Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, September 30, 2006

New Fall Television Shows

by Sariah S. Wilson

Rob recently posted his surprise over my admitting to playing World of Warcraft (which is a massive multi-player online role-playing game or, aptly enough, an MMORPG. Ask your kids if you have no idea what I’m talking about). I’ve had some surprise here myself that Julie has admitted to watching television.

Mainly because I’m a television junkie. It goes back to an early age - my mother potty-trained me using Sesame Street. I thought everyone watched TV on a regular basis. But as I grew up, I kept hearing people at church saying over and over again that they never watched TV, that they didn’t have time for it or wanted to do other things. I figured my entire family were just horrible apostates since we enjoyed watching TV together.

So it’s something I don’t usually talk about. I’ve found that people sometimes look down at you if you do anything so lowbrow as watch television shows or act appalled/aghast/shocked that you would waste your time that way. It’s usually better to say nothing

But I’ve found TV to be so instrumental to my writing - the pacing, the plotting, the way the acts in an hour long drama are set up, the dialogue and timing in the comedies, the ugliness and beauty in human nature exposed on reality shows. I’ve discovered how to raise tension, how to move the plot and story along quickly. I love jaw-dropping twists on the great shows, the things you didn’t see coming. It’s also given me several great ideas that I’ve incorporated into my own stories either in character traits or using a plot that I can bend and turn until it’s my own.

That being said, the new fall season is upon us. There are a couple of great new shows this year that I’ve loved and look forward to watching regularly (note, this list doesn’t include the shows I already watch like Grey’s Anatomy or Gilmore Girls and also keeping in mind that I don’t much care for CSI/police procedural type shows or legal shows):

Monday is for Heroes. How fantastic is this show? The premise is that these ordinary people realize that they have superhuman powers - like the artist who paints the future, or the indestructible cheerleader, or the Trekkie who can slow down/speed up time and teleport. I got completely caught up in this show - a couple of the “twists” I saw coming, but when the one character tried to see if he could fly - total shock there for me in what happened. I love when a show can surprise me. It has the same sort of shadowy mysterious feel as Lost, but the producers have promised they won’t drag things out for three years before we understand what’s going on. On the same night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip looks promising, if only because I love Matthew Perry so much (I miss Chandler Bing!). I missed the pilot, and I’m not sure what I’ll think of this show in the long run, but so far so good.

On Tuesdays my new show is Veronica Mars. Yes, I realize that this show has actually been out for two years, but when Joss Whedon can’t shut up about what a great show it is, I knew I had to watch and thus, it is new to me. But I wanted to watch it in order, so I currently have Season 1 and Season 2 which I’m going to watch before the Season 3 premiere. I’m halfway through Season 1 so nobody tell me who killed Lily Kane. The wit and the heart of this show feels very much like Gilmore Girls with a strong, female heroine who is very Buffy-like. Good show.

Thursday night is Ugly Betty. Another great premise - a non-supermodel woman who goes to work at a fashion magazine. While she’s not attractive on the outside, she’s the only truly beautiful person on the entire staff. I love that TV is showing us these women who look real (Betty, Callie on Grey’s Anatomy) and who look like they know what a hamburger is. So refreshing.

So for those of you who will actually admit to watching television (and I realize that the only ones may be Julie and me), which new shows have you liked? Any recommendations?

Friday, September 29, 2006

The One Wherein Kerry's Away

Kerry won't be posting today.

I know, I'm as disappointed as you are.

But Kerry is running the Murder Mystery Dinner tonight (lots of previous posts about it) so she needs to get everything together for what I'm sure will be an amazing time. If you don't have tickets already, then you're out of luck - they're apparently not selling them at the door (and are probably already sold out).

I made Kerry promise to come back and post pictures next week and tell us all about it.

If any of our readers get a chance to go to the dinner tonight, I'd love for you to tell us about it (so that we may live vicariously through your experiences).

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Marnie Pehrson Guest Blogger

Marnie Pehrson is a wonderful writer of nonfiction titles like "You Can't Fly if You're Still Clutching the Dirt" and "Lord, Are You Sure?" as well as several southern romance novels, her newest being "Hannah's Heart" published by Granite Publishing. Her fresh perspective on romance steeped in southern culture has been captivating readers from all over the country. She is a mother of six children and lives near the historic Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia.

The Honeybee Principle

by Marnie L. Pehrson

Have you ever asked yourself, "What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Am I on the right track? Am I using my talents the way the Lord wants me to?" I've gone through a bit of soul searching over the last month, asking myself, "Is this it? Surely I'm not on this planet simply to write romance novels. Isn't there something more?" While I enjoy writing romantic fiction, it seems somehow less than earth shattering.

Then as I prepared a seminary lesson, I had an "aha moment." The lesson was from Doctrine & Covenants 12, which was given to Joseph Knight, Sr. Most people don't know much about Joseph Knight. He hasn't gone down in history as a great participant in the restoration, but he was. Joseph Knight, Sr. was a merchant who gave the prophet some items from his store. Most importantly, he gave Joseph Smith money to buy paper to translate. He was a willing servant who in the right time and place assisted to bring forth the cause of Zion.

As I thought back on the people who have entered my life in the exact time, place, and manner I needed, I realized that each was going about their everyday life doing ordinary things. Just as the merchant, Joseph Knight Sr., gave the prophet what he needed to bring forth the Book of Mormon, these individuals provided what I needed in a way that only they could. They probably don't even realize the lasting influence they've had on my life. To them, they were just doing things they enjoy, being themselves, and reaching out in friendly service.

Could it be possible that each of us makes a greater impact than we realize? Are we like honeybees hopping from one flower to the next, gathering nectar and in the process not only creating honey, but also pollinating a world?

Lehi taught his sons that "[we] are that [we] might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25). Is it possible that as we do the things that bring us joy (with our eye single to the glory of God) that we have our greatest influence? As we perform the ordinary aspects of our work, we encounter people who need what we have to give. As we touch their lives, leaving them better than we found them, we help our brothers and sisters along their path to immortality and eternal life.

Perhaps one day the Savior will show us our lives, and we will see that in our own special way, we've had an eternal impact. Maybe then, as we see the rippling effect of our everyday use of talents, we'll understand that like the honeybee gathering nectar, we've pollinated a world of good.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reality Check

by Stephanie Black

Sometimes my teenage daughter gets up extra early before early morning seminary so she can watch a favorite TV show on DVD while she gets ready. She enjoys watching Monk or The Pretender while the rest of us are snoozing and she has the house to herself. Plus, knowing she's got a fun show to look forward to helps motivate her to rise and shine.

We have only minimal cable. I'm not even sure what we do have, because I rarely watch a show that's actually being shown on TV. Stop hyperventilating, Rob. Some people do get by without American Idol. We're a Netflix crowd here. But lately my daughter has gotten hooked on the show Psych, which is too new to be on DVD, so she buys episodes off iTunes.

And thus our saga begins. One night, daughter 1 and daughter 2 were excited to watch another episode of Psych, but it was time for bed, so they plotted that daughter 2 would arise super early with daughter 1 and they'd watch Psych in the morning. They went to bed.

At about 11:40, I was in my bedroom getting ready to snooze and I noticed a light on outside my door. I investigated and found my daughters huddled around the computer, watching fake psychic and professional brat Shawn Spencer solving a mystery. I told them they were crazy; daughter 2 conceded the point with, “Yeah, whatever.” I went to bed, figuring if they were goofy enough to creep out of bed and stay up until midnight on a school night, that was their problem and I'd see them bright and early for scripture reading.

It wasn’t until morning that I learned the real story. They’d both fallen asleep at ten-something. Daughter 1 woke up around 11:15 and thought it was 5:15. Somehow she didn’t notice the “11” on the clock. She roused daughter 2. Daughter 2 felt rather jet-lagged, but accepted daughter 1's story that it was morning. Granted, it was a bit weird that daughter 1's hair was still wet from her shower the night before, but, isn't life like that sometimes? So daughter 1 proceeded to get ready for seminary and they watched their show. Daughter 1 wasn't fazed by the clock in the corner of the computer--maybe it got messed up when she downloaded new stuff. After the show, she went into the kitchen with thoughts of breakfast and saw the time on the microwave. Twelve-something. Weird. Maybe the power had gone off. The clock on the stove said twelve-something too.

Finally, the light began to dawn that it wasn't dawn.

They went back to bed.

The thing that amuses and boggles me about this story is how repeatedly daughter 1 ignored every bit of evidence pointing to the fact that it was midnight. Evidence be darned! It's morning! Let's watch Psych!

That's the way plotting a novel goes sometimes. We want something to happen, we've made the assumption that it will happen and it needs to happen if the story is to work. Then all of a sudden, reality hits.

No real human being would do what our protagonist or villain is doing.

From writer Eric Berlin's blog entry of September 26th, 2006:

Now I’m writing the second book. Once again, I’ve got my basic idea. Up until last night, I even had my underlying mystery. And then I realized that what my bad guy was planning made no sense whatsoever. Seriously — none. I can’t believe I’ve had this idea rolling around in my head for so long without noticing. If someone tried to do in real life what my bad guy was going to do in my book, he might even make a clean getaway, but only because the police would be rolling on the floor, gasping for air from laughing so hard.

This rings SO true. Ever had this problem? For me, writing involves a lot of reality checks--hey, wait a minute, this won't work. How can I fix it? How can I make it logical? How can I put enough pressure on my character so it makes sense that she'd go rushing to confront the villain alone instead of waiting for the police?

I've got to go check the clock. I think it's past my bedtime. Either that or it's time for lunch.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

On Posting Here

As we've recently had a spate of inappropriate posts, I thought I'd introduce the rules for posting a comment on this blog.

1. No insults. You can disagree with us all you want, but your post will be deleted if you insult or name-call.

For example: Rob posts that the sky is green.

What is okay: "Rob, while I appreciate your viewpoint, the sky is, in fact, blue." Or "Dude, go outside every once in a while. Look up. Blue."

What is not okay [edited]: "Rob, you [teddy bear]! How can you NOT know the sky is [puppy dogs and sunshine] blue? Why are you so [rainbow kisses] stupid?"

2. No profanity or vulgarities.

We ask that you practice common courtesy and civility.

The blog is currently on comment moderation, and will continue until things calm down.

That is all.

You Better Lose Yourself In The Music

by Robison Wells

Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable.
--Samuel Johnson

One of the most frequently asked questions on writer forums (I frequent six such websites) is "Do you listen to music while you write?" My answer is a solid yes. As a matter of fact, my answer is: "Girl, you know it's true." Also: "Yes to ya mama, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh."

Adding to the list of silly medical conditions with which I am afflicted (along with Restless Leg Syndrome and a double-jointed shoulder blade) is my utter inabilty to block out background noise. In other words, when I go to my mother-in-law's house, and there's a TV on in every room, and the kids are playing, and my wife and her sister are talking, and the phone rings, then my head explodes. But more to the point: if I'm at home, trying to write, and anything is going on in the house, I can hear it -- and I can't ignore it.

(Here's an example of how bad it is: at night I have to cover up the alarm clock with a pillow so I can't hear it. AND THE CLOCK IS FRICKING DIGITAL! I swear, it makes a very faint whirring noise. No one else can hear it. Also: I swear, on the Bible and my well-worn copy of Charly, I can hear my own spinal fluid. Honestly, I promise I can.) (So, maybe the issue isn't so much a hearing problem as it is dementia?)

So, what I started doing was to listen to music while I write. Not the radio, mind you, but music that I'm extremely familiar with; music of which I know every note and lyric. And I listen to it with headphones, and I listen to it loud. This way, I hear the music, but nothing else.

And whether by chance or design (I can't remember), two of my books have been written with theme music--whatever playlist I had running on my computer, I kept throughout the entire writing process. In fact, my first two books each had a specific song that I'd listen to to set the mood (these were primarily to set the mood for the romance portions of the book, because I'm not a very romantic person by nature, and needed help). For On Second Thought, the song was Dave Matthews Band's Angel. For Wake Me When It's Over, it was DMB's Grace is Gone. In between those books I wrote another, unpublished novel that was written entirely to Sacred Spirits--kind of traditional Native American music set to a dance beat. There's a funny couple of paragraphs in On Second Thought that exist solely because I was listening to Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone while writing.

Who's the cat who won't cop out when there's danger all about? Answer: not me! I'm copping out by pulling a Kerry (and a Stephanie) and posing a question, making you, the reader, do the hard work. The cop-out question is: what do you listen to while you write? And if you don't listen to music, why not? And: can you hear your own spinal fluid? If not, you should. (If so, does it tell you to burn things, too? Weird.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Trouble in Paradise

So I hear I am going to be speaking at a software conference in Cabo San Lucas. Whoo hoo right? Well sort of.

First I get stuck in Houston the night before I am supposed to fly out of Salt Lake and miss my flight to Cabo. Of course the next flight is a day later and $600 more. Then I get to Cabo this evening, only to find out I am here at the conference but none of my luggage came with me.

“Hmm, not sure where it is. Maybe we can get it to you tomorrow afternoon. But you can spend up to $25 to replace your clothes, shoes, toiletries, bathing suit, literature, tradeshow give-aways, etc.”

“That’s nice.”

So as I am in a line of a dozen other people who didn’t get their luggage either I call the shuttle that is supposed to take me to the hotel, and they say,

“No problem. The driver will wait for you.”


An hour later as I wait in front of the airport, the shuttle company assures me that the driver is there.

“Just go to terminal one and look for the FunJet sign.”

“There is only one terminal. I am in front of it and there’s nobody here except the taxi drivers trying to get me to come with them.”

“Look for the sign.”

“There is NO sign!”

“Are you in front of terminal one?”


“Hmm, what color is your shirt?”

“Does it matter? It’s night and I’m the only person out here.”


Ten minutes later the van pulls up. Then he can’t understand that I don’t want a beer.

“Pabst or Corona?”

“NO beer.”

“Pabst or Corona” “NO Cervesa.”



Anyway, here I sit in my hotel at last, and I don’t have a thing to say. Or a thing to write.

Good night

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Case of the Missing Author

By Sariah S. Wilson

I’ve been looking forward to today for a long time - ever since I read Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight.”

I visited her website after reading the book and saw that she had plans to come to Cincinnati for a book signing. I’ve had my schedule set for months. Saturday, September 23, 2006 was when she would be flying into town.

I logged on today to the independent bookstore she would be signing at to reconfirm the time, and noted that the signing was to take place on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 22.

That would be last night.

While I was at home. Playing Warcraft (Zul’Gurub doesn’t run itself, you know).

So there will be no pictures of me and Stephenie as I had hoped (especially since I thought that would be a nice bookend to Jeff’s Terry Brooks post). No chance to ask her the questions I had to ask. No chance to gush about how much I loved the sequel, “New Moon” (in stores now!). I am highly bummed. Particularly since I passed up on two other events planned for this evening because I was going to the signing.

I haven’t been to many signings. I’ve been to more this past couple of years as I’ve become involved with the romance market, but before then the only author signing I think I ever went to was…Terry Brooks.

He came to BYU when I was either a sophomore or a junior (possibly a freshman - it’s been a while. Give me a break). I stood in line at the BYU Bookstore to meet him, bringing along two of my first edition books from the “Scions of Shannara” line (first and the fourth). He told me that he liked my name, and I told him that if he ever wanted to use it in a book, he could. So far…he hasn’t.

Terry Brooks is an author I liked more when I was younger than I do now - I haven’t much enjoyed his more recent books (especially the ones involving the computer). But I grew up reading Brooks and read him before I ever even heard of Tolkien. Those books have a special place on my shelf, and I treasure them, especially the autographed ones.

Looks like I had an author bookend post after all.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Toward More Quaint/Vivid/Scenical/Striking Speech

Scenical's a word? Who knew? I was looking up synonyms for picturesque rather than rip off Reader's Digest, and there it was in Andrew Swanfeldt's crossword puzzle dictionary! The Clearest, Quickest, Most Up-to-Date and Authoritative Dictionary of its Kind -- according to the subtitle. Why don't any of my books have cool subtitles like that? Ghost of a Chance could be subtitled . . . um . . . The Cluelessest, Queerest, Most Up-to-Dating and Audacious Mystery of its Kind. Oh, wait. Never mind.

But I do have a fun new word for the day now, so I'm happy. You can bet I'll slip it casually into conversation at least three times today and then remember it forever. "What a scenical view you have of the red barn!" I'll tell the chickens when I get around to throwing them some scratch. "That vista is certainly scenical," I'll remark to the pronghorn as I drive into town. (The pronghorn to whom I'll speak will, of course, be in their scenical pastures, not in the car with me. Just so you know.) To my husband I'll say, "You should have scenical that movie my mom and I watched on AMC this week."

That last one might be wrong. But the movie was a musical. "Scenical a good musical?" If it isn't right, it should be.

But the point of all this is to reintroduce the blog I posted last week. I mean, it was my very first contest ever and only one person entered before it disappeared. Or was stolen. (I'm suspicious, but until I can prove foul play I won't point a finger at Jeff. I'll merely continue to narrow my eyes at him meaningfully.)

So here's an abridgement of the Missing Post. The contest will run for one week and I'll post the winners next Saturday when I put up pictures of the Mystery Dinner. Unless Rob and Jeff pay me enough not to post their pictures, then all promises are off.


My magic is down. My spells mope around the house like sick old dogs . . .

I was introduced to that poem in a Freshman Lit class. (Note to Rob: No, it was not carved into the wall of the cave. It was neatly printed on papyrus.) I have long since forgotten the poet* and I have to admit I'm a little hazy on the simile, but I’ve never forgotten the vividness of the thought. After almost three decades, whenever I’m feeling particularly uninspired (like today) I think: My magic is down.

I was thrilled recently to learn I’m not the only poem-retentive one in the group. I loved the snippet I’ll lay me down to bleed awhile, then rise to fight again that Tristi posted. (Oh, no! I’ll undoubtedly forget the name of my dog before sunrise, but I’ll know that line forever!) And I’m wondering if there are still others like us. (Also, I need new lines!) So, since contests seem to be the rage here there and everywhere, and since I really am uninspired today (my magic is down, after all), I’m sponsoring a Send Me The Most Vivid Line You Can’t Get Out of Your Head contest. The winner will get a copy of a new mystery game I've almost finished. (Considering the time I've put into it it's a $3 million value, although I'll likely sell them for a little less than that.) I’d like to say I’ll be scrupulously fair and above-board like Stephanie and put all the entries into a box and have an impartial person from Switzerland draw the winner, but that probably won’t happen. I’ll probably just award the prize to the person who contributes the line I like best.

That was the post. Now please play along! In the meantime I'm going to write to Reader's Digest. Toward More Scenical Speech has a much nicer ring to it, don't you think?

*Richard Brautigan. I was reminded of this last week by a very savvy commenter whose name I've forgotten. (See "dog" above.) I owe you, though. Really.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rules Are Made to be Broken

by Julie Coulter Bellon

There are times when rules must be broken. Yesterday was one of those times.

I was standing in line at the post office and turned my back for a moment and a rather large man butted in front of me. I turned back and there he was. He stared me down with his small beady little eyes and I admit, I said nothing. Whatever, I thought. The line was moving pretty fast and I didn't think it would matter. Until I heard the six words that every parent dreads. My three year old looked up at me and said loudly, "Mom, I need to go potty."

There was a small bench near where we were standing, so I had him go sit on that. It worked for all of two minutes and then he stood up, doing a war dance, saying again, "I need to go potty BAD!"

The man who had butted in front of me, looked at my son in obvious distress, looked back at me and graciously offered to let me go in front of him. "Thanks," I said as I walked up to the teller. I plopped my package down, thinking I'd quickly get it stamped and be on my way to find a potty. Unfortunately, I got one of the slowest tellers in the universe. He did the ‘hunt and peck' method on the keyboard and messed up several times. Normally this is not a problem for me, but when you have a child next to you jumping up and down saying over and over, "I need to go NOW" it creates a sense of urgency in a parent. Another few minutes pass by and the urgency was kicked up a notch with, "Mom it's almost coming out."

I leaned over the counter and said, "Do you have a restroom we can use?"

The teller barely looked up at me and said, "No. It is against the rules to let any public person use our facilities. If the inspector came while an unauthorized person was in the back, we could be fined. It is definitely not something we can do. We do not break the rules."

The teller's little speech was punctuated by another cry of "Mom it's going to come out!" And I said to the teller, "You're going to have a puddle on the floor to clean up." He nodded, unfazed.

After another thirty seconds, I said I was probably going to have to come back. My child was in misery and I couldn't stand it any longer. I reached for my package, and he gave a loud sigh. "I can't finish the transaction if you do that." I nodded, knowing that it's hard to finish the transaction if the person has to leave before they pay, and I picked up my child and sat him on the counter. It was a staredown. I looked at the teller, he looked at me, and my son looked at both of us and squealed, "It's coming out! It's coming out!"

At that point the teller panicked. He took one look at the counter, my child, and me, then ran and found a woman teller (which was odd to me, but okay) and frantically whispered in her ear, all the while pointing at us. He walked back toward me and said, "it's against the rules to have any unauthorized people in the back. We could be fined, but if you will just follow her she will show you the way to the restroom." Then he added, "I won't be able to finish the transaction until you get back."

I barely waited to listen to him finish his spiel again before I picked up my child in a football hold and ran to the back of the post office. By this time, my little boy is yelling, "It's coming out! It's coming out!" so all of us started running faster, dodging mail bags, and post office people on the way to the bathroom. My son and I burst through the bathroom door, ran into a stall and he barely made it, but he did, a huge relief for both of us.

We were back in front of our teller in a matter of minutes where he again reminded me that it's against the rules to have unauthorized people in the back. They could be fined. But I guess when it came right down to it, they would rather have a fine than a puddle to clean up.

There are times when rules must be broken. And thankfully, that was one of them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Night of the Lepus

by Stephanie Black

Last weekend, we had the opportunity to host my ten-year-old son’s classroom rabbit. I wasn’t particularly ecstatic about this, since I am not what one would call an enthusiastic pet parent (I believe “pet parent” is the correct terminology, at least according to PetSmart. I think pets are wonderful things, as long as they are someone else’s. This may be due to the fact that I didn’t have pets when I was a kid, unless you count my younger siblings. It may also be due to some Monkish tendencies on my part (“No you cannot have a lizard! Don’t you know they carry salmonella?”) Or perhaps it’s because my Grinch-like heart is three sizes too small. But whatever the reason, the only animals I’ve allowed to take up permanent residence in the house so far are hermit crabs and teenagers.

I’m kidding about animalistic teenagers, by the way. My teenager and almost-teenager are a lot of fun to have around, though my oldest daughter’s tendency to take regular trips to the police station cost me a huge wad of cash yesterday. No, not for bail. She’s joining a police Explorer post and oh . . . my . . . heck, but police uniforms are expensive. I hope those boots last until the Millennium.

But back to the bunny saga. It was our turn for Mr. Snuggles, and even I wasn’t Grinch enough to say no, we can’t take the bunny. It was only for a weekend, after all.

Mr. Snuggles is a large, gray, fluffy Angora rabbit with fur on his face that looks like mutton chop whiskers. He's a good-natured rabbit—he’d have to be, with all the poking and prodding he gets—and we carted him home in his bunny bin along with his outdoor pen if he wanted to catch some rays. He was litter-box trained, more or less, so we let him wander around the family room. It was actually very cute to have this rabbit relaxing in front of the sliding door—I guess he liked the coolness there next to the glass. Sometimes he’d tuck his limbs under him and sit like a giant ball of fluff. Awwww. So cute. He grew on us—even on me, believe it or not, and even though his bedding got everywhere, we enjoyed having him around. The kids loved him. Even my toddler liked him as long as he was contained. If he was free, she was edgy. Once he hopped toward her (he usually just minded his own business) and she screamed like an extra in Jurassic Park.

We should have trusted her childlike intuition that this bunny was trouble, but in our naivete, we didn’t realize that behind that fluffy exterior lurked Teeth of Doom. Mr. Snuggles destroyed a Palm Pilot docking cord, which fortunately my husband could live without. But he also sank his bunny teeth into my laptop cord. A trip to the Mac store and eighty-five bucks later, I am wiser in the ways of bunnies. I’ll never look at a Cadbury commercial the same way.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Burning of the Bosom, and Everything Else

by Robison Wells

A lot of things seem to be burning lately. First, it was my microwave. I swear I had no metal in the thing, but it just started sparking and smoking, and by the time we ran over and unplugged it there was a quarter-sized hole burned in the side. I haven't yet decided who I'm going to sue, but rest assured that I shall soon be rich.

Second, my stove caught fire, as you may remember from one of my previous posts. If any of you ever come to my house for lunch, you can be certain that everything I cook is charbroiled.

Third, our Stake Center burned on Sunday. The fire started somewhere in the stage area, and engulfed a big chunk of the classrooms and gym. The TV news interviewed witnesses, and some overly-exciteable young women claimed that they'd seem someone who looked out-of-place: he was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans (horror!), and they suspected him immediately. Since the Fire Department soon declared the fire to not be arson, I'd just like to say to all non-Mormons: come to our church! If there's a crime, we'll make you the patsy!

But the fourth thing to burn didn't exactly burn as much as it exploded: last week, a pipe bomb went off in the Salt Lake City Public Library. Now, astute readers will remember that I'm not a fan of public libraries. While I don't mean to excuse the bomber, I was sure that his motive was related to the fact that public libraries have recently turned into noisy, bookless places.

Yesterday, the family and I went to the South Jordan branch of the County Library system (motto: "What are these 'books' you speak of?") I was moderately frustrated, because all the books on my A-list were not available there, nor were any on my B-list or C-list, either. So then I just purused the meager shelves, hoping for good luck, and realized that all the "books" were just painted on the walls. I think the entire library consisted of just 26 computers and a set of encyclopedias from 1978. Even so, my four-year-old daughter picked up some Berenstain Bears videos, and we went up to the counter to check them out.

It's all self-service these days, which I'm fine with, because I don't like to talk to people. But instead of scanning barcodes, the check-out computer simply directs you to set all of your items on a big pad -- and immediately and miraculously it knows everything you put on there. I'm not saying that you put one book down, and it scans it; I'm saying that you dump them all down, in a big unorganized stack, and it instantly recognizes everything--thanks to the miracle of RFIDs. It was seriously the coolest thing I've seen in months. I think I'll go to that library again and again, just to scan stuff. (And, scanning four books a week, I'll have checked out everything in the whole libarary in fourteen days.)

(In related news, last week I went down to the BYU Harold B. Lee Library to do some research for my next book. Since I write fictional books abotu crazy conspiracies, I was reading an allegedly non-fiction book about crazy conpsiracies. And at one point I stood up to walk from one section of the library to another, and I tripped some alarm, and library employees had to come and inspect the book I was carrying, which happened to be about how Atlantis was buried underneath the ice in Antartica. And I had about four-days worth of unshaven beard--a no-no at BYU. The attractive young desk attendant finally let me go my way, giving me a disdainful look, and then went back to flirting with some guy.)

So, what with the guv'mint tracking my books, via RFIDs, and the embarrassment caused by having to admit I was reading nerdy crazy-person books in front of pretty college girls, I would probably make a good suspect in the explosion-at-the-library case. I didn't do it, of course, because I'm a totally law-abiding citizen (and because there are no cooking appliances at the library that I could utilize in my fire-starting). Besides, could a public library burn? There's nothing flammable in the whole place.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sometimes the Magic Works

I had the opportunity to attend the League of Utah Writers fall roundup Saturday. The theme this year was fantasy, and the keynote speaker was Terry Brooks. His address was really fun. Who knew he was a pyromaniac as a kid and nearly hung his friend’s little brother?

He also talked about a boy who began corresponding with him when the boy was young. At first Terry didn’t really feel that he had the time to regularly write to the boy who had few friends and lived alone with his mother. Over the years, though, they continued to write back and forth, until the boy went off to college. Years later, at a signing, the boy came up to Terry’s wife and told her he was a social worker, helping underprivileged kids. He didn’t think he would have ended up where he did if it wasn’t for Terry.

Terry is now 62, and every year he thinks that maybe he is too old to go back on the road again. Then his wife reminds him of the boy and asks, “What if there is another person out there whose life you need to affect?” So he goes back out.

I can vouch for two things. One—Terry Brooks is a great guy, and a person I would like to emulate if I ever have the chance. Although he had another appointment to go to, he sat and chatted with every person who waited to meet him. He didn’t complain when people brought many of their books to have him sign. His wife was also wonderful. As I was waiting for him to sign my books, a reader came up and asked me to sign House of Secrets. When I reached Terry’s table, he asked about my books and then had his wife get my name so he could look up my books when he got home.

In my copy of, Sometimes the Magic Works, Terry’s wonderful book on writing, he signed, Make the magic work for you. I plan on keeping it above my computer while I write to inspire me. So the second thing I can vouch for is that Terry has affected another life. I’m glad he came out one more time.

Me and Terry

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Need Help

by Sariah S. Wilson

First - I'd like to share with everyone that my little brother got his mission call yesterday - to Moscow, Russia. We were all excited (and none of us guessed Russia). He's thrilled. My mother's panicked but proud. He opened his call yesterday and will be reporting to the MTC on November 15.

I've tried and tried to come up with a post for today, but a situation in my personal life is clouding my ability to write.

So instead I will simply ask for this - I will be going through a medical procedure (not life threatening) most likely on Monday. I desperately want a positive outcome, and so I'm reaching out into cyberspace to ask those of you who will read this to say a little prayer for me and for my family that things will go well.

Thank you.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas . . .

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last Thursday my brand new seventh grade son came home literally bursting with news. "We're doing a fundraiser at school and there's cool prizes, Mom," he said. "All I have to do is get ten orders." (The fundraiser was selling magazines, cards, and gift wrap.) He was so enthusiastic about it, immediately starting out the door to ask our neighbors if they were interested. In his mind he would have the required ten orders in no time because who doesn't love magazines? He came home about a half an hour later, his excitement dampened but not fizzled. Two people had turned him down and two had made orders. Not bad he said. He'd gone to a few other houses who'd ordered from his brother and sister when they had done this before, but they weren't home. He told me he would finish his chores and homework and go back to their houses afterward. That's always how he is. If there's work to be done, he's the one who will do it without being asked. He's loving, kind, funny, and a little shy, but basically a great kid. I've always had a little soft spot for him because he almost died the day he was born, he had RSV three times, salmonella once and was hit by a car all before he was five, so my heart has a lot of love for this little guy.

So there he is, done with his homework and chores, and he waved goodbye as he headed out to go and see if those people were home yet and would order magazines from him. "Bye, Mom," he said as he left with a big smile on his face.

Almost an hour and a half later, he walked in sweaty from the hot sun and by the look on his face I could tell it wasn't good news. "What happened?" I asked.

"You won't believe it," he said, as he sat down on the couch, "the new kid Adam already got everyone!" He put his head in his hands and I put my arm around him. "And I mean everyone."

"I'll still order," I said, still trying to comfort him.

"But that's only three orders, I need ten," he mumbled, his head still in his hands. So I drove him down to our doctor's office and dentist office, but they turned him down because they get them for free. (Who knew?) We called some close friends and family and only got one more order. My heart sank because I knew how hard he'd worked and clearly the prize was seeming more and more out of reach. He was pretty dejected, and then he looked over with his sweet face and said the words I'd been dreading. "Isn't there anyone else we could ask? Do you have any other friends?"

I hate asking friends to order things, buy things, or sell them things. It's like trading on a friendship or something. But here is my son, who has trudged around, worked hard, been rejected, and he's looking at me like his last hope---hoping I have friends we can ask. I paste on a smile and tell him sure I have friends I can ask. I swallowed my pride and I went to the computer. I made out an e-mail to a bunch of author friends that I have and some friends who read fiction and discuss it over on LDS Fiction Readers and I sent it out. They could delete it if they didn't want it, I rationalized. That's the beauty of e-mail. Then we waited. I tried to soften the blow for him in case no one was interested, telling him that I was proud of him for trying, that four orders was pretty good, and of course if all else fails he should definitely call Grandma one more time.

Well, in two days we'd received the ten orders from my author friends and that was enough for him to win a small cash prize, a limo ride with friends, a 300 hour game card, early lunch and free pop every day for two weeks, a flying monkey, and candy. Not to mention that his name went into a drawing for the grand prize, a "Cool Room" that any teen would want to have. He was so excited to go to school yesterday, it was almost tangible. Like he knew something good was about to happen. And it did.

Yesterday morning they were announcing all the winners and it was finally time for the grand prize. He could hear the paper rustling on the intercom, there's a deep breath and then the lady says, "And the Grand Prize Cool Room goes to . . .Jared . . . she lets out a breath . . .Bellon!" The room explodes in applause and groans and two girls push him to the door to meet his escort who escorts him to the office to collect his prize. It was delivered to our home yesterday afternoon and I couldn't believe it. They brought in box after box. He won a stereo, a mini-refrigerator, a six foot bendable neon light, a dancing chicken, a wall of uncut $1 bills, and a plasma clock. Amazing. Just looking at his face I could see how happy he was as he shared his good fortune with his brothers and sister who were squeezing that dancing chicken for the millionth time. It was like Christmas with gifts and wrapping paper littering our front room and excited kids everywhere.

So today, as I hear the dancing chicken song one more time, I want to thank all my author friends who ordered magazines. Thank you for ordering magazines from a seventh grade boy who was excited about his first fundraiser. Thank you for caring and for helping us out. You made his year! And every time I hear that dancing chicken I'll think of you all again. His room is now re-decorated and "cool." Just like you guys!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bon Appetit

by Stephanie Black

Well. How does one follow a blog on Coke and migraines? I think the word “migraine” should be banned. Just saying it is tempting fate. I used to get the headaches-that-must-not-be-named frequently as a teenager, but now, thank heavens, they’re much more rare. But I still get them. I still fear them when I get a flash of bright sunlight in my eyes and see spots. Innocent glare or ominous aura? That aura just adds insult to injury. It’s like a taunting message from your body saying, “Stay tuned! Pretty soon you’re going to want to ram an ice pick into your skull! Have a nice day!” Shudder. I gotta ask for a prescription for Imitrex one of these days.

Okay, enough. I’ll talk about something different. I ate a bug last night. I didn’t mean to eat it, but it flew right into my mouth while I was out for an evening walk. I acked and hacked and blecched, but it wasn’t going anywhere except down. It tasted really weird, too. I feel just like Eric from The Counterfeit who sucks down a bug while riding Maurice, his moped.

My sister’s family once ate bugs on purpose, or at least some of them did. Some of them partook in ignorance. The bugs in question were chocolate-covered crickets that Dad brought home from work. The candy looked tasty enough, something like a fat peppermint patty. The two younger kids wolfed a cricket down, no questions asked. The oldest noticed the label on the box and wanted to know why it said ‘crickets.’ Dad explained, and managed to talk her into eating the candy anyway. She reported that it was kind of crunchy. Dad ate one too. The candy came with stickers that proclaimed something like, “I ate a bug.” My sister elected to pass. Wimp!

Okay, I would have passed too. I wouldn’t even try foie gras when I had the chance.

But speaking of food, don't you love authors who do a superb job describing culinary delights--and who make them both a relevant and fascinating part of the story? Take Farmer Boy in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Oh, the meals! I want apple pie for breakfast too, and sausage, and stacked pancakes where you pile them up with maple sugar between each cake. And there’s Diane Mott Davidson with her Goldy the caterer mysteries. I once made Monster Cinnamon Rolls from Davidson's recipe, and oh my. Step aside Cinnabon. Don't ever read a Goldy mystery if you're trying to lose weight. LDS mystery writer Betsy Brannon Green has started including recipes in her Miss Eugenia mysteries as well.

Man, it must be lunchtime. I'm hungry. About that goal I just made to get in better shape . . .

As a side note that has nothing to do with anything, I had to play the eighties hit "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor over and over again on iTunes to keep my toddler amused so I could finish this blog.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'd Like To Buy the World a Coke

I don't know when my love affair with Coca-Cola began, but you can rest assured it's been a torrid, violent relationship, marked by passion and lust and pain and tears. I'm Tina Turner, and Coca-Cola is Ike. I'm Patty Hearst, and Coke is the Symbionese Liberation Army. I'm John Belushi, and Coke is, well, coke.

First of all, let me just say that I love the stuff. There are four things in this world that are at the top of my love pyramid: my family, football, bratwurst, and Coca-Cola. All together, they form some sort of super-outrageous love explosion; I often mistake Saturday afternoon, watching football with the wife and kids, grilling brats and sipping sweet, acidic Coke, to be the Millenial Bliss spoken of in scripture and hymn.

But secondly, I don't drink it just for the sugary, burning taste of malted battery acid. No, I drink it for the caffeine. Yes, I'm a sinner with a capital THRUST-DOWN-TO-HELL.

The fact of the matter is that I get migraine headaches, a condition with which I have been affected for, lo, nine years. I've tried everything for these headaches: I've had cat scans, and MRIs; I've tried diet and excercise (though that's worse than the headaches!); I've even broken down, against all my better judgement, and tried alternative medicines. I tried chiropractics. I tried cranial-sacral therapy. I tried a cocktail of drugs, some that I took in the very early morning, and some that I tok five times a day. And finally, about a year ago, the doctor finally found one that works! It's called Maxalt, and it's a beauty. Hallelujah! Sayonara, headaches!

The problem: insurance won't cover it, and it's $23 per pill. Mr. Maxalt apparently lives in a solid-gold house with diamond windows.

So, I'm betwixt the proverbial rock and a hard place. I can either fork over twenty-three dollars every time I have a headache (which works out to a little over thirty-thousand dollars per week, or something), or I can slip into the silky caress of caffeine-enriched Coke, letting cola cradle me in it's phosphoric-acid arms.

Now, that seems like a perfectly reasonable solution to the problem, right? Wrong. There's a widely-known fact about caffeine that makes my plan tenuous at best: caffeine not only cures headaches, but it causes them! Drat this cursed Ograbme!

So, I try to outrun the problem. I'll be clean and sober, and I'll get a headache, which I'll treat with a big old cup of soda. Then, the next day, I'll feel the pain coming on and I'll hurry and drink some Coke to satisfy the parasitic cola beast I've unleashed in my stomach. The next day I won't even wait for the pain -- I'll down a Big Gulp ASAP, staving off the inevitable. Thus, everyday my consumption increases, as I frantically try to out-Coke the previous day. Pretty soon I'm taking baths in a cola jacuzzi. And, eventually, I just can't keep up; the headaches come no matter how much caffeine I suck down.

Then, it's time for detox.

So, Sunday I crashed, drinking can after can, nauseated from the pain, and teeth rotting from the sugar. And the headache never left -- it got worse and worse as the day went on.

Yesterday was water-only, Betty Ford style. And yes, headaches came, and many a Tylenol was popped. It usually takes me about four days to come completely clean. And then it usually takes me about three weeks to forget how bad it was, and to start self-medicating with Coke again.

Perhaps I'll be the first LDS author to die of a drug overdose, up there with the greats like Jimi "Weyland" Hendrix and Janis "Stansfield" Joplin. At least it'll be a sweet death. Sweet, acidic bliss.

The Fragile Vision

by Jeffrey S Savage

Sariah made a comment in her blog Saturday that I wanted to elaborate one. She said, “I haven’t started the story yet. I’m almost afraid to. I don’t think I can capture on paper what I have in my head.”

One of the biggest fears and biggest joys for most writers I know is, “getting it right.” You have a scene in your mind and you are both elated by what you see in your head, and afraid you’ll break it when you put words on paper.

I have a scene I am working on right now that is close to the climax of my new horror novel. The three main characters are close on the heels of the creature that has stolen Wendy’s son. Just as they think they are about to catch it, they realize they have been lured into a trap. They are indeed in the lair of the beast, but that’s where it is most powerful—deep in the primitive forest where the things of man have almost no meaning.

As the step into the clearing, they see a dark mist floating in front of them. At first it looks like nothing more than a wall of smoke. Then they begin to see faces in the smoke. Faces of men, women, and children who have died while filled with fear. Bill tells them to turn back, but before they can do so, Wendy suddenly screams her son’s name and darts forward into the mist. A moment later, the ex-horror writer moans, holds out his hands and stumbles into the darkness. Bill turns to run and finds himself surrounded by rabid animals that drive him into the darkness as well.

As Bill backs into the mist and feels coldness close around him, we break back to Wendy and see that for her the mist had formed into a thick oak door with a heavy metal knocker and thick bar. The door is rattling and she hears her son screaming, “Mom, help me! Please, help me!”

Wendy pushes open the door and finds herself back at the worst time of her life. A time when she failed her first child and lost him. She is forced to deal with something she has blocked out. And unless she can face it, she will never come out alive. It doesn’t look like she will be able to cope.

Next we join the horror writer. He looks into the smoke and sees a huge towering tombstone with the names of his wife and children etched into it. The ghost of his wife steps through the tombstone and reaches for his hand, saying, “You’ve lived with the guilt long enough. It’s time to pay for what you’ve done.” As he steps through the tombstone, we finally learn how his family died and why he is so scarred and walks with a limp. But he doesn’t need to face what happened so many years ago. He can live happily as long as he wants back with his family if he gives up the chase.

Finally we join Bill as he meets the horror face to face and is amazed to find that the creature is not at all what he expected. In fact, maybe he is the evil one himself.

For me, this is a scene I have dreamed about almost since I have started the book. I am scared to death of screwing it up, but there is nothing better than having your vision making it onto paper and finding that it is even better than you imagined it.
Well, no guts no glory. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Glimmering of a New Idea

By Sariah S. Wilson

I don’t normally take naps. I can’t take naps. If I am foolish enough to succumb to mid-afternoon weariness, I ALWAYS pay for it later because if I nap it’s impossible for me to fall asleep that night. I have a sister who could easily sleep 16 hours a day and still function normally. I take one 30-minute nap and I’ll be up until 3:00 in the morning, which at my age is no longer fun.

A few weeks ago I gave in. I took a nap that lasted for several hours. Which kept me up late that night. Which turned out to be a good thing.

But before I get to that - the problem with the national publishing industry these days is that there are too many books. That’s good - lots and lots of variety for all differing kinds of tastes - but bad for the consumer as well. When you walk into a massive store like Barnes & Noble, it can be, quite frankly, overwhelming. There are too many selections. The reader doesn’t know how to find the authors that they might love.

And the authors don’t know how to find the readers. The only publicity that works in selling a book is, as I’ve said repeatedly, word of mouth, which no one knows how to manufacture.

Thus, the stakes are raised. Not only do you have to write a darn good book, but you have to have a hook. Something to make your book stand out from all the others. Something that a marketing department of a publisher can get behind and be excited about. Because all other things being equal, it is the marketing/publicity/budget departments who will decide whether or not you get published.

You have the seemingly impossible task of finding a way to be totally different than what’s out there, but not too different.

I read quite a few agent blogs, and some of them have taken to posting the query letters they’re getting. It’s been very eye opening to me to see them critique the queries, and to see that sometimes really well written queries and opening chapters will be returned with a form rejection because there’s nothing special or different about them - to the agents the stories seem very run of the mill. Some of them even show that they have five or six stories in their inbox that all sound exactly alike (i.e., hero finds out he’s adopted, searches for his birth family and on his journey “finds himself,” since it turns out his real self was hiding out in Boise all along).

I’ve been looking for an idea for the national market that would fulfill this requirement - something that would spark and be enough to catch an agent’s interest that wouldn’t seem tired or like something they just read five minutes ago.

I think I have it, thanks to my inability to sleep.

Because of the nap I was, of course, up late that night and I ran across an old episode of “Charmed.” I started watching it because this episode had Cole (and how I used to love Phoebe and Cole) and while paying scant attention to the plot, I noticed their mythical Demon of the Week. I started to mull around a way to play with the legend. I had an experience I’ve never had before - the hero and heroine jumped into my mind, their internal and external conflicts immediately apparent. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. again, but this time, it was because I couldn’t write the ideas down fast enough.

I haven’t started the story yet. I’m almost afraid to. I don’t think I can capture on paper what I have in my head. I’ve been dancing around the idea, trying to find a starting point.

But I know I have to start soon. If Stephen King’s theory is correct (and I think it is) these ideas are just out there floating around and if I take too long, somebody else will grab it. Which stresses me out.

Which makes me want to nap.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Martha Stewart Decorating Award

Thank you, thank you, and thank you again to everyone who made decorating suggestions--including the fire and Post-It note suggestions--in response to my desperate blog on Wednesday. You have my heartfelt gratitude.

I wrote the names of all contributors on slips of paper, put them in a bowl, and randomly drew out the winner.

And the winner is . . . Bonnard!

Congratulations, Bonnard. You are now the proud owner of a signed copy of The Believer. Let me know how and where you'd like it signed and delivered. I think you know how to contact me.

And as a side note, LDS Publisher has been running a first paragraph contest on her blog. If you write fast, you can still make a submission by the deadline (tonight at midnight). Voting on submissions will continue through Monday, so drop by LDS Publisher's blog and vote for your favorite submissions. You can only vote once for a submission, but you can vote for as many as you want. Go make your voice heard!

Party Animal

Rob posted this on another line, but I thought all you Utahns should know lest you miss something. Robison Well's final stop on his internationally acclaimed (I'm not making this up; my son knows about it and he's in Korea) The Counterfeit Book Signing Tour is tomorrow from 12 - 1:30 PM at the West Jordan Seagull book. Rob's promising (and I quote) "balloons and cookies and wild fun"! I'll ponder my waistline, eat an Oreo, and wish I were there for the fun. If you live closer than me -- go!

A Bequest of Wings

by Kerry Blair

As Julie pointed out yesterday, bad things do happen to good people. Sometimes the worst things. Right now, a handful of the best people I know are facing the most difficult things I can imagine—cancer, serious illness of a parent, abandonment and divorce, and the death of a child. I wish I knew what to say to any of them.

My life is easy in comparison, but there have been some low points. One of the lowest was the day I was diagnosed with MS. I couldn’t understand why God let this awful thing happen to me. Hadn’t I tried hard enough? Been “good” enough? What? I couldn’t talk to anyone here on earth about my pain and fear and lack of faith, and I was barely on speaking terms with God. About all I could manage in my prayers was, “What now? How do I get through this?”

God answered me in the words of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, who wrote: Read, sweet, how others strove, Till we are stouter; What they renounced, Till we are less afraid. That quatrain became my lifeline. As Emily suggested, I read the words of “brave men” and “celestial women” who “bore the faithful witness” through the ages. As I did I gained perspective and strength.

One woman I met while following Emily's advice was Dame Julian of Norwich. In 1342 she wrote, God allows some of us to fall more heavily and more grievously. And then we, who are not all-wise, think that everything which we have undertaken was all for nothing. But it is not so, for if we did not fall we could not know so completely the wonderful love of our Creator. We shall truly see that we were never hurt in His love, nor were we ever of less value in His sight.

I figured if that was true in the dark ages of the fourteenth century, it was probably still true in the twentieth. I began to look for things I could do instead of mourning everything I couldn’t. I could still sit, for instance—for very long periods of time, in fact—and I had always wanted to write a book . . .

I still search for words of inspiration when I’m afraid. (Frankly, because of CNN that’s pretty much every day.) I also keep a quote from Margery Wilson in my journal. In 1917 the world contemplated the War to End All Wars. Margery wrote: Though life seems to challenge us harshly at times, to make us eat bitter bread with the sweet, nevertheless, if we will stop wailing and look we will see a sustaining arm across our shoulders, the arm of infinite love—and if we listen we can hear a voice whispering, "Deep within you is the strength to bear anything, the nobility to be willing to do so, and the intelligence to create magnificently and beautifully, come what may."

Possibly I should admit that not every piece of writerly advice I cherish is touching and profound. I often quote these words by Walter Brooks’ Freddy the Pig (1953): When life’s at its darkest and everything’s black, I don’t want my friends to come patting my back. I scorn consolation, can’t they let me alone? I just want to snivel, sob, bellow, and groan.

Whether I've chosen to snivel through or survive my own challenges, the written words of others have seen me through the darkest and scariest days of my life. When I’m most stressed, I reach for an old friend on the bookshelf and things seem better right away. A couple of years ago, I took my husband to the hospital with chest pains. Knowing he’d be in tests most of the day, and fearing to be left alone to worry, I snatched up a well-worn paperback to help keep me sane. As I sat in Gary’s cubicle in the emergency room, I struggled to keep my eyes on the pages because I was terrified of all the tubes and machines that were connected to the man I love. Nurses and doctors came and went, and each gave me curious looks. Hadn’t they ever seen anybody read before? Finally, my long-suffering husband sat up and said, “Do you have to read that right now?” Startled, I closed the book. Looking down at the cover I saw that it was a copy of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Oops.

The point is that William, Emily, Margery, et al, have helped me through the darkest, scariest days of my life. Another of Emily’s poems describes me to a T: (S)He ate and drank the precious words, (Her) spirit grew robust; (S)He knew no more that (s)he was poor, Nor that (her) frame was dust. (S)He danced along the dingy days, And this bequest of wings was but a book. What liberty A loosened spirit brings!

Hurray for authors, I say. God bless us, every one.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

An Ordinary Bloke

by Julie Coulter Bellon

The world lost a great wildlife conservationist this week. Steve Irwin, "The Crocodile Hunter" died as a result of a stingray barb penetrating his heart while he was filming a documentary. He was only 44 years old and leaves behind a wife, Terri, and two children, a daughter, Bindi Sue, who is eight years old and a son Bob, who is two years old.

I first came across Steve Irwin when I was channel surfing one evening. He was speaking into the camera as they were about to "relocate" a crocodile who'd wandered into an inhabited area. In my mind I was thinking why don't they just shoot it with a tranquilizer and call it a day, and in his next breath he answered my question as if he'd read my mind. Tranquilizers and drugs are extremely stressful for the crocodiles and can kill them. His method is to cover their eyes and put your full weight on its back so it can be moved safely. It was very interesting to see how much he loved crocodiles, calling them "beauties" and educating the world in his unique way about creatures that are generally feared. I, myself, never really liked reptiles, crocodiles included, but I didn't know much about them either, and Steve changed that for me. Steve was a man who was passionate about what he did, and he made it his life's mission to educate people about wildlife.

His show, "The Crocodile Hunter" was a show that the entire family could watch. His exuberance and excitement was contagious and I loved his accent. The only time I ever saw him look truly worried was in the episode where his wife fell out of the boat into crocodile infested waters. When you were watching Steve and Terri together you could see that they were a team and truly loved what they were doing. Terri is an American, born in Eugene, Oregon, and she met Steve while on a vacation to Australia. On a whim, she decided to visit his zoo to look at their rehabilitation facilities and after a chance meeting with Steve, ended up staying. She was an animal rescuer in her own right before she met Steve, working at a veterinary hospital, running "Cougar Country" in Oregon, which was a place for rescued wild animals such as foxes, bears, bobcats, and cougars to recuperate before being released back in the wild as well as taking care of her many cats, dogs, and birds. She left it all, however, after meeting Steve Irwin, and an ensuing whirlwind courtship led to their marriage within six months of their meeting. She was a constant on his television show and I think she was a calming presence for Steve.

Steve Irwin always loved animals and was around them his entire life because of his parents' life work in conservation. His 6th birthday present was a 12 ft. scrub python, and he had captured and re-located his first crocodile by the age of nine. He'd taken his share of hits however, having his ear torn half off, being bitten by snakes and crocodiles, squeezed by a python, and had boar prickles in his face to name a few. He knew it was a risky job, but he said many times that it was worth it if he could educate people about wildlife as well as share his passion for conservation. He was able to reach so many more people through television, pioneering the genre practically, since there were only two wildlife shows on before he came along, and there were more than thirty shows after "The Crocodile Hunter" aired.

I guess the thing I admired most about Steve Irwin is that he never pretended to be anything other than who he was. Some made fun of his signature, "Crikey!" and the animated way he approached what he considered to be his life mission, but he went forward appearing in numerous television shows, talk shows, animated series, and documentaries in an effort to help others appreciate and respect earth's creatures. He was a humble man, described as an "ordinary bloke" who knew what he wanted to do with his life and he did it. Would that we could all be so lucky.

So while there are those who say that Steve Irwin was a thrill seeker and his untimely death was bound to happen, I say that Steve Irwin was a man with a mission. He fulfilled that mission to the best of his abilities and gave his life for it. Interestingly enough, money for his foundation has poured in since his death and Internet sites describing Steve and his animal charities have had to shut down because of the enormous amount of traffic. He will be remembered for his zest for life, his love for animals, and his dynamic personality. But most of all, I hope his family can find comfort in the fact that Steve Irwin touched lives all over the world because of the kind human being he was and his compelling and charismatic style that brought the plight of wildlife to the forefront. He leaves behind an amazing legacy. I hope his wife and children know that Steve lives on through them and their memories of him. He was a hero to some, a friend to many, and he will be greatly missed.

Steve Irwin 1962-2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Should I Go With an Elvis Theme?/A Blog Mini-Contest

by Stephanie Black

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you might know by now that I am a decorating-challenged nincompoop. But with a ward activity fast approaching, my decorating skills are about to be put to the test. Yes, I’m on the Activities Committee. (Mean Aunt, stop snickering. After all, you were the one who used the old tire for an RS visual aid).

This isn’t my first decorating gig for the Activities Committee, but it’s the first time I’ve soloed. I was on the decorating committee for the Christmas party last December, but that was easy, because the sister in charge of decorating made all the plans. It was a Norman Rockwell theme, so she created a nostalgic Rockwellian look involving fresh greenery, popcorn on strings, Norman Rockwell pictures on wires stuck in little tissue-paper-covered pots, a Radio Flyer wagon, etc. It looked fantastic, and I didn’t have to think up any of it. I just followed orders, chopping up holly branches and stringing popcorn and what all. That I can do.

But last week, I got a call from our Activities Committee chairman. Our upcoming activity is a “family reunion” dinner, with the ward divided into eight different families with names like the Carpenter family, the Potter family, and the Buccaneer family. Each table is decorated to reflect the family name. Our chairman asked me if I would decorate the table for the Singer family.

While I was talking to him, I faked it really well. I said things like, “Sure,” and “No problem,” and asked intelligent questions like, “Do we have a budget?” and “What color of table covers do you have?” What I didn’t do was laugh hysterically and warn him that he’s dealing with a woman who thinks if she gets enough fingerprints and crayon marks on her walls that she can pass it off as sponge painting

So today I have come to beg you wonderful blog readers to help me. I know you’re all better at decorating than I am. Don’t deny it. What should I do to decorate the Singer table? That’s Singer as in la-la-la, by the way, not Singer as in sewing machine. So I’m looking for a music theme.

Here are the specifics:

The tables will consist of three rectangular tables arranged in a U-formation.

The decorations need to be inexpensive and easy.

Ideas for clever, cheap place mats would be welcome too.

Since I’m begging for your help on something I’m not good at, I’d like to offer in return something I’m a bit better at. Anyone who gives me a decorating suggestion by Friday, September 8th at noon, Pacific time, will have their name entered in a drawing for a copy of my book, The Believer. If you already own the book and for some reason aren’t looking to start a collection of multiple copies, I’d be happy to sign and mail the book to the recipient of your choice (if, for instance, you think your sister-in-law or your neighbor might like it).

In order to get entered in the drawing, you don’t need to come up with an entire decorating scheme. Just any bit of brainstorming will be fantastically helpful. The Singer family—me, at least—will revere your name for generations.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Special Features

The trouble with being a multi-talented super-genius is that everything I create is really really awesome. Alas, there's just not enough room in this world for my art, and much of it never sees the light of day.

Until now!

I mentioned several months ago that I'd made a deal with my editor. My end of the bargain included cutting a lot of really great scenes from The Counterfeit. My editor's part of the deal is a little more secret, but let's just say it involves a tattoo parlor, a photo of Jack Weyland, and a lot of regret.

Anyway, the stuff that I cut from the book was good stuff, getting the axe not because of quality issues, but because of space and pacing. The scenes were either exposition or additional characterization (or just funny for the sake of it) -- stuff that's interesting to read, but not critical. So, it's gone.

I was very saddened by this, because, as I've mentioned before, one of the cut scenes was my favorite joke in the book. I couldn't let all this stuff go to waste, could I?

So, with a long weekend, and a convenient reason to procrastinate the writing of Book 4, I formatted all of this deleted material, and tossed it up on the old website.

Think of it like the Special Features on a DVD: I've got chapter-by-chapter commentary on the book, deleted scenes, and even photos. So far I've posted Goodies for the prologue and the first five chapters, and I'll update regularly--probably adding three or four chapters a week.

So, go and read!

Oh, wait. I should mention that, given the nature of the beast, this sucker's full of spoilers. So, you probably oughtn't read it all until you've finished the book. (Hint hint: go buy the book.)

For those of you who haven't read The Counterfeit yet, however, here are a couple deleted scenes that aren't terribly spoileriffic. They both take place in the first three or four chapters, anyway, so they won't spoil much.

Basic premise: Eric and Rebekah are witnesses in a terrorism trial. In the first few chapters of the book, they're taken into the Witness Protection Program. This scene takes place the first morning they arrive at their hidden destination. They're eating breakfast with the FBI agent. This scene takes place later that day, as Rebekah is leaving the salon (after getting her hair cut and dyed to disguise her appearance). Read them in that order, or else they won't make sense.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A Crisis in LDS Art?

Chris Heimerdinger published an editorial in the Deseret News today that I found quite thought provoking. The headline of the editorial was “LDS Filmmakers Cause Own ‘Crisis.’”,1249,645198547,00.html In his editorial, Chris made some pretty harsh statements against Richard Dutcher. The two of them spoke at the LDS Bookseller’s conference, and apparently have conflicting opinions on several issues.

I admire both Chris and Richard as storytellers and the success they have been able to achieve. I also like what I have seen of them as people. I have mixed feelings on their works and I have very mixed feelings about their apparent philosophies on LDS audiences, artists, and products.

I didn’t hear their actual addresses, so if you did feel free to contradict me here. But as I understand it, Richard is saying that LDS filmmakers have shot themselves in the foot by creating shoddy products. He blames a great deal of the lack of success of the second God’s Army film on the apathy of LDS audiences—supposedly created by poor films being distributed by LDS film makers. Chris also says that Dutcher blames LDS audiences as well. “But instead of blaming himself, Dutcher blames its failure upon fellow LDS filmmakers for "poisoning the pond" with a rash of recent bad films, or he blames the LDS people themselves for not recognizing great art when it's dropped in their lap.”

Up to this point I agree with Both Dutcher and Heimerdinger. Like Dutcher, I think LDS products are hurt across the board when shoddy work is offered up to the public.

LDS fiction—like LDS film—has received a bad rap, because of the glut of mediocre books published over the last five or six years. Apparently LDS publishers decided LDS readers would buy anything as long as it was sold in an LDS bookstore and had an attractive cover and title. This backfired on the publishers, the stores, and the writers. Sales went way down. Stores and publishers were stuck with inventory they couldn’t move. And writers’ sales numbers went way down.

Over the past year or so, publishers and retailers have become much more selective in what they will carry. Readers are starting to come back. And sales numbers for authors are slowly starting to increase. I believe the same thing will happen in LDS film.

Like Heimerdinger, I think an LDS artist is shooting him or herself in the foot—if not in the head—when he/she blames audiences for a lack of sales. “They don’t understand my work.” “All they want is fluff.” “They are afraid of anything challenging.” These are phrases I have heard many times from disenfranchised LDS artists.

As far as I’m concerned, they are hog wash. When you as an LDS artist are paying the audience to see your film or read your book, you can complain about their taste. But until then, it’s like someone moving to Utah and then complaining about all those Mormons. You knew the audience when you chose to write to it. If they don’t like your work, it isn’t their fault. It’s time for you to look in the mirror. As Chris says, “The market owes me nothing. I owe it everything. I am its servant, not the other way around.” Bravo.

On the other hand, Heimerdinger makes some comments that I don’t buy at all. Speaking about God’s Army 2, “I've heard it's well crafted, well acted, well directed and inherently offensive to most church members.” And regarding LDS films as a whole, “. . . I believe the moral will be that our movies should celebrate our doctrines and focus upon who we are as a people. We should abandon the notion of ‘crossover.’”

Inherently offensive to most church members. That is a strong statement and perhaps the most stinging criticism one can make about the work of a fellow LDS artist. I watched States of Grace and found it an excellent film. I wasn’t offended in any way. My mother and father watched it and felt the same way. Was it offensive to some people? Probably. But I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.

If as an artist I am afraid to offend anyone, I might as well never put pen to paper. Although Chris has said in the past that an LDS writer should never offend anyone, I know for a fact that some people are offended by Chris’s very books. Some people don’t like that he puts words in the mouths of characters from the Book of Mormon. Some people don’t like that he makes some assumptions about where the Book of Mormon might have taken place. Some people don’t like LDS fiction at all.

To those people, I say, “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” No one is making you read or watch anything you don’t want to. And as an LDS author, if you are offended by my books, I’m sorry, but I’m still going to keep writing. Personally I have no problem with Heimerdinger’s books at all, except that the stories seem a little cookie-cutter to me. But you know what? They’re selling like hot cakes, so obviously he is doing something right.

As far as the last line of Heimerdinger’s editorial, maybe I am reading it wrong, but it seems that he is saying LDS artists should not try to create books, movies, or paintings that appeal to the world as a whole. We should stick to the LDS market. To me that is bordering on blasphemy. Heaven forbid that a non-LDS reader should like my books. I’m sure that the Church doesn’t want non-Mormons to go to the Joseph Smith Memorial building and see their new movie, right?

Heck no! Most of the world still thinks that Mormons are Quaker-like folk who don’t dance, don’t watch TV, have horns, marry seventeen wives, and worship Joseph Smith. Wouldn’t it be terrible if some of those people actually watched Mormon films or read Mormon books and learned something? They might even find them entertaining.

Of course we want to create films and books whose primary appeal is to LDS audiences. But just as important are the books and films which appeal to audiences outside our faith. How much did you learn about the Jewish faith by watching Fiddler on the Roof or Yentl or reading My Name is Asher Lev? Those films and books were absolutely offensive to some Jews. But they opened the world of Judaism up to non-Jews.

Orson Scott Card wrote a book called Saints. Personally I found some parts of it slightly offensive. I know other people who did as well. But it opened up the world of Mormons to many non-LDS people. And it turns out those Mormons don’t have horns. They don’t worship Joseph Smith. And maybe most importantly, they are not perfect.

Will the LDS film industry recover from a couple of bad films? Of course. People may be a little more selective about what they watch. But that’s good! I was embarrassed by The Book of Mormon Movie. I, like many people cringed at its poor quality, weak script, and lamentable acting. But unlike many people, I am glad it was made. Children learn by making mistakes. So do industries. If there aren’t a few stones to trip over, how will we recognize the diamonds when we come across them?

I have full faith in LDS people and artists. We will continue to make better and better products. Products that rival everything the world has to offer. And as we make those products, people will notice and they will return. Hollywood and New York has been offering filth and calling it art. We can offer art and let people call it whatever they want.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Tao of Sariah or Why Joseph Smith Didn’t Make It Up Part II

By Sariah S. Wilson

Since Jeff has already accused me this week of being a raging egomaniac, might as well take advantage of it. So I’d like to talk about my name.

My name is usually mispronounced - although that trend shifted a bit when I was in high school and Mariah Carey became famous. It was such a relief to say “Sariah, just like Mariah with an S.”

Since there are so few women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, it does crack me up when I meet someone who is LDS and they wonder where my name came from. Mostly everyone’s read at least 1 Nephi. (When I worked at the MTC I used to remind the elders who asked about my name that Sariah is in the summary on the first page.)

How I got my name: For eight months of my mother’s pregnancy, I was Jennifer Christine. Jennifer, because back then it was oh-so-popular, and Christine for my father’s mother who died when he was little. My mother absolutely knew I was a girl. They didn’t even consider boy names (except for my dad who liked Bonzo Rex). My mom’s boss at the time said it wouldn’t have mattered if I had been a boy - my mother still would have dressed me in pink clothes.

Just before I made my appearance in the world, my father was at church and sitting in a priesthood meeting. He heard someone say, “Her name is supposed to be Sariah.” My dad started looking around to see who was talking to him. He realized that no one had spoken to him, chalked it up to weirdness and went back to listening to the lesson. He said he heard the voice again, “The baby’s name is supposed to be Sariah.” At that point he figured out where the message was coming from, and when he came home and told my mom, let’s just say she wasn’t thrilled.

But Sariah it was. As the attending nurse put my mom’s firstborn daughter (which was me) into her arms, the nurse asked if my mom had chosen a name. When my mom said they had, the nurse said, “Well, I hope it’s not Jennifer. I have an entire nursery full of Jennifers.”

My parents always told me that Sariah meant princess, since that’s what Sarah means and Sariah seems to be a derivative of that. It wasn’t until I got into college that I found out differently.

First and foremost - a little Hebrew language lesson here (with information being shamelessly stolen from Jeffrey R. Chadwick’s article over at FARMS called “Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri”) - Sariah is from the Hebrew sryh. I think some detractors said Joseph Smith had made up the name, since the Bible has no mention of any female names with sryh. (The Old Testament does, however, have 19 mentions of male variations of sryh.) This then had to be proof that Joseph was a false prophet.

But then came the Elephantine papyri. Elephantine is an island in the Nile, and the papyri are records of a Jewish community that lived on the island and date from about 459 BC to 399 BC. There is a significant line in one of the documents which when translated reads, “Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of Harman.” She’s mentioned because she contributed a fairly significant amount of money to “the Lord God,” most likely for the temple that existed on the Elephantine island. These papyri were not discovered until the 20th century (before 1903). So in one fell swoop you have a female sryh and a Hebrew temple being built by a Jewish colony (flattening those arguments that Jewish colonists would not have built a temple because they believed that Solomon’s temple was the only temple that could exist).

So when you look at the components of the name, there are a couple possible meanings depending on how you read it. The first professor I talked to told me that Sariah meant “princess of God” which for some reason reminds me very much of She-Ra, Princess of Power (now on DVD). The next professor I spoke to a couple of years later said that another way to read the name means, “Jehovah is my prince.”

I think it is one of the things I love most about Hebrew names - the meanings behind them, the powerful messages that are conveyed in a few syllables. Jehovah is my prince. He is The Prince.

And think of all the things you might not have learned today if I’d stayed a Jennifer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

It's a Mystery to Me (How I Get Myself Into These Things)

by Kerry Blair

I'd like to write a funny, touching, and/or informative blog, but all I can think about is murder.

The 3rd Annual Covenant Murder Mystery Dinner is five weeks from today. On that fateful Friday night, 225 detectives and 25 suspects will arrive at a posh wedding reception in downtown Salt Lake City. During the course of the evening, three suspects will kill, three victims will die, and the detectives will attempt to sort out the mess. (I mean, isn't that what murderers, victims, and detectives do, respectively? Who am I to deviate from a time-honored tradition?)

The "murder" in Murder Mystery is evident, but for it to be "mysterious" each of the two dozen characters must have motive, opportunity, and means to kill. I've spent about a million hours thus far trying to tie these characters together well enough to give them reason to suspect and despise one another. (Okay, a million hours is a gross exaggeration, but in the time I've spent plotting a two-hour crime-fest I could have written two novels, an epic ballad, sixteen essays, and ten or twelve haikus.) Yes, I am a plodding plotter generally, but there are also extenuating circumstances. The most extenuating is that these characters really are characters—in every sense of the word. Ripped (off) from the pages of recently-published Covenant fiction, they range from the merely oddball (K. L. Fogg's Imogene Vandergrift) to the simply bizarre (Heather Moore's Bashemath, the wife of Ishmael. You read that right, Ishamel. You know, Lehi's neighbor.) I'm not making this up. (I only wish I was.) Fully half the characters arrive via time machine. The Mad Hatter had a less eclectic group at his tea party.

All the characters are fun and unique (read: whacky), but my personal favorites include:

The Catacyclist from Rob's new thriller, The Counterfeit.
This guy has spent the last 14 years riding a bicycle around the catacombs beneath Paris. He's grimy, British, book-smart, and highly excitable. Terrific character, but how to account for his sudden appearance in Salt Lake City? Would you believe he's training for the next Tour de France? Don't worry, the other characters won't believe it either. The undercover FBI agent (played by Jennie Hansen) believes he's scoping out America's top secret missile silos. The Molly Mormon (played by Toni Brown) fears he wants to move into the Church's legendary vaults under the Wasatch Mountains. I can't wait to see what Jeff does with this role. Hope he can still ride a bike--up stairs.

Miss Eugenia from Betsy Brannon Green's famed Haggerty series.
Anyone who has read Betsy's books has fallen in love with Miss Eugenia. I'm no exception. Possibly I'm her biggest fan. No way could I cast aspersions on this lady's character, so rather than have her be a suspect, Miss Eugenia will buy a ticket to the dinner just like the rest of the guests. Unlike the rest of them, she won't take a seat. At least she won't sit in it very often. She'll be up offering sage advice to the bride and groom—and the wedding planner, the band, the caterers, the suspects, and perhaps even the corpses. Gotta love Miss Eugenia, especially when Betsy agrees to play the role herself!

Luciano from Michele Ashman Bell's newest Spy Kids, Rescue.
Luciano is a native Brazilian. Very native. He sports long black hair, paints his face, wears a grass skirt to formal functions, and hops around like a wild man. The groom met him when he and his companion tracted out his tree house deep in the rainforest; now Luciano is the best man at the wedding. Folks, this means Robison Wells finally gets to wear that grass skirt he’s been eyeing. (Other than the costume and make up, I assume he'll be acting pretty much like his normal self.)

Cord Dunes from Jeffrey Savage's new Shandra Covington novel, Dead on Arrival. (Released one month from TODAY, by the way!)
Anyone who saw Michele Bell's performance last year is breathless to see who she'll be this year. Well, you read it here first. Michele will play the pistol-packing, motorcycle-riding private investigator who is almost as pleased to be the maid of honor as she is proud to show off her colorful scars. I hear that Michele is haunting thrift stores even as we speak, trying on everything in black leather, and hunting for anything Harley.

I can see that I have a whole lot more favorites left than I have room to list them. You're just going to have to come to the dinner to meet Gilda Galveston (Jennie Hansen's Wild Card) and the rest of the cast of miscreants. I'd also love to introduce you to my daughter who will play Kerri McKee from Until the Dawn by Gale Sears. I’ve brought a family member every year now. My oldest son was the murderer at the debut function. Last year my husband helped run the show in the role of the Butler Didit. (I try not to question why Gary isn't coming back this year. He's very "busy," after all.)

I’m thrilled to have Hil this time around. It won't be long before we'll be planning her wedding reception and I’m hoping she'll like my ideas. I don't know if you've noticed, but LDS brides all seem to think alike. I can't count the number of gazebos I've passed this summer, but I havent been through even one twinkle-lighted graveyard on my way to the reception line. Hil's special night could be a bash that will have Chino Valley talking (read: gossiping) well into the next century. For sure we'll be better prepared to handle the intricate family dynamics that always arise at such affairs. If any of the characters in our family (and, believe me, we do have some characters in our family) get too far out of line, we'll get kindly Aunt Gilda to murder them with the cake knife.

Oh, wait! I may have just given something away that I shouldn't have . . .

There's more information about the dinner at and under News on my website