Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Author Brandon Mull shares secrets of writing.

OREM — Local author Brandon Mull has many ways to describe himself.

"I'm a professional liar who tells stories about people who don't exist who live in places that don't exist," Mull told his audience at the Book Academy conference for writers at Utah Valley University on Thursday morning. "I'm also a crazy, murdering hobo!

"At my best, I'm Rumplestiltskin. I'm spinning straw into gold. That's the part that's cool."

Mull described the many hats he wears now that he's a writer selling books — speaker, advocate for reading, teacher, entrepreneur and crazy person who gets paid for listening to the voices in his head.

"I have a 12-year-old girl talking to a satyr," he said.

He said he's partly a hobo because he often has time to kill between engagements and ends up in malls and libraries. He's a murderer because he gets to choose who lives and who dies in his stories.

Mull's five-book Fablehaven series has consistently made the New York Times bestseller lists. He has another series, The Candy Jar Wars, out and a third series, The Beyonders, debuting in March.

He said writing is the "easy" part. Selling and marketing? Not so much.

"Sometimes it feels like I'm saying you should pay for this stuff I made up in my basement," Mull quipped. "But marketing is a pretty necessary part of it. Book sales is how I pay the bills now. If my writing career doesn't work, my kids starve."

Mull said writers need to focus on good characters who have real relationships, who face and conquer trouble and who deal with believable consequences.

"When your character is happy, your story is done," he said.

He urged new writers to write about things they love.

"I love dragons and fairies," he said. "I always think about them."

Mull said he always asks himself if a story is worth telling and how best to tell that story. It's possible to teach someone to tell a story, but the story that needs telling lives inside a person's heart and soul.

"It's there or it's not," he said. "You're all here because there's something there."

He said real life is full of good story material. When a writer or teacher is truly passionate about a particular subject, the passion is contagious, he said, telling about an accounting teacher who almost made him care about numbers.

The tricky part is pacing a story and including the kind of evocative details that paint a picture in the reader's mind.

"I know it's a bad sign if I'm bored with the story," he said. "If I'm bored, the reader will be bored."

To become a good writer, he suggested reading a lot and writing a lot — even if it involves writing a dark piece about Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall.

"It tunes your ear," he said.

Then a piece of final advice?

"Read all of my books," he said.