The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum
Friday, June 12, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
My first paying job was at the public library as a Page shelving books for a four-hour shift and as a result I have a soft spot in my heart for libraries of all kinds. So perhaps it wasn’t surprising how much I ended up loving the Tremonton City Library who hosted me for an evening for a book signing last week.
The building was small, and had beautiful vaulted ceilings, wide open windows, and hand-painted murals in the children’s corner. It was cozy and homey and felt welcoming the minute I stepped inside. The friendly librarians had set aside a conference room right up front for us (Tracy came with me not only to keep me company but also to be my official cashier since I had a stack of books to sell).
The book signing started out with a bang with a handful of people showing up right at 5:00 to buy books, including a trio of girls—Angela, Dahla, and Bethany. (Read Bethany's review of "The Hourglass Door" here) The girls sat down and visited with me and Tracy for the better part of an hour, and honestly, it was so much fun. Two of the girls were writers and regaled us with plot summaries of the stories they were working on and asked questions about how to write and how to get published. (And would I included them as characters in book 2?) Tracy and I had such a good time visiting with the “Tremonton Three” that I was surprised when I looked up and saw that my time in Tremonton was almost up. I personalized the girls’ books and gave them all hugs.
Even though I was tired from working all day and the long drive north to Tremonton, visiting with those girls reenergized me and reminded me how easy is it to connect with someone through a book. I write a story; the girls in Tremonton read it; and then, when we meet, it’s like we already know each other. So to the Tremonton Three I say, “Rock on, girls! I’ll see if there is a spot for you in book two.”
Saturday, May 16, 2009
5-16-09: The Door Opens, Tyra Banks, and Aspiring Writers
Where to begin? It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write up a blog post and a lot has happened in the last couple of weeks.
Media Blitz: Okay, so I don’t know if it qualifies as an actual media blitz, but with the official release of my book this week, I have had the chance to be interviewed by the Deseret News and by Doug Wright for his KSL radio show, and my book had a full-page ad in the Deseret Book summer catalog. Plus I’ve had some nice reviews at Amazon.com, DeseretBook.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and GoodReads.com. Not to mention that I had a launch party for my book, had my first official book signing, and my first school visit (more on those later), and yeah, maybe it does qualify as a blitz. I know I certainly feel a little overwhelmed at the moment.
When the Deseret News called to interview me earlier this month, they also requested a photograph of me to run with the article and book review. And so I had the chance to play dress-up one day, get my hair and makeup done by a professional stylist, and channel my inner Tyra Banks (fierce, but smiling with my eyes) in an honest-to-goodness photo shoot. I was a little nervous, but Butch Adams (the photographer) was really nice and gave me some good direction. It helped that Tracy was able to meet me at the studio for the last half-hour or so and I’m always a lot more relaxed when he’s with me. I thought the shoot went pretty well and I hoped we had some decent shots—maybe at least one good shot we could use for the paper, anyway. So imagine my surprise when the pictures came back and well, see for yourself . . .
Pretty nice, huh? Sometimes it’s hard to believe that those are pictures of me. It’s like when you hear your recorded voice: you know it’s you, but at the same time, it doesn’t sound like you.
Launch Party: Tracy organized a launch party for me for the release of Hourglass Door. We reserved the park by our house and invited a bunch of people to come for sandwiches, treats, games, and fun. The day was absolutely beautiful—sunshine, warm and clear—and the very instant we snapped open the tablecloths to cover the picnic tables at the park . . . Whoosh! A cold wind sprang up, roaring through the pavilion like a tornado. The temperature dropped, the clouds moved in, and I started to think maybe we should have served hot chocolate instead of cold sodas. But despite the fickle weather, we still had a great time. My family came and so did a bunch of friends from work and the neighborhood. Here are some pictures from the party.
After the launch party, I had my first official book signing at the Deseret Book store in Jordan Landing. I was a little nervous—what if no one showed up?—but as it turned out, a whole bunch of people showed up! In fact, I had a line of people waiting for me when I arrived. And what’s more, those people wanted to buy my book and have me sign it! It was great to see all my friends and visit with everyone for a few minutes. I even had some friends that I hadn’t seen since high school come to the signing. Small world! I had a steady stream of people for more than an hour—including some people who were just shopping at the store and bought my book without knowing anything about it. And while I know that not every book signing will be like this one—I’m sure there will be some events where I’ll be lucky to have even a couple people stop by my table—I think that as far as book signings go, this one was a complete success.
School Visit: This week I kicked off my Author Tour by visiting Rocky Mountain Middle School in Idaho Falls, Idaho—Go Panthers!—for my first ever school presentation. I spent the day with Mrs. Olsen’s eighth-grade English classes, talking about writing, creativity, and my book. I had a fantastic time and was impressed with the kids, who asked interesting questions and either paid attention to my presentation or were at least polite enough not to disrupt it. I was a little surprised—but pleased—at how many kids said that they were writing stories or wanted to be writers someday. It’s fun to think that maybe I visited with an undiscovered bestselling author. And speaking of authors, in all the scenarios I imagined might happen during my school visit—equipment malfunction, for example (the projector died halfway through my first class)—I confess I didn’t expect what happened to me after lunch.
After grabbing a bite to eat at the cafeteria—complete with a carton of milk and an oatmeal chocolate-chip cookie—I was visiting with some girls in the library. The bell rang and all the students turned to leave. All but one, that is. She came up to me and said, “I heard that you also worked for a publishing company, is that right?” When I said yes, she gathered up some papers and said, “Well, I wrote a short story, can I give it to you?” And then she handed me her manuscript! I was so impressed with her bravery and confidence—there was no way I would have done the same thing when I was in the seventh grade. I had some time that afternoon to read her short story and write a few comments and make a few suggestions for her to think about. So take note, all you writers out there, you never know when an opportunity to network will present itself, and when it does, you better be ready!
Monday, April 13, 2009
4-8-09: Good News, Good Cookies, Good Friends
Good News: So guess what happened? My hardback books arrived from the printer—early! Two whole weeks early! And it was a serious case of déjà vu as one day after lunch, Anne knocked on my door and held up a copy of my book. But this time it wasn’t the ARC, no sir, it was the real thing. And it’s beautiful! It seems like I say it a lot, but I still can’t believe it’s happening—a story I wrote down is being published and will be out there in the world for everyone to read. It really is a dream come true.
Good Cookies: Yes, it’s that time again—cookie-making time! Tracy teaches Genres of Film part-time and for every midterm and final, I make homemade chocolate-chip cookies for him to take to his students. He believes that they should have something sweet on test days. The only problem is that he has a lot of students. This time I ended up making 10 dozen cookies. Whew
Good Friends: Yesterday, Tracy and I stopped by our neighborhood Barnes and Noble bookstore to visit with two of my good friends (and fellow authors!), James Dashner and J. Scott Savage. They had quite the line of kids waiting patiently to have their books, posters, and bookmarks signed and it was a lot of fun to watch them interact with the kids. I, too, had my copy of Hunt for Dark Infinity for James to sign and Water Keep for Jeff to sign. Hey, I may be their editor, but I’m also a fan and I didn’t want to miss this chance for an autographed first edition. (And, yes, I’ll admit, it was a good excuse to give both of them a copy of my newly printed hardback book and sign my book for them.) It’s one of the best parts of my job as an editor—not only did I get the chance to meet such wonderful people like James and Jeff, but I also get to count them as friends. (Shameless plug: you should go out and buy their books!)
Thursday, April 2, 2009
So last night, Tracy and Cindi and I went up to UMFA (Utah Museum of Fine Art) to attend a lecture with Doug Sweetland, director of the Pixar short film Presto. And it was amazing!
Aside from seeing the short again—which is always a delight—we got to see the early storyboards, the original drawings, and lots and lots of behind-the-scenes footage. But what I loved the most was hearing Mr. Sweetland talk about how he made the leap from being an animator to being a director and what he learned about developing a story along the way.
He told us the original pitch for the story that the “The Brain Trust”—the group of Pixar animators and directors (including John Lassiter and Andrew Stanton, among others) who weigh in on everything—greenlit into production. After that first meeting, Mr. Sweetland said that the idea was considered “Final—with a fix.” And the only note the Brain Trust had to offer was this: “It’s too long for a short.”
Well, that one note was all it took. In trying to figure out what to cut out to make the short short enough, Mr. Sweetland had to ask some hard questions of his story. Questions he didn’t have the answers to. But pursuing those answers led him to the final version of the story that was eventually made into a movie and nominated for an Academy Award. And along the way, he learned some important lessons and got some great advice.
One bit of advice came from Andrew Stanton, who finally said, “Just draw it. It takes 5 minutes.” That was all the permission Mr. Sweetland needed, and he personally drew more than 3,000 storyboards, trying to find his way through the story. He eventually met with the Brain Trust ten times before he figured it out. Ten meetings where no one laughed at his jokes, where no one clapped—but also where no one said to stop, to give up, to quit.
What I learned: Everything counts. Good or bad, I need to just write down everything. Most of it I’ll probably need to throw away, but that’s okay because with everything I toss, it just means I’m getting closer to success.
As Mr. Sweetland honed in on the story, he kept his characters’ motivations simple and focused on the pacing and timing of the jokes. And John Lassit
What I learned: Sometimes you have to tweak the carrot. Is there something in the scene I’m working on that could benefit from a closer look? Is there a moment, a look, a line of dialogue that is good, but that could be great if I rotated it 90 degrees? Are my character’s motivations crystal-clear? Do my details support the story, the theme? What is the one question that I need to ask that will infuse my story with magic?
A final note. The funniest moment—of which there were many—came during the Q&A when someone asked if Mr. Sweetland had worried about the MPAA ratings board for Presto. He said no, Pixar movies are made for everyone and so you get a feel for what will work and what won’t. He said Alec jams Presto’s fingers into a light socket and no one told him to take it out; John Lassiter thought it was funny. And then he said, “John Lassiter doesn’t care about the children of the world.” And Mr. Sweetland realized what he’d said at the same moment we all did, and he quickly said, “No, no, no, John Lassiter loves and cares for all the children in the world—especially when it comes to electricity.”
All in all, the evening was wonderful, inspiring, and educational. We even got to meet Mr. Sweetland after the lecture and he was very nice and signed autographs for me and Cindi. Finishing off the evening with a free chocolate éclair and . . . well, the old saying is true, “a good time was had by all.”
Monday, March 30, 2009
Now that the ARCs for Hourglass Door are out in the world and people are reading them, the most frequently asked question I get is, “What about book two?” On the one hand, it’s kind of a surreal question. I mean, technically book one isn’t even in stores yet, so what am I doing worrying about book two? But I am worrying about it. Writing book two has been a completely different experience from writing book one. Yes, there are similarities—start with a noun, follow with a verb, toss in some adjectives and adverbs; remember to punctuate—but I’ve been surprised at the differences I’ve discovered in the process. This time I know more about my characters and what they’ll do and say, but because I know them better, I’m less inclined to put them in danger. What if they get hurt?
I keep thinking of a quote I read by Tad Williams (one of my favorite authors, by the way). He said that he hates writing the middle book of a series because it has to build on what came before it, set everything up for what will come next, and yet still be a complete book all on its own. That’s a lot to ask from a book.
What’s helping me the most as I work on book two is actually something from my childhood. As a kid, I would get so engrossed in a story that I wouldn’t dare stop reading during a dramatic moment because I didn’t want the characters to get stuck in a bad spot. How would they escape if I didn’t read the next part of the story? By the same token, sometimes I would slow down and savor the good moments; setting the book down gave the characters a chance to rest and breathe after so many adventures. (Perhaps that’s why I love Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books—characters play their parts while you’re reading, but once the book is closed, they are free to do what they want.)
And so as I’m working on plotting and writing book two, I’m trying to build on book one and look ahead to book three and still make book two worth reading. I’m trying to get my characters through the bad spots so they can relax and enjoy the story too. Wish me luck!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Read the full review here and visit Heather's site here
Monday, March 16, 2009
One of my favorite episodes of the TV show Taxi is the one where Jim (Christopher Lloyd) burns down Louie’s (Danny DeVito) apartment. To make amends, Jim tells Louie that his father (who is quite wealthy) will pay for the damages, all Louie has to do is name a price. There follows one of the classic comedy bits where Louie tries to figure out what the perfect price should be. It can’t be too high or too low, but somewhere in the middle. Louie picks a price ($34,000, I think) and Jim calls his dad, tells him the figure, and then hangs up the phone. “What did he say?” Louie asks. “He said OK. He was afraid you were going to ask for $100,000,” says Jim. The look on Louie’s face is priceless.
I thought about that bit today when Chris and I got to talking about some of the early reviews of Hourglass Door. Most of the notes I’ve received have been from friends and family and have been along the lines of “I just started it and I love it!” “I’ve read the first two chapters and I’m hooked.” “I can’t wait to see how it turns out.” But Chris had one response that was apparently a laundry list of flaws in the story. He didn’t tell me who sent him the review or even let me read it, which I’m okay with. (Though part of me wants to read it just so I can get my first bad review over with. Crazy, I know.)
Here is a truth: Not everyone will like my book. I know that. I’m expecting that. It’s impossible that I could have written the first book that everyone who reads it loves it unconditionally. I’ve been reading books my whole life and I haven’t loved every book I’ve read. Some I have loved and cherished and recommended to everyone I meet. Some I have liked, read once, and moved on. Some of them I’ve downright hated. That’s the great thing about books—about any art really—there is enough variety that everyone can find something they like.
Of course I hope the reviews are good—maybe even better than good—but I also hope I can keep a healthy perspective about them. You know, not let the good ones go to my head; not take the bad ones personally. Maybe the best thing is to think of reviews like figure skating scores and toss out the top score and the bottom score. And, then, like Louie, I can find happiness somewhere in the middle.
Friday, March 13, 2009
A little shout-out to one of my favorite Queensrÿche songs —and certainly appropriate as today was my first recording session with Kenny Hodges for the audio version of The Hourglass Door. And it was so much fun! I had had a trial session back at the end of December and I was surprisingly nervous. Up until then, all the out-loud reading I’d done had been when I was a kid, reading to my mom while she made cookies, crocheted blankets, or hung wallpaper. (I’d also read aloud to my dog on more than one occasion. I bet I had the best-read pet on the block.) Anyway, Kenny had me read a couple different passages from the book and after an hour or so, I felt like had the hang of it.
Today, though, was a full four-hour reading session. I read just over a 100 pages, which, according to Kenny, is phenomenal for a novice reader. I’m not doing different character voices, so it’s just me and the story. It helped to imagine that I was just reading it to my mom, like I used to do when I was a kid. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how the story flowed along, how reading it aloud managed to make it feel fresh and new, even though I’d read the story a gazillon times before. For all those writers out there, I’d highly recommend sitting down and reading your work out loud to see how it sounds to your ear. (It’s also a great way to catch typos, by the way. At work, we ask our proofreaders to do it all the time.)
Since the ARCs are just making their way out into the world, I haven’t had a lot of feedback on the story from strangers yet. And so it was especially nice to read the Prologue and have Kenny pause and say, “Wow. That’s really good!” Personally, I think the Prologue is one of the best bits in the book and I’m especially proud of the fact that I wrote in a half-hour on the train home from work one day. See—the old adage is true, inspiration can strike anywhere, so you better be ready.
Reading my story out loud also made me think that’s what writing is all about—giving voice to your creativity and imagination, speaking out about whatever you want, saying important truths (sometimes in the guise of fiction).
As Geoff Tate and boys from Queensrÿche say, “Speak the word. The word is all of us.”
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I’ll never have another day like today for as long as I live. Today was the day my ARCs of Hourglass Door arrived. My first ARCs of my first book. No matter how many other books I write, no matter how many other ARCs I have, I’ll never another first. And oh, but I enjoyed every minute of it!
I had just come back to my office from having lunch and was preparing for a whole afternoon of complex, hard-core editing on my biggest project of the year. And then Anne knocked on my door. When I turned around, she was holding an ARC of my book against the window of my office. I’m not sure I exhaled for a solid minute. I know I screamed long and loud inside my head. Anne said that she had opened the box, had seen the copies, and immediately brought me the first one. No one else in the entire building even knew they had arrived. I couldn’t believe I was holding my very own book in my very own hands. Sure it was just a quick paperback ARC—no hardback jacket with gold foil, no fancy paper or endsheets—but it had all the words I’d written and my name on the front. It was unspeakably beautiful.
I was completely useless the rest of the afternoon. I immediately e-mailed my husband, Tracy, at work to tell him my ARCs had arrived, then I grabbed another copy and practically ran the half a block to the Church Office Building where my mom and dad worked. After all, you’re never too old to bask in a little parental pride once in a while. Mom showed off me and my book to all her coworkers and Dad gave me a big thumbs-up.
When I finally returned to work, I had another wonderful surprise, another wonderful first. Chris rounded up a box of ARCs and we had an impromptu book signing party right there in the 7th floor conference room. And it certainly felt like a “party” to me. Sonia took pictures (which I will post as soon as she sends them to me) and I must have signed 25 or 30 books for all my friends and coworkers. It seemed like everyone wanted one—from VPs to the receptionist. I had a line of people out the door and into the hallway. I hadn’t realized how many people had already read all or part of my book and how many more had at least heard something good about it. (I guess the early buzz was working!) Last, but not least, I had a chance to sign an ARC for my good friend, Chris Schoebinger.
Instead of going straight home after work, I took the train to LDS Business College where Tracy was teaching his night class so I could personally deliver a copy to him and see him before his class started. After admiring the book, he hugged me and whispered, “I knew you could do it.” I am truly blessed to be surrounded by people who believe in me so completely and confidently. I am blessed to see my dreams come true. I feel like the whole world has opened up before me and everything is possible.
And so I am enjoying this moment tonight, knowing that I’ll never have another day like this one ever again. And yet, I also know that tomorrow will bring me the first of something else.
I can hardly wait.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
So today was supposed to be my press date for Hourglass Door. But, as is often the case, the last 10% seems to take longer to finish than the other 90%. We’re down to cleaning up the last nuts and bolts, and it’ll go early next week. Which is okay by me because part of me is oddly terrified to send it to press and actually see it published. Granted, it’s a small part and usually doesn’t get much attention because the rest of me is still screaming “Hooray! My book is being published!” But that voice seems to be gaining strength the closer I get to my press date and I’ve been trying to figure out why.
Perhaps it’s because this is my first book. My first time as an author. I know it probably sounds strange because I spent all day every day publishing books—but for other people. And, believe me, it’s different when it’s your own book.
I recognize that my path to publication was a little different than other authors since I actually work for the company publishing my book, but it was different in part because I kept my writing a secret from my coworkers. I wanted the people in the office to be able to review my book without the burden of bias. Without feeling obligated to like it and without feeling awkward if they didn’t. For the year or so that I was working on Hourglass Door only three people knew anything about it: Chris Schoebinger (the YA product director), Anne Sheffield (my immediate supervisor), and Jay Parry (my good friend and next-door office neighbor)—and frankly, I’m not sure Anne and Jay knew much more than I was working on a book. Chris knew more details about the plot and the characters because I’d pop into his office periodically and let him know a quick status report: “I’ve got about 50,000 words now.” “I just figured out something cool about the ending.” “I just wrote the Prologue and it’ll knock your socks off.”
The secrecy was both good and bad. Good, because it worked perfectly: my coworkers read my manuscript and didn’t know it was me and so were honest in their reactions and reviews. (The fact that they loved it was particularly gratifying for that very reason.) The secrecy was bad because it was only after my book was accepted and had a production schedule lined up that I discovered how hard it was to talk to people about my book. I still felt like I had to keep it a secret, which was not particularly compatible with what the marketing department wanted to do—which was to tell everyone in the world about my book.
Over the last few months, I’ve had to consciously shift into “blab mode.” So now when my hairdresser says, “How are you today?” instead of saying “Fine,” I say, “I’m doing great! I have a book coming out this spring and I’m really excited about it.” And when I see my neighbor at the grocery store and we start chatting about books, I find a way to mention my good news. For a girl who grew up painfully shy, this is a big step for me.
I hope this blog will be another big step for me. A way to blab about my book on a grander scale than to just my neighbors at the store. A way to chronicle my transformation from full-time editor to first-time author and beyond.
I hope you’ll join me on this amazing journey. I can’t wait!
I’ve heard that when starting something new, it’s best to start with a joke, if only to set the audience at ease. So here you go: “I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas, I’ll never know.”—Groucho Marx. Not only is the idea of an elephant in pajamas funny, but so is the dangling participle.
And now you know the sad truth: I’m a word nerd. A person who finds jokes about the English language funny; who corrects (if only mentally) the incorrect usage of “it’s” in advertisements; who is thrilled to see punctuation in the wild.
Example: My husband was shooting video for a wedding and I tagged along to keep him company and shoot some candid photos. The couple cut the cake—a beautiful, three-tiered affair with fresh flowers and black ribbons around each tier—and then moved to the dance floor. After a few songs had played, I wandered up to the table where the cake had stood and glanced down. There, to my wonder and amazement, was one of the black ribbons from the cake, casually discarded . . . in a perfect ampersand! It was the highlight of the evening for me.
As a word nerd, my whole life has been about books. I’d been writing since I was a child and loved to read. My first paying job was even at the public library shelving books as a “Page.” (I’d hoped to one day be promoted to a “Chapter” or even a “Book.”) I worked in a bookstore to pay for college. Four months to the day from my college graduation, I was hired as an Editorial Assistant at a publishing house. I’ve been working as an editor ever since. I suppose it was inevitable that one day I would write a book.
I’m so glad that book turned out to be The Hourglass Door.
Writing the love story of Dante and Abby was so much fun. I loved spending time with the characters and seeing how the story developed. I wrote on the weekends, at night, on the train as I commuted to work. I thought about it all the time. They say time flies when you’re having fun, and the cliché turned out to be true for me. From the day I got the idea to write the story to the day I finished and turned in the manuscript to my publisher was almost exactly one year. (And that includes the three months I spent ill with blood clots and two separate hospitalizations—a story for another blog, another day.)
And almost exactly one year after that, the book will be out in stores, ready for people to read. The official on-sale date for The Hourglass Door is May 13, though, since it’s not a hard street date, books may start showing up on shelves a little earlier than that. (Shameless plug: you can buy the book at DeseretBook.com, Amazon.com, or BN.com, or wherever fabulous books are sold.)
I hope that other people have as much fun reading about Abby and Dante as I did writing about them. I hope that you’ll come back often to see how book two and book three are coming along, to ask me questions, and to celebrate our status as “word nerds” together.