Monday, November 30, 2015

Scripture-Based Fiction: Finding that Happy Middle Ground

Fun Research: Maya Ruins in Tulum, Mexico
Purists who love the precious word of God may frown upon anything they see as a distortion of the scriptures. Scenes that alter/enhance what they’ve already imagined may cause them concern. On the other end of the spectrum, some LDS readers may feel guilty if they spend more time enjoying fiction than studying the scriptures. Is it possible to reach a happy medium? When considering Church productions like the Book of Mormon film The Testaments, the majority would likely agree that scripture stories can be told with appropriate creative enhancement to leave an inspirational, powerful message and impact.
As a writer of scripture-based fiction, striving for that happy middle ground has been a difficult learning process. My journey began with a love for certain scripture stories and the inspiration to tell them from authors such as Chris Heimerdinger and H. B. Moore. At first I figured it easiest to stick to and wanted to stay as true to the scriptural events as possible. My critique group told me it was too boring. I couldn’t simply retell a scripture story with added characters and events, I needed characters with goals and motivations that drove them to fulfill those goals. There had to be obstacles to their goals and something at stake if they should fail. Hence, it was necessary to add creative developments within the historical framework.
Another challenge was finding that delicate balance of credibility using research. Incorporating too much research drifts the story toward non-fiction characteristics, too little shows a lack of authority and authenticity in the setting and details. The reader must be kept in the world and time frame that has been created.

Feedback alerted me that I must not over-use scriptural language either. Fiction has to flow and sound natural. It was tricky, but I loved seeing the story develop and improve. Submitting into two first chapter contests garnered two first place awards in the Historical Fiction category, telling me that my scripture-based writing was engaging.
My target audience knows that a daily dose of searching and pondering the scriptures should top their reading list. Choosing scripture-based fiction can additionally inspire readers, be a way to bring the scriptures to life—with vivid characters and description that solidifies the portrayed events in our minds, or provide wholesome entertainment. It is always a good idea to compare the scriptures so that one knows fact from fiction. For this reason, I included a scripture reference list at the end of my novel, Secrets of the King's Daughter: A Book of Mormon Romance. Look for it's release in early March 2016. I hope you will give this genre a try. Enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2015

An Author's Gratitude

I'm giving public thanks for a wonderful critique group (Becky, Janice, and Melissa) who motivates me to write and submit pages, points out my fix-it spots, and gives encouragement. I am a better writer and editor through learning from you and continual practice.

I'm grateful to those who spend countless hours devoted to writing conferences, especially the LDStorymakers. You have helped me improve my craft and given me lasting friendships.

I'm grateful for my publishing team. The choice to publish with a traditional publisher can be difficult. You have to sort out the pros and cons and the amount of involvement or control that you desire. Be sure to understand what the contract entails. Though I've had book release delays, the type of books for my current projects fit well with the LDS publishing niche I find myself in. I appreciate having a good editor.

I'm grateful for my marketing team. I recently learned some of what Covenant will do for me. They provide reader copies to selected reviewers and newspapers, set up my blog tour, advertise in certain bookstore catalogues, set up my requested book signings, and make social media posts on the company page. Woot!

I'm thankful to those of you who visit my blog and take an interest in my work. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

NaNo or Not, How to Keep Up Your Writing Motivation

November is national-novel-writing-month (NaNoWriMo). I've never actually taken the steps to register and track the goal toward 50,000 words in one month. It takes being at the right point or setting aside one's current project, because this is all new writing. It doesn't matter how good the content is; it's a first draft.

Many writers prepare ahead with detailed outlines and scene notes, meals in the freezer, or clearing their calendar. Some go on writing retreats or send the kids to grandma's to get a significant volume done the first or second weekend. Writing friends challenge one another to a sprint or compete to claim bragging rights on social media. Whatever floats their boat to get the job done is fair game.

As for me, I prefer a quiet space in which to write and not feel stressed by deadlines. I'm not sure I would do well in a retreat setting. Once hubby comes home from work, I shift to getting other things done or have to close the office door. The voices in my head don't speak loudly enough when they have to compete with other noises. Even music is too distracting because I tend to sing along in my mind, if not with my voice. Music holds a strong pull from my focus.

So how do we motivate ourselves if we aren't participating in nano? 1. We still need a specific goal. It might be to write a page or a blog post. It might be to revise one chapter. It must be doable and have a timeline attached. 2. We need someone to hold us accountable, someone to report to. This can be a spouse, friend, critique group, or announcement on social media. A few people find success in reporting to themselves through logging numbers or checking off boxes. 3. We need a reward system. Whatever gives us that boost: a special treat, reading time, etc. Sometimes personal satisfaction is enough, sometimes you have to smell the chocolate.

Whether you are pushing for 50 words or 50,000, learn what kind of environment works best for you, the hours of the days that you are most productive, and what kind of motivation/support you need. Most writers write because they love it, and writers support one another in their passion. Have a great week writing and remember, I'm rooting for you!

Monday, November 9, 2015

My Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Experience

Signing a Publishing Contract, October 2014
Welcome! You are in the write right place. I'm doing a little construction on my blog.

Here I am at the point of two months or less until my first book release and I still don't know the specifics. I almost typed that I still don't know what's going on, but that isn't completely true. I realize my book is in a lineup, and it's not quite crunch time for my publishing team to focus on me. It's a little frustrating, but I have no regrets about my publishing decision. Let's call it a learning process. There are pros and cons to everything.

Some of the delays have been self-imposed. I asked for a simple tweak on my cover, which is why I haven't revealed it yet. I had hoped to start building excitement for my book release by now.

I could have self-published Secrets of the King's Daughter a year ago. Yep, my publisher waited for the most opportune time, January 2016--when LDS bookstore catalogues feature Book of Mormon related items. With traditional publishing, I gave up my control over things like that. It's a good thing I'm not a big control freak, and this is not my sole source of income. With self-pubbing I would have had to take the time to learn to formatting or hire it out. That initially felt like a lot to take on, though I may end up learning to do that later for other projects. Consider your control and patience levels and financial needs when making your decision.

Leaving the challenging part to my publisher has allowed me time to work on the sequel. It ended up that by waiting a year, my next book will easily be ready without the stress of deadlines. The biggest factor in deciding to sign my contract was having exposure from a respected company in my niche market to represent me. Those who are more national market writers should check out how books are doing between different publishing directions for their own genre.

The hardest part for me currently is not knowing which marketing tactics to use that I've read or heard about. For example, I began making a list of which blog reviewers to contact, but found out they take care of that. So, I'm tweaking this blog layout and doing some critiquing while I'm in limbo. Soon enough, things will be heating up, and I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

Bring it on.

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Writing Process or What a Manuscript Goes Through

A big milestone this week. I got my entire revised WIP off to my critique group for a final read. Whew! It's been a long road. They might find a few places that need a new coat of paint, but I don't expect any major rebuilding. Why? Maybe you'd like to know what my manuscript already went through, my writing process.

As scripture-based fiction, my outline for this sequel was taken from Alma's writings in the Book of Mormon. My main character is King Lamoni's daughter. I studied the chapters and knew what main points and events I wanted to include. Then I re-read the section for the current part of my story, filling in around it with what I imagined might happen or needed to happen for the plot. Sometimes the story had a mind of its own and sometimes it went as planned. When I sit down at the computer, I read over the last few paragraphs or more to kick start my memory and creativity. Once I pick my first idea or actual sentence, the words keep coming, at least in spurts. I re-read the end of the fresh part over and continue on.

When I have ten pages--usually within two or three days--I finish the scene and stop (unless I'm really on a roll). It gets a careful look at this point for any sentence tightening or other revisions that I can spot on my own. If I have time, I let the speak text feature read it back to me. There is something about hearing it aloud that points out trouble spots. Then it gets sent off to my online critique group.

Critique partners read through and mark with comments or insert fixes into the manuscript. There might be a little or a lot that they catch in any given submission, but what really matters is having other readers who don't already have your story in their head. Their markings let me know what was not clear to them, parts that were awkward, even things that they especially liked.

My group of four holds a weekly meeting to talk about the bigger issues. We have used Oovoo and Google Hangouts, both of which allow us to see one another and pull up the document on the same screen. Sometimes partners catch the same things and sometimes they don't. That is why I like having 3 other readers. I gives a variety of perspectives without having to spend too much time critiquing for a big group. Sometimes we brainstorm what might come next or anything a member is stuck on.
When the session ends, we e-mail our marked critiques out so that we can incorporate the edits we choose to make. I typically take one day to make the changes. If there are a lot of new ideas or things to fix, we might send the same chapter out the following week for a second look with the rewrites. They might get an important chapter three or four times before moving on.

In summary, each of my pages has already been seen by three writers at least once. Add to that my own read through from start to finish, which always causes a few tweaks, and we have a mostly-polished draft. Yes, they will find new spots to discuss, but the markings will be fewer and farther between this time. I will then look over their comments and make final revision choices before sending the manuscript to the fresh eyes of beta readers. This may take a few months. If readers like it and I am satisfied, then it gets submitted to my publisher for review by their test-readers. In other cases, a manuscript might be sent to an editing professional or agent.

Then there are those who will start with a finely detailed outline and write an entire rough draft in one month. NaNoWriMo participants, I salute you! Whether you write ten pages a week or
50,000 words in a month, almost every writer needs there manuscript to go through a revision process of some sort and the fresh eyes of other readers.

Yep, it's a long road.