Friday, August 29, 2008

Under Construction

Hi everybody. I know it's been a long dry stretch of no blogs. But we are just about done with the new website (It's amazing if I do say so myself) which includes this blog. You will still be able to come directly here as always, but you will also be able to access this blog through my web site. As you might have noticed, this blog is getting a little screwy as we make the change. But by Tuesday at the latest, we will be back up and running as usual.

I've also got lots of updates, news, and links to reviews.

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Avalanche of Words

Once up on a time there was an author who was getting ready for the publication of his first fantasy series. Deciding that he wanted to do everything within his power to make his series a success, he decided to do leave the city of Blog and go on a tour. The thing was, he couldn’t really find any solid information on what a blog tour involved. He’d always enjoyed reading other people’s blogs as well as writing his own, so he set out on a quest to discover the prefect blog tour.

Along the way, he learned that not all blogs are equal. Some blogs focus primarily on certain genres of books or certain age groups. Some have a very small audience of only a few readers while others have hundreds of thousands of unique visitors. Many bloggers weren’t sure he was really legit. Some didn’t respond to his e-mails. Some politely declined.

But over time, he met many new friends, found lots of great sites that he regularly visits, and signed up over one-hundred and fifty people to join his tour. Now that he had a great group of bloggers covering the US and Canada, and representing a wide range of readers, he thought about ways to make his tour stand out. A review is great, he thought. And one-hundred and fifty reviews will be even better. But how cool would it be if the readers could get to know me as well?. He knew that he liked learning more about the authors he enjoyed reading. What better way than to do interviews where bloggers could ask him questions?

This seemed like a good plan. And the bloggers appeared to agree. Soon he received his advance reader copies, ARCs, and sent them to the wonderful bloggers. At first there wasn’t much response, as people read his book. But after a week or so, he began to get e-mails. The messages were great. People didn’t hate his book! In fact most of them liked it quite a bit. Along with the reviews came interview questions. He excitedly answered each question, trying to think of answers that were both helpful and at least a little entertaining.

Soon he received more interviews, and more, and more, and more. One thing he had failed to take into consideration was how long it takes to answer 150 interviews. On average, each interview took from thirty to forty minutes to answer. Some were shorter. Some were longer. Questions ranged from what his favorite candy bar was to why there was no technology to speak of on Farworld.

The questions were great! They really gave him a lot to think about. And it was wonderful hearing how the book affected people. But even with an average response time of 30 minutes, doing 150 interviews took over seventy-five hours. At the same time, his publisher was asking for a completed manuscript of book two. And his other publisher was asking for edits on his regional mystery series.

The author tried to keep climbing the growing mountain of interviews while also writing 2-3,000 words per day. But soon he slipped and disappeared under an avalanche of words. Several miles away, the people of the Blog watched and waited. Would he ever be heard from again? Had he smothered under the weight of so many words? Had his brain been twisted by the question of which character was his favorite or how he came up with names?

Then a hand appeared at the top of the mountain of words, and the people gasped. A second hand appeared. And finally a head peeked over the surface of the pile. He WAS alive. He still had a gazillion books to send out. And he was answering questions from three days before. But there was hope that he would return to the land of Blog soon. And once there, he would post many links, tell many tales of his journey, and get all of the winner’s their books. Oh, and he would also get his second book turned in. It being easily twice as exciting as his first book.

Hey, gang. Sorry I disappeared for a while. I’m just about caught up. I’m currently answering Friday’s questions and hope to be through all of today’s questions by the end of the night. So if you haven’t missed my posts, bad luck for you, I’m back. But if you have missed them, thanks! I’ve missed you too. Also, please if you have sent me questions earlier than Friday and have not heard back, absolutely resend them.

Thanks! Scott

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fun w/ Keyword Searches

I came across this idea while browsing blogs recently and can’t for the life of me find it again. So if it was you, let me know and I’ll give you full credit. Otherwise, tough chicken nuggets!

As bloggers we often check to see how people are finding us. Sometimes the keywords make sense. Sometimes not so much. But hey if people need this information so much that they are searching for it, who am I to deny them? So with no further ado, here are some of my recent top search hits along with clarifying information.

#1 j. scott savage, j scott savage, j. scott. savage, j scott savage water keep, j scott savage blog

Yep. That’s me, my book, and my blog. The period after J is optional. Period after Scott is gratuitous. There has been a lot of confusion over what to call me. My wife has had quite a bit of success with, “Hey you.” As in “Hey you, get off the computer before your dinner gets cold.” And “Hey, you better look at the garbage disposal. I think it just fell off the bottom of the sink.” It had. (Note for future plumbers, garbage disposals actually just twist on and off. So don’t twist unless you want it off.) I actually answer to either Jeff or Scott, but not J. I’ll do another blog soon explaining in mind-numbing detail how I came to be the two named wonder.

#2 The second highest search is not surprisingly, “getting published with Shadow Mountain.”

If I could guarantee this, I would be able to make a living just off author fees. As I’ve said many times before, Shadow Mountain rocks. They are a great publisher. I can’t guarantee they’ll publish you. But I can provide a little additional information.

Shadow Mountain is the national imprint of Deseret Book. They are both based out of the same headquarters, but although DB is a primarily LDS (Mormon) publisher, SM is not. The books they publish are national content sold in bookstores across the US. Some of their most successful books have included the Fablehaven Series and several books by author Jason Wright, including The Wednesday Letters and The Christmas Jar. Both Wright and Mull have hit the NYT bestseller lists.

Shadow Mountain is open to both mainstream and YA novels. They do not require an agent, but they will work with agents. In the YA market, they will consider fantasy and non-fantasy works. One thing to be aware of when submitting to Shadow Mountain is that, although they do not want religious specific content, they are still looking at books with family content (no language, gore, sex, etc.) You can find more info at http://www.shadowmountain.com/

#3 Chris Schoebinger

Chris is the head honcho at Shadow Mountain. He is an incredibly savvy guy, and can take credit for much of the success at Shadow Mountain. Very sharp on all aspects of publishing and marketing. A little goofy, but hey aren’t we all? (Just kidding Chris, if you’re you know, reading this.) Chris does not take submissions directly but is very involved in acceptance down the road.

#4 Magic tour blogspot

Hmmm. Confusing. Are we taking about a blogspot for magic tours or a magic tour of blogspots? I’ll just assume it was someone checking on my Find Your Magic blogspot tour. At the end of my tour I’ll do a full recap with stats, numbers, and impressions.

#5 I look like John Depp

It’s true. I’m not gonna lie. I get confused for him a lot. When, you know, I wonder aimlessly around Tortugas with a bottle of Rum in my hand.

#6 How to do Savage magic tricks.

Talk a lot and try to say funny things to the audience so no one notices you are a lousy magician. There’s a reason I turned to writing.

#7 What monster is best for magic finding?

Trolls. Definitely trolls. Or ogres. Actually water elementals have incredible finding powers. But they don’t really count as monsters.

#8 Find your magic savage.

Look in the last place you left him.

#9 Are magic hooks any good?

No. But magic worms will keep you catching big mouth bass all day.

#10 Perfect publisher vanity

Well clearly it would have lots of room for books, a place for red pens, and a big mirror. Because editors have big egos. Unlike us humble writers.

#11 Lisa Mangum

Lisa actually held the number one spot for quite a while. But after the whole burger-gate incident, she’s really dropped in the polls. I’ve heard she’s looking for a new image consultant. Lisa is the real brains behind Shadow Mountain and she saved me from having to do something to my first chapter that I really didn’t want. All hail Queen Mangum.

We also have two new stops on the blog tour:

Kyle wrote a maniacal review at his blog Book Review Maniac

Jaime Theler nearly got me killed by falling off ancient ruins or getting swatted by an angry German. You can read her review here. And our fun Q&A here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Confession Time

Okay, I have a confession to make. No this doesn’t have anything to do with the potato I stuck in James Dashner’s exhaust pipe. Really sorry about the muffler, man, but it probably needed to go anyway. And this isn’t about those anonymous Go Farworld! signs someone has been plastering all over neighborhood garages. (I think that might have been Brian.) And it definitely doesn't have anything to do with that picture of Margaret Thatcher, that I added just because I had no other odd pictures on hand.

No this actually has to do with the wonderful post Kerry Blair, a good friend and excellent author, posted about the ten books you should read before you die. Before I make my confession, let me just say that I am probably the wrong person to ask this question. When people interviewing me ask what one book I would take to a deserted island, my first response is, “A book that would tell me how to get off the island, silly. Something like Deserted Islands for Dummies.” I’m also really bad at things like the live-each-day-like-it-was-your-last philosophy. I tend to agree with Lucy when she has this conversation with Sally in “You’re a Good Man Charley Brown.”

[SALLY]
You know, someone said that we should live every day as if it were the last day of our life.

[LUCY (passing by and overhearing)]Aaugh! This is the last day!! This is it!! I only have twenty-four hours left!! Help me! Help me! This is the lastday!! Aaugh!

[SALLY]Clearly, some philosophies aren't for all people.And that's my new philosophy!

With that forewarning, I confess that if I knew I was going to die in x amount of time, and I could only read ten books before I die, those books would be far more likely to include a fantasy novel than say, Dante’s Inferno. I wouldn’t even give a thought to Shakespeare, but I would probably buy the newest Dean Koontz novel. At least one of the ten would be a graphic novel and there might even be some—shudder—horror. Does that make me shallow? I’m sure it must. But you know what? I just don’t care. Yes there are times I read for deep meaning. You know like when I’m stuck in the dentist’s office and it’s taking forever, and the only thing in the lobby is a pristine copy of Hemingway’s short stories.

But in general I read to be amused. I read to be uplifted. I read to be inspired. And, as good as Grapes of Wrath is (I’m not kidding here. I really do like Grapes of Wrath in a sick and twisted sort of way.) it doesn’t pass the time the way something like “Life Expectancy” does. And it certainly isn’t uplifting. I know, I know, we’re talking “Masters” here. Writers with standing and gravitas draining out their long dead ear holes. But I don’t read to be impressed and I definitely don’t read to impress. I actually did buy a book of Somerset Maugham stories to read on my last trip. And I tried. I really tried to get into them. But I kept looking at what my kids were reading with great envy. Finally when they fell asleep, I ditched SM and started reading Star Wars.

The other day, a wonderful young woman, and teacher to be, listed her top ten books. An anonymous poster rediculed the list--presumably because it contained too much genre fiction. But as soon as I read that list, I thought, “This is the woman I want teaching my kids.” See here’s the thing. She listed books like “The Uglies” and “Harry Potter” and “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” In other words books that my kids would “get.” Books that would lift them to new heights, give them dreams, introduce them to new worlds. Books they could get into right away and enjoy. If my kids have a teacher who knows how good “The Uglies” is, I have no worries about my kids learning to read.

Now I’m not saying there isn’t a place for more weighty volumes. I mean shouldn’t college students have to suffer at least a little to get to wear the goofy caps and gowns and put letters after their name other than WAS HERE? There’s nothing like a college level literature appreciation class to make you appreciate that you don’t have to read literature all the time. And maybe it will even teach you something other than the fact that Tolstoy seriously needed some St John’s Wart.

What I am saying is that all too often we feel that reading should be work. We should preferably be reading the scriptures, and if not those, than non-fiction. But if you have to read fiction, make sure that is historically accurate, or better yet, so old it actually is history. Next time you see someone over thirty with a fantasy or Sci-Fi novel in their hand—or heaven forbid, a romance—ask them what they are reading. Watch how they blush, and kind of wave away the book as if they’d just found it abandoned on a bus station bench, and are on their way to the trash with it.

But then say, “Oh, I love that book.” And watch how quickly they open up. A fellow degenerate. Next thing you know, you’ll be discussing the difference between Stephen Donaldson and Tolkien. You’ll be comparing Card to Heinlein. You won’t need to pretend that you prefer to go to bed with a copy of 16th Century Politics and It’s Effect on Modern American Economic Psychology. You can even admit that you’ve read all the Harry Potter books, and the Redwall books—twice.

Yeah, I know I’ll never earn the accolades of the New Yorker, and my mansion in heaven will probably be a little on the small side. But it will be lined with bookshelves from top to bottom, and they will ALL be books I like. I may let my grandkids come over and read them occasionally. Heck, I’ll bet would even like Hemmingway would like to read Dean Koontz, now that he’s sober.
I'm also excited to post several new stops on my tour. It's not every day you get to discuss things like having an extra eyeball in your pocket. Enjoy!

Sarah posted a great review on her blog Toddler Drama. Sarah is a talented writer, photographer, and graphic artist. As well as being the sister of some schlep of a writer names Dashner.

Next I got to go to Disneyworld with one of my most long-time fans, Brian at Bookworm. We had a fun interview and got to watch the fireworks from the Big Thunder Railroad. My stomach is feeling much better now.

You can read a fun review of Farworld by the wonderful Reader Rabbit the 2nd here.

Or you can drop by Mrs. Magoo as seen on TV, for her review at Mrs. Magoo Reads.

Qu Grainne and I had a chance to swap stories at the Alterra – Humboldt CafĂ©. You can read about it all here.

Gamila of Gamila’s Review and I chatted as we floated along the Avon River. You can read of Q&A here. And her interview here.

Trish and I had a had a ball at Hey Lady Whatcha Readin’? Check out her interview and review, and wish her congratulations on her recent nuptials.

Queen of Chaos and her 11 year-old son read my book togther. You can read her review and interview here.

And last, but certainly not least, (as she would tell you herself) the charming, talented, lovely, and writeaholic, Tristi Pinkston wrote a stellar review and interview on families.com here and here. (Did I get in all the superlatives you asked for Tristi? J )

Thanks all. This has been a riot.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Stuff and Protagonists

Just got back from meeting with Chris, Angie, Patrick, and Roberta, at Shadow Mountain headquarters. For those of you who haven’t been there, it’s right across from Temple Square in Salt Lake. Next door is where they are rebuilding the whole downtown mall area. I could sit in their conference room all day and watch the construction equipment work. What is it about watching other people work that is so relaxing? Apparently I’m becoming enough of a regular now that the older gentleman at the front desk recognizes me. (Hey, I’ll take whatever fleeting fame I can get!)

Anyway, the purpose of the meeting was to finalize my tour schedule, go over my school presentation, and—as a surprise—they gave me an actual dust jacket for Water Keep. Whoo hoo!
So here’s the official tour schedule. September 22 and 23rd I will be in Houston. On the 24th and 25th, I will be in Phoenix. And the 26th I will be in Portland. The following week I will be in Pleasant Hill, Ca, Roseville, CA, and Bountiful, Utah. This is still subject to a little bit of change, but if any of you are in those areas and would like to schedule an event, let me know. Also if you have contacts in the PTA in those areas, that would be much appreciated! I can’t wait. I will definitely be doing more visits during the year, so if you’ve got a great idea about where I should come, let me know.

The next thing on the agenda was my school presentation. This involved doing magic tricks in front of the whole crew, telling stories of my misspent youth, and dressing Patrick and Roberta up in capes and top hats. I have to admit the last part was pretty fun. Still working out the details of the presentation. But I can tell you it will include this picture of yours truly and his cousin. (Okay, I’ll admit it’s a pretty goofy pic. But at least it wasn’t as bad as an author who shall remain nameless. His childhood pics were apparently so bad they were pulled, for fear of frightening small children.)

Finally I got to see my actual dust jacket today. I keep running my fingers over the embossed lettering and sighing. Not sure what the other employees in my office think about this as they are keeping a provident distance.

The last item I wanted to discuss is what makes a good protagonist. Recently I posted about the ten top movie villains and got some great feedback about what makes a good villain. It was interesting how many of the best villains are women. Kathy Bates—shudder. You liked villains that weren’t as expected. Voice of the villain seemed to be a big deal, as was believable motivation.

So what makes a good protagonist? Does he or she have to be likeable? Or do we just need to empathize with them? I’m rereading Lord Foul’s bane. The protagonist, Thomas Covenant is really kind of a jerk. I mean he rapes an innocent young woman shortly after arriving in the fantasy world. But yet, we see what has turned him into such an unlikable person. His leprosy has alienated him from people so much, that the girls’ acceptance basically breaks him.

What makes a good protagonist for you?

Oh, and also a couple more fun stops on the blog tour:

Rachelle and I floated down the Snake River. If you can't tell from my books, I've got a little thing about snakes. Hope the name isn't because of the reptiles! You can read our Q&A at Rachelle Writes

An interview with the my friend and fellow author Marsha Ward of Writer in the Pines

An interview with Jewel of Jewel's World

An interview with Dominique of The Book Vault

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Best Villians and More Tour

So apparently Moviefone has come up with their list of the top ten movie villains of all time. Cool. In my mind, the first character that popped into my head was Norman Bates. Especially considering when Psycho came out, he was the creepiest of the creepy. I think what sold me on him was that he killed pretty much whoever dropped by. Nothing personal, just doing my job. Slash, slash, slash. But then, the whole mother twist at the end. I had lots of bad dreams about him. So I was sure he would be one of the top ten, if not number one.

But then I see the list, and he doesn’t even make it. What? How can that be? That’s like leaving The Babe out of the MLB hall of fame. It’s like forgetting Queen in the list of the best rock bands. It’s like not including Harry Potter in the best fantasy books. Ahh, but there’s our problem. Harry Potter trumps all. So the top movie villain, hold your breath if you haven’t already heard, is . . .



Voldemort? What? Really? Voldemort is the BEST movie villain of all time? Are you kidding me? Okay, the dude was a pretty good villain in books. And he was okay in the movies. But are you telling me he was scarier than Nazgul in LOTR? Are you telling me he was meaner than Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty? This woman put a family's daughter to sleep for 100 years. Talk about rude!

I don’t buy it, but here’s their list.

1. Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter - Ralph Fiennes

I’ve said enough about this. Bad choice. Not even the best villain in the last ten years.

2. Darth Vader, Star Wars -James Earl Jones, Hayden Christensen

Who’s going to argue with this? Dude was a GREAT villain.

3. Wicked Witch Of The West, The Wizard Of Oz - Margaret Hamilton

Don’t know that I’d put her near this high. But yeah, she and her flying monkeys gave me some pretty bad nightmares.

4. Hannibal Lecter, Silence Of The Lambs - Anthony Hopkins

Oh yeah. Waaayyyy creepy. He is in my top ten. Although the guy who was taking the girls and sewing their skin was also pretty nasty.

5. Joker, The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger

Okay, I have a big problem here. He can make the list next year. But this list was made before the movie even came out. You can’t put a guy in the HOF before he even comes up to bat. Even if he is great. The entertainment world is going to miss him, but no sentimental vote here.

6. Goldfinger, Goldfinger - Gert Frobe

Huh? Nope. Lots of better villains, even in the Bond movies alone. I personally thought the Jaws character was pretty good.

7. Chigurgh, No Country For Old Men - Javier Bardem

No comment. Haven’t seen it.

8. Hans Gruber, Die Hard - Alan Rickman

Another swing and a miss. No idea why he made the list.

9. Max Cady, Cape Fear – Robert De Niro

Okay. He was scary.

10. The Queen, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- Lucille La Verne

Base hit. But I think a homer would have been Maleficent. I mean, dude, she could turn into a dragon!

So who were your favorite movie villains? And just for fun, who are you favorite book villains. I’d have to put the clown from IT pretty high on my list. Bonus question, what makes a good villian for you?

In blog tour news, I’ve been having a ball globe trotting and doing virtual interviews. Here are some more of the tour stops.

Jessica at The Blue Stocking Society joined me in Park City

Kimberly of Temporary? Insanity fattened me up on fondue.

Anna Hedges joined me for a fun Q&A on her blog ThE bLoG oF A. e. heDgES

Karlene of Ink Splasher and I ate fruit and listened to the dawn chimes sing.

“Weston” Elliott and I hung out in Farworld. You can read her Q&A and review at Wendword

Heather Justesen did a review on her blog, and will be doing a Q&A shortly

G Parker and I got to hang out at her sister’s cabin at Fish Lake. You can read about it at Musings From an LDS Writing Mom

And Mikaela did a review at her blog

Thanks so much to everyone who is taking part. If you have posted a review or interview and I missed you, please let me know. If you have sent me questions that I haven’t answered. I’m hurrying. I promise!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Flying the Not-So-Friendly Skies

I think that I quite possibly have the worst airplane luck of anyone I know. Not that all my flights are bad. And I’ve never been in an actual crash, thank heavens. But it’s just that I’ve never met anyone with so many bizarre airplane stories. Now this might have something to do with the fact that I’ve logged nearly 600,000 miles with Delta alone—probably 1 million total miles over the last 15 years or so. But it doesn’t seem like enough to justify all the weird things I’ve seen. I mean I’ve driven tons and tons of miles and I don’t have hardly any driving stories. But flight stories? Here are a few examples.

Once I was on a plane that was getting ready to close the doors and pull out onto the tarmac, when this guy who looked remarkably like Owen Wilson boards. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Maybe a little weird, but nice. As he gets on, he heads to his seat which was 16D singing, “Ah, sweet, sweet 16. I love 16.” So people generally smile and carry on. After he sits down, he leans across the aisle to these two older women and says, “How are you two lovely ladies?” They laugh, blush, you know. He starts chatting with them, and turns the conversation to God, saying something to the effect of, “Have you discovered God? Because I wouldn’t fly anywhere without him. I know God. Do you know God?”

By now the ladies are starting to get a little uncomfortable. They try to ignore him, so he starts talking to the whole plane, shouting that he has been saved and the plane needs to be saved too. Quickly a flight attendant approaches him and asks him to keep his voice down. He gets this little embarrassed smile and whispers an apology. Then as she starts to walk away he shouts, “Because I wouldn’t want to bother anyone with God would I? I wouldn’t want to bother anyone!” Shortly thereafter he was escorted off the plane by a nice security officer. Turns out he was supposed to be on some medication that he had stopped taking.

Then there was the husband and wife who boarded the plane with their three small children. I was on one aisle, the husband, sat on the other, and the three children sat between us. The wife sat one row back. When I offered to change seats with her, she smiled sweetly and said, “No thanks.” About half an hour into the flight, the kids wanted hot chocolate to drink. The flight attendant put all the drinks on the father’s tray and said, “These are very, very, hot.” So of course the dad hands them right over to his kids, the youngest takes a big gulp and begins screaming wildly—and understandably. I turned back to the mother who was reading a book and offered again to let her come up and help with her child. Another smile. Another, “No thanks.”

That was a long flight. But not as long as the flight I took where I was given the last seat on a flight that left a few hours earlier than the one I had originally scheduled. First, I have to point out that I have a semi-serious case of claustrophobia. I can go in an elevator, plane, etc. But caves are generally out, and anything where I start to feel cramped can get pretty bad pretty quick. So it turns my seat is in the very last row in the plane. It only has seats on one side of the plane, and only two seats, as there is a lavatory across from it. I am given the window seat back where the plane starts to narrow. Not good, as I am already going to be pushed up against the side of the plane. Hopefully I have a small person sitting next to me. Can you see this coming?

Have you ever seen those 18 inch seat belt extenders? Well this guy needed two. I have nothing against big people, but this guy could not—and did not—fit in one seat. Instantly I am smashed between him and the side of the plane. My first—and wisest thought—was to get off right then. The two reasons I didn’t were that it was only about an hour and a half flight, and I couldn’t think of a polite way to tell this guy I was leaving. During the flight, I managed to lose myself in a pretty good book, and I did okay. Right up until we landed and taxied to the gate.

As soon as we reached the gate, though, the engines shut down and all that nice moving air stopped. This is not good for claustrophobics. We need moving air. Of course everyone with an aisle seat stood up—except for my friend. Now I am counting down the minutes, watching as each row exits. I’m sweating like crazy and trying not to begin pounding the guy next to me, when a man opens an overhead bin and a metal briefcase falls out and knocks a woman unconscious. You think I’m making this up? I wish.

We were stuck on the plane for an extra half hour with no moving air, while they brought on a backboard to carry the woman off. And not once did the guy beside me even offer to move. I know, I know, the woman with the head wound was worse off. But I would gladly have been the one knocked out if given the choice.

I also had a flight redirected over the Atlantic after a truly terrible and possible fatal accident with a cart elevator. You really don’t want to know the details on that. I’ve been on many, many flights where they asked if there were doctors on board. I’ve got tons of these stories.

So yesterday when I had a perfectly good first class upgraded seat on a 7:30 flight from JFK to Salt Lake, you would have thought I’d stick with it. But the Delta agent at the airport assured me I could catch the 3:30 flight. She even changed my ticket so I’d get another first class seat. Of course when they actually filled the flight, somehow my first class seat disappeared. “I don’t know who told you that, honey. But you’ll lucky to get on this plane at all.”

“What seat did I get?” you ask. Middle seat, non-reclining in the back of the plane. As I am the last person to board, I ask the smiling flight attendant if there is room in the overheads for my duffle bag or could I put it in the front closet? (I pack light and I don’t check bags unless I have to. Want to talk lost bag stories?) She assures me there is room for my duffle bag and computer bag in the back. That’s fine. But as I start by, the other flight attendant gives me a wink and moves some things in the closet so I can put it in.

“Thanks,” I whisper. “You are awesome,” as she tucks the bag down. Five minutes after I am seated, here comes the first attendant with my bag. She gives me a glare, opens an overhead compartment and literally throws it in.

“Is there a problem?” I ask.

“When I tell you not to use the closet,” she says, with a really dirty look, “don’t try to sneak your bag in.”

“I didn’t sneak it in,” your other attendant told me I could.

“I just asked her and she said she didn’t”

“Why else would I put it there? I brought my computer bag back here. I wouldn’t open the closet myself.”

“I have no idea why you did? I told you not to use it and you did anyway!”

At this point everyone is staring at me, and I’m thinking about the scene where Adam Sandler is escorted off the plane in “Anger Management.” “That’s fine,” I say. “Apparently I misunderstood.” I open my book and look up to see that she is just standing there scowling at me.

So eventually she leaves. But once the flight starts, I discover I am seated next to the incredible peeing man. He doesn’t look like he weighs more than a hundred pounds or so, but every ½ hour he nudges me and says, “Excuse me.” Then I and the French girl who speaks no English have to get out of our seats and wait while he hits the lavatory. At least it is close by. Right behind us in fact, with all its unique smells.

But all that was okay. Because I had just purchased a new book at the airport bookshop. It was a horror novel. A “national bestseller, now a major motion picture.” Stephen King proclaimed it, “The best horror novel of the new century.” And it’s even a whopping 500+ pages. How can you argue with that? It turns out this book is all about a bunch of people trapped on a hill with a horrible, intelligent, killer . . . vine.

I kid you not. A vine, for crying out loud. And kind of a stupid killer vine from what I can see. I mean, it grows everywhere—except on this clear path that it leaves for walking. It’s smart enough to tear down the warning signs other people put up, it’s fast enough to catch buttons out of thin air, and it’s hungry enough to slurp up a puddle of vomit when a girl throws up on the trail. But somehow it’s not smart enough to just wrap you up and eat when you tromp through the middle of it. And from what I can tell, it also does impressions of cell phones, and birds. Although I still haven’t figured out how it manages to makes these sounds since it has no vocal cords of any kind. To give Smith, who I hear is a great writer, the benefit of the doubt. I have not finished the book, so maybe it has a great ending. I like the beginning a lot. But come on. 300 pages of people whining about a vine? Oohhhhhhhh.

Yeah, well, rush right out and buy your own copy of “The Ruins” by Scott Smith if you are into killer vines. But if an older flight attendant from New York offers to let you put your bag in the front closet, just say, “No.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tour, Tour, Tour

Hope everybody had a great weekend. I had a chance to hang with most of the relatives on my side of the family, cooking burgers and shooting off fireworks. And I only came away with a few minor burns on the backs of my hands and one on top of my head. Okay, so maybe I stay a little too long trying to light just one more firework as the others are starting up. For those of you sending me questions, I’m catching up as fast as I can. But keep them coming because I’m having a ball answering them.

I just heard from my publisher that the blue lines are done and the books are actually in the process of being printed and bound. I’ve got a book show signing scheduled for early August and they are hoping I’ll have hard copies by then. Whoo hoo! Can’t wait. I’m even officially listed on Shadow Mountain’s web site. No reviews from the big boys yet, but all the feedback I’m getting is positive. The only real negative I’m hearing is that the pace of book one is so fast there is not as much time to get to know the characters and the Dark Circle as people would like.

I don’t plan to slow down the pace in book two, but I am going to provide a lot more meat to Kyja, Marcus, and the bad guys. In a way it is shaping up a little like HP 4, which was my favorite HP book. The plan is to get it to my editor by the end of August/Early September. Speaking of early September, we are finalizing the two week book tour and should have firm dates and locations soon.

Here are the newest reviews on the tour.

Jewel from Jewel’s World who I had the pleasure of writing a blurb for recently. If you haven’t read her blog, you should. She really is a jewel.

KT at What KT Reads wrote a great review and will be doing a Q&A soon.

Sandra, Ethan, and James at The Dance went rafting on the Provo River with me. Which was a ball, until James pushed me out of the raft. We’re going to have words.

Danyelle of Queen of the Clan and I got to hang in her newly remodeled kitchen. (check out the pics of it!)

Candace Salima and I hung out in her newly remodeled blog at Dream a Little Dream.

And Christine at She Reads Books gave me a review of more than her first six word review.

Wait, just added one more!! How could I have forgotten my trek into the Australian Outback with the lovely and talented, T. For her blog You Asked For It? It was a lot of fun.

Thanks everybody! You all are awesome!!!!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independance Day! & More Stops on the Tour

I’ve read many wonderful blogs today, recognizing the freedoms we have and the people who have sacrificed so much to protect that freedom. I know there is a lot of division in our country, maybe more so than at any time since the civil war. But as long as we can all unite on days like today in support of the many good things we have and the right of people to say what they think and stand up for what they believe, I think we’ll be okay.

I know that for me personally, I couldn’t be more proud to recognize over two hundred years of freedom. I’m proud of the many cultures, races, religions, and beliefs that can all survive and thrive in a single country. I’m proud that I can go to schools around the country and tell children that they can become anything they set their minds to and know it is absolutely true.

With all of our flaws, warts, and freckles, I’m proud to call the US home. Even if we don’t have Wonder Bars and Ketchup Chips. That was for you, Canada. Sorry I missed your Canada Day celebration. I was thinking about you. For the rest of you outside the US, let me know anytime you’re in the Utah area and I’ll take you all out for a burger and fries (with that unique Utah conglomeration known as fry sauce.) Those of you outside the US and Canada, what is your equivalent of Independence Day?

Here are two more blogs that I had a chance to visit.

Teacher Tasses did a great review over at Let the Wild Rumpus Start. She’ll be doing a cool interview and contest later. She’s also going to create a literature teaching guide for grades 3-6. Can’t wait to see it.

I also visited with the lovely and talented author, Shirley Bahlmann. We did our Q&A at the bottom of the lake in Water Keep no less. Let me just say in fair warning that Shirley is at least as weird as me. And I mean that in the nicest way. Check her blog Shirley Bahlmann Bizz, then check out her books. She is a great writer!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

And We're Off!

The FARWORLD BLOG TOUR is officially under way. (Like how I put it all in caps? Makes it look more official. Can’t you just hear the bugles and drums?) But before I take you on a whirlwind tour involving much eating, drinking, reading, and generally being merry, I thought I’d answer a question quite a few people have been asking me.

Basically the question comes down to how do you feel about getting feedback from readers/editors/reviewers?

I think that learning how to request and handle feedback both positive and negative is one of the hardest things for new writers to master. They tend to overreact to both the positive and the negative. Combine that with the fact that often they don’t even know what they want when they ask for feedback and you can see where it’s easy for them to get their feelings hurt.

The first thing a writer has to understand is the level and type of feedback they are getting. I think I’ve pointed this out before, but I am not an expert on art. Not even close. But I have a co-worker who is. He graduated from a prestigious art school. He is an amazing painter. If he and I were to look at the same painting, we would each be entitled to our opinions. But, and this is key, my opinion would the opinion of an art patron. His opinion would be that of an artist. Neither is more valuable in and of itself, but they are definitely different. Let me explain.

Ultimately the person who matters most is the reader. That is who my responsibility is to. If most readers don’t “get” my story, I have failed, not the readers. Much as I want and would be thrilled by nominations, awards, and positive reviews from prestigious publications like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, ALA, etc, what matters most to me is what the readers think. So I am every bit as thrilled by a 13 year-old girl who loves my book as I am by a big publication.

I also realize though, that not all readers are going to like my book. Some will be the wrong audience. But some will just have different tastes. Just for fun, I looked up the first books in several best selling series. Harry Potter got 68 one star reviews. Twilight 87. Artemis Fowl 58. In fact the more successful you are, the more likely you are to get a significant number of negative reviews, just by sheer numbers. The key is to focus on what people liked and what they didn’t like, determine what if anything you’d like to change in the next book, and move on. You can’t please everyone.

When it comes to constructive criticism, I place a lot more credit with professionals in the publishing industry: editors, other authors, and book reviewers. Because they read many books and understand the process of creating a good story, I want their brutal opinion. I don’t want them to hold back. I will usually let them know whether I am looking for a content edit, a writing edit, or a line edit. It’s not that their opinion is any more important than an average reader, but they can not only tell me what they liked and disliked, they can suggest why something did or didn’t work.

My suggestion for beginning writers? Don’t ask for brutal critiques at first. That’s hard on even the most successful writer’s ego, and you haven’t built up enough thick skin yet. Instead, ask people to tell you what they liked. Ask them what characters they felt were the most real. Ask them where they felt the most attached to the story. Once you’ve received enough positive feedback to convince you your story is not a piece of garbage, ask them what parts they thought were slow or which characters they didn’t relate to as well.

When you’ve received feedback from enough people you will be able to decide for yourself what areas need work, and where you have got it down right.

I know this sounds like I am setting you up for a bunch of bad reviews on the tour. But that’s really not the case. In fact, I’ve been delighted by all the positive feedback and excited to hear what people wanted to see improved. So let’s jump in.

For my first stop, I jetted out to Washington state where Annaliese and I had a wonderful meal in the Space needle. You can read her review and our Q&A on her blog, Life of a Story Engineer.

Next on the tour is She Reads Books, where Christine did six word reviews of her June books

Over at The Lyon’s Tale, Annette Lyon gave away all my innermost secrets

Then I raced all the way up to Canada for a gondola ride. (But don’t be thinking boats and long poles) with Melanie Nielson at The Nielson Family

Finally I enjoyed a . . . hearty? . . . meal with Murph of From the Mind of Murph at Darrow’s Bar & Grill, Home of the 10 Pound Haggis. Ummmm.

I’ve also had several fun reviews over at Goodreads.

Thanks everyone for the excellent reviews and fun content. There are lots more on the way, and nearly all of these blogs are doing contests.

PS Also wanted to wish a hearty congrats to my good friend James Dashner who just sold a book I happen to love called Maze Runner. You can read the details of his deal over at his blog, The Dashner Dude.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Buried

I apologize for not posting this past week. I have been absolutely buried by end of quarter at work, a time-crunch on another writing project, and finishing Q&A's for the tour. (Unfortunately I have that stack of work on the left, but not the assitant to help me out.) If I haven't answered your questions yet, I promise I will shortly.

In the mean time, here are three more reviews (I'll create a sidebar for all of them this week!) and another picture from the book. Hope to come up for air very soon!

Ally is also giving away a copy of her newest Shadow Mountain YA novel, called . . . "Freshman for President." The contest ends on the 3rd of July. My family recently finished this book and loved it! My ten year old son, immediately snatched it up for a second reading. So hurry over there before her contest ends.

Two more fun reviews from these great sites you should check out!






Monday, June 23, 2008

A Sneak Peek

This week I don't expect to get a ton of blogging done, as I'm doing some pretty heavy editing for another book and also answering questions for the blog tour.

I know the blog tour doesn't officially begin until next month (which also happens to be next week for those of you without calendars at the ready.) But I had a couple of bloggers ask me if they could post a little early. And being the nice guy that I am, I said, "Why not?" Of course it had nothing to do with being anxious to see what they thought of the book.

So, if you'd like to jump into the tour a little early for a sneak peek at what's coming, you can drop by Anne Bradshaw's, Not Entirely British for her review and contest.

And you can drop by Raych's, books i done read, for a wild game of battleship, words of advice on what to tell your kids when they ask which of your books they can read, some unusual questions and answers, and a contest as well.


Thanks to both of you for taking part in the tour!


Oh, and here's another sneak peek at a picture from Water Keep. If you look really close, you can just make out faces on the trees. Can I say again, what a stud Brandon Dorman is?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Questions, Websites, and Bartimaeus

Just wanted to say how much I am enjoying all of your questions. Quite a few of them have made me laugh out loud. And I’m learning new things—like the menu at the Space Needle and the ins and outs of Battleship. Also, I’d never really considered whether or not my pets had any odd quirks. Does my fish doing the backstroke count?

Also, can I just say for the thousandth time that Shadow Mountain is the coolest publisher ever? I met with Chris, Patrick (the web specialist), and their consultant, whose name I can’t remember right at the moment, but who was absolutely incredible, to go over the plans for the Farworld website.

In my years of marketing, I’ve found that there are three kinds of marketing people you meet. Those who can’t even do what you ask them, those who can do what you ask, and those that go beyond what you’ve imagined. Shadow Mountain definitely falls into the third category. In talking with Patrick, I let him know some of the things I’d like to do with the site. I really wanted to have it integrate up to date info from me along with community involvement.

I’d like to have a special section for teachers where they can order bookmarks and posters, download classroom aids, and schedule visits. I’d like to have forums and this blog integrated in. I’d like fun extras and info about Farworld and upcoming books. I'd like to have a place where people can upload their Farworld artwork. Essentially, lots of reasons to check in often. And I’d like to be able to update it without requiring a programmer for every change.

Not only were they on top of all my requests. By they went so much further. Imagine a screen where you see a beautiful green valley and as the sun rises, tiny purple flowers rise from the ground. (Sound familiar?) Imagine the Farworld map made interactive. Imagine a site that you actually leap into. Every time I suggested something, they would flip to another screen and say, “Like this?”

Let me just say it is going to be sooooooo cool. Thanks everyone at SM!

Finally, at the suggestions of several of you during our best fantasy series contest, I just read “Amulet of Samarkland,” the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy. Wow! It was so much better than I expected. Great story. Great world. Great sense of humor. I can’t wait to read the next book. Honestly the only two complaints I has—and they aren’t really complaints as much as comments—were that the footnotes got old after about the first ten, and this is a book with a twelve-year-old protagonist, but it clearly is not a middle grade book. As an adult I loved it. I think readers twelve and up will probably love it. But it’s pretty tough vocabulary for readers under twelve.

I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Perfect Fathers Day

So I had an interesting thought occur to me yesterday as my kids brought me breakfast and fun gifts. (I especially liked my eight-year-old’s coupon for a car wash. He amended it by saying that I couldn’t use it until he was big enough to actually wash the car—say twelve or so. But he’d be happy to cash it in for teaching me to play Warcraft 3.)

Actually my wife and I don’t make such a big deal out of traditional holidays like Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. We prefer to do fun gifts or dates for each other when we feel like it. Not when the calendar says we have to. We especially like going on shopping sprees the day after holidays.

Nevertheless, my kids spent the days leading up to Fathers Day asking me what I wanted them to give me. I was not only thinking about what I wanted from my kids, but what I was going to do for my own father. And suddenly a thought struck me with such force, I could barely believe it hadn’t occurred to me before.

Growing up—and even being a grown up for that matter—I’ve always wanted to impress my parents. Impress may be the wrong word. But I think you know what I’m talking about. Most of us have someone in life we want to please. It could be a parent/s. It could be a mentor. A spouse. A loved one. A boss. It’s the person we go to when we do something good and say, “Hey, look what I accomplished.”

Throughout my life, there are certain times I’ve been really excited to tell my parents what I accomplished. The big job. Publishing my first book. Buying my first house. Getting a promotion. Completing a marathon. These are the moments when you get to say, “Look! I’m not a complete screw-up after all.” All this time, I’ve just assumed those are the moments when my parents would be most proud of me.

But yesterday, I was thinking about the things I wanted my own children to accomplish, and I realized those aren’t the things I care about at all. Yes, I’ll be happy for my kids if they get a good paying job. But I’ll be much happier if they love the job they have and do it well. I could care less about how big their house is. But I care a lot about how they treat their spouse and children. It doesn’t matter to me if they follow in my footsteps and write books near as much as it matters how they treat other people.

Maybe this makes me odd, but I’m much prouder of my kids when I hear they are the ones who befriend the less popular kids than I am if they score a winning touchdown or get the lead in the play. I give my son crap for missing curfew without calling me. But I can’t help smiling (at least when he’s not around) when I find out it’s because one of the kids at his school ran out of gas and he took him to get some.

There’s a good chance my kids won’t read this today. (Come on, really, what kid reads her father’s blog?) But I save my posts in a book that they’ll probably come across one day. And when they do, I want them to know that what I want for this Fathers Day and the Fathers Days to come, is knowing that my children are the good guys (and gals) in the world.

When other parents say, “My son is a brain surgeon with a huge house and a new BMW”, I want to be able to respond with, “My daughter took care of her neighbor’s children when she was sick.” And “My son always holds the door open for people and stops to help motorists whose cars have broken down.” I know it probably sounds lame, but if I can have that, every day will be the perfect Fathers Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Book Time

Time is a funny thing. For something so infinitely measurable, it seems to have quite a bit of flexibility. Stephen King describes this in his short story, “My Pretty Pony.” He talks about how time moves faster for older people than for children. How it slows down during something we dislike, but flies by when we are enjoying ourselves.

And how we measure time depends to a great deal on our current circumstances. When my kids were little they had no concept of an hour. Telling them we would leave to go for ice-cream in an hour left them scratching their heads. “How long is an hour?” they’d ask. Our response was something like, “Two Gummi Bears.” Or, “Two Under the Umbrella Trees.” Those of you unfamiliar with kids’ television shows of the early nineties might be scratching your own heads right now. But for our children—who knew exactly how long a single episode of Gummi Bears was—it answered their time question perfectly.

For another example, consider travel time (not time travel which is another question entirely.) If I told you I was going on a seven day trip, what might you imagine? A car drive to Ohio and back? Four or five days in New York with flights to and from? A week in Mexico? A quick jaunt to Paris?

What if you had asked someone the same question a hundred years ago? Two hundred? Back when a trip from Ohio to California was not only months long, but filled with the very real possibility of death, a four day trip might be what we’d consider an afternoon drive. Yes, it is because distances have shortened with modern travel. But you have to admit that it has also changed the way we view time. Would you even consider taking a trip that included months of slow monotonous travel? I don’t think most of us have the same kind of patience people back then possessed.

Book time is another weird variation. There is how time moves within a book. Consider that some books jump centuries in a single chapter. Others cover the formation and growth of a state, country, or even planet. And yet others may cover only a day or two in the entire length of the book. If it is handled skillfully, the reader is really not even conscious of the work it takes to either stretch two days into an entire novel, or transition from 12th century Europe to modern day Israel without pulling the reader out of the story.

Then there’s reading time. I Hate—with a capital H—finding myself on a plane without a book. Even if the flight is only a couple of hours, I feel completely trapped without something to read. Time seems to just slog by. I’m sure for someone who flies less it might not be such a big deal, but I feel like I’m stuck in a padded room with no source of entertainment as the seconds slowly tick by. Yes, there are occasionally movies—but never anything you really want to watch, and usually on tiny little screens like look like they haven’t had the color adjusted since 1982. I also have my MP3 player—doesn’t everyone these days—but I like music as background, not my primary entertainment.

On the other hand, I can breeze through even the longest flights if I have a good book to get lost in. I always try to keep at least a couple of books in my travel bag, so I can move from one to another if I get bored, or have a backup in case I finish one sooner than expected. Somehow having a good book to read makes me a much more patient person. It’s like time traveling for the mind.

Finally there is book time for authors. This is a really weird phenomenon that takes a while to get used to. Water Keep, which won’t hit shelves for nearly three months, first came to me nearly two years ago. I started writing it in the fall of 2006. It was accepted in the spring of 2007. Except for small edits here and there, I haven’t written anything on it for months. For me, it’s old news. I’m caught up in the excitement of writing the second book in the series. Kyja and Marcus looking for Water Keep feels like it happened five or even ten years ago.

It would be easy to be sick of the book since I’ve read it so many times. But then I get to revisit it through fresh eyes. I get to hear how much people like Kyja. Or how cool they think the Unmakers are. As I answer the questions for the blog tour, it’s almost like I’ve been transported back in time to when Water Keep was fresh and new for me. It’s how I feel when I reread an old favorite to my kids—like “Where the Red Fern Grows,” or “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Of course, I also have people tell me about things they wish I’d done better. That’s when time suddenly catches up and I go, “Well, not much I can do about that now.” But then, I can try to improve on those things in book 2.

Still it’s a weird phenomenon. Kind of like having time overlap for a while. When I go on my ten city tour to promote Water Keep, I will have already finished writing Land Keep. I will probably get an advance for book two before I get a royalty check for book one. I will be out getting kids excited about the first book in a series, while my mind is already beginning the plot details of the third book.

The good news is, I love talking about books and I also love writing books. So even though I may be caught up in this weird time vortex, I will be enjoying myself, so time won’t drag at all. Unless I get caught on a plane with nothing to read. Shudder.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Pics

Can't tell you how excited I was today to get the inside illustrations for Water Keep and the . . . map! I have always wanted to write a book with a map in it. I know that is a totally geeky thing. But it has just made me smile all day! I asked my publisher if I could share a couple of them with you. Not sure how clear the pictures will be in this format. But here goes.


This is the picture from the start of Part III. It will be a two page spread. Those of you who have read Farworld will know what it is. Those of you who haven't need to. :)

This is the map. It will become much more detailed as future books come out. Hint. There is an unmarked location that ties in with the picture from Part III.

So what do you all think?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

First Stop on the Blog Tour


Okay, so I know the tour doesn't officially kick off until July. And those of you who haven't read Water Keep yet may not want to read the other reviews until you do yours. But if you have and you do, I recently jetted to Hawaii for roast pork and mango smoothies. While there, Fyrefly and I surfed, ate, and talked about Farworld. She is also doing a fun book giveaway for a good cause. So feel free to drop by to Fyrefly's Book Blog and say hi.
PS Hoping I have something very cool to show you tomorrow.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The "Magic" Kingdom

What does it tell you about the last few days that it’s after ten at night and I’m just getting to today’s blog? No, it doesn’t tell you I’m a lazy goof off who just got back from Disneyland! What gave you that idea? Oops, sorry. Let me just take off the Mickey ears. Actually I’ve been busy answering questions for the blog tour. I’ve been visiting places like Hawaii, Narnia, Water Keep, and playing Call of Duty 4.

Among the questions I’ve answered include how I name my creatures, what my worst job was, and if I wet the bed as a child. Entertaining, one and all. This really is going to be a blast.

Anyway, in honor of spending way too many hours at the land Mickey built, I thought I’d post about how everything I know about writing I learned at Disneyland.

Start on Main Street. Don’t give me flashbacks, dream sequences, or flowery descriptions. Put me on the road to a great story and give me something I want to follow.

The best cruises include plenty of laughs. Laughter is a great way to keep me interested.
Why do so many stories have a comic sidekick? Because laughter breaks up the tension, makes me like the characters, and gives me a change of pace. But please, come up with something better than the backside of water.

Immerse me in your world. Walt Disney hated to see a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland or a yodeler in Adventureland. That’s why he built tunnels under Disneyworld. When I was in Frontierland, I watched a mayor stump for election in front of the saloon, rode a steam ship past Indian villages, and listened to a band of fiddle/banjo/guitar playing fools while I gnawed on a giant turkey leg. Give me the sights, smells, and sounds that make your world real for me.

Don’t ever, ever, ever, let me get bored—even when you are trying to move the story along. Yes, I need to get from point A to point B. But keep me entertained. Disneyland has thousands of storylines. You need a bare minimum of three per novel. And preferably more.

Thrills are key but setting makes it all come together. Yes, the tower of Terror is scary. But why? Just down the road apiece is a ride with a bigger drop and a faster ascent. Why is it not as scary? Because you scare the bejeebers out of me before I even get on the elevator with the creepy rooms, weird sounds, and the whole Twilight Zone story. By the time I start going up in the elevator, I am primed to scream my head off. Never create a setting just to make a place. Use every scene to create the mood you need.

Bring back favorite characters, but keep the story growing. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s my all time favorite ride. But I have to admit, I was pretty darn excited to try out the new Finding Nemo submarine ride. In a series, book two needs to keep the story growing and be bigger and better than book one. But don’t jettison the old favorites.

And finally, Dole Whip is the food of the gods. I don’t know for sure how that relates to writing, but I think I ate my weight in Dole Whip. Ummmm.

So what writing or reading tips have you learned at a Disney park?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Hi from D-Land!

Hey everybody! I know I've been a little quiet lately. That's because we are all out in SoCal, soaking up the sun and spending a little one-on-one time with Mickey Mouse. (Okay, I admit it's a little more like 20,000-on-one time. But we're having a ball.)

It looks like most of you have received your ARCs by now. A couple of you joined at the last minute and I didn't get you into the first mailing. Those will go out early next week. If you joined the tour any time before last week and haven't received your ARC yet, please e-mail me so I can check on it.

A few of you also had questions about the blog tour which I will try and answer.

1) Can we post a review before the tour on Goodreads or Librarything? Yes. Feel free to post a review on other sites. Any publicity helps.

2) Do we need to wait until our review to run the contest? No. You can start your contest anytime. In fact, Anne at Not Entirely British, is running her contest now.

3) How do we get our second (contest) ARC? If you want to send it out personally, I will have it mailed to you. Otherwise, just send me the name and address of the person it goes to. I will take them all over to Shadow Mountain for mailing about once a week.

4) When should we send you our questions if we are doing a Q&A? Anytime after you've read the book? I've already done a couple of fun ones.

Also, I wanted to give a shout out to Ally Condie, author of “Freshman for President.” We are reading it as a family right now and having a ball with the story of 15-year-old Milo Wright running for president of . . . the United States. Very, very funny and good. I’ll let you know when we finish it.

Thanks again and I'm looking forward to getting back into the blogging groove and hearing more about how you liked Farworld next week. Until then, "Ears to you!" Raising a Buzz Lightyear cup of soda.

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes When You're Busy Washing the Woodwork

I felt a little like Cinderella this last weekend. The one who is scrubbing bedpans while her stepsisters are at the ball—not the one who meets the prince and dances the night away. Friday through Sunday all of my fellow Shadow Mountain fantasy authors were at BEA (Book Expo America) in Los Angeles, doing book signings, meeting cool authors, attending dinners etc. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have my first book out yet, I was left home.

The analogy even goes a little farther, because my fairy godmother even made me a beautiful new gown for the ball. It’s the cool book cover over on the right of this blog. And it is as beautiful as any gown I could wish for. The kind of sucky thing is that in this version of Cinderella, the gown went to the ball without her and was snatched up by other dancers. (Okay this whole analogy is starting to sound a little creepy even to me. But you get the point.)

I guess the good news is that Shadow Mountain took 250 ARCs to the show, and they were gone before the end of the first day. With all the free books available, that really says something about the cover. So yay!

Meanwhile, back in Utah, I figured I might as well get out and do some work. So Jen (my wife) and I took ARCs, mouse pads, posters, and bookmarks out to twelve stores. It was actually kind of fun seeing how different the responses of store employees were. Some were thrilled to death and others looked like we were the postman dropping off a batch of junk mail. We even came up with a little grading system.

F—The only F I am going to give is there store where we walked in at a few minutes after seven and no one was there. The entire store was empty. Finally we checked the back office and realized the store had closed at six and some guys were cleaning the carpets. Um, you might want to lock the front door maybe?

D—Manager or CRM not at store. No clue who I am, who the publisher is, or what an ARC is. Repeats this phrase over and over as I hand him all the goodies. “Okay, I’ll give it to the manager.” Fortunately I only had one of these. I really tried everything I could to get him excited, but he looked like he hated anything to do with books. Which begs the question, “Dude, why are you even working here?”

C — These employees at least seemed to look interested. They politely took the book and glanced at the cover. I couldn’t get any conversation going about school visits, book signings, or the like. When I mentioned Shadow Mountain there was no recognition. Mention of Fablehaven got a small spark. They seemed to understand generally what an ARC was.

B — There was actual interest here and recognition of some sort. They definitely knew what an ARC was and were interested in reading it. They recognized either me or the publisher. They liked the goodies and promised to put them out. They thought there were several people in the store who might want to read the book. There was interest in having me do events with them.

A — These were the best ones. And fortunately there were more of these than any other. These people knew exactly what an ARC was and practically snatched it out of my hands. When I mentioned Fablehaven their eyes lit up. The loved the poster and promised to get the mouse pad on the office computer where everyone could see it. Several of them knew exactly who I was from my other books and couldn’t wait to start on this one. (This won’t be the case at most stores outside of Utah, but it was still fun.) They were excited to talk about school visits and book signings. They told me what had worked well in the store previously and gave me suggestions for working with them. I came back from these almost forgetting I wasn’t at BEA.

So what did I learn? Several things actually. (If you aren’t into book marketing jargon, stop reading now. This is the kind of stuff that bores most non-authors to tears.)

First, I am going to make up some new business cards with information about school visits, books signings, best ways to reach me etc. They best store managers asked for that right away. I may even make up a little flyer talking about my school presentations. Many of the stores got excited as I outlined what I present to schools.

Second, a few stores know who Shadow Mountain is. But nearly everyone recognizes Fablehaven and The Wednesday Letters. I could tell that several store employees were wary when I first showed up. Typically ARCs come in the mail. But once they realized I was with a publisher they knew and saw my book, they opened right up. I found that phrases like, “My publisher would normally send this out, but I like to meet you person,” helped a lot.

Third, know the name of the person you are coming to meet and try to make sure they are there when you come. There is a huge difference between meeting a manager or community relations manager and just dropping by on a bunch of employees. While we did meet several employees who were excited to see us and promised to get our materials to the right person, the managers were always excited and involved. I will make appointments from now on instead of just dropping by.

Fourth, explain what an ARC is. Not everyone understands that this is an advance copy of a book coming out. I actually had one nice salesperson try to ring it up while I was talking. I need to make sure they understand that the final product will be a hardback with illustrations and that an ARC is not proofed.

Last. I need to get a clean clear pitch that I can give in less than a minute. It explains who I am, who I am with, why I am there in person, and what I can do for the store. Starting with the right pitch makes all the difference in the world. It was clear the assumption was that I was some schmoe out peddling a book he printed up in his garage. I don’t think they get a lot of drop ins from authors, so letting them know I am coming in advance and why I am there would probably go a long way.


Well that’s it. I guess I’ll get back to work. I still have to finish sweeping out the chimneys and washing the dishes before those ugly step sisters get back. But I hear a rumor that if I clean the drapes really well, I might actually get to see some inside illustrations today. Now where are those helpful little mice?

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Market

A friend of mine (writing as a sheepish anonymous poster) recently wrote about not writing for “the market,” and thought I might take offense at that. I’m sure he didn’t really think I’d be offended, but was instead referring to a strongly held belief of mine that you shouldn’t try to write what sells unless you hope to sell what you write. Today I thought I’d post about the difference between writing for “the market” and writing “what sells.”

First of all let’s define the two directions. I do not believe there is any such thing as THE (note the effective use of capitalization here) market. There are lots of markets. The romance market, the fantasy market, the middle grade market, the non-fiction market. In fact there are really more markets than there are genres, because you can combine them. How about little old ladies who only buy paperback medical romances? That’s a market. And if you could corner it, you could make a decent living as a writer.

When people talk about writing for the market, they generally mean it in a negative way. Writing a book with the intent to sell a lot of copies. Or selling out for the sake of a buck. For example an author who put extra sex scenes into a book, or profanity, or gratuitous violence, or a profusion of crabapples. (Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.) Let me just say that if all you had to do to sell a million books was insert x, y, or , z, 90% of the writers out there would be writing for “the market.”

The truth of the matter is that no one—not even publishers or agents—know what the next big thing is. Could you have predicted prior to Twilight that everyone and her daughter would be buying vampire books? Prior to Harry Potter, the NY Times bestseller list wasn’t forced to pull children’s books off their main list. Since no one really knows what the market wants, how can you possibly write for it?

The second direction is writing what sells. I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t you just say that nobody knows what sells?” Yes and no. It’s very difficult to predict what the next big seller will be (other than books by established authors or things like movie tie-ins.) It is much easier to predict what will not sell. Think about it. You may not be able to guess what the next fashion craze will be. But you could probably look at neon green spandex neckties with leather fringe and say, “It ain’t that.”

A certain smaller publisher I know has determined that their bestsellers are mysteries/thrillers, romance, historical fiction, and nonfiction. If you want to write for them, it would be a smart idea to do your homework and not send them a memoir of your first thirteen years living in a beach house on the coast. If you want to write your memoir, by all means go ahead and do so. But just understand, your chances of selling it to this publisher are pretty slim.

One of the first things an agent or publisher wants to know about your book is who you are marketing it to. In one of my recent polls, I asked what type of book you like. The general answer was a story which meets the guidelines of the genre you are reading, but that stands out from the competition. If you are writing a romance, have the two get together at the end, but do so in a unique and unexpected way.

Two recent movies are very good examples of the problem with not understanding the market. Iron Man is a fairly typical super hero flick. Was there really anything in the movie that made you go, “Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that before?” Probably not. It was somewhat predictable. But it had a solid script, solid acting, and a storyline that was easy to fall into. In other words, it met the needs of the super hero/action adventure crowd.

Next, let’s look at Speed Racer. Even critics who didn’t like the movie admit it had good acting and incredible special effects. The script wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t significantly worse than Iron Man. In fact, I would go so far as to say that while the plot was just as predictable as Iron Man, the style and cinematography was superior. So why did Iron Man rake in the bucks while Speed Racer flopped? Don’t tell me it was because today’s audience doesn’t remember Speed Racer. Today’s audience hasn’t read any Iron Man comics for the most part either.

I believe that the difference comes down to understanding your market and meeting its need. The super hero market is easy to define. It’s been done dozens of times. It’s not hard to see where some succeeded and others failed. But who was the market for Speed Racer? Was it a kid’s movie? Was it a chick flick? Was it an action adventure? Was it a family movie? At different times it was all of those. But the trailers didn’t nail any one target audience.

Here’s what I’m trying to say. First and foremost write what you love and love what you write. If you find yourself adding scenes to make your book more sellable, you are probably not writing what you love. But once you know what you love, read the books in that genre and find out what works. I’m not saying copy. I’m saying study. Learn why Harry Potter succeeded while so many YA fantasies bombed. Read not only to see what has worked before but to give you ideas on what hasn’t been done yet. Understand the rules of your genre and know when and why you are breaking them.

It’s hard enough to succeed in this business. Don’t hurt your chances any more by deciding you will only write what comes from your heart and who cares whether anyone likes it or not. Again, I’m not saying that people who write just for the fun of it are wrong. What I am sick of hearing are people who think that publishers only want to buy what sells. That’s like the authors who whine that their readers don’t understand their work. As an author, my job is to write something that people will read, love, and buy. If they don’t understand my work, that’s my fault not theirs. And if I am so condescending as to think that they should all come around to my way of thinking, I’m in the wrong business.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

ARCs, Mouse Pads, and Marketing

The ARCs are out. After an exciting evening of printing, labeling, signing, stuffing, and sealing, I will be dropping them off to Shadow Mountain for mailing tomorrow. Here are a couple of pics from the blessed event.



Ready to get to work. More or less



Read the name, grab the envelope, apply the label . . .



What I told them to look like after we finished.



What they claimed they felt like after we finished.
(Until we went to DQ and they all perked back up.)



On a second note, I was asked a question yesterday that I thought was worth blogging about. I was talking with a friend about the things I’ve been doing and will be doing prior to the release of Water Keep. In particular, we were talking about some mouse pads that I bought as giveaways for the stores I’ll be visiting, and the cost of gas and hotel. Her comment was, “Why are you spending all this money of your own? Should the publisher do that?”

The answer I gave her was shorter than what I’ll post here, but in essence it came down to the same thing. If you could make a living doing anything you want, what would it be? Rock Star, actress, ship captain, the guy who goes up and down the strip in Las Vegas changing light bulbs? (Hey we all have our dreams right?)

For me, my dream is to make a living telling stories. If Bards were still around—and if I could sing—I’d probably go for that gig. In today’s world, the profession is novelist, script writer, movie director, or something of that sort. The problem is, there are far more people who want the job than actual opportunities. I’ve probably said before that more people make a living in the US as professional baseball players than novelists. So when the opportunity presents itself, you have to jump on it.

Now let’s take a look at what you’re getting into when you sign on for this particular adventure. First of all, it’s a 1099 position, meaning that there is no base, no guarantee, not a ton of job security, no insurance, and a paycheck that hopefully comes twice a year. Not exactly CEO of a fortune 500 company, right? In addition, my book will something like 1 out of 175,000 published this year.

Now the odds are not quite as bad as they sound. First of all, a lot of those books are nonfiction. So technically they don’t compete directly with me. Then there are a large percentage of books that are either self published or published by regional publishers small enough that they will see minimal if any shelf space nationally. Finally, we have to get rid of fiction titles that don’t compete directly with mine—adult, picture books, etc. I’m sure if I was really industrious I could scour the internet and come up with the actual number of YA fiction titles that will be published by midsize publishers or larger in 2008, but let’s be totally random and guess that the number is somewhere around 5,000.

What that means is that in my space alone, there are 5,000 other authors looking to sell enough books to make a living. Obviously, the biggest thing I can do to stand out is write a good book. And hopefully I’ve done that. But how many good books—books you’d really enjoy if you knew about them—come and go without you even knowing it?

So this week, I’m going to hit the road taking my ARCs to stores. In addition I’m taking out mouse pads that I purchased myself. I’ll spend money on gas and hotels. It will look like I’m out making friends, meeting store managers, and promoting my book. And all of that is true. Honestly, I’m really looking forward to spending some time with my wife as we travel from Las Vegas to Denver to Idaho, and everywhere in between. But what I’m really going to be doing is investing in myself. My thinking is this. If I’m not willing to invest time—and yes, money—in myself, why should anyone else be?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

ARCs and Letters

Don't worry if you haven't received a letter yet. I was sick over the weekend and didn't get a chance to send them. The good news is that I have 400 ARCs in the back of my van. I'll send you pics of tonight's ARC party. I will send an e-mail to everyone on the list shortly. Thanks for all of your encouragement and support!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

They're Heeeerrree (Said in a Poltergeist Movie Voice)


Okay, the ARC chant did it. The ARCs are here at last! I only got five this morning. But in the next couple of days I should get all the books I need for the blog tour. It's such a cool feeling holding a book in my hand that not so long ago was just an idea in my head. It finally seems real. Of course they aren't the final hardback copies, and I have published other books before. But this is an initial print run of 40,000 hard back copies. It's placement on bookshleves nationwide.


Honestly, until I had the book in my hands, there was still a tiny voice in the back of my head whispering, "It's not real. Something will happen to make it all fall through."


But hey, now it's real! Would you blame me if I sleep with one under my pillow until the final copies show up in about three months?


Funny side note: I told my boys (pictured above) that next week we were going to have an ARC mailing party.

Boys "What's that?"

Me "It means we are going to stuff, label, and insert letters in over 150 envelopes to mail out books to my blogger friends."

Boys (Think for a minute.) "Will there be food?"

Me "Probably."

Boys "Will there be other kids?"

Me "Nope. Just us."

Boys "That doesn't sound like much of a party."

Oh, well. At least I'll be having fun. Which is good, because as much as it pains me to say it, Indy 4 was something of a let down. I'm sure if I hadn't gone in with such high expectations it wouldn't have been as bad. I went in looking for another 10, and what I got was maybe a 6 1/2. The sad thing is, most of the movie was a 12. Classic Indiana Jones thriller. But a few scenes, and the ending in particular, just had us all shaking our heads and asking, "Why?"

That being said, we all applauded at the end. (Well most of us.) And I will go back and see it again. And I will buy the DVD. It is a good addition to the trilogy, but in my opinion it is not as good as any of the first four. Honestly, if I go back with the right expectations, I could probably bump it up to a 7 or even 7 1/2. But I really, really, wanted it to be a 12.

One other funny thing. We left at 10, although it turned out we could have gone at 11:30 and gotten decent seats. The two theaters weren’t even sold out. But that says more about Payson, Utah than the movie. Anyway, without even discussing it, we all brought books to read while we waited. So here are all these rowdy teenagers in line, and sitting on the floor is my me, my wife, and our four kids all reading away. Made me proud

Back on the ARC side, I will be sending out e-mails over the next couple of days with final blog tour details to everyone who has signed up. Last time I sent out an e-mail to everyone on the tour, I only heard back from about 2/3rds. So if you don't hear from me by Monday, check your SPAM filters or send me a message. Can't wait to get these out and start hearing back from you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Midnight Madness

(Yeah, I know. The resemblance between Harrison Ford and me is remarkable. I get mistaken for him all the time.)

Short post tonight. I'm leaving in about half an hour to get in the line for the midnight showing of Indiana Jones. Somehow my kids convinced me to let them come home from school and take a nap so they can go too. I'm a pushover. Of course my wife is coming too. So it's a family affair.


Oh, and I'm hoping to have something pretty cool to announce tomorrow. Hint it's a three letter acronym.

Monday, May 19, 2008

School Visits and Another Question Bites the Dust

Okay. One school presentation down. Hopefully, many, many more to go. (I actually have a tentative tour schedule for the first two weeks after my book comes out, but can’t post anything until it’s firm.)

So how did it go? Great!

The presentation was at American Leadership Academy, a local charter school. It was a ball. I was presenting to all ages—from grandparents to little babies—but mostly focused on the K-8 graders. I took part with three other authors. Jessica Day George, KL Fogg, and Mathew Buckley. All three of them were great. I had a few minor mishaps in my presentation (the projector remote that they couldn’t get to work and the magicians top hat that only wanted to pop up on one side.) But all in all I thought it came off pretty well. Here are a couple of pics. Looking forward to doing a lot more of these.



This is one of my two assistants "breaking" my good wand. Now I have to go all the way back to Diagon Alley to get a new one.





This is me offering him an alternative. What you don't think a rubber chicken the shrieks wildly when you squeeze it would make a good wand?


On another note, Deren asked me the following question “. . . . to be thrilling, the reader needs to know what's at stake (otherwise the action is meaningless). But in order to know what's at stake the reader needs to understand the fantasy world (which interferes with the action). The problem of finding the right mix of action and information isn't unique to fantasy, but it seems that a fantasy author walks a finer line because of the additional burden of revealing information about a new world.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about striking that balance in general and some of the specific things you did in Farworld (insofar as you can do so without giving away too much.)”

Good question, Deren. And especially applicable to YA and MG fantasy. In adult fantasy (No adult fantasy cracks here. I’m referring to series like Stephen R. Donaldson’s and Robert Jordan’s.) you can spend more time on describing the world and building up to the action. In fact, the reader expects you to give them detailed descriptions of the world they are entering.

YA and MG novels don’t give you that luxury as an author. In fact, I think that’s why so many adults enjoy YA novels even more than novels supposedly written for “adults.” They know a good YA novel will get them into the action quickly and keep the story moving and entertaining all the way through. The most common complaints I hear about YA novels is when they don’t get moving fast enough.

So how do you get around the problem of describing a new world without slowing down the story? First, you try to describe on the fly. For example I have Kyja approaching a tower in the center of town. I could take the time to describe everything she sees, or I could put the description into the context of action. For example:


Kyja raced onto a footbridge and over a burbling creek, ignoring the tiny golden
fish that leaped from the water and buzzed about her head before splashing back
again.

Past the bridge, the flagstone path wound in a spiral up a steep
hill to the base of the tower. Every hundred yards or so, a golden fountain
sprayed colorful patterns of water—one in the shape of a fish, another, a giant
eye that stared balefully at anyone who passed. Between the fountains, statues
of Westland’s most famous wizards and warriors guarded the grounds with stern
expressions.

Visitors to the tower were to stop at each fountain and
wash their hands—purifying themselves before meeting with a member of the
council or the High Lord himself. But Kyja had no time for such niceties. She
cut directly up the side of the hill, ignoring the blades of royal grass that
shouted, “Keep off! Keep Off!” and “No trespassing!” in their tiny high-pitched
voices.

From their spots along the path, the statues turned and gave her
dark scowls. But she ignored them too. As frightening as the statues looked,
they couldn’t actually tattle on her. And by the time the groundskeepers got up
in another hour, the grass would have forgotten all about her transgression.

At the top of the hill, she leaned against the cold, smooth wall of the
tower, panting. After catching her breath, she hurried up the white marble steps
and through the entryway, while Riph Raph broke off and soared up into the sky.
Just inside the massive gate, she stopped and curtsied to a stern looking guard.
“Eggs for the kitchen.”


Look at how much information I present here, without stopping the action. Kyja races across the bridge, cuts up the hill, and rests against the wall. Yet, hopefully, I’ve created a somewhat vivid picture in your head of what things look like. By using a little internal monologue, I can also pass on some other interesting points. The paragraph that starts “Visitors to the tower,” uses a technique called implied history. The reader imagines years and years of visitors passing the fountains and statues, which makes it seem more real.

The problem is, that only works for so long. I’m actually walking a fine line here. These are things Kyja sees all the time. The longer she is in a land she’s familiar with, the more difficult it is to describe things which would be new to the reader, but old news to her. Of course, that’s why we put characters into a world they are unfamiliar with. If I bring someone to Farworld who has never been there before, I can have him discover new things along with the reader. Likewise if Kyja were to end up on Earth. Lots of room for fun discoveries.

As much as I’d like to never pass on information though, there is almost always going to come a time when the source of wisdom must tell the protagonists what’s going on. Think of the scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo wakes up in the Elven city and Gandalf tells him about the rings. Or even earlier when he sends him on the quest. The key here is to make the story interesting and to keep it from being an infodump.

Your comment about striking a balance is really what it’s all about. Show me cool new things, let me discover the world along with the protagonist, but do it while keeping the action moving forward. The best way I’ve heard of doing this is to give your readers a red pen and ask them to mark any sections of your manuscript where their minds start to wander. I know you will put down my book at some point to eat or sleep. But I want to make sure you don’t put it down to watch I Love Lucy reruns.

Make sense?