Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Children Grow Up Fast

 In the last year, I have had 3 children and 2 of their spouses graduate from college. On Sunday past (June 2), my sixth child graduated from high school. Today, my youngest finished middle school and will be entering high school.  I am immensely proud of them all. I am excited for all the adventure that lies before them. My son moved on to graduate school in North Carolina. One daughter and her husband are moving forward with their acting careers (currently in Colorado working for The Creed Repertory Theater). Another daughter married and is looking for work while her new husband finishes school.  My high school daughter is preparing to leave home in August to start her college career, and the baby of the family is entering the last four years of life at home. (There are two other children who have established their homes and families and are grappling with everyday adventure all its own.)

Today, as I left the middle school for the last time, I found myself in tears. When I said farewell to the band director who taught six of my seven children how to play an instrument, I was overcome with emotion.  That surprised me almost as much as it surprised my daughter, and the rest of my children when they read this blog.  Mrs. Ciulla was an occasional topic at the dinner table.  She had some quirks (as we all do) that the kids sometimes found amusing, other times frustrating.  But as I watched my last daughter get excited over the mellophone she will play in the high school marching band, and when I thought about all the time my kids spent practicing (which wasn't as much as I had wished) and all the time I spent at band concerts, I realized how much this woman influenced my children musically.  And I was grateful for her efforts.

I still am a bit weepy as I watch another era of my children's lives come to an end. It is the first time for me that I do not have another child coming up through the ranks to enter middle school. It is the first time I will have only one child in the public school system since my first child started kindergarten twenty-five years ago. I am sad for the memories I have lost. As we sat in the recognition  ceremony this morning, my husband and I couldn't recollect the other 8th grade recognition ceremonies that we attended.  I know they were held...I know we were there. But with seven children, one ceremony often blends into another.  I wish now, that I could freeze the moments - remember exactly what each of my children looked like, right down to what clothes they wore, how they behaved , who their friends were, what their hopes and fears were at that exact moment. Will I remember all those from today when in four years Grace is graduating from high school and Doug and I are becoming empty-nesters?

I recently read a blog post written to parents of young children. The author expounded on the guilt inducing phrase, "appreciate this now, because they grow so fast."  Yes, it is true, they do grow fast. And I continue to realize how fast it really is. I know four years of high school really flies by.  And perhaps the emotion I am struggling with now is the idea that maybe I didn't appreciate the younger years enough.  Or...perhaps I did. Perhaps my tears are because of the memories I still hold dear - all the Christmas mornings, all the times I watched their father teach them to ride a bike...and then drive a car, (Oh! joy! We still have that one to go through again!) Summers we spent at the pool, nights and nights of endless homework, family vacations, band concerts, choir concerts, school plays, family fun nights, and lots and lots of laughter.  That is what I will miss the most when my house is empty.  I will miss the laughter, whether it is the belly laugh of an infant, or the high-pitched squeal of a school age child, or the amused laugh of a high school kid who is learning the subtlety of sarcasm and whit.  Laughter has been one of the greatest blessings of having a household full of children.

So as I start this new stage,(just one child at home) and get ready for the next stage when there will be none...maybe I will pay extra special attention so that four years from now when I cry at her graduation - and I will cry - it will be because I have had 34 wonderful, tiring, exasperating, fun, lively years raising children and I will appreciate all those years.  But then again, maybe the tears will be from sheer exhaustion and relief that I made it through.

 I do know, the adage is true, they do grow fast....but I also know they do come back and  when they do, they call this place home.  And for that I am very grateful!!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What I learned from my Book Blast and Blog Tour

Okay, now that I have entered the world of online promotions, I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter. First off, for the most part, I was thrilled with the response I received. I went from 7 followers on twitter to 479...amazing, I know.  And my author page on Facebook went from 40 likes to 566 (32 of those came from a Facebook ad that I recieved for crossing over the 50 likes mark.)  I also gained about 300 additional to-reads on Goodreads. The book blast and blog tour did just what it promised - it put my name and my novel out there. What that means in terms of sales, I won't know for some time.  Authorhouse pays royalties quarterly, so I will not know if I had an increase of sales until I receive a check sometime towards the end of summer.

For the most part my reviews were overwhelmingly positive, which did my heart and confidence good. I had only one review that I considered bad (I'll talk about that one in a minute) and one that was so-so (again I'll talk about that one in a minute). All of the rest were 4-5 star ratings.  Here's some of the comments that I liked the best.
      1. Finally a novel that doesn't skirt around the issues, pretending life is full of rainbows and butterflies.
      2. This story makes you think about what truly makes a good marriage and how a great foundation for a marriage is built.
      3. What an unbelievable romance! I loved it from the beginning through to the very end.
      4. David's Song is a true-to-life story that depicts a realistic portrayal of the complexities and dynamics of relationships, and the variety of issues, choices and decisions that come with them.
      5. I loved the voice of Annie.
      6. There is the perfect amount of tension between all of the primary characters.
      7. I was crying big ugly tears at the end. (This one just makes me grin!)
      8. The book leaves no one neutral because you as the reader will find yourself picking sides. (and also in this review) This book is NOT a typical romance novel . . . staves off book boredom.

Many of the reviewers said that the book made them think.  I really can't think of a better compliment. Part of the reason I wrote David's Song was because I was thinking about choices, and if I could have, would I have made a different choice and in retrospect would I want to? (Just so you know, my answer is no. I wouldn't have chosen differently and am happy that I made the choice I did.)

Now to address some of those other comments.  One reviewer said her only complaint was confusion over the religion issue.  She felt that since part of the story takes place at BYU it implied the story was LDS.  She suggested that since there was no other mention of LDS culture or beliefs that I should have placed the story at a different university thus giving the novel wider appeal. Doug and I actually discussed this issue because he had the same thoughts. I never intended for the book to be considered an LDS novel. BYU was just a location and I thought that since I didn't include much about the culture or beliefs, it was more accessible to a wider audience.  The other thought I had in placing the story at BYU was that at what other university would people believe that these students weren't partying or sleeping around or other kinds of mischief?  BYU has been voted the "Stone Sober" school several years in a row for a reason. To me, the BYU setting gave the story a little more credibility.  And just to show that what one person considers a flaw, another person likes-- another reviewer said, it's "LDS fiction but don't let that put you off."  Can't please everyone, right?! :)

One of the first reviews I received LOVED the book.  She gave a resounding endorsement of the story until....she realized that the book was part of a trilogy.  She doesn't like trilogies. She made some assumptions about what the next two books would be about, and if they were like she described then I would have to agree with her.  Two more books of Annie  teetering back and forth with the same decision would be miserable. Fortunately, that's not what the next two books are about.  I personally love serials. I am often sad when I read a book and fall in love with characters, get highly involved in their story and then the book ends. I miss the friends I have made in reading the book. There are usually questions I have about what happens when you close the back cover.  My daughter told me once that sequels were written because the author couldn't quite let go of the characters.  I had that feeling when I finished David's song.  And I am pleased that many of the reviewers are anxious for the next installment.  As for those who don't like trilogies or sequels? David's Song does stand alone.  And this reviewer said she would buy any stand alone novel that I wrote...That made me feel good.  She liked my writing style.

The one bad review I received I find myself still shaking my head over.  The emotion in this reader's review was astounding! And in some respects, she paid me many compliments.  She mentions talking to her husband about the book because she felt out of sorts. She did say it was well written. And she said the book evoked emotion. All of which is positive  I really have no issue with her unfavorable opinion of the book. I, too, have read books that I don't like that other people love. (Life of Pi comes to mind.)  But her reaction was...well...let me share something of what she said. "I felt guilty and disloyal and dirty even." She adds that she felt that for Annie's character. I suppose I was shocked at the comment because although I didn't agree with some of the choices Annie made in the story, I wouldn't have labeled her "dirty".  By all standards, David's Song is considered clean romance. Words such as those, don't lend themselves to the 'clean' label. And I will admit, that it took me a day or two to shake off the idea that since I created Annie, and her story, that I was somehow disloyal, guilty and dirty, too.  I did shake it off.

I appreciated her remarks because they made me realize that all of us approach novels from a combination of past experiences and current values. One of the reasons that I didn't like Life of Pi was because right from the start the premise was that Pi's story would make me believe in God.  For me, it didn't work.  The book didn't meet it's objective. From the comments I received about David's Song - the book did meet it's objective. It made people think about their relationships. It made readers cheer for and celebrate marriage. It showed readers that even in true life situations, there is romance. Sometimes in life, we get so bogged down with the everyday that we miss what is exciting and passionate and romantic in our own relationships.  If I have done nothing else, hopefully I have focused a spotlight on that idea.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reading Woes

This year is not starting out well - at least not for my library.

I set a goal to read 50 books this year and have completed 13 of that number.  With the exception of Stephanie Meyer's The Host, I have read nothing that is above average.  Reading The Host was actually my second time through the book.  I was pleasantly surprised that I still liked it as well as I had the first time. (I reread it in anticipation of the movie, another disappointing adaptation and a totally different blog post.) My disappointment with my selections in 2013 is discouraging.  I can't figure out what has happened.  Have I become a book snob?  Are my expectations too high?

I read Marie Lu's Prodigy when it came out--a book I was anticipating because I LOVED the first installment.  It turned out to be ho-hum.  I read Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Princess, again a book I was anticipating because I had enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy.  Again, I was disappointed. Had it not been for the epilogue in the book, I would have been down right angry at the end.

I read the book jackets.  I often read the first paragraph or two before I purchase a book. Sometimes I will even check out reviews on Goodreads.  Although I am cautious about that because I understand that what one person loves or hates is not necessarily an indication of what I will think. I had that experience last year when I read Life of Pi. (Just for the record, it wasn't my cup of tea.)

I have found myself craving a really good book, one that has a great plot, interesting characters who I can care about, decent writing, and generally one I would want to share with everyone I know. I want a book that will make me feel something, hopefully lots of things.  I want to get angry (and not because the writing is bad or the plot predictable). I want to anticipate what will happen next.  I want to be romanced.  I want to laugh.  I want to cry. Okay...maybe I am expecting too much from one novel. I'll take a couple of those emotions and be happy.

So, is it just me?  Have I become insatiable? Have I been spoiled by lucky selections in the past? There must be a key to finding great books. Books that won't offend my sensibilities or kill brain cells. I almost wish there was a rating system hanging from the walls of Barnes and Noble.  "This book is rated fair" and then there could be a list of reasons. 1. little to no character development. 2. takes 250 pages to get to the point of the plot. 3.will insult your intelligence with cheezy dialogue, offensive language (my mother always told me it didn't take any intelligence to come up with a four letter word), or contrived plot lines. 4. lots of smut. Ect. Ect.

Perhaps what I need to do is go back to my bookshelf and reread some of the books that I thought were terrific. And I think I know which book I would start with - Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell - not a page turner, but an interesting study in human nature and poor choices. Yes, poor choices - like my book selections so far this year.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Musings on a Sunday Morning

I had a Sunday off for a change.  Due to some minor surgery from earlier in the week, I stayed home to continue my recuperation.  I had a lovely morning--relaxed and reflective.

I had a list of things to contemplate and consider.  My marriage, being one - not that I am having difficulties, but I am always looking for what I can do to make it even better.  Another was my Sunday School class.  For those of you who don't know, every Sunday I attempt to teach the 16/17 year-old youth a lesson.  I use the word attempt, because often, no matter how much preparation I put in, the class gets away from me.  Another item I considered was one of my children.  She has some life decisions pending and I was wondering how best to help her in that endeavor.  And lastly, I was thinking about my writing.  And that's what I want to blog about today.

In the last few days I have been involved in an online discussion group about LDS Fiction. (That's an entirely different post) But that discussion has made me take another look at my own work and what I hope to accomplish and why.  Not too, too long ago, I was involved in an online workshop with the author Jason F.Wright (Christmas Jars, The Wednesday Letters) and he asked during that workshop what I hoped my writing would do.  The obvious answer is to influence someone for good.  But what I hope to accomplish and why I want to accomplish that often differ.

Today I took a look at why I wanted my work to be successful.  And I'm not talking New York Times bestseller list--although if that would happen I wouldn't complain.  But why is it that I keep writing and want others to read and like my work.  The simple reason I keep writing is because it's FUN!  I've often told my husband that it's a lot like playing dolls (and I was a big barbie doll fan when I was little). I get to create worlds and situations and characters.  And truthfully, when you are a writer, those characters are as well known to you as your next door neighbor. In fact, sometimes you know them better than your next door neighbor.  And of course, in some cases - they are your next door neighbor. ;)

But as I contemplated why I wanted my work to be successful, I came up with three reasons.  The first, was to help my husband out financially   If I could make some kind of money being a writer, then some of the pressure on him to provide for us presently and in the future would be relieved.  Now, I realistically know that I'm not going to be able to make a huge contribution to the Talley Family coffers, but I would like to feel that I am contributing something other than labor.

The second reason is that it is incredibly validating in a number of ways.  First, when people read my work and like it, then I feel like I am good at something.  I have created something of value--I have some talent.    Secondly, when people like my characters, want to root for them, get involved in the decisions they've made, even want them to make different choices, it is a validation of my creation.  It's a bit like taking pride in the accomplishments of your children.  I once read that when a writer creates a character, there is always a bit of the author in that character.  It makes sense.  So when people like my characters, they like me, even if it's just a very small part of me.  And thirdly, and this kind of relates back to the first, if readers become involved with my characters, then I have created a world and people and situations that are interesting.  Therefore, vicariously I must be an interesting person.

The third reason I wanted to find some success as a writer was to be a missionary.  I do not, as a rule, write religious material.  But my faith is an integral part of my life.  I hope that the beliefs and values I hold dear are reflected in my work.  And I would hope that if I meet a measure of success, that I will have opportunity to talk to people about my faith.  For those of you who do not know, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). And if there is anything that defines a Mormon, it's missionary work.  We as a people are anxious to share what we know about Jesus Christ, about His love, His mission, His atoning sacrifice.  I would hope that through my work, someone might ask a question or two.  I would hope that someone might come to me and ask about faith, about repentance, about my beliefs in a life beyond this, about the eternal nature of families.  I don't have grand visions of converting the world.  But I do have hope that if given the chance to share, I might be able to influence someone for good.  I would hope that I might be able to share the love that I feel from Jesus Christ with others, and perhaps help make their load a little lighter.

So when I say that I was contemplating and considering things this morning, what I really was doing was praying.  And in that prayer I asked about my writing and talked with my Father in Heaven about what I would like to accomplish and why.  And when I spoke of wanting to be a missionary, I had the distinct impression, "What's holding you back, April.  You have a blog.  People read it.  More people will read it.  It's time now to start being that missionary."  Answers do come when we pray.  And sometimes those answers are to step a bit out of our comfort zone, show the God of heaven and earth that we mean what we say.

So if any of you have questions, please ask.  I really do want to share what I think the answers are.  Ultimately, whoever asks has to determine if what I say is really an answer.

But, as I learned today...I don't have to be a successful writer to start sharing.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Banning Adverbs

Ever since I began writing, my biggest fan and critic, my husband, has been after me about my adverb usage.  Even before I started writing, he was critical of any author who was too free in their usage of the 'ly' words.  I remember when he read the Harry Potter books.  We would be sitting in bed, side by side, and all of a sudden he would say,
     "Someone needs to teach JK Rowling how to use an adverb."  Then he would read a few off of every page.  As he reviewed my writing, he would, as a matter of routine, scratch out every adverb I used.
     "You don't need them," he would tell me.  "Your dialog carries meaning - let it speak for itself.  Don't insult your readers." After several editing sessions, I have learned to avoid the dreaded adverb.  No longer does anyone say anything 'softly' or 'sarcastically' or 'loudly',in my writing.  I let the reader determine how the words are said, hoping that my meaning is conveyed.   In fact, I've even learned to avoid words like 'quickly' or 'gingerly'.  I search frantically for another way to say that a person's gaze was intense, or mischievous.  My thesaurus has become my best friend.
Today, while perusing Facebook, I noticed a post from one of my daughters to another.  It was all about new punctuation needed to convey meaning.  I realized as  I read, and chuckled over the article, that if we used these punctuation marks, we wouldn't need adverbs at all! (or need them on rare occasions)

Here's the link to the new punctuation:

Of course, if you have punctuation to take the place of an that the same as using one?  Is a question mark or exclamation point the same as telling a person how something was spoken, or how an action was performed? Perhaps the benefit of new punctuation is not having to use any extra words for description.

I must admit...I really did like the graduated ellipses   There is such a fine line between wanting someone to pause, (as in comma use) or pause for a long period of time before continuing to read.

And as I write this blog, it occurs to me that if we ban adverbs...are adjectives next?  Will it be poor writing to describe a woman with long, wavy, blonde hair?  Will it be deemed inappropriate to say that your leading man has piercing, sky-blue eyes with thick, dark lashes so long that they could comb his partner's hair?

Perhaps it would just be best if we ban the ridiculous and the cliche.  A famously brilliant idea if you ask me!