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
Thursday, November 30, 2006
It’s that time of year again. Christmas colors light up rooftops and shrubbery. Pine trees that tower toward ceilings are loaded with colorful lights and homemade bobbles. The warm aroma of baked goods drifts through the air. Garland and bows adorn our houses and our lives. And somewhere amid the clutter in a far off corner, someone puts up a tiny crèche. The pieces may be worn and broken, but they’ll glue it together. Make it last one more year.
“Can’t blow my Christmas money on a new one,” they say as they flock to the store to begin the madness as soon as they’ve finished feasting on turkey. Earlier. Next year, we’ll go earlier. Thoughts of frustration run through the heads of hundreds as they punch, claw, and fight for a five dollar Barbie or a three dollar toaster.
Others have waited for days to secure their place in line, cooking their “honorable” feast on a portable grill, and enjoying it on the sidewalk in their pajamas. Bigger, better, cheaper! Becomes the spirit of the day. If it plugs in, they will come. If it plays games, movies, music, or software…they’ll break down the doors to make sure they get one. No matter that they can get one next week, next month, next year. No matter that these things are available for purchase all year long. These people must have it NOW!
Gone are the days when Christmas shoppers had time to think about what they are buying and for whom. Here and now every purchase is rush, rush, rush. Forget about wooden trains, and hand-sewn dolls. Every child must have an iPod, or a new gaming system.
We consumers spend so much time and money fighting for bargains. Have we forgotten why we celebrate this holiday? Even the legends of Saint Nicholas speak of charity and giving. He is an iconic figure, passed down through stories for a hundred or more years. How can we forget what he represented?
I am one of those mothers who left my house before some people had gone to bed on the morning of Black Friday. I scoured the stores, I shopped, I bargained, I spent. And at the end of the morning, while I did have most of my Christmas shopping done, I could not force the Christmas spirit into my veins.
Later that day, I tried to write. I wrote—for at least an hour—about my favorite Christmas memory. But I had a major problem. The spirit wasn’t there. I hated every word I had written because I could not feel the spirit of Christmas. I had allowed my holiday to become so commercialized that I could not even force that lovely feeling into my words.
So, I am scrapping that attempt and starting again. But before I do, I’m going to take a few precautions. I will play some inspirational beautiful Christmas music while I bake some…well, something, and give it away. I’ll wrap a few gifts and place them under my tree. I’ll stand at my window and look at the snow that has recently fallen. Maybe I’ll fill out a few Christmas cards, and mail them. Then, I’ll brew a nice cup of hot chocolate and bring it with me to my computer to start writing.
I don’t know if it will work. Maybe I should sing a few Christmas carols with my kids. Oh, and then I’m going to read them the Christmas story. That should do it.
Whatever I do, I’ll make sure to stay away from the stores. I already know I won’t find the "write" spirit there.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I work for a construction company. No, I don’t do construction, but I work in the office paying bills, doing payroll, and other related activities. In the 13 years I have worked in this job I have become familiar with the many tools of the trade. Each sub-contractor follows the plan and they have specific tools they use in building the house.
Writers also have tools of the trade. We don’t use hammers, staple guns, or saws, but we can use writing tools – pencils, pens, computers, and notebooks. Sometimes we can learn from other writers, from authors of books on writing, and from teachers in writing workshops.
My most often used tools are my books. You can also go on line and find anything concerning writing that you have questions about. Everything you learn will become a handy tool to you as a writer. Practice will help you become handy with your tools. As you continue to use them, your writing will improve. Some tools will help you improve sentence structure, your grammar, and a variety of things. The more you write the better your tools become.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Since November is the month for giving thanks, it seemed appropriate to think of Bob Hope’s theme song, "Thanks for the Memories", and then write about a few of the non-memories I’m grateful to have forgotten.
Medical procedures are the perfect opportunity for a writer. Especially for a writer that doesn’t pass out at the sight of blood. Unfortunately, that’s not me. All the same, when I’ve gone to the doctor’s office I’ve thought of the multitude of plots that could be concocted about the medical field . . . if I just had the technical knowledge.
In the past several years, I’ve had two colonoscopies. You might wonder why the person who wouldn’t normally tell her best friend that she has a hangnail would tell the entire world about her medical procedures. I think that must be one of the side effects of a doctor injecting stuff into your veins which totally erases your inhibitions. They tell you the medication in the I.V. is to relax you, but we all know the truth. You can bet no one is going to wear that hospital gown with the natural air conditioning in the back unless there’s a way to keep you from remembering you paraded around and mooned everyone.
There’s no doubt in my mind why the doctor asks you to have someone with you at the hospital, either. It’s not to drive you home. It’s so they can tell you the crazy things you did and don’t remember.
Before my first colonoscopy, a multitude of questions ran through my mind. Aaah, research for a future novel. Who better to ask than the doctor? By the time the procedure was over, my mind didn’t have a question in it. In fact, it didn’t even really have a brain. It was a blank slate . . . but only for a moment. As I was getting dressed to go home, a song popped into my head and I vaguely remember humming it. To hear Russ tell it, I was singing the verse, “she walked up to me and she asked me to dance, I asked for her name and in a couple of months she said Lola”, over and over again, at the top of my lungs.
Well, I can’t be certain those were the words, since my memory is fuzzy, but that’s what Russ tells me. "Lola" is a rather strange song to have stuck in my mind, and certainly not something I would sing to just anyone. The lyrics are not obscene, but they are about a questionable subject . . . cross-dressers. It’s not a topic I’m particularly well-versed on, and admittedly, I should have been singing "I Am a Child of God", but you can’t blame me. I was only singing what the I.V. dictated. My doctor’s receptionist, Lola, is a very kind person, and has always been helpful to me. Apparently she was on my mind, and the I.V. liked her as much as I do.
The second colonoscopy went much better. No, I still didn’t remember to ask those technical research questions. But, remembering my last faux paux, I reminded myself not to sing. You’ll be glad to know I accomplished the task. Not because I couldn’t recall any songs, but because when I offered to sing, the nurses and doctors all remembered my last rendition and refused to take me up on the offer. That being the case, I turned my attention to the medical facts at hand. The doctor told me the colonoscopy had gone fine and they hadn’t found any evidence of cancer. Did I sing about it? Nope. Did I formulate a plot about it? No, indeed. Instead I announced to everyone, on my long gurney ride back from the O.R., that the doctor said everything was fine and I had a "good butt".
Honest, I’m not the kind of girl who would run around and announce that to everyone. You can’t blame it on me. It was the ‘milk of amnesia’ in my I.V.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Have you ever noticed in the early days of the church, most of the important meetings were held in the winter or early spring? I wondered about that, until I realized that most of the first members were farmers.
In the spring, farmers did chores and mended tools, but mostly they waited. They couldn’t do anything in the fields until the fields dried out. In the summer, farmers were busy weeding and doing the chores that provided a living for their family. In the winter, they survived. If the weather got bad they were cooped up for days with nothing to do but read and play games.
It’s no wonder that Joseph picked the spring to go into the grove and pray. After a winter of reading the scriptures, he must have been anxious to get out and try out his new found wisdom.
I was reflecting on my writing habits the other day, and I remembered when I started writing. It was in the dead of winter. There wasn’t much I could do out-of-doors and I hated to waste time watching TV. For a few years this was my habit. I would put out a rough draft over the winter and polish it as I found time in the spring.
After a few years, I discovered a desire to get closure for my characters. A year or two later, I got serious about writing. Now, I write every day sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.
With the approach of the holidays once again, I am observing another anniversary. I celebrate my awakening to the joys and sorrows of writing fiction. In March, (the early spring), I will attend the big meeting, (writer’s conference), I will be renewed, I will be ready, I will be a published author . . . well I can dream can’t I?
Anyway it’s time to write the family newsletter and shut myself up in my office. This winter I have six books in the works. I hope to get one of them finished. One book is written and waiting approval. When you read this blog, Thanksgiving will already be over, but let me wish you a happy one anyway and just for good measure, I wish you a happy productive winter. May you emerge in the spring among the hibernating critters with your finished book in hand and a publishing contract to sign.
To paraphrase, I hope your holidays are full of joy.
Friday, November 24, 2006
It occurred to me one afternoon, as I perused the contents of my fridge in preparation for dinner, that writing a novel was similar to following a recipe. You have the story outline or plot which is like a recipe, then you have ingredients; which are like the characters and scenes. With that, there are the directions/instructions, which are like going to writing classes or seminars and gaining more experience. Finally, you have the final product which is something you (hopefully) get published, like a finished course for a meal.
Many of our posts have ended up talking about and comparing writing with food. We can't help it, we are creatures of habit and just a tiny bit ruled by our appetites. Chocolate always comes up this time of year, despite our best intentions.
The same can be said for writing.
How do you think about your writing? Do you have a recipe that you follow? Do you follow an outline of how many chapters, or how long a chapter or the climax, the build up, the foreshadowing? How long do you let your ideas simmer? Sometimes they can take on a life of their own and boil over in excitement, leaving abstract ideas behind.
After you've started your recipe, do you ever want to change ingredients? Try something new? Have you gone to any classes that taught you new ways of doing things? I remember the first time I discovered spices and herbs and how they change the flavor of things dramatically by just a pinch here and there. Writing can be the same way too after attending a writing seminar and discovering many different ways of adding depth to a character or richness to a story.
Since Halloween just graced our calendars, and Thanksgiving just ended, we tend to think of food even more. Halloween is great for 'ghostly' challenges, who-dunits and the like. Thanksgiving is great for those pumpkin pies, fresh homemade rolls and Turkey, fresh out of the oven. And, let us not forget the leftovers the day after--yum! Are your senses craving anything yet?
Here's your chance for looking through those 'recipe cards' or note cards sitting on your desk. We're going to do a mad write exercise, and I want you to remember it has only two rules: Must have the sentence in the writing, and can only take 10 minutes of your time. Mad writes are like spontaneous cookie making; it's great fun to see how they turn out.
Here's the sentence:
The sudden crash echoed off the walls of the small apartment, making her/him flinch.
We'd love to hear how your attempt goes.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I’m thankful for the moon and stars
The mountains and the trees
The flowers growing in my yard
And the rolling open seas
I’m thankful for the desert sand
And cactus with prickly pears
A forest full of evergreens
And the animals living there
I’m thankful for the USA
A place I call my home
And soldiers willing to sacrifice
For men they’ve never known
A place where I can lay my head
Securely every night
And tuck my children safe in bed
Before turning out the light
The wheels that drive me everywhere
And music in my soul
And words that seem to fill my head
All things that make me whole
A companion who will hold me close
And love me ‘til I’m gray
Who whispers softly words of love
Each and every day
For friends I couldn’t live without
I’m thankful, endlessly
And the thoughtful simple little things
That others might not see
I dream about the future
And it’s possibilities
I’m thankful I am given
The chance to write
The chance to dream
The chance to worship
Laugh, and sing
I live a life of promise
Starry skys and endless sea
Because my Savior cared enough
He gave it all to me.
Happy Thanksgiving from the LDS Writers Blogck!
Monday, November 20, 2006
One of God’s greatest gifts to man is freedom of choice. We all get to choose which path we will take. Our success or failure depends on the choices we make every day. It’s scary to realize I am responsible for all the choices I make. How we use our agency is important. Some choices are important – some are not.
This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a day set aside to give thanks. I am grateful for my ancestors who came to this land where we would have freedom of choice. Their choices have affected me and made my life easier. I don’t think they realized what they were doing for their posterity when they left their homes afar to settle in the wilderness of this land.
I am grateful for the Pilgrims who came to this free land, and the Pioneers who walked for miles and miles to a desert, and other ancestors who gave their life fighting in the wars so we could be free. The choices each of them made were for my benefit.
One thing we all have to remember is that Satan is always there and glad when we choose to just slide downhill. Some writers are tempted to follow the way of the world with the things they write. I’m grateful we have a group of writers that look to the light and only write stories that are uplifting.
Let’s all give thanks for the freedom we have to make choices.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Aaaah, Thanksgiving—the time of year to eat roast turkey, smashed taters and stuffing. There’s only one way to make the stuffing and that's with sour dough bread and giblets. Ok, I hear some of you gagging at the mention of giblets, but mine is an old family recipe that tastes great. And I wouldn’t be caught dead touching a giblet otherwise.
We have time honored traditions in our home and we follow them to the letter. One year, however, things didn’t go quite as expected. We watched the Macy’s parade in the morning while the giblets simmered in the pan on the stove. Then we turned them off (the giblets, not Macy’s), and made the stuffing . . . using . . . well, I won’t tell you which parts, because it’ll just start you gagging again. I will say I’m picky about which innards go into my stuffing and there’s no way that gristly ol’ gizzard went in there. In fact, being an animal lover, I left it in the pan of water and turned it back on so it would cook more for the cats. Then I shoveled the stuffing into the gobbler and got that baby roasting.
While it cooked, we jumped in our truck and headed up the canyon to go skiing. I could almost catch a whiff of roast turkey floating among the pines. The clouds threw dancing shadows that resembled pumpkin pies, and the snow looked like mounds of whipped cream.
After a couple of hours, it was time to go. On the drive down my tumbly was rumbly, thinking of the turkey that would be ready at home. My favorite Thanksgiving moment always happened when we walked in the door and the warmth of the kitchen washed over us, while the pungent odor of sage, onions and roast turkey wrapped us in a culinary hug.
I was the first to bail out of the truck and raced to the door anticipating the aroma. I stopped short with my hand on the knob. “What’s that weird sound?”
Being deaf in one ear and not able to hear out of the other, Russ had no clue. “I don’t hear anything,” he said.
“It sounds kind of like a high-pitched siren.” Puzzled but not concerned, I turned the key in the lock and opened the door, inhaling to my fullest in preparation for the wonderful smells to come.
Acrid smoke poured out and rushed up my nose, while the smoke detector screamed like a wild banshee. “What’s going on?” I yelled to Russ over the din while waving my hands to clear a path through the smoke.
“Something’s burning!” he hollered.
Duh. I could tell something was burning, but what was it? Had the turkey exploded from its cooking bag and plastered itself all over the oven? Just then my son walked in and said, “Hey, something’s burning!”
My family has a talent for stating the obvious.
By now we were almost deaf. Apparently it never occurred to fire alert manufacturers that some people might not dash out the door, but instead would stand around discussing what’s on fire.
Taking decisive action, I grabbed a dish towel and flapped it frantically under the detector to clear the sensors and shut it up, while Russ dashed to the oven to pull out the turkey. Dave stood in the doorway waving the door to clear the air, and cheered us on in between coughs.
Russ yelled at the top of his lungs, “It’s not the turkey. It’s something on the stove that looks like . . . like . . . a black turkey gizzard, burned until it’s become one with the pan.” Naturally, the smoke detector quite screaming at just that minute, so that even strangers on the streets of Provo knew we had giblets roasting on an open fire.
Despite the fiasco of a holiday where our house smelled of burned gizzard, and we ate bundled in coats because the doors were opened to air out the smoke, it was a Thanksgiving to remember. My son, now thirty-something, loves to tell the story to anyone who will listen.
Some might think it foolish to tempt fate, but I’ve cooked giblets every Thanksgiving since. And even though there will only be two of us for Thanksgiving this year, I still plan to make my grandma’s stuffing. A tradition like that can’t be tossed out the window just because of a little burned gizzard in the past. Besides, I’ve learned from my mistakes and now take extra precautions.
The night before Thanksgiving I always pull the battery out of the smoke detector.
(Have a happy Thanksgiving! May your turkey be succulent, your mashed potatoes fluffy, your pumpkin pie delightful . . . and may your gizzards never burn.)
Saturday, November 18, 2006
First let me apologize for the poor way this is written. Here at LDS Writers BLOGCk we have a group where we meet and review each other’s blog before we post it. I for one have benefited immensely from this relationship.
Normally I tend to capitalize things, and I repeat words to the point of distraction. I used to write "started" a lot. Now I use the word "that". I am so glad that Nichole has eyes to notice that. (You see I did it again.) Connie and Gaynell constantly ask me to explain my meanings, Cindy, (I mean Inky) should be an English teacher because she catches things that I should know better.
Darvell is an inspiration, Wendy helps me see things in a different way, Karen gives me ideas, and it’s a blessing for me to be associated with these people.
Now that you have read this far, have you spotted any errors yet? I couldn’t ask my friends to look this over because I have been in a crisis since last Thursday and didn’t get it written in time.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I have editorial blindness. I can look at a whole page of manuscript and not see any mistakes. Then I have what I call a slap myself on the forehead moment, when I see colored marks from an editor. I fix the mistake and move on. I think those moments are getting fewer and farther between. (It’s a good thing. I was getting a headache.) I am getting better, but I don’t think I will ever outgrow an editor.
That’s the beauty of a writers group. At Authors Incognito, I have friends that can see what I missed. We’re tolerant of each other because we know how many mistakes we make ourselves. We all have editorial blindness to one degree or other. For those of you who don’t know, Authors Incognito is the writers group who sponsors this blog. You can join by attending a LDS StoryMakers writer’s conference.
Those of you who don’t live on the Wasatch Front may not have heard the commercial that says, "You have a friend in the diamond business". For those of you who are members of Authors Incognito I would say, "You have a friend in the writing business," Even the authors will help out.
This was going to be a piece about the approach of the Christmas season and the shameful way we commercialize it. Maybe I’ll save that for another time. Until then, feel free to comment and tell me how many errors I made. It will make my friends feel good to know they have been so helpful to me. Comment anyway, I love to see responses, it always makes my day.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Having found myself staring down another deadline, with not a shadow of a notion what to write, I turned to my notes from the 2006LDStorymakers Writers Conference.
Pages upon pages of sound, educational writing advice and I still had no ideas. Then, in the midst of the notes from one particular workshop, I stumbled across the most amazing sentence, instantly lighting a fire of curiosity and, hopefully, leading to something entertaining -or better yet, inspirational. It said, simply:
"Be careful sending in the dogs."
I have no clue whatsoever what that sentence means. I wanted to read more, but there was no more to read. The notes following went on about effectively curing writers block; there was no more about any dogs, or why I should be sending them somewhere. I could imagine all sorts of intriguing situations springing from a sentence like that, but I ended up leaving my notes unsatisfied and irritated, never knowing the outcome of those poor pooches.
As a fumble, I accomplished something accidentally that good writers strive to do on purpose-give your readers a first line that leaves them dying to read more, to know more, to find out where the dogs are going and why. In so doing, I also unwittingly committed the first cardinal sin of writing-breaking the promise of a great story made by an amazing opening.
So what have I gained from all this?I have learned the true power of a really awesome beginning, and the promise of a good story that comes along behind.
And to take better notes.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
For the past nine years, my girlfriends and I have been meeting once a month for a girls’ night out. We leave our children and husbands’ home, and meet—at various locations—to share gossip, laughter, and other chit-chatty things women talk about when they are alone together. During these years, we have come to be more like sisters than friends. We are a solid six.
We have supported each other through many of life’s hardships, including death, divorce, and deployment. We know the names and interests of each other’s children, and other silly things like what we will order to drink in a restaurant, and who eats spicy foods. These are the things that keep our friendship strong, solid.
Recently, one of these dear friends received some terrible news about her husband, a soldier who has been stationed in Afghanistan for the past ten months. He was severely injured in a suicide bombing attack. The first call my friend made was to one of our six. She knew without having to ask that word would travel, and we would be there. And we were. Within minutes of the initial phone call, those of us who could, dropped what we were doing to go to her, to bring comfort and support, and to help her through her shock.
That’s what friends are for.
Because I love my friend, I have felt emotionally on edge for the last week as we wait for word about what happens next. Our girls’ night this month happened to fall on this same friend’s wedding anniversary. So while her husband lay in pain in a military hospital in Germany, we celebrated his nineteen years with his wife. And for the first time in over a week, she was able to eat. She even laughed a little.
Writers understand the importance of good friends. We get together with other writers daily, or weekly, or whenever we can, in order to support one another. We celebrate our accomplishments, offer encouragement, and support one another. And when one of us has written something that needs a lot of help, we are not afraid to tell the brutal truth.
That’s what friends are for.
We may not know what the others eat for breakfast, but we will get to know our individual writing styles, and our punctuation and grammar flaws. We will know each other in a way none of our other friends can. And hey, I have to admit that occasionally the conversations of writers do veer off into creative cravings and sugar-ingesting habits. That kind of stuff just makes friendship all the more interesting.
If you are a writer without a group, I strongly suggest you find one. You may not realize how badly you need these friends until you actually have them. Friendship is one of life’s greatest rewards. Grab hold while you can. You never know where life will lead you. Today is your chance to make a new friend. Don’t let it pass you by.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Writers enjoy challenges, and we don’t give up easily. Failure along the way is expected and accepted.
Two things I hate to hear from anyone is – good things come to those who wait, and–rejection builds character and helps you appreciate success even more. These statements may be true, but they don’t help me feel better.
God doesn’t intend for us to struggle with feelings of low self-esteem or rejection. He wants us to understand we have value and worth. No one can shield us from rejection because we can’t control the way editors feel about our stories. Some may like what we wrote, and others will reject it for no apparent reason. When we fail to accept ourselves, rejection can open a door to our emotions, but we have control over our attitude and actions.
Most writers count their rejection letters. We all know we are not alone because everyone gets them. No, I don’t like getting one, but it goes with the territory. The important thing is to spring back after the blow. Coping with rejection and failure is not easy. It certainly doesn’t mean we are not good enough. No one likes criticism, but most writers know that is what makes our work better.
Writers are different from most people. I admit I’m unusual, but I don’t care because it means I’m unique. I just want to be me, and writing is part of me.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Germs—bad, bad germs. I once knew a doctor who told his patients he didn’t believe in the germ theory. It was a joke and if I didn’t have an awful cold right now, I’m sure I’d find it funny.
Have you ever thought about germs? It’s never been proven, but I believe they’re part of an insidious plot. Nowadays everything is thought to be a conspiracy, so why not the common cold?
Can’t you just see it? A scientist with wavy hair, a polka-dotted bow tie and black glasses is sitting on the stool in his lab. Chemicals bubble in beakers, heat rises from his Bunsen burner, the scent of formaldehyde and sulfuric acid mixed with the smell of a bologna sandwich wafts through the air. He ignores it all in his effort to train a germ to do its duty.
“Now go on out there, find every LDS writer that you can, and give them a cold right before their publishing deadline.” The scientist lovingly pats the germ on the head.
“Yes, my master,” the germ replies.
“And don’t forget book signings. Lay them low as they sit at the table, hoping to impress the masses.”
“Yes, my master.” Apparently this germ has learned how to divide and multiply, but he doesn’t have very good language skills.
“Cloud their minds so they forget to use a handkerchief when they cough,” the scientist continues.
“Yes, my master.”
Hold on a minute. This cold germ is starting to sound like Darth Vader talking to the Emperor. Maybe we’d better beef his character up a little.
“When they go to church, impress them to shake hands.” The scientist’s eyes gleam with insane pleasure behind his Coke bottle glasses.
The germ blinks in confusion. “My master, I don’t need to do that. We’re in Utah, which is an ancient Native American word for ‘people who can’t meet without shaking hands’.”
“Oh, I always thought it meant ‘people who can’t meet without refreshments’,” the scientist replies. He slicks back the germ’s hair, straightens its little polka dot tie and sends it off into the big, wide world.
You might think I’m making this up in my illness-fogged mind, but I have living proof. That very same germ showed up at my writers’ group on Tuesday and managed to infiltrate its way into my life, giving me the wretched cold I have today.
I’m onto the germ, though. Knowing that I’m contagious, I’m not going to church or shaking hands with others. I refuse to cooperate in spreading the monster around. I’m not sending it by computer to my writer friends, either. Before starting this blog, I sprayed my keyboard with Lysol.
Hmm, maybe that explains the zzzzzt, zzzt, zzzt sound and sparks flying as I type.
Despite my burning fever, hacking cough, and legs that feel Pinocchio’s, I wanted to warn you about it. Germs—they’re more than a theory. They’re out to get you. Pass it on.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
In all the seminars I attend on the subject of writing, there’s one thing they have in common. Writers will always say, you have to get your butt into the chair. It’s a quaint way of saying don’t procrastinate or waste time, just do it.
Today I want to turn that saying around to make a point. It’s a point I’ve made before, but I’m going to elaborate.
In my day job, I spend eight hours a day glued to a computer. I don’t move anything but my head and my hands for hours on end. I often don’t take breaks because I’m trying to finish a job. Then I come home, take care of family needs and glue myself to my chair to write.
My daughter told me there is a name for people like me; she called me a numb-butt. It’s the modern equivalent to the couch potato. I never thought of myself in those terms because what I do is exercising my mind. I don’t sit on a couch being entertained.
But you know . . . She may be right. How many times have I had to stretch out the kinks after spending too long in the chair? I don’t think I’m alone either. I think that the American couch potato is being replaced by numb-butts. Those who spend hours working in front of a computer then drop into bed late each night, exhausted because they have stretched their mind to the limit.
In my schedule, which should be called the best-laid plans of mice and men. I have carved out time for my writing. I also penciled in time for gardening, exercise, daddy/daughter dates, husband/wife dates, work time, and church time. Often I get so caught up in writing that when my scheduled time comes, I’ve already been writing for hours.
Those of you who know me well, know I can use all the exercise I can get so, I need to tell myself to get my butt out of the chair. What good will it do to get my books published if I can’t enjoy book signings and other activities? I don’t want to be published posthumously.
So I resolved to do it! To stop procrastinating and make sure I get out of my chair and get moving. I’ll still do the writing; I’m going to do my research while I’m out of the chair. I plan to carry a CD player and listen to books on CD. Maybe I can give my dad a run for his money on the number of books he’s read. I talked about that in another blog too. If your characters are dragging you in, and chaining you to a chair, maybe you should make a resolution too.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Last summer I came across a rather large book on mythology. The sheer size of the thing interested me, not to mention the clever packaging. The legends and lore of cultures past are the things that fantasy is made of—and it was a bargain at $20—so I bought the enormous book.
I leafed through it some when I got home, and read the first thirty pages or so. Then I got sidetracked with children, home, and other projects and my new treasure began collecting dust. It wasn’t until I recently toured some thousand-year-old Mayan ruins that my interest was renewed, and I leafed through it again.
Our tour guide for the ruins was LDS, and gave us a more accurate insight into the culture of the Mayan people. He was able to explain to us why all Mayan temples have three rooms (think about it) and the difference between the feathered serpent and the serpent that “lost his feathers.”
Another interesting tidbit…some of the paintings inside the ruins depict teachings that we the Latter Day Saints are familiar with. Particularly, the “Life Tree.” Archeologists explain this painting as “a sacred tree…used to celebrate Mayan rites under its foliage. It represents wisdom.”
There is much symbolism in this painting. Our tour guide was kind enough to explain in better detail the meaning of each symbol—“as a proposed representation of Lehi’s dream as recorded in the Book of Mormon.” There are too many symbols to list, so I’ll just name a few. According to Helaman (the tour guide, not the prophet) the tree represents eternal life, and its twelve roots—the twelve tribes. The figures in the depiction represent Lehi, Nephi, Sam, Sariah, Laman, and Lemuel. There are more symbols, but blogs are intended to be short, so I’ll move on.
One of the figures etched into the face of the temples is forever upside down, representing a God, or more accurately, the Son of the most supreme God, who came down from the heavens shining like the sun.
Back to the serpents again. The feathered serpent—known in my mythology book as Gucumatz—is the representation of a deity who came down to the earth, and then flew back to heaven on feathered wings. While the other serpent—whose name isn’t even mentioned in my book—is a deity who has lost his feathers, and is forever cast out of heaven.
An elderly woman who was touring with us mentioned a visit to Egypt, and the pyramids there…where strangely, the temple floor plans were very similar, as were the paintings depicted within. Interesting coincidences? For most people, probably. But we know better. All we have to do is read the Book of Mormon, and it all makes perfect sense.
As wonderful as my giant mythology book is, it cannot tell me the answers to the questions posed by all the archeologists in Mexico. I have another book in my possession that has those answers. Those archeologists are pretty well stumped on some of these things.
Too bad no one ever gave them a Book of Mormon.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Do you remember your parents saying, “Finish your milk”? Or, did they say, “You can’t leave the table until you eat your vegetables”? My mom and dad did that a lot. My brother and I can still remember sitting at the table all Sunday afternoon because we wouldn’t eat our beets. I still hate them–not my parents, but the beets. I think I also did the same thing with my own children (I didn’t make them eat their beets because we didn’t have them, I mean the part about telling them to eat their vegetables or else).
Finishing reminds me of writing. Actually almost everything reminds me of writing, and I have several ideas about finishing.
One thing I have trouble with is finishing my thoughts or telling the complete story. Have you ever written a scene that you knew in your mind, but you didn’t explain it clear to the reader? If you don’t paint a clear picture, the reader can never visualize the scene. Things may be clear in your mind, but the reader can only read what’s on the paper. They cannot read what’s in your mind.
Following is a list of things I have read that have helped me...
1. Make writing a priority and arrange your schedule around your writing. I actually have told people I’m busy when it’s my writing time.
2. Set a certain time each day to write. Since I work, I chose to write between swimming and dinner. Two days a week, I do errands and three days a week, I write. Actually, I cheat and slip into my computer anytime I have a free minute.
3. Remove all distractions while you write. For me this is easy because my computer is in the far end of the house where I can’t hear the television. If I keep my office clean then I don’t get distracted.
4. Don’t answer the telephone. That one was hard for me at first, but after realizing how many solicitors called, it became easy to ignore the ringing, and let the answering machine do its job.
5. Write when no one else is at home. This works the best for me. Although my husband tries hard to not disturb me, he always does.
6. Decide to finish your story. The only thing standing in the way is you.
How many of you have notebooks of incomplete stories? Why aren’t they finished? I have found that when I leave stories unfinished they linger in my mind. I’ve spent many a sleepless night with stories roaming around in my head the entire night.
My father taught me to finish what I start. He also told me that I shouldn't give up when times are tough, and I shouldn't make excuses–just do it. Dad has been gone many years now, but I still try to follow his advice because he was a wise man. I guess I better get busy and finish my milk (stories).
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
By G. Ellen
There have been many times in my life when I felt like things had stalled. Kind of like I'd been left behind while everyone else was going forward. We're all familiar with the phrase “if you're not going forward, you're going backward.” It’s so true, especially when it comes to your gifts or talents.
I guess we usually bring those things on ourselves by getting tired of doing monotonous/everyday things all the time. Tired of simply being--worn down by all the challenges in our lives. Sometimes it's a physical tired, sometimes it's a mental or emotional tired. We just can't take any more.
After you give yourself a couple of days, perhaps weeks–let's not think months or years–it's time to pick yourself up and get back into the flow of things. Perhaps something you read gets you going. Perhaps it's someone you know--a spouse or a sibling or a good friend. It doesn't really matter what causes the trigger--you are just grateful something has.
I've been in a slump for the past month. I'm sure part of it is due to starting work again (yes, I'm not a money making writer yet) and my days have become quite busy. By the time I get home, I'm not feeling like facing another computer and trying to explore my thoughts in writing, so things stall out. I used to have time to write at my work–but that hasn't happened so far this year.
And then, physically, things interrupt. I've been sick for almost a week and finally took a day off work, hoping to get a handle on it. It didn't help, but I can't afford to take any more time off. So I found myself asking–why? Why do I want to do this in the first place? Is it really something I need or want to do?
I read one of my favorite books while I was home sick. It's called The Summerhouse by Jude Deveroux. Even though it's total fiction and none of it could ever happen, I always put the book down at the end with a stronger resolve to make more of my life. To make it more of what I want and not make myself a slave to the life thrust upon me.
I believe this is what we are striving for in our writing. We want the reader (or at least I do) to come away from reading our novel with a feeling of satisfaction, enjoyment and, perhaps, a determination to do better with their world. I want my readers to have a desire to have
romance in their daily lives, because I am a romantic–ask my husband. ;)
Perhaps we can make those periods of dryness shorter when we find the real life we want to lead. We can wake each morning with the thought “this is my new life, what do I want to do with it?” We can't change anything about yesterday, but we have today and tomorrow. I feel like the Capitol One commercial "what's in your wallet?", only I'm asking "What's new in your life?"