Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top Ten Books for 2010

by Julie Coulter Bellon

It seems that the trend this week has been to post what your top ten books of 2010 were that you read. I think I shall do the same, but I couldn’t choose between Josi Kilpack’s Key Lime Pie and Devil’s Food Cake, so they are tied. Or, you could say I posted my top eleven. Whichever makes you happy. So here we go:

Cold As Ice by Stephanie Black was one of the creepiest books I read all year. Loved how it kept me guessing!

Wrong Number by Rachelle Christensen had suspense and romance and was really well done for the author’s debut novel.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins was a good ending to the series. I didn’t love all the violence, but she did tie up everything with a few surprising twists and turns.

A Time to Die by Jeff Savage was the book I’d been waiting years to read and it was well worth the wait. I love Shandra mysteries and hope there are many more to come.

Alma the Younger by H.B. Moore was a riveting book and really made me think about Alma and his life. I just love books that I think about long after I’ve put them down.

Between the Lines by Erin Klingler was a book with romance and intrigue including a nicely layered plot with likable characters. Can’t wait for her next book!

Courting Miss Lancaster by Sarah Eden makes me smile whenever I think about it. I loved the author’s style of writing, her humor, the way she writes the time period, I love everything about this book. This is a book I will read again and again just to remember all the good parts.

Key Lime Pie and Devil’s Food Cake by Josi Kilpack are books I have a hard time not gushing over. I love this series. Josi writes the main characters so well you’d think they were real and the plots are incredibly well done. I think I’ve recommended this series to everyone I know. It’s that good.

Crossfire by Traci Hunter Abramson is another in the Saint Squad series and this one features an old flame for Seth, an escalating terrorist threat, and lots of heart pounding action.

Murder by Design Betsy Brannon Green continues the story of Kennedy Killingsworth and it has all of Betsy’s southern charm with a mystery woven in between. It totally sucks you in and keeps you reading all night.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m going to start the new year off right by reading Sarah Eden’s new book The Kiss of a Stranger, Traci Hunter Abramson’s new book, Smokescreen, Cross My Heart by Julie Wright and I will be first in line to get Josi Kilpack’s new Blackberry Crumble. I got Decision Points by George W. Bush for Christmas so I am reading that, as well as the How to Train Your Dragon series that I’m reading with my son. I think 2011 is going to be a great year for books and I can’t wait. Did all of you make a top ten list of books that you read in 2010? What were your top picks?

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Does the Future Hold?

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Chanukah, or whatever you and yours celebrate at this time of year. The Savage household has been busy visiting, sharing gifts, playing new games, watching movies, and eating the amazing food prepared by the gorgeous and talented Mrs. Savage.

The trend among author blogs this last few months seems to be writing blogs posts about what advice you would give your younger self if you could. Rob made some great points in his post about the same subject. I always find the line between hindsight and foresight so interesting. I want to tell things to my younger self, and I also want to ask things of my future self.

For a long time, my wife and kids and I used to go camping at the same place every summer. Every time we unpacked and set up the tent, we would discover things we had accidently left in its many inside pockets. Flashlights, change, receipts, paperbacks. Each year, I would think that I should write my predictions of what I thought we would be doing the next summer and slip them into the tent like a mini time capsule. Because invariably, my guesses at where I would be in a year would have been wrong. Even cooler would have been if I could open the tent and find messages from my future self.

Many people wonder if they would have been willing to take advice from their future selves. On the one hand, we have plenty of people with experience who we don’t listen to now. Would we really listen to our older and “wiser” selves? As Rob said, sometimes you have to learn things for yourself.

I wonder if my current self should even be giving advice to my previous self. I imagine one of the first things I would have told my former self is to focus more on grades and get a degree. Not having a degree has been a major barrier in my life at times. And I’m definitely encouraging my children to finish college.

But would it have been the best thing for me? If I had gone to college, earned a degree, and landed a solid job with a big company, I certainly wouldn’t have spent a year cleaning out toilet drains. Our family might not have experienced the financial ups and downs that seem to mark many of my holiday memories.But would I have started writing books? What a terrible tradeoff it would be to gain financial security, only to lose something that has brought so much joy to the lives of my family and me.

A couple of years ago, I was laid off from the company I’d worked at for about four years. I made a huge decision, not to look for work in 2009 and instead to pursue the dream of writing fulltime. At the time, if I could have asked my former self one question, it would have been something like, “Will this decision work out financially?” The answer? A resounding no. It was an incredibly stressful year, constantly on the brink of financial disaster. Always trying to book the next school event, and sell a few more books. It put us in a hole we are still climbing out of.

Had I known then, what the results of my efforts would be, I would have taken the first job I could find. And the result would have been that the Farworld series would have almost certainly died. I’ve received over 3,000 e-mails from readers asking when the next Farworld book is coming out. That date is still a little up in the air, but there wouldn’t be a next Farworld book, or most of those e-mails, had I known then what I know now.

If I could give advice to my former self, what would I say? Would I tell me to get another job? Would I have explained how hard that year would be and about the financial ramifications? Or would I have said, “Suffer through the trials, for the sake of the future?” I don’t know. If I had told myself everything that was going to happen, I might not have been able to promote the series with the same energy and excitement that I needed to put in those kinds of hours. In retrospect it was probably better that I did what I did without knowing how the future would turn out.

Our family likes to go see movies together. We are also part of the weird group that stays all the way through the end of the credits (to the total annoyance the employees waiting to come in a start cleaning.) Mostly we like to stay because we believe that it is kind of an homage to all the people who made the movie possible. But sometimes we also get rewarded with an Easter egg—a little scene that doesn’t play until the very end when almost everyone has left. It’s a little thing.

The people who left before seeing it don’t feel like they missed anything. It’s not a key part of the movie. But sometimes it can be one of the most enjoyable parts for us. When I look back at the year of doing school visits, a lot of what I remember is being sick all the time and watching every penny. At times the difficulties seemed almost unbearable. And if I had known that at the end of the year I would be back searching for a job, I might very well have given up.

Then I think back about the amazing friends I made. The fun my wife and I had traveling to schools as small as twenty students. How much time we spent laughing. The fun of bringing our kids with us when we could. Eating in tiny little restaurants in cities many Utahans have never even heard of. The overall experience was incredibly trying, and certainly not what I thought it would be. But like the Easter Eggs at the end of movies, the little things made it so wonderful.

I have no idea where I’ll be next year. When will the next Farworld book come out? How will The Fourth Nephite series turn out? Will Demon Spawn sell? Will writing become a bigger part of my life, or will it take a smaller role? I’d love to ask my future self these questions. But it’s entirely possible that even if I could, my future self would refuse to answer. You’ve probably heard the saying that the journey is more important than the destination. I would add that sometimes what makes the journey so enjoyable is not knowing exactly where or what the destination is.

As you finish up the year past and head into the dark and unknowable future that lies before you, I hope you can keep from being overwhelmed by the big picture and enjoy the little things along the path you follow. Best wishes and happy New Year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

From all of us, to all of you, a very Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a joyful New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Books That Shape Us

by Julie Coulter Bellon

As writers and artists we have a unique opportunity to touch the hearts and minds of those around us. I treasure the letters that I’ve received from people who have read my books and said that their perspectives were changed while reading or who said they received a bit of respite from overwhelming trials by reading my books. There is just something so wonderful about being able to reach people through my books---words and stories that came from my imagination. It’s an incredible feeling.

I’ve also been touched by books throughout my life. I know it sounds corny, but I’ve always loved Shakespearean plays. The tragedy, the characters, they’ve all brought something to my view of the world. I also love Jane Austen and the society and characters she wrote about and loved. I will always be grateful for the Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and the Hardy Boys series from my youth. They were a great escape for me and I could always count on some great mystery and adventure.

There is one book, however, that changed my life forever. It's not fiction or easy reading, but it is something substantial and foundational. The man who translated it was born today, in a small Vermont town, over two hundred years ago. His translation work resulted in a book that has touched the life of millions, changed world perspectives, and provided respite from overwhelming trials much more than any work published since. This book is revered across the world as another testament of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The book is the Book of Mormon and the man who translated it---whose birthday it is today---is Joseph Smith.

So, at this holiday season, when I am counting my blessings, remembering my Savior, and feeling humble awe at the mission and life of Jesus Christ, I will also be thinking about how grateful I am for a young boy who was obedient to God, who withstood the persecution and trials that were heaped upon him for saying what he knew to be true, and for his unwavering faith as he translated sacred records. The Book of Mormon is a foundation stone in my life and I am grateful for the words within its pages. I cannot imagine the person I would be without it. I know my heart has been touched irrevocably as I’ve read it, and today, I’m going to just take a minute to express the gratitude I have for Joseph Smith the prophet on his birthday.

I also want to say that I am most grateful for the friends I have here at the Frog blog and I’m so lucky to know you all. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Precious

I have joined the future. Or something momentous like that. As of my recent birthday, I have entered the world of ebooks. My husband gave me a Kindle.

I hadn’t thought much about e-readers, beyond wondering if my husband would like one—until a day or two before my birthday, when it was too late to ask for anything, and suddenly, I really, REALLY wanted a Kindle. My wonderful husband had figured this out before I did, and had bought one for me. I was thrilled.

I was not the only one excited by this new addition to the family. My ten-year-old son is our resident technology whiz, and new technology turns his brain cells to fireworks. He wanted to see the Kindle, handle the Kindle, play with the Kindle, pull out the groovy little built-in book light on the Kindle cover, and so on. Meanwhile, being a possessive new Kindle owner, I’m nervous at having these inquisitive and sometimes inadvertently destructive fingers handling my new e-reader. So we’ve got him hyperventilating, microchips flashing in his eyes, while I clutch the Kindle to my chest and hiss, “Don’t touch the Precious.”

Along with the Kindle, my husband gave me my first ebook—Betsy Brannon Green’s new Kennedy Killingsworth mystery, Murder by Design.

I quickly added to my collection (in a wonderfully complementary gift, my parents had given me an Amazon gift certificate). I bought a copy of Gone With the Wind (how many copies of that book have I gone through? The size of it makes it fall apart, but now on the Kindle, it will never fall apart again! O joy!), To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis (I already own it in hardback, but it’s one of my all-time absolute favorites, so of course I wanted it on the Kindle), Josi Kilpack’s Key Lime Pie, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game (one of my favorites from childhood on up), and Julie Wright’s Cross My Heart. My husband added Moby Dick, his favorite book. One of these days I really should break down and read Moby Dick. Maybe having it on the Precious will tempt me to try it out.

My parents-in-law sent me some money for my birthday, so I used that to buy myself a bigger purse. I had a fairly small purse, and I wanted a purse big enough to comfortably hold the Kindle so I can take it with me on the go. I love how easy it is to take the Kindle with me—I can just slide it into my purse, and then if I get stuck in a long grocery store line, or what have you, I can pull it out and start reading. I like to read while exercising on our old Elliptical, and the Kindle works great for that too.

This blog brought to you by!

Just kidding. Unfortunately, they didn’t pay me to do Kindle ads, but I am really enjoying my new e-reader. I have now read Betsy’s book and half of Julie’s book, and have discovered that I really enjoy reading in e-format. I’m particularly delighted that LDS publishers are starting to make their books available in e-form. My library doesn’t stock LDS novels, and in a sad economic turn of events, the little LDS bookstore ten minutes away closed down a few years ago, and last year, the Seagull Book in Oakland followed. There is still a bookstore in San Jose, but I very rarely am in that area. I can order online, of course, but now, with ebooks, I can get my hands on LDS novels in seconds.

This is bad.

Bad for my wallet, I mean. It’s so EASY to click the mouse and there’s the book, right in my hands. It would be WAY easy to spend too much money that way. Talk about temptation.

I’m also delighted at the thought that Whitney Academy reading will be much easier with the Kindle. Many of the Whitney finalists provide their books to the judging academy in PDF form, which meant that last year, I spent a lot of time reading on my computer. But with the Kindle, I can now read Whitney finalists while exercising, standing in lines, etc. Only problem is, we haven’t yet worked the bugs out of how to change PDFs into a readable format (but I know it can be done!) No matter what we’ve tried, it's turned out weird. When I put a PDF straight on the Kindle, the fonts is too small. When I tried to enlarge it, it was promptly too big—I would have had to scroll side to side. I tried converting it—the formatting came out way weird. My son, Techno-boy, tried converting it to a Word doc, which almost worked, but, strangely, changed “th” to a big exclamation point. Hmm. Well, we’ll keep trying. Backup plan: buy magnifying reading glasses and read the small font. Or hand the Kindle to Techno-Boy and tell him to let me know when he’s figured it out. He’d love that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advice to My Younger Self

The Writing Excuses podcast (run by my friends Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells) recently had an episode that has really stuck with me for the last week. The concept was that they were going back in time and got to give writing advice to their teenage selves. Their advice ranged from the very specific (Dan told his teenage self to stop playing video games) to the abstract (Howard’s advice was to quit waiting for things you can’t control).

I was listening to this podcast while driving through the barren wilderness of northern Nevada, and it gave me a lot of time to ponder: what would I tell myself? As a teenager, I was in a different situation than Dan and Brandon—I had no idea I wanted to be a writer. At the time I thought I’d be a visual artist. I didn’t spend my spare time conjuring up stories; I spent my time painting and drawing. So, any advice I gave my teenage self would be along more abstract lines: quit being lazy, practice harder, don’t assume you know everything, etc.

But if we’re talking about advice I would give myself in my early writing days, there are several things I can think of. The first would be the same as my advice above: quit being lazy. Early on, I didn’t like revising at all. Even my first published book was very rough, and it got published because of a miracle rather than because of literary quality. It wasn’t until my third book that I really learned the benefit of rewrites and revision. It was a painful lesson to learn. One major rewrite was caused by a hard drive failure, the other was at the request of my publisher. It was horrible at the time, but I learned how much better writing can be if you work at it again and again.

By the same token, I think I’d give myself the advice to work from an outline. I’ve always been a hybrid of discovery writer and outliner, but it was only relatively recently that I realized how helpful it is to know the structure of the story—especially how it’s going to end. I spent two and a half years muddling through a YA novel—one that had a fantastic premise—that had no end. I didn’t know the end, so I didn’t know the scope, and I type a hundred thousand words that just couldn’t go anywhere. On the other hand, every time I’ve outlined something from the very beginning—even if I go back and change the outline later—the books have gone much better.

All of that said, I wonder if giving myself writing advice back then would have helped anything. To a large extent, I think that the best way to learn about writing is simply to write, to screw up, to write some more, to revise, to get feedback, and to keep at it.

I recently read through The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes. I’d read it before, back when I was first starting to write, and I remember thinking how stupid the book was. The advice was dumb, and it was obviously written by someone who didn’t know what they were talking about. Now, when I read through it again, I found myself nodding my head on almost every page, thinking about how correct the advice was. There’s a lot you can learn through How-To books, but I don’t think you really understand any of it until you write and write and write.

So, I guess my main advice to my younger self would simply be: Write. By amazing coincidence, that was the very first advice that anyone gave me when I started down this path. As I’ve mentioned before, eleven years ago my brother Dan told me “Everybody says they want to be a writer. Everybody says that one day they’re going to sit down and write The Great American Novel. The difference between a writer and everybody else is that they actually do it.”

So, what writing advice would you give younger self? Do you think it would even be helpful, or do you need to learn from experience?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Critique Groups

By Jeffrey Savage

Okay, this video has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with today’s post, but It makes me laugh every time I watch it. So, yeah, that probably makes me weird. But consider it my white-elephant gift to you.

Once again, I find myself in a position to do a meaningful holiday post, full of seasonal wishes and good cheer. And once again, I am thinking, “I will never be able to pull off anything as funny as Rob. Even when he' doesn’t post it kind of makes me laugh. I won’t be able to do anything as quirky as Stephanie, as touching as Kerry, as filled with misfortune as Sariah, or as Canadian as Julie.” So why even try? Instead, I’ll leave the holiday stuff to my fellow Froggers, and write about, well, writing.

Yeah, I know not all that exciting. But wait, I have an excuse. Recently Julia (Not Julie) Wright e-mailed me and asked if I would post something about critique groups. Being the hero that I am . . .

. . . I was like, “You know I have a really good piece I did on marketing a couple of years ago. Or I could repost something of Rob’s.

And she was like, “No. You’re the best writer I’ve ever me. And the coolest. Please write something about critique groups.” (I may have taken a few small liberties with her exact words.)

How could I argue with that?

So, here goes.

When I first started writing, I had no ide what a critique group was. I wrote a book, had a few family members read it, sent it to a publisher, and six months later got a phone call that they had accepted it. Way too easy right? It was and is. But at that time I had no clue publishing was supposed to be hard. The good news was, my book got published. It just so happened the first book I ever wrote was a high-tech thriller. And the first publisher I sent it to was looking to add “guy books” to their line.

The bad news was, my book could have been much better. The first two chapters had pretty much every mistake you can make. Shortly after my first book came out, as I was finishing writing my second book, I moved from California to Utah. A whole bunch of great neighbors helped us move all of our stuff into our new house. I told one of them that I had just published a book. She immediately said, “Oh, you should join my critique group.” Again let me say that although I had published a book, I didn’t know the first thing about writing. I seriously thought she was trying to get me involved in a multi-level marketing scheme or something.

Once I figured out it was a kind of writing group, I agreed to come. It was right across the street and I didn’t know very many other writers. As if that wasn’t enough, it turned out that it was a group composed entirely of intelligent, attractive women, and I was the only guy.

I felt a lot like Snoopy in the above picture. At least I did until one of the women told me she didn’t think my first book was very good. Ouch! Then I discovered that the way things worked was that each person read aloud from their latest work in progress for six minutes. In those six minutes, you were supposed to read along on your own copy, and not only keep up but actually jot down useful comments that made sense.

And let me tell you, these women were brutal. There was the Grammar Queen. When you got your pages back from her it looked like James Bond had killed a room-full of nuns and blotted up the blood with your writing. Black white and red was everywhere.

There was the Inquisitor. “I don’t think he could fire a rifle while holding onto the back of a horse with one hand and hugging the hot blonde with the other. And you can’t laugh a sentence.”

The informer. “Ghosts don’t actually touch human skin. If they are going to choke your hero, he will have to be wearing a sweater with a high neck.”

And they were all good writers. One women was writing a romance set in Scotland in the 1400s or thereabout. I was afraid to make any comments about her work for fear I just didn’t understand the dialect. Another was writing a mystery that she made up as she went along. We’d ask something like, “So are you foreshadowing the death of the grandmother?” And she’d say say. “I’m not sure. I guess if the grandmother dies, I probably am.”

It wasn’t all stressful though. Every once in a while we’d discover a line that was so unintentionally funny that we couldn’t stop giggling. Like the woman who discovered her mother’s smelly chest. Or the investigator who urinated in the bushes while wondering if there was a leak. Or the rape victim who couldn’t decide because she felt torn. (Yeah, I know. That last one is really bad. But honestly, if you came across that line in a room filled with writers, could you keep a straight face?)

I had no idea at the time, that although a few of the members would come and go over time, nine years later, I would still be part of the group. By now, I think we have something like twenty books published between the six of us. We’ve added another guy, although he’s kind of a sissy, so I don’t know if that counts. More than anything though, we’ve all become much better writers. With nine years of critique experience, here are a few of the things I’ve learned.

1) It’s not as important as you might think to have everyone writing the same genre. It’s actually quite useful to have a romance writer, a historical novelist, a non-fiction writer, and so forth. Each of them can give you feedback that helps your work. Rob told me that my Hell in Demon Spawn needed to be “helled up” more. Several of the women told me what worked in my kissing scenes and what didn’t. Most books have a decent spicing of all genres combined.

2) It’s not even that important to have everyone writing at the same level. Admittedly it’s tough to combine a writer who’s still learning the basics together with more advanced writers. But the fact is that the newer writers either catch up quickly, or decide the group isn’t right for them. And while one writer may not know the difference between an em-dash and a hyphen, they might be an expert on the old west. The more important thing is that each writer is willing to listen and learn. Becoming better writers is what it’s really all about.

3) Location is a pretty big deal. When we first started our group, we all lived fairly close to one another, with several of us in the same town. Since then, we’ve spread out so that now, there’s a good forty-five minutes between those in the south and those in the north. That definitely makes it harder to get everyone together.

4) You learn as much from editing the work of others as you do from having your own work edited. One of the hardest things about being in a critique group is learning to give good feedback. One of our members is a great detail person. She really finds all the little punctuation flaws that I would totally miss. I’m more of a big-picture person. I’m kind of known for saying, “Okay. I just have a couple of things,” and then destroying a chapter. Personally, I have found that reading other member’s work critically has helped me find flaws in my own work. I tell someone what I think is missing in their writing, only to realize I’ve done the exact same thing in mine.

5) You have to be friends first. It can be hard to find a group that is both helpful professionally and good friends. I was really lucky that the people I joined were exactly the kind of people I would like to hang out with anyway. Sometimes you may join a group only to discover that you don’t get along with them. If that is the case, I’d suggest finding a new group. The reason I say this is because the actually feedback can be pretty grueling. There’s nothing like having a chapter you knew might need a “little” work, get dissected until you realize you have to write it completely over. That’s the hard part. The good part is being able to laugh at a really bad chapter, and encouraged to go back and make it better. Knowing that the members of the group are your friends first and last, makes the hard parts not as hard and the good parts even better.

6) Make sure you share more than just the critiques. This kind of goes back to the friendship thing again, but it’s about more than telling each other what works and what doesn’t in their manuscript. It’s about sharing joys and pains. About commiserating and celebrating together. Of course writing is what first brought us together, but sometimes we’ll spend the first hour just talking about what’s going on in our lives. We all have time when we don’t even have anything to bring that night, but show up just to enjoy the company of other writers. Writing can be a lonely business and you need good friends to share it with—friends who understand the ups and downs of writing and publishing.

7) Do what works for you. Our routine is pretty basic. We try to meet once a week. Each person brings enough copies of their manuscript to hand out one copy to everyone there. The first person to arrive goes first, the person who is hosting goes last. We hand out our pages, read for about six to ten minutes, and then get feedback in clockwise order. We write our notes on the pages we have been given and hand them back after giving our feedback.

Other groups work differently. Some do everything on-line. Some do an entire manuscript at a time. Some focus on just one genre. Some have a different person than the author reading. Mostly, you need to find what works for your group and then feel free to modify that as members and abilities change.

8) Find your niche. I will never be the king of grammar. I don’t do motivations as well as some. What I am good at is taking a chapter as a whole, and spotting what doesn’t work. Big picture stuff. I’m also pretty good at query letters. Don’t worry about not being able to do all things. The point of a critique group is to give enough quality feedback that the author can see for themselves what is working and what isn’t. If you are really good at creating realistic dialogue, use that. If you know romance inside and out, use that. It’s important that every member gives as well as receiving, so find what you are good at giving and focus on that.

I know critique groups are not for everyone. Some writers start with a group and outgrow it. Others feel like they don’t want feedback until a book is done. All I can say is that my group has and still does make me a better writer and a better person. At this time of year especially, I am so grateful for their talent. But even more I am grateful for their friendship. I can’t imagine any level of success, or lack thereof, that would make me leave this group of wonderful friends and writers. I truly hope that if you are looking to find a group of your own, you are even half as lucky as I’ve been.

Here's a shout out to the members of my group.

Annette Lyon

Heather Moore

Lu Ann Staheli

Michele Holmes

Rob Wells

Sara Eden

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to ask. I’ll answer what I can, and I know this really awesome group of writers who are happy to answer what I can’t.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Being AWOL

My mom recently had a pretty dramatic surgery and isn't recovering well. She's been home from the hospital for a week and she's still on an oxygen machine, so between taking care of puking kids and helping her out the best I can - I'm burning the candle at both ends. Please say a prayer for her if you get a chance so that she can recover quickly.

Will post more when things (hopefully) settle down.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Yet Another Christmas Letter (Quick! Turn off the Computer and Pretend You Didn't See it.)

by Kerry Blair

It's Friday again? Already?

Oh, dear.

Let's see . . . I haven't been talking to anybody about anything writing or publishing-related, and all I've been reading is 19th century Christmas lit -- most of which few people would recognize and/or care to discuss -- so where does that leave us?

Wait! I know! I actually wrote a Christmas letter yesterday! (The first since about 1988.) Want to read it?* Here it is anyway.

Gary & Kerry Blair’s Christmas Letter ~ 2010

With both our mailbox and inboxes overflowing with cheery Christmas newsletters, we’d have to be Grinches to let the year pass without sending forth glad tidings of our own. The rub is that when life is as rich and full as ours, where does one begin? **What is that? Oh! Good idea!** The pit bull suggests opening with something festive. Let’s see . . .

Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat! (But don’t say anything to her about it, okay? She’s very sensitive. I’m sure she’ll be able to drop a few ounces before pool weather returns in the spring.)

With the appropriate seasonal salutation out of the way, I’ll move on to the news. Judging by how many Christmas cards are being forwarded to us, the biggest news for many of you will be that we moved to Dewey-Humboldt! We love it here—truly, everything about it is perfect. Well . . . almost everything. There is a tragically empty stable and corral to consider. Pretty much all my little neighbor friends have horses, thus I have developed a virulent (and possibly fatal) case of equine envy. I begged “Santa” to bring me a pony this Christmas, but he turned very red and almost choked on his chocolate Ho Ho. Fearing an apoplectic seizure, I assured him that I am thrilled with my new dream house and that it alone will suffice as my gift for years and years to come. (Well, the house and the newly-released Twain biography. Don't forget that.)

Rest assured, ye merry gentlefolk, that our kids are jolly. Our daughter graduated with a degree in education then went to work as an assistant manager for Michaels. This seems only fitting since her brother with the economics degree has been teaching since his graduation. The other two boys, er, men are at ASU. Throughout childhood we endeavored to instill in our children a desire for higher education. Apparently we succeeded. We’ve had at least one kid in college every year of the last decade—and there is no end in sight. In fact, one graduate just took the LSAT so he could go back! Our fifth child, Bandi, remains here at home, chasing rabbits, hiding bones, challenging all comers at the fence, and otherwise making herself happy, if not particularly useful. The three cats are here as well—plus one stray more—but I hesitate to mention them for fear of being thought an eccentric cat lady. Which I am.

Lest we fall too far behind all you joyeux grandparents, we’re happy to announce that our family is also growing! Our new grandpuppy, Lyra Aries, is now six months old and the cutest, best-dressed Dalmatian in puppy school. She knows an impressive number of tricks, none of which are “Do not filch sugar cookie dough from the counter!” We also have two new grandtortoises, Nemesis and Crimson, named for our youngest son's squads in Iraq. (They are tough little tortoises.) Our oldest son has blessed us with a large number of grandfish, but since I don’t visit as often as I’d like, I have trouble remembering their names.

My mother still co-decks our halls, of course. Now that she’s almost 83, she’s had to cut back the hours she works. (Last week it was only 50 or so.) I’m sure she’d put in more overtime but for the hundreds of hours of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Dr. Quinn she’s recorded to see us through the long winter nights. (Hmm. It just occurred to me that perhaps I’ve been asking the wrong person for a pony. My mother is all about horses!)

And so life continues merrily and brightly along. Even with the many forms of communication available in these latter days, I remain a terrible correspondent. (No news there.) Please know how deeply Gary and I honor our sacred family ties and treasure forever friends. We may not see you in person this Christmas—or even this year—but you will be often in our thoughts and ever in our prayers. With all our hearts we wish a blessed, bright Christmas and joyous, prosperous New Year to you and yours!


*No, I don't actually believe anybody will read on, but it will fill an impressive amount of space, thus making it look as though the Frog Blog is not nearly deserted as it is!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deseret Book Refuses to Carry The Scorch Trials

by Julie Coulter Bellon

It was announced last week that Deseret Book has declined to carry James Dashner’s new book, The Scorch Trials, saying that the book, “contains language that some of our customers would find offensive.” The book is geared toward teenagers and contains the word “damn,” and also the phrases, “this sucks,” and “shuck it.”

The article brought up several issues that I have been discussing with my writer friends. Some have thought that Deseret Book is dabbling in censorship for readers, but I disagree with this premise. Deseret Book doesn’t carry the book in its stores, but you can special order it there, or you can go to any Barnes and Noble, or Borders, or wherever else to pick it up. In my mind, it’s not censorship at all when the book is still available to be read. There aren’t any book-burning parties here (although that might be a cool launch party premise since the title of the book is “The Scorch Trials.”)

Some also are of the opinion that this is just a publicity stunt to garner more publicity for the book and give it a “I have to read it since it’s got banned book status,” now. I don’t think management at Deseret Book is interested at all in publicity stunts. I believe they sincerely want to be careful of what they stock and how it is perceived. For example, I once met a woman who believed that the LDS church approved each book in Deseret Book so it must be okay to read whatever was on their shelves. While this is not true, I think there is a heavy responsibility placed on the bookstore because of its connection to the church.

Which brings me to the third issue that was brought up---are faux swear words as bad as real ones? When we say “shuck it,” are we really saying something else? Does our mind call up another word even if we’re saying “darn,” or “shoot,” or “fetch,” or “freak?” One of the phrases in “The Scorch Trials,” is “I’m with shuck face,” and one of his fans made a t-shirt with that emblazoned on it. (All I could think of when I heard that was the shirt having a picture of an ear of corn being shucked with a face on it. I know I’m weird. It totally wasn’t like that.) So is it better to say a faux word? And if that is the language that is the reason for it not being carried in Deseret Book, is that some sort of statement on what is or isn’t appropriate in shelved books and in regard to faux swear words?

No matter your opinion on Deseret Book refusing to carry James’ new book, the book itself is doing well. (And the publicity from it not being carried probably helped out a bit as well). The books that have been released in the Maze Runner trilogy are New York Times bestsellers and are being sold throughout the world. It is going to be made into a movie. I think James Dashner is a talented author who has earned incredible opportunities in the writing world because of his hard work and perseverance. I’m thrilled with his success. I might just be one of those in line at my nearest Deseret Book to order Scorch Trials. Or, I might just go to Barnes and Noble and buy one same day. Whatever method is chosen, I know I’m going to read it so I can see what happens in the story. Here’s a blurb on the Maze Runner, the first book in the trilogy:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.
Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

Now do you see why I want to read The Scorch Trials?

To read an excerpt of the book, or to read more about The Scorch Trials you can go to James’ website here

If you want to read the article on Deseret Book’s decision and see a picture of James hanging out in a Barnes and Noble writing, then go here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Rogue Shop

Don’t you love it when you read something by an author you’ve never tried before and find yourself thinking, “This is really, really GOOD"?

When author Michael Knudsen asked if I’d be willing to review his debut novel, The Rogue Shop, I pulled out the cautious line I keep in reserve for such situations: I’d love to read it, but couldn’t promise to review it. If I liked it, I’d review it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t. In our wonderfully supportive LDS writing community, I don’t want to come across as rude or un-team-player-ish, but I have, in the past, found myself in the situation of having agreed to review a book I ended up disliking, and I don’t want to get myself into that situation again. When I’m not familiar with an author’s work, I’m careful about committing to anything, because I don’t want to either write a negative review or go back to the author later and say, um, about that review I promised you . . . It’s better for both of us if I’m up front about the fact that I might not review it. I told Mike I wouldn’t be offended if he preferred to send that review copy to a different blogger who’d definitely review it, but he kindly said he’d send me a book anyway. To my absolute delight, I ended up thoroughly enjoying The Rogue Shop. In fact, I liked it so much that the instant I finished it, I sprinted to and nominated it for a 2010 Whitney Award.

The Rogue Shop tells the story of twenty-year-old Chris Kerry. Chris was raised in Houston by his Baptist aunt. As a teenager, he hits a rough, alcohol-drenched patch in his life, but shaken by a traumatic event, he gets his life in order, and gets a scholarship to the University of Utah. His aunt is horrified at the thought of Chris’s moving to Utah—her anti-Mormon pastor has given her a very negative view of the Mormons, and she’s afraid they might lure Chris into their grasp. She makes Chris swear on the Bible that he won’t become a Mormon. Of course, as a reader, you can guess the odds that Chris will keep that promise, but Michael Knudsen handles the conversion aspect of the story brilliantly. It’s NOT cheesy. It develops naturally in a satisfying, believable way, with some surprises along the route that caught me off guard. I love it when an author throws in those “whoa, I didn’t see that coming” moments.

The book is written in first person, from Chris’s point of view. He has an engaging, fun voice. My one criticism of his characterization is that in the narration of the story (not in the dialog, but in Chris’s mental observations), he sometimes doesn’t sound to me like a twenty-year old kid who spent half of high school getting drunk. He sounds more master’s degree than I would have expected. But that didn’t impair my enjoyment of the story; Chris was an interesting and fun character whom readers will be quick to root for.

Chris—completely penniless after someone steals his wallet—finds a job at a tuxedo shop. The people at the shop are an interesting and eclectic group. I’m particularly fond of disabled Travis, who defends himself against his feelings of inferiority by flaunting his intelligence and speaking in a highbrow elegant diction. Eva Chandler, the aged seamstress in her little basement workshop has an intriguing past that gradually unfolds as Chris gets to know her. I loved Eva and how her character developed. And I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I enjoyed how her story wrapped up—that was a very satisfying conclusion for her.

The book includes a romantic angle, and this is the kind of romance I like—not the obsessive all-hormones infatuation-at-first-sight-because-she/he-is-so-gorgeous romance, but romance solidly based on friendship and mutual respect. In fact, when Chris first meets the woman he later falls in love with, he isn’t instantly blown away by her beauty—it isn’t until later when he’s gotten to know her and like her that he begins to realize, wow, she is really beautiful. Michael Knudsen is careful to avoid making things too pat, too easy, or too perfectly packaged, and the ending of the book is very satisfying.

Michael also skillfully weaves drama and humor together. It’s not often that I both laugh out loud and tear up when reading a book, but The Rogue Shop made me do both. The plotting is solid and satisfying and the writing is vivid. I predict that The Rogue Shop will be a fierce contender for a Whitney Award (and don’t forget—Whitney nominations are due by December 31st!).

P.S. The Rogue Shop is also available for Kindle.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Some Christmas Spirit

by Julie Coulter Bellon

First of all, the true Christmas story compilation booklet that I am a part of got a great review on Meridian Magazine today! Click here to read it.

The Christmas season is upon us and I am marinating in Christmas spirit and family traditions. I love Christmas! There are stories and activities that our children look forward to doing every year and it really adds to the spirit of our holiday season. Today I wanted to share with you a video and two of my favorite Christmas stories. (As a disclaimer, the stories were going around the web for years so I’m not sure if they’re true or not, or even who to attribute them to, but I love their message anyway.)

There is just something so special to me about Christmas and children, and how the spirit of giving and love just seems to permeate the Christmas season. It is also a time of year when memories that last a lifetime are made and remembered. I hope that you find these things inspirational, like I have, and I hope you hold your loved ones a little closer this time of year.

The Christmas Video

This Youtube video is about a little boy who, at thirteen months, was diagnosed with leukemia and how his family and community came together to give him one last Christmas. Click here to watch it.

The Christmas Stories

The Teacher

Jean Thompson stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the very first day of school in the fall and told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the same, that she would treat them all alike. And that was impossible because there in front of her, slumped in his seat on the third row, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed he didn't play well with the other children, that his clothes were unkept and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy was unpleasant.

It got to the point during the first few months that she would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then marking the F at the top of the paper biggest of all. Because Teddy was a sullen little boy, no one else seemed to enjoy him, either.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's records and put Teddy's off until last. When she opened his file, she was in for a surprise. His first-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright, inquisitive child with a ready laugh." "He does his work neatly and has good manners...he is a joy to be around."

His second-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."

His third-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy continues to work hard but his mother's death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren't taken."

Teddy's fourth-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. He doesn't have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class. He is tardy and could become a problem."

By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem, but Christmas was coming fast. It was all she could do, with the school play and all, until the day before the holidays began and she was suddenly forced to focus on Teddy Stoddard.

Her children brought her presents, all in beautiful ribbon and bright paper, except for Teddy's, which was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a scissored grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents.

Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of cologne. She stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume behind the other wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed behind just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mom used to."

After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing, and speaking. Instead, she began to teach children. Jean Thompson paid particular attention to one they all called "Teddy."

As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. On days where there would be an important test, Mrs. Thompson would remember that cologne. By the end of the year he had become one of the smartest children in the class and...well, he had also become the "pet" of the teacher who had once vowed to love all of her children exactly the same.

A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that of all the teachers he'd had in elementary school, she was his favorite. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy.

He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still his favorite teacher of all time.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he'd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson she was still his favorite teacher.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor's degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still his favorite teacher, but that now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.

The story doesn't end there. You see, there was yet another letter that Spring. Teddy said he'd met this girl and was to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering...well, if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the pew usually reserved for the mother of the groom. And guess what, she wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And I bet on that special day, Jean Thompson smelled just like...well, just like the way Teddy remembered his mother smelling on their last Christmas together.

The Envelope

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas-oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma-the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."

Mike loved kids-all kids-and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition-one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.

May we all remember the true Christmas spirit this year and always.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Advice for Aspiring Writers

First off, I’d like to announce that I submitted my manuscript! Woohoo! I’m not scheduled to start panicking about it for a few weeks, so in the meantime I can try to accomplish something else—like shoveling out my wreck of a bedroom. My six-year-old daughter gets scared at night sometimes and will come lie down on a blanket on the floor next to my bed. The other night she came in, but was still scared—thought it looked like there were scary things in my room. I can’t blame her. The place was rather a house of horrors, especially if you have a junk phobia. But I worked in there for a while yesterday, and in some spots, I actually—are you ready for this?—found the floor.

Anyway, onward to today’s blog topic. I got a message the other day from a daughter of a friend. She’s finished the first draft of a book and is seeking advice on editing and publication. I thought, hey, this would make a great blog topic! Then yesterday, I was reading Julie Wright’s post on the Writing on the Wall blog and found that Julie was discussing that EXACT topic. Whoa. I now feel this cosmic connection with the universe—the same connection that ensures that, if my husband has Mexican food for lunch, I will, on that very day, make Mexican food for dinner.

So here’s my advice for aspiring authors: go to the Writing on the Wall blog and read Julie’s post, where she quotes advice from author Phyllis Towzey. Then come back here and I’ll add a few thoughts of my own.

. . .

Okay. Now that you’re back, here are a couple of other things to consider. In addition to seeking outside feedback, make sure you’re thoroughly educating yourself on fiction technique so you can evaluate your own work. Back when I first started writing, I don’t remember thinking about fiction technique. I’d always loved reading novels, so I could write one . . . right? It wasn’t until I had a partial manuscript that was going off in too many different directions that I picked up my first fiction technique book and started to realize how much technique goes in to writing a novel. Anyone who has heard me teach is probably bored that I keep beating the same drum, but I feel I owe so much to writing guru Jack Bickham, so I’ll say it again here—his The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) is priceless. Same for his Scene and Structure. And there are countless other books out there on fiction technique.

I’ll now echo both Julie Wright and Phyllis Towzey in emphasizing that outside feedback is VITAL. Different authors seek it at different points in their work—some work with critique groups and get feedback along the way. Others wait until a manuscript is complete and send it out to test readers; some do both. You find what works for you, but it’s vital that someone besides YOU has given you feedback on your manuscript before you submit it. No matter how careful of a writer you are, you’ll miss things, or things will come across differently than you intended. You need outside eyeballs to take a look at your work. Your test readers don’t have to be other writers—just readers willing to be honest with you. And I recommend seeking test readers who enjoy the kind of book you write. If you give your sci fi novel to someone who only reads romance, or vice versa, he/she might have a hard time telling you what is or isn’t working in the book. In this blog post I listed the questions I sent out to my test readers with my last manuscript. Some of them apply more to mystery/suspense fiction than other genres, but it will give you an idea of questions you can ask test readers to help them spot what is/is not working in your book.

Revision is vital to producing a polished manuscript. Be willing to look at your work over and over and fix what isn’t working and improve what could be better. Don’t be afraid to cut things out if they aren’t benefiting the overall novel. For instance, you might have a wonderfully well-written scene, but it’s redundant and slows the pacing—don’t be afraid to delete it. If you can’t stand deleting big chunks of your work, cut and past them into a “rejects” file. That way, the words are still there if you decide you want them.

If your novel is aimed at the LDS market, then you don’t need a literary agent to sell it for you. The LDS market is too small for agents, and authors deal directly with publishers. Here is a list of LDS publishers provided by LDS Storymakers. Make sure to research publishers before submitting. Detemine which publishers would be the best fit for your book. Look up the publishers’ websites. What books are they publishing? How many books? What is their distribution like—i.e., do you see their books for sale in the major LDS bookstore chains (Deseret Book and Seagull Book)? If you live near an LDS bookstore, go look at books similar to yours and see who published them. If you don’t live near an LDS bookstore, you can find publisher information listed with books on When you’ve determined where you want to submit your book, make sure you follow the submission guidelines (available on publishers’ websites). And brace yourself for rejection—rejection is, unfortunately, a normal and expected part of being a writer. Persistence is vital for success. Even if your book is marvelous, it might not be what that publisher is looking for, so try submitting it somewhere else. And try again. And try again. If you get feedback from publishers (which means they REALLY paid attention to your book--most rejections are just form letters), think about it hard and see if you can use it to improve your book. Don't give up!

And have fun!

Monday, December 06, 2010

It's Hip to Be Square

Hey two bloggers in one day. How cool is that. Now if we could just get Rob to post a day early, it would be a regular party.

No this is not one of my Retro Friday blogs posted early. I actually want to talk a little more about e-readers. But first some author news. As Sariah, mentioned, Ally Condie’s book, Matched, came out November 30th. I won't mention that I might have read the ARC since Sariah is now within range of beating me. But like she said, it is a great read. It's not Twilight or Hunger Games. But it wasn't meant to be. Ally described it to me as a girl learning to make decisions in a world where personal decisions are not allowed. If you liked The Giver, you will love Matched. It had that same Utopian/Dystopian feel, that same enchanting writing, and a nice dash of romance. No vampires or arenas of deadly teens, but a great read! Good write-up in Entertainment Weekly.

Also, if you didn’t see this article, looks like the Maze Runner movie is moving forward quickly with a well known director. My understanding is that the part about James doing the screen play adaptation is not accurate. But still totally cool.

Now where were we before I started drooling over the success of my friends? Oh, right e-readers. Interesting feedback on my last e-reader post. My post actually goes to two different blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, and Facebook. So I get quite a bit of feedback.

I would have expected my younger readers to be on the cutting edge of e-books. After all, they were the ones raised reading newspapers, magazines, articles, etc, on-line. Instead, it looks like the people buying most of the e-books are in their thirties or older. Maybe because they are the ones who have the $? But nearly everyone wants an e-reader.

What this got me wondering is whether e-books could possibly make reading cool again. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved reading. And I know a lot of you have too. But even in books, the kids who read a lot are usually positioned as the nerds. I mean think about it. Hermione Granger. Big reader. Big nerd. In Stephen King’s novel, IT, the kid who spends all of his time in the library is the fat kid no one likes. Of course they also tend to be the smart kids—but nerdy none-the-less. The nerdy kids stay at home and read books while the cool kids have adventures.

Yeah, okay, I didn’t look that nerdy (I hope) when I was in school. But I was one of those kids who spent a lot of time in the library. For one thing, it is VERY tough to get beat up in the library. The librarians were pretty strict about screwing around. And I’m not sure the bullies even knew it was there. As a side benefit, I discovered that the library was the prefect place to cut class. No one ever came up to a kid reading a book and asked him why he wasn’t in biology.

Over the last few years, several things have happened to make reading a little cooler. Harry Potter was so huge that even the kids who thought reading was lame got sucked in. Then Twilight did the same thing. Girls that wouldn’t be caught dead with a book had to be a part of the “cool” crowd who debated Edward and Jacob. Shoot, even Hermione—the ultimate bookworm—ended up looking like this.

If that wasn’t enough, books have now gone high-tech. Think about it. Cool kids have MP3 players right? Cool kids have smart phones, and skateboards, and videogames. Could it be that cool kids are going to be buying e-readers? And if so, could reading take its place alongside snowboarding, mountain biking, and fighting Voldemort?

I’m not sure if it will really happen. And if it does, will it last? Do we lifelong readers even want it to? As an author, I’d love reading to become as popular as going to movies. I’d love the release of the next big novel to get as much exposure as, say, the Super Bowl.

But as a reader, I don’t know how I feel about that. I have to admit there’s something a little smug about knowing so many people have no idea how good Hunger Games is, or that “LES MISÉRABLES” was a book before it was a musical. I mean, come on, isn’t there a part of you that gloats just a little when you say, “It wasn’t as good as the book.”

Maybe we should just keep the secret between you and me that:

Tangled & Matched & Jealousy

So last weekend I went to go see "Tangled." I wasn't much expecting to like it. The trailers made it seem like an "okay" sort of movie.

Well, consider me a convert. I loved Rapunzel. She had wit, spunk and fire. I think the hero, Flynn Rider, is far and away the absolute best Disney hero they've ever had (and this may or may not have something to do with my adoration of Zachary Levi - I haven't really decided yet). The villain is great, and for the first time the non-speaking animal sidekicks had more personality than some of the characters with lines! I laughed out loud several times, loved the romance, thought the climax was AWESOME, and I didn't foresee everything that was going to happen (I always enjoy being surprised).

Negative - the songs were fine, but pretty forgettable. This isn't like walking out of "Little Mermaid" or "Aladdin" where you'll be humming those very catchy songs - the songs worked well for the storyline, but you won't remember the melody or the words after it's done.

I really, really recommend this movie to anyone who hasn't seen it. Even my little ones sat through most of it (which is a huge testament as they usually like to spend most of the movie going up and down lighted stairs, which is why we don't go to the movies as a family very often). My two older sons also give their recommendation as they didn't think it was a "girl" movie because there was lots of action and adventure for them to enjoy as well.

"Entertainment Weekly" is one of my favorite magazines. It has lots of pop culture content and I especially love reading their movie and book reviews. They always pick one movie or book for a large, full-page review.

Imagine my surprise when I turned to the book review section and there was Ally Condie's "Matched" as the featured review. My mouth actually dropped open. It was an "I know her!" sort of moment, even though I've never spoken to, IM'ed, emailed, blogged, etc., with her. It's just when you get to be a part of the LDS writing community, you know of people even if you don't interact with them.

So I'm all excited for her and thinking how fantastic and amazing this is, and then at the bottom there's these numbers that show the sort of stuff that happened to her - like the bidding war that ended up getting her a seven figure contract (and yes, seven figure as in at least a million dollars), the movie studios that bid on the film rights (Disney won), a 250,000 first run print, etc. Then I sort of wanted to slap her (not really, but in a metaphorical, I'm out of my mind with envy kind of way). That went away, and then I was just blown away by what happened to somebody I kind of "know!"

I bought the book from Amazon, and it got delayed a full day (which was so annoying - I should have just gone to a bookstore and bought it) and I was so excited to read it because as I've mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of dystopian fiction.

I will say this - it was no "Hunger Games" for me. The themes were different, the action and world-building focus was very different, and while I read the book in one sitting, it was a book that I could have put down (which is sort of my benchmark). I will say that Ally Condie is an amazing writer. I found myself at several points admiring her prose and poetic voice. Beautiful language throughout the book. I liked the plot, and I liked it enough to pass it along to my college aged sister today to read (to which she wanted to know which boy she should be rooting for so that she could imagine him to be the hotter of the two - I gave her my two cents for who I think the heroine will end up with).

Without question, I will be lining up for the sequels (and I only have to wait until next November to read the second book, "Crossed!"). I'm very interested in what will happen to this character and where the story will go. I would recommend it, particularly to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction.

Friday, December 03, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Chaos

Don't you just love big Thanksgiving celebrations where everybody contributes? This year my mother bought a large, succulent turkey. My cousin brought a gorgeous spiral ham. My brother brought the plague.

Okay, so maybe he isn’t lurking around Arizona, spreading the actual plague-plague, but you’d be hard pressed to convince those of us who came down with it that it’s merely a cold. After the last of the company left on Sunday I collapsed into the nearest chair. Monday I stayed in bed and wished for death. Tuesday I crawled to the couch and burrowed in under an afghan. Wednesday I propped myself more or less upright with a box of tissue on my lap and sniveled my way through the day. Thursday . . . well, Thursday I felt like walking death, so I got dressed and used what little strength I had to pursue the sanest course of action.

I dragged all the Christmas stuff in from storage and strew it about the house with reckless abandon. (Either I needed a little Christmas right that very minute or my fever had spiked.) After wrecking the halls, I felt fa, la, la, la, blah, so I went back to bed.

As the sun rises on Dewey this Friday morning, pilgrims cavort with penguins on my bookshelf. The Christ child is nestled amongst autumn leaves. Santa is on a turkey shoot. The butler (from Halloween) still stands at the front door, but I put a red cap and scarf on his raven and thrust a festive reindeer mug into his outstretched hand.

I’m sitting at the dining room table with my back to kitchen countertops littered with cookie cutters and laden with china awaiting transport to the hutch. What few silver pieces escaped the garbage disposal really ought to be returned to their chest. The dog, I fear, is stuck to the floor near her food dish. I really need to get up, turn around, and attend to all of that, but it’s frankly not all that high on my list priorities. More pressing still is a fridge oozing forth the fast-fading ghosts of Thanksgiving past. Frugal homemakers the world over simmer leftover poultry bones into fragrant, nourishing broth. Me? I save the pallid, picked-at thing until the carcass could star in a Stephen King screenplay and then perform an exorcism. (If you happen to know any out-of-work priests, please call.)

There may be a lesson here somewhere about seeing to one’s duties in wisdom and order . . . but if so it escapes me. And, speaking of escape, I’m going back to bed. If I’m not up by, say, Ground Hog’s Day, call the plague cart. Also, I’d like my tombstone to read: I Blame Greg.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How Prepared Are You?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Right before Thanksgiving a huge blizzard dubbed, “The Blizzard of 2010,” was slated to hit Utah. News outlets predicted an enormous storm, one so large that Utah hadn’t seen the likes of it in fifty years. There were two special news broadcasts about how it was coming and they also reported the long list of schools and businesses that were closing so they could allow people to get home before the storm hit. Our local grocery store was practically overrun with people trying to stock up on necessities, and the gas station outside of it was emptied of gas. Emptied! As in, no one else could fill up because the gas was all gone.

I had all my children home at the hour when the storm was supposed to hit. We waited. And then we waited some more. When the children went to bed not even one snowflake had fallen and they were pretty disappointed. Where was the storm? What had all the hype been about?

When my parents in Canada called me, I told them about all the preparations that had been made before the storm even got here with people being sent home from work and schools closing and how it ended up being a non-storm. They both laughed because it actually had been blizzarding in both cities that they live in and was twenty below zero. If they shut down businesses and schools every time there was a blizzard there, no one would be educated or paid! I think the motto there is, “If you can still tunnel to it, you’re good to go.” But one thing they did mention was the importance of being prepared at all times, not just when the weatherman makes a prediction.

This really hit home to me. While the Blizzard of 2010 never really materialized for our county, I took a mental rundown of where I was in the preparedness department. Do I have a survival kit in both my cars with blankets, snacks, and first aid supplies? Do I have enough food in my fridge and pantry that would cover us if we were ever snowed in or had an emergency and our power was knocked out? Do I have an alternate way of cooking things and fuel for it? Do I keep my gas tank at least half full? Where am I on my family’s 72 hr kit?

I definitely have some work to do. I got out my family’s 72 hr kit from the front hall closet and pulled out some of the clothes I had in it. They were only three sizes too small for the people they were meant for. Obviously, it’s been a while since I’ve updated it. And of course I didn’t have anything in there for the baby or my two year old.

So while the blizzard never appeared for us, some good did come out of it. My Christmas shopping this year had expanded to include preparation items and when the blizzard really does come, I’ll be ready.

How about you? Where are you in the preparedness process?