Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MY CHRISTMAS CARD TO YOU




 
 
Part of my childhood was spent in a small mountain valley where on Sundays, special occasions, and Christmas, church bells rang out the glad news. Locked in my memories of Christmas mornings  is one when the valley was covered with a thick layer of snow.  The air was sharp with cold, and frost had turned the trees to fantasy sculptures. As I stood outside before entering the barn, I heard the bells.  The sound carried from down in the valley creating one of those perfect moments of beauty that became a piece of what Christmas means to me. 

Over the years my parents, my siblings, my husband and children, friends, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, ward or branch members, those who read my books, and even those I only know from mutual interest internet groups have woven their way into my Christmas feelings and memories. I've given and I've received.  The secret Santas, the homemade gifts, the shopping binges, the parties, concerts, and school plays have taught me the joy of giving and gracious receiving. 

A great musician learned by chance that I'm tone deaf and made it his mission to teach me to hear. Among the pieces he painstakingly helped me to differentiate the sounds from noise to music were the old Christmas carols.  Years later, working in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, the organist on the shift where I serve discovered that I can hear the melody of songs played on the chime setting of the temple organ. Since then she always adds the chimes anytime she plays the organ when I am present.  Thus music has become a deeply appreciated part of Christmas for me. 

When family or friends gather, food becomes one of those social mediums that brings us together. At no time is this more true than at Christmas.  Most of us have a favorite food we associate with Christmas.  My older brothers gave my sisters and me a box of cherry chocolates for Christmas each year when we were little.  Without cherry chocolates would it still be Christmas?  I grew up with a goose, not turkey or ham for Christmas dinner. Mama's carrot pudding, oranges, and raisin filled cookies all mean Christmas to me.  

There are those who remind us Christ wasn't really born on December twenty-fifth. Others are adamant that the gift giving and parties distract from the true meaning of Christmas. Some make a big deal over wishing someone Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.  Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't think it matters what day we celebrate as Christ's birthday; the important point is to recognize that He came and the manner of greeting matters far less than the sincere heartfelt desire to wish another a message of caring.  Giving gifts, providing comfort, warmth, and good meals for the homeless and poor, the gathering of families in love for one another are the very things He taught us. It's good to have a time to pause and reflect on our beliefs, acknowledge those who have helped us in life, join together in families and friendship, give the best gifts we can, and spread good will throughout the world.  As for me, I choose to also make Christmas a time to worship and a time to ask God's blessings on all those who have touched my life for good. It's a time to remember Jesus is the greatest gift to mankind.   

Christmas is a time to wish all of you a blessed Christmas. May this season bring you warmth, joy, peace, and the best of memories.

 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

THE BUSY SIDE OF THE SEASON


There are days I feel like I might meet myself going out the door as I come in.  The past couple of weeks have been like that. With four major surgeries in a little over a year and learning to deal with diabetes, there are a lot of things that didn't get done during the past two years, so I decided to tackle some major house cleaning before Thanksgiving, get my Christmas shopping done, and finish the novel I'm writing.  Then there was a Relief Society lesson to teach, a book signing, books to read for the Meridian column I write, Christmas decorating, Thanksgiving, etc., etc. 

The housecleaning exhausted me and had a bad habit of dropping my blood sugar count. I managed to get some major projects done, however not all I'd hoped to do.  Anyway by Thanksgiving the house looked pretty good. All of our children and their families were here for dinner that day.  The food was good, but just being together was even better. We had three tables and twenty-six people!  That's a lot of people in one house, but well worth it to have the people who top my list of things I'm grateful for all together. 

I did something this year I've never done before.  I managed to stay within my budget for Christmas. Shopping for twelve adults, five teenagers, five elementary age boys, two preschool girls, a husband, and a few assorted friends and neighbors takes some strategic planning and lots of lists.  There have been some great sales and when going to the stores became too exhausting, I resorted to a little online shopping. 

We were almost through decorating for Christmas except for the tree when our three-year-old granddaughter came for a quick visit before pre-school. She approved it all, especially the music boxes and the M&M Christmas tree jars.  She even had to try the Nutcracker soap dispenser in the bathroom. When it was time to leave for school, she wanted to be sure it would all still be there when she comes again. 

 

The cat who visits us every day isn't so sure he approves of our Christmas tree. It's kind of scary and too close to the back door where he likes to mooch a snack. Actually we put up two trees this year, a pre-lit artificial tree and a cute little real tree.  The pre-lit tree takes center stage in the living room and the little tree is in a big flower pot on the front porch.
 
 
Sadly I didn't get much writing done, but I'll try to do better in the next few weeks, right after one granddaughter's choir concert, another one's dance recital, a school program, the ward party, wrapping a gazillion gifts, preparing another Relief Society lesson, celebrating our wedding anniversary, and reading a few books.  (Be sure to read my Christmas Books column on Meridian Thursday, Dec. 4)

 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

DOUBLE BOOK SIGNING


I'm doing a little blatant advertising.  You don't even have to get up early, though it will be the day after Thanksgiving.  My daughter, Lezlie Anderson, and I will be signing our Christmas books at Seagull Book ( 1720 S. Redwood Road) this Friday, November 28 from ten to noon. This is a fun store and a great place to Christmas shop or just look at books and eat chocolate. Please come or as Lezlie says, "we'll feel like dorks."  By the way, I didn't write Christmas Treasures by myself; there are stories included by eleven other well-known writers.
 

 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NOT SO TERRIBLE TWOS

As life becomes a little overwhelming with wars, rumors of war, disasters, diseases, and all manner of ills, I find myself thankful for two-and three-year-olds and other assorted toddlers.  Perhaps that's part of the purpose for small children.  They provide a different perspective on life.  They teach us faith--and they make us laugh. 

A few weeks ago my small granddaughter informed the clerk at Harmon's grocery store that "You need to clean your store."  Taken aback the clerk asked if she'd found something dirty. Little Jen pointed to the array of Halloween spider webs overhead.  "'piders!  Get a broom." 

 

Attending a baptismal service for one of my grandchildren, the then two-year-old impressed me with his generosity when he passed out candy-like fruit chews to every child around us until I realized he was only giving away the blue ones which he adamantly disliked. 

As foster parents we once were blessed with a half-starved two-year-old who had never had solid food.  Slowly we added fruits, vegetables, and cereals to his diet.  He stood by anxiously waiting every time I baked cookies. He became an enthusiastic fan of cookies warm from the oven. Then came a day when my husband and I sat in church with him between us waiting for the sacrament prayer to begin.  All was quiet, then the other ward that shared our building rang a bell to signal their class time was ending.  Andy jumped to his feet shouting, "Cookie done, Mommy!" 

When it came time for our first grandson to get a haircut, I somehow got elected to do the honors. Chris wiggled and ducked, turned his head, and refused to sit still.  Finally I handed him a cookie, hoping it would distract him long enough to get the job done.  He sat still for about a minute and I cut quickly, letting his hair drop wherever. He then solemnly handed back the cookie, telling me, "Don't like fuzzy cookie." The cookie was covered with fine, blonde hair. 

Nate was quiet and behaved beautifully in church or while shopping, then suddenly he would announce "Done," then he would squirm, run off, yell, and be unmanageable.  This is the same child who "worked" instead of "played." 

A friend's three-year-old grandson is in love with cleaning.  He loves to Swiffer and demands that she shop at Walmart because he likes the way the cleaning products aisle smells. I wonder if this obsession will last through his teenage years. 

Jen does her best to teach me lessons in logic and fairness. If I give her a treat, she holds up her other hand and lets me know she has two hands so she needs two treats.  Once she was with me when I received a call from another grandchild's school telling me he was ill and needed to be picked up.  Naturally Jen went with me to get him, but once he was safely strapped in the backseat beside her, she insisted I should go get the other boys (five boy cousins nearly the same age). She's sure that the boys are a group package and should all come to my house if one does. 

A long time ago, when I was a small child, I found a small pine tree of only five or six inches tall, that had been uprooted.  I took it home and an elderly neighbor invited me to plant it in his yard.  He dug the hole, then let me do the rest.  Through the years I've often thought of him and the things he told me that day about planting trees and raising children.  He said trees and babies represent faith.  Those who don't believe tomorrow will come or that babies will grow into fine adults lack faith. I'm convinced he was right.  Planting trees and appreciating the wonder of toddlers is what keeps us believing a better tomorrow is possible and that both the trees and the babies, grown tall, will help it happen.
 
 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ASKING FOR INPUT


Over on Meridian where I've been reviewing books for almost twelve years, I'm making some changes in my column.  First off my column is going to switch from weekly to bi-weekly.  But the most important change is going to be to the content.  This is where I need reader input.  What do you want to see? 

Several writers and author forums have advised authors to not read reviews of their books.  This is because of trolls who haunt sites like Good Reads and get some kind of sick pleasure out of posting nasty comments and reviews.  There's something about being able to post anonymously that brings out the sickos. Real reviewers don't attack authors or make blanket negative remarks.  If there is something wrong with a book, an honest reviewer will point out what the flaw is and often suggest a way to correct the problem.  Real reviews are an examination of a work, not an attack on the author. 

One thing I want to do is help readers understand literary jargon and to know the difference between genres.  I find it a sad commentary on the reading public when someone gives a book a low ranking number, star, etc., simply because it isn't the kind of book the reader prefers, such as finding a book is an historical novel when he/she thought it was a romance. It's unfair to pan a book because it's a genre the reader doesn't care for. I think it might be helpful too, to let readers know what to expect from a novel since book covers and blurbs don't always indicate the genre and sometimes a book fits into more than one category. 

I review for an LDS-oriented magazine.  In the future I want to place more emphasis on books that carry a message compatible with LDS values and I'll write about that value.  This doesn't mean the book has to specifically mention the Church or a particular doctrine of the Church, but it does need to have a theme compatible with LDS standards. I review both books from the well known LDS publishing houses, small publishers, and indies.  Contact me by email or on facebook private message if you need my address.

A few years ago I asked readers what they wanted and I was overwhelmed with requests for a warning concerning typos, spelling and grammar errors, and all of the messy results of a new electronic age. Does anyone still want this? This situation has improved, but not gone completely away. 

Another thing I will be doing is grouping books with a common theme together in one review.  I'll do this both when the books represent a common genre and when they illustrate a common point in spite of being from different genres, time periods, or styles. 

This is where you come in.  I want my column to benefit readers and writers.  Let me know what I get right, what you want to know about fiction, and what doesn't work or what you have a differing opinion on. You can use the comment section with my column on Meridian.  You can tell me here or on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A WRITER'S GARDEN


 

October is a time to tidy up, clean up, and put away. The harvest is done.  Only a few die hard potatoes are left in the garden.  The last brilliant roses are defying the coming snows. The season is nearly over.
 
 
 

Every year the onset of cooler weather is my signal to trim back my perennials, root out the annuals, dig in mulch, roll up and drain the hoses, rake leaves, put away the patio furniture, and generally get my yard ready for winter.  I learned a long time ago that the more effort I put into making all secure in the fall, the more beautiful and work free spring will be.

 

Like most writers I find an analogy to writing in almost everything around me.  I've often compared spring to the excitement and discovery of starting a new work.  Summer as the patient slogging through the grand vistas and discouraging, blistering middle, and fall as the completion, the time of harvesting or finishing a novel.  October is that period of clean-up; the time of going back through the manuscript to check the spelling and grammar, ensure that it's in the best possible shape. Review the comments of beta readers. It can be seen as exhausting necessary work or it can be filled with satisfaction from knowing you've done your best and you have a completed, ready for submission story ready to send to an agent or publisher.

 

October is also the time to plant tulips.  Tulip bulbs, or those "big seeds" as my granddaughter calls them are almost magical and are often used as symbols.  To me they are a symbol of faith, a promise that no matter how deep the snow and how low the temperatures fall, spring will come.  Each writer needs a bit of tulip faith.  Even as this season's manuscript is sent on its way, seeds, big seeds, need to be planted.  Start that next manuscript before you hear back on the one already sent.  Dream big.  Plant big seeds.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LIBRARY AUTHOR EVENT

This just might be a bit of blatant advertising.

Come see me and forty or so other authors this coming Saturday, September 27, between one and five in the afternoon at the West Jordan Library, 8030 South 1825 West.  We'll be in the Viridian Event Center.  I don't have a new book out, but I do have a short story in Christmas Treasures, Covenant's newest compilation of short, true Christmas stories by a dozen different authors.  Deseret Book and King's English will be there with copies of many of my books for sale along with those of the other authors. I'd love to meet readers who have checked out my books or borrowed them from friends over the years as well as those who have purchased them. 

This will be a new experience for me since it will be the first time (I hope not the last) that my daughter Janice Sperry and I have been invited to sign our books at the same event. I'm also looking forward to seeing many of my fellow local authors. 

Here's a list of most of the authors who will be there: 

Ken Baker, Laura Bastian,             

Anne Bowen, Mikey Brooks, DJ Butler, Juli Caldwell, Stacy Lynn Carroll,Cindy Christiansen, Jaleta Clegg, Angela Corbett, Kristyn Crow,             

Julie Daines, Kristyn Decker,Peggy Eddleman, Bonnie Glee, Josh Hanagarne,
Ka Hancock, Jennie Hansen, Cindy Hogan, Marion Jensen, JR Johanssen, Kim Justeson,
Fay Klingler, Alysia S. Knight, Wendy Knight, Caren Liebelt, Dene Low, Lisa Mangum,
Carol Masheter, Shallee McArthur, Mark Minson, Andrea Pearson, Bobbie Pyron, Jess Smiley,
Janice Sperry, Joy Spraycar, Carolyn Steele, Sherry Taylor, Jaclyn Weist, Robison Wells, David West, Martha Sears West, Lance Why, Camron Wright, Michael Young

Thursday, September 11, 2014

STOP


Don't you hate it when you're reading and something happens to grind the story to a halt?  I don't mean those annoying phone calls, household interruptions, or any kind of external demand that has the reader reluctantly setting the book down. The stop I'm referring to is something in the book that diverts the reader's attention from the story. 

The most common stops these days are caused by poor or no copy editing.  Self published books  have a bad reputation for spelling, grammar, and other assorted copy errors, but they're not alone.  Most of us can skim over an occasional such error, but more than a few and the spell  is broken, the story loses its luster.  Concentration is broken. 

The success of a book is measured to a great extent by how well it can maintain an illusory world, an alternate reality for the reader. When the illusion is broken and the reader's attention is diverted to something else the story becomes less satisfactory. 

Typos and writing errors are not the only stops that diminish the reading experience.  Poor research is a killer.  Facts concerning history or geography matter.  I recently read a book that placed a particular group of buildings I happen to know well, in the wrong town.  

Lately there seems to be a competition to see who can invent the most weird names for their characters.  That's fine if the names are pronounceable, but if they're just cutesy versions of better known names, or words I have to stumble over each time they appear in print, there goes the alternate reality while I stumble over how to pronounce the jumble of letters. It's understandable that writers want to give their characters distinctive names, but there's a difference between distinctive and mumbo jumbo. 

While we're reading through our manuscripts for a final check before submission, it would be wise to check for stops.  If beta readers have to ask how to pronounce a name, it's the wrong name.  Beta readers should make note of anything that causes their minds to wander or distracts from the flow of the story.  It's important to keep errors to a minimum, but it's also important to just plain eliminate those annoyances that bring our stories to a crashing halt.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

SUMMER FOOD

 

Like most people, I like to eat and fresh garden produce is surely some of the best eating ever. Our garden space isn't very big and we supplement it with wooden barrels.  Between the two, we've enjoyed potatoes, beets, chard, carrots, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, rhubarb, chives, strawberries, and peaches this summer. Some items have done better than others; a hill of potatoes produces enough to feed us for three days while the strawberries could be counted on my fingers---and the birds got most of them. 

There were no nearby grocery stores carrying fresh produce where I grew up, so I looked forward each summer to the goodness grown in my mother's garden.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were a much appreciated respite from bottled or canned fruits and vegetables.  Fresh produce is readily available now all year long, but I'm convinced the store bought versions aren't as good as those picked from my garden. They certainly aren't as fresh. 

Each year I feel sad when summer begins to draw to a close since that means the end of our garden.  Already the potatoes are down to two hills, I picked the last of the peaches this morning, and the beets and carrots are getting a little sparse. During the cold, rainy spell we've had the tomatoes stopped ripening, but I expect with a break in the rain we'll have enough for us and our neighbors again soon.  The zucchini hasn't done as well this year as other years, but I've had enough for some of my favorite recipes.  I'll include two of my favorite gluten free zucchini recipes for those like my husband who has Celiac. (For those who don't do gluten free cooking, use regular flour and leave out the Xanthan gum). 

Gluten Free Zucchini Cake 

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup potato starch
3/4 cup corn starch
1/2 cup all purpose gluten free flour (May substitute all purpose gluten free flour for both starches as well.  I prefer the King Arthur brand.)
1 tsp xanthan gum
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup raisins (May omit)
Cream Cheese Frosting  (Use Pillsbury cream cheese frosting if lactose intolerant)
1/2 cup chopped nuts 

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray pan:  15 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 1 (jelly roll) or 13 x 9 x 2
Beat eggs, sugar, oil, applesauce, and zucchini.  Stir in dry ingredients. Mix in raisin.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake until light brown, 25 to 30 minutes. May take a few minutes more for 13 x 9 size pan. Cool frost with cream cheese frosting. Sprinkle with nuts.
 

Zucchini Brownies 

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups gluten free flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups grated zucchini 

Nuts, raisins, or chocolate chips may be added to taste.  Mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.  Ice with favorite fudge icing.  (Pillsbury chocolate fudge is lactose free.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recommending Favorites

Yesterday someone asked me to recommend a good book that wouldn't take forever to read, wasn't about or for teens, but would be exciting and clean.  As most of you know I write a review column for Meridian Magazine and I knew just the book to recommend--Ring Around the Rosie by Julie Coulter Bellon.  You can read my review of that book here http://www.ldsmag.com/article/1/14787

I come in contact with a lot of people and I'm often asked to suggest books they might enjoy.  This discussion often begins with "I've read all of your books, can you suggest . . . "  Last night I had this discussion with a fourth grade teacher and I had to admit I don't read a lot of middle grade books, but I did recommend my daughter, Janice Sperry's Rebel Princess. Someone else asked about books for teenagers, again an area where I don't read a lot, but I told him I was enjoying a series by Margot Hovley and one by Robert Wells.

Discussions on book recommendations usually bring up a question I don't answer well.  What is your favorite book?  I don't have a favorite whether we're discussing books I've written or books I've read.  I read well over a hundred books a year, representing nearly every genre.  I'm currently writing my twenty-fifth novel and I've never stuck to just one genre. Out of all those books I can't settle on just one favorite, but I could probably name a dozen favorite authors.  When it comes to my own books, that's like being asked to name a favorite child. Each one has its own special place in my heart and memories.

Years ago I was told no one reads the same book someone else wrote, meaning we each bring our own life experiences, prejudices, value system, etc., to each book we read and they may not be the same as the author's.  I've always been aware that my tastes in reading material changes as my life changes and I think it's the same for most people.  In the fourth grade I devoured fairy tales.  By the sixth grade it was Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Beldon, and such young sleuth type of books.  I went through a science fiction phase, a detective phase, read tons of romances,  and even read every Western I could get my hands on.  Somehow Westerns led to Historicals.  The one common thread I've detected in my reading taste is action.  I much prefer characters who do something over ones that philosophize.

I've never been a big fan of the so-called Classics though a few like Silas Marner and The Light in August made a lasting impression on me and are among the few Classics I've reread. I've never regretted reading the classics and enjoyed most of them, but I'll admit I prefer genre fiction.  This is why I try to be careful when asked to recommend a book for another person.  Just because I love a certain book doesn't mean everyone will.  When giving or recommending a book to someone else it's helpful to know something about the person, his/her tastes, age group, other books that person has enjoyed, and their values.

As I've gone through my different reading phases I've learned that reading one sole genre for months or years on end is not a good thing.  There are some genres I seldom read or enjoy anymore because of my prior saturation reading.  It really is a good idea to try new genres and new authors.  I find as a reviewer I enjoy my "favorites" much more by interspersing them with a wide array of "others". And sometimes I strike gold, finding a new "favorite".

For any who are interested, here is a list of the books I've read this summer.  If I were giving these books starred ratings, none would rank lower than three stars and many certainly deserve five. 

Mystery/Suspense
Ring Around the Rosie - Bellon
Run for Your Life - Mathews
The Insider - Bessey

Romance
Imperfect Love - Talley
Becoming Lady Lockwood - Moore
Waiting for You - Halverson

Science Fiction
Assault on Cambriol - Borrowman

Fantasy
Rebel Princess - Sperry
The Keeper's Defiance - Nelson
I'm Not Cinderella - Montgomery

Western
Trouble at the Red Pueblo - Adair
Willow Springs - Steele

Action/adventure
Persona non Grata - Stirling
Quantum Breach - Acey
Twisted Fate - Abramson, Luke, Black

Classic/Literary
Counting Candles - Bradshaw
Behold Your Little Ones - Brown

Historical
Hope - Wilkins
In All Places - Ayleworth
Men of Destiny - Brobst