Scare-Your-Pants-Off Time to Vote

Okay, that's the last of them. Start voting!

You can review contest guidelines and voting rules here.

Click the label "07 Halloween" at the bottom of this post to bring up all contest submissions.

UPDATED: Got a few e-mails asking for clarification.

1. Post vote in the comments section of the post you're voting for.

2. Examples of a vote I will count:
"I VOTE for this one."
"This one gets my VOTE."
"VOTING for this."
Notice the common thread? Put the word VOTE in it.

3. Examples of a vote I will not count (because I don't know it's a vote):
"Lovely images."
"This one was really spooky."
"This one made me shudder."

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #22

Marsha sat in John's recliner – head bowed, an empty jar between her dry palms. The darkness acted as a whetstone, honing her senses to a fine edge. She detected the Chanel No. 5 lingering on his sweater; his footsteps in the hall irritated her as much as the grind of a dentist's drill. He'd stopped sneaking in a long time ago – he had that little respect for her. He didn't care if she was in their bed or not. She knew he wouldn't turn on the light to find out.

Marsha set the jar on the side table. John screamed and thrashed. The jar vibrated. Marsha smiled, satisfied that her husband was remembering – and regretting – the last words he'd spoken to her, the question he'd so carelessly asked this morning: "Don't you have anything better to do than collect black widow spiders?"


Submission Deadline Tonight

Just a reminder that all submissions for the Scare-Your-Pants-Off contest must be received by midnight tonight, as indicated by the time stamp on your e-mail. I will post the last of them tomorrow as early in the day as I can.

Voting starts at 12:01 a.m. on the 30th, but you might want to wait until mid-morning to be sure all the submissions have been posted. I will post notification that submissions are closed when they're all up.

Please review the guidelines on voting. If you click the label "07 Halloween" at the bottom of any of the submission posts, it will bring up all contest submissions.

Feel free to comment on as many as you want, but only vote for three. You must clearly state that your comment is a vote for that submission or it will not be counted.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #21

The morning fog was thicker in the cemetary, and the only sound Claudia could hear was the purring of the buggy’s wheels as they rolled over the fallen leaves on the path. Even Tim was quiet. She wondered if he’d fallen asleep, and leaned down to check, but he was awake, sucking his two middle fingers and staring out in silence at the trees and bushes and the white haze around them. On the grave next to her husband’s, there was a mound that she didn’t remember from her last visit. Funny, it looked as though someone had arranged a body there and simply covered it with leaves. And was it her imagination, or did it smell strange as well? Claudia sniffed, but only caught the usual autumn scent of decaying leaves and moist, cool air. Parking the buggy on the path, she approached the simple headstone to lay down her chrysanthemums. There was a single rose on the stone already, another thing she didn’t remember from last time; a long-stemmed flower that had dried out completely to brittle shades of brown and rust. Trying to avoid the unusually large thorns, Claudia reached out to grasp the stem, only to cry out in pain and toss the rose away. That hadn’t just been a finger prick. It felt like something had bitten her.

The rose had landed on the pile of leaves and Claudia stared malevolently at it for a moment, then turned her attention back to her finger. It was bleeding, and she squeezed more blood out of it in a first, rudimentary attempt to cleanse the wound. Straightening up, she shook her hand so that the large drop of blood that had collected on her fingertip went flying in the same direction as the rose. The pile of leaves shuddered. At first, Claudia thought it was the wind and ignored it, leaning forward to reposition her chrysanthemums on the headstone. But unexpected motion caught her eye, and she looked again. Instead of being blown in one direction or another, the leaves were sinking. They rustled as they tumbled slowly down into the earth, and then the rustling sound changed, and the movement of the leaves shifted subtly. Something was coming up from underneath them. A violent shiver of fear shot up Claudia’s spine to the top of her head, and she had to force herself to take even one step backwards. The smell came first, a gag-inducing stench of rot and decay mixed with the metallic tang of fresh blood. Sliding her other foot backwards, Claudia felt it knock something behind her. She froze for a moment, and then she remembered. The buggy! Tim! Something black was emerging from the leaves now, vaguely human in shape but not at all human in appearance. Trying for a scream but only managing a raspy, breathless “uhhhh,” Claudia whirled, reaching out for the handles of the buggy.


Scare-Your-Pants-Off #20

I pushed the shopping cart next to the driver's side of the car and unlocked the doors. As I opened the door, a wave of heat assaulted me. I quickly started the car and turned the air conditioner on full blast. I left my door open to let some of the heat escape and carefully reached into the back seat and started buckling Julia into her car seat. I tried to calm her protests with a rattle and she grasped it tightly in her chubby hands.

Next it was Olivia's turn. I pulled her out of the cart and lugged her around to the passenger side of the car. I tried to remain calm as she cried about going to the park. "Maybe later sweetie, please stop crying. Let's go home and have lunch." I said all of these things as I struggled to get her buckled into her car seat. Then suddenly the car lurched forward. I cried out in pain as my shoulder caught on the edge of the door. Olivia stopped crying and her blue eyes widened in fear. I looked up and screamed as the car continued to move. A man was in the driver's seat of my car and I watched in horror as his foot slammed down on the gas pedal.


Scare-Your-Pants-Off #19

Lonnie checked her image in the mirror, noting the dark circles under her eyes that even makeup couldn't hide. She quickly looked away, picked up her tote bag and hurried to the car. She couldn't be late. She was not unprepared for this ordeal, though her dreams had taunted her otherwise in various bone-chilling scenarios all last night, in between restless moments of

As she entered the back door of the chilly red brick building, Lonnie was prepared for whatever fate was determined to hand her. Life had been good to her; she had done her best to be a good person. She had few regrets. She made her way down the hallway to the chamber with painted cinder-block walls and sat on the cold metal chair in the back of the room, erect and outwardly composed. As the clock ticked away, Lonnie did not flinch; fear would not rule her last moments on earth. She began to count her breaths: In, out. In, out. In, out. Then, her heart thumping in her throat, her mouth suddenly cotton dry, she rose to her feet, clutching the tote filled with books, pictures and homemade visual aids to her chest, as the dreaded words were pronounced: "Sister Carrigan will now present Sharing Time."

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #18

At exactly 6:33 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, Suzette's husband announced on his Web site the revelation that proved without a doubt that he was the Davidic servant, the one mighty and strong; that the Second Coming would take place by the end of the year; and that all previous
pretenders to the position are now counterfeits and must immediately repent or be struck down and lose their celestial inheritance.

Three hours later, when the number of e-mailed and phone in death threats hit double digits, her husband set her apart as an avenging angel (which gave her the authority to violate the sixth commandment), thrust a deer rifle in her arms, and barricaded himself in the
basement with the children and the second wife. Suzette turned on conference, adjusted the recliner so it was facing the front door, sat down with the rifle across her lap, and picked up her tatting.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #17

The late October storm drew Samantha to the window above the kitchen sink. The new neighbor pulled into his driveway and slipped inside, but not before glancing over the hedge toward the window. He was a single man. Probably mid-thirties with a large collection of old-time Boston Red Sox baseball caps and an identical gray sweater collection. At least it seemed he had a lot caps and sweaters unless, of course, he wore the same ones everyday. Samantha shut the blinds and pulled the drain on the dishwater. The day her neighbor moved in he brought with him an antique oval wall mirror with an elegant gold frame. The moving truck brought everything else. Beyond that there wasn't much she knew of the man who purchased the vacant Hampton estate next door except that whenever she did see him he ducked inside or quickly ensconced himself behind the tinted windows of his red truck that sported a worn and pealing Jesus Saves window sticker. Somehow the man always knew she was watching. She had the same impression whenever she walked from the kitchen to the front door in full view of the entryway mirror. Whenever she saw his red truck in the driveway she avoided the hallway for the same reason she avoided an accident on the freeway. There was something creepy about gawking at a body pulled from the wreckage.

It was odd that their new neighbor never answered the door when she went over to welcome him to Salem Heights. And when she left an invitation in his mailbox to join her and John for a welcome dinner it was returned by post and stamped: No Such Address. She put away the breakfast cereal boxes and went to collect the morning paper when the poorly-latched front door swung open on the blustering storm. She pushed it shut, got down to wipe up the rain and noticed a baseball cap lying just inside the threshold. It must have blown in on the wind. She reached for it when a movement in the hallway mirror caught her attention. Was that the flash of a gray sweater in the reflection?


A Milestone

Yesterday, LDSPublisher hit a milestone. We topped 100 unique visitors in one day. We've gotten close to that a few times--97 was the highest. But yesterday this site had 119 unique visitors, 77 of whom were returning visitors.

I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you for the support you've all given to me and this endeavor (even Jeff Savage and David Woolley who keep trying to weasel my true identity out of me). I appreciate your comments and the way you've jumped in to help each other, answering questions, and pointing out to me when I'm way off base.

When I started this blog back in April 2006, it was on a whim. I thought I'd do it for a few months and readers would get bored and that would be the end of it. It has surprised me that questions keep coming and participation has continued to increase. I have taken that as a sign that my intent to be helpful has become a reality. I hope I can continue to help you on your journey to publication. As long as you continue to send questions, comments and queries for critique (yes, I'm still willing to do that), I will continue to respond.

Thanks again for visiting.



Whitney Awards Press Release




The Whitney Awards Committee announced today that they will be offering seven large cash awards to be presented at the upcoming Whitney Awards banquet in March 2008. These cash prizes are due to the generosity of the Whitney Awards’ marquis sponsor, ExclusivelyLDS.com.

Founded earlier this year, the Whitney Awards program is a non-profit organization dedicated to rewarding excellence among LDS authors. With the new sponsorship of ExclusivelyLDS.com, winning authors will receive up to $1000 along with their trophy.

The Whitneys offer a total of seven awards. The five genre awards (Best Romance/Women’s Fiction, Best Mystery/Suspense, Best YA/Children’s, Best Speculative Fiction, Best Historical) will each be accompanied by a $500 cash prize. The two overall winners, Best Novel by a New Author and Best Novel of the Year, will each receive $1000.

“We’re very excited about the sponsorship with ExclusivelyLDS.com,” Robison Wells, president of the Whitney Awards Committee, explains. “There is enormous talent among LDS authors, and every year seems to produce better and better novels. This is an exciting time to be part of the LDS fiction industry. Our hope is that these awards will raise awareness about the high quality fiction available from LDS authors, and to draw in new readers.”

Over a hundred years ago, Latter-Day Saint Apostle Orson F. Whitney declared “We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. . . . In God’s name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth.”

Anyone can nominate a novel published during the previous calendar year in any of seven categories, and a final academy of industry professionals will vote on the final ballot. Nominations are being taken for books published in 2007 by LDS authors at the Whitney Awards website: www.whitneyawards.com


Robison Wells
Whitney Awards President

Wet Your Pants Scary* (aka #16)

A large mass of cosmic debris fell from the sky and plummeted deep into Lake Hi-Land, located in southeastern Michigan. The water mass that was displaced by the asteroid plumed high in an enormous fountain as waves with tsunami strength dispersed in all directions. The rolling water swept over bridges, drenched farmland and washed over the whole land. It was like a dam had broken and all of the water streamed towards the one city located on low ground on the eastern edge of the lake. Tendrils of water frothed over the banks, soaking all within reach. The wave seemed to move in slow motion as it crested over the town, packed with tourists for the annual Festival. Then time resumed its normal pace as water swelled into the town, drenching every nook and cranny until it subsided in a sodden mess that permeated every inch of ground.

The old-timers felt the chill in the air that made frail bones creak and noses run. It was time, once again, for Hell (Michigan) to freeze over.

*Title changed by request.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #15

Emi prayed it was only the pulse of dense rain against her bedroom window that had wakened her. That the noise, the whispered slide of someone opening the bureau in her mother’s bedroom, wasn’t real. But she knew, knew with all the instant terror that coursed through her veins, it was real. And when she saw a beam of light flash across the wall just outside her doorway, she guessed what it was. A thief.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #14

I awoke with a start and rolled over so violently that I screamed out as pain blossomed in my leg. I sat up and massaged my cramped leg and looked around to see what had yanked me out of a deep sleep. I swung around and tenderly put pressure on my leg, and that's when I felt it.

The carpeted floor was warm under my bare foot and it was never this warm in the middle of the night. I could see flickering light under the door and knew that I was encountering my worst fear. I felt that if I touched the doorknob, my fingers would be scalded. Sure enough, a finger of flame stretched above the lower hinge, hungrily reaching for me. The room seemed to close in on me as I realized I had nowhere to escape. The fire sucked all of the air from my bedroom and my breathing became labored. It was like an evil presence, biding its time on the other side of the door. Soon it would enter and take me unwillingly into its smoldering embrace.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #13

“Mr. Skelton?” Jenny stepped through the weather-worn wooden gate and inside the yard. “Is anyone here?” A critter ran through the nutgrass without showing its head above the unkempt overgrowth. Jenny pressed the plate of double chocolate chip cookies against her red sweater. Why did she ever agree to deliver these for mother? No one in her right mind ever stopped by the Skelton place. The broken windows in the estate’s towers, the black crows nesting on the electric wires and the rumor of what grew in the garden patch were more than enough to scare her and her seventh grade friends from lingering very long on Hollow Street this time of year. What a bother, these cookies. Jenny hurried through the weeds, up the porch and softly said, “Mr. Skelton, are you home?”

There was no reason to knock and risk stirring the old man. She laid the treats in front of the door, mumbled a happy Halloween greeting her mother insisted she leave with the man and hurried back through the yard when she saw it half-hidden among its own leaves that twisted in and out of the crosspieces on the redwood arbor. It was true, but none of her friends would ever believe she’d seen the wart-skinned fable that appeared in the garden patch each October unless she brought home the vine top. She inched closer, reached past the greenery and when she plucked the prickly vine from the top of the fire-red pumpkin the crows took to flight and the door to the estate flew open. Mr. Skelton chased down the porch with the help of a cane, cursing her and telling her to, “get back girl, get back,” but it was too late. The leaf covered arbor opened like a door to a dark, cold world and a monstrous gust of wind pushed her inside.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #12

Ragan rocked on the old porch pondering his nightmares from the night before. He had hoped the sunrise would have calmed the fearful feeling within him, but so far the morning dawn had only served to make his mood darker still. Some men had normal grandmothers. Ones that baked them cookies and made sure that their bootlaces were tied. They were love and perfection personified. They had kind winkled hands, happy smiles on their faces, and short gray hair that was always well kept. He wasn't one of those men. His Grandmother was far from the welcoming stereotype. He wondered at the reasons fate would bring her to his memory now, of all times. When he was in later life and far to old to need the influence of any kind of motherly figure. Not that his grandmother had been the mothering type. He was happy with his job. Perhaps he was alone but that didn't bother him either. He was just fine. He had the boys at the old club where he went golfing every Friday. He was perfectly content to lay all memories of that old witch in the past where they belonged. He shuttered as flashes of his dream came to him, and a picture of the hideous woman he was forced to spend a week of every summer with filled his mind.

She had knarled hands with huge lumps for knuckles--hard, bony, fierce hands that always had something or the other underneath the fingernails. His grandmother had been an avid gardener, but sometimes he could swear that she had dried blood beneath those fingernails. He reminded himself that those were childhood suspicions. Something he had merely dreamed up in a suspicious fit of horror late one night in that atrocious country cabin that hardly held together anymore. Perhaps the fear of the roof falling in on him had permanently damaged his tender childhood soul. He liked that lie. It was a good one. The memory of her visage loomed before him meancing, she had thin gray hair. Oh, how it had reminded him of cobwebs and shadows. It was stringy with grease and sometimes food. It lay plastered onto her skull and dangled dangerously close to the floor. Ragan had loathed it when his grandmother came close enough to let her straggly hair brush against him. Her face, oh mercy, her face was the most hideous thing he had ever seen. It was lined deep with wrinkles that seemed cavernous to his young mind. Like her face had been taken between two large hands and crunched like a piece of paper. Her nose was too small and her lips too large. When she smiled one had a feeling that she would be able to eat you if she opened wide enough. Then he heard her voice just as he had heard it in the dream: Count the crows, my boy, count the crows.



Last contest I held only had a few submissions. Fearing I would see a repeat, I said in the rules you could only vote once. However, we're getting a LOT of submissions for this one, so I updated the voting rules to allow you to vote for three.

However, voting does not start until October 30th. So don't vote now.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #11

He had warned her not to reject him again, but the publisher folded the form letter and slid it into the self-addressed stamped envelope. His hand-written threat on the bottom of the query hadn't scared her a bit. She lifted the envelope containing the final rejection to her mouth and quickly licked the seal. Her tongue tingled, she licked her lips and swallowed. Perhaps it was more than a threat.

A high-pitched sound filled her office and she screamed when she saw the string of words whizzing through the air towards her. They were moving fast but somehow she could read them all—regret to inform you, unfortunately, sorry, sadly, does not fit. Each word, each phrase landed on her body and seared into her flesh.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #10

“Go on, you yellow-bellied chicken liver.” The words of the fifth-grade bully echoed through Hayden’s mind as he tread carefully on the creaky porch step of the abandoned house at the end of Blake Street. There was barely enough light to show the outline of two small broken windows at the top of the front door, flanking the bent and rusty knocker, barely hanging by one equally rusty nail. The shifting shadows of light and dark threw themselves into an everchanging kaleidoscope of distorted faces on the door—mouths opened. Screaming, howling in silence, these flickering ghosts of light and dark seemed to watch him as he approached.

Hayden stepped onto the porch. Stopped. Right foot in front of the other, he took one more step toward the door. The wood beneath his feet screeched and strained, then broke through under his weight. As Hayden crashed through the rotting porch wood, the scent of death and decay rushed into his nostrils, filling his lungs. Just before his head hit the dirt beneath the porch and the darkness came, Hayden felt something hard and icy cold wrap around his ankles.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #9

I can’t remember how I found the house. That in itself is part of the problem, one I’ve retraced many times in my mind, until it has become more than an obsession. It has become my entire life. And there is worse. I cannot now remember how to leave it. You think my mind wanders perhaps - like a child’s; and there have been times I’ve run through these rooms like a child, searching for the tiniest crevice or crack through which I might slip out.

Sometimes I wake up, still warm in dream. I am walking up Stow Hill and before reaching its brow I take a left, and then turn right. Within moments I am lost in a warren of old houses that seem to multiply even as I walk. And the faster I walk the more numerous become the streets; each twisting off in illogical angles, until at last the house appears, as if by magic. That was how it was the first day.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #8

The rain raps against the cracked glass of my window like sharp and bony knuckles pounding the top of my skull. It’s getting darker earlier, and even when my clock tells me it is daylight outside, the sun refuses me like a faithless lover, hiding herself behind a grim gray sky. The cold seeks me through the cracks and knotholes. But the living things have fled. Even the rats and spiders eschew me—perhaps sensing the cold inside, perhaps understanding I would crush them in my bare hands without the slightest remorse.

In another few days, children will arrive, laughing and playing—hiding their true selves behind masks and costumes. But I won’t be here. I feel the shadow growing within me—filling me with a black, relentless hunger. Would that I could pull it off like a mask; throw it away like a costume. But I have finally come to realize the thing growing inside me again like a dark tumor is not an alien usurper but my true self unfolding. Soon I will begin to feed, to give myself over to the rage that burns my tongue and lips with a sanctifying fire. This time I won’t stop. This time I know where you are. I am coming for you. My love.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #7

Sydney couldn’t believe her luck. She’d gotten the last cinnamon/ raisin/chocolate chip bagel at the deli this morning. She found an empty seat on the subway and had it all to herself all the way to work. On her way home, as she turned the corner at Elm and Rose, she found a twenty-dollar bill just lying on the curb. She picked it up and stuffed it in her pocket as she fit her keys into her front door. But Sydney would never have a chance to spend that twenty because horror waited on the other side. Sydney’s lucky day was also her last.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #6

I jerk from unconscious to wide awake in an instant. My heart hammers in my throat. When I swallow I taste a hint of blood. The sheet on top of me trembles with each heartbeat. I hold my breath, willing my pulse to slow to normal, straining to hear any sound that doesn’t belong to the morning. Nothing. I let my breath roll out, unclench my hands, relax my jaw. It was nothing. Just a dream. I roll over in my bed and bump against something that shouldn’t be there—long, solid, cold and covered with blood.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #5

I hate mirrors at night. If I have to go by one in the dark I avoid looking at them. I’m always worried I’ll see some dark form standing near me, or that my face will change like in “Poltergeist”. Telling me the fear is all imagined doesn’t work either, especially since I know Nostradamus used to sit in a cloaked and darkened room staring at a ‘black mirror’ to receive his hideous visions and scrying through mirrors isn’t just something Christopher Paolini made up in Eragon. Apparently there is some power between mirrors and other world reflections. It’s not all imagination. So when I saw the dark form of a man standing behind my
reflection in the middle of the day my heart turned over. I knew my house was empty.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #4

Horror, LDS Style

The perspiration dripped down the back of her neck. Her heart beat wildly, thundering in her ears and pounding in her head. Her husband sat in a chair next to her, motionless. He said nothing. Had the shock rendered him speechless? Her own distress paralyzed her. Fear wrapped itself so tightly around her, she struggled for breath. How could this happen? It was the worst of her nightmares. She wondered if she could rush to the door fast enough and evaporate into the night. Again, the man across from her said, “Sister Jones, would you accept the call to serve as Relief Society President?”


Can We Submit More Than Once

I have three different opening paragraphs for your contest. Can I submit all of them?

Sure. Knock yourself out.

Send each one in a separate e-mail.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #3

Constance sat straight up in bed, eyes wide open. Light from the full moon seeped through the window and cast shadows around her attic bedroom. She gazed about and then stood. Slowly, she walked to the window. It was still latched. Yet, she¢d felt . . . no, it was a dream . . . her imagination, nothing more. Again, an icy gush of air rushed passed her, almost through her. Her heart beat quickened. Her imagination? She caught a glimpse of something in the antique, full-length mirror. She hurried to it, only to see . . . screaming was the last thing she remembered.

Scare-Your-Pants-Off #2

She had lived in the old wooden house two months. The sounds the wood made had been charming and even funny but after time she had begun to notice that the creaks weren't under foot so much as roughly a yard behind her. When she walked through the intricate double doors into the dining room she heard the wood under her as it spoke in its language about weight and pressure and manner and permission to pass through. Along behind her came the slighter sound of another weight, another pressure, an altogether different manner. That this other had as much authority as she to walk these floors and halls was as disconcerting as the mere admission that another entity might be there at all. Once when she was going upstairs she started slightly at the sound of a tread on the stair just three steps below her. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the merest flicker of a shadow of movement like branches in a breeze where there is no wind. Clutching her warm laundry to her chest, she fled the rest of the way to her room.

How Do I Protect My Ideas?

I have a question about personal copyrights. Sometimes I think about sharing a portion of my story (4-6 pages), but I worry that someone may take my idea and make it their own. I know that it would be a different story, because of how they would interpret it. But my question is how can you share your story with others (writing groups, online, etc) and make sure that you're protected? I don't imagine it happens often, but what do you do if it does?

Your copyright protection begins when you put the first word on the page. Copyright protects the uniqueness of your story--your unique and specific words in their unique, specific order; the unique, specific combination of traits for your main character, if he/she is very unique; possibly your world, if it's unique enough. It doesn't protect your idea or your basic outline or names/titles.

The best protection you have is to get your work published. Once it's out there, and especially if it's popular, editors will reject stories that are too similar to it. The more unique your story is, the more protection it will have. No one is going to accept a book about a vampire who lives in Forks, WA and whose skin sparkles in the sunlight unless it's written by Stephenie Meyer. That is unique.

The human/vampire romance, however, is not unique. You can't protect something like that. How many stories are there now about magical orphaned boys? About werewolves and mermaids? About people who see dead people? You cannot protect an idea; only your unique spin on that idea. If someone takes your basic idea and puts a new spin on it, they haven't stolen your work any more than Meyer stole from Tanya Huff or Robin McKinley or Annette Curtis Klause. Chances are there's probably already something out there that is similar to what you're working on. Perhaps you've even read it. But you've taken that idea and created something new. We can't stop that from happening, nor would we want to or we'd end up with only 25 books to read in the entire history of the world.

Now, as for protecting the unique ideas in an unpublished work, everything is a trade-off. Sharing your work in a writers group can give you wonderful feedback and improve your writing. There's always that possibility that someone, intentionally or otherwise, might pick up some of your uniqueness and run with it. You have to weigh the risks vs the rewards and decide what you're comfortable with.

This is my personal comfort zone: I share in face-to-face regular writing groups and classrooms, and in online writers groups and forums that require a password to enter. In these situations, I know the others involved can vouch for me if one of them "steals" my story. I do not share in a public forum, like a blog or a website, anything I intend to publish.

What about you, readers? Do you have this same concern? Where do you draw the line between risk vs reward?


Swear Word? What Swear Word?

The comments on the first Halloween contest submission bring up some good points. You're right, I said no swearing in the rules. That word slipped past me because that allusion to Shakespeare is so common that it doesn't seem to be actual swearing to me. I suppose we could either consider that a commentary on how I have become so inured to evil that I don't even notice it anymore... or it could be that because it's in the Bible I don't put it in the same category as some of the other, more offensive, words.

In this case, by loosely quoting that phrase from Macbeth, the writer is evoking all of the ghostly tone and emotional guilt from the original work, using it to foreshadow what is coming next. (At least, I assume something is coming next that will brilliantly reflect the implications of that quote.) It works. "Out, darn spot" wouldn't cut it. Another use would be to reference Rhett Butler's classic quote. That one probably would have floated past my notice as well.

"Hell" can be a swear word too or it can be a literal place--a place that someone might want to reference in the opening paragraph to a horror story. It could also be used as an adjective (that hellish blog is giving me fits), in which case, I would not call it swearing.

After thinking about this for hours and hours, I've decided to let the submission stand as is and to revise the rules as follows:

If you use one of the two words I've mentioned above, as described above, then I'll let you slide. Other words, or these words used merely as expletives, will cause your submission to be sent back for rewriting.

As always, if you find a submission personally offensive, don't vote for it.


Scare-Your-Pants-Off #1

Erin soaked the stain five days: brownish red, spilled over the right leg of her jeans. Each day she pulled them out of the bucket, inspected, scrubbed. Brown particles floated away from the fabric, but the stain remained bright. She went online and looked for stain remedies: Blood: soak in cold water. Use hydrogen peroxide for stubborn stains. She pulled out the hydrogen peroxide and dabbed some on. White foam fizzled, bubbling until it spread over her hands and wrists. “Out, damn spot,” she muttered to herself, scraping off foam to see if the peroxide had faded the stain. But the foam grew back, creeping up her arms, edging towards her neck.


Scare-Your-Pants-Off Opening Paragraph Contest

I was recently reminded that I haven't done a contest in awhile. So in honor of Halloween, let's hear it for the Scare-Your-Pants-Off Opening Paragraph contest.

Submission Rules:
Write an opening paragraph (or two, but no more than two) for a horror story.

Maximum word count: None; but no slopping together multiple paragraphs and pretending it's just one.

No swearing or graphic gore. Set the mood with your WORDS, not with hack tricks.

Published paragraphs ineligible, as are entries for last year's contest. Other than that, you're free to recycle something you wrote previously.

Paste entire paragraph(s) into an e-mail and send to me. No attachments, please.

You may submit more than once. Send each submission in a separate e-mail.

SUBMIT it any time between now and Monday, October 29th.

I will post all paragraphs as they come in.

Voting Rules:

VOTE between October 30th and October 31st.

We'll have a Popular Vote winner and a Publisher's Choice winner. My winner will be the one who creeped me out the most. You guys can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don't make it a popularity contest.

Don't vote for yourself.

UPDATE: You may vote up to three times, but only once per paragraph. We're on the honor system here.

You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I'm voting for this one...)

Winner will be announced after Halloween.

PRIZE: A classic horror book of your choice (must be available in paperback and easy to find) AND full story (if there is one) posted here with a link back to your blog or website.

Establishing a Web Presence

When do you think it's important to establish a web presence?

Before you ever have hope of being published(1), after acceptance of your manuscript(2), or when the book comes out(3)?
(1) If you want to, yes. Keep it professional so that when editors/publishers google you, it will make you look good. Professional does not mean it has to be business-like. A well-written slice of life blog is sufficient. This personalizes you to readers. Regular blog visitors are likely to buy your book when it comes out.

(2) Yes. For sure, get started on something now. Your publisher may have tips or suggestions for you.

(3) This is too late. You want it up and going no later than the day your book hits the shelves.

Do you think a blog is sufficient for a web presence?

Before you're published, yes. After you're published, you need a professional website: www.yourname.com. Doesn't have to be fancy but it must be attractive.

See also info on blogs, and here.


What the Market Needs by Josi Kilpack

Writer's are always trying to figure out what a market needs, what they should write to insure they get a publishing contract? They watch trends, talk to publisher representatives, and in the LDS market, they pray a lot. All in pursuit to the Great Mormon or American Novel, all in pursuit of giving the market what it needs. So what do YOU think the market needs?

Real issue conflicts?
Picture Books?

I know the answer :-)


What the market is absolutely and completely hungry right now--today--is . . . all of the above, or, well, maybe none of the above.

All of them if the publisher can a) sell it and b) It's well written. None of them if a) You're the only one that thinks people will buy it and b) It's poorly written.

It seems obvious, doesn't it? Of course a publisher needs to sell the book to make it worth their time and money investment and obviously, it needs to be well written if it's going to sell. So, seeing as how obvious it is, here are a few things I've heard from writers in the last six months:

"I knew it still needed work but I had spent so much time on it I just had to finally send it in, ya know, like when you get to the point in a relationship where you either get married or break up." "I know I should have revised it, but I was sick of it and had another idea that was begging for me to get started, so I just sent it in. That's what they have editors for, right?" "I just need one of the editors at (publishing house) to take me under their wing, show me what I need to work on. If they would just give me a little time I could figure out what my weaknesses are." "I find that letting other people read my work before I submit shows a lack of confidence in my own ability. The most important person to believe in me, is me."
I know I'm beyond objectivity for comments like this, since my life has become completely entangled with submission guidelines, knowing the market, and presenting about the overall world of writing and submitting, but honestly I hear this and I say "Really?"

Would you go to a bank for a mortgage if you were unemployed and had no credit?

Would you show up for your first day on the job with a suitcase full of clothing and ask your new boss to help you pick out the outfit?

And would you ever marry the guy that says "Hey baby, I either need to dump you or finally give in and make you my wife?"

It seems obvious in those cases, doesn't it? And yet dozens of writer's feel they are the exception, that their story is good enough that their grammar-defect won't be an issue. They continue to see editors as employees rather than employers. They continue to think that they are the exception to the rules repeated to them over and over and over again.

Getting published is a three point plan:
  1. Write your best work--this means making sure other people agree that it's your best work. Hire an editor, trade with other writers, take a writing class. Don't THINK it's good enough, learn enough and get enough feedback to KNOW it's good enough. Keep learning, don't ever rest upon your laurels and assume you know enough.
  2. Submit the right way--you're expecting an agent/publisher to respect you and your work enough to produce it. Respect them enough to submit the way that works best for you. If you've written your best work, don't screw it up by going slacker-face on the submission guidelines. With the internet and ease of getting the right info, don't flush it.
  3. Don't give up--You'll have lots of reasons to give up. Even as you begin achieving success, you'll wonder if you should stop. You'll get rejected, you'll get bad reviews, you'll get frustrated, and discouraged, and get tired of seeing other people's success. But if you give up, you're guaranteed that you'll never get published. If you write your best work and if you submit the right way and to the right houses, you will eventually find publication. If might not be your first book--my first book is still on my hard drive as are many other writer's first attempts. Keep writing your best work, submitting the right way, and not giving up.

And remember, the longer the process takes, the better success story you get to tell later.

Find Josi at http://www.josiskilpack.com and http://www.josikilpack.blogspot.com


LDS Literary Fiction

I do a lot of reading in the LDS market and have found that nearly all of the books being published are more formula fiction, whereas the books being published nationally are more literary. Do you think that there's a place in the LDS market for literary books, and, why aren't we seeing them on the LDS market? Beulah

LDS literary novels don't come across my desk very often. I've seen a few attempts, but nothing of publishable quality. I'm sure the big publishers see more than I do, but they, too, must feel they're not up to par because they aren't publishing many.

There are a few that come close--I liked The Kaleidoscope Season by Sharon Downing Jarvis. There might be others, but nothing that really zooms into my mind as an outstanding LDS literary book. (But then, I'm tired right now and my brain is a little foggy. Perhaps I'm overlooking the obvious. Readers, help me out. Post titles in the comments section of books you think might qualify as LDS literary fiction-and why.)

A few years ago I saw a handful of published books that billed themselves as LDS literary fiction, but in my opinion, they weren't very good and they didn't sell well.

Is there a place for LDS literary fiction? I hope so but often "literary" is synonymous with "realistic" and there are lots of LDS readers who don't like the realism, who are uncomfortable with the soul-searching and life-questioning themes of the literary novel.

Why aren't we seeing them? In addition to the lack of good manuscripts, again, money is the bottom line. We know genre fiction sells; literary fiction is a risk. But I'd like to think that if I got a really good mss, it would be a risk I could convince the bean counters around here to take.


A Few Submission Guideline Links

I keep hearing about checking the publishers' websites for submission guidelines. I'm not that computer savvy. I went to a couple of sites and I can't find it. Help!
I'm in a good mood, so here you go. If your publishing company is not on this list and you want it added, put your info in the comments section.
Cedar Fort
Deseret Book
Millenial Press
Spring Creek
Wind River
Zarahemla Books


What All Stories Are About by David G. Woolley

There was a time in my college days I didn't believe the script writing professor. He said all stories were ultimately about birth and death. The man was an ad director who retired from his Manhattan agency for a career in teaching script writing. Not that you can't trust ad people and their creative attempts to convince me I need a hand sewn magnetic head warmer to promote brain wave function, but they're the ones who hype high fructose corn syrup to reduce the risk of type four diabetes--the type of diabetes the coroner diagnoses. Can you really trust a professor who makes a comment using the word all?

I don't remember everything I learned in my college statistics courses, but when a lecturer said it was statistically possible to know if a question was true or false based on how it was phrased, I perked right up. You mean there is a real-world application for standard deviations? I admit my perkiness was more about not having to study the course material too deeply and still have a statistically significant chance of acing the test. It was the greatest find since Columbus used a time machine to transport the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock. History is my best subject. My statistics professor was also the same scholar who advised a local frozen food packing company that the best way to insure lower rates of employee turnover was to hire applicants who scored below thirty percent on the company's entrance exam. Apparently exam scores predict a reverse correlation between the repetitive work of stuffing pasta into plastic freezer bowls and job satisfaction. Based on those findings I was willing to suspend my disbelief and I took copious notes to preserve forever the knowledge of how to divine which test bubble, A or B, to darken with a #2 pencil.

Turns out it was a pretty simple matter of semantics. If the question uses the words all or always, you can be 95% certain that the answer is false. When my script writing professor insisted that all stories are ultimately about birth or death, I was statistically skeptical. It wasn't until after he explained the nuances of his claim that I learned he fell into that narrow 5% category of being always semantically false while at the same time remaining true to the art of storytelling.

I said, "Where is the story of birth or death in the Sound of Music?"

He pointed out that when characters change they essentially let their old way of thinking or behaving die in exchange for a birth into a new way of behaving. What he called a new life. Maria, the Captain, all the Von Trapp children, the blond-headed telegram delivery boy of going-on-seventeen-fame turned Nazi. Even Max the freeloader who loved rich people ephiphanized new wine and stored it in a new bottle. There's something to that Jewish parable. It was Max who said he loved the way he lived when he was with rich people, but finally exchanged his greed and let his new-found Von Trapp Family Singers escape over the Swiss Alps.

Okay. Maybe my script-writing professor was right. There are metaphorical births and deaths in that rerun-of-a-drama, but that was an old story lost among millions of newer stories.

I said, "What about Ground Hog Day?"

I was willing to concede the stories of romance, drama even documentary. But comedy? I figured I had him until he pointed out that the main character in Ground Hog Day, when he discovered he was living in a repetitive day that re-cycled every twenty four hours, searched for happiness in the base pleasures of the world. When that didn't make him happy, he gave away his former life, essentially letting it die. It wasn't until he was reborn into a new life did the repetitive daily routine break and the story end with a satisfying conclusion.

Darn. I was forced to concede comedy too.

This is the point where I should limit my analysis to storytelling and declare that birth and death act as metaphors for character change. But its deeper than that. Character change just may be a metaphorical death and birth equivalent for salvation. The spiritual connections are obvious. Faith. Repentance (and its corollary forgiveness). Baptism. Atonement. Maybe what my script-writing professor was teaching me without actually mentioning it was that all things are spiritual. Even all our stories.


David G. Woolley is the author of the Promised Land series published by Covenant.


A Tale of Two Writers by Allyson Braithwaite Condie

Five years ago, in 2002, my dad and I both started writing our first books. I started writing mine almost as a knee-jerk reaction to his. He would send me portions to read and critique. I enjoyed it and I thought, “Hey, if my dad can write, maybe I should give this a try, too.” We both had a little more time on our hands than we had before or have had since—he was retiring, and I had just finished teaching high school and was awaiting the birth of my first child.

So, we were both writing…We called each other to talk about our books. We drove our family members crazy talking about our books. We inflicted multiple drafts of our books on each other.

My father and I share the same genes, and we are a lot alike. …We both want people to like us. We both hate rejection.

We are also very different. His first book is a non-fiction account of traveling through America with my younger sister; my first book is an LDS young adult novel. He is agnostic; I am a devout Mormon.

But, as we walked down the path of writing and marketing a book together, we had many shared experiences, and our similarities came into play much more than our differences. We joked about who had the most rejection letters. When a new one came in, we’d forward them to each other or read them to each other on the phone. At one point, the same agent was considering both of our manuscripts. (He ended up rejecting both of us-- another shared experience.)

And then, about two years ago, our path diverged.

My first book (Yearbook) was accepted for publication by Deseret Book and was published last September. My second book was published in June. My father’s book is still not published, although all the bigwigs (Penguin, etc.) have had him under consideration at one time or another. So, he waits and sends out more queries, and hopes. …

At one point early on in our journey, he sent me copies of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing, both memoirs about the authors’ writing. In Lamott’s book, she mentions the movie Cool Runnings, in which the coach of the team says, “If you’re not enough without a gold medal, you’ll never be enough with one.”

My father is a capable man, he excels in his career, and he is an exceptional father and husband. I think he knows that he is enough.

But just in case he has those moments, as I do sometimes, where you wonder if you are enough, I want to remind him (and perhaps myself) of a few things:

The publishing industry is subjective. We all know that money must be made, that people’s opinions may differ, that the gold medal of publication doesn’t always go to the one who should get it.

And, as any published author can tell you, even getting published—being lucky enough to grab that gold medal—doesn’t mean you feel like enough. You are still scared when you have a book signing, and worry that no one will show up. (And sometimes, no one does.) You worry that people will make fun of your book or have something negative to say about it. (And sometimes, they do.)

But ultimately, our worth is not measured in sales numbers or books in print. It is measured in whether we were good to those we loved, and whether we were loved. And, on all those accounts, my father is more than enough.

Allyson Condie's books, Yearbook and First Day are available at Deseret Book and other LDS bookstores.


Editors Are People Too by Ronda Hinrichsen

Several years ago, I wrote a profile piece for a national children's magazine. To make a long story short, the photographer they'd hired fell through, and the magazine's art director called and asked if I could take the required picture instead. I agreed, but since I am not a photographer, I asked if he would tell me exactly what he wanted while I recorded it on my answering machine--just so I wouldn't make any mistakes.

To my surprise, he cleared his throat and haltingly said, "Uh, I, uh, I have a cold."

From that experience, I learned editors REALLY are people. Like me, they have difficult, yet hopefully fun, jobs to do; and yet they also have insecurities. The only problem is they hold the fruit of my dreams in their hands. But still, knowing they're people helps me navigate the publishing maze with a little less trepidation.

In many ways, it's like working with a well-meaning but not all-knowing building contractor. Most of the time he's c orrect and knows exactly what he's doing, but not always. Sometimes a laundry drain doesn't work right or a wall isn't perfectly square. And sometimes an editor rejects us. But, hey, he's (or she's) only human. They make mistakes, too.

I just hope I can always tell the difference between a mistake and an opportunity to correct--or rebuild, as the case may be.

You can read more of Ronda's writings over on TheWriteBlocks.


LDS Fiction by Tristi Pinkston

I thought I'd be able to post today and tomorrow, but the best laid plans...Thankfully, I've already received a few guest blogs. But please send more. I'd like a variety of voices to pick from. I know there are lots of good ones out there because I read them regularly! (You should know who you are...)

I’m about to get myself into a whole lot of trouble with what I’m about to say, but I’m prepared to roll with the punches.

The LDS market has had its ups and downs. Some fabulous books have been published, and some not-so-fabulous books have been published.

I’ve spoken with many a reader who has told me they are disenchanted with the LDS market. “I tried such-and-such book,” they tell me. “It was so poorly done, I couldn’t read it.”

That, my dear bloggy friends, is a problem.

The LDS market is very small still. We need to be holding ourselves to a higher standard so that when people hear the words “LDS fiction,” they aren’t immediately fighting a gag reflex.

The main issues readers seem to have fall into these categories:

1. Predictable plots – girl meets guy, one or the other of them isn’t a member, so they join, and they live happily ever after.

2. Bad editing.

3. Lots of preaching.

4. Cheesy dialogue.

5. Too froo-froo – the books don’t address real-life issues.

6. Problems are solved too coincidentally.

Today’s readers want meat. They want to sink their teeth into a story, not nibble around the edges of the frosting. This is not to say that they don’t want entertainment – they do. But they want intelligent entertainment.

As I see the potential the LDS market has, I get all excited to think about the amazing books we can turn out in the future. We have already done a lot to increase the quality of what’s available. I mentioned in today’s earlier blog that LDS authors are researching more thoroughly, editing more meticulously, and stretching themselves farther than ever before. That’s what we’re going to have to do in order to stay competitive with the national market.

Now, to you readers – there are scads of good LDS books out there. We now have authors that compare with nearly every nationally bestselling author there is. If you’ve read an LDS novel and been totally disenchanted with the market because of it, please, give it another go. The bar is being raised. New authors are coming on to the scene all the time and the established ones are honing their talents like never before.

It’s important that we support the LDS market as much as we can. The publishers need to see that there’s an interest in quality fiction – they are already putting most of their money into nonfiction because that’s what’s selling. Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about nonfiction. But if we want to keep seeing LDS fiction published, thereby making a way for talented authors to continue to make it to the shelves, we’ve got to get out there and show the bookstores what we think. Buy LDS fiction. Talk to your friends about it. If you find an author you really like, pass the word along. We can build this up to where the funds are present and the motivation is flowing. LDS fiction is still relatively new, and every new endeavor needs time to grow and develop. I think it’s starting to come into its own, and I’m excited to see it happen and to be a part of it.

Tristi Pinkston
LDS Historical Fiction Author
Media Reviewer


Another Call for Guest Blogs

I have an event this weekend and need four guest blogs--Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.

Do you recall all the times I've blogged about how important marketing yourself is? This is your opportunity to amaze your fellow writers, to practice marketing and to have your work seen by millions (well, okay. Subtract a couple of zeroes.)

Blog about anything connected to writing and/or publishing. You're welcome to "recycle" a post from your own blog, if you like. You may shamelessly plug your own book/blog at the end of your post.

I'll pick the four I like best for this week, but eventually I will post all that are well-written, informative, and/or entertaining.

LDS YA for Boys

In one of your blogs [this one], you stated that your company isn't marketing YA fiction for boys. A company I submitted to told me the same thing. Does this mean I should just forget the LDS market for my "next Harry Potter novel"? (the Harry Potter comment is a joke, but the question is serious) Thanks!

It's not that no one is writing/publishing YA for LDS boys, it's that smaller publishers need to invest in books that they know will give them a return on their money. The chances are better with adult fiction than for YA. So you need to match your manuscript with a publisher that is big enough to take the risk (there are a few), or a smaller company with an owner who is personally committed to expanding that market and willing to swing by their toenails. (I personally don't know of any, but if a reader does, speak up.)

Also, we don't usually market directly to the young man because he doesn't usually go to the LDS bookstore to buy his fiction, his mother or grandmother does. But that is starting to change just a tad--with Leven Thumps, Fablehaven, and others...

So short answer, write your book for the audience you think it fits best. By the time you're ready to shop it to publishers, the market might be ready for it.