Sunday, February 27, 2011


The February Wish List Contest ends tomorrow, Feb. 28 at midnight.  Comments on any or all February posts each count as an entry!  There will be one winner from among the comments and one from comments and followers combined.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hats off to America's Presidents!

Remember the old holidays when Washington's birthday meant we got to eat cherry pie and were taught the importance of never telling a lie and Lincoln was honored for his honesty? We cut out silhouettes of these two great men and taped them to our classroom windows days before the actual holidays. Both birthdates meant a day off from school.  Now all the presidents' birthdays are lumped into one and the day is equated with car sales.  Some school districts don't even give the kids the day off. The letter carrier is the only one who gets the day of for sure. For the most part we wouldn't even know today is a holiday if the Boy Scouts hadn't planted a flag in the snow drift in front of our house early this morning.

I'm willing to concede it would be impractical to honor every president of this country with a holiday and there are some I question whether they deserve any recognition, but it seems we could come up with something better than a sale at the local used car lot to honor the many honorable men who have served our country since 1776.  Picnics, parades, and fireworks don't hold a lot of appeal in February. Americans have gotten out of the habit of attending speeches, maybe we could twitter a salute or two.  We could sit around and read the constitution, but I have serious doubts a majority of my fellow countrymen even own a copy.  I guess the only thing left is to go pull that frozen cherry pie out of the deepfreeze and reminisce about the time my daughter, grandson, and I visited Mount Vernon. 

In case you're wondering the first picture is of George and Martha with a niece and nephew.  They had no children of their own.  One of my grandsons is standing in front of the statue.  The second is the view from the back porch at Mount Vernon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One of Those Days

Every once in awhile I find myself having "one of those days." It's not that anything went terribly wrong; I'm just not satisfied with . . . anything in particular. I actually managed to write 2489 words today, had minimal phone calls, and my husband fixed dinner. Still the flowers on the dining room table are dead and need to be thrown out, the sheets on the downstairs bed need to be changed, there are cobwebs on the entry hall chandelier, the kitchen floor needs to be mopped, and the wind has been howling like a banshee. I know, some days are just like that.

Sometimes writers have some of those days too in their professional life. The words are drivel, there's no way to get an uninterrupted block of time, there are too many other demands on our time, and we'd rather play on Facebook than write.

An occasional such day can be chalked up to "that's just the way it is." Or it might be a hint someone has been pushing too hard and needs to take a break. Sometimes the same remedies we use to deal with writer's block work for overcoming a cranky, blah, nothing-suits-me day. Sometimes sitting down to the computer and getting lost in the WIP before us does the trick. Other times a good run, a chocolate bar, or vigorously scrubbing the kitchen floor will do the trick. And sometimes we just have to hope to wake up in a better mood the next day.

I've already told you this isn't one of my better days. It isn't a day when I can come up with a blog topic either, but I can tell you a few things that have crossed my mind to share but won't fill an entire blog. First, I've been invited to speak at a book club. There's nothing unusual about that, but this club is comprised of Latino ladies, and I don't speak Spanish. Should be fun. Funny thing is I've longed to have my books translated for Spanish readers for a long time without any success, but I feel flattered that women who struggle with English still read my books and want to meet me.

I received the smallest royalty check of my life since I started writing fiction this week. It's fun to get the big checks, but I'm okay with this one. I chose to spend time with my sister before she died instead of writing and I have no regrets.

The temple is closed for regularly scheduled cleaning this week and next. It's good to have the time off, but it leaves me feeling a little disoriented and confused as to which day today is.

My sales of Run Away Home on Kindle are going pretty well and I like their system that allows authors to track sales. I'll post Journey Home on Kindle too as soon as I finish my long overdue pair of western Historicals I've been working on for a couple of years. And speaking of Kindles, I think the only way I can keep up with finding the called for scriptures in Sunday School is to look up all the scriptures listed in the study guide for each week and book mark them. The Kindle works well for reading, but I find it dreadfully slow for trying to locate specific scriptures. I'm not sure I retain what I read on my e-reader as well as what I read on a printed page, but that may improve as I grow more accustomed to using it.

I've got eight new books to read and consider for reviews on my shelf and four Whitney finalists. I can't read them all, so I guess it's the Whitney finalists that won't get read. I've finished everything in four categories and there are only a few in the other categories that interest me anyway. It just saddens me a little that I won't be able to vote for the overall top book.

Every other week it is my turn to post a blog on the V-Formation and I usually post it here too.  Whether you comment here or on the V-Formation, I count it toward the Wish List contest.  If you comment on both, but the comments are different, I'll count them both. Sometimes I post a link to Facebook too, but comments there don't count toward the contest (too hard to keep track of), but I still love to get them.

Well, that's all I can think of, so I think I'll quit and go watch the Jazz game. Wait that just might move me from feeling blah to depressed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where has all the romance gone?

Romance vs. Love. There is a difference, you know. At least there is in my mind. When I first began to be published as a novelist, everyone who wrote LDS fiction was accused of writing romance. It wasn't true then and it isn't true now. I'm not sure there is a definition that separates the two into exact categories, but I separate them this way: If the story is primarily boy meets girl, they are attracted to each other even if they deny that attraction, an obstacle keeps them from getting together, they overcome the obstacle and live happily ever after, that's romance. If boy meets girl, their relationship deepens as they get to know each other, trust and respect for each other grows, they each make significant sacrifices for the other, they become stronger, better people because of their relationship, and they develop a lasting commitment to each other whether they foresee being together in this life or not, the story is probably a love story.

Another difference I see is the tone of the story. If it is light-hearted fluff, flirtation, and cutesy games, it's probably romance. If a large part of the story is dedicated to fashion, romantic settings, and flowery descriptions, again it's romance. If the story is filled with improbably dramatic inventions calculated to bring on tears, it's the worst sort of romance. Love stories often invite a tear or two also, but they come about more from a tender moment of identifying with the character rather than the creation of tear-trigger scenes. Love stories are usually more serious than romances; they are of a broader and grander scope.

There are few novels in any genre that are completely lacking in romance or love. Relationships are one of the most compelling sources of human emotion for good or evil. It would be naive to think elements of romance wouldn't appear in stories that are primarily mystery, suspense, western, historical, science-fiction, or fantasy. In our LDS culture the eternal companionship of a man and a woman are of paramount importance. Our eternal future depends on such relationships, so it would be unrealistic to leave this aspect of the human experience out of our novels. In much of today's general market fiction, physical attraction plays the key role in Romance and sex is a cheap substitute for love. For this reader, such novels are a disappointment.

There are still a few romance novels around in the LDS market, but real love stories have almost disappeared. Recently a few authors have produced stylized romances which are fun to read, but leave no lasting imprint. The sob-sister stuff sells in large quantities in both the LDS and national market. Some of the best love stories are hidden in the pages of other genres, but there are few novels today devoted primarily to true love stories.

It's human nature for those who are immature to laugh at what makes them nervous, ridicule what they don't understand, and to feel embarrassed by tender emotions. Unfortunately the romance novel and love story are often the recipients of this kind of scorn. I find this unfortunate, since this is certainly an age that could stand more attention to the gestures and polite forms of romance as well as the deeper caring, sacrifice, and appreciation of genuine love.

Happy Valentines' Day all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What does a cover say about a Book?

The first book I had published was Run Away Home.  It did well and my publisher released it again a few years later with a new cover, one that went well with the other two books I had since published using some of the same characters.  Recently I released it again, this time on an electronic reader (Kindle) with a third cover.  That's three different covers for one story and I began to wonder which is really the most effective cover.  Which one would someone who had never read any of the formats be drawn to the most?

 Covers give the first impression a potential buyer/reader has of a book.  That cover gives a broad hint concerning the book's contents.  We can tell at a glance if the book is meant to be suspenseful, a romance, or science fiction.  Over on LDS Publisher there was a recent contest to pick the most eye-catching or appealing cover for 2010.  The contest made no claim to being scientific, but revealed only the opinions of those who voted.  Sun Tunnels and Secrets was the winner.  In the same contest last year my Shudder was a finalist.  These are two very different covers, yet they both ignited a sense of intrigue that drew readers.

Unfortunately sometimes the cover  is misleading and we miss a great book because the cover suggests the book would have limited appeal to most readers or that it is targeting a specific limited group.  I found this to be the case with Meg's Melody, an excellent, insightful book that I believe would appeal to a much larger group than the limited numer who read OB books.

I'm glad to see the popularity of cartoonish covers is fading.  There's just something about that style that shouts "kids' book", fluff, not to be taken seriously, when the book may be a serious love story, general fiction, or represent almost any genre.

 One recent book suffered difficulty finding shelf placement in LDS bookstores because the cover seemed to imply an acceptance of gambling, which couldn't be farther from the truth.  There are also books that lose sales in spite of a top author's name because the cover looks homemade and thus looks self-published.  Though there are some excellent self-published books, the stigma still exists that suggests if a book wasn't good enough to attract a real publisher, it must not be very good.
 So what makes a good cover?  Graphic artists will talk about balance, white space, font, etc.  I don't know a great deal about those things; I only know what appeals to me, what draws me to a book enough to make me want to pick it up to read the cover blurb.  I know Annette Lyon's Chocolate Never Faileth makes me want to find a chocolate stash.  It isn't even fiction and I rarely read cookbooks.

 I guess if I were to name my favorite covers for this past year my choices would be The Rogue Shop by Michael Knudsen and The Silence of God by Gale Sears.

I'd love to hear which covers have caught your attention this past year and why.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hurray for the Whitney Finalists!

The Whitney Award finalists were announced Tuesday. It's always fun to receive recognition from one's peers for a job well done and I certainly think Josi Killpack and her assistants deserve a pat on the back. They undertook a massive task and carried it off in great style. I've been a judge for at least one category every year since the Whitneys began and this year I got to judge Historical. We didn't have as long a list to read and choose from as some of the other categories did, but we certainly got some of the most outstanding novels of the year to read, including those that did not become finalists. You can find a complete list of the finalists here.

The next round of voting will be by a larger group of people including members of Storymakers, publishers, book store staff, etc. They will narrow the finalists down to one winner in each category--except speculative. That category has been divided into an adult and a youth category. There will also be an overall novel of the year chosen by a smaller group of readers, those few people who manage to read all 35 finalists or who have the nerve to lie and say they did. Actually I've read and reviewed 20 of the finalists and only found a couple of those disappointing. Sorry, but I just can't bring myself to read ten speculative novels, so I won't be voting in Novel of the Year category this year. There will also be an award for the top novel by a first time author. Yes, it is possible this year to get one of the overall awards and place first in a genre as well.

Every year there is considerable debate over which genre or category some novels should be placed in, or even if they should be considered at all. A book only needs to be written by an LDS author to be eligible; it doesn't have to have any connection whatsoever with the LDS Church or its beliefs or standards. Sometimes the line between genres is very thin, making category placement difficult for the contest committee. Last year the novel that placed first in Romance wasn't even a Romance, but it was an outstanding novel that deserved recognition--just not in that category. I must say I'm more comfortable this year with the categories each finalist was placed in, more so than any other year. There are also fewer books left off the finalists lists that I think should be there. There are always a few that touch me or another reader in a particular way that just doesn't have the same impact on someone else so they don't make the finals, but they're still great books.

I'm pleased to see that in the four categories I'm most interested in, Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Historical, and General Fiction, the finalists are not only well written, but well-edited and for the most part, reasonably copy edited as well. If I have time, I'll read the General Youth Fiction finalists. Several books in that category sound interesting. Anyone just looking for a good book to read could pick up almost any book on the list and have an enjoyable read.

Congratulations to all of the finalists. Reaching this point is no small feat. Books that reach the finalist stage have already been screened for quality and have already proved their worth.  The next level of judging will be much harder because merit won't be as big an issue as personal appeal and luck. There will only be one winner in each category, but in my book, you're all winners.

Are any of these books your personal favorites for 2010?  Are there any books among this 35 titles you think don't deserve to be there?  Which outstanding books were left off of this list?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Wish List Winners

I picked two winners to receive a book each from their wish lists.  Jen Plus 5 was drawn from those who made comments on my January blogs and Stephanie, one of Notes From Jennie's Desk followers was drawn for comments plus followers.  Please claim your prizes by sending me a list of at least five books from your wish list and your mailing address to bhansen22 at msn dot com.  Please include the words "Wish List" in your subject line so your email doesn't get lost in my overly zealous junk mail folder.

The February contest starts now.  Some of the topics I will be blogging about this month will be US Presidents, Valentines Day and favorite love stories and books, Whitney finalists, and who knows what else.  So tell me your thoughts along these lines or anything book related that might be on your mind.

I've made a little headway on my "to read" stack and only have four books left--however February releases will begin showing up anyday.  The books I  have left are:

The Up Side of Down by Rebecca Talley
All that was Promised by Vickie Hall
Whos's At The Door by Dan Harrington
Dearly Departed by Tristi Pinkston

Thanks to all who commented in January.  Your comments were great.