Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Story As Pretty Data Points

Yesterday I began a great experiment. Well, “great” may be a bit premature, but I promise it is a genuine experiment. For the first time I’ve decided to graph one of my novels prior to serious revision and editing.

Now, I am not a visual thinker and learner. Not at all. I staunchly maintain that there are really only twelve colors in the world and that all the rest of this complication is just people mistaking the moods of these twelve real colors. People who scrawl all over their texts in colors and shapes and lines and arrange everything in very particular spaces make little sense to a conceptual thinker like myself. So this graphing a story to help with revision idea would never have come to me if not for two people: Dave Wolverton and my wife, Amy. I heard Dave mention that he graphs his stories prior to writing the first draft. When I thought about that it didn’t seem to fit me at all, but on further thought I realized that I was intrigued as to what a graph of a rough draft I’ve already written might allow me to do. That planted the seed, and exposure to Amy’s learning style made that germ flourished.

Amy is one of those color, line, and space people. The first time she ever read a complete manuscript of mine she gave me back a printout of the entire novel with characters and concepts and emotions all outlined in colors, with strange webs and interconnected lines on pages, including comments and other annotation, as she showed me a whole new way to approach what I’d written. It was all pretty much biochemistry in Greek to me, but it did get me thinking about how visual symbolism can offer a different take on a story.

Now I’m testing that theory big time. Deciding that I was going to do this, and knowing I may only do it once in my life, I decided to do it full out. Full out has turned into a three foot by, I don’t know, ten or twelve foot graph. Every chapter of the fifty chapter book (it may gain a chapter or three by the time I’m done, even as it loses length) is represented by a two by two inch square. If nothing else, when finished this thing will make a strange artifact to the idiosyncratic nature of my writing process.

Amy was good enough to make the chart, and yesterday we started graphing. At this point, I have the central conflict of the story as well as two rivalries between the protagonist and other characters graphed. What’s left to come? A father/son conflict, the internal conflict of the protagonist, the conflict of a good teacher fighting a corrupt system on behalf of her students, the conflict of an overwhelmed principal trying to rise to her responsibility, the conflict of a self-doubting friend of my protagonist, and on-page time for a character I think readers will love, the Irish/Scotish/Something-ish Alleged-Ax-Murdering Male School Nurse Peetches. (I assume he’ll be fascinating whenever he makes an appearance, so I want to know where he plays a significant role in the story because that might cover an occasional sin.) So there’s much more to do.

What’s the verdict so far? I’m surprised by how excited the graph has me. The graph is a monster, but the story in graph form is remarkably easy to handle. Simple even. I can see the three peak structure, just as it should be, and examine the rate of conflict by looking at slope. (The vertical axis measures the rate of conflict on a subjective scale of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 square per chapter.) I can see every chapter thoroughly by comparing the lines of different conflicts and elements and, with these overlaid on top of each other, get a very good view of the nature of the chapter. And even before the graph is finished, I’m finding possible ways to improve the story.

One or two areas where I have too many downward slopes at once indicate I’m risking a lull in the narrative. I can see that my second peak or act, sometimes called rising action, is the least precipitous of the three in terms of intensifying conflict. This may or may not be an issue as that section of the story is largely about ambiguity; there are a lot of reversals of fortune, and that keeps the line from rocketing skyward as quickly as other areas. But it has given me reason to look at that section of the book carefully, suspecting that picking up the conflict in an area or two might improve things. And that came from a few moments of study of the graph before heading to a family party yesterday.

It’s way too early to predict what the outcome of this experiment will be, but I’m glad I’m doing it. I’ll post about this again, and I promise to include a photo of this titan when I’m finally done with it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How Audience Age Affects Story Length

(Find my previous posts on what determines story length by going to my personal blog, www.clintjohnsonwrites.com/blog/.)

Factors that Determine the Length of a Story #4: Audience Age

This factor is related to and overlaps with genre, but it’s significant enough to mention on its own. Whereas genre’s influence is primarily predicated upon audience expectation, counterintuitively, the effect of audience age on length is primarily a matter of publishing convention. Simply stated, publishing hates long books, and it assumes that the younger or more recreational the reader, the more they are in agreement with that antipathy. I’m a big believer that actual readers are much more flexible than the publishing industry believes them to be when it comes to story length. Books like the Harry Potter series should have made clear that short isn’t always better for younger readers. Unfortunately, publishers typical terror at long books—which is understandable if not necessarily justifiable, given the nature of their work—causes them to hold on to any support for their position with tenacity.

So, the younger your audience, the shorter your story is likely to be. This is true of short stories as well as novels, as what can be handled in a single reading by a seven year old is likely to be shorter than what a twenty-two year old could enjoy. This isn’t completely an industry convention motivated by risk avoidance, however. Stories for younger audiences tend to employ shorter chapters, paragraphs, and sentences—even fewer syllables, as they depend on more basic diction. This results in less total length. They often are simpler stories too, with few or no POV shifts or subplots, which also streamlines the final product.

All this being said, I believe that young or old, what motivates most dedicated readers—and many novice readers—is the quality of the experience. And a big—in scope, vision, and duration—story can give a different experience than a short read, whether for seventy-year-old professors of English or six-year-old students. So being a little on the long side isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a great thing if that additional length not only earns its place, but takes the rest of the story and elevates it all. 200 pages of okay won’t be read like 400 pages of greatness. Just be sure that your 400 pages are really great (they usually won’t be, as at least 50 pages of drivel will often creep in).

Even if every one of the 400 pages in your middle grade novel is truly great, you very well might not be published. The sad truth is that too much cost and too much risk outweigh the worth of the work almost always, in today’s publishing climate. So it might behoove you to learn how to write a great shortish story, whatever audience you write for.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

GDC Study and Curriculum Guides

Back when Green Dragon Codex first came out, the teen review site Flamingnet.com named it a Top Choice. Ten out of ten, in fact. Why mention this now? Because as the site has grown, they’ve reached the point where people are seeking educational resources on the books they’ve reviewed. It just so happens that I have some for GDC. In fact, I wrote them. And I’m afraid that in the two years since they haven’t been used once. I’m not even sure anyone has looked at them.

It’s too bad, too. Because the guides are excellent, if I say so myself. There are two: a study guide for students and a curriculum guide for teachers that includes information on how to use GDC and the guides to teach. They are each almost 40% as long as the novel and include all kinds of exercises, questions, and entire lessons, all ready to use. I developed it using the Granite School District 3-6th curriculum, so we’re talking educationally diverse and dense material here. It took me a week solid to create it, and that after the time spent researching other guides and what curriculum to include and such.

Too bad it’s never been used.

Now, I really hope it will be. I’ve included links to both guides on Flamingnet.com’s GDC page. So if you’re an educator or a parent looking for ready-made educational resources on a fun book, check it out or recommend it to your child’s teacher, whatever. These materials can help kids learn. I hope they don’t continue to go to waste.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Catching Up

Hello. For those of you who have forgotten me, my name’s Clint and I am occasionally spotted on this blog.

There’s a lot to go over because I’ve been away so long. But you’ll be glad to know that Amy and I are finally beginning to settle into this whole being married thing. Yesterday we worked out transportation to give me an extra work hour everyday before I head to the college, so I’m hoping that will result in more frequent blog posts. If so, you may thank Amy for it.

Last week I spent six days in St. George at a writing workshop held by Dave Wolverton. For those who don’t recognize the name, he’s a multi-time NYT best-seller with loads of experience in just about every corner of the publishing and entertainment industry: publishing short and long fiction, editing, marketing, video games, movies, you name it. I’ve thought about taking a class from him, largely because of his knowledge of the business, for several years now. But when I learned that last week’s class would likely be the last he taught for several years (he’s committed to working as a producer in Hollywood in addition to producing his own NYT best-selling Runelord franchise), I decided it was now or never. I decided now.

The class was great. Met a lot of cool people and devoted writers (the cool people and devoted writers are the same, in this case, which always makes me happy). See a class photo here. In the mornings we had lectures about craft and the business; afternoons were for critiquing and discussion; evenings were spent on writing assignments, group analysis of movies, and trying to recuperate for the next day. I had a chance to talk with Dave a bit about current business conditions, which given the nature of those conditions wasn’t very fun but was very helpful. So if any of you get a chance to study with Dave, I suggest you take it. He has a stronger track record of students earning publishing success than any other person I know.

Other things to catch up on:

  • I am three chapters (I think) away from finishing my latest novel. I wanted to be done with the rough draft by April, which means I’m way behind, but I’m trying to cut myself some slack. I did just get married and move and all that stuff. With things settling in at home, I hope to be finished in two weeks. I will then do a happy dance. No photos.
  • As I write, I am still shopping my two latest novels to agents and editors. One is my middle grade fantasy about a little girl who becomes leader of the UN for magical creatures; the other is my Asian ghost story, which I describe as a Korean-American version of The Lovely Bones as written by the tandem of Sara Zarr and Laurie Halse Anderson. Someone once told me she couldn’t picture that until she read the first chapter or two, when she decided, yup, that’s exactly what it is. I showed snippets to a Korean student of mine yesterday and she got a huge kick out of it. And yes, she did tell me that the phonetic spellings of Korean language are well translated. So if you’re an agent or editor, buy these books. They’re good, and one of them can even teach you to speak Korean.
  • The NBA finals are apparently over with the Dallas Mavericks proving that good really goes triumph over evil (being the Miami Heat). As you might imagine from my recent activity (or lack of such) on this blog, I didn’t have time to watch a single second of the finals. But I am glad to know that the Heat lost. I don’t like the Heat. May they have a torturous summer of penance for their braggartism.
  • Amy tells me that there is a chalk art festival this weekend in SLC. I’ve never been to a chalk art festival, so I’m looking forward to the experience. I’m especially looking forward to it as we will go together and I won’t be juggling a student, my writing or some else’s for that matter, or doing anything to move or make a moved into place livable. I’ll just be looking at chalk art, and it will be awesome!

Friday, May 27, 2011

CONduit Starts Today

This is about as late a confirmation as there can be, but at least I got it up here. Below is my finalized schedule for CONduit, being held from right now until Sunday evening at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Salt Lake (215 W. South Temple).

Today (Friday) @ 7:00 p.m.: Suspence–Building to a Satisfying Conclusion. With Michaelbrent Collings (a personal favorite), Berin Stephens, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Michael R. Collings. I believe Dave Wolverton will be unable to attend, unfortunately. But I tell you that the Collings, Michael and Michaelbrent, are two of the best panelists I’ve ever heard, so you don’t want to miss this.

Saturday @ 1:00 p.m.: How To Write Great Villains. I’ll be moderating this panel for Amber Argyle, Roger White, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Roger, Howard, and Dan are all excellent, so another very strong panel. (If you don’t count me.)


@ 6:00 p.m.: Bad Fairy! You’re NOT a Vampire! With Dan Lind, Jessica Harmon, Eric Ruston, and Tracy Hickman. This is all about the romanticized mythos of paranormal romance (basically, Twilight), and Tracy will be worth the price of admission on this subject by himself.

So, three panels, all three should be great. I promise to chip in where I can and, otherwise, stay out of the way. If you’re at CONduit, please come say hi. One of the best things about conferences is seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

I guess that’s two of the best things.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Awesome Students

A few days ago I saw a face I haven’t seen in months and wondered if I would ever see again: Bak. Bak is a sometimes student and always friend. He’s Sudanese, one of the famous Lost Boys who trekked through Sudan to Kenya to survive conscription or eradication by the Khartoum government. I also learned he was one of the last Lost Boys to come to the US and, very cool, that he just been elected to a position of leadership among the Sudanese people in the US. I wish I could remember the title of the organization, but whatever the title, Bak’s title is President now. He’ll lead this organization for the better part of the next two years.

He came into the Writing Center the other day and asked me to give a speech he was giving a final once over. I did and then we had some time to catch up. Turns out he had to stop school because of lack of funds, but managed to save up enough to return (on top of providing for himself and sending money back home, which nearly all Sudanese students do). I’ll never forget the Sudanese conference I was invited to—what, a year ago?—and how Bak sat by me and paraphrased the revolutionary music performed at the event (very reggae-esque). He said he’s taking summer classes, and so I really hope I’ll get to see him this summer.

It’s pretty remarkable. Five years ago when I first starting working at SLCC’s Writing Center, I met Abraham, one of the more senior Sudanese Lost Boys. He has since gone on to serve in a presidential position (probably the same one Bak holds now), and after that, to serve as something of an ex-patriot Sudanese congressman, as I understand it. He’s now a big deal in the Sudanese community here in the west. Then, between these two, I met Dut. He also served a president of the Sudanese organization (which involves travel across the US, so this isn’t a small gig by any means). Currently, Dut is still one of my students, and he just started a charitable organization here at SLCC that helps give poor Sudanese (and likely others) educational opportunities they otherwise could never afford—something Dut did out of his own pocket for a younger man back in Sudan, who is about to graduate on Dut’s contribution. Yeah, pretty awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

One last student to mention: his name is Tristan, and he is one of the many fantastic kids I met at Washington Elementary in Salt Lake today. I had the pleasure to take part in a charitable assembly there this morning for the Book for Every Kid program, a local program designed to get every student in the school a free book. Four other fine authors and friends contributed as well: Jennifer Nielsen , Kristen Landon, Dene Low, and Christine Graham. We all did a little presentation, about ten or fifteen minutes each, for k-6 (I believe, maybe the oldest grades were 5th).

Anyway, after the presentation I talked to a few of the students—those who were particularly interested in dragons, which, by the way, is a sign of brilliance—and Tristan let me have this cool drawing he did. I promise to share it with the world. From what I can tell, the huge dragon is fighting a volcano, which has to be a good fight. If anything can beat a dragon, it has to be a volcano. Or a cow. Certainly not a sword. Those at the assembly will know what I’m talking about.

Thanks for the drawing, Tristan. I hope you enjoy seeing it published on the Internet.

There are a lot of interesting and inspiring people out there. A few of them have been students of mine, and that is incredible to me. It shows how fortunate I am and have been, and does nothing to even imply any of it is deserved.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Battle of the Bands

When I saw that a Battle of the Bands was happening in nearby Ogden, Utah, I jumped at the chance to take a car full of young, impressionable boys.

What I found was so much cooler than what I expected. For one, the uber talented Craig Bielik was emceeing. Also, there was food: pizza, breadsticks, popcorn, and Chick-fil-A--always a plus. Tables were set up where local businesses had give-aways and drawings. One of the boys I brought won a $10 gift card to use at Newgae Mall, and we also won free bumper card rides, eyebrow waxes, hair cuts, etc. We all (except my youngest) had brightly colored hair extensions put in by Cherry Bomb Salon. Not only did we get to eat and look like rock stars, we got to listen to bands representing 13 Ogden-area high schools.

Most of the bands were what I'd call hard(er) rock, as well as old school metal, blues, pop, and punk. I have to admit I had to leave early, so I missed the last few bands, including the winner, Roy High's Mermaid Baby (surf-rock), but if what I heard is indicative of our future music, then we have a lot to look forward to! (This photo shows Tribe, the band representing Weber High School of Pleasant View, Utah.)

Have you ever been to or competed in a Battle of the Bands? If not, you should definitely consider it. It's a lot of fun and it's a great way to show support for local talent.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Humble Pie (Not My Favorite)

It looks like my Writing for the YA Market class through the University of Utah isn’t going to carry. I’m of mixed feelings about this.

Of course I’m disappointed. I hoped this full course would draw more interest than it has. And I feel sorry for the students who did sign up, a few of whom even contacted me to let me know how excited they were. If you are one of those who registered, I’m sorry the class isn’t going to happen. If I do something like this in the future, I certainly hope you get a chance and it proves worthwhile.

On the other hand, teaching this class on top of everything else I’m doing would have been tough. I’m having a hard time handling everything on my plate now, so adding that class would have had me about to my limits. All this wedding stuff isn’t like rabbits but bacteria: I swear, everything Amy and I need to do, once done, has self-replicated to give us another five items for the list. This is one less thing per week, plus the preparation of curriculum and responding to people’s writing. So that’s the bright side.

Mostly, I’m disappointed and a little confused that the class didn’t generate more interest. People have been asking me for the last few years whether I teach a class, often acting disappointed when I tell them no. When I finally agreed to do so, it didn’t get enough interest to carry. This makes me suspect I’m not going to do this again anytime in the near future. Not so much because I’m not interested; I just question others’ interest beyond mere words. Maybe I’ll need to gain more prominence before a class like this would be in real demand. The problem is, at that point it might not make sense for me to teach such a class for so little remuneration.

The end result is that I don’t know when I’ll agree to teach a full class again. Ah well. C’est la vie.


For those who don’t know, Amanda Hocking–self publishing queen—has signed with a national publisher. Here’s something on her reasoning as to why.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A List, as I Have No Time for a Post

Wrote 600 words of my novel this morning after 700 yesterday, which combine for 200 less than my daily target. But finished a chapter, so okay.

Have a rough work up of the article together, at least enough to get ideas from my coauthor, who should let me know if he regrets ever proposing this. Now to find a dozen more ways writing is like basketball.

Last night did a workshop for a chapter of the LUW and Alpine School District (I think that was the combination) to make up for missing a few Saturdays ago. Uber thank yous to Canda for giving me a second chance. Hope it was worth the wait.

Finalizing my curriculum for my Writing for the YA Market class through the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning Program. Hoping it carries, except the part of me that is going nuts from busyness, which hopes it doesn’t.

Finishing a workshop on voice and style. Do you know how to define them? I hope I do, as I’m doing a two hour presentation that claims so.

Need to do a little orientation on personal narrative for work. Some day. Preferably soon.

Still have a web site and blog, which I often forget.

Getting married in under two months. Being married, I think, will be great, but getting married is kind of a hassle.

Finished One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, a good book very well written and with rare quality voice. It was recommended by Sara Zarr, who knows what’s she’s talking about whenever she talks about anything. Am proud of myself. Read it. (And by this, I mean you should read it, not I have read it. Thought that too is true.)

I think I need to go shopping. Time for my next list.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Me and the IRA

Just got a call from Rick Walton. (Yes, the picture book writer who will one day soon conquer the world with his army of indebted authors.) Turns out that he's schedule to speak to the Jordan Council of the IRA at 4:30 today and may not make it, so I have volunteered to show up and help out. If he’s there, great, we’ll do just fine. If he isn’t, I’ll do my best to survive. We’ll be talking about teaching writing, teachers as writers, that kind of stuff. Should be fun.

With such late notice, I feel like I should have some special red phone or something that lights up when the call comes in.

One last thing: doesn’t IRA stand for the Irish Republican Army? Rick mentioned that, and now I’m thinking this might be one of the most interesting speaking engagements of my experience. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Its Own Punishment

If you wish to inflict a heartless and
malignant punishment upon a young person,
pledge him to keep a journal for a year.

—Mark Twain
lame old humorist and writer

Peace and joy. Certain young persons of Your Uncle Jerry’s acquaintance have alleged that a tone of gentle bitterness occasionally creeps into this blog. Bitter? Uncle Jerry? Nothing could be further from true. Your Uncle Jerry is not now, nor has he ever been, a lonely, rancid, and bitter, bitter old bachelor who wears the same longjohns all winter without changing. In fact, Uncle Jerry has two pair of longjohns, and changes them religiously just after Christmas.

Nor is Uncle Jerry an old man soured by a childhood of hardship and isolation. Not at all. Uncle Jerry’s childhood was a joyous one. Uncle Jerry’s foster family included him in all family activities, just as if he were one of the servants. Uncle Jerry is certainly not embittered by memories of the chores, the rags, the nights shivering in the barn, or the constant hazing by six older orphan boys.

If there was one cruelty inflicted by Uncle Jerry’s foster family, it was that, one winter, they encouraged Uncle Jerry to write.

After only two years of sixth grade, Uncle Jerry had begun to show some promise as a student. He was caught sometimes rhyming. On occasion he invented stories—stories of pirates or dragons or orphans who grew up to find themselves heirs to fortunes. This will never do, said Uncle Jerry’s foster family. Great believers in natural consequences, Uncle Jerry’s foster parents devised a scheme to teach him the danger of too much literacy. It was a scheme that Mark Twain himself would salute.

Each evening after chores, Bible study, and polishing the older boys’ shoes, Your Uncle Jerry was sent to sit alone at the hearth with charcoal and tablet. Write, said his parents. Write what you know. Write what happened today. Write your hopes and fears, your disappointments and your dreams. Fill the page, they said. Write. Only after you write, may you go to bed.

A heartless and malignant punishment indeed. Every night, exhausted from the day's labor and the older boys' playful tortures, Uncle Jerry faced that tablet. Write a page, they said. The ghastly emptiness of that page lay like a white desert Uncle Jerry must cross to reach the land of sleep.

Soon the page began to rise up in his mind during the day, hauntingly, so that he could hardly enjoy his chores or the humiliations of school without imagining what he might write about before bed. Accidentally turning to a blank leaf in a schoolbook, Uncle Jerry would flinch and sweat, and compulsively begin to fill it with verse. Hospital walls, train cars, toilet paper---every blank surface cried out to be covered with words.

Alas, the white cow in the barn.

But never mind about her. This cruel regimen, Camper, is the sole cause of what the nice doctor calls Uncle’s Jerry’s “difference.” So don't think it's bitterness, nor cynicism nor misanthropy (that means a hatred for ants, boy; look it up), nor any moral failing at all. What triggers Uncle Jerry’s unique twitches is actually quite simple.

Blancopapyriferaphobia: fear of the empty page.

Joy and peace.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Saint Canda of Alpine

Those worms in my gut have finally gone. Maybe I digested them, who knows. What facilitated this glorious comfort was the rescheduling of the workshop I missed on Saturday. (Yes, that’s passive voice. I wanted to draw out the revelation of the source of my relief as long as possible.) I’ll make it up to the writing students of this class on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:00 p.m. at the Provo Library.

I have to thank Canda Mortensen, the Curriculum Director for the Alpine School District here in Utah. She’s been spearheading this from the beginning, and she very kindly arranged for me to make up my shame. In return, I think I will nominate her for Sainthood. What are the qualifications for that again? Don’t you have to have two miracles confirmed to you? Well, this certainly counts for her first. She’ll undoubtedly pull off the second any day now, so I may as well get the paperwork going.

Now she’ll just have to decide who to patron. How about Saint Canda, patron saint of the frazzle minded from weird family stuff?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Good Yesterday, Bad Today

Embarrassment feels a lot like a bunch of worms wriggling about in the gut, glutting themselves on the stomach until they are so engorged they all vomit. Yeah, that’s about how I feel.

Bad news first: I was a no show at a workshop today.

I can’t believe. I never skip out on an engagement. I’m never even late. I’m the guy who gets there half an hour early and always has to wait for the doors to open up at the location where I’m speaking. (Really, this is exactly what happened last night.) But this morning everything just went wrong. Long story short, I was supposed to be in American Fork this morning to do my Triple Duty Writing workshop for a joint class between the local school district and library, I believe. Complications (sorry, that’s the best I can offer here) kept me from ever even leaving my house. Even if they hadn’t, I had the starting time on my calendar a whole hour late! I screwed up this day even before it could on its own.

To top it off, I didn’t have a phone number to reach the organizers (where did all those e-mails go?) until I was already late and they e-mailed me. I profusely apologized and offered to reschedule when and where they wanted, this time doing the workshop without charge. Still, after doing all I can make up for this, those worms are crawling around inside me puking. It don’t feel great.

If you were one of the people expecting me to be in the Professional Development Center in American Fork this morning when I no-showed, I honestly beg your apology. I just couldn’t make it. If we’re able to reschedule, I promise to make up for my non-appearance.

Now that the bad’s out of the way, I can report the good: last night I was lucky enough to be one of several writers to spend time with kids at the Road Home in downtown Salt Lake. For those who don’t know, the Road Home is a shelter for the homeless that helps people transition back into self-sufficiency. It’s a great place. Well, last night along with fellow authors and friends Jennifer Nielsen, Kristen Chandler, Matthew Kirby, and Becky Hall, I had a chance to spend an hour with the kids. We had a plan going in. We really did.

This was the plan: we’d split into three stations and cycle the kids around every fifteen minutes or so from event to event. I was planning on doing word games on a white board with lots of different markers for the kids to use, Becky had Play Dough and lots of picture books for the little kids, Kris and Matt were going to do balloon tying, and Jen was going to roam about keeping order and helping us hit our marks.

This is what happened:…

I don’t recall. All I remember is kind of a blur of color and happy noises. The next thing I know, I’m searching the room for my markers and am shocked to the core that I find all eight—with their caps! Didn’t lose a thing.

It was crazy, swimming not to sink rather than to a set location or to win a race. But it was a lot of fun. All the kids got a bag of books to keep, and the Road Home got donated books from the authors as well as some toys for their play room. It was a great experience with some really good people chipping in.

So where does that leave me? Today, I feel horrible ab0ut missing the workshop in American Fork. Yesterday, I felt really good about doing what little I could to show those kids some attention, and if I get passed my own moping today, I still feel good about it. So that means…?

I don’t know.

But I am glad I had the chance to play with those kids yesterday with my friends and colleagues.

And I am sickened and remorseful that I missed the workshop today.

However those two things mix together, that’s how I am right now.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To Read or Not To Read

My first instinct is not. Always.

I don’t like readings. Never much have, and I suspect I never much will. It isn’t anything personal against the person reading, no commentary on the quality of their work or skill. I don’t like it when I do the reading. Perhaps even less. (Though when you get a bad reader or bad writing, that is always a very bad thing. When you get a bad reader of bad writing, that is, I’m pretty sure, represented by one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it’s so nasty.)

But in the last two weeks I’ve had two positive experiences at public readings, which has me severely unsettled. I am not particularly fond of having my worldview challenged. But what happened is and cannot be denied. So I will do my best to deal with it.

Last… what was, it, Thursday?… I was Amy’s eye candy at a reading she attended for her creative nonfiction class taught by Kate Coles. (Yeah, that’s Utah State Poet Laureate Kate to you and me.) The reading was by Poet Jon Wilkens and Prose Writer/Poet Ander Monson. It was fun, which coming from me is HIGH praise. Both Wilkens and Monson were playful both in their poetry and with their delivery, which literally makes a good reading. They were talented both at writing and reading, which is also a must. As an added plus, my friend and SLCC instructor Brandon Alva did his master’s thesis under Ander Monson and was in the audience, which added a special dimension. It was a genuine good time, which kind of shook my comfort with and understanding of the universe.

Then today things really turned topsy turvy. I agreed to do a moderate (20-30 minute) reading with a little Q&A at the Dual Immersion Academy in Salt Lake. Believe it or not, it was my first ever public reading of GDC. Going in, you must understand that I’ve never seen a reading to kids of this age group (4th and 5th graders) go well. Never. Some authors have managed to pull of readings that weren’t catastrophic, and I’ve paid them great homage for the achievement. Most of the readings I’ve seen have been like slow motion car crashes—tragedy unfolding so slowly it manages to be boring. It’s just really hard to do a reading of any length for kids and to keep their attention. (Picture books work differently, by the way.)

So this morning my goal was not to have kids coming to fisticuffs on the floor out of sheer boredom. And you know what? It went well. I don’t mean I survived it. I mean well.

The kids were, all things considered, attentive for the entire reading.

They laughed numerous times; real, authentic laughter, not nervousness vomited out as a fake laugh.

At the end, they asked me to read more, even though time was up.

Then they asked a lot of questions, most of which were real questions they wanted answers to.

And when I left, they complained.

Add that together, and I can’t see any school of mathematics that allows me anything but a positive experience. Yeah, I know, how distressing is that? What am I left to believe in now that I doubt readings are just designed to suck?

Thanks to the Dual Immersion Academy, all the teachers, and especially the kids who attended. You guys were so awesome you’ve blown my mind a little bit, and I’m trying to regroup. Special thanks to Ms. Ramos, who spearheaded all this, and to my friend Anna, who got me in touch with the school. I want you all to know that I forgive you for upturning my nice little all-figured-out world.

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Honest Moment

Me: (having a moment) I should be nothing but grateful for the upcoming release of With A Name Like Love, but part of me is terrified. Not everyone likes historical fiction, you know. Half the people will think it's totally lame.

Daughter: At least.

ah...so the truth goes...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rick Walton's Army of Utah Authors

Rick Walton, prodigious picture book dispenser and future ruler of the world (to be proven hereafter), teaches a class on the children’s book publishing industry at BYU, I think once a year. This class alone gives Rick a good case for a prominent position on the next Mount Rushmore. It is a fantastic class where undergrad students can learn about writing and illustrating to publish and the industry that makes that happen. For those serious about working in publishing, either as writers or agents or editors, this class is priceless. I wish I’d had it eight years ago, and openly confess my belief that had I benefited from such a class, my journey to publication may well have been two or three years shorter. If any of you have the chance to take this class from Rick in the future, do it. Don’t think about it. Do it.

Wednesday, for, I think, the second year, I had the opportunity to serve as a panelist at Rick’s class. Long time (relatively speaking) friends Dene Low and Kristen Chandler were on the panel as well, as were new friends Elana Johnson and Aaron Hawkins. Much was said, some of it likely helpful as I didn’t talk the whole time. But the most interesting extrapolation of the evening was a successful test of Rick’s ever-building army of obedient authors.

For those who aren’t aware, Rick Walton is the godfather of children’s writing in Utah, and he’s making a major move on taking in a bunch of new territory. I’m not certain I can think of anyone who has been as influential at helping other writers start and advance their careers in publishing as Rick (though Dave Farland/Wolverton deserves a nod here, too). What is less commonly known than Rick’s beneficial influence is the quid pro quo arrangement he has with all of us: in turn for his patronage, we all agree to serve as foot soldiers when he judges it time for his domination of earth. Really. He once talked about having us all replaced by robot versions to increase efficiency—apparently wary at how sporadic we can be at things such as keeping butt in seat to write, which can’t be that much more difficult than conquering Earth—but has thus far not acted on the decision. I hope Wednesday’s performance helped further ingratiate us organics to him.

When Rick asks, people come, whether its speaking to students or assaulting a tank brigade. Because he earns that grade of gratitude and appreciation by helping people out. And over the years he’s helped so many of us that he really does have an army of grateful writers hoping to some day find a way to reciprocate however we can. Not excluding serving in his special brigade of stormtroopers.

So for anyone who is not interested in writing for children, and thus is unlikely to be absorbed into Rick’s indebted army of domination, take solace in this fact: if the world has to have an overlord—and we all know it does—you couldn’t get a kinder, more thoughtful dictator than Rick, who will even forgive me for this post.

I hope.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Something Really Cool Just Happened

It would make a lot more sense if my first post here was an introduction. You know, something to let people know a bit about who I am, thus (hopefully) giving them a reason to care in the slightest about what I might say. Or at the least, I might have that bio and other stuff prepared to view elsewhere on the blog. (I should soon.)

Nope. That's not how I roll. Like Heath's Joker (one of the few characters who truly frightens me), I just do things. I'm like a dog chasing cars. I don't know what to do with them once I've caught them.

Consider this blog a new car I'm chasing. While the others posting here, my fellow Rock Canyon hommees, will certainly give this the feel of a finely tuned and expertly driven machine, I suspect my contribution will be the sense that some kind of humongous crash is perpetually around the next bend. Today's post is a good example. I have to do it now because it has to be immediate. Immediate in the sense that I wrote it yesterday and am managing to post it for a second (count them, twice) time today. (These posts are from my own blog at ClintJohnsonWrites.com.)

Don't worry. The moment things start making sense here you'll certainly realize it before I do.


I wrote this all yesterday but had internet problems at work, so I'm posting it today. Forgive my tardiness.


I do not Tweet, so the most up-to-date information on me is going to be found right here, on my blog. Practically Jurassic, I know, but that's the way it is.

I am at this moment sitting in the Student Writing Center at Salt Lake Community College where I work, reminiscing about how awesome it was to meet Jordan, a fifth grader from a school I visited sometime last year. She's been e-mailing me for a while, asking if I would sign her book, and we came to the arrangement that I'd take a little time to talk to her here at work. She just came in.

Now, I've signed books before. But I confess surprise when Jordan showed me the book she wanted signed, and I opened the cover to see I'd already signed it. No one has ever asked me to sign a book twice before. So what could I do? I signed it again, after writing her a message making clear that she was quite possibly the most awesome person alive in the world today. Then we chatted for a while. She asked me a few questions like what is my favorite book (I mentioned six or seven that came most instantly to mind, and offered silent apologies for the hoard that weren't so rapidly retrieved but are equally deserving). We talked about the three books she's writing, and I confessed that I could only manage one at a time. Then she asked what I was going to write next, and I showed her the pages I wrote this morning. I also told her she was the only person to have ever seen those pages other myself. She lit up.

Those of you who are not children's authors may not be aware of this, but children can produce light when they're truly happy. They glow bright enough make your way by.

I have given hundreds of autographs, which isn't saying much for a published author. I certainly haven't penned tens or hundreds of thousands like some writers. Maybe that's why giving one can still mean something. Mean a lot. While I hope that greater success lies ahead in my publishing journey than I've yet achieved, I really hope I never lose the ability to be humbled and renewed by the privilege of spending a little time with someone as special as Jordan.