Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, November 29, 2008

All Movies/Books/TV/Or Any Non-Church Activity is Evil

by Sariah S. Wilson

This has been a hectic week.

First, the day before Thanksgiving, my husband lost his job. Unlike the fortunately well-prepared Jeff, we don't have things paid off or any money in savings or any money coming in anytime soon. Things are...not good. Christmas is pretty much kaput this year (and if you knew the deep and abiding love I have for the season, you would know how this seemingly unimportant detail deeply depresses me). I've been feeling extremely panicked the last few days, compounded by the fact that we received our COBRA information that to continue our health insurance will quite literally cost more than our mortgage payment. I have to have the insurance for the baby, but we can't begin to imagine how we'll be able to make that payment. So if anyone has any extra room in their prayers, the Wilson family could use them right about now.

Full on panic aside, I wanted to write today about something I've seen growing up in the LDS community and recently had the opportunity to hear about it again.

A seminary teacher asked one of his students a question, and the student didn't know the answer. The teacher then went on a rant about how the student might have known the answer if he didn't waste so much time watching movies.

The teacher then elocuted on the inherent evils of movie watching. That such time could be and should be better spent in learning the Gospel and studying. This evil movie watching apparently also extends to fiction reading and television viewing.

So, immediately my hackles rise. 1) I write fiction (does that make what I do even more of a waste of time?). 2) I read fiction. A lot. 3) I like me some movies. 4) I like me some television too.

I started listing off in my head all the reasons why this was wrong (because I do so enjoy rationalizing when I think I'm right). First, I thought of the fact that there are times that things are taught/represented in a visual way that has more of an impact on us emotionally and spiritually than any bone-dry recitation of scripture. When I think of an example of faith, I can try to comprehend the faith Ether had, but there is definitely something to be said for watching Indiana Jones step out into that deep, vast chasm, to hope that when he placed his foot into nothingness by leaping from the lion's mouth that he wouldn't fall and die.

Taking a Church-sponsored video, at the end of "Testaments" when Christ calls Helam's name, the look on his face is priceless and touches me so deeply every time I see it that I am still, multiple viewings later, unable to watch that scene without crying. Multimedia allows us to experience things in an entirely different way.

By speaking to a common human experience, by using fiction to illustrate truth, we are taught.

The Savior spoke in parables, in stories that would be easy to remember and would carry important divine truths.

If we stopped being able to quote works of fiction in our talks, as Rob has pointed out before, half of President Monson's talks would be gone.

I don't think people should get a testimony from fiction or TV or movies. But there is an ability to teach there that I think shouldn't be dismissed. For example, we have often talked to our oldest son about not cheating. He's ultra-competitive (a fault I take full genetic credit for) to the point that he sees nothing wrong with cheating as long as he wins. This is something we talk to him over and over about.

The biggest improvement I've seen in his behavior was when he watched the movie "Cars." At the end the bad guy cheats to win. And while he's celebrating his hollow victory, no one else cares. No one celebrates with him. He doesn't get the big endorsement deal. My son could see what happened to someone who only cared about winning and that caring about other people mattered more. Something that examples and lectures hadn't managed to convey.

I also think that there is room in our life for entertainment. Perhaps that makes me a heathen, but I'm pretty sure that when I came to this planet I wanted to live a righteous life and be close to my Savior, but that I wanted to experience what it meant to be human. That doesn't mean I think we have carte blanche to do whatever we want or feel like doing, but I also don't necessarily think that we're all supposed to live monastic lifestyles. Life is meant to be enjoyed and lived.

When Brigham Young started settling Salt Lake City, wasn't building the playhouse one of the first things he set up? And not for religious plays (although I'm sure that did happen). It was meant to be entertainment. They had dances and parties and games and activities just to have fun.

I think in all things there has to be balance. I think sometimes it's hard to find that balance and we can spend too much time on things that don't have any great eternal merit, but I don't think the Lord expects us to devote every waking moment to the scriptures.

So, am I wrong? Is there room in our lives for other non-Church things? What would your response be to the teacher who thinks that to watch a movie or TV or read a book is without worth?

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Not Rocket Science

by Kerry Blair

It’s pushing eleven o’clock on Thanksgiving night. I’ve been up since six this morning, choppingslicingseasoningstuffingmixing-stirringbakingmashingservingeatingclearingcleaning and counting my blessings. (I have so many blessings I will still be at that counting thing well into next week.) Before daylight tomorrow, my daughter and I will be up, dressed festively, and out Christmas shopping. A little later in the day I will make our traditional turkey enchiladas, put up Christmas lights, and try to get a few dozen Whitney auction winners all the stuff they bought. (Thanks, everyone!) You’ll forgive me, then, if this post is not as warm and fuzzy and/or informational and inspirational as those that have preceded it. I’m exhausted and I ate too much. I am definitely snarky.

I hate that word. If it were up to me, it would be on a list of the Top Ten Most Irritating Expressions in the English Language. Unfortunately, it’s not up to me. The University of Oxford has already appointed itself the national authority on linguistic mangling and overused buzzwords. In a database called the Oxford University Corpus, they track books, magazines, broadcast, online media, and other public sources, watching for overused phrases we love to hate. (And, no, that’s not one of them either.)

Last Monday they released their top ten of 2008: At the end of the day, Fairly unique, I personally, At this moment in time, With all due respect, Absolutely, It's a nightmare, Shouldn't of, 24/7, and It's not rocket science.If any of those Corpus guys expanded their hunting ground to the LDS Church, they’d find a goldmine. Our culture seems to lend itself to the absurd. My personal pet peeve is those who implore God to “bless” fatty sweets and Red Dye #7 sugar-water to “nourish and strengthen our bodies.” I’d bet God is tired of hearing it, too. After all, wouldn’t answering that prayer in the affirmative be right up there with turning water into wine?

But that’s not why it irritates me so much. Mostly I dislike the . . . utter thoughtlessness of the expression. Just last week I asked an eight-year-old “blessing” Ding Dongs what nourish means. He had no idea. And yet we persevere in saying it. Over. And. Over. And. Over. How do these things get started? Do you suppose the Prophet Joseph once uttered it over some actual food and it caught on? More importantly, how do we get it to stop?

If you can’t answer those questions, you can still comment. Hit me with your absolute least-favorite nightmare expression. At the end of the day, I’ll compile the fairly unique suggestions into our own Frog Blog List of Linguistic Dislikes.

Or maybe I shouldn’t of brought this up. With all due respect, everybody else is into merriment 24/7 this time of year. Who am I to Grinch around? But since I simply cannot come up with a cheery blog, how about if I make this one worth your while? (What does that mean? What is your while worth?) Anyway, everyone who posts their personal least-favorite expression will be entered in a drawing for a This Just In gift set I never got around to putting up on the Whitney Auction.

Do it, people. It’s not rocket science.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well, the haze and smoke is almost gone, but my house still smells burnt. It was a freak thing actually, (and it all started when my ten year old son came upstairs this morning and whispered to my still sleeping self, “Mom, the smoke is on the ceiling now.” Believe me, hearing that will get anyone out of bed in a hurry), but in the process, our turkey’s giblets were burned. Totally and completely burned. But it wasn’t my fault. Really. And it all worked out because our dog enjoyed her own little Thanksgiving giblet dinner. It’s all a matter of perspective.

So, as I sit here in my campfire-smelling house, I am grateful that I still have a house and that my dog likes blackened giblets. I hope that each of you has something wonderful to eat today, (that isn’t burned or has the word giblet in it), friends or family to share it with, and a chance to sit down and count all the blessings we have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Are You Grateful For?

by Stephanie Black

When I was a kid, there was a sister in our ward who was not a particularly happy person. You know how when you’re sitting next to someone at church and sharing a hymnbook, and you both hold a side? Well, this sister felt that when she shared a hymnbook, she always got the heavy side.

Huh? What could be more random than which side of the hymnbook you’re holding? To me, this story is a perfect illustration of the fact that if you're looking for something to be unhappy about—looking to be offended, looking for something to complain about, looking for ways to prove that the universe has done you wrong—you’ll find something. On the other hand, if you’re looking for things to be grateful for, looking for the tender mercies of the Lord in your life, you’ll find those, in abundance.

Over the past few weeks, my family has been e-mailing a “gratitude list” back and forth, where people list things they are grateful for. A few of the items that have made the list are:

Online bill paying
hot showers
the First Vision
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Anna singing in the shower
The Book of Mormon
The right to vote
BYU football
Chocolate cake donuts
Emergency C-sections that save babies
Digital photography
A good husband
Bike rides
Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches
Parents who taught us the gospel
Contact lenses
Children’s giggles
The internet
Warm banana bread
The kindness of others
Central heating
People who serve in the military
Candy cane Hershey’s kisses

Obviously, some of these items are huge in the huge eternal sense and others are very small. Does it really make a difference to our happiness whether or not we’re grateful for things like Candy Cane Hershey’s kisses?

I think it does.

I think there are few things that make more of a powerful, immediate difference to our happiness than having gratitude for even the tiny things in life. Instead of going through life getting the heavy side of the hymnbook, we’ll feel blessed beyond measure when we start counting our blessings and realize the list goes on and on and on.

In Doctrine and Covenants 59:7, we’re commanded to thank the Lord in all things. I think one of the reasons the Lord gave us this commandment is because He knows how happy gratitude makes us and how unhappy ingratitude makes us. And He wants us to be happy.

So today I’m following the example of a dear friend of mine and am inviting all of you to post in the comment trail a few things that you're grateful for, big or small.

I should go throw some laundry in, so let me just say I am grateful for my washer and dryer. How amazingly convenient is it to be able to throw a load of dirty clothes in a machine and have them come out clean? Awesome!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Little-Known Facts About Thanksgiving

by Robison Wells

I read a newspaper article the other day which described how the highlight of the first Thanksgiving was that the Pilgrims were graverobbers. They were all starving, you see, and they knew that the local tribes would bury their dead with big casks of corn. So, the starving Pilgrims would dig it up and try not to die. (Digging up the graves probably made it easier for the Pilgrims to bury themselves, when they died a few hours later. So, it's a win-win.)

But here's the Thanksgiving myth that I think is hilarious: you know that story you've heard all your life about how Squanto taught the pilgrims that the best way to grow corn was to put a little fish in with the seeds (to provide fertilizer)? Well, recent research has shed new light on that story. Yes, Squanto taught them that, but guess where he heard it? Europe! Squanto (real name: Tisquantum) was kidnapped by the English in 1605 and ended up living in Europe for seven years. There is no archaeological or anthropological evidence that any Indians ever planted fish with their crops--but the Europeans used to do it all the time! The reason that the Pilgrims were unaware of this is because the Pilgrims were pretty much incompetent. (Reading the passenger lists, there were an awful lot of tailors and preachers and doctors, and relatively few farmers and builders and hunters and fishermen.)

Anyway, in light of these interesting Thanksgiving Day facts, I'd like to present a few more. These are extremely little-known, but 100%, absolutely true-ish. You should go add them to Wikipedia.

1. The original meal at Thanksgiving was not actually turkey, but New England clam chowder. In the 1930's, there was a big marketing push from the turkey farmers to change public perception. This all came to a head in 1937 when Josiah Stephens, owner of Stephens Oyster Cracker Co. and strident Thanksgiving purist, was shot dead while atop a giant hexagonal float at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

2. Senators who are in the pocket of Big Turkey:
Jim "Gobbler" Bunning (R, Kentucky)
Roger "Muscovy Duck" Wicker (R, Mississippi)
Byron "Megapode" Dorgan (D, North Dakota)
Jim "Distinctive Fleshy Wattle" DeMint (R, South Carolina)
Bernie "Meleagris Crassipes" Sanders (I, Vermont)
Robert "Bird" Byrd (D, West Virginia)

3. The Thanksgiving Classic, although a singular term, refers to a series of multiple football games. Most notable are the games involving the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. This dates back to ancient times, when Pilgrims wore cowboy hats while hunting lions.

4. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was originally designed as a Parade of Shame. Macy (named after Pilgrim Francis Bradford Macy) was the brother of minister Arthur Dimmesdale. On Thanksgiving Day, 1642, Hester Prynne was paraded around the streets of Boston as a warning to other adulterers. As years progressed, Shame Parade organizers discovered that they could make more money if the adulterers were scantily clad. (The balloon of Underdog, and the marching bands, came shortly thereafter.)

5. In the summer of 1620, there was a disaster at the London Stamping Plant--an apprentice left the buckle machine running all night long, resulting in thousands of unneeded buckles! Thanks to the quick thinking of fashion designer Chastity Mullins, the departing Pilgrims were convinced that all the cool people in America wore buckles on their hats and shoes. The slogan "Buckles Are Forever" was heavily advertised by the shipyards and churches--the two places Pilgrims were known to frequent--and thus the London Stamping Plant was saved!

6. Cranberry Sauce is a combination of rendered hog fat and tree sap.

7. Turkey contains a chemical that makes you sleepy after eating it: Due to a turkey's naturally vicious and combative temperment, farmers must feed them a daily cocktail of valium, oxycodone and marijuana. Of course, some of that ends up in the meat.

8. The cornucopia is based on a Greek legend: Zeus enchanted a severed goat's horn that would grant the owner a never ending supply of whatever they wanted. This really makes me wonder why pictures always show cornucopias filled with vegetables. Because: have you never heard of money?

I hope that these little-known facts have been as enlightening to you as they were to me, when I discovered them after years of personal research and introspection. May you all have a marvelous, grave-robbing Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

How I Spent My First Day as a Fulltime Writer

Well, I guess it’s real. As of today, I am writing fulltime. So how did it go? Glad you asked. Because it gives me something to blog about other than the weird rash on the back of my elbow.

Aren’t you relieved?

So here in no particular order are a few random thoughts from the beginning of being a full time writer.

First, for those of you interested in the LDStorymakers Writers Conference, things are moving along quickly. The incredible, and talented, Scott Wright is just about done with the online registration form. We expect to have it up and running by early next week at the latest. This year’s conference is going to be bigger and better than ever, with special classes on children’s book writing, screen writing, article writing, and all the other usual good stuff.

Second, I do not understand why people collect rejection letters. I guess it is proof that you are getting your work sent out. But looking at my rejections only bums me out. Even when I know I have a five book deal and lots of good things in the works, seeing old rejection letters raises all the old doubts again. I started by just cleaning my desk, and ended up having to take a walk to remind myself that I am a published writer. I’d much rather focus on good reviews and positive feedback than old rejection letters.

I think it takes a few days to get adjusted to the fact that I am writing full time. I keep starting to think about work things I need to do, only to go, “Oh, yeah. That’s not my problem anymore.”

Which brings me to how much writing is a mental thing. You have to feel good about yourself to do your best. You need to feel that what you are writing is the best work being written. When you feel good about your writing, you write well. When you start doubting yourself, everything you write seems like garbage.

Also, so much of writing is about getting into a rhythm. I know there are people who can write in fifteen minutes here and twenty there. But for me, I need to get into the right mindset. If I am going to use my free time wisely, I need to treat writing as the fulltime career it is. I started this morning by getting up and seven for a quick run before breakfast and settling in to hit the keyboard. Find whatever works for you, but if you are going to treat writing as a profession, you need to be professional yourself.

The day’s results? 3200 words. Not as much as I would have liked, but I spent a good portion of the day getting my new laptop working right. I’ll keep you updated on how things go from here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Twilight Movie

by Sariah S. Wilson

So, I liked it. I expected to like it, I thought the trailers were pretty darn good (so much so that even my husband was interested in seeing it), and I enjoyed the movie.

The original studio that bought the rights to Twilight wanted to heavily alter the story so that it would have been nearly unrecognizable to fans. It didn't happen, and apparently Stephenie Meyer (who makes a cameo in the movie!) wasn't too keen on selling the rights again. But she was convinced by Summit Entertainment, who promised to stay true to the novel.

And they did - cheesy lines, over-the-top sentiment and all.

I didn't particularly expect Twilight to be a movie masterpiece. The novel is hardly a literary masterpiece. But I really enjoyed the movie. I liked seeing the characters on screen, liked watching their interaction - the leads had great chemistry together - liked watching some of my favorite scenes play out in a movie (Edward stopping the van, trying not to kill the guys harassing Bella).

Was it my favorite movie ever? Nope. Will I buy it on DVD and watch it again? Yep.

We went to a matinee show (we rely on Grandma to babysit, and it's easier for her to do it during the day at her house, and I prefer paying matinee rates and not fighting opening weekend crowds) which was still pretty packed, mostly by tween/teen girls and their parents. I can only imagine what it must have been like on the Thursday midnight showings or last night. I wonder what it must be like to be the person who caused all that to happen, to have your own teen girl minions that turn everything you do into an insta-success (I was reading that Twilight might place 14th or 15th on opening day totals. That's 14th place of any movie EVER, and reports estimate the movie only cost $37 million to make (and has already grossed $35 million, so in one day it made back nearly what the movie cost)).

As for whether I'd recommend it for a non-Twilight fan, I don't know that I would. A lot of the film's humor and subtext comes from having read the book. Like Edward's reaction when a fan blows Bella's hair. The fans in the showing I was at found it funny, knowing what he really thinks and why he's doing it. Or private moments of humor Edward has in the beginning of the movie - a fan knows what he's thinking and why he finds it funny and is thus in on the joke. It's easy to automatically fill in the blanks of what's happening on screen when something seems to be missing or doesn't make sense. (Like my husband going, "What was up with that Rosalie chick?" and I gave him the rundown of why Rosalie was so angry.)

Apparently the critics hated it, and I have to admit that I can't see it as a non-Twilight fan might see it. My love for the book pretty blatantly colored my opinion of the movie. But my husband, who's never read the books, enjoyed it as well (although he thought it needed more action and to be less chick-flicky girly at the end).

So for those who have seen it - what did you think? Were you a Twilight fan or just curious about the hype? Were you disappointed or did you enjoy it?

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Open Letter to LDS Writers

by Kerry Blair

I practically promised last week that if you were diligent in supporting the WHITNEY BENEFIT AUCTION I'd post a guest blog this week instead of another promotional spot for the AUCTION. While I can't be certain any of you actually bid, what with those weird code-name things eBay has going on, I can report that we're doing pretty well. (We would do much better, of course, if each and every one of you would go HERE and find something to bid on. We've got great stuff!)

Not that this is another promotion for the AUCTION, of course. It's not. (Really!) It's a well-earned reward for the writers among you. (I swear!) Last Wednesday, a remarkable young woman, Christy Gruber, posted a heartfelt letter to LDS writers on an LDS line. I know this won't include everybody who reads this blog, but it includes a whole lot of us, so I asked Sister Gruber's permission to reprint it here. (If you are not an LDS writer, you have my permission to spend the next few minutes perusing the WHITNEY AUCTION instead of reading Christy's touching post.) I want the rest of you to know I kept my itchy little editor's fingers off. This is exactly the way Christy wrote it. If you're a writer and it doesn't make you cry, perhaps you should check your pulse.

My dear friends, especially to you that write LDS fiction:

I'm sure that there are many times that you sit at the computer screen and just stare at that blank screen with the cursor blinking insanely just driving you mad as you struggle with writer's block. Sometimes, you may feel frustrations at rejects and many other things or maybe even wonder if your stories are really wroth it. Then there are many other things that runs through your head that probably makes you feel frustrated and sometimes I want to give up or wonder if it's all worth it.

But it is wroth it. You are doing a very wonderful thing. You are helping to roll the Kingdom of God forward. You are using words and stories to help uplift and bring people closer God.

Some might tell me that the stories are just fiction. That may be but they are more then just fiction. To me they deal with real life, real people and real situations. Anywhere from abuse to just a simple love story with a few gospel principles throown in. What you do is important. We need authors like you to help carry the work forward. Maybe sometimes someone might read something in the Book of Mormon, they might not understand but when they read a good story they might get an "Ah ha!" moment. I know I have a few times. Somewhere, someone has or is reading one of your books, and has tears down their cheeks. Maybe it is a simple love story but somehow, that story gives them hope.

Your books are unlike any books in the world. It is the ONLY fiction where the spirit can be felt. ((well not ONLY i'm sure there's a few non LDS fiction too :) but you knwo what i mean)) I feel that Heavenlyl Father is pleased with your writings. I wouldn't be surprised if your books are being treasured and bronzed in gold on the other side of the viel. Maybe someday, someone will meet you in this life or the next and say "This book has changed mly life thank you so much!" Or maybe "I've joined the church because of your book. Thank you"

Granted, the Book of Mormon should be the most read and most important but I feel that your books are almost up there. Sometimes, maybe the only way for the Lord to speak through someone is through a fictional story. Giving an abused person hope, givving light to a depressed person, or giving a frusterated person a sense of hope and excitement. Is it any wonder that we have been commanded to look for things that are virtious and of good report? Those are your books, the music that is being written. and the words you say.

Your books important. We are now living in perioulous times, and during those times we will need your books even more. Maybe it'll help bring someone closer to the gospel, or remind of their duty to God. Who knows, I do know....that even as things get ecomically hard, and the persecution of the saints wosening, I want to see another great love story by Michele Bell or a book review of Teri's or a houmours story of Susan Corpany. I bear testimony, and I am gratefful that the Lord has given you inspiritation so that you can write these stories. They are not just stories to me. They are real and wonderful.

Christy Gruber

Sister Gruber is a recently-returned missionary and one of the kindest, sweetest, and most spiritual women you'll ever hope to meet. I hope she knows how deeply I appreciate her for letting me share this marvelous piece of inspiration with you.

If, like me, you'd like a nicely printed and framed version to hang above your computer monitor, that could probably be arranged. I'll check with Christy for copyright permission while you check the WHITNEY BENEFIT AUCTION site to see if I have it up yet.

Happy Thanksgiving, all! When I count my blessings, I always count the dear, dear friends I've found here!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Are You Willing to Die For? Review of Abinadi by H.B. Moore

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Can you think of something that you would be willing to die for? Is there something that could compel you to leave your home and family and everything you loved behind, knowing you wouldn't see them again in this lifetime? With the many different beliefs, schools of thoughts, and testimonials in this world, is there anything that you would willingly give your life for in defense of what you know to be true?

H.B. Moore’s new book Abinadi offers a gut-wrenching and emotional, yet quietly spiritual and uplifting view of the prophet Abinadi. Her story presents him as a young man, married, with a child, who is commanded to go to the wicked city of Nephi to preach to the people there---to warn them of their destruction unless they repent. He is a man with everything to lose, yet he does what the Lord has asked him to and he does it with faith. It is a sobering view of this prophet, yet one that is tender and soul-searching.

If you have read the account in the Book of Mormon, you know how it ends, but Moore seems to be able to reach in and give the events an extra emotional and realistic punch. For example, we know Abinadi died, and many people believe that Abinadi was burned at the stake, however, through extensive research, Moore presents the possibility that he was actually scourged with flaming sticks until Abinadi “suffered death by fire.” But what if Abinadi’s loved ones had been in the crowd that was watching him die? What if he had truly left behind a wife and a child and sealed his testimony with his own blood, knowing that he wouldn’t be there for his family? That is what sets this story apart from other Book of Mormon historical fiction that I’ve read, the research details (that are provided in her chapter notes, which I found very interesting) and the human story that she entwines with them, making it a compelling and contemplative read.

I honestly couldn’t put the book down and the story did make me think about some of my own ideas about Abinadi. For example, I’ve long seen the prophet Abinadi as a tragic figure, but Moore’s book points out several things that made me pause and examine my opinions more closely. I did like that Moore makes a point to show that Abinadi’s death was not in vain and his work was continued, through Alma. From what I understand, Moore is working on the next book, which is about the prophet Alma and I'm anxious to see what she presents in that story. I also liked how plausible the scenarios in Abinadi were, especially for King Noah and his actions, as well as Alma. I think the fact that she is so careful in her research and stays true to the fabric of the story is what sets her apart as a writer and, more particularly, as a Book of Mormon historical writer. Some people feel uncomfortable when prophets and their lives are fictionalized, but I think Moore offers something profound with her characterizations and the fact that they seem so true to life somehow, if that’s possible. Regardless, any book that makes you think about it long after you’ve put it down is a book that is well worth your time and Abinadi is one I would highly recommend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shop 'til You(r Fingers) Drop

by Stephanie Black

I'm happy to share the thrilling news that I won something on the Whitney Benefit Auction last week. Hooray! Now I get to wait excitedly for my treasure to arrive in the mail. Meanwhile, I've got some other bids out on various Whitney items. Some I'll win and some I won't, but it's fun bidding anyway. I don't intend to win everything I bid on--it's better for my wallet if I don't. I don't usually ponder the max I'd be willing to bid on an item and then bid that amount and let eBay automatically raise the price to my maximum bid as people bid against me. I'd rather pick a starting number and then, if someone bids against me, I get the fun of debating whether I want to bid higher or let it go. It's not just shopping--it's entertainment!

Shopping online is a marvelous thing. I love the way the internet gives access to such a wide variety of goods, some of which would have been very difficult to find back in the olden days. My four-year-old daughter wants a stuffed fruit bat for Christmas (easier to care for than a real fruit bat, I imagine). But rather than scouring toy stores on a possibly futile search for a fruit bat, all I need to do is go to Amazon. Yep, they have a fruit bat. And when I was looking for some Massachusetts-themed candy, all it took was a little Googling and and a few clicks of the mouse and I was looking at bags of gummy lobsters. And there are no lines at the checkout!

I don't do all my Christmas shopping online. I do enjoy some shopping in actual brick-and-mortar stores complete with decorations and Christmas music (and sometimes I don't enjoy it, but do it anyway). Speaking of shopping, you know what boggles me? When people will sit in their cars, waiting, waiting as the sun sets and their hair grays, waiting as autumn turns to winter, waiting for a car to pull out of a parking space so the waiter can snatch that coveted space close to the store. I understand it if the lot is very crowded and you're worried about finding a space at all. I understand it if you just had knee surgery or are thirteen months pregnant (or feel that way) or have other health problems. But if you're hale and hearty, why twiddle your thumbs and wait while the driver finishes unloading her groceries, buckles her kids into carseats, or whatever? Why not drive for five extra seconds, park a little farther from the store and walk for an extra twenty seconds to get inside? I'm thinking it's the psychological lure of a prime parking space more than an evaluation of the actual time saved/convenience involved that gets people to sit and wait. Someone should do their doctoral dissertation on this topic.

I've never been organized enough to do all my Christmas shopping in July or September, or whenever organized people shop. And though I wouldn't mind having some things done well in advance, I don't think I'd even want to have everything done before the first strands of tinsel make their appearance (Oh wait. That's, like, in September now. Never mind.) What about you? Are you a shop-in-advance person that considers yourself behind schedule if you don't have your Christmas shopping done by the end of summer? Or are you always in stores on Christmas Eve, looking for those last few items?

The item I tend to get myself in trouble with is Christmas crackers (the kind you pull, not the kind you eat). Pulling Christmas crackers on Christmas Eve is something my kids love, but half the time, I don't buy the crackers early enough, thinking I have plenty of time, and then by the time I'm looking for them in earnest, the stores are out of them. I swore that this year I wouldn't let them get away. I saw some at Costco on Saturday, but I didn't really like them, so I wanted to keep looking. I still have plenty of time, right? Live and don't learn, that's me. Maybe I should buy some online . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)

by Robison Wells

I'm leaving in a few moments to head to The Natural State, The Land of Opportunity, The Bear State, The Wonder State, and The Razorback State. What's that you say? How could I be visiting all of those states at once? Because they're all the same magical place! I know!

Here are some clues: the state beverage is milk, the state musical instrument is the fiddle, the state soil is the Stuttgart Soil Series, and the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato is both the state fruit and state vegetable! I know!

Anyway, I don't have time to blog today, because I'm apparently doing something very important that won't let me pause for five minutes to write a decent blog. So, instead, here's a song from the Broadway musical Big River:

Arkansas, Arkansas
I lust love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas
Well, I ain't never traveled much
But someday when the money's such
I'd like to see the world and all
And take a run through Arkansas

I'd like to get my picture took
And put in it my memory book
And someday hang it on my wall
To say that I'd seen Arkansas

Arkansas, Arkansas
I lust love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

Grandpa he has always good
I'd play horsey on his foot
He'd tell me when I'd get tall
We'd both go see Arkansas
Arkansas, Arkansas
I lust love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas

Arkansas, Arkansas
I lust love ole Arkansas
Love my ma, love my pa
But I just love ole Arkansas
I just love ole Arkansas

I'll be back next week. Or will I?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Storm Clouds

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a friend about silver linings. With the economy the way it is, book sales—along with almost all other sales—taking a beating, and lots of gloom and doom on the news, it’s easy to get depressed and start thinking that this is a crazy time to publish a book, or write a new manuscript, or look for a job, or whatever it is that you know you should be doing, but feel too down to even try. We both agreed that in retrospect, some of our best opportunities came as the silver lining on otherwise dark stormy clouds.

I guess the timing of the conversation was pretty appropriate, because today, about an hour after I came into work, my boss entered my office and closed the door. We chatted for a few minutes about how he wasn’t feeling too great, and stress of the economy, etc. Finally, he kind of sat back in his chair, and said, “I didn’t come here to talk about me.”

Ahhhh. Suddenly the dime dropped. This was that conversation. I have to admit, I was not expecting this at all. We’d just had layoffs, and the management assured us they were the only layoffs planned. Apparently this was not planned. (Hey, I know how that goes. In fact a couple of our best kids were . . .) Anyway, back to my point. He was coming in to tell me that I was being let go the end of this week.

I guess he was surprised that I wasn’t angry, or didn’t burst into tears or something, because after I told him I understood, he said, “Wow. You’re taking this a lot better than I am.” In fact I’m pretty sure he thought someone had given me advance notice. They hadn’t. And I admit, it took me a while to digest the information. But the thing is, what’s the point in getting upset? They have their business to run. I have my business to run. Hopefully the two are in sync. But sometimes they aren’t. And when they aren’t, one of us has to make a change. That’s what they were doing.

After letting my sales team know about the change, I took the rest of the afternoon off to get my thoughts together. I called my wife, and said, “Well, Honey, the good news is, I have a lot more time to write.” She picked up on that pretty quick.

Once we talked things out, we realized this might be one of those blessings in disguise. The good news is that over the last couple of months we’ve paid off both of our cars and all of our credit cards. Only a week ago, we finished refinancing our house. And we’ve got a little money in the bank, which hasn’t always been the case. And I get my first royalty on Farworld in January. So we aren’t going to starve any time soon.

But even more than that. I’ve really felt for the last few months like I needed to spend more time on my writing, and marketing my books. Yes the economy is tough, but as I wrote about a few weeks back, people are still buying books. They are being more picky, but they are still buying. I just need to make sure that it is my books they are buying. I also have several projects I need to finish up. Farworld Book Two of course. But also a regional mystery series I write, that I am far overdue on. I also have a couple of other projects I’m really excited about. One about a boy who gets turned into a zombie and another about a boy who is afraid of everything, who discovers he is a facilitator—a person who talks monsters out of their fears.

When I first got home, my stomach was still a little in knots. But the more my wonderful wife and I talked, the more we realized that we may have been pushed out the door a little sooner than we planned, but this is what we’ve both wanted to do. At least for the next few months, I will be a fulltime writer. I will be able to focus on nothing but writing and marketing. I can do what I love, and get paid for it. Will it last? I probably won’t know that until sometime around late January. At that point, if I have to go back to work for a while longer I will. But rather than stress, I plan on enjoying the next couple of months. If things work out, I am a fulltime writer as of this Saturday. But even if they don’t, I am still a fulltime writer as of this Saturday. I may just have to take a little break from being a full time writer, later in the year.

So here are just a few of the things I plan on enjoying during that time. Eight plus hours of writing, without feeling like I am neglecting my family, my job, or my yard. (Thank goodness for snow.) Speaking of snow; watching the snow fall without worrying about how bad it will be to drive to work in it. And for that matter driving an hour and back to work every day. Responding to e-mails and postings from my friends and readers the same day. Finishing writing two books and getting well into a third by Christmas. Being here when my boys come home from school. Enjoying my daughter’s plans for getting married in the spring. And finally, doing what I want to do. Not what someone else wants me to do.

I guess when my boss asked me why I didn’t look more upset when he told me I was being fired, I should have answered. “Monday, you’ll be driving to a job. Monday, I’ll be doing one of the things I love most in the world. Thanks!”

Thanks goodness for dark clouds, and the silver linings that come with them.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comparing Yourself to Others

by Sariah S. Wilson

Unless you're some sort of highly evolved person (or, on the flip side, a complete egomaniac), the likelihood exists that you've compared yourself with someone else.

And most likely you somehow came up short.

I find this to be particularly true among LDS women - Sister Clean has a perfect, immaculate home, Sister Children has the most well-behaved kids, Sister President is the best leader ever and so inspiring!

It is a natural tendency to admire/envy traits in others that we do not necessarily possess.

Even those who stood in the presence of the Savior couldn't help but compare themselves to those around them. Peter seemed to wonder a bit jealously why John would get to stay until the Lord returned and Peter wouldn't.

And as I'm in the midst of preparing my Sunday School lesson for tomorrow and I'm reading 3 Nephi 28, for the first time it sort of hit me how a comparison seemed to happen there. The nine disciples ask the Lord if they can return to heaven speedily after finishing their work. The Lord grants them this request, and as a bonus, tells them the age that they will die. (Which on a side note, I've been wondering how this would affect my life if I knew the exact age that I would die. How would that alter/not alter my choices? Would I feel hopeless or would I feel that I needed to hurry and get everything done before the end? Knowing myself it would most likely be procrastination until the end, which is probably part of the reason why the Lord doesn't tell me.)

The three disciples that are left "durst not" tell the Lord what they want. They feel sorrow for their desires.

Why? Is it because they heard the requests of the disciples who went before them and then felt that their request somehow paled in comparison? Where the other disciples wanted to speedily return to their Savior, these three wanted to delay being reunited with Him?

The problem is that when you're dealing with an omniscient being, there's not really such a thing as keeping something secret.

The Lord praises their desire, and even calls them "more blessed." I wonder if they felt a little silly at that point for not speaking up, if they felt foolish for harboring whatever thoughts made them secretly sorrow.

The things I've noticed when you compare yourself to someone else is that nine times out of ten, you compare their strengths to your weakness. People don't typically say, "Brother Presentation is a great speaker, but I'm a pretty good writer." Instead you say, "Brother Presentation is a great speaker, and I'm so terrible at giving talks. I hate having to follow him because I feel so stupid!"

I don't know if it's an issue of humility, that we fear becoming too prideful in acknowledging our talents and accomplishments, or if it is a modesty issue, or whether it's the belief that since we're continually progressing and should always be striving, even our best is never good enough.

So, I'm here to say stop it. Just stop it. There will always be people better than you at things, but you know what? There will always be people who are worse at those same things than you are.

When you find yourself throwing a pity party and saying, "I'll never be as good as..." You're probably right. But so what? Nobody's asking you to be like anybody else. We've only been asked to be our best possible selves. Whatever or whoever that may be, and it's up to us to figure that out.

I mean, I highly doubt you'll be getting your judgment and the Lord's going to sigh and say, "Too bad you didn't keep your house as well as Sister Clean. I know you kept the commandments and did service and went to church and tried to live the best life you could, but you just didn't measure up in that house cleaning thing. Sorry."

You only have to worry about being the best you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Fear I'm Going, Going, Gone

by Kerry Blair

There are things about this Church the missionaries don’t tell you. This is a good thing.

Oh, sure, they’ll tell you everything they know about the Plan of Salvation. They’ll recite Joseph Smith’s first prayer by heart—and maybe even sing a few bars if you happen to get a BYU music major like I did. You’ll be fully informed of the importance of tithing, and exhorted to give up iced tea and an over-abundance of red meat. But ask them just how many meetings a ward Young Women’s president attends and they’ll suddenly remember a pressing engagement on the other side of town.

There are some things it is better not to know before baptism.

I knew nothing. When I joined the LDS Church as a young adult, I was the only member in my extended family, the only member in my circle of friends, the only member on my block. In fact, I could name exactly one Latter-day Saint—and that was Donny Osmond. Perhaps if I’d moved a little slower, investigated a little more, and taken time to observe Mormons in their natural habitat, I might have thought to look before I leaped into the font. Alas, the testimony was there. All I lacked was any knowledge whatsoever of what I was getting myself into.

Does anybody else ever wonder what Methodists do with all their free time? I try not to dwell on this overmuch, but it has occurred to me that being LDS is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. While the gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, some of us manage to magnify our “discipleships” all out of proportion.

By “some of us” I mean me.

I figure that since joining the Church I have spent fifty full days of my life writing scripts and making costumes for various ward and stake productions. (Oh, wait! Fifty days would only be 1200 hours. You’d better double that number; square it to be sure.) I’ve spent eight or nine days putting up and/or taking down folding tables and chairs. I’ve made enough funeral potatoes and baked enough rolls to invite a small third-world country to a sit-down dinner. If you took all the yarn I’ve used to tie quilts, weave hats, and teach Beehives to crochet and stretched it out while walking backwards . . . I have no idea how far you’d get, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you ended up back where you started—at least once.

I try not to dwell upon how important any of those things will be in the grand, eternal scheme of things. Rather, I keep pressing on because . . . well . . . I figure that if you can’t do great things, you should at least try to do the mundane things with great dedication. Right now, the black hole into which I am casting every spare minute of my mortality is a quest to bring to pass Apostle Orson F. Whitney’s prophesy regarding great literature by members of the Church. No, I’m not writing it! (I tried that once and it didn’t exactly work out for me.) I’ve turned my attention instead to encouraging and supporting the rest of you in your quests. (And I mean you, Julie Coulter Bellon!) Specifically, I am trying to run the online Whitney Benefit Auction.

Like baptism, this was my idea. Once again, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Let’s just say that if I took all of that aforementioned yarn and used it to lash together all of those aforementioned chairs to build a tower from which Robison Wells (in the regrettable absence of Elder Whitney) could preach, it would be easier—and certainly more eye-catching—than this auction.

Where is everybody? We should be doing way better than we are. We’ve got incredible stuff: Autographed books and gifts, valuable editing packages going for a song, designer clothing, home decorating accents, silk ties, massages, handcrafted note cards, food items, fine art, gorgeous jewelry, book publishing packages, children’s clothing, a family photo shoot, and much, much, much, much more. (We have, in fact, several things you can't buy anywhere else.) Fortunately, we have several loyal customers for whom I’m eternally grateful. But, people, Deb and Stephanie can’t buy it all! (Although they do seem rather determined to prove me wrong.)

If you haven’t seen the site lately, you haven’t seen it at all. Several auctions are ending very soon, so I put up more than a dozen new items and services yesterday. I’m putting up a dozen more today—including my own packages of baseball tickets, Hopi jewelry, prickly pear jelly, and an Official Nightshade Ghost-Hunting Kit. (Just where else do you think you’re going to find that?)

So . . . yes, you caught me. For the third or fourth time, my Friday blog is nothing more than a thinly-disguised ad for the Whitney Auction. There are two Fridays left in the month, but I’ll make you a deal—you all go bid your little hearts out for a very, very worthwhile cause, and I’ll promise to change the subject next week. If you’re really good, (and we raise at least $500 this week) I could probably even come up with a celebrity guest blogger!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm Not A Writer Anymore

by Julie Coulter Bellon

A few days ago I was sitting on my couch with my baby who was looking up at the ceiling as if she were fascinated by something there. My cat joined us and she also looked up at the ceiling like there was something really cool up there. Since everyone was looking up at the ceiling, I looked up, too, but I didn’t see anything fascinating or cool. Somehow I was missing it.

That is what is happening in my writing life as well, unfortunately. I submitted a manuscript in March of this year and was really excited about it. It was the story of Tyler, one of the characters in my book All’s Fair, and the events that happen to him while he is in Paris. I loved the story and was anxious to see the follow up to All’s Fair out there. Unfortunately, the committee at my publishing company wasn’t as excited about some aspects of the story and asked me to do a rewrite.

Thankfully it wasn’t a rejection and I didn’t mind doing a rewrite, but the truth is, I submitted the rewrite and they came back with the same thing—an offer of another rewrite. I’ve been offered a rewrite four times if I am counting correctly. It’s like the ceiling. I’m just not seeing what they are or are not seeing.

The problem seems to be the middle of my manuscript. Apparently, everyone loves the beginning and the end, but somehow feel the middle isn’t as great. So I reworked it and reworked it, took suggestions, sent it out to more people that I know who could critique it and help me see what I wasn’t seeing, and then I reworked it again. My reworking twisted the manuscript into a pretzel, but I still liked the story and thought it was good. But guess what? I was offered another rewrite.

So I’m not a writer anymore. I think I’ve officially become a RE-writer.

Being a re-writer is different than being a writer. Parts of it are easier because you have a skeleton of words and plot to work with, but you have to make sure that any changes you make also flow with what is originally there. For instance, I can’t have my main character suddenly understanding all the French that is being spoken around him during a pivotal scene, when in the beginning I mentioned that his French is pretty rusty. Re-writers also have to be careful not to gloss over things that they think they’ve written, but may not really be there because rewriters often forget what has been written and what hasn’t been written, especially when multiple rewrites have been done. But the other problem that re-writers fall into is re-writing the manuscript/scene/characters to death. Re-writers can tweak and fix and manipulate all day, but this is my question---when does a re-writer know that the manuscript is just beyond fixing and should be put to rest, if you know what I mean? At what point are you so sick of the story and the characters and rewriting their story, do you just say enough is enough? I mean, at this point I’ve read that story a good thousand or more times and I’m just not seeing my own mistakes anymore.

It’s like that darned ceiling. I’m looking at it, but not seeing anything.

So do I send it out to more people to help me see the light? Or do I just give up and move on to the next project and chalk up the hundreds of work hours I’ve spent on this as a life lesson? Do I just keep going on forever stuck in a rewrite rut?

Maybe I should look at that ceiling some more before I decide if I truly am a writer or am destined to be a re-writer. I’m obviously either not looking in the right place or I’m not looking hard enough. And I’m open to suggestions if you have any. (For my writing dilemma or for seeing the cool and fascinating thing on my ceiling that everyone can see but me.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Naming the Baby

by Stephanie Black

When it comes to choosing titles, publishers have the final say. This is fine with me, for a couple of reasons. First, I sometimes have a hard time coming up with even a decent working title for a manuscript. Second, my publisher, Covenant Communications, is generally excellent at titles, so I have a great deal of confidence in them. It’s exciting to wonder what the title of a new book will be. I think the title committee must have magical powers. I look at the excellent titles they come up with and think, “How do they do that?” Maybe I have a very mundane (the word of the week, right, Jeff?) brain when it comes to brainstorming titles. I can think of words or phrases that have to do with the story, but my brain doesn’t often take flight into cleverness or catchiness. (Though I’d like to report that I suggested “Got oil?” as a catchy phrase to write on the invitations to our upcoming Young Women in Excellence meeting, where the Parable of the Ten Virgins will be a focus. Cute, huh? Okay, so maybe it sounds like a slogan for Jiffy Lube, but I’m still kind of pleased with myself).

A good title is a delightful thing. A couple of titles I find particularly effective are the titles of Kerry Blair's Samantha Shade mysteries--Mummy’s the Word and Ghost of a Chance. So fun, and so perfect for the fresh, clever mysteries they represent. I think Sonia O’Brien’s new release, Epicenter, has a good title. It's punchy. Suspenseful. Betsy Brannon Green’s Above and Beyond--great follow-up title to the first book in the series, Hazardous Duty. Gregg Luke’s Do No Harm—great title for a medical thriller. James Dashner’s 13th Reality: Journal of Curious Letters. Intriguing title for a youth fantasy novel. Josi Kilpack’s Her Good Name—that has a nice ring to it.

Some titles make the genre or topic of the book very clear. If you see a title like The Cereal Murders or Dying for Chocolate (both mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson) and you can pretty well guess that these are light mysteries involving food. Anna Buttimore Jones’ Easterfield--can't you just see the women in 19th century dress and taste the romance in the air?

Some titles don't make genre quite as clear--unless you see the cover of the book or the name of the author. The titles Let Me Call You Sweetheart or Loves Music, Loves to Dance aren’t exactly dripping menace—until you see Mary Higgins Clark’s name on the cover, and words that would have been friendly and fun in any other context instantly become creepy. Stephen King’s publisher could call one of his books Puppies and Sunshine and everyone would shudder (what’s going to happen to those poor puppies?).

I was excited to hear from my editor about the title they are considering for my new manuscript. I already figured they wouldn’t go with the working title, Picture Perfect (thanks again, Melanie J.!) since when I was up at Seagull Book not too long ago, what should I see on the bookstore shelf but a book Covenant published a while back entitled . . . Picture Perfect. Instead, it looks like the title will be The Devil You Know. I'm happy. I find the title pleasingly creepy, which suits the book (though I would like to assure romance fans that this book does have kissing in it :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fui Vakapuna, Where Art Thou?

by Robison Wells

Erin and I went to the BYU-San Diego State football game on Saturday, and it was a bittersweet event. It was the final home game of the season, which also means that it was the final BYU game that we'll ever attend as students. (Unless I decide to come back for a PhD, which would cause my wife to shoot me in the head. So, probably no football then, either.)

Way back in the day--probably seven years ago--we had season tickets in the alumni section, which was nice because we didn't have to stand up the entire game, but also sad because we had to sit with grumpy old people. These were the kinds of folks who are best described as codgers and coots, and who were still leery of that upstart kid Lavell Edwards and wished we could go back to the good old days of Tommy Hudspeth. The old man sitting behind us would refer to all the players by their first names, and generally leave the game during the third quarter, regardless of the score, so he could beat traffic. But, at least we got to sit down.

Now we're in the student section, which is considerably louder, and considerably standier, and with considerably more flirting going on. And, you can rest assured that when you're surrounded by a bunch of freshmen who are hepped up on adrenalin, testosterone, and face paint, the flirting isn't exactly romantic.

The guys who sit behind us certainly aren't in any danger of romance, however. It's a trio of nerds (that's a technical term) who are skinny and pasty and probably have gained all their knowledge of sports from John Madden Football on the Super Nintendo. (Not the new version, but the old 1988 version, where there were only six players on the field, and they all looked like little yellow blobs.) These guys have provided us with color commentary for the entire season, and Erin and I have been growing progressively more amused.

The conversations between these guys have three major themes: first, everything that happens in the game was a major failure on the part of BYU. If BYU runs the ball up the middle, the Trio will angrily complain that they should have passed. If BYU passed, then they should have run. Even if BYU threw a long pass and got fifty yards on the play, the Trio will indignantly declare that if BYU players knew how to actually make a block or break a tackle, they'd have gotten a touchdown. In other words, the Trio is a trio of idiocy.

The second major topic of conversation is the runningback Fui Vakapuna--specifically, how every play would be better if Fui was involved. (For those of you who are unaware, Fui was a star during his sophomore year, consistently being awesome until he hurt his ankle. But, for the last couple years, he's been second string, and he's kind of sucked.) But, to listen to the Trio, Fui should touch the ball on every play.

Third, the Trio thinks that they could do everything better, and often discuss how much they'd like to be on the coaching staff. (Because pasty, sun-starved nerds make great football coaches?)

So, this last week's game was against San Diego, which was a team no one was really concerned about, and the crowd was considerably quieter than usual. Consequently, we could hear every moronic word uttered by the Trio--and we discovered that they were even funnier than we had previously thought.

For crying out loud, the BAND came on at halftime, and the Trio complained that the BAND wasn't any good. And the band was even catering to nerds! They played music from video games, even forming a field-wide tetris game, with groups of band members acting as falling pieces. And the Trio still hated it!

"Maybe if they'd played the soundtrack to DragonForce," said Nerd A. "Then I'd have some respect for them."

"No doubt," said Nerd B.

Anyway, the band finished up with a tribute to Guitar Hero, and they had a guy come out and play electric guitar. The Trio declared: "Listen to that--he's not even playing it clean!"

Erin leaned over to me and said "Fui could have played it clean."

Then we exchanged a solemn look, taking in the gravity of the situation. One day, Fui will save us all.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Mundane Review

I am madly typing away on my laptop, trying to finish Land Keep (Farworld Book 2) by Thanksgiving. So I thought I'd share a new review of Water Keep with you today. Here's the question you have to ask yourself. Can you have a book review that contains the word "mundane" six times in one paragraph, and still call it a good review? I would have said no until I saw this. But now I have to say yes. I'm glad the reviewer liked it. And it definitely made me laugh.

Reviewer's Bookwatch: November 2008
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

Bhule's Bookshelf

J. Scott Savage
Shadow Mountain
9781590389621, $17.95,

Being mundane is something that our non-magical world just is. But in J. Scott Savage's original fantasy novel, "Far World: Water Keep", we are introduced to Marcus, a mundane boy, who meets Kyja, a mundane girl when he finds himself thrust into a world that is different from own. Unfortunately for Kyja, her world is one of magic where she is considered weird for being simply mundane. The two mundane non-magical-user people are faced with an evil magical plot that could both affect the world of magic, known as Far World, and the mundane world of Earth. Kyja and Marcus embark on a quest that is gripping adventure from beginning to end, making "Far World" a solid pick for fantasy lovers and a popular addition to community library Fantasy & Science Fiction collections.

Willis M. Buhle

Thanks for the not so mundane review Mr. Buhle!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Because I Know It's True

by Sariah S. Wilson

We'll have to go back in time to about three weeks ago when I injured my jaw (which is still not better, by the way. I'm not in any pain, but I still can't close my teeth together on the right side and sometimes chewing gets a little painful. So weird).

So, three weeks ago I was in all this pain, and was unable to do anything to alleviate it because of my pregnancy. And things being as they are, this was the same week all of my children became ill with the flu. One child had only diarrhea, another threw up once in bed and had a slight fever, but the baby caught and re-caught this illness. One fun night she threw up every hour on the hour - dry heaving at the end because she had nothing left to throw up. It was terrible.

Of course, this meant that I caught it. And I got the vomiting all day part of it. With my jaw in excruciating pain.

I'm sure you can imagine how much that hurt to have to pry my mouth open just to be able to throw up. It was awful. It was some of the worst pain and suffering I think I've ever been through.

By that evening, I had had enough. I wanted to collapse in a heap, crying from the pain and the overall tiring sickness. I couldn't keep going on the way that I had been. It was too much. The thought occurred to me that I did have one way to try to make this better - I would ask for a blessing.

My husband called my father to come help him administer to me. As we waited, my husband asked which of them I would like to give the actual blessing. We both thought it might be neat for my father to do it as it had been a while since the last time he'd had the opportunity to give me a blessing.

My father agreed, and in the process I had one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my entire life.

I am no stranger to blessings, or to having very spiritual moments in those blessings.

But never in my life had I experienced anything like what I experienced that night.

My father began by REBUKING my illness. I don't think I'd ever heard such strong language from him before. He rebuked my sickness, and said that I would get all the rest I needed that night and feel completely fine in the morning. (Both happened.)

And then...then it was like the Lord was standing in the room speaking directly to me.

The illness part of the blessing having been dealt with, my dad said things that he couldn't possibly have known. He used phrases and language that I have ONLY ever used during my individual prayers. They are not words that I ever used in conversations with my family or my husband or my mom. They were things I have only said to the Lord. And to hear those phrases and words being said back to me, in a way that acknowledged my pain and struggles and suffering, well, it was staggering. Words are inadequate to express how I felt.

I can only give so much room to coincidence or good guesses. What was said was far too precise and accurate.

I knew that the Lord knew me. He knew me as an individual, as His daughter. I could feel the overwhelming love of my Heavenly Father through my earthly one. The promises that were made to me, the blessings that were recounted and why they'd been given - I have a relationship with Him that extends beyond anything in this sphere and He was there to remind me of it.

I can step back from my beliefs and realize how strange it might sound to someone else. I can see how fantastic certain things might seem, how unlikely, how some will never be converted because there will be elements they just can't get past.

And I know I can't always explain it in a way so that others will understand it. I can't give the logic, reasoning or scholarship that some will require. Some have said I can't possibly "know." I can claim faith, I can claim desire to know, but that I can't have knowledge of such a thing.

I can only say this - in one of my darkest moments, in the depth of despair and racked by sickness and pain, my God was there. He spoke to me by name, He let me know that I was not alone, He shared wondrous and marvelous things with me that restored my hope. I know He was there. I know He heard my prayers. I know He loves me. I *do* know it.

So why do I believe what I believe? Because I know it's true.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Whitney Benefit Auction Going On Now!

Don't miss the Whitney Benefit Auction, going on now! They have dozens of great gifts, all up for auction or buy-it-now purchase. New items are added every single day, so check back often!

Why I'm Not Afraid of Coyotes

by Kerry Blair

I was asked recently to speak on personal and family preparedness. “Good deal!” I thought. After all, I’ve been prepared for the worst practically my whole life.

“And what is the worst?” you ask.


When I was a little girl, growing up in the sparsely-populated Verde Valley, our closest neighbors were a pack of coyotes. They passed our house nightly on their way from their bedrooms on the bluff to their dining room down by the river. I sometimes saw them. I always heard them. I became absolutely convinced that one night they would jump in my window and eat me up. Don’t laugh. It was a legitimate concern. After all, I was young . . . plump . . . succulent . . . doomed!

Almost half a century later, I still remember how terrified I was of those coyotes, and how many hours of sleep I lost worrying over each night being my last. Perhaps that is why I remember my salvation so very clearly.

One night my grandfather came to visit. He sat on the side of my bed and said, “I hear you’re afraid of coyotes.”

“Yes!” I cried. “They’re going to jump in my window and eat me up!”

My grandfather nodded his understanding then got up and closed the window. (You’d think my college-educated parents might have thought of that.) Still, the glass was very thin, so I was only partly reassured. (Arizona coyotes are nothing if not tough, wiry, and determined.)

Seeing that I was still alarmed, Grandpa looked around my room until he found my shiny pink twirling baton. He put it in my hands and said, “Here, you can fight off a coyote with this.”

I figured I probably could. I was a pretty awesome twirler for a five-year-old. “But,” I said, “what if there is more than one? What if there are threeteen?” (Math has never been my strongest subject.)

“We’ll leave the door open,” he said. “You yell for help and I’ll be here before you’ve finished clobbering the first one.”

I’ve slept soundly ever since.

I didn’t understand why this plan was all I would ever need to feel secure until I had joined the Church and been through the temple. The endowment teaches us to look for types and symbols in all things. I realize now that my grandfather taught me a simple, but eternal, plan to save myself from every coyote in life. Every single one.

You’ve probably already guessed that I no longer fear those mangy things with four legs. The scariest coyotes come around when you’ve faced long-term unemployment and are about to lose your house. A worse beast is the news that your youngest son volunteered for a special assignment in Iraq, one that he doesn’t expect to survive. Coyotes certainly arrive when a doctor tells you that he removed a twenty-pound tumor from your only daughter and the prognosis doesn’t look good; or when you’re diagnosed with a crippling, life-threatening disease for which there is no cure.

Because we live in a world that is subject to natural disaster, pestilence, and death, in a time of uncertainty and surely gathering darkness, and because we agreed to strive under a plan in which even evil men have free agency, the coyotes are more numerous and more numbing than any other time in history. Fortunately, my grandfather’s plan always works.

First, you close the window. This is the physical preparation that helps keep fear at bay. You put aside a little money when you can. You store life-sustaining food and water. You keep yourself as healthy and fit as you can against the day that maybe you can’t. You get as much education as you are able. You learn to make, make-over, make do, and – gasp! – do without. In other words, you practice sound principles of thrift and industry as best you can.

But sometimes it’s not enough to shut the window. Those rotten coyotes will sometimes break in, no matter how well prepared you think you are. That’s why the rest of the plan is the most important: you grasp that baton for all you’re worth and you yell for Somebody bigger and stronger and older and wiser and much more all-powerful to help you out.

You’ve known since Primary that the iron rod is the word of God. The baton, then, is the scriptures – and every word that proceeds forth as scripture in these latter days. My husband made a list of every counsel President Monson gave in the last General Conference. I put it up on my bulletin board and sent it to my kids because these words can save our lives – spiritually and physically.

There have been times when the scriptures have literally saved my life. The challenges, the despondency, the despair – the coyotes – were just that bad. I couldn’t cope. But I found in the scriptures that the Lord had a plan for me, even when I didn’t know what it was. Learn of me, listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my spirit and you shall have peace in me. Sometimes the only peace in our lives is found in the Savior.

Seeking the Lord is, of course, that call for help. Sometimes we wonder why He isn’t there, forgetting that we haven’t called. We think that sure He knows our perils and needs before we do ourselves, so where is He in our time of need?

He is bound as we are bound. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek. Knock. Ask. Our Father answers our prayers – always, always, always, always, always. But we can’t say, “Take it away!” and expect it to happen. (At least that doesn’t work for me.) We have to plead, “Please show me the way through!” and He will.

Oprah is a gajillionaire, Dr. Phil has his own show, and sometimes-shallow people are getting rich writing books of “secrets” because there isn’t a mortal in this world who doesn’t fear coyotes. Everybody looks constantly for some complicated magical formula that will keep them at bay. Even in the Church – where we absolutely know better – we tend to inwardly groan and roll our eyes when the counsel is always the same: organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing. Read the scriptures. Follow the prophet. Attend faithfully to your prayers for your flocks and fields and families. But, people, it simply isn’t any more complicated than that. There hasn’t been another plan since the beginning of time. We don’t need another plan because this one works. It’s the only thing that does.

In the last fifty years, coyotes have circled my house. They’ve yipped and howled in the distance, pooped in my flowerbeds, and scratched on my doors. Once or twice they’ve even broken a window and crashed into the room, but they have never yet eaten me up. They never will as long as I have an iron rod and an open door to my Savior.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Media Moguls and the New Bookstore

By Julie Coulter Bellon

There is Christmas music on radio stations.

It’s madness I tell you. The day after Halloween, Christmas music started being played round the clock on several radio stations. I think they do it purposely to annoy people because you know by the time Christmas is over we will have heard every Christmas song ever sung at least 1000 times. Some media mogul that owns the stations playing Christmas music for two months straight is probably driving around pointing and laughing his head off at all the people he’s annoyed, and then for his own listening pleasure, he turns on his MP3 player to hear anything that isn't Christmas music. Or, perhaps the media mogul looks like Buddy the Elf and loves Christmas. Maybe he’s out there right now delivering Christmas-grams to all his friends with his radio stations blaring Christmas music in the background. And Mr. Media Mogul, if that is the case, and your only thought was to bring Christmas cheer to your friends the day after Halloween, then I profoundly apologize for calling you annoying.

Well, the good news is that I’ve started Christmas shopping and my goal is to have it all done before Thanksgiving this year. I even know where I’m going to start next Saturday because, in case you haven’t heard, there’s a new toy store and independent bookstore coming. It’s called Provident Book/Humdinger Toys and from the previews of the products they carry, it looks like a great place to start my Christmas shopping for my family.

The Grand Opening is next Saturday, Nov. 15th (661 W State, Pleasant Grove, UT) from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and they will have a drawing for prizes valued at over $300, plus a 25% off coupon, and a ton of great authors doing signings throughout the day. I will post the updated author signing list as soon as I have it. I am currently scheduled to sign with the illustrious David G. Woolley and I can't wait to meet him personally.

For a preview of the toys and to download the 25% off coupon, go here

Bring your Christmas list. I know I’ll have mine!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Chips Off the Old Block (?)

by Stephanie Black

My fourteen-year-old daughter got to skip school on Monday morning. For her, this fact alone would be enough to qualify the day as awesome, but the day was rendered awesome beyond all awesomeness by the fact that she missed school to go to the zoo and participate in a discussion with Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-renowned primate researcher. My daughter volunteers at the zoo as a Teen Wild Guide, and ten of the TWGs were chosen to join in the discussion with Dr. Goodall regarding a new chimpanzee observation program. This was an incredible thrill for my daughter, who would far rather meet Dr. Goodall than any movie star or pop music icon. Dr. Goodall even autographed the sleeve of my daughter’s Teen Wild Guide T-shirt. How totally cool is it to have a T-shirt autographed by Jane Goodall?

My daughter has always been interested in animals, in sharp contrast to me—I don’t have any pets, nor do I want any, nor will I allow any in the house unless they are in a contained tank or aquarium, and even then, the range of pets I would consider is limited. I sound seriously grinchy, don’t I? Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with pets. My family did have a cat—actually a series of cats, but that’s another story—but that didn’t start until my older teen years, when I was close to heading off to college, and I didn’t have much to do with the cats. But my daughter loves animals and loves learning about animals. Next summer she wants to go to condor camp. She’s particularly fascinated by condors.

It’s fun to see my children’s interests blossoming, and it’s fun to see them exploring interests that are different from my own. My seventeen-year-old daughter has long been passionate about police work (again, in sharp contrast to me. I find police work fascinating in a theoretical sense, but I am one-hundred-percent Wimp and would make a terrible cop). My daughter was delighted to be able to skip the youth Halloween dance last week because she was at the police department, playing the part of perpetrator or victim in new officer training scenarios. They need people to play roles so rookie cops can practice dealing with different situations, and my daughter loves helping with this kind of thing. She’s also played a victim at SWAT training before (and I’m glad the huge fake bloodstain on the leg of her jeans came out in the wash). On Halloween, she went to the mall to dress as McGruff, the Crime Dog. Apparently this involves getting very warm inside the McGruff costume and getting mobbed by small children.

On a completely unrelated note, I’m getting excited about the Whitney Benefit Auction—too excited, in fact. (Help me, help me, I can’t stop bidding!). New fun stuff is getting posted regularly, so of course I have to keep checking back, looking for new treasures. And it’s a win-win—I get to feel good about spending money to buy fun things that I want because, hey, the money is going to the Whitney Awards, and I want to support the Whitneys. It’s a really fun way to support a good cause. Go to the Whitney Auction site and check things out. You can either buy items for the listed price at the Whitney site, or do it the fun way like I do and go to eBay and bid on the items. And keep checking back—more items are coming—and soon you too can have that heady feeling that says, “I’m the highest bidder!”

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting and other stuff

by Robison Wells

I went and voted this morning. I stood in line for about twenty five minutes. When I finally got into the polling area (still standing line) the guy next to me (a friend of mine) said that he hadn't yet decided who to vote for. I jokingly told him that he should vote for Ralph Nader, and a poll worker hurried over and told me to SHUT UP, because I was breaking all kinds of laws by campaigning in the polling place.

So, that's how voting went.

Then, during class, my wife called me on my cellphone, and I snuck out to answer. She was in the building! And, even more fun, our power had been disconnected! Hooray!

As it turned out, it appears to have been a clerical error wherein the power company thought that we hadn't paid our bills for three months. (I know this is a clerical error because I always pay my bills before they're three months late. Two months late, I'd believe, but three months? Never!) So, anyway, I left class and went down to the power company offices to straighten things out, and everything is fine, except for the fact that my wife is right now sitting at home in a dark house. Perhaps she and my son are playing "Murder in the Dark" over and over. That game would probably be pretty easy with just two people. (Though made somewhat harder by one of the people being three years old.)

So, apparently, I should have voted for whichever candidate was offering Power Company Clerical Reform. Nader, probably.

In other news, I submitted a book to a publisher on Saturday. I haven't done that in three years, and it feels kind of nice.

In other news, I'm quite pleased that this election is about to be over. I'm not like many people who are sick of the politicians--I'm sick of their constituents. Give me debates and arguments about policy all day long, but if I have to listen to one more person spout off about which candidate hates America more, I'm going to hammer a campaign sign into my head. Now all we have to do is get through the few weeks after the election when all these bloggers and morons tell us what terrible decisions we made.

(Way back in my first book, one character says that he loves going to city council meetings because he likes to listen to irrational people giving their irrational opinions. I thought I liked that too, but enough is enough.)

Anyway, I need to get back to my homework. If you haven't voted yet, please do so. And write me in for County Surveyor. We'll turn this county around, you and I. (It's easier to survey that way.)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Things Even the Author Didn't Know

First, let me just say that Doug Wright of KSL radio in Salt lake has got to be one of the most genuinely nice people ever. I had the opportunity of being on his Sunday morning interview show this week, and it was great. I’ll let you know when I have the link available to listen to. Now on to my “literary” post.

For the last fifteen years or so, I have been in one sales management position or another. At many of those companies I have asked my salespeople to read a book. But it might not be what you expect. It wasn’t Bryan Tracy, it wasn’t Og Mandino. It wasn’t even The Little Red Book of Sales. The book I used a training tool for my teams of successful sales reps wasn’t even a sales book. It was a novel. I asked all of them to read Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card.

I know, it sounds like a weird choice for a sales training book, but if you’ve read the novel you may remember that there are several different teams that Ender is a part of. Each of these teams has a different management style. One has a dictatorial leader that demands strict obedience by each team member. Another allows for gorilla-style tactics by giving each team member free rein to do what the want. Each of the team management styles has pros and cons. The strictly controlled group can not respond to unexpected changes of a loss of the leader. The gorilla-style group doesn’t communicate well enough with each other to coordinate against organized offenses.

When Ender creates his team, he not only creates a new management style (with sub-captains) but he allows uses unorthodox methods to offset unfair settings that are thrown at him. After my salespeople read the book, I like to talk with them about what kind of sales team they want to be a part of, and how the approach can help them succeed.

I don’t think that Scott Card imagined Ender’s Game as a sales training tool. And yet, it fills the role admirably. So my question for you today is, “What books have inspired you in ways that you don’t think the author intended?” And authors, “Have you received e-mails or letters from fans who got something out of your book that you didn’t realize was there?”

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Calling In Sick

This is the third weekend in a row I've had some sort of awful illness/injury. I'm dragging myself to the computer to let you know that there'll be no blog from me tonight as I feel like death. If things are better tomorrow, I promise to make up for it.