Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NO SUBSTITUTES PLEASE

Give me the real deal.  I'm not fond of artificial sweeteners, fake eyelashes, or phony apologies. Carob doesn't satisfy me when I want chocolate. It annoys me to pay for a product and receive a substitute in its place. This may seem like an odd analogy, but I feel the same way about those politically correct non-prayers that substitute for denominational prayers at public gatherings. 

Many years ago I attended a special service at a centuries old Catholic cathedral.  The priest, in what no doubt was an attempt not to offend the many non-Catholics attending, recited some vague bit of poetry about nature's beauties instead of offering a Catholic prayer.  I was disappointed.  I was in a Catholic church, I wanted and expected a Catholic prayer.  

I've come to very much dislike the bits of poetry, the vague references to some euphemism, random references to some force of nature, and empty moments of silence that substitute for prayer at many public gatherings.  In our zealousness to not offend anyone, we've become atheistic worshippers of a non-god, followers of a pessimistic religion of doubt. 

When visiting a synagogue, mosque, revival meeting, or Christian Sunday School, I want to hear the prayers of the people who ascribe to those faiths.  I don't want them to cater to my beliefs.  When I attend a public meeting, I want to experience the prayers that have meaning for those who attend the meeting.  I want to experience the richness of prayers given by those of other cultures and faiths. 

There are those who deem public prayers as unconstitutional.  I don't agree.  Prayers are only unconstitutional if they are mandated to be of a particular denomination.  My fifth grade teacher made each of us in her class responsible for the prayer on a rotation basis (down one row, then the next, so we each had a turn then started over.)  We could say the prayer ourselves, have clergy come, or skip the prayer for that day.  It was our call on our assigned day. As the only Mormon in the class, I found it a great opportunity to learn how others prayed and what was important to them.  When I worked for the legislature I had a similar experience when each day someone different offered the prayer and we heard from religious leaders from Reverend Francis Davis, an imam, a rabbi, LDS General Authorities, and many local protestant leaders. 

For those of faith there is something deep and meaningful in prayer.  For those who profess no belief, it is an opportunity to build group cohesiveness and discover what matters to others.  To me prayer is both of these things and I feel cheated when that opening appeal for divine guidance is skipped or a substitute is offered.  Even when a prayer feels strange and not of my choosing, I consider it an educational opportunity.  When it's an honest appeal for those of diverse beliefs to work together, there can be no substitute.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

THIS AND THAT


I'll begin with a little updating.  I'm now beginning chapter three of my new work in progress.  It looks like it's going to be another romantic/suspense novel.  I'm also almost finished going through the second of my seven plastic drawers full of material that might be considered genealogy verification. Sorting through memories is kind of fun, but entering names, dates, etc., in the computer is time consuming and I can see I need more info from several of my nieces. 

Two of my daughters have books coming out this year.  Janice Sperry's book is a middle grade reader with a really cute cover and it's a fun spoof on dozens of fairy tales.  Lezlie Anderson's book is a Christmas booklet and I got a sneak peak at its cute cover a couple of days ago. I'll have more to say about it closer to its fall publication date. 

I just made my first Whitney nomination for 2014!  2013 awards are coming up next month, but it's not too soon to start making nominations for the next round of awards.  

Like almost everyone else, I'm really tired of winter, but all the rain we've gotten the past couple of days has really turned the grass green and it's so inviting to see daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, violets, and some purple flower (I don't know its name) blooming in my yard.  I love spring! My husband even bought two more half barrels so we won't have to fight over which barrels get flowers and which will host vegies this year.  

It's funny but I have a hard time believing it's really spring until April conference has come and gone and my accountant finishes preparing my taxes.  I'll admit I'm a little less than enthused about including children in this year's Women's Conference session, but I'll see how it goes.  It will seem a little strange not to do any conference signings this year.  After twenty years of Celebrating Sisterhood and Ladies' Night, I feel a little left out.  I hope all of my readers won't forget me before I have another book out.  (My old books are still available on Amazon/Kindle and LDS book stores still carry quite a few of them.)  As for taxes--there aren't a lot of happy memories associated with them as there is with conference, but I'll just be glad to know what I have to pay and get the sorry deed over with. 

Today marks eighteen months since the first of the four surgeries that sidelined much of my life for a time.  Both knees are doing fine and the left one serves as a barometer to let me know when we're going to get rain or snow.  My doctor assures me that with the removal of my pancreas I won't ever get pancreatic cancer as so many of my close loved ones have done. I'm still adjusting to using an insulin pump and skipping most of my favorite snacks.  Alas no malt balls, Cadbury eggs, or jelly beans for Easter this year.  On second thought, I might sneak in a stray jelly bean or two on days my glucose count is low.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

BURIED IN PAPER


I have seven deep file drawers full of stuff.  I don't mean nice orderly files; I mean tossed in and hope I get to it someday stuff.  For more years than I care to mention, I've saved birth announcements, wedding invitations, funeral programs, letters, obituaries, etc., all written verifications of people, places, and events in my family.  These all contain information I want added to my family history records.  The problem is I've never added the information; I've just added it to one of these drawers. 

I've never treated other data this way.  I neatly file tax information, medical records, when cars are serviced, research on my books, and dozens of other categories of information.  I'm not sure why or when I adopted the pack rat method of saving family records.  I have nephews and nieces, old enough to marry and start their own families, I haven't added as children of my siblings yet!  I've done a better job of tracking my ancestors than of keeping a record of my closer family. 

Last week a family member asked me a question I couldn't answer, but I know where the answer is.  It's in a little book my sister gave me many years ago that was compiled by some distant relative of her husband and includes a genealogy record of many generations of his family.  Both my sister and her husband passed away during the past few years so I can't ask them.  So I began looking for the book.  I'm pretty sure it's in one of my seven drawers of stuff.   

Instead of just looking for the book I want to find; I decided it's time to sort through my heaps of stuff and get it entered into my records.  So far I've worked my way through the top four inches of one drawer. I think this may take a long time.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

BEGINNING

I did it!  I started another book.  It's much too early to say much about it since the first chapter is making its way onto my computer very slowly, just four pages so far. A book has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  I'm very much at the beginning.  This part, at least for me, requires a lot of thinking, a lot of research, and a lot of getting to know my characters.  That usually adds up to a lot of rewriting too.  I will say it's going to be a murder mystery with a bit of romance.

One and a half more books and I'll have all of the adult Whitney finalists read.  So far I'm impressed with the nominees.  Well there's one I'm not sure how or why it even got nominated, leave alone chosen as a finalist, but the others are either impressive or super impressive.  I'll be glad when I have these last two books finished because it will give me more time to read the new books I'm given to review and to do my own writing.

Thinking about time, it's my theory that no one actually finds time to write.  Most writers I know are busy people.  Most are parents, most have another job, and many have strong community or church (sometimes both) commitments.  In order to write, it is necessary to take time; not find time. Some writers call this the fifteen minute rule; I've always tried to make it thirty minutes, but either way it simply means I carve fifteen or thirty minutes out of my day as an absolute priority to write. I take more time whenever I can of course. That means no facebook, no phone calls, no TV, prepare in advance another diversion for the kids, and do planning and research in advance.  I just do whatever it takes to claim fifteen minutes of solid writing time.  Fifteen minutes isn't long and many writers feel they can't get much done in that amount of time, but most writers are pleasantly surprised by how much can be accomplished in a quarter to a half hour.

I also give myself a minimum of fifteen minutes daily reading time.  Again I take more as often as possible. That's another pet theory of mine.  I don't think a person can be an effective writer if they're not also a reader.

It seems to be the fashion now to ask readers to suggest titles or characters' names for a work in progress.  I'm not that far along.  So far my book has a number, not even a working title, but I may consider doing this a little farther down the road.  For now it just feels good to be back to thinking through a story.



 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

ON LIFE AND BOOKS

It's been two weeks since I last blogged.  I keep promising to do better, then life gets in the way.  Someone once said life is what happens while we're on our way to somewhere else.  That seems to be the way my life has been for the past couple of years.  I'll be dealing with diabetes and the unexpected ups and downs that go with it for the rest of my life, but overall I think I'm getting back to some kind of normal--at least I'm thinking about another book.

The question is, since I write in several genres, should I start a romantic suspense or begin a historical?  Maybe a western?  One of my sons-in-law wants me  to do another historical and has practically plotted it out for me.  A couple of friends are anxious for a book similar to If I should Die or Shudder.  I've even had differing suggestions for using my recent experiences with hospitals, cancer, diabetes, celiac, etc. to write a medical thriller or a women's fiction novel.  Clearly I have more thinking to do and I'm open to suggestions.

Even through my four surgeries and the medical problems of several people close to me, I haven't moved away from the publishing field, I just haven't been working on a new novel.  I've kept up my review column on Meridian, I've blogged, had a couple of short stories published, and my most recent novel Where the River Once Flowed is a Whitney finalist.  And though I had no part in writing them, I'm proud to say two of my daughters have books coming out this year.  Janice Sperry has a middle grade chapter book, Rebel Princess, coming out in June and Lezlie Anderson has a Christmas booklet, Snow Angels, due for release in October.

I catch myself thinking about perspective, looking at people, scenery, viewpoints from different angles.  I meet someone and notice a trait or personality quirk that might be fun to give a character.  I'm a literary critic so I always question motives and twists in the books I read, but lately I've become more critical.  I find myself shredding apart plots, rewriting in my head, questioning realism.  I'm a writer.  It's what I do.  It's a part of me.  Yes, I think it's time to start another book.

 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MIXED BAG

Every few days I think I really should write a blog, then I usually don't do it.  Every two weeks the group blog I'm part of, V-Formation, reminds me it's my turn and I usually come up with something. A lot has been happening lately, but I don't seem to be able to latch onto one thing and turn it into a blog.  That means this will be one of those "little of everything" kind of blogs. 

February is a birthday month in my family, two grandsons, a granddaughter, and a brother.  Toys R Us here I come! Shopping for gifts for the little ones is fun, but the older ones are more of a problem.  On Sunday we'll get together for ice cream and cake and a lot of visiting and catching up.  That's one of the fun things about having our children close enough for casual get-togethers. 

I made it to finalist status for the Whitney Awards- Historical novel category- with Where the River Once Flowed.  Thanks to everyone who nominated my book and thanks to the judges for including it in the five finalists.  The winner will be announced in April.  I feel greatly honored to be a finalist and to have my book included in such prestigious company.  All four of the other finalists are fantastic books; Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears, Esther the Queen by H.B. Moore, Safe Passage by Carla Kelly, and The Mounds Anomally by Phyllis Gunderson.  

I'm becoming more comfortable wearing an insulin pump.  Becoming a diabetic at this stage of my life is a challenge, but at least I no longer have to worry about pancreatic cancer.  

Speaking of cancer, we learned this past week that one of our sons-in-law has two forms of cancer.  The thyroid cancer was easily taken care of with surgery, but the lymphoma will be a harder fix.  He's physically and spiritually strong, so he has every chance of making it through this challenge, and he has strong support from family and friends. 

Lately I've been reading the Whitney finalists I somehow missed during the past year along with new books for possible reviews.  In the process I've met a number of both plausible and implausible characters. They've got me thinking about what works and what doesn't in characters and plots a writer creates.  Like my mixed bag of occurrences in my personal life, I find characters with multiple responsibilities and interests more believable than single focus characters.  But just as in our real lives we can't be spread too thin dealing with multiple problems and be effective in dealing with any of them, characters lose their appeal when they're experts in everything. Writers who go off in too many directions, spend too much time describing scenery, or educating their readers concerning a pet interest that doesn't move the story forward lose readers' interest.  Just because we spend a lot of time researching doesn't mean we have to use every bit of that research in our story.  Fiction is best when it maintains its focus. 

Readers don't buy into characters that are too perfect either.  Most writers know that like real people, realistic characters have flaws.  Sometimes it's some sort of physical handicap, but more often it's an unhealed emotional issue.  This is an area where a writer needs to be careful.  The flaw should make the reader sympathize with the character, but not pity him or her, nor consider the character a whiner, cry baby, or bully.  And the flaw should not be so annoying it takes over the story or interrupts the flow of the story. 

In other words, a novel shouldn't ramble like this blog has done! 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

INCLUDING THE KITCHEN SINK

One day last week my cousin was cruising along I-15 at about 65 mph during rush hour when the car in front of him suddenly darted into the next lane and Joe found a kitchen sink lying in the road right in front of him.  Both lanes on either side of him were full, leaving him no way to avoid hitting that large ceramic sink.  In seconds, he straddled it and it shredded a tire and tore pieces loose from his car's undercarriage.  He had a fight on his hands to maintain control and avoid rolling or involving another car in an accident. 

Other drivers and the Highway Patrol were kind, thoughtful, and helped him all they could, but there was no way he could have avoided slamming into that kitchen sink.  They could only help him with the aftermath. Why do I mention this story?  Recently someone brought up a hurtful remark aimed at a friend and it reminded me of a neighbor who came to me in tears following the discovery that I had breast cancer twenty years ago.  This lady said she felt she needed to apologize to me because she'd had mean thoughts about me.  She thought it was unfair that I had so much and she worked really hard and had so little.  She assumed I made lots of money just writing little stories.  She knew I had met a lot of famous people through my position on the Salt Palace advisory board and my years as a reporter.  My oldest daughter had recently married the son of a prominent community leader in the temple; my son was serving a mission, and my younger daughters had college scholarships.  I was thin then too (she added that!)  It wasn't until my cancer diagnosis that she learned one of my daughters also had cancer and we were struggling to overcome the financial loss that came with the company my husband worked for going bankrupt, leaving him without a job and the disappearance of his retirement fund.  Both of our mothers had recently died as well. 

This lady had harbored a completely romanticized and false image of me, partly because she had glamorized what it is to be a writer.  It was a shock to her to discover writers are like everyone else; we have highs and lows and we're certainly not immune to life's tragedies.  We hit kitchen sinks just like everyone else.  To be honest some of my writer friends have been dealing with some pretty severe problems in recent years, have found plenty of obstacles in their paths, and have had to fight hard to stay on course, keep writing, and protect their loved ones. Sarah Eden has a severe form of Rheumatoid Arthritis that causes her incredible pain, Kerry Blair has fought her way through MS and a bout of cancer, Gale Sears's son died unexpectedly from a disability he didn't know he had, Rob Wells struggles with extreme panic attacks, Anita Stansfield has Celiac that went undiagnosed too long and has caused her permanent health problems, Rachel Nunes spent years writing with a baby on her lap, Michele Bell was beside her son with his long scary ordeal with cancer, and the list goes on and on.  Writers are wives, husbands, parents, etc., who cope with their children's school problems, with elderly ill parents, sometimes another full time job, illness, marital differences, accidents, difficult pregnancies, unexpected multiple births,  and every problem that besets any other person. The only thing that makes writers different is that through it all, they still write.  Just as a musician continues to make music even when the world turns dark and his heart is breaking, so the writer continues to pen stories.  

Like Joe, who couldn't avoid hitting that kitchen sink someone failed to secure to his vehicle, all of us, writers  or not, will hit some difficult obstacles in our lives from time to time through no fault of our own.  These experiences aren't fun, but they do enrich our understanding and our compassion for others. Good writers internalize these experiences and they emerge as richer, more empathetic stories and more realistic characters.  Most of us fantasize about a life where everything runs smoothly, but when we read a novel where there are no problems, we're soon bored and complain that "nothing ever happens" in the book.  Just as we learn in Sunday School that there must be opposition in all things and that we can't appreciate the good if we have no understanding of the evil, so it is in writing.  We won't appreciate a happy ending if the characters haven't struggled to overcome anything. Adversities or challenges in our lives not only make us stronger and more capable of appreciating good things, but from a literary standpoint they make us better writers and readers because we have personally experienced a wide gamut of emotions which have expanded our understanding. 
 
 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

THERE ARE DAYS LIKE THAT . . .


It seems that when a day starts out wrong; it just gets worse.  It's my turn to blog on the V-Formation blog today, but I have family visiting, I was late finding a book to review for Meridian this week, I got my insulin pump this week and have to run tests and go to a couple of doctor's appointments to get trained, we started back at the temple yesterday, and we had a special speaker for Relief Society last night.  What I'm trying to say is I wasn't ready to post a blog, I had nothing written and no ideas uppermost in my mind, but I thought I could get it done this morning. 

Oops! The alarm went off on my new pump to start the day, telling me it was low on insulin.  For those of you who have never reloaded an insulin pump, let me tell you the instructions are a mile long, written in a foreign language, require at least two phone calls to a diabetic specialist, and are totally incomprehensible. A task that should have taken a few minutes shot nearly two hours of my morning.

Next I called in a prescription.  Fifteen minutes later the pharmacy called to say it wasn't in stock, but they could get it by Saturday. 

I sat down at my computer and discovered I had a problem.  My keyboard had died.  I switched it out for my husband's keyboard, but the connection is different and it wouldn't work.  I put my own keyboard back on, fiddled with it a lot and got it so it would work for a few minutes, then it would die again. After a lot of maneuvering around, I finally got a keyboard that functions, though most of the letters are scraped off of the keys.

Now I was set to try to write a blog. A phone call changed my mind.  My Visiting Teaching partner called to tell me the one sister we missed earlier this month was home now and said we could meet with her if we came right now.  

I've heard it said that life is what happens when you're on your way to somewhere else.  I've found that writing is a lot like that too.  It's good to plan and outline, but sometimes a story has a mind of its own.  There needs to be room for detours, for work stoppages, and changes of direction. I don't recommend ditching plans, only allowing some wiggle room.  Life's like that, and fiction emulates life.  Whether it's the book's characters or its author, it's always good to remember there will be days like that . . .

Friday, January 10, 2014

A SMALL BLAST FROM THE PAST

While looking for some old pictures of my husband's family this morning for a genealogy project he's undertaken, I chanced on an album from my high school years that brought back memories.  There were newspaper clippings from competing in declamation meets, honor rolls, play programs, dance cards, basketball scores, stories I wrote for the school paper, etc.  But what caught my attention were a few short poems I didn't write, but used to recite along with a beatnic bongo drum accompaniment. I wasn't part of the beatnic scene, but it was fun to play the part at parties. Let me share them once again:

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons are billiard balls. 

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust. 

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all is now a rug.

Great Caesar's dead and on the shelf;
And I don't feel so well myself!

                            ---Arthur Guiterman
 

And the second one:

As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn't there,
Nor legs nor back,
But I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that. 

A little Ogden Nash: 

If you hear the call of a panther;
don't anther. 

It's not the cough that carries you off;
It's the coffin they carry you off'n. 

And finally a belated Christmas poem: 

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad,
Not a hipster was stirring; not even Big Dad.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care;
They'd been worn six months,
They needed the air.

My taste in poetry hasn't improved much over the years.  Neither has my sense of humor. 
 
The picture is fifteen-year-old me the night I was crowned Homecoming queen.
 
 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

THOSE TEN BEST LISTS . . .


This is the time each year when most people give some thought to setting goals and to looking back at the past year.  The internet, newspapers, magazines, and television are full of lists of the ten best--or ten worst--of this or that.   I gave some thought to joining in.  The only problem is, I either can't make up my mind as to which are the ten best or ten worst books I've read.  I read over a hundred books this past year and most were pretty good.  A few were exceptional. Some were just so-so, and a few were boring. There were also a few I just couldn't make myself finish.  I reviewed a little less than half of the books I read. 

So I'm going to give you a list of books I read that stand out in my mind for various reasons.  They aren't necessarily the best or the worst; they just clicked with me.  Of course the most memorable for me are my own books, Where the River Once Flowed and two compilations that contain short, true stories I wrote, The Art of Motherhood and With Wondering Awe.  I don't usually care for speculative fiction, but I read it because reading and reviewing is what I do.  I liked The Witnesses by Stephanie Black and I liked The Others by Kristin Bryant.  Young Adult fiction is another genre I don't read much of because I review adult fiction.  However, I read a few books in this category and liked Hadley-Hadley Benson (Durfee) and Lair of the Serpent (Adams).  

Another book that appealed to me on a personal level is Nourish and Strengthen by Maria Hoagland. It's the story of a young wife and mother adjusting to type one diabetes at the same time she is adjusting to a new home and ward. The removal of my pancreas left me diabetic and with a lot of adjusting to do too.  I've lived in 22 wards and never found one with as many negative and judgmental people as the main character's new ward, but I found the information on diabetes informative, helpful, and encouraging.  

If I had to make a choice, I'd probably say Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears was my favorite 2013 book.  But close behind it would be a non-fiction book, The Mormons, an Illustrated History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other books that top my 2013 favorites list, in no particular order, are Sword of Joseph (Durbin), The Mounds Anomaly (Gunderson), Ashes, Ashes (Bellon), Proceed with Caution (Green), Sworn Enemy (Sowards), Hitchhikers (Poduska), You Came For Me (Bessey), Desperate Measures (McKendry), Checking Out (Poulson), and Longing for Home (Eden).  I could easily pick another dozen or so books that could be added to this list.  I found something worthwhile and appealing to every book I reviewed for Meridian in 2013. 

Most people's reading tastes change from time to time, often depending on the reader's stage of life such as age, health, stress level, etc. This may explain why the best written or edited books aren't always the ones we remember best.  It's the book that touches our own dreams, desires, or ideals; the one that takes us on the trip of our dreams, the one that gives us a taste of being the hero, doing something grand, teaches something worthwhile, or supports a cherished ideal that finds a niche in our hearts. Different books fulfill the needs of different people at different times, making it impossible for anyone's "top ten" to be exactly the same as anyone else's, but it's fun to look at those lists and compare our views with that of the list maker. Want to try it?  I'd love to know what others found outstanding in the books you read.  Readers, in the comment section please list anywhere from one to ten books read in 2013 you particularly liked.  Don't worry about whether your choices were the best written or had the best message, were character or plot oriented, just tell me which books you personally liked the most. I'll even do a lucky number drawing and send a prize to one person who responds with his/her own list of faves.