Sunday, December 31, 2006
As a kid, I always wanted a horse. However, when you live on a lot the size of a Kleenex, in the suburbs of Washington D. C., the neighbors don’t take kindly to the fragrance of road apples.
The dream never died and when we moved to Utah, the hunt was on. Our son, Dave, had never ridden, so a calm, gentle horse was a must. When we explained that to a prospective seller, his family looked at each other and exclaimed in unison, “Spooky!”
It was a weird thing to say. As far as I knew, we didn’t look like Lily and Herman Munster. When I realized ‘Spooky’ was the name of their horse, it should have been a clue to the animal’s personality. But hey, we’d never owned a horse—maybe they’d named her that because she was born on Halloween.
“Will you ride her so we can see how she responds?” my husband, Russ, asked.
They nodded yes. The son ran to the barn and brought out a prancing, side-stepping horse.
I wondered, "Is it normal to see the whites of a horse’s eyes?"
The boy leapt on and the horse bolted before the kid’s backside even hit the saddle. They ripped around the arena, scaring the beejeebers out of the barn cat who sat sunning itself by a post. Horse and rider finally reared to a halt, inches away from us, and I had visions of Spooky falling over backwards and squashing us.
Dust filled the air, but Russ managed to cough out a few words. “Thanks so much, but I don’t think that horse is quite right for us.”
The next horse we visited was a Morgan named Sonja. She was calm, friendly and wanted to sit in our laps. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? She was so sweet we probably didn’t need to ask, but I did anyway. “Can we take her for a ride?”
By ‘we’, I meant Russ. After watching Spooky the Devil Horse rear up and flail the air, the only thing I was willing to climb on was a fence post.
Sonja stood quietly, nuzzling the owner’s arm as Russ swung into the saddle. She didn’t crow-hop, buck, or walk out from underneath him. That was another good sign, wasn’t it?
Russ rode her in the arena, and she walked sedately, sticking close to the rail—so close his knee bumped each post as he rode past. The horse was trying to rub him off. Apparently Sonja was great at being a large, affectionate, manure-producing pet, but not much good for riding.
It took some searching, but we finally settled on a white Arabian. I had visions of myself as Lawrence-etta of Arabia. The horse was beautiful, fine-boned, and regal. And as we found out over time, she was also as dumb as dirt.
Plus, she had this nasty cough. It seemed like every time she ate hay, she coughed. Thinking she had a cold, we doctored her with a shot of combiotic … and for good measure, a couple of slurps of honey. One did about as much good as the other, because she kept coughing.
Ok, I take that back; the combiotic didn’t do much, but the honey was useful. Hay stuck to her sticky lips and muzzle as she ate, which not only provided comic relief but also prevented her from blowing nasal mucus all over us when she coughed.
Eventually, I asked one of the old-timers about the problem. Reluctance flitted over his weathered face. He hemmed and hawed, and finally mumbled something about the horse being “heavy”.
“Heavy?” I thought. “Of course, she’s heavy; she’s a horse! What nitwit doesn’t know that a horse is heavy? ”
It turns out the word wasn’t “heavy”; it was “heave-y”. As in, "Thet thar horse has the heaves". When you rode her, she’d cough every few steps. It was like sitting atop a walking earthquake and was about as much fun as having saddle sores. We kept her for a while but all she was good for was manure for the garden, so eventually we traded her to a guy who knew her history.
It was a good trade in my book. We got a hundred gallons of heating oil and he got a heavy horse with hay stuck to her lips.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Because of Christmas and other things, I have been piling stuff on my desk. I sat down tonight in order to write my daily quota and starred at a blank page. I looked around at the stuff. (It was organized, it really was) Have you ever heard the adage: a pile for everything and everything in its pile?
As I was saying I was starring at a blank page. Suddenly, I remembered a note I had written to myself, a note about a plot twist that I was planning. I searched for the note. I asked myself, "did I put it under this pile or that one." When I discovered something I should have dealt with a week ago, I decided it was time to straighten up.
I put everything away, made room for my new books, vowed to build the new shelves I’ve been planning, and paid the bills. It was very liberating. When I emptied the trash can the title for this blog came to mind.
Now admit it, You were thinking of something else when you read the title weren’t you? When I was through, I sat at my clean desk with plenty of elbowroom, looked at the beautiful framed pictures I received for Christmas, and heaved a sigh of relief. I began to write this blog and the words started to flow.
The thing I wanted to share with you is for the past week or so I have had difficulty finding time to write and when I did, I had a hard time organizing my thoughts. Now that I feel comfortable, I can write again. With all the things that take up my valuable writing time, I feel lucky to have a moment for writing. Sometimes it helps to clear the piles of stuff away. (Both physically and metaphorically.) You never know. It might work, it couldn’t hurt.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
As a kid, I always thought of winter as a dull time of year. The holidays are over, and the cold prevents many outdoor activities. The warmth of summer seems very far away for a sun-worshiper like me. In my past, winter has been my least-favorite-most-boring-doldrum season of gloom.
But not this year.
This year, I am looking forward to the winter. I am hoping it will provide me with the time and inspiration to finish some much anticipated writing projects. I owe it to myself to finish what I have started, to take the time to flesh out the stories that are flying around in my head and give voices to the characters that are my constant company.
Even as I stare at a blank page on my new computer screen, I am excited to think of the possibilities this winter has in store for me. As the busy holiday season dies off and the children go back to school, I will give myself time to fill the pages in front of me with whatever junk that worms itself into my head, knowing full well I can edit the worst of it out later. Thank goodness for cut, paste, and delete.
Last spring, I resolved to finish an entire rough draft by setting a daily writing goal and sticking to it. That program worked for me then, and I am hoping it will work again this winter. I intend to be much more strict with myself this time. I will not stop at finishing one manuscript. This winter, I hope to finish two full-length book manuscripts, along with several short submissions—since they have proven to be profitable as well as growth inspiring.
Committing it to words, looking at it as I write, it feels like a lot of pressure to put on myself before I have even rung in the New Year. I start to wonder if I can actually do it. I don’t know, maybe, maybe not.
I do know one thing for certain. This little change in self-expectation definitely makes me re-think my perception of winter. If I can pull it off, maybe winter will become something I can actually start looking forward to.
Maybe spring can wait…maybe.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Today is a great time to think back on the good things you have accomplished this year. Congratulate yourself for your successes. Remember the stories you have completed.
We all need to recharge our batteries from time to time. Every January we start thinking about setting new goals for the coming year. Why do you need worthwhile goals? I have always believed that you can never have success or happiness if you don’t strive for it. It doesn’t just happen. Without a worthy goal, you accomplish nothing. Goals lead you to where you want to go, and you should enjoy the journey along the way.
When you think about improving yourself, keep your writing goals in mind. A positive attitude should be at the top of your list. With persistence, you can accomplish the things you set out to do. You can’t control an editor’s decision, but you do have control over the things you do. If your life isn’t already organized that should be next on your list.
Among your new goals should be things that will help you love yourself. You need to be happy, have a positive attitude, and take positive actions. Most writers have to write to be happy. As you begin to recharge your batteries for the coming year be sure to allow yourself plenty of time for this worthy goal.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Words are magical. Even when they’re nonsensical—like mairzy doats and dozy doats, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, or tisp—they stick with you, following you wherever you go, popping up at the oddest times.
Being filled with Christmas cheer one year, my husband, his mother and I were making Christmas cookies. Russ and I were newlyweds and still learning each other’s enduring young charms. That explains why I made the mistake of letting him read the ingredients out loud while his mom and I put them in the bowl.
It wasn’t that I was naïve about his abilities; I’d already watched his gift wrapping skills at work. He would enclose a present in layers of wrapping paper and tape, which became more wrinkled and wadded as he worked with it. No matter what the initial shape, when he was finished it was lumpy and round.
His version of a bow was ribbon crisscrossed several times around the package and tied in a knot. For some reason, the ‘bow’ always had a dangling six-inch tail and the cat attacked it every time she walked in the room. It’s no wonder all the packages under the tree looked like they’d been fed through a paper shredder two weeks before Christmas.
But I thought it would be safe to let him read the cookie recipe. After all, how much could he goof up reading a few lines on a three-by-five index card?
Things went well for the butter, sugar and flour. I suppose those were words Russ had learned in middle school, and with which he had some familiarity. It was the measurement for the baking soda that was the problem.
“You need to put in one tisp of baking soda.” Russ wriggled his eyebrows on the word "tisp" as if disclosing some great mystery. He was right, a tisp was a mystery.
His mom and I looked at each other. Russ’s mom is a wonderful person and wouldn’t dream of making him feel bad. “That sounds like a lot of baking soda. Are you sure it’s not supposed to be a half a tisp?” she asked.
I stared at her in amazement. What in the heck was a tisp? I was sure she had no clue, but I admired her ability to bluff. And I had to ask myself why she was spending her time as a career secretary in the postal service, when she could have been winning her millions as a poker player in Las Vegas.
I jiggled the box of baking soda. It powder-puffed into the air and made me sneeze, but didn’t do much to clear my brain. Stalling for time, I checked the expiration date on the side but since it didn’t say “expires in a tisp”, I was at a loss.
In all my years of Catholic girls’ school, I’d never heard of a tisp. So why would the Catholic boys know something the Catholic girls didn’t? The boys didn’t even have to take Home Economics 101. They learned useless things in class . . . like how to make their armpits belch, or the best way to get a spitball to stick to the ceiling, or how to convince a girl to kiss them behind the bleachers.
Leaning over, I took the card from his hand and skimmed it quickly. I couldn’t find the word tisp anywhere, so asked Russ to show it to me. He pointed to the line where the recipe clearly stated, “1 tsp. baking soda”.
The mistake gave us a giggling fit and pretty soon we were having such a good time we began throwing balls of cookie dough onto the baking sheet from five feet away. It was just as effective as flattening them with a fork like the recipe suggested—and a great deal more fun.
Many years have passed, and words have even more meaning now than before. A word can make me a kid on roller skates again, or bring back the memory of the fragrance of a summer’s night. The right word can bring tears to my eyes. A simple word can even make me feel like a newlywed on Christmas Eve again.
And you can’t ask for more than that from a tisp.
(Merry Christmas from all of us here at the LDS Writers Blogck!)
Saturday, December 23, 2006
In November I wrote a blog about the Christmas season. I was thinking I would hurry and get a plug in for Jesus and get back to writing my normal subjects. Since then there have been so many wonderful blogs about Christmas I realized I am in the presence of great writers who are in touch with the true meanings of Christmas. Read on, dear reader and enjoy. Since today is the eve of Christmas Eve, I hope all of you will take a long moment and remember Jesus. Share a little joy and tell someone you love him/her.
Shortly after my mission and before we got married, my wife and I attended a movie. We were on a date and we went to see a popular movie of the time. It wasn’t rated R but it should have been. It was a good movie directed by John Houston but about halfway through the movie there was a scene with nudity in it.
In my defense I will say, I was shocked. Several people got up and walked out. I was proud of them. We were sitting next to the wall in a packed theatre so I didn’t leave. I chickened out and I still wish I had joined them. The movie had a good theme and a life’s message that everyone should learn. But was it necessary to tell it in a crude way?
I’ve heard people called prudes because they didn’t like an art exhibit that displayed paintings of nude people. I have heard people make fun of Utah County, Utah for their moral laws. I have heard the complaints of producers, directors, and actors about the need to protect their work from those who would cut objectionable material from a movie.
The other day, I bought a recently published used book, written by a very prominent author. It was a suspense mystery. I’ve never read anything by this author before. I wanted to read it because I’m leaning toward writing in the genre and wanted to learn something.
(If you know the Identity of this author, please keep it to yourself because I don’t want to give him/her publicity).
Anyway the book had a great start. In the prologue, the author in first person, told about a man being poisoned from the point of view of the victim. Then the book went down hill. In the next chapter, I was getting into the story learning information about the characters, and the author threw in a (not very graphic) sex scene.
When I realized what I was reading, I was shocked. I have been reading a lot of LDS fiction lately and I felt violated. I felt cheated, I was pulled from my "spiritual plane" then I remembered the book was written for the national market and the author didn’t know any better.
Or did he/she? I began to wonder if he/she put the scene into the front of the book in order to persuade the reader to read further. "What a cheap trick," I thought.
A few years ago, there was a big fuss over an effort to cut a questionable scene from a popular movie. I was able to watch that movie because my wife had the remote control and she knew where the scene was. Unlike the movie, I don’t know if the book is good without the scene, because I’m a little afraid to read it. It only cost two bucks so I’m not out much. Maybe I’ll give it back and let them sell it again.
Now the question I’m left with, and I ask you, is this a good thing? Is sticking my proverbial head in the sand a bad thing? I believe that we as writers tend to write about the things that influence us the most. So how can we influence others for good, if we don’t try to avoid questionable materials?
It’s hard to keep our balance if we straddle the fence too long, but if we don’t straddle the fence how can we avoid the complaint that LDS fiction is too preachy? The statement was, "We must be IN the world-but NOT of the world."
What do you think? Post your comments and we can have a discussion.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Some of the most eloquent writing has been done during this time of the year. When people talk about the Savior and His birth, words seem to roll off the tongue and flow to the page.
For us regular writers, however, the words aren't always so easy to come by. Perhaps it is easier during this holiday season, but then there are so many other things that occupy our time. Most of us are recovering from the month of November and the National Novel Writing exercise. (I finished, by the way!) Others have family obligations and celebrating with friends --let alone the shopping.
But with all the bustle and hustle of the season, try not to forget two simple things: The Savior is the reason for all of it, and you still need to write. Even if it's only in your journal as you keep record of the fun memories you obtained and will enjoy looking back at later.
The first year my husband and I celebrated Christmas together, I was pregnant and his parents came over to help install our dishwasher in the house we were buying from them. He was trying to install a disposal as my gift along with the dishwasher, and it ended up taking three days. We didn't have water for two of those days. Needless to say, we remember that year vividly. My gift to him was a new pair of shoes purchased by my mother-in-law. Did I mention we didn't have any money? He remembers running out at midnight to find items to put in my stocking. He still buys me a brush every year as a reminder of it. It felt like a version of O'Henry's "Gift of the Magi".
So-along with the homemade goodies and the dazzling parties, remember the person that made it all possible: Jesus Christ. And...keep writing. You never know what wonderful words might flow to paper for you this year.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I have been struggling much as of late. These trials have brought me to a bittersweet junction in life.
My job may turn into a career any moment now, which – while a great opportunity for our finances – will cut my writing time in half. It will be much more difficult. I can’t afford to lose the raise that the promotion will bring, even though it will mean working long hours, nights, and one or more Sundays a month.
Will I continue to write? I should certainly hope so! The stories won’t stop, even for my career, so I might as well put them down. I don’t think I could ever manage not to write, it is simply that weekly deadlines are not “do-able” for now.
I am very much convinced of the wisdom of the prophets who have told us for many, many years that we should live frugally and within our means. My husband and I are doing that now, or trying to, but we have years of carelessness to pay for. As a result, the necessity of here and now, unfortunately, must take precedence over my hoped-for future as a novelist. At least for a little while.
And so, with regret, I am retiring as an LDS Writers Blogck blogger. It’s been fabulous, but it is time to hand over my place to someone else to write, and post, about the life of a struggling writer.
Farewell, and best wishes!
Keep the faith, and keep writing!
I’ve heard there is a local woman whose sole job is to answer letters written to Santa Claus. She claims to receive as many as a thousand letters a day, and she is responsible for answering all of them. She read a few of the letters on the news the other night. Some children ask for toys and electronics. Others ask for more unusual gifts—for their parents to be happy, or their sick relative to be healed.
What an interesting and emotional job. I imagine that there are letters that make her fall on the floor laughing, some that touch her heart—she’ll remember those forever—and others that make her want to hide in a hole and cry.
But as I sat there watching this news story, I got to thinking. If I were going to write a letter to Santa, what would I ask for? I could ask for stuff, because let’s face it, I’m a girl and girls always want something. I might ask for jewelry, or clothes, or maybe some cool, new small appliances. Shoes are always a winner, furniture, home décor…did I say jewelry already? (I can’t help it I’m a fanatic.) But the thing is, while stuff might make me happy for a few minutes, it’s not really what I want.
What I really want is time. Time with my husband, and my children. Time to do all the things we say we’re going to do every year, but don’t get around to doing. I want to forget about the dishes in the sink, and the piles of laundry, and the dust and crumbs scattered throughout my house, and lay next to my six-year-old until he is comfortable enough to fall asleep. I want to put a bubble over my thirteen-year-old and keep him innocent and young. I want to capture forever the look on the faces of my children when they scramble into the living room on Christmas morning to discover the pile of gifts waiting there for them. I want to eternally preserve the spirit of giving that came upon my daughters when they took their own money to buy gifts for each of their siblings, and then worked hard for a little extra so they could buy a special gift for a special friend.
I’d like to spend a week with my grandmother, listening to (and recording) all the stories she can think to tell me about her life, and the lives of those who came before her. Can I put time on hold while Gary and I run off to a tropical paradise and live in luxury for a while—and not miss a single thing at home?
I wonder if Santa is capable of stopping time. He may be able to deliver a gift to every child in the world in one night, but I think if he could stop time, every mother in the world would add that request to her list. Then we’d never go anywhere. We would never progress. And that would be a shame.
So I guess I’ll take all the time I can get, and fill my memory bank to bursting. Because no matter how much I get, there will never be quite enough time.
Oh, and in case you’re reading Santa, since you probably can’t stop time for me, could I request a novel contract for Christmas? If it’s not too much trouble.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
When I was young, I remember coming home after a hard day at school and smelling something baking in the oven. It was pleasing to have the entire house filled with the scent of chocolate chip cookies. A whiff of chocolate was definitely appealing.
After I had children of my own, and life started to get too hectic, I would take a break and bake something for my family. The act of baking was relaxing, and the delicious aroma soothed my senses. As I performed the tasks of measuring, stirring, kneading and mixing my mind wandered away from my daily worries and left me free to focus on the task. When my husband and children arrived home they loved the mouth-watering smells that filled the house, and I loved all the praise.
With years of practice, I actually turned out to be a good cook. I learned to make a variety of delicious and appealing foods. When given something as simple as a recipe I could do wonders. It was a challenge to me to try new and different ways to fix food. No recipe was too hard for me. Since all the children have flown the nest, I rarely take the time to cook anything complicated.
I wish sending my writing away for publishing could be so easy. It doesn’t help me to follow the correct recipe for submission because I still receive the rejects. Writing is something I love to do, but why oh why can’t I find someone who will publish my works? Sometimes the time spent trying to get something published takes away from the time I have to write, and sometimes it doesn’t seem worthwhile. I would rather spend my time writing. Maybe I’ll just write for fun since following the recipe doesn’t help in this case, or maybe I’ll just bake something.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Stephen King said that some of the best advice he has ever received with a rejection letter from an editor was to cut his writing by 10%. “Kill your darlings,” he said.
That’s hard to do.
I recently had to cut a story that is coming out in this month’s Irreantum magazine, the official publication of the Association for Mormon Letters. My editor for this piece (wow, I have an editor, how cool is that?) made many suggestions, most of which I followed, but the hardest suggestion to implement was to cut the unnecessary bulk.
So I gritted my teeth, pulled on my best writing gloves, and proceeded to weed my story. It was a dirty, messy job, but in the end, I reaped the benefits of a cleaner, tighter story.
I concluded that Stephen King was right; however, being a writer myself, I figured I should say what I mean in my own words, which are these:
Weed it and reap; if you do, your target audience—which just may include your future editor—won’t read it and weep.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
By C. L. Beck
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Every creature was sneezing, including the mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that some Kleenex soon would be there.
The children were stuffy, asleep in their beds,
While visions—from Sudafed—danced in their heads.
And Mom with her cough drops, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a few minute's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter . . .
The moon on the breast of the new‑fallen snow
Gave the luster of mid‑day to objects below,
When, what to my watering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight sneezing reindeer,
With a little old driver, that smelled of some Vicks,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Sniffles! Now, Coughing! Now, Hack'n and Sneezy!
On, Drippin'! On Blowin'! On Sore Throat and Wheezy!
To the medicine chest that's down the hall,
Now cough away! Cough away! Cough away all!"
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Gave everyone Halls, then turned with a jerk,
And laying some Vicks aside of his nose,
And giving a sniff, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a sniffle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"ROBITUSSIN TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!"
Saturday, December 16, 2006
I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately. I didn’t intend to light the other end. It was lit for me. Now the middle of the candle is being held over another flame. Is it possible to burn a candle in three places?
Sound familiar? It ought to. Such is life in the 21st century. In doing a special project as part of my work recently, I discovered a story that can be a great inspiration to us all, especially to writers who long to see their name on the cover of a book. Those who work hard only to receive rejection after rejection.
There was a family living in Worcester, England in the middle nineteenth century. They were part of the group of United Brethren who Wilford Woodruff baptized. Right after they were baptized they had a son and named him John.
What a great blessing, to have a son, surely a gift from God for their obedience. During Elder Woodruff’s second mission to England they visited the aforementioned young family and spent the night. As mobs always do, they came calling after everyone had gone to bed. The young father, noticing the mob, went out to meet them, locking the door behind him.
The mob wanted the brethren, the man refused, he was beaten in his front yard until he was unconscious then he was left for dead. When the mob left the young mother went out and dragged him indoors and cared for his wounds. The next morning Elder Woodruff advised the father to immigrate to Zion as soon as possible.
They began the preparations and met opposition at every turn. Their crops failed for two consecutive years and they were forced to sell their home at auction. Then one day while taking goods to sell in town, the father’s horse spooked, causing a wreck that crushed the father’s leg. He remained in bed for a year then died in 1848.
In severe circumstances the mother worked long hours making clothes for men and John worked carrying bricks to help out. They were mobbed and beaten because they wouldn’t deny their faith.
Finally in 1856 they started their journey across the ocean. They became part of a company and after they landed the company proceeded to Iowa City to get a handcart and make their way across the plains.
It was the 15th of July when the Willie Handcart Company left Iowa City bound for Zion and this young family, with Mother leading them, fell in with the company.
After arriving in Salt Lake City, John’s mother was advised by church authorities to take her family to Salt Creek (Now Nephi, Utah) but John had to remain behind another year because his legs and feet were so frozen it took that long for them to heal.
Time passes and this same John was blessed with a very large family. He owned several mills including a plant up Salt Creek Canyon that manufactured plaster of paris. What truly great blessings he was receiving.
But as you may have already guessed John was a polygamist and he was a prominent man therefore a target of federal marshals. For safety and sanity sakes he accepted a call to move his families to Mexico and help built several colonies down there. They had a hard trip but they arrived safe in Diaz, Mexico in 1889.
In 1890 John returned to Nephi to sell everything. On the return trip, he built a house in Arizona for one of his wives and her family. He then continued on to Diaz. When he arrived, he was called on to help settle the Pacheco settlement. He moved several of his families to Pacheco and built grist and molasses mills and houses for his families. With that done, John became suddenly ill with pneumonia and died.
Now, before you think this is a tragedy. You must realize that John’s descendants are numerous and they equate his name with the word blessed. The families had to come back to Utah during the Mexican Revolution. His posterity is scattered all over. You may be one of them.
We all have trials and discouragement but if we keep our eyes focused on the goal we will attain what we seek. We must remember the blessings and relish them because it’s the memory of those blessings that can carry us through the trials. Keep writing and keep submitting
Thursday, December 14, 2006
What is your favorite Christmas memory? I’ve run across a lot of contests lately that have really got me thinking.
If you read the newspaper thoroughly, you might have seen in your local publication a contest call for stories regarding your favorite Christmas memories. I usually read the paper, but it wasn’t until this year that I have begun seeing these calls. Most of them are not for prizes other than publication, and really only ask for a few short words. The point is, before I started paying attention to things like this, I would never have noticed who is writing the inspiring little stories I love to read as I eat my morning breakfast cereal.
In our writing group, we have been passing around the contest information each of us has come across. Most of us are entering one contest or another, and have submitted stories to the group for editing assistance. I have loved reading about everyone’s memories. All the stories are touching, some are funny, and some sad. But no matter whose memory the story comes from, each one has returned to me a little piece of the Christmas spirit that has seemed so elusive this year.
The same result has come from writing my own memories. I have been reaching backward through my childhood for things I haven’t thought about in years, looking for suitable submissions. What is my favorite memory?
Perhaps it is the time my siblings and I unknowingly found our Christmas presents a week early; our mother found us in the basement with a handful of her makeup painting our faces to look like cowboys and Indians so we could wear the cool new clothes we found in the bottom of a closet. This was the year that I discovered the truth about Santa Claus. On Christmas morning we scurried down the stairs to discover a teepee the size of our dining room that happened to look just like the dress up clothes that went with it.
I also remember the Christmas when I was eleven. My brothers and sisters and I realized that our parents had never hung a stocking for Santa to fill, so we pitched in our money and bought and filled some stockings for them ourselves.
The year my youngest sister was born with a severe heart defect, our greatest Christmas gift (besides her gift of life) was that she was finally able to come home, after two and a half months at Primary Children’s hospital, to spend Christmas with our family.
Every Christmas with my husband and children has been memorable in one way or another. I am hoping that this year will produce some strong memories for my children, as well as my husband and I. Maybe next year I’ll be able to write about this year and tell everyone about the time my kids didn’t want any gifts for themselves, and we decided to give everything to Sub-for-Santa.
Well, a parent can always dream.
What’s your favorite holiday memory? Write it down. You never know when someone wants to read about it. And who knows, maybe someday you’ll be able to gloat about the year you won a holiday writing contest.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I love to ponder my childhood and the magical dreams of Christmas as I recall the memories that brought a glimmer to my eye. We were poor and didn't receive much, but we sure had fun. Our family always played together inside or outside, it didn't matter where. It was a special treat if we had snow for Christmas. The hill in front of our house was where everyone in town came to have fun with their new sled.
Today I love the memory of holiday music playing in the background as I sit by a cozy fireplace admiring the decorated tree in the corner, and a manger scene on the piano. The aroma of food cooking prior to the family gathering for a meal together makes me think of one thing that makes holiday memories. Food! Don't laugh because it's true. Everyone over eats in December. We get together with famiies to eat. Next we have a party with friends and again we eat. Almost everyone I know bakes goodies for all their neighbors. It shouldn't be, but the center of Christmas is eating. Many of our family traditions and memories from the past are about the great food we eat.
Sharing and caring is a part of what good memories are, but sometimes in the flurry of gift giving stress seems to take over the life of some people.
I want to paint a picture of the perfect holiday season. The shopping is over, and you have wrapped the packages with care. Familiar scents of cinnamon, spice and chocolate fill the air. Your neighbors have received the packages you baked with love. Now your family is arriving for the big party. I love parties. Snowflakes are falling as twilight approaches. Your entire family is sitting around a warm glowing fireplace, and everyone is sipping warm cocoa as music is playing in the background. The children are asking to hear the story of the birth of Christ. Now the true Spirit of Christmas fills the room.
This year I am reflecting on how and why I celebrate as I do, and I'm writing it down for future generations. Once you are gone the memories vanish unless you have taken the time to write them.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
It’s a simple fact—you shouldn’t write when you’re stressed to the max because your soul goes over and joins the dark side. With an apology to Stephen King, (and ignoring the money he’s made) I’d like to suggest that writing while in pressure cooker mode invariably gives you a book like “Carrie”. Past experience has taught me that when my strung tighter than a barbed wire fence personality emerges, it concocts stories about heads cooking on barbecues, and aliens poking knitting needles into the brains of uncooperative humans. Hardly your standard, humorous Christmas tales.
My current Christmas to-do list, which gives birth to multiple to-do lists while I sleep, has me stretched like a slingshot loaded with road apples. I have to bake fruitcake so people can use it as a doorstop, cook peanut brittle for the neighbors so the dentist can stay in business, and give the dog a bath so he can roll on the first dead thing he finds on our Christmas Eve walk. And those are just the easy things on the list. Therefore, knowing that I’m liable to turn to the dark side at any moment, I’ve taken steps to relax.
I’ve fixed myself a cup of eggnog. (No, I did not include a jigger of rum, because I don’t need to add ‘throw up’ to my to-do list.) I’ve turned on the Christmas lights, lit a fire in the fireplace and called my dog, Corky Porky Pie, over to enjoy the warmth of the season with me.
Ahhh, now that’s better . . .
Eeeww, what’s that smell? Did the dog find a dead alien with a knitting needle stuck in its head to roll on?
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t seen the others. When they billed it as the final chapter I was incensed. The author used nine volumes to develop those characters. How could they do it justice in three?
If you haven’t guessed, We saw The Work and the Glory on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It was well done, a good work, and entertaining, but you are better off never reading the book. I realize that a movie is never as good as the book and the author is at the mercy of the producer when it comes to certain details, but as a writer, I was disappointed.
When I write a story, I develop my characters as I go. The reader generally doesn’t get the complete picture until the end of the book. If I have written the story correctly, the reader will keep reading to get the complete picture.
The aforementioned book was that kind of book in nine volumes. Some may say that each volume should be written in stand-alone form. (Not a continuation but the same characters, different plot). That may be true, but the book in question was written in a way that the characters weren’t fully developed until the ninth book. Some say it’s still not finished. Such is the risk when you write historical fiction I guess.
You know what I mean. Whether you liked the book or not, whether the story was written correctly or not, whether it had errors or not, isn’t the point. The point is that the author wrote it in nine parts and the Joshua that we had at the end of the third movie isn’t the Joshua we had at the end of the ninth book. He had no right to be. He hadn’t passed through the trials that he did in nine volumes. And where was Olivia? I missed her.
I knew something was up when the second movie not only departed from the book, it departed from Church history. It seemed to me that it was made that way in an attempt of getting a broader audience and when it didn’t work, the screenwriters did a masterful job of pulling it together. The movie is worth seeing but I would suggest you throw what you know about the book away because the movie departs from the book. It also helps to look past a few facts, particularly who did and who didn’t go on the Zion’s camp expedition.
If I can’t see the whole series, I want to see a movie from the Children of Promise series, The faith of our Fathers series, or even the whole Chronicles of Narnia (not just the Lion Witch and the Wardrobe). Of course what I really want to see is the movie version of the Eternal Tapestries series. What is that you ask? Wait until I get it published.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Everyone has his or her own version of the best way to spend the holidays. Maybe you like water-skiing in the Arctic, or going to visit Santa’s reindeer at the zoo. I always thought it would be fun to decorate a palm tree instead of a fir tree.
Perhaps we are carrying on traditions handed down for several generations, or maybe picking up on a neighbor’s, or the milk-man’s, or someone else’s handed down tradition. Our parents did things a certain way, probably a carry-over of something our grandparents started. Our spouse might have grown up doing something entirely different, because their parents did things that way. Some of us have a strong desire to start holiday traditions of our own. Whatever our traditions, we do our best to make the entire season memorable for our families.
It’s not that we don’t think the traditions of our parents or grandparents are wonderful. It’s not even that we don’t think the ideas are important. It is simply that as we grow older, we have a strong need to forge our own paths with our spouse and children.
This might mean taking original traditions and changing them to suit our needs. For instance, my family had a tradition of unwrapping new pajamas on Christmas Eve. It’s not an unusual tradition, and it is kind of fun. But what if my brother gets married and his new wife doesn’t wear pajamas? Or what if my son insists on wearing only his underwear to bed? That makes the pajama tradition a little difficult. Imagine having your grandmother buy you underwear for Christmas Eve and then expect you to put it on and model it for everyone before you pose in the family picture she intends to hang on her living room wall. At that point, I’d guess it’s time for tradition to evolve.
Gary’s family has had a traditional Santa Claus party since before Gary was born. They sit around and play games, and sing songs, and then Santa comes to their house and brings them all a present to open. But times change, and kids grow up. The Santa party continued through Gary’s teenage years because his older siblings had children who enjoyed it. Then we had children who enjoyed it too. But what do you do when even the grandkids don’t believe in Santa anymore? Or worse, when the Santa Claus who has been coming to Grandma’s house for nearly thirty years dies of cancer? You can’t exactly tell the little kids Santa is dead. And a replacement Santa is never the same as the original. (Although I think Tim Allen makes a great Santa.) Time to change again.
Someone in our ward was quite insistent the other day in telling us that all Christmas music should be instrumental. She truly believed that was the way to invite the spirit to our ward Christmas party. I beg to differ. Words can be amazing things, and traditionally—even in church hymns—words are instrumental in not only inviting the spirit, but also strengthening and encouraging it. That is why I write. But, that kind sister is still entitled to her opinion.
There will always be the family member—or ward member—who opposes tradition changes. But life is all about changes. We cannot stop them, or avoid them, so we have to roll with them and adjust. That is the beauty of free agency, the wonder of the gifts we have all been given. We can make our own traditions, and we can forge our own paths. If we keep an open mind, the spirit will stay with us no matter how we choose to spend our holiday.
So when you open the Spongebob Squarepants underwear that your grandma bought you, you can smile and say, “Thank you, Grandma! I love new underwear.” And for future reference you can mention, “I’ve been converted into Pajamaism, so next year I’d love purple satin, please.” And then break out into spontaneous song at the top of your lungs while dancing around under your Christmas-palm-tree.
“We wish you a merry Christmas. We wish you a merry Christmas. We…” Well, you get the idea.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
The Wikipedia encyclopedia says, “A snowball is a ball of snow, usually created by scooping snow with the hands and compacting it into a roughly fist-sized ball. The snowball is necessary to hold a snowball fight.”
It continues, “A snowball may also refer to a large ball of snow formed by rolling a smaller snowball on a snow-covered surface. The smaller snowball grows by picking up additional snow as it rolls. The term snowball effect is named after this process.”
Snowball effect was what happened this year on February 10 when the students of Michigan Technological University rolled a twenty-one foot snowball making it the world’s largest snowball ever rolled.
When a writer gets an idea it can also have a snowball effect as one thought followed by another idea can continue to grow. It’s a lot like rolling a snowball down a hill. Sometimes my story doesn’t go very far, and other times it gets bigger and bigger as my ideas grow. The faster I write the larger the story gets.
I love history, and read everything concerning the past that I can get my hands on. My favorite story concerning snowballs happened on the Monday evening of March 5, 1770, about 9 o’clock when the pelting of British soldiers with snowballs led to The Boston Massacre, which sparked the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and thirteen British colonies. Thirty or forty lads gathered in King Street. Soon Captain Preston and his soldiers came pushing charged bayonets trying to drive the people off. The young lads in the crowd threw snowballs. When this happened the Captain commanded the soldiers to fire, and more snowballs came. He again told them to fire. One soldier did fire and a fight broke out. More soldiers fired and when it was all over three men laid dead on the spot, and two more were struggling for life.
I can picture those ragged cold boys from the colonies as they threw their snowballs. This time it wasn’t a snowball fight with their friends, it was to help drive the British soldiers away. I admire their courage and foresight in fighting for our freedom. I’m sure they had no idea the effect this snowball fight would have on their country and posterity or that they would drive the soldiers out who massacred their people.
Writing is also like throwing snowballs – once you get an idea a new one will come, and then another thought will surface. The more things you think of the more ideas keep coming. As I sit down to write my mind wanders to many different ideas as though someone is pelting snowballs at me. I wish it would spark a fabulous book right onto the shelf of some store. Since that probably won’t happen I’ll just keep catching and typing the snowballs thrown my way.
I have files of good ideas that I haven’t used yet, and it keeps getting larger and larger. Everywhere I go I collect new thoughts to add to my growing stash. I hope every writer out there has a similar place to keep all the snowballs thrown their way.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
How was your holiday? If it was anything like mine, you had a great time. We met at my parent’s, had dinner, and for the first time in a long time the whole family was together, so I took a picture. Then I took another one because there were several that shaded their eyes from the sun.
"OK" I said. "I’ll arrange it so you won’t have to look into the sun." After the hassle of the picture, (and I was surprised that everyone actually stood for it), we waddled back in the house and languished in the glow of a great meal revisited. The battle over the best napping position ensued and was settled in first come, first served order. The rest of us took mental naps as a result of the brain shut down, caused by the drug that a turkey produces naturally. (I wonder why we never see whole flocks of turkeys taking naps at all hours).
After the nap, those of us who could stomach seconds did, and the rest of us prepared for the Shuffle. "What is that?" you ask. During every Thanksgiving holiday, there is a point when being thankful passes and being greedy begins. It’s the point when a few stout hearted and perhaps weak-minded individuals begin to peruse the sale ads and plan their strategy for the next morning. I begin to remember the Christmas lights that must be traditionally hung on the house the next day.
The rest of us start asking each other what they want for Christmas. That question always turns to thoughts of what we want for ourselves and magically, without warning the shuffle has begun. The brief moments when we shift gears and go from Thanksgiving season to Christmas season. The moment when the world pauses to get a second wind.
Over the course of the next few weeks we will:
Be bombarded by more Christmas music than we can stand.
Send and receive more mail than we have all year.
Eat more homemade treats than is prudent.
We’ll go in and out of more stores than we ever knew existed.
There will be parties and dinners and tolerating our in-laws.
All of this madness will come to a climax on the last night of the year when we make resolutions that we will NOT spend so much, next year. Providing we can talk the merchants and banks into forgiving our debt, otherwise it will be a moot point.
Before you think I have a man named Ebenezer in my family tree, or that I live on a mountain peak looking down on the world, let me explain my tongue in cheek:
Having a birthday in December, I used to get frustrated over people playing Christmas music and putting up lights before my birthday. I had issues when birthday presents were wrapped in Christmas paper. When I got older, I overcame it. I realized whom we were remembering and that HIS birthday is more important than mine. I love him so much that my heart is glad that we can celebrate his birth.
We all know that we tend to get lost in the Thanksgiving shuffle. With all we do during the season, we tend to think of December 25 as a busy day, the day when the shuffle shifts gears and goes into return and exchange mode. Of course, we reverence the Savior, but the shuffle overshadows the purpose and the shuffle, begins earlier every year.
So before we turn it into the Independence Day Shuffle, I for one need to pause more and remember the man. To step away from the season and find peace. Perhaps turn the day back into a day of worship. Jesus is the light of the world. He did for us, that which we could not do for ourselves. He deserves our unending gratitude and love.
Friday, December 01, 2006
by W.L. Elliott
I have an ever-growing list of favorite quotes. Most are from writers, but some are not. Some are encouraging, some are depressing. Some are inspiring, some are entertaining.
Why I would collect such a thing, you ask. None are any grand dissertations, just a few words at a time. So why do these little snippets of wit and wisdom become something worth keeping, and rereading a hundred times over?
I think there must be a basic human need to know that we are not alone. No one wants to be the first – remember when you were a kid, climbing up the high dive at the pool? Everyone needs to know that it can be done—that you won’t lose an arm or a leg if you jump off a perfectly good platform into the water below. We need that assurance that someone else has done it, and succeeded. And certainly, no one wants to be the “only”. Writing might be a solitary occupation, but writers are certainly not solitary animals. Fact is, get a bunch of us together, and we will gabber enough to measure on the Richter scale. This is why many of us gravitate toward writers groups like a wildebeest looking for a herd.
The point is that we need to be understood. So, in the spirit of understanding, encouragement, and herd-ship, here are a few of my favorite snippets from those who have gone off the figurative high dive before us, and lived to tell the tale.
“If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." -Jack London
“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head and as you get older, you become more skillful casting them.” -Gore Vidal
“The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slow, I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” -Raymond Chandler
“I have rewritten -- often several times -- every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” -Vladimir Nabokov
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” -Oscar Wilde
“I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.” -Clarence Budington Kelland
“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” -Raymond Chandler
“Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.” -Tom Clancy