Sunday, April 30, 2006

Would you like that Shrimp cooked?

My hubby and I went to a new restaurant last night. I quickly focused on the seafood alfredo. The blurb read "sauteed shrimp and crab mixed with Fetticine noodles and a creamy alfredo sauce". I've always been an alfredo kind of girl, it wasn't a hard decision.
When the meal arrived I knew right away that I hadn't been fully informed. First of all, in addition to the shrimp and crab in my fetticine there were also mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes and onion. The mushroom and tomato I can live with--the green peppers and onions, no way. That's what I get for not going to Subway.
Amid my trying to pluck the onions and peppers off I noticed that my shrimp was still grey--not pink like COOKED shrimp should be. I picked one up and it was cold. I took French in Jr. highl and though I barely eeked out a C I know that sautee does not mean partially thawed. After more inspection I had three shrimp still FROZEN together. I quickly scooted my bowl to the side. The waitress said she'd get me some more--I said I'd rather have the halibut (which was dry, by the way).
The moral of this story--how often do you pick up a book to read with high hopes and find out that there were onions and peppers included? How often to you expect a nice satsfying read and find that the shrimp is frozen? In days gone by, this has happened to far too many people that pick up LDS fiction. And then what happens? Well, do you think I'll ever go back to this restaurant again? Probably not. With so many restaurants to chooose from, why would I bother? The cold sad truth is that too many books that have been published into the LDS market are undercooked and poorly presented. Too many people have read the book and decided that LDS fiction isn't written well enough to be worthy of their time. They simply read in the national market from that point on. And even though every other meal on that menu may have been great, the two I had weren't--am I going to try each individual item to see if I find something I like? Or will I simply go to a different place that serves what I know I like? It's not rocket science.
Last night my husband and I tried to figure out how the mistake was made. The shrimp was SUPPOSED to be sauteed. How does an important step like that get overlooked? We were truly befuddled. I suppose in a poorly written book one might wonder why on earth there was a plot hole big enough for a halibut to swim through and be just as perpelexed.
So how does one avoid this? Just as the cook should know what they are doing, so should the writer. Sautee means to cook--plot structure means that every scene relates to the other scenes and is a necissary component to the growing conflict that leads to climax that ends in conclusion. Any cook worth their season salt should know what sautee means, just as every writer ought to know what plot structure is. So as a writer--learn your craft!! A well written book will always be more satisfying to read then a poorly written story.
I promise you all the halibut you can eat that if you rush through the production of your book, if you don't ask for feedback from people that will give an honest opinion, and if you write the story YOU want to write rather than the story THEY want to read--you will regret it. You can't un-publish anything. Hopefully no publisher will pick you up--and if that's what you are banking for in avoiding education...uh, doesn't that seem a little unsupportive of the goal? But if you want a published book with your name on the cover that you can not only touch and feel, but you can also be proud of, then know what you're doing. Make sure your book isn't full of onions and peppers that would offend the sensibilityies of your publisher and/or your reader.
The Market is changing. What people used to overlook in favor of a clean story, is no longer so palitable. What publishers used to publish because it was 'cute' is no longer on the top of their list. The competition is getting fiercer, but that's a good thing. It means that those readers who once had frozen shrimp, might be convinced to sit at our table again. But if they do, we have to make SURE that they leave that meal satisfied. I think it will happen--but only if writers do their best.
Just like Mama always said--do your best. It's never been more true than in creating a book you hope to bless and inspire peoples life. Happy Writing!!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Capturing the Nothing Moments

Of all the questions I get asked about my writing—this one is asked more than any other ten to one.

“How do you find the time to write?”

It would perhaps be annoying to hear it over and over except for that fact that of all the questions I have asked, and continue to ask, of other published writers, it’s the first one I pitch as well. Even though I have been doing this for awhile, I’m still curious for the tricks and tips of other writers. Over the years the continual asking of that question has paid off. So what did I learn, you ask? Well, basically this

1) Turn off the TV—I love TV, just ask my kids and husband they will agree. But at some point I have to ask myself, and I encourage you to ask yourself the same thing, are THEIR stories better than mine? The fact is that Gilligan never got off the island, ER is still blood, guts and convoluted love affairs, and regardless of whether you text in your vote or not—America will get another Idol. All those shows, scripts, layouts etc. are the handiwork of a talented writer somewhere. Why watch their stuff when you can write you own? TV is perhaps the biggest time waster in our nation next to the DMV and blog reading so before you sit down and pick up the remote ask yourself if their stories could possibly be more satisfying then creating one of your own?

2) Find the hidden minutes in your day—see that picture up there, that’s me on the beaches of Costa Rica and what am I doing? Why, I’m writing. I’m on vacation which means no kids, no phone calls, no schedules. My husband, before he took the picture, was dozing in a hammock next to me. And I was writing. I wrote 45 pages on that trip without having to MAKE time anywhere—I just wrote a few lines now and then. In my normal un-beach life I write when I wait for the kids after gymnastics, I write when I show up on time for the dentist but the guy before me didn’t, I’ve even written in the checkout line of the grocery store when I got stuck behind the woman with eight kids that shops once a month. We all have them—the nothing minutes in your day. The trick is to catch them. Some writers use a laptop, some use a good old fashioned spiral notebook, I use an Alphasmart. It’s a portable word processor that I later can download to my computer. It turns off and on with the touch of a button and has no features other than typing words. It’s been priceless to me and I’m shocked every time I do a download to realize how much I wrote in those minutes that would have passed me by otherwise. If you want more information go to they have a variety of products—mine is the 3000 model and I love it.

3) Make time—this might mean waking up early, going to bed late, it might mean making breakfast, lunch (in a sack) and dinner (in the crock-pot) while the kids are getting ready for school. It might mean only scheduling your appointments between 1:00 and 3:00 so that your mornings are free, or if you work it might mean taking your lunch break at the computer a few days a week. It’s never worked well for me to have a set time to write everyday. I, like you, have a crazy busy life. What works for me is to look at my day the night before and see where I can fit one hour in my day. Then I plan accordingly and sit my fanny in the chair. I write for one hour. I get up about a dozen times to answer the phone (I won’t turn off the ringer if anyone in my household isn’t at home), to fetch drinks and snacks and answer the door. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat down for an entire hour just to write—in fact I don’t know that I could do it if I had the chance. In the beginning I only wrote when I had a 4 hour block of time. Now I do most of my writing in ten minute segments here and there. But I do try to schedule one hour for writing. It doesn’t always work. But most of the time it does.

Those are the tips I have gleaned from other writers and made my own. Apparently it’s working just fine for me. My seventh book comes out next month—that’s seven books in 6 years. Not bad. If the idea of finding/making time for your writing is overwhelming and not worth your time, that’s fine too. Don’t bother writing if it’s not worth sacrificing something. But the cold hard fact is that we all only have 24 hours—that’s it. None of us can control our lives enough that we get exactly what we want, but we can capture those moments, put the fanny in the chair and write toward our destiny.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

That Red Pen

Steven King said "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings"
The darlings he refers to are those scenes you've toiled over, fallen in love with but they really just don't work. For the good of the book, they need to be sacrificed. I can attest to the fact that the book will be better with a few tombstones in the background. THAT is why I love my little red pen. It's said that every girl should have that little black dress--the essential item in their wardrobe. Well, every writer, regardless of genre, sex, experience, and resume, should have their little red pen. If you want to write the best book in you, you've got to be willing to kill off the unecessary elements.
And it doesn't JUST apply to the words you write. That little red pen, the killing of your darlings also factors into how and when you write. Can you kill off that 1/2 hour sitcom on Tuesday nights? Can you sacrifice the alarm that goes off at 7:00 and set it for 6:00? The only way to find that time is to kill off something else you've come to value. Will it be easy. I certainly hope not--because ease breeds idleness and if you're idle about your writing, then what time you do find will be wasted. No one wants to read the words of a pampered pontificator.
As a member of the LDS church I find continual self-evaluation to be a priceless gift--my own personal red pen for my own personal development. The fact that I can do better today than I did yesturday and better tomorrow than I did today is both a gift and a challenge. It's the same with my writing. To make it the best it can be, means I have to figure out the weakspots and make them strong or cut them out. In my own life, if I want it to be the best it can be I have to do the same.
So cheers to the little red pen!! Long may you bleed upon my pages, despite my egocentric little scribblers heart. I'm better because of you.