Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Blogs of 2013

Which of my 2013 blogs were the most popular based on number of times people accessed them? I’m always surprised to find out which ones they are.

Like I’ve done in the past, I’m going to count down the top 5, based on page views. At the end, I’ll share which ones were my favorite.

I haven’t written as many personal blogs this year for a few reasons. First, I released three books in 2013. Second, I’m blogging for Ronaldo Designer Jewelry which uses up some of my blogging time. Third, I’m working on a little something called my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing.

However I did write quite a few blogs. And people still read them. In fact, my blog has had over 140,000 hits since I started it.

Anyway, here are the top 5: (You can click on the name to read the blog.)

A blog about how many stories “borrow” ideas from other sources.

Yes, one of my books was banned from Facebook. Can you guess which one?

A little story about what happens when you are rude to a teacher (or so I would have the students believe.)

One of my teachers wanted me to write a short story out of my comfort zone. This was the result.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this one was so popular. Perhaps because I introduced people to something they had been living without.

And now for my favorite(s):

I couldn’t pick only one, so here are my personal favorites that didn’t make the list in no particular order:

A video / audio comparison of several songs and those that sound a lot like the original.

Because people who insist on using hyphenated last names have started down a path that could get quite interesting.

My response when the name of the new high school in the area was revealed to be “Apex Friendship High School.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

To swear or not to swear in books

The question was recently raised by a fellow author who asked people’s opinions on using swearing in stories. Here is my reply:

Swearing. Yeah. Well, I think for me it boils down to two things:

      Who is your intended audience?
      Are you personally comfortable with using the word?

In my five novels, I’ve used swear words, let me double check, ok yeah … never. At the same time, I don’t shy away from some pretty gritty stuff, especially in Wall of Faith.

I’ve had writers tell me that unless swear words are used, the story won’t feel real. Meaning that swearing is part of life and so it should be included in books. I counter the argument that there are a lot of things in real life which aren’t generally included, like going to the bathroom, yet how often are they included in books where they aren’t a significant part of the story?

I write for an audience that is LDS friendly, meaning I believe anyone can read and enjoy my books if they are LDS or not. I choose not to use swearing because I’ve found I can write compelling stories and characters without using those words.

When I refer to swearing, I mean the main ones that the general public consider a swear word. There are also words that are crass, but are considered swear words by some people. (Examples: piss, crap, suck.) In general, I shy away from the crass words as well.

Lastly, and I’ve mentioned this before in other posts, this topic was discussed at length in one of my Master’s classes. (I’m almost done with my MFA in Creative Writing.) The consensus of the students and the teacher is that swearing is generally to be used sparingly, if at all. Once or twice here and there is like a punch to the gut. Too many uses desensitizes people to the words. My teacher went as far as to call using swear words as “lazy writing.”

So, I personally don’t use swearing and I’ve had many more readers thank me than people complain about the lack of swearing in my stories.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Marriage Midpoint

I don’t think there is a word or phrase for something I celebrated recently. For lack of a better term, I’m coining the phrase, “Marriage Midpoint.”

What does that even mean?

Well, December 6, 2013 marks the day that I’ve been married to my wife as long as I hadn’t been married to her. Stating it another way, I got married when I was 22 years, 1 month and 25 days old. As of December 6th, I’ve been married for 22 years, 1 month and 25 days.

It’s kind of freaky to think that I’ve spent as much time being married as not being married. My childhood seems to have lasted a long time, yet the years I’ve been married have flown by.

My wife has a theory about this. When you are four years old, a year is 25% of your life—therefore a year is a long time. When you are 40 years old, a year is only 2.5% of your life, so it can seem like a shorter period of time.

Certainly my wife and I have lasted longer than the average marriage in America. That hasn’t been by chance.

Yes, my wife and I have a lot in common, but there are a lot of things which we see differently. Often those differences have helped each of us to grow.

When we got married, my parents-in-law wrote one big word in our wedding card: “COMMUNICATE!” And it was great advice. Over the years, we’ve learned that some forms of communication work better than others.

One that is especially effective is the use of “I” statements as opposed to “You” statements. For example, it is better to say, “I felt frustrated when you kept changing your mind about where you wanted to go for dinner” than to say, “You are so frustrating and indecisive!”

Another thing we’ve learned to do which helps our relationship is to allow the other person to take the lead on something they feel strongly about.

Let me explain.

Say that my wife wants to paint the kitchen. She has some colors in mind, and asks for my opinion. She is the one that uses the kitchen more than I do, so as I look at the colors she’s picked out and I share which ones I like or don’t like as much, I keep in mind that basically unless it is something that really bothers me (like neon pink) I’m going to let her take the lead and go with what she likes. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care. In fact, it can mean the opposite: it means that I care enough to support her on her decision.

The point? Couples don’t have to agree 100% on every little detail.

Lastly, the power of positive comments and selfless acts go a long way. I’m constantly telling my wife how beautiful she is. She’s constantly telling me that she loves me. In fact, whenever we leave to go our separate directions, we always tell each other, “I love you! Have a good day!”

Some people may think that saying “I love you” so much will make it lose its power and impact. However, after more than 22 years, I can honestly say that the opposite is true.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whether or not to believe the forecasted weather

I cringe when I see a “10 day forecast” on any sort of weather channel or website. Why? Well, the fact is that no one can accurately predict the weather 10 days from now. The key word is “accurately.”

Oh, weather forecasters can get close, sometimes, but often it is a guessing game on trends from the past and what might happen based on current conditions.

I worked for many years in the TV news business. I had the chance to get to know several meteorologists. By and large, they were really good folks who honestly wanted to help people.

One day, I asked one of them the following question, “Just how sure are you that it is going to rain two days from now?”

His response? He said, “Honestly, we have about a 50% chance of getting tomorrow’s weather right. Each day after that, our chance of being right is cut in half. There are just too many variables that can impact the weather.”

When he first told me this, I was a bit shocked. Before then, I really believed it when I was told it was going to rain seven days from now.

I was thinking about this subject recently and decided to do a little experiment. I went to the National Weather Service website and tracked their predictions for a certain day over the course of a week.

I was surprised how close they got, but even then, there were a number of changes.

The day in question was Wednesday, November 27, 2013. I started tracking the forecast when it first showed up on the National Weather Service’s 7 day forecast.

During those seven days, here are the differences between the forecasts:

The high temperature varied from a high of 38 to a high of 49.

The chance of rain varied from 50% to 90%.

The amount of rain varied from a “trace” to half-an-inch.

The winds varied from 7 mph to 32 mph.

The time the showers were “mainly” supposed to happen varied from 10 AM to 4 PM.

To be fair, they did get one thing right: There was 100% chance of weather.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Numbers are highly overrated

I’ve done several blogs about how misdirected the focus on customer service has become in America.

Don’t misunderstand me: I think good customer service is in line with the golden rule. You remember that one? “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” The world would be such a better place if everyone treated everyone else nicely.

Today my wife and I were at a store. As she was looking at different items, I sat down. On the table next to me was the following picture:

(If you look close you can see a reflection of me taking the picture.)

There are 7 different rating scales, yet numbers 1-5 all have a frowny face—the same one. 6 and 7? Smiley faces—the same one.

I know enough about how these customer service scores work to know that this means anything 5 or lower is considered “bad.” 6 or 7 is “good.” So, are there really 7 different levels of service, or just 2?

Maybe I don’t understand how numbers work. I thought 1 was different than 2. And 2 was different than 3. And so on and so on.

I shouldn’t be surprised when I come across something like this, but I am. Maybe the optimist in me hopes that one day someone will realize just how stupid this is.

Or perhaps, the people who invented this way to measure an employee’s performance are the descendants of the people who created this ad back in the day:

This is a real ad. Here’s what the text says:

“For a better start in life start Cola earlier!

How soon is too soon? Not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start drinking soda during that early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and “fitting in” during those awkward pre-teen and teen years. So, do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of sodas and other sugary carbonated beverages right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness.

Brought to you by The Soda Pop Board of America.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Carol of the Tales--A Christmas Anthology

One of my favorite parts about Christmastime is the messages of hope and peace, of giving and helping others, and of the traditions that come with the season.

I’m pleased to share with you a special book. It’s called Carol of the Tales. The idea behind it is rather brilliant, and I can say that because I didn’t come up with the idea. (winks) Michael Young is the man behind this project, and I’m happy to play even a small part in it.

So what is it? It’s a book of short Christmas stories—each one based on a Christmas song. Cool, right? And to add to the coolness, there are 25 stories—one for each day in December up until Christmas day.

If all this wasn’t great enough, all proceeds of the book go to the charity group “Autism Speaks.”

I was blessed to be able to contribute a story to this anthology. I wrote it during the holiday season last year while the spirit of Christmas was burning brightly inside me. My story is called “With Bells On.” It is tied to not only the song “Jingle Bells,” but also to the saying, “I’ll be there with bells on.”

If you would like an autographed copy, well, at least with my autograph, go to my main webpage, click on the “contact” link in the top right hand corner, and send me an email. I’ll randomly select two winners. (You can get to my website by clicking here.)

For more information on the project, click on this link.

To order a print copy, you can click here.

To order a copy for Kindle, please click here.

And Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Penny Wise and Plain Stupid

Six cents.

That was the amount of the check. Zero dollars and six cents.

I looked over the check again to make sure it was the correct amount. And it was. It was from some financial institution that had apparently messed up on money they owed me, and this was the difference.

Don’t believe me: here’s a copy of the check (with vital information blacked out):

Think about it: the cost of a stamp is 46 cents. Other costs include the paper the check is printed upon, the cost to print the check, the cost to figure out I was owed six cents and to process that information.

I was going to throw it away, but I had a couple of other checks I needed to deposit, so I thought, “Why not?”

And then I ran into another issue. When I went to deposit the check using the ATM, it wouldn’t let me deposit the check for six cents. Why not? Well, I could call my bank and find out, but I had already wasted enough time on the six cent check.

If I were to guess, it would be because the ATM doesn’t accept checks that are less than a dollar—and I don’t blame the bank for doing that.

After all, who would be stupid enough to cut a check for less than a dollar, right?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Quoted in the New York Times

I received an email a few days ago by a man named Mark Oppenheimer. The subject read, “NY Times interview?” Of course this made me curious, and somewhat hesitant. Was this for real? I tend to be guarded when someone claims to be a representative of something big like the New York Times.

His email asked me if I’d be willing to answer some questions about Mormon writers. I cautiously sent a reply stating I’d be willing to answer any questions the best I could.

His follow up question was simple enough: He asked if I had “any thoughts on why so many LDS writers seem to gravitate toward genre fiction -- sci-fi, fantasy, young adult?”

I gave it some thought and elected to send an email instead of talking over the phone with him—part of that was also for security concerns. I had googled the name “Mark Oppenheimer” and he seemed legit, but still, someone could be faking it.

Here is how I responded to his question:


You pose an interesting question, and one I have wondered about myself. I have come to a few conclusions based on my personal experiences as well as those shared with me by my peers.

I think that there is a distinction: writers who are LDS and LDS writers.

There is no shortage of non-fiction books written by members of the LDS faith, as can be seen when scanning through the inventory of Deseret Book—the primary retailer for LDS books. These people I would classify as “LDS writers.”

It is the second group, writers who are LDS that, as you say, “gravitate toward genre fiction -- sci-fi, fantasy, young adult.”

I believe that most people of the LDS faith are taught at a young age that there is a difference between the imaginary world of fantasy and science fiction, and the unseen, but considered true, aspects of religion—like the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

In general, LDS families celebrate Christmas with the notion of Santa Claus bringing presents. They celebrate Easter with the Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy makes visits to children who have lost their teeth and placed them under their pillow. Children dress up for Halloween and go trick-or-treating.

With the idea that LDS people see fictional elements as separate, and not in conflict with, spiritual matters, sci-fi and fantasy are tools to share a message.

When Jesus Christ taught, he often used parables. These relatable stories taught a message. People were interested in the story itself, and therefore would listen to it and then contemplate it. Many writers who are LDS feel the same way. They use fantastical elements to help relay a bigger message—a message they as storytellers want to share.

I believe that most writers who are LDS are by default labeled as “young adult” writers because graphic sex scenes, graphic violence and swearing are omitted from their writing—even if the material is for a more mature audience. That is true of my first four books—books that I wouldn’t classify as YA, per se, but they are lumped into that group because they exclude elements that would make a movie rated “R.”

Even among writers who are LDS, there are factions. Some writers use different pen names for books that might be considered “too worldly” for the LDS market. Yet they will use their own names when writing books that are “LDS friendly.”

In short, many writers who are LDS that write YA, sci-fi and fantasy do so because they understand that fantastical elements are a way to tell a story, and in doing so, it is make believe and not an opposition to their religious beliefs.

Let me know if you have any other questions.”

To my surprise, and delight, not only was this interview really with the NT Times, but I was also quoted in the story.

Here is the link:

So, there you have it. I’ve now been quoted in the NY Times.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Suspension bridge

There is a saying: “We must suspend our disbelief to be entertained.” If you haven’t heard it, it’s the idea that when we read a book, or watch a play or a movie, we have to put certain beliefs “on hold” to enjoy, and possibly understand, the work.

Case in point: One of the most popular movies of all time is The Avengers which came out in 2012. Overall, it was a critical and financial success. Yet, how many of the people who watched the movie honestly believe there are aliens that could attack the Earth? Or believe a man who turns into a giant green monster when he gets mad? Or so on and so on. . . My bet is that those who believe these elements were possible are in the vast (and I mean VAST!) minority.

So, for the rest of us, how could we enjoy something so much that we inherently don’t believe could happen? Now you understand the idea of “We must suspend our disbelief to be entertained.”

We were debating this concept in a recent class. I stated that as a story maker, I had to be aware that people have different beliefs and so depending on the subject matter, some people will have a harder time suspending their disbelief than others. A fellow classmate disagreed. She said, “When you say that we all have different beliefs, I find that I must disagree. I suppose you are right on the surface of things, but if you go a little deeper there are things that most of us have in common that can be used by the storyteller to promote the suspension of disbelief.”

First of all, I’m going to state that her comment was a bit, well, pompous. When I got over my initial frustration, I tried to consider what she said, and found some merit to it.

And then I realized something: my experience with her statement actually supports my claim.

Let me explain.

My first reaction was a negative experience. It went against my beliefs. After all, she disagreed with me. And doesn’t her statement of “When you say that we all have different beliefs, I find that I must disagree” kind of prove we have different beliefs?

Since this was for a class, I was compelled to read on, though I didn’t want to. She went on to make some good points, but I had to suspend my initial disbelief of her first statement to get to it.

And that was the point of my paper of the class. As a story maker, you have to be aware that people have different beliefs and so one way to help ease them into suspending them is to start with the familiar—and then move to something that may be unfamiliar, and possibly unbelievable. It’s like a bridge.

Sometimes, it doesn’t have to take long. For example, in Star Wars IV: A New Hope before we see the rebel starship being attacked by the imperial star destroyer, we are shown a field of stars and the rim of a planet. It sets the scene in a relatable way—people are familiar with a night sky and planets. If the scene, instead, opened with a pink background with purple polka dots, I doubt people would have been as willing to suspend their collective disbeliefs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I’ve noticed a lot more hyphenated last names recently, especially on children. As I understand it, in general the hyphenated last name is a combination of the husband’s last name along with the wife’s maiden name. (Although I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule.)

However, as I think about it, I see this possibly leading to all sorts of confusion, issues and even possible arguments and tensions down the road.

Before I get to that, let me set one thing clear: I believe in equal rights for women and men. I don’t see men as superior over women or vice-versa.

Traditionally, when a woman marries a man she takes on his last name. However, as I’ve been told, some women see that as unfair—it’s a tradition from a less enlightened time. Some women elect to keep their maiden name. That’s their choice, and I respect that.

Then there are those couples who elect to hyphenate their last name. One of the reasons why, as I understand it, is so their children will have their same last name. It can also be seen as a “true merger” between the couple.

And thus we arrive at the questions and concerns I have. (This is where you put on your “satire” glasses.)

What determines which name goes first? If it is the man’s name, isn’t that still sexist—meaning it is still leaning on the tradition of the man being dominant?

Or is it done alphabetically? And then what about those people who happen to have the same last name before the get married? Would their last name be Smith-Smith?

And then, there is the issue of the children of future generations.

Imagine the following situation:

John Jones and Mary Brown get married. They decide to hyphenate their last name. They are now Mrs. and Mr. Brown-Jones. (They chose the alphabetical method.) They have a son, Bobby. Bobby’s official last name is Brown-Jones.

Across town, Henry Smith and Jane Taylor get married. They decide to hyphenate their last name. They are now Mr. and Mrs. Smith-Taylor. (They flipped a coin on which name came first.) They have a daughter, Peggy. Peggy’s official last name is Smith-Taylor.

Bobby Brown-Jones grows up, meets and falls in love with Peggy Smith-Taylor. They are both enlightened people, as is proven by their last names. When they get married, what will their new last name be? Wouldn’t it have to be Brown-Jones-Smith-Taylor? Or maybe Smith-Taylor-Brown-Jones?

Let’s say it is the first one: Brown-Jones-Smith-Taylor.

They have a son, Jimmy. His name is Jimmy Brown-Jones-Smith-Taylor. He grows up, meets and falls in love with Betty Johnson-Anderson-Davis-Miller. They get married, and after playing rock, paper, scissors, elect to go with the last name of Johnson-Anderson-Davis-Miller-Brown-Jones-Smith-Taylor.

Yikes! That name won’t fit on a driver’s license or a school roll, or even the IRS tax forms (though the government has been very supportive of people’s rights to choose their own names.)

How could we solve such an issue? Well, for starters, if any of the last names are the same, we could use a math trick. For example, Brown-Smith-Brown-Anderson-Smith-Davis-Smith could become Brown^2-Smith^3-Anderson-Davis. A bonus from doing this is that the character above the number “6” on the keyboard would be used more.

Or, we could just take the first letters of all the last names and make a new name out of that. So, in that case, Upton-Richards-Anderson-Davis-Ingersoll-Moore-Williams-Ingle-Thompson could be Uradimwit.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, there is a reason for people using only one last name for centuries.

Nah, that couldn’t be it.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Number One Question I’m Asked When People Find Out I’m An Author

It’s interesting to see people’s reactions when they find out I’m an author. What is the number one question I get asked? 

Here it is: “Are you published?”

Believe it or not, that question can be taken several different ways. 

It could mean, “Are you good enough that someone actually printed what you wrote?”

Or it could mean, “Cool! Does that mean your books are available to be read by the public?”

I’m sure it could mean other things, but we’ll look at those for a moment. For years, if you wanted to be able to have the masses have access to your books, you had to go through a publishing company. There are pros and cons in doing that.

On the positive side, generally publishing houses make sure the book is free of errors, the cover is nice, the formatting is inviting and the book is distributed.

On the not so positive side, publishing houses are businesses. A big factor in deciding if they are going to publish a book is “will this sell?” Even if they accept a book, they might “encourage” the author to change parts of the story.

This happened to me. When I first started shopping around The Hidden Sun, one response I received was basically, “we like it, but you need to add some sex and swearing.” Yeah—that wasn’t going to happen.

This next part is a bit thick, but hang in there a moment. In one of my recent classes for my Master’s degree I learned about literary criticism. There is something called “The Frankfurt School” critical theory which basically says that the flow of information is being controlled by governments and large corporations and thereby is influencing cultures. They also lamented that because of this, it was “the end of individualism.”

I told you it was thick. I’ll break it down: the belief is that the common person can’t share their views because information is controlled by governments and corporations.

That may have been true several years ago, but I think that isn’t the case as of this moment. What social media can do is amazing. Seriously. After all, a person could type a blog like this in his room and it could be read by millions of people.

As with any form of technology, it can be used for good or bad. So, how does this relate to people asking me if I’m published?

The fact is, anyone, really, can publish a book and have it available for millions of people to buy with services like Amazon, Smashwords, Wattpad, and so on. No longer are publishing houses acting as gate keepers on what information is shared.
Yet, at the same time, because the process to spread information is so easy, it can make a person leery about quality or credibility of what is being shared.

And that is where I find myself today.

My first two books and my first two short stories were traditionally published. I didn’t pay a dime out of my pocket for them to be available to the masses. In fact, I got paid—a very small amount.

Guess how much I made for my first short story? Just over $5. I’m serious. And that’s all I’ll get from it.

As for published books? This is a ballpark figure, but for a book that retailed for $17.99, I earned less than a dollar a book. And I had to give the publisher the rights to the book to get even that—and I had to make changes the publisher requested.

As I studied the trends and options, I elected that creating my own publishing company and using Amazon as my distributor made the most sense from both a creative and financial position.

Since then, I’ve made a lot more money and I feel I’ve been able to tell the stories I’ve wanted to tell. The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, so I know that what I’m doing is connecting with my intended audience.

My biggest challenge now is how to stand out from the hoard of people who are publishing books using non-traditional routes.

I’ve done several things like become active with author groups, have a professional website, write a blog, do school visits, and other types of promotion. Yet those aren’t the biggest things I’ve done. 

There are four tips I’d offer for anyone who wants to do what I’ve done.

1. Read, read, read and read some more.
2. Write, write, write and write some more.
3. Hire a professional editor.
4. Hire a professional cover designer.

The first two may seem like they don’t connect to the last two, but they do. If you want to be a good writer, you need to read good writing. Then you need to practice—a lot.

And then? Get help! Yes, you’ll have to invest some money, but trust me: people do judge a book by its cover and if your book is full of mistakes, word will spread.

Just for giggles, here are two other questions I’ve been asked when people find out I’m an author:

“Are your books any good?” 

“Why would you waste your time doing that?”

Monday, October 21, 2013

From the mouths (or pencils) of middle school students

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to be a visiting author at a middle school. Today, I received thank you notes from the students.

These were wonderful! All of them were sweet and thanked me for coming.

As well, I got a kick out of several of the comments.

Here are some of them:

“Can you write a book based on us in 7th period?”

“I hope your next books will get some good reviews.”

“I learned that to become a good writer you need to write.”

“I learned that everyone makes mistakes and you just got to keep trying.”

“I learned that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

“Thank you for coming. You were really funny.”

“I learned I needed to use my imagination more.”

“I learned that being an author is cool.”

“I learned being an author is a hard job.”

“I learned that not everyone will like your work.”

“I learned that to be a better writer you have to write, write some more and write even more.”

“I didn’t know they once used typewriters in schools.”

“Thank you for teaching me to try my best and never give up.”

“You’re funny. Come back again soon.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Famous saying as interpreted by Swype

My (not so) smart phone has this feature called “Swype.” Instead of having to type each letter individually, I just move my finger from letter to letter and when I’m done with a word, I stop touching the screen.

Like many aspects of technology it is a great idea, but it has room for improvement. Swype will often guess which word you meant and then give you options. However, you can just swype away and it will fill in what it thinks you meant—often with interesting results.

For an experiment, I swyped in some famous sayings without trying to correct what it was guessing. Here are the results:

You can least a footwear to water bit you cannot make him Debbi.

A birth in the hand is Rupert two in the hush.

We have morph rip fear Burr dress outsold.

Am apple a day metros the donut away.

A penny fabric is a parent earned.

Sox of one, half dozen of the outlast.

A stick in tome access none.

A rose why outrigger name would angle a sweet.

All work and how past makes jack a dull bit.

I know or like the back of my hams.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tons of Free Books Given Away!

I’m super excited to be part of this huge book give-a-way!

I will be giving away two books as part of this event. To enter, simply leave a comment below with an email address so I can contact you if you win.

The contest runs from October 8th until October 15th.

The first book available is my newest release, Wall of Faith.

While serving a Mormon mission in Mexico, nineteen-year-old James Williams is involved in a terrible accident. The horrendous events that follow lead Williams to question not only his reasons for going on a mission, but also why he believes in God.

Wall of Faith is a compelling story of one young man’s search to understand his faith—even when that very faith is put to the test.

The second book available is a special edition of The Hidden Sun—a rare first edition no longer available anywhere else!

(Original 1st Edition Cover)

A faraway kingdom.
A beautiful princess.
A courageous hero.
A ruthless villain.
An impossible choice.

The kingdom of Bariwon is at a crossroads. A new leader threatens to take control of the throne which could throw the land into chaos. The Hidden Sun is an epic tale of courage, heartbreak, battles and redemption.

After you’ve entered, check out some of the other blogs giving books away as well!

Good luck!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

When Advertising Backfires

When I started to market my books, I gained a new appreciation for advertising.

I got it. Without advertising people wouldn’t know there are options for things they need or want. In a lot of ways, advertising is a win-win for the people involved. Advertisers pay places like TV stations, newspapers and internet sites to display something that will entice people to buy their wares. These outlets then make money to support whatever business they are running.

My family gets the Sunday newspaper each week. With all the other ways to get news these days, my wife and I don’t really need the newspaper for news. Why do we get it? For two reasons:

1. For the coupons.

2. For the comics.

I’m serious.

My wife is a wizard when it comes to coupons and the Sunday paper is a great source. She saves enough each week to pay for the cost of the paper several times over.

I love to read the comics each Sunday. But lately, I’ve become a bit disgruntled when a form of advertising has become a hindrance to my weekly reading of the comics.

When pulling the comics out from the rest of the paper there is a full page ad on its own paper that sticks to the comics. At first I just thought it was a coincidence that the ad stuck to the comics, but as it has happened week after week, I’ve realized it is done on purpose and I have no doubt that the newspaper knows this and charges extra money.

The company that does this ad each week sells mattresses. Until this point in time, I had no allegiance to any particular mattress company—I simply don’t buy enough mattresses to have an opinion.

However, when it comes time to buy a mattress, I will not be buying from the company whose advertisement I have to peel from the comics each week. Why? Because the frustration of having to deal with that each week has built up negative feelings toward the company.

Along those lines are the car companies whose ads go something like this:

“Our boss has challenged us to sell more cars than the dealership over in Anytown, USA! Come on in to help us reach our goal!”

This scares the daylights out of me. Why would I want to go there? So I have to deal with a high pressure salesman who is trying to hit a goal so he can look good for his boss?

I think the first lesson taught to advertising companies should be, “Don’t cheese off the people you are trying to sell to.”

Or maybe that’s just me. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Are you quotable?

A friend in a recent Facebook post asked people for inspirational quotes for when times are tough. Before reading anyone else’s comments, I consider the question. The first quote that came to mind was “Faith in myself gives me the strength to carry on.”—John Wetton.

I typed in my response, and even attributed the quote to John Wetton. I realized that many people on that list wouldn’t know John Wetton is the lead singer for the rock group “Asia.” The quote comes from one of their songs. But to me, it didn’t matter. That quote has had a huge impact on my life.

Then I began to read some of the other quotes people posted. It was interesting to see how many people included scriptures. Those who didn’t use a scripture included quotes from people with recognizable names (at least the names were recognizable to me).

Over the next few days, I became more aware of quotes posted on the internet, on walls in classrooms, and even in TV ads. It got me thinking, “Is a quote initially more believable or credible if it comes from a source that is well known and respected?” My answer was a reluctant, “yes.”

Yet some people try to hide, or mask, the source because what was said was impactful, but the source may not be immediately recognizable.

For example, in a recent TV spot promoting a movie, in huge letters it said, “INCREDIBLE!” Then in small font, too small to read even on a large HD screen, the person who said the quote was listed. For all I know, it could have been Biffy the Laughing Dog.

And then sometimes there is a title, of sorts, attached to the person’s name to help the public realize the source is credible. Sometimes it works, other times, not so much.

I saw an advertisement for a book on the internet. The quote was fantastic and highly praised the book. But I’ll admit that the quote lost some of its merit when the person was described as a “Goodreads Reader.” To be qualified as that, all you have to do is post a review on a website called “Goodreads” which really anyone can do.

But the question of being quotable can be taken a step further. “Does a quote have more value if it comes from a source that is well known?” To that, I’m going to say, “Really, not so much.”

I couldn’t tell you who first said, “Don’t spit into the wind,” but I can tell you that quote has had significantly more meaning to me than when a high educated and respected person wrote, “Hermeneutics achieves its actual productivity only when it musters sufficient self-reflection to reflect simultaneously about its own critical endeavors, that is, about its own limitations and the relativity of its own position.”

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Innocence Lost?

I was once asked, “If you could go back and rewrite The Hidden Sun, what would you change?” My initial response was any technical issues like formatting and typos. (Which I ended up doing for the third edition of the book.)

My second thought was about the story itself. Would I change anything knowing what I know now?

The answer is a resounding, “NO!”

But why?

I am nearly done with my Master’s Degree in creative writing. I have learned so much which has improved my writing and understanding of the process. My current work-in-progress incorporates what I’ve learned. So far, it’s coming along nicely.

And yet, there is something innocent about The Hidden Sun. In writing it, I tried to emulate the story techniques I preferred as well as adding a few twists of my own. I wrote the book without knowing exactly how I was going to resolve the mess I made for my characters, but that was part of the fun: figuring it out alongside them.

When I write now, I often think of some of the rules and elements I’ve learned while not only working on my Master’s, but also from having completed five novels. For some reason, I feel like I’ve lost a little of the wonder of the creative process.

Is it because I’m aware of more “rules?” Possibly. Is it because I’ve done this enough now that I’m desensitized to the feeling of wonder? Perhaps.

It’s not unlike how my youngest child can play with Legos for hours using only her imagination to create an entire world. I use to be able to do that. I can still play with Legos if I wanted to—but it’s not quite the same.

Can I make better Lego creations using my life experience? Certainly. Just as I’m sure my books will continue to improve in quality—at least from how “experts” judge books.

Still, I can’t help but feel a bit sad if I’ve now grown enough as a writer that I’ve lost that sense of innocence…  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Tic-Tac-Toe and Racism

Yesterday, I was called a racist. And it really bothered me.  It bothered me because I honestly believe I’m not racist. In addition, it bothered me because I don’t feel like the comment was warranted.

So, why was I called a racist? I’ll tell you.

At this point in my life, I write full time (my fifth novel was just released), I’m finishing my Master’s degree in Creative Writing, and I substitute teach—mainly at high schools.

At the start of each class I substitute for, I do a little object lesson. I tell the class I’ve never lost at tic-tac-toe. I even draw the game on the board. I ask if anyone thinks they can beat me. I usually have a ton of volunteers.

I pick the first person to raise their hand. I let the student choose if they want to be X or O and even let them go first. Most often they pick a corner square, for whatever reason. (They almost always pick X as well. Weird!)

When it is my turn, I draw three Os (or Xs if they pick Os) in three separate boxes and then draw a line through my moves. I then tell the student they lost.

Inevitably, someone in the class says, “You cheated!”

I ask them what they mean, and they tell me I was only supposed to go once. I ask, “Says who?” They say, “Says the rules!”

I then clarify by saying, “Oh! So if there are rules, and I don’t follow them, that’s a bad thing?” (See where this is going?)

The students agree it’s a bad thing. That’s when I show them the rules for the classroom.

The first rule is simple: “Respect each other.” I explain that this means to keep your hands off of other people and other people’s stuff. There won’t be any bad language in the class. Also, there will not be any negative things said to another person like, “You’re stupid!” Also, when the teacher is talking, you shouldn’t talk. There are students who actually want to learn and if you are being a disruption, you aren’t being respectful.

I am quite clear on what I expect.

Almost always someone breaks the first rule within the first five minutes. When they do, I walk to their desk, stand next to them and ask them to tell me what the first rule is. (Which I have written on the board.) 99% of the time, that solves any issues for the rest of the class.

Yesterday was one of the 1%.

I was teaching a math class—actually teaching students how to solve equations!—and one young lady felt it was more important to tell the person next to her what her boyfriend said to someone else. I nicely went to the side of her desk and asked her the first rule. She told me. I asked her to please stop talking while I was teaching. She did. For about two minutes.

I went to her desk again, and this time I told her she knew the rule and wasn’t following it. In my opinion she was being disruptive. I told her if she disrupted class again, I’d have her removed. None of this was said in a hostile tone—though I was firm.

She lasted two more minutes before she started talking again. I called for an administrator who came to take her out of the class. When she left, she told the administrator I was racist because if she had been a white girl, I wouldn’t have kicked her out of class.

I was shocked.

This is my personal belief: I believe that I have a Heavenly Father and every person on this Earth are my brothers and sisters—regardless of the color of their skin, religious beliefs, gender, where they live or any other category the world uses to define people. I also believe that everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe.

I will also admit that there are some individuals I avoid and some I’m drawn to. What makes the distinction? For me, it is how they treat others.

I like to be around people who are kind. I like to be around people who are accepting of others. I like to be around people who look to lift other people up.

I don’t like to be around people who are mean. I don’t like to be around people who are judgmental. I don’t like to be around people who strive to tear other people down.

In the case of the girl who was removed from class, the color of her skin had nothing to do with her getting removed from class. It was her actions.

Frankly, I’m tired of racism on any level. If we want racism and racist behavior to end, everyone needs to end it. Not just those in the perceived majority.