Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Signings, Signings Everywhere! (And Homeowners' Associations Stink)

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've been trying to think of a blog topic, but right now I'm obsessing over my homeowners' association (HOA). I really, really hate them a lot. Have you ever seen that episode of the X-Files where Scully and Mulder move into this ultra-perfect neighborhood where people keep dying for breaking the HOA rules? Turns out the president conjured up a golem who killed anyone that got out of line at all. It's sort of like that neighborhood, only the golem would probably be nicer than what I'm dealing with. I wrote some nasty letters on Friday after we received yet another certified letter saying that our yard isn't being "maintained." I'm not sure what's not being maintained as the grass had been recently mowed and there's nothing wrong with it. It's like someone in our neighborhood has it out for us. And unfortunately with an HOA, they can do pretty much anything they want. They can rack up exorbitant fines without proving that you've actually committed any violation and it can actually get to the point where they can take your house from you.

AND NO ONE CAN STOP THEM. There's no government entity that can step in and say no. If you have an appeals process, it goes through the HOA. It's like living in a police state with neighbors narking on neighbors, an entity that has absolute power and answers to no one. It's enough to make a person become a Libertarian.

Had I known that when I moved in, we wouldn't have moved in here. We were told that the HOA was no big deal, they just made sure people weren't painting their houses bright green or things like that. We were lied to, and we were told that if we didn't sign we'd lose our deposit. I feel pretty stupid now for not contesting it, for not having a lawyer look at it, and it's been an aggravating lesson to learn.

I haven't heard back from them yet. I picked apart their letter to me, pointed out the fallacy of their statements (i.e., they can't impose fines, according to their documentation, until we've been given "exact notice" of our violation. They said our backyard needs to be "maintained." What's the exact violation? We know the yard needs to be maintained (obviously). It has been). I was MAD. I haven't been this MAD in a very, very long time. It actually takes quite a bit to get me to this level. But they succeeded, the bunch of grass Nazis.

I expect that I'll hear from them via another certified letter (and part of me is tempted to refuse to sign for it) or I'll hear via an attorney, which to me seems a conflict of interest since he'll be representing the leaders of an association that I have to pay to belong to.

I'll keep you updated on my HOA saga, and hopefully next time I won't still be quite so MAD.

On a happier note, next week I will be doing signings in Utah.

On Friday, October 5 I will be doing a signing at the Redwood Seagull from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m.

On Saturday, October 6 I will be doing signings at these locations:

Family Center Seagull 12:30-1:30pm
West Jordan Seagull 4:30-5:30pm
American Fork Seagull 6:30-7:30pm

If anyone would like to come out and visit me, it would be greatly appreciated. I have great phobias over empty bookstores. And about what I'm supposed to write when I sign books.

Hopefully "Desire of Our Hearts" will be on the shelf by that point.

I realized I didn't put up the back cover blurb (which are always fun and I'm sooo glad I don't have to write those):

"You have two choices. You are to marry either Alma or Amulon."

"This must be some sort of jest," she said in disbelief.

"It is no jest," her father said. "You will go to the palace tomorrow before sundown with your decision.

...Sam leaned against a tall stone building for support. The wall felt cool against her forehead. It wouldn't be a difficult decision. It wasn't much of a decision at all. Alma seemed kind. Not that she believed such a thing was possible. How could any man who served the king be kind?

It is a time of pleasure and luxury--if you belong to the inner circle of King Noah and his decadent priests. It is a time of servitude and deprivation if you don't. And if you dare to believe the bold words of the prophet Abinadi, it is a time to fear for your very life.

In Desire of Our Hearts, LDS author Sariah S. Wilson weaves an intricate, suspenseful, and romantic narrative. Set against the backdrop of the Book of Mormon account of Alma's conversion and breathtaking escape as he leads a band of courageous believers toward religious freedom, this familar and beloved story is brimming with all the elements needed to make it a spiritual odyssey and a tender and timeless love story.


Exercise was bad this week. I am so exhausted from the whole not sleeping thing that I simply didn't have the energy to do it, and this whole HOA thing sucked the rest of the life out of me. I only exercised two days. I did lose 7.1 pounds last week (which seems like an awful lot and was pretty shocking). I'll hopefully be better this week about exercising and staying on the diet. How'd you guys do?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Building a Better Birdfeeder

by Kerry Blair

Today after school, half a pack of Cub Scouts will descend on my back porch, giddy with excitement over using power tools, sharp, pointed objects, and real iron hammers to build their very own birdfeeders. (Pray for me.) I suspect Scouts have been undertaking this project since Lord Baden-Powell saw his first hungry sparrow a century ago. Obviously, in all that time – and with the incredible advances of technology – there are now many ways to go about this project.

This is my problem exactly.

When I took over Cubs a few months ago, my sister-in-law gave me half a garage-full of books, files, flags, and left-over projects. I discovered the prototype for my feeder in her junk. It is, in my humble opinion, ingenious in that it’s functional, requires the use of almost every tool I can personally name and/or handle, and allows a lot of leeway for creative expression on the part of the boys.
Come to find out, there are people who appreciate none of these things.

First Case in Point
I was at my brother’s house in Mesa yesterday when I mentioned that we’d be making bird feeders. With obvious elation, he told me about the father/son make-and-takes they have in their troop. Seems the “guys” all get together one afternoon and the dads make the kits for the kids to assemble. Right. The birdfeeder hanging on the tree in his yard has my nephew’s name on it, sure, but looks like it should be stamped Ikea. Even if I wanted to aim for perfection like that, I couldn’t achieve it. Martha Stewart couldn’t do it. Of course, Martha Stewart wouldn’t try. Forget plywood, Martha’s all about gourds for fall.

Case in Point the Second
I came home the other day to a sack full of gourds left outside my front door by a helpful Cub mother. Stapled to the bag was a print-out from Martha Stewart’s web site, showing me step-by-step how to make absolutely adorable girly birdhouses. When I called her (the mom, not Martha) to explain that we were making manly birdfeeders – using power tools and sharp tacks and iron hammers – she said, “But gourds are so pretty. Remember, I’m the one who has to hang up whatever my kid brings home.” Tough luck for her, I say. She should have thought of that before she gave birth to a boy.

Third Case that Sort of Makes a Point
This morning another mother called to tell me that when she was a den leader she bought birdhouse kits from the Scout Shop. They were all the same and all you had to do was snap them together and slap on a little paint. Slapping paint is pretty fun, I guess, but using power tools to make whatever design you want is funner. (Besides, even if I wanted to take her suggestion, the nearest Scout Shop in more than a hundred miles away. As far as I know, they don’t deliver.)

Fourth Exhibit in My Ongoing Case-Point Making
About an hour ago . . . you know, I could go on (and on and on – I’m like that), but my four- and six-year-old nieces are here and have run out of patience with blogging in general and me in particular. More precisely, they ran out of patience around 7 AM and I’ve been writing one sentence – or word – at a sitting since then. Better people than me (Julie, Stephanie, Sariah, Jeff, Rob) would persevere, but I just don’t possess the multi-tasking gene they do. You’ll just have to believe that I was planning to liken building a better birdfeeder to writing a better book in an ironic, insightful, absolutely fascinating and probably profound sort of way. Instead, I’m going to abandon this blog mid-thought and go play “Spin for Spots” instead. This afternoon when my daughter comes home to babysit I’m going to let nine-year-olds build a better birdfeeder in the way they see best.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

To Write or Not to Write

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I had a writing dilemma yesterday.

I am attempting to finish another novel, but I was having trouble wrapping the story up and working with an aspect of my hero’s POV. It just hadn’t been flowing no matter how much I tried and I was getting frustrated. Then, yesterday, I had an epiphany and the story just started to flow. The answer to my POV question had come and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner.

Unfortunately, almost as soon as the ideas entered my head, the doorbell rang. I briefly thought of not answering it because my fingers were itching to type what I’d just thought of, but I didn’t dare not answer it in case it was an emergency of some sort. (Yes, we’ve had those in the past.) It happened to be a friend that had just flown in from New York that I hadn’t seen for a year. I was happy to see her and we had a wonderful visit, but I have to admit, part of me was still with my story. When our visit was over, it was time to go pick up kids from school, and run to the store for a YM/YW activity we had that night. The scenes were running through my head at a rapid pace as I shopped and I couldn’t wait to sit down at the computer to type them out. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I had it all planned so that we would get home with just enough time for me to start dinner and get it in the oven and I would have a half an hour on the computer before we all had to leave for Mutual.

I walked in the door with a smile on my face, my secret joy shining through at having planned so well. I set the grocery bags down and my teenaged daughter covered the mouthpiece of the phone she was talking into and said, "Mom, I think I forgot to tell you it’s Parent/Teacher Conferences today."

I didn’t groan. I didn’t moan. I did roll my eyes so far back into my head I got to see a part of my own brain explode, however. Parent/Teacher Conferences at our high school are something to be endured. It is crowded and noisy and there’s generally an organized chaos. Not to mention that I usually go early to avoid that, but with the surprise announcement, I was going to be in the thick of everything.

Why did I even go you ask? What could the teachers possibly have to say since the kids have only been in school for a little over a month? Good question. I go because I want to meet the people that are teaching my children. I want them to know I care about my child’s education. And I go because I used to be a teacher and know how incredibly important it is to show your child that you care about their education and are willing to put yourself through Parent/Teacher Conferences.

This year, I have two children in high school so that meant I was going to be seeing sixteen teachers. Dinner wasn’t on the table and we had to leave in an hour and a half for a YM/YW activity. My perfectly planned scenario disappeared before my eyes. No typing time. My story was still floating in my head. My epiphany, my Writer’s Muse, had finally come and I couldn’t do anything about it.

I know what you’re thinking. If you insist on going to Parent/Teacher conferences, just take a piece of paper and write while you’re in line waiting, it’s the perfect solution right? Yeah, I tried that once. It’s really hard to do when you’re standing in line in a crowded room with people asking every two seconds if you are in line and then when you nod your head, they say, "What are you writing?" And people are so friendly, if you tell them what you are writing, then they want to know about the whole story, how long you’ve been published, what your name is, the whole nine yards. So, while I love talking to people and have a lot of fun chatting, the thing I wanted to write never gets written. (On the plus side, though, I love talking to other parents because you can find out all about the teachers and experiences others have had with them. It can be very enlightening).

I only made it to fourteen teachers before I had to leave and go to the YM/YW activity that I had been asked to help with. I got home late and helped my husband put the last of the kids to bed before I dropped into bed myself.

I hadn’t written a darn thing.

I still haven’t written what came to me yesterday. I wanted to. Should I have? I was excited about it. But the opportunity just wasn’t there. Or rather, I had other obligations that came before my writing.

Case in point: I’m writing this blog instead of working on my novel. What does that say?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Ineffectual Education Fund

by Robison Wells, who was supposed to post yesterday morning but has decided he's sick of conforming to The Man's schedule

September is here, and if you’re like me then you’ve been sitting in front of the TV every night, watching all the great new fall TV shows! (And if you’re even more like me, then you stay up really late at night doing homework, wondering what the fricking crap you were thinking, and why that dumb sitcom seemed so important at the time.)

Anyway, in case you hadn’t heard, one of the new shows this fall was created by an LDS author! And not just any author, but one who is highly acclaimed and well-known on this blog. Yes, I’m speaking of none other than Spencer McKay, the creative genius behind Enriched by Love and The Friberg Code!

After hearing the great news, I emailed Spencer and asked him for the scoop. He very willingly obliged, and I’m pleased to offer you a sneak peak.

Spencer explains the show like this
“You know that time when you were doing that thing, and then—whoa!—all that bad stuff started to happen, and you were all like—what was I thinking?! Well, my new show, The Ineffectual Education Fund, is just like that! It tells the story of a young college student, Jordan Johnson (played by Kirby Heyborne), who gets a full-ride scholarship to BYU because he’s one-eighth Lithuanian. There’s no way he wouldn’t have gotten into BYU on his own—he’s kind of a dopey loser—but his Dad (played by Clint Eastwood) teaches Agriculture at BYU-Idaho and kinda pulled some strings. So, it’s like Animal House meets Jack Weyland!”

Sounds awesome, eh? Well, for your enjoyment, Spencer McKay has given us an EXCLUSIVE episode guide. Buckle up tight, folks, because you’re in for a ride!

Episode One: Queen of Campus
Jordan Johnson shows up to BYU and checks in for his dorm assignment. He discovers that the office made a mistake—they saw his name was Jordan and they thought he was a girl! Fortunately, his roommate, Ashley, is also a boy. And their neighbors, Shannon and Cary, are also boys! But you know how hard it is to find cheap BYU approved housing, so they just dress up like girls and live there. Jordan meets a beautiful young coed, Jennifer, but he meets her during Relief Society and is in no position to ask her out.

Episode Two: A is for Apathy
Jordan’s roommate, Ashley, gets concerned about the upcoming test in Dr. Jones’s physics class. Ashley’s always gotten A’s, but now it looks like he’s going to get a B! Jordan tells him to take a chill pill. Shannon discards his costume momentarily and takes Jennifer out to ice cream at the Creamery on Ninth! Cary is discovered to be bulimic.

Episode Three: Verdict: Wolverines
In an attempt to get back at Shannon for dating Jennifer, Jordan calls INS and has Shannon deported. (Shannon’s from Myanmar—didn’t I mention that?) Once he gets back home, Shannon calls the Honor Code office and gets Jordan kicked out of BYU for cross-dressing. He’s going to lose his scholarship if he doesn’t go to school! So he goes to UVSC. (Clown College was full up.)

Episode Four: A Cunning Plan
Jordan, Ashley, and Cary decide that there’s only one way for them to get back into BYU: they have to save President Samuelson’s life! (Cecil O. Samuelson guest stars as himself!) Cary drives the car, Ashley dresses up like a crossing guard (male), and Jordan comes rushing in for the daring rescue! Only one problem: no brakes. The four of them end up in the hospital. However, when Jennifer shows up with a bunch of daisies and a tub of Bishop’s Bash Ice Cream, all is forgiven. (Cary later throws it up.)

Episode Five: A Very Special Episode of The Ineffectual Education Fund
Jennifer gives Jordan the old DTR. They take a walk to the temple and talk about their feelings. Meanwhile, Ashley returns from Myanmar, having learned the true meaning of Christmas. Cary gets institutionalized and the Relief Society embroiders “CTR” on his straight jacket. President Samuelson issues a snow day, and the whole cast gets together in the quad for a snowball fight.

Episode Six: Clip Show
The gang sits in the Cougareat and reminisces about all the awesome stuff that’s happened in the last month. President Samuelson orders Teriyaki Stix for everyone, his treat.

Episode Seven (Cliffhanger): Till We Meet Again?????
Jennifer reveals that she’s going on a mission to Jolly Old England South—and she’s leaving tomorrow! Jordan takes a job selling pest control door-to-door in Florida. Cary gets locked up once again (he escaped sometime during the Clip Show). Ashley dyes his hair, and everyone gets really shocked, but then they see it was just a cry for attention. President Samuelson hires him to be his Summer Butler (the Winter Butler was killed in the car accident in Episode Four). The credits begin to roll, but wait! Killer bees are headed STRAIGHT FOR BYU!

Well, that’s Season One, folks. I know it’s short, but it’s packed with meaty goodness. Only one problem: it’s on the MTN!

Ensign Expendable

by Stephanie Black

In their high school days, my brother and his friends used to make movies. One of their masterpieces was a Star Trek spoof. As an old Star Trek fan, I found their creation of a character named “Ensign Expendable" to be extremely apt. Those of you who watched the original Star Trek series will recognize Ensign Expendable. If Kirk and Spock and McCoy and some heretofore unseen crewman beamed down to explore a planet, it was easy to figure out which of those characters was going to get creamed by the alien menace du jour. Ensign Expendable served an important dramatic role by highlighting the danger facing the Enterprise folk, but leaving the main characters alive and kicking for the next episode.

Mystery/suspense novels have their own brand of tension-raising Ensign Expendables. Take, for example, the character who witnesses a crucial fact about the murder, but doesn’t realize the significance of this fact until later. Or the character who knows something incriminating, but keeps it quiet out of guilty motives that have nothing to do with the crime being investigated. At some point in the novel, the truth clicks, and EE realizes he needs to ‘fess up. So what does he do? Calls the protagonist, but always refuses to spill the beans over the phone. “I can’t talk now. Meet me tomorrow at 10:00.” At this point the savvy reader mutters immediately, “He’s doomed.” The meeting will never happen, because the bad guy—having realized the danger posed by EE—is waiting in the wings with his weapon of choice. Story tension rises—we hope against hope that somehow EE will get his information to the protagonist. Then when the killer strikes again, we’re reminded anew of how dangerous, desperate and evil this person is, and we’re grinding our teeth at this setback for the protagonist. The protagonist was about to find out something important, but now EE is dead. Setbacks for the protagonist are the stuff of which great story tension is made.

I recently created an EE in my work-in-progress, a woman who saw something on the night of the murder that she doesn’t yet realize is significant. A later event will start the wheels turning in her head. Will she get murdered before she can tell anyone what she witnessed? Probably. But maybe she’ll manage to leave a message behind. Did she write a letter she intended to give the heroine and later the heroine will find it? Does she tell someone else what she saw? Leave a sticky note on her fridge? Or a crucial photograph in her purse? I don't know. I haven’t written that far yet. Right now she’s just a cardboard character, in great need of fleshing out. She may be in the story principally to add tension by increasing the murderer's frantic efforts to conceal his/her crime, but in order to play an effective role, she needs to feel real. If the reader doesn’t care about her, why would they care if she becomes a victim?

Maybe I’ll introduce her earlier—chatting with the first murder victim. They could be friends. Okay, I like that . . . Can you tell I’m not fond of detailed outlining? I need a basic idea of where the story is going, but details don’t come until I’m actually writing. This is why my first drafts are a horrendous mess, but I like it that way. It’s freeing to write a bad first draft, knowing that the seeds of the story are sprouting and by the time I’ve revised it a bunch of times, my mom is going to love it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Oh the Horror

I know I promised I would tell you all the cool stuff I learned in the bayous of Louisiana, but then again you were supposed to tell me all the interesting facts you’d learned while researching your books. Which you didn’t. And I have to say, that really bothered Rob. He even threatened to boycott the entire blog-o-sphere (or is it blog-o-verse?) for the next forty-eight hours. But knowing how many of you depend on him for your Tuesday morning blog fix, I talked him out of it by promising him raw fish.

The fact that I came back to Utah after two weeks on the road only to have to turn right around and head to Chicago this morning has nothing to do with the fact that I have neither the time nor energy to write about my tour of the swamps. I promise next week I will tell you all about the fifteen foot alligator with the unlikely nick name of El Guapo or the zipper spider.

So instead I’ll share chapter one of my Mormon horror novel, Dark Memories. There is also a prologue but this is a better stand alone chapter.

Any guesses on what the readers will have to say about this?

Chapter 1

Twin Forks, UT – 2008

Mandy Osgood woke with a gasp to absolute darkness. She felt like she was suffocating. She reached out for the switch on her nightstand lamp, twisting it viciously enough to raise blood blisters on the tips of her fingers. The master bedroom at the end of the double-wide trailer remained pitch black.

Fighting off panic, she slapped at the chipped surface of the little wooden table, knocking over a glass of water and sending a plastic bottle of Tylenol P.M. tumbling, before her hands closed around the alarm clock. Its display—the brightest she’d been able to find—was dark.

With one sweat-damp palm, she traced the cord back to where it plugged into the wall. It hadn’t come loose from the outlet like it sometimes did, but it was just as dead as the light she always left on when she went to bed.

The power was out. It had happened before—power lines were always breaking under the fierce mountain winds that gusted from the mouth of the canyon—and despite her dread, she’d managed to survive. Only tonight—tonight felt different.

For one thing, there was the silence. If a storm had knocked down the power lines, why couldn’t she hear wind whistling through the gaps in the trailer’s metal siding? That always happened when the gusts came.

Sitting up in bed, clutching the cotton sheet to her chin like a talisman against the night, she couldn’t hear a thing. Not even the mind-numbing reek, reek, reek, of the crickets which, along with the mice, seemed to be the only other things capable of surviving out on this crappy little half-acre of land she and Eddie had purchased the year before. It felt as if she were no longer in the trailer at all, but in a dark, dank cave.

That’s when she remembered the dream. All the air escaped from her lungs in what should have been a scream, but only managed to reach a reedy little whimper. The dream.

She’d been having the dream for the first time since . . . at least since her miscarriage, and that had been back in ’91. She’d hoped it was gone forever, but now she could remember it all too clearly.

In her nightmare, she is seven-years-old and cold, and it’s so-o-o-o dark. Her fear has finally abated, but only because an eternity of endless terror has drained her of the strength to feel anything. She isn’t alone, but she might as well be. Her cries for help, and those of the other children, have given way to soft sobs, until even that becomes too taxing, and the silence is broken only by an occasional hoarse moan or a whispered, “Mommy?”

Lying on the hard dirt, her thumb planted firmly against the roof of her mouth, she listens to the sniffled breathing of someone off to her left and tries not to imagine the walls closing in on her. She tries to think about something nice instead, like her family.

So far, this is not dream at all, but memory—merely a replaying of a terrible experience she has never quite been able to erase from her mind. There were five of them. Had been six until . . . but no. She won’t think about that. She can’t!

She’d been curled up into a hard little ball, trying to remember what her mommy’s face looked like, when the men with the lights finally arrived. The men lifted her into their arms, though she was barely conscious enough to realize it, and carried her to safety.

Only in the dream, the men with the lights never arrive. She is lying on the ground—a sharp piece of rock is cutting into the small of her back, but she is too tired to move—when she hears the voice—his voice—calling her name.

“Ama-a-a-a-n-n-n-n-d-d-d-a.” The plaintive, sing-song, cry echoes off the mine’s walls.

She wants to get to her feet and bolt into the darkness like a terrified rabbit. Even though there are things in the darkness—things much worse than the tracks and abandoned pieces of equipment that trip the children up and gash at their feet and legs—things that brush silently past them, touching their faces before disappering again. She would rather risk those other things than face him.

Because she knows that he isn’t coming to rescue her. He is coming to drag her deeper into the darkness.


She hears his voice again, and the air grows even colder against her skin. She can no longer hear the others. They are hiding too, covering their mouths with dirt-crusted hands like she is, because they all know what he wants. He hates them. He blames them for . . . for . . . what happened.

From only a few feet away comes a sound, the snick of a child’s shoe kicking up a pebble, and she knows that in a moment she will feel his icy fingers clutching at her throat. And when she does, the walls will close in. They will wrap their dank, crumbling arms around her, crushing the last breath of air from her body, and she will spend eternity here in the dark. Sharing his fate, sharing his—


Mandy jerked. She must have drifted off again. She’d been doing that a lot lately—seeing things and hearing things that couldn’t be. “Heebie-jeebies,” Eddie called them, drug flashbacks from her halcyon days. She didn’t tell him that she’d never really been much of a drug user, not even in her wild teenage years.

It was easier to blame it on the lasting effects of the couple of joints she’d experimented with than to face the very real possibility that she was losing her mind. People who started hallucinating and hearing imaginary voices usually ended up stalking celebrities—or believing that their imaginary visitors were real. Either course led to a tightly strapped white coat in a padded room.

The thing to do was steel herself, get out of bed and walk across the room to the bureau. There was a flashlight in the top drawer—actually three flashlights. She would turn on all three and keep them on until Eddie got home from his shift.

If she moved quickly, she wouldn’t have time to think about dead children waiting for her in the dark. The walls wouldn’t begin closing in on her like they always did when the lights were turned out.

She started to rise from bed, the soles of her feet just beginning to brush against the nub of the bedroom carpet, when she heard the noise in the hallway.

Swish, swish, like the whisper of a silk blouse being pulled from its hanger. Almost too soft to hear—but not quite.

“Eddie? Eddie, is that you?”

Nothing but the sound of her own pounding heart for almost a minute. Nearly enough time to convince herself that she hadn’t heard anything at all.

And then, there it was again.

Swish, swish. The sound of the field mice that were forever finding new ways to get up into the trailer?

Or the wispy sound of a child’s footsteps?

“Who’s there?” She pulled back into bed, knees tucking up against her chest, the sheet pulled almost to her eyes.

“I have a gun.” She tried to sound intimidating. But even to herself, her voice sounded as empty of any real threat, as it must to an intruder. She waited, wanting to jump from the bed and race across the room, but unable to even move.

Another almost interminable silence, then the stealthy creak that she recognized as the sound of the bedroom door swinging open.

“Oh God, please help me.” She couldn’t remember praying since she was a little girl and the only words that came to mind now were the lyrics to a Sunday School song.

“Reverently, quietly, lovingly we think of Thee.” The sound of her voice was so much like her seven-year-old self that she immediately stopped.

From the corner of the room came something that might have been just the water heater gurgling, but sounded too much like a soft chuckle.

“Don’t . . . don’t hurt me,” Mandy whimpered. She could feel the walls beginning to close in, could hear moisture dripping from the ceiling somewhere in the distance.

Another sound, this time clearly the titter of a child’s voice, and her terror bloomed full and overpowering. She couldn’t stand it any longer—couldn’t bear to spend another second in darkness. Hallucination or not, she had to get away.

The dresser with the flashlights was less than ten steps from the bed. Fueled by mind-numbing fear, she managed to roll off the mattress, her knees wobbly and barely able to hold her up. She took three tentative steps, and paused. The room suddenly felt far too big. Was she even moving in the right direction? In the pitch black it was impossible to tell.

She shuffled forward another two steps and froze; suddenly sure that someone was standing only inches away in the darkness. Waiting silently for her to step into his grasp. Pressing her hands to her mouth, she stood trembling in the middle of the room. The words repeating mantra-like over and over in her head. “Reverently, quietly, reverently, quietly, reverently—”


The voice that whispered to her from the blackness was as quiet as a falling leaf, gentle as a lover’s touch. At its sound, all rational thought left her mind. Hands outstretched, she fled—no longer caring what direction she was moving in, knowing only that she had to escape. Her thigh collided with something hard and a hot burst of pain exploded down her right leg.

Her hand dropped to a smooth surface littered with bottles, and pieces of cosmetic jewelry—the dresser. She found the top drawer and yanked it open, peeling back a nail, but not even feeling it. Fumbling around inside, her hands finally closed on the barrel of a flashlight. Nerveless fingers pressed at the button, missed, and pressed again. A ray of light cut wildly through the darkness as she spun around.

The tight beam revealed nothing—only an empty bedroom in a cheap mobile home. It had been just another hallucination. Collapsing against the dresser, she allowed the light to waver slightly down and to the left.

From the darkness the face of a child appeared, skin slick and pallid, black hair damp and matted.

The flashlight dropped from her sweaty hand, its light snapping out as it hit the floor—and the walls closed in on Mandy for good.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Deifying the Prophets

by Sariah S. Wilson

My publisher has manuscripts reviewed by several time-tested readers who rate it and give their thoughts and suggestions. I got a recommendation from a fellow author to request those reader's comments as they would help me in editing my novel.

With my first novel, apparently my manuscript got read by one reader and went straight up the ladder. When I got the comments, my editor attached a note saying to take it with a grain of salt. I remember taking big gulps of air, terrified that I would be torn apart and my newbieness laid bare.

Instead, the review was extremely positive, so much so that it said I would change the face of LDS fiction. Stop laughing. That's what it really said.

So, yeah, I was feeling pretty good. Maybe I wasn't that much of a hack.

With my second novel I got several reader's comments. This was a whole different beast. Lots of different opinions - one found my villain well done, another thought he was whiny and not scary. I remember reading the comments, half-expecting verbiage like my first review. Didn't happen.

I think I spent most of the afternoon eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The comments They were mostly positive, one of them being extremely helpful once I got past the emotional blow I took.

This time, I had three new readers and I think one of them just didn't care for the third novel (that being an understatement). I started reading the six pages worth of "YOU SUCK" but very soon found myself curled in the fetal position under my desk.

That's not what it really said. The readers try to be constructive and helpful. No one called down curses on my mother or anything like that.

But each and every negative comment felt personal. I don't know why. Cognitively I recognize that these are just opinions and if three other people read the novel they might think I'm the greatest thing since Heimerdinger.

I know that. But it doesn't make it hurt any less.

I don't want it to feel this way. I can't help how sensitive/emotional I am (which I do fully blame my mother for. I had a nice assertive red personality, and she gave me all her blue).

Maybe it's because in book writing, I do feel like I'm putting a piece of myself out there. I think it was Julie Wright (in the LDS Storymakers' book on how to get published in the LDS market and if it wasn't Julie please correct me) who talked about working on her manuscript and likening it to being her baby. Which makes sense - you create it and you have to spend all this time with it, feeding it, loving it, nurturing it. She said she dressed her baby up in its best clothes, sent it out into the world and hoped for the best. When she got her letter back from the publishers, they told her that her baby was ugly.

Now, I know they didn't actually say anything like that, but that was how it made her feel, how personal it became when it was never intended to be that way.

I'm usually okay after a few days (and darn this diet that keeps me away from the good ice cream) and then I can go back and reread the comments without wanting to commit seppuku. After the first painful emotional encounter I wait and then I can disassociate myself from the work and go from there.

I'm in the middle of that wait right now. I've thought over some of the comments given (and finally getting to the part of this post that relates to the title) and realized that something like 90% of the comments boiled down to, "This isn't how Ammon is. This isn't what he would do/act/say. You wrote him wrong."

Stop for a second and think. I want you to get a mental picture of Nephi. Of Alma. Of Ammon. Of Captain Moroni.

How do you envision them? What personality traits do they have? Or do they not have any at all?

I thought about how I saw the Book of Mormon prophets before I wrote novels about them. I honestly didn't think much about them being men at all. They were PROPHETS. Men of God. They were the holiest beings, above reproach in every fashion. They were nearly perfect. They were somber, serious, dull. Do your imaginings fall along the same lines?

But I bet that's not at all how they were. I bet there was laughter and happiness. I bet there was sorrow and sadness. I bet there was anger and jealousy and regret and guilt and passion. I bet they could be arrogant and boastful (even Moses had that problem). I bet they had shortcomings and weaknesses that they battled their entire lives. I bet they dealt with temptation on a daily basis, and that they weren't always successful. And I bet all that because we know for a fact that Jesus Christ was the only perfect man who ever lived.

I think we forget that those men and women we read about in the scriptures were REAL PEOPLE. We know they worried over their children as we do, that they tried their best to follow God's teachings but didn't always hit the mark. We know they must have worried over their fields, over their safety, over their liberty and going to war. So many things that we can relate to.

So when I wrote Alma, I looked at the things that struck me about him. I saw a deep passion in his writing to do what was right. I saw a man totally committed to a course of action - first to King Noah then to the true Gospel. But he himself repeatedly admitted to his weaknesses and sins, which I think gives him an interesting trait and drives much of "Desire of Our Hearts."

But with Ammon, I wondered what sort of man would impress King Lamoni and his court. I looked at some things that Aaron said to him, read Ammon's own words. I saw a man deeply committed to his mission with a great love for the Lamanite people. I envisioned him as a man who loved and had a zest for life. I imagined him being very charming and having a fantastic sense of humor, even in the face of great adversity. I took into account his upbringing in a royal household as a prince of an entire nation. He would have been extremely well-educated. He would have been a great fighter, as culturally leaders were expected to be better than their warriors or they wouldn't have stayed king for very long.

This is why it's called speculative fiction. You speculate. I may be close to the truth. I may be totally off base. None of us know.

But I think it's fun to imagine, to try and glean some specific personality traits from the scriptural account that may not leap out despite several readings.

I think though that there are cultural LDS things that exist that make it nearly impossible for us to envision anything other than what we perceive as correct. If I asked you to think of the court of King Noah, did you get a picture in your head of high priests with conical hats, a half-naked, white-haired Abinadi, a fat king with black hair flanked by jaguars?

I think the real court was nothing like the Arnold Friberg painting. But does our perception make it so that we can't ever accept any other interpretation?


Exercised five days this week, did good on the diet, still need to work on some muscle strengthening. Gained 1 pound exactly.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Five Words I Met on the Way to Heaven

by Kerry Blair

In the parable of the talents, a wealthy man gathers three of his servants and entrusts them with his goods while he is away. To one he gives five talents, to another two, and to a third he gives one talent -- each according to their several abilities. As you probably recall, the first two servants doubled what they were given while the third servant dug a pit in the earth and hid up his talent in order to “keep it safe.”

Do you ever wonder if Matthew and Luke missed somebody when they retold the tale? In latter-day revelation -- and indeed in His life teachings -- Christ makes it clear there is a fourth type of servant as well. While some of us are digging pits, and others of us are going merrily on our way multiplying our talents little or much, there is a fourth group who pause in the enrichment of their own fortunes to consider their fellow laborers. When they see another servant hide up his talent, they drop what they are doing and rush to help.

I know this kind of person well. The Master has often set them along my path because He knows that I am without doubt that third servant. Call me Martha. (Having written that, I recognize that it is a discredit to a worthy woman.) The point is, I have raised being “careful and troubled about many things” to an art form. When Luke called this kind of mortal mania “cumbered” he knew whereof he spoke. (And I’m not just saying that to make up for pointing out his possible journalistic oversight earlier.)

To use writing as an example -- since it does come to my attention from time to time that this is a writing-related blog -- I intended from childhood to make use of that meager talent. But being careful and troubled about things like school and marriage and children and callings and . . . whatever, any talent I might have been given was soon buried under an avalanche of life. It would still be there, in fact, if it weren’t for my best friend Joan -- one of those fourth types of servants.

Not only did Joan first encourage me to write, she dragged me along to her writer’s group and applauded my first pathetic attempts at novelizationing. (I suspect that's not a word.) In real words, she stooped to dig my one tarnished talent out of the dirt each and every time I dropped it. (Stepped on it. Buried it. Abandoned it forever.) Joan knew me too well. She recognized that I was determined (if not destined) to spend more time obsessing about not having as many talents as everybody else than using the measly one I did have. One day, in total frustration, she yelled at me:

“Just write a stupid book!”

Turns out those were five of the most meaningful words I ever heard. They were so wise, in fact, that I wrote them down and still have them framed and sitting on my desk. Don’t obsess, they remind me. Don’t despair. Be careful not to borrow trouble. Just write a stupid book now and worry about being a no-talent loser later. That simple phrase has so much power -- it’s worked nine times for me! -- that I’ve been thinking of copyrighting it and selling posters during NaNoWriMo. (But I’ll give it to you free of charge today. You’re welcome)

There are so many servants like Joan -- incredibly talented people who are going about their Master’s business in the way He truly intended. While magnifying their own talents all out of proportion, these people yet take every opportunity to teach and bless, build and edify others. If I started to name the ones who have profoundly affected me -- Jennie, Marsha, David, Cheri, Margaret, Janette, Marnie, and those guys who blog here the rest of the week -- I’d be listing all day. So instead I’ll silently bless their names (as I do every day) and wait to sing their praises until I get to the other side of the veil. And take voice lessons.

In the meantime, I must confess that I misplaced that lousy talent yet again. (Okay, okay, so I chucked it down a well the last time that “careful and troubled” thing hit.) Fortunately -- and thanks to a couple of those aforementioned fourth servants -- I think I still see a glimmer of it down there somewhere. Maybe I’ll finally stop obsessing, fish it out, and write a stupid book.

It’s not like I haven’t done that before. (You knew I had to say it before Rob did!)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Have to Get Up at What Time? Are you SERIOUS?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I am not a morning person.

I never have been. Well, maybe I was when I was a kid. My mom tells me she never needed an alarm clock because my brother and I got up at the crack of dawn every day no matter what. But it didn’t stay that way for me. In high school, I had to be up at 5:00 a.m. in order to catch the LRT (Light Rail Transit) and transfer to two buses to make it to early morning seminary on time. It was tough, but I did it, although I can’t claim that I was happy about it. It was okay, though, because teenagers are generally known for being quiet and moody, so no one really thought much of my apparent non-morning persona.

Now that I am a mother, however, all that has changed. I still have to wake up early to help get the children ready for school, lunches packed, etc., but since I’m the mother and I can have a big impact on the tone that everyone has for the day, I have to try to be happy. It wouldn’t set a great tone if I was cranky and telling my children that no one can talk to Mommy until after 9:00 a.m. I’m still a little quieter in the morning, but since I have a large family, it’s not really that noticeable, and I can generally kiss them all goodbye with a happy heart. (No, I’m not kissing them goodbye with a happy heart because then I can go back to bed. Tsk, tsk, tsk. I know what you’re thinking. Sadly, I’m one of those people that can’t go back to sleep once they’re up. Believe me, I’ve tried it a few times.)

I have attempted to change this little quirk about myself. I thought that maybe if I turned some music on in the mornings that would get me started and going. I put on my 80's tunes and my older children rolled their eyes and asked if we had to listen to the old people music. Which of course was right after I was dancing around the kitchen and they turned away and said they were scarred for life and I should never do that again. So that idea didn’t go over so well.

Then I remembered how my mom used to sing a little song to us in the mornings, "get up get up you sleepyhead, get up get up get out of bed," and so in my mind I envisioned singing that at the bottom of our stairs and my sweet angel children would skip down, anxious and happy to greet the new day. Sadly, with my singing voice, they would probably only rush down because they thought one of our pets was dying in a horrible fashion with howling and wailing. So, a big no on that idea.

I guess I just have to accept this about myself.

A lot of my friends tell me that mornings are their most productive time. They can get up and read their scriptures, exercise, clean the house and do a load of laundry before the children get up. Several of my author friends write early in the morning when the house is quiet. They say they like their quiet time when they can think. I like my quiet time in the mornings to be happening when I’m in dream world, snuggled in my nice warm bed, my soft pillow under my head, the blankets curled around my shoulders just so. I sort of count it as thinking time, since some of my best ideas for novels have come either right before I’m going to sleep or right before I’m totally awake. But my most productive time definitely isn’t in the early morning.

Personally, I like the evenings. After the children are in bed, the house is quiet and my husband and I can enjoy time together, I can read my scriptures, write a new chapter on my novel, and the creative juices are flowing. I do laundry at night, slipping a pile of freshly washed and folded clothes into each child’s room like a clothes fairy delivering their prize to the delight of the children the next morning. I like to watch Jay Leno’s monologue and reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway. Or sometimes I’ll take out a book and read. The possibilities are endless. There’s just something about night-time that rejuvenates me.

Maybe that’s why I’m not a morning person. I’m an evening person.

There is one good thing about mornings though. For some reason, I weigh less in the mornings. I think that may be God’s way of saying, "Julie, get up and weigh yourself and feel good about at least one thing this early in the morning." It’s like a little pick me up to start my day.

If nothing else, I know I can turn on the 80's tunes and dance around the kitchen. Not that it got me going so much, but it really gets the kids going. They eat breakfast and help pack lunches really fast just so they don’t have to see it. Which makes me laugh. And voila! the day has already started out on a good foot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cheers to the Class of '87

by Stephanie Black

My twenty-year high school reunion was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful, and not just because I won a gift certificate to Target in the raffle (woohoo!) Seeing old friends again, catching up on their lives—I was having so much fun chatting that the hotel staff finally had to flick the lights off and on to give us stragglers the hint that it was time to clear out. Friendship is truly one of the greatest gifts we have in this life, and renewing acquaintances with people with whom I shared those teen years was a great experience. And though we’ve added an extra twenty years onto our lives, we’re still ourselves. Paul is still funny. Darla is still bubbling with energy. Sherene is still a sweetheart. And I’m—heck, I haven’t the faintest idea what I am. Would you believe I was voted “Most Intelligent” in high school? That’s okay; no one else believes it either. They should have a contest like that now. I could get voted:

Most Likely to Forget an Orthodontist Appointment
Most Likely to Wear Blue Socks with Running Shoes
Most Likely to Get Food Stuck in Her Teeth
Most Likely to Lose Her Car in a Parking Lot.

Oh, the car thing reminds me—we have a new voice for our navigation system. It’s Mr. T. “Hey! Fool! In 400 yards, turn left.” “Don’t give me no jibber-jabber! Make a U-turn.” Our GPS map and the Utah streets didn’t seem to be a good match. Too many changes to the roads, and Mr. T kept wanting to send us very inconvenient ways. But when you defy his instructions too many times, he gets testy. After a while, he snapped at us, “Don’t disobey me! Don’t make me climb out of this machine, ‘cause I will.”

But setting aside the danger of getting our lights punched out by Mr. T, we had a great whirlwind visit to Utah. Between reunion events, we crammed in as much visiting as we could with other family and friends in the Salt Lake area. The kids did well at home, though my thirteen-year-old daughter informed me that the two boys spent the weekend like the cartoon fights where you see only a ball of dust with arms and legs sticking out of it. And the almost-three-year-old has entered the Tyrant Princess phase of her existence. (Incidentally, when I told her she could play while I worked on my blog, she remarked, “A blog is a kind of alligator.”)

Strange to think that I have two daughters (13 and 16) who are now in the stage of life I was in when I knew the people I met again at the reunion. Tonight is my kids' parent back-to-school night, where I’ll be running around the high school with my nose in a map, trying to find one daughter’s classes while my husband hunts for the other daughter’s classes. My high school in Utah was mainly just a big building; this California high school is more like a small college campus with multiple buildings scattered around. Maybe we ought to take Mr. T . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Literacy ROCKS!

by Robison Wells

Tonight I’m speaking to a big mob of teenagers. Normally, I’d probably speak about something youth oriented, like Halo 3 or My Chemical Romance or about how we all need to fight The Man because he’s trying to make us conform. But tonight I have to speak about something completely different: Personal Development Through Literacy.

Like, gag me with a spoon! (Do the kids still say that?)

Let me tell you something right now. If I, as a thrice-published novelist and an all-around stand-up guy, was told there was a lecture on Personal Development Through Literacy, I would run the other way, screaming like a little girl. The good news, of course, is that this is a church activity, so those kids HAVE to be there, and they’re probably going to be relatively polite. But they’re not going to want to be there, that’s for dang sure.

Literacy is a boring topic. An important one, sure, but a boring one. It’s like macroeconomics or omega-3 fatty acids. Those things are definitely necessary, but who wants to talk about them? Not me, that’s who. Likewise, Personal Development sounds absolutely awful.

Imagine this: you’re a teenager, probably named Brianna. (If you’re male, you can be named Spencer.) (Actually, to make this easier, let’s just say your name is Jordan, because then you can be either one.) Okay. So, Jordan, you’re sitting in your Young Men/Young Women activity, telling your friends about how you were out wrenching on the zuki, when, like, OH MAN!, Aiden came walking by and he/she was TOTALLY hot!

Anyway, in the middle of this conversation, your stern YM/YW leader (who looks something like Dolores Umbridge) enters the room and tells you that it's time to hear about Personal Development. What would you instantly think? You'd think "They think I'm broken, and want to fix me."

(Now, of course, since you are a teenager you ARE broken. But do you want to be told that you are?)

"So," says Dolores, "you're broken and crappy and the way to fix you is: literacy!" Is there possibly a more detestable idea in the entire world? Literacy does not sound like fun. Literacy means that you're being forced to read somber dramas about kids who die. You know what screams LITERACY? Bridge to Frickin' Terabithia. Summer of the Swans. Books where people come to terms with things. Jacob Have I Loved, for crying out loud.

So I have no idea how I'm going to teach this stuff. Heck, I'm not even a teenager and the idea of it bores me to tears.

I think the first course of action is to change the title of my topic. Personal Development basically means Making Yourself Better, but let’s make that phrase a little more dynamic. “Making better” could be switched to “Amplify”, because kids like their amps and their rock n’ roll, but we also need some good adverbs and adjectives in there, too. Well, I’ve never met an explosion I didn’t like, so let’s translate “Personal Development” into “Explosively Amplify Your Awesomeness”.

Now we need a substitute for “literacy”. The thesaurus gives me Articulateness, Cultivation, Knowledge, Proficiency, Scholarship… all of which sound lame-o-rama. So, we’ll consult a list of awesome words, and find: paronomasia, micawber, cheval-de-frise, oikology, and eleemosynary. True, none of these words literally mean literacy, but they do require a dictionary to understand. Consequently, the topic of my lecture this evening will be “Explosively Amplify Your Awesomeness Via Paranomasia”.

Now that sounds like a class I’d like to attend—or my name isn’t Jordan.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Machine Guns, Bad Areas of Town, and River Taxis

So my journey across the United States continues. Two weeks ago I traveled to Washington and took my first ferry ride in about twenty years (hold the cracks, Rob.) to Bainbrdge Island. It was beautiful. Who knew though that gun ships with machine guns ride shotgun? Or was that just because the President was in town?

Then on to L.A. where I had had breakfast beneath a giant doughnut. Note: if you ask your travel agent for a hotel near the airport and he puts you in Inglewood, get a new travel agent. Let me just say that when the local Jack in the Box keeps its employees behind bullet-proof glass, it’s a sign you are not in a good part of town.

Last week, I went to Atlanta, GA—or to be more accurate, Norcross, GA. Where everybody is friendly and there is a Waffle House on every corner, but none of them take credit cards. (It would be nice if they told you that before you finished your breakfast. Good thing there was an ATM within jogging distance.)
After Atlanta I went to Las Vegas. For some reason driving down the Vegas strip, I always find myself looking for an iron rod going down the middle of the street leading to a tree covered with white fruit, because the great and spacious buildings are definitely in place. Didn’t gamble, but probably gained five pounds at the buffet. The free pirate show in front of Treasure Island is way cool.

That's me on the right.

This week I am in San Antonio, which is worlds cooler than Vegas in my opinion. Went to the Alamo (do not even try to wear a hat inside the chapel or the Texas Rangers will shoot you where you stand) Also the river walk is awesome! How did something like this come to be in Texas? It’s like a much longer version of the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland, but without the jokes. Ran all around it this morning and took a river taxi this afternoon. These are the wavingest people you ever saw though. When you are in the boat everybody waves to you—everybody, not just the hot babes trying to lure you into their restaurants and bars. Maybe they just realized I was a famous author? Nah, don’t think so.

Thursday I fly to New Orleans for another trade show. I am definitely missing my family. I will have been home for roughly 24 hours over two weeks (Thanks, Candace, for teaching my creative writing class on Saturday. Tell everybody I said hi, Jon and tell them to check out the Frog blog.

One cool thing though is that my second Farworld book will partially take place in the Bayou, and Friday I have an entire day to go explore. Today I met a customer who is from Louisiana and got a ton of information about the Cajuns, the Mississippi, the bayou, and Louisiana in general. (Including which areas of New Orleans to avoid if I don’t want to end up dead. Good to know. Where was he in Inglewood?) I’ve got the name of a great Cajun restaurant in Lafayette, and several key places to stop)

I really like seeing new places and learning new things as part of my writing research. A few weeks ago, my agent did a blog asking interesting facts authors had learned while doing book research.
I’d thought I’d try the same thing. Tell me what cool tidbits you've picked up in researching your books, and I’ll give you an update complete with pictures of what I learn in Louisiana next week. (I need to get a frog so I can take him/her? on these trips. And if you see me on the River taxi in San Antonio wave, but don’t wear your hat into the Alamo. )

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Desire of Our Hearts, Business Cards, Fake England, Stephenie Meyer and The Frog

By Sariah S. Wilson

Okay, first and foremost, I have my new cover for my next book, “Desire of Our Hearts.” Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

Pretty nice, eh?

I used said cover to make some business cards, return labels and postcards, as Vista Print, my new favorite online company, is selling them for $1.00 for like 250 of them. I ordered $80.00 worth of stuff and paid $8.37. Shipping is on the higher side, but hello, saving 90% completely rocks. Go there now! (And if you can’t get the $1.00 deal for the postcards and stuff, drop me an email and I’ll forward you the advertisement I have for it.)

Next, I went to the Renaissance Festival (or Fake England as my children call it) with my family today. My husband and I have been going every year since before our children were born. It’s not really my thing - I don’t, you know, dress up. But I am apparently one of the few women who do not. The display of oversized flesh pushed out and over from corsets…well, I will stop there. We did have a good time (especially my boys, the baby not so much). They got to ride a camel and go on a big slide and a dragon swing. My husband got to prove his masculinity in the strength competition - one of those swing the mallet/ring the bells deal (what is that called?). If you ring the bell, then you’re invited back to compete against everyone else who rang the bell that day. My husband manages to beat all those people every year and wins the prize. My kids really can tell all their friends that they have the strongest dad.

For me, the gratuitous flashes of flesh, the ever present stench of cigarettes, the uncomfortable benches for the shows, the overpriced crap for sale ($53.00 is reasonable for a child’s shield, right?) and the vendor/performers' wannabe English accents that are bad on a level of Kevin Costner in “Robin Hood,” it’s not my favorite thing. But I love spending that time there with my family. Watching the way my boys’ faces lit up while they beat on their dad with “Safety Swords” was just the best.

And lastly, I “met” Stephenie Meyer this week. She came to Cincinnati to do a signing at the Joseph-Beth bookstore. My youngest sister (she’s 15) wanted to come along as I got her hooked on the series. The Frog decided to tag along too, just to find out what all the hullabaloo was about.

I fairly expected pandemonium.

I was not disappointed.

No parking. Anywhere. I finally found a spot and someone tried to swipe it from me, but I was victorious and had to park badly because I just couldn’t quite straighten out from how I had pulled in to the spot.

Inside there was a mass horde of teenage girls. A crazy, possibly psychotic, mass horde of teenage girls. I’ve never seen such a thing - you would have thought Edward Cullen himself had shown up. There was a Q&A which I mostly didn’t listen to because my sister had wandered off and because the shrieking in my ear had rendered me temporarily deaf. The poor Frog almost got trampled on.

I found my sister, we got tickets for the line. It was arranged in groups of 30 alphabetically. We got “S” as our place in line. We were told that there would be no posed pictures. Only books would be signed (no posters or memorabilia of any kind).

So two and a half hours later, our letter was finally called. I was excited to meet Stephenie (and I decided that I could use her first name because I knew that in a short amount of time we would be such good friends), to hopefully get a chance to talk to her.

We were approached in line by a store employee who asked us how to spell our names. She wrote it down and stuck it inside the book, on the page Stephenie would sign. I was impressed with this idea. Not too long after that another employee came by and asked to see all our books. We were told Stephenie would only write our names in “Eclipse” but would sign the others. The employee tucked the edge of the dust jacket onto the page Stephenie would autograph for each book.

When we reached the stairs, we were instructed by another employee to have our books out and ready to sign. At the top of the stairs another employee double-checked to make certain that the book’s dust jacket would turn to the right page. I had gone from being impressed by their thoroughness to being a little afraid of the anal retentiveness.

Yet another employee standing at Stephenie’s table turned the books to the right page for her to sign. It was like a well-oiled machine. No one got to really say anything to Stephenie, because she would write the person's name and then sign hers, which consisted of an S and an M. That’s it. Not even a line after the letters. I didn’t get a signature. I got initials. Admittedly, I do understand how tiring it must be (we guesstimated there were 600 people getting autographs, and while they all had at least one book, most had two or three or more (such as my sister who got books signed for her friends)).

When my book was slid across the table to Stephenie, I told her that I was a member of a specific message board that she belonged to. She asked me, “Which one?” and it confused me because there is a main board with several sub boards. I answered, “All of them.” She said, “No, I mean what’s your handle?” “Oh. It's Sariah.” (Very inventive of me, isn’t it?) She then told me another member of the board had come down from Columbus and I replied that I knew - I was the one who told her Stephenie would be in the area.

And that was it. My sister didn’t get to say anything at all because in that amount of time, Stephenie had signed my two books and all of my sister’s books. We figured it took all of 20 seconds for our conversation to take place. The poor Frog didn’t even get a chance to say hello. He insisted that, despite the instructions from the store, we get a posed picture of him and Stephenie:

How did everyone do on their goals this week? I went up 0.9 pounds, as I feared I might. I did meet all of my exercise goals this week. I am committing to continuing to exercise five days, to do strengthening exercises and to be more careful about my diet.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Make Every Word Count -- Guest Blog

by Janet Jensen

First, I’ll be completely honest. Kerry invited me to fill in today as a guest blogger out of pity; I came in dead last in the bad sentence competition. In other words, I couldn’t even write a good bad sentence. So today’s topic is good sentences.

What can you do with 250 words, besides eat them? At a fiction workshop we were given daily assignments to write settings, characters, and dialogues, each with a 250 word limit. Some students waxed eloquent and wrote pages and pages of masterful prose, but the instructor stopped reading at 250 words. Her point: cut, edit, and make every word count. A few words can pack quite a wallop. Some succinct examples:

The Gettysburg Address was 367 words. Reporters hardly had time to settle in their camp chairs and fumble with pad and paper before it was over. Yet it is regarded as one of the most moving speeches ever written.

This moving passage from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address has seventy-four words: With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

The Preamble to the Constitution was accomplished in fifty-two words: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Powerful emotion is contained in this line from Martin Luther King’s famous speech, captured in thirty-four words: I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Nephi’s introduction to the Book of Mormon is ninety-five words: I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Every night during the week-long workshop I spent hours over my 250 word compositions, learning to eliminate redundancy, wordiness, and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. What remained was clean and concise. Shakespeare sums it up in six words: Brevity is the soul of wit.

P.S. see you at next year’s bad sentence contest.

NOTE: Portions of this article were published at, 2003

Janet Kay Jensen enjoys writing essays (serious and humorous), short stories, and the occasional poem. Her first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys, will be published by Cedar Fort this fall and she is working on the sequel! In her "spare" time she likes to travel, take photographs, and attend the theater. Other recent projects include teaching an occasional poetry class to county jail inmates and serving as a tutor for Bridgerland Literacy. She is also on the executive board and a contributing writer at, and a member of LDStorymakers.

Imagine how thrilled I was to "meet" Janet when I realized that she is the co-author of one of my all-time favorite books: The Book Lover's Cookbook! (I'm still negotiating for an autograph!)

Check out her web site HERE & her terrific blog site HERE!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Do You Make a Difference?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Fresh from the exhilaration of the Pinewood Derby, (Nathan came in third overall! Woohoo!) my husband and I pulled up to the doors of the junior high, rushing in before the polls closed. It had been a busy day, but we still wanted to make sure we voted in our city’s primaries for the three city council positions that are open. We had been studying the eight candidates carefully so we could make an informed choice.

We got out of the car and I glanced around the parking lot. We were the only car there. "Do you think the polls are closed?" I asked my husband.

He shook his head. "I don’t think so. We still have half an hour."

We walked up the stairs and went to the voting table where three judges met us. They seemed happy to see us and we were the only ones there. After signing our names and getting a ballot, I went to the little booth and cast my votes. As we walked back, the judges were talking and said that they had just hit 10 %. Out of our entire city, only 10% had come out to vote for something that would affect our city for the next two years.

That stuns me.

In the presidential election of 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 64 % of voting age citizens voted. Why is that?

Again, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 142 million people who reported that they were registered to vote, 16 million (12 percent) did not vote in the 2004 presidential election. Of these registered nonvoters, 20 percent reported that they did not vote because they were too busy or had conflicting work or school schedules. Another 15 percent reported that they did not vote because they were ill, disabled, or had a family emergency; 11 percent did not vote because they were not interested or felt their vote would not make a difference; and 10 percent did not like the candidates or the issues. Some other specified reasons for not voting included out of town (9 percent), confusion or uncertainty about registration (7 percent), forgetting to vote (3 percent), and transportation problems (2 percent).

When I took out my U.S. citizenship, I was just in time to be able to vote in the last presidential election. I took it very seriously. I watched the Republican debates and the Democratic debates. I educated myself on the issues and what the candidates stood for. I became involved in our community and was a representative at our county level to vote in elections there as a delegate. The process is fascinating to me and I wanted to be a part of it.

It saddens me that so many people don’t feel a need to be a part of it or don’t feel that they can make a difference. The freedoms of this land were bought at a very high price and the fight for freedom continues today. We need government officials at every level, from local, to state, to federal that will be able to stand firm in what makes this country great. There are so many issues and we are heading into another presidential election with several candidates to choose from. I have been watching the debates, following the articles on the qualifications of each candidate and what they could bring as a leader of our country. Even though we’re still in these early stages it’s easy to see that this very well could be a close race.

I hope more than 64% of the population vote this time. And that the 20% who were too busy last time, will make time to do something that every citizen should consider a privilege, that could very possibly shape the direction the United States will take in the future.

As much as my heart is still and always will remain Canadian, my life is in the United States and I care deeply for it. My ancestors came here on the Mayflower, fought in every major war including the Revolutionary and Civil War, and if all I can do to honor their sacrifice is to remember them and vote for the freedoms they fought for, then that’s what I’ll do.

If nothing else, you get a cool sticker that says, "I voted!" along with the right to complain if things don’t go your way, (if you don't vote, how can you complain about the state of affairs and feel justified?) but every vote does make a difference. I believe that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Insights from Petunia Dursley

by Stephanie Black

(I'll post the ritual Harry Potter spoiler warning, but I'm guessing it's not necessary.)

It’s unusual for me to read a book start-to-finish more than once. If I really like a book, I may pick it up a zillion times, re-reading passages here and there in random fashion, but re-reading an entire book is a rarity for me. But I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter books—I’m on Book 4—and am thoroughly enjoying them. Re-reading them makes me admire JK Rowling all the more. Her storytelling ability, the delightful way she uses language, the incredible creativity, the characters—ah, the characters. Rowling is a genius at creating complex, fascinating, believable characters.

Rowling skillfully creates backgrounds for her characters that make their current actions credible. Take Petunia Dursley, for instance. Petunia is cold and cruel toward Harry in an almost fairy-tale-ish way. But when Hagrid shows up to take Harry off to school, Rowling begins to deepen Petunia’s character. We start to see that her antipathy toward Harry grew out of her acute jealousy of her sister’s magical powers. Later we learn that it was Petunia’s taking of baby Harry into her home--no matter how much she didn't want to do so—that sealed the protective magic that kept Harry safe from Voldemort and his followers during his childhood. She doesn’t love Harry, but she had enough loyalty to her sister Lily that she was willing to protect Lily's son. In Book 7, in flashback Pensieve scenes, we see Lily and Petunia together as children and the picture of Petunia grows clearer. Petunia wanted desperately to be like Lily, so much so that she even wrote Dumbledore and asked to be admitted to Hogwarts. Her jealousy and feelings of inadequacy found vent in her rejection and hatred of anything magical—even as a child, she was calling Lily a freak. She hated the wizarding world because she wanted to be a part of it and wasn’t.

In Book 7, when it comes time for Harry and the Dursleys to part, permanently, what would Petunia do? Would she finally show some affection to Harry? Say something loving? Express concern for Harry, knowing the danger he’s in? The warm and fuzzy side of me would have liked Petunia to finally overcome her bitterness and do something kind, but would that have been realistic? Rowling handles the scene masterfully. Dudley and Uncle Vernon have already left and Petunia goes to walk out the door. Rowling describes the moment like this on page 42 of Book 7:

“She stopped and looked back. For a moment Harry had the strangest feeling that she wanted to say something to him: She gave him an odd, tremulous look and seemed to teeter on the edge of speech, but then, with a little jerk of her head, she bustled out of the room after her husband and son.”

I love this. It just speaks volumes about Petunia. There are a thousand unspoken words in that “odd, tremulous look.” What is she thinking? Will she have the courage to say it? She’s on the fence here. But with the “little jerk of her head” she makes her decision. She has a final chance to reach out to Harry--and she doesn't. Petunia has grown as a character and her wall of bitterness is a bit cracked and chipped, but it’s still there.

Petunia never becomes a likeable character, but she becomes a somewhat sympathetic one. We can simultaneously dislike her for the way she treated Harry (and the sickening way she spoiled Dudley), yet understand her pain and her jealousy. Rowling is an expert at creating complex characters—Snape, perhaps, being the quintessential example. The Harry Potter books are terrific textbooks on characterization. What have you as a writer learned about characterization from Harry Potter?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th, 2001

by Robison Wells

A lot has been said today about the September 11th terrorist attacks today. I don’t think that I could write something as moving or touching as what I’ve seen elsewhere, so I’m not even going to try. Instead, I thought that I’d write a little bit about my experiences during the attacks, and how they changed the course of my life.

In September 2001, I was working for Intermountain Healthcare, at the Physician’s Answering Service. It was effectively a call center—we’d answer the phones for doctor’s offices while they were closed. On the morning of September 11th, I was feeling somewhat ill, and I’d arranged to leave work when the morning rush was over.

Someone called, looking for their doctor, and casually mentioned to one of the operators that a plane had crashed in Manhattan. A few minutes later, we got another call, telling us about a second plane. I went into the storage room and found an old radio—we had no internet access at the time—and we tuned into a talk station. Rumors were flying, but things were still relatively normal—the morning talk show continued as normal, with just occasional breaks for national news. After about twenty minutes, the local station switched to a national feed, and announced that there’d been another crash at the Pentagon.

I remember looking across my cubicle at a coworker, and seeing her face whiten. She asked “Are we at war?”

I left a few minutes later and walked the five blocks back to my house. It was there—more than an hour after the first plane had hit the World Trade Center—that I saw the first pictures of the destruction. I called my wife, and she said that her boss had stopped all work at her office and they were huddled around a TV in the break room.

The first tower fell. The news anchor must have been watching a different feed than was showing on the screen, because he said “We heard a rumor that the tower collapsed, but I can see it.” But on the TV, there was nothing except a cloud of smoke and dust.

I don’t remember much more of that morning. I prayed, I know. I remember sitting all alone in my living room, watching as the TV cameras zoomed in on people hanging out of windows, and I knelt on the floor by my couch to pray.

I was working part-time then, and going to Salt Lake Community College. Classes were cancelled and I didn’t have to go back to work for four days, so I sat in my living room, fourteen hours a day, and watched the news. I couldn’t tear myself away from it. On the third day, I called my dad and cried.

It changed my life. I was taking a World History class at the time, and my instructor threw out the syllabus and spent the rest of the semester trying to explain to us what had happened, and why. We studied Islam, and we studied American foreign policy, and we studied the history of terrorism. Four months later I graduated from SLCC and went to the University of Utah. I majored in Political Science, International Relations, and focused on the Middle East and national security.

My senior thesis was about the efficacy of modern terrorism. I wrote it in 2003, shortly after the beginning of the Iraq War. I recently went back and read the paper, and found that it had been rendered completely obsolete in just four years. The face of terrorism has changed so much that my conclusion is now considered obvious.

On the evening of September 11th, my wife and I had dinner with friends. It had been planned several days in advance, and the evening had a decidedly somber air about it. We ate at a small Mexican diner, and watched the news coverage on small TV in the corner of the room (in Spanish). As we left, a plane flew overhead, and the four of us stopped and stared. It was the only plane we’d seen all day—a medical plane, one of the one aircraft allowed off the ground.

The next July, I was vacuuming out my car at a car wash, and an airplane flew low overhead—only a few hundred feet. We were in the middle of the city, and this was a big plane—a large cargo jet, painted gray. Everyone stopped—there were probably two dozen people there—and we stared at the plane. Someone, a complete stranger, turned to me and asked “Should we call the police?” The world was not the same anymore; no one felt safe anymore. It turned out that the plane was military, and part of an air show—but everyone one of us standing below it relived 9/11.

September 11th changed my life. I studied what I did because of it, and I lived where I did because of school. My first book would be slightly different if 9/11 never happened, and my second two books wouldn’t exist. My Dad wouldn’t have gotten the job he had. My wife wouldn’t have been laid off.

September 11th, 2001, changed everyone of us. In the comments, tell me how it affected you.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On Worrying (Again)

It was about four years ago that I bumped into him for the first time—a mousy man with stooped shoulders and an ingratiating smile. Smelling faintly of cheese, he shuffled across the empty street corner and grabbed my shoulder with his soft accountant-like hands.

“It’s all there for the taking,” he whispered, his eyes gleaming with secret mirth.

“What’s all there for the taking?” I asked. “And have been eating Cheetos or something? You smell like a can full of Cheese-whizz”

“Money, fame, fortune,” he cackled, rubbing his hands across the front of his shirt and leaving orange stains on the white fabric. “It’s all here. All in these so-called “middle-grade” fantasy novels. Everything you could ever hope for.”

He slapped a book with the picture of a kid in an Atlanta Braves cap into my hands and scurried away.

Over the years I saw him more and more; terrifying random women on the street shouting something about somewhere in time, predicting a falcon would fly to the bowl, searching aimlessly for the nearest Waffle House. It wasn’t until last year that he apparently got medication and signed a contract with the successful publisher Shadow Mountain that I began having lunch with the man and realized he was actually a dang good writer and an even better friend.

Check out his website at and also his great blog at

(Coincidentally, I am in his hometown of Norcross, GA today and he has volunteered to guest blog. By the way. No matter what he says to the contrary, he copied his whole blog from Kerry because he couldn’t think of anything.)
By James “Cheeseman” Dashner

Jeffrey S. Savage (the “S” stands for Sacajawea) asked me to do something that is apparently called a “Guest Blog.” Being relatively new to the blogging craze, I didn’t feel worthy at first to do such a thing. But then I remembered that in all things I am better than Jeff, so I agreed to do it.

Then I was told that apparently I needed a “Topic.” I wasn’t in the mood to come up with a topic, and at first this troubled me. But then I remembered I could probably say the first 500 words that pop in my head, be it “frankincense” or “bunny” or “loquacious” or “chopstick” or, my all-time favorite, “poo”, and it would come out sounding more intelligent than Jeff. And he does this once a week. I’ll be okay.

So here we go. My topic is Gastrointestinal Discomfort.

But wait, before we get there, say the word “topic” ten times out loud. Seriously, do it. Then do it again. What a stupid word! Topic. Topic. Topic. Actually, it sounds like a gastrointestinal disease. (I know, the irony failed to escape me, too.)

Anyway, onto the topic at hand.

I have this weird problem lately. A few times a day, my stomach gets all tight and I feel like I can’t breathe very well. Sometimes it turns into needle pinprick pains, as if a small dwarf with very sharp nails is living in my stomach and wants to get out. I have an appointment scheduled to go see the doctor. But that’s not really the point.

The point is that I think I have this problem because of stress. I think maybe it’s an ulcer. (Well, that or it’s the small dwarf, but I don’t really believe in dwarves, especially the kind that live inside your stomach. I mean, how would he breathe for one thing? Plus, why would a dwarf want to live in my stomach? Talk about grossies. No, I definitely do NOT think it’s a dwarf.)

So why am I stressed? It’s not really my job, though the last month or so has been busy. It’s not my family, because I have a wonderful wife and 4 kids who never complain or do anything wrong. I’m exercising pretty well and although I eat terribly, I drink lots of juice which should balance things out. What’s wrong with me?

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s being an author.

It’s killing me! I love it with every cell in my body, but it stresses me out, man! I don’t get it, but being an author stresses me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. I think about it constantly, and when I say “think” I actually mean “worry” and that’s not a good thing.

I worry about the next scene in my book. I worry about plotlines and plot holes. I worry about the cover art for my next book. What if it’s hideous? What if kids look at it and say, “Please, Mom, swear to me that you’ll never make me read that stupid, stupid book!” I worry about what other authors will think of my writing. I worry about sales. I worry about speaking events. I worry about annoying the people at my publisher.

I worry. Far too much. And it makes something that should be a wonderful thing a not-so-wonderful thing. And as Jeff would say, “Rigormortis tell a banking garden cop.” (Sorry, I told you most of what he says doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Let me translate: That’s not good.)

I know, you probably think I’m a psycho. And perhaps I am. I have potentially great things on the horizon in my writing career and I should be enjoying every single minute of it. But I worry too much. And it’s killing me.

But let me end on a positive note. I committed recently to change this. I committed to enjoy the ride and be thankful, every day, for what I have been blessed with. I committed to enjoy the journey. And I’m doing much, much better.

This applies to all of us, to all things. When you go to bed tonight, close your eyes and list all the gifts you should be thankful for. Take a deep breath in between each one. Pull a “It’s a Wonderful Life” and try to imagine life without each of those things on your list.

Breathe deeply. Be thankful. Enjoy the ride.

I promise to do so. Will you?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The LDS Secret

by Sariah S. Wilson

Despite the title, no, this isn't a post about the wildly successful "The Secret" or how it affects LDS people, but I figured by doing that we'd get a lot of hits from people doing Google searches. Or maybe it's just a manifestation of my sleep-deprived psychosis. Hard to tell these days.

Anyways, I have some announcements that I've already sort of made in the comments section on Jeff's post this week.

First - my second book has a tentative release date of October 1. Of course, that is dependent on many different factors, but here's to hoping.

It's called "Desire of Our Hearts." It's currently #110 on Deseret's best selling list. Woot.

It is the story of Alma the Elder. I had originally entitled it "Redemption," but that was too close to Toni Sorenson Brown's (I think that's right, too tired to look it up) "Redemption Road." I keep having to check the new name of my book from my PDF version of it because I keep forgetting exactly what it is.

The new book is much more of a romance than "Secrets in Zarahemla." There is still some fighting, a very bad man, some deaths, some action. But the majority of the story is the relationship between Alma and his wife.

To give you a glimpse into the sort of relationship they have, I got the idea for this book in the last week of December 2005. How do I know that's when it was? Well, I was trying to read the whole Book of Mormon that week to get it done before the end of the year (and succeeded, thank you very much).

I had actually been stressing quite a bit prior to that because when you first write a manuscript, with only the hope of being published some day, you don't have to worry about what you'll write next. You can devote all your time to your labor of love.

But sell. And your publisher would like it very much if you could continue to write, you know, more books.

I had no idea what I was going to write about.

So as I read through the Book of Mormon, I got to the story of Alma the Elder and I got a picture in my head of his wife throwing pottery at him on their wedding night.

I don't know why. I'm not really sure where it came from. But it stuck with me, and I wrote the story in record time, barreling through it trying to get it done before my family vacation and before beginning some intensive medical procedures for our baby.

I succeeded. Covenant bought it.

And in honor of that, I will be coming out to Utah on October 4 - 6 and will be doing some signings. So I am really hoping that "Desire" will be on shelves by then. I don't have a confirmed schedule yet, but when I do I'll be sure to post it here. I'll also be trying to stop by stores where I won't have signings just to meet the staff/managers. If you're someone like that and you want me to come by your store, please drop me an email at sariah at sariahswilson dot com and I'll try my best to come see you.

A third announcement - I found out this week that my third book was accepted, in what has been record time for me (I submitted it in the first week of July). The BoM cramming in 2005 also gave me the Ammon tale. That should probably be out in spring or summer of next year. It's always a relief to have another book accepted - I keep being afraid that Covenant will at some point laugh at me ("You want us to publish this? Hahahahahahahaha...").

But the next book, which I have not started on yet, will be going in a different direction. I would very much like to write all sorts of romances, historical and contemporary, and I didn't want to be pigeonholed into only writing Book of Mormon romances (although never fear - I have ideas for an additional five books). So the next book is a beginning of a series set in one of my favorite time periods - Regency (which is the Jane Austen "Pride & Prejudice" era). I told my editor I would give it to him in December. My baby has other plans. If I was a betting woman, I'd bet that the baby will win this one. We'll see if I can somehow manage it. I'm finally understanding why it is that so many women don't begin their writing careers until their youngest child is in school full-time. It's very, very hard.

Okay, accountability time. I only exercised four days this week - we had an emotional crisis with our 8-year-old at school and I just couldn't muster up the energy for that fifth day.

I did terrible at my diet this week (there were Oreos, Domino's pizza and chocolate chip muffins involved. Not all at the same time, but it was bad). I do the Weight Watchers points because if I feel deprived in any way, I tend to go a bit ballistic and freak out. As I did this week, even without the deprivation.

At my weigh-in this week I had lost 2.8 pounds. I absolutely do not expect that to go down at all at my next weigh-in, and may have even gained some weight. *Sigh*

But I am recommitting myself to my diet, to exercising five days a week, and I will try to add some resistance/muscle building home exercises to it.

How did everyone else do? What are your goals for this week?