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?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Whitney Gala Pics

Here are some pictures from the Whitney Awards gala.

The Trio of Terror--me with fellow suspense/thriller authors Gregg Luke and Traci Abramson. Be afraid! (Actually, Traci and Gregg are super nice. They save the scary stuff for their books).

From left to right: Marion Jensen, Rob Wells, and Erin Wells. If you had to pick people to be stranded with on a desert island, this would be a good group to choose. You would never be bored!

With Annette Lyon. Annette's novel Band of Sisters won a Whitney Award for Best General Fiction. I bought a copy of Annette's chocolate cookbook, Chocolate Never Faileth, at the Storymaker bookstore (I already own Band of Sisters). For Family Home Evening last week, I tried my first recipe from the book: Peppermint Patty Fudge Brownies. Ooooooh! SO tasty.

With the lovely ladies of the LDS Women's Book Review: Mindy, Sheila, and Shanda. Thank you for all you do to promote and support LDS writers!

With Julie Wright. Julie's novel Cross My Heart won a Whitney for Best Romance. Julie is a sweetheart, and she and her husband work like crazy every year to run the Storymaker bookstore.

With Jennie Hansen, one of the stars of LDS fiction. Jennie has published over twenty novels and has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me. Her next novel, If I Should Die, will be out next month.

With Dan Wells--and notice Howard Tayler peeking out from behind Dan. Love it! Dan's novel Mr. Monster tied with Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings for Best Novel of the Year.

With my wonderful sister, Bonnie, who accompanied me to the Whitneys.

With Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings won Best Speculative Fiction and tied for Best Novel of the Year. My daughter is a big Sanderson fan, and it's fun to get a picture with him and show it off to her--except that now she has her own picture with him, taken at a book signing. Therefore, I don't get as much mileage out of gleefully showing her my photos.

With authors Krista Jensen and Don Carey. Don's first novel, Bumpy Landings, was released last year, and Krista has had three novels accepted by Covenant Communications--wow! This is the first time I'd met Krista in person. I knew her through Twitter; she writes the most fun, entertaining tweets. And once I won TWO POUNDS of chocolate-covered gummy bears on her blog. How cool is that?

With the absolutely amazing Jeff (J. Scott) Savage. Jeff is one of my heroes.

Here I am with the marvelous John Ferguson. It was so fun to see John and his wife Danyelle again!

Thank you to Whitney president Josi Kilpack and her committee for all their incredible work!

Friday, May 13, 2011

LDStorymakers Conference

Hmm . . . Blogger ate all but one of the comments from my previous post. Dang! I hope it doesn't make a habit of that. Thank you for the comments and for the warm welcome to my new blog!

I had a wonderful time at the LDStorymakers Writers Conference last weekend. This event is a huge thrill for me, a chance to see my writer friends and to make new writer friends. Spending a weekend hanging out with a bunch of writers is just plain AWESOME.

Last year, the conference coincided with the week BYU winter semester ended, which was handy—I drove out, attended the conference, helped my daughter pack up, and then drove home (it’s a twelve-hour drive). This year, I was disappointed when they moved the conference into May, so the schedule didn’t mesh with when my daughter finished school. But then I discovered there are certain advantages to having the conference on a different week—namely, I didn’t have to help her move. She did all the packing and cleaning and then, when all the work was done, I picked her up at the airport. Win! I mean, um, Amy, I really wish I could have been there to help. Glad it all worked out for you.

This year for the conference I stayed with my sister, who recently moved to Utah. My sister is: 1-gorgeous, 2-thin, 3-a talented and witty writer, and 4-has a spotless house, even though she has a four-year-old son and one-year-old twins. But I’m not jealous. Okay, I’m jealous. She and her husband are also super nice and gracious hosts—they even left mints on my pillow, and they would bake chocolate chip cookies at night for us to eat while we chatted.

The conference began with my getting lost on the way to boot camp on Thursday. I’d written the address down wrong. Oops. Thank heavens for my phone and for the Utah street-numbering grid system. I’d just gone to 500 North instead of 500 South, and was able to quickly correct the problem. And can I just say that the freeways between my sister’s home and the Sheraton in Salt Lake were SO EMPTY! What do you people do with all your cars? Apparently you don’t store them on the freeways like people do here.

At boot camp, I had the honor of working with five awesome writers. The hours allotted for boot camp critiquing always sound like a huge amount of time (5 hours this year), but then once you get going, you find you could actually use even more time, were it not for the risk of collapsing with exhaustion or getting totally incoherent in your critiquing by the end: (Me: “I’m having trouble understanding what’s happening at this point in the scene. It’s all a jumble and it looks like you started writing in Hebrew.” Boot camper: “You’re holding the page upside down.”). This is the first year the conference organizers have scheduled boot camp on Thursday afternoon instead of early in the mornings before Friday and Saturday conference. I thought the Thursday schedule worked out well. For one thing, it was nice to not have to get up so early to be at the conference (and to spend the night before so paranoid about waking up on time that I keep waking up to check the time).

Thursday evening, I went to dinner with Heather and Bill Justesen, Eric Swedin, and Abel Keogh, which was awesomely fun, and not just because we went to Rodizio. That night was also the Storymaker meet and greet, and one of the highlights for me was finally meeting (and greeting) Traci Abramson. Traci is so much fun, and I had a great time chatting with her. She's amazing--she releases two bestsellers every year.

Friday morning, I taught a class on fiction-writing basics called “Timbers and Tools.” I was excited when they asked me to teach on that topic—basic fiction technique is a topic I enjoy (or rather a group of topics). The class went well, with the only glitch being that I couldn’t figure out how to get the PowerPoint to work at first, and the nice technical guy from the hotel came and fixed it for me. Technology is not my strong point, though for the record, I did turn off the TV all by myself tonight.

For the first hour on Friday afternoon, I was the timekeeper for agent Becca Stumpf. My job was to alert Becca when there was one minute left in the pitch session, and then alert her when the ten minutes were up. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I just sat in the hallway, kept an eye on the stopwatch on my phone, and chatted with writers waiting for their pitch sessions. Since I wasn’t pitching, I didn’t have to be nervous. For the record, the only reason I even knew that I had a stopwatch on my phone was because my son had showed me that handy little timer when I was trying to set an alarm to time something (see above about technology not being my strong point).

Saturday morning I was an instructor in an experimental new Publication Primer class that was like an advanced boot camp. For this class, we had critiqued each other’s pages beforehand, so we’d have more time to focus on feedback instead of on reading pages aloud. I worked with a great group of writers, and it went really well, except that I didn’t keep a firm hand on the time (you’d think I would have learned something by timing pitch sessions) so by the time we hit the last two writers, we were rushed. I’ve learned a lesson: next time I’ll make sure to stick to a schedule so everyone gets their allotted time.

Saturday night was the Whitney Awards gala. My sister accompanied me to the gala, and it was wonderful to have her there. Winning a Whitney for Cold as Ice was amazing, especially considering the powerhouse competition. A huge thank you to the Whitney committee and Academy and to the Storymakers conference committee. What a great weekend, and I can't wait for next year! Here are some photos:

Me with Ashley Lavering at the mass booksigning on Friday night. That was a great event--I hope they do it that way next year, with all the authors signing at the same time.

With Kimberley Griffiths Little. Kimberley's book, The Healing Spell, won a Whitney for Best General YA fiction.

With Donna Weaver.

And I am exhausted and the pictures are uploading very slowly, so I'll post some pics of the Whitney gala tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Welcome to my blog! A post about the recent LDStorymakers Conference will be coming soon. Meanwhile, here's a picture from the Whitney Awards gala. This is me with my editor, Kirk Shaw--as well James Dashner (peeking out from behind Kirk's shoulder) and Julie Wright (behind me). I didn't know James and Julie were there when my sister snapped this picture. I love it!