Monday, January 31, 2011

Writing Journal #3: Joining a Critique Group

With two book rejections under my belt and a year’s break with building our new home, I was ready to write again. During this time, I discovered another writer in my neighborhood, Melissa Cunningham. She was looking to put together a new critique group and asked if I was interested. Her timing was perfect—a blessing, really.
I can remember our first meeting together and feeling humbled, yet encouraged. I had written a setting description using “the outline of the roofline”, thinking my use of the words together as clever. They both redlined it. I had much to learn! Lori Nawyn’s writings were beautiful and Melissa was such a good editor. I was grateful to be among them. Soon we were joined by Shannon and Brock Cheney, who brought with them their own unique talents. Our (nearly) weekly meetings of ten DS pages helped me to grow and thrive. I could see my own progress and it was just the exhilaration I needed to turn this into a passion. This group was a turning point in my writing journey. I know that not all groups work out, but I'm firm believer in having one that works for you. It has made all the difference. Over the past year and a half, they have given me ideas, seen things I couldn't, and (though far from perfect) I've refined both writing and editing skills. The best part is the fun we have when we get together!  
How has your writing group helped you?
PS--Next Monday I will interview Rachelle Christensen, author of Wrong Number. Then on Feb. 8 I will post a review of Cheri Chesley's The Peasant Queen as part of her blog tour. Valentine's day will be special as well. The writing journal will continue later. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing Journal #2: The Second Attempt

I especially felt the stories that brought the scriptures to life for a reader held extra value, even though obvious liberties were taken. If I could fill in the gaps to make a scriptural account seem more complete and memorable to someone else, that was a worthy goal. So again, I embarked on the novel-writing journey. Heroes like Chris Heimerdinger and Heather Moore unknowingly pumped me up. Hmm . . . which scriptural account to study?
I read Sarah by Orson Scott Card and found new inspiration. An Old Testament story seemed the road less traveled. I picked out my character and began my second book. The story of Isaac and Rebekah was the one I wanted to tell. After investing a good amount of time on this project, I learned that Card had just published this very story and expected to do a trilogy of the Women of Genesis. A crushing blow. But I would finish my project anyway and not read his until I had written mine so as not to be too influenced or similar.
As it turned out, Card’s version was disturbing to me once he got into marital struggles and Rebekah’s deception with her son Jacob. A prophet and his wife should not have so much conflict! It didn’t feel right to have my marriage better than a prophet’s. But ignorance is bliss. Conflict, I later learned, is an important component to a story. Final revisions were made and I sent off the manuscript to two publishers. Rejection #2. Undaunted, it was time for some specific writing education. Next entry: Joining a Critique Group

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Writing Journal #1: My First Book

Over the years, I have read and enjoyed my share of LDS novels. After a while I thought: I want to do that—meaning to write a good LDS novel. English was always one of my best subjects but it wasn't until years out of school that I seriously thought of writing a book. Without knowing any more about it than my readings and a general suspense novel outline in mind, I set about the task. Parts of it flowed and I found the process rewarding.
It took me nearly a year to write and revise. My husband gave feedback and support. I gave the finished product to a self-published friend for review but it turned out that she was little help. I didn't know where else to turn. With hope, I submitted to two or three publishers. Ah, but ignorance is bliss. The completion itself was a satisfying accomplishment and I didn’t get too discouraged by its subsequent rejection. My goal was accomplished. I had it in mind to do more of this, but for now, it was time to take a break. The writing bug had not fully hit. Next entry: My Second Attempt.
Did any of you start out so raw as this?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Big Week Ahead for Author Tristi Pinkston

View TristiPic...JPG in slide showI first met Tristi Pinkston at the 2010 LDStorymakers Conference. She was my Boot Camp Sergeant, offering kind advice to a table full author wannabes. Because of this, I increased my awareness of her writings and have read two of her books. With the launch of Dearly Departed this Friday, I thought it was a good time to interview Tristi.
Let's talk about Character, Plot, and Conflict as we get to know her better.

1.  Your RS presidency characters are delightful. Did you pattern them after anyone in particular? 
Tristi: Thank you!  I’m glad you’re enjoying getting to know them.  
I didn’t have a lot to do with their creation – they just popped into my head fully formed.  They each have different aspects that remind me of someone—mostly me—but no, they’re pretty much individuals.

View SSsmall.JPG in slide show 2.  Ida Mae, the MC, is my favorite. How do you get a reader to connect with a character like Ida Mae from the get-go? 
Tristi: She took over in that department.  She just started talking, and I wrote down everything she said.  She has so much personality that she made my job easy.  
I would have to say, though, that when it comes to writing a character, to be sure to include a lot of emotion and internal thought so the reader can really “get” where the character is coming from.  Someone like Ida Mae could come across wrong if it weren’t for those moments of internal thought and peeks into her motivation.

3. The plot stems from real life in the LDS world and takes it to a humorous, entertaining level. Did you find this to be easier to write than your earlier historical novels? 
Tristi: It was so much easier, I can’t even tell you.  When you’re writing historical novels, there’s so much research that goes into it, and you have to watch your timeline to make sure that everything is happening right when it’s supposed to.  You can’t throw in a war where you want one – you have to work with the war that already happened.  With Secret Sisters, I just gave the characters their head and ran along after them, taking notes. 

4. What did you do to add plausibility to the silly choices these ladies make? 
Tristi: I’m not sure I did add plausibility.  The whole book is one comedy of errors and you’ve got to prepare to go along for the ride.  But I did try to leaven it with a little bit of seriousness from time to time, again dictated by the characters.  For instance, I didn’t know that Ida Mae’s own family situation was so troubled until she told me.

5. Several people spying on a family in the ward made for humorous situations, but was this also the best way to add tension to the story 
Tristi: This aspect of the story came with the package—it chose me, rather than me choosing it.  In fact, that’s how the series came to be.  I overheard someone make a comment that they felt as though their home teachers and visiting teachers were sometimes a little too nosy, almost like they were spying on their assigned families.  My brain being what it is, it took off from there—what if they really were spying on their assigned families?  And then Ida Mae, Tansy, and Arlette appeared in my head, and I’ve been having a ton of fun ever since. 

6. Can you share a tip on adding conflict to a light-hearted mystery? 
Tristi: In this story, it was a matter of finding the conflict that already existed and then just bringing it to the forefront.  You’ll always have conflict whenever you get a group of people together and ask them to work on the same project, and there’s always conflict within the boundaries of a ward.  Because Ida Mae was the Relief Society president, she knew about certain issues in the ward that wouldn’t be immediately obvious to the other members.
The main thing you want to do is make sure that the elements you emphasize are already present, or that they occur naturally. There are some genres in which you can throw in an elephant attack or a zombie apocalypse and no one bats an eye, but in this type of writing, you need to take the situations that already exist and then just build on them in order to make them believable. It is a lighthearted story, but every character has their trials, and that’s where you find the conflict.

     View DearlyDep...JPG in slide show      7.What do you want readers to get from this series? How many more are coming?  
      Tristi: There are a total of five books in the series.  Book #2, Dearly Departed, just barely came off the press over the holidays, and I’m so excited to get my author copies in my hot little hands.  I have nearly finished the final editing phase of book #5, and then I’m starting a whole new series, which promises to be just as much fun. 
As far as what I’d like readers to get … well, first, I want readers to have more options when it comes to clean fiction.  It seems it’s becoming harder to find.  I also want them to enjoy the little quirks of our Mormon culture.  We are a peculiar people—in a lot of ways, and not just in our religion.  We’re fascinated by potatoes.  We won’t shop on Sunday, but we’ll head out to the store at 12:01. It’s fun just to step back and say, “You know, we are quirky, but we’re so loveable.” I hope my series accomplishes that—a greater sense of contentment of who we are, while appreciating our quirks. 

8. You seem pretty organized. Care to explain the headless chicken thing? What else would like us to know about you? 
Tristi: I’m laughing right now. I am not organized.  Right now, my Christmas tree, which is still up, is jabbing into my left hand from its place next to my desk.  There are Legos all over the living room, I have no idea what’s for lunch, and I keep getting distracted by Facebook.  But I’m determined, and so I keep pressing on. 
We all know the expression, “running around like a chicken with its head chopped off.”  Well, that’s me—I am the headless chicken. I run over here and write a chapter, then I run over here and wash some dishes, then I run over here and tie a shoe.  And I lose a few feathers along the way.  I might even lay an egg.  You just never know with me.

It's good to keep us guessing! Thanks for sharing with us today. Please leave a comment.
The Amazon purchase link is:  Or check bookstores.
Join me next Monday for the first entry about my writing journey. Have a great week!

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Handful of Good Reads

I was excited to receive some of the titles on my Christmas wish list. Where to start? I selected Tristi Pinkston's Secret Sisters first because her follow-up novel is coming out this month. I'm half-way through and enjoying it. Tristi will answer some questions in another blog this month.
I hope to get more thoughts from authors and authors-in-the-making into my posts this year. I also want to share my writing journey and post book reviews. If there is something else you would like to see, please leave a comment. My goal is to post on Mondays. So, I hope you will come by and start your week with me. Most posts will be short and uplifting. What are you reading? Have a great week and see you next Monday!