Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Friday, October 26, 2007

Interview: Annette Lyon

As I posted last time, I've been reading, Spires of Stone. Annette Lyon graciously agreed to an interview. Thank you, Annette. If you haven't read Spires of Stone, yet, you're in for a great read.

What made you decide to write for the LDS market?

To a large extent, it was reading some of the books in the market and realizing that there were stories I could tell for my own people. I knew some LDS authors that had become successful—in particular, I got to know Rachel Nunes before her first book ever came out, and I watched her career blossom. Seeing their success from the sidelines turned my mind to the kinds of stories I’d like to tell in an LDS framework. It has been rewarding on so many levels; I’m so glad I decided to write for this market.

Have you written for other markets?

I have. I’ve got a couple of young adult fantasy stories on the shelf that have yet to be published since I’m focused elsewhere right now. But I’ve published quite a few articles in various magazines and newspapers, and I have a children’s book I co-authored that should be published soon. I also write a weekly e-letter for the Utah Chocolate Show. Non-fiction is a very different animal than fiction, but I enjoy using a different part of my writer brain. It’s good exercise.

What was it like to submit your first novel?

An exciting waiting game. I had tried to learn the market and the procedures for how to submit things. Then came the rejections—often after getting encouragement to send in complete manuscripts or getting rejections that were glowing but still rejections. I got lots of them.

How did it feel when you first saw it in print?

Surreal. I couldn’t quite grasp what it meant. This was something I had tried to reach for so long, and when it arrived, I was so wrapped up in the anxiety of the experience that I don’t think I really took a deep breath and enjoyed the ride as much as I could have. I still remember the first time I held my book, though, and what it was like to see it on a real store shelf. But I’m having a lot more fun now that I have five books published than I ever did with that first one. I’ve finally been able to sit back and appreciate the experience.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Heavens, yes. Lots of times. Every so often I still get a day or two when I question my sanity and my ability, but it’s no longer the debilitating, crushing sense of hopelessness I used to feel when I’d get a particularly hard rejection or face a brick wall of writer’s block.

What inspired you to write about the temples?

The first time was simply a love of the Logan temple. My father grew up in Cache Valley , so I’d go up there to visit relatives as a kid, so I grew to love the area. After reading a book about the temple, I knew right away I had to tell a story about it. I had no idea at the time that the resulting book would launch an entire project of studying other temples, but after learning about the Logan temple—and feeling like I had really come “home” with the historical genre—it made sense to keep going with researching more temples.

Are the characters in your temple books purely fictional or are they based on real people you found during your research?

The main characters are all fictional, but they often run into people who really existed. Anyone who is real is identified in the historical notes section of the back of each book. I prefer not to base entire books on real people, because I try hard to reflect what they were really like and what they really said, and that would be tough to keep up for an entire novel. That, and I’d miss making up my own stories.

How do you conduct your research? Internet? Library? Interviews? Family histories?

A bit of all the above. The internet is certainly a life saver. I’ve been able to search on-line library catalogs to find information, and sometimes I go bury myself in an actual library. I’ve found great help from web masters on various topics. People are really willing to help if you just ask. My greatest sources have been graduate theses written specifically about various temples. The bottom line for me is I don’t have the time or the resources to do primary research most of the time. That’s why I rely on the real historians’ work—I find what they’ve already spent years looking up and then use that.

How do you keep all of your research straight and organized?

I’ve got binders lined up on my bookshelf. Most of them are by book location. For example, I have ones that read, “ Logan ,” “St. George,” “ Salt Lake ” and “Manti.” Sections are divided by topics. I also have a binder that holds miscellaneous historical tidbits that aren’t book specific. That one has stuff about the history of denim, horse colic, and more. Then there’s the shelves I have lined with writing books, many of which have historical facts in them that I rely on for period details.

Has researching the temples changed your own life in some way?

I have no pioneer blood in me, but learning about the temples and the stories behind them has made me feel a part of that heritage in a way I never felt before. I have a greater appreciation for what the early settlers did, of their commitment and their drive to make this experiment work because of their beliefs.

And then there are life lessons I’ve learned from the stories. One example is with the SLC temple and when the quarry was closed for several years. It looked like a major delay, that construction would take even longer, but in the end, that railroad sped things up tremendously. That’s a reminder to me that what may look like a dead end from my perspective might actually be a shortcut if I just had the Lord’s view. There are tons of life lessons like that to be learned from the temples.

Have you always been interested in historical fiction?

I have—at least, fiction from that era, whether it was written then or set in that period—ever since eighth grade when I discovered L. M. Montgomery. Since then, my favorite authors list has expanded to include a lot of writers from the 1800s

What is your writing routine?

That depends on the time of year it is, whether I’m in research, writing, revision, or editorial mode. It has also varied over the years according to the ages of my children. I had to be more creative to find writing time when they were all little. Now my youngest is in preschool three days a week, so that time is reserved for writing. I also do a lot of writing on my AlphaSmart Neo on the fly when I’m running around.

When I’m in full-fledged drafting mode, I try to get in about 1,000 words a day. But when editing deadlines and such hit, I just have to get whatever done whenever I can, although I try “put it to bed” by the time school is out and the resulting chaos descends on the house.

What authors have most influenced you?

L. M. Montgomery, definitely, has had the most influence. I’ll reread some of her work and only then realize that something there impacted one of my books that was published a year ago. Other writers that span the 1800s also slip in: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, and so on. I just love that period, so it feels natural to write for it.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Learn as much as you can about the craft, write regularly, and get honest feedback. The best thing I ever did for my work was join a good critique group. My next advice would be to develop a thick skin, start submitting, and don’t give up. And then brace yourself—rejections will come, and even when you get that acceptance, it’s just the first step on a long road.

If you had to choose between writing and chocolate which would you choose?

For a dyed-in-the-wool chocoholic, you’d think that would be a tough one. But I’d have to pick writing. The satisfaction of writing lasts a lot longer—and is much sweeter—than any truffle.

Other than the scriptures, if you were stranded on an island, which book would you choose to have that you could reread over and over again?

The collected works of C. S. Lewis. Actually, I don’t know if there’s a collection like that, but I’m going to assume there is. I could read C. S. Lewis a hundred times and still find new things in the pages. The Great Divorce and The Screwtape letters are like that. And with his Miracles, I could only read about ten pages a day before my brain was ready to collapse from overload. I had to put the book down and think through what I had read before I could go back and absorb more. He’s amazing.

Are you planning to write a novel based on each temple?

Not every temple. For starters, I couldn’t keep up with the rate they’re being built, and for another, I want to stick with the historical thing for now, and only certain temples fall into that category. I will likely write something about early temples outside of Utah ( Mesa , Alberta , Hawaii ) and perhaps back up and do Nauvoo and Kirtland. I may even revisit temples I’ve already written about, jumping ahead ten, twenty, or more years to tell stories that never made it into the first one.

As you know, I’m finishing up the one on Manti right now. After that I’ll do Vernal, because the tabernacle it came from was built in the early Utah years, even though it wasn’t a temple yet.

I may eventually do other historical novels not necessarily centered on a temple. For a long time I’ve wanted to write something about the Scofield Mine disaster in 1900. But that’s way down the road.

Annette Lyon
2007 Best of State Fiction Medalist

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What I'm Reading

The other day, it was cold and windy. The wind was so forceful, in fact, that it knocked over the goats' shelter. My husband and I trudged out to the farthest point of our property to repair the shelter.
It took a while to make it suitable for the goats again so we were outside for a long time. When we finally finished, the wind had successfully whipped my hair into knots, frozen my nose, and given me an earache. I was happy to get back to my house.

My husband built a fire and I made hot chocolate. I grabbed a book and settled on the couch in the living room. I love, love, love reading a book next to a blazing fire, especially when the cold has sliced right through me. The book I chose to read: Spires of Stone by Annette Lyon.

I am truly enjoying this book. I love the relationship between two of the characters--their insults are quite creative and snappy. The writing is so easy to read and I love learning about the history as well. The story is woven so effortlessly, too. I'm excited to read to the end so I can find the answers to all the questions that are swimming around my head. Will they get married? Will he fess up? Will I ever know what happened between those two? Can I slap the one brother?

So, I'm going to go build a fire, snuggle up on the couch, and read more Spires of Stone.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sew What? Oh, Pooh!

When my daughter left for college, we decided to place our youngest children together in that bedroom. These two children do not attend school, yet, so it seemed natural to put them together.

After my daughter "cleaned" her room and packed her stuff, I then tackled it and removed two full bags of trash. I also had to vaccumm and vacuum and vacuum. Since my youngest child is a boy, I decided that the lavendar walls with the cute stencil at the top needed to be repainted.

My baby had been given a Pooh Bear quilt when he was born. I matched the green color in the quilt for the paint and bought more Pooh material to make curtains. The painting was interesting since my younger kids all wanted to "help." (Now we have a room with green paint in unique places). Once I finished repainting all of the trim and window sills, we moved my son's crib and dresser into the room. We also set up a bed for my three-year-old daughter (who has since slept in said "big girl" bed instead of in our room and we're wondering why we didn't set up the bed a long time ago).

The kids both occupied the room without curtains for a few weeks while I worked on my manuscript. Since I turned in that manuscript on Monday, I figured it was time to make those curtains.

Now, I've sewn over the years. I didn't sew at all until I got married, but when my daughter (the one who's in college now) was born, I made all sorts of dresses. I continued to sew for my girls until I had so many kids pulling out the thread and readjusting my machine settings, I couldn't take it anymore.

I must say that I think my sewing machine is also alive (just like my computer) and it plots against me. One day, many years ago, my husband came home from work to find the sewing machine in the trashcan. Okay, so I get a little frustrated when I'm sewing.

Today I began the curtain project. And, after knocking the box of straight pins onto the floor at least three times spewing pins all over, poking my fingers a couple of times and drawing blood, fighting with said sewing machine as it tried to work against me, listening to my young son complain very loudly that I was sewing instead of holding him, saving a large remnant piece to make into a pillow only to discover I'd picked it up by mistake and sewn it into the curtain panel, sewing the part for the top rod into the bottom of the panel and having to take it all out and redo it, and having it take at least 45 times longer than I anticipated, I finally finished. Only to then discover my pants were on inside out.

Yes, it's been a day of . . . sewing. I am happy with the results and think the curtains make the room look even cuter. But, I have to admit, I'm really glad they're done and I can get back to something easier, like say, rocket science.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ready for the World?

As many of you know, my son is serving a mission in Rome, Italy. My daughter has recently left home to attend college. It was difficult to send my two oldest children out into the world, wondering if they were prepared, hoping I'd taught them enough, and crossing my fingers all would go well. Should I tell them one more thing? Should I check their suitcases to make sure they had everything? Were they ready? Would I ever feel like they were ready to leave me?

There have been a few bumps in the road, but all in all they are both doing well and I think they will return better home, more mature people who will have experiences only leaving home could provide. I'm sure they will both return home a few times before they are ready to venture out into their own worlds of marriage and family. By then, they should be ready.

Again, I couldn't help but draw another analogy to writing as I finished my manuscript and hit that send button today. My manuscript Heaven Scent (working title) was accepted by Cedar Fort and I signed a contract some months ago. I then revised the manuscript, incorporating the suggestions by the readers at Cedar Fort. It has been a long process, and even more complicated by personal events in the last few months, but I met the deadline. Whew!

As I prepared to send it, though, I couldn't help but take one more look and check one more word, one more paragraph, one more chapter. I ran spell check several times and then just stared at the screen. Could I send my "baby" out? Had I done enough? Should I reread it one more time? Should I see if I'd overused "just" again? Was it ready to leave my hands? Would I ever feel like it was ready?

Finally, I hit the button and sent it out into the world of editing. As with my two oldest kids, I'm sure my manuscript will come back better, more readable, and more easily understood with the help of a seasoned editor. Then, it will be ready for the rest of the world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Writing and Fencing

Yesterday my husband, two sons, and I spent the day working on our fences. When we moved to our property, we originally built fences for large animals (horses and cows). We've had a drought since then and it's left us with less feed so we decided to begin raising small animals. Since we have the world's largest population of hungry coyotes, when we decided to begin raising goats, we had to tear down and rebuild our fences in order to protect the goats from these determined (and very noisy) predators. (We also have a llama to protect the goats, but we didn't want to depend solely on the llama to discourage the coyotes).

As I was working on our fence, I thought about how it relates to writing. The first time we built our fences it was a wide open space-an empty canvas-and we could choose wherever we wanted to place the fence. We had to plan and make decisions about what our goals were and then place the fence according to those plans. We had to decide where to place gates and how to access all the fields. We had to decide what type of fence to build and how to place it around our house. It was a wild adventure and when we finished we had something that looked much different than when we began. It was like the first draft of a story. We had started with nothing, but ended with something pretty amazing.

After the fence was built for large animals and we determined it no longer served our needs for smaller animals, it became more like the next drafts of a story. We had to remove the parts that no longer served us and make some changes, but we left the "skeleton." We didn't completely destroy it. We used the bare bones to rebuild, but added something else--changing it to meet our needs. We also had to do some more planning and make sure the end result would meet our goals.

While I was taking down the barbed wire fence and then attempting to coil it up (not an easy task and never do it with anything but leather gloves), I thought about the difficult task of rebuilding it and how this was even more work because, though the fence posts were still there, I had the work of removing the old and replacing with the new, just like it is to revise and rewrite. I have to remove the parts of the story that don't work and replace those parts with something new that will make the story better.

I believe the task of writing the first draft is work, but it's also invigorating to see a story take shape and when you're done you can see the huge task you've accomplished because you started with nothing but ended with something pretty amazing.

With rewriting and revision, you have the bare bones, the heart of your story, but there is still much work to be done. It isn't so easy to see what you've accomplished when you're revising and it takes a lot of stamina and dedication to go through a story bit by bit and piece by piece, but when you're finished, you have something that's even more amazing (hopefully). Then you can sit back, enjoy the fruits of your labors for a moment until it's time to dive back in and write something else.