Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Late at Night

It's ten thirty, and I'm still awake. Time was I could stay up past midnight, and often did. I used to work swing shift, for cryin' out loud. Worked until midnight, then came home and talked with my wife until two or three in the morning. That was before our first baby came along.

I got used to writing in the early morning. I'd get up at five and write until seven or a little after. Made me late for work a few times when I got on a roll.

But as the days gave way to long winter darkness, it wasn't working for me anymore. So I switched to nights this week. So far, it's working pretty well.

Besides, my narrator is writing his letters late at night. This gets me in the same frame of mind. Everything feels different at night. Bleak and impatient.

Sunsets always look different than sunrises, even though they're both the same basic phenomenon.

Last time I tried writing at night, it didn't last long. We'll see if I can convert back into a night person again.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm Still Here, or An Update on The Freezer

I think I've got things figured out, again. Writing has gotten easier. Life is still busy. I don't have much else to say. I just thought I'd post something here to let my loyal fans know what I'm up to.

Twenty-eight thousand words. That's what I'm up to on The Freezer. Some of them are really good. Most of them make sense. If you were to ask me what this story is about, I'd ask how many words you want the answer in.

One word: Hope

One sentence: It's about a father and daughter facing the end of the world by building a spaceship out of a freezer.

More: It's the story of a man torn between his wife, who's on her way to another planet, and his six-year-old daughter, who wasn't allowed to make the trip. It's about parenting, futility, and the collapse of society. It's about religion, hypocrisy, and whether lying to your child is really ever a good thing. It's about hope in a hopeless situation and what it really takes to turn a freezer into a spaceship.

And that's just the first 28k words!

Monday, November 28, 2011


What is it about this freezer story that makes it so hard to write? SOMEBODY TELL ME!

Is it because I'm trying too hard? (That's what Ammii just suggested.)

Is it because I don't know the characters well enough?

Is it because there's not a lot of action?

Is it the format, writing the whole thing in the form of letters?

Is it paranoia?

Do I just suck?

Is it because I didn't spend enough time outlining?

Is it because trying to do nanowrimo psyched me out?

Is it because I took a wrong turn somewhere?


Maybe I'm just spoiled after having such an easy time on the last book.

Or maybe I remember it wrong, and it wasn't that easy.


Any other ideas? Aliens stole my brain?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I Have No Idea

No idea what to write a blog post about. So I'll just share a bit of my current project, which is taking way too long and may be the hardest thing I've ever written.

The hardest to get right, I mean. Oh, it's a glorious, wonderful story in my mind. On paper, so far, it's dark and hopeless and introspective. Getting it where I want it to end will be an adventure. Sometimes I wonder if it's possible. Passages like the one below are what give me hope.

(But it's completely out of context, so if it doesn't sound as good to you as it does to me, that's no surprise.)

“I know there’s little time left,” Will said, the quality of his voice melting my retort. “There will come a moment when she needs you more than air, when the world is falling apart around her. She’ll need to be able to look into your eyes, hear you say everything will be alright, and have absolute trust that it will be.”
The first syllable of a laugh escaped my lungs. “But you just said not to lie. How can I tell her…”
“That’s your other problem. You have to believe it yourself.”
“But it won’t be alright. The world’s going to end, for crying out loud.” I folded my arms and looked back over my shoulder to be sure Mandy wasn’t hearing this. I had to swallow hard as her tiny hands built another small mound of dirt.
“It'll be alright.” Will’s whispered response sent a chill through my body like an early spring breeze. “But if all your lies are blown open on the ground around you when that moment comes, your little girl will die alone and afraid.” He rested his hand on my shoulder again, lightly this time. “And so will you.”
The hand withdrew and then the man, back to his little utility vehicle. Its springs creaked as he settled into the seat. “That’s what happened to me,” he said. “That’s why I’m alone, but you don’t want to hear that story, do you. Just don’t ever doubt that I know for myself, Thane Ryder.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

How I Invented Spam

Way back at the end of the last millenium, round about the time I was in middle school, my parents had a subscription to America Online. The company is called just AOL now, but back then they were the largest of two or maybe three major online services. (Bonus points if you can name the other two.) At first, they didn't even offer access through their service to the newborn world wide web. They had a self-contained ecosystem with different areas depending on what you wanted.

And AOL had chat rooms. Lots of 'em, organized by the topics that were supposed to be discussed there. A room was just a whole bunch of people all talking at once, and got real confusing sometimes. And people said whatever the heck they wanted. Some of them tried to be annoying on purpose. Especially the spammers.

Now this is where my story gets a little vague, because I frankly don't remember how we got started spamming. By "we" I mean my older sisters and myself.

If you look up the origin of the term "spam" as applied to unwanted email, you'll probably get the right story. It's all thanks to Monty Python's Flying Circus. One of their shows had a spam sketch, in a diner, with vikings. (This is all based on memory. I haven't seen it in years.) Everything on the menu has spam in it, and the vikings repeatedly interrupt other customers trying to order by breaking out into a song about lovely spam, wonderful spam.

At some point, being annoying young teenagers, we decided it was jolly good fun to do the same thing in the chat rooms of AOL.

For example:

Do you like spam?

I like spam.

I love spam.

Spam, spam, spam.

Spam, spam, spammity, spam, spam, spam, spam. Lovely spam, wonderful spam.

Well, sure, but what does that have to do with spam?

Needless to say, this really ticked people off. Good fun.

And I have no idea if we saw somebody else doing this and decided to join in the fun, (which is likely,) or if we just came up with it on our own and invented online spamming. (Highly unlikely, but fun to imagine.)

That's right, kids. I was there. I remember when typing a colon and closing parenthesis didn't automatically generate a yellow smiley face. I remember when people still wondered what it meant!

And I know the difference between config.sys and autoexec.bat.

p.s. Compuserve and Prodigy. I'm such a nerd.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What Are We Really?

So, Krista sent a draft of a blog post to me and Amy because she talks about us in it. That was nice. Thoughtful. Maybe I'll return the favor.

See, I couldn't help but notice that Krista hardly mentioned herself. The post is about writing what you are, and she used me and Amy because we've written books that only we could have written.

I mean, I wrote a book combining suicide with unmanned vehicles and photography. In a lot of ways, it was the book I've always wanted to write. When it finally fell together and I came up with a plot, it was exciting. Writing was fun—if also depressing because of the subject matter and my own past. But Krista's right. It's definitely a book that only I could have written.

Here's the thing: Krista's novel (nicknamed Steve) is just as unique and personal. It's Frankenstein meets To Kill a Mockingbird and quietly powerful. The voice is wonderful and likable. It's a book that only Krista could write.


Sure, the premise is interesting, but I don't think Krista has personal experience with regeneration or what it was like to be a kid in the fifties. It's not based on any sort of uncommon experience or situation from her life—at least not so blatantly.

Maybe this is where the really personal aspects of storytelling come in, the deeper things that Krista talks about in her blog post. To me, this means feelings. Specifically, hopes and fears.

Why hopes and fears?

Because that's what's on my mind as I write my current project. I have no personal experience with the collapse of society, building spaceships, or the end of world. What I have are hopes that something impossible really could happen. What I have are fears of losing those closest to me, frustration with not knowing, and the love of a father for little girls who have their own darkest fears.

These are things that many people share, yet are still deeply personal. Being a father or a mother, a friend, a lover—they're different for each of us. Unique.

So, yeah. Like she says, write what you know from experience, but especially write what you feel. And then use your imagination to make it interesting. That's what Krista did with Steve, and I hope I can pull it off with the novel I'm working on.

I've never faced the end of the world, but I'm a daddy and a husband, and that's what I'm really writing about.

(By the way, that character in my book who's handy with a camera? He's way better than I am. I plead guilty to one count of Mary Sue;)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pure Genius

I got the word today, of all days, on Mandy’s birthday. It sucked the air right out of my lungs and clamped my brain in a spinning vise right before the party started.
Daniel called. “The Esperanza’s gone silent,” was all he said.
That's it. The opening lines of The Freezer. I'm eager to write this one. Starting tomorrow.

In other news, my kids are up way past their bedtime and one of them is bawling because she can't find her panda.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What I'm Up To

So, work. I spent two years on reduced hours with barely enough work to do. I took over the jobs of three other people who were laid off, and still had barely enough to do. Well, now we've got as much work as the company has ever had AND I'M STILL SUPPOSED TO DO FOUR JOBS! AAAAAA!

(Those jobs, in case you're curious, are Technical Writer (my real job), graphic designer, and two quality assurance jobs.)

Aside from that, I've suddenly got tons of scouting- and church-related meetings. The upshot of all this is that I sent out eight queries about Drivers more than three weeks ago and haven't gotten around to sending out any more. At all.

(Because it takes me half an hour to send out a query, and who has time for that? I have to check and double-check each agent's email address. Visit their website and double-check submission guidelines. Read their bios, search Google for interviews, see if they're on twitter, write a personalized message, rewrite if five times, ask my wife if it's any good, read the email over and over and over again, hold my breath, and click send. Then I hyperventilate for a few minutes before starting on the next one.)

But I did rewrite my query. Again. (Click on the Drivers tab above if you're interested in seeing it.)

And then there's this thing I'm thinking of doing to the ending to make it better. That's next on my list.

I wrote the first page of The Freezer but got it all wrong and couldn't continue. I have to figure it out before next month, because this will be my first chance at doing NaNoWriMo! I've always been at the editing stage of novels in years past, and I'm not about to draft a new novel just for the heck of it. So the timing is good.

Or will be if I can figure out the first page.

And I bought my wife a new camera for her birthday. And she just barely got a brand-new thirty-year-old Squeezo Strainer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Blog Post

We've been together for ten years. And we have a lot of fun, but that's not what's important. Fun is so ephemeral and easily spoiled. Joy is what she brings me and what I strive to give her.

I don't know what it's like for other couples, as I've never really been in another couple. They look happy enough. As happy as we are. We don't understand some of the things they do, particularly anything that takes them away from each other when they don't need to be.

The way we see it, nine hours a day five days a week is too long to be apart. Why would I want to go hunting? Why would she want to go shopping? I spent a week at Scout camp this summer. That was the longest we've ever been apart. I missed her. I called every night. I climbed a ridge every night to get cell reception because I missed her.

This wasn't supposed to be about me, but somehow it always is. I guess it's either that or I start bragging about how amazing she is. I've done that before. Even that would come back around to me.

Every so often, she asks why I love her. It happens less often these days, because I usually give some variation of the same answer. I don't know if it's a good answer. Is there such a thing as a good answer to that question? I know it's one of those things philosophers like to wrestle over.

My answer is that she brings out the best in me. Or she makes me better. The words are a dim shadow of what I feel. I love her like I love myself. More on my better days. Anyway, they're kind of the same thing. We're kind of the same thing.

And when I stop to think what an amazing compliment it is that someone so vibrant, deep, beautiful, and smart voluntarily chose to spend forever with me...

I am not without her. She is not without me. We were both a little broken when we met—healing and doing well, but still a little broken. We healed together, healed each other.

She. Me. Only aspects of we.

We have fun, sometimes.

We always have completion.

We always have love.

We always have joy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ben & Ammii: The Rematch

So, that last review ended up sounding a lot like "Ben is a crybaby," so I thought we'd review something completely different this time. Something manly. Something tough. Something that has never made me cry:

Power tools.

Once again, I have my lovely and talented wife Ann Marie (aka Ammii) here with me. Let's start off with my personal favorite power tool, (that I own, because it would be silly to review tools I have no experience with,) the Dremel.

Ammii: *ahem* That's mine.

Ben: No it's not. I got it for--was it my birthday?

Ammii:  Oh yeah. 'Kay it's yours.

Ben: The thing I like best about the Dremel is you can use it for almost anything.

Ammii: As long as I'm not using it.

Ben: *ahem* As long as what you want to do involves cutting things that aren't too big. I once used it to cut the big chainring off a cottered crankset. I've also used it to remove the rust from a bicycle frame.

Ammii: That Dremel tool really is mine. It may have been for your birthday, but we all know whose it really is.

Ben: The other time I used it was to cut the top off a plastic drain pipe.

Ammii: And that's about the only times you've used it. But that's okay, because I don't want you using my tools. I mean your tools.

Ben: Okay, why do you like it so much? It's totally a man's tool. Meaning, you can use for things that there are really better tools for but you're too lazy to go get them.

The Starship Enterprise. What a girly thing to carve.
Ammii: Like woodcarving? 'Cause that's what I use it for.

Ben: Oh sure. Use it for what it's meant for. How girly.

Ammii: Why ruin a perfectly good tool using it for something it's not meant to be used on? Like some of those attachments you totally wasted.

Ben: They're disposable. They come in packs of twenty. Besides, Dremel Inc. or whatever they are markets it as a do-anything tool. You can tell that company's run by men.

Ammii: Okay, so what's your second favorite tool. Is it your dead power drill? 'Cause I wore the battery out?

Ben: Aha! I can honestly say that I use that tool far more than you do. In fact, you always use your Dremel to drill holes when the drill is clearly the better choice. Real men know to use the right tool for the right job.

Ammii:  Uh HUH...I don't use it because the battery's always dead.

Ben:  Yeah, it won't hold a charge anymore. Too many years of HEAVY use.

Ammii: *giggles* Like you built this house with your drill.

Ben: I never implied such a thing.

Ammii: My second favorite tool is my scroll saw. And that one really is mine.

Ben: Yeah, I got it for her for Valentine's Day. Isn't that a totally manly gift?

Ammii: Totally romantic.

Ben: Yeah, I picked out the best scroll saw in the store, because I know how to pick good tools, right?

Ammii: I thought it was the cheapest one.

Ben: Actually, it was the only one. But it is nice. As quiet as a sewing machine. With a sawdust collection thingy. And it takes two kinds of blades.

Ammii: Sewing machines are power tools.

Ben: But like I'd ever use one of those. Ha!

Ammii: Umm...are you forgetting all those hours you spent sewing stuff for your bike?

Ben: But at least I wasn't using a pattern! Totally winging it, brave and daring! And it was nylon tent fabric, so it was really hard. I'll bet you couldn't have done as good a job.

Ammii: I wouldn't even try.

Ben: There. See? Totally manly. And we're going to end the review right here with a picture of something only a man could make, the Velo-tent-mobile!

It's a velomobile! No, it' s a tent! No, it's THE VELOTENT!
By the way, this is my 100th published post! (Meaning, it's the one hundredth post excluding the ones I wrote and never posted, and the ones that I posted and later took down!)

Ammii: Obviously. Duh.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I wrote Drivers in present tense. That's not as unconventional as it used to be, and it was also in first-person. (Present tense third person still sounds really weird to me. First person feels as natural as thinking.)

The Freezer is going to be past tense, first person. But I'm doing something else unconventional. Yeah, it's generally not such a good idea to be different when you're still trying to find an agent, much less get published. (Or it is a good idea, depending.)

What can I say? I follow my heart.

Meet Thane Ryder. His wife Dawn left for outer space as the pilot of an interstellar ship carrying infrastructure for a new colony on an Earth-like world. She did it to get Thane and their daughter Amanda seats on a ship that will follow. Meanwhile, Thane is raising Amanda in a dying society on a doomed world.

Then Thane finds out Dawn's ship has disappeared. No one knows what happened. Maybe its out there, maybe not.

Then he finds out that if he leaves Earth as planned, he has to leave his daughter behind.

He chooses to stay, knowing there's still a chance Dawn will be waiting for them on that new world. So he writes to her to explain his decision. And he keeps writing.

And that's what the book is:  letters from a doomed husband to his missing wife about their daughter. (Can I just say it breaks my heart to think about it?)

There are quite a few novels that have been as letters. It doesn't matter to me how many there are. The more I think about it, the more I feel like this is the way I want to tell this story. It's a glimpse from the outside into the heart of a man—beamed into space at the speed of light, available to everyone in its path.

And by the time it reaches Dawn's ship, Thane and Amanda will be gone.

(As far as you know, anyway.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Next Door Boys

Today, I am doing a book review of a real book. This is a first for me. Sort of. AND my lovely wife Ann Marie (Ammii for fun) will also be doing the review. First, the book is The Next Door Boys, by Jolene Perry. It's an LDS romancy sort of book about a college girl. Why am I reviewing it? Because I wanted to finally read one of Jolene's books, and...well, you'll see.

Ammii and I had a conversation about this review the other day. It went something like this:

Ben:  Would you like to do the review on video?

Ammii:  Why?

Ben:  It would be funny. You could make fun of me.

Ammii:  Like "Ben likes chick books and romance?"

Ben:  Or when I admit that it made me cry.

Ammii:  *looks at Ben like he's crazy* It made you cry? *laughs*

Ben:  See? Now I've wasted that reaction. It would have been hilarious on video.

Ammii:  Oh, I could do it again. It really made you cry?

Ben:  *talking with his hands, as usual* Not really cry. Just, you know, a little extra water in my eyes. Maybe some throat, uh, spasms.

Ammii:  *laughs* You are such a girl.

But we're not quite ready to show our faces on video. (Also, it's more work.) And I hate listening to my own voice, so we're just going to pass the laptop back and forth and have a typed discussion. It's just like when one of us is upstairs and the other is downstairs and we have conversations on Facebook.

Ben:  What I liked about this book was, as mentioned, the emotional impact it had for me. What happened didn't surprise me, but how it made me feel did. Part of it was that Leigh is a well-developed narrator, but at the end, it was mostly that I could really relate to Brian, chicken that he is.

Ammii: Yes, Ben, you are a chicken. Just come out and say it. You LOVED all the mushy gushy stuff. Okay, so it really wasn't all that mushy gushy. It was a fun romance and the ending was great.

Ben:  Well, I wouldn't say I LOVED it. Not in capital letters, that's too strong.

Ammii:  I should have said ADORED.

Ben:  I'm not exactly in the target audience.

Ammii:  Yeah you are.

Ben:  Ahem. It's really a book for 1) young 2) Mormon 3) women. I meet only two of those criteria.

Ammii:  Maybe one and a half.

Ben:  Anyway, you're right in the target audience, aren't you?

Ammii:  Yes, all three. Definitely young. It's the perfect book for girls looking for clean, fun, romance that introduces them to the game of college dating.

Ben:  A game you know better than I. But we're getting off topic. Let's sum up by saying that we both enjoyed the book, and yes, I'm more of a romantic than my wife.

Ammii:  I'd recommend it to any teenage girl.

Ben:  And sensitive, good-looking, slightly-over-29 men who...

Ammii:  ...cry over hymns in church.

Ben:  Okay, we'd better stop. You can find more about The Next Door Boys here, along with links to buy it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Raindrops on Roses

I could have titled this post "My Favorite Posts," but that wouldn't have been nearly obscure enough. This is a flashback episode. You know how some TV shows have episodes where the main character is hooked up to a neural-whatever or stuck in a coma and forced to relive ten-second snippets of past episodes? That's what I'm doing here. Except I'm not going to quote old blog posts, I'm simply going to link to them. That way, you can avoid the pain of rereading stuff you've already read. Ready set read. (Read is a weird word.)

My favorite things I've written on this here blog in no particular order:

The Hunger Games and King David:  What do those have to do with each other? Thou art the audience. Why I will never see the movie.

Author Interview: Myself: In which I interview myself. Funny, if I do say so myself.

The Old Gray Goose:  The sad story of our widowed goose. Writing it made me cry.

The LDS Writer Blogfest: The Atonement Covers All Pain:  A bit of what my religion means to me. A unique post on this blog, and by far the most viewed.

To Kill A Mockingjay:  How do you recover from destroying your main character? Fast forward! (Yes, I did still read the whole series.)

The Heart as a Compass:  Why I write what I write.

Thirteen Reasons:  Snarky critique from someone who knows something about this popular novel's subject matter.

The Worth of a Word:  In which I actually post pictures. That I took. And tell why a picture is NOT worth a thousand words.

The Teen Disease:  One of the first posts I wrote. It's about how important the teenage years really are and in the form of a letter to my past self.

There are plenty of other posts I like, some more than some of these. I just don't want anyone reading them. Now don't you want to go find out why?

Ha! Just kidding. Sort of.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Freezer

Yes, I've been missing for a week. Or more? But I have something good to share today. It's a new story idea. Except that it's not new. I first started developing it several years ago with the intention of writing and filming a little movie. We were going to use our house and grounds as the set, so the setting of this book will always look exactly like my house in my mind. A little weird, but it makes description easier. I might have to relocate it closer to a city, though.

Man, I love writing.

The world is about to die a violent death at the hands of a rogue planet. The last escape ships have gone, leaving billions of people knowing the exact date and time of their demise. Society is coming apart at the seams. Violence is spreading; food is disappearing. There's one month left.

One father turned down a seat on a spaceship to stay with his five-year-old girl, and he intends to make her final days happy. He'll stay in his home and refuse protection. He'll feed his enemies and treat them like friends. He'll plant a garden, find water for the lawn, and teach her to ride a bicycle. He won't pick up a gun or show any of the fear gnawing away at his insides.

And if keeping his daughter from feeling that fear means building a spaceship out of an old freezer, he'll do that too. If she sees the lie in his eyes, maybe he'll even learn to believe the impossible. That their crude spaceship will work. That it will carry them away to find mommy, who left—and was lost—on a scout ship.

Whatever it takes to hide the fear. It's only for a month.

(And no, I haven't settled on names yet.)

Friday, September 30, 2011

Lookin' Out My Backdoor

(Doo doo doo. Anyone else hearing CCR?)

I love the sky. Whenever you step outside, it's half the world, and it's never the same from one day to the next, one hour to the next. And when it is, everyone gets depressed because it's usually due to fog, smog, or living someplace where it's constantly overcast. Why would anyone do that?

Here in beautiful Cache Valley, if you don't like the sky, wait five minutes. (Okay, that's what they say about weather. It's sort of a joke. It's actually true about the sky.) Even on days when there's not a cloud in sight, you still get to watch night descending like a curtain in the west or rising in the east. I didn't notice this until I was in Australia and away from my mountains. The flat land and clear air made it easy to see the shadow of the horizon on the sky, but it happens here as well.

The sky is a canvas on which God paints an ever-changing mural to reach through our eyes and into our hearts. Do you ever feel like you can't look fast or wide enough to take in a rushing sunset or flaming sunrise? That's when I grab a camera. Usually, I step out onto our back deck.

Sometimes I step onto the front porch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Almost There

I printed out a copy of my manuscript and marked it up while reading it aloud. This morning I moved most of those changes to the computer. I'll finish up tonight or tomorrow, and then there's another change I'm thinking about making.

And then I'll be done.

And then I start looking for someone who can sell it to a publisher for me. I am both eager and reluctant to begin this process.

Someone should invent a machine for it. Writers could slide their pretty manuscripts into a slot, and in three seconds the machine would spit it back out along with a slip of paper like an ATM receipt. It would have the name of the very best agent for you or it would say, "Sorry, please try again."

No waiting. No wondering. No shadowy doubts lurking backstage.

But that's impossible, soforgetIevenmentionedit. I love waiting!

It's the wondering I don't like.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Torn Sky

Today, I give you another photograph! Hooray!

This particular photo, you may notice, is the background of this very blog! Why? Because it reminds me of DRIVERS. It looks like the sky was torn wide open and is bleeding. There's a distant clear like freedom, but you don't know if the clouds are withdrawing or moving in. There's darkness everywhere but that narrow strip, and that's where you want to be. (And the mountains nicely complement the clouds.)

I shot this one from my back porch with a 5 megapixel Nikon Coolpix. That camera's really showing its age, but has always taken good photos. My wife has grabbed lots of amazing pictures of the kids with it even though the shutter lag is terrible.

For awhile, I had a logo that I threw together in Illustrator on top of it. Anyone remember this?

I wanted it to look like flames, kind of. And the font is meant to look like old machine-readable type, appropriate for a book with robots in it. And the crosshairs, well, that's what you see from the driver's seat. (I'm not really a graphic artist, but I pretend sometimes.)

And here's the composite image. Feel free to download it and use it as your desktop wallpaper while you eagerly await the release of DRIVERS sometime in the future. I know you want to.

Oh, and here's a bonus picture I didn't take. It's the vehicle the ARV3s in my book are based on.

That's right. They're REAL. Javelin missiles and all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview: Jolene Perry

Occasionally, we here at the Imaginary Friends blog get the chance to interview an author. Some of you may remember the previous interviews. Both of them. If so, please be assured that this interview is NOTHING LIKE the previous interviews.

Okay, so it's actually pretty similar, but there's one big difference:  This time, we have a REAL AUTHOR!

Jolene's Book

Jolene B. Perry is the author of uncounted millions of books, one of which will be available in PRINT on October 8th. It's called The Next Door Boys. Jolene also has a fabulous blog. (But don't go there yet! You might not come back!) She lives in Wasilla, ALASKA, which pretty much proves that she's crazy.

And if that's not proof enough, on to the interview!

First, Jolene, what would you like me to call you in the interview to mark where your answers start? I could use your initials, JP or JBP; your name, Jolene or Jo or even Joe, just to confuse people; or something completely arbitrary like a ^, or #,...or $&@#. You know, whatever you want. Jol, Jole, Jolly P. 

I will regret doing this later - BUT my nickname in elementary school from the girls I did 4-H with (yep) called me Joleenie Weenie Fettuccine. So, you COULD shorten my answers to JWF. Also, when I was in high school I did show jumping (had an amazing horse that stood at 17'2" - he was awesome) my nickname there was Lean Mean Jumping Machine Jolene - so, you know, the abbreviation would be a bit longer LMJMJ.
Jolene (who has cool shoes, apparently)

Okay, JWF, now for some questions.


(BS? Where did you get that? My initials? That doesn't seem fair.)

BS: Are you still working on all those books?

JWF: No. Not THOSE, books. The other ones. The new ones. The old ones are collecting dust at 24,000 words, the new ones will be collecting dust at 24,000ish words any day now.

BS: When will I be able to walk into a bookstore and buy them?

JWF: Uh . . . the dust covered ones?? YEARS. The Next Door Boys?? In your neck of the woods in October - HA! Hopefully my mainstream sometime the very end of 2012, or maybe 2013, you know, if we all live past December.

BS: What are they about?

JWF: Uh, so, there's this girl . . . and she meets this . . . umm, boy . . . and I think that she's going to have some sort of problem you know? Something that will make her NOT like the boy . . . yeah . . . and the guy? He just got burned, and so he's not ready for a relationship, and then . . . well, I'm not sure, but there's bound to be an amount of kissing, and probably, but not definitely a happy end, or something like that . . .

BS: Are you friends with Sarah Palin? Why don't you just ghost write a book for her?

JWF: Because I might strangle her first?? So, there's that. Her husband goes snowmachining at their cabin in Petersville, so believe it or not, that's the only place I've ever seen them - two and a half hours north of the town we both live in. Though - she's never here anymore. Oh. And no one can see Russia from here, aside from Google Earth.

BS: How much money do writers like you make?

JWF: Oh, you're going to get excited about this. Ready?? I figure that I'll make just over a dollar a book for The Next Door Boys. This type of fiction usually sells between 500-1000 copies. There's exceptions, of course, but that's the norm. I get my FIRST royalty check seven months after the release date of the book. So, that'll be say, May 2012. When I get that check, I'll hop down in my newly purchased coach-fare ticket, to do a book signing in your area, in hopes that it pays for my rental car. Pretty sweet, huh?

BS: I'll mark my calendar! Where do you get your ideas?

One of my favorite books I got the idea for while Mike and I were talking about old eighties movies in the Taco Bell drive-through. It turned into one of my FAVORITE books - Night Sky, which comes out later this year. (smooth selling my new book, right?) I wanted a book that STARTED with a bad ending, to see what happens after the guy plans a night with his best friend, who he's been in love with, and she ends up with the other guy. You know, like Duckie in Pretty In Pink (who totally should have gotten the girl). I got one idea while thinking how one thing could have totally changed my high school experience (Want To Be). I wrote a book after hearing Breakeven by the Script (Knee Deep, goes on sub next week :) So, yeah. from my life, but twisted. From songs, and from the Taco Bell drive-through. I could give you a list as big as my project list, but that would be boring to everyone but me. 

BS: What's the greatest thing about being a writer?

JWF: I love the escape I get from books, but being a writer you get to immerse yourself in the story in a whole different way. It appeals to my creative side, and to the side of me that loves precision, order and math. Though - I'd argue that the higher up in math you get, the more creativity you're allowed in solving problems. I know, I know - I used to be a math teacher, what can I say?

BS: How long does it take to write a book?

JWF: Depends drastically. I wrote the first draft of The Next Door Boys in two weeks. BUT spent months overhauling it. I wrote the first draft of Joy (at publishers being read hopefully sometime this century) in 8 days, and the MS has only been tweaked since then. I started another project a year and half ago that's sitting at 24,000 words (a third of the way done) and I have no idea how long it'll take me to get back to it. Right now I'm bouncing between three projects (not recommended) so it'll be hard to say how long it takes. Also, I probably took this question WAY too seriously.
One month to first draft.
Read to Mike.
Two weeks of pretending it doesn't exist.
Go over it. 
Send to Heather who works for shoes (she's a reader not a writer, and helps me make sure the story all ties in)
Go over with her corrections.
Let it sit.
Read again.
Send to another reader.
Go over.
Let it sit.
Read again. Pretend that each page is the ONLY page the editor will see. SO HORRIBLE AND TEDIOUS.
Send to my agent :D

BS: Do you still ride horses?

JWF: I have access. I have people who would LOVE for me to ride their horses because they know who I am. Okay, that just made me sound snobby. Several things stop me. 1. I need a place for my kids to go while I ride, and right now, I use that time for writing. 2. It's expensive, I'd get sucked in quick and we just can't afford it. 3. I can never own a horse again, because I have really expensive taste in horses, and it just isn't going to happen. Also, when your hobby costs that much, you end up doing JUST that when you have spare time, and there are a million other things I like to do - climbing, mountain biking, hiking, rafting, chasing my kids around the museum, hanging at my parents cabin (no roads there, snowmachine only) so, no. No riding. I might change that next year when Jack goes to Kindergarten, and ride once a week or so. I miss the jumping bad.

Thanks for stopping by Jolene! Have a safe trip back to Alaska!

(I'm gonna have to think of harder questions next time.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

An Unusual Weekend

I had an unusual weekend. Heck, it wasn't just unusual, it was unique. Completely. Ohhhh, and it would take too long to tell about it and I'm not sure I should, so I won't.

Okay, so I will. Sort of. Skipping the details.

I helped take the Boy Scouts on a fifty mile bike ride. (They made it, which is really impressive for twelve and thirteen-year-olds on mountain bikes.) Along the way, we were asked to help in the search for a missing person. And then we found her.

Cool, eh?

Yeah, I left out most of the story.

I'm responsible, at least partly, for the spiritual education of those boys. Two weeks ago, I taught them a lesson in church about showing respect for women and girls. I didn't mince words. I told them the girls they knew at school were more likely than them to deal with eating disorders and depression and that they could have a huge impact for positive or negative on those girls. I even told them girls were more likely to attempt suicide. That wasn't the whole lesson, but it was a big part of it.

On Saturday, the lesson continued. The young woman we found had tried to kill herself. She was injured, but alive and conscious. And I use "we" loosely, because I never saw her and only two of the boys did. The rest of us were half a mile up the road.

A couple of the young men were a little traumatized by the encounter. Had the injury been an accident, it likely would have been easier to process. Yesterday at church, we talked about it with them.

I didn't lead the discussion. (I don't think anyone in that group, boys or adults, knows my history in that regard. This blog is available for anyone to read, but I don't regularly send people here.) It was led by the man in our group who found the woman and talked with her until the ambulance arrived. And he did a good job. He emphasized the fact that no matter how worthless you feel, people still love and care about you.

The adult leader of the young women's group also joined us. Her day job is helping girls who have eating disorders and depression. She told them again just how big an impact they can have on their peers. She's never experienced depression herself, but she gave an excellent description of what it's like.

I told the boys that depression is a disease that people can recover from. I said the woman we'd helped could go on to live a long, happy life.

And if I could, I'd say the same thing to her.

So it was kind of an amazing, emotional weekend for me. I don't know what the scouts got out of it and I probably never will. I can't give them experiences like this on purpose or know what they'll mean in the long run. I'm only partly responsible for their education.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Toto Deserved It

I had a life-changing realization early this morning. The exact moment of my paradigm shift is hard to pin down exactly. It gradually came to light as I drifted from sleep into consciousness, and the more alert I became, the more urgent and important this thought seemed to me.

You know how in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, Elmira Gulch comes to Dorothy's house to collect Toto and take him away to be put down. And Dorothy's all freaking out and everyone's mad at Ms. Gulch.

A Victim of Animal Cruelty
Well, the dumb mutt deserved it for biting a cyclist!

That's my life-changing realization, and I'm going to make it my mission to vindicate Elmira Gulch. All these years, we've all been on Dorothy and Toto's side. In reality, Ms. Gulch was the good guy. She was the victim, standing up for her right to live in safety, and we've vilified her for it!

Put Toto down! That's what I say.

Of course, by the time I got in the shower it didn't seem so important anymore. Just really funny. I'm sure it had something to do with riding my wicked-witch bike home after dark last night.

My Wicked Witch Bike
See, I have this other side of me that you people who only know me from this blog have never seen. (No, I'm not a witch. Silly.) It's not a secret life, it just doesn't have much to do with writing. Except that it's pronounced exactly the same:  riding.

(Oh, stop! It IS pronounced the same by me and most red-blooded Americans. (That's for my wife, who pronounces her Ts.))

I love bicycles. Do you know the formula for determining how many bikes you need?

b = n + 1

Where b is the number of bikes you need, and n is the number of bikes you have. That's why I have two road bikes, my ride-to-church bike (the wicked witch bike), a John Deere bike frame (I know! It's so cool!), and a recumbent trike (which my wife has commandeered), two more bikes for my wife, and at least two or three bikes for each of my kids. That includes an awesome tractor-bike my son drives around all day long. He even drives it up to the bus stop to get his sisters after school. Oh, and there's a Schwinn Varsity that I'm going to put a mailbox on someday.

I used to ride upwards of 150 miles a week commuting 30 miles round trip to work each day. Then I started writing.

Now I'm soft around the middle.

I kind of feel bad and miss riding. I miss being in shape. (I don't miss coming home dripping saltwater so much. Usually.) I just love writing more, and my time is limited. I still ride to church! It's a mile and a half away. *sigh*

But here's a picture of me in my glory days, wearing my super-suit:

Mr. Incredible
(That's during Lotoja, a 200 mile bike race that I did. Once.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

More Photos

This is supposed to be a writing blog, so why am I posting photos? Because sometimes they just fit with what I'm writing.

My novel In Memory has an ensemble cast of characters. (Its reincarnation will split them up into smaller groups, giving each their own entire novel, but that's another story. Pun intended.) Awhile ago, I got an urge to give my blog an In Memory-themed background and pasted silhouettes representing each character onto a photo I had. (Some of you will remember that background.) 

Here's the original photo, which I took from the roof of the Doncaster Shopping Centre in suburban Melbourne, Australia in late 2000. It was shot on 35mm film, 200 or 400 ISO. The camera was a compact Pentax with auto focus and exposure. The scan was made from the negative. It's a pretty typical Australian sunset.

And here's the wallpapered version made with stock-photo silhouettes:

The feel of the sunset was exactly right for the book. The suburban setting was right, too. And I hate putting photos of actual people to my characters, because they're never quite right. The silhouettes work nicely. (Though I did have to swap one of the heads to get the hair right.) The guy on the far left is Peter, the bad guy of the book. His head and shoulders are currently my Twitter profile pic.

I also considered the photo below, which I also shot in Australia with the same camera. This is looking southeast from the highway between Finley and Tocumwal, New South Wales.

The storm is nice, but the sunset works better with people.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Readers are in Boxes

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, normal people get locked in a box called depression. The reasons vary. Maybe it's a negative pattern of thinking, stumbled onto or learned from someone else. Unrealistic expectations is a common one. There are physiological reasons, too. Illness. Grief. Things that should go away but don't. Frequently, there doesn't appear to be any reason at all, even to the person in the box. All they know is that they're in their own private hell and there's no way out.

Some other people get mugged and stuffed into the box. Once inside, they can easily forget how they got there. They frequently blame themselves, even when it's obvious to everyone on the outside that it was the muggers' fault. It's a personal hell decorated with memories.

The boxes are about the same for both groups. Once a person has spent enough time isolated in the dark box, their eyes adjust. Not completely, just enough to read the sign over the most visible exit. It says "Death."

I just happened upon a blog post prompted by an attempt to ban the book SPEAK from public school libraries. It was about rape. It was courageous and moving and made a compelling argument for keeping books like SPEAK available. Because some teens need to know they're not alone. Because it sure feels that way when you're in a box.

It made me think. "My characters have nothing like that, no horrible past for readers to latch onto. Maybe I wasn't hard enough on them. Not edgy enough."

Then I thought again. "No. They don't have a horrible past because that wasn't my experience. Other people can tell their stories. I tell my stories."

I knew that already. I mean, DRIVERS is already written. I've already solved the problem of how to make getting locked quietly into a box interesting. Depression is hell, regardless of how one got there. I simply put a face on that hell, so my readers will know they're not alone—and it's not their fault.

I've never seen a book that did that. Not for people in the first group.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Worth of a Word

I'm a writer. My medium is words. But I've had other artistic interests, namely photography. To excel at either takes so much practice I had to pick one, and writing won. But in this, my hundredth blog post, I'm going back to photography.

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

I now give you a three thousand word story about myself:

Get it? Probably not. Don't even try. Because when it really comes down to it, there's a reason books are full of words.

Words can convey more information, emotion, sensation, and meaning simultaneously than any other single medium. A picture might be worth a thousand words of visual description, but it has no other senses. Looking at those photos, you might feel the breeze at your back on a mountain top, but will you hear the eagles just out of the frame? You won't smell the liquid pouring from the bottle and know what it is. You won't feel what I felt or have any idea what would make an environmentally-minded neat-freak throw a glass bottle to shatter on the rocks below.

They're evocative, even interesting. But the story's not there in the pictures. Without the words, they're only images.

And—sometimes—a word is worth a thousand pictures.

(And if you're interested, the photos were shot with a completely mechanical Fujica SLR on real black and white film. Yes, I'm sort of bragging. I didn't develop it myself, though. And I tried scanning the prints, but wasn't happy with the image quality until I scanned the negatives. And lo and behold, there was a lot of detail in the negatives that hadn't made it to the print, especially on the second one.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ten Years

Sunday marked our tenth wedding anniversary. What can I say about that? My siblings and their spouses were all impressed that we'd been married for so long. Only my oldest sister has been married longer. (I'm the third of seven children.) My younger brother got married earlier in the year. He and his wife are about ten years younger than us.

They're so young.

What does that make me?

Wise, I'm sure. It's funny, but Ammii and I went to the same high school and never met. I was a senior when she was a sophomore. I was in band, and spent a lot of time hanging around the band room. She was in orchestra and spent a lot of time right next door in the orchestra room. I think I remember seeing her in the halls or at her locker, but I never knew her name, never said a word that I recall.

For her part, Ammii remembers being annoyed by a group of saxophonists practicing Sabre Dance in the hall before school. Like we thought we were so cool. I was part of that group. She swore she'd never marry a saxophonist.

What if someone had taken me by the shoulders and pointed me in her direction? What if they'd said, "There's the girl you're going to fall in love with and marry"? (And how does one punctuate a sentence like that?) Would I have been impressed?

Four years later when we really met, I was very impressed. I remember walking into her parents' house, shaking her hand. She was my sister's friend by then. They were going caroling to a nursing home in early December and invited me to come. Ammii had a crush on another guy in the group and did her best to stay near him.

And I stayed near her. I loved her laugh. The way her wrists moved as she played the guitar. The curve of her voice, the line of her jaw, the nervous confidence. I don't know if I ever registered that she was nervous because she was trying to impress that other guy. All I know is that I never felt more at ease around anyone. It's hard for me to be myself around strangers, but Ann Marie didn't feel like a stranger.

That other guy—the one she liked—never worried me in the slightest. That was the most amazing effect she had on me. Normally, if there was any hint at all that a girl liked someone else, I wouldn't bother trying. Normally, I was terrified and tongue-tied. But she brought out the best in me and then she fell in love with it. She never had a chance. Nor did I.

Ten years is a good start.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I call it "The Unlimiter"

I'm still alive and have returned from an epic two-week road trip with my family. I have also replaced the starter in my other car, but I only mention that because I'm so proud I actually did it.

So, I'm starting work on a new novel. Except that it's not really new. I've gone back to the original concept for my second novel (called at various times Charism, The Qualia of Magic, The Sense, and In Memory) and am working on constructing a new story around the same characters and premise. This stirs up a lot of mixed feelings for me.

Mostly, what makes me think I can pull something better from my original idea?

I know what to ask. I know whose story it is. I got the other story I wanted to tell out of my system in a different novel, Drivers.

And now everyone has clear and compelling motivations. Let's see if I can sum them up:

Brian makes superheroes. Occasionally a supervillain. He removes the natural limits from the talents that people already have.

For example, Esha was born with a gift for empathy. With Brian's unique sort of help, she can now read and control other people's emotions. She can make you feel whatever she wants you to feel. This really helps in her summer job as a fundraiser for a local non-profit.

But Esha doesn't believe Brian has anything to do with her success. To prove it to her, he removes the limits from another fundraiser, Peter, who has a gift for speaking.

Then Brian meets Leah, a girl he knew in middle school but hasn't seen for years. He unknowingly removed the limits from her memory, and now she blames him for ruining her life. But Esha's new ability to manipulate emotions also allows her to undo what Brian did, reigning in Leah's memory to something more manageable.

In other words, she can unmake Brian's superheroes.

And that's a good thing, because Peter's abusing his new power. When his fundraising tactics turn dirty, he frames Esha and discredits the whole organization. Then he sets his sights on local government.

No one can win an argument against Peter—except Esha. And she's not about to let him get away with what he did to her.

Leah recognizes what's happening to Peter and Esha. They're losing control of their talents and their mental health. The best thing for everyone is for Esha to undo Peter's unlimiting and then try to undo her own.

The problem is that Peter's too dangerous for Esha to go near him. He knows she's the only thing standing between him and eventual world domination, and he'd just as soon see her dead.

Brian can only watch as Peter gets scarier and Esha changes into someone else.

The solution seems clear. Brian must accept responsibility and eliminate Peter—even if that means spending life in prison and eternity in hell.

The only other way is too risky. Leah would have to risk insanity and Esha would have to risk dying. What would Brian risk? Living with himself if it all went wrong, knowing he'd be more at fault than ever as Peter took over the world, Esha was buried, and Leah got locked away.

For Brian, that's far worse than death or prison, and probably worse than hell.

So that's the story. If you happen to know of a song that sort of fits with this plot, please tell me what it is! I'm having a hard time making a playlist.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Community of Writers

Hey, y'all. I'm glad I found you. See, for the longest time, I wrote all on my own. Yeah, I had a couple of college classes on creative writing. They were okay, but that was a long time ago and no one was really writing novels. Only short stories. And that's what they taught us about, as if short stories are the first step along the road to novels, which is debatable.

And yeah, there's a local writing group. They meet every other week to read and critique, and that's really good because there are vastly different people. Some write stories, some poetry, many are working on a novel or two. That group helped immensely. But the meetings were long, and at one chapter every two weeks, it's not a great way to get a novel reviewed. They helped me clean up my writing, mostly, as there were a few, ah, fearless critics in the group.

And then I started blogging. And it's fun. I enjoy it. I don't blog on a schedule, just whenever I feel like it and about whatever I feel like—which is almost always about some aspect of writing and trying to get published.

I read similar blogs, written by people like me. I've learned a lot about every aspect of the process from various blogs by writers, agents, and editors. Fantastic advice abounds on the internet—along with some not-so-great advice. C'est la vie.

What do I get from doing this? Certainly not fame or fortune. I get friends. Understanding. Support. Shared experience across continents. Many of the best things found in any community. And I get readers and critiques that are immensely valuable to me.

Cheers, friends. See ya 'round.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Everything You Know Is Wrong

Up is down, black is white, and short is long. Stole that from Weird Al. That's my song of the day. Why? Because it's probably true.

About me, I mean. Not you. Necessarily.

 It turns out that it was true last week, before I realized the following things:

No, I can't please everyone. I shouldn't even try. I mean, we've all heard that. But good writing is good writing, isn't it? (Of course this is about writing. Do I blog about anything else?) Part of me still holds to that notion, that nagging feeling that the first sentence of this paragraph is just something that crappy writers tell themselves when people don't like their books. Just look at Harry Potter! Everyone loves Harry Potter. But more and more, it's sinking in that no matter how well I write, how amazing a story teller I am, some characters and stories won't get along with some readers. Some characters and stories won't get along with most readers. Because...

Voice really is important. Just look at The Catcher in the Rye. I could hardly stand it. Didn't see much merit in it. But millions of people have read it and many of them LOVE it. Strong voice? Oh yeah. And if I were J.D.'s beta reader, I'd have wanted him to strip that voice right out of it because it bugged me. He would have ended up with a book that was palatable to me and loved by virtually no one. This leads me to believe...

I should critique with a light touch. Because who am I to play the person a writer should be trying to please! I guess if I love the book, that gives me some right to critique. Chances are I'm in its audience. Still, it makes me wonder if we rely too much on outside feedback. There was my first novel, which kind of sucked and I didn't get much feedback, and it still sucks. But then...

If I rewrite, revise, or edit too much, I'll kill my own writing. People talk about polishing, editing, revising, revising, revising and doing twenty, thirty, a million drafts and working on books for years until they're perfect, AND I don't think that works for me. Seriously, it's an art, not bricklaying. It's like I start out with a block of granite and carve a story in it. Every new pass makes it smaller and smaller, until there's nothing left of that beautiful stone I started out with. All that's left is the words. The core is gone. I know this because I've done it. Of course...

Everything I know might be wrong. The best I can do is do my best based on what I think is right today. And that's why...

I still need feedback from a lot of different people. Everyone knows what's right in a slightly different way. In the end, it's my decision what to do. It's my baby. My responsibility. And I'm not at all objective. But everyone has something helpful to say, even if they hate everything about a novel. I guess it's just a matter of feeling out what I need to learn from each reader and how, when, and where to apply it.

Maybe that's all I really need to know. I'm pretty sure it's right. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's All There

In Drivers, said drivers are recruited via the internet. I didn't go into specifics, and I didn't ever do the "research" to find out exactly how this could be done—until this morning. A few people wanted to know more about how the company found suicidal people. I didn't think it was important, and frankly, I was a little uncomfortable with searching for actual people.

As it turns out, it's easier than I thought. A Google search, a result on the first page, and there they are. Some of them want to be contacted, and for various reasons—advice of both kinds, help of both kinds.

I added a few sentences to my book to clarify this, and that's enough. Rest assured that whatever you're looking for online, it's there.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's Going On

There are now five people who've read Drivers—besides me. I've gotten some good feedback, and version 3 is coming along well, I think. Sometimes it's hard to implement a suggestion, like adding emotional impact to the beginning of a scene. No ideas yet. If none come, I'll just leave it. With this manuscript, I'm much more wary about making major changes. Everything seems to be working so well in a broad sense.

Drivers is dark. When people started telling me this it kind of took me by surprise. It's dark? It's sad? It's really depressing? And I smile, because that's what I was going for. It doesn't seem that dark to me, though. Maybe because my eyes have adjusted to the dim light after five months.

But it ends well. I love it, anyway, and no one's complained yet—except about what does or doesn't happen to the bad guy. To be honest, I'm leaving him available for a sequel. Drivers stands alone, but it doesn't have to. There are possibilities.

There are always possibilities.

But, oh, what I'm thinking would be so cruel. Poor Ash and Zephyr.

I'm smiling, now. Am I sadistic or what?

Anyway, once I'm done with this revision, it's off to a couple more beta readers. And then another pass or two of editing. And then—I guess I'll query. Speaking of which, I keep changing the query. The latest version is on the DRIVERS tab at the top of this page. You can even leave comments, dear readers, if you wish. Oh, and the first scene is there as well.

And that's what's going on with me. What about you?

p.s. Hey, relatives-who-live-nearby, if you don't want to wait for version 3, I have a printed copy of Drivers version 2.5 you can read.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Time Travel or I Can't Believe I Did That

Have you ever wondered why time is so one-way and restrictive? Like, why am I here right now instead of yesterday before that big mistake I made or tomorrow after that horrible thing I dread?

A Brief Story:

When I was but a lad—and also a Mormon missionary—I once borrowed a television from the local church meetinghouse. Some other missionaries were coming to visit for the night, and one of them wanted to show us some videos he'd shot. As I lifted it out of the car, the cord fell down far enough to drag on the ground.

"I should pick that up so I don't trip on it," I thought. Then I thought, "Nyah, I'll just be careful." I would have had to set the TV down, and it was an old boxy one, partly made of wood, and quite heavy.

You can see what's coming can't you?

I carried the TV with the screen against my chest and my arms around the sides far enough to grab the bottom. It was pretty well balanced. When I stepped on the cord—like you knew I would—it pulled the back of the TV just enough to tip it out of my hands and onto the sidewalk right outside our apartment.

There was a crunch. And a hiss. And I watched a circle in the middle of the screen darken. I knew exactly how bad the damage was.

And in that moment, I experienced the awful linearity of time. That WHY DID I DO THAT? feeling. It would have been so easy NOT to drop the TV. I shouldn't have even been borrowing it in the first place! What business did I have TAKING a TV from the CHURCH, let alone BREAKING IT?!

I would have given anything to get a second chance at the previous three seconds.

Stuff like that still happens to me, though not usually that bad. There was the could-have-been-fatal car mishap on an icy curve. The email with some unfortunate wording. Other stuff. Like, say, blog posts.


You know, the guy I had to call and tell I broke the TV was terrifying, but it wasn't so bad. When the branch got together to watch General Conference a few months later, he publicly thanked me for making it possible for them to get a brand new TV. It was humbling, as stupid mistakes always are.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Okay, this a huge freaking deal to me, and my biggest complaint about the publishing industry:  They split my favorite kind of books between the young adult and adult sections of bookstores, and it makes them rather hard to find.

Of course, the real reason it bothers me is that I write books like the ones I love—and I have no idea where to categorize them! You know what I wish? That there was no Young Adult section of bookstores. They should just lump them all together from Junie B. Jones through Tolstoy and let us pick the ones we like from actual genres:  science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, pointless, etc.

Or, if they really feel like there needs to be an arbitrary division, they should group them by length:  short, medium, long, extra long, extra extra long, and Robert Jordan.

Oh, I know there are plenty of books that fit squarely into teenager land. They're not usually my favorites. There are some books that are sold as YA that I really, really love! And some books are sold as adult that I really, really love. Part of the problem is the name Young Adult. I'm sorry, but if your main audience is thirteen years old, that's not Young Adult. It's Teenager. Actual young adults are 18 through 25, give or take.

But then you run into the fact that EVERYONE'S DIFFERENT ANYWAY! There's no good way to classify books based on age, and I wish they'd just quit pretending there is.

So I end up dumpster diving to find a few tasty morsels among the juvenile and adult bins, and I curl up squarely in the doorway between the two to write my little stories.

And I spit watermelon seeds at the ankles of anyone who asks me which one I prefer.

(This rant sponsored by Sarah LaPolla's insightful post of today.)


Just nothing.

That's what I've had to say on my blog this week. I tried to write a post about metaphors, similes, analogies, symbolism, and other similar things. But finding the right analogy is like. . .it's like. . .uh. . .

On the bright side, I do know what to write in my book. That's what's important, isn't it? I spend all day writing things that I have to write. I just can't make myself do it in my free time. So I write what I want to write. And that's all I want to write.

How do people blog on a schedule?

p.s. You can tell when I'm not actively working on a draft because I blog more frequently.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lovin' the Language

I'm not here right now, but I've prepared this lovely post for your enjoyment. It's part of the Lovin' the Language Blogfest instigated by Jolene Perry. Go here to get links to the others.

And what is it? I've picked five lines (passages, actually) from my work-in-progress, Drivers. (It's about a suicide-mission driver who falls in love and changes his mind about dying.) They make me laugh, smile, or cry each time I read them. (I hope they don't make y'all cry.)

So, uh, here they are, out of context and without any introduction:


“Ash.” Zephyr’s breath touches my chin, she’s that close. “Thanks for saving my life today.” 
“Do you mean that?” 
“I—” Her voice chokes off. Her head doesn’t move, but I feel it pulling, straining against a spider-silk strand of something between us, so fragile. Don’t break it, Zephyr. 
“I mean it.”
Time stops in the middle of a heartbeat. In the air between Zephyr’s hands and my feet, a perfect universe has formed to contain me. I don’t dare breathe, and scarcely dare to think for fear of screwing this up. That’s what I do with everything—screw it up. I flunk classes, scare girls away, alienate family, get fired, wreck cars, lose phones, and how am I supposed to respond to this? What’s my line, the one that will bind us together in blissful happiness at the end of this movie? I don’t know. I never know.
“It’s trading one kind of pain for another. A small cut, or even a large one, is a distraction. It’s not real damage. It’s not like burning alive. No, we’re looking for quick, clean deaths, aren’t we? I’ve no doubt there are things that would make you run into a burning building, but depression isn’t one of them.”
She pulls back, still grinning. “I love you, Ash Palmer.” 
“I love you too, Zephyr…oh, crap.” 
“I’ll let you call me the Wicked Wind of the West, but I draw the line at Zephyr O’Crap.” 
“I can’t remember your last name. Something Greek.”

Words shred my voice. Tattered ribbons, like life itself. Unraveling as I drive. And all around, the world is scorched, littered with ruins. Bodies. Death and pain left by her passing.

Just like me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Note to Self: Relax

What makes me do what I do and think what I think and feel what I feel? Every time I try to figure one of those things out, it spins up a lovely frustration in my mind. Does anyone really know?

Early Monday morning, I'll be leaving for a Boy Scout camp. Twelve and thirteen year old boys are deceptively simple. A primary motivation for them is impressing each other, usually by making the others laugh, frequently at their leaders' expense. It's a simple motivation. The deceptive part is that there are so many other things going on in their heads that I'll never know or understand.

So how do you deal with kids like that? I'll let you know when I figure it out. I guess what I'm thinking is that if I don't even know what makes me tick, I've no hope of deciphering the early adolescent mind. Especially since each one is unique.

There are no formulas and no hard rules. You've just got to take things as they come, correct yourself when you're wrong, correct them when they're wrong, and do your best at figuring out which is which. You try to understand people, and sometimes you do. When you don't, it's not a calamity. Don't get frustrated—especially when it's yourself you don't understand.

Note to Self:  Relax, Ben. Nobody's perfect. Nothing goes completely as planned.

This applies to, oh, pretty much life in general.

Monday, June 20, 2011

(screams) READ ME!

Ash is a suicide bomber. Not the kind you think. He drives an expendable armed robotic vehicle—from the inside. No one even knows he’s there. But it’s an important job and it pays well. Sure, it’s literally a dead end job, but that’s what he wanted when he took it. 
Ash turns out to be better at staying alive than anyone expected. And since meeting Zephyr—since falling in love with her—he has a lot more to lose. They don’t want to die, anymore. 
The problem now is the unwritten fine print of their employee agreement. They can’t quit. They know too much. A corporate security team, two armies, and their own inner demons will try to stop them. 
What do they have? Zephyr’s brains, Ash’s photography skills, and a couple of armed vehicles everyone thinks are unmanned and will be told are out of control.
DRIVERS is a psychological thriller for young adults, 77,000 words after the second draft. 
I told Ammii this morning that it needs to make you want to read more. Also, it needs to answer more questions than it raises, aside from obvious questions about what happens. It should not be boring, confusing, or poorly written.

So tell me, does it work for YOU? (Whether or not you're a writer yourself.) Anything I should maybe, possibly change?

(Yes, I know the second sentence isn't. A sentence, that is. Also, I wrote it for young adults, 17-23.  That puts it outside the normal "YA" range and into general fiction, so I may not mention the intended audience.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Psyched out

You know what's hard to write about? Death. I can't write convincingly without first finding a connection from my own life. Meaning, I have to literally feel what I'm writing. I don't know, maybe this is a crippling limitation. But it's my art, right? I've gotta find what works for me, and the climax I've written doesn't yet.

The thing is, I've never lost anyone that close to me. I'm grateful for that. I don't want to. But I still have to find some way to feel like I have, some time in my life where maybe I thought I had, and then let my imagination take it from there.

One of those times was recently, when my youngest daughter kept vomiting for no apparent reason. The doctor ordered a CT scan of her brain—just in case. Wait a minute. Just in case what? She has a tumor that's increasing her intracranial pressure?

Faced with that possibility, it was easy to imagine how it would feel to lose her. I was in tears just rolling through possibilities in my mind. (Turns out it was cyclic vomiting syndrome. Relatively harmless. Like hiccups of the digestive tract.)

So that's a start. And there are other scares I've had. Drawing on those, I need to connect with Ash, somehow. The fact that he's not sure who's died makes uncertainty the biggest player. I've certainly experienced that. Uncertainty that burns and climbs to your fingers, stretches, grasps at time itself but only slides and falls.

I have a good imagination, but I can't conjure up feelings from nowhere. I have to psych myself into them—without psyching myself out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Random Sunday Thoughts

Look at that picture of me. Over there. I really do sit like that, with one hand against my chin, jaw or some other part of my head. Frequently it's just a couple fingers. Sometimes I cover my mouth. But I do it all the time. Weird. Yet another reason I don't like to watch video of myself.

Everyone talks about how getting critiques back from people is scary. Or any sort of feedback about their writing. Personally, it's doing the critiquing that terrifies me. I mean, I've got this precious thing, someone's baby, in my arms. I'm supposed to look it over quick, sometimes one piece at a time, and tell them how to raise it. Like, what if I give bad advice and the thing dies an untimely death? Even if it's good advice, is it really my place to contribute? I try really hard not to make stuff up just for the sake of saying something. If there's nothing wrong with it, there's nothing wrong with it. At the same time, if I don't see anything wrong with it, maybe I'm just blind. Does it mean I'm a bad critique partner if I just say it's great? I try to couch everything in uncertain terms like "you might consider," or "what if?"

I have a one track mind. Multitasking? I don't see how it's possible, and don't think it really is. Some people are just really good at task switching. Me, I can block out everything but what I'm reading, even if it's only ad copy in a magazine. (So long as it's interesting ad copy.) Someone can be sitting right next to me, talking directly to me, and I'll look up in surprise after a few minutes and wonder when they got there.

This annoys my wife, sometimes. I like to think I'm focussed. That's another word for oblivious, depending on your point of view.

My wife's name is Ann Marie. I call her Ammii. She likes spelling it that way. It looks Finnish. It's also cute. I feel very fortunate to be married to her. She's the reason I write about romantic love.

Okay, so I'm a hopeless romantic. She's the reason I'm a happy romantic. Everyone should be so blessed. I believe that eventually everyone will be, or at least get the chance. Maybe that's why I give it to my characters.

Ammii doesn't like the mushy stuff. She's kind of a tomboy. If I can write a mushy scene that she likes, I know I've done well.

We're a perfect match.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Shameful Books part II

Many moons ago I wrote that I couldn't think of a single book I'm ashamed to love. Allow me to quote myself:
The reason is simple, I think:  if I love it, I really think it's good and am therefore not ashamed to love it. It doesn't matter who it was written for, written by, or how it was written. If I like it, it's good.
You see that? Doesn't matter who wrote it. If I love it, I love it. End of story.

EXCEPT, my list of favorite books now includes one that I'd be ashamed to say "Oh, I LOVE this novel. It's compelling, exciting, emotional, and the writing is fantastic!"

What's different about this book?

I wrote it.

I've been trying to edit my own novel. I say "trying" because I think I'm missing a lot. Oh sure, some scenes I change quite a lot. And I did a bit of patching up while I was writing. But I find myself getting so engrossed that I can pore through scene after scene without changing anything but punctuation.

I say things like "Dang, did I write this?" and "Sometimes I amaze even myself."

And usually no one's around to say "Doesn't sound too hard."

Somebody say that. Please. My hats are already too tight.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Unlimiter

I woke up with this crazy desire to go back to the manuscript I put down four months ago. I thought about it all day, piecing it together like a puzzle, and I think I've settled on something good. The thing is, it's completely different.

Well, not completely, but enough that I don't know if I'll be able to reuse a single chapter. I have the characters and the setting, though. I know them. I won't need to go through that process again.

Most importantly, I'm excited about it again. And I know it takes me about three months to turn out a decent rough draft from this point.

I've developed a habit of writing queryesque blurbs about books before starting on them. (Just to make sure I have an actual plot.) It's kind of fun.

So, here's Brian explaining his problem. If you want to see how it looked before, click the In Memory tab near the top of the page, just under the blog title.

I’m not particularly talented. I do well in school, make friends easily, keep out of trouble. There is one thing that sets me apart. 
I make superheroes. Occasionally a supervillain. 
I know. It’s crazy. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration—but not much. Take my girlfriend, for instance. She can control people’s emotions. I gave her that ability. 
Okay, again I exaggerate. Esha was born with a gift, you might say. But how far does talent get you? I mean, even with a lot of work and perseverance, talent still has limits, right? 
Not Esha’s. I unlimited her. 
I guess that’s my talent. I bring out the best in people. 
So imagine my surprise when the girl Esha rescued from suicide blamed all her troubles on me. I knew Leah. (Had a crush on her in middle school, in fact.) Weirdly, she knew about my talent. She says I unlimited her years before I even knew I could. It was an accident. 
Now she claims unlimiting drove her mad, and that it will do the same to Esha—and Peter, and everyone else I’ve unlimited. She says madness will drive Peter to homicide, and I have good reason to believe her.  
There’s only one way to stop him, but I can’t do it alone. I make super-people. Only Esha can unmake them.  
That’s exactly why Peter wants her dead.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Best Bookends in the World

I'm not exaggerating. Ever since we moved into our house five years ago, I've needed a set of bookends for my dresser. That's where I keep a bunch of books that I'm reading, intend to read, or think I should read. I've been getting by with one plain metal bookend and a picture-frame/old-trophy combination that sometimes lets the whole line fall over.

My wife, who is not only beautiful but also unbelievably multitalented and infinitely creative, (it's okay for you to feel a little jealous—of either of us,) asked what I wanted for my birthday. This was, like, six months ago because she also plans waaay ahead. One of the things I mentioned was a set of bookends.

A couple weeks before my birthday, she asked what I like. Not the same question, you'll notice. I really had to think about that, and she had to ask follow up questions to get the answer she wanted. But I settled on three things:  books, stars, and bikes.

Forgive me some bragging, but my wife has a lot of talent with the arts. She draws, carves things out of wood with a Dremel, and has recently picked up wood-burning (pyrography). (There are other things, but I'll stop.) She worked for hours to make this gift, and I was amazed when I opened it.

Bookends that look like books about my favorite subjects! Our daughters picked the titles: The Bike and Search for the Stars. Even the inner sides are woodburned and painted. I may have to unscrew the bottoms and switch them around after awhile so I can see the telescope and stars. These aren't the greatest photos, and that one would look better with old hardcovers, but I don't have many of those.