Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas

I'm hopping to have time to blog more next year. But I couldn't let a Christmas season pass up without one of my favorite Christmas songs.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


There is a great scene in Spinal Tap where . . . actually, let me show you.

Over four thousand people have entered the Pepsi refresh challenge. The top ten get funded. TwHistory is currently number eleven. We'd love to be in the top ten. We'll use the money to pay educators to develop lesson plans that can then be used by thousands of students to create their own TwHistory reenactment.

Help get us to eleven, and vote every day from now to the end of the month.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Where is LDS Fiction Going? A Response

Jennie Hansen has an article over at Meridian Magazine that does a good job of summarizing where LDS fiction is today, and where it's headed in the future.

I did a book signing once with Jennie at BYU Education Week. I remember sitting there with my 15 copies of Chickens in the Headlights while Jennie sat next to me with what seemed like a mountain of titles. I think at the time she had over a dozen different titles. She was kind and considerate to me as a new author. She is a prolific writer, reader, and reviewer.

With an introduction like that, you know I'm going to take issue with something from her article. But it's a minor point, really. :) From her article:
Two factors have given rise to speculation concerning the future of LDS fiction.  One is the explosive impact of electronics on the world of the printed word.  The other is the reality of today's economic climate.
Even though today's technology makes desk top publishing easier, cheaper, and faster than going the traditional route through a publisher, it is producing a poorer quality product that can only hurt the overall market.  Some writers and publishers seem to be trimming costs by trusting electronic editing instead of using a qualified copy editor with the result of ridiculous errors that interrupt the flow of the story.  We're seeing not only there and their used interchangeably, but we have characters eating deserts, detectives perusing villains, amorphous lovers, and the road less travailed.
This concern is not limited to LDS fiction, I've seen similar sentiments echoed elsewhere around the publishing world. But it always confuses me. I don't understand why poorly written bookshurts the overall market. How exactly does that work?

For example, if we use this same line of reasoning in other art forms, shouldn't we discourage piano recitals and high school band concerts? If I hear little Jimmy slaughter Beethoven on the piano, might that not discourage me from purchasing classical music the next time I'm shopping on iTunes? 

What about independent bands who pump out their own CDs? Or independent film makers who burn their own DVDs? If I see a poorly filmed movie, will that keep me away from the theaters?

Of course not. In other types of art we see these kinds of activity as possible stepping stones to the 'next level'.  So why can't we see it this way when it comes to writing? Why isn't it natural for a person to say, "Yeah, I wrote and self-published three books before I landed my first contract.

I don't judge other LDS authors by a poorly written book. If I read a bad book from a self-published author, that in no way hinders me from my next purchase at Deseret Book.

I think we only need to look at the Internet and blogs to see this idea in action. Many of the blogs are polished and professional. Other blogs could use some editing help (this one included). And then there are blogs that are of poor to extremely poor quality. But the fact that those poor blogs exist doesn't keep me from finding and enjoying the good ones out there.

And of course we haven't even talked about the benefits that come from self-publishing. When it's easier to self-publish, there is a wider variety of material to choose from. Yes, we may need to wade through some poor quality material, but that doesn't dim our enjoyment when we find a gem--a gem that may not have made its way into the light of day were it not for the self-publishing route.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ode to Writers Group

Writers Group, oh Writers Group, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
1) You encourage me to write. Okay, there is something inside me that is already driving me to write, but you finish the job. We meet on Thursday. I don’t have pages. I need to pull out the laptop because you expect nothing less than five pages every week.
2) You tell me that I rock. Let’s face it, the profession of writing is not exactly filled with people singing your praise. My first and worst critic is myself. I read what I write and I’m quite certain that it stinks. I get rejections from agents and editors, more than I want to keep track of. I’ve filled years with insecurity, second guessing, and doubt. But once a week I can sit in a chair, and listen to eight other people tell me how awesome I am.
3) You tell me that I suck. After telling me how good my manuscript is (and sometimes you may really have to search to find something positive to say), you show me the problems. This is painful, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I need to know my weaknesses. I need to see the holes. Not in vague terms, not in softened generalities, but the brutal, complete, and honest truth. I need to see the warts, every last one of them, so I can fix them and make my writing better.
4) Because you get it. You get it like nobody else can. The deep pain that comes with rejection. The indescribable joy that come from a partial request. The hope. The fears. Writers experience emotions only other writers can really understand. And sometimes when I’m crying, maybe in joy, maybe in sorrow, I need somebody who really understands. Somebody who has been there.
5) My writing always improves. Whether it’s from feedback from the rest of the group, or because I see strengths and weaknesses in the other pages I read, my writing always gets better. I learn tips and tricks. I see pitfalls and shortcuts that shouldn’t be made. Once a week I’m actively engaged in honing my craft, and step by step I improve.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Present

I remember getting presents as a young boy—at Christmas, on my birthday. . .presents were an exciting part of my childhood. The best part about presents was not opening them. No, the best part was waiting to open them. The box sat there under the tree or on your lap. You'd look at the size of the box and wonder what it could be. Holding a present is magical. Holding a present with your name on it puts you in a happy place.

I've spend the last four months going over my book line-by-line, page-by-page. I’ve trimmed about ten thousand words, and added in another five thousand. I've been getting some good feedback from multiple sources and I feel good about the progress I’m making.

In other words, I’m in a happy place. I’m feeling good about my writing and my book. I’m feeling hopeful.

Struggling writers are not often in a happy place, at least when it comes to the writing world. The first years are filled with rejection and insecurity. When you look critically at your work, you often have to admit you have so, so far to go.

I'm getting ready to send out my manuscript again. That means taking steps that could lead you out of the happy place. I have to open the present that is sitting on my lap and find out what’s really inside. Once you open the present there is no more hope and wonder, just reality. There's a chance the new reality will be better than you imagined. And there's a chance the new reality will just plain suck. If it’s the former you rejoice for a few days and then get back to the grindstone. Even if the new reality is good, the journey is still long. If the new reality is the latter, you try (once again) to pick yourself up by the bootstraps, wipe away the tears, and crack open the laptop. Only writers know how hard that feat really is.

But for now, maybe I’ll take a few more moments to linger in this happy place. I'll sit here with the present on my lap and just wonder. Just hope. Maybe I’ll take a few seconds to dream about what might be, and enjoy the present.

Monday, August 16, 2010

UVU Book Academy

Note the sandwiches
I've been invited to speak at the Book Academy Conference at Utah Valley University on September 30th. My topic will be how authors can leverage social media to their own selfish ends. Actually, I think the official topic was a bit more altruistic sounding.

Actually, note that I didn't say how authors can use social media to market their books. Social media does oh-so-much more than just marketing. In fact, if you're using this medium to do more than 10% marketing, then your doing it all wrong. :)

Anyway, if you're in the area, I highly recommend you drop in. I'm presenting in one of the first workshops, and Robison Wells is presenting at the end. So it's kind of like getting a how-to-write sandwich with Wells and myself as the buns.

And who would want to miss that? Not you, that's for sure. So go sign up!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Funny story.

In my second book, Bullies in the Headlights, I reference a church song in which the words have been changed. Here are the original words:

I have two little hands folded snugly and tight,
They are tiny and weak yet they know what is right.
During all the long hours till daylight is through,
There are plenty of things for my two hands to do.

In the book, I changed the words to the following:

I have five little fingers on one of my hands,
I have six on the other, I don't understand.
During all the long hours till daylight is through,
I have one little finger with nothing to do.

My sons, of course, like my version better. In my book I have actions that go along with the new words, one of these actions are to stick one's finger up one's nose.

So whenever we all get together for singing time, they sing my version, and do my actions. I've found it quite funny over the last few months, but today it all came back to bite me in the end.

We're moving next week, so this is our last time at church. In primary, they have what are called 'heartfelt' songs. Basically, it's a child's favorite song. Whenever we sing that song, the child whose heartfelt song it is, stands at the front and sings it with everybody.

Well, today the primary chorister said, "It's the Jensen's last week, and it just so happens that all five of them have the same heartfelt song--I Have Two Little Hands. So we want them to come up and lead us in the song.

I should mention that I teach a primary class, so I'm sitting right there.

My five boys look shell shocked. They're supposed to lead the class not only in word, but in action. They don't know the real words, let alone the real actions. They stood there like deer in the headlights while the rest of the primary sang the song. The other kids looked confused because my boys weren't singing their heartfelt song.

That's bad enough, but it gets worse.

After the song the chorister, sounding a little confused, asked, "Why is that your favorite song?"

Son number three was quick to fill in the details. "My dad changed all the words and actions, so we like it."

There was a few seconds of silence, and then the chorister looked at me. "Well then, why don't we ask Brother Jensen to come up and teach us his way."

My turn to look like a deer in the headlights.

Have I mentioned my wife is in primary as well? I look back at her and she is at once able to motion to me--a motion I interpret as 'if you get up and teach them that song you're going to sleep on the couch for a year--and at the same time motion to the chorister that no, Brother Jensen's version might not set the right tone for the rest of primary.

It took some convincing, but we finally got the kids singing time back on track, and we escaped without further corruption of our little primary children.

Hopefully we can do as little damage at our next ward.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Can't pass up this article

I haven't taken a break from blogging, I've just been doing it somewhere else. My blog over at Open Author is hopping, and has been taking up a lot of my time. Make sure to subscribe if you haven't already.

However, I couldn't pass up this great article from Wired. The content was interesting, but the sealing deal was this quote. If you know me, you know I can't pass up an article with a quote like this without mentioning it.

"As a result, Falcon was able to begin selling its urinals to St. Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh. Those units have been in operation since 2004. So far, there have been no urinal-related deaths."

Friday, June 04, 2010


Well, my kickstarter campaign has ended. I finished with almost $3,000 raised of the $5,500 I needed. And while technically it was a failure, I learned some valuable things. If any of you are thinking of starting your own kickstarter campaign (and it can be used for more than just publishing books), here are a few lessons learned.
  • You've got a have a good pitch. I think the video I put together really helped. I was overwhelmed by how many of my friends and family donated to the project, but I was also amazed at how many total strangers donated money, just based on the video and my pitch. You can't just throw up a page that says, "Hey, I need money."
  • You have to be fearless when it comes to marketing. Network, network, network. This is where I fell short. I posted the link to Facebook a few times. I posted here, and on Twitter. Every time I did I'd see more people donate. But I didn't want to turn into one of those blogs or Twitter feeds that is just pestering people to donate. I've never been a good marketer, and this time was no exception. I should have been passing out cards, and telling everybody I knew...but I didn't.
  • Kickstarter works. I've seen a lot of projects get funded, some incredibly so. This one asked for $10,000 and got over $200,000. I'm convinced that Kickstarter and other similar sites provide a new model that decentralizes the whole grant process. And that is a good thing.

I'm glad I started the project. I heard from many people telling me they enjoyed the first chapters. It's motivated me to redouble my agent/publisher hunting and try once again to get this book published.

Thanks to all of you who supported.

Just a reminder...

I've steered more of my posts on writing to my other blog, http://marionjensen.com Make sure to update your Google reader or RSS feed. I wish there was some easy way to do a re-direct, but I haven't had the time to sit down and figure it out. Plus, I don't want to walk away from my Google page rank.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Statistics from an 8 mile run

Number of runners/walkers/bikers I saw - 51
Number of dogs I saw- 8
Number of dogs I saw making a doo doo - 2
Number of owners I saw cleaning up after their dogs - 0



Saturday, May 22, 2010

Technology overload

I just realized that we have six computers in our house. That isn't counting the Wii, my Android phone, etc., it's just the traditional computers. Here are some stats:

Laptops - 3
Desktops - 3
Windows XP - 2
Windows 7 - 2
Ubuntu - 1
Leopard - 1
Dell - 5
Mac - 1

So, my goal is to get one more computer. That way we'll have one computer per person in the family.

Now I just need to get my wife into World of Warcraft. Then family time would consist of each of us going to our separate corners, logging in, and fighting virtual monsters until the cows come home.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I ran my first 5k of the season. The picture of me to the right is not the picture of the race today. But I like the picture, and it's of me running, so I'm posting it so those of you who don't like to read can know what the post is about, without looking at all this boring text.

Anyway, I brought my iPod this morning, but alas, the battery was dead. I was forced to run without any tunes. I NEVER run without tunes, and I think it threw off my pacing.

Last year I ran a race and started off too quick. I ended up sucking air the entire race, and almost vomited at the end. My race time was horrible and I was hacking for days. I learned my lesson--you have to pace yourself.

So this morning I started off a little slow. I settled in behind a woman and then finally passed her when she started walking. There was another guy ahead of me in blue shorts, and it seemed that he and I were running about the same pace. I set the goal trying to keep up. He was about fifty feet ahead of me.

But with about half a mile to go, I realized I wasn't breathing that hard, nor was I sweating. I decided to turn up the heat a little. I'd sprint for a bit and see if I could catch up to blue shorts.

It felt fantastic. I realized I had been running at a much slower pace than I thought. I caught up to the guy very easy, although I slowed down when I passed him. I also breathed hard, so he wouldn't feel bad. Then I saw I still had time to pass yet another guy before the finish line. I passed him and finished the race with a decent time for a pudgy, middle-aged white guy. I sprinted the last half mile.

Anyway, it reminded me of the important of pacing. If you run too fast you're going to burn out too soon If you run too slow--if you don't push yourself--you're never going to improve.

So the next time you come up with some wild and crazy idea, go ahead and get excited--dream big, and then set some reachable goals and get started. Push yourself, celebrate the victories along the way, and don't forget to use Vaseline so you don't chafe.

Wait, forget that last piece of advice. I think the analogy kind of breaks down at that point.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Video Games and Publishing

Wrote a quick piece on a model used by independent video game developers that might be of value to writers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I went golfing on Saturday. I go once a year with my in-laws, and while I’m not a huge golf fan, I LOVE to play golf with the Olsens. It’s always a rip-roaring good time with them.

For readers of my blog, you have probably heard my wild and crazy ideas about collaborative composition before—the idea of a group of writers working on a single piece of writing. I've blogged about both the benefits, as well as the challenges and drawbacks.

But while playing golf I was reminded of why I think it would work so well. I’m a horrible golfer, probably the worst one in the group. I putt OK, and my short game is decent. But my driving is well past atrocious. Laughable is probably the best word because that is what everybody did each time I hit off the tee—all good natured, of course.

But we played scramble rules. Scramble means that everybody tees off and then the group goes to whoever hit the best ball and then everybody hits from there. Between the six of us, none of us was that good. But combined we were amazing. I think we hit a two or three under par, and almost had an eagle on a par five.

A couple of the brothers were good at driving, and I hit a few nice lobs onto the green. When six of us are putting, there is a good chance that somebody will hit it in, and I think there were only two holes where we didn’t one putt it.

I think writing can be the same way. If you had six writers working on a piece of fiction, you’re going to get somebody with good description, somebody with a keen eye for plot or character development, somebody pithy who will be able to tighten things up, and somebody else to make sure the voice is consistent.

If I could rewind the clock 5 years when I first signed up for a Ph. D. in instructional technology, I think I might have changed my mind. Instead of going for the Ph. D., I’d go for an MFA in creative writing. I’d love to teach, and I think collaborative composition would afford some great scaffolding for writers practicing their craft.

Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to pull it off. In the mean time, I need to go hit a bucket of balls. My goal for next year is to have TWO of my shots be the ‘best ball’.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Open Model

(Cross posted here) Writing a book is hard. Writing a good book is even harder. Writing a good book and getting published is crazy wild hard as a really hard diamond hard.

These are the steps you must follow:
  1. Learn the craft (estimated time, 10 years)
  2. Write short stories
  3. Send short stories to magazines
  4. Get short stories published
  5. Write a book (probably several month/years)
  6. Go to conferences
  7. Network
  8. Find an agent
  9. Try to convince said agent to read your stuff
  10. Repeat steps 6-9 about a million times without losing your ego, mind, or self esteem
  11. Sign with agent
  12. Wait for months/years while agent shops your book to publishers
  13. Sign with publisher

I've simplified the process, and probably left off a bunch of steps, but those are the basics.

But as I've mentioned on this blog before, thanks to technology we're seeing new models emerging. These new models aren't shortcuts to publishing; it still takes as much work as before. But the good news is if you put in the time, and master the craft, you've got alternative ways to attract attention. It is especially important to note that the new models are very much driven by merit. So if you really are a good writer, you're going to have an advantage.

One of the emerging models is the Free model. The basic idea is to give away your content, and make money in other ways. Musicians do this by giving away their music and then charging for concerts and CDs--yes, people will still buy CDs even if the music is free. Artists may do this by giving away digital images of their work, and then charging for a paper copy of their book.

But this model has never worked very well for authors. People just don't want to read in front of a computer. They want to do it in bed, or on the bus, or in their fortress of solitude.

But now we have the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, the Sony Reader, and things are swinging in our direction. Now we too can give away our content, and make money in other ways.

How does it work? I'll tell you...but in a future post. It's late and I tend to be a boring person, so I'm calling this post finished (or am I just trying to hook you in?). Give me a few days and I'll a) outline how an author can give away content and still make a living, and b) show you a handful of authors who are already doing this.

By the way, this model is a great way for an author to break into the market, but it's also very effective for established authors to boot.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Work in Progress

I’ve been involved in an interesting writing experiment recently. Let me asplain.

Sometimes it’s helpful to describe your book using similar titles. So you might say, “This book is Gone With the Wind meets Harry Potter.” Sounds like a winner, right?

Well, if I had to explain my latest work in progress it would be 12 Angry Men meets World War Z. If you haven’t seen the movie 12 Angry Men before, then you need to stop reading this post right now. Well, not right now, because then you won’t know what to do. Here is what you should do. Go to Netflix, sign up for Netflix, rent 12 Angry Men, wait by your mailbox until it arrives, and then watch it. It’s such a great movie I’ll have to devote an entire post to it sometime.

World War Z is also a good book. It’s a book about a zombie apocalypse, and while my book doesn't have any zombies, it does have a similar way of telling the story. In World War Z instead of a protagonist or a rowdy but lovable group of sidekicks who stick together and sooner or later come in possession of an axe (there are ALWAYS axes in zombie books), the book reads like an NPR radio program. It is a series of interviews with people who survived the event. Each one tells their story, and by the end you undertand what happened holistically, not just to a group of people. It’s a very interesting way to tell a story.

So going back to my writing experiment, the general plot is a catastrophic event has occurred and anything electrical has been fried. Cars, computer, TVs—none of it works anymore. There is no way to ship goods, no way to communicate with other people, and society begins to fall apart. But before that happens, a group of 800 people leave Utah in an old fashioned wagon train, headed east.

However, I'm not telling the story in the usual way; I’m presenting it as a transcript of a court trial. The trial happens after the wagon train arrives at their destination. One member of the train committed a grievous crime against another, and as witnesses are called to testify, the story unfolds to the reader. The events of the trek are built through the testimony of the various members of the wagon train.

I call it an experiment because I don’t know if it will work. Since it’s a court transcript, the entire 17,000 words so far are 100% dialogue. There is not ‘he said’, or ‘she gazed out over the prairie’ anywhere in the book. This brings up an interesting dilema with regards to "show don't tell".

Show don't tell is something most authors are familiar with. Usually telling is bad and showing is good. This is an example of telling:

“You’re an idiot,” he said, angrily.

I’m telling you that the character is angry, but it’s not a good way to write. Sure, you know he’s mad, but there is a better way. Perhaps something like this:

John gripped the back of the chair until his fingernails dug into the hard wood. He could feel the blood rushing to his face.

“You’re an idiot,” he said.

It’s much better to show. However, what do you do when all you have to work with is dialogue, I can’t do either method! I can’t even say that somebody is mad, I have to show emotion simply through the dialogue itself.

I don't know if I can pull it off, but if nothing else it's been very good practice. I've been forced to really try to inject emtion into dialogue.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


After the Storymakers conference, I couldn't help but start thinking again about all of the changes taking place in the world of technology, how directly those changes relate to us in the publishing world, and how often we as authors are completely oblivious to these changes.

So, what to do? Why...start a blog, of course. Here at Chicken Armpits I talk about anything and everything. My kids, my school, my books, my rash, my...wait, I don't think I've mentioned my rash before. Just forget about that. It's nothing...really.

So, I'm starting a blog where I'll only talk about technology and how it directly relates to the publishing industry, particularly authors. So...if you are a fellow author, or you're interested in that topic, please feel free to follow me over at marionjensen.com

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Manifesto of Sorts

I attended the Whitney Awards last night. It was a fantastic event, and a good time was had by all involved.

During the course of the evening, Dan Wells introduced David Farland, an author who received a lifetime achievement awards from the Whitney Committee.

Dan explained that when he was younger, he wanted to be an author. He described that by the time he reached college the public school system had all but beaten that dream out of him. But Dan was lucky enough to take a class from David Farland, and the first thing Dave told his class was, "You can make a living at this."

Dan's experience mirrors mine--almost.

I too wanted to be a writer ever since I was young. I dreamed of the stories I would create; I used to pull out my parents' typewriter and plink out stories on scrap pieces of paper. In fact, the first chapter of Chickens in the Headlights was based on a short story I wrote in high school.

The public school system didn't encourage me either, but when I got to college I still wanted to be an author. Like Dan, I took a writing class in college. But that is where our stories separate.

You see, I too had an old and wise (or so I thought at the time) professor who dropped a little nugget of wisdom on his class. But where David Farland's nugget was pure gold, the nugget I received was more along the lines of a turd. He told our class, "You can't make a living by becoming an author. It just doesn't happen. However, we have a wonderful technical writing program, and you all should enroll."

And so I dropped out. I floundered for years trying to pick another major, trying to find something I was interested about. I finally graduated simply because I had the credit, not because I had passion for any one topic. I stayed in school and got a masters degree because I didn't know what to do.

I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I had somehow met David Farland instead of that professor at USU. Would I be making a living at writing? Would I have had a book nominated for a Whitney Award last night?

But this post isn't meant to make an excuse, or sound like sour grapes. I don't mean to whine 'if only'. Because you see, yesterday I met Dave. Over the past few years I've come to realize good writing isn't a gift, it's something you earn. It's something you practice, not for weeks or month, but for a decade at least. I'm not there...yet.

But now I know the secret. I can't help the fact that I've started two decades late, but I have started. It may be another 10 years while I master the craft, but that doesn't matter. I'm going to keep at it. I'm going to keep writing. And by golly, someday I'm going to get another book published.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Not meant to be a spoonerism

I love it when a character's voice takes over and he says something that surprises you. The scene I was working on has a superhero confronting a citizen in a supermarket. The exchange made me smile. From Chapter 19:

“Can I help you?” Benny’s dad asked. Benny had noticed that whenever his dad wore his super suit, his voice changed just a little. He spoke in a booming, authoritative way. “Up to no good, are we?”

“Uh…” said the man. “No sir. I’m just buying some fruit—a kiwi.” He held up the small brown and green fruit in an effort to prove his point.

“That’s a pomegranate,” said his father. “And everybody knows pomegranates are vegetables.”

Benny couldn’t help but chime in on the conversation. “Actually Dad,” he said, “I think it is a kiwi.” Benny had learned long ago that since his family only ate a few types of food, they weren’t too well versed on fruits and vegetables.

His father ignored Benny. “It might be a kiwi,” he said to the man. "Or it might not be. That little fact is up in the air at the moment. But either way, you don't fool me. I think you’re up to something. You look a little shady to me.”

“I’m not shady,” said the man nervously. “Really. I’m very…unshady.”

Rafter’s father walked around the man, looking him up and down. “Look at those clothes—a bit on the dingy side. And that beard? Very scruffy. And what about that hat? That’s a shifty hat if I ever saw one.”

“My mother knitted me this hat,” the man said defensively. “For my birthday.”

Benny’s father squinted his eyes and glared at the man. “Your mother is a shifty knitter.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Contest

So I've been bombarding everybody with my Almost Super book, but this post is a welcome reprieve. I'm holding a contest, but for something completely different. It's about a writers conference at which I'm presenting this June.

The Teen Writers Conference is in it's second year, and last year was a hoot. The conference is for anybody age 13-19. You can read more about it here.

If you are a teen, or know a teen, who loves to write this is a great place to learn, network, and drink from drinking fountains.

If you would like to be entered, or enter somebody else, simply e-mail me at marionjensen at gmail dot com. I'll announce the winner in a few weeks.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'm so far out of my comfort zone it's not even funny...

Hi there. My name is Marion. And I can't self-promote.

I just can't do it. At my book signings people would come over to my table and I'd find myself saying, "Actually, this book is in the library, you can just check it out. That way you know if you like it before you buy it."

I have a hard time telling people that they should read my book. I feel like an Amway salesman. I get all awkward every time my book is discussed. People get tired of me, I'm sure, because when I ever bring up my book I add all these qualifiers to it. "Yeah, it's a book based loosely on my childhood. You might like it, but you might not, too. And that's ok. I mean, I don't want you to feel any pressure just because we know each other doesn't mean you are obligated to read it. At all. I promise. In fact, it's probably better that you don't read it just because then things will be awkward. But if you do want to read it, I can borrow you a copy, so you don't have to buy it, because you might not like it. But then you might feel more obligated to read it, or worried that I'm going to test you on it, which I won't. Really, I promise. I mean if you really want to read it, you can, but I will never ask you in the future if you've read it, or give you a test. If it makes you more comfortable, you can just take it for a while, bend a few pages, get it a little dirty like you have read it, and then...I'll just stop talking now. How about this weather we're having, crazy, right?"

I usually can say that in about 8 seconds without taking a breath, and all the while I'm making calming motions with my hands, just to show you that I'm not crazy.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. I'm asking for your help.

You see, I've had 44 people pledge money on Kickstarter.com to buy my book. Over 150 copies have been bought. That is a lot of pressure. But if I don't reach the goal ($5,500--the cost of a print run), then the money isn't funded, and nobody gets books. And now I really want those 44 people to get their books, in spite of how awkward it will be for me when I see them in the future.

So, I've heard that book contests are all the rage. I'm all about rage, just ask my kids. So here is the deal. If you post the gadget shown below anywhere on your blog (it can be in a post, or in the sidebar) and send me a link to it, I will enter your name in a drawing to receive a free signed copy. I'll give away 10 of these babies, so your chances of getting it are good (I've only got 17 followers (although you don't have to be a follower to share the link), and there is a good chance some of them won't be able to figure out how to get the Widget to work on their site (I'm certainly not talking about you)). I'll also personalize the book if you want. In fact, I can even pre-bend the pages so that if we meet at your house in the future, and I pull the book off the shelf, you can just pretend you read it (I won't quiz you).

Sound like a plan? You can get the widget on this page. It's the link that says "grab the widget". Also, if you tweet or post the link to facebook, let me know and I'll enter your name a second time.

Thanks, all. I couldn't do it without your help. We're more than 25% of the way there, so I think we can do this thing.

The Widget

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Growing up I was incredibly shy. As an adult I've become much more social. Sometimes I suspect that it's because I spent so long hiding in a shell that now I enjoy being with other people. Heck, I drive up to Logan twice a month, just so I can hang out with the coolest board game group ever. I like socializing.

So why am I trying so hard to become a full time writer? Writing is a very solitary experience. You lock yourself in an attic for 6 months and bang out a manuscript. Sure, if you become successful then you get to meet a lot of people--fans, agents, publishers, critics--but even then, you have to return to that attic and spend 6-8 months every year in solitary confinement, banging out yet another script before your publisher lets you out into the fresh air so you can interact with people again.

For me, the best part of writing is that I get to meet and hang out with other writers; all of whom are interesting. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being not very interesting, and 10 being very interesting, writers usually land at about 85. Honestly, they are all crazy, but the incredibly interesting crazy, not the grow a beard and mutter crazy (well, Rob Wells is both kinds of crazy).

For me, I write because I love to hear from people who have read what I wrote. I love the feedback. And I love talking about writing, not just doing it. For me, I would almost pay money to sit in other people's outline sessions as they hammer out characters, plot, and setting. It's why I was so into role-playing games when I was young. Well, that, and the simple fact that I was a nerd.

Because of this, I've often thought that writing a book with somebody else would be the epitome of awesomeness. You would have the strengths of two authors behind a single book. One might be great at world building, another good at dialogue. Both would be able to give feedback and keep the manuscript out of the potholes that many writers fall into. With two authors working on a single manuscript, you may end up where the sum is greater than the two parts.

So why don't we see more books by teams of authors? Do most authors like being locked in the attic alone?

It's because finding a writing partner is more difficult than finding a spouse. Think about it. First, your writing skills have to be on the same level; otherwise one of you becomes dead weight. Second, you have to have an interest in not only the same genre, but the same idea. Believe me, if you're going to write for 6 months, it better be something you're passionate about. I think about my books when I eat, when I shower, when I'm going to sleep, when I sleep, and yes, I even think about my books when I'm talking to you. I keep nodding and smiling at you, but that is only because I just came up with an incredible idea, and I can't wait to get home and start writing. Third, you have to get along better than you do with your spouse, because writing is chock full of difficult decisions. I know couples who get into fights over what kind of faucets to put in their new house. What happens when you're making life-changing decisions about your protagonist?

So even though the payout would be so grand (really, wouldn't you like to see what kind of crazy would come out of a joint effort from the Brothers Wells?), I think the obstacles of forging a really good writing partnership are unfortunately almost insurmountable. How can you ask somebody to write with you unless you've first gone on writing dates? Gotten to meet their writing parents? Had that first awkward yet blissful experience of collaborative composition with that special someone?

And so we writers go, back into our attics. We bang on the keyboard until we're lonely and crying. We peek out the tiny window, hoping to interact with somebody, anybody, other than our bunny slippers who have now both developed full-fledged personalities with psychotic tendencies.

And we look forward to the day we finish the manuscript, and can once again return to the land of the living.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Almost Super

I put together a short little trailer for my upcoming book, Almost Super. I've also started a kickstarter campaign.

What is a kickstarter campaign? I'm glad you asked; it's kind of a cool concept. If you have an idea or a product but you don't quite have the funding, you can post it on Kickstarter.com If people like your idea, they make a donation. Often there are rewards for certain levels of donation. If enough money is donated, then the idea is funded.

In my case, I'm raising money to publish a small print-run of Almost Super, and offering signed and numbered copies of the book as a reward.

Why not go the traditional route to publishing? Well, I am. But that route is a long one. My first book came out 16 months after I signed my contract. Almost Super is done, and I'm far to impatient. I want people to read it already! I'm hoping to find an agent and publisher for this book, but in the meantime you can get a copy much earlier by going to the kickstarter site. And if this book ever makes the big time, you'll have a true first edition copy.

Interested in what the book is about? Or would you like to read the first chapter? If so, head on over to AlmostSuper.org.

If you're not interested, then you should at least check this out. Because it's awesome.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sanpete County

A few months ago somebody wrote a comment asking if I wanted to come to Sanpete county and speak to a few elementary schools. I haven't done school visits in a while, and they are always so fun. so I said yes. I'm glad I did.

I love small towns. I grew up in one, and currently live in a big city. It was refreshing to drive until all you can see is lots and lots of earth. No buildings, no cement, no asphalt; just earth.

Actually, I saw more snow than earth, but I used my imagination.

Anyway, the school visits went great. Nobody booed, and I didn't get rocks thrown at me like last time, so I'm counting it a success. I met many people who had read my books, and many more who seemed genuinely excited about discovering them for the first time.

Best of all I got to meet Kate Palmer, and found out that she is a fellow writer. We listen to the same podcasts, know the same people, and it was fun to talk with her as we drove from school to school.

I was filmed for the local television channel, so if one of your hobbies is seeing a grown man stare awkwardly at the camera, boy have I made your wildest dreams come true. Luckily you have to live in Sanpete County to see me, so most of you (thankfully) are out of luck.

Best of all was I premiered my new book trailer--the one for Almost Super--and the kids seemed to like it. I'm hoping to have it posted here by the end of the weekend, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Great Video

I had to post about this video. If you haven't seen it yet, you're in for a treat. It's a public service announcement like none you've ever seen. Check it out.

I can't help but analyze what makes this video so effective. It starts out with a father driving an imaginary car. A wife and child sit nearby on the couch, and it's clear that everybody is having a grand time. They are safe at home; all is right with the world.

Then something breaks up this peaceful scene. The father is still driving but it's clear that something is not right. I love the look on the father's face. It isn't one of exaggerated horror. He simply casts his eyes down. Despair. Resignation. It's as if he is saying, "all is lost".

Then we switch to the mother and child on the couch. There is no discussion. There is no moment to pause and reflect, not even so much as a glance between the two. Father is in danger, and so they leap. Their response is complete and resolute.

It is not an accident that the child wears wings. She is both her father's Little Angel, and now his guardian angel.

The girl reaches around and hugs her father's waist. Every day when I return home from work, my six-year-old, who can't reach any higher, hugs me in exactly the same way.

The wife's hugs is more tender, almost intimate. And it comes just in time.

The director could have filmed the next part in a number of ways, but the method he chooses is powerful. The entire scene has been shot in slow motion, but the impact of this imaginary car occurs with shocking rapidity.

Something on the table gives us the impression of broken glass, and the man is almost folded in half from the violent impact. Anybody who has been in a wreck knows this is exactly how it happens. The power at which you are hit is beyond description.

And then it is over. Mother and child still hug the father. He in turn touches both of them as if to convince himself that they are still there; that he is still there.

The ad finishes with a simple message. No stats. No further convincing. Just a message.

Embrace Life.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mind Your Business

People are tweeting and blogging about the latest spat between Amazon.com and Macmillan Books. What exactly is going on? Apparently Amazon has pulled all of Macmillan books from their store over a price dispute. But this is just the result of a much deeper problem. What it really comes down to is the fact that one of these companies doesn't know what business they're in.

A hundred and fifty years ago people didn't buy candles so they could be candle owners. And they didn't buy ice from the ice truck because they wanted frozen water. Consumers wanted light, and consumers wanted cold food, and candle making companies and ice delivery services that didn't understand this fact disappeared when the light bulb and the refrigerator came along.

So what business is Macmillan in? That's an easy question to answer. Macmillan is in the business of printing, distributing, and selling hard copies of books. Macmillan doesn't want Amazon to release their ebooks until the hard copy version has been out for seven months. Printed books are their business. It's the one they have become comfortable with, and it's the one to which they are currently clinging, hoping that the life they now understand will still be here tomorrow.

The problem lies in the fact that readers don't buy books to own wood pulp and ink.

They buy books because they want stories.

Amazon is in the business of connections. They connect people who have stories with people who want stories. They allow almost anybody with a book to put it in their store. But they don't stop there. They also make it so that you can download books from Project Gutenberg. They know that good stories aren't just the new releases, but the classics as well. It's not about selling enough hardback copies to cover the bottom line, it's about providing a rip-roaring good story to somebody who needs the escape.

Amazon isn't perfect, but they do know their business. Publishers who figure it out have a good chance of staying in business.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Anybody can review familiar products like the Kindle, beef, or gravity. But I like to review products you may not have heard about. I should mention that I am NOT receiving any compensation for this review, and I've paid full price for the product.

I first heard about FitBit in November of 2008. I ordered two of these units right off the bat, thinking I'd give them to myself and my wife for Christmas. In the order confirmation, the company said, "we cannot guarantee Christmas delivery".

Well, they did in fact miss Christmas, but I didn't care. I decided to just give it to my wife for Valentine’s day.

They missed that holiday as well.

They missed Mother's day, our anniversary, Pioneer Day. Halloween, and Speak Like a Pirate day.

But I still didn't mind; rather than deliver a bad product on time, the company has delivered a great product late.

What the FitBit does is track your steps. They use the same technology as the motions sensors in your Wiimote, for about a 97 percent accuracy.

This is all well and good, but you're saying, 'what is the big deal about tracking steps? Well, I'll tell you, because that is what you do in a review.

What makes this device worth it's $99 sales price is its syncing capabilities. Every time I get within 15 or so feet of my computer, my device logs my steps to the FitBit website. By buying this device, I have access to the website for life--no monthly fees.

I can go to FitBit.com from any computer and see how many steps I've taken, how many calories I've burned, how much time I've spent sedentary and active, and more. In addition to my data, I can invite other people to be my friend. Once they are my friend, I can see their steps taken.

Everybody knows the mathematical formula 2p+(n>1)=F. This formulat states that if you have 2 people, and more than one number, then you have a fight. Or in sissy terms, a competition. (This forumula is related to 2c+1d=r (two cars going to the same destination means a race)).

I can have little mini-competitions with my friends to see who is a healthy, productive member of society, and who is a lazy, good-for-nothing leech. Ok, the site uses nicer terminology that thave, but you get the picture. It's always fun to compete against random people on the internet, right?

The reason I love FitBit so much is because I'm a numbers guy. This device gives me loads of data to track. And just about any time you track data, it affects your behavior.

For example, I've set a goal of hitting 9,000 steps every day. If I'm sitting on the couch at 10:30 PM, and I notice I've only hit 8,500, I hop up and wander around the living room for a while. For me, because I see the data, it makes me want to manipulate the data. Sure, those 500 steps probably only takes care of half a bite of the deep-fried
twinkie I was eating, but the point is that it's 500 steps I wouldn't have taken. I've gone on more random pointless walks in the past week than I have all last month.

The FitBit is ridiculously easy to use. Once a week you have to put it in the docking station overnight to recharge it, but other than that there is no maintenance.

If you've been meaning to get into shape, and you like data, and you have a spare $99, you really should consider the FitBit.

And if you get one, invite me to become your friend. I'm looking for fresh meat. I'll see you on the leader boards.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Kickstarter Fund

I just posted my new year resolutions, and now I'm off doing entirely different things. Why didn't I post that one of my goals was to raise ten thousand dollars for an educational website? Then I could post this, and pat myself on the back. Instead, I'm posting this and wondering if I'm losing my mind.

But this project is too cool to not try to get off the ground. You can visit the kickStarter page by clicking on the image below. The goal of the fundraising is to create a site that will make it easy for schools and organizations to create their own TwHistory project. As Josi Kilpack, Annette Lyon, Carole Warburton, and others can attest, right now it's a bit tricky to make everything work.

So click through and check us out!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Goals for 2010

Ok, usually I'm not one to make resolutions around New Year's Day. I usually just make fun of them because...well, because I'm a stinker.

It's not that I don't set goals, it's just that I do them as I think of them, not at the beginning of the year. But after reading Josi's post, I figure what the heck. I know that none of you are that interested in my goals for 2010, but I figure if I post them here, I might be motivated to actually accomplish them. If I don't accomplish them, you have my complete and full permission to mock me mercilessly come 2011.

  • Run a 5k, a 10k, and a half marathon
  • Start a business, and get at least 10 customers
  • Either find an agent, a publisher, or collect 100 rejection letters
  • Complete my last two practicums, and finish my comps
  • Tweet two historical events
  • Make a complete fool of myself while I MC at the LDStorymakers
I believe in setting at least one goal that I know I'm going to nail, which is why I included the last one.

Yeast: How I Loathe Thee

I hate yeast. I hate bread. I don't mean I don't like to eat it. I love to eat it. Fresh out of the oven, nutty whole wheat, flaky and crispy. I love it all.

And while I pride myself on being a pretty fantastic cook (I cook 90 percent of our meals when I'm home), I have never been able to make bread. I can't do it.

I'm a follow-the-recipe kind of guy. I don't vary from the recipe. I don't mess with how much corn starch, flour, sugar, etc. Somebody did a lot of scientific research writing that recipe, and I'm not about to substitute white flour with whole wheat flour willy-nilly.

So yesterday I found idiot-proof bread recipe. You don't even have to knead it, for crying out loud. There are only three ingredients, but one of them was yeast--my arch nemesis.

It's a new year, I told myself. I'm a grown man, I told myself. I can do this.

Well, apparently, no I can't.

The first problem came when the recipe said the dough would be shaggy. What in tarnation does that even mean? I know Shaggy from Scooby Doo, but that didn't seem to apply. And shaggy means hairy, but my dough (thankfully) didn't sprout hair. What it did do was look exactly like an albino cow pie, and about the same consistency.

The dough is supposed to raise for 12-18 hours; the longer the better, the article said. So I dutifully waited 18 hours. The dough is supposed to have bubbles, the article said. And it did! Maybe I had finally found the one kind of bread I could make.

What piled out of the bowl was soupy, runny, and still sticky. The jury was out whether or not the dough was shaggy, because the jury didn't know what shaggy meant either. I had followed the recipe to a T, but the dough was still a horrible mess.

I pressed on. I dusted with flour, I covered with plastic, I folded and tried raising it. Two hours later my pile of dough still looked like a cow pie. The article says, "dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger". Mine didn't double at all, and just sticks to your finger. It looks exactly like something that grows in size and takes over the town in one of those movies they used to show late at night, or on Saturday afternoon on the UHF channels back in the 80s. The dough sits there, like a sleeping sentient being. Like a bloated pimple on a whale. It's cooking right now, and it smells delicious, but I know that when it comes out of the oven it's going to be a flat, hard, tasteless pile of crud.

Because that is how all my bread turns out.

I'm going back to cooking bacon. I have a few new recipes to try.