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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making It Personal

I believe that writers can’t help but include part of themselves in everything they compose. I know for my first four books that there were characters who reflected my personality. In The Hidden Sun the character Bertram had a lot of my quirks. (If you haven’t read it yet, I’m not going to spoil it!)

If it’s true that writers include part of themselves in their work, it’s understandable that they can be hurt if they get a bad review. People have gone as far as to call their books as their “children” and when a book is released, it’s as if the author gave birth to it.

As a man, I can’t say I can speak to how the two of them compare physically, but I can say it’s a pretty emotional experience when a book is set free for the world to be read and judged.

Why do I bring this up now? Well, the day I posted this blog is the same day my 5th novel was “born.” It’s called Wall of Faith.

There are several things that make this book different from my other books. First, the book is told in first person, meaning the character uses “I” statements. Example: “I fell down the stairs.”

Second, the book is a different genre. My other books are liberally labeled “fantasy” (though I disagree somewhat). Wall of Faith is categorized as religious. It is, after all, the story of a young Mormon missionary.

Third, the book is based on a true story.

As of this moment, my guess is that there are going to be people who love this book, and those who hate it. I doubt many people will be in the middle. Since this is by far my most personal book, I have to remind myself not to take the bad reviews personally—though it won’t be easy.

But as an author, that’s the risk you take when you share your work. My guess is that this book will help many people who share the issues James Williams struggled with. I hope so. That was my intention.

Still, I predict there will be those that call me out for not portraying the missionary life as “the best two years.” To that, I respond, “that’s kind of the point.” 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Who is your audience?

People often ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” For me, at least, they’ve come from different sources. 

The idea for “The Hidden Sun” came from a scene I had in a dream. “The Waxing Moon” was based on a setting I thought of while editing “The Hidden Sun.” “The Zealous Star” was based on plot that came to me while writing “The Waxing Moon.” “The Mirror of the Soul” was based on a song from Chris de Burgh. “Wall of Faith” was based on a character (and actual events). 

When an author writes a book, the process usually starts with an idea for a character, setting or plot. Once in a while, you’ll hear an author start with their intended audience in mind. For example: “I want to write a middle-grade book.” 

It’s been interesting as I’ve worked toward my Master’s degree in Creative Writing how many people in my classes don’t consider who will read their stories. Often, when I ask them that question, they don’t have an answer. 

But does it matter? 

I’m going to make the following stand: yes it does. 

When I write my books, I want my daughters to be able to read them. That doesn’t mean they are all fluffy and full of puppies. Actually, my books are rather intense. Knowing who my audience is helped me decide what details to include and which ones to leave out. 

I posted an interesting question to a group of authors recently. I asked, “Would this be considered taking the Lord’s name in vain?” I then included the sentence in question, which was, “It’s not a claim. God knows, I wish it was,” Zachariah said. 

The response from the other authors was fascinating. Some were adamant that as it was written, it was taking the Lord’s name in vain—they even provided proof. And others were quite sure that it wasn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain—and they gave proof. 

Why did I ask the question and why do I care? Because I have never included any swear words in any of my books. I guess I’m trying to prove a point that engaging books don’t have to rely on using swear words or graphic violence and sex. 

In addition, the feedback I’ve gotten from readers has been overwhelmingly positive that I’ve written “clean” books which aren’t boring. 

So, what did I decide to do about the sentence where I thought I might be taking the Lord’s name in vain? I thought about my audience. If some of the authors considered it a swear word, than most likely many of my readers would as well. 

My solution? I changed the line to: “It’s not a claim. Heaven knows, I wish it was,” Zachariah said.