Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, June 27, 2008

Born to Write? (Or Yet Another Reason Julie Wright is My Hero!)

by Kerry Blair

I haven’t written fiction for two years now. If there is some sort of “imagination gland” that prompts the prolific genius of authors like Sariah and Jeff, mine should have shriveled from lack of use. Alas, it seems to be as hyperactive as ever. Cases in point:

1 I tell myself a story every night. I have one plotline I’ve been embellishing long enough to reach Volume 87 or so. Since it’s science fiction/fantasy/horror, I keep changing rules, characters—even worlds—to keep myself hanging on my every word. But it has recently come to my attention that everybody doesn’t do this. Some people listen to soothing music at night. Some people count sheep. Some nod off when their heads touch the pillow. Some people, I hear, even obsess about life’s challenges. I envy them all.

2 I rewrite dialogue in movies, often before the actor has delivered the line. If that isn’t odd enough, I also decide how a movie must end and am invariably disappointed if the screenwriter’s version deviates from mine. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen much. Modern movies are nothing if not predictable. Well, not all modern movies. Indies often fool me, as do many French and Italian flicks. I don’t know if it’s because Europeans approach storytelling differently or if reading subtitles throws off my game. At any rate, I understand there are people who enjoy cinema without composing “better” lines and/or dissecting every plot point. I wish I were one of them.

3 I find people fascinating and want to get to know them. All of them. I am Sariah’s worst nightmare: the nut who could have struck up conversation on the deck of the Titanic—or possibly while dog-paddling in the freezing waters below. I have made lifelong friends at book signings, in the airport, and through transactions on ebay. My family claims I am possessed of a freakish hyno-stare that forces people to tell me everything about themselves in three minutes or less. Not long ago my daughter and I were in line at a local store. All I said to the man behind us was, “Those are my favorite crackers” but it was enough to activate the hypno-stare. While Hil unloaded our basket, I learned that the guy ate cheese and crackers because his wife left him, but when his son moved in he’d learn to cook, and then they’d move because he was looking for a better job in construction, but he’d take weekends off to fish with his boy like his father had with him back in Arkansas where his grandfather was a barber.

I am not making this up, I only wish I was.

4 I am compelled to learn the story behind every antique I collect. If I can’t uncover the story, I make it up. That second thing is much easier, by the way. Worst case: I was once haunted by an antique wedding portrait. Every time I visited my mother, I dropped into the local junk shop to see if the picture was still there. It always was, and the man’s eyes always seemed to follow me. I made up endless stories about that couple, but none rang true. At last my mother bought me the picture. I tore the paper from the back and ripped the photo from the rococo frame. In faded, flowery script was penned: Wm Louise Loutt #185 Crown (illegible).

Eureka! How many Crown-Somethings could there have been in the United States at the turn of the last century? (Eight.) But how many William Loutts could have married a Louise in Crown-Something between 1880 and 1910? (Only one.) Further research revealed that William and Louise and their infant daughter died in a house fire in 1892. They had no close relatives; certainly they had no posterity. But they had me and I did their temple work. I do not doubt that when I pass through the veil, William’s face will be one of the first I recognize. Still, who does this kind of thing? That’s what I was afraid of.

5 I “write books” even when I have no intention of writing books. A couple of weeks ago, Gary and I spent an idyllic weekend in Jerome—a barely-restored ghost town 248 twisting turns over Mingus Mountain from where we live. It is absolutely charming. Tourists are awe-struck when they arrive, but soon have nothing on their minds but shopping, eating, and relaxing. I did the first two things, but my mind kept twisting like the serpentine road above.

Okay, I thought. What if the heroine of the book I will never write is an artist in Prescott? And what if she sells some of her stuff at that charming little shop here in Jerome? And what if she and the hero drive over one morning . . . no, evening, twilight is spookier . . . in a small car . . . no! They ride a motorcycle; way scarier . . . and the bad guy tries to run them off the road and they meet this old prospector (and there is one!) and end up hiding in the skeleton of an abandoned hotel . . . it’s haunted, of course and . . .

Goodness! It got so bad I couldn’t look at anything without it becoming part of the story. I finally began to tell my husband about it before I burst.

“Write a book,” he said encouragingLY. (Sorry. I love adverbs almost as much as ellipses.) It’s not that Gary cares whether or not I write, it’s more that if I feel compelled to spin tales of romantic suspense, he would prefer I tell them to somebody else. Anybody else. And if down the road people might actually pay for them, well, so much the better.

6 I am brevity-challenged. (Perhaps you’ve noticed.) But having given this a lot of thought, at last I can answer Julie’s question: No, I was not “meant” to be a writer. I love Julie Wright’s comment: If God had meant me to be a writer, He’d have made me better at it. (That’s not Julie, but it’s so me!) I simply can't believe I was foreordained to toss eight or twelve silly, adverb-rich novels of LDS romantic suspense into the body of world literature. I have also come to think that I will not be held accountable for never writing again, as long as what I choose to do instead is meaningful and of service to others.

Do you have any idea what a relief that is to someone like me? I honestly think I quit writing because of the overwhelming pressure of the gift/talent/birthright thing. (I was so bad at it!) I think Julie saved me, and now maybe I can write when I want to because I want to. I am even considering signing on to Tristi's July BIAM challenge in the hope composing on my computer by day will save me from the space opera in my head at night!

And then they all sat down to read the Book of Mormon. After that, they went to a fireside, married in the temple, and lived happily ever after. My son says this is how all my books end. (Excuse me, pretty much only the trilogy.) The thing is, I figured that since I was at a loss for a conclusion for this blog, I might as well throw it in, if only to get the creative juices flowing again.


At 6/27/2008 2:27 PM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

When we visit, I'll ride in your car, far away from my unappreciative family, and you can tell me a romantic suspense story. Or a space opera story. Or any story, really.

I have also spent time looking at objects, neighbourhoods, roads, and even playgrounds, and imagining them in stories. Unfortunately, not as thoroughly or as successfully as you.

I must work on the idea of telling myself a story every night. Sounds much more entertaining than worrying, or going over past mistakes.

At 6/27/2008 2:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, I can SO relate to you about the grocery store thing. My children think it's so odd how the baggers seem to tell me all their deep dark secrets while bagging my groceries. I think it's a gift, don't you? :)

I love having a glimpse into how your stories may or may not come about. You have a vivid and amazing imagination. I love your books and your humor and hope that you continue to write at least something. The world wouldn't be the same without your wit and your words.

The Other Julie (Julie Bellon)

At 6/27/2008 5:08 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Yes, Kerry!! Come write with me in July!!

At 6/27/2008 6:25 PM, Blogger lachish said...

That has got to be one of the funniest posts about writing I have read recently. It reminded me of my teenage years when I actually had oodles of time to have an imagination. I am grateful for the time slots I can steal in my present life to do some writing.

What hit me between the eyes (besides my own hand as I realized I had recently done the same cannot-get-it-outta-my-head-
supposed-to-be-asleep-now-thinking), was the fact that your mind races through this stuff right before bedtime.

I have always thought I was a bit weird. I guess you must be too.... :)

Thanks for making me laugh!

Daron D. Fraley

At 6/27/2008 7:12 PM, Blogger Utahdoula said...

Kerry- I enjoyed reading your story #3, as I have a similar one. We found an old journal among his grandfather's things after he passed away. It was not a journal of a relative - it was a mystery as no last names were included. We spent 3 years reading it, picking out clues, searching maps for two towns of common name that could be within a days horseback ride of each other. Finally narrowed it down to a time period (just before the civil war) and a place (Southern Indiana - a place none of his ancestors ever lived as far as we know) and searched census records for familes with those first names.
Eventually found the family, did some research and discovered none of the three children lived long enough to have children. Two had died in childhood and one as a soldier in the Civil War. We also submitted and did the temple work. We've often felt that whatever happend to get that journal in our hands was meant to be - so that their temple work could be done.
And the detective work was fun!

At 6/27/2008 7:15 PM, Blogger Pat said...

As one victim of the hypno-stare, (seriously people, avert your eyes!)
May I just say that you can tell me your stories anytime.
Be it short or long or in between, I love your words!
(And I'm so sorry that came out so goofy...)

At 6/27/2008 7:20 PM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

Ive done most of those. My daughter and I like to sit in the food court at the mall and make up stories about all the interesting characters we see. I hope you write more books for us to enjoy.

At 6/27/2008 7:30 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Kerry, I do the thing in #1, too, if I'm interpreting you correctly. (Mine has martial arts action, too!)

#3: I believe I am one of your acquisitions. =)

I hope that you do go back to writing. I guess if I get too eager, I can always go back and read the romances, right? *shiver*

At 6/27/2008 8:11 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

I could tell stories for all of your points, except #3. I'm not very outgoing. But the making a story out of everything? Yes. And my night-time story includes the heroine receiving a huge inheritance, from an long-lost boyfriend, and traveling the country solving mysteries...

And my daughter and I at the food court? All I can say is there is a preponderance of serial killers shopping at our mall.

At 6/27/2008 10:56 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, I don't care whether you write another novel, become a newspaper columnist, write blogs, or just send me frequent emails, just so I get to read something by you. You're an incredible writer; you touch my heart and you make me laugh--sometimes at the same time. And if your books all end with everyone getting baptized and married in the temple, okay. When you do it, it works, and the journey to that happily ever after is what I love. Besides you're right, your last three books certainly don't have that kind of ending and they're a treat to read. Write whatever you want to write, but know you've got an audience anxious to read it.

At 6/27/2008 11:46 PM, Anonymous Mr. Thoughtskoto said...

Me and my wife went to the Jarir Bookstore, a big bookstore here in the Kingdom trying to find Books from this newly found entertaining writers, six of them, but we didn't find any. Can you guys send us the link where we can find it here in the Middle east?

And oh, Kerry, yes, I agree with Jennie, you're a very good in writing. You make us laugh even its a blog, and you touch others heart for good. That's the wonder of having a beautiful mind.

At 6/28/2008 12:41 AM, Blogger Lucy Eliza said...

Great Blog, Kerry! And you're an exellent writer! I can't even tell you how many times I've read Closing In and This Just In. Probably my two favorite books!

I actually do some of those things too. Especially the rewriting movies while watching them and coming up with whole plot lines everywhere I go.

Like when I went to the dentist last week. I came up with a whole story about a dentist and a dental hygienist while I was getting my teeth cleaned. When I went home and realized what I'd done, I swore to never leave the house again so I wouldn't come up with any more ideas. But I soon found out I do it with just normal things in my home. Like a glass bottle with a ship in it…

At 6/28/2008 10:29 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I love this place! I come here every day knowing that I will laugh and sometimes cry and always feel friendship and acceptance. But you know what I love most? I love that it doesn't matter what crazy behavior I confess to but what I can find six or eight of you who do it too! Thanks ever so much. I don't necessarily feel any saner this morning, but I do recognize I'm in good company! (And if this be madness, perhaps we are at least identifying a method in it.)

Jon & Pat: You are not acquisitions, you are gifts from God. (He often feels sorry for me at book signings. I should have clarified that.)

utahdoula: LOVE the story! Wow.

mrthoughtskoto: You couldn't find the LDS fiction section of the Saudi Arabian bookstore?! Imagine that. :) (Sorry - it slipped out. Seriously, my friend, thanks for looking; that in itself is a story to tell at the dinner table. I'm very touched! I'll respond for real on your blog, I promise.)

everybody: again, thank you so very much for commenting -- and for the many kind words.

At 6/30/2008 11:46 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Kerry, you make me laugh and feel like maybe I can give a shot at writing again too. I have not written ANYTHING new for the last six months. I've just felt . . . lost. If you're willing to lead the way, I'll join you in tristi's challenge.

At 6/30/2008 2:29 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Well, I did it. I signed up for a BIAM at www dot tristischallenges dot blogspot dot com.

I can't believe I committed to write again -- and in public! I'm frankly petrified. What if I CAN'T write anymore? (Or never could?!)

Jules, come hold my hand! You promised.

Thanks, Trisit! I doubt I'd do it with anybody but you.

At 7/01/2008 12:09 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great blog, Kerri! I like to "diagnose" people--figure out why they do things the way they do. I remember sitting with friends at malls or outdoor shopping places, creating life stories of the people who walked past us. I still think that King Noah had a mother who neglected him :)

At 7/02/2008 9:47 AM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I'm committed to Tristi's book in a month challenge. There's no backing out for us now. And heather, that cracks me up that you diagnose people. I do that all the time . . . always looking for their motivation as to why they are who they are. I bet you're totally right about that king noah guy.


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