Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hooray for WIFYR

I went to Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers for the first time in 2008. When I arrived, I had no idea what I was doing. When I left, I was on the road. I still had a long way to go, but I knew how to get there. All the presenters were so nice, and smart, and helpful. I was so impressed.

So impressed, in fact, that the next year I brought a conference buddy. WIFYR was too good not to share. And the year after that, I brought another friend of mine who wanted to get into illustrating.

This year I'm really excited to be bringing the best conference buddy of all. My very own daughter. And I'm trying to talk my sister into signing up too.

I can't say enough about this workshop. The people who go there, both the attendees and the presenters, are amazing. I learn so much every time I go.

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: Writing Goals

My earliest writing goal, back in elementary school, was an enthusiastic, "Me too! Me too! I want to write books too!" All I wanted was to create one of those shiny, colorful, plastic-covered rectangular things in the library of my very own.

As a young adult I became more ambitious. I wanted to be the first Mormon author to win the Newbery Award. And I wanted to do it with my first book. As a young mother, I'd open up the Scholastic Book Club newsletter that my children brought home from school and imagine one of my titles on the page. I'd go into a book shop and find the place on the young reader's shelf where I'd be.

Around the time I finished my first manuscript five years ago, my goals became more focused. Now I had to find an agent, find a publisher. There were a lot of smaller goals on the way to my bigger ones. I had to learn to write a query letter. I wanted partial manuscript requests, then full manuscript requests, then an offer of representation, and then a manuscript sale. I watched some of my writing friends go all the way through this process and thought, "Me too! Me too!"

And then the whole world changed.

The e-book apocalypse hit the publishing industry last year. Sure, people are still breaking into traditional publishing, but as hard as it was before, it is harder than ever now.

I've begun to rethink my life.

At the center still lies my desire to write the kind of books I loved to read as a child. But as to what the fate of those stories will be, I'm waiting for the details of a new vision to emerge. In the meantime, my writing goals have gone from broad and ambitious to small and concrete:

1. Draft for at least one hour every day
2. Submit something at least once a week
3. Keep reading, keep learning, keep trying

So what are your writing goals?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

OPEN MINDS GIVEAWAY - One Day Left to Enter!

Some time early last fall my husband said to me, "You left a file open on the computer, so I started reading it. And I couldn't stop. What was that?"

"That was Open Minds by my friend Sue Quinn. Yeah, it's good."

"It's really good!"

It certainly is. At the time I was critiquing one of the later drafts, and it was by far the best unpublished manuscript I'd ever read. And now that it's published, you can read it too! In fact, Sue is giving away five free copies right now, so visit her blog, to enter the giveaway. All she asks is that when you're done reading, you pass the book along to a friend.

Don't wait! The giveaway ends Sunday at midnight!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: When to be Original

No one likes to see the same old same old, especially when it comes to entertainment. We're all searching for something new and exciting. And when we create stories, we want them to be fresh and original.

But on the other hand, you don't want to be so way out there that no one can connect with your story.

This really smart professor guy named Joseph Campbell studied myths and legends all over the world and discovered that a lot of great stories have pretty much the same plot. He wrote about it in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (click to read the Wikipedia article). Modern storytellers, like George Lucas paid attention, and have made a lot of money creating their own versions of this basic myth. It works because it taps into universal human experience. It feels right.

We'll talk about what exactly this most epic plot is in another lesson.

So if George Lucas used the same storytelling elements that have been used since cavemen swapped tales over the campfire, how come Star Wars seemed like something we'd never seen before?

It was all in the setting. And the light sabers. Yeah, those are cool.

The constant pattern of human life, of all life in fact, is that we are all born, we grow, we live, and then we die. The same story over and over. What makes each life unique is the time and place in which we are born, the people we associate with, the minor details of our life events.

So one way to make your story seem different from every other story, even if you choose to tell a story that's been told a million times, is to have that story play out in a new setting. A setting you invent, or one you research, or one you've lived in yourself.

It's not good to mess with basic plot structure, especially for the beginning writer. Learn as much as you can about the kinds of stories that work and master those forms before you try and get inventive. But you can always, always put your stories in settings that are fresh and original.

Most writers start out imitating their favorite kinds of stories, and then eventually move into their own. Don't worry too much about being original. There's no one else like you in the whole world, and if you write what's truly inside you, your story will be something wonderful that no one has ever seen before.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Shopping Cart Has Been Confiscated and Destroyed

I left my Costco shopping cart unattended for just a minute while I ran back down the aisle to get something. When I turned around, two guys in uniforms were standing there, giving my cart suspicious looks.

Did they think some terrorist might have left a bomb in it?

Once when I was working at Los Alamos National Lab we had to evacuate the library because some scientist accidentally left his briefcase behind. What happened to the briefcase? It was taken away by security and blown to smithereens.

At the airport I always keep my carry-on luggage under tight control. I can't let my socks, my digital camera, and the four novels I've brought with me to read on the plane suffer the same fate as that poor scientist's research.

But I didn't know I had to worry about my shopping cart.

As I hurried back to my shopping cart with a jar of salsa in my hand, the one of the uniformed guys glanced up at me and said, "Oh, it's hers." He gave me a nod and the two of them went on their way, pushing their own shopping cart.

Somebody tell me when I started living in dystopia.

I saw them again at the check-out line and got a better look at their uniforms. They were only two firemen picking up groceries, not the Costco bomb squad. Still, I wonder if we'll ever get to the point where unattended shopping carts will be confiscated and destroyed.

I'll put it on my list of novels to write.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writers Club Wednesday: Girls vs. Boys

Today we'll be having our very first author via skype lesson at the Laie Young Writers Club. Our special guest is Susan Kaye Quinn, author of Life, Liberty and Pursuit, Open Minds, and the amazing blog Inkspells. We'll be talking about the differences between male and female point of view in fiction. For a little appetizer, here's a blog post by Sue on the subject:

See you at writers club!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Have Only Just Begun to Write

And now for the latest breaking news in the thrilling saga known as my writing career!

I'm sending out query letters on my most recently finished manuscript.

I'm drafting a new manuscript. I hit 1200 words an hour today. And I'm completely obsessed. Why am I writing this blog post instead of drafting my new manuscript? Must write... must write...

Last week I spent way too much on plane tickets to the mainland so I could go to the Superstars Writing Seminar and the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. Maybe I should have opted for the kayak like google maps suggests.

I signed on to twitter for the very first time. And then after tweeting for a couple of weeks I realized I'd misspelled my name. It's fixed now.

I signed up for a creative writing course at BYU-Hawaii on writing post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Very excited.

Next week my teen writers club will have our first author visit by skype, featuring one of my favorite science fiction authors, Susan Kaye Quinn.

In a few short months I'll reach the five-year anniversary of my very first query letter. Shortly thereafter, I'll reach the five-year anniversary of my very first query rejection. That was back in the day when most literary agents sent rejections. Ah, the nostalgia!

I have come to terms with the fact that I am not going to be an instant success. I'm not sure why it took me five years to figure this out, but now that I'm here it is a good place to be.

And most of all, as ever, I feel like I have only just begun to write.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writer's Club Wednesday: It's Gonna Take Some Time

Imagine this:

A musician shows up for an orchestra audition. First, the conductor asks a few questions:

"How long have you been playing?"

"Not long, but I've listened to lots of orchestra concerts, so I know what good music should sound like."

"Who do you study with?"

"Oh, I figured I could teach myself."

"What have you performed?"

"I only know one song. But it's a great tune. Do you want to hear it?"

So why do so many people think they can sit down, write one book, and publish it? Worst of all, why do people get discouraged and quit when their first manuscript isn't snapped up and made into a bestseller?

It's gonna take some time. It's going to take effort. And it might even take some *gasp* money. We're talking about gaining an education here. If you know anyone who gives violin lessons for free, please get me in touch.

I've always loved to sing. In high school I was in my top choir, so I thought when I got to college it would be the same. After my audition the conductor looked at me and said, "Do you realize how competitive this choir is?"

I really had no idea.

"Come back in a few years when your voice has matured."

My voice didn't really mature until I was twenty-five years old. One day some gear inside my body clicked into place, and the director of my church choir had to tell me to tone it down so I wouldn't drown everyone else out. I've seen this same thing happen to some of my writer friends. They write book after book, each one good in its own way, but not anything that people would run out to buy. And then some gear in their brain clicks into place and the next thing they write is something amazing. Something which does get snapped up and turned into a bestseller, or climbs the charts on

It doesn't happen overnight.

So prepare yourself. Study, read, and write, write, write. And don't give up if you're not an instant success. Someday, you might be the person who writes my favorite book.