August 31, 2010


I began waiting for Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, as soon as I finished Catching Fire, which I read immediately after reading Hunger Games. You can read my review of the first two books in this YA series here and here.
I stayed up until 4 a.m. reading, needing to see how Katniss was going to teach the Capitol a lesson. To see who would survive. To see the heart-stopping finish and declaration of a new day...
I knew characters would die.
I knew love would be defined.
I knew things would get violent.
The first two books taught me that. My expectations were in line with what had already been told. I wanted to be engulfed in flames and emerge triumphant.

I felt on the verge of that throughout the entire book. On the verge of ignition. I felt the story leading me, twisting, guessing, fulfilling its promises... despite the glaring amount of narrative.

At this point in the review, I originally aired opinions with spoilers galore. I've reluctantly chosen to save those for later, after more of you have had time to read it. I will just say that I thought some of it was brilliant, and some of it was a let-down, especially concerning the narrative of almost the entire last chapter. I couldn't help but feel that Collins had written a full-blown ending, and then had to rein it in for word count. Severely. On the verge of ignition, but not ignited.

But I did really like the last few lines before the epilogue. They brought me back to the beginning, which is a good thing, in my opinion. After all, the jaw-dropping roller-coaster of unbelievable reality that was Hunger Games made the reader ask, "Real? Or not real?"


August 29, 2010

My Bat is a Pen

My contract came yesterday afternoon. I was cleaning up the kitchen and my husband walked in the front door and said my name. It must have been the way he said it combined with the fact that I had been wishing my contract would come, before the end of August, as promised by Covenant seven weeks ago. But who's counting?
Anyway, he only said, "Krista."
And I said, pulling in my breath, "It came."
He walked into the kitchen and held out the fat envelope with a postage due notice wrapped around it with a rubberband. "You owe the postal service forty-four cents."
I didn't care.
Dinner was late. And it was fish sticks.
Because I read and re-read and got on Twitter, and a friend said, "Take a deep breath before you sign anything." And others sent their congratulations. I posted on Facebook. Lots of "likes". After a couple emails with another friend allaying my concerns, or rather my naivete, I went to bed knowing I would sign my contract in the morning, and it would be marvelous. Gratitude hushed me to sleep.

Now, here I am, at my desk in my laundry room, listening to the first birds of morning, with the contract folded up and squashed firmly inside the almost too small return envelope, bearing my signature and initials where required.
As I signed, I thought of the movie Signs, and the part where the wife is dying after her car wreck. She says, fading, "Tell Morgan to swing away."

That's what I'm doing.
Swing away, Krista. Swing away.

And make something really yummy for breakfast.

August 27, 2010

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

So many pots on the fire.

My very good friend Andy, an immigration lawyer in Florida (yeah, he's not busy right now) asked me how I find time to write. How did I write a novel, and then another and...?

Time. I steal it. I manipulate it. I grab it, use it, shake it if my eyes are closing because I've kept promises, appointments, laundry going, kids from killing each other, floors swept, bathrooms clean, the pantry full, meals cooked, the dog walked, friends' books read, phone calls returned, church meetings, obligations, date night with a husband I know I have around here somewhere...

And sometimes time gets away from me and I run to catch up, or scrap it and pick up where I can, apologizing along the way.


I'm fortunate to have all my kids in school full time. I'm very fortunate to be home during the day. It's quiet when school is in, or I'm not babysitting the Wondertwins or J-man. And they have naptime.

My oldest son says I could block out an earthquake if I'm writing. If I'm "in the zone". I'm not sure it's a compliment.

"Mom... MOM. I need a haircut. Mom. Okay, so I accidentally spilled my nachos on the couch and they were covered in salsa... and then this bird flew into the house and landed on my head because it mistook it for a NEST. MOM!"

*type type* "What?"

"I need a haircut."

*type type* "You spilled nachos on your head?"

*deep sigh*

My children have been very patient. Some more than others.

What I've learned is, if you don't dig out the time to write (or fish or run or learn that thing you've always wanted to learn), time WILL GO ON. Every space, every crack will fill; time you think you don't have.

It's funny, though, after you've wrenched it away for yourself? Things just sort of... make room.

Sometimes you do lose sleep. But if I could, right now, I'd choose writing over sleep. If it were possible, I'd write in the quiet all night long.

True story.
Time to put the kids to bed.

And find that man of mine.

Weaving time in a tapestry... won't you stop and remember me...

August 23, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #7

7 Thy language shall be precise, clear, and bear the wings of angels, for anything less is the province of businessmen and academics and not of writers.

No pressure, Mr. Stein.

I do love this about having a writing group: We let each other know when things are unclear. Who is talking? Where is so-n-so when all this is happening? Are they in a different room now? Does she want this to happen, or are we supposed to not know? Why would she still go there? I thought he left his pack back in the brush.

The details. A reader can be pulled out of a story so quickly if they are confused or stalled by mundane mistakes in the details.

As for bearing the wings of angels... have you come across any reading that does so? This one bears wings for me. Fly, little one.

And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens . . . they will all be your friends. And, besides, I am going to make you a present . . .

In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You--only you--will have stars that can laugh!

And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, 'Yes, the stars always make me laugh!' And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you . . .

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

August 19, 2010


"The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote is stuck to the board above my desk with a thumbtack. I don't even know where I got it. But every time I glance up and read it, I am struck by its truth. When I think of my friends, the really true friends, and the kind of friend I wish to be, boiling it all down to its concentrated base, this is what I find.
There is something of the spirit, something instilled in us that ignites when someone believes in us, when someone is willing to trust us.
And it is so fragile.

A writer can't afford to be fragile. When we choose who will read and critique our drafts, we are trusting. When I attach a document in an email and press send, I don't wish for up and down praise and glorious exclamations (okay, a few), but I do wish for help. I do wish for direction.

I don't wish to be placed on a pedestal. Or torn down from one.

I wish to be believed in.

Even when I suck.

I think I can speak for most writers.

Thank you, to all my friends.

You help me glow. I'll try to do the same.

Commandments for Writers Series: #6

*a continuing series based on Ten Commandments for Writers, found in Stein On Writing, by Sol Stein
6 Thou shalt infect thy reader with anxiety, stress, and tension, for those conditions that he deplores in life he relishes in fiction.
Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mocking Jay, Suzanne Collins.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey.
Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George.
The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte.
It, Stephen King.

When I interview authors for this blog (Thursday Authorial, which will resume after my kids are back in lovely school) I always end with the same question:

If you could be a character in any book, who would you be?

Often, the person I'm interviewing hesitates, a few commenting that to put themselves in a book would mean exposing themselves to a whole lot of conflict. And yet, the favorite is chosen.

When I finished writing The Orchard, in the original ending, I left one of the characters, Elizabeth, standing on a dock, surrounded by family and strangers, utterly alone. Her character prodded and haunted my thoughts for days after and I realized I needed to give her a happy ending. I couldn't just leave her there on the dock.
So I scrawled out an outline for The Inn, punched out the story, and sighed. Then, I gave it to my writing group.

"Umm, where's the conflict? Good bones, but make me care."

Huh. Had I wanted Elizabeth's success so badly I handed it to her on a silver platter?
Practically. Which would also explain why the story was not only boring, but very short. However, short was a good thing.
Because I spent the next few weeks tearing her down, giving her choices, throwing doubt and fear and bears, yes, bears, in her path, adding another character to block her way and creating conflict and stress and tension. She had to fight for the ending I gave her, grasp for it, wrestle it from me.

It was better. I'm excited. Here's a teaser to The Inn:

The way back down was a little tricky, the trail wet in some places, clay hard in others. She was still taking in the view as she stepped, and stumbled, catching herself on Ryan’s back. He half turned and caught the rest of her with his arms.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, as she heard quiet laughter from the others. The laughter wasn’t at her fall, she knew, but at the way she and Ryan couldn’t seem to keep their hands off each other in a very accidental way. She’d never blushed so much in her life, and it was starting to irritate her.
He helped her steady herself. “It’s okay.” He placed his hands on her arms and looked up. “All right?” His eyes were steel marbles in this light.
She sucked in her lips and nodded. “Perfect.” She rolled her eyes as he turned away, bringing his hand up through his hair. They started walking again and from behind she saw him take a deep breath and blow it out. Ugh. Ugh.
Back in the inn's suburban, she listened to the hum of the engine and the quiet murmurs from the backseat. Everyone was both invigorated and tired. Ryan slowed the car and they stopped to watch a moose amble through the edge of the woods. It was some distance away, but the cameras clicked. A fox jumped and ran across the field, now empty of elk. Elizabeth looked behind her. Nancy had fallen asleep.
As the car sped up, Elizabeth’s arms pulled around her waist, and she remembered she still wore Ryan’s jacket. She leaned her head against the seat and watched the scenery fly past her window. Her eyes closed and she suppressed a smile, hearing him hum an unfamiliar tune. It faded.
She was falling, fast, and could hear voices laughing, mocking. Then Ryan caught her and she looked up, but it wasn’t Ryan and she cringed away, pulling back, only to lose her balance and start falling again. This time there was a ruckus below her and again, she felt arms grab her, pulling, then wrenching.
She woke up with a start.
The voice soothed. She heard the sound of seatbelts unlatching. They were back at the inn. She furrowed her brow, stretching her shoulders. 
A bright-eyed Nancy met Elizabeth as she slid out the door. She linked her elbow through Elizabeth’s arm. “Have a good snooze?”
“I’m not sure.” It was the truth.

What are your feelings about reading or writing what you deplore in real life?

August 17, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #5

5 Thou shalt not mutter, whisper, blurt, bellow, or scream, for it is the words and not the characterization of the words that must carry their own decibels.

Continuing with Sol Stein's Ten Commanments for Writers, I cringe, and whisper, "I have trouble with this one." Not so much the other characterizations, but the whispering-- that's going to haunt me until I get my ms back from my editor with the question marked in large, red scrolling letters,   
        "What's with all the whispering?
(I really don't know what my editor's handwriting looks like yet, or even if it comes back to me hand or electronically marked... learning, learning, learning...)

I've read a dozen articles or tips about sticking to "he said" or "she said", or using no dialog tags at all (which I prefer if I can get away with it). So why is it so difficult to trust our readers to know that the character is whispering? Or SHOUTING, or blurting?

Any ideas?

August 15, 2010

Cold As Ice, by Stephanie Black

Through a drawing on Six LDS Writers and a Frog, I won a chance to review Cold As Ice, by Stephanie Black, winner of two Whitney Awards. 
Thank you, Stephanie.

I've had this song in my head for the last few days (lyrics by Lou Gramm and Mick Jones, performed by Foreigner): 
You're digging for gold, you're throwing away
(Aaah-aaah) A fortune in feelings, but someday you'll pay

You're as cold as ice

You're willing to sacrifice our love

You want paradise

But someday you'll pay the price, I know...
Cold (cold cold) as (as as) ICE!!!!! That song was huge back when I was playing Barbies, testing out my first pair of roller skates, and Star Wars became the most awesome thing I'd seen IN MY WHOLE LIFE.

So, having the song in my head as I read Stephanie Black's COLD AS ICE was not a bad thing at all. In fact, it was perfect. The song lyrics couldn't be more appropriate, and the villain(s) in this thriller mystery made me shiver in the summer heat.

As Black introduced each distinct character and laid the foundation of the plot, then gradually built on entanglement after entanglement, and even though I had an idea of "who dunnit" early on, I found myself cringing as if I were watching an old Hitchcock movie and shouting to the hero(es), "Don't open that door! Get out of there! Don't say that! DON'T TRUST ANYONE! AAAAaaak!"
It was a lot of fun.

From the back of the book:
After five patient years, Abigail Wyatt’s sisterly care is finally paying off: her younger brother, Derek, is abandoning his self-destructive lifestyle and seeking his parents’ forgiveness, thus ending the painful estrangement that wounded the whole family. But just as the pieces are falling into place for the prodigal’s return, a woman is murdered in a local park—and police name Derek as the prime suspect. Rather than standing firm and cementing the positive changes in his life, Derek succumbs to his cynical fears and runs from the law, leaving Abigail with her hands tied. Literally.

Derek’s raw panic convinces everyone that he’s the killer—everyone except Abigail, who doggedly maintains her brother’s innocence. With the help of Kyle, a friend she might be falling for, Abigail digs deep into the murdered woman's troubled past in hopes of clearing Derek’s name. But as she uncovers a sinister plot of greed, envy, and vengeance, this loyal sister must face the painful truth that things—and people—are not always as they seem.

What I liked best:
Karen Brodie and Derek Wyatt were my favorite characters; a really great balance between caricature and realism for both. As much as I hated Karen, I wanted to warn her. As much as I wanted Derek to act differently, I completely understood how he saw things. Wonderful play, piling on the tension.

Great job, Stephanie Black!

Cold (cold cold) as (as as) ICE. You're as cold as ice to me!
Watch the video (warning: very 70's, will get in your head)

August 9, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #4

4 Thou shalt not saw the air with abstractions, for readers, like lovers, are attracted to particularity.
I have mentioned in a few posts how I need to remember that readers are intelligent, and I don't need to include everything but the kitchen sink for my readers to "get it", taking them by the hand and pointing out every symbol, unfolding every hidden meaning, or explaining the purpose of every move.
On the other hand, being too abstract landed me with a recent revision request, and I thought I could use the example here.
In The Inn, the main character, Elizabeth, has a past. I referred to it vaguely, only hints, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks. But this past is a major factor in Elizabeth's character, her reactions. Even I wasn't sure if there was a string of past events, or one single occurence, that affected her in such a way.
The feedback was this:
"The author has clearly shielded Elizabeth's past so that the reader does not know much about [her], but there's not enough back story about Elizabeth to give the reader a strong grasp of who she is."
While it's true I wanted Elizabeth's character to unfold, this critique also pointed out that instead of "unfolding", I just revealed her past at the end. Kind of a let down.
With the invaluable help of my author friend, Abel Keogh, I was able to insert bits and pieces of Elizabeth's past along the way, building tension and momentum, without giving it all up until absolutely necessary. But, more importantly to building a better foundation for Elizabeth's character, I created a singular specific event in her past to overcome, and created situations where it is brought up, and she either has to address it, or brush it away. The result surprised me (a lot of things do as I learn this craft). It was a good surprise.

And yes, I'm being abstract because I don't want to give any more away.

What do you think of abstractions vs. particularities, in writing OR reading?

August 6, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #3

I'm continuing with Sol Stein's Ten Commandments for Writers, from Stein On Writing.
3 Thy characters shall steal, kill, dishonor their parents, bear false witness, and covet their neighbor's house, wife, manservant, maidservant, ox, and ass, for readers crave such actions and yawn when thy characters are meek, innocent, forgiving, and peaceable.

I had to think about this one. I have learned there are a few things your main character should never be (for example, an adulterer), and this commandment challenges that. But what about the other characters?

Conflict, anyone?

In the previous post I mentioned Edmond Dantes, the young man betrayed by his friends through his meekness, his innocence. I have just begun reading The Count of Monte Cristo and have been warned it is not much like the movie I love, so for the purpose of this post, I'll refer to what I know from the movie because it came to mind when I read the above commandment.

Because Dantes' friend, Mondego, stoops to nearly all the mentioned vices: he covets all Dantes has, including his fiance, his living, his future,and so frames his friend, bearing false witness, sentencing him to life imprisonment and stealing all Dantes looked forward to, including his love, Mercedes, lying about his death. The act itself kills Dantes' father.
It was easy. Because Dantes was meek, innocent, forgiving, and peaceable. And we want to scream.

We begin to urge him on, to look for ways to hope, jumping on any chance for Dantes to win his life back, to, even, exact revenge. To change. And he does. He is angry, vengeful, scheming, and distrustful. A liar. We want him to move forward with everything he has, with all the momentum he has gained... but do we want him to become Mondego?

No. I don't. I want him to exact as justice demands. But I want him to trust, to feel, to hope again. Without innocence. I want him to be the hero.

Okay, now I have to go watch the movie.

Thanks for making me think, Sol.

August 5, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #2

Sol Stein's On Writing ends with Ten Commandments for Writers, and I'll be throwing them out to you for discussion over the next few weeks.
2 Thou shalt imbue thy heroes with faults and thy villains with charm, for it is the faults of the hero that bring forth his life, just as the charm of the villain is the honey with which he lures the innocent.

Katniss is wishy-washy, Elizabeth Bennett is hypocritical, Edmond Dantes is gullible, then obsessed with revenge, and Harry Potter is clueless.

Saruman is velvet-voiced, Will Elliot is smooth, Luke Castellan is heroic, and Oberon seductive.

As a writer, I find it more difficult to avoid perfection in my heroes, but when I let them fumble, show their anxieties, their hiccups, they are a joy to write and their triumphs are... triumphant. And the villains, well... the villains are just fun.

One of the more interesting heroes I've recently read is John Wayne Cleaver of Dan Well's I Am Not a Serial Killer. Wells has imbued his hero with cringe-inducing faults galore and yet we want him to succeed. We shudder at his realism. We cover our eyes and peek through our fingers, dreading and hoping and glancing at our darkened windows.

Are your heroes the embodiment of perfection, or are they made real through their shortcomings? Are your villains bad because they are villains, or are they villains because they are deceptively attractive?
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