Monday, November 30, 2009

Matthew Brown Interview and an Angel Entry

I usually write something personal on Mondays and about things that have happened to me. A couple of weeks ago while I was at a signing in Centerville, a man came in the store. Upon seeing that my book was published by Covenant, he told me he wrote books for them as well. I had never met him before so I asked what he'd written. He pointed to Mormons and Masons. Little did I know I was talking to a legend of LDS nonfiction. As we spoke I asked if he would like to be interviewed for my blog. He agreed. So I'm happy to present to you my interview with Matthew Brown.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No. I started writing only because an educator asked me for extensive information related to a book project he was working on (Symbols in Stone). Before my writing career began I built, maintained, and repaired elevators for a living.

Tell us a little bit about your new book.
My new book on Freemasonry was written by request. The publisher wanted a volume which corresponded with the content of Dan Brown’s latest novel. It is a fascinating topic but proper research on such things can take many years.

Tell us about your other books.
All of my books (10 now) deal with some historical or doctrinal aspect of the Restoration. Most of them have an apologetic element. The Greek word apologia basically means ‘defense.’ Much of my research and writing has to do with understanding and defending the restored gospel and the practices which pertain to it.

Your books are nonfiction and deal with some heavy topics. Why did you choose to write about these subjects? Or did they choose you?
When I was a missionary I found that I had sincere, but sometimes difficult, questions that extended beyond the scope of a normal Institute or Gospel Doctrine class—sometimes far beyond. I have not stopped asking questions ever since. My books are simply edited notes from my intellectual explorations.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
The desire to clarify, solidify, and justify faith.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing?
No. But as I read the writings of other people I have admired the ability of many of them to communicate clearly and take readers on a mental journey to a satisfactory destination.

Do you have a writing mentor?
I do not.

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 currently live in the Salt Lake valley but would much prefer a quiet place in the countryside. My work requires a great deal of concentration, so the less distractions I have the better.

Bring us into your office where you write. What does it look like? Do you write long-hand, on a laptop, or PC?
I work six days a week in a university library. The temperature is cool so that the collections are not damaged by moisture. I am surrounded by thousands of books and surprisingly often by curious individuals with interesting questions. My desk is a large wooden table (which I sometimes fill with large stacks of reading material – much to the chagrin of some librarians). I carry a laptop most everywhere I go but I continue to take long-hand notes when necessary.

I understand they are making a DVD about your latest book. Tell us about the project. Also, do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I recently viewed the rough-cut of the DVD and even without the many graphics it will include it is very engaging. Several BYU professors and the Past Grand Master for all Utah Freemasons participated. The only drawback was that they shocked me with the announcement that I would be conducting all of the interviews! When I get involved in really intricate projects (like this one) I tend to stay away from television so that my mind can remain more focused.

How has being published changed your life?
It has challenged me intellectually, financially, and creatively.

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?
I have already done nine book signings this season – with a strong response. Here is my schedule (so far) for the rest of the year.

Dec. 5th – South Towne Deseret Book [Sandy] (noon–2pm)
Dec. 11th – Orem Costco (5pm–8pm)
Dec. 12th – Spanish Fork Deseret Book (noon–2pm)
Spanish Fork Seagull Book (2:30pm–4pm)
Dec. 19th – Provo Deseret Book [Eastbay], (10am–12noon)
University Parkway Deseret Book [Orem] (1pm–3pm)
South Jordan Seagull Book [“The District”] (4pm–6pm)

Thank you, Matthew!

Now for the Angel entry spotlight for the week.

Yesterday I pulled into the church parking lot and hit a nail. When I got out of the car, the tire was already getting low and I could hear the air coming out of it. A brother in my High Priest Group walked by and saw me inspecting my soon-to-be ox-in-the-mire. He said, "put the nail back in and let's drive to my house right away so we can plug that tire and not have to change it."

I missed the Sacrament, but the kind act of service (and not having to change a tire while in my suit) certainly kept my mood from turning gloomy on the Sabbath. The tire was repaired, and I made it back into the meeting before the last speaker spoke.

Don't forget to send in your entry for An Angel in Your Life Contest. The deadline is December 15th.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Hidden Branch - Book Review

Do you want a fun read with lots of intrigue that has sleuthing by two wonderful main characters who would rival Agatha Christie's Poirot? Well I've found it in G.G. Vandagriff's book The Hidden Branch.

Here's the backliner of the book:
The genealogical sleathing skills of Alexandra Campbell and her business associate, Brighamina Poulson, are put to spine-tingling use when the murder of Armenian-American billionaire inventore Paul Mardian takes them to Huntington Beach, California--Surf City, USA--in search of the dead man's heirs. Briggie, however, is immediately smitten with ideas of wet suits and boogie boards.

Alex believes the killer is a relative of the victim, but her pursuit of the turth nearly costs another life--her own.
So many suspects, so little time. Could it be the real estate tycoon with the tropy wife? The pompous attorney who spends every cent he makes on high living? The professor of Middle Eastern studies with a penchant for Armenian antiquities? Or even the darkly handsome surf shop owner, who has more than a passing interest in Alex?

While her fiance struggles with a crisis of faith, Alex searches for answers, putting her life on the line yet again to discover the missing link that will solve this captivating mystery.

This book is just plain fun! Not only does the mystery of the novel twist and turn, but so does your heart as you follow the characters and worry over them. My heart sank when Charles, Alex's fiance, has to leave to go to his dying mother. Though I hadn't read the previous book in the series, which showed the struggle of these two lovebirds getting together, that didn't stop me from rooting for them to maintain their love. (I'm going to have to read the other books in the series now. Thanks, G.G.) You'll have to read The Hidden Branch to find out if Charles comes back, and if Alex's love for him will survive as she works with Briggie to solve this murder mystery.

Grab a warm blanket, a cup of cocoa, and curl up on the couch for this delightful tale.

(Deseret Book is the publisher of this novel and sent me a free copy to review.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Inner Conflict: Nuts and Bolts

It's Writing Wednesday.
Nikki Trionfo is guest blogging today on a subject many writer's struggle with...inner conflict. And as always, Nikki makes it fun and interesting.

Inner Conflict: Nuts and Bolts
What makes a series of plot events become a story? There are so many ways to correctly string plot events together that it almost seems like there’s no wrong way. Don’t be fooled. There are many, many wrong ways. Look, I’ll show you an example. To save on space, I’ll even obey a few basic rules. I’ll give the main character a goal or desire, I’ll make each plot event be the cause for subsequent happenings and I’ll even put in a climactic end.

George wants to travel to faraway places but his dad dies, leaving no one to support the family. In getting a job, George shouts at an old man. The old man steals money and blames George. As he is about to be arrest for theft, friends give George money and the police are so happy in seeing this, they start singing.

Boy, oh boy, I bet you weren’t expecting the singing there at the end. Unless you recognized it as the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Good for you if you did. If you didn’t, however, you probably had a few issues with these plot events. Why did the police sing? Why didn’t George ever get to travel? Anyway, who even cares about George? I mean, what kind of guy shouts at an old man?

What’s missing in this example (but not with the movie or you’d have never heard of it) is inner conflict and the subsequent resolution. I stated that George had a goal, that of traveling the world. But I neglected to mention that he has a deeper second goal. He wants to do what is right for his family and community. The struggle between these goals drives the whole story. It also completes the story.

George wants to travel. When his dad dies, George has many options to support his family but knows that his small community cannot afford to lose his father’s business. Sacrificing his childhood dream, George shouts at an old man for oppressive business practices and by that action takes over his father’s trade. George helps many people. The old man steals money and blames George, who thinks he is a failure. Through a miracle, he gets a chance to see what life would have been like if he had never touched the townspeople. He finally understands that nothing is more important than the love of his family and friends. At peace, he goes home to be arrested. But love saves the day, as the community gathers to help the man who helped so many. Even the police join in the singing.

Let’s look at George’s inner conflict. He wants two things, 1) to travel, and 2) to help others. Now, the story wouldn’t hold together if George could do both simultaneously. This is where outer conflict comes in. The writers of this story gave George a carefully controlled set of circumstances wherein he’s forced to choose between the two goals over and over again.
Another critical point is that George’s inner conflict is inherently moral. If George has to choose between traveling and golfing, this story would be lame. Choose moral dilemmas that resonate deep within you personally. Then you’ll have interesting, conflicted, poignant ideas to put into your character’s words and thoughts.

Now, let’s talk about what one of my writing teachers calls the who-cares factor. Who cares about your characters and what they do? Well, the author, of course! She loves and cherishes them! She probably talks to them in her sleep! She neglects her own children to imagine clothes and shoes and hairstyles for them! She has a daily planner dedicated only to their activities! She . . . !

Ahem. Sorry about that. Yes, authors care about their characters. But how do you convince a reader to care? Another job for inner conflict. No matter their outside choices and circumstances, if your characters, specifically your main character, have a noble goal that they are pursuing, readers will cheer for them almost no matter how badly those characters mess up in actually achieving the goal. One caution about noble goals. Don’t go preachy on us readers. We hate that. George, I don’t believe, ever stated his noble goal to help his community. Let your characters’ actions speak much louder than their thoughts and words on this one.

For a story to feel complete, plot events have to allow the main character to resolve his inner conflict. That means George needs to either get his stated goal (travel) or learn that he doesn’t value it as much as something else (love). Be careful here, too. You cannot end a story with a realization. George cannot simply make a speech. He has to act. Remember the movie? George first faces the crisis of the missing money by running away from friends and family. Then he has his breakthrough realization. But the story’s not over. George acts. He runs, literally, in exactly the opposite direction as before, going toward his friends and family. He shows by his actions how he’s overcome the conflict of the story (and his life).

I’d like to make one more point on the actions of characters. They always speak louder than words or thoughts. It doesn’t matter how clearly you tell the reader that your character has a good inner desire, if his actions don’t say it, your character is hypocritical. This can be okay as long as your character eventually has a genuine noble goal. Even Scarlett O’Hara and Catherine Earnshaw, infamous for their questionable morals, put self-interest aside to act on occasional bursts of brotherly love, Scarlett more particularly so because she acted to help people she disliked. But neither character put self-interest aside enough to have the classic happy ending. Wouldn’t you have just thrown Wuthering Heights right onto the floor if Heathcliff and Catherine got to be happy at the end? I would have ripped it apart, page by page. Maybe fed it to my dog.

To end, I’d like to state my opinion about resolutions. The happiness you give your character at the end of the story should be directly linked to the degree to which they sacrificed for their noble goal. I’m often dissatisfied with Hollywood because happy endings come too cheaply. If you study great literature, you know the joy of the morning is only as bright as the darkest hour of the night.

Now that you know how inner conflict works, I’m giving you a challenge. Give your characters some gut-wrenching conflicts. Go ahead. Throw rocks at the best of them. Make them suffer. You’ll deepen them in the process and when the joy finally comes, they’ll be mature enough to recognize the wonder of it. And you’ll have a story that’s worth remembering.

Don’t miss Nikki’s next blog entry coming next week: Inner Conflict: A Practical Example.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving, Friendly Persuasion, and an Angel Entry

Don't you just love Thanksgiving? There's nothing like eating turkey until your eyes bulge, watching football until you fall asleep, and then waking up for a slice of pumpkin pie. We have a tradition in my house of watching the movie Friendly Persuasion with Gary Cooper, Dorothy McQuire and Anthony Perkins. It's excellent! Here's a small clip.

Don't forget to enter An Angel in Your Life Contest. Just write an experience where someone has been an angel in your life and email it to me ( The winner will receive a $25. gift certificate at Seagull Book or Deseret Book and so will the angel in your life. The deadline is December 15th.

Here's another entry for you to read. (The names have been changed.)

Sally has been my angel. She is the kindest person I have ever met and she always knows how to make me smile. One time that sticks out though is when we were in school and I had done really bad on a test which I thought I had done really good on. I was shocked at my score and totally distraught over it. I couldn't tell my family how bad I had done but I saw Sally that night and I told her everything. She reassured me that everything was okay and just made me feel better. She rescued me that night. I needed to tell someone and she was there for me. She's an awesome person.

Thanks for this contest and the opportunity to share my story of my angel.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lori Nawyn Interview

I met Lori Nawyn last year at the LDStorymakers Writing Conference, and we became instant friends. She's an awesome artist and a great writer. It's only a matter of time before she becomes a big name and I wanted you to have the benefit of knowing more about my friend and fellow writer.

Lori, I know you have some tremendous artwork to your credit. Tell us about your art.
My LDS themed art (Young Women values, family history, etc.) is available in the form of scrapbooking papers and embellishments. Two of my most popular pieces, Armor of God and Fishers of Men, appear on postcards, posters, tote bags, mugs, and t-shirts. I recently finished the illustrations for a children’s picture book What Are You Thinking? by Valerie Ackley. The book will be printed under the ThoughtsAlive Books label, owned by New York Times bestselling author Leslie Householder, and will be released in time for Christmas. I just received word that the book placed as a award-winning finalist in the 2009 National Best Book Awards in the Children's Mind/Body/Spirit category.

I know that you love to write as well. Tell us a little bit about your recipe book, Peach 101: Recipes Your Mother Never Told You About and also about Three Angels for Christmas.
Peach 101 was released in 2006 but continues to enjoy great success as a peaches only recipe book. I am working on a second cookbook, Recipes from the Heart.

After the deaths of my grandparents and friend, Stacey, I needed an emotional outlet so I created three angels—Faith, Hope, and Charity—in honor of values I felt my loved ones exemplified. The angels were printed and distributed on Christmas cards. Last year I wrote the story of how they came to be and that became the text for the inspirational gift booklet Three Angels for Christmas.

Have you always wanted to be an artist and a writer?
At a very early age I knew I wanted to draw, I just didn’t know what and I never dreamed I could be successful at it. In fourth or fifth grade I entered a poster contest with a drawing of Bugs Bunny and some other characters by a roadster. The judges—a couple of sixth grade girls—disqualified me because they said the work was too good for a kid and must have been traced. I didn’t have the courage to point out that the drawing was done on heavy cardstock and thus could not have been traced. I cried for awhile then hid the poster at the back of my closet. Over thirty years later I entered a national completion and won an honorable mention for a book cover. That led to some first place ribbons in other contests, a bit of confidence, and various people discovering my work. Things have blossomed from there. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since fifth grade. My journey to get to where I’d like to be with my writing is a continuing adventure.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
I came out of my adolescence determined to understand myself and others; I learned that how we perceive ourselves and those around us impacts our life experience. I am inspired to write about what motivates ordinary people through thick and thin and how they make the best of what they have.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
I grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder, I still love to read her books to my daughter. I enjoy some of the writings of Pearl S. Buck and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I like Louis L’Amour, Ivan Doig, and especially Anne Tyler. Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River is one of my favorite books.

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 northern Utah in a too adult world where my mother battled depression. I learned early that when a door is shut a window is opened and for me that was being sent to live summers with my grandparents in rural Idaho. I love to write about my grandparents. They taught me about gratitude, and not taking things for granted, about unconditional love, hard work and independence, and self-worth. Though they had their weaknesses my grandparents overcame the odds and become extraordinary in their chosen paths. Now I live in the suburbs of northern Utah with my family, which includes dogs, chickens, and rabbits. I think I might like to live in Ireland.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing or painting. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting? I have an office in our home that doubles as a home school room for our youngest child. My desk wraps part of two walls, one with my printers and one with a couple of monitors. I have too much stuff on my desk: photos of my family, cards I can’t part with, endearing flotsam from the Oregon Coast and my life. My art table is in the corner. Next to that is my treadmill and a cabinet where I keep my camera and lenses. My great-grandmother’s desk takes up space under a window that looks out into the hallway. Light comes from three windows that overlook our front yard, two goose-necked lamps for close-up stuff, and a desk lamp. Music can be anything from Enya, Josh Grobin, and Nora Jones, to the Bar-J Wranglers or myriad church stuff. I recently abandoned my wooden chair for an upholstered, almost regal, desk chair which I love.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I watch very little TV, I’d rather read or hike. I love old movies, Kathryn Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and I have most all the old episodes of Lucy, Andy Griffith, and the Honeymooners.

How has having your art work and books changed your life?
I’ve had the honor of meeting people from all over the world who have goals similar to mine and I’ve learned much from them. The greatest blessing of being an author/artist is hearing from people whose lives I’ve touched for the better.

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 don’t have specific dates yet, but I will post up-to-date info on my blogs: and and on my website About my blogs and website? Well the most frequently asked question I get is if I designed them myself and the answer is yes. The photos on the sidebars and header of Hearts and Hands I took myself (except for the typewriter).

Sincere thanks, Kathi, for interviewing me!

Thanks, Lori!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Grouping Words: Selection, Arrangement, Description.

Today I thought I’d start us on a writing journey. I think my entire writing career has been one long journey in which I am continually learning and sometimes the same thing over and over until it sticks.

As a writer my library is full of books that teach how to write. I refer to them often. One of my favorites is Dwight V. Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. If you see it in the book store snap it up. This book is a gold mine full of wonderful details that help strength your writing. I think you might find some of Mr. Swain’s advice as helpful as I have.

For instance, Mr. Swain talks about four things that you need to know to write a good story:

1) how to group words into motivation-reaction units
2) how to group motivation-reaction units into scenes and sequels
3) how to group scenes and sequels into story patterns
4) how to create characters that give your story life.

Today we’re going to work on the first point: how to group words into motivation-reaction units. This can be tricky. Have you ever read a scene, which is beautifully written, punctuation and grammar flawless, yet the ending is flat, the characters boring, and you have no desire to read more? Me, too. Why is that? Swain says it is because of selection, arrangement and description.


Helpful tools in selecting the right words are using the key questions of journalism: who, what, where, when, why and how. Who is the character the reader needs to follow? What is important to that character? When do we watch this character? Where is the character? What is the character doing? And why is he doing it? Now, apply how to the reader is viewing this? Are you writing in first-person or third person? Does the reader see everything through your protagonist’s eyes (first person)? Or through the writer’s eyes (third-person)? You can also view the scene through a bystander’s view, waiting for something to happen to him.


How you arrange what happens is very important. Do you present the scene in linear fashion or in a flashback? Have a good reason for arranging what happens and always remember the rules of cause and effect. The arrangement of words can add emphasis to your scene. Swain has a perfect example: if you show a gun, then a coffin, and then tears the emphasis of the scene is heartbreak. But if you show the coffin, then tears, and then the gun the emphasis shifts to revenge.


The description for a scene makes the scene come to life. Your goal is to paint a vivid picture with words to add texture. When possible use short concise descriptions, but if necessary a long description is the only way to get the job done. Remember vividness is your goal. The more you write the more your instincts will know when short descriptions or long descriptions work best. For example, a high action scene needs short descriptions to keep readers on the edge of their seats; however, a romantic scene may need long descriptions to evoke amorous emotions. Emotion is key and the right words selected, arranged and described are essential.

Next Wednesday we’ll discuss scene and sequels.

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Angel in Your Life Entry A

If you haven't heard...I’m having a contest called An Angel in Your Life Contest. I wanted to celebrate the release of my book An Angel on Main Street and thought what better way to do it than to ask people to send me an experience where someone has been an angel in his/her life. All you need to do is write down the experience and send it to me at The winner will receive a $25. gift certificate to either Seagull Book or Deseret Book and so does the angel in his/her life. The deadline is December 15th so get busy and send in your experience.

But here's the deal...there are so many touching experiences I thought you might like to read them as well. What better way to start the countdown to Christmas than reading about the good deeds of others. And don’t worry I've changed the names and skipped some of the very personal information.

Entry A:

Dear Mrs. Peterson,
One of the angels in my life would have to be my Young Women adviser, Sis. Smith. She makes a point of getting to know her girls as best as she can. She sometimes takes us to the temple, and we just talk. On one such occasion, I had had a particularly hard day, so between friends and grades, I was pretty stressed out. She and I talked for about two hours, just of my woes and worries. She listened to me, and laughed and cried at the appropriate moments... ...She gave me some advice, and that was what ended our session. We went out and got ice cream, and went home. The next day, I came home and went to my room. There was a package and an envelope sitting on my bed. In the package there was a nice gold chain necklace, and in the envelope were the following quotes:

The universe is transformation; our life is what our thoughts make it.
-Marcus Aurelius
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
-Wayne Dyer

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.
Needed are…[souls] filled with compassion, that we might communicate not only eye to eye, or voice to ear, but in the majestic style of the Savior.
--President Thomas S. Monson;
Ensign, November 1994

And a copy of the YW theme with the words, ”You are a daughter of your Heavenly Father, who loves us and we love him,” underlined. Let me tell you, that is exactly what I needed. It filled me up with joy: That is why I want Sister Smith to win this contest. At that moment in time, she was my angel through that kind act of service.

Reading entries like this is bound to put us in the Christmas spirit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Julie Wright Interview

I'm very happy to post an interview I did with author, Julie Wright. She's a bestselling writer and I thought you would enjoy reading about her.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Since seventh grade where Mrs. Brown in English class told me I had talent, I have always wanted to be a writer in some format or another. I wanted to be an advertising agent, a lyricist, a poet, a screenwriter, a novelist. I just wanted to write and I wasn’t much concerned about how or what for. I was just glad to find out that I had talent somewhere! I did start my first book when I was fifteen.

Tell us a little bit about your new book.
I am really excited about this new book! Eyes Like Mine is a novel about a young girl’s journey of using the past to meet her present challenges. It’s is a time-travel and a love story, but not how you would think. It’s a story of love between family members and the sacrifices they make for each other. It brings together a woman from 1855 who is crossing the plains and a semi-spoiled young woman from contemporary times. They meet up in modern days to learn from each other what the purposes of their lives. It’s filled with heartfelt humor, and deals with the very real struggle of remembering to live our lives to the fullest.

Tell us about your other books.
Oy. Well . . . my first, as I mentioned before I started when I was fifteen years old. The first 60 pages are exactly as I wrote them when I was fifteen. I finished it up when I was 24 years old and to my pleasant surprise got it published. Unfortunately my first and second books were written when I was relatively young and lacking in any real training. The stories are good, but the writing isn’t where it could be. My third book is something I am still proud of. It’s called My Not-So-Fairy-Tale Life. It’s a story of redemption and love. I tell people if you don’t laugh while reading this book—you have no sense of humor, and if you don’t cry—you’re a heartless cave person.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
It used to be the drive to be published. Once I got there, it was the drive to be on a best seller’s list. Once I got there, I found I’d made lots of friends in the writing world and I wanted to be with them—doing whatever they were doing. Some of my very best friends are authors and I can no longer imagine a life without them. I write so I have the excuse to be where they are. Oh yeah, and I still want to win the Newbery. So there’s that to keep me writing.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
See answer to question 4. YES! I have many established writers whom I admire and emulate. I have several people I consider my mentors (whether they claim me or not). Josi Kilpack, Heather Moore, Annette Lyon, Jeff Savage, James Dashner, Jessica Day George, and Janette Rallison—to name a few. And that is only the tip of the iceberg in naming the people I admire and respect in this business.

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 spent a few years in LA while my dad went to college, then grew up mostly in the suburbia of Salt Lake City. When I turned 18, I waxed adventurous and hopped on a greyhound bus and moved to Boston. I have to be honest, that short time spent in Boston molded me more than any other place I’ve lived. I was there during a very defining time and it has never left me. You will find a lot of Massachusetts in my writing. I moved back and continued the suburbia of Salt Lake City until ten years ago, my husband and I moved our family to the country. Walnut Grove from Little House on the Prairie was a bigger town than the one I live in. Traffic only happens when someone is running cattle to a new location. It’s a quieter and, oddly enough, busier sort of existence.

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?
You’re coming into my home??? Wait here on the porch a minute while I straighten a few things up (okay fine, while I straighten everything up)! Okay. Now that the house is tidy, come on in and see my beautifully vacuumed carpet, and my clean counters, and sinks with no dishes in them. Oh wait, did I mention I write fiction? I write on a laptop and write anywhere I can take my laptop. I write at my desk if I’m lucky, but more often, I am writing in the car (while someone else is driving—of course), or while I’m waiting for kids at the dentists or doctors, or writing while I work in my little grocery store. Or writing as I crack the whip over kids doing homework. Basically, I write every in any two minutes that throws itself my direction. Someone once asked me if I listen to music while I write, and I answered, “Sort of. I write to the beat of my children growing up and to the rhythm of my family.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I love TV and Movies. Unfortunately, I genuinely don’t have time for them. Every once in a while I get to see a movie, but not often and usually only when I’m folding laundry (multi-tasking is awesome). Movies don’t genuinely inspire me to write, but allow me a moment to let my brain lie fallow while someone else does the creative thinking for a couple of hours.

How has being published changed your life?
Being published allowed me to move on to other works. I wrote one book and then sat on it for years, terrified to move ahead because I already had one unpublished book. Why would I want two? Getting that first book published pushed me over my own writer’s block. It helped me see I had other stories to tell, other worlds to build. Without that first publication, I would likely still be at that place where a manuscript lay in a drawer somewhere, but I never said the words, “I’m a writer to anyone.” Other ways my life has changed has been in the opening of doors to things I never would have experienced any other way. I have made friends I never would have had the chance to know, been places I never would have gone to without some provocation. It’s made me come out of myself and become pretty good at public speaking. Before publication, I couldn’t get up in front of anyone let alone thousands of anyones! It’s been an amazing ride—one of ups and downs, and worth every minute.

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 am available for firesides and literacy enrichment nights as well as school visits. You can find out more on that and anything else you want to know at my website:

Thanks, Julie. I wanted to post this during a wonderful book tour Julie is doing with her good friend Josi Kilpack. Here's where they will be.

Friday, November 13th
*Oakland, CA: Seagull 11:00-12:00
*Bakersfield, CA: Beehive Books Bakersfield 4:00-5:30(661) 322-7276
Saturday, November 14th
Ensign Books Temecula 9:30-11:30
Ensign Books Riverside 12:15-2:15
Ensign Books Upland 3:00-5:00
Monday, November 16th
*Bookport 10-12 Fountain valley California
(714) 963-4889
*Book Castle 2:00-4:00 Santa Clarita California
(800) 477-2030
Tuesday, November 17th
*Glendale, AZ: Deseret Book12:30-2:00439-4809
*Late Lunch 2:30 (details to follow)
*Mesa, AZ: Seagull 4:30-6:00
*Evening Presentation in Mesa area
Wednesday, November 18th
*Tucson AZ: Latter Day Cottage12:30-1:30885-2635
*Thatcher AZ: Bookworms book signing 4:30-6:00428-8089
Thursday November 19th
*Chandler, AZ: Deseret Book 12:00-1:00 (480) 899-5469
*Book group Las Vegas
Friday, November 20th
*Las Vegas, NV: Deseret Book 11:00-12:30
*St. George, UT: Deseret Book 4:30-6:00(435) 628-4495
Saturday, November 21st
*Cedar City, UT: Deseret Book 12:00-1:30(435) 865-1253

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Getting to Know Your Characters

Today I have a guest blog written by my good friend and fellow writer, Maureen Mills.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading books is the opportunity to get to know exciting and interesting people. Perhaps I even identify with some of the characters in the stories, or wish I was more like them, or congratulate myself that I would handle that character’s particular circumstances in a much better way.

When I began to write my own stories, I wondered how I could possibly create realistic characters to populate the pages that weren’t simply dim reflections of me. I am, after all, the only one writing this story, right? And I can only use my own opinion on how a character should react to a problem. So every character in my story would basically be me, reacting how I would react to each situation.

This is a problem, as, honestly, I don’t feel as if I am all that interesting under normal circumstances. Not to mention the lack of conflict if everyone in a story thinks and reacts in exactly the same way.

In my research on writers in general, and their writing techniques in particular, I began to come across a number of references to characters in their books “taking over” a story, and in essence telling the writer “No, I don’t want to do that. I want to do this.”

I was mystified. Also, intrigued. I wanted my characters to talk to me like that.

Enter a very wonderful, very helpful writing instructor. (Yes, Brenda, I’m talking about you!) On the first day of class she had us all fill out a personality worksheet to see what “color” of personality we each were. I was surprised at the wide range of personality types we possessed. Then Brenda explained that we could fill out the same chart for each of our characters, and that would help us to determine how that person would react in our stories.

A simple idea, perhaps, but absolutely ground-shaking to me. Duh, of course the villain won’t be the same personality type as the hero. Mostly. And lots of conflict comes from clashing personality types instead of opposing goals.

And then I was introduced to the concept of creating entire background stories for each character. I not only needed to know what my character is like now, but what he was like as a kid, where he grew up, what experiences, traumatic or otherwise, shaped his growth physically, mentally, and emotionally.

After I knew the basics for my characters, I was ready for the next step: Questionaires.

Through my writing class and on the internet (I love cruising writer’s websites for juicy tidbits of advice) I found a number of really cool questionnaires to see how well you really know the people you are creating stories about. Some questions are like “What is the name of your character’s favorite band?” or “What is hanging on your character’s bedroom walls?” Some are more complex, like “What is the worst thing that ever happened to your character?” I found one fun and helpful set of questions that explored the relationships and interactions between all the characters in your story. “If character A met character D in a dark alley, what would happen, and who would win?” I found that questionnaire particularly good at refining my characters’ personalities.

After all this work and research—I felt like I had already written a whole novel before I’d even started the first chapter!—I was still astonished the first time I was writing along and suddenly, the story came to life and began to go in its own direction. Of course, it wasn’t the story, really. It was the people inhabiting the story who began to live, in my imagination as well as on the page.

What a magic moment!

And isn’t that what we writers live for? Finding that magic moment and, hopefully, sharing it with others?

Happy writing!
Maureen Mills

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Angel on Main Street Utah Book Launch

Oh my stars!!! Christmas came very early for me. Last Saturday was such an awesome day. I'm very humbled by the support of family and friends at my Utah launch for my Christmas book, An Angel on Main Street.

The staff at the Deseret Book in Fort Union were fantastic. They had my table set up and waiting when I arrived. During those two surreal hours they kept checking on me to see if they could help in any way.

The first to arrive was my daughter, Patrizia. Right now she is super busy. Not only does she work full time, but she is also working part-time at the LDS Conference Center doing the props for The Savior of the World play that will open in a few weeks. She came to see me during her lunch break.Saturday was my daughter, Kristina's, birthday. I was happy to have her family stop by. What's wrong with Mom doing a book signing on her special day? I made it up to her with a birthday dinner on Sunday. (Greg, Will, and Kristina are with me in the picture above.)

Many of my friends dropped by lending me their support. I'm truly blessed with a wealth of good friends. Sadly my picture-taker was not able to take a shot of everyone who attended. Still he did a great job. (Thanks, Honey!!!)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Interview with Bestselling Author J. Scott Savage

Last spring at a signing for my book, The Forgotten Warrior, a young girl came up to me and asked, "Do you know where the book is that has all the water on it?" I knew immediately what book she was talking about for in many of the stores I'd been in J. Scott Savage's book, Far World Water Keep at been on the shelves staring at me. Okay, so a book can't stare. Let's just say I was very aware of the book. The girl went on to say that a boy in her class had been reading the book and she just had to get it. I had no idea where the book was in this particular store, but I went with her looking for this very popular YA novel. We found it, but before she happily skipped away I gave her the bookmark for my book, so hopefully later on she'd take a look at my novel. This made me very curious about the author.

I met J. Scott Savage at the LDStorymakers Conference the end of April. He's not only a wonderful author, but a great person. I'm very happy to post an interview with him so you can get to know this bestselling author.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?
It honestly never occurred to me until I was in my mid thirties that anyone would actually be crazy enough to pay me for making up stories. If it had, I probably would have begun my writing career much sooner. But I’ve loved writing and storytelling for as long as I can remember.

Tell us about your new book, Farworld Book Two: Land Keep.

The Farworld series is, for me at least, a story about finding the magic inside of each of us. It has all the wands and wizards, and such. But the important and powerful magic is really what comes from inside. Book one begins with Marcus, a boy in a wheelchair, discovering that the magical world he imagines is, in fact real. There, he meets a girl, who is the only person in her world who is not magical. Together the two of them go in search of the elementals who can help them open a doorway between Earth and Farworld. I’ve always felt the second book in a series can either make or break it. A story that feels tacked on or is slow, can really ruin things for me. But a book that ratchets things up, gets me excited to stick with the whole series. It’s kind of a feeling of things beginning to really get good. So far the response to Land Keep has been everything I’ve expected. The most common question has been, how are you going to top this? That’s a great problem to have.

What sparked your imagination to write the Farworld series?
I’m a character first guy. I almost always start with the characters and then move to plot. So what really got me excited about this series was the idea of a hero and heroine who are both disabled. He with physical disabilities, she with an immunity to magic in a world where magic is everything. It makes the two of them face their weaknesses and learn to rely on each other. At the same time, because they each have something they desire more than anything, temptations become a huge tool for the Dark Circle, which opposes them.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
Two things. One, I am a voracious reader. I could honestly do nothing but read all day and be completely content. (Okay, maybe eat once or twice.) And since I love books so much, creating my own is just a thrill. The second is thinking up ways to surprise my readers. To make them laugh, or cry and stay up at night with fear. If a writer can tap into a readers emotions without making it feel forced or unreal, they have succeeded in my opinion. I love when readers feel an emotional connection with my characters.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
I admire so many, many writers. I admire Steinbeck’s ability to make a scene so real you’re sure you must have been there. I admire Peter Straub’s use of the English language. Reading his books is like studying a great painting. I admire JK Rowling’s ability to create memorable characters, and Neil Gaiman’s vivid imagination.

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? Well I lived in the suburbs for the most part. Northern California. But we lived right next to a small swampy tract of land on the edge of a big walnut orchard. I spent much of my youth tracking killer alligators or hunting with homemade bows and arrows. Also, my grandparents owned about 150 acres of property in the foothills of the Sierras and some additional property in Oregon. Great places for a boy with more imagination than common sense. I love mountains and I love water. So probably a cabin on a lake or on an island in Washington. But I’d head south for the winter.

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 very much a laptop writer. I think it would kill me to write by hand. Mostly because I enjoy moving sentences and paragraphs around like furniture. I tend to write very quickly when I am in the flow and then go back and realize I should have said this here and put that there to build up the scene just right. I’d like to be able to write to music. I find all types of music very inspiring. But I’m one of those people who needs to be able to hear the voices in my head. Of course once I get into a story, you could set off dynamite and I wouldn’t miss a beat.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
More movies than TV, because I like sweeping stories and closure by the end. Sitcoms usually feel forced. Thirty minutes just isn’t enough time to build and resolve a whole story. I do like Criminal Minds. It is so dark, but the cast is great and the stories are usually quite powerful. I’ve also finally given in and started watching Lost from the first season. Maybe because I know next season is the last one and it won’t get dropped halfway through the story. I am quite impressed with the depth of the characters on that show. I don’t like movies quite as much as books. But I do like them a lot. It’s great to walk into a dark theater and get lost in a story that you have no idea where it’s going. I don’t like to guess endings. I like to let the actors pull me in while I sit back and enjoy the ride.

How has being published changed your life?
Well for one thing I have more time and less money. I started writing full time almost a year ago. It’s been a very great experience as far as learning the ins and out of the publishing world. But I do miss the regular paychecks. There is something very comforting though about writing a story that you know will be published.

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 you have an amazing website. Tell about it and your blog.
I have a signing in Kanab November 11th and possibly Alpine later. Yeah, I love the website ( I really wanted something that felt more interactive than here’s something about the author. Here’s the first chapter of the book. Of course you always have to deal with budget or I’d have a ton of cool gizmos and gadgets to play with. I love messing around with websites that are very interactive. The blog has been lots of fun. I’ve met some wonderful people who feel like old friends. I’ve met a lot of them in person and hope to get out and meet the rest soon.
Thanks, Jeff!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Making Character Motivation Believable

Have you ever read a story where the characters just aren’t believable? Ever wonder why? I believe it has to do with character motivation. Think about those unbelievable stories and nine times out of ten the characters are not acting as real people would in the same situation. Part of the problem is the ground work. A clear path has not been built for the characters to act as they do. In other words there’s no clear motivation. Let’s look at a scene with flawed motivation…

“No! Not now!” Jane’s tired eyes glared down on the illuminated gas gauge. Empty. Her fingers gripped hard on the steering wheel. She’d been so desperate to get away from her husband, Gary, that she hadn’t checked before speeding away from her house. And to make matters worse, she’d been driving aimlessly for over an hour and didn’t know where she was.

Gazing out the front window of her husband’s Lexus into the dark night, she wondered if he’d awakened from his drunken stupor and was driving her clunker, looking for her. He said he’d kill her if she ever left him. There was no doubt in her mind that he had meant it. Frantic she dug her cell phone from her clutch purse. She punched in numbers and then realized the battery was dead. Would nothing go right on this cursed night?

Gary’s drunken rage flashed before her eyes. Her shaky hand went to her cheek and eye. She winced and glanced in the rearview mirror. The meager light from the dash revealed that the skin was red and puffy. If Gary caught up with her, he'd finish the job he'd started. She had to keep moving and get as far away as she could. But, where could she go? Her father’s place in Texas. Two states away, but that might be far enough. Except first she had to buy some gas.

Grabbing her purse, she opened the door and slid from the plush leather seats into the chilly night. She stumbled a couple of times on the cursed stiletto heels Gary had demanded she wear to the dinner party, the party where he’d drank too much, the party where he’d seen her talking with a stranger. The man merely wanted to know where the bathroom was. Jane didn’t even know him, but Gary didn’t believe her. He flew into a tirade as soon as they’d returned home, calling her a whore.

Tempted to take off the stupid shoes and chance walking barefoot, she raised her foot to do just that at the same time she saw a light from a farmhouse a little ways away. She could stand the shoes a bit longer.

Quickening her step the best she could, she hurried to the small house. She quickly climbed the steps and rang the bell. The wooden door opened and before her stood the most gorgeous man she’s ever seen. Her eyes trailed up his muscular body to his broad shoulders. A caring expression framed his chiseled face. She couldn’t help the instant attraction that stirred her insides.

What??? Rewind. Really, an instant attraction. Come on. I can understand fleeing violence and not checking the gas gauge. I can even understand the battery on the cell phone going dead, and being forced to walk in uncomfortable shoes, but where I really get lost is when she sees a handsome man and she’s immediately attracted. No way!

For one thing…she’s running away from an abusive husband. Jane is not thinking of anything but safety. She may notice the man is good-looking, but even that might repulse her and remind her of her abusive husband. To plug in an attraction here is not logical nor does it show believable motivation. So if you’re writing a romantic suspense novel, how do you develop the romance without the cliché and stereotypical love at first sight scenario? Let’s go back to the door opening scene.

…The heavy oak door opened and before her stood a five-year-old girl. Her pigtails were askew on her head. Fly-away hair feathered her face. Big, brown “precious moment” eyes stared up at Jane.

“Hi. Is your mommy home?” Jane glanced in back of the child, hopeful to see a woman.
The child shook her head and started to close the door. Desperate Jane stopped it from shutting by wedging her foot between the door and the door jamb. Hiding the pain from smashed toes and cursing the shoes under her breath, Jane finally said as calmly as she could, “Go get your mommy, honey.”

“Can’t.” The child stepped back.

“Sweetie, I need to call a service station. I ran out of gas and need to use your phone?”

The little girl shakes her head. “Daddy said I'm not supposed to let strangers in.”

“You should always do as your daddy said. You can leave the door open while I'm inside, and I promise I won’t stay long.” Jane cupped her hand to the child’s cheek and eased her way into the house. She spied a phone down the hallway. About to skirt around the child, she stopped short when a man stepped in front of her from out of nowhere.

“Can I help you?” A deep, gravelly voice came from the tall, lanky man blocking her path.

Fear swallowed Jane. Bile rose in her throat. She didn’t wait for him to draw nearer, but immediately turned about and hurried off. Her stiletto heels tapping her retreat. Heavy foot-falls gave chase. At any moment the man could reach out and grab her.

“Hey, lady…ya broke down or something?”

Panicked Jane glanced in back of her. Her mind only registered a red baseball cap on top of his head before she turned back desperate to escape and stay upright while running in those blamed shoes. “Sorry, wrong house, " she spat out. "My mistake.” Why was she so scared of a complete stranger? That guy was not her husband. Good grief, he’s probably that little girl’s father. Still Jane could not bear to be in the presence of another man right now…maybe never.

Okay now we have the beginning of a more believable story. Can you see why? Jane is acting more along the lines of an abused wife. We have a more believable path. It is logical that a woman desperate to find safety and to put miles between herself and an abusive husband would beg a little girl to let her use the telephone. It is also logical that as soon as a man comes between Jane and her goal of calling for help that she would bolt.

The writer needs to keep building the path for the hero and heroine to once again meet because, of course, the little girl's father has to be the would-be hero. A path for their relationship to grow logically and with sound motivation needs to be built. You've read the "meet." What is needed now is the rest of their story. Throw in some nail-biting fear with Gary coming after her. Add a good dose of courage that Jane never knew she possessed. Then see how hero will not necessarily save her, but will be there for her when the chips are down. Go ahead. Figure out a way for the hero and herione to meet once again. Then find a way to keep them logically together. Through sound motivation when they have that moment of attraction for one another the scene will be far more memberable...and logical.

Monday, November 2, 2009

An Angel in Your Life Contest

Some have asked how I came up with the idea for my story, An Angel on Main Street. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, when I was a little girl my mother suffered a heart attack and almost died, so I know how fearful having someone you love become critically ill can be to a child. This is why I have the character, Annie, in my book suffering with heart trouble due to rheumatic fever. When Mom had her attack we lived in an apartment above my father's store on Main Street in Rigby, Idaho. Many times, when I was fearful for my mother, I would gaze down on the street watching the cars and people below. It's no coincidence that I have the characters in my book looking down on their fictional street, for I know how they felt as they worried about life and death situations. Also as I've mentioned before, my dad worked part-time as a police officer. Sheriff Anderson in my book was modeled very closely to my father and the other officers in our small town. These events and people played a strong role as wrote my book.

But...what about the angel?

Well, there have been many angels in my life. Really! Okay, I'm speaking metaphorically. I believe people can be angels in our lives sent to us at a time when we need them most. Our challenge is to recognize them as such. Let me explain...

Many years ago when my children were teenagers we had an angel come into our lives. I was having a difficult time feeling as though I was part of the ward in my church. Several things had happened and I felt disassociated with most everyone: our ward had been split, which meant many of my close friends were in a different ward; my children were going through their rough and rebellious teenage years; and going to church was a struggle. Still we went hardly speaking to anyone. One Sunday everything changed.

An older couple moved into our ward: Ken and Ruth. I remember hearing Ken's voice before I saw him. He said to his wife, "Look Mother, heavenly angels are sitting before us." Immediately, I wondered what kind of nutcase had sat down behind us. I turned around and there was Ken with a big smile on his Santa-like face (without the beard and mustache). A light shone in his eyes, and I knew he meant what he'd said as a compliment. My husband, son and daughters turned around also. At first I believe they, too, wondered what planet this guy had fallen from, but something magical happened. Smiles came to our faces. That was the beginning of a long friendship for our entire family. Ken and Ruth made us look forward to going to church. They made us feel valued at a time when my entire family needed friends. In fact, they became our guardian angels.

Ken asked my husband to serve with him in the High Priest Group Leadership. When my oldest daughter, Kristina, got married, Ken and Ruth were there. When my youngest daughter, Tricia, served her mission, Ken sent her letters. Many times he sought out my son and asked how he was doing. As the years went by Ken and Ruth moved from our ward, but they stayed in touch. When Ruth died, I watched as this humble man greeted others with genuine concern about them always deflecting their concern over him.

A little over a month before Ken died, he called and spoke with everyone in my family. It was November, before Thanksgiving. He never told us he was ill, but wanted to know what was going on with us. A week later we received an early Christmas card from him. Still we had no clue that we would never hear from him again. A day or so after Christmas my husband was reading the paper and suddenly gasped. He showed me Ken's obituary. A sadness befell our home. Ken had died on Christmas day surrounded by his loving family. Christmas was Ken's favorite holiday. He was a man with a very strong testimony of Christ. I firmly believe that God sends people into our lives when no one else can help us and when we need them most. Ken was an angel in my family's life.

As I planned for the release of my book, An Angel on Main Street, I became reflective about the angels in my life. And I knew that if I felt as though many of the people in my life were angels, so did others. That is why I'm holding a contest...An Angel in Your Life Contest. It started October 15, 2009 and runs until December 15, 2009. All you need to do to enter is write down an experience when someone was an angel in your life and email it to me ( The winner will be announced on my website and here my blog December 16th. The winner and the angel in his/her life will each receive a $25. gift certificate from either Seagull Book or Deseret Book Stores.

So, do you have an angel in your life?


Related Posts with Thumbnails