Saturday, September 9, 2017

Finding Your Voice Through Storytelling

By Lacey Gunter

I had the opportunity this weekend to attend the Timpanogus Storytelling Festival for the second year in a row. I went with my parents and my kids and we had a great time.  Some of the stories were unique and personal, some were retelling of an old classic in a new way, and some were just off the wall zany and silly.

I love listening to the stories, but one of the best reasons to come to a storytelling festival is to hear each of the story teller's unique voice.  I don't mean the actual tone of their voice, but rather the way they tell their story.  A storyteller's unique voice is at least half of what draws an audience into their story.  In much the same way, a writer's voice is critical in drawing a reader into their story.

But how do we get our writer's voice or even know what it is?  If you've ever got the feedback on a manuscript that your story lacks voice or needs more of your own unique writer's voice, it may not be obvious how to get it. Fixing grammatical errors, making characters more three dimensional, mending plot holes or spicing up a query letter can be difficult tasks. But there are typical tried and true ways to help you accomplish these tasks and most authors with enough commitment can reasonably manage them.

Knowing how to find your unique writer's voice, on the other hand, may not be as apparent. Finding your unique writer's voice isn't exactly something you can learn from studying writing books or talking to successful authors. So what's a writer to do? My suggestion to you is to try out storytelling. If you can figure out how to draw someone you are talking to into a story, your unique voice is going to naturally shine through in your writing as well. 

Start out small and easy. Pick a story you know really well. It can be a memory from your own life or even a tried and true fable you've heard a thousand times. Then find a small audience, or even a camera or mirror, and give it a whirl.  The more you practice, the better you are going to get and the more you are going to discover what kind of stories your good at telling and how you like to tell them.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Getting Back in the Saddle

Found at quotefancy.com
- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay 

I've been in such a funk. This year started off wonderfully. I had a goal to write everyday. Maybe not a lot, but at least something. And for several months, I was doing great. Not perfect--I missed a couple of days--but really well. 

And then, something hit. I'm still not sure what it was, and I'm definitely not over it yet. It's been like walking uphill through sludge. I just haven't cared. About much of anything, really. I've wondered, am I depressed? Am I just being lazy? What is wrong with me? 

And the wonderful little checkmarks that I used to make to keep track of days I wrote ... They just tapered off. I haven't even looked at the tracking app I have for weeks. Just thinking about it makes me feel tense. Pretty much the entire month of August, a black hole of nothing. 

But here I am again, trying to get back in the saddle. There are two really amazing anthology projects that I want to be involved in, but that takes actually, you know, writing. So I'm starting small, with a blog post about essentially nothing, and working up from there. 

It's hard to start up again after you've lost all momentum. It's hard to feel like you're back at the beginning. But I recently read this statement from C. S. Lewis that I think sums it up: 

"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."

What do you all do when you feel like you're back at the beginning with no progress made? How do you get back up and start again?

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Muse Wanted

By Lacey Gunter

Muse, my muse, I've been a tad busy lately.
Not by choice though, life and responsibilities just got a little ahead of me.
I've come back to you begging on hands and knees to be my friend again.
Whisper those sweet little ideas into my mind, even in the middle of the night.
I won't complain. I promise.

Muse, sweet muse, remember the good old days when we use to be thick as thieves.
You'd introduce me to all sorts of crazy characters.
We'd plot and scheme together.
You always had a way of making me laugh at the most inopportune times.
We were good together, you and me.

Muse, hey muse, I know you love a good game of chase.
I've got my running shoes on, see.
You can start us out with just the mere shadow of an idea, and I can...
Wait, what was that, ... wait, I wasn't quite ready... ouch... slow down ...please!
You know this game is a lot more fun when you let yourself get caught once in a while.

Muse, crazy muse, alright, I can see you've already got plans tonight.
Well, if you change your mind, I'll just be sitting here in front of this computer all night.
And for your information, I won't even think about getting on Facebook.
You do remember my number, don't you?
Well, I guess I'll be seein' ya...hopefully.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

Because of the Struggle

Cursed runner weeds.


- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Today I was out pulling weeds in a tiny patch of my yard. They were the kind of weeds that send out runners that then put down more roots and just keep on going. I had let them go far too long and they were huge and well-established. To tug them up, I had to yank and yank and yank all along their lengths until the whole system came up. I thought to myself, I hate these weeds. I wish they didn’t exist. There is absolutely no purpose to them.

And then, immediately, I began to wonder—what if there is a purpose to them?

For me, the answer came swiftly. They were there for the struggle. That twenty or thirty minutes of hard work pulling up weeds, with my fingers in the dirt, making my little patch of garden lovely again—that time was hard, but in the end, I loved the sense of accomplishment. I loved the progress. I loved that I had done something hard.

I was recently asked to do something that is going to be incredibly hard for me. Quite frankly, my first reaction was I don’t want to do this. I wish it didn’t exist. I can’t do it. I’m still struggling with it, though I absolutely know it’s the right thing to do. But just like pulling weeds, it’s going to be hard. But I think the struggle is part of the point. If we never struggle, we never know what we’re capable of. We never get the powerful feeling that comes of getting through something that is difficult.

A friend recently told me it had been forever since she last wrote, but she wanted to start—and she was scared. She is a confident, awesome person, and she has tried and is good at so many things. But she’s afraid that in this she will fail. So to her I ask, what can you learn about yourself if you try? What if it’s not about “success” (and who defines “success” anyway)? What if it’s about discovering new possibilities? What if it’s about the struggle?

Last month I gave this suggestion: Write something you’re not good enough to write yet. That is something that I’ve really needed to remember lately as I’ve struggled with a story that is almost working but just not quite. I’m just not good enough to write it yet, but I’m still trying.

But I pulled up the weeds, and their purpose was the struggle. I will do the hard thing, and I will grow in that struggle. I will finish the story and I will submit it to the places I’m writing it for, and they will probably reject it, but I will get better at writing, and my next story will be better because I tried.

Because of the struggle.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Things That Matter Most

by Jewel Leann Williams

I think Heavenly Father is trying to help me do some decluttering in my life. I've had a couple of experiences that have been.....enlightening, to say the least, and have helped to remind me about the things that matter most in my life.

I saw some pictures on Facebook of friends who were having a great time doing something all together, which was like the umpteenth time I'd seem some sort of picture/post like this on Facebook. You know, the one where all these different people who are your friends, are all hanging out doing something fun, and you weren't invited... do you ever see those? Well, this time my internal voice, the one that sometimes sounds like those middle-school boys who were nasty to me, and sometimes sounds likes a sibling when we would fight growing up, and a LOT of the time just sounds like my own voice, well that internal voice reminded me that I am not fun, and not good company, and why on Earth would anyone want to invite me to go do fun things when I am not even pleasant to be around? I'm not one of the cool kids, I never was and never will be.  My internal voice is nasty and knows exactly how to push all my little self-esteem buttons. I subconsciously decided that these people I thought were my friends, were really just tolerating me, and didn't really even like me, or else they would've included me in The Neat Thing They Just Posted On Facebook. I found myself feeling alternately sorry for them to have to put up with a schlub like me, and angry at them for not including me in the Fun Thing. This downward spiral makes my tummy hurt and sort of ruins my day/days until it fades back in the back of my mind and then I forget about all the terrible terribleness.

I was in the middle of one of these cycles, sitting in church wallowing just a little when my son snuck himself into a position where he could lay across my lap and have me tickle his back. He turned up his adorable little face to me, smiled dreamily, and said "I love you so much Mommy."  My heart did the little squeeze it always does when I hear those words and see those smiles.  I also had another thought. I can't necessarily say it was the Spirit because it sounded a little too rebellious and snarky, but the other voice in my head said, "Who cares about any of those people? This little boy loves me with everything he has inside him." I thought how I have five other kids and a husband that I can say the same for.

They are the thing that matters most.


This week, I was bemoaning the annoying state of my Facebook feed with my sister-in-law.  I was complaining about how I had all of these things on my feed, from Facebook friends who were leftover from my days in ANWA, but for the most part were people I didn't even know in person and would never meet. I was getting caught up in their opinions and stories and posts about things that sometimes infuriated me, and these were all people I had no actual relationship with. WHY was I investing energy in any of this?  She suggested I unfollow them. There was this fleeting moment where I thought, "But I'm going to miss out on..." and then nothing.  I couldn't think about what I would miss out on. So I unfollowed every person in my feed who was not someone I knew in real life. No more time wasted on pretend relationships.

At the same time, thanks to Facebook, a couple of weeks ago I got back in touch after 20 years with a beloved family from my mission, who I will get to visit with tomorrow all the way from Mexico. I can't wait to meet the 4 kids of the girl I knew as an amazing and smart teenager so long ago, and to give a hug to one of the sisters who showed me so much love.

These are the things that matter most.

I am grateful for these little opportunities to declutter and to get back to basics.  I know that I have some really solid friends, the ones whose regard for me I never have to doubt, and with whom I never feel less than. I have an amazing husband and kids, and people from my entire life who I am blessed to be in touch with thanks to technology. I know that I am exceedingly blessed, and that sharpening my focus to those people makes me a much happier person than when I worry about  superfluous pseudo-relationships.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tips for Finding Short Story Markets

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay



A couple weeks ago I attended Balticon, a sci fi and fantasy convention in Baltimore. It was interesting and fun, with some useful tips for some work I’m doing and also some great accessories (like these horns!). But the part I want to talk about here is the short story resources that I learned about.

Up to now, I have mostly just been randomly coming across places to submit short stories, kind of hit and miss and pretty scarce. But since I’m working on short fiction more these days, I was excited to learn about these resources, listed below. These are all about finding markets for your stories, and believe me—if you are interested in writing short fiction, there are lots of markets.

Facebook open call groups. Search on Facebook for groups called “open call” and then the genre that you write. For example, I have joined an open call group for sci fi and fantasy. When people hear about anthologies or other markets that are seeking stories in the genre, they post. This has been AMAZING for generating huge lists of places I could submit stories to. Now I just have to write them! :)

Ralan.com. This site is for mostly speculative fiction, and it is vast. Does the market exist? It’s probably listed. 

Duotrope.com. This one is a paid service. It was recommended, but honestly, since looking at the other options and how much content they have, I won’t be doing this. 

Submission Grinder. Searchable info on markets, including statistics on rejections and acceptances and other exciting stuff. Data! We loves it, my precious! (I’m married to a data scientist type, so we really really like numbers and graphs and spreadsheets.)

Short fiction is obviously a different world from novels, but it is an interesting and exciting one too, and these resources can help you find markets for your short pieces, including even flash fiction (who knew that some people pay for flash?).

Now for a couple more pieces of advice: 

1. Keep your stories off the web. I have made a rookie mistake a number of times and am paying for it now. Don’t publish your short fiction on your blog just for fun. This pretty much rules it out for a lot of markets who will then consider your story a reprint—which many markets don’t want. Sure, it’s fun to share your work, but make sure you’re never going to want to try to sell it. 

2. Dream big. There are different payment brackets for short fiction—pro (generally $0.06/word), semipro (around $0.03/word), token (less; sometimes a flat rate), nonpaying, etc. And there are markets that may excite you personally more than others (there are a couple of fairy tale magazines that I dream of being published in because that’s my cup of tea). Why not start with your dream markets? The worst that will happen is that they say no and you move on down the line to the next market you’re interested in. But what if they say yes instead? 

3. Try something different, something you’re not good enough to write yet. I’d love to say more about this in the future, but for now let me just start with this—short fiction is an awesome place to try out something you don’t know how to write. I’ve never written science fiction, always thought it was kind of out of my depth, but I’ve recently found a market for middle grade sci fi that I’m kind of dying to write a piece for. It may be awful, it may be great—who knows? But it’s worth trying something new, and no matter how awful or great it is, I took the chance to stretch and grow. Which means it’s awesome no matter what.

Now go write some short fiction!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Shameless Self-Promotion!: Mormon Lit Blitz edition

Have you heard of the Mormon Lit Blitz? It's a flash fiction contest that's been going on around this time every year for the past five or six years. Flash fiction, if you don't know, is generally considered to be fiction under 1000 words (although it doesn't include children's picture and board books, which are usually in that range too). It's fun to write--though it can be surprisingly difficult--and quick to read. Hence the "flash" part.

This year, my entry was a finalist, and this week is the voting. So I'm taking a moment to shamelessly promote my story and hope that you will go read it and the other stories then vote.

It's titled "Forty Years," and it's the story of a woman and her relationship with her mother and with motherhood.

The voting ends on Friday, so if you're inclined to vote, go do it! Here's the link to voting instructions. Also, there's a small discussion of each individual piece going on here (and of course you can page to the other stories' discussions too), so if you have a desire to share your thoughts on any of the stories, I encourage you to do so. Being writers, you know how awesome it feels to have people respond positively or thoughtfully to your work, so go share that feeling with someone else!

And if you're on Facebook, go like the Mormon Lit Blitz so that you can hear about and enter the contest next year!

Thanks,
Jeanna

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Criticism and the Writer

by Jewel Leann Williams

Unless you are writing a journal entry, or a secret document you never intend the world to see, you will endure criticism. Anyone who reads your book, poem, short story, or blog entry, will have thoughts about it, whether they express them or not.

Your words will resonate with them--or they won't.

Your characters, the setting, your pacing--all of those things will either engage them, or they won't.

So, why not get some good, solid criticism before you let your words go public, so that you can change those things that need to be corrected, before it's too late?

Well, because asking people whose opinion you value to possibly tell you things they don't like about this thing you've been pouring your soul into, is absolutely frightening, that's why!

Many writers are so terrified to hear that their "baby" is actually really ugly, that they don't ever present to critique groups or beta readers.

What's worse, some writers are so invested in their project that even if they do have beta readers, when those readers outline all the things that are wrong with the book, the writer has a meltdown. Sometimes they go on Facebook to get validation and commiseration, they may discount the criticism, or possibly take it so much to heart that they don't touch the project again.

These things ought not to be. With this in mind, I present the following steps to receiving criticism as a writer (I am talking about the kind of criticism you ASK for: critique groups, beta readers, etc.):

Step 1: Say, "Thank you."   You did, after all, ask for them to read and comment. They sacrificed time to read your project.

Step 2: get out the salt. You will need at least one grain of it to take with each comment.  You have to take into account that everyone has their own pre-established likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies that will color their perception of your work.

Step 3: Keep this advice from Neil Gaiman in mind:

When people say "This doesn't work for me," there is always a reason. However, the reason may be completely different than what they think it is. Pay attention to those things that are unsettling to your beta readers, but be aware that their solution is not necessarily the solution.

Step 4: Pray or meditate on it.  I believe that God wants me to use my talents as a writer to help His children.  Because of that, I also believe that He will direct me in the use of my writing, if I ask Him. That may not be your belief, but I promise if you take time to reflect on the things that your beta readers have told you, you can be more mindful of what changes you need to make and which ones are not necessary.

Step 5: Be true to yourself; true to your story.  But don't be afraid to "kill your darlings" if necessary.  IF NECESSARY. You don't have to. Sometimes one reader may not like something that may be perfectly wonderful to another. YOU get the final say.

Step 6: Do it all over again. Make changes, get feedback. Make more changes, get more feedback. Think of it as sanding furniture, or polishing a stone or a car... you refine, refine, refine, with finer grit sandpaper, until you can truly see the gem shining through.

What advice do YOU have for writers dealing with critiques? Post in the comments!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wasted Fruit

by Jewel Leann Williams

I have a hard-working peach tree in my backyard. It isn’t big enough for the kids to climb in yet, and it is still producing smallish, but oh-so-sweet fruit. Every year when it blooms, my heart gets happy and I start anticipating juicy heaven.

All the birds in Arizona start spreading get the word, too.

Now there are nets you can put up to keep the birds out of the tree and away from most of the fruit. Our tree is too big now. I’ve seen the shiny hanging deterrents. My brother suggested hanging plastic balls that resembled the fruit to try and help them lose interest in our fruit. The thing is, every year we get very busy in the spring and don’t ever do all those things to bird-proof.

Usually, the birds exact their “bird tax” and there is plenty left for us. Not so much this year. This is what it looked like:
Can you see all of the peaches in various states of bird-eaten desiccation?
This picture, you can't see that all of those peaches are bird-pecked, or completely eaten right on the branch--all of the usable peaches have already been picked from this part. 

All that fruit, ruined. Wasted. It's maddening.

There are a few things go we could have done to prevent this. They don’t matter at this point, and the reasons why we didn’t don’t matter either. When I look at my tree, and all of those peaches that could have blessed my family, my friends, my tastebuds.... the reasons don't matter.

We will either learn from this and take the necessary steps to prevent it next year, or we won’t and will lament the pillaging around May 2018 too.


How often is it like this in life? We have so many blessing--some are things that we've worked hard for, others are just things that Heavenly Father has ordained for our good, waiting there for the taking.

We also have the "birds" of our lives--people, circumstances, whatever--that hover around, waiting for opportunities to ruin those blessings or at least prevent us from accessing them.

There are steps we can take to prevent this from happening, fully or partially depending on the circumstance. We understand that life, just by its nature, is going to ruin some of our "fruit," but whether or not needless waste occurs is largely up to our efforts.

Then, knowing that without action on our part, our blessings will be squandered, we do--nothing. Or not enough. Or not the right things.

What it is that we need to do is different for everyone, every circumstance. The reasons why we don't do what we know we should--those reasons don't matter when you come to a realization of what could have been had you only been diligent.

Just a couple of months ago, President Thomas S. Monson gave us this challenge with a promise of blessings:

My dear associates in the work of the Lord, I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives. 

What amazing blessings we are being promised here:

  • We will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit
  • We will be able to resist temptation
  • We can overcome doubt and fear
  • We can receive heaven's help in our lives
What do we need to do to safeguard that fruit?  Prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. 

If we want those blessings, we have to do that work. If we don't, we will see those blessings squandered, hanging on the tree waiting for us, but dried up with the waiting. 

A few other blessings (and what we need to do to "obtain the fruit") from this last General Conference:


  • “Your power to do good as a group of God’s daughters will depend, to a great degree on the unity and love that exist among you.” -Henry B. Eyring

  • The Lord promises to direct our paths, but for Him to do that, we have to walk, trusting that he knows the way.” -L. Whitney Clayton

  • My beloved friends, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we ever find ourselves living in fear or anxiety, or if we ever find that our own words, attitudes, or actions are causing fear in others, I pray with all the strength of my soul that we may become liberated from this fear by the divinely appointed antidote to fear: the pure love of Christ, for “perfect love casteth out fear.” --President Dieter L. Uchtdorf

  • One more, also from President Uchtdorf: 
  • Our service—whether great or small—refines our spirits, opens the windows of heaven, and releases God’s blessings not only upon those we serve but upon us as well. When we reach out to others, we can know with humble confidence that God acknowledges our service with approval and approbation. He smiles upon us as we offer these heartfelt acts of compassion, especially acts that are unseen and unnoticed by others. Each time we give of ourselves to others, we take a step closer to becoming good and true disciples of the One who gave His all for us: our Savior.

    By the way, although I am approaching this from a spiritual point of view, we can extrapolate my poor wasted fruit saga to writing also.  How many times could we reap some benefits, if we would just take action? We can always improve our craft, look for opportunities to expand our writing horizons, network, mentor, critique, accept critiques.... we never know what blessings may arise from taking action--or what fruit we are letting rot on the tree by standing still.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Book Review: Seeking Mansfield, by Kate Watson

    -a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

    Yesterday was the debut of our lovely alumna Katy White's (aka Kate Watson) novel Seeking Mansfield!

    Let's start this review by talking about the things that I did today. First of all, I am a super responsible adult type of human. So I definitely did all of the adulty sorts of things I was supposed to. I definitely didn't spend pretty much the whole day shooing my children outside to play so I could read. I definitely didn't make hot dogs for lunch because it was super fast and then I could go back to reading. I totally didn't let the kids watch more TV than usual so I could finish the book.

    Nope. I'm way more responsible than that.

    But since I did manage to read the book while also being a fabulous parent and adult, I am now equipped to review it. Hooray!

    Star rating: 4/5. I really enjoyed it!

    Summary: In this modern YA adaptation of Mansfield Park, Finley Price is an aspiring teen director with a crappy past and an overdeveloped sense of what she owes to her godparents, the Bertrams. Movie stat heartthrob Harlan Crawford and his sister move in next door, and Finley starts having to face all sorts of difficult things, including love.

    What I liked: It's been years, admittedly, since I read Mansfield Park, and I think I would have a lot more compassion for Fanny Price than I used to. But when I read it, I just found her to be too much of a doormat. Finley Price is a wonderful modern remake of this character, giving a lot more depth to who she is and how she ended up this way. Also, I found her just much more likable.

    The alternating perspectives were fun, and I really loved Oliver. Again, more than the original. Oliver was far less clueless than his Austen counterpart. It's kind of refreshing to read boys who aren't complete idiots and yet are subject to still being teenagers.

    I also appreciated watching Finley and Oliver talk themselves into things that didn't make sense or fit them. It felt very real--"I'm going to do this thing because it really seems like the sort of thing I should want to do, even though I don't want to." Sigh.

    Really, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was a fun read that modernized a character that lots of modern readers don't like. It also largely avoided the thing I hated most about the 1999 movie adaptation (we'll get to that below).

    What didn't work for me: I think I'm a bit like the original Fanny in that I sometimes have a hard time accepting lots of shades of gray in people. So, for example, I didn't like that Finley really didn't seem bothered enough by Emma's behavior. I guess maybe I would have preferred to see Emma be more like the original Mary Crawford, very clearly a pretty awful person.

    Other considerations: The 1999 adaptation I referenced above has Fanny Price tell Henry Crawford she's going to marry him (even though she doesn't want to and has been morally repulsed by him all along). Then, when she realizes she simply can't and tells him so, he sleeps with someone else. Essentially the narrative is that if she simply hadn't given in, he wouldn't have been a sleazebag. (Austen fans, correct me if I'm wrong here, but my recollection is that the original Fanny continually refused Henry, despite feeling awful about it, because she had a seriously awesome moral backbone.) It was awful and pretty much the worst narrative decision in the film (in my less-than-humble opinion). Watson's Finley is in a different situation in Seeking Mansfield, and while I don't admire some of her taste in boys, I think she puts the woman-blaming narrative of cheating where it belongs--in the trash.

    Clean rating: Yay for a teen romance that I would consider quite clean. It's got a little bit of swearing (what I call the "lesser swear words"), a couple OMGs (which is pretty much my least favorite acronym ever, I admit), and I think one mention of sex? There's also thematic content--alcoholism, abuse, PTSD, and such, so it's not for younger readers, but it's also not dark.

    You should go pick it up and then be a completely responsible adult, like me, and not binge read it all day. Like me.



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