Focus on Poetry: “The Elk”

The icy, cold gray post-holiday winter season can be made so much more warm and beautiful with a cozy blanket and a powerful, gracefully written poem. To that end, I bring you “The Elk”, a brand new, original poem by my husband David Davis, who goes by Harley Davis. It’s a fine example of using alliteration and lilting rhythm to conjure up a serene, wild setting and a frozen, magical moment in time. I love how the final stanza brings the reader into the ‘now’, almost making one wonder, did it really happen or was it a dream?


Bugling elk in Yellowstone

“The Elk” by Harley Davis

The breaking of crusting snow
and the chill of rushing wind
the clatter of brittle leaves below
I pulled my wrap tighter in.

The frozen moisture of my deep breath
obscures my stealth uneasy walk
it forms a veil upon my chest –
like a winter scarf where warmth is not.

I steal around the weathered wood
too close as a snag takes my arm
now gray from days it has long withstood
in the woods near my grandfather’s farm.

The snag gives a snap and me a start
and a jabbing finger is the thump in my chest
adding threat upon threat to my now racing heart
and angst in this challenging quest.

Yet I find the majestic creature there
and my deep breath is held within
while a snort from the beast parted the air
as a loud unpleasant din.

He raised his massive head my way
I raised my lens to meet his glance
and shuttered to think would spook him away
and lose my stealthy wooded chance

to capture the beast and there mount him
on the wall in the hall of my home
but I shifted my weight on a weathered limb
and at once stood in the deep woods alone.

He sprang into life and targeted me
as the clattering shutter fired on
the view in my finder of him running free
as my words condensed on the air, “he’s gone”

I put two fingers between my teeth
and placed my tongue the way I was taught
the shrill whistle arose beneath
and stopped the beast where he did not

advance deeper into the thicketed wood
and spoil my last and rarest and best
I took aim again and frozen stood
brought the lens slowly down on his chest

and fired the trigger that shattered the air
with shutter-clatter that day in the wood
when I stole the creature’s majestic heir
the image is silent but the memory was good.

That memory now hangs in the hall on the wall
of my cabin near the home of my kin
the beast still reigns and bugles his call
inviting me to come back again.


When Your Work Gets Stolen


I have been following the plagiarism case that has turned author Rachel Ann Nunes’ life upside down. In a most angering and frustrating set of developments, a third grade schoolteacher, Tiffanie Rushton, stole a book of Rachel’s, copy and pasted it, changed the names and a couple words in each paragraph, added porn, and self-published it. At least one other plagiarism incident of Rushton’s is known wherein she stole the true and painfully written essay of an injured soldier and put it in an erotica book, horrifically upsetting the soldier and his family. She then used the names of several of her own students to create sock puppets to cyberbully Rachel Ann Nunes and others who supported her.

Rachel is fighting this case in the courts, but it is costing her her life savings, which she expects to never recover. She is doing it to stand up for all of us authors who could become victims of such a crime. But here’s what you may not know and WE ALL NEED TO KNOW. Many of us believe that, as long as we own a copyright and it’s registered with the Library of Congress, we’re all set. We could easily win any case of plagiarism against us. While that is true, in most cases, that justice would not come without a very heavy price, monetarily and, as a result, mentally. Rachel explains it succinctly, from her own personal experience, here. 

Please learn about her case if you haven’t, and consider donating WHATEVER YOU CAN to this very important cause. Taking a stand for Rachel is taking a stand for all writers.


“The Rule of Thoughts” Book Launch With James Dashner


The Rule of Thoughts, sequel to The Eye of Minds by James Dashner, launched on August 26, and the author chose to spend his launch day at OUR Barnes & Noble. I have a son who loves his books and was so excited to see him in person, and Dashner did not disappoint. He spoke to the full house audience about the major motion picture The Maze Runner opening September 19, which is based on his New York Times bestselling book. It’s highly unusual for an author to be pleased with a movie adaptation of his book. According to Dashner’s agent, the best he can hope for is that the author “won’t hate it”. But Dashner’s overwhelming excitement and endorsement for The Maze Runner movie came through so loud and clear that we can’t wait for it. He spoke of his involvement with the project from consulting on the script to visiting the set to being present for the recording of the soundtrack. He is pleased with how well the movie sticks to the book, while also being impressed with how some parts of the book had to be made more visual for a movie audience.

Question-and-answer time followed, which spurred him to talk a lot about the writing process. He nailed it when he said we writers are “insane in the brain”. For me, it was intense fun to hear him say all the same things I feel as a writer: that we develop our characters based on parts of every person we see and meet, every conversation we hear, every mannerism we notice in others; that we can sit in front of the keyboard for an hour trying to come up with the next words, then put our fingers on the keyboard and suddenly something just pours out that was totally unplanned but spectacular; that we love all of our characters, even the bad ones, and we feel all the emotions our characters feel. He even said that he visualizes his books as movies as he’s writing them and so writes in a cinematic way, just as I do. Writing can be a very lonely endeavor, so to hear that James Dashner experiences all the same things I do created such a unifying, feel-good moment for me.

Check out his latest book, The Rule of Thoughts.


Suspend Their Disbelief

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

Back in the mid-‘90s, I really enjoyed The Bridges of Madison County, a bestselling book at the time that resulted in a good movie as well. What’s surprising is that everything about it was stuff I normally wouldn’t like. It was a romance, and those are always cheesy to me because it’s always women authors writing about how they would like romance to be, not how it is. Interestingly, this one was written by a man, Robert James Waller. It concerned adultery, a detestable subject. And the premise was completely unrealistic—the idea that a couple could meet and only spend four days together and never see or hear of each other again and it would have such a profound effect on them every day for the rest of their lives. The fact that Waller could, in spite of those three elements, suspend my disbelief and make me like it and even remember it twenty years later, THAT’S writing. And that’s the standard to which we should rise in our own writing. If your goal is to become a bestselling author, you must strive to suspend the disbelief of not only your target audience, or your “ideal reader”, but also those who don’t think they would like your book to begin with. Sure, it’s a challenge, but if you’re like me, it’s a challenge that totally excites you. Happy writing!

The Difference Five Minutes Can Make

Book and candle

It’s quite an enviable accomplishment to write a book, right? I mean, for all the millions of people who say they could write a book, or who intend to write a book, very few actually carry out the thing to its end. So those few who do complete such a noble task must care a lot about the quality of their work…you would think.

I recently used the Look Inside feature on Amazon to check out someone’s first book, a self-published work, which they had proudly announced. The punctuation in the dialogue was all wrong, blatant errors, all the way through the pages displayed. What so bothered me about that was, how easy would it have been to pick up a book within arm’s reach (we all have one that close, or almost I hope) and just flip through the pages to see how dialogue is punctuated in professionally made books? Five minutes–that’s all it would have taken, if that. We’re not talking about researching Middle Ages battle strategy in Russia here. And if the author was writing about such, I might question the validity of their claims based on the care she did not take in learning about punctuation, or having it checked by someone.

Further, if this author has a desire to attract attention of a professional nature, she may have just killed it, and that’s too bad. Your book is your baby. You can afford five minutes–most would argue far more than that–to make sure you get the basics right. Honestly, it’s that easy.


“Grammar Wings” Writing Camp


When I was asked to present at the Grammar Wings writing camp, one of several Brigham Young University-sponsored writing camps for teens this summer, the dedication and passion of young people, some from out of state, who would spend a portion of their summer vacation voluntarily learning about grammar and creative writing surprised and elated me. Count me in!

On the last day of their camp on Friday, June 13th, I spent an hour talking with them about rough drafting versus revisions, changing passive to active voice, and how to do speech tags that keep the author invisible to the reader, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in a story. Part of my task was to bring a little of the writing, editing, and publishing world into the classroom as there were several in the group who aim to publish their work. What a privilege to address this bright bunch as a guest author.

Thanks to Chris Thompson, Sadie Rawlinson, and BYU Conferences & Workshops for granting me this opportunity to talk with these up-and-coming authors. And if you know a teen author, check out the BYU writing camps. Several are held each year.

What Every Editor Wants to Tell You


Be forewarned—I’m on one today. But I bet anyone who works with Joe Q. Public will silently nod in agreement at this. I get lots of queries on a daily basis about editing. I answer every one as briefly and quickly as possible because, as they say, time is money. 🙂 That’s what they say anyway. So I thought maybe I could answer some queries ahead of time with this post.

And now, for your reading enjoyment, here are my pet peeves:
1) Authors who don’t read my Eagle Eye page and ask for services I said I didn’t provide.
2) Students who ask me to do their assignment for them (refer to #1). Stop wasting Daddy’s money and get yourself educated so in the future you don’t have to deal with…people like yourself.
3) Students (and some business people) who had the assignment for weeks but waited too long and expect me to put them ahead of others in the queue and edit their project in the next six hours. (Refer to #2 part B).

And if you’ve read this far, rest assured, I love you all!

Where Do I Start My Story?

Old library chair

Recently I watched the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” again with my son. It’s based on the true rags-to-riches story of entrepreneur Chris Gardner. I had remembered the story as nothing but inspirational, but on a repeat viewing, I was starkly reminded that it’s quite depressing…until the very end. But the end is spectacular enough to make watching two hours of his misery VERY worthwhile. In fact, it’s the unabashed portrayal of his year of tribulation that makes the ending as satisfying as it is. My son made the comment, “I’m glad they ended it where they did, right when his troubles ended and he got the great job” the one that set him on the path to multi-millionaire status. I had to agree. It was best to stop right when he reached his goal (to give the viewers hope that things like that could happen for them) rather than go beyond into that wealthy sphere that would’ve disconnected Chris Gardner from the lives of most viewers. The viewer didn’t want a fantasy; they wanted to see something that would inspire them to seek their own goals and the ability to achieve them.

And that put me in mind of an important concept in story writing. Where you begin and end your story is every bit as important as the story itself. Look at your main characters’ lives with all their “big moments”. By sliding your timeline even slightly forward or backward, you can significantly change the feel of your story. What message do you want to get across with your story? Where in your characters’ lives are their greatest trials and triumphs? Where does their story really begin? And, as tempting as it is to keep a good thing going, know where you need to stop, so that your readers are left with satisfaction and great memories of a well-told story.

Write With Feeling!

Book and candle

Fact: Writers are feeling people. We’re the HSPs of society, the Highly Sensitive People. We feel emotions strongly and must express them. But sadly, for some writers, something gets lost between the brain and the keyboard. All those great thoughts get diluted so that the resulting words become empty and devoid of feeling. And that usually translates to boring.

I don’t get a huge kick out of reading horror, but when I recently edited a client’s book, I was completely unmoved by his bland wording, (“blood gushed out” about every three lines) such that I forgot I was even reading horror. In short, I was not appalled. And I should’ve been.

If you want to gross people out with your writing, write directions to the nearest landfill. But if you want to horrify and frighten people to their innermost core, you need to do more than colorfully describe what a situation looks like. You need to drill into their soul with words loaded with feeling. Same with romance (well, minus the fright), or any other genre.

I defer to a film for a prime example. In 1954’s Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window, the suspense is thick enough to cut with a knife. The finale is bone-chilling tense; the film is burned into my memory. But not a drop of blood is ever seen throughout the story.

Your writing should not be a laundry list of sentences strung together; it should grab readers by the gut and touch the deepest parts of their soul. The best way to improve this skill is to learn from the masters. As a writer, you have surely been greatly affected by some powerful stories. Reread them and note the subtle tools the author used to patch into your mind and heart.

“Saving Mr. Banks”–the Genesis of the Disney Movie

Clapboard & cinema reelMary Poppins, the beloved Disney movie of 1964, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and won numerous other awards, has been known for decades. What hasn’t been as well-known, until now, is the story behind the story. In Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson is brilliant as P.L. Travers, the contankerous creator of Mary and a real test of patience. How Disney and his people were able to work with her to bring her book to the screen is a testimony to how dedicated they were to this endearing children’s story.

The flashbacks of Pamela Travers’ childhood with her sick father in Australia greatly inform the 1961 storyline of the development of the screenplay for a film Travers really didn’t want to see made. We’re glad she did finally allow it to be made since the film allowed many legions of families to be introduced to her characters.

Sadly, Travers never allowed any more of her Poppins books to be adapted, and thankfully, Saving Mr. Banks doesn’t delve into that aspect and leaves us on a much more happier note, just like Mary Poppins herself would have done.