Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Until Today, I've Only Told This Story To Three People In The Entire World

by Robison Wells

You may remember that I said a few weeks ago that I'm not a Halloween fan. I'm not, and I'm not going to post today about werewolves or serial killers. However, today's blog is about my most frightening experience--the one time in my life when I was completely, utterly mortified.

In the seventh grade I was by no means part of the In Crowd. And while I wish I could say I was counter-culture and comfortable in my own skin, that was definitely not the case. I was nerdy and awkward, and I desperately wanted to be one of Them. I wanted them to like me, and I wanted them to talk to me. I wanted the girls to think I was handsome and I wanted the boys to think I was good at sports. I wasn't, in either case, but I would do anything if it meant I could be.

I ran for student government--not because I was interested in it, but it seemed like the popular thing to do. All of Them were running, so I figured I might as well. I imagine I garnered about four votes. However, shortly after the elections, the school counselor approached me about an appointed position in the government--happily meaning that no one would have to vote for me. I jumped at the chance, of course, and was officially dubbed the Seventh Grade Representative of the Steering Committee.

I didn't even know what that was. All I knew was that it meant that I'd go to meetings with teachers and parents every couple of weeks, and once a week I'd meet with student government--I was finally hanging out with the cool kids. All the popular boys and all the pretty girls were there--and they associated with me. They'd ask me questions, and I'd ask them questions. It was only during lunch period on Wednesdays, of course, and they'd rarely glance in my direction the other 167 hours of the week, but at least I had my foot in the door.

Well, time moved on and winter came, and a Student Government Retreat was planned. I was ecstatic. Not only would I be hanging out with the cool kids, but it was at one of their cabins, and we'd be skiing. (I had never skied in my life, but I was sure it was going to be awesome--They talked about it all time.)

The day came and we all carpooled up into the mountains. There was joking and laughing and general rowdiness. We were, after all, in the seventh and eight grades and rambunctiousness ran rampant. I was still an outsider so mostly ended up laughing with the group instead of telling my own jokes, but that was more than enough for me. I was sitting next to Adrian--the kid who had been Mr. Popularity Number One since the moment he'd moved in during the fourth grade. He was taller than the rest of us, with blond spiky hair, and he'd grown up in California so we all knew he must be a surfer. All the girls liked him. He was the best basketball player in the school. He's who I wanted to be.

When we got to the cabin, we immediately set off to explore the place. The guys claimed their bedrooms and the girls claimed theirs. As the school counselor was coming up the stairs Adrian quickly stepped into a linen closet. It was the first door she opened when she reached the landing, and he jumped out to surprise her.

It was perfect. He'd hopped right in, she'd opened it up, and he scared the wits out of her.

Plus, it was Adrian. Now we all had to do it.

Someone hid in the bathroom, waiting for anyone to open the door. When someone did, he jumped and shouted, and we all thought it was hilarious. Another kid waited behind a corner of the hallway, just standing there until someone came along -- eventually someone did, and the joke continued. Sure, it wasn't the height of wit, but we were in the seventh grade. Plus, Adrian had started it.

So I had to try it. I was on the upper floor of the house, and I heard someone coming down the hall. Not only would I scare someone, but it sounded like a couple of girls. They were sure to shriek!

I ducked into the nearest hiding spot, which was a dark, empty bedroom. In a flash of brilliance, I leapt under the bed--the girls would walk in, I'd grab one of their ankles, and they'd scream. It was the perfect plan.

They walked in.

But in my scramble to get under the bed I ended up facing the wrong direction and couldn't reach their ankles. Instead, I heard the door close.

And there I was, in what I instantly realized was one of the girl bedrooms, with two girls in it, and the door was closed. And I was under the bed. Terrified.

I didn't know what to do. I could hear them talking, but there was a blanket dangling down and I couldn't see their feet--I didn't know where they were. But I knew their voices: popular girls. One was the class vice-president. And I was nobody, and I suddenly realized that jumping out and scaring people isn't all that funny even if you get the timing right. By that point they'd been in the room for a couple of minutes--jumping out then would be...weird.

So I waited. I don't know what I was waiting for. A miracle, I guess. I was completely mortified. I was paralyzed. I was afraid to breathe for fear they'd hear me. I was so stupid. I was the nerdy, unpopular kid. And I was under the girls' bed.

I have never, never been so scared.

I wish I could say that I was able to sneak out of the room, or that the girls eventually left. But I can't. I laid under that bed, on the verge of tears, for over an hour. I listened to them talking as they got ready for bed, and I listened to them talking as they laid there awake. I said more than a few desperate, frantic prayers under that bed. I'd gotten myself into a situation that couldn't possibly end well.

And it didn't.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Down in the Dark

by Jeffrey Savage

In the summer of my thirteenth year I discovered a secret passage to another world. Since then I have continued to search for that passage on and off with most of my efforts in vain.

The year was 1976—when everything from quarters to appliance sales was labeled bicentennial. Our small New Jersey town was gripped tight by a summer heat that usually lasted from mid-June to early-September. The only relief came from the cloudbursts which regularly lashed the countryside with torrents of rain and spectacular lightning. But even then, the rain was warm, hitting the hot sidewalks and streets and immediately steaming back into the atmosphere.

Nights were marginally better. The air was still so heavy and moisture-laden you could taste it as you breathed in and out, but at least the temperature dropped a few degrees and the occasional breeze wafted fireflies to and fro like our own private star show.

From our sleeping bags on the screened-in porch, my younger brother and I waited for our parents’ bedroom light to finally go out. We were both as anxious as if it were Christmas Eve—although our pursuits were of a rather different nature than celebrating the birth of our Savior.

Clutching flashlights to our chests, we conferred in hushed whispers about how soon we could safely slip away.

“You think they’re asleep yet?”
“I don’t hear Dad snoring.”

“Maybe he isn’t going to snore tonight.”

“He always snores.”


Still completely dressed inside our sleeping bags—right down to our shoes—we turned our attention to our planned adventure while we waited for the buzz saw that was our sleeping father.

“What if we get stuck down there?” my brother asked.

“We won’t get stuck. The pipes are too big.”

“What if it rains?” My little brother was ever the pessimist. Perhaps because of experiences with the previous adventures I’d planned.

I, on the other hand, was sure this adventure would come off flawlessly. “It’s not going to rain. And besides, even if it did, we could float out of the drainpipes back to the river like a waterslide. That would be cool huh?”

“I guess,” he said, sounding less than thrilled with the concept. After a moment’s thought he asked, “Are there animals down there?”

“What kind of animals?” I hadn’t considered that possibility the day before when we’d laid out our plans.

“I don’t know.” He turned on his flashlight making a yellow circle inside his bag. “Rats. Or skunks. What about alligators?”

Alligators? Were there alligators in the drain pipes? The idea seemed at once both impossible and utterly believable—the way so many things do to young boys. Sensing my momentum slipping away, I made the executive decision that it was time to leave.

“Come on,” I whispered climbing out of my sleeping bag. “And turn off that light in case Mom and Dad are still awake.”

After a second’s hesitation he turned off his flashlight and we tiptoed across the sagging boards of the back porch, through the kitchen, down the stairs, and out the front door, holding our breath all the way. I pretended I didn’t care whether he came or not, but in truth I’d never have been brave enough to try this on my own. An eleven-year-old brother probably wouldn’t be much help against an alligator, but at least there was a fifty-fifty chance it would go for him first.

The trip to the river—really not much more than a slow moving creek with occasional deeper spots where we sometimes swam—was short and uneventful. We’d been playing there for years. But it wasn’t until a few days before, that it suddenly occurred to me the big concrete pipe, which dribbled out moss-colored water most of the year, probably connected to the pipes which ran beneath the gutters in front of our house.

Theoretically we could enter the drain at the river and follow it all the way home. We never thought to consider how we would exit the pipes once we actually reached our destination.

Gripping the trunks of the willows and saplings that lined the bank, we climbed down to the water’s edge and worked our way upstream to the pipe. By now we both had our flashlights on, casting everything around us into a collage of elongated shadows. As we reached the dark opening, I could feel my stomach tighten. My brother dropped back a few steps.

“It looks kind of scary,” he said.

It did look scary. Much scarier than it had in the light of day. Like a giant blind eye or worse, a large toothless mouth. It looked like the kind of place where a kid might enter and never be seen again. Still, I knew if I showed the slightest hint of fear my brother would turn tail and the entire adventure would be ruined. He’d probably tell our mom too. He had an incredible streak of honesty when it came to getting other people in trouble.

“It’s just a pipe,” I said, shining my light into the dark tunnel. “See. There’s nothing inside but a little water.”

My brother edged up beside me and peered into the pipe. Emboldened by his company, I leaned halfway inside. “Hello!” I shouted. Hel-looo a voice echoed back. It was creepy, but also kind of cool.

“I think you better go first,” I offered. “That way if the pipe gets too small I can pull you out.”

“Huh uh!” He shook his head. “You go first.”

With no way to back out, I took a deep breath and climbed the rest of the way into the pipe. Resting both hands on the smooth cool concrete—my light tucked under one arm—I waited to see if anything would come scuttling out of the darkness further inside. Deciding the coast was clear, I began crawling forward and threw a disgusted look over my shoulder.

“See. It’s easy.”

My brother cast a last look toward the river, as though trying to memorize the face of freedom and then followed me into the darkness.

The first five or ten minutes were uneventful. The pipe kept a roughly even course into the darkness and other than an occasional broken toy or candy wrapper, we didn’t come across anything unexpected. Crawling on our hands and knees, arms and legs slightly apart to avoid getting wet, we were able to move quickly and rather easily. The smell—musty with a hint of sour—reminded me of an old basement, and the air down here was much cooler than it had been outside.

We actually became comfortable enough to joke about what we’d do if someone flushed a toilet. Not knowing the difference between storm drains and sewer pipes, that seemed a distinct possibility, but somehow we weren’t bothered by the concept. In fact after the first few hundred yards we started to get a little bored.

“What if we found an opening and we looked through and it was someone’s bathtub?”

“What if there was an old lady in the tub?”

“What if I reached through the opening and pinched her wrinkly behind and shouted, ‘Crab claws?’” We both found the idea highly amusing, and laughed hard at our own joke. Our joking lasted until we reached a fork in the pipe.

“Let’s go right.”

“No. I think we should go left.”

“If we go left we might end up over by the high school.”

“If we go right we might go under the freeway.”

What if we went the wrong way and couldn’t remember how to get back out? In my plan we’d been guided by sewer grates every so often where we could peer out and judge our general direction. So far we hadn’t come across any grates. What if this pipe didn’t connect to the grates? For the first time I began to question the soundness of my idea.

“Right. Definitely right,” I decided at last, and quickly began crawling in that direction.

“I’m not so sure about this,” my brother muttered. But not wanting to be left behind, he followed along. A hundred or so feet further the pipe changed from concrete to corrugated metal and the diameter shrunk so that we had to duck our heads to keep from hitting them.

As we continued through the metal pipe, knocking our knees on the metal bumps, the bottom of the pipe began to fill with dirt and sand, making the diameter of the pipe even tighter.

“I think we should turn around,” my brother said. By this point I did too. My hands and knees were aching and I’d hit the top of my head more than once. But now we couldn’t turn around even if we wanted to. The pipe was too small.

About then we both heard something moving around inside the pipe. At first it was only a scratching like something digging in the dirt. But then echoing through the pipes we heard what sounded like a baby crying. Panicked, we wanted nothing more than to get away from the sound. Only in the confined space we couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Sometimes it seemed to be behind us, other times in front of us.

“Come on,” I said, trying to sound like I wasn’t about to cry. “It’s probably just a bird or something.” Of course it didn’t sound like any bird I’d ever heard. It sounded for all the world like an infant lost and crying inside the pipes.

For the next ten minutes we crawled like crazy. Shining our lights desperately back and forth. At one point we were sure we heard a man’s voice say, “Who’s down there?”

After what seemed like hours and miles from where we started, I saw a ladder extending up into the darkness. Grabbing the cold metal rungs we climbed quickly up and discovered a metal circle. I pushed as hard as I could and the circle moved. Another shove and the sky opened up before us. I can honestly say I have never been so happy to see haze-dulled stars in my life.

As we climbed up onto the street, a huge sense of relief, freedom, joy, and gratitude washed over us. We were only a few blocks from home. Looking across the street we noticed a boy of seven or eight sitting on the front porch of his house. He was staring wide-eyed at the two boys who crawled up out of the sewers and onto the street.

I looked at my brother, then turned back to the boy and said, “Hello. We’re the sewer rats.”

At my words, he jumped off the porch and ran into the house screaming, “Mom!”

Before he could return with his mother we had pushed the manhole cover back into place and disappeared.

When we returned home, we found we had been gone less than an hour. We never did find out what we’d heard in the pipes, although we did find out later that a man who lived a block away from the manhole had heard something in the pipes and called down to see who was there.

Eventually the fear went away. But the memory never has. The feeling of being in a world completely distant from the one we had left only minutes earlier. The adrenaline rush of thinking something would leap out of the darkness any minute and the relief when we finally managed to escape. I recognize that world in certain authors that I read. I intimately understood the power of Stephen King’s IT.

This is a world I want to create for my readers. But now I just use a different entrance.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bumps in the Night

by Sariah S. Wilson

I should probably frame this with you telling I am the biggest wimp alive. I don’t watch scary movies, for if I am foolish enough to see even a single scene (I’m looking at you “Stephen King’s It”) I will have nightmares for months. I will freely admit that I slept with a light on clear up until college and that even now if my husband is away on a trip, some of the lights will be left on at night.

I lived in a ranch home growing up in California, and our house model contained a “bonus” area. It was a raised portion of the garage. My parents finished it off for my grandparents to live in for a while, and when my grandparents moved out I was allowed to move in. It’s something that simultaneously thrilled me and scared me. As the oldest of nine, I’d never had my own room before (and a large room at that!). But the garage was set away from the rest of the house and it freaked me out to be away from the family like that.

I think some of my anxiety stems from the Night Stalker (a serial killer in California) who had been striking homes similar to mine in my formative years - the same color, right off the freeway, and whether or not that was his actual MO, we believed it to be. I remember how many people asked my parents if they were going to paint the house and how my dad very carefully checked and rechecked the locks on every door and window in the house before he would go to sleep. It made me a tad paranoid.

In my new all-to-myself room I had a day bed, the kind with the curly wire lattice all over the frame and girl that I am, had surrounded the edges with stuffed animals and pillows. One night I woke up because I heard a strange thumping noise. When I gained consciousness, I realized that the sound was the stuffed rocking armchair that I had at the foot of my bed hitting the wall over and over again. Thump. Thump.

I lay in bed frozen, literally unable to move. Thump. Thump. I could only see the top of the chair from my vantagepoint - the pillows blocked my ability to see the whole chair. I watched it rock against the wall. Thump. Thump.

I remember my sheer terror, the way my heart staccatoed in my chest, the silver taste of fear in my mouth, how I shook uncontrollably.

Thump. Thump.

I don’t know how long it took me, but I finally gathered some courage together. I had to look. I had to see what was making the chair hit the wall in such a rhythmic fashion. I couldn’t figure out what it would be - my imagination went berserk.

I sat up an inch at a time, my heart beating faster and faster. I reached for my glasses because I am completely blind and if there was some troll or goblin sitting in that seat, I had to see it.

Thump. Thump.

As I lifted myself up and looked over the side of my bed, there sat my cat Cinders in the rocking armchair, happily washing herself clean. Every bob of her head made the chair rock and hit the wall. An acute relief flooded through me and I threw one of my pillows at her. I made certain from then on that Cinders never came in my room at night again.

Has anyone else ever had a scary experience that turned out to be nothing?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Do Drop In for a Spell

by Kerry Blair

One cloudy October afternoon of the year I turned twelve years old, I ventured across the street from my house, pushed my way through reedy honeysuckle vines that had been left to run wild, and climbed thirteen stairs to the witch’s front door. There I rapped lightly and waited to be turned into a toad for my audacity. Everyone I knew, young and old alike, shunned the old woman who lived in that house. I always had too, but that particular day I was a girl on a mission. I was selling magazines. If I sold just two more I would qualify for the grand prize drawing for a portable TV. Unfortunately, every house in our small town had already been canvassed by prize-crazed adolescents. Every house except the witch’s. Nobody went there.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. Before I could sneeze, a miniature tiger wrapped itself around my ankles, purring so loud it sounded like a growl. The autumn breeze was cool on my bare arms and I shivered. Or maybe it wasn’t the wind that raised the goose bumps. Maybe it was fear.

The witch opened the door and I stared in open-mouthed wonder. I’d never before seen white carpeting or black lacquer furniture. (This was the olive-green/harvest-gold 70s, after all.) And nobody I knew had red Oriental silks or a crystal chandelier, so a living room of gingerbread and gumdrops would have surprised me less. Even the air was bewitching—Verdi, I learned later. (In our house, if the stereo was on Slim Whitman was yodeling.) The witch was appropriately garbed in a long black sheath and wore slippers of emerald satin—presumably because the ruby ones belonged to her sister in the East.

I couldn’t speak, but the old woman saw the brochure in my hand and took it from me. She invited me in and I went. It’s not so surprising when you think about it. Gretel fell for the gingerbread. Snow White fell for the poisoned apple. I fell for the witch. And I fell hard. It was four years before I left that enchanted parlor again any time I didn’t have to. I only left then because she left me first. Even the best witches are not immortal.

Ardena Leer (the most beautifully named enchantress since Morgan LeFay) introduced me to a world I never knew existed. I’d long been a reader, but I’d never dreamed there were books like hers. Leather bound, gilt-edged works of Emerson and Browning and Dickens, they were the source of her magic. All the beauty and all the wisdom in the world was at her fingertips. She wielded it with power, reverence, and great generosity.

In the first of many books she gave me—a small tome of Shakespearean sonnets—Ardena wrote in a spidery script: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit. It was a spell of the strongest variety. She wouldn’t tell me what it meant and she extracted from me a promise that I would ask no one else. I must learn to read the magic words for myself. Twelve university hours of Latin later, I am probably the only girl on my block who speaks a dead language. (Frankly, Latin hasn’t done me much good in life, but I figure it might still come in handy when I die. I’ll be able to take the gospel to any Romans Paul might have missed.)

I didn’t realize it until I sat down to write this paragraph, but I’ve long subscribed to only two magazines besides the Ensign: Writer’s Digest and Smithsonian. I probably don’t have to tell you they’re the same two the witch bought from me. Alas, my carpet is regrettably beige and my furniture is shabby chic, but my slippers are emerald (or ruby) and my silk scarf is Oriental. I have copies of most of the books that were in Ardena’s library and Verdi is among my CDs. In my lap is a cat, purring so loud that it almost sounds like he’s growling. The honeysuckle vines along my fence are dying back now, but I’ll let them grow wild again next spring.

So while I’m not a crone quite yet, I’m becoming. At least I hope I am. Every October (and many months besides) I think of Ardena Leer, town witch. It’s the noblest calling to which I’ve ever aspired.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Background Check, Check, Check, Is this ON?

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I love writing fiction. It's an incredible feeling to create these characters and see them through a crisis to the end. A lot of times, however, you have to do some research to "get it right" and make the story believable. Research is usually thought of as tedious and boring, but it is generally essential for a fiction writer. Unless of course you are a secret spy, or your bishop is an FBI agent, then you can write from experience I suppose. Sadly, I have neither of those things to draw on, (but if I did would I tell you? Secret spies are so . . . secretive, you know.)

I do have some experiences to draw on. Most of my books are set overseas and while I have done some traveling to Greece, France, and England, and I'm from Canada, there is always research to be done. It was during my research that I met some amazing people that I'd like to talk about today.

Scot Coulter was a huge asset for me when I was doing the research for Time Will Tell. He is an international pipeline safety specialist and was able to give me all the scoop about Turkey and the pipeline that crosses their country and supplies the world with a lot of oil. He also gave me huge insights about the people, the country and the working conditions that were priceless. I really enjoyed reading his e-mails every day (he was stationed in Iran at the time, then went back to Turkey). That kind of research is a lot of fun and I got to know a lot about an area of the world that not a lot is known about and hopefully that was conveyed in the book.

The book I just submitted is partially set in Iraq and I wanted to make that as real as possible so I asked a billion questions to Corporal Matthew Blair who'd served two tours in Iraq. Just getting to see a small slice of what he's been through as well as all the other men and women in the armed forces made me want to cry for their sacrifices. Yet they don't all see it that way—their patriotism and love of country and fellow man keep them going through it all. I really wanted that to come through in the book. These are ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things. It changed me and I wanted to write about it so others could be changed, too.

Two weeks ago I got to go behind the scenes in a California police department and do some research there. I got to see where the processing room, fingerprinting, and holding cells were, where dispatch is and I even watched a 911 call come in. The detective showing me around was very patient with all my questions as he showed me the training rooms, riot gear, brand new riot vehicles and night vision equipment. The most amazing thing though, after meeting the police captain, was watching a shooting demonstration by a Homeland Security guy. They took me through all the maneuvers and let me hold an M-16 that had been specially modified for the police. Then I watched them shoot. It was so fun and I can chalk it up to research because I totally plan to use it in the book. Big shout out to Ned, Tim and John of the Anaheim Police Department. You guys rock!

That's one of the perks of being a writer I guess, meeting amazing people like Scot, Matt, and Ned who are willing to share their lives and help with "research." These people have all had a long-lasting effect on my life and I'm so glad to have known them. So to everyone who's ever helped me with research on a book—I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You make my books more realistic and you've made my life richer. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tweaking and Shadowing

by Stephanie Black

I am amazed and awed by writers who create such coherent first drafts that they need to do only light revising before submitting a manuscript. I’d find it easier to rollerblade up Mt. Everest than to create something nearly publishable the first time I put fingers to keyboard. My outlines are rough—I know where the story is going, but not how to get there. The details will come to me as I write them, which means a lot of inconsistency in the first draft. Once the basic threads of the story are in place, I still need to do a lot of weaving—adding threads here, yanking threads there, weaving in new colors or patterns. Draft upon draft, the story grows richer and more textured until voila, I survey my manuscript and realize that this is nuts and I should have set my sights on a less complicated career. Like nuclear physics.

Actually, it is exciting and extremely satisfying to see a story developing. I’m currently nearing the end of the second draft of my contemporary suspense novel, which bears the snappy working title of novel3draft2. If anyone has any spare creepy titles sitting around—titles that connotes darkness or evil or betrayal or revenge or the traffic in Harvard Square—send them along. I'd like something to call this thing before I finish it. Of course, we didn’t pick a name for our oldest daughter until she was ten days overdue, so why rush it?

I’m figuring three drafts to get the story and pacing set and then a run-through to polish things up. It’s amazing how many details are involved in writing a novel. Here are some issues that have popped up lately: as the book nears the climax, the protagonist needs to, under extreme pressure, get to a certain location. This would not be a suitable time for leisurely perusal of a map (like, for instance, that time I was in labor, at midnight, in Boston—if you’ve ever driven in Boston, you can picture this—and we missed the hospital and I was trying to read a map, which I can’t do well under the best of circumstances, and did I mention I was in serious labor? Fortunately my husband has a much better sense of direction than I do, and no, I didn’t give birth in the minivan). Anyway, back to my character. Googling a map is also out of the question, but she’s only been in the area for a couple of weeks and has never been to this location. Ergo, I rewind and insert a bit in a much earlier scene that shows she’s studied a map of the area (and yes, she has a logical motive for doing so). I also tweak another spot to highlight her knowledge of the area. Problem solved! Foreshadowing ought to be called postshadowing when I do it.

Another hole to plug: the neighbor of the protagonist’s aunt becomes an impediment to the protagonist’s goal at a crucial moment as the climax approaches. Problem: we haven’t met the neighbor yet and I don’t just want to just pull him out of a hat for the needed scene. Solution: I find a likely spot earlier in the manuscript and send him strolling across the yard with a loaf of freshly baked bread and lots of friendly chatter for the protagonist. The friendly chatter is helpful because it makes it easy to slip in another bit of info that will be important later.

I was feeling good because I had only thirty pages left on my draft and things were going splendidly. Then as I was sitting in the dentist’s office—that veritable promised land of creativity—I realized that a character I needed on-scene at the climax would be something like twenty stinking minutes away. Whoops. But I can fix that issue without too much trouble. In fact, the tweaking may even add some additional tension and emotional shading, which would be delightful.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Does this look infected to you?

by Robison Wells, R.I.P.

**cough cough**

Hi. This, uh, **cough** is Rob. I was just calling to say **sneeze!** that I'm not going to be in today. I'm feeling just really awful. Yeah, it's pretty bad. I could probably come in, because, you know, I'm so devoted to my work, but I'd just feel so guilty about getting the rest of the employees sick. They're young. Let them live.


Yeah, did you hear that? It's really a mucusy cough. Yeah, a lot of phlegm. I think I've gone through every Kleenex in the house, and moved on to big rolls of toilet paper.


So anyway, no blog today. I just don't think I could make my fingers do any typing. They ache, you know. They ache like the fiery demons of hell are pounding them with sledgehammers. Yeah. Maybe that's an exaggeration.


Everything's starting to fade. All I have time to say is this: I was interviewed last week by the LDS Women's Book Review. Go and listen. It's a great discussion of my books and LDS fiction generally. When I die (like, tomorrow) this interview will go down in history as my last recorded words before I entered the hereafter.


Go. Click on the link. I'll be fine. You have your life. Enjoy it while you can.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dangerous Business of Tag

by Jeffrey Savage

From the ages of three until about six, I broke my head open a lot (which may explain my penchant for writing and reading odd stories.) I fell off a rock wall. I ran into wall corners twice. I also fell off a metal playground train in an Oakland park. Each time I fell I had to go to the hospital and get stitches. Once I bled completely through a bath towel and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

When my wife was six, she was tobogganing down a hill and ran directly into a very large pine tree; breaking her left leg, smashing her face, getting a concussion, and generally enduring quite a bit of pain.

In the fourth grade my friend and I were jumping from the edge of the tanbark box to the pull-up bars. (Remember the ones that were set at three different heights? Girls would often spin around on those bars and inadvertently flash their underwear at the other kids on the playground.) Unfortunately, as he reached for the highest bar, his hands slipped and he fell and broke his arm.

In sixth grade, I was playing tackle football with a couple of friends. As I was tackling one of them he fell wrong and broke his collar bone.

As a junior in high school I was playing football with the opposing ward on Thanksgiving and watched one of my friends shatter four of his front teeth.

I’ve also: experienced the results of searching for golf balls in what turned out to be a huge bush of poison oak, cut my brother’s finger with a pair of electric grass trimmers on a dare, gotten multiple black eyes while playing baseball and football, and fallen out of numberless trees.

I mention all this in response to a recent news story in which a Boston elementary school has outlawed tag because they feel it is too dangerous for children. That’s right, tag! Now I understand that kids getting injured on school property is a drag and can cost taxpayers money. But for pity sake, kids are going to get hurt at recess. It is in their very natures to take chances and do stupid things.

But may I suggest that while outlawing guns, chainsaws, and those crazy metal merry-go-round things that send kids flying, are probably a good idea, you can’t protect kids from every physical activity. Nor would you want to. That’s part of growing up. It’s a part of learning. Kids will be kids. And frankly I think kids are a lot more endangered by becoming overweight than by a game of tag. I say let the kids run.

And while I’m on the topic, I’ll see if I can tick a few people off by saying I don’t think you should protect your kids from the following either:

Teachers who disagree with what you believe.
Books with ideas or topics that might be challenging.
Friends of different faiths, races, or political persuasions.
Large words.
Foods you don’t like.
Making decisions that are not always the best for them. (I liked how Sister Hinckley allowed her oldest daughter to skip church one Sunday but made her cook dinner. I think it allowed her daughter to understand the consequences of skipping church. Not that she had to cook dinner but that she missed out on the spiritual messages the rest of the family received.)
The consequences of their own actions.
Trying things you know they will not be good at.
Cartoons that are really stupid.
Having to listen to their grandparents' stories for the twentieth time.
Things that might make them sad or angry. (See above)
Losing at games.
Battles they can’t win.
Things they won’t finish.
Instrument lessons they will quit.
Anything that takes them out of their comfort zone.
And the truth.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Things That Irritate Me Today

By Sariah S. Wilson

Things usually irritate me on a fairly regular basis, but I’m in a semi-grumpy mood today and so I am going to share some things that have recently driven me nuts.

Today we went to the pumpkin patch. For several years we’ve been going to this wonderful place - Irons Fruit Farm. They always have animals for the kids to pet/feed, donkeys to ride on, a hay ride out to a pumpkin patch, and a wonderful store and bakery that have the most amazing donuts I have ever eaten.

Donuts that I stood in line over an hour for today.

No joke.

The problem is that our nice, quaint, beautiful farm is no longer much of a secret. There were so many people there today we could barely move. It was a total nightmare trying to find a spot to park in - I saw one verbal altercation go down over a parking spot. What used to be this fun, relaxing and enjoyable experience is now so overcrowded that I’m not sure I want to go back. I couldn’t believe how long I had to stand in line to get my donuts. But they really are the best donuts ever, and almost worth the hour-long wait.

Don't even get me started on the mud there. I thought I might get sucked into the bowels of the earth.

I’m also peeved at people who think “Right Turn Only” lanes don’t apply to them. You know the ones I’m talking about. Not the people who accidentally get in the lane - they’re the ones who stop and put on their blinkers. No, I’m talking about the people who get over in that lane and then try to zip into traffic on the left side ahead of everyone else, not caring who has to slam on their brakes or how close they come to hitting someone else. I had one guy get into the right turn only lane and go straight through the intersection and drive on the shoulder trying to pass everyone. Maybe this isn’t a problem where you live. It is an ENORMOUS problem here in Ohio. Especially near my house. Right turn only means RIGHT TURN ONLY - not speed up fast and try to pass everyone on the left.

The third one is the one that most upsets me - we have a special ice cream place near where I live that serves amazing soft serve cones. I took my 4-year-old there the other day and shortly after we sat down, two other families arrived. The first was a mom with her three children - all blonde and very active. The next woman came with her two sons, who both looked to be adopted from Guatemala. I’m hyperaware of this sort of thing these days, and I enjoyed watching her little boys as they played. We were there eating for about 20 minutes (my son is the slowest eater known to man) until it was time to leave. When I went back to my car, I happened to glance into the car next to me. There in that SUV in the back seat was a baby, a little Guatemalan girl, who just stared at me. She was dressed in a coat and warm clothes despite the fact that it was a very warm day (and my own car was extremely hot when I got in). I stood there with my mouth hanging open. This woman had left her baby in the car by herself while she went to enjoy ice cream with her boys. She was out of sight of the car, and would have been unable to hear that baby cry or scream if something had been wrong.

I didn’t know what to do, and before I could make any sort of rational decision (in shock as I was), the woman returned to her car with her sons, glaring at me the entire time. I still stood there as she drove away.

How could anyone want a baby that badly, go to the lengths I know she had to go to in order to adopt that baby and then leave her in the car like she was a bag of groceries?

I wish I had done something. I wish I had written down her license plate and called Child Protective Services. But by the time I got myself together, it was too late.

I could only resolve to not be so indecisive the next time, and to know now what action I would take in the future.

I still worry and wonder about that little girl.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

by Kerry Blair

The World Series begins tomorrow. At my house this means hot dogs for supper, peanuts and Cracker Jack all around, and me and my mom huddled in front of the TV at five o’clock sharp. I am, you see, a fourth-generation baseball fan. Possibly I am a fanatic. In our family, the defect is carried in the maternal genes. My grandmother bled Dodger blue for almost ninety years. She was with me in the hospital for an October surgery in 1978. When I came to, the first thing she told me was the series standing and Orel Hershiser’s ERA. She figured that since I’d lived, I’d want to know. She was right.

Baseball has been here as long as America. A little longer, in fact. A soldier at Valley Forge wrote of General Washington: He sometimes throws and catches a ball for hours with his aide-de-camp. Every president has left at least one baseball-related story. When informed of his nomination for president in 1860, Abraham Lincoln said: I’m glad to hear of their coming, but they will have to wait a few minutes till I get my turn at bat. Calvin Coolidge is credited with “officially” declaring baseball our national game, and Herbert Hoover wrote: Next to religion, baseball has furnished a greater impact on American life than any other institution. (Wow. Even I wouldn’t have gone quite so far as that.) But John F. Kennedy observed in 1961: Last year, more Americans went to symphonies than went to baseball games. This may be viewed as an alarming statistic, but I think that both baseball and the country will endure. (So far, so good.) My favorite story, though, is about Ronald Reagan. In his broadcasting days he was once announcing a game from a remote studio when the feed went dead. Without missing a beat, Reagan simply made up the next ten minutes worth of plays. If anybody ever knew it, they didn’t care. It’s mostly how he ran our country, too, and we loved him for it.

But we’re talking baseball. As you probably know, the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Detroit Tigers in this year’s Fall Classic. Normally I’m National League-loyal, but once in awhile I jump bleachers. I just had to root for the Red Sox a couple of years ago. This year I’m leaning toward the Tigers. Not only do I believe that people who eke out a living in Michigan should get some kind of prize for it once every quarter-century or so, but the Tigers kind of remind me of the 2001 Diamondbacks. Man, what a year! My only claim to fame will probably always be that I published a book in June of that year predicting that the new Arizona franchise would go to the World Series. When the D-Backs beat the then-legendary Yankees just after midnight in early November, my phone started ringing and didn’t stop for three days. It was one of the highlights of my life and I had nothing whatsoever to do with it! That’s the crazy thing about fanaticism. I can’t quite remember my husband’s face when we knelt across the altar in the temple, and I’ve forgotten what the first kid they handed me in the labor-and-delivery room looked like, but I will always remember Jay Bell's face as he crossed home plate to win the World Series.

Let me tell you one great Tiger story and then I promise to let you get on with your Friday in peace. In 1934 the Tigers were playing for their first pennant since 1909—an eternity in baseball. They were led in both fielding and hitting by a young ballplayer by the name of Hank Greenburg. Disaster struck when a decisive game fell on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Whether Hank would (or should) play on a holy day became a hotly-debated issue across the country. He went to temple instead of to the ballpark and was immortalized by Edgar A. Guest:

We shall miss him on the infield
And shall miss him at the bat,
But he’s true to his religion—
And we honor him for that!

The Tigers lost that day, but America won. Maybe there’s a metaphor in baseball like there is in Disneyland. One of my favorite players (and people), Joe Garagiola, wrote: Baseball is only a game, but they keep a book on you. When it’s all over for you, the game has got you measured. This is precisely why I’ll miss Sunday’s game to go to church. (Think the Tigers will miss me?) But tomorrow and Monday and however many more days after that the series extends, I’m so there! As Yogi Bera said, You can see a lot by just observing and I want to see it all!

Play ball!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It's A Small World After All . . .

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last week I spent a lot of time in Disneyland and I think it's done something to my psyche. As I waited in line for the tram, then waited in line to get tickets, then waited in line to get in, then waited in line for rides, being crushed by the incredible amount of people around me, I had a lot of time to think. (Okay, with six kids, not a lot of time, but some.) And this is what I came up with. Disneyland is a lot like the world we live in. Let me explain how.

While I was waiting in line looking at the thousands of other people waiting in line, I thought that maybe that was what it looked like before we came to earth. We're all in this big area, wanting to "get in" to this incredible place called earth because we just know it's going to be really good. We patiently wait our turn as we're checked and stamped and pronounced ready to go. Okay, some of us patiently waited our turn. When we were at a Disneyland security checkpoint, there was a couple in front of us and the wife tried to get by the security guard while her husband was having their bags checked. The security guard stopped her and said that she had to wait even if she didn't have a bag. She freaked out. Seriously. She started screaming at the security guard, "do you want to strip search me too?" (Everyone was looking at her like she'd lost her mind. This is Disneyland!) Not that any offers of strip searching would have happened before we came to earth or anything, but the point is that some of us were probably impatient to come.

Once you get in to Disneyland you have a limited amount of time before the park closes and you have the option of taking a map and planning your day with rides, shows, and fireworks. There are fast passes and down times to get you where you want to be in the least amount of time, but you have to do your homework and organize yourself if you want to do that. You generally have to make a priority list, or start at one end of the park and work your way around, plan your work and work your plan---something like that. It's just the same as when we are here on earth. There are so many things to experience. We are given a map in the scriptures, but it's up to us if we follow it. Do you take the fast passes and follow the Prophet's counsel? Do you organize yourself to have family home evenings, scripture study and personal prayer? Do you have a priority list? Or are you flying by the seat of your pants with no plan at all hoping to get it all in before your time's up?

If you follow the crowd at Disneyland you get bogged down in line after line. We were working our plan, making our priority list of our favorite rides we wanted to see, and not following the crowd to get to see them without waiting too long. I was excited to see Soaring Over California, (my favorite ride), Pirates of the Carribean and the Haunted Mansion, because we'd been there years ago and knew they were cool rides that we wanted to see again. Soaring Over California is a spectacular ride, Pirates had changed quite a bit but it was still good, I was disappointed, however, that they'd changed everything in the Haunted Mansion from the amazing Victorian stuff for Nightmare Before Christmas. It was still worth it, though, and I was glad we were able to see all of them. So, just like on earth, sometimes it's better not to follow the crowd so we don't get bogged down and can have amazing experiences on our own even if it's not what we expected it would be.

People have a lot of expectations of Disneyland. Some call it the Happiest Place on Earth and expect it to be a magical escape. Watching my little boys' faces was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It really was magical for them. So when I staggered out of Disneyland late one night, the soles of my feet completely numb, (we actually got lost in the parking garage and I honestly didn't think I would ever walk again) we took the children out for a late supper. As I sat there massaging my feet, I watched them laughing together, reminiscing about the day and at that moment it really hit home to me what it's all about. It's about making memories as a family, so that when we're all grown up we can remember those family times and how close we were. It's all about our eternal relationships that we build here on this earth. It's all about love. Loving your neighbor (even the ones who cut in front of you in line), loving yourself, loving family and loving God. But maybe not so much loving Disneyland anymore. Until next year anyway.

Halloween Short Story Contest

Heads up, all you future Edgar Allan Poes! Blogger LDS Publisher is holding a Halloween short short story contest. Five hundred words max. The deadline is Thursday, October 26th. Click here for details.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Happy Haunting

by Stephanie Black

I feel Rob’s pain at being cold during trick-or-treating. We’re well into October now, and it is starting to get a bit chilly. Just last night when I came out of an orchestra rehearsal at quarter past nine, I was actually cold in my short sleeves, capris and sandals. I’m thinking that next week, I’ll wear a sweater. Oh yes, we suffer here in the bitter, windswept wilds of California. Sometimes it even rains.

It’s funny how perspective affects things. My husband grew up in upstate New York, where it’s cold, gray and snowy for approximately 364 days out of the year. So here in the Golden State he’s walking between buildings on a fifty-something degree winter day thinking, wow, isn’t this great, and meanwhile the person next to him starts griping about the cold. Maybe, just maybe, we’re a little wimpy here. But we’re friendly. And we have the Terminator for a governor. And on Halloween, we don’t have to wear winter coats and snow pants beneath our ballerina costumes.

Unlike the curmudgeon who posted yesterday, I’ve always loved Halloween. The spookiness—not icky, gory, spooky, but It’s-the-Great-Pumpkin-Charlie-Brown spooky, with pumpkins and ghosts and bats and big yellow moons—along with the costumes, the candy—yep, this is one of my favorite seasons of the year. My sister and I used to love going to Wal Mart to look at the Halloween stuff. When the door would slide open, a skeleton dangling from the ceiling would move up and down. That was the ultimate in cool.

As a child, I used to have bad dreams that I somehow missed trick or treating. Oh fate too terrible to contemplate! My sisters and I were Olympic-quality trick or treaters. None of those wimp-o-rama plastic pumpkin buckets for us. We wanted a BIG sack. We’d make the rounds and gather the loot and come home and dump it out on our bedroom floor to assess this year’s take. Candy bars would go in a row over here; Sweet Tarts and Bottle Caps over here, and so on. And oh, the sweet aroma of Halloween candy! I still love that unique smell—the blend of Snickers bars and suckers and gum and caramel and Pixie Sticks, etc.

We’re nearly set for Halloween here at our house. Yesterday we finally decided on a costume for the last uncostumed kid. Five kids is five costumes, which is a lot of make-believe, so it’s nice to at least know what we're doing, even if we still need to do do some rummaging in the dress-up box and so on.

Actually we needed six costumes this year. For the first time in ages, I needed a costume too. Our community orchestra’s October concert was an animal-themed Pops concert so we were invited to dress accordingly. Having only a passing and rather unfriendly acquaintance with a sewing machine, I headed to Party City to explore the pre-fab options. Fortunately for me there was sign reading, “All ears and tails 25 percent off.” Wow. How often do you find an offer like that? I went as a cat. Here in the Land of Make-Believe, we are also home to a medieval princess, Little Red Riding Hood, a witch doctor, a S.W.A.T. team member, and a little witch who chose her costume because of the sequined pumpkin on the front.

Come October 31st, we’ll have our pumpkins blazing and our trick or treat pillowcases primed and ready to go. Then for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be enjoying the leftovers in the giant candy bowl until that poignant day when nothing is left but banana Laffy Taffy.

Now I'm going to hurry over to Netflix and put the Charlie Brown Halloween special on our queue.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006


by Robison Wells

I've mentioned before how I'm growing grumpy and crotchety in my old age. I'm not a huge fan of outdoor activities, particularly those relating to the sun or to water; I abhor cellphones; I drive the speed limit, and think mean thoughts about those who don't; I throw rocks at kids.

So, if you're in the mood for more of my party-poopery, then read on. If you're not, then read on anyway, because I swear I'm right, and I need to convert you to my philosophies.

There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just spit it out: I don't understand Halloween, and I don't like it.

I was at Harmon's the other day (my neighborhood grocer), and next to the laundry detergent was a rotting, severed head. It wasn't real, of course--it was plastic. But it was gross, with bare bone in some places, and maggoty flesh in others. An eyeball hung out of its socket, dangling as if to say "Ravens and rats! Come pick at me!" Now, I'm not a squeamish fellow, by any stretch. It was not disgust that made me pause and contemplate the gory skull. No, it was that I simply can't understand why people think it's cool.

I'd imagine that there's a big chunk of parents who do everything they can to stop their kids from seeing rotting corpses, scary movies, and blood-drinking shape-shifting Transylvanians. But every October 31st, those same parents drive their kids down to the costume shop to buy fangs and bloodied cleavers and severed hands.

Now, I'm no sociologist (or cultural anthropologist, or whatever), but I'm sure there's no end of doctoral theses written on why society needs their annual gore-fests. Mexico has the Dia de los Muertos. China has Ghost Month, and Ireland has Samhain (also: Pooky Night, which is just about the neatest thing I've ever heard). But just because there's a good societal reason for it (assuming there is) doesn't mean that I have to like it.

Other reasons I dislike Halloween:

1) I don't like dressing up. I am, as I've said, a bit of a raging introvert.

2) I don't like trick-or-treating. It's cold, and it's often rainy, and there's usually something else I could be doing that doesn't involve cold and rain.

3) I don't like candy. Yeah, I know. I don't hate it, but after a piece or two, I'm good.

4) I don't like scary movies. Sure, I have a few favorites, but they're really the cream of the crop: The Shining, The Sixth Sense, etc. (Interesting note: the supernatural doesn't scare me, but crazy serial killers scare me. I think it's because they're real, and vampire ain't.)

5) I worked two Halloween seasons at a local Haunted House. Aside from turning me off to Halloween, it made me hate people generally, especially teenagers.

Not like any of this matters. My daughter wants to go trick or treating, and I'll take her. Maybe I'll even wear a mask--that way, I can throw rocks at kids, and no one will know it's me!

The Impossible Dream

Every once in a while I read a nationally published book and think, “I could have written that. In fact I could have written it better than the author.” It’s a good feeling knowing that you are as talented as some of the big boys and girls. Then there are the books I read and think, “Wow! How did that author ever come up with that phrase? I couldn’t create a character like that in a hundred years of trying. Why did I ever even consider the possibility that I could be a nationally published writer? It’s hopeless.”

Those are the days that make me want to give up writing completely and take up something a little easier, like, say, fishing. Fishing is great because it doesn’t matter if you are good enough to catch anything or not. Just sitting by a lake watching your bobber float on the still water, or watching your fly drift lazily past on the river is totally great. I am almost never frustrated, depressed, or demoralized while fishing.

The thing is, I learned a lesson early on from my mother. When I was eleven, I wanted a job. My Mom told me to go out to local businesses and ask them to hire me. I ended up at a bakery that paid me a buck and a half an hour off the books to wash big metal baking sheets. To this day, I can’t stand the smell of bakeries, but I liked the money. For a few years I delivered papers; then I sold newspaper subscriptions.

When I was fifteen I saw a job ad in the paper. It was for a mall Santa Claus and it paid seven dollars and fifty cents an hour! I couldn’t believe anyone would pay that kind of money to be a Santa. My Mom told me to call and apply for the job. Now imagine a fifteen year-old kid who is about 5’6” and weighs all of about one-hundred pounds applying to be a Santa. Crazy, right? Except when I called, the only question the lady asked was if I was good with kids. I told her I had three younger brothers and sisters and she hired me over the phone. Little did I know that the local high school cheer leaders all came to have their pictures taken on Santa’s lap. Va, va, va, voom!

When I was sixteen I got a job in a French restaurant as a cook. I’ve been a newspaper reporter. A CEO of an Internet company. The guy inside a Fotomat booth. Various fast food jobs. A plumber. Newspaper publisher. A software salesman. VP of Marketing for an international computer company. A technical writer. Circulation manager. Leak detector. Janitor. Seminary teacher (unpaid.) Computer store owner. Army Reserves. Computer parts distributor. And author.

I’ve developed TV commercials. Done interviews with everything from Rolling Stone to PC Magazine. I’ve been on TV and radio interviews. I’ve traveled to Singapore, Germany, the UK, Mexico, Canada, and Taiwan on business. I sold a seven month-old company for $105 million and watched the deal fall apart the next day when the NASDAQ crashed. I’ve had my arms covered with raw sewage and I’ve made a pretty decent hot apple crepe.

All this with no college degree and not all that much common sense. Which is not to downplay the value of a college degree. In fact I am envious as heck of Rob having the chance to get his Masters. Many of the paths I’ve walked would have been much easier with a college degree. And it’s not to say that I am anything special. In fact it’s quite the contrary.

But someone has to do all of these jobs. From the outside it may seem like the opportunity you want is out of your reach. That the people on the inside are so much smarter and more knowledgeable than you. It’s easy to think you just don’t have what it takes. But once you get through the doors, you find that for the most part people are guessing as much as you. They don’t have all the answers. Even Stephen King writes an occasional clunker and Grisham doesn’t always know what his readers want.

The people who don’t succeed are the people who don’t try. And sometimes the people who do succeed or not necessarily the very best, but the ones who keep trying and never quit. So when I read someone who’s a really great writer, I just have to tell myself that some day I might write something that will make someone else go, “Wow, how did he come up with that?” And hopefully instead of giving up they will be inspired to creating something amazing of their own. All it takes is not giving up.

As an aside, let me give Julie's new Eagle Scout/Duty to God book a big plug. Everyone with a son who hasn't yet earned these awards should have this book. It's incredible!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

What Editors Wish Writers Knew

By Sariah S. Wilson

Today I participated in an author panel for my local RWA chapter. I talked about the importance of the editorial relationship (which I’ve emphasized here before). I’ve always thought it very important that aspiring writers realize how important their relationship with their editor will be, and to treat it with total professionalism. As part of my talk, I had a “What Editors Wish Writers Knew” (and hence, the title of this blog ) segment which I present to you now:

Don’t be afraid to ask your editor questions. As human beings we don’t enjoy looking stupid or as if we don’t understand something, and when your new editor starts talking about P&L statements, instead of nodding and saying, “Uh-huh” it would be more helpful to everyone involved if you asked what that meant. No one expects a new author to know everything. They do expect you to ask about things you don’t understand.

Treat your editor well, and the favor will be returned. If you make your editor’s life hard, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Your editor will be your gatekeeper at the publisher. They will be your liaison, the one that will go to bat for you with the editorial committee, the marketing department, the cover designers, the one who will stop your book from getting a stupid title, etc., etc. This is not a person you can afford to make mad.

As much as we all would like to write our novels and have our publisher sell them and send us the million dollar checks, that’s not so much the reality. You are going to have to sell yourself. It’s your name on the book and you’re the one that is going to lose out if no one buys it. You have to be proactive. It makes publishers very happy when they see what you’re willing to bring to the table when it comes to publicity and marketing. It also might make them more willing to put money behind you with advertising of their own if they see how proactive you will be.

And as a final thought from the Evil Editor himself:

I wish writers knew how many other writers they’re competing with. If they knew that their query letters and manuscripts had to outshine those of half the people on the planet, rather than just a few of them, they’d put more effort into editing, revising, proofreading, organizing, and searching for the right words to produce clear, captivating writing.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Freaky Friday

by Kerry Blair

Today is Friday the 13th. Fortunately, I am not superstitious. I know perfectly well that while this morning has begun with a series of unfortunate events, they have nothing whatsoever to do with the day or date. Here’s what’s happened thus far:

While I was sleeping, the cat deposited a hairball (super-deluxe, extra-slimy edition) on the exact spot my bare foot hits when I get out of bed in the morning. My shrill cry of dismay activated our biological alarm system (the pit bull) who barked loud enough to wake the neighbors up the street -- the ones trying to get a little shut-eye in the cemetery.

After deactivating the dog and demucking my foot, I searched for my glasses. No luck. Thus I stumbled toward the bathroom like a newborn field mouse. Oh, wait. Bad analogy. There is a full-grown field mouse (or possibly a gigantic rat) decomposing at its leisure within the walls of my bathroom. The smell takes “putrid” and ratches it up six notches. When you read my next book -- and I know you will -- you’ll come across a vivid description of the odor of rotting flesh. Remember then that I know whereof I speak.

When my stomach settled I was ready for breakfast. Unable to make out the timer on the toaster oven (see "lost glasses" above) I reduced a blueberry bagel to a charcoal briquette. This wouldn’t have been so bad if not for my new high-tech smoke detectors. “Smoke detected in kitchen!” a mechanical voice screeched hysterically. “Evacuate! Evacuate!” Before I could resume breathing, let alone turn it off and/or run for my life, another took up the cry: “Smoke detected in hallway! Evacuate! Evacuate!” Soon, five hysterical voices were screaming all over the house. Two of them were me and my mother. (But, you know, I’ve always wondered what happened to Will Robinson’s robot when Lost in Space was cancelled and now I know. He’s doing voice-overs for a smoke detector manufacturer in Toledo. When that company starts adding little waving arms to their excitable round boxes they’ll really have something.)

If I were superstitious I might attribute all this to the date on the calendar. (Or to the mirror I broke five-and-a-half years ago, the ladder I walked under last week, or the black cat that crosses my path every time he musters up the energy to drag his fat, lazy carcass out of the easy chair.)

But I’m not superstitious. Really. I toss salt over my shoulder only because my grandmother did and it seems like a charming way to remember her. Everybody knocks on wood, picks up pennies, crosses their fingers, tosses coins into fountains, blows out candles on birthday cakes, and wishes on the first star of the evening, so none of that could be superstitious in origin. Right? Sure, I avoid stepping on cracks, but here in Arizona they're likely to have centipedes in them. I hold my breath going through tunnels, but that's because I'm claustrophobic. Moreover, the horseshoe that hangs over my door is a memento from a family camping trip. The European witching ball is a decoration, as is the Native American dream catcher. The fairy rings on the front lawn form by themselves. (I can’t grow a tomato, but if you ever need a poisonous toadstool for an omelet, I’m the girl to go to.) The four-leaf clovers in so many of my tomes are bookmarks. And, while I do sometimes remember to say "Rabbit, rabbit" first thing on the first day of a month, I have never, ever possessed a rabbit’s foot that was not still attached to a living, breathing bunny at the time.

So, clearly, I am not superstitious. So what if I just spilled orange juice on the keyboard, causing my right "shift" key to stick? that could have happened on a tuesday the 10th.

Don’t worry, I’m fine, but I can’t blog anymore today. In fact, I think I'll go back to bed. My throat feels a little scratchy. I may be coming down with something. Possibly paraskavedekatriaphobia. I hear it’s going around.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name . . .

By Julie Coulter Bellon

I have always loved Shakespeare. When I first started reading it, I was amazed at the imagery of his words and the compelling stories that tugged at your morals. I understood it, I identified with it, and I loved it. That was part of the reason why I wanted to become a writer, to be able to create something beautiful that others could identify with, and to tell a story that had bite to it.

The language has changed somewhat from when Shakespeare was alive. Instead of, "But soft what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Juliet is the sun," it's more like, "Yo, that's a phat looking light you got going on behind you. Let's get your flirt on." I wonder if Shakespeare would cringe or embrace the language as it is now.

As I teach my journalism class at BYU, I am also fascinated by how many internet acronyms make their way into the papers that are turned in. Instead of wanting to create something beautiful, it seems to me that the norm of the day is to abbreviate as many words and expend as little effort as possible. If I were to take their lead, my next novel (if it had Batman and Robin in it) might go something like this:

Batman pressed the phone closer to his ear. "AYT?"

"Yeah, HCB AYT?" Robin's voice cracked as he moved away from Batwoman. She cornered him and began to run her fingers through his hair.

"I'm HLOLARAWCHAWMP watching you on the Bat-video-phone. You look nervous. Are you GTKHB?" Batman said. "Women, TADT, DYK?

"TAFT, don' t you think?" he said, TIC hoping to USAT.

"S, TMIKTLIU, but I'm TOY," Batman said with a BEG. "GTG. ST-TNG is on."

"Okay, B4N, but when you BAB or are BAC, LMK. Until then LLAP." Robin said.

"CMIIW, but that's not ST-TNG, that's ST," Batman snapped. "CUL8R."

"Okay, C4N." Robin hung up the phone and turned back to Batwoman. "DYJHIWTH?"

As a teacher and a writer, it's interesting to me how fast-paced life has become and sometimes we seem to miss the beauty of creation whether it's creating a story, creating a painting, or enjoying the creations of those around us, or especially appreciating the creations of God. Are we so abbreviated in our lives that we've lost the true savor? Maya Angelou said that she takes time every day to just sit and ponder and look out her front window. I like to do that, too, because is slows everything down for a moment and dissolves the clutter for me and lets me feel. I don't want to abbreviate my life into fast-paced busy-ness. I still want to feel inspiration and vision that ignites the imagination within. I don't want to be reduced to an IAD.


Acronym Dictionary (for those of you who don't know and might want to try to look cool in front of your teen's friends.)

AYT-Are You There?

HCB-Holy Cow Batman

HLOLARAWCHAWMP--Hysterically Laughing Out Loud And Rolling Around While Clapping Hands And Wetting My Pants

GTKHB-Getting to Know Her Better

TADT-They All Do That

DYT-Didn't You Know

TAFT-That's a Frightening Thought

TIC-Tongue in Cheek

USAT-Use Some Avoidance Techniques


TMIKTLIU-The More I Know The Less I Understand

TOY-Thinking of You

BEG-Big Evil Grin

GTG-Got to Go

ST-TNG-Star Trek-The Next Generation

B4N-Bye for Now

BAB-Build A Bridge

BAC-Back At Computer

LMK-Let Me Know

LLAP-Live Long And Prosper

CMIIW-Correct Me If I'm Wrong

ST-Star Trek

CUL8R-See You Later

C4N-Ciao For Now

DYJHIWTH-Don't You Just Hate It When That Happens

IAD-Internet Acronym Dictionary

EOD-End of Discussion

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Question of LDS Content

by Stephanie Black

Oh joyful day! Instead of posting a list of questions for readers, this week I’ve decided to steal my topic directly from Jeff’s blog. I’d say I’ve hit a new low in originality, except, well, I’ve done this before. Jeff's blogs are just so dang interesting.

In his list of questions about LDS fiction, Jeff asked the following:

Do you like or dislike the trend in LDS fiction of having more novels without much specific LDS content? Why?

My answer is: I like it.

I like it because I think it will offer more flexibility in the kinds of stories authors can tell. I like it because I think eventually it will broaden the market and attract more readers. But this will only happen if the books are absolutely excellent (like Jeff's Shandra Covington series) because otherwise, why would a reader come to an LDS bookstore for a not-very-LDS-specific mystery? Why not just pick up the latest national novel at Barnes and Noble? But if LDS fiction can gain a reputation for excellence along with cleanliness, that's going to bring in the readers.

In the comment trail, a couple of people pointed out that if a book doesn’t have specific LDS content, why not just go for the national market? Good question. I think there are a few reasons why an author might choose to aim a non-LDS-specific book at the LDS market. For instance:

*The author already has an established relationship with an LDS publisher and would like to continue working with that publisher rather than shifting his/her attention elsewhere.

*The author likes the atmosphere in the LDS market. There is a wonderful camaraderie among authors here.

*The author likes not having to worry that an editor will pressure him/her to add objectionable content.

*The author has an established readership in the LDS market and wants to focus on that.

*That author has chrematophobia.

A good, clean story is a good, clean story, and that’s what I’m looking for when I open an LDS novel, whether or not there are specific LDS references.

Now as to the trend Jeff mentioned, here’s a word of caution for aspiring authors. Jeff ran his idea for a clean, not-specifically LDS mystery series past his publisher before he wrote it and he got approval. (Jeff, correct me if I’m wrong). On the other hand, when I, in my pre-pubbed days, submitted a book without specifically LDS content, I was told they wanted it to be more LDS, and I know of other authors who have had similar experiences. So if your book idea isn’t specifically LDS, you might want to check with the publisher before you write it. If they aren't interested, you can decide whether you’d rather write something different for the LDS market or write that book for the national market. I do understand the rationale behind LDS publishers' wanting specifically LDS content--they want books aimed directly at their target market. But I think there's room for both kinds of books in the market and I'm pleased with the success of Jeff's books.

In fact, I'll make a confession. I’m really, really jealous of Jeff Savage because not only can he can write fantastic suspense novels for the LDS market and fantastic horror novels for the national market—simultaneously—but his fashion sense is unparalleled. Ask him sometime about that groovy purple glitter belt.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

For Love of The Game

by Robison Wells

I changed my major four times in college. While many of my friends had very definite aspirations, planning on being doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs, I was firmly procrastinating my decision. I started in architecture, moved to anthropology, moved to history, and finally landed in political science. While all of them fascinated me, I didn't have a deep passion for them; I didn't really want be an architect or an anthropologist or a historian or a fry cook. I liked reading about the subjects, but didn't want to work in the field.

In contrast, I have a friend (Ben) who recently took a $35,000 pay cut so he could go work for a video game company. Now, aside from the fact that if I took a $35,000 pay cut I'd be living in a cardboard box by the railroad tracks, I was simply astounded that Ben would make such a switch. It was hard for me to imagine someone having so much love for their work that they'd sacrifice more than half of their paycheck.

I have another friend, Steve, who is a typographer. Back in high school, we all thought that Steve was a little eccentric--he spent a lot of time on the computer and loved fonts--but all teenagers are eccentric. Who knew that this was his real love? Now Steve runs a website, and works on the staff of the world's largest font reference book. In critiquing fonts, he says things like this:

With its friendly quirks, Vista Sans is a lot like Tarzana — another Emigre font — but succeeds everywhere Tarzana fails. The more distinctive glyphs feel harmonious with the rest of the font, never jarring. Gentle swashes and a large x-height make for a friendly sans that would work just right in so many settings, it seems an excellent investment.

To the rest of us, out here in the regular world, Steve's analysis seems bizarre and almost laughable. But when you think about it, he's so immersed in typography that he views fonts--something that most people see as mundane--to be art. He's passionate about it. It's the kind of passion I only wish I had about my work.

I found out about Ben's occupation change from an author friend of mine. While we still laughed about Ben's disregard for a big ol' chunk of money, my author friend made the following statement: "You know, I'd take a 35k paycut if it meant I could write full time."

And you know what? So would I. I'd never realized it, but I have a passion for writing. Yes, I always make fun of people who say silly things like "I was born with a pencil in my hand" or "Writing is life!", but I've discovered that writing is the first job I've ever really loved. It's on my mind all the time, both my books and other people's books. I love to talk about the state of the market, and the development of the genre.

It's the first time where money is a means to an end, rather than the end itself. And it feels good. It's nice to care deeply about something, rather than just go through the daily motions.

Consequently, I am hearby announcing that I'm going back to school. Life's too short to spend it doing something you don't love. I want to feel the same kind of passion for my work, like Steve's passion for fonts or Ben's passion for programming.

Note to my future boss: just because I'm going to love my job doesn't mean you should pay me less.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Beaver Day!

Gosh, feels like I was just doing this—what? Three days ago. Time flies when you are behind your self-imposed deadline. Since you have heard so much from me lately and these questions disguised as blogs seem to have been so successful lately—(Rob, Julie, and Stephanie, I am talking to you) I thought I’d pick your brains a little bit. But first I will actually write something (Rob, Julie, and Stephanie.)

My daughter brought home an interesting devotional from BYU. The speaker—whose name I can’t remember (Rob, Julie, and Stephanie) got a hold of the picnic index. This was a report done by some yogurt company that tracked the number of picnics families go on. According to the study, there is a direct correlation between what he called social capital—or the time families spend together—and the confidence in our country as whole. The number of picnics dropped as our confidence in our country dropped. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but I am all for more family picnics. So get out the tablecloth and fried chicken, whip up some potato salad and deviled eggs and help out your country.

Oh, and also, Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, please pass the roast beaver! (That last part was just a joke. Canadians don’t actually eat roast beaver. They fry it.) Okay, just kidding Julie. I actually have been celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving all day today, by eating everything I see and saying "eh" a lot.

Now for my questions. At my book club presentation, the first question I was asked was what defines LDS fiction. I explained that LDS fiction does not have to be about LDS people. It does not have to have major LDS themes. Mostly it is published by an LDS publisher and meets LDS publisher standards. My question is: Was I wrong? So here are my three questions:

1) How do you define LDS fiction?
2) On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) how would you rate the overall quality of LDS fiction compared to the overall quality of national fiction.
3) What are the last three national novels you’ve read? Do you think that could have been published by an LDS publisher? Why or why not?
4) What changes if any would you like to see in LDS fiction?
5) Do you like or dislike the trend in LDS fiction of having more novels without much specific LDS content? Why?
6) Without mentioning any names (Rob, Julie, and Stephanie) how many of your top ten favorite contemporary authors are LDS?
7) Why do you think certain LDS authors (Rob, Julie, and Stephanie) are relying on questions for their blogs?
Okay that last one was a trick question. We know (Rob, Julie, and Stephanie) have just been busy writing their new books and cooking like crazy for Canadian Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Problem with Reviews

By Sariah S. Wilson

Which voice do you listen to?

I don’t mean the voices you hear in your head (and if you’re a writer, we all know you hear voices, but hopefully they’re not the boil-the-bunny kind). I mean the voices who critique your work.

My first readers are my mom and my sister. My sister usually just praises me. I know she’d tell me if she didn’t like something (and she was quite upset about some deaths in my second book), but mostly she’s my, “I loved this, send me the next chapter soon” person.

My mother, on the other hand, tries to find whatever she can that’s wrong with a chapter. She’s told me that she feels like I *want* her to find problem areas because I won’t “believe” her if she says she loves it. I don’t know how this got in her head, but it is now stuck there. When she really doesn’t like something it’s helpful - I’ve fleshed out/better explained certain scenes.

My other readers are a critique group that I have for my non-LDS romances, and they are wonderfully helpful, but I haven’t sent anything to them in a long time. Mostly because…criticisms are hard. Even when they’re helpful or dead on, they’re difficult to take. No one wants to hear that their writing isn’t perfect. They want the reader to swoon over the sheer greatness of it all. We want buildings erected in our name. Parades down Main Street. Barbra Streisand to give another “this is my absolutely, totally, last, final and I mean it this time” concert for us and our magnificent writing.

But alas, there is no ticker tape. No majorettes. No being subjected to Barbra’s “good side.”

Because whoever said you can’t please all of the people all of the time was right (shocking, I know). Sometimes really excellent authors can't even please a few people.

Not pleasing people is no fun. The only outside reviews I’ve received at this point have been from the anonymous reviewers at my publisher. There is one particular reviewer that I love (who I think reviewed my first book as well) and they seem to get me and my writing and have completely helpful suggestions and point out things that I’d missed. The other two, while still giving me very nice overall ratings, felt like red-hot pokers going through my chest.

But then I had to take a step back (much easier said than done) and remind myself what I said above - I can’t please everybody. One person thought my villain was weak and whiny. The other reviewer thought he was cutthroat and dangerous. One adored my heroine and admired her loyalty and intelligence, the other thought her annoying and a distraction to what they thought the focus of my story should have been on.

So again I ask - what voice do you listen to? Which opinion do you take?

The answer: your own.

You’re the writer. You get to decide what the story will be. Some people may not like it, and that’s okay. You write the best story you can. Listen to the opinions that are offered to you. Give more weight to the advice from professionals (like your editor) who want your book to succeed (while keeping in mind that sometimes, like poor Rob, you may have to cut your best joke because it doesn’t go with the rest of the story). But ultimately, remember, that it is your story and it is your opinion that matters most.

As for me, I’m ready for my parade and concert, thank you. I’ll take all the over inflated praise and adulation I can get.

Friday, October 06, 2006

One step at a time

By Jeffrey Savage (filling in for the illustrious Kerry Blair)

I’m not sure about chivalry, but how can you not say yes when sweet little Kerry asks you to write for her? Even if her blogs are so much better than mine. Alas and alack.

Anyway, last night I spoke to a ward book club that Julie so kindly invited me to. First of all let me say it was wonderful. Twenty plus people there, almost all of whom had read my book. Standing room only, because it was moved at the last minute to Julie’s house. Adorable babies crawling around and people who actually liked my first book (no they weren’t one and the same, Rob.) What more could a writer ask for? I even got e-mail questions from an ex-police officer who couldn’t make it. It felt like being on ESPN, “Jeff, a writer from Pleasant Grove asks why the police didn’t get a warrant when they arrested her.” “Well, Bob I’m glad you asked . . .”

One of the questions was asked by an older gentlemen in the room. He wanted to know if you got better the more you wrote. That is a question I’m not usually asked at these types of events, but one I almost always bring up in the writing classes I teach. I’d like to tie the answer to one of my heroes—a man who inspires me although I’ve never met him personally. His name is Peter Strudwick.

Peter was born in Germany shortly before WW2. When he came into the world, doctors discovered that both of his legs ended at the ankles and both of his hands were missing fingers. They suggested that his mother have him killed, because obviously he would never be of any use to anyone. Instead she fled to America.

Let’s fast forward over thirty years. What would you imagine Peter might be able to accomplish in life? Could he be a good father? Sure. A successful business man? Probably? Could he walk? I guess. Although he describes the effort as being like walking on coffee can stilts. There is no leverage because he has no feet.

But of course he would have limitations. Would you imagine that he could walk ½ a mile? A stretch. Could he run half a mile? Probably not. Ten miles? A marathon? Crazy right? Where do you draw the limit on what a person can accomplish? What if I told you that Peter not only ran a marathon, but that he ran dozens of marathons—including the Pikes Peak Marathon, the hardest of all marathons, four times.

Imagine that. A man with no feet even conceiving of running a marathon that goes thirteen miles and over 8,000 feet to the summit of Pikes Peak (14,000 plus feet) and then back down. And actually completing it four times! I don’t know about you, but it boggles my mind.

So how did he do it? Of course one step at a time. And honestly that’s what it’s all about with anything we try to accomplish in this life. I wrote a while back of the audacity it takes to write a book. But more accurately it is faith mixed with a little confidence. You have to trust that somewhere at the end of all the words is a completion to your book. When you write the first word, it feels infinitely far. At times you are sure you will fail. And it is quite possible you might. But if you persevere, eventually the conclusion comes into sight. And if you are very lucky you get to hold the finished product in your hands and wonder at its very existence.

Sometimes getting those first words onto the page is literal hell. Very much like the first running Peter did. He smoked and drank too much, was very out of shape, and collapsed several times just trying to go around the block. But somehow the next day, he went back at it. It was never easy early on, and even when it got easier, he could drop almost back to the beginning if he quite for a while. But ultimately he succeeded and became an inspiration to millions.

I don’t think I’ll ever have millions read my books, let alone be inspired by them. But I know that if I try to keep writing a little every day I will get better and it will get easier. I know that when I stop for weeks or even months, it’s hard to get going again. I know that at times it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done and at others time the words will literally flow off my fingertips.

Anything we try to do is like that. Reading the scriptures. Prayer. Being patient. They all take work. And they can all be accomplished one step at a time. So the only question is one from an old Microsoft commercial. “Where do you want to go today?”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Wherein Kerry Is Away Again

by Kerry Blair

Chivalry is not dead! But I am. Almost. I came home from Utah with an awful case of . . . I don't know, probably malaria. (Well, it feels like malaria. Unless it's the Black Plague. Or maybe rabies. For sure I'm sick.) So Jeff, gentleman that he is, agreed to step in and take over for me tomorrow. I'd hoped he'd also agree to catch up my laundry and scrub the kitchen floor, but he drew the line at posting in the frog blog. Hmm. Chivalry may be wounded a little, come to think of it.

But I haven't forgotten about the Toward More Scenical Speech thing. (Even if the rest of you have!) The winners are John Ferguson (for correctly identifying all three poets mentioned in the first post. Either he's very literate or very good at googling) and cantinflas for submitting a quote from William Blake. (I really, truly did put the names in a sack and drew one to be fair, but if I hadn't, I would probably have chosen cantinflas. Funny how things work out, huh?) Anyway, if you two will send me your addresses, I'll send your prizes.

Now I'm going to go prop myself up in a chair or lay down in the corner or go out to the porch swing with a flashlight and finish reading Dead on Arrival. (I started it this afternoon and won't be able to sleep until I finish. FABULOUS book! One of the best I've read in . . . ever. Wish I could remember who wrote it.) Wherever I decide to read, it certainly won't be in bed. As Mark Twain pointed out, more people die in bed than anywhere else. The way I feel, I don't dare take the chance.

Thanks, Jeff!

Can You Guess Who Said That? I Bet You Can't

by Julie Coulter Bellon

When I was changing my bed linens, I realized that we haven't flipped the mattress for a while, so I had the brilliant idea that I would flip it myself. A king size mattress. So, as I have it with one side almost touching the ceiling and I'm standing on the bedsprings trying to flip it over, (it was a lot heavier than it looked) it knocked me down, hard. I think I broke my finger. But, in the spirit of tenacity, I did manage to flip it and I only broke everything on my night stand and knocked my gigantic stack of books off. I've now come to the conclusion that it's not a good idea to try to flip a king size mattress by yourself. If nothing else, you need another person there in case you knock yourself unconscious.

So, because of my injury, I'm not doing so well in the typing department and since other bloggers have done little surveys and quizzes I thought I'd do a challenge for you today. I have several favorite movies that I will watch over and over again. I've listed some of the famous lines from those movies. See how many you can guess. Maybe if someone can guess them all, I'll give them a prize.

1. Help, help, I'm being repressed.

2. Insanity runs in my family---it practically gallops.

3. When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his crew was well motivated.

4. Why is New Jersey called the Garden State? Cause it's too hard to fit 'Oil and Petro-Chemical Refinery State' on a license plate.

5. Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

6. A bird may love a fish, signore, but where will they live?

7. Did I just hear that the animal turned inside out, then it exploded?

8. If I'm not back in five minutes . . .just wait longer

9. If love was a choice, who would ever choose such exquisite pain?

10. My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes. That's a sentence I read once and I say it over to comfort myself in these times that try the soul.

11. They say you're the world's only living heart donor.

12. 'Cool?'' Um no it's, SLAMMIN'!

13. To love is to burn, to be on fire!

14. You'll never make Jack-a-Daddies out of them boys.

15. I may not know karate, but I know crazy
You've lost your 'winging it' privileges!
We're not pinatas, we're men

16. You Americans, you're all the same. Always overdressing for the wrong occasions

17. If hate were people, I'd be China!

18. What kind of name is Poon? Comanche Indian

19. Back off, man. I'm a scientist.

20. Privacy is a privilege.

21. Do not insult the freaks.

22. (singing) And while we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid.

23. It was a run by fruiting!

24. Put some Windex on it!

25. Why are you trying so hard to fit in...when you were born to stand out

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Getting to Know You

By Stephanie Black

We have, over the course of our e-mail years, been the recipients of approximately 10,459 getting-to-know-you surveys. Thus inspired, my husband created his own survey, a masterful creation that plumbs the deepest depths of our psyches.

Here is his survey, somewhat altered by me to better suit our blog. Come jump up and down on our cybercouch and reveal the truths that define your soul.

Important note: Don't feel like you have to answer every question. Just choose the ones you like and ignore the rest. For instance, you could choose your favorite three or five or ten or fifteen. Or if you're feeling adventurous, by all means, tackle them all!

1. If you could be any Muppet, which one would you be?

2. What is your favorite nine-letter food?

3. Who is your favorite Byzantine emperor?

4. If you were a professional wrestler, what name would you use?

5. What time is it right now?

6. At the North Pole?

7. Which author will be the murder victim at next year's Covenant Mystery Dinner?

8. What is your favorite food-related song?

9. What's the best anagram of your name?

10. Have you ever hidden dirty dishes in your oven?

11. What mystery would you most like to see Shandra solve in the next book in Jeffrey Savage's Shandra Covington series? (The second book was released this month.)

12. In what year will the Red Sox next win the World Series?

13. Would you rather be a forest or a street?

14. What type of cake will Eric Hopkins and Rebekah Hughes (from The Counterfeit) have at their wedding? What are the odds that someone will attempt to stab Eric with the cake knife?

15. How many fondue forks are in your home?

16. How many pairs of chopsticks are in your home?

17. What animal smaller than a shoebox would you least like as a pet?

18. What's the biggest prime number you can think of (without the aid
of pencil, paper, computing devices, Google, etc.)?

19. What's the largest varmint you've ever dispatched?

20. Who is your favorite poet?

21. How many complete Boobah episodes have you watched?

22. How many traffic tickets have you received in the past two years?

23. What's the slimiest thing you can think of?

24. Who would you rather have as a dinner guest:

a. FDR or TR?
b. Dr. Seuss or Dr. Phil?
c. Darth Vader or Ralph Nader?
d. Richard Nixon or Richard Simmons?
e. Donald Trump or Donald Duck?
f. Karl Rove or Karl Marx?
g. Count Dooku or Count Basie?
h. Bill Clinton or Bill Gates?
i. Sponge Bob or Big Bird?
j. Jimmy Buffett or Warren Buffett?
k. Plato's Ghost or WB Yeats?
l. Prokofiev or Stravinsky?

25. What's the last item you purchased from eBay?

26. Name a song that gets stuck in your head.

27. Name the most annoying song of all time.

28. What's your favorite seldom-used word?

29. Have you ever stepped on a snail?

30. Have you ever eaten a snail?

31. Which is more unpleasant?

32. If you could ban one noise, what would it be?

33. What is your favorite epitaph?

34. Have you ever eaten Patagonian Toothfish?

35. What's your favorite ancestor name?

36. Who is your favorite fictional villain?

37. What is your favorite music you would least be suspected of liking?

38. What is meant by mamelon and ravelin?

39. Suggest a character name for someone in Sariah Wilson’s next novel. Bear in mind that she is currently writing romances set in Book of Mormon times.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Murder at the Holiday Inn

by Robison Wells

I haven’t murdered anyone for three years. Nor have I been murdered. No, for three years I’ve gotten all excited, thinking “Maybe this time it’ll be me!” and I’m repeatedly let down.

I speak, of course, of Covenant’s annual Murder Mystery Dinner. Evil genius Kerry Blair gathers up characters from many of Covenant’s latest novels, crams them all into one whirlwind of craziness, and inflicts it on the public. Last Friday this all took place at the Holiday Inn in Salt Lake City, in a room that was neither big enough nor ventilated enough for three hundred people. Fortunately, elbowroom and air conditioning are for suckers, and the party went on as planned.

At this event all of us author folk, who are terribly introverted and socially awkward, get to dress up like fools and act similarly. We each get assigned a character from another author’s novel. This year I was Luciano, a Brazilian rainforest native from Michele Ashman Bell’s YA series. Jeff Savage was The Catacyclist (from my latest book). Kerry Blair was the MC, Delilah Disaster. And Julie Coulter Bellon was a Mountie, or something.

Part of the fun at the dinner comes from the fact that we actors are only fed information in tiny chunks, as the evening progresses. None of us knew who the killers were, or who would end up as the next victim. It requires a lot of ad lib—no problem there, seeing as how we all write fiction and make up stories all day. In my case, Luciano was seen at the murder scene, and he was running. That’s all that my Character Card said. I had to make up the rest. And I had to make it all up while wearing a grass skirt and war paint. This, my friends, was a rad event.

I don’t think I’m going to try recap the story, but suffice it to say that Jerry Borrowman and H.B. Moore were both murdered (the former with a knife and the latter with a gun). This all took place at a wedding reception, and for some reason the police were never called, and the bride and groom continued to eat and party despite a dead body in front of their table. (Since Kerry Blair invented this story, one has to presume that she finds this sort of thing to be socially acceptable.) (Well, she is from Arizona.)

But it was a great event. It’s always good to see other authors, and there were plenty there. In fact, I can say without the least degree of exaggeration that I attempted to dance the Lindy Hop with Anita Stansfield, and that she couldn’t keep up with my l33t skillz. Frankly, for a woman who writes books called A Time To Dance, Dancing in the Light, and A Dance to Remember, she wasn’t that great of a dancer. (Either that, or I wasn’t, and I simply can’t imagine that could be the case.)

And did acclaimed LDS author Robison Wells win the Best Actor award? You’d better believe it, baby. I’m thinking of starting my own acting academy. Lesson one: Less is never more; more is more. Lesson two: Jump around and make loud noises. Oscars here I come!