Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Little Craziness

"Everyone in the whole world is crazy, except thee and me--and sometimes I wonder about thee."  It was a popular saying when I was a teenager and sometimes I find myself thinking it today.  Am I the only one who wonders if the world has gone a bit crazy?

Take our international economic situation!  I took economic classes.  I've studied finance from corporate bookkeeping to balancing my own checkbook and I can't see how we can spend our way out of debt.  Sure purchasing goods; spending is essential to a healthy economy, but so is saving.  Somehow our financial well-being has been twisted so that a person's ability to borrow matters more than the ability to pay one's own way.  People determine their financial worth by their credit card limit instead of actual dollars in the bank.  Poverty occurs when the credit cards are maxed out and the mortgage company forecloses.  Savers who consistently squirrel away small sums of money for years to make major purchases, meet emergencies, or to provide a comfortable retirement are reaping .02% or less on their pitiful savings.  What has happened to the economic laws I once knew?

Advertising constantly assures us we "deserve" this or that.  I don't get that premise. No one "deserves" any of life's luxuries or even much of what many consider necessities.  We don't buy cars, clothes, houses, or take vacations because we deserve them, but because we worked for the money to purchase them.  We only "deserve" those inalienable rights given us by God--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Supreme Court says taking God's name publicly in vain is a constitutional right, but addressing God in prayer in public is a crime. It seems free speech has become a bit one-sided.

A man can be fired from his job for tackling a shoplifter, but it's all right for the store to increase the cost we all must pay to cover the loss from pilfered goods.

It's all right to dump piles of rocks, guaranteed to blow a tire or twist an ankle if accidently stepped on or driven over, in median strips in most neighborhoods, but it's illegal to plant vegetables in that space.  A yard full of rocks and weeds is a good thing?

Occasionally my  husband and I watch a television program that shows people purchasing houses, condos, or apartments.  Sometimes we laugh at the unrealistic expectations of people who expect four bedrooms, a man cave, three baths, a modern kitchen, and a pool for $160,000.  Other times we're amazed to see people who think they got an amazing bargain because they purchased a pile of rubble for over a million dollars.  People gush over ugly tile, rave over weird wall paper, or turn their noses up over perfectly good, attractive, but slightly outdated fixtures. We shake our heads and say there's no accounting for tastes, good sense, or the odd quirks of the human mind. 

Which brings me around to the business of writing.  All of these elements of common sense--or lack there-of-- tastes, imagination, moral sense, realistic aspects, preferences play a part in both the creation and the consumption of novels.  Whether consciously or not, a writer creates characters and actions that follow his/her own beliefs, standards, and sense of right and wrong.  The reader brings his/her own set of values to those pages.  Sometimes there is a happy meeting of minds between writer and reader, but sometimes it's a poor match.  We've all had someone rave about how wonderful a book is, then when we pick it up, expecting a great read, only to find it lackluster, boring, so so, or even repugnant. 

The world is a bit crazy; perhaps it always has been, but just as the people on that home buying show find the best bargains when they do some preparation, we can get the best bargain for our reading and writing enjoyment if we take the time to do a little preparation.  Writers who are perfectly clear on who they are writing for find their writing niche most easily.  A romance writer knows her audience wants romantic tension between a deserving couple who overcome great odds and end up in a committed relationship.  Mystery and suspense readers want to be puzzled, scared a bit, then reach a satisfying solution to the puzzle. A writer who wants to write for the LDS market needs to write within the parameters of LDS standards.  Deciding LDS readers need to "lighten up", accept more sexually explicit content and X-rated expletives is only going to attract like-minded readers, the bulk of the LDS market won't touch such books with a ten foot pole.

Many LDS readers in the past felt if they purchased a book at Deseret Book or Seagull Book (or any of the other LDS bookstore chains) it would be a good book.  It might be a good book as far as maintaining standards, but no one book will meet the needs of every LDS reader.  The most savvy shoppers learn some writers fill their needs better than others, some readers buy their books online, some checkout LDS books from their libraries.  Keeping a list of preferred writers is a good idea, discovering which friends share similar tastes with you is helpful, reading blogs and reviews will generally give a good idea of whether or not a particular book might be enjoyable, and it's a good idea to talk to the authors at book signings .  Reading will increase in the pleasure it provides as the reader discovers preferred genres and authors, but even favorites become better if there's a little craziness added for contrast now and then.  Make it a policy to sample a new author or a different genre occasionally.  If the new book turns out to be a pile of rubble, throw it at the wall, read something you know you'll like, and when you're ready to experiment again, do it.  If you feel a wee bit crazy, you'll fit right in.

Friday, September 23, 2011


"A nation of well-informed men (and women) who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins."

Benjamin Franklin

You may think that the two images and the quote by Benjamin Franklin have no connection, when indeed they do.
My novel, "Letters in the Jade Dragon Box" will be at bookstores in the next few days. It tells the story of a family and a nation torn apart under the cruel dictatorship of Mao Tse-tung and the CCP. (Chinese Communist Party)

The tyranny which enslaved China from 1949 to 1976 (and beyond) came because the people were weary of chaos and war, and in their weakened state the words of the Communists sounded good to their ears. Because of their ignorance of the Communist's agenda, the people handed over their freedom to a flawed system and, on the most part, self-seeking despots.
The false system was legitimized by the media and the artists who were forced to only show the CCP in a glorified light. An example is the picture above which is a representation of the soldiers in the snow during the Long March. They are smiling and happy to be fighting for a system of government who promised equality and freedom for all its citizens—happy to be walking thousands of miles for Chairman Mao—happy to be dying by the thousands as only about 1,000 of the 10,000 men who began the Long March actually made it to journey's end.

In China there are still large pictures of Mao Tse-tung hung in public places. Many still revere him, although between 58 to 70 million Chinese died during his reign from hunger, imprisonment, torture, execution, or suicide.

In ignorance the Chinese people were enslaved. May we as Americans never find ourselves in such a place.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Writer's Heaven

A writer died, and due to a bureaucratic snafu in the hereafter, she was allowed to choose her own fate: heaven or hell for all eternity. Being a very shrewd dead person, she asked St. Peter for a tour of both. The first stop was hell where she saw rows and rows of writers sitting chained to desks in a room as hot as a thousand suns. Fire licked the writers' fingers as they tried to work; demons whipped their backs with chains. Your general hell scene.
"Wow, this is awful," said the writer. "Let's see some heaven."
In a moment they were whisked to heaven and the writer saw rows and rows of writers chained to desks in a room hot as a thousand suns. Fire licked the writers' fingers as they tried to work; demons whipped their backs with chains. It looked and smelled even worse than hell.
"What gives, Pete?" the writer asked. "This is worse than hell!"
"Yes," St. Peter replied, "but here your work gets published."

There are some days when that scenario doesn't seem so far-fetched after all. And about the chain thing: I literally have to visualize chains around my ankles sometimes to keep myself seated at the computer to finish a chapter or even a page. But the joy of seeing our creations birthed and published must make it all worth it because we do it over and over again. Like Anna said, she loves her characters. She believes her reading public will love them too and so she will not give up when her babies are rejected.
Being a writer requires a lot of determination in many different areas: we have to be determined to research carefully, then write the story we see in our mind's eye so that others will catch our vision. We must be determined to see it through to the bitter end when there are so many other things we need or want to be doing instead. That is what drives a real writer: the determination - as the saying goes "come hell or high water" - to make our stories come to life for others.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Show vs. Tell

I freely admit that there are plenty of rules to writing that I struggle with, but the one that gives me the most trouble has to be the rule, "Show, don't tell." So I am certainly not qualified to write, blog, or offer advice on the topic.


I have been paying attention to my dear author friends, took some great notes at the LDStorymakers conference on the topic, and have learned from my notes I have gotten back from my critiques and this is what I have learned...

First of all we know that telling a reader gives them know room for their imagination to grow. Everything is there in black and white.

Showing a reader is planting clues, giving evidence, trusting the reader to figure things out for themselves.

If you were to take a friend and blindfold them, what would you tell them? In the setting of your story, you need to put us there as if we were blindfolded.

When writing about thoughts and emotions, rather than telling us the persons emotions show us through action.

Be specific in description. Rather than saying "a car" write "a blue Mercedes" or rather than say the man was tall, say, "He had to duck through the doorway as he entered the room."

Using good description is essential but it's just as important to recognize bad description. Bad description is description that serves no purpose. It will kill the scene and makes the reader want to skip down to the next important bit of information pertaining to the story. (I've done that when I've read a book-- have you? You want to skip to the good stuff that really matters!)

You want to slim down your description to what really matters. What details would your POV character notice? Why? What is the most important for the reader to know? Why? You don't want to mess up your pacing and interfere with your story.

Remember to add details that pack a punch. POV characters don't usually notice the little things that are familiar to them, so change something. Force them to notice something when creating your scene.

Last of all: Make each word count.

These are all things I need to work on. I tend to "Tell" more than "Show"and I wonder if I will ever master this rule.

I do appreciate that I have so many to learn from. I want to be sure to acknowledge Annette Lyon and Sarah Eden. I used some of my notes from their classes from the writers conference for this blog.

I especially want to acknowledge Kerry Blair, Stephanie Black, Sian Bessey, and all the other ladies on this blog for their fine examples of writing as they continually teach me the right way to write. It's been a long process for me to learn and I still have a long way to go, but it's these ladies that make the journey such an incredible ride. It's an honor and a blessing to call each of them my friends.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


I've got a new book coming out next month (shameless plug - it's called No Escape, buy it) and part of the fun of editing it is getting to know the characters again - I haven't read the book for a couple of years. I may have invented Michael Boyd, the straightforward New York cop with misplaced trust in his wife and a difficult relationship with his brother, and Catrin Pritchard, the prickly and protective single mum, but in the course of creating them I got to know them, and now I feel as though I'm reuniting with old friends. Until the death of my hard disk a couple of weeks ago I had on my computer the floorplan of Catrin's seaside cottage, her university exam timetable, and a timeline for Michael from his birth to the end of his secondment in Wales.

Although writers mostly work alone in a darkened room hunched over a computer, I have never really felt that I was in this endeavour on my own. Working with characters feels like working with people. And I get quite attached to these people in much the same way I did to those other people I created - my children. (Send for the men in the white coats now.)

Something I really enjoyed about reading the reviews of my last book, Honeymoon Heist, was that all the reviewers really got my characters. They understood that they were both flawed, and weren't well suited to each other, but that their relationship was going to work anyway because ultimately they were both determined and honourable. They got that their past experiences had shaped them, and they noted how they grew in the course of the story. Rodney and Claire are important to me - I spent a lot of time with them - and I really liked the fact that readers related to them too.

I'm currently hawking a 120,000 word epic fantasy around agents and publishers, and I'm very much attached to the characters in that too. Emon is an ordinary lad who gets picked on by his siblings, is none too bright and much too naive and trusting, and just wants to be normal despite the overwhelming evidence that he isn't. Emara is (literally) from another world and has struggled for survival her whole life, but clings to moral absolutes and professional duty so strongly that it seems impossible that her relationship with Emon could survive. This manuscript, Emon and the Emperor, has now been rejected ten times, but one reason I'm not giving up is because I love these characters and almost feel that I owe it to them to let them get out there, see the light of day, and be known and loved by others too. I want them to live, and they can only really do that by being in print and being read and shared.

Michael Boyd and Catrin Pritchard, Rodney and Claire Hewlett, Emon Shipwright and Emara Lann may all be fictional and created by my own mind, but they have nevertheless bought me pleasure and I have enjoyed getting to know them and spending time in their company. And if that sounds a bit deep and bizarre, think for a moment about fictional characters who mean a lot to you. Harry, Ron and Hermione? Edward, Bella and Jacob? Bilbo and Frodo? Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy?

A good writer can bring characters to life, such that it can be a wrench to remember that they don't exist in the real world. Which characters from books have most enriched your life?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


No one has ever accused me of being the most observant person on this planet. I trip over lint on the carpet!  I was in a minor accident once with a hit and run driver; I couldn't remember whether it was a car, a station wagon, or a pickup truck that hit my car.  Unfortunately my youngest daughter takes after her mother; she tripped over the welcome mat at her own front door and seriously sprained both ankles last week!

Oddly enough I do notice trivia and some not so trivial things around me.  Last week I observed a little girl at a salad bar scoop up some chocolate pudding and try to shake it onto her plate from the spoon.  It didn't fall off so she wiped it off with her fingers, then licked her fingers before jamming the spoon back in the pudding, again wiping off the stuck pudding with her finger, and licking her fingers once more.  She repeated this action half a dozen times.

 I noticed, too, the woman in the changing booth next to mine slip on her shoes sans socks.  I also noticed her feet were covered with athletes foot and she'd been standing barefoot on the changing booth carpet.

While getting my hair done, I watched in the mirror as the patron behind me had extensions added to make her hair appear fuller.  As the beautician pinched each extension with a little pair of pliers, I wondered how the woman getting the extensions could possibly wash, brush, or comb her hair with all that hardware in it.  She was excited about a date with a new man that night and I hoped he wasn't the kind who liked to run his fingers through a woman's long, silky hair.

The mention of hair reminds me of the time I sat in church and watched a young girl's hair turn from black to several shades of brown, blonde, and then to red.  All the variations in color were due to the way the sun struck the large stained glass windows high on the walls of the chapel.

Who knows, any of these small incidents could and the last one did ,wind up in one of my books. Some writers are more observant than my daughter and I are when it comes to obstacles to personal welfare, but most writers have a tendency to see little quirks, mannerisms, the unusual, trivia we can use to make characters more real, more endearing, or less desirable. It's the little things most people may not notice in real life that makes a character in a novel more real.

I couldn't tell you the eye color of any of my neighbors or most of my relatives, but in a novel this is usually an important detail. I have no idea what kind of car anyone, other than my husband or myself, drives. What color my sister's carpet is, is a mystery to me. There's a mural on the wall of my doctor's office; I'm not sure what it depicts, but there's a bird in it with incorrect proportions.

Why I have selective observation skills, I don't know, but being aware of small details around me has enriched my ability to develop characters and create scenes.  Why I don't notice a stair is two inches higher than I raise my foot, I don't know.

As for my daughter, blessed or cursed with the same problem, check out her blog sometime. She has very different tastes from mine in her reading and writing preferences, but she has a sense of humor that has delighted me since she wrote her first story about an inept dragon and an unusual princess.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Passion for the Work

I noted the comments on the last post I wrote on passion in writing. Today I thought I'd elaborate.
I've been reading Dwight Swain's "Techniques of the Selling Writer" and I find myself nodding in agreement at nearly every sentence. He says, "Feeling is the place every story starts."
I agree wholeheartedly. If we don't feel for the character, or with them, we can easily lose interest in what they are doing, or what someone is doing to them. We must care deeply about those characters - enough to live life vicariously through them.
It would be no life at all to not have feelings. I read for a reawakening of feelings: tears and sorrow at tragedy; smiles at witty dialogue; out-loud laughter at the antics of the hero and heroine. I read to relish the hair rising on the back of my neck in terror at the heroine's peril, safe and secure it's not happening physically to me, but enjoying the thrill in absentia.
I love to read great description that puts me exactly in the middle of the scene - the sounds, smells, taste, and feelings. As I write, I must know not only what my heroine is experiencing physically, but what she's thinking, and why she's doing what she's doing.
As a writer, I must remember to write vividly, using sensory perception to fill the requirements of my readers which are my own requirements when I read.
I want to experience the emotions of my heroine - so I expect her crises to be presented in a logical manner, hopefully a chronological one, that I can follow without re-reading to make sure I know what's going on.
What happened to wrench her from her everyday life? How does she react to the change in her existence? What is she going to do about her new situation? How will she face these new challenges?
As a reader, I'm anxious to live - to feel - each of these emotions with her, anxious to identify with her as she steps into new, unknown territory, physically and emotionally. And I need to walk every step of the way with her to the satisfying, logical conclusion of the story.
I don't want to read long, agonizing paragraphs of description or introspection that don't move the story forward. They don't usually convey feeling. And after all, isn't that what we're reading for is feeling, maybe even more than for entertainment and education?
As a writer, if I don't fulfill these needs of my readers, if I don't evoke in them the feelings and emotions they want to experience, I've let them down in the worst way possible. As a reader, I'll never pick up another book by that author if he or she lets me down in those areas.
Write so the passion you feel for your character shines through your prose. Write the kind of story you love to read and give your readers the kind of story that rouses passion, sympathy, anger, disgust, happiness, peace - feelings that will stay with them long after they put the book down.
You can be sure they'll come back for more.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Writing Historical Fiction

Here are a few things I've discovered as I've waded through the process of writing historical fiction:

1. You must love reading and research. Looking into big fat biographies, autobiographies, and history books in a library. While the Internet and Goggle are marvelous tools, they have their limitations and cannot supersede the research you do in those bastions of bookdom. You must like snooping around in museums, State Historical Archives, and used book stores.

2. You have to like detail. Suppose you're writing a book about, let's say China during the reign of Mao Tse-tung. Of course, you have to dig into the basic history of the time period, but you must also know what the people ate, how they dressed, their mode of transportation, their cultural heritage, their religious traditions and celebrations, the art work they admired, and their feelings about their government and the world.

3. You must be able to organize your research. File folders and file boxes will become your best friends. Little notes scratched on bits of paper just won't do. If you take a quote from a book, it must be written on a full piece of paper with all the pertinent data concerning the resource, and placed in a file folder under the appropriate heading.

4. You have to be prepared for frustration as you try to weave the wealth of your newly acquired knowledge into the fictional story without being heavy handed. (No reader likes two pages of dry data)

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Historical fiction is a wonderful genre, and is both a pain and a joy to write. If done well, it can offer history to the reader in an exciting and involving way.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What's not so great about the Kindle.

I've written at least two blog posts so far about why I love my Kindle and why I think that ebooks are probably the future for all of us. Everyone I know who has a Kindle loves it. Many have found their love of reading rekindled (pun intended) and have read more since getting their Kindle than for several years beforehand. I include myself in this.

But there has to be another side and so I thought I might stand up for the printed page and explain why, as much as I love my Kindle, there will always be room for books in my life and my home.

I have just finished a great book. It's called The Year of Living Biblically and it's by A.J. Jacobs. It was funny and thought-provoking, and I recommend it to everyone, but it's not available on Kindle. Not all books are. That's one of the drawback of the Kindle.

I got this book from the library, on a whim. My daughter was being interviewed by the librarian to see if she'd completed her Summer Reading Challenge, and so I browsed along a nearby shelf I don't usually visit. You can browse with a Kindle, and Amazon will even make recommendations, but you're unlikely to come across a completely random book like that. And even if you do, you can't borrow it for a month for free.

I also love the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith and I now have  the entire series. I bought them second hand in charity shops for between 50p and £2 each. You can't do that with the Kindle either.

My daughter doesn't have any scriptures at the moment, and always borrowed mine for church. The first week after I got the scriptures for my Kindle she asked to borrow that instead, and I agreed, just glad to  have scriptures for a change rather than sharing with my husband. But the following week she wanted my printed scriptures again. It's really difficult navigating with the Kindle, especially if you want to compare two passages. You can't just put a bookmark or your fingers in each section. To get to anywhere from anywhere else you have to click Menu - Go to - Beginning and then you get the list of Old Testament, New Testament, etc. So you scroll to the book of scripture, and then to the book, and then to the chapter... Meanwhile the rest of the class have looked it up, read it and moved on. The Kindle is great for reading a book through from beginning to end, but not so good for reference books.

Most print books with pictures, diagrams, etc, don't have these in the Kindle version.

If you're a  reviewer, the Kindle can be annoying in that, because the font size can be changed by the user, it doesn't have page numbers. Somehow it doesn't seem quite the same to say "At 27% the author introduces the lame sub-plot which has fizzled out by 53%."

Books smell better. New, they smell of paper and ink. Old, they smell of must and nostalgia.

I still love my Kindle, but printed books are far from obsolete.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Trivia

 Since today happens to be a national holiday, celebrated in varied ways, I thought it would be interesting to share a bit of Labor Day trivia:

For most people, Labor Day signifies the end of summer.

In U.S. sports, Labor Day heralds the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons.

In high society, Labor Day is the last day of the year when it is considered fashionable to wear white.

The first Labor Day officially celebrated in the United States took place on September 5, 1882. It was sponsored by the Central Labor Union of New York.

Oregon was the first state to make it holiday in 1887.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. This act was hastily passed through Congress following an altercation between U.S. Marshals & Military, and workers who were on strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company, an incident that halted railway traffic from Chicago to the West. Unfortunately, 13 strikers were killed, and 57 were wounded during this conflict. To appease the public and a major labor union, President Grover Cleveland and Congress passed this bill six days after the strike ended. The first Monday in September became the official date for this holiday to be celebrated.

Here's a list of the some of the occupations in our nation:

Occupation        Number of employees
Gaming services workers   85,000
Hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists 718,000
Chefs and head cooks 281,000
Firefighters 258,000
Musicians, singers and related workers 179,000
Bakers 183,000
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 286,000
Service station attendants   96,000
Farmers and ranchers 825,000
Pharmacists 232,000
Teachers 6.5 million  

Hmmm . . .  writers didn't make this list, but I happen to know that most of us put in hours of labor with each manuscript. ;)

I also find it interesting that on a day that celebrates the workers of America, most of us play . . . a lot. ;) 

Thursday, September 1, 2011


There's a television commercial that annoys my husband so much, he turns off the sound every time it comes on--and it comes on a lot.  Most commercials annoy me, but that one not as much as some. Come to think of it, most of the programming annoys me too.

Few things irk me more than sales calls, especially ones I know are fraud schemes.  I used to try to be nice to telephone salesmen; after all they are only trying to earn a living.  Not anymore.  I've had too many calls that start out telling me they're only calling to offer some kind of help with my credit card.  The moment someone mentions credit card over the phone, you can be sure it's a scam.  I do not have diabetes.  I do not want someone to clean my carpet.  If I were interested in selling my home, I'd contact a realtor , not the other way around.  And if I want to contribute to a political party or candidate , I'll initiate the contact or do it at the caucus.  I'm not interested in attending tea party meetings.  My name is on the do not call list SO STOP CALLING ME!

I'm definitely not a fan of talk radio, though I occasionally listen to Doug Wright.  I especially dislike a certain sports talk radio program where the commentator doesn't talk, he shouts and whines. 

Clothes that are too tight, too short, or require an act of God to keep them from falling off the rump are silly and juvenile, but they don't annoy me as long as I'm not the one expected to try them on in a fitting booth.  What does annoy me is the lack of stylish, attractive clothes that are designed to fit the human body available for real people to purchase in department stores.

I really don't care what color anyone's hair but mine is.  Purple is fine if you think it's right for you.  I once dyed a thin lock of my hair neon pink.  Short, long, curly, straight; I don't care.  Now dreadlocks are something else; they look matted, greasy, and unkempt.  They look like the wearer needs a shower.  If that's your style, so be it, just don't expect me to look at you; I can't get past your gross hair.

I dislike rudeness and find it irritating that so many people, push and shove, use crude language, play obnoxious music half the night, fail to show gratitude with a simple "thank you," take chances with other people's lives on the streets and highways, or let doors swing shut in the face of the person behind them.  Words such as please, excuse me, may I, thanks, and sorry, have disappeared from some people's vocabularies.

When it comes right down to it, most annoyances (not all; afterall there are still annoyances like mosquitoes, wasps, and gophers to deal with) are human caused.  Perhaps some can't be helped, but most are the product of inconsideration and lack of respect.  I suspect we could all serve society better by being annoyed less and avoiding providing annoyances more.

There's a good chance, every person alive has a list of things that annoy them.  Some of those annoyances, like fireworks at two in the morning, make us grumpy. Some just cause us to roll our eyes, but there are some that plant the seeds of major clashes or even war.  I've been told venting is good for easing tension, so tell me, what annoys, irks, or just plain bugs you?