Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Another View on Becoming a Writer

There's a side to writing that has little to do with words, punctuation, or grammar.  Many of us start out thinking of writing as a solitary profession with little connection to actual people.  Some of us are introverts who imagined writing would involve  some kind of interaction just between "me and my computer". We express our thoughts better on paper than vocally, we're shy, we're easily flustered in social situations, and far more comfortable around imaginary characters than the real deal. Who knew writers were supposed to become salesmen, public speakers, and plan launch parties?  Surprise!  Writing has a great deal to do with connecting with people---not only the reading public, but with other writers. 

Early on most writers discover people watching is a useful tool.  But more is needed than just watching people, their language, and their reactions.  Feelings, empathy, hurt, loneliness, love, hate, disgust are just the beginning.  We can't write what we can't feel.  Taking this a step farther, let's think about the relationship of writers with each other.  At first we may wonder why we should concern ourselves with other writers.  That's another one of those surprises.  Call it networking, critique groups, a guild, or just friendship, but I have found other writers essential to doing my best.  All the way from mentioning that the door of a restaurant in New York I wanted to use in a story happens to be red to a couple of mentors who taught me that we sell more books when we tout each other's books than when we try to push our own.  Writers understand writers and sometimes that makes all the difference.

I really hate driving in Utah County, but over the past two weeks I've made four trips down treacherous, under construction I15.  Each of these trips has had something to do with interacting with people in the name of writing.  First there was the Whitney Gala, an opportunity to honor some of the best writers around who also happen  to be LDS.  The conference and the gala highlighted the efforts of writers to help other writers while honing their own skills.  This was an opportunity to form networks, build friendships, and applaud the success of those who excel in a field important to us. Though each writer would like to be standing at the podium, award in hand, there's little jealousy between writers. We truly aren't competitors.  Even the greatest of egos amongst us sees him or herself deserving of honors also not instead of because we each see ourselves and our gifts as unique.

The second trip involved a meeting with my editor.  The writer/editor relationship is of utmost importance.  Both the writer and editor have a big stake in the success of any writing project and want to see the best product produced possible.  Fortunate is the writer who has a strong, knowledgeable editor who not only knows how to edit, but is a friend.  I've been blessed with several such editors over the years and am about to lose one of the best to law school.

Unfortunately books don't sell themselves.  There are many, many books to choose from which means writers have to become involved in marketing.  And in today's market there are many formats both for our books and for marketing them.  The third trip south to Utah County involved a group of bloggers and reviewers. We met over lunch and discussed the power of reviews and blogs to inform the public of what's available and to establish working relationships between writers and reviewers.

Since I write reviews for Meridian Magazine, I was invited to a dinner sponsored by one of the major LDS publishers for my fourth trip.  This was a relaxing social event meant to further friendships and award in-house high achievers.  Which brings me back to writers benefitting from befriending other writers.  When one of these writers needs a special bit of research, they're going to think, "Oh yeah, I met so and so once who writes about dutch oven cooking.  We hit it off and I bet he'd be happy to help me with some camping questions I have in the suspense novel I'm writing."  It also boosts spirits and rejuvenates drive to hear words of praise from a fellow writer. 

Royalty checks are nice, achieving approval from the reading public is wonderful, but one of the best things about being a writer is the friendships we form along the way.

Monday, May 14, 2012


This is the article I wrote for Meridian Magazine, but since my computer was messed up all last week and for technical reasons on the other end, it didn't happen, I decided to run it here.  Google is giving me a bad time, so the pictures may not line up quite right and the captions keep disappearing.  I'm just not very good at the technical end of blogging.  Anyway before all of the Whitney shine for this year fades into the past, here goes:

Eleven awards were given at the Whitney Awards Gala at the Provo Marriott Saturday night. Outstanding Achievement awards for contributions to LDS literature and for inspiring both readers and writers went to two retired professors and authors, Jack Weyland and Douglas Thayer.  Weyland has taught at Ricks College (BYU-Idaho) and is the author of 25 books, including the immensely popular Charlie and Sam. Thayer taught at Brigham Young University.  He has authored many short stories and three novels.  Most of his written work carries a "coming of age" theme.


Neither of the Novel of the Year winning novels has any connection to the Church though both authors are LDS.  Dan Wells won Novel of the year for his horror novel, I Don't Want to Kill You.  Best Novel by a New Author went to Tess Hilmo for With a Name Like Love, an ageless story of compassion and making choices.

The contest is divided into seven categories with five judges with expertise in each specific genre narrowing the selections down to five for each category. At this point the voting is opened to members of LDStorymakers, representatives of bookstores and publishing companies, reviewers and bloggers who write reviews. Votes can only be cast by those who certify they have read all five finalists in a particular category.  Voters can vote in as many categories as they are qualified by reading the five finalist novels.  Only those who read all thirty-five of the finalists can vote for the best novel of the year categories, which usually isn't many voters.

All seven of the major categories were exceptionally well-represented this year, making choosing a single winner in each a difficult task.  A complete list of finalists can be found at Whitney Finalists.  Winners in each category for exceptional 2012 novels are:

General - Before I Say Goodbye by Rachel Ann Nunes

Historical - Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears Romance - Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly

Mystery/Suspense - Rearview Mirror by Stephanie Black

Speculative - The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Speculative Youth Fiction - Variant by Robison Wells

General Youth Fiction - With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

The general public is invited to submit nominations for next year's awards by going to the Whitney site or through links on many LDS writers' blogs including this one.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Three Mother's Day Books

With Mother's Day coming up Sunday, I had planned to review Mother's Day books in my Meridian column this week, but since I review fiction and none of the books that came my way in honor of the day are fiction, I decided to talk about three non-fiction Mother's Day books here on my blog instead.  Any one or all three books will make great Mother's Day gifts or be a thoughtful token of remembrance for any woman.

The first is probably the most popular book in LDS bookstores at the moment, Forget Me Not by Dieter F. Uchtdorf. President Uchtdorf  uses the five petal forget-me-not flower to illustrate five areas women should remember for happier, more fulfilled lives.  They include being patient with ourselves, to distinguish between wise sacrifices and foolish ones, to be happy now, to focus on the "why" of the gospel, and to know that the Lord loves us infinitely.  As only he can, Uchtdorf charms, informs, and gently teaches women to value themselves.

Recently I did a booksigning with Connie Sokol.  She gave me a copy of her book, Motherhood Matters.  In a series of two and three page chapters she touches on three distinct areas that concern being a mother; The Divinity of Motherhood, The Reality of Motherhood, and the Rewards of Motherhood.  She quotes other well-known people, tells personal stories, and at times becomes deeply spiritual, and sometimes a note of humor creeps in.  She tells of loving a child when he/she is the least lovable, of those inevitable "mother moments" when mom's are less than perfect, of difficult choices between careers or wants and the demands of mothering, the workload shouldered by mothers, and the spiritual as well as physical responsibilities that go with being a mother.  Looking back over the years, Sokol says "I looked forward to a future date when I could actually get a full night's rest.  Then came teenagers.  At last I came to the conclusion that the underlying purpose of parenting is to ensure that we don't adequately sleep for the rest of our lives." She speaks of the intense spiritual rewards that come a woman's way as she struggles to teach and "train up" her children and the joy that a mother experiences when her child becomes a strong, competent adult with a testimony of spiritual truths. For anyone preparing a talk for Mother's Day this little book promises to be an incredible resource and will fuel memories and personal incidents to enrich any talk.  Since I'm one of those people assigned to talk in sacrament meeting this Sunday, I intend to make liberal use of this small gem.

Musings on Motherhood by Susan Corpany is only available so far for e-readers.  It's only.99 this week on Kindle.  This book is filled with humorous anecdotes and valuable lessons gleaned from her years as a young widow with an infant son, then her remarriage and divorce that landed her once again as a single mother, and the eventual successful marriage to a father with four children and her experiences as a stepmother.  And all this is followed by becoming a grandmother.  Corpany has a rare talent for turning every day happenings into humorous episodes and retelling the small tragedies that bring temporary pain and embarrassment  in a way that makes them funny, but often includes a significant lesson learned.  Most mothers need a laugh now and then; Corpany's book provides a lot of them.

I'll sign off by wishing all of the mothers  who read my blog a wonderful, satisfying Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

MINDI and MISTY are winners

Mindi Battraw and Misty Moncur are the Wish List winners for April.  Congratulations!  Please send me a wish list of books you would like and your mailing addresses.  I just gave away over a hundred books to the people who attended the classes I taught last week and to a charity I support so my bookshelves aren't overflowing as badly as usual.  This may limit your choices somewhat, but I do have all four books I reviewed on Meridian last month; Family By Design by Heather Justesen, Olivia by Julie Wright, Caller ID by Rachelle J. Christensen, and The Lost Stones by Paul Rimmasch.  You can read the reviews by going here, then search under Books then Book Reviews.

I've got a rotten cold and don't feel well, so I'll start off the next contest in as few words as possible.  The contest begins now and runs through the end of May.  Comments, as long as they're in good taste, to this blog, Notes From Jennie's Desk, to my posts on the V-Formation blog, or to  any of my reviews on Meridian count as entries. You can also be eligible to win one of two books by being a follower on this blog. Multiple entries are fine. One book I have reviewed on Meridian will be awarded to someone who leaves a comment; a second book will go to a winner drawn from the larger pool which includes followers.