Thursday, December 1, 2011

Progress! And the Storymakers Conference!

I had an exciting moment this morning. When I stepped on the scale, my weight had hit a new low. Hooray! (When I say new low, I mean new low for my current life--as in I now weigh about what I did twenty years ago . . . when I was nine months pregnant with my first daughter. Yeah . . . I've changed a little since then, huh?) This is great progress for me, and I'm very excited about it. I've lost eighteen pounds since this summer. I want to hit my goal weight by the beginning of May. And no, I won't worry if December is a bit slow on the weight-loss front or even involves some backsliding, what with Christmas and all. Mmm, treats. I'm hoping to reach my goal weight by the beginning of May--hoping to fit into that red dress for the Whitney gala--so I have five more months to go.

Speaking of which, today is the day that registration opens for the LDStorymakers Writers Conference 2012. Yay! Attendance is capped at 450 people per day this year, so if you're interested in going, make sure to register fast (I got word this morning that one of the agent's pitch sessions was already full--the conference organizers were going to see if they could add more sessions, but right now, there's a waiting list for that agent). I am SO excited for the Storymakers Conference. I absolutely love it--it's an excellent conference and it is so fun to hang out with a bunch of writers. Are you planning to attend the conference? Have you registered? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Meow of Change

I’m on an emotional rollercoaster.

We now have a cat. This may not seem like emotional-rollercoaster material to most people, but it’s big to me. See, here’s the thing. I have never been a pet person. I think pets are great for other people. Pets are cute and all, and I understand that they make great companions. I don’t hate animals or anything—I just didn’t want one of my own. If your cat or dog comes to me, I’ll probably talk to it and pet it nicely, then wash my hands when I get home—I’m a bit OCD about animals.

In addition to the OCD thing, I didn’t grow up with pets. My family started adopting cats about the time I went off to college, so I did live with a cat for a couple of summers, but never had much to do with it and I wasn't the person who took care of it. And since reaching adulthood, I simply have never wanted a pet. And when I say “never wanted a pet,” what I mean is I NEVER WANTED A PET (note the all-caps. I’ve learned on the Internet that all-caps are GOOD FOR EMPHASIS). I didn’t want to care for a pet, didn’t feel any lack for not having a dog or cat around, didn’t want the responsibility. We did end up with a couple of pets despite my antipathy—we currently have a frog that my daughter brought home from biology class in high school, and a hermit crab that is very likely undead (the zombie apocalypse starts HERE!). But a cat or dog was completely out of the question. I’d tell my kids they could have all the pets they wanted—after they grew up and were living on their own. Alternatively, I’d say that the day everyone in my house learned to pick up after themselves was the day I’d consider a pet (boy, was I ever safe with that deal).

But my youngest daughter turned out to be a cat lover. In fact, she’s half cat herself, and known to meow in answer to questions. She has lots of stuffed cats. She reads about cats. She loves visiting the cats at the zoo (our nearest zoo has cats to help teach kids how to treat animals). But I was still adamant—I did NOT want a cat. We were NOT getting a cat.

Then my college daughter and her roommate found a stray kitten and took her in. No owner turned up to claim her in response to the “found cat” posters they hung around, nor could they find an indication that someone was seeking her. They took care of the kitten and grew to love her, even though they knew they couldn’t keep her long-term, not in student housing. As time to come home for Thanksgiving neared, they knew they needed to find something to do with her. When they hinted at bringing her home, I was NOT in favor. I did NOT want a cat.

But I was starting to feel bad--bad that there was this cute kitten they’d bonded with who was probably going to end up in the animal shelter. Bad that my youngest daughter would love a cat so much, but I was Anti-Pet.

Cat that needs a home . .  . daughter who wants a cat. Oh, the guilt. And my youngest daughter has been having a hard time with her sisters gone at college. She’s on the tail end of the family after two boys, the same position my youngest sister was in—and my youngest sister was the one with the cats, and she appreciated having them while she was the last child at home. Maybe a cat would help my youngest daughter and be a companion for her. And did I really think I’d be able to hold a hard “no cats!” line for her entire childhood when she loves cats and I was already starting to feel like an ogre for holding out? If we were ever going to get a cat, now was a good time while she was young, so the cat’s lifespan could coincide with my daughter’s time at home. And my college daughters kept assuring me that cats were very low-maintenance pets, etc.

I finally buckled. I knew for a while that I was going to say yes before I could finally get myself to tell this to my college daughter—it was just so daunting to me to come right out and agree. I’ve always been so adamantly anti-pet that this was a BIG change for me.

We’ve had her for a week now, and she seems to like living here. It’s been a bumpy emotional ride for me, though—turns out that my cat-loving youngest daughter is scared of the cat. She loves her in theory, but living with a cat is new to her, and since this cat is still a kitten (6-9 months old, the vet said), she can be very spazzy, which scares the crud out of my daughter, who likes to approach animals (quiet animals) on her own terms. Her fear left me feeling like "Aaaaarrgh, what have I done? We got the cat for YOU—heaven knows, I don’t actually want a cat for ME!" But already my daughter is doing better. She’s still very skittish, but I know it’s just a matter of time before she’s comfortable with the cat. And my younger son adores her, and I've even seen my oldest son pick her up--I have a sneaking suspicion that he likes her too. 

I know it's just a matter of time before I'm comfortable too. I will get used to her, and grow to love her. Of course I hold her, and pet her, and feed her, but it’ll take me some time to really adjust. If you're someone who's comfortable with pets, you're probably wondering how I could possibly be so freaked out over a sweet little cat. It's hard to explain--it's just a huge psychological shift for me. A change. I'm not good with change, but I'll get there eventually. Who knew I would ever agree to a pet? What's next? Taking up skydiving?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An Awesome Book and a Great Day to Buy

When I was a brand-new author, the very first review of my first book came from an author named Robison Wells. I hadn't met Rob at the time and didn't know him at all, and man, it was exciting to see that he'd enjoyed my book. As I got to know Rob, I found there were even more reasons to like him than his great taste in literature :) Rob is a talented author, witty, funny, extremely smart, and a very nice guy. He's done a tremendous amount to help other authors and is the founder of the Whitney Awards. When Rob signed a book deal with Harper Teen for his YA sci fi novel Variant, I was thrilled for him. Recently, Variant was named to Publisher's Weekly list of the Best Books of 2011, which is INCREDIBLE! It's a fantastic book--smoothly written, rapidly and flawlessly paced, fresh, intriguing, exciting, and with a twist that will knock your socks off. I can't wait for the sequel.

But Rob's had a tough time lately. He's dealing with severe panic disorder, which has led to his being laid off from his job. Author Larry Correia has started a Book Bomb to help Rob and his young family at this time of need, and many of Rob's friends are joining in. Author Luisa Perkins tells more about the Book Bomb here, and is running a contest with a $50 Amazon gift card and copies of her cookbook, Comfortably Yum, as prizes. If you're thinking of purchasing Variant, for yourself or as a Christmas or birthday gift, please consider buying it TODAY and helping push Variant up the Amazon rankings to get more exposure for Rob's book. I'll be participating and here's hoping for an awesome day for Rob and for Variant!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween and Other Spooky Fun

We had a lot of fun trick-or-treating last night. The weather was perfect--in the 70s--and it was great being out in the neighborhood with friendly neighbors handing out candy and glowing pumpkins and all the Halloweenishness of the evening. My daughter got so much candy that she tired of carrying her bag and enlisted my help, which I feel gives me proprietary rights over her candy. 

I was a trick-or-treating pro in my day; some of my happiest childhood memories are of trick-or-treating with my older sister. Part of me still wants to be that kid—to experience the exquisite excitement of Halloween day as I waited for evening to arrive, the thrill of racing from house to house with my sister, then going home to dump out our candy and sort it into piles by candy type (that was always an important part of the evening). While I was out with my kids last night, I texted my sister, saying I wished she were there. We could have gathered twice as much candy as my kids; we're just that good. Of course, if we'd gathered twice as much candy as my kids acquired last night, we would have needed hiking backpacks or possibly a pickup truck to carry it all; people give out a lot more candy than they did when we were kids. 

The kids’ costumes this year were very easy, which was nice, and I only had two kids to outfit. My older son didn't need a costume, and my two older daughters are off at college, so they're on their own if they want to get festive. I asked my second daughter if she was going to party for Halloween and she said yes, if by party I meant "take a chem midterm." Bummer. But they did have fun: they had a dinner of Bloody Bones soup (Lipton noodle soup mixed with tomato juice), watched “Disturbia,” and displayed a very artistic pumpkin they and a roommate had carved with the likeness of BYU president Cecil Samuelson. Apparently, we need to kick our pumpkin carving up a notch: we just made circles and triangles and such here at home.

My youngest daughter dressed as a cat (I ordered the costume from Amazon, so very easy. I like easy, especially because I don’t like sewing and have few skills in that direction). My younger son, Techno-Boy, was trickier. He's very picky when it comes to costumes. I thought he’d be great as a mad scientist, but he didn’t like that idea. I took him to the costume store, and the conversation went much like this:

Me: "How about a ninja?"
Him: "No."
Me: "How about a pirate?"
Him: "No." 
Me: "How about a vampire?"
Him: "No."

And so on. He wasn't giving me anything to work with (you can't do much with a flat "no") and I got frustrated and said let's go home and you make a list of some ideas, because this is a waste of time. On the ride home, I made a suggestion and--hooray!--he latched on to it, and the costume problem was solved. Forget the zombies and Grim Reapers; he decided to go as something truly terrifying—an IRS agent. He wore a suit and tie and carried a bag labeled “Taxes.” I asked him if he wanted my sister to design a badge for him, a suggestion that offended him. “Do you know who you’re dealing with?” he asked, and designed himself a badge using the IRS logo that he found online. 

And now Halloween is over and we have a great deal of candy in the house. This will ensure that my motivation to exercise stays high, so I can keep sampling it. Mmm . . . Halloween candy. You know what's awesome? The smell of Halloween candy all mixed together. That's a uniquely Halloween smell. Just take a sniff of your kids' candy bags. 

In other spooky-related news, Rearview Mirror has received some great reviews. I’m very excited about that. Here are some links: 

Tristan at Based on a True Story

Lori at Books are My Friends

Donna at Weaving a Tale or Two

Julie at Julie Coulter Bellon (LDS Writer Mom)

Thank you for the reviews!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Less of Me

When I was young, I was skinny. I also had a big appetite; my mother would joke about my “hollow leg,” because where else was I putting the large amounts of food I consumed? I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted and my metabolism promptly took care of it.

That. Was. Awesome. (Note the past tense).

Even into my twenties, I didn’t worry about my weight or even think about my weight. I might step on a scale once in a blue moon, just for fun, but it wasn’t an issue. I was just skinny. Yay, genetics! After my first daughter was born, my baby weight fell right off. No effort needed. Ahhh, those were the days. 

Because I had it so set in my mind that I was skinny, it took me a loooong time to recognize that things had changed. Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, of course—it’s a little at a time, then a little more, and a little more, until finally in my thirties I started to realize, hey, what the heck? I wasn’t slim, not anymore. So naturally, I promptly started eating less and exercising more.

Hahahaha! As if. Even as I became aware that I wasn’t thrilled with how much I’d gained, I kept right on with a lifetime of eating habits—did I mention I love food?—and, not surprisingly I gained more and more weight (what’s up with that slowing metabolism as you get older, anyway?). I’d try here and there to exercise and maybe I’d lose a few pounds, but then I’d gain it back. Or I’d try to eat less, but didn’t keep it up for long. I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t want to work for it, or worse yet, suffer for it.

Then, maybe a year or so ago, my husband decided to lose weight (and if you ask me, he started out skinny). He was so disciplined about it—at dinner, he’d eat so little that it drove me CRAZY. When you feel bad about your own weight but don’t want to do anything about it because that sounds hard, the last thing you want to watch is someone else being super disciplined and getting super skinny—it’s one of those situations where you know if it bothers you that YOU are the one with the problem, but you still don’t want to fix it. Brilliant, I know.

Then we went to a family reunion last summer, and my sister-in-law, who is my age, walked in and she was . . . skinny. Looked fantastic. Oh golly. Oh jealousy! In the course of chatting while we were hanging out in the lake, we got to talking about weight, and she told me she’d used an app called Tap and Track to help her lose weight. You enter your stats (height, weight, etc.) and your weight loss goal—how much you want to lose and how fast—and it calculates how many calories you should eat per day. You enter in what you eat (it has a big database of foods), you can add your own recipes, or you can just enter calories, if you prefer. And when you exercise, you enter that in, and it adjusts your calorie allotment.

And . . . I actually got excited about trying this app. Me! Excited to try to lose weight! Who knew it could happen? But by this point, I was so frustrated with my weight and so tired of being dissatisfied with it (and tired of being jealous because my husband looked so good, and tired of the fact that I could have eaten him for lunch and still had room for dessert). I’d finally hit the point where I was ready to work on this, but I needed to do it in a way that worked for me. 

So I bought the app, and when we got home, I tried it out. I knew if I tried to lose too fast, I’d be miserable, get frustrated, and quit—I don’t like suffering and I don’t like being hungry—so I set the goal of losing half a pound a week. This was just over three months ago, and so far so good—I’m halfway to my weight loss goal. Who knew I could actually do this? And succeed?? Some weeks it goes really well; other weeks my weight stalls and I get frustrated, but I’m determined to keep trying. One bonus is that I’ve never in my life been so motivated to exercise, because when I exercise, I can enter that info into the app and it gives me more calories. So exercise=more food, and I am highly motivated by food (and it’s a good thing those donuts we made for Family Home Evening the other week are gone, because goodness, those were perhaps a bit too tasty. I got lots of exercise while trying to compensate for those donuts).

I have a long silk dress that my mother-in-law made for me for a family wedding. I outgrew that dress many years and many pounds ago, but now my goal is to wear it to the Whitney Awards gala in May. Can I do it? I guess I’ll find out. If not, heck, I guess I wasted money on that dry-cleaning bill . . . 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Taking Names

It troubles me whenever I see a comment on Twitter or Facebook to the effect of “See who unfollowed/unfriended you!” with a link to some service or other that lets you find out which of your cyber-pals are now former cyber-pals. My question is:


Why do that? Is there a good, beneficial reason to locate this information? This is not a rhetorical question—if someone knows of a beneficial reason for tracking down this info, I’d like to hear it, because the main result I'd think would come from this detective work is hurt feelings—“Jennifer unfollowed me? She didn’t like my tweets? Well, FINE. I don’t like hers either.” (unfollows Jennifer). Okay, I guess a possible benefit could be if you are using the information to analyze and improve your updates/tweets—(“I see I lost 102 Utah-based followers when I dissed Jimmer. Oops. I won’t do that again.”). But do people really use the info that way? It seems that in most cases you wouldn’t have a clue why the person unfollowed (unless you know they’re mad at you in real life). 

It seems to me that social media networks should be places where connecting with someone doesn’t mean you’re locked in for life, and you should be able to quietly disconnect if, for whatever reason, the online connection doesn't work. I don’t go around unfollowing people right and left, but I have unfollowed people who tweeted so much that it drove me nuts, or bombarded me with ads. It was nothing personal—I just didn’t care for their tweeting style. If they don’t care for mine, they’re welcome to unfollow—no harm done. We should both be able to quietly and tactfully disconnect, no offense given or taken. What’s the benefit of tracking down each others’ names?

I think there’s a good reason Twitter, Facebook (and Goodreads, for that matter) don’t notify us when someone unfollows/unfriends us. I can’t see how it benefits us to seek out that information on our own. Granted, I'm no social media expert, so maybe there are angles I haven't considered. What are your thoughts on this? 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Got Craftsy!

When I was young—say, second grade—I was pretty good at drawing princesses. Problem is, I still draw princesses about as well as I did when I was in second grade. I’m horrible at drawing sharks or any other animal. Stick figures? Er . . . as long as you can tell it's supposed to be a person, it's good, right? When it comes to art skills, I don’t have them. Some of my kids do, though. My second daughter once took the grand prize for her age category in a national art contest. She did not inherit this ability from me. I’m about as skilled at drawing as I am at parallel parking.

I’m also lacking in craft skills. I have made a few craft projects in my life, usually at Relief Society events, and I can make things that are reasonably cute if you don’t look too closely—they look even better if you forget your glasses—but when it comes to the details that produce polished final products, I fall flat on my face. If I create anything by hand, it's going to be a little crooked and a little ragged (so it's a good thing my husband is the one who repaired the fence).

I haven’t done anything craftsy for a while, but today we had a two-ward Relief Society Super Saturday, so I signed up for a few things. The biggest project I did was a set of apothecary jars where we painted and glued wooden bases, etc., to three jars to make a set we could fill with Halloween candy or Christmas candy, or what have you. My work ended up sort of B-minus-ish (“Display in dimly lit room only”). Also, I got paint on my pants. But after I took my not-so-skillfully-painted project home, I went to the store to get some glue to fix the jars where the bases had already fallen off (heh) and some ribbon to dress them up (the sample picture they’d shown us had ribbon—no, I wasn’t clever enough to think of adding ribbon myself). After I fixed the bases, filled the jars with candy, and tied ribbons on, they actually looked . . . cute! I consulted my son as to whether long ribbons or short ribbons looked better. He’s an eleven-year-old techno-genius-geek who regularly puts his shirt on backwards, and he was right about the ribbon—short looks better. He also took pictures for me, using my husband’s camera, which I don’t exactly know how to use. 

I'm pleased. Despite the flaws in my craftsmanship, I like the overall effect. I'm no longer troubled by uneven painting or glue issues, and if anyone out there is tempted to look for flaws, just LOOK AT THE CANDY. SEE ONLY THE CANDY.

At Super Saturday, I also made pendants out of Scrabble tiles and scrapbooking paper. I don't have a close relationship with scrapbooking; except for a partial baby book made for my oldest daughter, all the other baby memorabilia is is in files or in a box or . . . hmm, I wonder where it is? But today I learned you can use scrapbooking paper to make jewelry.

 I have Achieved Craftsiness. At least for one day. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Books, Audio, and the Helpful Role of Mosquitos

My copies of Rearview Mirror have arrived—yay! If you are a blogger who previously signed up to review it and haven’t yet sent your snail mail address to emailstephanieblack (at) gmail (dot) com, please do so. Thanks! I hear reports from my spies that the book is starting to show up in stores. Online, the book is now in stock at Deseret Book. Seagull doesn't have it yet, and Amazon has the Kindle version, and I'm hoping that within a few weeks it will be everywhere! Everywhere! Spreading all over the place so you can't so much as go buy a burger without tripping over stacks of Rearview Mirror!

Well, I gotta dream, right? 

Seeing a new book for the first time is always a thrill. It’s here! A book! I wrote a book! It has a cover, a cool, shiny, creepy cover! And pages! Real pages! Pages with my own words on them! Yay! I like to repeatedly pick a new book up and flip through the pages. And I was delighted to add the book to my shelf of Novels With My Name on Them. Okay, it’s not exactly a shelf of books. It’s a shelf with a few books and most of the space taken up by Halloween decorations, but it’s exciting to have a new book next to the orange ceramic plate with the bat on it.

One thing I like to do when my books are first released is to listen to the audio version. My publisher, Covenant, does audio versions for many of their fiction titles, and I’m delighted that they’ve done my books in audio. I’m doubly delighted that they no longer do abridged audio. Say the words “abridged audio” to any of my author colleagues and watch them shrivel, shrieking in pain. Abridged audio had a very limited word count—for my first book I had to cut out more than half the book for the audio version. Ouch and ouch. But abridged audio is gone—all the audio books Covenant does now are unabridged.

I love that word. Unabridged! Unabridged! Yaaaay!

It’s a fun, fascinating experience to listen to your story read by a professional actress or actor, and the readers for my books have done a great job. Luone Ingram is the reader for Rearview Mirror—she did Methods of Madness and Cold as Ice as well—and she’s awesome. It takes incredible skill and talent to read a book for audio. I wouldn’t have a clue how to bring a suspense novel to life for a listener, so I’m very grateful for the talented readers that do our audio versions. I’m having a ton of fun listening to my book. I wonder what will happen next!

Just kidding. I’m not that spacey; I do remember how it ends.

This morning, I saw the following on my sister’s Life as an Adverb blog:

" . . . last night we caught up on our backlogged DVR.  We laughed at some lame sitcom jokes.  Then David laughed a little too knowingly at a post-baby-body joke.  Afterwards he made eyes at me in a way that made me think he was going to tell me I was beautiful and that he loves me just the way I am.  
He said, "Let's go to bed and read." 
But, considering I had the latest release from award-winning author Stephanie Black in my hands, it wasn't too bad of a deal.  Besides, it was funny when I screamed as a mosquito buzzed  right in my ear canal and scared the bejeebers out of David, who was several chapters ahead of me in the same book.  Good one, Steph.  Got him right as the floor was creaking ominously above the heroine.”
That made my day. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Hard Life of a Character

Last week, I finished the first draft of a new suspense novel. I’m happy about this for a couple of reasons: 1—Maybe I do actually have a prayer of getting this book finished in a reasonable amount of time and 2—I love revising even more than I love writing, so it will be fun to plunge into the second draft. I’d much rather revise a screen full of words than fill up a blank screen.

My first drafts are something I’d never inflict on anyone. I start with a rough outline, so I do know where the story is going, but I don’t know the ins and outs and details of the plot until I actually write them. This means stopping for a lot of brainstorming along the way, it means making mistakes that I need to change later, and it means leaving myself notes about things I need to add. For example, in this manuscript, I got near the end and realized I wanted a character to play a larger role, which would set her up to play a pivotal role at the end. I left myself a note about enlarging her role in the book, then wrote her in the pivotal scenes I wanted near the end. I didn’t go back and fix things, inserting her where I needed her earlier in the story—I prefer to save that kind of revision for the second draft. I want the first draft done, not perfect, and coherency and consistency is not required at this point. 

The book doesn’t have a working title yet; I usually look for a working title when I hit draft three. Right now, I haven’t the faintest idea what to call it, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be a sunshiney happy-dance sort of title (Butterflies and Sparkly Unicorns: A Mystery). True to form, I was awfully mean to my main character in this book. I’m hard on my protagonists, to the point that they all need medical care by the end of the book, and most of them need therapy. Being one of my characters is not an easy gig.

Why be cruel to characters? Why put stress and strain and trouble and conflict and peril and injury in their paths? In Orson Scott Card’s book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, he discusses selecting a main character, and one of the test questions he offers is:

Who hurts the most? In the world you have invented, who suffers the most? Chances are that it is among the characters who are in pain that you will find your main character, partly because your readers’ sympathy will be drawn toward a suffering character, and partly because a character in pain is a character who wants things to change. He’s likely to act. Of course, a character who suffers a lot and then dies won’t be a productive main character unless your story is about his life after death. But your eye should be drawn toward pain. Stories about contented people are miserably dull.”

In real life, I hate conflict. I can’t stand it if I think someone is mad at me, or if I’ve done something to offend someone. Honestly, who wants conflict in her/his life? Wouldn’t we rather have everything go happily and smoothly every day? Yep. But in fiction, we need conflict. Buckets and heaps and mountains of conflict. You don't have to be as mean to characters as I am, obviously, but throw trouble at your characters. (And one bit of advice: the trouble and peril needs to feel organic within the story—not like you’re just tossing in anything you can think of and pretty soon the character will get bonked on the head by the kitchen sink, because you threw that in too. Weave problems out of the characters and circumstances of the story; don’t just chuck random problems at the character like she’s hit a new level in a video game).

On to the second draft!

Friday, September 30, 2011


A big thank you to everyone who offered to review Rearview Mirror on their blogs. If you'll send your snail mail address to emailstephanieblack (at) gmail (dot) com, I'll send you a copy of the book for review.

I'm looking for three more reviewers, so if you're interested, post a comment.

In other news, I just finished reading Josi Kilpack's new Sadie Hoffmiller mystery, Pumpkin Roll, and may I just say WOW! If you want a great Halloween read, or any-time-of-the-year read, I highly recommend Pumpkin Roll. Josi is a fantastic storyteller and fantastic mystery writer, and Pumpkin Roll will knock the socks right off your feet.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another Winner!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the Haiku Fest of Funness! The entries were awesome. And the winner (as chosen by is . . .

Jon Spell! 

Congratulations, Jon. I'm gonna send you a free book--no escaping it this time!--so send me your address :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Winner! And More Ways to Win

A huge thank you to everyone who participated in the September Blog Hop! I was totally thrilled by the response--thanks for all the follows and the entries and the kind comments! And thank you to the talented Tristi Pinkston for putting the blog hop together. Using a random number generator, I selected the winner. And the winner of a copy of Rearview Mirror is . . .


Congratulations, Lisa! I'll send you an email, and if you could respond with your snail mail address, I'll get that book in the mail to you sometime around the first or second week of October, depending on when my books arrive on my doorstep--I'll be watching for that FedEx truck.

If anyone would like another opportunity to win a copy of Rearview Mirror, here are two more ways to do it. I'm am currently holding a Haiku Fest of Funness on the blog, which ends tomorrow. Write a silly or non-silly haiku about any novel you've read (or would like to read), and I'll enter you in the drawing for a copy of Rearview Mirror. Absolutely no poetic talent is required--just have fun!

The other way to win a free copy involves a little more writing than a 5 syllable-7 syllable-5 syllable haiku. I'm looking for ten bloggers who would be willing to review Rearview Mirror on their blogs (although I suppose you could review it in haiku form .  . . ) I'd ask that you post the review by December 1st. If you are interested in reviewing it within that timeframe, post a comment in the comment trail. If more than ten people are interested, I'll used the handy random number generator to pick the winners on Friday, September 30th.

THANK you again for all the support!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September Blog Hop

Welcome to the September Blog Hop! Celebrate the beginning of fall with me and my blogger friends by hopping around, visiting our sites, and entering our contests! There are no limits - you can enter the contest on every blog. With over 40 blogs participating, that's over 40 prizes you could win. Just click on the links below to move on to the next blog. On my blog, you can win a copy of my new suspense novel, Rearview Mirror, which will be released in the beginning of October. Yay!

Would you like to win this prize? You just need to do two things. 1. Become a follower of this blog. 2. Leave me a comment in the trail and tell me why you'd like to win this prize. That's it! You are now entered. The contest ends on Saturday night, September 24th, at midnight MST, and the winner will be contacted shortly thereafter. Please either leave your e-mail address in the comment trail or make sure it's visible through your profile so I can contact you to tell you that you're the lucky winner. Now go visit my other friends ...

September Blog Hop Participants

1. Tristi Pinkston, LDS Author
2. Joyce DiPastena
3. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer 4. Mandi Slack
5. Michael D. Young
6. Six Mixed Reviews
7. Pam Williams
8. Laurie Lewis
9. Kristy Tate
10. Marilyn Yarbrough
11. Stacy Coles
12. Kristie Ballard
13. Lynn Parsons
14. Pushing Past the Pounds
15. Sheila Staley
16. cindy Hogan
17. Jamie Thompson
18. Jaclyn Weist
19. Cathy Witbeck
20. Secret Sisters Mysteries
21. Tamera Westhoff
22. Tina Scott
23. Lynnea Mortensen
24. Danyelle Ferguson aka Queen of the Clan
25. Jeanette A. Fratto
26. Bonnie Harris
27. Melissa Lemon
28. Mary Ann Dennis
29. Stephanie Black
30. Jane Still
31. Janice 
32. Laura Bastian
33. Tamara Bordon
34. Betsy Love
35. Maria Hoagland
36. Amber Robertson
37. Debbie Davis
39. Christy Monson
40. Carolyn Frank
41. Rebecca Birkin
42. Melissa Cunningham
43. Emily L. Moir
44. Ronda Hinrichsen
45. Lisa Asanuma
46. Joan Sowards
47. Jordan McCollum
48. Diane Stringam Tolley

Monday, September 19, 2011

The 2011 Fiction Haiku Fest of Funness

Years ago, on Six LDS Writers and a Frog, we had a haiku contest. When I looked back over the entries this past spring, I laughed like crazy. I think it's time for the another haiku fest--we won't call it a contest, since we're not competing with each other, but rather seeking to entertain the absolute heck out of each other.

You remember haiku from high school English class, right? Five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. But our topic is not nature or seasons--it's fiction. Your haiku can have anything to do with books or authors. It can be serious or funny, dumb or brilliant. But it can't be rude, crude, or insult anyone or their work, or it'll get the axe. Our goal is to have fun, not make fun of anyone's books. You can enter as many times as you want. 

Some examples from books I've read recently:

Inspired by Garden Plot, by Kristen McKendry

Body in the beans
I hate it when that happens
But that cop is cute

Inspired by Bloodbourne, by Gregg Luke

Gregg Luke writes creepy
Stories about mosquitoes
Bring on the Off

Inspired by Honeymoon Heist, by Anna Jones Buttimore

If you take a bag
Filled with the bad guy's money
You'll have a bad week

Anybody want to play? One week from today, on Monday, September 26th, I'll draw a random winner from the entries (so the more haiku you write, the more chances you'll have to win). The winner will receive a copy of my novel, Rearview Mirror, which will be released in just a couple of weeks.

A haiku in honor of the book's release:

A new book coming
Nervous, I will be checking
Goodreads all the time

Find your inner poet and let's write some haiku!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chocolate and Rewards

This week I hit a sort-of milestone. I finished off a box of See’s chocolates. In fact, I ate the whole box except for one piece that my husband ate. Yay! Go me! I ate lots of chocolate! In other news, I’m trying to lose weight.

Ahem. Actually, I ate the chocolates slowly, earning them chocolate by chocolate. They’re my bribe chocolates that I use to reward myself for writing. To earn one chocolate, I have to write 1000 words, so an empty chocolate box means that—hooray!—I’m making good progress on my current project. And no, I’m not an author who kicks out eight or ten thousand words in a day—that would definitely be problematic on the weight-loss front. If I could write that fast, I’d have to bribe myself with celery, and I can tell you right now how well THAT would work ("Here's my new suspense novel! It's twelve words long!").

I got the idea of bribing myself with See’s chocolates from author Melanie Jacobson (and if you don’t already read Melanie’s blog, go check it out—she’s very witty and entertaining. Also she just released a new book, Not My Type).

The See’s Chocolate System works so well for me that it’s a little scary. Who knew I was so highly motivated by chocolate? I’ve never been very good at bribing myself—the “do this, and then you can earn that” sort of thing. I fizzle out way too quickly. Bribing yourself, strangely enough, takes discipline and strangely enough, I’ve never had anyone pounding on my door saying wow, you have such an abnormal abundance of self-discipline! Can I borrow some? But to my delight, I found that Melanie’s chocolate suggestion works for me very, very well. I think it works because:

1-I love chocolate.
2-See’s chocolates are a special kind of treat—not the normal chocolate I’d keep around for snacking.
3-There’s this fun uncertainty in wondering what kind of chocolate I’ll get, since I can’t identify most of the chocolates from their outward appearance. This makes it more fun than if they were all the same kind.
4-I can earn the rewards regularly. It’s not like my goal is “Finish the book and then you can buy a box of chocolates.” Instead, I get small rewards along the way. A thousand words is a good chunk of writing—about four pages—but it’s not so much that I fizzle out and lose enthusiasm (and don't get me wrong--I do enjoy writing, or I wouldn't be a writer. But sometimes the momentum isn't there and it's too easy for me to waste time and get distracted and not accomplish much). 

One thing I love is that if I’m getting close to earning a chocolate, it sometimes motivates me to keep writing when maybe I’d otherwise quit (“You only need 200 more words and you get a chocolate!”) Did I mention I’m highly motivated by chocolate?

This is actually my second box, but it’s the first full box I’ve earned. I bought the first box months ago, and made some good progress initially, but then with the craziness of summer, I wasn’t getting any writing done, and with the heat in our un-air-conditioned house, the chocolates were going bad, which is NOT OKAY (should have kept them in the fridge, I guess). So I finally ended up handing out the remaining (somewhat stale and formerly melted) chocolates to the kids (and myself, of course). Normally, I keep bribe chocolates stashed away and don’t offer them around. There is other chocolate available for snacking, but bribe chocolates are for writing motivation.

My WIP now stands at nearly 69K, which I figure means I’m at least 2/3 of the way done with the first draft. And I bought a new box of chocolates, so I'm ready to write more. Kind of wish I'd earned a chocolate now, because I'm hungry, but I have 384 words to go . . . 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nominate a Whitney

The “nominate a Whitney” button on my sidebar will take you directly to the nominating form on the Whitney Awards website. The Whitney committee made the button available so we can help spread the word and get readers a-nominatin’. Any novel written by an LDS author (either LDS market or national market) that was or will be published in 2011 and is at least 50,000 words long is eligible (if you’re not familiar with word counts, 50K would be a very short novel—for instance, my upcoming 300-something-page Rearview Mirror, which is definitely not a doorstop behemoth, is over 100K. So the vast majority of novels you read will be well over the 50K requirement).

Nominating a book is super easy and super fast. Any reader can nominate a book as long as the reader is at least twelve years old and doesn’t have a financial interest in the book (i.e., you’re not the author, publisher, agent, or author’s husband/wife/kids). To fill out the nominating form you just need the title, author, and publisher (if you can’t remember the publisher, you can always look it up on Amazon or Goodreads).

Everyone will have different criteria for which books they choose to nominate for a Whitney Award. For me, I’ll tell you what my criteria isn’t—it isn’t “I absolutely loved this book!” Maybe I did love the book and that’s a great reason to nominate, but my criteria is more along the lines of “I think this book would be a worthy contender in (genre category).” I’ve read a lot of Whitney finalists in the past, so am familiar with a lot of what makes the finals and/or wins. If I feel a book is a strong contender given what I’ve read in the past, then I’m comfortable nominating it (and I kinda really enjoy nominating books, so I’m happy when I read one that I feel is a strong contender).

I’ve even been known to nominate a book that I heartily disliked. Why? Because the author bribed me? Nope. Even though I don't care for the story and the main character bugged me, I can see that this is a well-written book and one that will appeal to fans of the genre. It was a worthy contender.

Nominations are due December 31st, and the committee will be happy to get nominations are early as possible (i.e. given a choice, it’s better not to wait until December 30th and then nominate all the books you’ve read this year). Each genre category has a panel of judges, and when a nominee becomes official (after five nominations), the judges will need to read the book. So it’s nice if they can spread that reading out over many months instead of getting a ton of nominations in the last week.

Have you nominated any books for Whitney Awards this year? What are your criteria? Do you nominate only your absolute favorites or do you nominate more widely? 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kindle Editions

Recently, my publisher has been working like crazy to get their authors' backlist titles into Kindle format, and I'm excited to report that all my books are now available for Kindle. Previously, it was only my newest title, Cold as Ice, that was available as an ebook, but now all four books are up there in the Amazon Kindle Shop. The availability of ebook formats will provide more choices (along with print and audio versions) for readers and will open new possibilities for readers who don't live near LDS bookstores. Even though I don't have a bookstore outside my door, I can now get LDS fiction instantly. Of course, this can be, um, dangerous. Purchasing ebooks is perhaps a little TOO fast and easy, giving new meaning to the term "impulse buy" . . .

I'm particularly excited that my first book, The Believer, is available for Kindle. The Believer has been out of print for a while, so to have it for sale again is very exciting to me. Believer is different from my other books (which are contemporary mystery/suspense); it's a dystopian thriller.

Now I'll get mushy: I think my first book will always have particular significance to me. The publication of The Believer was the fulfillment of a dream. For years and years, I'd worked on this book, writing and rewriting as I learned the craft of writing a novel and refined the story. For years, I'd dreamed of being published, and when I would walk into LDS bookstores, I'd yearn to have my own book on the shelf. That moment when I received my box of author's copies and there was my own story, my own words--that story that I loved and that I'd worked on for so long--there on the pages of a real published book with a cover and everything--wow! My first review came from Robison Wells . . . ah, memory lane. I hadn't met Rob yet, but now I know him to be an extremely nice, extremely smart, and extremely talented guy. He's also the totally awesome author of Variant, which will be released next month. Yay!

Anyway, I'm thrilled to have The Believer available again!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Video Interview

While I was in Utah doing the college run, I stopped at my publisher, Covenant Communications, to do a video interview. Covenant's wonderful publicist is filming interviews with authors wherein the authors discuss their new books. Covenant then posts the interviews on YouTube. I've never been on YouTube before, so this is a new 21st-century sort of experience for me.

Here's the video. And oh my, that's a weird look on my face in the freeze-frame, so try to ignore that.

Rearview Mirror will be released in October. It's currently available for pre-order from Deseret Book.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Rollercoaster of Time (Which Would Make a Good Title for a Novel)

I was at Trader Joe’s the other day and saw some corn on the cob and thought, hey, we could have corn for dinner, and—this is where it gets strange—I only needed five ears of corn. Whoa. And now we really need to either take a leaf out of the dining room table or hire someone to run messages from one end of the table to the other. Just kidding. Our table isn’t that big, but it’s a lot emptier than it used to be. Last week, I took my two oldest daughters to BYU, so our numbers here are shrinking.

I’ve gotten accustomed to having my oldest daughter off at college, but it threw me for an emotional loop to have my oldest two daughters leaving. Funny how when your kids are young, you feel like they’ll be young forever. Then once one of them grows up, it’s like you’ve started down the slope of a rollercoaster and zaZOOM, there goes #2. Seventeen or eighteen years of child-raising seems like such a long stretch when you’re on the first leg of it, but then when a kid starts moving her stuff into a dorm room . . . well, eighteen years isn’t as long as it used to be. I shed a few tears during the college drop-off run—it's interesting how you can be so happy for your kids and excited that they have this opportunity, but kinda sad for yourself at the same time as you see your daughters settling into their dorms/apartments and you know their rooms at home will be empty now.

Just kidding! We don’t do empty very well. To quote a phrase I learned from somewhere--possibly from my neighbor, Michelle? Can't remember--our motto is “A place for everything and a thing in every place.” My oldest son has taken over my younger daughter’s room. And my oldest daughter’s room is now being used as a study and is still occupied by the pet frog, Bernard. My younger son has taken over frog duty, which is a good thing, because no way am I doing it. It involves feeding him live crickets. I bought a new bag of crickets for Bernard (he’s named in honor of a reference from The Brothers Karamazov) and told my son to get them into the cricket container. He wanted to know why I hadn’t done the cricket transfer myself. I told him I didn’t do bugs (to me, a cricket is something you freak out over and whack with a shoe), at which point he promptly broke into song: “B . . . I don’t do bugs” which will only be funny to those who are familiar with the DARE program, but which I found highly amusing.

Our trip to Utah was a whirlwind one—one day on the road, one day in Utah, another day on the road to get back home. We drove together with a friend and her daughter, so there were five of us in the car on the way out, along with gear for three girls. Thank heavens my oldest daughter had stored most of her stuff in Provo or we never would have made it. As it was, we were so loaded down that it’s amazing we weren’t scraping the bottom of my minivan along the freeway.

And holy moly, Utah, what is up with the road construction? As I was trying to find my way around at midnight after a day of driving across the Nevada desert—so I was very tired and crabby—everywhere I looked there were those orange traffic drums or construction and where the heck is that freeway entrance—did you have to tear up the whole state at once? Aaarggh!

Okay, I’m calm now. And I feel the pain of those of you who get to deal with that construction every day. All is well--the girls are having fun at school (except for a not-fun virus that sent my oldest daughter to the Health Center, but she's fine). Life around here is pretty much normal--having booted one kid out of high school, we now have a new high schooler, so we're back to the early morning seminary schedule. Rise and shine! Even if the sun isn't up! And thank heavens for Gmail chat, email, and telephones so I can keep in touch with my *sniff* grown-up daughters. I guess if I really wanted to get sentimental, I could go gaze at the bugs still stuck to the minivan, souvenirs of our college-run trip--stubborn souvenirs that remain even after a car wash. But nah . . . I don't do bugs.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Almost Done with the Craziness

Girls camp was absolutely fantastic, for which I am extremely grateful--so many blessings! Sitting there at the testimony meeting on that last night and listening to the girls share their testimonies of the gospel and hearing how girls camp had blessed them--that's when you really know that all the stress and work is worth it.

What great staff and great YW we had! It's an amazing experience to work with such a dedicated group of leaders, all of whom were willing to take time out of their lives to come serve up at camp. And I'm thrilled to report that we had no stomach flu epidemic this year--in fact, our camp nurse reported that for the first time in three years of being "nursie" she got a full night's sleep and woke to the rise-and-shine music. Mind you, I think she only got one full night's sleep, but that was a big event!

The rise-and-shine music amuses me--there's just something about blaring music through a silent camp at 6:30 in the morning that tickles my soul. My daughter put together the playlist for our campfire leader to use for rise-and-shine, and the first song on the first morning was a Leroy Anderson tune called "Bugler's Holiday," which really amuses me, because it's like Extreme Reveille. Good morning, everyone! It's also a good song to dance to when you're trying to shake ping-pong balls out of a Kleenex box, a task for which I now have some skill. One thing I've learned as camp director: you WILL end up on stage at some point, participating in funny competitions.

After five years at camp, I still haven't done the polar bear swim, which involves jumping into a cold lake at 5:30 in the morning. I did go down to Waterfront one morning to help with the canoeing (leaders in canoes and kayaks keep an eye on the swimmers for safety), but I stayed out of the water--well, mostly out of the water; I ended up with soaked jeans from water in the kayak--not sure how that happened, but maybe it was from my stellar paddling skills). Maybe someday I'll do the swim . . . or maybe not . . .

I returned home from camp to the typeset proof of Rearview Mirror, due on Tuesday morning. Finished that up--whew, that's a lot of proofing in a short amount of time--and got it turned in. It's funny--when I first turn in either final edits or my final changes to a typeset proof, my initial feeling is not relief or excitement. Instead, it's usually anxiety/panic. I'll have something that I'll focus on and worry about--"Should I have changed that? Do I need to take that out? STOP THE PRESSES!" Having the manuscript move beyond the point where I can change and tweak things is scary to me, so I tend to get freaked out. Then, after a little while, I calm down. Then, I start getting excited.

Now, it's time to get ready to take my son to high school registration, followed by school shopping--now that camp is over and the book is finished, it's time to, oh, maybe think about the fact that I have two daughters heading off to BYU next week . . . oh golly.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Going Starless

I've decided to follow the example of a writer I greatly admire, YA author Janette Rallison. Janette mentioned a while back that she was going to stop giving stars on Goodreads reviews. I see another author I greatly admire, Annette Lyon, is also going starless (is that right, Annette?). I totally want to be like Janette and Annette (even though my name doesn't rhyme with theirs), and I'm going to try the star-free system too.

I have a lot of friends in the writing industry, and I'm always super conscious of not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. Going starless will free me up to leave a lot more comments, because if I want to make a positive comment about a book--even a book that I didn't love--I can do it without being hampered by the need to rate it. Sometimes ratings are complicated--what if I thought the book was really well done, but personally didn't care for the story? How do you rate that? Or thought the story was great but didn't care for the writing? Or loved this aspect but not that? Without stars to worry about, I can just comment on whatever I want to comment on, not comment on whatever I don't want to comment on, and have a lot more fun on Goodreads.

Why am I posting this on my blog? Because when I start posting reviews sans stars, I don't want anyone thinking that the lack of rating means I didn't like the book. I just want to feel free to comment without giving an overall rating.

Any other authors out there going starless?

Friday, July 29, 2011

My New Cover!

I am thrilled to introduce the cover to my upcoming novel, Rearview Mirror. Didn't the designer do an awesome job? The book will be released in October.

Sorry for the lack of blogs lately. Summer has been crazy--we were on vacation, then returned with only three weeks left until Girls Camp (I'm the Stake Camp Director--ack!), so we have the final camp Prep and Panic to do, and in the midst of that, the edit for Rearview Mirror arrived in my inbox. Life is NOT boring! But I turned in the edit this morning--yay!--and we've got a week and a half remaining until Girls Camp, and things should work out provided I never answer my phone again, because answering the phone in the weeks before camp is just asking for trouble.

I'll resurface again when camp is over and hope to report that NO ONE GOT A STOMACH BUG. Unlike last year . . .

Friday, June 24, 2011

To Read!

Woohoo! I have a new mystery novel to read. I just purchased Jennie Hansen's new book, If I Should Die. I love that title--it's a great chills-along-the-spine title.

Here's the blurb about the book:

"One morning on a routine jog, Kallene’s running partner, Linda, confides that she’s filing for divorce. The next morning, she’s gone without a trace, leaving behind her frightened young daughter. Since Linda’s enraged husband refuses to notify the police, Kallene steps in to initiate a missing person search, not knowing it would soon become a murder investigation — or that she’d soon fall for the charming lead detective. With Linda’s handsome brother also on her mind, Kallene must navigate the rapids of a double romance as well as the deepening suspicion in her upscale Utah neighborhood. Intrigue turns to danger as Kallene faces the consequences of hasty judgments. And when startling new evidence casts Linda’s murder as the work of a determined killer, Kallene needs the intervention of unlikely heroes to avoid being the next victim."

Jennie Hansen is one of the long-time stars of LDS fiction; in 2007, she received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Whitney Awards. I bought the Kindle version of her new book--it is so cool to be able to purchase LDS fiction at the click of a button!

What's on your summer to-read list?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Disneyland, or We Did It!

We have now taken our first-ever family trip to Disneyland. Yes, we live in California; no, we had never taken our kids to Disneyland. Scandalous! (A friend suggested we might have been in violation of some law to have never taken the family there. I wouldn't be surprised). But this year, we finally took the plunge. We realized our kids are getting so old—our oldest daughter just turned twenty, and we’ll have two in college next fall—that if we wanted a full family trip to Disneyland, we’d better hurry and do it before the kids started to scatter to missions, marriage, grad school, etc.

We left the day after my daughter Shauna graduated from high school. Shauna didn’t feel particularly sentimental about leaving high school; she’s not one you’d see crying at graduation. Her take on graduating was more along the lines of, “It’s over! Hahahahahaha! You can’t make me go back!” She had some great teachers and great friends, but high school was never her scene, and she’s thrilled to be heading to college in the fall.

On the way to southern California, we stopped at Pismo Beach and wandered around. (Bugs Bunny fans may recall Pismo Beach as one of the many destinations Bugs Bunny was trying to reach, but missed when he didn’t take that “left turn at Albuquerque.”). The sand there was super fine and it was windy, but I didn’t worry about my camera since it’s one of those cameras that you can get wet or drop. This doesn’t mean we won’t break it eventually; it just means we’ll have to work harder to achieve that goal. We could accidentally break Fort Knox, given the chance.

So it turns out that a lot of people like going to Disneyland. I knew there would be long lines, but didn’t realize the streets themselves would be packed solid with people. This website puts summer attendance between 50-60 thousand people daily. Good heavens! That’s a decent-sized city, all packed into a theme park! And attendance peaks at Christmas break—70 thousand visitors will be standing ahead of you in line, waiting for Splash Mountain, so I hope you brought something to read (which, I did, actually. I had my Kindle in my purse in case I needed it, and I did pull it out a couple of times—once when Indiana Jones broke down and once when I was sitting outside Space Mountain waiting for my daughter). My husband was reading War and Peace on his phone when he got bored. War and Peace is a good choice for Disneyland: no matter how long the line, your book is longer.

The Fastpass system worked great for avoiding super long waits on popular attractions. We would trade off so my youngest daughter, who didn’t want to do the crazy stuff, could do more kid-friendly rides while others went on the wild ones. Longest lines were for the new Star Tours, so we got Fastpasses there. They have different storylines for the ride, so it’s luck of the draw which one you get, and I think I must have gotten one of the less thrilling ones, since afterward I felt like meh, it was okay, but I sure wouldn’t wait two hours in line for that. But others in the family seemed to enjoy it more.

Everyone had fun, even my husband who was still suffering from a serious case of poison oak (poor guy), my older son who formerly hadn’t liked amusement parks, and my second daughter who isn’t keen on crowds. I loved it—I’ve always loved amusement parks. When I was a kid, our family trip to Lagoon was almost as exciting as Christmas. Few things were as thrilling to me as racing around with my sister, going on Dracula’s Castle or that old wooden roller coaster. I’d love to take the family back to Disneyland some day, so, taking a cue from my brother’s family (huge Disneyland fans--he even has the CD of all the ride music which means he voluntarily listens to It's a Small World), I’ve started a Disneyland jar where I put spare change. I always have a container on top of the drier where I can put the change I find in people’s pockets, so why not take a jar, label it “Disneyland” and put that on the drier instead? It makes it a lot more fun to check pockets. If I fill up the jar, I . . . well, maybe I’ll be able to afford a frozen chocolate-covered banana for everyone. Hmm, maybe I'll need more than one jar . . .

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sailing, Sailing . . . or Not

Here's a fun picture for a Saturday morning. This is a photo of the Bay Bridge at sunset, taken when we were out sailing in San Francisco Bay several years back. The picture is my favorite souvenir of that sailing era. My other souvenir is a nervous twitch.

Just kidding. I'm over it now. Maybe. For a year or so we were co-owners of an old sailboat. My husband has always been interested in sailing--he even took a sailing class in grad school and got to sail up and down the Charles River in Boston (where you really don't want to fall in). As for me, I'm not into sailing--the fact that boats don't have brakes is very intimidating to me, and I have deficient spacial ability, so the "pull the sail this way to go that way" and all is anything but intuitive. I found that I didn't enjoy owning a boat--disliked it intensely, in fact, and found it exceedingly stressful. Sailing our own boat scared me, and boats constantly slurp up money, whether or not you're actually in them on the water. Our boat got dubbed the Sea Weasel. Our co-owners did eventually come up with another name for it, but I don't remember what that name was--something about a duck, maybe? No matter. That boat will always be the Sea Weasel to me.

When we sold the boat, I was greatly relieved. My husband now has a little sailboat you can pull behind your car. I like this one much better. It's small and harmless. There's no danger of crashing into somebody's million-dollar yacht. No danger of much of anything--when you sail it on lakes, if you fall in, you can get back in the little boat--no harm done--as opposed to sailing on the Bay, where if you capsize your boat, you'd better hope the Cost Guard gets to you before hypothermia sets in or you end up in the path of a freighter heading toward the Port of Oakland.

I'm a wimp. I know it. I guess I just wasn't cut out to be a salty old sea dog. Other things that scare me: small parking places, missing a flight, and online gym classes.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fast Forward

My oldest daughter recently turned twenty. To which I say . . . WOW. I mean . . . twenty?? Twenty is, as you might have heard, a two-digit number that has a two in the tens column. A two! We’ve gotten used to having teenagers around. For a while there, we had three of them, but now our oldest has moved Beyond Teenager.

It was twenty years ago that we went on that four-mile walk trying to encourage labor to start (it didn’t work). Twenty years ago that my husband penned that note that said “Place Baby Here” with an arrow, and put it in the crib. Twenty years ago that I wore those blue and white flowered maternity pants with the gray-striped T-shirt with the red logo—good grief, what a combo. What was I thinking? Perhaps this was the root of that unfortunate fashion era my daughter went through eleven or twelve years later, represented by a large, red, batwing sweater and tie-dyed pants. Ask her about it sometime; she likes to discuss this era in her fashion history.

It’s strange how fast time is moving now. When the kids are young, it kind of seems like they’ll be young forever—or at least someone in the house will be young; you’ll have babies and toddlers and diapers and binkies in perpetuity. Then, bit by bit, milestones begin to creep past—or rather your children begin to creep past milestones. Your oldest child starts school. Your second child starts school. Your third child becomes a world-renowned paleontologist and moves to South Dakota to excavate dinosaur bones (Okay, that milestone hasn’t happened, but don’t anybody blink or we might miss it).

And here’s the really weird thing: once one child grows up, it sets you on this downhill rollercoaster slope. I have five kids, and they’re all growing up in fast motion. No more diapers in the house? Check. All the kids in school (holy moly!)?—check. One kid in college? Check. TWO kids in college? Check, as of this fall. And while you’re thrilled for your kids and it’s wonderful to see them growing up, it’s a little poignant to realize that it won’t be that long before you’ll have no one to take trick-or-treating.

Kids really do grow up. Apparently, that’s not just a myth.

In other news, on Memorial Day, we had a fun family trip to the beach and then to Point Lobos in Monterey. It was 63 degrees and sunny at the beach, which is about as good as you can expect at the coast (it can be 100 degrees inland and in the 60s at the coast). If you’re visiting the beach in northern California, summer or winter, bring a sweatshirt. If you want to actually get into the water, bring a wetsuit or an exceedingly strong constitution. We go the wetsuit route (short wetsuits—knee length and elbow length). It’s SUPER cold when you first walk into the water, but if you just stick with it for a few minutes, venting your pain by shrieking, you’ll be fine and can have fun boogie boarding. Optional bonus activities: drinking seawater, getting sand in your ears, stepping on something unknown that you think might be a creature.

Here are a few pictures of Point Lobos.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

So Much for That

You know how a few days ago, I blogged about how I planned to take a red herring character and turn him into a point of view character? Through his thoughts, the reader would learn he wasn’t guilty, which would remove that source of tension, but they’d gain more sympathy for him and things wouldn’t seem so bleak for the heroine because here was a guy the reader knew she could trust.

So much for that plan. I tried writing a scene from his POV. I got maybe half a page into it and it just wasn’t working. I mean, he’s a nice guy and all, but switching into his head wasn’t adding much to the story. For a scene to carry its weight, it needs to advance the plot, and this scene was feeling like repetition, not plot advancement. What could we learn from getting into his head here? He’s interested in the heroine—well, we already figured that out when he approached her in her POV scene. He’s frustrated and angry over unfair accusations of guilt? Already got that too, when he was talking to the heroine. The only difference would be that now, since we’re in his head, we could find out that he wasn’t lying to the heroine; he really is innocent. But now that just didn’t feel like enough of a gain to justify dipping into his POV. Moral of the story: not all ideas that seem like good ideas at the time end up working out.

In this particular situation, I think there are two good choices: 1--get out of his head, go back to plan A, and just use external actions to make him sympathetic (while he remains slightly suspicious) or 2—come up with some new, exciting, plot-advancing information that the reader learns from being in his POV.

If I brainstormed long enough, maybe I could come up with something for choice number two. It’s an interesting thought—what does he know that would add a new thread to the story and give the reader plot-advancing information she didn’t have before and that she couldn’t learn better from another POV character? But right now, I’m going with choice 1: revoke his point of view license and let him be a red herring again. Back to the fish pond, dude.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fishing in the Red Herring Pool

In my suspense novel Fool Me Twice the reader knows from the beginning who the bad guys are. It’s not a whodunit—it’s more of a whydunit, what are they really up to, and will the heroine realize the danger in time. You can create just as much suspense when the reader knows the identity of the villain as when the reader doesn’t—it just depends on what type of story you want to tell. In a suspense novel, you don’t necessarily need to hide the identity of the villain; the suspense in the reader’s mind arises from story questions other than, “Who killed Bob?” But in a mystery, where whodunit plays a big role, you want to keep the reader guessing.

Concealing the villain and misdirecting the mystery reader is a balancing act for a writer, and requires the presence of red herrings—characters other than the real villain whom the reader can suspect of committing the crime (the term “red herring” comes from the fish used to confuse hunting dogs following a trail). Mystery readers like misdirection on the trail.

Creating red herrings can be a challenge. One of these days, I’d like to write another suspense novel where the villain isn’t hidden—my last three books, including the book coming out this fall (as well as my work in progress), all have a whodunit element. I think it’s time to write a book that scraps the whodunit, starts off by announcing that Jane killed Bob and then, whew, now that that’s out of way, we can move on. No red herrings needed. Sounds good to me.

But meanwhile, as I develop my current WIP, I’m still splashing around in the red herring pond. The good news: so far I have a handful of possible suspects. Fish all around! The shocking news: I’m thinking of de-herring-izing one of the main suspects. To the other characters, he’ll still be a suspect, but to the reader, he won’t be.

I know. Why would I do such a wacky thing? Normally, the more the merrier when it comes to stocking the herring pool, but I’m wondering if I need to change my approach with this character. He’s a good potential villain, but the heroine is coming up too short on people to trust—I don’t want the book to feel so bleak that it’s just depressing. I’d like her to start trusting this guy, but right now, I fear he’s a little too creepy—not for anything he’s done, but because of what some people believe about him. In order to soften him, make him more appealing, and get the reader rooting for him (and to make it more credible that the heroine would come to trust him), maybe I need to plunge into his point of view and let the reader see things through his eyes.

It’s worth a try, anyway, and though it's a shame to lose him from the suspect pool, I think the benefit to the story might outweigh the loss of him as a possible villain. Fortunately, in this story the reader doesn’t need to know any facts about the villain (for example, whether it’s a man or a woman), so that makes it easier to add more herring to the pool. Even the butler could have done it (guess it's time to hire a butler).

I did an opposite type of red-herring flip in my upcoming novel Rearview Mirror. I had a character who was a POV character and not a suspect. Because the book was too long, I decided to cut her POV scenes. This both helped tighten things and added the bonus of allowing her to become a red herring, since the reader was no longer inside her thoughts. You can have scenes from the villain’s POV without giving things away; I've done it twice. In one story, you knew you were in the villain's POV but didn't know who he was; in the other, you knew the character, but his/her thoughts didn't lead you to the revelation of his/her guilt. The POV scenes worked for that character; they wouldn't work for every villainous character. Often, jumping into the villain's thoughts means exposing his crime. But in the case of my WIP, I'm seeking the opposite effect--jumping into the suspect's thoughts so the reader can see that he's a nice guy.

If I don't like the effect, I can always toss him back in the pond.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Actually, the answer was eight."

My daughters introduced me to this video. I don't remember the testing center being quite that exciting when I was at BYU, but hey, it was a long time ago. Dancing in the testing center=awesome. So in honor of the school year being ALMOST OVER and it's looking like we might survive (don't ask--let's just say we've learned something the hard way), here is BYU's Divine Comedy performing "Class Can't Handle Me."

Make sure to turn on the captions when you watch it so you'll catch all the words.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Winners!

At the Storymakers Conference, Liz Adair did a fantastic job of organizing door prizes. At each meal or general gathering, attendees had the chance to win books, and Liz showed a picture of each book cover and a blurb about the book up on the screen so everyone in attendance could see the prizes. Great promo for those who donated--thanks, Liz! When the winners collected their prizes, the prize committee took a picture of the winner and book, which is totally fun.

Here is the winner of Methods of Madness--Karen Hoover!

And here is the winner of Fool Me Twice--Carolyn Frank!

I haven't received a picture of the winner of Cold as Ice, but if one arrives, I'll post it. Congrats to the winners and I hope you enjoy the books!

I didn't win anything, but that's probably just as well, given the number of books I already own, including the number of books in bins in the garage. And the number of books sitting in a box and a bin in the hall. And those books in bags that I need to give to Deseret Industries, but which are currently sitting on my piano. Anyway, usually I come home from the Storymakers Conference with a pile of books that I bought at the bookstore. This year, I only came home with one--Annette Lyon's Chocolate Never Faileth. I wasn't exercising some fantastic wave of self-control (Ha ha! Self-control in a bookstore?), but rather I have a new method of reading most LDS fiction: my Kindle. I love being able to buy LDS fiction at the click of a mouse. And though e-books aren't nearly as pretty as paper books with their shiny covers, e-books don't stack up in piles and I can have them with me wherever I go. Long line at the grocery store? No problem! Got my Kindle.

I'm currently reading The List, by Melanie Jacobson. Another book on the to-buy-for-Kindle list: The Kiss of a Stranger, by Sarah M. Eden. Two romances?? What's come over me? But Melanie has a very fun, witty voice on her blog, and I wanted to give her book a try, and I enjoyed Sarah's Whitney finalist Courting Miss Lancaster, and want to read more by her. But I'm still not a romance fan, so don't be expecting lots of kissy stuff in my books. Though my upcoming book does include a kiss and aww, it's a nice kiss. There's hope for me yet, right?