdered her father and make him pay. With her quick wit and overpowering intellect, she negotiates with the town locals to earn enough money to hire a Marshall to track her father's killer and bring him to justice. Her tongue is sharp and she is dogged in her determination. Watching Mattie interract with the adults who underestimated her was fun and inspiring. The strength of Mattie's character and the way she wins over the gruff Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, carries the film. I cared about the movie, because I cared about Mattie.

Don't worry, I'm not going to be a spoiler here, but let me just say that there are some wonderful scenes where the action climaxes, leading to an emotional payoff. If the movie would have ended after these scenes I would have been pleased. Unfotunately, in an eplilogue scene that occurs decades later, I am shown the grown up version of Mattie, but this time I don't like her.

In the final few minutes of the film Mattie has become a hard, crotchety old-maid. I expected more for Mattie. I wanted to remember Mattie as the likeable, sharp-witted, bright and resourceful young lady she was on the adventure. I wanted more for her life and if the movie had ended three minutes earlier I could have left the theater feeling good. Instead, everything the movie had accomplished was undone with the epilogue. What a let down. Mattie's likeable character was assassinated and therefore my interest in the movie also died.

I ask myself "What's the point?" Are we supposed to learn that Mattie was changed forever because of her quest to bring her father's killer to justice? Okay. Fine I guess. Should I discover that there are natural consequences, both known and unknown, to all of our actions? Maybe. But don't kill the character I like. Again, I don't care about the lesson I'm supposed to learn if I feel that the person teaching the lesson has just pulled the carpet from beneath my feet.

This movie brought two main thoughts to my mind.

1- Trust is hard to earn but easy to destroy (even for readers and viewers)
2- No one will care about the story, if they don't first care about the character

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Publisher Interview- Lyle Mortimer of Cedar Fort

Authors write with the dream and hope of having their work published but the dream is often more challenging than expected. Until I published my first novel, Defensive Tactics, I had ZERO understanding of the publishing business and I had NO idea how competitive the market is. In many ways the publisher is the gate keeper, determining what work is given an audience. Are these determinations made based on personal preference? In some ways, sure. But ultimately publishing is a business and the publisher is in business to make money. Makes sense right. Today I have the opportunity to post my interview with CFI Publisher, Lyle Mortimer. I hope this interview can add insight and a touch of understanding for the aspiring author. I appreciate Mr. Mortimer taking the time to answer many of my questions.
Steve: How did you break into the market as an LDS Publisher?
Mr. Mortimer: Very interesting that you should use the words "break in." It kind of intimates a huge breakthrough or some immediate happening.
I've been working in the LDS market for 30 years. After working for a publishing company for six years, I gathered up some pieces of a publishing company and started Cedar Fort, Inc.
Steve: What are the most significant changes to the LDS market in the past ten years?
Mr. Mortimer: The changes that have shaped the market place are the acquisitions of independent publishers by Deseret Book. These include Bookcraft, Excel, Covenant and Seagull as well as many independent LDS stores. During this same period the marketplace has been difficult for independents. In 2006, the number of independents reduced by half.
Steve: Cedar Fort is known for its eye-catching covers and I notice that you do some of the cover designs yourself. Did you receive formal training for this?
Mr. Mortimer: I started doing cover designs in 1988. My design training came from the theatre field and general education in the arts. Computer design did not develop until some years after that when formal training was not available. We took the new technologies and ran with them. We were the first publishing company in Utah, perhaps the nation, to typeset a book on a Macintosh. We were among the first to use computer-aided design as desktop publishing advanced.
Steve: What do you find most rewarding about being a publisher?
Mr. Mortimer: There is nothing more exciting than finding and developing a new author. Our most prolific author has been very loyal to us and his publishing career has been very rewarding for both of us.
Steve: What is the most challenging?
Mr. Mortimer: The most challenging part of publishing is developing business models that work in such a complicated business.
Steve: Would you like to share any goals Cedar Fort has identified for the next 2-3 years?
Mr. Mortimer: Our primary goals for the next ten years are to enhance the careers of established authors. As we review the previous decade we have grown by 6.1 times. We have had an average growth rate of 22% annually. We would like to continue that for the next decade.
Steve: How are e-books changing the landscape in the publishing world (in general) and with Cedar Fort (specifically)?
Mr. Mortimer: E-books will continue to develop and influence the marketplace. In today's world there will always be a place for companies, which can establish relavence. We are gearing all of our future toward those subjects, which have the most relevance to the largest market possible.
Steve: Will CFI consider acquisitions in e-book format only?
Mr. Mortimer: We cannot forsee e-book only releases because we cannot forsee the technology of e-readers. It could be that the technology exists in the next five years.
Steve: Does CFI plan to break into the national market with clean, non-LDS centered fiction?
Mr. Mortimer: CFI did break into the market with LDS oriented fiction a year and a half ago. We intend to continue releases to the national market by nationally recognized authors with LDS background or themes.
Steve: How would you describe the relationship between CFI and the other LDS publishers?
Mr. Mortimer: As individuals working in different companies we are friends, but the companies themselves have no relationship.
Steve: CFI is very good about giving unknown authors a shot at having their work published. Personally, I really appreciate the opportunity. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Mr. Mortimer: As mentioned above in CFI's goals, authors must develop relevance. If they have relevance, they will establish an audience. An audience is a market, which results in success if it is large enough.
Steve: What would you most like authors to understand about the publishing industry and Cedar Fort?
Mr. Mortimer: Publishing is a very complicated business and extremely risky. My primary job is to manage risk. The better we manage risk as a company, the more successful we are. With 30 years experience as one of the most solid and fastest growing publishers in the nation, we have a point of view that often doesn't align with the authors way of thinking.
Steve's Closing Thoughts:
I think when we as authors understand that publishing is a business and that we are creating a product for that business to sell, we are better able to understand our role as a partner with the publisher. Every author is different and so is every publisher. For me, understanding this helps me to not take rejection personally. Not only do we need to offer a high quality product to sell, but our manuscripts also needs to be the right product at the right time for our business partner, the publisher.
For example, right now I am trying to find a publisher for my mid-grade fantasy, Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island. It has been a frustrating process because I have received so many rejections from Publishers and Agents. It's hard because I feel that the writing is stronger than my first novel and the story is exciting, BUT, yeah the big BUT, until I can find a match for the product and the publisher, it will remain in my computer where only I and my family can read it. It's nothing personal, just business.
One last note- I want to extend a hearty CONGRATULATIONS to our very own Rachael Renee Anderson as a Whitney Awards finalist. And Congrats to all finalists. I aspire to join you one day. Well done everyone!