Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, June 30, 2006

I Liked MS Better When it Only Stood for Manuscript

by Kerry Blair

If I had back every dish I’ve dropped and broken in the last decade I could invite Wyoming over for a sit-down dinner. (I chose a sparsely populated state so you wouldn’t think I’m exaggerating.) I’m too stubborn to switch to paper dinnerware, but if Noritake introduces a line of Blue Willow in rubber I’ll be first in line at Dillards.

Breaking dishes isn’t the only thing I do routinely. I also trip over things left carelessly lying around the house—like loose threads and pet dander. I type yrkerl in a blog or a book and don’t notice that the word is Martian until somebody points it out to me. I say things like, “Someday, you’ll go to the aardvark to make sacred covenants.” I wish I were making that last one up, but I’m not. I also wish I hadn’t been speaking to Young Women at the time, but I was. No, I wasn’t touting a new anthropomorphic religion, it was just a random word my brain sent to my mouth when my heart was thinking temple. All things considered, it could have been worse.

I do all this—and ever so much more—because I have multiple sclerosis. It’s a disease that’s all in my head. No, really. It is. Little lesions, which in my case are on the upper part of my spinal cord, play havoc with the neurological signals my mind sends to various and sundry parts of my body. I think “temple” and say “aardvark.” I step on a piece of glass and never know I’ve cut my foot until I see a trail of bloody footprints across the carpet. I tell a sister in my ward at ten in the morning that of course I can drive her to the doctor at eleven, but by 10:03 I’ve forgotten that she called. (That sister still isn’t speaking to me, by the way.) The memory thing (or lack thereof) is probably the worst. While I can remember how fast Aquaman swims (100 mph), I often can’t remember the names of my four children. (Scott, Jake, Matt and, um, Edgar. No, Edgar’s the turtle. Amy. Or is that the chicken? Give me a minute. It will come to me. I’ve known that girl nineteen years now.) Or maybe the worst is to never know until I wake up in the morning what the symptom du jour will be. Will I be able to walk? See? Understand the words on my computer monitor? Pick up the salt shaker by the third try? MS isn’t a fun affliction exactly, but it sure is interesting.

I can scarcely believe I’m sharing this today with anybody with an Internet connection and a rudimentary understanding of the English language. Mostly I’m still in denial. For sure I don’t like anybody outside my family to know I have MS. Part of this is pride, of course, but part is self-preservation. You wouldn’t believe how many “cures” there are out there for an incurable disease—aside from the treatment my neurologist recommends, I mean. (His involves needles. Stuck in my stomach. Every day. Ick.) But according to one friend, all I really have to do is drink Perky Potion. It’s an amazing concoction of vitamins, minerals, papaya juice, and shoe polish that you can get for a mere $150 an ounce and, in my case, keep down for about three minutes. As bad as it is, I do prefer it to the miracle remedy offered by a former home teacher. This guy insisted that two dozen bee stings a day for sixteen weeks would fix me right up. Gee, as fun as that sounds, I think I’ll stick with my neurologist. At least his way involves only one sting—and no insects. I’ve heard lots more ideas, but I’m running out of space and I suspect you’re running out of attention span.

What brought this to mind was a conversation I had at church last week with a wonderful guy who’s at about the same place I am in the progression of the disease. We compared notes and, frankly, teared up a little at first because we’re both getting worse than we ever thought we would. But then he said, “You know, one day last week I couldn’t remember the name of our cat.” I said, “I got in the car, drove into town, then couldn’t remember what I’d gone there for.” (I haven’t told my husband this, by the way. Good thing he doesn’t read my blog or he’d take away my car keys. You are all hereby sworn to secrecy.) The point is that by the end of the conversation we were both laughing so hard our sides would have hurt except that our nerves misfire so badly that my right toe hurt and his left elbow itched. It’s a better week because of him. A better life, even. Sure, I still forget. I still break things—and one of these days that “thing” will probably be my neck—but I still laugh, too.

I admire Teri Garr for saying, “Sure I have MS, but I have lots of other things too.” So do I. One of the things I have the most of is hope. Someday I will walk into my aardvark's office and he'll have a real cow. I mean cure. In the meantime, I just have to remember to buy more dishes the next time I'm in town with my daugther Whatshername.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

America's Hidden Problem

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was surfing some literacy websites on the internet, (I do presentations on literacy in case you were wondering why I was doing that) and I came across a self-test for literature abusers. It looked fun, so I took it. The results were shocking. I have tweaked it a little (it was long) and passed along some of the questions for you here today.

Self-test for Literature Abusers
How many of these apply to you?

1. I have read fiction when I was depressed or to cheer myself up.

2. I have gone on reading binges of an entire book or more in a day.

3. I read rapidly, often ‘gulping' characters.

4. I sometimes read early in the morning or before work.

5. I have hidden books in different places to sneak a chapter without being seen.

6. Sometimes I avoid friends or family obligations in order to read novels.

7. Sometimes I re-write film or television dialogue as the characters speak.

8. I have neglected personal hygiene or household chores until I have finished a novel.

9. I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead.

10. I have attempted to check out more library books than permitted.

11. Most of my friends are heavy fiction readers.

12. I have sometimes passed out from a night of heavy reading.

13. I eat biscotti at Borders, even though it tastes terrible, so I can disguise my reading habit.

14. I have wept, become angry or irrational, because of something I read.

15. Amazon knows my credit card number.

Now, if you're like me, almost all of these apply. I read fiction when I'm sad, happy, stressed or bored. I know now not to start a book on my busy days because I usually have a hard time putting it down and I like to finish the book in one day. That also means that usually some of my household chores suffer while I'm in the throes of finishing the book. I have re-written several movie endings, including Return of the Jedi (come on, who didn't want the last scene to be the wedding of Han Solo and Princess Leia? They could have invited all those ewoks and the party could have been a wedding party, hence satisfying all the romantics out there, like me.) I have spent a lot of money on books, and have all the overflowing bookshelves to prove it.

After taking this test I have come to the conclusion that I am well on my way to becoming a literature abuser. But how do I fix it? Is there a twelve step program for us? Someone once said half the battle is admitting the problem. But where do we go from there? There doesn't seem to be a cure or a recovery program out there. So I am turning to you for help. If you were going to create a self-help program for literature abusers out there, what would you say? Where would you start? Maybe you could stop eating that biscotti. Stop TiVo-ing Oprah's book club. Buy a bookmark. Stop wearing your glasses. Maybe trying limiting yourself to a chapter a day. I don't know. But let's band together, think of solutions to the problem and help each other into recovery.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wild and Whirling Words

by Stephanie Black

A couple of years ago while visiting in southern Utah, we went to the Utah Shakespearean Festival to see The Tempest. I’d seen it in high school and had been, well, bored. But I was older now, more mature, smarter, more refined—okay, one out of four isn’t bad—and figured maybe I’d enjoy it this time. Not so. Yawn. How very un-cool and un-erudite for me, a writer, to admit that I wasn’t blown away by Shakespeare that night, but for whatever reason, I just don’t like The Tempest.

But this year Hamlet was taking the stage, and off we went again to witness the Bard’s genius. I must add here, modestly, that I nearly performed in Hamlet once. I was cast as Ophelia. There are only two women in Hamlet, so I was doing very well indeed to get one of the rolls. My shot at stardom! But then the actor playing Hamlet got sick and rehearsals fizzled and the play got canned, which was probably just as well, because would YOU have wanted to be a parent sitting through a third-grade production of Hamlet?

But back to the Shakespearean Festival. Hamlet was wonderful. The actors were superb, the story gripping. I find Shakespeare a lot more enjoyable when it’s spoken aloud. For me, the written text has a high “huh?” factor, but when the actors speak the lines with gestures and inflections, it’s much easier to understand it--and enjoy it.

Hamlet is crammed full of punchy phrases that have permanently established themselves as quotable quotes.“To thine own self be true”. “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” (that line will always remind me of the Gilligan’s Island where they do the musical version of Hamlet. What a classic.) “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” And so on.

I love a good, memorable line. In yesterday’s blog comments, Rob quoted his favorite line from DaVinci Code. I must say, I can relate to Langdon’s need to get to a library NOW. This happens to me a lot and usually involves the need to return a book before the library fines exceed our income after taxes.

In my writing, I’m particularly concerned with finding a good, punchy phrase with which to end a scene or chapter. I don’t just want to stop writing—I want to stop with something fitting, something memorable, something that rings. And when it comes to the last line of a book, I really want it to to ring. The last line leaves the last impression, the impression the reader carries away. Just to irritate Rob—truly, what could be a more worthwhile achievement for today's blog?—I’ll use GWTW as an example. What if the book had ended with: “Scarlett sat down on the steps, rested her chin in her hands and thought, “Well, bummer, but I’m determined to get Rhett back and I’ll have another chance later.” Bleh. “After all, tomorrow is another day”—now THAT rings!

What lines from books, movies or plays have struck you as particularly memorable? Post your favorites and win a free wisecrack from Rob Wells.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sophie, you are so stupid!

by Robison Wells

I tend not to discuss serious topics in my blogs. The reason: because I’m psychologically fragile and afraid to truly open up to people. Also, I find serious topics to usually be dull. For example: the Perpetual Education Fund.

As a general rule, humorous things are funnier than boring things. However, there comes a time in every blogger’s career when he must discuss pressing issues that touch the lives of one and all. For example: Jeff Savage’s recent treatise on kids with small pox. (All I can say is: thanks for the pictures, Jeff.)

So without further ado, I’d like to address the topic of The Da Vinci Code. Granted, this topic would have been more timely four weeks ago when everyone was talking about The Da Vinci Code (but considering Sariah never shuts up about Gone With the Frickin’ Wind, I think I’m okay). I suppose it should also be said that this blog is going to be rife with spoilers, both for the book and for the movie, and for anything else I want to spoil.

I read DVC a couple years ago, after having listened to a friend of mine recount the entire plot in excruciating detail. I read the book in about three or four days. It was a page turner, certainly, but I don’t think I ever really got swept up in the Da Vinci mania. I mean, sure, I had the lunchbox and the action figures, but that’s where it ended. When Kerry Blair invited me to the convention, and told me about the cosplay and LARPing, that’s where I got off the Holy Grail Wonderbus.

But here are my true feelings about the book. Be prepared for some heavy flip-flopping:

First, let me say that I enjoyed it. I think it’s very easy to look at the book and mock it for its various problems, to nitpick it to death, and to feel very erudite and superior to the unwashed masses of Dan Brown fans. But the truth is that it was a fun read and a clever plot. Sure it had flaws, but I don’t think any book could really hold up to the scrutiny heaped upon this one.

I heard a movie critic once talk about the movie Gigli. He said that yes, the movie is pretty dang lame. And yes, it was deserving of bad reviews. But it also, somehow, became in vogue to mock it. This critic said that Gigli was bad, but certainly not the worst movie of the year, and yet it’s almost universally criticized as one of the worst movies of all time. It became popular to hate it. To some extent, I think that’s what happened to The Da Vinci Code, too. We, trying to show our literary prowess and finely-honed intellectualism, couldn’t like something commercially successful, for crying out loud. (Besides, it was genre fiction, so how good could it be anyway?)

Now, with that said, there were several parts of the book I didn’t like. For starters, I hated the characters. Langdon was, as one reviewer put it, “effortlessly brilliant”. He solves crazy puzzles instantly (except when the plot requires him to take his time, such as the comedic incident at the cathedral: “I need a five-letter word for something round that has to do with Isaac Newton… What could it be? WHAT COULD IT BE?!?!”)

Sophie, on the other hand, is as dumb as a box of hair. She exists merely to say “What? I don’t understand! Explain, Robert Langdon, esteemed Harvard Symbologist!” Both of these characters are as flatly written as Dick and Jane. (See Dick interpret religious symbology. See Dick unable to come up with the word ‘Apple’. See Jane utterly confused by every stinking thing.)

As for the religious aspects, I have to say that I almost didn’t even notice there was a controversy at the time I read the book. Yes, it says that Christ wasn’t divine, but it also says that banks have Safe Passage Clauses on their accounts, that English is the Lingua Pura, and that ‘feminine’ is a noun instead of an adjective. It’s a silly book full of silly ideas. It quite honestly never crossed my mind that people would get upset about it.

Consequently, when the movie was coming out, and people were getting all up-in-arms about it, I laughed at them. Funny little zealots, said I. It’s fiction. And even if it’s part of some deviously devilish scheme to destroy the souls of men, it’s just too dang absurd to accomplish it. Frankly, I thought, if your testimony of Christ’s divinity is so shaky that Dan Brown and his gang of Grailkateers destroyed it, then you probably didn’t have one to begin with. (That, or you put way too much faith in the media to inform you spiritually. Would you like to join my new church? Our Lady Dora of the Exploradoras, featuring the Fiesta Trinity.)

Ready for the flip-flop?

When I finally saw the movie, I was incredibly astounded to discover that it just might be spiritually dangerous. (Remember at the beginning when I said I was going to talk about something serious for a change? Here it is.)

In the book, Langdon is a whole-hearted believer in the crazy Catholics-are-oppressing-mankind-via-Christ’s-false-divinity idea. He not only knows about it academically, but he buys into it. In the movie, Langdon is a skeptic. When Sir Ian McKellan gets all crazy about the idea, Langdon is quick to say “Calm down, Magneto. It’s just a theory.” When I saw that, I thought that the movie makers were trying to tone down the controversy. Good for them.

But then there’s a tacked-on conversation at the end of the movie (that did not appear in the book). Langdon and Sophie have just figured it all out, and everything is fine, and Langdon says (I’m paraphrasing): “Maybe Christ was divine. Maybe he wasn’t. We’ll probably never know. But maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the symbol is more important than the reality.”

There’s the problem. In the book, you can easily discount the crazy heresy, because it’s just so dang wacky. When someone tells you that Jesus was just a mortal guy with some handy ideas, you can easily brush it aside as extremist baloney. But when someone tells you that we can be good people with or without Christ, that’s different. It places a seed of doubt that can be easily fertilized with all the other rational humanism that modern society spews.

In other words, maybe there is some real reason we should be worried about The Da Vinci Code. Or, at least, some real reason to be worried four weeks ago. Tune in next week for my new column: Y2K: Let’s Bury Guns in the Backyard!

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Taste for Fear (part 2)

Now I know how to get the responses. Start throwing money around. Or I guess I could expose Rob’s secret (you know, the one having to do with peeled carrots, live chickens, and hair gel.) Sounds like we are in complete agreement that you want to hear about writing/non-writing/publishing/non-publishing issues that are funny but touching and that are mostly written by Kari with Rob’s sense of humor, that refer to Stephanie’s relatives with gift cards from Sariah. Right?

I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. BTW, the official title and release date for my new Shandra book is, “Dead on Arrival” and October. I’ll be posting the first couple of chapters on my web site shortly, but it’s about a guy who comes to Shandra for help because someone is trying to kill him. The cool thing is that it turns out he actually died twenty years earlier. And he keeps dying over and over, while coming to Shandra for help. No it’s not supernatural—there is a logical explanation. Bobby plays a major role. Should be fun.

So back to my ongoing update on my national supernatural thriller. Had kind of a funny shock today. I was on my agent’s web site and saw that they had added “A Taste for Fear” to their listings. Guess I better hurry up and write. But it’s nice to know they’re excited about the new book.

I finished up my week at just over 6400 words, which puts me about 1600 words down. By I’m on vacation much of this week and should have quite a bit of writing time. One of the things are realized about my story is that I need one or more secondary plot lines. The basic story is this creature scaring people literally to death and the protagonists trying to stop the creature. The problem with having only one plot line though is that you need a series of mini climaxes all the way through the book.

Imagine that our main plot is a graph line. We start out with a big spike to get the readers attention, then we have several gradually increasing spikes building up to the main climax. The problem with that is the reader is going, “Come on get to the good part!” You really can’t solve the main issue until the end of the book. Plus, you have a constant tension level that’s hard to ease back on without the story getting boring.

So how to we keep the excitement up? Well, what if the boy disappears? Kidnapped or seduced by the creature? That will raise the tension from a different direction. But that’s still a part of the primary plot line. How about a little romance? Maybe the school teacher really likes Tasia, the single mom, but he’s afraid of commitment? Better. But let’s really up the ante. Let’s make the school teacher an amateur anthropologist researching the town’s history. Let’s say that something really bad happened when the town was founded. (The ultimate secret.) And he’s about to dig it up, literally. Now we have enough meat to hold the reader. Go back and look at some of your favorite books. Notice that almost all of them have a main story line and several oblique storylines. (A notable example of NOT doing this is my first novel, Cutting Edge.)

Here’s my snippet from this week’s writing. Again, I’m going for a creepy kind of mood.

The Nova’s tires skidded suddenly on the wet pavement, and the empty bottles on the floor clinked together as Carson overcorrected. He glanced down at the speedometer, surprised to see he’d let his speed creep back up to 70. Again he forced his foot to ease off the accelerator.

He should have gone back to Aunt Marge’s. Who cared if her furniture was covered with cat hair and stank of cigar smoke? Who cared if he’d have been forced to endure boring stories told by relatives he hardly knew? He should’ve left the cemetery as soon as the service was over.

Only he couldn’t.

Standing in the bleak morning drizzle, he’d felt the cold and damp worm its way through his new suit coat, past his starched shirt, and into the pores of his skin, where it finally settled in the marrow of his bones like premature death.

He’d endured the generic graveside service performed by a rent-a-preacher the mortuary had suggested. He’d waited as the pitifully small number of mourners hesitantly approached him with words of condolence and left more quickly with odd over-the-shoulder glances. Waited until the cemetery workers slipped into view—smoking cigarettes and throwing obvious glances at their watches.

What was he waiting for? He didn’t know. Or wouldn’t allow himself to. Either way it came to the same thing, didn’t it? Go home, he’d told himself. The show’s over. There’s nothing more to see. He tried to will his feet to move, but they seemed rooted in the soggy grass that sweated little rivulets of mud up the sides of his black wingtips.

Finally he’d eased back into the trees, allowing the men to collect the folding chairs and take down the tent. He’d been fine as the drapes were removed and the casket elevator rolled away. But as the gleaming yellow tractor pulled up, its trailer full of freshly unearthed dirt, he’d found himself drawn forward with no thought or control.

He had to see it. Had to make sure. He knew his father was dead. And yet as he watched the dirt fall into the open pit, a part of him—the part that sometimes woke up thrashing and moaning in the middle of the night—was certain he’d see a wiry arm dart up out of the ground. Big knuckled fingers would reach toward him and—

Carson was jerked into the present by the slim white figure that appeared in the middle of the road with no warning.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


By Sariah S. Wilson

Our blog has a counter that keeps track of how many unique hits our blog site gets. The counter has all sorts of fascinating information - how many visitors we get a day, which day is our busiest, how many people coming to the blog are coming for the first time or are return visitors (which is almost always an even split).

I do have to admit to a slight obsession with the referral feature. I'm fascinated with how people find our site. Most are direct hits, where people have us as favorites or manually input the address. We get quite a few referrals from LDS authors' websites, such as Kerry, Julie and Jennie Hansen. We also get visitors from aggregate LDS blog sites such as Planet LDS and LDSelect. We get referrals from other blogs, which I enjoy clicking over to and perusing. We have a wide variety of bloggers who have linked to us. Some places I can't get access to, like and a site called Net Gator. I hope they're saying nice things about us there.

Get a lot of Google searches too. Usually things that have nothing to do with us as authors - people looking for LDS skit or talk or enrichment ideas, or girls camp or scout camp - we have a phrase or two that corresponds so we show up as a result even when we don't have any skit or talk ideas.

So here's the first ever Six LDS Writers and a Frog contest!

The prize is a $25 gift certificate to Target or Wal-Mart (you get to choose!) (I know a bookstore or Amazon gift card makes more sense, but there's a whole issue with publishers and booksellers and big chain bookstores and Amazon, which can get very messy and I'm going to stay away from). In order to enter yourself in the contest, you have to post a reply/comment to this post. In your comment, you have to tell me:

1 - How did you find this blog?

2 - How often do you come to the blog? (And if this is your first time because you were lured in by my all caps announcement, that's okay!)

For everyone that posts a comment, I'll put your name in a hat and pull out the winner next Saturday.

You can enter yourself as anonymous, but please distinguish yourself from all the other anonymous people out there. You can be StarTrekAnonymous or Anonymous4,682.5. Because when I announce the winner I can't just say "anonymous" won. It will be total anarchy.

You can only enter once (and we're trusting you to be honest), but I will give you two entries if you also answer Question 3:

3 - What sorts of topics would you like to see us blogging about?

The contest begins as soon as I get this post up and will stop at 12:00 p.m. EST next Saturday (July 1, 2006). I will announce the winner shortly after that. Said winner will then have to contact me by email, and tell me where to send their prize. If the winner doesn't contact me within 48 hours, I'll pull another name.

This contest is not open to the authors on this blog. That means you, Rob.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Planting Jelly Beans

by Kerry Blair

One Sunday when my daughter was two or three, a well-meaning nursery leader gave her a paper cup of dirt, a small, shriveled bean—and delusions of grandeur. Hilary stuck the pitiful little thing in the soil, watered it faithfully, and was rewarded in time with a sickly green beanstalk that couldn’t have supported a climb by an aphid, let alone a giant killer. Nevertheless, it was her first mortal participation in the creation process and she was captivated.

Since that time my little sower has strewn pumpkin seeds and popcorn, melon seeds and M&Ms, potatoes and potato bugs with varying levels of success. She's planted with no regard to season, soil, or the anticipated crop, and she's been equally delighted with radishes and roses. Even when nothing comes up she's happy because, for her, the satisfaction is in the sowing.

I want to be like that, but I tend to be crop-oriented instead. I was once called as Young Women president in a ward where one of the Laurels wanted nothing to do with the Church. I considered that girl’s cultivation my personal responsibility. On the way over to her house to introduce myself I daydreamed of the New Era article she’d write about me. You know the story: Wonderful, Dedicated Leader Touched My Heart and Changed My Life; Generations Rise Up to Call Her Blessed.

The only problem was that the girl didn’t want to change her life. I never touched her heart—or even her stomach since she refused every treat I took her. Once, her father got up off the couch long enough to call me a couple of things, but blessed wasn’t one of them. Although I’d sown my seeds of love and fellowship as faithfully as I could, I reaped failure and discouragement. It was like my daughter planting jelly beans under a rock in the blistering Arizona sun and expecting to grow a bright, beautiful jelly beanstalk that reached up into the heavens.

But, you know, Hil isn’t the only one who does it. Other dauntlessly optimistic people plant jelly beans every single day. I see it often and admire their efforts with all my heart.

Yesterday I drove into a smallish community here in central Arizona. On the way I listened to reports from Iraq and felt angry, heartbroken, and powerless to do anything but feel angry, heartbroken, and powerless. Downtown, crossing the courthouse plaza, I passed a memorial to men who fought in WW II. I’ve passed that statue dozens of times without giving it a second glance, but yesterday several people had gathered around it and more than one of them was crying. Curious, I walked over to look. Someone had placed at the bronze soldiers’ feet two long-stemmed red roses wrapped in a black POW flag—a small, spontaneous tribute to two young servicemen (neither one from Arizona) who’d been brutally murdered for defending their country half a world away.

I looked at the roses and thought about Hilary and her jelly beans. When I passed by again an hour later another group had paused before the newly-significant memorial. I retrieved my digital camera from the car and took a picture which I posted on a Military Mom website. Dozens of women have since shared how comforted and blessed they felt because of an anonymous person who cared enough about two young strangers—and what they represent—to demonstrate it. That one simple, spontaneous gesture—like a single seed—has borne more sweet fruit than its sower ever intended or imagined.

My new resolve is to be less crop-oriented myself. Starting today I will drop a jelly bean or two whenever and wherever I can. It’s likely that most of my “magic beans” will fall by the wayside to be trodden underfoot, unobserved and unappreciated. But maybe—just maybe—a jelly beanstalk will one day sprout up and amaze everybody.

Who knows where it might lead.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Up on the Rooftop . . .Riding in the Car

by Julie Coulter Bellon

We are having a new roof put on this week and I have been sitting here at my desk trying to edit my newest novel, listening to the pound, pound, pound, of the workers on my roof. It's not easy to concentrate that way. I finally went outside to take a break and while I was watching them work, I was amazed at the workers' agility. We live in a two story home with a very steep roof, and whenever my husband goes up there, he ties himself off in case he falls because it would be a very long drop down and probably would kill him. These workers however, were running back and forth, coming dangerously close the edge and didn't seem the least bit concerned. There were no safety nets, no harnesses, they just seemed to be sure of their footing.

That made me think of a law that recently went into effect that says a policeman can pull you over now, if he sees that you are not obeying the safety laws and are not wearing your seat belt. There no longer has to be a primary violation, he can just see that you're not wearing your seat belt and give you a $45 ticket. Both of these situations, in my mind, directly relate to the gospel.

We have seat belts for our own safety that will protect us from being hurt, or even killed, in an accident. We also have "laws" or commandments from God given to us for our own protection. It is our choice whether we follow man's laws and/or God's laws.

It is very easy to rationalize why we are not wearing our seat belts. Perhaps we might say "I'm in the backseat" or "I'm only going around the corner." (Statistics have shown that a high percentage of car accidents occur within one mile of the home, by the way). It is also very easy to rationalize why we are not following God's laws as well. "No one will know" or "It's just this once." (Maybe we more diligently follow those laws close to home so people won't think ill of us.) It just seems like our lives click into place when we follow the laws we are given, both physically and spiritually. I think we all like to hear that little reassuring "click" when all is where it's supposed to be.

My friend's sister was driving a car with her children inside, and one of the children unbuckled himself. She reached back to help him buckle back in, and lost control of the car. One of her children was killed in the accident, and she never got over that feeling of ‘what if.' My heart ached for her, yet I wonder sometimes, how many people reach out to us, parents especially, see us "unbuckling" in areas of our lives, and yet we fail to heed their calls for caution, and only cause ourselves a lot of pain.

As I sit here now, listening to the pound, pound, pound on my roof, I still marvel at the sure footing of the workers above me. I think the gospel gives us that sure footing in a spiritual manner, although I think it is still a good idea to "tie off" or have a "safety net" of some sort, so you don't fall, just like a seat belt provides some protection as well. Life is such a great ride with lots of ups and downs, so be sure, buckle up and be safe

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Minivans Ho!

by Stephanie Black

I love the way little kids can curl up and sleep almost anywhere, an ability I would have liked myself on a recent car trip. Snoring away a few hundred miles of California and Nevada sounded like a terrific idea, but I didn’t even manage a decent doze. I couldn’t get comfortable enough to snooze, even with a stolen pillow (my five-year old’s—he was zonked and didn’t care). But at least I had the easy life on the trip, since my husband did all the driving. He’s an experienced hand at long drives. He popped sunflower seeds to keep himself alert and listened to a variety of music while we chased slumber.

And I do mean variety. There’s something cosmically unsettling about letting the iPod have its way with the choice of songs. “There’s nothing to hold on to,” my teenager groaned, lamenting the brain spasms that can come after hours of listening to songs that jump without warning from Gilbert and Sullivan to U2 to Louis Armstrong to the Chieftains and even a couple of times to—brace yourself—Barry Manilow. (Okay, I admit it. I bought the Barry Manilow CD. I have a weakness for some of his songs. There are others of his songs where I like the first two minutes and then get bored due to the problem of too much music and not enough words. Sappy, I don’t mind. Repetitive—well, it worked for Ravel, but not so well for Barry).

Our anticipated drive time to this year’s family reunion was about twelve hours, but we decided to do it the easy way—half and half. We stopped at one in the morning to spend the night, or what was left of it, in Winnemucca, Nevada. (Winnemucca is a truly snappy name for a city). I’m grateful we didn’t decide to attempt the whole trip at once—halfway was more than enough for that night. I’d had a rotten day anyway, the sort of day where you get smacked with stress that turns your brain to mashed parsnips. Thank heavens I’d made the packing list prior to departure day and had already packed a good portion of the clothes, or who knows what we would have ended up with. My kids would have gone to get dressed and found I’d given them only three socks, pajama bottoms and an onion.

So we were all pretty dang tired by the time the Winnemucca Holiday Inn was in view. My younger son was making some form of noise and my twelve-year old snapped, “Stop being incoherently annoying! Either make sense or be quiet!” Words to live by.

When we get really tired, some of us get the giggles. Some don’t. Those who don’t aren’t necessarily amused by those who do, but it’s amazing how amusing things can be in the middle of the night. We were walking into the hotel and there was a sign by the doors reading: “Microwave in use”. “That sounds ominous,” my teenager joked, and it certainly did, especially when the elevator made a microwave-sounding pinging noise. We tried to keep the laughter under control. It would have been a good time to tell knock-knock jokes.

But all the exhaustion was worth it once we got to the reunion. Heck, the trip was worth it just for the Family Feud game created by my brother and his wife. It was a riot, even if I did choke on the question—this is embarrassing—“Name a current or former apostle or prophet whose name starts with J.” Somehow, my brain took this question to mean that his name had to start with the initial J—you know, like J. Reuben Clark (whose name I couldn’t think of). But no--just the name needed a J—like, say, Joseph B. Wirthlin. Or Jeffrey R. Holland. Or Joseph Smith. So much for winning the ten thousand bucks, or whatever was at stake.

Maybe it was jet lag. That hour time difference between California and Utah can really trash your neurons.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

My Core Beliefs

by Robison Wells

All people, to some extent, base their lives around some ideology. For example, your staunch Stalinist ways may color the way you do everything, or, your religious devotion might alter how you live. Kerry Blair is a Quaker. Stephanie Black is a rage-filled anarchist. You get the idea.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to explain some of the ideologies to which I cling. I hope that, through this open, honest communication, we will come to a better understanding of one another, and ultimately you will become a fellow Nu-Skin distributor.

First of all, I'm a Luddite. Not in the real sense, of course, with its advocacy of sabotage and zipperless clothing, but in the sense that I hate cell phones and generally think they're the devil's playthings. Most other technologies I'm perfectly fine with. My laptop, for example, is rad to the max, as is its trackball mouse and 19" monitor. I'm not a fan of Palm Pilots, but I think that's just because I used to have one and it got stolen (at the University of Utah -- the devil's other plaything).

But cell phones -- hoo boy, what a nightmare. In a recent study (which I did NOT make up!) ninety percent of cell phone users said other cell phone users are often inconsiderate, talking loudly at inappropriate times. But the study also said that only 15% of cell phone users ever thought that they themselves were rude. Conclusion: not only are cell phone users garishly annoying, but they're dumb and oblivious. And I hate them. Hey you! Yeah, you with the cell phone! I hate you.

(Disclaimer: yes, I know that they're really handy in an emergency, but how often are they used in an emergency? Contrariwise, how often are they used while you're standing next to me in line at the checkout counter and you're going on and on about that dinner you ate with, like, the beets and one fell off your fork and, like, stained your shirt -- you remember the one with the pink and the thing? Yeah that one -- and Josh just laughed and laughed and laughed, but things just aren't working out with him anyway and you've decided to see other people, and there's this guy you met at the Gap, and he's, like, such a dreamboat!)

The second ideology to which I pledge allegiance is anti-heliolatry, which is a big word I just made up and means I detest the sun. I prefer any kind of weather to a sunny day (yes, even sleet!). Similarly, I prefer any season to summer.

And lest you think that all of my ideologies are based on hatred and rage, here's the third: Perfect Food Theory.

I've been developing Perfect Food Theory for several years now. One day I hope to spring it on the unsuspecting public to much critical claim and monetary success. It's not a diet, in the sense that it won't make you lose weight. I don't know really what purpose it serves other than to make me happy.

Here's the theory: every food has a Perfection Quotient attached to it. It gauges two things: taste and ease of eating. To achieve a perfect score (100%), a food must be very tasty and very easy to eat. And, even though I don't have a mathematical equation worked out, you can be assured that ease of eating (EOE) outweighs taste (T) at least two-to-one.

Examples? I thought you'd never ask.

A hard-boiled egg earns a very high Perfection Quotient: somewhere in the 75% range. It's incredibly easy to eat -- it comes in it's own disposable wrapper, for goodness sake. The taste is questionable, but decent.

A banana ranks even higher -- perhaps an 80%. Again, taste isn't great, but the wrapper is even easier to use, and quicker to remove. (Plus, the banana peel gives you something clean to hold on to while eating -- it's like nature's own Big Mac!)

A fried chicken leg? 90%, easy. Taste is unmatched -- a perfect score. Plus, it comes with a handle.

Low scorers: oranges are pretty close to the bottom. The flavor is okay, but you've got to peel them -- and not the easy hard-boiled egg, flesh-of-the-thumb peeling, but aggressive fingernail peeling, leaving your hands covered in smell and white fruit starch. (Also: juice dribbles all over the place.) T: 40% EOE: 20%

And currently holding the record as lowest scorer: crab legs. Lots and lots of prying and cracking and squishing, and your hands get messy, and the end result is just a tiny little piece of meat. Good meat, yes, but so very very not worth it. T:30% EOE:5%

In conclusion: I hate modern technology, and yet I thrive on modern convenience. Also: I hate the sun.

Fun game: Why don't you comment and tell me your life-shaping ideologies? If you have good ones, you'll win the grand prize (Kerry Blair coming to your house to cook you breakfast in bed -- hard-boiled eggs, bananas, and fried chicken. Yum!)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Come Write With Me

by Jeffrey S Savage

Since I have no clue about what kinds of swords were used in the Book of Mormon and my sensitive posts read like bad Halmark cards (those are the Hallmark knock-offs), I guess I’ll just stick to talking about writing.

I’ve got a new book I am starting today. The novel is my second attempt at the national market. The first attempt was picked up by a well known east coast literary agency, but we were unable to get it sold (although Bantam nearly bought it and we got some positive feedback from other big six publishers.) The plan is to finish this novel by the last week of August so my agent can shop it around in the fall. For better or for worse I thought I’d take you along for the ride. Each week, I’ll let you know how things are progressing, what I’m struggling with, how many words I wrote that week, and maybe offer up a small section from the week’s work.

Assuming that there is still any interest on your part at the end of August, I’ll keep you updated as to what my agent thinks of the book, how the sales process goes, and whether or not it is picked up. If this sounds too boring, let me know and we can switch topics—or just go back to playing Solitaire. However I’d love to get your feedback if you feel so inclined, and if you've been considering writing a new novel yourself, join me on the adventure and let me know how you are doing.

The working title of the novel is A Taste for Fear. Although I imagine it will probably be marketed as a horror novel, I consider it a supernatural thriller, along the lines of Dean Koontz. The tag line is, Can an Entire Town be Scared to Death?

The basic concept is this:

A small isolated mountain town (California/Alaska?) called Desolation is home to approximately six hundred people. This is a very remote town. Most people who come here are escaping civilization for one reason or another. Most, if not all, of them have secrets. And secrets have the capacity to generate fear. This concentrated fear calls forth a creature of pure evil that feeds on human fear. The creature can take on any form, but it often appears as a threesome (man, woman, and adolescent girl.) It uses people’s greatest fears against them. Although it doesn’t physically harm them, it uses their fear to cause them to harm themselves and or others. The greater the fear generated, the more powerful the creature becomes. It will try to isolate the individuals of the town, cut them off from escape, and turn them against each other until no one is left.

Each of the four main protagonists is a study in fear.

The first is a single mother (Tasia?) in her late thirties. She hosts a late night talk show that can be heard for several hundred miles and is one of the only radio stations that can be picked up by most residents. She has no outward fears whatsoever. Her basic philosophy is that fear is counterproductive, only action helps to solve whatever problem you are facing. Does she have a deeper fear that she is not willing to admit? I think she does. I’m not sure what it is at this point, but when it breaks loose, I think it will be nasty.

The second is Tasia’s fourteen year old son (Chance?) He dreams of becoming a famous horror writer and moving to a big city. He loves anything scary—movies, stories, models, you name it. He is tempted by the power that fear holds over others and the power and money that it could give him. Will the power of the evil creature tempt him? I expect that it will, and I also expect that the girl will tempt him as well. I think it is at least possible that he may become his mother’s weakness. But he also has a braveness and innocence that may serve him well. He is not so much greedy as seducible.

The third protagonist is a teacher at the local school. Among other things he teaches a psychology class that Chance is taking. He is afraid of almost everything—heights, closed spaces, snakes, spiders, failure, success. But the thing is, he recognizes his fear and is comfortable with it. He is a scaredy cat but he freely admits it. He loves the stories that Chance writes and encourages the boy to pursue his writing. I envision him as a really fun teacher to have, laid back, lots of humor, and great with kids. I suspect that there will be some romantic tension between him and Tasia, although she is somewhat out of his league.

The last protagonist is the one I know the least about and yet the one I am most excited over. Although he has lived in Desolation nearly ten years, no one is sure who he is. Nearly a decade ago, an unknown person purchased a large track of land, fenced it off, and built a large house using outside labor. The owner moved into the house and brought with him a housekeeper who lives in a small house on the property and is the only person to come into town. The rumor is that the owner of the house is a well known ex-horror writer whose family was killed in a particularly brutal fashion taken directly from one of his books. If he really is a master horror novelist, he may well know the most about fear. But then again, you know how rumors are.

Of course the final protagonist is the town. I’m wondering if the town has a secret all its own. Maybe it is that secret that finally burst the boil from which the evil emerged. Not sure what that secret is, but it would have to be pretty nasty.

At first glance the evil creature would seem to be just a typical monster. But the best monsters have motivations of their own. (Think Frankenstein’s monster.) I believe that this creature sees itself as a necessary part of the ecosystem. It doesn’t view itself as any worse than the insects that feed on the fallen wood and dead animals of the forest. It didn’t create the fear, it only heightens it and feeds on it. It has been around as long as fear itself, which means forever. Maybe it will want the boy to join it? I don’t think it will leave until the town is empty or until it is defeated. And I don’t think it’s ever been defeated. Might not even know what defeat is.

I am anticipating that the novel will end up being around 90,000 words. Using my calculator that means that giving myself six days a week to write and eleven weeks until the end of August I will need to write 1364 words per day or just over 8,000 words per week. That seems doable. I am a little paranoid about creating a hard outline until I am further into the book, but I have the first six or seven scenes in my head, and I know the general direction of the story line. I will do basic rewrites as I go so that I can send the novel out the first week of September.

Today I wrote 2100 words. I’m trying a somewhat unusual first chapter (really more of a prologue) that shows the arrival of the creature. It is not supposed to make complete sense to the reader at first, but rather set a tone.

Here it is. Let me know if it works for you.

Do you hunger?

The question throbbed like a tainted heartbeat in the damp night air. The ground trembled. If animals lived nearby they would all have experienced quick yet painful deaths at the same instant. But living things avoided this part of the forest—where trees grew stunted and warped when they grew at all, where water flowed backward and came away foul-smelling and bitter, where even the air felt bereft of light and substance.

Do you hunger?

The ritual was older than the mist-shrouded mountains that hulked cold and intimidating beneath the pinprick stars, deeper than the granite bedrock that groaned in revulsion at what lay beneath it.

Do you hunger?

The darkness began to glow a noxious green as if the moonlight was poison gas emanating from a deathly ill orb. A frigid gale appeared from nowhere, chewing and clawing at the sparse soil with sounds like frenzied laughter. Slabs of stone that had lain untouched since glaciers carved them millenniums earlier, cracked and buckled.

Do you hunger?

At once everything stopped—the silence as shockingly loud as the chaos that preceded it.

Do you hunger?

The entire forest shuddered with dread anticipation.

I hunger.

Something slithered from the blistered earth. Evil radiated from it in waves, crushing and pitiless. For a moment it hovered motionless, sensing its prey. Finding what it was searching for, it crooned softly and began to take form.

I eat.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Swords in the Book of Mormon or Why Joseph Smith Didn’t Make It Up Part 1

By Sariah S. Wilson

My first novel, SECRETS IN ZARAHEMLA, has a lot of fighting going on, as well as a big battle scene. It became very important to me to have a clear understanding of the weaponry and fighting tactics used by the Nephites and Lamanites.

The most valuable resource I found in my research was a book entitled WARFARE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin. If you’re at all interested in Book of Mormon weapons and battles, I highly recommend it. (Those in Utah might have a better chance of checking it out from the library--this book is expensive if you buy it!)

I came to a startling realization (that probably most of you already know and I’m just slow) that the swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon are not the metallic swords I had always envisioned. The weapons called swords are what the Aztecs and Maya called macuahuitl, and if you’d like to see some pictures of it, go here:

Macuahuitl Pictures

It has a long, rectangle-shaped hardwood center, and triangular or rectangular obsidian blades all around it. It may not look like a daunting weapon, but it completely freaked the Spaniards out. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a conquistador who wrote a work called TRUE HISTORY OF THE CONQUEST OF NEW SPAIN (published in 1632 after his death), relates an account of a soldier by the name of Pedro de Moron having his horse’s head cut off by a blow from a macuahuitl (thus making it easy to imagine Ammon chopping off everybody’s arms).

As noted in this article by Matthew Roper on the FARMS website, there has been some disagreement on whether or not the macuahuitl was a sword or a war club. He proves that the Spanish conquistadors considered the macuahuitl to be a sword and cites several instances from various eyewitnesses in the 16th century.

So by now some of you may be shrugging your shoulders and wondering why any of this matters. I think it matters because 1) you’ll have a much different picture in your head when you think of the battles in the Book of Mormon (particularly the Ammon arm-chopping incident), and 2) it has a spiritual significance in our understanding of the scriptures.

As William Hamblin and Brent Merrill point out in “Sword in the Book of Mormon” in the aforementioned WARFARE book, a deeper spiritual meaning appears in Alma 24. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies are swearing their oath to not go out into battle with their brethren, saying they would rather die than kill the Lamanites.

The first significant phrase is the one mentioning no longer staining their swords with blood in several verses in that chapter. How can you stain a metallic sword with blood? You can’t. However, you can stain a wooden sword.

The next thing is in verses 12, 13 and 15 where it speaks of the Lord removing the stains from the swords and making them bright. This becomes even more powerful a promise as you realize the seeming impossibility of the statement. I did a presentation for my mom’s seminary class where I had a metallic dagger and a piece of wood. I put red dye on the dagger, and it wiped clean. I showed them that the promise of blood being removed from a metallic sword is insignificant. Then I put the red dye on the block of wood, and the dye immediately soaked into the wood, forever staining it. I could not remove it. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies received the promise of their wooden swords, stained throughout with blood, being made bright and clean. How much more does this mean to the reader when they understand the sort of weapon being talked about and the depth of the promise of forgiveness?

Joseph Smith had no knowledge of that type of weapon, nor did his contemporaries. If he had made it up, all the swords would have been metal, as he was familiar with.

If readers are interested, I'll be happy to share other cultural/secular things I learned in my research. Or I'll post it anyways because they'd be easy blog posts for me to do, and as my friends and family know when it comes to me, laziness usually wins out. ;)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Am I Off to See The Wizard This Way?

by Kerry Blair

I have a pair of ruby slippers. (Okay, so they’re glitter-covered plastic, but they’re red and shiny and very cool just the same.) I don’t usually wear them to Enrichment Night or the grocery store, but I do keep them handy because, like Dorothy, I want to go home someday.

I think The Wizard of Oz is a metaphor for life. (But then I tend to think too much, generally.) L. Frank Baum’s characters searched for the strengths we all need to make it back to our heavenly home. The Scarecrow needed a brain. Don’t we all? For one thing, we need to be smart enough to stay on the yellow brick road instead of wandering off into orchards where we’re likely to be pelted by bad apples. (Prophets tend to call this avenue the straight and narrow path—less colorful, but more to the point.) The Tin Man sought a heart. There’s nothing more important to get us home. President Hinckley said, “Love is the very essence of life. In a changing world, it is a constant—a beacon of hope in a world of distress.”

The Cowardly Lion was looking for courage. Me, too. (I do, after all, have 24-hr access to CNN. Shiver.) But the scriptures tell us that if we’re prepared, we shall not fear. Are we? Prepared, I mean. To be prepared we have to recognize in advance that there are things in Oz (and the world) to look out for. Remember that beautiful field of flowers? If you left the path to rest in the poppies you fell asleep and lost all interest in who you were and where you were going in the first place. At the time Baum wrote Dorothy’s adventures in Oz, opium was the most pernicious drug in the world. Opium, as you probably know, is made from poppies. Baum warned a century ago: stay away from poison poppies. Not bad advice today.

Other things Baum cautioned about are wicked witches and flying monkeys. To me the Wicked Witch represents occult and true evil, something most of us don’t have too much trouble recognizing, avoiding, and perhaps even evaporating. It’s those rotten flying monkeys that get us. When I use my Oz metaphor in speaking to youth, I ask someone to come up and hold a large picture of the Savior. Then I ask everyone in the room to concentrate on the picture for just fifteen seconds. All they have to do is focus on that picture and think about nothing else. Then I step a few feet away, wait two or three more seconds, and pull a stuffed monkey out of my bag. I activate a screeching voice box within it and toss it deep into the audience. Believe me, everybody looks away from the picture of Christ and at the “flying monkey” instead. It’s human nature. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to be distracted by metaphorical flying monkeys as well. There are millions of them. We call them television, movies, sports, work, money, power, fame—whatever distracts us enough to make us look away from the Savior, if only briefly.

I can go on. (And on. And on. And on. I’m like that.) But I’ll only make one more comparison. The Emerald City reminds me of the spacious building in Lehi’s dream. It looks beautiful and bright and seems like a whole lot of fun, but while it’s dazzling on the outside, it’s a sham within. No power there. No promises. A few laughs, maybe, but no lasting joy. No wonder Dorothy still wanted to go home.

And here's the funny thing about that: Despite what she thought, despite her fears and struggles and insecurities, the little farm girl from Kansas had within herself the ability to fulfill her dream all along. When she’d successfully completed her mission, going home turned out to be the easy part. And thus it can be with us. No power on Oz (or earth) is stronger than our power to pray, repent, persevere, and progress. If we have faith in the plan, stick together, and stay on the straight and narrow yellow brick road, there's nowhere to go but home.

The ruby slippers are just a fashion statement.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Incident

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I took my children to our city's public pool this week, and we hadn't been there five minutes when all the lifeguards blew their whistles and an announcement came over the intercom. "Swimmers, there has been an incident in the pool. We are now cleaning up the incident. When the incident is clear, you may resume swimming." We all watched as the lifeguard with the long pole and a net attached to it, sauntered over to one side, and scooped out the "incident." The crowd all let out a horrified, "ewwww," as it was ceremoniously carried off. Then we had to wait while the water was "sanitized" again, listening to that same intercom announcement every five minutes. After hearing the word "incident" about a thousand times, my three year old (who's been potty training) asked me, "mommy, what's an incident?" I explained to him what had happened and he wrinkled his nose and said, "don't they know that incidents go in the potty?" (Smart kid!)

We waited the requisite half an hour, watching a lot of people leave, before we got back into the pool. There were a lot of teenagers there, and it was very interesting to watch them. There's this little ritual where the girls get up and walk around the edge of the pool in pairs, waving to the boys in the pool. Soon the boys get out of the pool and follow the giggling girls. When the girls get back to their starting point, they sit down on their towels and watch the boys pass by. I believe in Jane Austen's time this was called "promenading, taking a turn, or strolling," and it was interesting to me how timeless this practice seems. They didn't seem to pair off, but you could definitely tell which girl wanted which boy's attention. I also finally realized the significance to the term "hanging out at the pool."

Not long after the first "incident" I noticed a group of teenage girls huddled around their towels, and they kept looking at one lifeguard. Now this wouldn't have been out of the ordinary necessarily, but the way they were doing it caught my attention. Or, maybe it's because I have a suspicious mind, being an LDS suspense writer and all, and they looked, well, suspicious. I watched them for a while, huddling together to whisper, then looking back at the lifeguard. This went on for quite some time, but my attention was called away from them to watch one of my kids do an underwater handstand.

By the time I looked back, the huddle was gone and the lifeguards were all blowing their whistles for everyone to get out of the pool. "Swimmers," came the insistent drone of the intercom. "There has been an incident in the pool. We are now cleaning up the incident. When the incident is clear, you may resume swimming." (I can now recite that announcement in my sleep I heard it so often that day.) Out came the long pole with a net on the end, having been cleaned from the previous "incident." The lifeguard strolled past all the waiting swimmers on the deck, and this time when he scooped the net into the water, he brought forth a large, obvious "incident." A ripple of "eww" went through the crowd as people held their noses and stepped back, creating a path for the pole and the lifeguard. (I would hate to be the lifeguard who has to take care of all the "incidents." It's bad enough when you're potty training and it's your own kid!) My stomach was rolling as the lifeguard passed by me, and I was trying to convince my children that we should go home (and never return), when I noticed the young women who had been huddled on their towels earlier, practically rolling on the ground with laughter. My suspicious little mind at first thought that perhaps they had done the "incident" or paid someone to do the "incident." (*Gasp,* would young women do that?) I didn't have much time to dwell on it, though, because I had successfully convinced my children it was time to leave. Before we could gather our stuff, the whistles signaling it was safe to go back into the pool blew a mere five minutes after the "incident" had been cleared. The girls were craftier than I had given them credit for. The "incident" had in fact, been a Baby Ruth chocolate bar. Clever.

We still left, but it taught me a lesson, that every incident may not be what it seems. Some incidents take longer to clean up than others and even when your life may be safe and incident- free you can never be sure when the next incident will happen. Incidentally, does anyone know how much a home pool would cost to install?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Disorganized Thoughts on Disorganization

by Stephanie Black

We have a lot of fun in our household, but there’s not a soul among us naturally gifted with organizational abilities. You know in the Book of Mormon when it talks about possessions becoming slippery so you cannot hold them? That describes the state of affairs here perfectly. “Behold, we lay the remote here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our hair brushes are taken from us in the day we have sought them for grooming.”

Things you’d think would be obvious are not obvious. My sister tells the tale of sending her children to put sheets or towels away in the linen closet. She gave them instructions something like this:

Put the towels away.
Put them in the closet.
Make sure they are on a shelf in the closet.

She did, unfortunately, forget to clarify that they should then shut the closet door.

There’s an important lesson here. When you have children like mine who assume that cleaning their bedrooms ought to be a seasonal activity, never assume that “put the towels away” is clear and adequate instruction.

But this Friday is the last day of school, so this summer we can take a deep breath and kick back—at least until it’s time to find the 7000 items we’ll need in order to send our YW-aged daughters to girls’ camp. And then there’s the pioneer trek . . . and yikes, I need to pack for the family reunion. Anyone have a good idea for a skit for the talent show? Last year we stole an idea from the Cub Scouts and did the Invisible Bench. We’re open to new suggestions.

I’d better get to work. But before I head off to do the laundry and find a substitute teacher for my Sunbeam class, here are a couple of thoughts on organization, or the lack thereof:

It’s a shame, really, that library fines aren’t tax deductible. (Yes, I’ve asked). Furthermore, I think the library should have a Walk of Fame program for big-ticket fine payers. After you reach a certain amount in a given year, you get a decorative brick with your name on it added to the library walkway. If you’re really forking over the cash, eventually they name a wing of the library after you.

Paperwork gives me the fidgets. With four kids in school, I have mounds of school notices, newsletters, field trip forms, homework, etc. coming through my house. I need a secretary. No—I need Mrs. Danvers, the formidable housekeeper in Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel, Rebecca. “Your son has a field trip next Friday, Madam,” she’d say, handing me the form as I sit sipping my orange juice and reading Rob Well’s blog. She’d then hand me a pen--an actual ballpoint pen with actual ink in it, not a colored pencil without a tip—and point to where I needed to sign, after which she’d go back to the business of being creepy and evil, but it would be worth it to have the tax info all organized when April 15th rolls around.

Losing one shoe is worse than losing two shoes. If you’ve lost both shoes, chances are they’re together, so you can try to figure out where you left them. But if you find one and not the other, you’re doomed. The lost shoe could have ended up anywhere—the dress-up box, the car, the neighbor’s house, Cincinnati.

Rule of Lost Objects: If you are missing something other than shoes (electrical tape, scissors, glue, hairbrushes, towels, nail clippers, the Pyramids of Giza, Atlantis), check my teenage daughter’s room.

Rule of Travel: You will never return home from vacation with all the socks you brought with you.

Which brings up an interesting thought. If I pack an odd number of random socks, would I come home with an even number of matched pairs?

It’s worth a try.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's All For The Love

by Jeffrey S Savage

Wow, tomorrow will be three months since we started this BLOG. That is actually a little frightening. I feel kind of like Rip Van Winkle waking up, looking around, and shouting, “How did so much time pass and what have I been doing with it?” Which is a fantastic topic for a BLOG I’m sure, but not one that I have a clue how to write.

So let’s try something a little bit different. Close your eyes and imagine you can be anything you want. Okay, so it’s tough to read with your eyes closed. Close one eye and imagine what you would be. Not who, but what. Got it? Now hold onto it, like a card in a magician’s trick. Don’t show it to me. Or anyone else, yet. I’ll get back to it. I promise.

I was on an airplane recently and the passenger in the seat beside me asked what I was writing on my laptop. We got to talking about my books and another passenger overheard and asked, “So, you’re a writer?” I humbly (not really, but it makes me sound more, well . . . humble) nodded yes. Then came the question I dread. “Would I have read any of your books?”

Now, the reason I hate this question is because unless you are LDS and part of the minority that actually read LDS fiction the answer to this is, “No. You have never heard of me and very possibly never will.” Which is quite hard to explain, feels belittling, and tends to give me a headache.

“So this time I said, “You probably have if you read thrillers or mysteries. I wrote Cutting Edge, Into the Fire, and House of Secrets. And I’ve got a new book coming out in October.”

The woman nodded, “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of those,” scribbled down the titles and began whispering to her husband. No doubt telling him that she was sitting across from a famous author, or possibly that she was sitting across from a raving lunatic with aspirations and perspirations of equal proportions. (It was a long flight.)

But you know what? I felt a heck of a lot better about the whole thing. Did I lie? Maybe. And maybe not. I mean there is a chance that she could have heard of my books. And if she’s willing to do a little on-line searching she can find them. So in that way my statement was accurate. But if my statement gave her the impression that I am a writer of the likes of John Grisham or Sue Grafton—that perhaps my name will show up on an upcoming NY Times bestseller list—then I did lie . . . or did I?

See my contention is this: I can be whatever I want to be. I don’t need anyone’s permission and I don’t need anyone’s credentials. I can just do it, and unless it’s illegal no one can stop me.

When I was little I wanted to grow up to be a football player. I did. I go out every few nights and play football with my kids. I’d also kind of like to be a country singer. Not the new variety that sound more like pop or rock singers, but the Johnny Horton variety. (Quick can anyone name a Johnny Horton song?) Guess what? When I take a long, hot shower I can belt out, “And it’s all for the love of a de--ear little gir-r-r-l. All for the love that sets your heart in a whir-r-r-l.” or “We’ve gotta sink the Bismarck cause the world depends on us.” Or “In 1814 we took a little trip.” I sound just like Johnny—at least if I’m the only one listening.

So if I want to be a famous writer who will be on the New York Times Best Seller list one these next few years, who’s to stop me? Many of you talked about being spies, joining posses, foiling terrorists, saving worlds when you were little. What’s stopping you?

I had a woman at a book club tell me a while back that she read “House of Secrets” and that I write like a woman. Of course I appreciated the compliment, but I didn’t tell her that while I’m writing House of Secrets I am a woman. A 5’ 1” blonde reporter to be precise. I wasn’t sure she’d understand that I can be a woman for awhile and turn back into a 43 year old husband at the sound of "Dinner!"

And this isn’t just limited to writers. Pull out that card you’ve been holding so patiently. What did you want to be? An explorer? Great tomorrow take off from work—whatever work might be—put on you jeans and boots and explore some place you’ve never been. A model? Cool, put on your favorite out fit, go to the mall and ask people, “Excuse me, do you know where the fashion shoot is, I’m terribly late.” Or coordinate a fashion show with you LDS young women. President of the United States? Get on your computer jot down a few key memos on policy changes you want to implement and send them to a dozen legislators. Or start by whipping the City Council into shape. Why have you waited this long? Do you need a written invitation? Well here it is. Be who you want to be.

And if by some strange chance the person you want to be is a best selling writer, sit down this minute and get to work on a best selling book. I guarantee you that no one gave John Grisham a written invitation. So you’ve got a leg up on him. And honestly, how many more legal thriller can the guy write? He’s got to be running out. So you might as well replace him. But don’t start small with a kind-of-good book that might fit in here or there. Write an amazing book that EVERYONE will want to read. Hey JK Rowling’s on book seven. What are kids going to read when the HP series is done? Then we can be on the NYTBS list together. How cool would that be?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Name Stealer

By Sariah S. Wilson

So apparently in addition to stealing husbands, Angelina Jolie has started stealing names. Well, I suppose she didn’t technically steal my name since I’ve never met her (or Brad Pitt or anyone from Namibia for that matter).

I love the name Shiloh. If I ever have a girl, that’s the name I’ve picked out. But now I worry - if I ever actually have a daughter, will everyone think I’ve picked the name because some celebrity chose it? That I was trying to be trendy? If I name a child that, will they be picked on because of the supposed connection?

While pregnant with my oldest son, my husband and I decided to carry on some naming traditions from our families. Our children have scriptural middle names (all the kids in my family have names from the scriptures - Rachel, Jared, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Jordan, Adam, Stephen and Charity) - and in my husband’s family all the other kids’ names start with D (except for my husband, named Kevin. Go figure). We decided to give our boys names starting with K like their dad and our girls names starting with S like me.

I celebrated my tenth anniversary this week, so I’ve had a very long time to pick out a girl name. (Pondering over names for children not yet born is either something you do yourself or think people who do it are crazy.) I love the name Shiloh because I think it’s unusual but not too strange, it starts with the requisite S and I love the meaning - “gift from God.” I think that would probably describe how I would feel exactly if I did have a daughter - that I got a special gift from God.

*WARNING* - I am probably about to over share, so if you don’t want to get too personal with me this would be a good point to stop reading.

All this worry over a name may be moot - it doesn’t seem that I can have any more children.

As a woman, that is something that is so painful to admit. It’s what my body is designed to do. It’s what I was meant to do. Procreation is something so basic, so innate, so instinctual. I feel almost ashamed, as if I’m somehow less than. And I don’t want to feel that way.

I’ve found that when I’m open about it, when I can say to someone that I’ve been through a gazillon tests and procedures and I can’t get or stay pregnant and the doctors have absolutely no idea why, that I’ve miscarried more times than I can count and had more hospital stays because of it than you can imagine, it creates this immediate bond with women who have experienced the same thing. I’m shocked by the number of women in the church I have met who have suffered in the same way that I suffer now, who grieve over the failings of their body and their inability to fulfill one of the earliest commandments, who long desperately to have a house full of children.

People outside the church can be sympathetic, but even they don’t truly understand. “You have two sons. You should be grateful for that and go on.” I am grateful each and every day for the two boys that I have, children that the doctor tells me are nothing short of a miracle. But it doesn’t stop my yearning for more. When I had my second son, while at the hospital I felt a little spirit there waiting. It was as if I was being told that another one was coming. I assumed it meant soon. Four years later, I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to meet them.

I think that’s why the Angelina Jolie Name Stealing Incident feels so personal and painful - it makes me grieve all over again for the children I still want and may never have.

My only options at this point are adoption, which I am open to but may take years. There are also more intensive medical procedures that my insurance refuses to cover and I simply can’t afford.

I started writing books because of my oldest son’s medical needs. Those needs were met and taken care of before I ever even finished the book. It was strange - I felt very prompted by the Lord to write and when He arranged for the money necessary for Kaleb’s therapies, I wondered why I still felt compelled to write.

Now I wonder if this is the reason. If my book does well enough, I’ll be able to afford the procedures to try to have a baby.

So a special pre-thank you to everyone who will buy my book and maybe bring me a little bit closer to getting to meet my own Shiloh.

Friday, June 09, 2006

It's About Time

by Kerry Blair

Next year I will be thirty-five years old—since I took weekends off. I stole that line from a movie I saw this week. The character to whom it was said did the math in his head in less than five seconds. I couldn’t do it in five days if you gave me a graphing calculator and forty-nine calendars. I’m counting on the fact that you can’t either. But math isn’t the point. The point is that considering how loooong I’ve been around, shouldn’t I have learned to use my time wisely by now?

As Latter-day Saints, we are practically obsessed with anxiously engaging in good causes. Maybe it’s subliminal. Glancing through the hymnal last Sunday I noted that as sisters in Zion, we who are called to serve are all enlisted to go marching, marching forward because the world has need of willing men to all press on scattering sunshine. We wonder if we have done any good in the world today because we have been given much and want to do what is right, keep the commandments, press forward with the Saints, choose the right, and put our shoulders to the wheel going where He wants us to go. However, as the morning breaks high on the mountain top, truth reflects upon our senses, and while we still believe that sweet is the work, we also realize that we have work enough to do ere the sun goes down. And thus we ask Thee ere we part, where can we turn for peace?

Peace for me would be a reassurance that I am choosing the right things. For instance, in the time it will take me to write this blog I could write a page of a new novel, read twenty pages of scripture, iron six of my husband’s shirts, run ancestral names through TempleReady, weed my garden, compose a sonnet, watch three innings of baseball, write my congressmen, do yoga, drive one-third of the way to the Mesa Temple, babysit for my ill neighbor, exchange e-mail with friends, bake bread, write in my journal for posterity, bathe the dog, brush the cat, clean the fishbowl, or cure cancer.

Okay, that last one is about as likely as ironing my husband’s shirts. (I threw them both in to see if you were paying attention.) But the rest of the list is plausible and it goes on and on. The thing is, I’d like to do all those things (okay, most of them) and more. Unfortunately, I’ve developed an annoying habit of sleeping seven hours a day. No matter what I do in the remaining seventeen, I tend to feel guilty about what I don’t do.

And sometimes I feel guilty about what I do do—even when I’m trying to choose the right. Remember that movie I mentioned watching? I should also have mentioned that while I watched it I copied the Ten Commandments onto eight 1’x2’ pieces of sandstone. (That’s eighty commandments, by the way. I think I’ve got them down now. I shalt not make a graven image of the frog. I shalt not covet Jeff’s spot on the bestseller list. I shalt not kill Rob. Have I missed anything important?) The guilt comes in wondering, “Now that I’ve done all that commandment copying, do I have a stack of memorable handouts for my Primary class—or a sandstone monument to a colossal waste of two hours?”

In another thirty-five years—still taking off weekends and major holidays—maybe I’ll have this time management thing figured out. I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, if you have any ideas of your own, I’d love to hear them. In the time it would take me to read your comment I could fold a load of laundry or clean the toilet—and I certainly don’t want to do that!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Long Drive Home

Weddings are such a great place to get material for characters and books. Family relationships are so complicated, but everything seems to come to the forefront at a wedding. You could almost plot a romantic suspense book from it. I'll give you an example.

The bride and groom are so in love, and it's so romantic to see the light between them, and they don't have eyes for anyone but each other. You hear about how they first met and began dating and how wonderful it was. You hear about the ups and downs, and how they finally got together in spite of it all. That's the romantic part.

The drama comes when the wedding party moves to the dance floor. You have the "aw" moments of the bride and groom's first dance, dancing with the respective mother and father, but then the real drama begins. Crazy Uncle Pete gets out there to start the chicken dance, and finally convinces a few kids to join him, while everyone else looks at each other in horror like, you couldn't drag me out there! The little kids are running around getting underfoot with their parents chasing them, the teenagers are trying to look cool, nodding and head bobbing and high fiving. The grandparents and parents are all looking on proudly, and are a little weepy, as their children/grandchildren move into a different phase of life, and all the memories of their little boy or girl are especially tender.

Then the cake accidentally gets nudged and the top falls off, and the bride accidentally cuts the wrong side of the cake and feeds the groom styrofoam. But the piece de resistance is when the traditional garter tossing takes on a whole new meaning when the groom is blindfolded and his best man has the garter on with the train of the wedding dress thrown over his leg for good measure. Boy, was the groom surprised!

This is how it's like plotting the elements of a book. You are introduced to the characters and the conflict. You wonder if they will get together. You get to know them and if it's a romantic suspense, feel the flush of romantic love with them. On the journey, there is the "aw" moments, and every good story has at least one crazy character (Uncle Pete) and one conscience character (grandparents/parents). There's always good chases, (kids) and trying to be cool under trying circumstances (teens). Of course there's lots of action (cake falling, eating the styrofoam side of cake instead of real cake). Sometimes there are tricks, (best man in garter) but in the end it's all good and possibly you're surprised (just like the groom was). And of course you always hope for the happy ending.

Okay, so I'm stretching, but I had a really good trip to Canada and lots of time to think on my twelve hour drive home (as you may be able to tell). The weather was perfect, and I got to see my entire family which hasn't happened in a really long time. Lots of good times and lots of good memories. Congratulations Bob and Beth! Love, Your Sister.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In Defense of Barbie

by Stephanie Black

I’ve never been able to understand the fuss over Barbie and the worries that her unrealistic dimensions give young girls unhealthy expectations of what they should look like. I loved playing Barbies as a child, but I can’t remember ever thinking I ought to look like Barbie. What human creature actually looked like Barbie? She was a plastic toy. She had painted-on features and knees that made a weird popping noise when you bent them . . . hey, wait. Come to think of it, the older I get, the more I do have in common with Barbie.

Barbies were my favorite toys in the world. Each Christmas, a new Barbie was the centerpiece of Santa’s bounty. My sisters and I had a huge box filled with Barbie dolls, Barbie clothes (homemade, garage-sale treasures, or plain scraps of cloth) and even extra Barbie parts. You never know when an extra Barbie head might come in handy, especially if your game involves a haunting. Waste not, want not.

Barbie was the queen of our imaginations. She could do anything and be anyone, a fact sometimes sadly overlooked by the anti-Barbie faction as they condemn Barbie for her appearance. And even the pro-Barbie faction sometimes misses the point. You know on Toy Story 2 when the heroes go to the toy store and meet a bunch of Barbies and they all have these super-carbonated personalities and faces frozen in perpetual smiles as they party around the Barbie pool? Sheesh! Where did Barbie get stuck with that stereotype? Not that there’s anything wrong with a good pool party, but if there was a mystery to be solved, I don’t think Barbie would be hanging out by the pool working on her plastic tan. I’m not sure how other girls played Barbies, but our games were decidedly lacking in bubbly-ness and chlorine-green hair. We’d play Barbies for hours, creating games filled with danger, suspense, intrigue and outright strangeness. Barbie was a catalyst for creativity.

I eventually outgrew Barbie. But I didn’t outgrow the desire to create stories and vicariously experience the adventures of fictional characters. So now I write novels, which is, for me, a grown-up way of playing Barbies. If you've read my novel, you have some idea of what our Barbie games were like . . .

Long live imagination! Long live Barbie!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A World of My Own

In an episode of The Twilight Zone (A World Of His Own, 1960), a woman, Victoria, peeks in the window of her own home and sees her husband, Gregory, having a drink with a shapely blonde. Victoria barges into the house, demanding an explanation, but the blonde has mysteriously vanished. Gregory, an author, decides it's time to come clean about his little secret: apparently he's such a tremendous writer that when he describes a character, they will immediately come to life! He demonstrates this first by recreating the blonde (who is only "real" for a few moments before he throws the description into the fire, causing her to vanish again), and then by creating an elephant in the hallway (who, again, disappears when he burns the description). Victoria freaks out, as you would expect from any wife who has just discovered her husband's infidelity, but especially from a nagging harpy like Victoria. Finally Gregory opens a safe, pulls out an envelope marked "Victoria" and tosses it in the fire. She dissapears. The end. I hear that M. Night Shyamalan has bought the movie rights.

So with that setup, I could talk about two different subjects. I could discuss character description, and making your shapely blonde characters life-like. I won't, though, because I'm just not very good at it. In the initial version of my first book, On Second Thought, I don't think any of the characters had any physical description whatsoever other than that the love interest had dark hair and fair skin. Aside from that, every character was defined with words like "beautiful" or "ugly" or "half-Apache and all man". Granted, I've improved since then, but not by much.

No, I'm going to talk about how writers live in their own little worlds. Crazy, fantasy worlds. If we weren't actually putting the characters down on paper, people would think we're schizophrenic and hearing voices.

As I mention all the time, I just finished a book; not only a book, but a sequel, which means that I've spent the last three or so years with a select handful of characters. They're more real to me than half the people I know in real life. All I've done for three years -- every time I drive, every time I lie awake at night, every time I sit through boring meetings at work -- is think about these characters and their stories. I talk about them like they're people. I know what they would eat for breakfast. I know how they would vote. I know what type of music they like and what books they read. (Waffles; Libertarian; Ska; Are You There God? It's Me Margaret.)

It's a far cry from my first book. With that one, the Main Character was essentially me. I changed a couple things, just to make it fiction (for example, I had to make him a little less handsome, and not quite so charming -- for believability's sake). The Love Interest was kind of a mix of my wife and a character from another book. Everyone else was as one-dimensional as a sheet of really, really thin paper in a crazy universe where things can only exist in one dimension. (I also am not very good at similes.) (And yes, I realize that paper is two dimensional -- but not in Universe McCrazy!)

But even in that first book, I grew extremely attached to my characters. You pour your heart and soul into your manuscript for months and months and months, deciphering motivations and striving for realism, and then suddenly you're done. It's like your best friends are gone forever. Who will I talk to now? Who will I think about? (Incidentally, my wife said that I'm going to be meeting with a nice man who wears a white coat. He'll make everything okay.)

It's worse with this book, especially now that I know what all the leads look like. As part of the marketing campaign, I cast all the main characters so that I could take pictures of them for the blog. Now that I know exactly what the characters really look like, I have concrete pictures in my mind when I think about them, and they're even more real. (I've actually heard that other authors do this for all their books. Anita Stansfield keeps a three-ring binder of magazine photos so that she can accurately describe her character's physical traits.) (Perhaps I can finally claim US! magazine as business expense?)

I keep wishing that one day I'll bump into my characters on the street. I'd like to talk with them. I have questions for them. Did I portray them correctly? Would they have really acted the way I wrote them? Do they like me? Can we be best friends forever?

My wife just informed me that the nice man from the hospital is here, and he brought me a nice new jacket to wear, too. I suspect something's amiss, but not to worry: if she turns against me I can just toss her envelope in the fire!

Monday, June 05, 2006

What Publishers Want

Last week, Stephanie added to my blog. So this week it’s time for turnabout. (Besides I spent the whole weekend cleaning out the garage and I’m too tired for creative thought.) I loved hearing what people are looking for in LDS fiction. And doesn’t it really come down to much the same thing we are looking for in national fiction? A great read that holds our attention, moves us in some way, and doesn’t offend our sensibilities too much. Make us laugh, make us cry, make us shiver, just don’t bore us.

And so—with advance apologies to frog and the rest of the amphibians—I’d thought I’d take a stab at the other side of the arrangement. We’ve talked about what LDS readers want; now let’s examine what LDS publishers want. Since I have never been or worked for an LDS publisher, I won’t claim to be an expert—and frogman I expect you to keep me on the straight and narrow lily pad here. But having worked with, interviewed, sold to, and hosted roundtable discussions with a number of LDS publishers, I think I have a pretty good idea of how they think. With that in mind, let me present my thoughts on what an LDS publisher wants from an LDS author.

1) LDS publishers want to sell books. Sounds obvious right? And yet I hear people complaining all the time when publishers tell authors that they are focusing on what sells. Wonder why the big LDS publishers are not doing the “literary” fiction that everyone on AML is begging for? It doesn’t sell in their market (meaning LDS bookstores.) If it did sell, they would happily publish it. Also wonder why they don’t push the envelope harder with language, sex, or violence? Again, it is about the audience they sell to.

Imagine going to see a G rated Disney movie and hearing four letter words. What would happen to your confidence in Disney? (Assuming you have any.) Would you go see another Disney movie? The majority of LDS readers have certain expectations of the large LDS publishers. If that trust is broken, they will stop buying books from those publishers. Are there LDS people who want profanity or sex in their LDS books? Sure. Are they the audience that buys Anita, or Rachel, or Kerry, or Chris H., or any of us on this blog? Very seldom. So why would an LDS publisher risk alienating their target audience to appease a very small minority?

Another thing people don’t grasp is the value of shelf space. Say you run a corner grocery store. In your cooler you have a cola section with Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper. Along comes a vendor with a great new cola. Even if it tastes wonderful, would you carry it? How much new sales will it bring in? Probably not much—people who drink cola are already buying one of the big three, so a fourth cola would only cannibalize existing cola sales. Since every inch of inventory costs you money, you’d be much better off with something that does not compete directly with your existing products. But you also have to consider the marketing dollars being spent and the potential audience. You might carry the new cola product if they were spending lots of money on primetime television to promote it. And you might pass on a brand new product with no marketing dollars to spend or that didn’t appeal to many shoppers.

The same thing is true with bookstores. Ever new book they purchase costs money and takes up shelf space. They will not stock an unlimited number of books, so a publisher can’t just throw mud on the wall and see what sticks. They prefer known authors and genres that already move well. The best shelf space will always go to the biggest sellers, so in order to purchase a new book they have to feel that it will attract readers and know it will be marketed well. Which leads me to number 2.

2) If you want to sell to an LDS publisher, know your market. Know your market. Know your market. The biggest mistake I see LDS authors make is not having a clue what LDS fiction is about. This is not just about avoiding bad words, gang. It’s about understanding what is being written, who is writing it, whether or not it is selling, why it is or is not selling, and what’s been done before. In a nutshell, if you have not read LDS fiction and talked extensively to your local LDS bookstore about movement in the market, do not have the audacity to write LDS fiction.

A successful LDS author who I know mentioned casually that he/she does not read much LDS fiction. Just too busy. Hmmm, not to be overly obnoxious here, but could that be why your books are not improving? Could that be why you repeat the same clichés that appear in dozens of other LDS novels and consider your writing original? Would you be cocky enough to believe that you could be a successful writer in any other market if you didn’t keep up with the works of other writers in your market? “Gosh, think I’ll write a Sci-Fi novel about aliens who try to take over earth, only the twist will be the aliens are really us. Bet that’s never been done before.”

"But,” you say, “the writer is successful in the LDS market, so reading other LDS books isn’t necessary.” Reading other LDS novels may not be necessary for an author who already has a big following—and even that is debatable in the long run—but for you and me, it is a requirement. LDS novels are getting better all the time and if you want to write the next big LDS children’s fantasy you better have read Jimmy Fincher, Leven Thumps, Mice and Magic, Serpent Tide, etc.

And please don’t tell me that you are afraid to read other writers for fear that you will copy their style. First of all, if you don’t know what they are doing, you might very well copy it without knowing. And second, your writing style is a hodgepodge of what’s inside you. If you could suddenly become Dan Brown by reading his novels, there’d be a couple gazillion Dan Browns running around.

3) Start with action, stay with action, and end with action. I am not talking here about just thriller action—although you can’t go too far wrong with a good chase scene. What I am talking about is, avoiding things that slow down the story—infodumps, flashbacks, flowery over description, long internal monologues. Keep the story moving. You have one and only one first sentence, paragraph, and page. They are what sell most of your books. Don’t believe me. Stand around a bookstore for awhile and watch what happens. Customer enters store, browses covers, picks up book, checks back and inside of cover blurbs. Reads first page. Puts down book and moves on.

Want to sell books? Don’t start with, “The brisk salty breeze blew back Tortella’s long golden locks. The smell of the salty air mixed with the aroma of the waving pine trees, reminding her of the first time she and Oliver kissed on this very spot. If only he was here now.”

Want to see how to start a book? Read the first page of “Mummy’s the Word.” Nothing like a stakeout and doughnuts to get things rolling.

4) Stay within the model for your genre, but don’t copy what’s already been done. This goes back to number 2. If you are writing YA fiction, don’t write about a kid who gets transported back to Book of Mormon times through a crystal cave. If you are going to write romance don’t write the same thing as Rachel Nunes and Anita Stansfield. There are several Covenant authors who write mysteries, but what and who we write about are very different. KLB loves humor and word play, BBG has a cast of characters set in a small southern town, I push the envelope between mystery and thriller. It all works well together, but if I suddenly started writing about this small southern town, it wouldn’t benefit, Betsy, me, or the publisher. And likely they wouldn’t carry it.

5) Send in your very best work. Again this would seem to go without saying, but for some reason people tend to think that an editor will overlook a messy story with lots of errors. When you mention that there is a lot of clean up work to be done, they say, “Oh, the editor will take care of that.”

Let me give you a brief lesson in LDS publishing. Most new LDS novels do not sell more than 5,000 copies. Many sell 3,000 or less, and the smaller publishers may only sell 500. Let’s stick with 4,000. Let’s assume that the book wholesales for $7. (Is that about right Kermit?) So we have a gross of $28,000. Out of that comes printing costs. Say $1 per book. So if the print run is 7,000 we have $7k there. Then there is the royalty cost. Let’s say another $4k. So now we are down to $17,000. Next we have the cost of marketing ($2500?), cover design ($1000?), layout ($1000), staff ($5500?), sales, rent, and other various overhead. There isn’t a lot of profit left in this book. Built into the cost is how much editing and proofreading time is necessary. So if your book looks like it will take twice as much editing as mine, who do you think will get the slot?

6) Lastly, have a marketing plan. I’ve beaten this theme to death in previous blogs here and on my own site, so I won’t say much more on the subject except that you can’t calculate the value of a marketing event by how many royalty dollars you earn off the particular event. Marketing is about name recognition with both store employees and readers, publisher good will, future sales, earning out the up front cost of the book, and a dozen other things they may not stand out at first glance.Again, remember the grocery store scenario. I am going to be marketing the heck out of mystery series. Robison is doing the same with his series. If you don’t market, how do you expect to get the shelf space?