Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, May 31, 2010

And They Didn't Live Happily Ever After?

According to a sports column I recently read, every three seconds a child is born. That comes out to roughly 28,800 children every single day! By that math, there have been over 800,000 children born into this world that have no idea what a blog by Jeff Savage is. Yikes!!!

Okay, so that’s my way of saying I haven’t blocked in four weeks. I would apologize, but the truth is that I suddenly find myself with potentially four series of books, a new job, and I am traveling nearly every week. I love to blog, but if it comes down to getting my day’s writing in or doing a blog, writing will almost always win out. Huh, guess that makes me a writer. But I am remiss, and so yeah, here I am. I promise I will try to do better.

Speaking of traveling, last week I was in New York for business. Thursday night my boss and I realized that if we hurried we could go to the city (we were working and staying on Long Island) in time to catch a show. I quickly discovered three things. Long Island traffic is a bear. There are NO public toilets in all of Manhattan. (Not totally true but it felt like it after a dozen or so Diet Cokes and the aforementioned traffic.) And NYC rainstorms give you absolutely no warning before soaking you to the bone.

The good news was that we found a cheap parking garage only a few blocks from Times Square, I remembered where the half-price day of the show ticket place was, and there were plenty of shows available. The other good news was that my boss’s wife is a huge theater buff. Her dad wrote the script for Saturday’s Warrior and founded Tuacahn. So we called her and got several recommendations for shows. We’d both seen all the old classics, so we picked a play called Next to Normal. The lead won a Tony last year and the play won a Pulitzer. This was good because I don’t like silly shows. I can watch Les Mis a hundred times over, but force me to watch A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, or even worse, Pirates of Penzance, and I will literally chew my fingers to bloody stumps.

So we saw the play. And it was amazing. The acting was superb. The singing was the kind that makes you go right out and buy the sound track. There was quite a bit of profanity, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring that if the story is gripping. And the story was gripping. But here’s the thing. It is the story of a family dealing with the death of a child, and a mother who is seriously mentally unstable. From midway through the first half you realize this play can’t possibly end happily. The child won’t be brought back. The mother may get somewhat better, but they won’t all live happily ever after.

(There is some mild profanity in this video, but it is TV level)

Of course this is not new. Lots of books and stories don’t end happily. Think Romeo and Juliet. Think Somewhere in Time. Do any Jane Austen books end happily? I’m sure they must, but from what I’ve seen on TV they all seem to be about dour women and effeminate men. Not a happy combination from my point of view. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard Mr. Darcy is supposed to be hot but really, come on, his name is Darcy. Tell me that kid didn’t play with Barbies when he was little. Okay, I’ve gotten off track.

My point was that there are lots of stories that don’t end happily. I wrote Into the Fire, a modern day retelling of the story of Job in the Old Testament. You know that isn’t going to be a total upper. When I walked out of the play, my boss asked if I liked it. I told him that I’m not sure you can really say you “liked” a play like that. I was moved by it. I was enthralled by it. I bought the soundtrack and can’t stop humming “Superboy and the Invisible Girl.” But did I like it? I’m not sure.

So how about you? How do you feel about stories that do not end with “and they lived happily ever after?” Can you love a story that leaves you sad at the end?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's Not the End, It's a New Beginning

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Today my daughter is graduating from high school. As her mother, it’s such a sweet moment for me. She has grown and matured into such an amazing woman and I know it’s trite, but I am so proud of her. So many memories are going through my head today—the first moment she was laid in my arms, her first smile, her first tooth, her first Christmas, her first steps, her first day of school, her first tooth fairy experience, her first broken bone, her first date, the list goes on and on.

But one “first” in particular has especially been in my mind’s eye. When she was a Sunbeam, she was asked to give her first talk in Primary. We were so excited and we practiced the talk at home until she had it memorized. (It didn’t take long, she has an amazing memory). The day finally came. I sat on the tiny little chairs in the Primary, waiting for her turn, a little nervous, and hoping she wouldn’t forget anything we’d practiced. When it was time, she walked across the small stage to the little podium and stepped up to the microphone. I stood as well, because I was going to stand beside her and hold the pictures while she talked, but she gripped the microphone and said, “Sit down, Mom, I can do it myself.”

Everyone chuckled as I sat down. She did her talk without any mistakes and as she sat down, she shot me a triumphant look, like she was saying, “told you so.”

So here we are many years later, and I’ll be sitting in the audience again, waiting for her turn, a little nervous for her and hoping she won’t forget anything she’s learned and practiced over the years. She’ll walk across that stage and I bet she will give me that triumphant look and a little smile that says to me, “told you so,” but this time, she won’t have to say, “Sit down, Mom, I can do it myself,” because she’ll have shown everyone that she did do it herself, and she did it well.

Love you, honey. I’m so proud of you. Congratulations!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco

by Stephanie Black

We decided to do something fun as a family on Saturday, a plan which resulted in a certain amount of groaning from some of the kids, because it would involve getting up early instead of sleeping in. But we wanted to go to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and if you’re going to do that, you want to get there early, or you might find yourself with nowhere to park. That happened to us once. We drove all the way to San Francisco (takes about an hour) and went to the Academy only to discover that we couldn’t find a parking spot. The parking garage was full. The surrounding street parking was full. We drove around for a while, and then my husband suggested he could drop us off while he went to find parking. Then we saw the huge line outside the museum—people in line just to get inside. That’s when we gave up. We messed around on the beach for a little while, watched some surfers, picked up some pastries at Tartine, and went home. Not sure it was worth the time on the road, but man, the pastries were good.

You know how Monk takes place in San Francisco? You know how whenever Monk and Natalie go anywhere they can just park right in front of their destination, no problem? Lies. All lies. I’m a big fan of having places to park, which is probably the biggest reason I’m a true blue suburbanite. Big cities are interesting, but just so danged inconvenient.

Anyway, back to Tartine—that marvelous bakery is one of our favorite spots in San Francisco. If we don’t see a parking spot, my husband drops me off and then drives around, maybe eventually finding a parking place, while I go stand in line to buy delicious fruit frangipanes and éclairs and brownies and such. On the drive home, I divide up the treats into pieces and pass them around so everyone gets to taste everything. I end up covered in crumbs and bits of flaky pastry, but it’s all worth it. Another favorite eatery is Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf—mmm, clam chowder in a bread bowl. Oh wow, that sounds good. Now I’m hungry.

So we successfully arrived at the Academy early enough to find a parking spot and proceeded to have a great day, with only a little suffering sprinkled in to keep things interesting. The rainforest biodome with all the butterflies was awesome. The aquarium was great. But my five-year-old did NOT like the planetarium show. She’s still traumatized from the motion sickness she experienced at an IMAX movie, so she was afraid this giant show-on-a-dome would be the same type of thing. She sat on my lap the whole time and kept her face buried, until the very end when I told her they were now just showing still pictures of the night sky. She snuck a few peeks then. I feel her pain—I have trouble with the wild motion of IMAX-type things too. The older I get, the less I can handle such stomach-twisting experiences. Same with rollercoasters.

It was cold and windy—which SF often is—so we went to the car to eat our picnic lunch and cruelly instill false hope in drivers. Since we were parked near the entrance, people would pull into the garage and stop to wait, thinking we were leaving. We had to wave cars on until finally the flood stopped—they must have switched the sign to say the garage was full.

Right across from the Academy is the de Young Fine Arts Museum, so we went there as well. They currently have a special exhibition called the Birth of Impressionism, featuring works on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It was cool to be able to look at Monets and Renoirs and such. My older daughters enjoyed it, but my younger son almost died, he was so bored. He declared it the worst hour of his life, and when my husband told him we’d only seen a fraction of the museum, he started crying. Poor guy. Fortunately for him, we went home rather than look at any other exhibits. I can’t blame a nine-year-old boy for not being bowled over by famous paintings. Now if it had been a hands-on computer exhibit, that would have appealed to him. We'll go back sometime without the younger kids. There's only so much culture they can take.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost: An Explanation For Newbies

by Robison Wells

Lost just ended. I'm sure you all watched it. I didn't, because I stopped paying attention back during Season Two when I realized that the writers were just makin' weird stuff up, with no rhyme or reason.

I'd actually assumed that almost everyone gave up on Lost, but it turns out that I was wrong. 90% of the world still watched it, apparently, and it's all they've been talking about for the last week.

So, as a public service to all those who gave up on it, I'm going to recap the season. This is based on vague memories of the first season, and the few snippets I've overheard from various watercooler discussions over the last six years. I assure you it's 100% accurate.

First of all, there was a plane accident, wherein the plane ripped in half. I don't suppose you can call this a plane crash, because the damage was done before it hit the ground. The reason for the accident? Electromagnetism. (The electromagnetism was possibly controlled by a fellow named The Smoke Monster, who later wore a suit and made one/several of the characters feel bad about themselves.)

So now they're all on the beach of this island, and they're all really happy that they're alive, or sad that they're stranded, and they're all hiding deep, dark secrets. And one guy, John Locke (named after the famed keyboardist of the rock band "Spirit"), can walk! This is significant because he used to be in a wheelchair. How was he miraculously healed? Electromagnetism (which was possibly controlled by The Smoke Monster.)

There were other people on the island also, including a pregnant lady, a Korean couple, a hot murderer and a big fat guy who plays golf (and some other people).

The first thing they discover is that this island is populated by crack-addicted Hobbits. One of them, Charlie, tells the others that they need to throw a ring down The Hatch.

From here on out, things get a little murkey. There's this group/thing called the Dharma Initiative, who moved out to the island specifically trying to escape the late-90s sitcom Dharma and Greg. It would appear that they also brought polar bears with them. Why? Electromagnetism/The Smoke Monster.

Then things start getting crazy, as characters and storylines go back in time and also sideways, because what's the point in writing just one incomprehensible story if you can write three!? Or eight!?

But the show is not all wacky crap and jokes. There are also important social issues addressed. For example, the fact that all the characters kowtow and submit to the Howells--despite the fact that money is of no real use on the island!--might lead one to assume that there is a true natural aristocracy: that certain people are just better than others, and should be served. On the other hand, it could instead be interpreted not as an intrinsic superiority, but as a social construct that is too strong to break, even out here on this island where there are no social constructs. Or, it could be chalked up to electromagnetism.

So then, when all seems bleak, there's this timeline that tracks all of the characters for us, and I think you can agree that there's no way I should be able to keep track of this show. There was a Crash 2? And a thing that's only called "Incident"? And someone named "False Locke", who is actually The Smoke Monster? (I'm not making that one up. He actually is.) And what crazy crap happened in January of 1989? "Various unknown" things? At least we can rest assured that, no matter what various unknown things were happening in January of 1989, they were accompanied by The Bangles' "Eternal Flame".

And then the show ends. We find out that the True Meaning of Lost isn't really about knowing anything, but about feeling good in our hearts. Because the island isn't really a thing that we should understand, but a mirror through which we might understand ourselves, Brother.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Virus Ate My Blog

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've mentioned my connectivity issues recently, and that we've switched to another internet provider.

But this style of connecting didn't have the firewall we were accustomed to. So despite having multiple protective software programs on my computer, I got infected.

And not just any little old infection, but a great big raging one. Some of the more famous viruses out there, including one that even my computer guru husband couldn't get rid of (it was a hijacker; which meant that whenever I clicked on a link some new, fun window would open instead. Mostly they were "harmless" in that there was nothing to see but if you did what they asked you to more viruses would have invaded, but a couple of times there were very, um, inappropriate windows opened).

The only thing my husband could do was completely blow away my computer and start from scratch. Because of his technical know-how I was able to move my all my files and documents and pictures over to a computer that we use solely for data storage. He wiped the whole computer and started over.

And as anyone who has done this knows - this is not a short nor easy process. So I have been without my computer for the last week and he finished it up last night.

Which got me to thinking - this could have been much worse. I might not have been able to save my files and Word documents that have my writing in them.

But I've been trained to save everything in more than one place when I'm working on something important. So when I am writing a book or writing down ideas, I save them on my computer and our storage computer so that I never lose anything.

What do you use as backup? How do you make sure you don't lose your work? Have you ever lost anything significant because of computer problems?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Character Bibles

by Julie Coulter Bellon

First of all, my book, Dangerous Connections was reviewed on Meridian Magazine today (along with some other books). Go check it out here

Thank you to everyone who commented on last week’s blog. We didn’t have chicken mesh on our floors, thank goodness, but we did have layers of mess that have been more than difficult to deal with, that’s for sure. As for character bibles, Jeff Savage would be the best one to address this topic, since he teaches a class and a hands-on workshop about it, but as I have attended his class, I will attempt to explain what a character bible is. (If Jeff is reading this, feel free to jump in, or do a blog series on it. I loved the class!)

A character bible is an in-depth look at the characters in your book. It’s more than a character sketch, and is something that includes a lot of info that will probably never make it into your book, but is worth it's weight in gold. For example, you have all the basics, your character lives in the big city, but was always a country girl at heart. You know what she looks like---long brown hair with a beauty mark just above her top lip. She’s tall and has always been self-conscious about that, and she hates lettuce. Is she an only child? Does she have any talents or phobias? Does she have a pet? What’s her job? All these little details are important and add to your bible, but a complete character bible goes deeper than that. What motivates your character deep down? What’s her inner turmoil, her private diary-like story that governs the decisions she’s making today? What is really keeping her, both externally and internally, from achieving her goals and dreams? What is she bringing to your story? As the author, you have the ability to get to know your characters deeply and well, and the character bible is just writing what you know about them and thinking about what you don’t know about them so you can write it all down and have it for future reference and still allow room for your character to grow and surprise you.

For example, one of my character bibles is about a character in my book whose job is an international arms dealer. He has dark hair, he is meticulous about his looks and physique, he enjoys fine dining and fine women, and is very charming. He speaks four languages, but he prefers English and attended boarding school in London. He is very security conscious and guards his private life closely. Those are some of my basics. But if we look further, we find that he has a father who abandoned him at a young age and he was forced to grow up very quickly when his mother became ill. He loves architecture and history and knows a lot of trivia about French architecture in particular. At one point, he wanted to be an architect, but needed money for his mother’s treatment so he gave up his dreams, got hooked up into the criminal underworld and tries not to look back and feel regret. He doesn’t trust easily because of his abandonment issues and doesn’t do commitment well. He contributes to a lot of children’s charities to help assuage his conscience that sometimes overcomes his business-like attitude.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture by now. And when you combine all of your character bibles, sometimes what you get surprises you. The particular character I described above really did a 180 in my book because once I realized what his true motivations were, I was able to write him more true to form in situations that hadn’t been working for me. And his other interactions with my main characters began to take a more definite shape because his backstory was there for me to refer to and rely upon. It was invaluable to my novel.

So, to sum up, the character bible was my foundation for the people in my book. As I got to know them, their story just jumped off the page and intertwined itself with arcs and subplots that I hadn’t thought of before I’d done the character bible. It’s an exercise that is totally worth your time as an author and can provide details and story ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. It’s a piece to the puzzle and adds detail and depth to your writing and I think once you do one, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it can be to fit everything together. You’ll wonder how you ever wrote without it!

*Disclaimer—Not every writer will like character bibles or do them. I’ve tried them, I’m fascinated by what they have added to my writing, and they work for me, so that’s why I mentioned them here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Happy Campers

by Stephanie Black

I’m thinking I’d better not spend too much time blogging. There are some other things I ought to be doing, because—urggh—it’s going to freak me out to even say this—there are only, like, six weeks until girls camp. Aaarrrgggghhhhhhh!! My blood pressure! Did I mention I’m stake camp director? For the first time? And that stake camp director was #2 on my list of Most-Feared Callings? (Relief Society President is #1). That when I’d look at the former camp director (who is as amazing as Julie is), I’d feel like I could NEVER do that? When the stake presidency gave me the calling, I was scared to death. This is a huge organizational calling and, as you know if you’ve been around the blog for a while, I’m not an organized person. Plus, I have a terrible problem with procrastination. I have trouble getting my library books back on time, and I’m supposed to be in charge of a stake girls camp? I think it’s pretty clear there’s something the Lord wants me to learn from this calling. I also think it’s clear He has a sense of humor.

But in the months since the calling, I’m already discovering that there are a lot of blessings associated with this calling, one of which is the people I get to work with. I have two fantastic assistants and a fantastic high councilor over camp. And our camp staff—wow! Right now, we’ve got 96 girls on the list for camp and over 60 leaders. Yes, you read that right. I’ve got over sixty wonderful stake members willing to take time off work, or arrange care for children at home, etc., and head up to the Sierras to serve as counselors, rappelling staff, waterfront staff, cooks, hike leaders, certification leaders, craft leaders, nurses, and campfire/activity leaders. It is truly awesome, and I’m so grateful for everyone who is willing to serve. I’m also grateful to have experienced leaders at the helm in the various departments, because I’m clueless. For example, I wouldn’t have a clue where to start planning food for 160 people for a week—the very idea completely freaks me out. But our head cook knows exactly what to do. I love her.

I figure the first year will be the hardest, since there’s such a big learning curve. Next year, I’ll feel a little less green. I hope.

Right now, we’ve got a couple of staffing holes to fill, and we need to finalize the counselor groups for the girls (our girls aren’t divided up by wards at camp; they’re divided up by camp year). Then comes . . . oh wowie . . . scheduling. Which group is at waterfront when, which group has KP duty when, and so on—all the scheduling that makes camp run smoothly. Each counselor will receive a set of laminated cards (to be worn on a lanyard), which contain the schedule for the day. I hope we can pretty well keep most of the schedule from last year and just alter things a little to accommodate any needed changes, because otherwise my brain might melt. Like, seriously, melt, like gray ice cream left in the sun.

Needless to say I’m behind on things, so I’d better go. Our kickoff “Back to Camp” night is next week . . .

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book Layers

by Julie Coulter Bellon

We’ve been replacing floors in our house for about two weeks now. It’s an interesting process because as we lifted one layer, there was another underneath, and then another underneath that. We ended up having to replace a layer because the people who built our house didn’t give the floors a very solid foundation. It reminded me a lot of writing and how if you don’t have a solid plot and character foundation, the layers on top of that won’t be stable and probably will need to be replaced. That’s why I think things like a light plot outline and a character bible can be so important in making our story foundations as solid as possible. Then when we add in sub-plots and secondary character arcs, it all flows nicely together to make a beautiful finished product.

I’ve been reading two novels recently that exhibit this characteristic. The first one is Imprints by Rachel Nunes. It’s a paranormal fiction about a girl named Autumn Rain. She has an extraordinary gift of reading “imprints” that are left on objects. The book starts out with Autumn trying to help two grieving parents who are searching for their missing daughter. The first chapter draws you in so subtly, and before you know it, you have a great character in front of you, one that is so intriguing you can’t stop turning the pages. I love how Autumn feels so real, with insecurities of her own mixed with hopes and dreams. Her quirks of never wearing shoes and only eating healthy food set her apart in this day and age, but it fits so well into the mold of her character it almost seems normal. The story moves along quickly and even though I shouldn’t have had an extra minute to finish it, I found myself almost compelled to finish it. My stomach was in knots when Autumn was in danger and I just couldn’t leave it. It’s a book that raises questions and leaves its own imprint long after you put it down. I felt like the paranormal element was just one more thread in a multi-faceted character who is so well-written she almost jumps off the pages. I think Nunes has provided us with a clean, well-written story that is multi-layered and like a spider’s web draws you in until you are so wrapped up in it, you won’t put it away until its done.

With an experienced writer like Rachel Nunes it’s seems almost effortless on her part to provide us with the foundation of the character right up front without the info dumps and to build the layers of foundation so that it’s a rich and fully developed story throughout. However, the second book I read was by a first-time author who also has a solid writing style and builds the same sort of foundation.

Turning Hearts by Deanne Blackhurst is the story about a woman who has had a dream that she is supposed to find someone and she is the only person who can do it. So she calls off her wedding and decides to go on an LDS mission. While I thought there could have been more emotion in the beginning so we actually felt how torn she was between the man she loved and her decision to find the people in her dream, the real foundation of the story comes as she leaves on her mission. The book is very realistic in how it depicts sister missionary experiences in the field with all the discouragement, successes, and pressing forward no matter what. It was interesting to read through the experiences, since I’ve never served a formal mission myself, and I thought that the main character was very realistic in her insecurities and how she deals with how difficult her life becomes. There is a nice twist at the end that gives the story even more depth, and I thought the author did a great job in showing growth in her characters. Blackhurst obviously knows how to weave a story that is inspiring as well as intriguing. My only real criticism, as I mentioned, was the lack of emotion in the beginning and how easy it seems to be for her to put off her wedding. I guess I just wanted to see her agonizing over it so I could feel it with her, but that small omission is like a knothole in the foundation, something that can be filled in and covered over later (and it was in the story). Deanne Blackhurst is a talented writer with a knack for depicting strong believable characters who are just trying to do the right thing. Her foundation is a little slower at being built, but once it gets going, it is full of well-written layers that lead to something beautiful and satisfying in the end.

While my floors are still a work in progress, I know in the end the floors will be beautiful and it will have been worth the time and effort. Just like Imprints and Turning Hearts, these novels have something unique about them and at the end, both of them are definitely worth having on your "Books to Keep Forever" shelf.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Draaafft One!

by Stephanie Black

So I am now the owner of ninety-eight thousand words, including The End. I finished the first draft of my work-in-progress. Some of those words are notes and such, but in a first draft, everything is word count you can be proud of, including flyspecks on the computer screen and the paragraph my daughter added about a spy army-crawling toward an ice cream vendor. Okay, I deleted that paragraph. It was a very funny paragraph, but rather unnerving, in the sense that someone had . . . erk! . . . glanced at my work-in-progress, which is what I get for leaving the file open on my computer. I don’t like eyeballs—save my own—looking at my first drafts. It feels like “get out of my head!” Of course, it’s not like I’ve got people lined up to read my first drafts. “Hey, I hear you’ve got this story that needs tons of revision. Send it over, will you? I love stories with flat characters and a timeline that looks like a twisted Slinky.” If I ever get really angry at someone, I’ll send them a first draft. That’ll fix ‘em. They’ll need therapy to sort their brain out.

Okay, it’s not that bad. The basic story is there, and I’m pleased with it. But, obviously, it needs work. I need to do a better job of knitting the subplots together. The characters need rounding. That part I changed my mind about needs fixing, since it no longer makes sense. And I do need to figure out the timing. When I’m drafting, I don’t like worrying about exactly when everything happened. How many years has it been since (important backstory)? How many days have passed since (plot event)? Sometimes I just put an X in the file in the spot where a number will go. “X days ago, you tried to murder me with an old boot and a ward bulletin folded into the shape of a swan.” She dropped her Cricut Personal Electronic Cutter on his foot. “And now you say you love me?” (Note the romance thing: LDS audiences dig romance).

Locations are another thing that sometimes end up with Xs in my first draft. Where does so-and-so live? I can always figure it out later, if needed—I can just name it X for now. I’ve got a location issue right now: I’d originally envisioned two important story locations as being an hour and a half apart, but now, with all the back-and-forth the characters ended up doing, I’m thinking I need to shrink that distance. Of course, shrinking it too much might create other issues . . . hmm. How about an intermittent wrinkle in the space-time continuum so the distance can be shorter or longer, depending on story needs? That’ll work. When in doubt, make things up that are contrary to fact; that's my motto.

Anyway, I’m delighted to be moving on to the second draft. I love having a complete manuscript to work with, as opposed to a blank file. And the timing is good, because we’ll be doing editing on Cold as Ice soon, and it’s nice to have this first draft out of the way before shifting back to my other book.

Let the revising commence!

Completely random way to end this blog: Don't you think Sarah Eden's name is totally a perfect match for the romances she writes? It's a classy, beautiful name, and there's this wonderful Garden of Eden-paradise connotation. And don't you think Jeff's name is a great name for a mystery/horror writer? I mean . . . Savage! Imagine if his name were Jeffrey Rosepetal Snookums. That just wouldn't evoke the same kind of chills. Chills, yes, but not the same kind.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What? Rob? Here?

Dear Internet,

I missed you, baby. I'm coming back now and never going away again. (Maybe.)

It's been a while since I blogged, and I really have nothing prepared today--but, if no one posts today then whose blog will Anonymous comment on??? So, you know, this is a public service.

In light of my desperation, today's blog follows in the tradition of previous desperation posts. Media I Have Consumed!

Catching Fire , by Suzanne Collins
I read The Hunger Games in one day, up on the sixth floor of the Tanner Building while I was supposed to be studying for a finance exam. I was not, as you can see, the typical MBA student.

I've been postponing reading Catching Fire because I just wasn't expecting it to be as good as its predecessor. I don't like love triangles (and there appeared to be a major one) and my assumptions about the plot were that it was going to be repetitive--a retread of Book One. I'm happy to say that I was very wrong on the latter worry, and the love triangle was mostly painless.

In fact, I think that Catching Fire can be used as an example of How To Write a Sequel. The author managed to capture the tone and feel of the first book perfectly, and managed to keep the plot elements that readers loved (the games, the preparations, etc) but their inclusion was necessary, inevitable and different, not fan service.

Wives and Daughters
We have recently acquired a modern miracle in the form of a NetFlix Wii DVD. (I don't know the product's real name.) The disk lets you access hundreds of movies on demand. And, more fun, the selection is based on NetFlix's guesses about your movie preferences. It's been fun (read: bizarre) to see what an algorithm assumes I like.

One of the movies it suggested (based on my wife's preferences, I hope) is Wives And Daughters, a mid-nineteenth century movie that I want to call a Regency but which probably isn't. The story is basically this: there are daughters and wives, and the main character is really cute. I don't really know much more about it, despite it being eight hours long. My wife liked it. I was in the same room, but probably paying attention to something else.

All the President's Men

One thing I find interesting about this movie (also a NetFlix Wii find) is that it is incredibly lean--there's absolutely no fluff. Every scene and every line is important.

I think the thing I love the most about it is that they don't dumb anything down. There's no significant exposition, and they spend very little time explaining things to the audience. They expect you to sit still and pay attention. It's a convoluted and complex mystery, and the writers throw you in headfirst. It's refreshing.

I've always thought the ending was a little abrupt. It's the only part of the movie that I'm not sold on. But, just like there's very little exposition, there's very little (or no) denoument. I don't necessarily dislike the ending, but it's jarring.

The Neverending Story
This was also a gift from NetFlix. I hadn't seen it since I was probably seven years old. And, if you're wondering if it holds up years later, the answer is an unequivocal, unwavering: HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THIS WEIRD THING?

RiffTrax: Twilight and New Moon
RiffTrax, if you're unaware, is made by the people who did Mystery Science Theater. (If you're unaware of MST, it was a TV program that showed old crappy movies, and three characters watched the movie and mocked it. It's a classic of awesome awesomeness.) After MST was cancelled (due mainly to being unable to afford the rights to use movies), the writers got together and started RiffTrax. They record an audio commentary that you listen to while watching a regular DVD. And, because this avoids copyright issues, they are free to make fun of any bad movie, not just old crappy public domain ones.

That was a long introduction to a short review: RiffTrax offers audio commentaries for Twilight and New Moon, and they're howlingly funny. Downloading a commentary only cost $3.99. You need to do this. Tonight.

American Idol
As you know, I like American Idol. In particular, I like guessing who will win/lose. Hopefully you also know that Tristi Pinkston and I have a blog where we talk about this. We're nerds. (Her more than me, though.)

Currently, I'm ahead of her in the predictions by two points. Depending on how merciful we're being, however, she's ahead of me by three. Consequently, we're not being very merciful.

Natalie Merchant, Leave Your Sleep
My favorite artist of all time (well, maybe besides the Beatles) is Natalie Merchant. You may recall her as the lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs in the 1980s. You might also recall her from her highly acclaimed 90s albums, Tigerlily and Ophelia. You likely won't recall her from the 2000s, because she started getting weird. I still totally, completely love her.

And then this CD came out. It's her very distinct folksy style, but the songs are all based on childrens' poems, some old and some modern. The combination is very weird. All the lyrics are things that only kids would like (one extreme example being Ebeneezer Bleazer's Ice Cream Store) but kids wouldn't like the music. In other words, there's no audience for this.

Except me, I guess, because I like it. I don't love it, but I like it.

Band of Skulls, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey
I discovered Band of Skulls a year ago on indie radio in Minnesota, and instantly fell in ooey-gooey love with them. And then one of their songs was included on the New Moon soundtrack, so a million pre-teen girls are also in love with them. Sad.

Even so, the music is awesome.

So, that's been my media consumption for the past few weeks. Tune in next week where I might actually blog for real!

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Church Mother's Day Traditions

I posted a couple years back about a new tradition the men in my ward started - the women were let out of class 15 minutes early, brought to the gym, and pointed in the direction of the amazing food tables that had been set up with fruit and desserts for us. The first year I remember the women sort of walking around with their mouths hanging open - it had truly been a surprise and it was like no one could imagine that people would do something like this for them. It stopped after the third year for reasons I still don't fully understand, and I miss it. It was such a treat!

But our ward does what's been done in wards most of my life - at the end of Sacrament they ask all women 18 and up to stand and they hand out pretty roses (it's been different flowers in the past - one year it was even a potted plant!).

They also have all the men take over all the women's callings in different organizations (like Primary) so that everyone can go to Relief Society. The RS lesson the past few years has been the same - visiting teaching (which I suppose makes sense seeing as how it's the one time a year we're all in the same place).

This year they added a little something extra - the teachers had us sing this song together, and I was impressed by the cleverness, so I thought I'd share.

This song was written by Shel Eldredge and is posted here over on It's sung to the song "Bare Necessities" from Disney's "The Jungle Book."

The Bare Necessities of Visiting Teaching

More than the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about percentages, let’s love
More than the bare necessities
Our Heavenly Father’s recipe
To bring our sisters back to Him above.

Wherever I wander, wherever I roam
I’ll share His message, inside her home.
I’ll share some scriptures, two or three
I’ll share a little part of me
When you look for guidance in your call
You’ll find you want to give your all,
Then maybe do some more
The extra mile will get you right inside her door.
Inside her door.

More than the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
More than the bare necessities
Our Heavenly Father’s recipe
To help His daughter’s have a happy life

When you call to schedule
Make sure to smile
Then keep your appointment
Stay for a while
Don't talk of neighbors down the street
But keep your lesson short and sweet
Always have a prayer
Keep the spirit there.
Then you know you’ll be aware
Can you see her needs?
The Inspiration that you seek
will come to lead Will come to lead!

More than the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Let’s help our sister’s feel their Savior’s love
More than the bare necessities
Let’s serve our Father willingly
And help us all get back to Him above.
We’ll visit teach, we’ll serve with His pure love

Do you have any traditions for Mother's Day in your ward?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Habits of Successful Writers

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I have no wonderful news to share except a link I got from Robison Wells this morning. A lady named Angie Lofthouse attended our class at the conference and blogged about it. You can read the entire blog here

But some of the highlights included: “One of the best classes I attended was The Top Ten Habits of a Successful Writer in which Julie Coulter Bellon and Robison Wells debated two complete opposite top ten habits lists.”

She thought our class was one of the best she attended! Woohoo!

“Anyway, the point was that we all write differently.”

She totally got the point that the writing process and journey is different for everyone. Some may only write when they have large chunks of time, others may write when they have fifteen minutes during carpool. Some do tight outlines, some don’t outline at all. Some have critique groups, some get by with readers. Some research, some make it up as they go. Writing is really an individual thing and you have to find out what works for you.

Angie also put down her own top ten list and I loved the things that she chose. I think I might print it out and use it myself, especially number five. If you haven’t already, go read it!

And that is one of the things I like about our writing community. We all support each other and we all share freely what works for us so that other writers can also try new ideas. It's like a big family with quirks and foibles who all reach back to help those around us.

Another thing came to mind as I was thinking about that class. One of the comments stuck out to me because it was something I hadn’t really thought about before. The commenter said that every book requires a different success list. For one book you may research heavily and have a tight outline. For another book you may make it up as you go and have a light outline. So not only is every writer different, so is every book, and it’s up to us as the author to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Not that we needed more to think about, but I think it is true and something to be aware of.

I was glad to hear so many positive comments from our class and from the conference. It's very motivating to me to be surrounded by writers and ideas. I must admit since I’ve come home from the conference I’ve been writing like a madwoman. I’ve revised the first half of my current work-in-progress and am about to finish it off and submit it. It’s always a little scary to be near the end, but exhilarating, too. And since one of the habits of a successful writer is to submit and then start on something new, that’s my plan.

So if you were asked for your list, what would you say are habits of a successful writer?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Disney Was Right

by Stephanie Black

My daughter and I were standing in line at the Provo Marriott, waiting to enter the ballroom for the Whitney gala, looking all inadvertently coordinated in our matching blue and black (my daughter figures if she’d been in seventh grade, she wouldn’t have gone out in public with me like that. I mean, how embarrassing to, like, totally match your mom. But now that she’s an adult, legally speaking, she realizes that hey, Mom is the ultimate in cool, and what greater honor than to dress like her AND to have her borrow my sparkly rhinestone shoes?) (I completely fabricated part of that preceding parenthetical insertion. You can guess which part, but guess wisely, or you might hurt my feelings). Anyway, as we stood there, a woman approached me and said, “Stephanie McConkie.” I looked at her, and behold, the bells of recognition did ring, which is pretty miraculous for me, because I’m not always good at, you know, memory things, like who I met at a conference or where I parked the car. But I recognized her right away—my dear friend Jennifer James, who lived in our ward in Salt Lake when I was a teenager. My sister and I had lost touch with Jennifer years ago, but she would still come up in our conversations, and we would have loved to get in touch with her again. And here she was, walking up to me at the Whitney gala! It was an awesome it's-a-small-world moment, and the fun of that reunion became brain-fryingly cosmic when I found out that Jennifer is married to my friend Jon Spell. Here’s a picture of us at the Whitney gala:

I became cyber-acquainted with Jon a few years ago, here on the Frog Blog (um, is that how we met, Jon? About those memory issues I mentioned . . . ). I then met him in person at a booksigning in Utah. Since then, he’s test-read a couple of my manuscripts for me, and I’ve appreciated his feedback and insights. I knew his wife was named Jennifer, but naturally, it never occurred to me to wonder, hmm, I wonder if his wife could be my long-lost friend Jennifer, whom we would love to get in contact with? So to find out that “our” Jennifer had been right there all the time, married to Jon—well, I think my brain is still short-circuited with amazement and delight. It was the most epic small-world episode I’ve experienced.

It’s amazing to me how many small-world connections there are in the LDS community. I just found out that Storymakers conference chair Jaime Theler is the daughter-in-law of a couple who were in our ward when I was a child living in Arkansas (it was at the Thelers’ house where a stray bottle rocket blew up in our 4th of July cake). Rob Wells’ wife Erin is the cousin of one of my best friends from high school. Jeff Savage used to work with my aunt.

It seems like wherever we go, there are connections. I moved into our California ward to find that the Gospel Doctrine teacher was my sister's dear friend from her BYU/Houston days. My mother walked into our Boston ward to find an old friend from junior high school.

How about you? Got any fun small world stories?

(I asked my daughter about small-world stories. A few minute later, she walked in, singing, "It's a small world after all." When I started laughing, she said, "It's not funny! I'm going to have that song stuck in my head forever!" Ha ha! My work here is finished.)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Great News and An Awesome Night

First, let me share some good news of my own. (Not quite as cool as Rob's, but hey whose is?)

Although I haven't talked about it much, there was a chance the last three books of the Farworld series might not get published due to the economy. But thanks to Chris, Lisa, and others at Shadow Mountain, the series is a go again.

I can't tell you how excited I am to know that Farworld will live to see the end of the series. One of the biggest reasons I didn't say anything was because one way or another I was determined to see the series completed. But all along I hoped that Shadow Mountain might bring it back, so I could keep the look of the books the same.

If you are a Farworld fan, please take a second and e-mail Heidi Taylor, Chris's assistant at Shadow Mountain to tell them thanks!!!!

Second, I am long overdue in thanking my friends in Eureka for one of the best nights of my life. Late last year, Eureka Elementary invited me to come to their school for an assembly and book night. They bought books for almost every student between the grades of 3rd through 6th.

The day of the assembly, I had an awesome time talking to the students about reading, writing, and finding their magic. That night I showed up a the school expecting a normal book club and literacy type meeting. What I found blew me away! I showed up to discover the front of the school had been turned in the Westland Woods. Inside I found Master Therapass and Bonesplinter waiting for me. That was amazing enough. But when we got done, the curtains were pulled back to reveal projects ranging from Farworld posters, to Farworld dioramas, to full animations of Marcus and Kyja. Even a Water Keep made completely out of jello and a 12 inch high Burger Barn complete down to the tiniest details. I was literally brought to tears. Here are some pictures.

Eureka Elementary has magically been transformed
into the Westland Woods.

These are the sons of Olden in the Westland Woods.

Here I am with some of my good friends, flanked by
Master Therapass and Bonesplinter (complete with scar!)

Look out Brandon Dorman, these kids make some amazing
book covers.

Screech encases Kyja in ice in the
Cavern of the Unmakers

As if it isn't cool enough to get a map in your book,
here's a 3-D Farworld map!

One of my good friends with her awesome
Farworld diorama.

Marcus and Kyja trapped
by the Unmakers

Lousy picture taking on my part, but
here is another friend with her diorama.
Recognize that blue head?

The staircase in Marcus's school where it all begins.
Complete with his mangled wheelchair at the bottom!

Don't you wish you had a Power Point of your book? :)

This is an actual animation of Screech
being tricked into exploding Kyja's ice chamber. Cool huh?

Water Keep in Jell-O! Who knew?

Some of my younger friends with their great drawings.

A way cool Water Keep poster.

My good friend, Curtis , with his hand-made
Burger Barn.

Is that not the coolest thing ever!!

I swear half the town of Eureka was there. It was amazing. And then Curtis gave me his Burger Barn. It now sits right above me when I write my books.

Thanks, Eureka, you totally rock! And, Curtis, I have something special to send you as soon as I get it.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Can I See Jesus?

by Sariah S. Wilson

Having to post now after Rob's fantastic news is sort of like being the next author at a signing after Stephenie Meyer. People are still in the building, but really, do they want your autograph?

So I thought I'd share a sweet moment I had with my 2-year-old daughter today.

We were driving in the car on our way to church, when she asked me, "Mommy, can I see Jesus?"

"You want to see Jesus?" I clarified.


I can see how she might think such a thing is possible. I asked her once where Jesus lived, and she told me, "Utah." It makes sense - that's where everyone else she loves lives, and it's really far away.

"Even if you can't see Jesus," I told her, "He can always see you. And you can feel him in your heart."

That seemed to satisfy her.

She's currently into naming everything as "ours" - here's our neighborhood, there's our mailbox, here's our house.

So as we pulled into the church parking lot she said, "There's our church!" She paused, and shook her head. "No. That's not our church. That's Jesus's church."

"It is?"

"Yes, that's his church."

I got her and her baby brother out of their car seats and as we reached the door, my daughter stopped, looked up at me, her face beaming and said, "Mommy, I love our Jesus."