May 28, 2011

Empty Nest Syndrome

I remember when it all started, just nine months ago. I was on bed rest at the McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden, hoping not to deliver my baby too early. The idea suddenly struck while I was lying in my hospital bed, having just finished one of Patrick McManus' books. "I can do something like this!" I thought as I pondered how he turned simple life memories into an entire series of humor books. "Now...what's something funny that's happened to me?"

I remembered the time when, as a young child, I sneaked an egg from our refrigerator in hopes of rescuing a cold, dying chick. I carefully wrapped it in warm blankets, and kept my soon-to-be pet tucked safely away in a hole in the back of our brown velvet sofa. Every day, when no one was around, I would crawl behind the sofa and peek in, anxious for the day when I would soon hear those gentle chirpings of a newly hatched chicken. I would finally have my own pet!

"What's that smell?" Mom suddenly asked one day, face hideously scrunched up. My stomach dropped when her search led her to my makeshift incubator in the back of the sofa. "What is THIS?" she angrily asked.

I cowered as she carelessly unwrapped my precious egg.

When the egg was revealed, she was livid. "Who put an egg in the sofa? It's rotting!"

I could take the guilt no longer. "I did," I meekly answered. "I was trying to hatch it."

Laughter suddenly exploded from her, and I was luckily saved the agony of punishment because I had been so gosh darn cute and naive.

Yes, that was a funny enough story to put in a book, I thought, but did I have enough of them to make an entire BOOK? I didn't know if I even had enough to write ten PAGES. I needed to find something in my life that was ridiculous, and that had been ridiculous for many years. Wait a minute! Of course! My infamous problems with boys! I had more than enough experiences, and with my incredible journal-keeping from my youth (I had eleven of them), I had plenty of resources to draw from.

As I started to write my book, I relived my youth, cringed through my awkward years, and rolled my eyes as I recalled the love blunders I encountered in my early adult years. I revised my book several times, each time creating a new feel to it. Originally titled, "Confessions from the President of the V.L. Club," my story lacked a certain air of humor, and reeked of, well, pathetic woe-is-me stories. I needed to make it Patrick McManus funny. My title then changed to "Glass Slippers Don't Go With My Shirts," strewn with references to a Fairy Godmother, and ending on a note that left the reader feeling a little sorry for me. Nope. It had to be funny. I next re-titled my book, "The Incredible Misfortunes of Love," and decided that no one would buy a book with THAT title. It made me sad to take out all of my beloved Fairy Godmother and Cinderella references, because I have always been fond of Cinderella love stories. It just was not the right fit for my book.

Finally, after playing around with some words I myself would look for when searching for this type of book, I settled on the title, "Waiting For Cupid." It was perfect, because it doesn't automatically imply a happy ending, but definitely the type of book this would be. I was finally content with my story. I revised again, this time adding references to Cupid (I luckily already had mentioned him a time or two), and was able to add humor to my ending. (If you want to read parts of my book, check out my blog archive "Waiting for Cupid excerpt" as well as the link that says "Read some of my stories"!)

Once I was completely satisfied, I took the scary step and submitted it for publication. Maybe not scary in the sense that I'm afraid of rejection, but scary as in I'm now giving up my baby. Nine months of my life went in to this book, lovingly developing each chapter, each sentence, each word. And now that I'm finally done with it, I feel like my mother who is suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome: empty, alone, and without much purpose. Am I alone in this, or is this feeling common among writers? I know that I need to take several days off from writing to catch my breath, relax, and allow myself to be open to embrace another writing project that will require my full love, attention and devotion.

May 23, 2011

Getting Creative

Every writer wants their books to be popular, right? I know that I secretly dream of fame and living in a nice house with more than one bathroom, and a front door that doesn't let in the wind. So what is it that makes books sell like hotcakes? One (which really doesn't help ME at all) is fame. Ever heard of a guy named Obama? He's written a book, which of course has made New York Times Bestseller list. Another, perhaps more feasible, method is writing an old fable with a twist. Ever heard of "The Three Little Pigs"? What about "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs"? What makes these so much fun is the creativity of taking a familiar tale and learning of another character's point of view.

During the 2011 LDStorymakers Writer's Conference, I took a class from Liz Adair who taught us about changing point of view up a little. Ms. Adair gave us a synopsis of the story of Noah and his ark, and challenged us to create a new story from someone else's point of view.

The story ideas were endless: Noah's wife had a crazy husband, and needed to choose between him and her friends. Ever consider how a wealthy daughter-in-law's life would change from working in successful career with an enormous wardrobe to living in a wooden box stuffed with animals? How would that affect her relationship with her new husband? Ideas also included the introduction to a giraffe who never experienced his true height until he stretched his neck up far enough to watch the dove return with the olive branch. It was an exercise I think I will always treasure.

Coming up with new, fresh ideas doesn't need to stress us out. With a little creative writing exercises, I think we'll be able to find ways to see new stories within existing ones. I know that I sometimes feel intimidated by staring at a blank Word document, or tapping my pen on an empty page. I think that my idea needs to be perfectly original, something that no one has ever thought of before. The time that I do find for writing is precious, and I feel like it's wasted if I don't jot down the perfect idea. I guess what I'm getting at is that we should take time for writing exercises, something that gets the creative juices flowing. Maybe, if I'm motivated, I might just start posting writing exercises. It would be good for us!

May 16, 2011

Waiting For Cupid Excerpt

Chapter 15
First Impressions

Trying to learn the art of impressing boys was hard work, I quickly learned. Unlike my younger years, juggling, and even shaving for that matter, just didn’t cut it in college. Older boys needed a lot more convincing.

I tried my best to be mysterious and even a bit sexy around Josh, my friend’s boyfriend. It was going well, too, until he said something so hilarious that I belted out a laugh. A long-winded snort that immediately followed prompted him to call me “Wilbur” for the rest of the day. Note to self: avoid situations that may involve laughter.

I tried again second semester in my business class. Our first-day assignment was to stand and introduce ourselves, an activity that is created to weed out the weak. They almost got me, too. Across the room from me was a handsome man in his early twenties who was a sign language interpreter, and I knew that I needed to say something amazing if he were to ever notice a little freshman like me. When my turn came, I made the mistake of looking at him.

“My name is Kim, and my English is major,” I squeaked out. My face colored into a deep shade of crimson when little alarms sounded off inside my head. “I mean, my major is English!”

I miserably fell down into my seat, and avoided looking at his half of the classroom for the rest of the semester. So much for knocking his socks off.

I later discovered that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with impressing the opposite sex. Lois, Jan and I had established our homework spot at the base of Old Main Hill. Trees spilled their shade over the warm grass, giving us a feeling of comfortable confinement. As we glanced over our heavy reading assignments, a boy with thick, curly hair and black wire glasses approached us. His looks shouted geek, but when he spoke, our hearts fluttered in excitement.

“Hello, Ladies,” he said cheerfully in a thick accent.

A real live British boy had actually approached us to talk! This was definitely going in my journal. We giggled with delight, and tried to speak maturely to this suddenly handsome foreigner. His name was Alan, and we discovered that he was from Tooele, a small Utah town eighty miles south of where we sat.

“No, where are you from originally?” I clarified with a grin. How adorable was he?

“Tooele,” he answered sheepishly, smile and accent suddenly gone. Our formalities disappeared, and it wasn’t much later before he, too, left.

I quietly pined over the British scam for the next several days. I had never realized the possibility of a foreign romance until that experience. Would it be possible for me to ever meet a handsome Brit? I didn’t think my chances were very high, but after several days, fate offered me a surprise.

“Hello,” a stunning guy greeted me, British accent smooth as silk. His coffee-colored eyes pierced my own, and I backed against a brick wall from the force of his stare. His wavy black hair was slicked neatly back, and a small, seductive smile crawled across his lips. “How are you today?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” I smiled shyly. My heart pounded in my chest, and beads of sweat banded my forehead.

“Oh, pardon me, my name’s Jason,” he grinned with electrifying intensity.

“I’m Kim,” I proudly offered, trapped against the wall. His sweet cologne brushed my lips, and my knees grew weak.

The conversation was pleasantly uncomfortable, and we spoke for several minutes. Finally, I could stand it no longer. “Where are you from?” I asked, anxious to get every tiny detail from this striking guy. I nonchalantly wiped my forehead and tried to take a deep breath.

“I’m from far away,” he answered with sexy mystery.

“Oh really? Where?” I pushed. I wondered what part of England he came from, and daydreamed of spending spring break with him.


Oh, brother.

May 11, 2011

The Darndest Thing Happened...

There are many lessons we can learn from books, but what is really enjoyable is when we find the stories coming true in our lives. Earlier today, I read Max Lucado's "You are Special" to my boys. If you are not familiar with this story, it is about wooden people called Wemmicks who feel that it is their job to hand out either gold stars or gray dots, depending on others' accomplishments. Later, as I placed my baby in his high chair to eat some lunch, I was surprised to find a little gold star right on his shirt!

My three-year-old, Gabriel, is learning his alphabet, and doing a pretty good job, if I do say so myself. As we were reading an alphabet book together, he excitedly pointed to the letter "O." "Look, there's an O. Like, 'Gabe-ee-OH'!" I guess it's time to work on pronouncing his name.

My two older children (Jacob-4 and Gabriel-3) were reading a book together about the first Christmas. Gabriel proudly pointed to a picture and explained, "There's the angel Gabriel!" To that, Jacob sadly whined, "I wanted it to be angel Jacob!"

May 10, 2011

Making Memorable Characters

Have you ever read a book, and fallen completely in love with a character? Have you ever known them so well that you felt like BFFs? What was it about them that made them so memorable? Here is a list of attributes that make your characters both believable and likeable.
1. Someone you can relate to. You understand this character, because you know their problems. You react the same way they react. In children's stories, the most popular characters (such as Olivia the pig) demonstrate traits that children themselves exhibit, namely mistaken beliefs, exaggerated emotions, pretending and small things that are important.
2. Someone you can sympathize with. Readers need to get inside the character's head. Inner dialogue really helps with this. You know their goals, fears, loves, strengths and weaknesses. By caring about the character, the reader is going to care about what happens to them.
3. Humor really helps. In children's books, we find it funny when a young character, such as Olivia, freaks out over trivial little things. Characters who are witty or who have funny character flaws, someone who makes us laugh out loud are those we want to read more about.
4.Experiences growth upon solving a major problem. If a character learns from his mistakes and grows from overcoming a problem, we are going to remember him/her.
5.Don't just write about your character; become your character. By understanding their background, you're going to know how they are going to react. If you know your characters, your readers are going to know them. Fall in love with your characters; if you're not in love with them, your readers will be able to tell. Take the time to get to know your characters.

May 9, 2011

The Dreaded Query Letter

I have written my fair share of query letters, and let me tell you, they are NO FUN to write. There is something so horrifying about it that I'm almost tempted to hide under my bed until the rejection letter comes. Optimism isn't my style, if you couldn't tell. I researched some query letters online, and found some ideas, but I never felt quite comfortable. The problem I faced was my lack of publishing credits. When I finally got my story "Harvey's Joke" published in the Herald Journal, I felt I had something under my belt.

According to Sarah Megibow, Literary Agent for the Nelson Literary Agency, writing a query letter is super simple: Paragraph one: I have a completed [genre] manuscript, 4,000 words. (Also, this is where you write the hook of your book, a one-sentence summary that is eye-catching and that makes your book seem irresistible to read.)
Paragraph two: This is the pitch paragraph, essentially what you would envision to be the book's summary on the back cover, written in about four sentences. This paragraph should NOT be rushed. Are you sitting down for this? Once the agent receives your query and likes it enough to accept your manuscript, they then show it to their editor. If the editor approves, then it is submitted to the sales agent. If they feel like they can make a profit from it, your query letter is then shown to a book buyer. If the book buyer feels that this book will be successful, then will your manuscript be accepted. Kinda scary, huh? Yeah, query letters are super simple.
Paragraph three: This is the author's bio. Any writing awards you've won, anything that's gotten published, this is the place to put it. Just make sure it's relevant.
Closing paragraph: Thank them for their time. If you saw them at a writing conference, let them know.
Whew. Done. Sit back, relax, and make sure you've got plenty to eat and drink while you wait out a response from under your bed.

Oh, wait, before you start hoarding chocolate and cheese for your little hide-away, I have a little piece of advice you might find as valuable as I did. If you are about as famous as I am, you might want to consider getting a name for yourself out in the electronic world. Start a blog for yourself, get on twitter or facebook. They are excellent places for you to eventually market your works. Sarah Megibow claims that before accepting any manuscripts, she cyber-stalks potential clients to make sure that they have networking capabilities on such sites.

Pacing Your Story

I learned a lot at the LDStorymakers Writer's Conference that I am anxious to share. Have you ever read a book that was just so intense at parts that when you turned the page for the next chapter, you found yourself breathless, exhausted, and heart pounding a mile a minute? I thought I was crazy, and scolded myself for reading so gosh darn fast. Well, as it turns out, I was NOT crazy after all. There is actually a trick to writing that literally speeds up your story. The shorter your paragraphs, the shorter your sentences, and the more bang each word can dramatically increase the intensity of your story!

In moments of intensity, nobody cares what the character's eye color is. This is the time where all the action happens, and the reader needs to be as concerned about the problem as the character is. Can you imagine checking out that hottie's smile over there across the street as a murderer is chasing you down with a large, bloody butcher knife? Yeah, I didn't think so, either. The moment needs to be completely focused and quick-paced if you want your reader to keep interest. Word of warning: if you go too fast, you're going to lose your reader. I've read some books where I've been so breathless and anxious to reach the conclusion of the chapter that I've had to actually go back and re-read a paragraph or two because I didn't know everything that had just happened.

On the other hand, slowing down your story so your readers can catch their breath and process what they've just read is just as necessary. Internal thoughts, descriptions, and mellow words can slow it down. Long, compound sentences also do the trick.

When reaching the climax of your story, don't rush it. What's taken maybe hundreds of pages to reach should not be finished in a paragraph or two. It needs to be long enough to deliver the emotional impact a reader is looking for.

The best piece of advice that was given during the conference was to become a critical reader. Recognize the pace that is written, and see what works and what doesn't. By becoming familiar with and critical of the pace of other authors, it will soon be demonstrated in your own writing.

May 8, 2011

My picture books

Writing is something I have done since I was a young child. My very first book was entitled "Puppy Love" about a young girl who desperately wanted a kitten, but discovered joy when receiving a puppy, instead. My book was professionally bound by cardboard and staples. It was my most prized possession. I also carried around a pocket-sized notebook that contained my stories, usually inspired by a summer storm. I remember sitting in the darkened living room with my pen and pad, listening to the thunder and writing some story of impending doom. Those stories usually began with, "It was a dark and stormy night" and ended with a cemetery scene. To this day, I still crave stories with cemeteries.

Publishing a book never even occurred to me until I submitted "Duck Feet," a picture book I created for my eighth grade English class.

After it had been graded, my student teacher boldly left a note encouraging me to submit it for publication. Out of the question. I was holding onto gold! There was no way I was going to part with my millionaire-dollar story! Too bad I didn't know that you don't actually mail in the book itself. That teacher, however, did instill a desire to keep creating picture books, and years later, a desire to submit my work for publication.

The first story I ever submitted was in 2004 entitled "The Shepherd and the King." It tells the story of how a young shepherd boy gives bread to a homeless man, only to discover that he has just fed the king. As a token to remind the boy to always do what's right, a silver ring is placed in his care. Years later, when the boy as a man meets the king once again, he cries that he has failed to do his job. The king embraces him, and explains that those who have known the shepherd have also known the king. "You have proven worthy by living by your ring. You're not just a shepherd; you've grown into a king."

I later submitted "Harvey's Joke" about a squirrel who hates April Fool's Day.

Harvey was notorious for playing pranks, but this year, Maurice was going to put a stop to them once and for all, only to get the prank of his life.

After several rejections, this story was finally printed in the Herald Journal in 2007. Unfortunately, since this story was not accompanied by any pictures, I'm sure that the readers were left to wonder why this "Harvey" character ate Bark Crunch for breakfast!

"Pirate ABC's" is a rhyming picture book that was also rejected, although it is lovingly read by my children (bound, of course, by cardboard and twine). In this book, a pirate's adventurous life is revealed from treasure hunting to sending men to the plank. "W is walking the plank bound and blind; X marks the spot that we sailed here to find."

The next story I submitted was "Waiting for Halloween."

Anxious for Halloween, Baby Bear asks his mother when his favorite holiday will come. She responds with, "First, it has to get cold. Then, the leaves will turn yellow, orange and red, and they will fall from the trees. After that, we’ll put pumpkins on the front porch. Once we carve them into jack-o-lanterns, then Halloween will be here.” Can you guess what happened with this manuscript? Yup. Rejected. But at least my son actually ASKS specifically for that book to be read to him.

"My Day With Dad" is my latest submission. I actually sent it in for the Cheerios New Author's contest to be printed as a book to be given away with each box of cereal. It's about a young child who spends a windy day with his father exploring the adventures that blow with the wind.

Lastly, the current story I am getting ready for submission is a humorous account of my past dating experiences. I am still working on the title and changing things around a bit to get the feel I'm looking for. The titles I have used so far are "Laughing at Love," "Glass Slippers Don't Go With My Shirts," "Cupid For Hire" and "The Incredible Misfortunes of Love." I'm thinking of using something with "Mr. Wrong," but I'm not quite sure exactly. Who knew that the title would be so difficult to come up with?! Do any of those titles sound appealing to anyone out there?

What's important here is that trying to get published is not an easy task. Each year, I check out the Writer's Market book and search for literary agents and publishers who are looking specifically for the type of writing I do, and I send in about twenty different queries (not easy on the wallet, in case you were wondering). Do not send in a query letter for a genre they are NOT looking for, because it is the fastest way to get rejected. There's nothing wrong with sending in several manuscripts in a row to the same literary agent (after each rejection, that is). Literary agent Sarah Megibow advised us to "just pretend that you are new, because I'm not going to remember you." I always felt awkward sending in my same query letter (with the pitch paragraph different, of course)because I thought they would think I was a loser for trying with them again. Fear not! We won't be remembered! (That IS good, right?) If you love something enough, keep trying. Success won't come if you wait for it to find you. Good luck!

Embrace rejection letters!

On Saturday, I attended my very first writer's conference. I'll admit that I was a little nervous, because for some strange reason, other writers intimidate me. I suppose I feel inadequate because I am fully aware of the large pile of rejection letters that sit in my drawer, and have yet to receive my first acceptance letter. During the LDStorymakers Writer's Conference, an award for the most rejection letters was given out. Yay! Rather than feeling shame, we should embrace the fact that we ARE submitting, and we are taking the chance of succeeding one day. That made me feel pretty good.

Writers, we were told by Literary Agent Sarah Megibow, are artists. I loved hearing that because I've always wanted to be an artist. I knew she was right, though. I imagine that the satisfaction that comes from typing that last, heart-pounding sentence is equal to putting that last brush stroke onto a masterpiece painting. I am an artist with words.