Blogging & Anecdoting

Blogging has become an essential part of being a Published Author. In the Information Age people want to know not only about the creative work itself, but what is going on behind the scenes. My blog on this website is an attempt to document my Author activities. I hope this blog at ChadRobertParker.com will prove both interesting and informative. The other way I plan to make my blogging activities more inviting is to share with all of you a different kind of blogging concept. I also blog about stories on Anecdoting.com.

Anecdoting.com is a place where I share a writing prompt each week that triggers a memory. What I love most about this blogging activity is that it is interactive. Not only will I share one of my own stories each week for your enjoyment, I invite you to share one of your own with me. Don’t be shy and don’t worry if you just want to read stories for a while just to get the hang of it. No one will know if you choose only to be an onlooker. The more stories people share, however, the more fun it will be as a story sharing environment. Sharing stories among friends and people we meet is the earliest form of entertainment. It is at the center of building a community with folklore passed down from generation to generation. It is a great fun way to develop a culture and get to know each other. That is the type of blogging that will be most enjoyable to me. I will often refer to my blogging activities at Anecdoting.com when I think of stories to share on this blog knowing that story is the best way to convey information. It makes it memorable, enjoyable, and relatable.

A week ago I attended the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. I loved hearing other people’s stories. What struck me the most about the experience was not so much that professional storytellers had great stories to tell, but average persons like me had great stories as well. Granted it takes a lot of work to craft a story into an amusing art form, but when you have a great memory of something that occurred in your life you are the one who has all of the minute details of that instance, so you are the best person to tell that story. We even had breakout sessions at the conference portion teaching people like you and me–who are more curious about storytelling than we are about getting up on a stage ourselves–how to tell the stories that are inevitably in each of us. One of the presenters/teachers had a set of games that prompted everyday people to share moments of drama, hilarity, or intrigue from their past. And we did share those moments with one another, very well, on the spot. Well, that’s exactly what Anecdoting.com does, only it is free. It is a story sharing community to participate in and/or observe with continual story prompts and everyday life story shares. You will be surprised what interesting stories come from everyday life.

In the past I would have deemed sharing about my writing activities as keeping a Writer’s Journal, and it would consist mostly with writings and notes for and to myself. In the present you get to see the fun of developing stories and forming good writing habits of regularly putting fingers to keyboard. But I will spare you the hazards of the occupation by sharing all of my tedious record keeping at my business page at WritCreate.com. As a blog, behind the scenes at ChadRobertParker.com, I will need to be more entertaining than that, because just like everyone else I will have a larger audience in mind and I will want to put my best foot forward. Problem is, if jotting down the minutiae bores me it will most certainly bore you. Solution: while there are definitely interesting happenings as I prepare to launch my first book, Sterling Bridge, and I will continue to share blog posts about the writing journey along the way here, if you really like stories, goings-on of writers, and reading blogs in general, I propose a more casual setting. Come join me for simple story sharing at Anecdoting.com. I’m certain you will be able to relate to at least one topic and story. I’m sure a story of your own will come to mind. I hope you will join me in making blogging more fun for you and me to engage in together.

Marketing Sterling Bridge (Part One)

I love writing in every way, even marketing blurbs. I am learning, however, that a grassroots effort of word-of-mouth may be a more effective way to reach the audience that would most be interested in reading my first published novel, “Sterling Bridge.”

Sterling Bridge Flyers

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This weekend I passed out 400 flyers (at three different book-lover locations). I am so excited to share my work with the world, but I need your help. If you are a fan of this blog, please help me by letting everyone you know that you know about a new book, and about a nice guy that happens to be a new author.

I am satisfied knowing that the writing is good and the product will speak for itself. It is fun to think about conversations we will have once you get a chance to read the actual writing. I look forward to that. While I would prefer to turn most of my attention to the writing of my next great novel, I will continue to invest significant time in writing such as this, to further converse about and promote “Sterling Bridge.” Authors are now responsible for marketing their own books more than ever before, after all. But I have found that good marketing can thrive without a good novel to market, while a good novel cannot thrive without good marketing. And yet I wonder if my efforts are best served. Sounding my megaphone to the world as far and wide as my voice will reach, will never be more effective than enlisting more voices.

In order for people to be able to appreciate a good piece of American literature, they must first know about it. Think of all of the classic authors in time who told everyone they know that they are a writer, but whose works were not truly appreciated until after their death. Although it might sound too dramatic, I hope to be discovered while I am yet alive and to see people’s joy in my work. So here I am doing my best to get the word out to you, all of my friends. Yes, you could even say it is a shameless attempt to plead that you will tell ears my voice cannot reach. Truth is–no matter how great my writing is or isn’t–in a day of instant information and social media, I know it will be far more effective if the 50 people in the sound of my voice each share with 50 others of their friends, and especially when the ripple effect continues from there.

If you like heroes you will like “Sterling Bridge.” If you like a tale of undying friendship you will like “Sterling Bridge.” If you like being transported back in time to experience realities of a different time, like the Great Depression, from a vantage point of hope and lessons learned you will like “Sterling Bridge.” If you like true courage against daunting odds and circumstances you will like “Sterling Bridge.”  Basically if you like a good story you will like “Sterling Bridge.”

Chances are if you like “Sterling Bridge,” then your friends will too.

At least let them know about your new discovery. They can pre-order it through Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. It will be available on the shelves at all major outlets beginning November 10th. There will also be a book launch, book signings, news articles, maybe radio and video spots to look forward to. For now, I’m just hoping if you have heard “Sterling Bridge” is coming out that you are excited enough to share the news with your friends. The release date is almost here, just a couple months away.

So what can you do right now that would help put “Sterling Bridge” on the map? Share this blog with your friends. (I’d love to hear what ways you were able to pass the news along). AND…

Click here to download flyers you can pass out to anyone who might be interested in a good story. Every little bit helps. Thank you, kindly!

Sterling Bridge Press Release

In case you miss any anticipated news articles coming out about “Sterling Bridge,” here is the press release information being sent out to all of the Utah media outlets:

Sterling Bridge tackles living among Mormons

SPRINGVILLE, Utah-September 4, 2015—Cedar Fort Publishing is excited to announce the release of a new novel, Sterling Bridge, by a first time author, Chad Robert Parker, this November 10th. The story is based on actual events. It takes on the challenge of interfaith struggles in a community facing many difficulties to unite with each other amidst the strife of the Great Depression. Sterling Bridge is an entertaining retelling touting a universal message, but it is expected to be especially appealing to anyone interested in delving deeper into the history of Utah culture, and how it specifically relates to the greater American culture.

Although historical in nature, set between the years of 1926-1934, and placing it broadly into the category of adult fiction, it follows the fun perspective of a teenage boy trying to negotiate the world, not so dissimilar from the intolerant bullying atmosphere often encountered by today’s youth. The answer then and still today is enduring friendship, going out of your way to befriend others in need. Sterling Harris is a new larger-than-life football coach, thrust into the divided town of Tooele. At the time the community was known as both the Old Town, made up of Mormon Settlers, and the New Town—being on the outskirts—that consisted of a smelting community of foreign mining immigrants, mostly Catholics. The two communities were not getting along, to say the least. They didn’t intermingle. They didn’t agree on much of anything: land, religion, jobs, race, sports, you name it. They were not seeking a change in that arrangement. Along comes Sterling Harris, nicknamed “the bridge builder,” and the makings of a great story had begun.

Don Norton, an emeritus English professor at Brigham Young University, came across the story of Sterling Harris in his family history research. He found that Elder Loren C. Dunn mentions him in a General Conference talk of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sterling Harris is also remembered by an elementary school named after him and some of his accomplishments are enshrined on posters in the Tooele City Library still today. Dennis Packard, a professor of art and film at BYU, was tasked with finding a writer to bring the story back to life. He found a college student in 1999 who was seeking out someone to help him learn how to write a screenplay. There was still much to be done, however, and the story underwent many challenges before it was ready for the printing presses fifteen years later.

The author, Chad Robert Parker, is currently employed as the Cataloging Operations Manager at the Harold B. Lee Library of BYU. He graduated from BYU in 2003, but considers himself an ongoing student of how culture evolves in literature and film. He has a few other books in the works, but Sterling Bridge will be his first published novel. He classifies it as an historical fiction film novel, but he wouldn’t place all of his other works in the same genre. Several years were spent honing his craft and learning the different elements of writing in different formats for history, culture, novels, films, and even marketing (a large part of being an author in the publishing world today). His story of becoming an author is a story in and of itself and he marvels how life’s opportunities came full circle.

Chad brings a varied experience to his writing. Since setting is often the genesis to storytelling it helps that he grew up in six states. He began writing shortly after serving a mission to the Philippines for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1997 to 1999. His family was on a pilgrimage to visit the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York. The scenic route through Canada provided a nice opportunity to daydream and he started typing a story on his laptop. He never expected at that time to seriously pursue publication, and then he never expected it would take until now to refine a novel to the point of being worthy of publication. He simply had a story in his mind that he had never seen anywhere else and he just had to see it through. He’s still working on that novel, but if his determination to finish Sterling Bridge is any indication he will get back to it.

Sterling Bridge is meant to be a fun but deep story (as historical fiction novels go), a quick read (in order to be translatable to film and easy to digest for today’s fast-paced society) but a good study on the art of film novels (for the student in everyone), and relatable to all ages with its telling of a story of people, family, and community (as story is what connects people, by relaying our interactions with one another). Sterling Bridge is not your typical Mormon genre story. It tackles growing pains of the Great Melting Pot witnessed throughout the United States of America. It is as much a story of immigrants to America founding Catholicism in the western territory as it is immigrants to America building up the Mormon faith in a land they called Zion, while learning to respect their neighbors differently than their own religious ways were often treated.

Sterling Bridge is available for pre-order through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. It will also be available in all major outlets after November 10th. If you are interested in finding out more about the book and upcoming events, go visit ChadRobertParker.com. Chad writes a blog there. He also has an interactive blog at Anecdoting.com, a place where you can read prompts each week to encourage a memory from your past and start sharing your own stories. It encourages the act of regular writing and using interesting goings-on from your own experience. Chad likes the interaction of sharing stories with others and it also encourages him to like blogging more (also an absolute must for today’s author).
 

Writing & Culture through Literature & Film

In college, I studied—with great interest—the different stages of literature and film that a culture must go through in order to evolve. If you believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church ministering God’s one sure way to the children of men, then its culture already taps into the longest standing culture available. However, no matter what you believe, the sub-culture truly is only a couple hundred year’s old. In other words, what we will call the Mormon culture is very young as cultures go and it’s only just starting out when it comes to the arts.

Written as a film novel Sterling Bridge looks to take a step forward in our literary and quite possibly our film culture. Make no mistake, it is not so much that the culture has not fully matured as it is that the stories have not yet been told that would equate to a greater cultural whole. Put another way, the more Mormons share their message with the world the more Mormons are realizing how applicable our story really is to the greater story of the world and the more the world is realizing it as well.

While Mormons admittedly intend to be a unique and peculiar people set apart from the ways of a dying world, we are actually not so different, as it relates to being children of the Creator who are seeking to know who He is and therefore who we are and who we can become. In fact, the central point of humanity is the great question that Mormonism claims to answer. Mormons believe they know the purpose of life. The only problem is telling that story, it turns out, is a very touchy subject. The very reason Mormonism sets itself apart as a better way, in fact the way spoken of by the Savior, comes off as very presumptuous and elitist, and it is the reason that Mormons who really just want to share the glad news—and yes even convert everyone in the process—thereby uniting us all to the good that has made their lives so wonderful, actually oftentimes end up doing the opposite: effectively alienating their neighbors, who naturally feel excluded unless they go as far as deeming themselves Mormon and fully becoming part of the group. Sterling Bridge explores this interesting dynamic of a small town with Mormon settlers unsure about the government’s intent when housing international workers, primarily Catholic, in a mining community within its borders. The town does not know how long its neighbors will be staying and if their multiplicity of nationalities and ethnicities can even jive with them.

America itself is still young at this time leading up to the Great Depression (quite frankly, America as a culture, along with its ideals of freedom and liberty for all, is young to this day as far as world cultures go). Sterling Bridge is a microcosm of the “Great Experiment” that was the melting pot of America played out in a small town trying to decide if Utah would become another Missouri for the pioneers to flee or if Utah was truly a sanctuary (and somehow a safe haven inviting to all at the same time) to set up religious rights in the tops of the mountains. As we know Utah and the story of the trek west is an integral part of United States history and statehood: a story of success for the endurance of religious freedom for the young country. But, while most stories focus on the legacy of pioneers or fast forward to the current structure of Mormonism’s interaction with the world, such as Mormon missionaries going out to the world, little is shared about the many lives lived in between. Here is where I found a wealth of stories yet to be told. You likely have access to many of these stories as well. Mormons could easily make claim to being the best at doing family history. The stories are there. Sterling Bridge started with a story from a man’s personal history research, where he learned of his ancestor Sterling Harris, an incredible individual credited with bridging large gaps of religion, race, and cultures between two communities. One of the wonderful things about researching and writing a story based on a true story is how it helps us to learn a little about ourselves. For me, when a story does that is also when a culture advances itself in the greater literary culture.

I wrote this article from the perspective of a Mormon because I am a Mormon and my work will be judged as a Mormon writing about Mormons, but it is much larger than that. In fact, a greater portion of the story comes from the perspective of several more Catholic characters that were interviewed and better represented in their views beyond just the research for this work. At any rate, hopefully Sterling Bridge is a step in the right direction. It purposely delves deeper into historical contexts to bring out a richer relatable story from Mormon culture interacting with other cultures. It attempts to be honest and fair and straightforward about what it has to tell the world, but it does so in an artistic way telling it through the memorable form of story (albeit in a filmic way). As a Christian I believe the greatest storyteller is the Savior, Jesus Christ. His stories are vivid but intentional. After listening to His stories you come away a little better person and the experience is repeatable because it relates to different situations we all face in one way or another throughout our lives, again and again. I am just starting out as a writer. All I could hope for at first was to write a good story. There was no formula to it: just sound writing to tell it like it is, emphasizing the key aspects. Now I hope to bring it to as wide an audience as possible because the story has become larger than itself; it has something important to say and holds a universal message beyond Mormonism, Americans, Slavics, Farmers, Miners, Catholicism or any other denomination. It is about humanity finding itself, living together in harmony, and learning to work as a community.

Sterling Bridge: A Universal Message

What is the deepest question of existence? Could it be something like what is the purpose of life? If not, then that important question still must rank right up there. Nearly every day of your life you are determining the purpose of your life whether you intend to or not. There is purpose in everything we do, from the most mundane decisions to the gargantuan ones. Sterling Bridge may not have all the answers for our human condition, but at its core it gets right down to the heart of the matter: How can people  with very different beliefs unite in commonalities without fearing influences that would threaten their most cherished ideals and maybe even destroy a good way of life?

Sterling Bridge considers this difficult scenario that has likely been a central concern for any society anywhere at any time. The question of civil rights and its relation to religious freedom has become a hot topic of society again today. In the state of Utah the majority of the citizens are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has strong beliefs and attracts equally strong opposition. This presents unique challenges. Within the pages of my book is a universal message of how people of an earlier time, when America, and especially Utah, was young. You will see how one town successfully dealt with this universal issue. The compromise was not without conflict, however.

People of differing beliefs have learned again and again that if they all work at it everyone can figure out how to tolerate others, find common ground, get along, and maybe even become best friends. It is a central message in today’s world of political correctness and acceptance of others. The difference with Sterling Bridge is that it specifically concentrates on the challenge religions, in particular, face to uphold beliefs that certain ways of living leads to certain blessings, while accepting others who believe in very different choices, without making each other feel like second class citizens. But the message applies to everyone. Even if you do not have a religious belief system, your words and your actions show some form of belief structure, regardless.

When considering another persons position you must truly be willing to understand where they are coming from. You must put yourself in their shoes, as much as possible, even though no two people have experienced the exact same life. When writing about the past and trying to understand the people in a time period you must be able to apply a similar skill. We often judge others out of context. Plus, hindsight truly is 20/20. Even if we look back on our own past we would choose to do things a little differently. It isn’t long before we realize that everyone is a complex person. We all have good and bad sides to our character. At the center of every story is the nature of good and evil playing its tug of war to make the dramatic conflict more intense or the resolution more complete. But hopefully we choose to cultivate the good. A soft-hearted approach to life and to writing is to see the good in people even when they behave badly. Good things can come from tough lessons in instances where things go wrong and reactions aren’t the best.

When you read Sterling Bridge you will see how the point of view character, Joe Lacey, a young boy whose mother is Mormon and father is Catholic is caught in the middle of a conflict of beliefs. His parents get along just fine, but he must find his way in an environment that is not as prepared to accept one another’s way of thinking. Imagine trying to figure out which culture to embrace and if it is even possible to accept both when neither side of the equation is very inviting of the other. Joe navigates a situation I believe Utahns, and Americans in general, still face today. Here is my great reveal:

When I lived in Indiana my family was the only Mormon family in a small Christian town for a while. My Christian friends did not see much difference in my beliefs in the Savior from their beliefs. It really just came down to whose interpretation of Jesus was correct and therefore who was saved. But we could still be friends even though we each thought our church had the authority to represent Jesus in the saving ordinances. Some of the most Christlike people I know lived in that town. They were down to Earth. They were neighborly. They were willing to get to know everyone else and it still feels like family when I go there. Incidentally, I think they will be saved, even though their religion tells them I will not be saved. We learned from each other and grew up caring about each other’s lives. I wish for their success and fulfillment in life as much as my own. But when it came to marriage I could not see myself marrying outside of my faith. That’s what it ultimately came down to. When we went our separate ways it was simply because I needed to move somewhere where I could marry within the religious covenant I had dedicated my life to. This begs the question from other Christians. Why isn’t their Christian faith good enough for Mormons?

For Mormons they want the world to have the good news of the gospel that they believe are the very words of Jesus Christ for our time in these last days, a critical time to prepare for the second coming of the Lord. They are a covenant keeping people and they believe that temples are the house of the Lord and the only place where marriage can be entered into for time and for all eternity. In fact most weddings don’t even say it is meant to be beyond “death do you part.”

On the one hand Mormons don’t want to stand out on the corner holding a sign of the inevitable end of times, telling everyone to repent. They hope people will take the words of the Bible more seriously, on their own, feeling the spirit of the word of God and seeing for themselves the signs that are being fulfilled more rapidly, without having to blatantly point these things out and risk offending someone. On the other hand the more subtle approach to share their lives with others as friends and examples, as Jesus also did, does not come without its own risk. Mormons want to be in the world but not of the world. This means they love all the good things of the world, and love sharing in those talents and experiences, but are wary of the bad things the world does not seem to think is so bad (and draw them, or more likely their children, away from their covenants). Still this should not stop any of us from being civil with one another. There are a lot more things in common among people growing through this life than there are differences.

You would think two religions who both believe in the Bible would have a lot of similar beliefs. But Mormons claim two very different religions with very different practices at times such as found in the rituals of Catholicism and the puritanical ways of Mormonism cannot possibly both have the authority of God. Even He says “if ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine & Covenants 38:27). And so it is with the institution of marriage, at least for those who are devout in their faith. People who believe deeply in their faith simply want to marry someone who believes just as deeply in that faith.

It is interesting to see the social ramifications that come from this reality. It is a fun situation to write about. That dynamic is ultimately what you get to experience when reading Sterling Bridge. I won’t ruin it for you but I expect you will enjoy the ride. Happy reading! 

The film novel: A book or a movie?

It was one of the first questions I had to ask myself: was I writing a book or a movie? I did not know how to write a movie. For that matter I wasn’t sure I knew how to write a book.

But there I was viewing the story in my head as though it were a movie. I quickly discovered that I needed to learn how to write it in the form of a script, for me if not for anyone else. If only I could figure out how to write a screenplay, then maybe I could see this work of art in a way no one else had yet created it, maybe even to be viewed on the big screen. The more I worked on writing the more I wanted to write a novel, but the more I worked on this first work the more I pictured it as a succession of scenes.

Did I really think that my writing would one day be seen in film? No, not at all. At least not at that time. Nonetheless, I wanted to see what it would look like if I wrote the story to be a film rather than as a novel. My creative side started taking over. It was only a matter of time before I sought out the knowledge to understand how to write in that format. That’s when I met Dennis Packard, a professor at BYU of philosophy of art and literature. My journey to writing took a twist and it demanded a lot more attention and several extra steps to get it where I wanted it to be. Only I did not end up writing that first film novel in full. I had only completed a couple chapters when I started to learn the concept of film novels.

I’m not going to debate whether I should be catering to this genre or that genre. I’m not going to debate whether I should be catering to this format or that format. I won’t say the work took on a mind of its own altogether. But what I will say is that I found that writing that first story best fit into a new form, and that form is a film novel.

I went to the English Department and asked if anyone knew a professor who could teach me how to write a script. I was careful to explain that it was nothing serious. I just wanted to know. In the back of my mind I constantly told myself that my writing was just for fun. I still wonder if it is worth it. I have put far more hours into it than I ever expect I will be able to say I got paid for. But when you can’t stop your mind from creating the story, solving the problems in your plot, and picturing the words on the page and the actions on a screen you just keep writing. I pitched my novel idea to my new professor that day. He liked my writing voice and the way I handled the subject matter and then he did something completely unexpected. He asked me if I would write a story that he had been looking for a couple years for a writer with my abilities to take on. He said if I would do that he would teach me about writing a screenplay by writing a film novel and that he thought there was a good chance it would get published.

I spent much of the rest of my college career studying and testing how to write a film novel that would read well as a book and just as well display as a film. It consisted of more than I ever imagined: outlining, researching, asking questions, laying out scenes, and redoing things again and again. It became apparent that studying for college had taken on a life of its own. I had a passion now to learn something of my own accord, rather than just gain passing knowledge good enough to get a grade. I found that when I wanted to learn about something I learned a lot more than when someone else chose the topic. But–and there is always a “but” when pursuing something you love–writing is hard work and it doesn’t pay unless you get published or produced. At first this new book was not my own, but I made it so. In order to write a good story, I had to like it more than anyone. I would be reading this story over and over and critiquing it more than anyone. Little did I know it would take 15 years from when I first heard the story for me to bring it to greater light.

Well, all told that was the motivation that saw this work through. The more I learned about the story the more I knew it needed to be told. I don’t write because I think I’m going to be a millionaire. To tell you the truth I don’t write because I love it, although I do love it. I write because I can’t help myself. I started this journey and I want to see where it goes. I am persistent and I have a high standard. When I commit to something I want to do it the best that I can. So I was teary-eyed at the news that this story was being published, as much for myself–as the writer–as I was for any reader of this great story of universal appeal and that’s the truth. Now it is where it needs to be, not just benefiting me. Hopefully it will gain the readership it deserves. If it has an audience in book form, I expect they will want to see it as a movie the way I visualized it to be. Hopefully that day will come. Then I can say this film novel is truly both a book and a movie. But at least for now the novel, Sterling Bridge, is rearing to go, coming to a shelf near you this November. Check it out, and see what you think of the film novel genre. I think you will love it!

Question for the Author

How did you conduct your research relative to your historical setting?

Thanks Lamora Coons for this excellent question in the comment section of a previous post.

At the beginning I started with Don Norton’s family history research when Don was an English professor of mine at BYU. He had some information from genealogy, books, and newspaper clippings but most of the material was from firsthand accounts of the football players: audio interviews and transcriptions. Don had student research assistants compile the information. I went through boxes of information and pieced together whatever applied to this work.

Unfortunately, in the dozen years or so since then, most of the original research was lost. My original draft and my work as an employee in the Harold B. Lee library has helped me to target my research specifically to the items of importance to what I needed to recover. Fortunately I was able to find the key pieces of research through an autobiography by my Point of View character. I am grateful I chose his perspective to begin with.

I remember the fact that there was a lot of information from his perspective in the original research, which was one reason I chose him as the POV character, but in truth the main reason I chose him was because his mom was Mormon and his dad was Catholic and of anyone he seemed to be caught right in the middle of the main conflict.

Naturally I wanted to see the story unfold from his angle, of how the main character–the hero–changed his life. Luckily I was able to find even more tidbits of research in the microfilm of old newspapers that enlivened the story even more. I’m still working on finding pictures of old Tooele. It is proving to be a daunting task. The newspapers and digital archives don’t carry quality original pictures beyond the 1940’s and even 50’s in that area, only the stories (and that is limited, too). I live nearby Tooele so I have had the opportunity to visit the setting and go to the library and a railroad museum to get a better feel for the layout from a distant time.

Q&A with Brandon Mull

Q&A with Brandon Mull: New York Time’s best-selling author of the Fablehaven Series

By Chad Robert Parker

As I anticipate publishing my own works, I like to network and ask questions of other authors. Brandon Mull, a friend of mine, allowed me to publish this Q & A we had over e-mail. He is candid and gives advice to be read over again and again through the writing process:

I met Brandon Mull while at college. He was devotedly giving of himself in his service in an unpaid church position. He was also known for his hilarity while writing for and acting in a comedy troupe that performed on campus. But he was not yet a discovered author. His first book published was Fablehaven and it was a New York Time’s bestseller, as were other books that followed. Three books in the Fablehaven series accompany another book in publication, The Candy Shop War. I will review three of his books following this article. I highly recommend all his works, knowing they would appeal to anyone who liked the Harry Potter novels, for instance.

Here is our Q & A from May 2007, in full:

1. Is there anything you would have done differently, if you could do it over?

Nope, I made some concessions with my first contract but getting published
is hard and I’m glad it happened.

2. What advice would you give a first time author, in general?

Polish your work. Research places to submit and submit everywhere it makes
sense. Pay attention when you get feedback. You never know how you’ll get
your start. Might be publishing short stories, might be landing an agent,
might be going straight to a big publisher, might be going straight to a
small publisher. I’ve heard of all those things working. Speaking broadly,
it usually takes a mix of a marketable piece of writing, persistence, and
luck. Sadly, sometimes it never happens, which is why only crazy people try
to become writers, and it certainly isn’t for everyone.

3. What advice would you give in looking for an agent or a publisher)? Which would you say is the best way to go about getting a novel noticed?

See above.

4. Do you have any tips in working out terms for contracts/royalties/etc?

I know some standard things. If you get a contract I could tell you if
things aren’t standard.

5. Are there areas of marketing or promoting that publishers leave up to you?

You can generally do as much marketing as you want. I think authors should
do what they can. The trick is getting marketing from your publisher, which
doesn’t happen much when you’re new, no matter who publishes you.

6. You have an excellent website. Did someone you know set that up?

I was very lucky. My publisher hired somebody to do the site.

7. How much pull do you have, with who works for you on tour? (I thought it was cool to see your sister Summer and your brother Bryce working with you).

My publisher wanted to tour me, but they were shorthanded, so I recommended
my siblings. Helps when you have siblings willing to work for pretty
mediocre pay.

8. Has writing become your full-time job? Is it different writing with a deadline? Do you get to write while on book tours, or are your days scheduled during that time (What is it like?)?

Writing is my day job. I waited until I was making more money writing than
at my day job to make that transition. I’m so booked that I don’t get much
writing done on tour, but I do a little. The deadlines add pressure, but I
write pretty fast.

9. Do you have to work on Sundays, for book tours, etc.?

I generally don’t work Sundays. Sometimes I have to catch a flight on
Sundays.

10. Is there anything you wish you would have known before about the process to getting published, from writing to successful two-time author?

It is hard to break in. I put in way more hours as a writer than I have at
any other job I’ve worked. It is consuming. Don’t do it unless you really,
really want it. For me, I’m glad to be insanely busy doing this.

11. Do you aim for a certain amount of words, or pages per chapter? Does the publisher have guidelines for their expectations on the length of a book and its chapters?

Yeah. Depends on the genre. Maybe 70,000-110,000 words for YA books.

12. Do you work on more than one book at a time? Does the industry expect you to stick with one genre? Do you contract an advance toward each next book? Are you committed to one publisher with your time and efforts? (I guess I am just curious, but really wouldn’t know what to expect or even what to ask about this).

I work on one at a time. It is wise to carve out a niche for yourself so
an audience can find you. I would recommend sticking to a particular genre
at least at first. If a book does well you can get an advance on the next
one. If a big publisher picks you up, you’ll probably get an advance right off the bat.

13. What is the Editing process like for you? Do you expect significant changes in content or otherwise, as a part of that process? Do you schedule for it?

You have to schedule for it. I’ve edited my stuff tons, including
collecting feedback from trusted sources and rewriting, before my editors
sees a thing. Still expect changes. Usually when they ask you to change
stuff, they’re right.

14. Is it still the dream you had hoped for?

It is pretty close. Even with good success on my first couple of things, I
don’t feel I have truly arrived. It is an unstable career. But I do love
it. I’ll be happiest when I know things are going well enough for this to
actually be my lifelong career. Right now it looks like I may be on that
path.

Hope that helped!

Brandon

Publisher’s note: this article was originally published by Associated Content in 2007, which was subsequently acquired by Yahoo! Contributer’s network. Yahoo has since dissolved that branch. All rights remain with its author, Chad Robert Parker, and all previous articles he has written were posted on his company website at WritCreate, LLC in July 2015, and may also be made available on other affiliate blogs of interest.

Writing while in Academia

I started out pursuing a business degree. I freely admit that this was still a very general approach to my college career. Brigham Young University has a great business program. But who knew on top of general education classes, I would have to take–and do well in–several business courses before even being accepted to the program? I certainly didn’t know where the hoops ended and the real applicable learning began.

Don’t get me wrong. I know college has its place. If nothing else it teaches students how to learn. In today’s world of information and innovation a person will undergo several changes in jobs, if not careers. Learning is at the center of excelling in any field. A person should gain as many skills and understanding as they can. That is the experiment of life. How much can we learn? How much knowledge will we be able to live up to? Learning if not applied to living is of no use otherwise.

That’s my point. My professors mostly taught me their path of understanding. In other words, completing assignments for them mostly engaged my mind on how to become whatever they had become. Some had gained experience outside of the classroom, but most of their academic knowledge had come from within the classroom. Much of it made a lot of sense in theory but had little practicality beyond learning how to test well or write a research paper to my teacher’s liking. Since I had no intention of becoming a teacher I had no desire to learn the English Teaching profession. And although that is a separate degree at BYU the fact of the matter is that my degree was geared toward that end. The other thing most teachers teach their students to become is an Editor. Thankfully I found a couple professors who may not have given me the best grade, but they did point me on a path toward learning how to write in whatever creative way I could imagine success.

I was writing one night per week through the night. I had publisher’s interested in Sterling Bridge back in 2003. I was failing out of my college classes. I’m not sure how I made it through. My parents taught me to never give up on something I started. Thankfully I did get my degree and it has served me well. But after taking a break from the starving-writing-sleepless-nights routine, this writer is happy to be publishing a project I started a longtime ago. I am so thankful for the opportunities to learn academic writing, but more thankful to have learned how to work on all of my other writing. It will take me to higher heights than higher education ever did. No disrespect to faculty publications, but creative writing outside the confines of a university is the means that worked for me, for which I am now able to call myself a Published Author. In order to become something we all must take the learning we have gained and apply it beyond the training grounds. I am forever learning, an essential part of becoming a professional writer, but the key to being a writer is writing. I work at an academic library. It keeps my research sharp. But at the end of the day I am a writer!

The work of writing

My first year of college came and went without a clear decision for my future. General education courses reiterated a couple things I already knew: 1) I am not the smartest student in any one field, and 2) I don’t have enough interest in any one field to devote my life to solely mastering that one field. Did I say, “one field” enough to make my point. Writing requires versatility that only comes from exposure in a wide array of life experience. It takes time and perseverance. I know it is the last thing you want to hear if you are an aspiring writer. At least it was for me, a difficult lesson to accept. I knew I loved writing but I was afraid to commit to it. Writing takes more work than anything I know of before seeing the payoff. Writing is a release, a past-time, fun, and hard, all in one. To write you have to love it, but, make no mistake, writing is work, lots and lots of work.

Even this post started out as a different idea altogether. As I re-evaluated my thesis statement I realized that this post would take another path. I would explain the work of writing as I see it. (Hence, the title). See, I did learn something from getting my English degree in college.

The more creative the writing, however, the more it is nothing like academic writing (More on that in my next post):

Even every form of writing takes a different expertise: There is marketing writing with all of the forms of digital marketing: website content, blogging, and online advertising; There is print advertising: billboards, magazines, and all types of collateral material; There are short stories, novels, and everywhere in between. Each requires an understanding in the delicate intricacies of melding the art of creativity and the functions of applied Science. In every field of work it is desirable to find the best way to do something and then to do it better than anyone else, but the reality in a continually changing world is that our customer desires the same versatility that I crave. I think you crave it, too!

We want to be entertained. We want new ideas. We want creative writing. And that takes a lot of thinking, a lot of planning, a lot of living, and a lot of writing about it. Some things I write will fall flat, but other writings will soar, if I put in the work. Sterling Bridge took about 15 years, on and off, before it was where it needs to be. It is ready! It took a long time and a lot of work before I am where I need to be. I am there!