Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, August 18, 2006

Pennies in the Water

by Kerry Blair

A dear friend who recently returned from a mission wrote: While I was in New York we went to a Chinese place and I got a fortune that said, “Travel this year will give you a new perspective on life.” I laughed, but kept the fortune. I really hate that we can’t see the end result of the things we do now. I want to know what perspective I’ve gained. Mom says I’m different, but I feel the same. So what changed? What was the purpose of me going on a mission? Was it for me to change the world or for the world, and God, to change me?

Like Chilly, the talented, inspired young woman who wrote those words, I also wonder. Mostly I wonder about writing. Have I been granted the wondrous opportunity to write and publish because of what I have to give or because it will open windows to what I need to receive? In my case, there’s little doubt it’s that second thing. I get so much. Near the top of the list, I get letters. A lot of letters, mostly from young women. I always answer, sometimes more than once. Sometimes more than a dozen times. I’ve been answering some for so long now that I’ve received wedding invitations and birth announcements from women who were Beehives or Mia Maids when we first started corresponding. It is one of the greatest marvels—and joys—in my life. If these friendships were all I ever gained from writing, I would consider myself richly blessed.

But I get more. Just last week, for instance, I got a moving lesson in humility. One of the many online sites that encourage book reviews had a post from someone who said she was sorry to say it, but This Just In is the worst book ever published in this—or any—market. (Side note: She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded more like she wished she could turn my dog over to those people who like pit bulls about as much as Puritans like witches.) Despite the fact that there were six positive reviews alongside the negative, guess which one I’ve memorized? (Why am I like that? And while we’re on the subject, somebody please tell me I’m not the only one who is!) Anyway, it affected me so much I couldn’t look at the newly-edited book Angela had sent back for my review. Just thinking about publishing another novel made me cringe. I mean, Ghost of a Chance is probably as bad as TJI. It might be worse. Why jeopardize a rainforest - or, in the case of my print runs, a couple of scraggly pine trees - when the world has enough inanity (and to spare) already?

As it turns out, I found the answer to that question in another part of Chilly's letter. She told a story about being on Temple Square with President Monson and a little boy. In her words: I was bemoaning the fact that I have to give a talk in church on Sunday and President Monson said when he was about twelve he had to give a two-minute talk in church and wanted his dad to write it. His dad told him no, he had to do it himself, but to write about something he liked. One thing Pres. Monson likes is birds. So he went downtown to the Seagull Monument on Temple Square. He said he was looking in the water that surrounds the statue and saw lots of coins that people had thrown in to make wishes. He thought to himself that those coins weren’t doing anyone any good and a boy could certainly use them. He then said he didn’t take them. K.J., the little boy with us, volunteered, “Because you didn’t want to destroy anyone’s hopes!” It was so funny! As if taking coins from a pool destroys people’s wishes. Maybe it does. That would be a good lesson -- not to steal from wishing wells/fountains/reflecting pools.

I think my words are like those coins. They really aren’t doing anybody any good, and yet I’ve tossed them out into the world’s reflecting pool with the best of intentions. They’re my way of wishing well to anyone and everyone who happens upon them. With every book I write I wish that good could always triumph over evil. I wish that everyone could live happily ever after. At the very least, I wish we all would laugh more than we cry and get up one more time than we fall down.

I know it’s a lot to wish for. Nevertheless, I have a whole handful of coins left to me and I’m going to keep tossing them into that pool just as long as I can lift my arm. I’ll probably never, as Washington Irving said, contribute a mite to the wisdom and knowledge of the world, but I can live with that. In fact, I can rejoice in it if I let go the pressure to impress and replace it with a deep appreciation for the myriad of blessings I receive. Wherever I look, the tender mercies of God sparkle before me like newly-minted pennies in the water!


At 8/18/2006 3:20 PM, Blogger FHL said...

Sorry about the awful review. My first response is, "Oh, have you read every published work in all markets so that you can make this definitive statement?" I'm sure there are many (millions) of books that are worse than yours. I mean, honestly, just take a look at the Left Behind books, if you want to see an example.

Of course, you don't want to publish any bad reviews of those books, lest you get condemned to Hell by the world's Baptists.

Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I'm going to go to the library today and pick up one of your "pennies."

At 8/18/2006 3:48 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

I think your "bad" reviewer says more about him/herself than it does about This Just In. That book is a masterpiece statement on the mistaken importance people place on stereotypes, shallow values, and self-centered pursuits. Like much of your writing, it is written in such a plain manner that to the surface-skimmer type of reader it appears to be a simple story of a shallow young woman who is a little stupid, but loyal. To the rest of us it is a delightful parody filled with deep insights with the added bonus of day-brightening humor.
Oh, and one more thing. I have a whole section in my bookcase for Kerry Blair's bright, shiny pennies. You inspire me with every book and blog you write.

At 8/18/2006 3:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know that many places collect those pennies and give them to charity? An old boyfriend of mine in college worked maintenance at the mall, and one of his jobs was to clean the coins (but not all of them, they'd leave a few behind so it never looked empty)out the fountain weekly and count the money, which was then donated to the charity of the month. (October would be a breast cancer charity, etc.) It was hundreds every month!

So see? Those coins really DO some good!

At 8/18/2006 4:17 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

I think you have been blessed by the many young women and others that write you. But I also know you have been and will be a positive influence on both those who read your books and those who write you about them.

At 8/18/2006 4:35 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Kerry, your bright shiny word pennies are lined up in my bookshelf. I appreciate your analogy, and hope my pennies are doing some good out there, too.

Disregard the review, when you're able (we writers DO seem to focus on the dang negative reviews, don't we?). Blanket statements are never true, heh-heh.

At 8/18/2006 5:51 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


Just remember that you can NEVER write something that will please everyone. I had an ex-LA cop come to a booksigning recently and tell me that he like Cutting Edge, but not HOS. I told him, "That's because I didn't write it for you." Then I explained that those two books were written for very different audiences.

My big sister gave me some good advice when I told her I was considering writing national horror. I was concerned that people who liked one set of books would not like the other. She told me, "That's fine. Let them buy what they like. If they don't like it, they don't have to buy any more." I took her advice.

You are an awesome writer, so keep your chin up and keep up your good work.

Also, tell my buddy Chilly hi for me.

At 8/18/2006 6:22 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Okay, now I feel bad. I read the stupid post again and it really does sound like I'm having a pity party and fishing for compliments. (Of course, if that's what I'm doing, it's working! I'll have to remember this ploy for the future. Thank you.)

Really, though, I'm so over the review. If I wasn't, I would still be in my room obsessing and unwrapping chocolate kisses instead of calling my failings to the attention of anybody with a computer and rough grasp of the English language. :-)

My purpose this morning, I think, was two-fold. First, I loved Chilly's insight and story and wanted to share them. Second, I really do wonder why I write -- and why I take random pot-shots so dang personally. I do know better, after all. It's not the first bad review I've received; I'm certain it won't be the last.

Anyway, why write and take a chance at crashing and burning? It's certainly not for the money. (My husband will tell you a cheaper hobby would be collecting Lladro.) It isn't for the fame because the most common question asked me at book signings is, "Oh! Did you write a book?" It better not be an ego thing because there are at least as many people who hate my writing as like it -- they're just mostly too polite to say so publicly. What then? I truly think it's the mail. And the blogs. And the people I get to hang out with at Covenant and book signings and Mystery Dinners. It's a great job if you can get it and I'm going to try to hang onto mine as long as I can.

Tristi has developed a great product for wrinkles. Now if she'll just work a little faster on coming up with something that can give an author rhino hide in three applications or less...

At 8/18/2006 6:49 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Kerry Blair, don't you dare feel bad about your post because I absolutely loved it and can really relate to it. It's a great comfort to me to know that I'm not the only author who struggles with taking criticism too personally. Tristi, hurry up and invent that rhino cream.

Your analogy of the pennies was beautiful. Great blog all around.

At 8/19/2006 3:36 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Well, if I do develop a rhino cream, I'm sure I'll make a ton of money. We all need that thick skin from time to time.

As far as that horrible review for This Just In, whoever wrote it was on medication. Or possibly illegal drugs. Or had just been dumped by their boyfriend of five years, or had low blood sugar, or had an evil alternate personality. Because, and I'm not just saying this because I adore you, This Just In is seriously one of the funniest and most enjoyable books I have ever read. I laughed out loud, and I'm pretty hard to impress. So the next time you get a bad review, say to yourself, "Tristi loves me, so that reviewer can just go fling themselves in front of a stampeding hippo." So there!

At 8/20/2006 1:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When a blacksmith refines ore to silver, he stands over the crucible waiting for the instant when the silver is refined---when he can see his reflection in the surface of the purified ore. With book writing editors, publishers and readers get to be the blacksmith, holding the writer to the fire. But in life, Christ holds our cruicible and when he sees his image in our refined lives, he'll take us out of the heat. "And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver..." (Malachi 3:3). Enjoy the heat Kerry.

At 8/20/2006 1:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, don't you think a better title for your post would have been: "Fishing for Wishes". Where is my review girl? Chapters 10-13?

At 8/20/2006 1:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stampeding hippos? Throw that reviewer in front of one. Off with her head. Pull her pony tail. Steal her hair spray. No, no, this is much better...send her a copy of Rob's book. Or you could try chairty. You choose...

At 8/21/2006 12:16 PM, Anonymous Marnie Pehrson said...

Kerry, I enjoyed your blog. I think the reason we authors obsess over the single bad review and forget all the good ones is because we put so much of ourselves into our writing that it's almost like a personal attack if someone doesn't like our work.

I think we've all got a little of Sally Fields in us. "They like me, they really like me!" was her astonished Oscar acceptance. We all want them to like US. Our books are an extension of us. They're a portrayal of that inner part of us that we allow the world to see through our characters and stories. It's natural for it to hurt when someone criticizes it.

As for this woman's perspective -- it's just that -- her perspective. Even the Book of Mormon has its critics. Yet, it's not the book on trial... but the reader. So, you're in good company. :)

Btw, I keep a folder of all the "feel good" emails/reviews I get. Then when I'm down or get one of those negative reviews, I go back and read that folder and I feel a world better.

At 8/22/2006 12:18 AM, Blogger ChillyGator said...

Dear Kerry, I thought of you and your "worst book ever" as we listend to a book on tape and the (horrible!) drive from Salt Lake to St. Louis. I think you may recommend that book to the commenter.

Either way, I love you and you took that e-mail and applied it. Who knew? You're a hero. MWAH!

P.S. Say hi to my friend Jeff!


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