The Middle Grade Novel, with Author Jennifer A Nielsen

At LDStorymakers this year, author Jennifer A. Nielsen gave an amazing presentation on writing for middle-graders, AKA middle-readers.
If you’ve ever even considered writing for the middle-grade audience (approximately ages 8-13), you don’t want to miss this presentation.

If you’re having trouble getting the full audio, try this link (I hope it works better:)

http://blog.chashathaway.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Jennifer-A-Nielsen1.mp3

Hobby vs. Occupational vs. Serious Author

Photo by J. Paxon Reyes

I’ve been thinking a lot about my role as an author.

It’s been almost eight years since I started writing my first book, and I hope I’ve come a long way. I used to think of authors simply as people who wrote books, but now I see that while that’s true, there are also many kinds of authors. Most are one of three kinds of authors (or working to become such).

There are those who work on a book once in a while, and ten or fifteen years later, they complete it. They have day jobs, various hobbies, and writing is one of them. They will probably only write one to three books in their lives.

Then there are authors who are experts in a field, and as a way of advancing that field, they write a book on the topic. They have day jobs doing the very thing they write about. They’re authors as a means of promoting their day-job. They may write multiple books, but those books will most likely all be relating to their niche.

Then there are serious, full-time authors. They are the authors who write and write and write. By the time they finish a book, they’ve got at LEAST one more underway. They may also write for magazines, newspapers, journals, or any number other places, but they write. They may participate in events, seminars, and teaching, but for the most part, writing IS their day job. They may be fiction or nonfiction authors.

I suppose there are a dozen other kinds of writers, but these seem to be the main three.

I started out as the first. I wrote my first book as something to simply pass on to posterity. As I got near the end, I decided to clean it up to make it marketable, but by the time it was finished, I discovered something interesting: I absolutely LOVE writing. I love it passionately, every bit as much as I love composing music, sometimes more so.

By the time I completed the first draft of my second book, I was fully converted to the writing life, and determined to write for a career someday.

Only recently have I realized that aiming for some etherial future career isn’t going to be enough–not really, anyway. It’s not enough to passively write and hope for the best. I’ve got to make plans, give myself deadlines, and become a serious, SERIOUS author. I may not be able to up and quit my day job, but it’s time to stop working for the future and simply BE the author I’d intended to one day become.

I’m not suggesting that one type of author is better than another. Obviously every author will have a different story, focus, and plan.

But as for myself, I choose to be the serious author.

Recent Signings

I’ve had a couple of great signings with Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with Dating? recently. The great thing was that Jenni got to come to them as well.

The first was at BYU bookstore, and the second was at Confetti Books and Antiques in Spanish Fork. At BYU Bookstore, I was able to meet with three other authors, Andrew C. Skinner, Alonzo L. Gaskill, and one other who’s name I don’t remember (which is sad, because I had a great conversation with him). They’re really great guys, and I hope to get to do more author stuff with them.

The second was at Confetti Antiques & Books in Spanish Fork with Mandi Tucker Slack, Misty Moncur, and Sherri Mills. That was a fun signing. Those three were great to sign with, and fun to talk to. It also helped that the store was a cool antique shop, so even once we got done, Jenni and I stuck around for another 45 minutes.

Launch Party Recap

Randy Lindsay asked me recently about my launch party last month for Marriage is Ordained of God, but Who Came Up with Dating?, and I realized I hadn’t blogged about it. I make the excuse that it was in the middle of one of my nonblogging months, but that doesn’t really hold water, so I’ll just say I’m a little slow and mention it now.

It was a blast! We didn’t have enough people to unbalance the earth’s magnetic pole, but I was so glad people came, and some even bought books.

We had it at the Fairview museum and had balloons (in the color theme of the book), cake (see above), cookies (also color themed like the book), games, tables, chairs, books, pens, giveaways, music download cards, a woolly mammoth, and tons of Doritos,

I wish I’d gotten more pictures, because it really was a cool setup, and I think those who came had a great time. Thanks to all of you who made it, and especially all you who bought books! You keep me writing!

You can’t tell from the photo, but the cake was a half-sheet, which means it was massive. Kudos especially to my mom for decorating it. Didn’t she do awesome?

Just a couple weeks later I attended Michael Young’s launch party for his book, The Last Archangel, and had a great time! He had all kinds of angel themed games and activities. Even my kids had fun coloring, though I couldn’t get them to wear my crafty multicolor pipe-cleaner halos I made them for more than a few seconds. Plus my son loved going home with a glow-in-the dark pitchfork prize.

So how do you all do launch parties? How have they gone for you? Have you seen cool things (or not-so-cool things) at other’s parties that you would recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Approach Book-Signings

I had my first signing a couple weeks ago. It was at BYU Idaho Bookstore. I’ve heard lots of horror stories about signings, especially first signings.

But I liked it.

I’m sure it helped that I was warned ahead of time not to just sit behind the desk and wait for people to come, but be up and about, meeting people. I think that helped a lot.

I’m not a naturally outgoing person, and it takes a lot of worked up energy to get the guts to approach people, but I do enjoy talking with people. I enjoy social events.

I’ve mentioned before how much I hate advertising (passionately), and I know there is a certain amount of necessity about it, something of a necessary evil.

So I came up with a method that puts my mind at ease and helps me step a little out of my comfort zone. I don’t know for sure yet how effective it is, but I’m certain it’s going to prove to be a good approach for me personally. It’s simply this: whenever I have an author event, whether it be a signing, a launch party, a marketing conference, or writing conference, it is a social event. Whatever the intent of the event itself, in my mind, it’s just a social event. I try to keep other guidelines in the back of my mind to help shape who I approach, and when, but if I keep my primary objective as meeting and visiting with people, it makes a HUGE difference in my confidence and approachability.

About 15 years ago I worked at an obscure warehouse sorting obscure items from obscure grocery stores. I didn’t much enjoy the work, but I had some good friends to work with. One man was a very pleasant Arapaho guy who was kind and friendly with everyone, and because he was so kind to everyone, he was really easy to talk to. We became good friends, and one day he said, “My goal in life is to meet as many people as I can.” That was it. That was his life goal. Not, “become the most popular person,” or “become a role model,” or “become a great influence in many lives.” His goal was simply to meet as many people as he could.

What a great goal! I’ve thought about that so many times. What if your goal was to just get to know as many people as you can and try (as much as possible) to become friends with them all? That doesn’t require a certain level of prestige or success. It implies being kind and talking to people. That’s it.

Becoming an author has provided opportunities to meet so many people, and make friends I never would have otherwise met. Whether anything of so-called “success” comes out of it all, I can already say it’s been wonderful to meet so many wonderful people and get a small taste of who they are.

That’s why I try to think of every author event as simply a social event. People are really cool. Even if–and maybe especially if they have different views than me. Hearing others talk about what matters to them is so motivating and fun. It worked great at the signing, and it worked great at my launch party. Then, if they ask about me or my book, I try hard to focus on the stuff I’m passionate about, because it was passion that got me to write the book, and people want to sense that passion while reading. But that’s only if someone asks me–I don’t throw it at them. Most people I converse with end up asking sooner or later. I’m still new at this, so I can’t say it’s done wonders for me, but it has helped loosen me up in situations that might otherwise feel awkward or unnatural.

So if you are like me, and have trouble pushing your product, try simply socializing at author events, and see what happens. You may find it quite enjoyable. More likely than not, those who visit with you will want to know more about what you have once they feel your genuine interest in them. But if they don’t, it’s okay–you met someone new and had a great time talking with them.

After all, in the end it really is about people, isn’t it?

Interview with Author Mandi Tucker Slack

One of my favorite things to read on a blog is author interviews. Especially when the author wrote a book that I’m excited to read. That’s why I was excited when Mandi Tucker Slack was willing to let me interview her about her book and writing in general. You’ve all got to check out The Alias. I’ve posted the trailer at the bottom of the interview, because it’s awesome! You can learn more about The Alias and Mandi on her website, http://www.mandituckerslack.com and her blog,  http://heyyouslackers.blogspot.com (I love that URL).

 

Tell us a little about yourself and your book(s)?

I’m a mom of three great kids. I have two boys, ages 6 and 5 and a little girl, who is 2. I’ve been married for 11 years and we love living in Utah. I grew up in Emery County and I feel very blessed for the memories I have. I love the desert and mountains, and I’ve been interested in everything from archeology to paleontology…and I could go on and on. Really, I just love the outdoors. One of my favorite hobbies is collecting and searching for fossils in the desert and surrounding areas. I also grew up frequenting museums and accompanying my parents on archeological digs in the San Rafael, and I love to incorporate my hobbies and interests into my writing. I love spending time with my husband and children and we spend most weekends rock hounding or exploring new places as a family. I’ve written several manuscripts, all in various stages of editing, and The Alias is my first published novel.

Do you have any writing mottos or rules for yourself?

I like to finish what I start, even if it is years down the road. I have a ton of ideas written on notebooks that are scattered around my house, but if I start writing an actual manuscript, I like to finish it. It drives me nuts to have a half written novel hiding on my shelf or sitting dormant on my hard drive. Once it’s finished, then I go back and work out all the little (usually big) kinks and quirks.

How do you balance raising three kids with writing? What advice would you give other writer parents with kids at home?

I would give anything to say I am a “Super Mom”, who can balance writing, children, a dog, and housekeeping, but I’m not. I write when I find time to write. Usually that’s when the kids are outside playing or at school. I do try to get up early in the morning and write, but normally I write late into the night when my children are asleep. If I can find time during the day to write, I do, but usually I have my youngest daughter in my lap. I just write when I can and don’t when I can’t. And I love it! Really, I wouldn’t want it any other way. There are times (more often than not) when my house is a mess or my dishes need washed. And quite often, you’ll find me in my pajama pants. Trying to find a balance is definitely difficult, and often times, frustrating, but somehow it all works out. My main focus is my family and I’ve found through the years, when I put them first, everything else just falls into place. I’m not always the Super Mom or dynamic writer that I long to be, but I do the very best I can, and really, that is the best advice I can give to other writer parents. It’s impossible to keep everything in balance all the time. Do the very best you can and try not to stress when you can’t.

Sequel?

Yes, I have a few ideas floating around my head for a sequel to The Alias, but I haven’t settled on one firm idea yet. I would like to write a novel based on Blaze when he is older and reaching those imperative “teen years”.

What do you find is the best thing about writing? What’s the worst?

My favorite thing about writing is being able to create my own adventure. I was a tom-boy through and through and as a child and I craved adventure. I explored exotic countries and conquered high mountain peaks all from the comfort of my own back yard. I had a very vivid imagination and that love of creativity followed me into my adulthood. I have so much fun when I am able to sit down and pound out the ideas floating around in my head, and I enjoy writing the type of stories that I love to read. I grew up reading Dorothy Keddington and Jennie Hansen, both excellent suspense writers. I think the worst thing about writing is simply finding time and…commas! I hate commas. I’m not sure why, but correct comma use is beyond my comprehension at times and I’m blessed to have such a patient husband, who corrects me often.

Is there anything that you wish you had known earlier in your writing career that would have helped when you were just about to attempt your first novel?

Yes, I wish that I had written a storyline first. With my first manuscript titled The Edge of Dawn, a novel that I wrote years before, I just sat down and started writing. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s so much easier to keep facts and character’s straight when write out a detailed storyline. I like to name my characters, build their personalities, and then write a summary— a very detailed summary— of the plot. This way, I can look back and see where I have anomalies before I get into the thick of the story. I can keep names straight and facts accurate, and when writing, I have a quick reference to use when I get lost.

Is there a deleted scene from your book, perhaps a paragraph from The Alias that didn’t make the cut that you could share with us?

I did cut a scene and a character before I sent it to the publisher. Jacey is asked to sing in the ward choir. When she replies, “Okay—well, I’m not a member of your church, so—I…”, a robust, out-spoken woman named Georgia Colbert replies, “I don’t care if you’re a Baptist or a Buddhist. As long as you’re here, we need you. I need more sopranos, especially ones who can sing.”

Are there any facts you could tell us about Jacey or Blaze that weren’t included in the book that readers might like to know?

I tried to include most of Jacey and Blaze’s interests in the book. I have a lot of fun developing my characters. Their unique personalities become real for a time. They become “friends”. Jacey was one of my favorite characters. She’s soft spoken, but spunky when she needs to be.

Last words?

I hope you all enjoy my book, The Alias!!

 

Game: Three Part Story

Here we go. I’m going to give you a random story beginning, and a random story end. Your job is to fill in the middle to make it into one story.

Gordy Hartfoot sat in the rickety old bench, overlooking the grain fields across his 14 acres of golden farmlands, wondering where the years had gone, when he saw a movement in a bush just a few feet from the porch.

“What in tarnation?” he said, standing up with shaky hands against his chair.

He rubbed his eyes as something large burst from the bush. He rubbed at his cataract-filled eyes and looked again.

There, standing at the foot of his porch, was the largest rodent Gordy had ever seen…

 

YOUR MIDDLE HERE

 

…Deedra opened the satchel and pulled out the glowing blue vial, holding it out for the monster to see.

“It’s too late, Corandar!” she shouted, “The Guild Wars are OVER!”

Then the cast the vial at the feet of the massive beast. With an explosion of blue smoke billowing from the broken vial, a gust of wind began swirling around the beast.

With a cry of agony and desperation, the monster screeched a horrific roar that echoed into the night, drowned out only by the roaring of the whirling typhoon, as it lifted Corandar out of the water, tearing him to shreds and casting the particles for miles over the surface of the sea.

“Come on, Borameer,” Deedra said as the winds calmed. “Let’s go home.”


Okay, now see if you can make these into one story. Write a middle in the comments. Have fun!

Help. I Hate Advertising.

Those of you who know me know that I hate – HATE self promotion. I have the hardest time in the world telling people, “come buy my stuff!” Just the thought makes me want to gag. Which brings up the question, why did I go into music and writing? Well, the $4 answer is that I love to do it. I love writing, I love composing, and I’m happy to share it with those who come asking for it.

Anyway, so my publisher – remember, I’m brand new at this stuff, is asking me to be proactive and find ways to advertise my book (once it’s ready) in as many ways as possible, multiple times a day. Some of the suggestions they have include blogging, twittering, having a regularly updated website – stuff like that. I follow a lot of other authors, so I see how most of them are doing it, with tweets, giveaways, review invitations, and contests. They’re doing great at it. I’m amazed at how well they are able to promote their stuff without sounding too advertisy. But for some reason, every time I try to do it – to do ANYTHING, I want to barf my lungs up – it feels so pushy to me.

So my point in mentioning this is to ask you all – no, BEG you all – how do you all like to be advertised to? I know I have to advertise. I recognize that there’s no way around it – if I want to be a professional author (and musician), I’ve GOT to promote my stuff. So if that’s what it takes to be a professional author, (gulp) I’ll  do it. I’ll promote my blasted stuff.

So what I want to know from all of you is, how do you like to be promoted to? (badly worded question, but you know what I mean.)

I’m serious about this. I need your help. I can think of no one better to turn to for feedback and ideas than those who know me either through my blog or Facebook. I’m determined to turn my dream into a reality (sorry for the cliche, but it’s true), and whatever suggestions you can all give would be WONDERFUL!