Planning My Next Book

The time has come. I’m up to date with all my other projects, and so I’ve begun to turn my attention to the age old question of “What should I write next?” This will be my eighteenth book, if I finish it. (I’ve started five others that I never finished, though it’s been around four years since I did that. I’ve gotten better at finishing books the more practice I’ve gotten with it. I think it has to do with being able to identify a subject that I can make a good run at. The books that fell apart on me before just didn’t have enough substance to maintain an entire novel.)

In this case, I’ve got a good feeling about it. I’m excited to write the book, and really interested to see what will come of it. The topic? A middle grade steampunk western. I’m thinking something in the vein of Silverado, but with gearwork demons, Mormon kung fu missionaries, and an apprentice gearsmith on a quest to find her grandfather.

I’d actually initially planned this as an adult book, but after conferring with my illustrious agent, I discovered steampunk and adults just aren’t doing that well, from a market perspective. On the middle grade side however, it’s smoother sailing. Rather than turning me off from the idea, it intrigued me even more. What could I do with that same concept, but with a tighter, middle grade audience?

People always ask authors where they get their ideas. They come to me every now and then as cool what-ifs. I write them down. This book is actually going to be a sequel of sorts to the short story I wrote at the beginning of the year. (AN INCIDENT AT OAK CREEK, which will actually be coming to a short story anthology near you sometime in the future.) The short story is much more serious, and definitely aimed at an adult audience, just by subject matter and how I dealt with the material.

Once I have a kernel of a story idea, I start to flesh it out, thinking about what sort of conflicts would be interesting with that as the central conceit. Steampunk western, middle grade audience. Who might the characters be? I think through the various things I’ve read and watched to get a taste for what’s been done before. Westerns come in a few different flavors. Lone gunman comes to save a family or redeem himself. Scrappy group of ruffians save a town. Band of outlaws running from the law. That kind of thing.

I tumble through each of those ideas, one at a time, comparing it with the sort of book that’s itching the back of my mind, seeing which ones feel the most promising. Some concepts just appeal to me more, the same way I like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla. Next, I turn to setting details. Where might this happen? Desert? Mountains? Remote? City? I do a bit of research into the time period to get a sense of what’s possible and what’s not. Even in a book with gearwork demons, it’s important to have some concrete sense of reality. (More important, actually.)

I watch movies in the genre I’m approaching. It helps give me more ideas and get excited for the project. I start to write down plot points and highlights. Cool scenes I’d like to write. Then I begin to piece together those scenes in a rough outline that could make sense. That in turn calls for more details and more research as questions arise.

Once I’ve got all that done, I’ll write up a short summary of the book. Maybe two or three pages, keeping in mind overall length. (For this book, I’m going to shoot for 40,000-50,000 words, for example.) I’ll send that summary to my agent and have him pick it apart. Often there are ideas that seemed good in theory that he can identify as glaring problems long before I start actually writing. Better to avoid those early on. Once we’ve kicked the general concept back and forth and have it at a place we’re both happy with, I begin to write.

At that point, it’s all about word speed. I do 1,000 words a day, and so if the book ends up at 50,000 words, it’ll take me around two months to finish. During that process, I inevitably find things in the plot I didn’t like. Things that need to change. (Though I hope I’m doing better at avoiding throwing in random new things just because they seem cool. That usually takes me in places that just get too convoluted and unworkable.) Honestly, that first draft is one of my favorite parts of writing. It’s what I look forward to the most. I feel most fulfilled each day as I find out what happens next. As I get to the know the characters better. Revising is important and great, but my biggest love is original composition.

So I’m really excited to be approaching that point again. Wish me luck!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

What Modern Day Revelation Looks Like

When some hear about revelation, I imagine they picture God speaking down from above. Maybe there’s a cloud involved. There might be a burning bush or two. The LDS (Mormon) church recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of the removal of the racial ban on the priesthood. Add to this the many other laundry list of issues church members would like clarity or even change on. Bring up women’s roles in the church and same-sex marriage, and you can quickly become embroiled in any number of debates. For that matter, you can get into even worse trouble if you start talking about whether watching the Super Bowl is okay or if Mountain Dew is on the approved list of beverages.

This post isn’t about any of that.

Instead, it’s a reaction to a piece I came across yesterday about the way the Word of Wisdom has developed over the years in the Mormon religion. The new book I’m working on is a western(!), and I’m having Mormon missionaries play a role in it. I wanted to see what their attitudes toward liquor would have been. I knew the Word of Wisdom was initially viewed more as a bit of helpful advice than an actual commandment, and I didn’t know when it finally solidified into the code we have today.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered just how full of twists that path was.

For those of you who don’t click through to the links I give you (and I know that you are many, judging by my statistics), let me highlight a few points:

  • One of the items in the Word of Wisdom to get the most focus at first was that members should abstain from eating meat. In 1898, when the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve discussed the Word of Wisdom, both the Prophet (Wilford Woodruff) and President of the Quorum of the Twelve (Lorenzo Snow) said it should be followed as a commandment, and that members should “refrain from eating meat except in dire necessity.”
  • Numerous high ranking church members drank coffee, tea, and alcohol into the 1900s.
  • Wine was still used for the Sacrament by members of the Twelve up until 1906.
  • The Prohibition push had an enormous effect on the teachings surrounding alcohol. Teachings that last to this day.
  • In 1930, the Apostle John Widstoe published a tract saying the Word of Wisdom included a ban on refined flours.

I don’t bring this up to say we should all start going out and becoming gluten-free vegetarians (though I’m sure there are some who might look at that advice and interpret it that way), but rather to observe that a church that believes it grows “line upon line, precept upon precept” will have this twisting evolution of its doctrine as an inevitable side effect.

Growing up in the church, it’s easy to assume the Way Things Are has always been the Way Things Are. And the church does, indeed, encourage that line of thinking. We’re taught to believe in revelation, and we’re taught that commandments come by way of revelation. We’re taught we can receive revelation ourselves, but we often don’t make the connection that the way we receive personal revelation (through thought, prayer, inspiration, and debate with other people until we arrive at a decision) often will mirror the way church leaders receive revelation.

Again, I’m not saying God never takes a direct hand in the course of events. I believe He does, but I believe that when that happens, it’s the exception, not the rule.

Look at the path to the present day Word of Wisdom interpretation. At no time in the course of that law was it fine to get drunk or get so hooked on caffeine that you can’t quit it. It was always there to add temperance and mindfulness to what members were putting in their bodies. The exact interpretation evolved as understanding evolved.

Mirror that with the way the church finally ended up removing the priesthood ban, a much more sensitive area. Compare that with the way the church has handled other issues in the past, and how it will inevitably handle issues in the future. The takeaway for me is that it’s a process. That things that seem iron clad in the way they’re taught might not actually be that iron clad in the long run. That doesn’t mean it’s up to me to interpret all of them the way I’d like. There’s enough written by church leaders over the years to justify just about anything you want to justify.

In the end, I believe in following the teachings of the church today, but I keep in mind that those teachings have changed in the past and they will change in the future. I don’t know how they will change, but that flexibility gives me enough space to have a testimony that can take some punches, and I’m really grateful for that.

A New Franklin Fiddler

Since we moved to the area, we’ve seen the Franklin County Fiddlers perform multiple times. They’re a high school group of mainly string players, and it’s one of the highlights of the school music program. Yes, I’ve always been more partial to wind instruments, being a bassoon and saxophone player back in the day, but I also have come to believe you  play to your school’s strengths. The Fiddlers have a great amount of support in the community and the school, they have a wonderful director, and they just do a lot of good.

(It reminds me of my days back in Dixie Band at Council Rock High School. We would go around and play at local festivals and senior citizen centers, and we had a lot of fun doing it. A great group. Relaxed and a lot of fun. Sadly, I have no video of it on hand. Maybe I have some on DVD at home? I should check sometime.)

In any case, we’ve gone to a lot of their concerts over the years, and Tomas has always wanted to join the group once he made it to high school. The tryouts were Monday afternoon, and after some suspense, we found out he made the group.

It’ll be a definite time commitment. Rehearsals are every Monday for two hours, and there are around 30 concerts over the course of the school year. They’ll be taking a trip in April, most likely. But Tomas is excited, and we’re excited for him. He’s even decided to start taking private lessons. (Something DC has been doing since the beginning of the year, give or take. It’s really helped her, and I think he can see that.)

In any case, hearty congratulations to him. It should be a fun start to freshman year.

Here’s a video of the Fiddlers from a few years ago, to give you an idea what he’ll be playing.

Book of Mormon Challenge

We had the Sister Missionaries over for dinner last night, and as part of their message to us, they had prepared an activity. They’d taken random pages from the Book of Mormon and printed them out. They then asked us to each take a page and highlight anywhere it mentioned God or Jesus Christ. This reminded me of an exercise I’d read about last year, where a BYU professor and some of his students set up displays in London, Sydney, Chicago, Cape Town and Las Vegas. At the displays, they handed strangers who came by a random page from the Book of Mormon (though all 531 pages were used over the course of the activity) and asked them to read it and say what they thought about it.

It’s an interesting experiment (though from my experience as a missionary, I have to wonder just how many of those readings went poorly. It would be fun to see a “blooper” real of the people who didn’t like the study at all . . .)

The Sisters told us they had heard only 5 or so pages of the Book of Mormon don’t have a reference to Christ or God on them. They’re thinking of approaching it systematically to see if that’s true. I think it’s a neat idea, and it wouldn’t take long to get it done, assuming 531 people each feel like reading a page. So part of me felt like linking to a pdf scan of the whole book and crowdsourcing the question, but I thought that was kind of restricting. Why not play to my strengths. We’ve got the internet available, and I’m a librarian . . . I was pretty sure I’d be able to answer the question by citing someone else.

A bit of digging later, and I found BYU Professor Charles Tate’s analysis of the Book of Mormon:

“Only 30 of the 531 pages contain no specific name reference to Deity. Furthermore, many of those 30 pages make references to God without using names.”

So there you go. I’m not sure which pages don’t reference God or Christ, but there are 30 of them. (Still a fun activity, Sisters!) (On a side note, my searching also led me to this resource, which seems to be a pretty comprehensive study guide for the book, though it’s not an official church resource.)

I would have to say that the most impactful experience I’ve ever had with the Book of Mormon was on my mission. It was probably around . . . May of 1997. My mission president challenged all the missionaries to read the entire Book of Mormon in one day. Not collectively (as in, each of you read three different pages on the same day or something like that), but individually. I woke up at 6:30am and immediately began reading. I picked a fresh copy, and I circled the verses that stood out to me for any reason, though I didn’t take time to make detailed notes or anything like that. (Reading 531 pages of anything in a single day takes time, you know.) As I recall, I finished around 8:00pm. It took something like 14 hours for me to finish.

It’s an experience that has stayed with me ever since. I can’t say I’ve ever approached the Book of Mormon from a fresh perspective. I’ve been raised to view it as scripture, and it’s inevitable that will have colored my perception of it. At the same time, I’ve also done a fair bit of study of literature, both in my English Masters program and as an author. One way or the other, the Book of Mormon came from somewhere. Somebody wrote it. Speaking as an author, the thought of trying to write it in around 65 days of actual writing (85 calendar days total from start to finish) makes me want to run some place and hide. When I read the whole thing at once and thought about all the information that’s packed in there, and the need for internal consistency, calendar systems, money systems, political systems, religious teachings, etc . . . it boggles the mind.

The Book has brought a lot of comfort and guidance to my life, and it’s one of the cornerstones of my testimony in Christ and God.

So thanks, Sisters, for a fun activity, and I’ll just say for anyone local, if you’re at all interested in talking to missionaries about any of this, the two we have at the moment (Sister Strohl and Sister Shields) are top notch. (Speaking as someone who’s been around my fair share of missionaries.)

When Trees Attack

Friday night, Denisa and I woke up to some kind of noise. None of us were really with it (it was 1 in the morning, give or take). The power was out. Denisa headed downstairs and ran into Tomas, who had also woken up, though he couldn’t remember why either. Nothing appeared to be on fire or causing trouble, so we all went back to bed. Because sleep.

In the morning, the power was still out. I went down to investigate what the cause might be. One glance out the back window was enough. Our large silver maple in the backyard had dropped a huge branch right across the power line and brought it down. There had been no wind that night. No lightning or storms. The tree had just decided enough was enough, apparently. (We heard from a neighbor down the road that they’d actually heard the limb fall all the way over where they were. It was loud.)

I phoned in the outage and downed wire, and the electric company had someone out fixing it in about an hour, which was fantastic.

But now we have a tree limb that needs to disappear, and a tree that we no longer really want near our house. We had a guy come give us an estimate yesterday for what it would cost to make that tree just go away. Just wave a magic wand and make all the wood and leaves disappear. (Essentially.) The verdict? Thousands of dollars. Like, around four of them.

That’s . . . a whole lot more than I wish I’d have to pay. We have calls out with other arborists to have them come by and give estimates, but it’s kind of a downer of a way to begin the process. There are plenty of other ways I’d rather spend thousands of dollars.

But the tree needs to go away, and with how little effort it took the tree to drop the one branch, I have no idea what might happen when a real storm comes by. Especially with the tree leaning toward the bulk of our house.

The joys of home ownership, right?

I’ll just keep telling myself that . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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