Friday, May 28, 2010


Lisa Paskins is the winner of this month's B contest. As I announced at the beginning, this contest ended early due to the holiday weekend and because I have company coming and my sister is in the hospital. Lisa, please send me your wish list and address.

My review column on Meridian is going through some changes. Instead of appearing once a month and covering half a dozen or so novels, it will now be a single review of one book, and will appear once a week, Thursdays. For the next contest, June A, please let me know what you think of this change, pro or con. I'm open to any suggestions readers may have to make my reviews satisfy the needs of readers and writers.

My blogs may be few and far apart for the next little while. My sister who has acute leukemia will undergo a bone marrow/stem cell transplant next week here in Salt Lake and it will take awhile to know whether or not this will be successful or how ill it may make her. She lives in another state, as does most of my family, so I try to be with her and her husband as much as possible and pass on updates to the rest of our family. Consequently I'm not getting a lot of blogging or writing time. (My WIP is now at 57,302 words).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When the Wind Blows

Do you remember the old story about the man who applied for a job working for a farmer, who gave as his qualification for the job that he could sleep when the wind blew? The point was that he always prepared for the possibility of a storm by securing the stock and barn every night, therefore when a storm arose, he didn't have to jump out of bed and run around doing anything to save the animals or barn. He was prepared.

If there's one thing I've learned for sure in this life, it is that there are a lot of unexpected storms. I'm not just referring to the kind of snow storm much of the West received earlier this week. I mean the unexpected illnesses, accidents and injuries, death of a loved one, job loss, a late freeze, a car that breaks down, a demanding calling, a family member or friend who needs help, and that list doesn't even begin to list natural disasters such as flood, volcano ash, tornados, tsunamis, or hurricanes. There are lesser personal disasters, too, that run the gamut from a broken tooth, a worn out washing machine, theft, or a rejected manuscript. Any or all of these things can raise havoc in our lives.

How do we prepare for these unexpected storms? Physical preparation is the easiest, though is often neglected. There's good old food storage, but there's also making certain we have adequate insurance, a cash reserve for dealing with emergencies, and taking steps to be strong and healthy. A little forethought will carry most people safely through most storms, though not all. That is why we must be spiritually prepared as well. Tough times can drain our spiritual reserves as quickly as our physical.

When my husband and I were younger and our children were arriving, my husband became deeply concerned about keeping the gas tank of our car topped off. I've often thought of that time and compared it to my spiritual tank. I never know when there will come a demand for spiritual strength and when it does, I don't want to be caught with an empty tank. I've always considered prayer, scripture study, bearing of one's testimony, accepting callings, and choosing uplifting entertainment part of spiritual preparation. Now I'm convinced the most important step to being spiritually prepared is temple attendance.

It's no accident that temples are being built far and wide, faster than most of us can keep track of them. This world needs the spiritual strength available only within those sacred walls. During this time of physical uncertainties and spiritual trials, I urge everyone to secure your homes, prepare reserves, look after your health, establish a Plan B, and keep your spiritual tanks filled.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Winner plus Miscellaneous Thoughts

I can't believe May is half over. A winner has been picked for the contest just ended. Congratulations, Stephanie Humphries. Please contact me.

Between the abundance of storms we've had this past month, trying to finish my WIP, and my sister's illness, I haven't been able to spend much time in my gardens, but today I noticed my little peony tree is covered with blooms and decided to share it with you.

I just finished planting all of my Mothers' Day flowers. My daughters know I love gardening, so most or all of them give me plants each year. Guess what I give them! Plants! LOL We gave each other books before I became a reviewer. Now I receive many, many books to review and when I finish with them, my daughters pick which ones they want to read. They all make their way back to me. They don't have to worry about finding shelf space, but I do, that's why I give books away every month. (It just isn't possible for me to throw books away!) I have over a hundred books I want to give away. If I could afford the postage I'd send each of you a couple of them, but since I can't, I'll keep chipping away at my stack with my twice monthly contests. The new contest starts now and all you have to do is comment on any of my posts between now and noon May 28th. I'm ending this contest early this time because of the holiday weekend and because my sister, who has acute Leukemia, is having a bone marrow transplant the day after Memorial Day and I'll have a house full of company and be spending a lot of time at the hospital.

I took time out this morning to take my five-year-old grandson to his soccer game. As those of you who have ever had a five-year-old soccer player know, little kids play the game according to their own rules and whims. A seagull landed on the field and my grandson chased it to the middle of the next playing field, his best kick sent the ball flying towards his opponents' goal, but he had a great time and feels like a winner because he got a trophy and dozens of high fives. As I looked over four fields of four, five, and six-year-olds I couldn't help contrasting those children with poor little abused Ethan who was killed a week ago here in Utah by his mother and stepfather. Children that age ask so little, just to be loved and accepted. Those little soccer players represented four or more races and who knows how many other categories by which society labels each other, but each was thrilled by shouts of encouragement and hugs from fathers, moms, grandparents, and other assorted relatives who cared enough to spend their time and money in support of them. It mattered little to the children whether they won or lost the game, what did matter was the acceptance they received for their efforts. Every child should be that kind of winner.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Critics or book reviewers for newspapers, magazines, and some online review sites receive a lot of books to read for consideration for reviews. Reviewing books is usually a fun job and as a reviewer for Meridian Magazine, I get to read some really great books. Unfortunately I also get to read some boring, dull books, some mediocre books, some poorly written books, and some books that make me wonder where was the author's editor? Over the years I've noticed a problem I don't often see addressed by workshops or helpful writers' blogs. So bear with me while I make some observations on the thin line between fact and fiction in novel writing.

Some facts are essential of course. Historic events must occur in a novel at the exact time they occurred in history. Minor flirting with time to suit a novel's storyline is excusable; major historic events can't be altered. I read a book once where a coast to coast railroad played a major role in the story, but it was set in 1852. I didn't finish the book. Great care must be taken in fictionalizing a famous or scriptural character's life. LDS fiction writers must be scrupulously careful when they mix a doctrinal element into their books to ensure that the concept being used is doctrinally correct by Church standards and not "the Gospel according to Me" sort of thing. However, this isn't the fiction/fact line I'm most concerned about at the moment. What I'm really referring to are the books where the author is obsessed with something in his/her own life or a story that happened to someone else but the writer decides it would make a good novel.

If I mention in a review that a key point in a novel is implausible, I often hear an indignant, "but that's the way it really happened." If that's the way it happened, why is the author billing his/her work as fiction? Fiction means the writer gets to make up the story; it's okay, even preferable to make a good story better when writing fiction. "Stranger than fiction" isn't a meaningless cliché. In real life things happen that in a novel just aren't believable. It's okay to use a real life experience as a base for a chapter or even the entire book, but the writer must separate him/herself from the story and concentrate on telling a great story rather than relaying facts or sticking zealously to the way the event played out in real life.

The quasi autobiography/novel doesn't often fly well for several reasons; the author tries too hard to stick to the actual events, the author is too emotionally involved to see the story's flaws, the story isn't as powerful to the reader as the experience was to the writer, or the story is undertaken by an inexperienced writer who mistakenly believes writing about one's self is easy and doesn't require spending time on research. This type of story doesn't often turn out well.

Writers, including me, are often asked where we get our ideas. Here again, there needs to be a careful line between fact and fiction. I've mentioned before that most writers play the "what if" game. Many novels begin with a news story. Some event such as the huge oil spill in the Gulf sets the "what if" game in motion for dozens of writers and here's where the novelist is separated from the journalist. The journalist has a responsibility to unearth facts and tell the story as close to those facts as possible. The novelist has no such restrictions. One novelist might build his plot around an eco-terrorist group who set up the explosion to discredit the petroleum industry and cause the suspension of offshore oil drilling. They feel certain no one will suspect environmentalists of jeopardizing wildlife and pristine beaches. They justify their action by reasoning that the sacrifice of one environmental setting will offset the many other such areas that will be saved. Another writer might focus on the heroic actions of a man who loses his life while expediting the rescue of others from the crumbling platform. A romance writer could place a brilliant female engineer on the crew struggling to close off the massive leak and let her fall in love with an oil company executive with whom she must work closely. A Science fiction writer could devise a plot around a mysterious substance injected by aliens into the hoses that snake across the ocean floor to carry oil to the surface. At first the disaster appears to be of an environmental nature, but as the oil reaches shore, it is discovered it carries a deadly, highly contagious disease meant to spread through birds and sea life to wipe out human life. Even comedy writers might wonder "what if" an overzealous and ditzy hairdresser decided, through fair means or foul, to collect a ton of hair to donate to the cause of making huge ink blotters to absorb the oil floating toward the Louisiana coast.

All of these "what ifs" started from the same facts, but the various fiction writers are only constrained by the need for factual accuracy concerning how the oil disperses, the damage potential of the spill, and natural, biological, and scientific laws. Some may need to take a look at US and international law concerning oil production. The fiction writers can move the oil spill to another location, change the principal people and companies involved, make the spill larger or smaller, or do any number of things to the story until the reader forgets they all started with a real event. A life is a real event, but like most vacation photos, few people want to sit through a detailed, chronological, mustn't leave anything out, replay of someone else's amazing trip. A novel that feels suspiciously like watching someone else's two hundred vacation slides isn't good fiction.

Good fiction writers need to learn how to balance fact and fiction while leaving straight factual reporting to journalists and biographers. The best novelists place their emphasis on telling a good story, whether it happened that way or not.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Writing Update

I promised to keep you posted on my WIP (work in progress). It's currently at 43,852 words and is moving along quite well. I've written most of the first half, the last chapter, and several bits to tuck into chapters I haven't written yet. I get asked quite frequently whether I outline and I guess the answer is yes and no. I usually outline a chapter or two at a time and I start out with a major focus part of the story. Sometimes I write a lead in for something that is going to happen later, then jump to the later part and write it and set it aside for when I get there. I know, that sounds confusing, but it works for me. I have written a couple of books that I outlined completely before beginning, a few I outlined then threw out my outline a few chapters into the book, and some where I've done no outlining at all. Sometimes I begin at the beginning and tell the story straight through; other times I jump around.

The book I'm working on now is a murder mystery. The historical I submitted late last summer has hit a few snags. My publisher feels it would be better to split it into two books, so that means I have two partial historical books to work on and unless I can write a lot faster than I think I can, it's not likely either will be out this year. After some discussion, my editor and I have agreed that I should finish the mystery and get it out of the way before delving back into the history.

BRITT you asked whether I outlined. Send me your wish list of LDS books and I'll send you your prize.