Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Write Fantasy?

Today my guest blogger is Maureen Mills, another member of my writing group. I'm so happy she agreed to guest blog. She's a wonderful writer and I know someday you will be reading her published books. Enjoy some of Maureen's wonderful insight!

Nikki’s blog last Wednesday about writing humor was so great! I love her writing, and her stuff is so funny we (the writers group) end up snorting all over the table instead of giving calm, objective critiques of her work. No way can I compete with that.
So I won’t.

I’ll tell you why, and how, I write fantasy.
I love to read fantasy. Actually, I love to read just about anything, but fantasy and science fiction is a strong contender for favorite subject matter. Growing up, I was always a voracious reader, the kid who always got voted the bookworm award in every class. In elementary school, when the class goal was for each student to read, say, 700 pages in a month, I’d end up with four, five, or even six times that amount. I’m not sure it was healthy to be that intensely focused on any single activity, even something as universally acknowledged as a “good thing” as reading. And a goodly portion of that reading time was spent reading fantasy.
I cut my teeth on Alexander Lloyd of “Black Cauldron” fame, Madeleine L’Engle—who I consider to be one of the earliest YA urban fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury…The list goes on. And on.

Yet, however many stories I read, I could always think of different ways the books could have ended. In some cases, should have ended. Or different directions the plotlines could have taken. What if the main character wasn’t an idiot and made more intelligent choices? What if he wasn’t quite as brilliant as originally written, and had to muddle his way through his problems like the rest of us peons? What if the air in that particular world was thicker—would that make it easier to fly, so that more creatures developed wings? Would that make it easier to absorb oxygen, so people could run or fight or climb for longer periods of time? What else would that affect?

I began to come up with my own settings, my own worlds, where anything could happen, as long as it made sense in the context of my created universe. And the most fascinating thing about the different settings and worlds was the way the people in the stories reacted to the problems and situations presented to them. How would a person behave when presented with a set of extraordinary circumstances? How about a person (or other intelligent being—this is fantasy, after all) who was raised with a different set of cultural norms and experiences? What feelings and actions would remain the same as you and I would have and do? What would be different, and in what ways? In my mind, that is a key point in fantasy. Creating worlds is fun. Figuring out what people will do in them is even more fun.

I am currently working on a YA fantasy because of the strong emotions and drama that high school age kids experience. Those strong emotions provide a very fertile ground for stories. I’ve chosen to set it in modern day, so I guess you could call it an urban fantasy. I’m a little doubtful, to be honest, of my ability to inject something startlingly new into the standard high fantasy setting of an idealized medieval European world in which magic of some sort exists. It’s been done so often and so well I’m not sure I have much to add to it. Also, there are so many other interesting places and times to write about…I’ve got an idea in the back of my head for a fantasy set in a vaguely Anasazi-like world, with a very nature-oriented, shamanistic magic system…
But that’s for later.

Right now, I’m focusing on how a normal, modern teen living a fairly sheltered, coddled existence and whose only experience with danger is through tv, movies, video games and books would handle discovering a shapeshifting, morally ambiguous fae child raiding her closet for dress-up clothes. I mean, what would you do? What do you wish you would do?
And what if you discover her mom’s run off and left her, and her dad’s neglecting and maybe abusing her? You can’t exactly report it to Child Protective Services.
So that’s where the fun starts.

And that, I guess, is why I write fantasy. You’ve just read the long answer, but the short answer is—it’s fun!

Have fun with your writing!

Maureen Mills

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Dream Come True

I'm so excited!!! Last Thursday I was able to pick up my new book, An Angel on Main Street. This is truly a dream come true and let me explain why.

I first started writing on this book over fifteen years ago. Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. I love everything about Christmas. I love making Christmas cookies, decorating the tree and watching Christmas movies. A couple of my favorites are: It's a Wonderful Life with James Stewart and Donna Reed, The Bishop's Wife with Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young, The Miracle on 34th Street with Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood, White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. I could go on and on. I grew up watching those movies and so have my children. Those movies seemed to suspend real life and gave me hope that no matter how bad things were it would all turn out. It has long been a dream of mine to write such a story.

I wanted my story set in the fifties in a small rural town. I spent my childhood in Rigby, Idaho during this time period so I had a pretty good grasp of how it was. My father owned a Firestone store (b&w picture of his store front at Christmas to the right) and our family lived in an apartment above it. I remember as a child standing at the living room window and gazing down on Main Street. In those days the freeway had not been built, so there was a constant stream of diesels, trucks and cars driving through our small town. Christmastime seemed magically, for the street below would be blanketed with snow and Christmas decorations would light up the night. In the middle of the main intersection a huge Christmas tree would be put up and stand guardian over us. Santa Claus would arrive in town on a fire engine and give everyone a small bag of treats: an orange, plenty of salt water taffy, and peanuts. At the side of grocery stores, freshly-cut pine trees were for sale. I remember walking past and breathing in their wonderful woodsy scent. A big deal in my family was putting up the tree. I was always in charge of decorating the bottom. I yearned to be given a bigger job. My mother had one huge red ball that she would save for last. She would find the most perfect spot to hang it from. And when all the ornaments were hung, she would spend days putting icicles on each and every evergreen bough. (Picture of me and my older sister.)
In my adult years I wanted to capture all those precious moments and put them in a story. So I started writing a Christmas book. I was able to weave many of those bygone scenes into this short novel. I was so hopeful my book would sell. I mean, doesn't everyone love a good Christmas story? Well, the rejections came. But it didn't stop me. I would read what they had to say, agree or disagree and then put the story away until the next Christmas when I'd drag it out again, revamp it and hope for a miracle. Fifteen years is a pretty long time. And there were some years I missed sending it out. One year I wrote it into a screenplay. I even took a class at the college about screenplay writing. I remember the class so well.

Most were young college students, but there were a few older women like myself. For the final we had to give a pitch to the class about our screenplay. We were divided into two groups. It would take two class periods to hear them all. I was to be in the second group. I remember sitting there listening to that first group. Every one seemed to be pitching adult screenplays with murder and mayhem in the balance. And here I had this very simple little Christmas story. I was so concerned, that I stayed after and asked my teacher if I should do a different one. He looked right at me and said, "Kathi, you took this class for this story so present it."
I was so nervous that I baked a batch of Christmas sugar cookies to take and give to my classmates. I figured if they didn't like the story, at least they would like the cookies. The next night came. My turn was up. I passed out the cookies and then started my pitch. The class was unusually quiet. I remember thinking, oh my stars this is so bad that they don't know what to say or think. As I came to the end of my pitch, I heard someone blow their nose. I looked up and one of my classmates was wiping a tear from her eye. When I finished my teacher slammed his hand on the desk and said, "That's the best pitch I've ever heard." I about fell to the floor.

This showed me that indeed I did have a good story. So the next Christmas I once again tried to sell the book. Still I received rejections. Finally I realized what the problem was. I rewrote the beginning and sent it to my publisher. They loved it!

And so this Christmas instead of reworking my little Christmas story, I can find it at a book store. A dream come true!!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Heather Moore Interview

Years ago I noticed books written by H.B. Moore. These books were about Book of Mormon characters and since I enjoy writing about them as well, I started paying attention to other authors who did also. However, it wasn't until I actually bought a book my H.B. Moore and turned to the back that I found the author was a woman...a very talented woman. Over the last year I have become more acquanted with Heather, and I'm so glad that I have. I thought you might be interested in learning more about this award-winning author.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved reading and taking English classes, but when I was in high school and failed my AP English placement essay exam, I decided it was a “sign.” So I didn’t major in English in college. It never occurred to me to write a novel, although I formulated better endings (in my mind) when I finished a book that I thought was lacking. When I was about 30 years old, I had an idea for a book, and decided that I would write it. “Why not?” I asked myself. There were thousands of authors out there and I thought it would be cool to get paid for writing a book. Of course, I had a massive learning curve to go through and I can only compare it to going back to college.

You won the Whitney Award for your novel, Abinadi. Your next book, Alma promises to be another bestseller. Why have you chosen to write about Book of Mormon prophets?
I was very surprised that Abinadi won the 2008 Whitney Award for Best Historical because the previous year my book Land of Inheritance also won a Whitney. Then Abinadi went on to win the 2009 Best of State award in Literary Arts. Needless to say, I now feel very anxious that my next book, Alma, will be compared to Abinadi. I can only hope that readers will like it just as much. When I first started writing, I was following my muse so to speak. And after getting my first novel rejected dozens of times, I wrote another one. More rejections. After that, I decided to aim for a more niche target market and write an LDS book. I did a conscious study of the market to find out what might be accepted. My father (S. Kent Brown) is a Book of Mormon scholar, so I had the idea that we could co-write a series about Nephi’s life. But my dad wasn’t interested, preferring to stay with non-fiction writing. So I warned him that he’d be getting plenty of emails and phone calls from me with lots of questions, which still continues today. I think people who love to write jump in with both feet—like I did. But often, it pays off to study the market, the trends, and to find your own strengths before writing that manuscript.

Tell us about your new books due to be released and the other books you’ve had published.
My four-volume historical series, Out of Jerusalem, is the story of Nephi and Lehi and their journey from Jerusalem to the promised land. All four books are out in hardcover, and are now being released in softcover. Abinadi and Alma are part of the newest “series”—although each book is a stand-alone—with Alma the Younger to follow in 2010, and perhaps another volume or two in the same era. This October (2009), a Christmas compilation called All is Bright will come out, featuring of my “finding God” stories that I experienced while living in Jerusalem as a teenager. I have a non-fiction book, Women of the Book of Mormon, which is slated for release in 2010. I also wrote a national thriller that’s based on the hunt for the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. I am still working on finding a national publisher for that book. I also have several unpublished manuscripts—which would take some massive revisions if I were interested in sending them to a publisher. One is a WWII novel, another a contemporary crime novel, another a paranormal mystery. So you can see what I said earlier about zeroing in on your target market.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
Having a deadline is the most motivating, although most of my deadlines are self-imposed. It is difficult to write under pressure, and that’s what happens as soon as your first book is published. If you want to become an author with a readership, you should have at least one book a year published, especially in the beginning. The first book is inspirational. The next books are planned-out scientific creations. I keep a strict writing schedule, and I don’t have time for writer’s block (I have 4 kids). If I do feel “stuck” I do more research, or I skip to a scene where I know I can continue the flow of writing and still get my word-count goal in for the day. Of course life gets in the way sometimes, and that’s where the weekly writing goals come into play.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
When I first started out, I was inspired by Mary Higgins Clark. She was widowed when she had 5 young children and had to go back to work. In the meantime, she decided to write a novel and wrote from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. every morning. I’ve never forgotten that, and sometimes that’s what it takes to get the writing done.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be? I grew up in Orem, Utah, which is considered a suburb. I now live in Lehi, Utah, which is becoming more of a suburb, although it’s evolved from a farming community. If I could live anywhere, it would be in the area I’m already in while my children are school-aged. It’s convenient to the freeway, and schools are close by. Also several getaways are within driving distance, such as Park City and St. George. Yet, I’d also like a bigger traveling budget. I lived in the Middle East off an on during my childhood, and I’d love my kids to visit some of the same place.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
I write mostly in my office in the far reaches of the basement. It’s a pretty messy office surrounded by book cases, filing cabinets, fax machine, stacks of papers, boxes filled with bookmarks, etc., and books. I do have a really cool Book of Mormon timeline on my wall that’s about 5 feet long and 2.5 feet high. I have a couple of world maps taped up on the walls, and I have an organizer shelf that has narrow slots specifically for manuscripts. I actually think better as I type. I noticed this in high school. Outlining by hand did no good. When I sit down to type the ideas flow. Sometimes I put on music, not to really listen to the words, but the background blocks my mind from wandering too much. When I’m not researching as I write, I often turn off the lights and just focus on the computer screen as I write.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I watch very little television. When I added writing to my schedule, things like t.v., sewing, and scrapbooking went to the wayside. The other day I watched an episode of Hannah Montana with my 5 year old. I think it’s the first time ever. I do watch movies with my kids. But for myself, I love dramas, such as The Count of Monte Cristo. I think it has one of the most brilliant plots, and I enjoy the character arcs. I don’t think watching movies really give me ideas for books, but they are a good study of character and plot development. There are so many clichĂ© characters out there, especially in a romantic comedy where the heroine is often an ill-fated beauty and misunderstood, then her sidekick friend is extremely confident, yet very quirky. The men are never quite realistically portrayed, right? So that’s why I digress to dramas where the male characters have depth.

How has being published changed your life?
Becoming published has been interesting. It has dropped a career into my lap—one that I never planned on as a young wife and mother. I’m not so young anymore, but I’ve had to work on balancing my temporary goals with my eternal goals. I hate the inauspicious word “balance” and basically to me it means a sliding scale of priorities. I went from doing 6 weeks of Saturday signings when my first book came out (my husband driving me back and forth, so I could nurse our baby between signings), to refusing to do a Saturday signing if it meant missing a child’s soccer or football game. It’s been a learning curve and growing process. Yet, I think it’s important for my children to see me love what I’m doing, as I, in turn, encourage and help them on their own path of dreams.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your books that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
My best answer is to check out the Events section of my website which I keep updated: also post updates on my blog: if you want to get email reminders, you can sign up for my emailed newsletter through:

Thanks, Heather!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Humor in Writing

Last Wednesday I wrote about writing groups for two reasons: 1) I think writing groups can help you become a great writer. 2) I've asked some of the writers from the writing group that I participate in to share some of their advice and talent.

Nikki Trionfo (to the left and holding one of her beautiful daughters) is a talented writer. She has a very strong writing voice and makes injecting humor in her writing seem effortless. If you've tried to write humor, you know it's not easy. Sit back and enjoy yourself as you read a master at work.

On Humor:
It wasn’t until Kathi asked to feature me in her blog on the topic of injecting humor into writing that I realized I have little vocabulary for the subject. Few people do. It’s not like they offer Laughing 101 in college. I went online to read about writing humor and was giddy to discover that books on humor are absolutely mind-numbing. Here I was expecting to be dazzled with their wit, ashamed at my own paltry efforts, and instead found myself as entertained as if I’d been licking dirt. Now, before I go and dissuade you from learning all that you can about the profession of writing, let me state clearly that the books all had gems of good advice and I plan on reading more on the topic. But they weren’t funny. The reality to take home here isn’t that the market is wide open! Coming soon: Humor: How-To Book of Big Money by Nikki Trionfo. No, the reality is that generating consistently-funny comedy is a lot more work than enjoying it.

For me, humor is created by two things: set-up and punchline. A set-up is when you start your reader down a path, be it a mood, a thought-process, or a series of plot events. A punchline is when you suddenly change directions, surprising the reader. That’s it! Go be funny.

Not feeling like a master yet? Good thing I’m an aspiring author and can give you examples from my yet-to-be-titled young adult romance. In it, Trix Harris is a popular seventeen-year-old dating the school’s star athlete. Yeah, she’d rather publicly pee herself than take action on the problems that chronically worry her but overall, has got life figured out. Then test anxiety causes her to fail the California State Exit Exam. Good-bye, high school graduation. Hello, old sweaters dusted with cat hair or whatever it is she’ll be wearing as a public education failure. In the following illustration, she has taken what she thinks is the first step in solving her problem.

If the girl in front of me was Lotti Ashley, I found her acceptable enough for a math tutor, no question. Frequent showering? Yes. Gang paraphernalia? No. Not that you get a lot of gang members in the tutoring business, but you never knew. I’d seen gang symbols etched in Pastor Jeff’s collection plate.

Here the reader is set up to expect a description of a female math tutor. As a punchline, the narrator instead goes on a tangent about showering and gangs. This brings me to my next point, which is that there are things I look for in a punchline. The option used in the example above is to deliver something inherently ludicrous. Of course gang members aren’t in the tutoring business. They’re too busy lounging naked in a tattoo parlor, firing automatic weapons at each other while holding as still as possible so their inked gang symbols aren’t messed up. And, yes, that’s another inherently ludicrous example.

Exaggerations are a second type of punchline, as we see when Trix thinks about studying math with her father:

What’s better than daddy-daughter time? Let’s see, broken arms, skin rashes, being dumped.
Really there’s nothing funny about a broken arm. Except when Trix claims to prefer it to daddy-daughter time.

Note that the shorter the set-up, the more lenient the reader will be with strength of the punchline. If I’d spent a page listing all of Trix’s dislike of studying with her dad and then gave listed my exaggerations, it wouldn’t work as well.

For comic stories that are longer, timing is an important factor. Humor in that case isn’t just about what the punchline will be, but when it will come. Also, there can be a complexity to the humor so that there are several set-ups and punchlines going simultaneously, as in the following which takes place as Trix stalls inside the open doors of the library, talking to her friends instead of going inside to tackle math:

“Where am I going to get refrigerator boxes?” I shouted to Dex. I wasn’t sure what shut me up me faster, the jiggle of bells—bells?—behind me or the look on the boys’ faces as they shifted their gaze to stare past me. I turned to see the elderly librarian leaning over me ominously. She was going to yell because I was so loud, I could see it in her coiled expression. I gripped my fingers tight around the straps of my backpack. Math tests and tutoring and yelling. I couldn’t handle this. I should go right back out the door and—
“Pst!” she hissed. Oh, right, she was going to whisper-yell. “You’ve got—!” she said.
I couldn’t look at her. “I promise I’ll be quieter—”
“—to come to my house!”
“What?” My gaze flew up to stare at her eyes blinking behind candy-striped glasses. “What?”
They kept the lights so dim in the library I could barely see. It wasn’t until the door shut that I realized her pink-and-red knitted sweater was covered from neckline to hem in dozens of heart-shaped bells. She leaned toward me in an explosion of ringing. “A refrigerator!” she said in the loudest whisper imaginable. “I got a new fridge this morning! Come get the box from me!”

As I said before, the longer the set-up, the better the punchline needs to be. But there’s a good reason to drag out a funny story. An extended set-up brings bigger laughs because the reader is more invested. The above illustration starts with Trix thinking she will be yelled at. There is a midway punchline about the librarian whisper-yelling, which is inherently ludicrous. The end is when the elderly woman isn’t angry at all but excited and not about just anything, about refrigerator boxes. This book-ends the joke, with the boxes being needed in the beginning and supplied at the end. Finally, the sweater full of bells and candy-striped glasses are inherently ludicrous and are set-ups to further punchlines. (Don’t you love being an author?)

Before I go on to talk about what really sells the above joke, though, I want to list a few more punchline options. Remember, you’re looking for surprise. So if you end a funny story with the opposite of what the reader expects, the next time deliver exactly what they do expect—but with a twist. Let the punchline show up later than anticipated or have it achieve a different result than could have been guessed during the set-up. Another idea is to give the reader an ending that’s embarrassing or noteworthy for a specific character that the reader knows well. There are dozens of other alternatives but I’m running out of space here. And as for examples you’ll just have to pick up my book of friendship and romance and journey with Trix as she discovers that she does have to face her fears but she doesn’t have to do it alone. (Author not responsible for stunning malfunction on part of publishing houses resulting in said novel and accompanying alleged examples failing to arrive in bookstores near you.)

And now on to my final topic and the most important humor tool: mood! As a writer, you control the atmosphere around a joke. Because your audience is reading for reasons other than humor—given that you, the author, are fabulous and have a fresh, exciting premise, nail-biting tension, and remarkable characters—readers won’t know when you’ve begun a set-up, giving you an enormous advantage on genuinely surprising them. If you skillfully create an atmosphere of tragedy, or, as in the case above, anxiety about a math test, and then switch the mood suddenly to ridiculous, you can get a lot of laughs. Be careful! You know from experience that laughter breaks up tension. Don’t erase the key tensions you need for your plot. Instead, slip humor into the middle of tension while keeping the plot events heavy enough that readers have no choice but to fall into the greater overall mood your scene generates. Below, Trix keeps her sense of humor even in the midst of falling victim to the same sort of panic attack that caused her to fail her state exam in the first place, until an event happens which brings the reader right back to the severity of the situation.

Pain seared my chest. The scariest part was that I didn’t know why I was so terrified, just that if I had a soundtrack playing in the background of my life—which would be so cool—the ax-murderer-attack theme would be blasting. I clutched at my shirt. No heart could continue beating at this pace. It would explode and I’d die right here with Mr. Golding and Dad jabbering on about math tests.
Dad put his moving mouth in front of my face, his words making no sound. Look at him stare at me—what was going on? I staggered, legs mushy.

Fortunately, getting right back to a tense mood also helps with comedy. In fact, it’s imperative. To really keep your readers guessing, you can’t deliver a punchline all the time. So set up a joke just like usual, making it obvious if you’d like, and then send the reader a plot event that switches the mood to touching, disturbing, anything. Make it real. Make it a pivotal moment for a character. If you handle with talent other moods besides humor, those distractions, though they’re much more than mere distractions, give the reader authentic emotions that amplify whatever humor comes later to break up the tension.

And that’s it. Now go and be funny. I myself am more ready than ever after writing this essay. What a thrilling, informative, intellectual exercise. College didn’t stimulate me like this. News channels can’t compare. And don’t even get me started on blogs. It’s an outrage! I’ll have you know I’m calling my senator right this minute. Forget entitlements to healthcare, I want laughter. What’s the nation coming to when humor-studies aren’t offered even at America’s finest universities? We are the richest nation in the world. I say it’s time for a change. After all, comedy’s no laughing matter.

Bio for Nikki Trionfo
I was born in the suburban town of Manteca, California to a tight-knit, loving family—but the details of those early years hardly matter, given that I spent my entire childhood pretending to be blind or running around my swing set in wild excitement as it time-traveled me to the snow-swept plains of World War II. I had to get one of those special tests in third grade to make sure I was normal. But it turned out that I was, by some definitions anyway, and I went on to get my bachelor’s degree in Physics and Chemistry Education at Brigham Young University. After teaching eighth grade science for three years, I stopped when my husband and I were blessed with our first of three beautiful daughters. The comparative free time I then found led me right back to snuggling up with my imagination. Writing is like a security blanket, a way to bring a piece of my home to the supposedly “real” world. Besides, I need the blanket. Those snow-swept plains are freezing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Adventures with Fruit Punch and Magic Bread...

Saturday afternoon I attended my daughter, Kristina's, baby shower. This is her second child, but it's been seven years since she had her first, so she's pretty much starting over collecting baby gear. Her mother-in-law, Sheri, threw the shower at her home. I helped with refreshments and my daughter, Tricia, was in charge of the games. I was to bring appetizers and the drink.

Most of the time my idea of bringing the "drink" is buying pop, but for this I wanted to do something special, so I pulled out my Lion House Cookbook and made their Fruit Punch with Sherbet recipe. The first few ingredients should be stirred together and put it in the fridge over night. Since I didn't have a bowl big enough I put it in my punch bowl. Made sense to me.

The next day I added the sherbet and ginger ale. It was beautiful and so tasty. Yummo! Back in the fridge it went until time to take it to the party. To transport it to the shower, I asked my husband to drive me there while I held the punch bowl, which was full. No problem, right?

Wrong. I really didn't realize how very cold the punch bowl was until I was stuck in the car holding it. You're thinking, why not put it on the floor? Well, I didn't want to set it on the floor cause I knew it would slosh over and if I held it I could give it leverage going over bumps. We had gone maybe a block when I adjusted my hold. The punch bowl slipped've got it, I spilled punch all over my lap, my purse, the camera and the seat of our new car.

Not funny! However, I know my husband thought it hilarious, though he did try to hide his laughter by mustering up a concerned look in between chuckles and asking me what he could do to help. Fortunately, there was a towel in the trunk of the car and most of the punch was still in the bowl so it could have been a lot worse, I suppose. Onward we went. I delivered the punch and rushed home to change and wash off. Everyone loved the drink and no one except Sheri and Tricia knew of my near disaster. Which makes me think of last Monday morning.

I have been searching most of my adult life for a wheat bread recipe my husband would like. I found yet another recipe to try on a blog. I thought I was all ready to go until I came to adding the cracked wheat. I thought I had some in the pantry, but couldn't find it. I dashed downstairs to grind some, but I couldn't find my wheat grinder. Someone had moved it. It's pretty heavy, let me tell you, and as I was lifting it to the table where I could use it, I heard someone turning on the outdoor water faucet. I was the only one home, so I was more than a little curious what was going on. I dashed upstairs, opened the front door to find a fellow from the Jordan Water Department. He said he was testing the water, which was fine. I hurried back to grind my wheat, thinking I'd surely blown it and that my bread would be ruined. But despite my detours, the bread turned out great! I was shocked. And it was easy! If you like to make bread and save money (the author of the blog says she can make three loaves of bread for fifty-five cents) go to this wonderful blog site called The Welcome Matt ( Scroll down until you see the golden loaves of bread in the sidebar. Click on the bread and then scroll down until you find the recipe. It is well worth your time. Look at my beautiful loaves. I'm going to try her Butter Rolls next.
So that's my adventures with fruit punch and magic bread. Both turned out. I guess the moral of these two little stories could be...punch in the lap doesn't spoil the bowl, or the path to making good bread is in the detours, or...good punch and delicious bread are worth the trips.

Friday, September 18, 2009

JoAnn Arnold Interview

Last year I met JoAnn Arnold on an internet loop. She is one very talented lady who not only writers wonderful uplifting books, but she paints the most amazing pictures. Early last spring when I had a signing in St. George, JoAnn and I had lunch together. We'd never met before, but we hit it off immediately. I have wanted to do an interview with her for my blog for quite some time, but because of internet gremlins innercepting our emails I haven't been able to. However, at long last I can post this interview with my good friend.

Thanks, JoAnn!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
At first writing was simply an outlet. I wrote roadshow scripts, Children's musicals. YM&YW plays and scripts (my favorite was a musical about Joseph Smith). I became serious after my Meniere's Disease put a stop to being on stage for our community Theatre. (My favorite characters were Peter Pan and Sister Amnesia in "Nunsence".)

Tell us a little bit about your new book.
I think sometimes the greatest descriptions of an author's book comes from those who read it. My latest book, Prince Etcheon and the Secret of the Ancient (a fantasy), came out the end of 2008. Michelle Bell did a review of this book in the Meridian. I hope you don't mind if I use some of her words. "Prince Etcheon is a well-crafted fantasy novel filled with excitement, adventure and magic. From the beginning, as you see young Etcheon lose his beloved Granna, then discover who he really is and what is expected of him, you will find yourself emotionally attached to this story. His destiny has been decided for him and Etcheon nobly and courageously accepts his fate as he is taught by animals (I will add who they are. An eagle, a panther, a horse, 2 Great Danes, a two-headed lamb, and an owl). Wonderful gospel parallels and symbols fill this story with deeper meaning as Etcheon grows in knowledge and stature, embarking on his dangerous journey . . .

Another review by a 12 girl. This book is amazing, fabulous, cool, clever. I highly recommend this book to any people who loves fantasy . . . . Another reason that you should read this is because it is original. It is not copying any book or movie. It comes right out of the author's head . . . Another reason is because it is adventurous and entertaining. The first sentence just draws you in. It holds the readers through the whole book . . .

I do have a manuscript just about ready to send off, however.

Tell us about your other books.
My first book, Miracles for Michael, is a story about a young boy who finds himself alone in the world when a car accident kills his younger brother and leaves his mother lying in a hospital in a coma. Samantha, a woman of wealth hears about Michael and makes arrangements for him to come and live with her. This is a story of the miracles that touch Michael's life and the lives of all who reach out to help him.

Journey of the Promise is a story of a young woman who thinks she is marrying the perfect man only to find out, within less than a year that he is far from perfect. In her confusion, she finds herself in the old section of the mansion they live in, that has been sealed off for over a hundred year. While roaming through the rooms, she find a journal written by her husband's great-great-grandfather. As she studies it, it leads her through hidden rooms and secret caves to fulfill a promise she had made in another time.

Pages From the Past is a patriotic mystery where Betsy's husband dies in what appears to be an accidental death. But when Betsy's Golden Retriever, Dorado digs up John's missing watch just a few feet from where they found his body, Betsy realizes his death was murder, instead. Clues began to present themselves in strange ways and with the help of her family, Betsy uncovers the mystery of John's death as well as learning of John's other life - that of a Secret Patriot. In this book, the constitution is discussed as well as those who signed it.

The Silent Patriots carries on with uncovering Hi-tech secrets through forgotten tools of the past. Betsy's mother brings her daughter into the Silent patriot organization. Betsy finds herself beside Roger Garrett, another Patriot, assisting him in uncovering another secret attempt to take away the freedoms of America and enslave the American people. The book takes the reader through twists and turns to finally find their way back to the path.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
I think the imagination. There is so much out there that can be a gift to the imagination. I love to read. I usually have three books going at a time. I love to dream up ideas. Like those in Star Trek, I like to go where no man has gone before. Only sometimes it's quite a trip.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
I used to read everything with Mary Higgins Clark's name attached. I enjoy Nicolas Sparks, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mostly, I look for a good story without paying attention to who the author is until I finish the last page.

Duane Crowther was my first editor and publisher. His advice to me as I put together a book, remains with me with every manuscript I write, so I suppose I would have to say that he has been my writing mentor.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now.
I was born in Price, Utah and lived in Castle Gate, Utah (very small town which is no longer there) until I was about four. My dad worked for Kiewit Construction Co. after that so we moved often when I was growing up. In my mind, that is the best education you can get in learning to get along in this world. Graduated from High School in Huntington, Utah. My husband and I raised our four sons in Orangeville, Utah. (another small town) Brent was a coach for Emery Co. High School, Then the Principal. When he retired, we moved to Santa clara, Utah - beautiful place to live. Though I loved Orangeville, I think my favorite place in where we are living now.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. what does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, Handwriting?
I have made myself a little corner (and I do mean little) office in our guest bedroom. There I have a very comfortable office chair, a cheap little white, easy to put together and take apart, desk where my laptop sits. Just to the side of me is a wooden TV tray with everything organized that I might need, just in case. Beneath that is a plastic file box, with lid, where everything is filed neatly just in case I need it again. Behind me is a floor lamp. On the other side of my chair is another plastic container of books and a dictionary, On the antique dresser I keep an I-pod player, and about 6 feet in front of me is the TV, DVD player, Video player. to the left of my chair next to the TV tray is a very nice day bed with a firm mattress. On the next wall there's a large window that brings in lots of light. Sometimes I work on the patio or in the sitting room. Sometimes I have music in the background and sometimes, I even watch TV. (but not often)

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I like NCIS, The Mentalist, Burn Notice, Warehouse 13, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis. (I tape the syfy one and watch them while I eat lunch. That is my break. I love movies. Westerns, Fantasy, Mysteries, Science fiction (especially the new Star Trek) Secret Agent Stuff, and just good good movies like "The Secret Life of Bees or Seabiscuit, etc. Do any of them inspire my writing? I have to think they add fuel to the imagination.

How had being published changed your life?
Oh, wow. With being published comes responsibility not only to write but to promote, worry over and become better with each novel. Would I change it? No. I love to write and I'm grateful to have been given this gift.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interest in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
You can find my blog at and my website is

Below is some of JoAnn's beautiful art. Check out her website to see more.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Writing Groups

I have had many fans email asking how they can become a author. This is such a loaded question. What makes it so tough to answer is...everyone can write, but do they write well enough to craft a story? Do they understand character motivation, plot twists, how to hook a reader and etc.

In an attempt to help those who want to someday become published, I thought I would devote Wednesdays to sharing what I have learned. Not that I know all there is to know about the subject, but what I don't know I have friends who do. Not all of them are published, but they know how to write and they write very well. Every writer whether published or not has their strengths and weaknesses and it's important to know yours. So from time to time I'm going to have some guest writers post on Wednesdays.

To kick this off my topic today is: Writing groups--to join or not to join that is the question.

What does this have to do with helping you become an author? Plenty. As mentioned above every writer has his/her strengths and weaknesses. In a writers group you can work together to build each other up. You may wonder how do you become a member in a writers group? Let me tell you how I did it.

Many years ago I saw an ad in the community newspaper about a class being offered on writing novels. I decided to check it out. Going to this class changed my writing life and it wasn't just because I was learning the nuts and bolts of writing. My life changed because I found other writers who also had dreams of becoming authors and having their books published. The class was wonderful. After the semester was over, we didn't want to give up meetings and so we formed our own writers group.

We've been meeting most every Friday for years. At first our group really had no discipline when it came to critiquing. As we tried to help each other many times we would stop the writer reading her work to debate the use of a word. Not very professional, but we were learning not only how to be writers, but how to give good critiques as well.

We progressed and decided to start critiquing in a very structured format which was--the writer reads her pages without interruption. Then we take turns critiquing. We always try to say something positive and make suggestions that will strengthen the work. If we're confused we ask the author what she was trying to achieve with the scene. Many times suggestions are made which help the writer build a better scene or sometimes the writer decides to go a different route. Critiquing with this structure has helped our group immensely.

Sometimes our group will turn a Friday meeting into a "plot" party. If a number of us are stuck with our plots we meet to talk about plot lines, how to enhance them, where the story needs to go, what kind of subplots we need and so forth. These have been very helpful and fun.

We've had wonderful members who have come and gone over the years. Some have moved away. We still stay in touch with many of them. Some members didn't stay because our group wasn't the right fit for them, which is fine. It's very important to find a group that you feel comfortable with.

Some of the writers in our group have been fortunate enough to have had their work published. Others are still working on their craft. We've been through a lot over the years.

I believe any success I have had I owe a great deal to my writers group. So if I'm asked whether to join or not to join a writers group, I would say find one that fits your needs, has like-minded people, and who can be trusted to help nurture your work...and then YES join.

Writing groups can be hard to find, but once you do they can be valuable in helping you on your path to publication.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sheep Dogs

I thought I would use Monday to write about a variety of things.

So here goes...

Last Monday (Labor Day) my daughter, Tricia, and I went to the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship. We had a riot! I love dogs. So I was excited to travel to Soldier Hollow and watch those amazing canines at work. And let me tell you, they were truly AMAZING.

We watched as dogs would do their handlers biddings by listening to a whistle. Different whistles would clue the canine as it ran madly up the hill to retrieve the sheep. A dog would make the sheep turn, stop, go farther and etc.. These canines are pros at their craft. What a thrill to see one dog herd sheep this way and that, making them move down a hill, go through certain gates, and stay together. Then the dog had to help its handler sort the sheep--the sheep could not be touched in any way-- and herd them into a small pen. Again...amazing!

But that's not all that's going on at this event. Tricia and I walked farther up the hill and found the Splash Dog competition. Basically what happens: a trainer throws a chew-toy into the water and the dog leaps in after it. The canines are scored on how far they jump before landing in the water. The animals love it.

There was also duck herding, but we missed that. Here's a video that shows what I'm talking about.

Now for a little humor...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Review of Rachel Ann Nunes new book, Saving Madeline

Romance novels are basically the same plot: man and woman meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. What makes certain romances memorable stories are the characters and how the writer gives them depth by making them living, breathing human beings with flaws and redeemable character traits. And let me tell you, Rachel Ann Nunes is a pro at giving her characters depth.

In her new book, Saving Madeline, Rachel has given Caitlin McLoughlin, the heroine, and Parker Hathaway, the hero, layer upon layer of flaws and redeemable character traits that make them linger on your mind long after you have finished the book. They become people you care about and people you root for even though they seem to be misguided. They are people who will risk everything—career, home, and family—to do what they deem as morally right. Isn’t that what we need in this world today, people who will have the courage to take on society to right a wrong?

This book is about a lawyer, Caitlin, who even though she is caring for her mentally-challenged sister, will risk her livelihood to make certain a bad man is put away in jail. It’s about a construction worker, Parker, who admits that he’s screwed up when he was young, but since becoming a father to his little girl, Madeline, has changed. He’ll do anything to protect his daughter from his ex-wife, who loves her child, but not as much as she loves her drugs. Even though Parker knows his life will drastically change if he kidnaps his daughter, he does it because it may save Madeline’s life.

Saving Madeline is rich with interesting plot twists that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. Will Caitlin be disbarred? Will Parker save his daughter? And how in the world will they ever be able to have the happy-ever-after of a true romance with such obstacles in their way. You’ll have to read the book to find out. This is a wonderful novel to cozy up with a cup of warm cocoa and your favorite fleece blanket. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but it will also make you think…would you have the courage to take a stand?

Interview with Rachel Ann Nunes.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I knew from the time I was in the fifth grade that I would be an author. I loved reading and yet I couldn't find the perfect story that I wanted to read, so I decided to write it.

Tell us a little bit about your new book.
Saving Madeline is about Caitlin McLoughlin, a public defender, who works hard freeing too many criminals for her peace of mind. When Parker Hathaway is arrested for kidnapping four-year-old Madeline, Caitlin thinks he is just one more criminal she must get through the system, but instead she finds a cause she can believe in. Soon she is in a race to uncover proof that will free Parker and save Madeline before it’s too late.

Tell us about your other books.
Saving Madeline is my 29th published book. My most popular books were probably the Ariana series and the picture book Daughter of a King, primarily because they've been out so long (the first three Ariana novels were recently reprinted under one cover). But I'm most proud of my later novels: Flying Home, Fields of Home, and Eyes of a Stranger. I enjoy writing good stories that will resonate with a wide variety of readers. I like writing family drama, with a lot of characters.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
I can't really say. I always feel compelled to write. It's like a constant ache or an itch that demands attention. A crying baby. When I don't write, I'm irritable and feel off-balanced. Ideas come to me and won't leave me alone until they're written.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
I read a lot of national women's fiction from a variety of authors. I do this to keep my skills sharp and to make sure I'm always improving. I try new authors all the time, seeking to learn something from each of them. I don't recommend these authors in a general manner, though, because too often I have to carefully pick and choose their novels. Far too often, I won't even finish them because of the content, the grammar, or storyline. Life is too short to read something I'm not enjoying.

In the LDS market, I found a friendship early on with Anita Stansfield, and she has been a support and a cheerleader for my entire career. I hope I am the same for her. We don't usually exchange manuscripts, although we have once or twice years ago, but we occasionally talk about the market and our lives and our work. Through the years I've mentored many others, which takes a lot of time and energy, but with Anita, the give and take is always on a more equal basis, and it's a joy to feel that. With every success I've had, I've known that she was happy for me. With every challenge, I know that she understands completely.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
I mostly grew up in a small house on an acre in Highland and in a slightly larger house in Provo. In Highland we had chickens and a cow and a large garden. The area was country back then and I loved roaming the open spaces. Later in Provo, we lived on a third of an acre with houses on all sides.

My father was a college French professor for most of my growing up years, and when we lived in Highland, my entire family went on the BYU Study Abroad with for six months. That was where I had experiences I'd later put in my first novel, Ariana: The Making of a Queen, and also where my love for languages and traveling began.

My mother was a midwife, and I attended home births with her as a teen. I learned a lot about life that way, and as with many children accustomed to animals on a farm, even one as tiny as ours, birth was always a natural process in my mind, not a sickness that would take you to the hospital. I have seven siblings and six children of my own, so my writing generally contains children.

If I could live anywhere at the moment, and could have all my family there with me, I'd probably choose Portugal. I served my mission there and I feel I could help grow the Church in that area. I love the beaches and the people. But when my husband and I were deciding where we would live twenty-odd years ago, I insisted on America because of my writing, and he ended up immigrating from Portugal to live here with me. When our children are raised, we will likely live part of the year in Portugal, but for right now, we'll stay in Utah. Quite a few of my stories are set in Europe because of that background.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
I have a small office with double glass doors. My computer is a laptop, with an attached ergonomic keyboard and a large external monitor. My desk is cherry, like my three large bookshelves, and faces the double glass doors so that no one is ever behind me as I write. I have a north facing window on my right side. I rarely listen to music because it interferes with my thought process. I have a small chandelier over my desk, but I never turn it on. During the day the window gives plenty of light, and at night I'll use the bookshelf lights instead because the monitor is plenty bright and I'm too lazy to close the window blinds for privacy. My desk always has two or three stacks of papers that need my attention. It looks a bit messy, but I know exactly where everything is.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I love to watch Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis. I've watched all 15 seasons. I normally enjoy anything sci-fi. Well, I haven't been that impressed with X files. Every now and then when I've had a particularly trying deadline, I need to shut myself away in a room for a few and watch an entire season of 24. I'm not sure if these movies have inspired my writing. They are mostly just to get my mind away from my own ideas so my brain can rest a bit.

How has being published changed your life?
The biggest change is that I'm often asked to speak at events and people will "recognize" me at the grocery store (or wherever). Kind of embarrassing if I haven't done my hair or am wearing grubbies. But it is satisfying to know people are reading what I've worked so hard to create. I have solid deadlines now instead of self-imposed ones, but I still write every weekday like I always did. Oh, and I have a lot more e-mail.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
I have three upcoming appearances:
On September 24, 2009, I'll be presenting Finding Ideas and How to Make a Good Idea Great at The Book Academy at UVU. I'll also be signing books that day.

On October 3, 2009, I'll be at the University Mall Deseret Book signing books from 12:00 to 1:30 PM.

On October 3, 2009, I'll also be signing books at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building next to Temple Square. The signing will be in the Empire Room, across from the Nauvoo Café on the ground level, and I'll be there from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.

For more information or to read a sample chapter of Saving Madeline and see my blog, please visit my website: I have two blogs, one on my website and the other at

Comment on this interview to be entered to win a copy of Saving Madeline!
Thanks, Rachel!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Book Review of The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters and Interview with Frank Cole

If you want to sit down with a book and have a wonderful time with delightfully funny characters than buy The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters by Frank Cole. Cole’s storytelling ability ranks up there with the great Bill Cosby when it comes to creating memorable and funny characters who you want to follow on their adventures.

The main character, Hashbrown, has a tree house club with his friends Snow Cone, Four Hips, Measles, Bubblegum and Whiz. They attend Pordunce Elementary where they come in contact with their rival Hambone Oxcart, who is the death dealer of Pordunce. As the story progresses Hashbrown and Hambone collide and Hashbrown is challenged to the ultimate knock-down-drag-out. Hashbrown turns to the Figanewty Organization--run by Cordovo Figanewty and his sidekick Tony Ten Fingers--for help. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a wonderful surprise.

After reading this short, wonderfully humorous book you’ll want to know more about the author, so I’ve interviewed Frank.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I realized it was something I could really do when I was young, but I’ve been writing and telling stories since grade school. I used to get some time in my high school chemistry class at the end of the period to share stories to the students. It’s been in my blood for a long, long time.

Tell us a little bit about your book.
The Adventures of Hashbrown Winters I think is best described as a modern-day, over-the-top, Little Rascals, if that makes any sense. Hashbrown is a cool kid with a tree house gang of hilarious friends, including his best friend Snow Cone Jones and Whiz Peterson (an unfortunate boy with a tiny bladder.) When Hashbrown ignites the wrath of Hambone Oxcart, the Death Dealer of Pordunce Elementary, by accidentally smashing Hambone’s pet cockroach, he has to pull out all the stops to save his neck. Without adding a spoiler, Hashbrown’s survival involves the school’s all-seeing Oracle (a kid that’s been trapped in his locker for 7 years) and an appointment with Cordovo Figanewty, the leader of the 6th grade mafia.

I noticed in the Acknowledgment of your book you have very unique nicknames for your children. How did you come up with them?
In all honesty, my kids have a lot of nicknames. Plus, I’m sure they have a few nicknames for me as well. I’m the biggest kid in the family and I love to pull pranks and joke around with my kids more than anything else. My sons, particularly, have very unique personalities. They both fit the mold of a Hashbrown or a Snow Cone which I think is awesome.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
I love to make people laugh and writing has given me another opportunity to do that. Now, since I’ve finally been published, I’m inspired whenever I hear that someone, especially a kid, has read my book and got a kick out of it. That’s why I do it.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
There are so many writers that I respect for their writing style. Particularly, I love Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, of course, and Eoin Colfer. I also think Brandon Mull is one of those authors you have to cheer for. He works so hard and is such a down-to-earth, cool guy. I want to see him win in everything he does.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - City? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be? I grew up in an amazing little town called Winchester, Kentucky. The school Hashbrown attends is patterned loosely after the school I attended as a kid. I still vividly remember sitting in my classroom in the 6th grade and hearing the rumbling of a herd of pigs charging down the road outside the window. That sort of stuff happened from time to time. Ms. Borfish is real… scary, I know! I obviously changed her name, but she existed nonetheless. She may have passed on by now and if so the world is a sadder place without her. I now live in a really cool neighborhood in Utah. It’s a completely different world than the one I grew up in, but I love it. Still, would I go back to Winchester to live if I had the chance? In a heartbeat!

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
I’m quirky when it comes to writing. I have a typical setup with a laptop resting on a breakfast tray, but it has to be dark with all the doors closed and no distractions. No television, music, or screaming children. Usually, I write when all are asleep, but I have to wake up my poor wife every few minutes to bounce an idea off her before I can go on.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I really don’t watch television. There hasn’t been a show I’ve followed for several years, but I do watch a ton of movies. I love anything epic like Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean. I also really love the Goonies and Sandlot. Great, great shows with some of the coolest characters you’ll ever find.

How has being published changed your life?
It got busier and more nerve-racking, but in a good way (if that’s possible.) Now I know there are people out there reading my book and that can scare you a little. What are they thinking? Do they think I’m a nut? Because if they don’t, I didn’t do my job! :)

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
I’ll been doing some signings here and there over the next couple of weeks at Costcos and Seagull Book. In September, I’m heading on a school tour throughout Utah and visiting close to 60 schools. I’ll have a listing on my website in a week or two to keep everyone posted. Check out my blog at or on my website at


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