Clarity for Fun and Profit by Michaelbrent Collings

Be clear.

This is something that is both very easy sounding and extremely difficult. It is especially difficult in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, as well as other genre writing like horror or supernatural works. People read fiction to be transported to another place, to give them some experience that they would not otherwise have. The reader of a work of fiction must always and automatically “suspend disbelief” whenever reading: he must put away what he knows to be “true” in order to immerse himself in the “reality” of the story. This is why details can sink or save a book: too many things that don’t ring true, and the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief is undermined. The reader stops being an active participant in the book’s adventures, and turns instead into a critic, a scientist, an observer looking for what is wrong rather than enjoying what may be right.

And the idea of “suspension of disbelief” is nowhere more crucial than when writing fantasy, science fiction, or genre works. In addition to the first layer of suspension (the fact that the reader is not really participating in the fictional adventures of the book’s protagonists and antagonists), there is another layer of disbelief that must be dealt with: the question of magic. Of alien technologies. Of ghosts and specters. These “make believe” aspects of genre writing present a special problem, as they inherently inhibit the reader’s ability to put aside the “real” in favor of the “read.”

The best way to deal with this problem is a facet of the critical characteristic of clarity. The best genre work always takes place in fully realized “worlds” with clear, easily-understood (or at least fairly easily-understood) “rules.” The presence of such rules can mean a fantasy windfall. Their absence can mean disaster.

One example of this is the blockbuster hit The Sixth Sense, one of the top-grossing suspense/supernatural thriller movies of all time. The rules are set up very early on in the movie: the movie’s young protagonist can see ghosts. The ghosts do not know they are dead. He can help them “move on” by finding out what unfinished business it is that they are remaining to deal with. These simple rules set the scene for both an engaging ghost story and one of the greatest surprise endings in modern cinematic history. And the surprise is complete and utterly earned because it follows the rules. 

Another example of literary rule-making is in The Lord of the Rings saga. There, Tolkien draws upon a much wider palette in order to paint an epic portrait of an entire world at war. Unlike The Sixth Sense, which is an intimate, almost claustrophobic movie, The Lord of the Rings follows dozens of characters throughout the various landscapes of Middle Earth. The magic use is prolific and varied. But still, there are rules, and they are scrupulously adhered to. Elves have a natural inclination toward and protective sense over all things of nature. Dwarves prefer to be underground. Gandalf the Gray is quite a different person than Gandalf the White. Each has set characteristics, set attributes, and these are as unchanging as the DNA of any real human being.

A final example (if I may) can be found in my own work. One of my books is called Billy: Messenger of Powers. It's a young adult fantasy about a boy who finds himself embroiled in a magical war between two groups: the Dawnwalkers, who want to protect and serve humanity; and the Darksiders, whose goal is nothing less than world domination. As with The Sixth Sense and The Lord of the Rings, clarity is key. Billy (the hero) is drawn into a world of magic and wonder. But the wizards and witches he meets can't just run around "doing spells" willy-nilly: there are rules, and those rules must be laid out with enough clarity that the reader not only understands the world of the story, but believes in it.

Simply put, clarity is key in all fiction, but critical in sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre work.. A muddled magic system, an alien technology that is capable of some things one moment then incapable the next, these can be the genesis of confusion in the reader…and signal the death knell for an otherwise viable series.

Michaelbrent Collings is a bestselling novelist whose books RUN and Billy: Messenger of Powers have been amazon.com bestsellers. He is also a produced screenwriter and member of both the Writers Guild of America and the Horror Writers of America. His blog is at http://michaelbrentcollings.com/blog2.html, and you can follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michaelbrent-Collings/283851837365 or on twitter @mbcollings.


Nine Month Manuscript Approval Process???

I stumbled onto your blog tonight while searching for LDS publishers, and I think you might be able to answer my questions (or just put my mind at ease, at least).

Here's my situation:
I submitted a manuscript to [ABC Publishing] last winter, and in May the editor told me they loved my book and went through the approval process, but couldn't make it work financially for them. She said their overhead was too high to produce it. The editor passed my submission along to another editor at a smaller publishing company because she felt it would be a good fit for them. I called the new editor about 6 weeks later to find out what the status of my book was. She said she loved it, but the approval process could take another 8 weeks, give or take. I waited patiently for 6 months and called again. She said she was about to go into a meeting and would track it down and call me the next day. She never called. I left her a voicemail last week, which was never returned.

My questions: Should I keep bugging her? And, is it typical for editors to not give a response if they don't want to publish something? Nine months seems like a very long time for an approval process. But I don't really know... this is my first submission and I don't know what is typical. I'd love to hear any insight you might have on this!

If a publisher/editor doesn't like something, they usually respond fairly quickly—unless they're just so bogged down with submissions and other work that they haven't even had a chance to look at it yet. But my guess, based on your feedback from the previous editor, is that this editor wants it but is trying to figure out how to budget it.

My guess is they're struggling. Publishing is in flux right now and many smaller houses are hanging on by their toenails. The fact that she didn't call back and hasn't returned your message is not a good sign.

Should you keep bugging her? YES! While this is typical behavior for some editors (particularly in small and understaffed publishing houses), it's unprofessional and makes me really angry. (Although, I sometimes do it too.)

Here are my general suggested guidelines: If they tell you the approval process could take 8 weeks,  give them the full 8 weeks. Call them on week 9 for an update.
If your book is still in the evaluation process, ask them when you can expect a decision. If you're okay with the length of time they give you, then be patient again. Don't bug them during that time frame. If you don't hear from them again, call and repeat the process.

Or withdraw your submission. If 8 weeks is their usual response time, then nine months is unreasonable.  Personally, I'd call and say I was looking at other publishers and if I haven't heard from them in two weeks, I'll assume they're no longer interested. Then I'd start checking out other publishers.


Upcoming Events

Starting a new feature to replace the old Events & Contests blog. The last Friday of the month, I'll post calls for submissions and writing conferences. No more give-away feature or book signings.

If you know of a writing conference in your area or an open call for submissions that would would be of interest to LDS writers, please email the information and link(s) to me as soon as possible so they can be included in this monthly post.

Call for Sumissions

Marrying a Widower: Deadline February 15, 2012
Real life stories on life with a widower. Submissions should be 250-750 words. 
More info at: www.abelkeogh.com

Writing For Charity: Deadline February 19, 2012
Short stories based on or inspired by the fairy tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. 7500 words or less. More info at: www.ericjamesstone.com

Writing Conferences

Life, the Universe & Everything (LTUE), February 9-11, 2012
Utah Valley University, Orem, UT.  
More info at: www.ltue.org

ANWA Conference, February 23-25, 2012
Mesa Hilton Hotel, Mesa, AZ
More info at: http://anwawritersconference.com/

Teen Author Book Camp,  March 10, 2012
Utah Valley University, Orem, UT. Teens only. 
More info at: http://teenauthorbootcamp.com/

LDStorymakers, May 4-5, 2012
Provo Marriott Hotel, Provo, UT.
More info at: http://ldstorymakers.com


Creating a Character’s Backstory Part 2 by Rebecca Talley

Understanding a character’s backstory will have a dramatic impact on your novel. If you don’t understand, or take the time to investigate, your character’s backstory, your story will suffer and your characters will feel more like cardboard stereotypes than living, breathing people.

What are some ways to create the backstory?

Narrative. You can write out the major events in the character’s life in the form of a narrative. You can add different details, bits of conversation, and a description of the events that have shaped your character. Keep your narrative to 1-3 pages—more for the major characters and less for the minor ones.

Interview. You can conduct an interview with your character. Ask whatever question pops into your mind and then write down the answer. Use each answer as a springboard for the next question. You may be surprised at some of your character’s answers.

List. You can list the events chronologically with a short description of how each event affected your character. Lists are easy to scan for the details you need to form your character’s backstory.

Web. You can write your character’s name in the middle of the paper and then write events around the name. You can then connect feelings, descriptions, and/or reactions to those events so that you eventually end up with a document that resembles a spider web.

Visual. Cut out magazine photos to represent events and then write a description of how this affected your character. Use active words to describe your character’s reactions.

The purpose of creating a backstory is to help you understand what motivates your character. You want your character to react realistically to your plot events and you want readers to believe that your character acts realistically within the story.

If your character is presented with the news that her father has died how will she react? Will she breakdown into tears? Shrug? Be happy? Sink into depression? Feel guilty? It all depends on the backstory you’ve created for her. While you won’t include all the details of the character’s backstory, you will need to pepper your story with some of the details so the reader believes the reactions to the events in the plot.

It’s all about the suspension of disbelief. The more you understand your character and portray her realistically on the page, the more your readers will immerse themselves in your story.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children's picture book "Grasshopper Pie" (WindRiver 2003), three novels, "Heaven Scent" (CFI 2008), "Altared Plans" (CFI 2009), and "The Upside of Down" (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at www.rebeccatalleywrites.blogspot.com.


Creating a Character’s Backstory Part 1 by Rebecca Talley

A character’s backstory is important to your story. You won’t use all that you create as the character’s backstory, but knowing it will help you create deeper, more interesting characters.

You can fill out a questionnaire about your character and list answers to the questions. However, this is a simplified approach and will probably not result in a complex understanding of your character.

Dig deeper to understand why your character would react a certain way in a specific situation. How would your character react to being locked in a closet? Would he freak out? Would he sit back and catch up on some sleep? Would he try to figure out how to get out and keep working at it until he escaped? Would he scream until someone came to let him out?

Each of the above situations would depend on the character’s backstory. Perhaps, as a young child he nearly suffocated under a pile of blankets and since then he’s been afraid of small enclosures. He fears that a small enclosure will mean certain death so he freaks out whenever he’s in a small place.

Maybe he’s so calm and relaxed that he’d sit back and sleep in locked closet. Maybe he faced a previous situation and decided then and there to never worry or stress out in any situation. He feels sure things will always work out for the best.

Maybe your character is extremely curious and always took things apart as a kid to figure out how they worked. Maybe he’s certain he can get out of any situation just by using his brain–he’s learned to depend on his smarts to get him out of all situations.

Or, maybe he’s a big crybaby because he was always picked on as a kid and now he thinks he’s a victim in all circumstances. He feels like his only defense is to depend on someone else to help him. He doesn’t look to himself to solve his problems, but rather looks to everyone else.

Knowing the backstory of your character will help you to understand how and why he’ll react to the situations you create in your plot. Characters must have realistic motivations and the best way to achieve that is to know and understand their backstories.

What are some ways to create a backstory? Read Part 2 tomorrow.

Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children's picture book "Grasshopper Pie" (WindRiver 2003), three novels, "Heaven Scent" (CFI 2008), "Altared Plans" (CFI 2009), and "The Upside of Down" (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. You can visit her blog at www.rebeccatalleywrites.blogspot.com.


Nominate Covers for the 2011 Book Cover Contest

Work at my day job has finally (maybe, kinda, sorta) slowed down. (Knock on wood.)

So I'm back to regular posting, starting today. And it's a good thing too because I just realized I'm behind schedule for our Third Annual Book Cover Contest. (See First Annual Book Cover Contest HERE and Second Annual Book Cover Contest HERE.)

Previously, I have chosen the finalists and let you vote on them. And that's what we'll be doing again this year, with one small exception. This year, YOU can have some input in the initial stage. But you have to act fast.

You have until midnight on Thursday, January 26, 2012, to nominate a book cover for me to consider. Here are the conditions for nomination:
  • Must be a fiction book by an LDS author.
  • Must be published in 2011—republications with new covers will be considered.
  • Nominate your favorite COVER, not your favorite book or author. This contest has nothing to do with what's inside those covers.
  • I'd love for you to spread the word about these nominations but please, please, please, stress that you nominate based on your true love of the cover and not your love of the author or story.
  • Send nominees to me via email with Book Cover in the subject line.
Want to nominate but not sure what's out there? Check out LDS Fiction. All titles tagged 2011 Releases qualify.

We will start the genre voting on Monday, January 30, 2012.

UPDATE: Yes, you may nominate a book you wrote or designed—as long as you truly, truly feel that it's amazing.


A Little More on Giveaways

This post doesn't deal with the legality of giveaways but rather the logistics. Tracking entrants can me a real pain—especially if you want them to do more than comment on a post.

For this site, I decided to try out a simple form system. I tested quite a few of the free ones and decided to go with Wufoo. It was easy to use and had a clean look, although it's bigger than I'd like. But hey, FREE.

Here's a site that lists several other free form makers.

If you want something more than a simple form, try Rafflecopter. I've used them on several sites in my real-life job.

Up until now, you had to ask to use them and wait for acceptance, but they've just done their official launch and anyone can use them now.

They're also doing their own giveaway where you can win an iPad2 or a Kindle Fire. Here's the link to that info. 

And while you're there entering to win, browse their entire blog. They have lots of good ideas for holding giveaways. (Remember, I don't know for sure that all their ideas are legal, as I am not an attorney, but some of the info is very, very good.)

Have you used something to track your giveaways that you can recommend? Let us know in the comments.


New Look on the Author Site

Okay, I'm never going to promise to do posts again. Every time I do, something happens that keeps me from following through—like wrapping up the previous year and figuring out why the newest releases aren't showing up on Amazon yet...

I will post more info on doing legal blog giveaways soon. I was going to work on it this weekend but my brain was running a few slices short of a full loaf, so I did something easy instead.

Go check out the LDS Author Network site. Looks pretty awesome, huh?

I'm working on it a little at a time. I added about 20 authors over the weekend and I hope to get all LDS authors posted there eventually.  I've moved the service providers over to another site & will get that looking pretty someday soon.

Or maybe late.

But eventually.

I promise.

Also, I'm discontinuing the Author Events site. It's just too hard to keep up with everything. I will include calls for submissions and major conferences here, but no more giveaway announcements or book signings.

And now I've got to get to work because apparently everyone's New Year's Resolution was to submit a novel in January.


GIving Your Books Away — Legally

Got this email back before Christmas:

I don't know if you've heard this or even if it's legit, but someone posted [in a forum] that the FTC/FCC is cracking down on book giveaways where the winner is chosen by random because it is essentially a sweepstakes and is governed by very specific rules. Rumor has it there are fines. I don't want you to get in trouble just in case this is true. I don't know if it is and there are still plenty of giveaways going on. I just wanted to let you know.

From what I've read it seems like we can't do giveaways and contests, but I'm not that savvy with this kind of stuff. My husband doesn't think they can prevent contests but, again, I keep getting conflicting information so I look forward to reading your take on it. Thanks!

I did some research—for myself because I do a monthly book giveaway here—and also for you because I know a lot of you give away books on your blogs and/or participate in blog hops. I don't want anyone to get in trouble.

I also don't want anyone to PANIC because, well, there's just no need to do so.

YES, you can give away books on your blog.

YES, you can select winners at random.

BUT...there are definitely some regulations on what you say, where you say it, how you say it, who can enter, blah, blah, blah.

Based on my research, I made a few changes to my monthly giveaway, the most noticeable is that now you have to enter to win using the form in the sidebar. Previously, you could enter just by leaving a comment—on any post. While this is still a good idea for blog hops and short-term contests where someone comments on A SPECIFIC POST, it doesn't work so well here.

To the best of my understanding, these changes make my giveaways compliant with FTC/FCC regulations. Over the next few days, I'm going to post more detail about what I learned and how it applies specifically to blogging authors who want to do giveaways—as I understand it.

But just remember, I am not an attorney. I might be wrong.

In the meantime, here are some articles that I found. Some of the info is repetitive, but each of them adds some extra insights and thoughts on the subject.


January 2012 Prize Sponsors

Last month's prize winners announced HERE.

There are new guidelines and entry requirements for winning one of these books. Please take a look at the updated Official Rules.

A big thank you to our Prize Sponsors! Please take a moment to learn more about this month's wonderfully generous sponsors.

Cloak by James Gough

Thirteen-year-old bubble boy Will Tuttle lives a boring, friendless life trapped in a sterile Brooklyn apartment, suffering from mysterious allergies no doctor can explain. Fed up with his pointless existence he breaks free of the sterile bubble to explore New York City, not expecting to return alive. Instead, Will discovers that his countless allergies have a single, bizarre source.

Suddenly Will is a target. When he's chased through Central Park by a cloaked assailant, a misfit team of bodyguards shows up to keep Will Tuttle alive. . . . And teach him how to blend into a society that isn’t supposed to exist.

James Gough was born in the Rockies, raised in the Dakotas, schooled in a mountain desert, trained south of the border and wooed by the big apple. He now lives in a forest near a great lake with three bright daughters, a brilliant wife and a dim-witted dog.

James has been an actor, an artist, an athlete and an advertiser. He’s thrilled to add author to his list. Besides writing, he loves to teach, is obsessed with strange foods and has always been an avid people-watcher.

House of Diamonds by Karen Jones Gowen

In this sequel to Gowen’s debut novel, Uncut Diamonds, she follows sisters Cindy and Marcie as they reach a crossroads in their lives.

Marcie pursues her dream of becoming a published writer while Cindy faces a terrible tragedy.

Through faith, loss and the transcending nature of sacrifice, Marcie and Cindy must learn the incredible power that comes to families when they pull together to overcome challenges.

Two women, one facing opportunity, the other tragedy. Can their bond endure?

Karen Gowen: Born and raised in central Illinois, the daughter of a second-generation Methodist minister, I now live in South Jordan, Utah with my husband and three of our ten children. We have a back yard overgrown with fruit trees, vegetable garden and wildflowers, as well as a pond full of koi. I love to read, knit and watch Woody Allen movies. I graduated from BYU with a degree in English and American Literature. I've been writing for most of my life, published a few newspaper articles and sold a few stories to the Friend. The past few years I have finally been able to devote more time to writing.

The Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck

What happens when a two-headed cowboy, a high school dropout who longs to be a scholar, and a poet who claims to have been abducted by aliens come together in 1970’s Moab, Utah? The Scholar of Moab, a dark-comedy perambulating murder, affairs, and cowboy mysteries in the shadow of the La Sal Mountains.

Young Hyrum Thane, unrefined geological surveyor, steals a massive dictionary out of the Grand County library in a midnight raid, startling the people of Moab into believing a nefarious band of Book of Mormon assassins, the Gadianton Robbers, has arisen again.

Making matters worse, Hyrum’s illicit affair with Dora Tanner, a local poet thought to be mad, ends in the delivery of a premature baby boy who vanishes the night of its birth. Righteous Moabites accuse Dora of its murder, but who really killed their child? Did a coyote dingo the baby? Was it an alien abduction as Dora claims? Was it Hyrum? Or could it have been the only witness to the crime, one of a pair of Oxford-educated conjoined twins who cowboy in the La Sals on sabbatical?

Steven L. Peck is an evolutionary ecologist at Brigham Young University where he teaches the philosophy of biology. His scientific work has appeared in American Naturalist, Newsweek, Evolution, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Biological Theory, Agriculture and Human Values, Biology & Philosophy, and co-edited volume on environmental stewardship. His creative works include a novel: The Gift of the King’s Jeweler (2003 Covenant Communications); His poetry has appeared in Dialogue, Bellowing Ark, Irreantum, Red Rock Review, Glyphs III, Tales of the Talisman, Victorian Violet Press, and other places. He has published a number of science fiction stories. This year, he was nominated for the 2011 Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award. Other awards include the Meyhew Short Story Contest, First Place at Warp and Weave, Honorable Mention in the 2011 Brookie and D.K. Brown Fiction Contest, and Second Place in the Eugene England Memorial Essay Contest.

Two Souls Are Better Than One by Karen E. Hoover

Barely thirteen, Jeremy James Johansen has had more than his share of trouble. His father disappeared without a trace and the police believe he murdered his lab assistant, though his son knows it isn’t true. His dad can’t even handle a knife, let alone a bow and arrow.

A year later Jeremy stumbles across a portal to another world and gets pulled through—but not as himself. Somehow he swaps bodies with the man on the other side before the portal disappears.

Captured by a dragon and a man in black who insists on calling him father, he tries to escape, only to plummet to his death. He awakens in his own bed, believing it was all a bad dream. The problem is there are holes in his memory he can’t fill.

In time, he discovers that the portal holds the answers not only to his forgotten memories, but most importantly, points him down the path to finding his father.

Karen E. Hoover has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. Her favorite memory of her dad is the time he spent with Karen on his lap, telling her stories for hours on end. Her dad promised he would have Karen reading on her own by the time she was four years old … and he very nearly did. Karen took the gift of words her dad gave her and ran with it. Since then, she’s written two novels and reams of poetry. Her head is fairly popping with ideas, so she plans to write until she’s ninety-four or maybe even a hundred and four.

Inspiration is found everywhere, but Karen’s heart is fueled by her husband and two sons, the Rocky Mountains, her chronic addiction to pens and paper, and the smell of her laser printer in the morning.

Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella by Douglas Thayer

Douglas Thayer's third collection presents a dozen of his career-best stories, including several that have never before appeared in print.

is the next chapter in Thayer’s recent literary success, preceded by Hooligan, his landmark memoir about growing up Mormon in Provo, Utah, and by his acclaimed novel The Tree House, about the trials and redemption of missionary and soldier Harris Thatcher.

Douglas Thayer
teaches English at Brigham Young University, where he has served as director of composition, chair of creative writing, associate department chair, and associate dean. He has received various awards for his fiction, including the Karl G. Maeser Creative Arts Award. He is the author of the novels Hooligan, Summer Fire and The Conversion of Jeff Williams and two collections of short stories, Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone and Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories, and he has been published in Colorado Quarterly, Dialogue, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere.

To enter to win one of these books, use the form in the sidebar. One entry per person per month. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. You must be 18 years or older to enter. Limited to U.S. residents. Deadline to enter: January 31, 2012, midnight, Mountain Time. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. CLICK HERE to read the Official Rules.

CLICK HERE for details on sponsoring the contest.

December 2011 Prize Winners

Here are the randomly selected winners of last month's Comment Contest.

Thanks again to our sponsors. Please take a moment to read their info here.

The Death of a Disco Dancer


David Clark

Winner: Taffy
Commenting on: "Give Books for Christmas Giveaway Hop!"

Fire in the Pasture


Tyler Chadwick, ed.

Winner: Gamila
Commenting on: "Hannah of Silver Falls by Rebecca Woods"

Latter-day Liberty


Connor Boyack

Winner: Foxy J
Commenting on: "Beyond This Valley by Millie Chidester"

Monsters & Mormons


Wm Morris & Theric Jepson, ed.

Winner: Becca
Commenting on: Merry Christmas!

To claim your prize, you must e-mail your mailing address to me by Saturday, January 7, 2012.

(Unclaimed prizes will be up for grabs later.)

Click here to learn how you can win a copy of one of our sponsoring books.

Click here for details on sponsoring the LDS Publisher blogs.