24 March 2008

After the Ball

It's 10 AM Monday morning. The Whitney Gala wrapped up about 36 hours ago, but I'm still excited . . . albeit exhausted from the whirlwind weekend and long drive home. I have so much to post this week about the signings and all, but today's buzz is all about the Whitneys, of course, and I can't help but buzz along.

It was an absolutely magical evening! Rob Wells couldn't have done any better if he'd had a sorcerer's stone and big blue genie. (He does have a lovely, all-around amazing wife, Erin, which is much, much better than those other things.) The setting, the food, the awards . . . everything you can think of was a class act, especially Robison himself. I wasn't quite perceptive enough to see Orson F. Whitney standing around, but I have no doubt he dropped by and was pleased with the tribute paid his prophecy and inspiration. (And if Rob Wells hasn't qualified to live next door to that man in the hereafter, well, I'll be surprised!)

You can check out all the winners and a blog from the event over on the Whitney site, but here are some of the highlights for me.

Saving the best for first, this is my beautiful daughter, Hilary. She took all the pictures you'll see here and on the live blog. In her spare time, she ushered guests to their seats, found everything I misplaced (like the Lifetime Achievement Awards) and was absolutely charming every moment, no matter what. If pride in this girl really is a sin, then it's one of which I must repent every single day of my life. She is amazing!

The best part of the night for me was star-gazing at some of my favorite authors on the planet and reuniting with some of my best friends in the universe! In many cases, these are the same people. (How lucky am I?) Below are just a few. (More pictures as they become available, I promise.)

From left to right:

Doug Johnston: Public Relations director at Cedar Fort. One of the best things that happened to me this year was meeting Dough boy. (See his blog to assure yourself that I added the H on purpose.)

Janette Rallison: YA author extraordinaire and Whitney nominee. Janette has been a joy and an inspiration in my life for almost a decade now. She is the best thing going in the young adult market today, bar none! (LYG, Janette!)

Gale Sears: Double-nominee including Best Novel, and one of the best writers in the world. You should have heard her read from Upon the Mountains! It gave me goose bumps! When I need inspiration to become a better writer, I read Gale's work. When I need inspiration to become a better person, I write to Gale and work to be like her!

Betsy Brannon Green: A legend in her field and one of my very dearest friends in the world. (Also a nominee, of course.) Betsy is everything that is good about LDS fiction -- personally and professionally. Her fans are legion, but I'm #1.

Shannon Hale: Fantabulous, Newberry-winning author and a very lovely lady.

Michele Bell: Remember what I wrote about Betsy? Her, too! She presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Jennie Hansen. (Lucky Goose.) Her newest book The Butterfly Box is sure to be in contention next year!

Pictured above are a few more people I couldn't have been happier to see!
Nancy Campbell (N.C.) Allen: I stood for ten minutes in the hall at the hotel willing the elevator doors to open -- that's how excited I was to see this woman! Best writer, best friend in the world. (And author of a new book coming this fall!)If you ever need to spend a Thanksgiving Eve huddled in a breezeway not selling any books, this is the woman to be with!

Jeri Gilchrist: 2008 Whitney Nominee. (You don't have to be psychic to make this prediction, just a reader of one of her first two books!) Jeri is honestly, truly one of those angels-who-don't-have-wings. I love this woman!

Julie Wright: I'm not a good enough writer to express how I feel about this girl. When I think "elect lady," Julie's name comes to mind. She gave me a book safe all my own! I'll turn 50 this week (Ack!) which I bring up only because I want her to know that nothing has meant more to me in the last half-century! (I left this type black to match that wicked-gorgeous dress of hers! I'd feel bad about looking like a troll in comparision, but nobody's as hot as Julie!) Another 2008 nominee and member, like me, of last year's committee. (Go, us!)

Lifetime Achievement Award winners Jennie Hansen, Anita Stansfield, and Dean Hughes. In the same room. At the same time. Wow. (And if you look over Jennie's shoulder you'll see Kathleen Hughes of the RS General Presidency in the gorgeous white dress.)
Anita Stansfield: Anita made me cry! She'd lost her father earlier in the week and dedicated her award to him and to her mother. I have never heard a more touching, gracious acceptance of anything by anyone ever. What an incredible woman she is!

Dean Hughes: Surely the highlight of my writing career was the honor of presenting Dr. Hughes's award. (Notice I didn't touch it. My palms were so damp and my hands shaking so much that I'd have dropped and broken it into a billion bits.) That man is amazing. Not only did he publish the first novel in the mainstream LDS market, but he's written almost 100 more since -- 95 of which I think I have! In 1850ish James Leight Hunt wrote:

Jenny kiss'd me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss'd me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss'd me.

That is exactly how I feel about being hugged by Dean Hughes!

Jennie Hansen: I hugged her too! (See poem above.) Once again, words fail me. Like she's done for so many, many authors, Jennie Hansen took me under her wing when my first book was published. Not only would I likely have never written another book if not for her, Counting Blessings would certainly have never seen the light of day. If you don't have a fairy godmother, having Jennie for a dear, dear friend is the next best thing. (Looking fondly at the picture, I can't help but add one other thing I love about Jennie. She is approximately as photogenic as I am! We were both stunning that night, I assure you, but you might have to take my word for it! What is it about cameras, anyway?)

Since my daughter went back to college this morning before I managed to steal the chip from her camera, these are the only pictures I have at the moment. (And I liften them from the Whitney site.) Though I don't have photographic proof right now, I was just as thrilled to see/meet: Cheri Crane, Sian Bessey, Tristi Pinkston, Candace Salima, Jen & Jeff Savage, BJ Rowley, Marsha Ward, Rachel Nunes, Kathy Jenkins, Angela Eschler, Rachel Langois, Karlene Browning, Rebecca Talley, Annette Lyon, Josi Kilpack, Jessica Day George, Brandon Sanderson, Gary Hansen, Chris Bigelow, Coke Newell, James Dashner, Matthew Buckley, Heather Moore, Michele Holmes, Cindy Bezas, Jessica Draper and everybody else who's name has escaped me. A very few of these people I met for the first time Saturday night, but many I have known, loved and admired for years!
Warmest congratulations to all the very deserving winners! I can honestly say I loved each and every one of those books!

What else is there to say? Cinderella didn't have as much fun -- or get as much out of her ball -- as I did the Whitney Gala!

18 March 2008

Book Signing Schedule

Nobody came to my tenth birthday party. I spent the afternoon licking frosting from the candles, popping the brightly colored balloons one by one, and staring through tear-filled eyes at a table set up to hold all the gifts I didn’t get.

Maybe it would have turned out differently if I’d handed out party invitations.

I didn’t invite anyone to the party. Instead I left all the invitations wadded up in the bottom of my backpack and never mentioned my birthday to a single person. It made sense at the time. What if I’d invited twenty kids and only ten showed up? I’d then have concrete proof that half the class hated me. If nobody showed up, well, I wouldn’t be surprised, but the dog would be terribly disillusioned. (I’d told her I was the most popular girl in the fourth grade.)

I was a strange and painfully insecure child.

Frankly, I haven’t changed much.

I’ve mentioned this before, but publishing might not be the best profession for me. I wither in the face of rejection, cringe at self-promotion, and hyperventilate at the thought of people reading my work. And yet I have a new book out - a book of essays, the most personal anybody could ever publish! Not only is there the pressure to do my part to sell more than ten or twelve copies of Counting Blessings, but there's the fear that people all around the globe will soon feel free to read it. A few of them will do it, too. I know they will. Maybe even some of you.

Excuse me while I breathe into a paper bag.

Yet despite my natural inclination to roll the rock securely back in front of my cave, crouch in a dark corner, and wait for a few months to pass, I am instead embarking upon a veritable flurry of signings. And I’m even going to invite people to my parties this time. Since this is such an overwhelming prospect, I thought I’d start with you and work my way up to really scary folk.

Ready? Here goes:

THURSDAY, MARCH 20 - Seagull Book, St. George, UT 2 - 4 PM
SATURDAY, MARCH 22 - Redwood Seagull Book, SCL, UT 10 - 11 AM
SATURDAY, MARCH 22 - Family Center Seagull Book, Taylorsville, UT 11:30 - 12:30 AM
SATURDAY, MARCH 22 - West Jordan Seagull Book, West Jordan, UT 1:30 - 2:30 PM
SATURDAY, MARCH 22 - South Towne Seagull Book, Sandy, UT 3 - 4 PM
SATURDAY, MARCH 29 - Mesa Seagull Book, Mesa, AZ 12 - 2 PM
SATURDAY APRIL 5 - Deseret Book Ladies' Night, Glendale, AZ 5 - 7 PM

If you live within a sixty-mile radius of ANY of these places, I’ll expect you. This is not unreasonable, after all. I’m driving between twice and six times farther than that to see you!

Please come! Please tell your friends – or even your enemies; I’m not picky about who shows up as long as somebody does. My dog thinks I’m a “famous author” and I can’t bear to disillusion her. Pit bulls are very sensitive, you know. (Don't make me tell her where you live.)

12 March 2008

They Like Me. They Really Like Me.

So many blessings this week, and I can even share a couple with you!

Me and my new little book were featured on two of my favorite sites on the web: Covenant's Bookworm Newsletter and Marsha Ward's blog. I'll probably have to foward a copy of Kim's splendiferous newsletter to anybody who wants it, but you can read the interview I did with Marsha HERE! She is so much fun. I just love that woman! Besides being a dear friend and mentor, she is one of the inspirations of my life. I wouldn't have a new book - or indeed, any books - without the love and support of this multi-talented, compassionate woman and the sisterhood she calls ANWA.

10 March 2008

New Babe in the Woods

previously published on Six LDS Writers & A Frog

You know that scene at the beginning of Dumbo where all the animals sit around, looking up and waiting for the stork to bring their new arrivals? I can’t help but think about that in relation to the Six Writers blog. I’ll never be expecting a new baby person like Sariah (Wilson) and Julie (Bellon), but like Jeff (Savage) and Stephanie (Black), I am awaiting a new little addition to my bookshelf. I have a fully-charged camera, a clean resting place for the little darling, and even a stack of “birth” announcements. Everything is ready and waiting – especially me! Where is that stupid stork that brings the books, anyway?

This is not a new or even an original analogy. I’ve often heard authors – female authors, at least – compare their freshly-printed books to newborn babies. As a mother of four children and author of ten books, let me assure you it’s not quite that incredible. But it is thrilling. And every single time it happens, I’m amazed and grateful and surprised all over again.

I’ve long identified with a feeling expressed by Sir James Barrie, author of Peter Pan. After describing the harrowing delivery of Auld Licht Idylls, he wrote: “For several days after my first book was published, I carried it around in my pocket and took surreptitious peeks at it to be sure the ink had not faded.” That’s exactly how I feel!

When the FedEx stork finally arrives, you can count on me to carry my new delivery around for awhile, taking peeks now and then to check its coloring and make sure it has all its little periods and commas in the right places. I might even wrap it up and take it to church on Sunday to show it off to my visiting teachers – and anybody else I can corner in the hallway on the way to Primary. I can certainly count on it to be well-behaved. It will not spit up, drool on my dress, nor cry loud enough to wake the high priests. And while it probably could use a change, there’s nothing I can do about that at this late date.

My main concern is that, like Dumbo and other tragic children of lit, it will be an offspring only its mother will love. It is, after all, a book of nonfiction – an oddity around here. Since all its siblings at home - and cousins here on the blog - are novels, how will it possibly fit in? Will the other books make fun of it? What if they mock its essays? Envy its hardcover? Laugh at its long name, sneering over the pretention of calling it witty or wise? (I never called it that, BTW. Please direct jeers toward Covenant’s title committee.) Worse, what if it’s scorned by society at large and soon sent to languish in the obscurity of a dark, dreary warehouse? Can’t you see it now? “Please, sir. I want some more.” (Marketing, that is.)

Nevertheless, it’s on its way into the world as we speak. (And I thought it was hard when one of my children merely went to Iraq.) If it’s true that “children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see,” are not books the written messages we send to people and places we may never see? What a blessing it is, then, when they report back!

The book has been out for something like three days now, and I already have a dozen “letters from the mission field.” Books grow up really fast! (As Groucho Marx said, “A five-year-old could follow my reasoning; please find a five-year-old to explain it to you.) Just last week, several strangers in Utah adopted the book I have not yet seen, took it home, and wrote this morning to say how much they like it. I cried. (Gratitude; joy; that kind of thing. While people are usually too polite to go out of their way to point out the deformities and shortcomings they find in your children, this is not always true of your books.) One lady was really gushy! She concluded her e-mail with, “I’ve already copied the essay about the church and sent it to everybody in my address book. I hope you don’t mind. I feel like I’ve known you all my life.”

I don’t mind. Many of the pieces in Counting Blessings were on the Internet to begin with – on the Frog Blog, in fact. If it weren’t for The Frog . . . and Sariah, and Jeff, and Jennie (Hansen), and Stephanie, and you . . . I would have no new book. I’m so grateful, and I want to show it. While you can’t give away a child (as much as you want to some days) you can give away a book. To follow the example of wise and wonderful LDS Publisher, everyone who has commented on any post on this blog this week, or who comments on any post next week, is eligible for a drawing for a free copy. (This is in addition to the copy I'm giving away on the Frog Blog, of course!)

All I ask if you win - or if you stumble upon Counting Blessings on a shelf somewhere out in the big, wide world - is that you pat it on the head and speak a word of encouragement or two. (It would be even better if you took it home! Hint. Hint.) After all, it’s new and small and very insecure -- just a babe in the woods of publishing.

Just Write the Stupid Book

One recent highlights of my life was being invited to present a workshop at the American Night Writers Association’s 2008 Conference. Before the event I managed to kidnap Covenant’s managing editor, Kathy Jenkins, and one of my favorite authors, Tristi Pinkston, and drag them from ghost town to cacti to Phoenix Zoo to temple to more cacti. (We have a lot of cacti in the Sonoran Desert.) That weekend with them was the most fun I’ve had since . . . let me think . . . hmm . . . nope . . . I can’t remember ever having more fun than that! Under the theory that pictures are worth a thousand words, here’s some proof:

Kathy & Joan at Goldfield; Trisit & me at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens

Of course the conference was great! ANWA’s presidency and conference committee couldn’t have been more gracious or better organized. Everything was perfect. (I loved the chickens!) The best part was that I got to see many dear friends and finally meet face-to-face several of the sisters I’ve grown to know and love so well through their writings and correspondence. (They looked just like I imagined, though having pictures in their books to refer to might have helped a little.) I was going to list everybody famous I met, groupie that I am, but I’d be sure to miss somebody and feel terrible about it, so I’ll let you, Gentle Reader, languish in suspense and frustration instead. (Sorry about that.)

I love ANWA! I joined a decade ago—back when Marsha Ward’s brainchild was Arizona Night Writers and I only dreamed of publishing a book. (Maybe. Perhaps. Someday.) Because of the incredible sisterhood therein, I’ve published steadily since I joined and ANWA has expanded into several states. This year we can even boast several Whitney Award nominees and two finalists – Joyce DiPastena and Janette Rallison.
My workshop was technically on “scene & sequel,” but it might better have been titled, “Just Write the Stupid Book.” Several people have asked for a transcript and, while I don’t have that, I did write part of the story in Counting Blessings and can share that.

I intended from childhood to make use of my meager talent to write. But being careful and troubled about things like school and marriage and children and callings and . . . whatever . . . any talent I might have had was soon buried under an avalanche of life. It would still be there, in fact, if it weren’t for my best friend Joan—one of those fourth types of servants.

Not only did Joan first encourage me to write, she dragged me along to her writer’s group and applauded my first pathetic attempts at novelizationing. (I suspect that's not a word.) In real words, she stooped to dig my one tarnished talent out of the dirt each and every time I dropped it. (Stepped on it. Buried it. Abandoned it forever.) Joan knew me too well. She recognized that I was determined (if not destined) to spend more time obsessing about not having as many talents as everybody else than using the measly one I did have. One day, in total frustration, she yelled at me:

“Just write the stupid book!”

Turns out those were five of the most meaningful words I ever heard. They were so wise, in fact, that I wrote them down and still have them framed and sitting on my desk. Don’t obsess, they remind me. Don’t despair. Be careful not to borrow trouble. Just write a stupid book (or use your meager talent) now and worry about being a no-talent loser later. That simple phrase has so much power—it’s worked nine times for me!—that I’ve been thinking of copyrighting it and selling posters at writers conferences nationwide. (But I’ll give it to you free of charge today. You’re welcome.)