Creativity Quote for 2/28/09

Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is. ~Willa Cather

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Interview with author, Liz Adair

Liz Adair is an amazing mother of seven children and active in so many ways. Yet somehow she found time to write. And to write beautifully enough that she now has six books to her credit. I always love finding out how others create new works from virtual nothing-ness. Painters do this, composers do this, choreographers do this. They begin with an empty palette, an empty page, an empty stage. Yet at the end of their efforts, they’ve brought forth life where nothing existed before. Is this not the height of creativity?

So I was excited when I had the opportunity to chat with Liz and learn from this multifaceted woman. She speaks, she teaches, she writes, and she nurtures those around her. It was a privilege to get to know her a bit better.

C.S.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

LIZ: When I was young. I remember writing a romantic short story when I was about eighteen. Ten years later, I was still dabbling and wishing. I was in my mid-forties when I got serious about writing.

C.S.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

LIZ: It was about twelve years long and essentially two books thick. I didn’t believe it when people would say that authors don’t usually publish their first book. I believe it now, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

C.S.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

LIZ: I was discouraged several times. Rejection slips are hard. Rejection slips with critiques are really hard, because it’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly. But, it’s all part of learning the craft. Every now and then, when I was reading a really good writer, I’d stop at a particularly well-written passage and think, “What am I trying to do? I can’t write like this.”

How did I deal with it? I just plowed ahead, and kept on keepin’ on. It helped that every now and then I’d read something I had written that was so cold I had forgotten all about it, and I’d say, “Whoa! Did I write that? That’s really good!”

C.S.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

LIZ: 1. Learn the craft. 2. Write. I think of all those years when I wished I was a writer, but I didn’t have the discipline and the hunger to do what I had to do to become a writer. Oh, I could string clever words together, but my writing was like my housekeeping: sloppy. I’m still not a very good housekeeper, but my writing has improved.

C.S.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?

LIZ: I spend quite a bit of time outlining. There are three phases. First is the skeleton, the barebones plot. Then I flesh the plot out with ways to get from Point A to Point Z by way of Points B through Y. After that, I write a detailed synopsis for each chapter. This is when the characters start taking over, and the chapter synopses often deviate from the fleshy roadmap. If I have done my preliminary work well, the story flows, and I often surprise myself with how well things inserted as filler early on become crucial toward the end of the book. It’s as if I subconsciously knew a secret that wasn’t revealed to my conscious mind until the proper time.

I have to say, though, that Counting the Cost wasn’t blocked or plotted or outlined. It’s based on family history, and it came to me as a gift, fully formed. I only had to sit down at the keyboard and it forced its way out my fingers into a rough draft. A very rough draft. It still needed lots of rewriting, but that’s the nature of the craft.

C.S.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

LIZ: I’ve never had writer’s block. I’ve had fallow times when I didn’t have much of a desire to write a story, but I’ve found that’s one of the natural rhythms of my life. I think it’s a necessary recharging time. When the time comes to write, if I make the effort and sit down in front of the keyboard, I know the story will flow.

C.S.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?

LIZ: I’m mother of seven. I’ve learned that I can tune out anything. However, I prefer quiet.

C.S.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

LIZ: Everything becomes an inspiration: my life, other people’s lives, the newspaper, someone standing in line in front of me at the supermarket. I’m like a sponge, soaking up sights, sounds, inflections, smells, situations. It’s all fodder.

C.S.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

LIZ: My husband. He has always believed in me and has done what he could to support my writing. I remember, when I first got serious about writing, it was just before PC’s became common. My portable electric typewriter was a wreck, and he got me a new correcting typewriter for Christmas. It strained the budget, but I was very grateful.

C.S.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

LIZ: I haven’t used a critique group yet, because I am only now learning about how a good critique group operates. My shower is my critique group. I write more by feel than by thinking, and if something isn’t quite right, it will niggle at the back of my mind for days until, one day, in the shower, the way to fix it will come to me.

I do ask willing members of my writing group (ANWA—American Night Writers Association) to read my manuscript and make suggestions. What generous ladies they are, to take the time to do that for me. I get excellent feedback from them, and I can then do a final rewrite.

C.S.: Any final words you would like to share?

LIZ: I would say to young mothers who want to write and are feeling hamstrung (or apronstrung) because of the children: there will be plenty of time to write when the children are gone. Enjoy them now, for they are with you but a moment. You will never be sorry you pushed writing to the back burner and focused on your family.

C.S.: Wise words indeed. Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

LIZ: The Spider Latham Mysteries (The Lodger, After Goliath and Snakewater Affair) are out of print, but can be bought used from Amazon. The Mist of Quarry Harbor is available at Deseret Book, and my new book, Counting the Cost is can be found at Amazon.com and from the publisher at www.Inglestonepublishing.com

Also, Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan is available at www.lettersfromafghanistan.com Sales from this book benefit SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations, http://www.swanforhumanity.org). Part of the price of Counting the Cost goes to SWAN, as well.

We’re having a publication party in Mesa, AZ at the Rockin’ R Ranch on Friday, March 6 at 7 p.m. If any of your readers live there, we’d love to have them come and join us. Refreshments are by the authors of the Fat Sisters Cookbook.

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Thank you, Liz, for taking the time to talk with us. I’m always amazed at the creativity and gifts of others. To learn more about Liz and her many creative endeavors, visit her website at LizAdair.net.

The Whitney Award Finalists

It is an honor for an author to be included in this list below. For more information regarding what the Whitney Awards are, visit this site. I am excited to pass on the word about these new novels published in 2008. The 2008 Whitney Award Finalists (listed in Alphabetical order by genre) are:

ROMANCE:
Seeking Persephone, by Sarah Eden,
Servant to a King, by Sariah Wilson,
The Sound of Rain, by Anita Stansfield,
Spare Change, by Aubrey Mace,
Taking Chances, by Shannon Guymon

MYSTERY/SUSPENSE:
Above and Beyond, by Betsy Brannon Green
Do No Harm, by Gregg Luke
Fool Me Twice, by Stephanie Black
Freefall, by Traci Hunter Abramson
Royal Target, by Traci Hunter Abramson

YOUTH FICTION:
The 13th Reality, by James Dashner
Alcatraz vs. The Scrivner’s Bones, by Brandon Sanderson
Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague (Book 3), by Brandon Mull
Far World: Water Keep, by J. Scott Savage
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George

SPECULATIVE:
Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card
The Great and Terrible: From the End of Heaven, by Chris Stewart
The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, Book 3), by Brandon Sanderson
The Host, by Stephanie Meyer
The Wyrmling Horde: The Seventh Book of the Runelords, by David Farland

HISTORICAL:
Abinadi, by H.B. Moore
Isabelle Webb, Legend of the Jewel, by N.C. Allen
Master, by Toni Sorenson
The Ruby, by Jennie Hansen
Traitor, by Sandra Grey

GENERAL FICTION:
Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom
The Reckoning, by Tanya Parker Mills
Waiting For the Light to Change, by Annette Hawes
Fields of Home, by Rachel Ann Nunes
Keeping Keller, by Tracy Winegar

BEST BOOK BY A NEW AUTHOR:
Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom
The Reckoning, by Tanya Parker Mills
Spare Change, by Aubrey Mace
Traitor, by Sandra Grey
Waiting For the Light to Change, by Annette Hawes

NOVEL OF THE YEAR:
Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom
Fool Me Twice, by Stephanie Black
The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, Book 3), by Brandon Sanderson
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George
Traitor, by Sandra Grey

Interview with author, Michele Ashman Bell

Come join me to see how voracious journal keeping can lead a person to become a published author. Michele Ashman Bell is a woman who writes fiction that touches hearts and moves people to wait anxiously for each new book. She may not mention her years of journal keeping below (that information is found at her website), but know that she worked hard to learn the craft of writing. As a result, all that effort paid off and she now is the author of 21 published books!

C.S.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

MICHELE: I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. By fourth grade I was an avid reader and sometimes got in trouble because I read so much. I would always think of things I would change about the story, different endings, different situations, things like that.

C.S.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

MICHELE: Long. Hard. Frustrating. From when I started writing until my first book was published it was TEN YEARS!!!!! I kept every stinking one of my rejection slips and letters because I knew, deep in my heart, that if I ever got published I would be glad I kept them. They are in a folder and I am very proud of them.

C.S.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

MICHELE: Trying to get published is extremely discouraging – at least the rejection part of it is. Nothing hurt worse than to send off a manuscript, just to get it back in the mail, sometimes with nothing but a form rejection letter. Sometimes I would bounce back quickly and move on, but sometimes it took longer, especially when I felt so sure that “this time” my book would be accepted. The best way I found to deal with it was focusing ahead on what I was working on and trying to not take the rejection personal. I learned to believe in myself even when no one else did. I also ate a lot of chocolate!

C.S.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

MICHELE: I would say to really, really know the market and make sure you send your manuscript to the right publisher. I would say to never, ever, ever give up if you really believe in your story and yourself. Persistence and hard work pays off. I am living proof of that. I would also say to make sure you write with your heart and not your head. Passion is the key that links a writer to a reader through the written word.

C.S.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?

MICHELE: I am an outline addict. I brainstorm first and get all my thoughts down, then I organize and pretty much follow the outline. BUT I always revise and change it because the story and characters take on a life of their own and surprise me all the time. I love it when that happens. An outline for me is a like road map. If I don’t know where I’m going, I probably will end up somewhere I don’t want to be. I’m open to take side trips along the journey but I like to have an idea of the route I’m going to take.

C.S.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer’s block? If so, how do you deal with it?

MICHELE: I don’t have too much trouble with writer’s block, but if I ever do, it’s because I don’t know where the story is going. This is when I’ll go back to my outline and revisit the story and really find out what the character’s motivation is and if they are moving forward. Most of the time it’s because they’ve lost steam somewhere in the middle. Middles are the hardest.

C.S.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?

MICHELE: I need quiet. I get distracted easily. I can’t listen to music. I even have a hard time writing when there’s stuff going on in the house because I can’t focus. It makes finding writing time very difficult.

C.S.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

MICHELE: Research is usually the best way to get inspiration. Sometimes I’ll have an idea and I’ll need to stop writing and research it. This layering of information really gives the story texture and detail and totally inspires what happens with plot, characters, and motivation.

C.S.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

MICHELE: That is hard. First is probably my husband because he’s supported my throughout my journey as an author. He supported me even when it was embarrassing that I still didn’t have anything published. I do have some dear friends who are authors who are extremely supportive and encouraging.

C.S.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

MICHELE: I was a member of three different critique groups before I got published. I felt they were very helpful and I learned a great deal about them. I do think you need to be careful because ultimately I had to learn to follow my gut and not listen to the criticism because it was making me doubt myself and my stories. I do think it builds character and strength to read something you’ve written in front of people and actually invite them to tear it to pieces.

C.S.: Any final words you would like to share?

MICHELE: I think for readers I would like to thank them for supporting LDS fiction. They are vital to our success and I’ve never forgotten that. I also want to tell those writers who are trying to get published to never give up on their dream. I know it can happen for them if they will just keep trying. Thank you, Cindy for allowing me to share a little about my writing.

C.S.: You are welcome. It’s my treat! So where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

MICHELE: Definitely anywhere that LDS products are sold, Seagull and DB are the best bets.

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C.S.: I’d like to thank Michele for taking the time to chat. Her books are beloved by many. Here is a review of one of her most recent novels, A Modest Proposal. To visit her website and learn more about her, click here. And to read sample chapters from her books, visit here.

Paint splotches and other lovely matters…

I have taught many students privately and something I share often with them is the importance of paint splotches.

For example, I have a dear friend with an amazing multi-million dollar home. It is exquisite. In the back of the home is a sunroom that he turned into a painting salon. For you see, he is a gifted artist. Elsewhere in his home is spotless, but in this room — the room where creativity reigns — paint splotches cover the floor. And for all the stunning beauty of the rest of his home, my wise friend doesn’t mind these “blotches.”

Why? Because he knows that to create a masterpiece, things at times get messy. After all, when you’re moving a paintbrush back and forth from the palette to the canvas, a little paint periodically falls to the ground below. Artists don’t mind. If anything, it is proof they’re working.

What about the rest of us? The pianist who plays a wrong note during a scale run? A ballerina that trips while en pointe? A sculptor who creases the wrong side of the clay accidentally? Do we get so hung up in our strides towards perfection that we forget this one important lesson? That true art cannot be created without “paint splotches” along the way.

So if you’re a writer, simply focus on getting those words on the page. Don’t worry when at first draft, they’re not the exquisite expressions you dreamed of. If you’re a composer, what’s a few wrong chords along the pathway towards beautiful music that moves the soul? You know that as you continue your efforts, your piece eventually will arrive at the momentum and power you desire.

“Paint splotches” mean nothing more than you are an artist at work. And to be at work is a very good thing, when it comes to creating masterpieces that bless the lives of others.