Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The First Thing I Ever Killed

By Sariah S. Wilson

First off, I wanted to announce that sabrina2u was randomly selected as the winner in last week’s Testaments contest. Please send me an email at sariah [at] with your mailing information so that I can get it out to you on Monday!

But back to my title - it happened 12 years ago.

I was home for the summer from BYU. I had taken my little brother and sister out to see the new Disney movie, “Pocahontas” (which is what I ended up doing my senior thesis on - the “true” story of Pocahontas because apparently scholars debate whether or not she actually saved John Smith’s life, if he had made it up to be dramatic, or if what she had done was some sort of ritual rather than an actual saving. My conclusion? It for sure happened, but we’ll never know if she defied her father and her people in trying to save him (which is entirely possible, particularly given her later behavior and total fascination with everything English) or if it was a way for a captive to be saved - much as it is in the scriptures - where the men save face if they decide not to kill someone because a woman asks them not to).

I liked the movie, and my younger siblings enjoyed it as well. On the way home, we discussed which parts were our favorites. We all particularly liked Meeko, the raccoon, and Flit, the hummingbird.

The major road to our house had been closed down for construction, so I was forced to go a back way on a very spooky street. It’s one of those old country roads that has a haunted bridge, where apparently there was some sort of fatal accident many years ago and if you go over it a certain time of night you can still hear the victims screaming. It creeps me out just typing that up, so you can imagine that it wasn’t my favorite place to drive. I always turned the music up louder before I got to that windy bridge. And there was nothing I hated more than driving over that bridge in the dark.

The road was also extremely narrow without any shoulders, so you had to keep an eye out for cars coming in the opposite direction because two cars couldn’t fit on the bridge at the same time.

Once I made sure that no other cars were coming, and just as I was mentally preparing myself to head over that bridge, a raccoon darted out into the road. There was no chance to stop or to swerve or to do anything to avoid it. I slammed on my brakes, but the raccoon didn’t move as I hoped it would. It watched me come at it, and then…I ran it over. With both sets of tires.

I probably should have gotten out and checked on the poor animal. But I was scared, it was late, and I was pretty sure that nothing that small would survive getting run over by something that big.

But I had run over Meeko. I kept thinking that I had just killed Pocahontas’s best friend.

I was shaken up for days. I don’t even know how I made it home that night. I had never accidentally killed an animal before, and it really bothered me. I had a hard time driving after that because I was so afraid it might happen again. This was not helped by the fact that we have a very slow moving animal clean-up department, and so on a daily basis I had to witness the evidence of what I had done.

Living in a semi-rural area as I do, unfortunately this sort of thing happens all the time. There are constantly hedgehogs and possums and raccoons and rabbits and squirrels and all sorts of other animals laid out all over the roads. I get sad every time I see the road kill. I always think of poor Meeko.

What about you? Have you ever run something over with your car?

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Life in Books

by Kerry Blair

Every Tuesday I pull Newsweek from the mailbox and immediately flip to page fourteen or fifteen. On the way back to the house I read a two-column, twenty-five-line feature called “A Life in Books.” It’s sometimes the only thing I read in the magazine, but I never miss it. If I have a serious problem with addiction, this is probably it.

If you’ve never seen it, it’s a mini-column in which notable persons from the arenas of politics, business, and the arts respond to a challenge to list their “Five Most Important Books” and then explain their choices in one or two sentences. (Usually very short sentences.) This amazes me on several levels.

The main thing I find incredible is that in all the months I’ve been reading the feature, not a single book of scripture has made it into anybody’s top five. Not the Book of Mormon, Bible, Torah, Qur’an . . . or Egyptian Book of the Dead. Nada. Admittedly, Newsweek has yet to interview the prophet, the pope, or even Mitt Romney, but you’d think that somebody among the movers, shakers, and so-called intelligentsia of the world would have at some point stumbled upon the word of God and been impressed by it. I’m not sure if this says more about the magazine or the country, but it makes me wonder. (Sometimes I worry.)

The second thing that always surprises me, although it probably shouldn’t, is the diversity in the choices. I am one of the most well-read people I know, but in a good week I’ve read maybe three-out-of-five of the books named. Only once have I read—and admired—every one of a person’s selections and that was a Harvard professor of literature who cited Homer (I would have picked The Odyssey over The Iliad), Shakespeare, Milton . . . and three more I’ve forgotten now but was familiar with at the time. Usually I’ll sit down at the computer to look up the books I’ve never heard of. Nine times out of ten, they’re nothing I’d care to read. Again, I’m not sure if this says more about me or the respondents -- and I try not to think about it.

Finally, I have to admit that what truly astounds me is that anybody can do it in the first place. To define my life in books, I’d need to compile a list of fifty. At least. And explain my choices in one line or less? Never happened. That said, I have nevertheless decided to try.


1) The LDS Standard Works. (Yes, I know that’s more than one book. I said I’d try it; I never said I’d play fair.) The Bible defined my life and the Book of Mormon refined it. If the Book of Mormon were the only book extant in the world there would still be poetry, drama, romance, insight and inspiration to spare.

2) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It isn’t his best work, or even my favorite, but it provided my first literary “ah ha!” I’ve remembered, and cherished, that moment my whole life.

3) Puddin’head Wilson by Mark Twain. This man peered into the soul of humanity with a jaded yet infinitely compassion eye. Only Twain can rip my heart out and make me laugh while he does it.

4) A Midsummer-Night’s Dream (or Macbeth or Cymbeline or Othello or Hamlet or . . .) by William Shakespeare. I love the English language and nobody in the history of the world has used it more skillfully than the Bard. After the scriptures, The Complete Works of Shakespeare is the most-read book in my home.

5) Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson. I know she’s the poet many lit professors love to hate, and, yes, one can sing much of her verse to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” but I found Emily in my girlhood and am stronger, wiser, and in every way better for it. No one can make the mundane as sublime as did Emily.

Now that I’ve compiled the list I’m tempted to erase it. I do live much of my life in books and I can’t define myself without including Tolstoy, Faulkner, Longfellow, Tyler, Emerson, Buck, Barrett-Browning, Milton, Austen, Poe and dozens of others.

Still, I’ve tried and now it’s your turn. Assuming that 97.86% of the readers of this blog will put scripture at the top of the list, tell us your next two or three or four choices. I’ll send out a Frog Fun Pack or two if it will entice you to play along, but I hope you’ll also do it for the joy of reflection and self-discovery. (And because I am simply dying to read a list from every one of you! Don’t make me start yet another game of cyber-tag.)

A Life In Books. Is there a better place to live it?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Blog About Nothing

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Every week I have to come up with a blog topic. This is not as easy as it looks when you post with amazing people like Kerry Blair who is like a spiritual humorist guru and amazes me each and every week. I just plod along, and even though I could never reach the heights of her genius (and I won’t even attempt to), I still try to put out a blog that is fun or interesting or both. And I thought that today, I might share my process.

First, I take a long, luxurious bath. I get all my best writing ideas in the bathtub and I love bubble baths, candles, and a jetted tub when all of the kids are in bed. Because then I won’t get little fingers under the door asking me when I’ll be done.

If the bath doesn’t work, I take a walk. I try to take my fat old beagle with me and pray she doesn’t do any business on any of my neighbor’s lawns because I always forget the plastic baggie and it’s hard for my dog to follow me on her teeny stick legs and pudgy body as I run away and hope the neighbor didn’t see anything.

If that doesn’t work, I try to listen to people in grocery store lines to see if they have anything juicy I could talk about. But today all I got was Hugh Grant getting arrested for assault by throwing a tupperware container filled with baked beans at a paparazzi! Do you think he was trying to send a message? About tupperware? Or beans, perhaps? Was he hoping it would bust open and cover the photographer in beans? It did make me think of the timeless classic, "Beans, beans, the magical fruit . . . "

Sometimes I watch movies and debate on whether or not they are blog worthy. I watched two this week and one of them was Freedom Writers. I’m an English teacher and so I love stuff like that. There was one line in the show that did grab my attention. The dad says to his daughter, "you’ve been blessed with burdens." And I thought that is a very interesting way to say it. We are all blessed with burdens. It’s how we carry them that seems to count. (The other was Open Season and I laughed at that one. The deer gets one of his antlers knocked off and is stunned when he sees his reflection. "I’m a uni-horn! Don’t look at me, I’m hideous!")

If I get really desperate, I talk to my friends and ask them what I should blog about. Sometimes my oldest and dearest friends bring up embarrassing moments from my life that they have long teased me about and I would never want anyone to know so I scratch that off right away. Last week I went out to a lunch with a friend and she suggested I do a Secrets blog and ask why girls seem to have more secrets than boys. But really, how would we know that unless the boys told us all their secrets? Because then it wouldn’t be a secret. However, I did find out some pretty juicy secrets about my friend at that lunch and if she blogged about secrets? Well, let’s just say she could do a year’s worth of blogs on her secrets alone and I bet she’d get TONS of comments.

I always have the old fallback of talking about my editing experience, writing experience, and other such things, but sometimes it seems like I’m repeating what the other bloggers on this blog have already said more eloquently than I could have. I could talk about my fanfic career which seems to be heating up, or the fact that it’s crunch time at BYU right now and all my students want their grades yesterday, or how my book, "Be Prepared" got a really nice review on BellaOnline that you can see here

And if none of those things work, I could just blog on the process of blogging. And ask you, faithful readers, that if you have an idea, let me know. I’m open for suggestions!

Pardon me

Please forgive my lack of posting on Tuesday. My excuse is: pathetic.

In unrelated news, the coroner has finally determined my cause of death: pneumonia. Yeah, it seems like a dumb thing to miss, considering they specifically looked for it, and they did the chest x-ray and all. But here's the story: when the pulmonologist did the CT scan--looking for the blood clot--he also found scarring in my lungs, and something describe as a very small collapse. This, he says, is evidence of recent pneumonia. He went back and looked at the chest x-ray and said that you can see it if you know what you're looking for.

So, I probably had pneumonia about two months ago (whilst in Disneyland, I figure) and all of this coughing is the remaining effects.

I'm sure you wanted to know.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It Ain't Over 'Til it's Over

by Stephanie Black

If you want to flub a solo, the best way to do it is to cream the last note of a piece. Start well and end well, and the audience will forgive some stumbling around in the middle—which is not to say I recommend stumbling around, though it does remind me of that violin recital where I embarrassed the posthumous heck out of Mozart, but never mind.

The end of a piece is pretty unforgiving. Whatever note you play last is left ringing in the longsuffering ears of your audience. Ditto for books. However you choose to end that masterpiece of a novel, that final impression will reverberate in the memory of your readers. And unlike your mother, who sat through countless recitals and concerts, your readers aren’t required to come back.

So here are are three potential ending mishaps to watch for in your writing.

#1: The draggy ending. The climax is over. The suspense is gone. All crucial story questions have been answered. It’s clear which direction the characters are headed. And yet the writer goes on and on. This may be fun for the writer, but it's boring for the reader. If there are no story questions left to answer and no tension, end the thing. A draggy ending weakens a book. Instead of leaving the reader going “Wow!” you have a reader who went “Wow!” thirty pages ago and is now wondering when you’re going to wrap it up.

There’s no one-size-fits-all length for wrapping up a book. Some stories require explanation and emotional resolution after the climax. Others can end almost immediately. When writing a wrap-up, ask yourself this question: Am I giving the reader new and relevant explanations or information that could not reasonably be worked in prior to the climax? (and when I say relevant, I mean relevant to the story you just told, not just relevant to the character’s life)? Sometimes you need to answer questions you couldn’t answer earlier without wrecking story tension, or the story needs some emotional resolution. If you cut off a story before you’ve satisfied your reader, you run the risk of mishap #2.

#2: The too-abrupt ending. Did you leave crucial questions unanswered? Did you fail to give the reader emotional resolution? After three hundred pages of tension, it’s nice to be able to draw a deep breath with the character. You don’t have to spell out every little detail of what’s going to happen in the future, but you want to at least hint at the direction things are going so the reader can mentally fill in the blanks.

Figuring out how much wrap-up you need is a balancing act. Too much=boring. Too little=unsatisfying. Part of the choice is stylistic--some writers have a more leisurely style and some writers have a rapid-fire-no-extra-words approach. Either way can work, if it's done well. But while you’re figuring out the ending that suits your book, watch out for #3:

#3: The preachy ending. Please, no Gospel Doctrine lessons.

So help me out here. What do you like to see in an ending? What are some endings that really impressed you?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Awesome News From Annette Lyon

Tonight as I was pondering what to write for my blog, I received some great news from my good friend, chocoholic extraordinaire, and wonderful author of LDS historical romances, Annette Lyon. Not only was the news great, but also the story behind it. I asked her if she would mind sharing the story, and she graciously agreed. If you want to see more about her books or sign up for her newsletter, you can read more at

by Annette Lyon

One morning mid-March I got an e-mail from my older sister Mel with the subject line:

SORTA URGENT: With all your FREE TIME . . .

I was on deadline with my book coming out this fall and had to turn in a set of rewrites to my editor in something like 48 hours and Mel knew it, hence the joke about all my free time.

Curious, I opened the email.

The first line of her message: "Okay, you are SO going to have mixed feelings!"

Turns out Mel had secretly been planning a surprise for me but had run into a snag. She wanted to nominate me under the Fiction category with the Best in State organization, but as she prepared the nomination, she felt that she didn't know enough about the ins and outs of my writing career to adequately describe it.

So on the final day before the nominating deadline, she was turning to me for help. She was right; I SO had mixed feelings. First off, what a rocking cool sister I have! Second, what a cool opportunity! Third, could I really put on a "bragging hat" for the day and try to win this thing? Fourth, did I have the time to brush off my editor for the day and make the midnight deadline?

Mel and I decided to go for it. We ping ponged emails for the rest of the day (Mel's a great writer in her own right, so while I provided her with a lot of information about what I've done over the years, she sure made me sound good!) She emailed off the bundle shortly before the midnight deadline, and then we sat back to wait. I mentally wrote the day off as a fun experiment, went back to my rewrites, and thought, wow, that was sure neat of my sister to do.

It's been over a month. I got generic e-mail today from the Best of State folks saying the results were posted, so I went to the site to see them.

By some quirk of fate--holy cow--I was chosen as the winner for the Fiction category! So on May 19, I get to attend the awards Gala and get a fancy medal. (I'll probably also get to buy some new shoes . . .)

Never would have happened without my sister, so thanks, Mel! I'm still trying to wrap my brain around this and figure out exactly what it means. In the meantime, I've celebrated with chocolate.

Annette Lyon

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Buy The Testaments Today!

by Sariah S. Wilson

I wanted to blog tonight and encourage everyone who hasn't already to buy a copy of "The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd."

I watched it again last night - the first time I saw it was many years ago at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in SLC. I am one of those people who never, ever cries in movies. The Titanic was going down, everybody around me in the audience was wailing over poor Leo, and I couldn’t muster a single tear. But when I saw "Testaments" for the first time, I sobbed and sobbed.

I know that some filmmakers (*cough*RichardDutcher*cough*) slammed on “Testaments” for all sorts of reasons. I partly understand the urge to do that - now when I read a book I find myself tearing it apart as an author and not as a reader. I actually sort of miss the days when I could just enjoy myself without thinking, “Why did the author do that?” or “What a clever plot device!”

So, as I am not a sophisticated filmmaker, I enjoy all sorts of movies (including all of Richard Dutcher’s). When I first saw “Testaments,” I went with my extended family (on both sides). One of the people with me was a relative who is no longer a member of the Church (although raised in it). “Testaments” was so powerful, I was so moved by the end, that I was very thankful that they left the lights off so that I could try to compose myself before I had to leave. My relative sat next to me and while I’m sitting there with this enormous lump in my throat, mascara running down my face, my chest hurting from crying, she says, “Well, wasn’t that a nice movie?” I was stunned to discover that it hadn’t touched her at all. I remember how shocked I felt that we had just had the exact same experience, but had come out of it at total opposite ends.

So when “Testaments” became available on DVD, I had to buy it. Fortunately, one of my visiting teachers had gone to and discovered that you could buy a case of 30 DVDs for $1.50 each. I told her to put me down for seven. We’ve been giving away the DVDs to friends and family. My husband actually had a neat experience because of it on Easter Sunday. He felt prompted to visit a woman that he home teaches (who is also a friend of mine). We went as a family right after Church to give her a copy of the DVD. I should mention that it was a freezing day, and none of us had coats. As we rushed back to the car, a man was sitting out on his stoop smoking. He greeted my husband, wishing him a Happy Easter, and my husband returned the greeting. We got back to the car and my husband stopped, and said, “I’m supposed to give him a copy of the movie.” He grabbed one of the DVDs and went back to talk to the man. The man told him that he had actually been visited by the missionaries before and had recently been looking for a church to join, and could he come with us the next Sunday? (Needless to say, the missionaries were giddy.)

So I decided last night to watch the DVD again. My oldest son had been just a baby the last time we saw it. I thought surely, this time, I could get through the movie without turning into a mess.

What I found was that it certain parts affected me differently than they had in the past. I had a hard time with a lot of the costume choices and some of the set designs knowing what I know about ancient American peoples. I also found myself a little more impatient with the BoM fictional aspect of it - because I loved the scenes with Christ and wanted them to hurry up and get back to those.

I found the scene where the father brings his young child, a child who is racked with seizures and pain, to Christ and asks Jesus to heal him nearly overwhelming. I don’t remember it affecting me that way the first time I saw it. But as the father handed that child to Jesus, and asked him, “Help thou mine unbelief,” I lost it. I have a child that I struggle with on almost a daily basis because of his disability. I know the anguish that father felt. I know the desperation and hope that a cure could be found. I know the helplessness you feel as you are unable to help your child get better.

Despite that scene, I thought I would be ready for the end. I wouldn’t be surprised this time - I know how it ended. But the actor who plays Helam, the look on his face when he recognizes the voice, it is beyond words. No writer could capture that expression the way a filmmaker could. It touched me exactly the same way and I cried just as hard watching it in the privacy of my home as I had in the theater. I rewound it and watched it again, determined that this time I wouldn’t cry, and I still did. It’s amazing.

So, I’ve decided to give away one of my copies of “Testaments” to anyone who posts a comment in this blog's comment section. I’ll pull a winner next Saturday morning and put up the winner’s name, and you’ll need to contact me so that we can get everything worked out. If you need a topic - post about whether you’ve seen the movie already and what you thought of it, or if you haven’t seen it and now have a desperate desire to do so because it’s the movie that makes Sariah cry.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Birdwomen of Arizona

The Birdman of Alcatraz was a convicted killer who turned his life around by devoting his life behind bars to the care and study of birds. I suspect that if my mother were to compile a list of people she admires Robert Stroud would be on it—probably after St. Francis of Assisi and John James Audubon, but possibly before Mother Teresa and men of lesser accomplishment like, say, Thomas Edison. Frankly, my mother has gone to the birds.

I’d have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. When my grandmother lived with us, her greatest joy in life was feeding the wild birds that flocked to her back door. My mother hated those birds, and with good reason. She bought a bright, shiny new car almost every year; the birds left poop-stains on the paint jobs. She took great pride in her carefully manicured yard; the birds scattered unsightly seed that grew into weeds and attracted bugs and vermin. Despite my mother’s constant complaints about her fine-feathered enemies, her mother slipped me money every Saturday to ride my bike to the store for a 5-lb bag of seed. When Grandma succumbed to lung cancer, I worried that dozens of seed-deprived sparrows would follow their former benefactor in a great migration toward the Light.

When we moved back to Arizona, a cycle repeated itself and my mother moved in with us. She’d sold the house – and virtually everything else she possessed. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that she arrived with her clothing, a chair, a bed, and a table. Oh, and one thing more: we were still assembling her bed when she handed me a 5-lb bag of bird seed and a cheap plastic birdfeeder, clearly left over from the Grandma-administration. She said only, “I hope you have a post for this.” I didn’t, but the local lumberyard sold me one.

Five years have passed and my mother—who has never been one for doing anything halfway—now has seventeen birdfeeders and two birdbaths within view from her picture window. (But she is in town today, so there may be three birdbaths and twenty feeders before I get this posted.) She caters to finches, sparrows, mourning doves, orioles, hummingbirds, and other winged creatures that I’d have to get out her bird book and binoculars to identify. By association (and much to her chagrin) she also feeds two squirrels, one hawk, a roadrunner, countless mice, at least one fat gopher snake . . . and most of the neighborhood cats. This nature preserve she has going is not exactly convenient for anybody besides the cats. One example—from many:

Before my son left for Iraq he draped a Marine Corps-issue dress coat over his chin-up bar. Before I could take it to the cleaners as I’d promised, an industrious oriole built a nest in one pocket and filled said nest with eggs. The picture at left shows the situation as of this morning. So as not to disturb the nursery—and get our eyes pecked out by the mother bird—we can no longer open the door leading to the back porch, nor can we turn on the porch light under any circumstance. This means that the cat has to be let in and out a window and I have to walk a half-mile around the house to feed the chickens and/or retrieve food from the freezer. But one must have priorities and my mother’s "priorities" are nesting.

Yesterday evening I looked out a window to see my mother sitting on the bench we put up when the 25-foot trek from the seed barrels to the feeders became too much for her. A hummingbird hovered over her head, two doves pecked the ground near her feet, an oriole hung upside-down from its nectar feeder nearby, and the St. Francis statue was knee-deep in sparrows. There sat the former bird-hater, looking as much a part of the scene as the bird-loving cement saint. The feathered fauna are so accustomed to her by now that the mechanical click of her oxygen tank no longer startles them, nor does the deep, rattling cough that often comes with her struggle for breath. I thought of how like the famed Birdman she is. In her case, the person she's killed is herself. She is now serving (like her mother before her) the end of a life sentence without possibility of parole. The unpardonable crime? Smoking. If she could take back the terrible choice she would. Because she can’t, she’s made another: to avoid despair and hopelessness by looking beyond her prison. It gives me great comfort see her gazing peacefully up into the sky because I know that beyond the soaring birds is He who marks the life of each sparrow. I think it was He who brought my mother around to her mother’s great love. Or perhaps He merely provided beautiful, hungry birds, and her innate curiosity and boundless charity did the rest.

True confession: I just can’t make myself love birds the way my grandmother did and my mother does. They’re too messy and noisy and prolific and—in the case of hummingbirds—viciously territorial to elicit my affection. Nevertheless, it won’t surprise me if the day comes when I arrive at my daughter’s home with a suitcase in one hand and a beat-up plastic birdfeeder in the other. She won’t have a post, of course . . . but she’ll get one.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Spies, Cries, and Dentist Guys

by Julie Coulter Bellon

**Disclaimer** This blog contains some ickiness. If you are squeamish, please proceed at your own risk.

One of my favorite television shows, Alias, is about a very strong woman who is a spy. Unfortunately, in one of the episodes, she is captured and is being tortured by having her back teeth ripped out with pliers. To her credit, she doesn’t give up any information, but I cringed when I saw it.

I would make a horrible spy.

As soon as that guy started coming for me with the pliers I would give up any information I had.

In a heartbeat.

I think there are some dentists, however, that took lessons from the torture dude. I recently met one.

One of my back teeth started becoming very sensitive to cold a couple of weeks ago. Not horribly sensitive, but I noticed a little ache. Then it got worse. Pretty soon, both cold and hot made it hurt and I wasn’t able to chew on that side. But the pain wasn’t that bad, so I bore with it. For over a week. On a Friday, when I could no longer eat or drink, or even have my tongue touch the tooth, I caved and called the dentist. Unfortunately, he couldn’t fit me in until Monday morning. So I suffered through the weekend (it was a great weight loss program though. Not eating and barely drinking lukewarm water for an entire weekend, I mean.). Monday morning I was in the dentist’s chair and he came in smiling.

That should have been my first clue.

"How are we today?" he asks. "Horrible," I say. I proceed to tell him my tale of woe and he leans me back in the chair. Still smiling. Getting out his pointy instruments, he touches my sore tooth with them. I grip the arms of the chair, but amazingly, I don’t scream out in pain, only shoot daggers of death at the dentist with my eyes. "Sensitive to cold?" he asks, still smiling. "Yes," I assure him.

As if he doesn’t believe me, he gets a shot of cold water and shoots it directly on the tooth. This time I sat straight up in the chair clutching my mouth because it felt like he’d just plunged a dagger into my head and my brains had exploded all over the office. "That one hurt, did it?" he asks. I couldn’t speak by this point because I was moaning in pain, trying not to let him see me dissolve into a mass of tears on the spot. "On a scale of one to ten, with natural childbirth being ten, how painful would you say that was?" he asks, still smiling.

I wanted to hurt him. Badly.

He then tells me I need a root canal and that quite possibly the infection has gone through my tooth’s roots into my bone. He even drew me a picture. And sent me to a specialist because it was so bad.

Before I left, he asked me if I ever based any of the characters in my books after real people. I smiled and said, you never know, but as I looked at him I was imagining the evil torture guy pulling teeth out of the heroine’s mouth, and how she suddenly pulls her hands free of the ropes and subdues him, before escaping. Maybe after she subdues him in a really awesome, kick butt sort of way, she could ask, "on a scale of one to ten, with natural childbirth being ten, how painful would you say that was?" before she left.

Wouldn’t that be an awesome beginning to a book?

(And just so you know, I really do love my dentist. Honest.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dancing in Space

by Stephanie Black

I’m scared silly for Mutual tonight. We’re doing line dancing and EFY-style dancing. This wouldn’t be bad, except that I’m one of the people who is supposed to know how to do this EFY dancing so I can help teach it. Our stake recently started a program where the wards combine for Mutual activities, two wards in one building and three in another. So there I’ll be, folks, klutz of the year, trying to help teach the Young Women and Young Men from three wards how to do the Peanut Butter and Jelly. Oy.

I’m hoping I can just shrink into the background and let my wonderful secretary and Laurel advisor teach the dancing. They’ve both taught line dancing before and, unlike me, are not possessed of two left feet and all the sense of direction of a marble in a blender.

I have no feel for dancing. Oh, I can get out there and move to the beat like we used to do at teen dances in the days of long ago, back when young Rob Wells was still clutching his blankie and watching Barney (last year). But when it comes to actual dance steps . . . I can learn them, but I don’t have a knack for it. As a teenager, I was at a dance at a senior center and this friendly old fellow wanted to dance with me. “Just follow me,” he advised, but I’ve never had an inkling of how to follow a dance partner. Can’t we just dance the Deacon Shuffle?

As I think I’ve confessed here before, I’m spacially-challenged. If something requires spacial skills, chances are I stink at it. Like map reading. I picture a teensy little van on the little line on the map. . . okay, I’m going this direction, so when I get to this point that will be . . . um . . . let’s see, I’m on the right side of the road, so that will be . . .um . . . a left turn? And so on. Fortunately, I rarely use maps anymore because I just Google or MapQuest up directions. And then there’s the GPS navigator thing that works through my husband’s Palm Pilot, though I can still get lost with that. My interaction with the navigating thingie goes like this:

Navigator (in a cultured British voice): “In 800 yards, turn left.”
Me: “How the heck am I supposed to know how far 800 yards is?” (panicking and making the turn too early)
Navigator: (recalculating route). “In 50 yards, turn right”)
Me: (Estimating fifty yards. Driving onto somebody’s lawn)

So today, I’ll be on the BYU website, trying learn the EFY Peanut Butter and Jelly and the Baha-something-or-other so I won’t be too useless tonight.

Maybe we could do the Hokey-Pokey instead. That's my backup plan.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Art Out of Context, Life Out of Balance

by Robison Wells

Last Sunday, the Washington Post ran an article which was one of the most fascinating things I've read in a long time. It was essentially an experiment in art: take one of the world's greatest musicians, dress him in jeans and a t-shirt and have him busk in the subway--and then watch and wait.

Joshua Bell is a world-reknowned violinist, a recent winner of the Avery Fisher prize and often referred to as the best violinist in America. With him in the subway was his $3.5 million dollar Stradivarius.

From the article:

So, what do you think happened?

Leonard Slatkin, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, was asked the same question. What did he think would occur, hypothetically, if one of the world's great violinists had performed incognito before a traveling rush-hour audience of 1,000-odd people?

"Let's assume," Slatkin said, "that he is not recognized and just taken for granted as a street musician . . . Still, I don't think that if he's really good, he's going to go unnoticed. He'd get a larger audience in Europe . . . but, okay, out of 1,000 people, my guess is there might be 35 or 40 who will recognize the quality for what it is. Maybe 75 to 100 will stop and spend some time listening."

So, a crowd would gather?

"Oh, yes."

And how much will he make?

"About $150."

So, what did happen?

Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.

A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.

Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

No, Mr. Slatkin, there was never a crowd, not even for a second.

The article is fascinating, and raises some very interesting questions. What is art when it's out of context? The curator from the National Gallery addresses this:

"Let's say I took one of our more abstract masterpieces, say an Ellsworth Kelly, and removed it from its frame, marched it down the 52 steps that people walk up to get to the National Gallery, past the giant columns, and brought it into a restaurant. It's a $5 million painting. And it's one of those restaurants where there are pieces of original art for sale, by some industrious kids from the Corcoran School, and I hang that Kelly on the wall with a price tag of $150. No one is going to notice it. An art curator might look up and say: 'Hey, that looks a little like an Ellsworth Kelly. Please pass the salt.'"

What does all of this have to do with writing? Here are a couple of thoughts:

First: Art out of Context

When I was first writing, I rarely told people about it. If I ever brought it up, more often than not people would smirk and make the cliche comment "You'd better keep your day job." And this was before I was even published! The gist of it all was that writing was a silly waste of time. (However, when that exact same manuscript got published, those same people lauded me with praise.)

Likewise, I was talking with a group of authors recently, and a small issue of grammar was discussed. One author, to back up his position, cited one of those "How to write" articles on the web. In response, the other author dismissed it entirely. Why? Because the article's author had very few actual writing credits.

Josi Kilpack tells a story of how an acquaintance was shocked to learn she wrote a book. His astonishment knew no bounds. "You mean, like a real book?" "Was it just a book for little kids?" "Was it a real publisher?"

In the first example above, people were judging the quality of my writing based solely on the fact that I hadn't been published--and then they later judged the quality solely on the fact that I was. In other words, until someone else--the publisher--thought I was good, everyone else I assumed I wasn't.

In the second example, the author dismissed the writer's advice because of a lack of writing credits--not because of the quality (or lack thereof) of the writing itself. In the third example, the acquaintance had an idea of what a "real" writer was, and Josi didn't fit the bill.

Really, though, I don't know if anyone can be blamed in these examples. Statistically speaking, most published manuscripts are probably better than unpublished. And, statistically speaking, being published is quite rare, somewhat justifying peoples' surprise and doubt. (Though, I suppose, Josi's friend is guilty of a lack of social skills.)

Of course, it's not a perfect analogy to the violinist in the subway. In my case, no one had read my book--they were judging the situation, not the writing. In the violinist's case, people heard every bit of his Avery-Fisher-award-winning art, and yet they still passed him by. The question is: why did they?

Second: What is art?

Now, I won't pretend to answer this question. Philosophers have discussed this for millenia, and they can certainly do a better job of it than I can. As the article states, Immanuel Kant explained that beauty is both measurable fact AND opinion, "colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer". To put it crudely, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

In the violinist's example, he was not only out of context (he wasn't in a concert hall, and people hadn't shelled out $100 per seat) but he also had to compete with people who had a lot of other things on their mind. They were in a hurry, they were going to work, they were planning their day. If they gave any thought at all to the violinist, it probably wasn't with a mind clear enough to appreciate who he was and what he was doing.

The article mentions one woman who gave him a long thoughtful look, but she wasn't thinking about the music:

"I really didn't hear that much," she said. "I was just trying to figure out what he was doing there, how does this work for him, can he make much money, would it be better to start with some money in the case, or for it to be empty, so people feel sorry for you? I was analyzing it financially."

If a requirement for art to be properly appreciated is the full engagement of the viewer, then think of the problems we authors have. A reader might only read a few pages at a time, waiting at the doctors office or before going to bed. Can our art truly be appreciated with that kind of reader mindset? The answer, of course, is that it it could be better appreciated if the reader read it straight through with no distractions -- but we'd better not expect that.

Third: Koyaanisqatsi, "Life Out of Balance"

When I first mentioned this article to some author friends, I said that it was about Art Out of Context. Annette Lyon immediately called me on the carpet and said that it was a lousy experiment (given what I'd described of it), and she was right. The more I think about it, that's not the point of this at all.

The experiment doesn't really show that we're all cultureless buffoons who don't recognize quality music when we hear it. Nor does it show that Joshua Bell's music is indistinguishable from that of less-skilled musicians. But what it does show--and clearly, I believe--is that society's priorities are wrong.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

-- from "Leisure," by W.H. Davies

We live in a world where free time is minimal, and our minds are always focused on deadlines, urgent tasks, and immediate goals. Henry David Thoreau wrote that he "wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life". Why does that conflict with our eagerness to get ahead? What is the point of the constant hard work and effort, if it makes us unable to appreciate art and music and life?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Random Thoughts

by Jeffrey S Savage

So a couple of days ago Miss Snark linked to an amazing article about a world class violinist who performed incognito in a DC subway station. I thought, “Great. I’ll blog about this.” Only a day later, some phlegm spewing romance writer posts the article to another writers group. Dang, there goes my chance to blog about that. I hope this unnamed writer does a really good blog about it here (say, tomorrow) because I had some really great ideas. But this certain lung hacking writer is actually pretty sharp at his analysis, so I’d rather hear what he has to say about it, than write it myself.

Instead, I’m going to do a couple of mini-blogs in the hope of inspiring some mini-
controversies since we haven’t had any serious back and forth for awhile. Here goes.

1) Last week, three prominent LDS artists had some interesting things to say about LDS films (and in my mind LDS art in general.)

Richard Dutcher said this:

Keith Merrill said this:

Chris Heimerdinger said this:

Interesting points of view all. I could probably spend several month’s worth of blogs analyzing all of their points of view. For the sake of brevity though, I am going to skip the whole art vs. faith thing. I am not going to talk about whether Richard Dutcher is really the father of Mormon cinema or whether Keith Merrill has done an adequate job on the LDS films he has created. I’m only going to say one thing.

Get over yourselves, all of you. You guys are whining and squabbling over your films like a bunch of first graders fighting over who gets the last cupcake. You are so concerned over whether LDS cinema is doomed and why. Was it the comedies? Was it Brigham City? Were there too many movies made?

The truth is much simpler and much easier to understand. There are not currently enough Mormons watching Mormon movies to pay for a film that costs much over a million dollars to produce. That’s it. Plain and simple. Want to know why God’s Army did so much better than later movies? Because it was the first. It was new. People went to see it because they’d never been to a “Mormon” movie in mainstream theaters before. LDS novelists went through the same thing. Back when there were only a couple of authors penning LDS novels their sales were incredibly high. As more authors started writing and more novels came out, sales leveled out.

LDS publishers understand the concept. Every once in a while they hit one out of the park like The Work and the Glory or the Mormon “sex” book, “Between Husband and Wife.” But in general, there is a limit to what an LDS book that is not by a big name church figure will sell in the LDS market. That’s why you don’t see LDS publishers spending tons of money on advertising, and other production costs.

Is Mormon cinema dying? Of course not? Will other LDS films have the same kind of success as God’s Army? Maybe. But most will not. Just look at the fact that “The Work and the Glory” movies stopped at three because of low return on investment. Have some of the LDS movies been crappy? Absolutely. But lots of national movies are crappy too. Just keep making the best movies you can and don’t go overboard on costs. There is plenty of room in the sandbox.

2) Okay, I’ll admit this next one is mostly just to tick people off (Kerry), but what’s with bashing all the Disney animated movies? “Little Mermaid teaches girls to run away and disobey their parents.” “Aladdin teaches boys to steal.” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves teaches women it’s okay to move in with a bunch of gem-mining midgets.” I say, hogwash.

Yes, Ariel runs away and does something stupid over a guy she’s never met. But ultimately it gets her and the entire ocean into big trouble. The message is that what she did is not a good thing. Yes Neptune risks the whole ocean over his daughter. But as a father of one girl, I can totally get that. Ultimately I think the message is the same one as in Romeo and Juliet (except in this case they both live and the crab isn’t part of a street gang. Oh no, wait, that was West Side Story.) It’s about tolerance between two worlds and communication between parents and their children. It’s also about trust. And I think it has something to do with the importance of seagulls, even though they are noisy and poop on everything.

Okay, so Aladdin does steal a loaf of bread. But if you listen to the lyrics and follow the story, you realize that much of the population is starving and oppressed. Sounds a lot like Les Mis. Jasmine disobeys her father and goes cruising around Main Street in his convertible. (No, wait. That was my seventeen year-old son.) But the moral of the story is that you will never succeed by lying, and the way to make real friends is by being yourself. Also there is the whole monkey/rug thread that may be about alternative energy or possibly animal rights.

Snow White is about safety in gem mining. Pocahontas is about listening to willow trees. Beauty and the Beast warns against answering the door to hags you don’t know. And Finding Nemo proves that you should never go swimming off the coast of Australia because sewage goes directly into the ocean. See it’s all a big morality tale. The fact that Ariel, Pocahontas, Jasmine, and Belle are all babes is purely coincidental.

3) Lastly, what the heck is with this whole blog tag thing? Sure, I took part last time. But really isn’t once enough? It’s like See’s candy. You eat one Bordeaux egg and everything is good. You eat seventeen and suddenly you’ve gained twenty-four pounds and you’re walking around the house drinking red cream soda by the two-liter bottle and sniffing giant pixie sticks by the carton.

Mostly I’m just ticked off that Annette Lyon tagged me with her new history blog tag and now I have to wade into Wikipedia, which as everyone knows is nothing more than a way to convert unsuspecting researchers to witchcraft. (Which wouldn’t be so bad if any of the spells actually worked.) I’m sure this must have something to do with Tristi Pinkston wearing fairy wings and a pink boa, and waving a wand at the LDStorymakers conference, but I’m not sure how.

So having been tagged, I guess I will play along. Here we go for my HISTORY TAG.

1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your birthday without the year:

January 31

2. List 3 events that occurred that day:

1504 - France cedes Naples to Aragon. (I didn’t even know that France was in Lord of the Rings. Must have been northwest of the Misty Mountains. And was Naples one of the elves or the dwarves? I couldn’t keep most of them straight. I think it must have been toward the end of the third movie when I feel asleep after the sixth “ending.”)

1747 - The first venereal diseases clinic opens at London Lock Hospital. (Maybe I can combine my birthday with their anniversary in the future.)

1910 - The Portuguese republican revolution broke out in the northern city of Porto. (But what you may not know about this is that the whole thing was over Porto’s primary export, the Porto-Potty.)

3. List 2 important birthdays:

1597 - John Regis, French saint and annoying talk show host.

1889 - Frank Foster, English cricketer. (For those of you who don’t know what a cricketer is, it is sort of like a mousketeer, except instead of worshipping Mickey, they honor Jimminy. Sing along. “J . . . I . . . Double M, Am feeling kind of stupid with these antennas on my head, I . . . N . . . Y, Why do we have to carry these dumb umbrellas? C . . . R . . . I . . . C . . . K . . . E . . . T”)

4. List 1 death:

1561 - Menno Simons, Dutch Mennonite leader and flamboyant exercise guru. (Great, great, great, great, grandfather of Richard, who added an extra M to his last name to be cool.)

5. List 1 holiday or observance:

Catholicism - Feast day of St. John Bosco, patron saint of Christian apprentices, editors, publishers, NFL quarterbacks, and chocolate milk.

Now for tagging other bloggers:
Rob Wells and Mathew Buckley because I know they will be funny. Kerry Blair because she has deep dark secrets that may come out through this exercise. Rachel Nunes, just to see if she ever reads this blog, And LDS Publisher, because I am still trying to force her into revealing her true identity. I’m pretty sure she told me once, but then she wiped my memory using her super editing powers. Even my STET shield didn’t help.

Oh and by the way, I posted this an hour early because the 16th is my 20th anniversary and Jen and I will be out playing all day!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why I Hate Telemarketers

By Sariah S. Wilson

In my head I can hear my YW President in a singsong voice telling me I shouldn’t hate anyone. But I have a special sort of loathing reserved for telemarketers, who I think will be consigned to the ninth level of Outer Darkness.

Yes, I know that they’re “just doing their job.” But people in the Mafia are just doing their jobs, too.

It started when I worked as a receptionist shortly after moving here to Ohio. I took the position because the company was an ESOP (employee owned) and I made as much in my yearly bonuses as I did in my salary. (Interesting tidbit of family history here - my mom took my job when I stayed home to be with my baby, and she currently works there still.) So the job was not the greatest, but the money was way too good for someone with a degree in history to pass up.

And when you work for a medium sized manufacturing company, and you’re the only one answering the phones, I would say that about 75% of the phone calls you’ll get are telemarketers/salesmen. My company didn’t have a voice mail system, and obviously, no one wanted to stop what they were doing to listen to a sales pitch. So whenever a salesman would ask to be put through to someone at my office, I always said I’d have to take a message.

It was easy enough to tell who was who when they called. I got to know the regular vendors, customers and family members quickly, and so anyone who didn’t fall into one of those categories was suspect.

So the telemarketers tried different strategies to get around me. There was the, “Oh, I was just talking to your IT manager the other day and I forgot to write his name down. Can you tell me what it is?” Problem: We didn’t have an IT manager. Or there was “Put me through to so-and-so. This is Bob Smith. He’ll know what it’s regarding.” Problem: The CEO had no idea who Bob Smith was and thus, Bob Smith got chewed out by said CEO for acting like they were friends. We also got a lot of name mispronunciations, which was usually an immediate tip off that they were not, in fact, someone that person wanted to talk to.

I got yelled at. A lot. Magazine salesmen were the absolute worst in how they treated me. I thought it was pretty stupid of them - I actually had (or used to have before I had children) a very good memory and I remembered the name of the company they were calling from. The next time a call came in from that company…they were going on hold.

Because when you work that sort of job, it’s all about time. The more phone calls you make, the more likely it is that you’ll get a yes eventually. So I’d leave them on hold until they hung up. If they wanted to waste my time, I could waste theirs right back.

The absolute worst though, and I truly didn’t believe this until it happened for the first time, was a sales scam that the office staff warned me about. Apparently there are people who will call in and say something to the effect of their technician will be out that week to work on the copier, and can I check the model number and give it to the caller so that they can be sure the technician brings out the right parts. The hope here is that the receptionist is naive enough to give out that sort of information, and then the caller will mail out parts for the copier and charge our company for them and harass the company about “paying the bill.”

I think over the two years or so I worked there, I got at least two of those phone calls a week. So I made it enjoyable for myself. Sometimes I’d rattle off numbers and letters, “9J67Z243” and just keep going until they hung up. Or I’d use my old standby of putting them on hold. Other times the office staff had a game we used to play where I’d start it off by telling the caller that I didn’t have that information, but Suzie in accounting did. I’d tell Suzie on the intercom who it was, and then she’d pick up, listen, and tell the caller that she wasn’t the person who had that info, they needed to talk to Chris in sales, and she’d transfer the call to him, and then he’d transfer the call to someone else, and so on and so on until the person eventually hung up. We had one copier scammer who stayed on the line for 20 transfers. (And lest you think that I’m an evil person for my ways, it happens to everyone who works that job. I know, because my mother who is this total extrovert who loves people and who is so super sweet and nice, now does the same things I used to do. They drive her absolutely crazy.)

After dealing with this all day five days a week, literally the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was deal with more telemarketers. At least at the office I was paid to put up with them. We blocked unlisted numbers or automatic dialing systems from calling us, but it didn’t stop them. We celebrated in our house when the went into effect.

But despite the fact that we’re on that list, we still get phone calls. Oh, they’re much sneakier about it now. Now it’s the car dealer where we bought our last car reminding us to come in and get our oil changed and hey, while we’re at it, look at some of the new cars they have. I’ve tried calling the dealers directly to get off their lists, but no dice.

Then there’s the people who call with market research studies, and after you’ve answered their questions, want to tell you about this great mortgage/vacation/etc. deal they’ve got. Or they want us to donate money to their charity. Things like that.

I feel very resentful about being infringed upon in my home, on something that *I* pay for. If my phone was free, and paid for by telemarketing groups like this, well, that would be a different ball game. But this is my phone that I pay out the wazoo for (because we get our DSL through our phone company) and it continually irritates me that at least half the calls that come into this home are from telemarketers.

So when I pick up the phone, I immediately tell them to put me on their do not call list. If the company ever calls me again (the joy of caller ID) I simply log onto the Internet, go to and report them (using the file a complaint button).

Does anyone else have this problem with telemarketers, or am I alone in my craziness?

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Hopping Gourmet

Moved by Rob's incessant whining about casseroles (or, rather, the lack thereof), The Frog has donned an apron (no small task when you have no waistline) taken whisk in hand, and assembled the ingredients for his world-infamous Whitefish/Tuna Casserole Surprise. (With the emphasis on Surprise.)

Now it's your turn. The Frog expects everybody in this close knit cyber-community to send Rob a cyber-casserole. Submit a recipe (real or imagined) for a dish you hope will make poor Rob all better. (Or sicken him further. He knows how some of you are.) On Tuesday Rob will pick his favorite and the winner will receive a fantabulous, *ALL NEW* , never-before-offered Fun Froggie Pack. (Or is it a Froggie Fun Pack? When you finish with those recipes will somebody please consult an editor -- or Strunk & White -- and get back to me?)

The Frog poses with a few of the items that are included in the new Froggie Fun Pack. (I'm almost sure that's right.) Sorry, but the table, fake plant, doily, chairs, Frog, and black cat (back left corner) are not included. Not pictured is the autographed picture The Frog modestly includes!

Be the first on your block to get in on the fun! Send Rob a casserole recipe today!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Story of Jake

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Two years ago, my then 11 year old son was participating in a science unit at school where they were going to hatch 12 baby chicks. They got the eggs, the incubator, and the notebooks to keep track of the progress of each baby bird in hatching out of their egg. My son was thrilled and came home every day to give me the blow by blow account of each little egg and how close it was to being hatched. He looked forward to school each morning so he could rush in and see if any of the chicks had started to peck their way out yet. The teacher even held the eggs up to the light so the children could get a good look at the tiny bird inside. Then he told the students that if they wrote him a letter, explaining what a good caretaker they would be for a tiny chick, that they could have it and take it home after it had hatched. My son was ecstatic. He came home that day and spent half an hour writing and revising a letter to his teacher, telling him what a great "dad" he’d make to this baby bird. It was a sweet letter and when he showed it to me, the words, "No, you can’t have a chicken!" died in my throat. I smiled and told him I was sure his teacher would choose him to be a "daddy" to this little bird. He got out of the car that next morning, so excited to give his teacher the letter that he could hardly stand still long enough for me to say goodbye.

Then it happened.

My son got into the car that afternoon after school with tears pouring down his face. He couldn’t even speak he was so upset. I was a little alarmed, but waited until he had calmed down enough that he could tell me what happened. In a broken-hearted voice he explained that the power had gone out at the school that day and the incubator was without heat for several hours. The teacher didn’t seem overly concerned about the birds, however, when the power was back on, he went over to the eggs and announced to the children that the chicks were dead because they’d been without heat for so long. Holding up an egg to the special light, he showed them the outline of the baby bird that was no longer moving. That in itself was pretty awful, but what happened next was horrifying.

The teacher took their twelve eggs and walked with the students outside to the dumpster. He broke the eggs open, smashing them as he did so. Unfortunately, not all of the little birds were quite dead and some even chirped before they took their last breaths, with an entire class of fifth graders as witnesses to this appalling and gruesome act by the teacher. I was sickened and disgusted at the entire incident, (yes I did talk to school officials about it) but my main concern was trying to figure out the best way to handle my traumatized young son who had so desperately wanted a baby bird.

You guessed it.

We took a trip to the pet store. Even though we already owned two cats and a dog. But, I figured, it’s probably easier to do a pet store bird than a chicken. My son picked out a beautiful baby parakeet and we brought him home. He was named Jake and he ended up being one of the best birds we’ve ever owned. He had a beautiful voice, (he could even do a wolf whistle!), he would sit on your shoulder while you did dishes, and taunted the cats high on his perch and out of reach.

Last Sunday, we had a wonderful Easter, reflecting on the death and resurrection of our Savior, and talked a lot about where our spirits go after we die and what the resurrection will be like. Unfortunately, when we came down the stairs early Monday morning, we had a firsthand glimpse of what we had been taught on Sunday. Our little bird Jake was near death. We had suspected it was coming. He was already two years old and had been slowing down lately, but it was still hard. My son carefully held him in his hands and stroked his feathers, whispering and murmuring how much he loved him and Jake died with those loving hands and whispers of a tender-hearted boy surrounding him.

As we dug his grave, my little four year old kept asking me questions. This was his first experience with death up close and personal and he had a lot of things he wanted a confirmation on. "Where is Jake now? Did his mommy and daddy meet him in heaven? Does Heavenly Father know Jake’s name? Will Jake wait for us to get to heaven?" all spilled out of his mouth. I answered him as best I could, but as we continued digging, he got quiet and stared off at the mountains behind our home. Finally he said, "Mommy, why can’t we just drive Jake to heaven?"

I explained that heaven was very far away and he shook his head and pointed to the mountain. "We could just drive Jake up the mountain, because the mountains touch heaven. Then we could give Jake to Heavenly Father ourselves. You already put him in a box like a present. Then Heavenly Father can unwrap him and be happy to see him."

I could barely speak because I was so touched by his sweet innocence of wanting Heavenly Father to be happy to see our pet bird and to make sure He knew Jake’s name. I knelt down beside him as we buried Jake and was so grateful to be able to assure all of my children that our Heavenly Father is very aware of Jake as much as he is aware of each of us and he loves us, and someday, when we return to him, he is going to be so happy to see us, just as a loving Father would. And I do think Jake is happy where he is now, flying free and trying out his wolf whistle in heaven.

Goodbye Jake. We love you and you will be missed.

The results are in.

See that picture? That's the thing that I'm NOT dying of. Hooray!

Of course, if this were House MD, he'd insist that I still have the blood clot, and then I'd almost die, and then I'd probably start bleeding out of my eyes, and then he'd yell at me for lying, and then everything would end happily.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Name Game

by Stephanie Black

I spent the morning at an automobile service department, waiting for an oil change on my minivan. It was rather peaceful—the kids are out of school for spring break this week, so my teenagers were at home babysitting the junior barbarians and I was on my own. “It’ll be about an hour and a half,” the service guy told me. Not a problem. As long as my laptop battery lasts, I’m good (except for the stiffness that comes with sitting in a waiting room chair for too long). I’m deep in the rewrite of my novel and had plenty to do while I waited.

My husband just finished reading my as-yet-untitled new book (it has a working title, but not a very catchy one, so I won’t say what it is). I asked my husband if he liked the book and he said yes. Husbands are smart that way; they understand when there’s only one right answer to a question. He did point out that he thought it was funny that I named one of my villains after a member of our ward. I was horrified. “Who?” I demanded. Apparently I named my villain after a young man who left on a mission not too long ago. I didn't know him well enough to remember his name, but maybe that’s why I subconsciously gave his last name to a villain who shares his first name. How embarrassing to name your villain after your Relief Society president’s missionary son. “I’ll change it,” I said. My husband thought it was hilarious and urged me to leave it, but no way! It’s okay to have the same first name or the same last name, but both together? That could prove awkward at ward parties. So I gave my miscreant a new surname.

Names can be tricky, and I can spend an inordinate amount of time wringing my hands over a main character’s name. I’ve got to like the sound of it. It’s got to fit the character. If it’s a bad guy, it can’t be named after, say, my brother. For first names, I like to go to the Social Security Website and look at list of names. You can call up a list of the top 1000 names for any decade from 1880s on, so if you need a name for a great-grandmother, you can see what names were popular the year she was born. It’s a very handy list.

Speaking of names, Josi Kilpack posted a great blog about pen names. Pen names and stage names fascinate me. I feel I know a cool secret when l know both the pseudonym and the real name of a famous person and I like those lists of celebrities that tell you John Denver used to be Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.

I enjoyed Josi’s story about how before her first book was published she had decided to use a pen name, but then her publisher talked her out of it. As for me, I never wanted to use a pen name. My theory was that after I’d worked like crazy to write a novel and get it published, heck, I wanted the credit for it! I did do some handwringing over the question of what version of my name to use. Should I include my maiden name, like many female authors do (e.g. Julie Coulter Bellon, Betsy Brannon Green, Traci Hunter Abramson)? Should I add my middle initial? (Jeffrey S. Savage, Robison E. Wells--oh wait, he's E-less now). It was my wise mother who finally pointed out that plain Stephanie Black rolled off the tongue in a more pleasing way than any of the other combos. Thanks, Mom.

Anyway, I'd better quit blogging and go take a nap--er, I mean work on my rewrite.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Does this look infected to you?

by Robison Wells

Have you ever been home teaching/visiting teaching, and you go to some little old lady's house, and she spends an hour describing her Irritable Bowel Syndrome? If so, did you love that? If so, read on!

I'm still sick.

Recap: Once upon a time, back in January, I started coughing. Of course, being the baby I am, I did a lot of lying around and moaning. And, as everyone knows, moaning only exacerbates a cough so the coughing continued. I coughed and coughed, though other than the coughing I felt pretty good--no fevers, no sinus trouble. Just a cough. I finally quit whining and put up with it. (Well, I never quit whining, but I stopped calling in sick to work.)

Then I went on vacation to sunny California, and whilst enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth, I would occasionally cough until I vomited. This didn't exactly add to the magicalness of the Magic Kingdom, but it did give us something fun to talk about while waiting for the parade.

Upon returning home I went to the doctor, and--as I mentioned in a previous blog--they determined I had asthma.

Well folks, it ain't asthma.

After about six weeks of asthma treatments, very little had changed. Sure, I had some days that were better than others; I'd occasionally go for four or five days where I thought I was doing pretty good, and then it'd all come crashing down again.

So, after trying everything and failing (and seriously, we tried quite a bit. Here's all the medicine I took: Prednisone, Albuterol, QVar, Codeine cough syrup, Advair, Singulair, Protonix, and various other over-the-counters) my doctor finally decided he was in over his head, and he referred me to a pulmonologist.

Before I could see the pulmonologist I had to take a Pulmonary Function Test and a Blood Gas Test. Now first of all, let me just say that I'm petrified of needles. (When I was in high school I had to have surgery on my wrist, and they were going to knock me out for it. While waiting to go into the operating room, I was sitting on a gurney and the anesthesiologist put an IV in my arm. Getting woozy, I told him "Wow, this stuff works really fast." Confused, he replied "I haven't even hooked you up to anything yet." Then I passed out.) May I say that the Blood Gas Test, wherein they draw blood from an artery--not the standard vein--is mucho painful. And the verdict: the oxygen in my blood is low. (Does this mean that not enough is getting to my brain? If so, are you surprised?)

So, after the Blood Gas Test I took the Pulmonary Function Test, and the nurse confidently declared that this would explain why my oxygen levels were low. I took the test, and I breathed into a tube, and I held my breath, and I huffed and puffed--and the tests were perfectly normal. The nurse told me how weird that was, with a kind of "gee-whiz, isn't life crazy?" attitude. He must have forgotten that MY BLOOD DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH OXYGEN.

A couple days later I went to see the pulmonologist. He went over the whole story, and looked at all the tests--I forgot to mention that I'd also had a chest x-ray--and he told me that he thinks it's one of three things: (1) a virus, (2) a blood clot, and (3) occupational asthma, caused by wood dust (because I work in the construction industry). So he's treating me for the virus, and yesterday I had a CT scan for the blood clot (results pending) and if nothing comes of either of those, he'll test me for occupational asthma--that test, he tells me, involves enhaling a big glob of saw dust. I think that he's trying to kill me.

(In fact, I think I'm getting sicker. It used to just be a cough. Now it's a cough and chest pain, and I can't even take out the garbage without getting winded. Doctors are bad for your health.)

What's the point of all this? I don't know. I've shelled out quite a bit of money to these doctors already--I hit my deductible in March--yet they seem to have no idea what's going on. On TV hospital shows, doctors always figure out exactly what's wrong with people, and then those people get better (except the patients who die). I don't think I have EVER gone to a doctor and got a definitive answer. These doctors seem more like weathermen: "Tomorrow there'll be a 30% chance of asthma, with blood clots increasing in the afternoon. Of course, don't quote me on that!"

And, dang it, this has been going on for three months and I've yet to receive a single casserole! Do I have to pass around the meal calendar myself?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Happy Places

When I was ten years old, my family lived in Pleasant Hill, CA. On Saturdays my younger brother and I would ride our bikes to the BART train (think monorail.) We would then take BART to the Oakland Coliseum. (This was before every sports venue was named after a software or drug company.)

For about a buck we could buy bleachers tickets to A’s games. This just happened to be the Oakland A’s who won three World Series titles in a row. Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, Ray Fosse, Joe Rudi, Campy Campaneris—the names still bring goose bumps to my arms.

For three hours we ate popcorn and hotdogs, soaked up the Bay Area sun, and watched some of the best baseball players of all time take the field in the gold and green uniforms. It was the best place in the world for two boys to be. It was and still is my happy place. Put me in a seat along the first base line, or even third level outfield and I completely bliss out.

When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Monterey we bet dishes on who would win the A’s Angels games. As I worked various jobs during our early married years I listen to Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart shut down the opposition on the radio. Can you guess what I’m listening to as I write this blog? (Hint the A’s and White Sox are tied one all in the bottom of the fifth.)

For my wife, her happy places are the beach and Disneyland. Those are the places that bring back her childhood. The places where she could just sit for hours. I hope that everyone has a childhood place that brings back memories of a time of innocence, a time when your biggest worry was whether or not you had enough money for another hotdog. I hope I can help my own children discover those places they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

(By the way, the Sox just went up two to one. But that’s okay, it’s not over until the very last strike.)

So what is your happy place?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Instead of Posting, I’ll Be Boasting

By Sariah S. Wilson

It’s very late, thus the rhyming.

I don’t know why I wait until the last possible moment to post. It’s probably the same reason I’m only halfway through my next book that has to be handed in before the end of May - I would like to have my baby without worrying about a deadline. But being the procrastinator that I am…

Back to what I was rhyming about - I think with the whole humility thing we have ground into us from the time that we’re little, it’s hard sometimes to share our accomplishments.

But I am awfully excited by how my first book is doing, and so I am sharing.

“Secrets in Zarahemla” is currently on Seagull Book’s list of best selling fiction. I don’t know if that list is ranked in order, but if it is, I’m #5 over there. (You’ll have to go out to Seagull’s website, click on best selling and then fiction to see it. Every time I try to do a link it doesn’t work out right.)

And marvel of marvels, I’m currently #13 on Deseret’s LDS general fiction list. I am completely addicted to checking this list once or twice a day. I hit #19 and thought that it would be it for me - I even dropped down to #21 or #22 and thought that was the beginning of my descent. I don’t know if Conference weekend has made the difference, but I’m currently #13. I don’t know at what point it will stop creeping upwards - I’m guessing probably fairly soon - but I’m enjoying the ride while it lasts.

So…if you haven’t read it yet…give in to the peer pressure. Some people seem to like it, maybe you’ll like it too. ;)

I know that’s the only reason I picked up “The Da Vinci Code” and “Harry Potter.” They were on those best selling lists for forever. I remember I went to Barnes & Noble one day and decided to pick up one of those Harry Potter books to see what all the fuss was about. I returned the next day to pick up books 2, 3, and 4 and it killed me that I had to wait a whole year for 5!

Have you ever bought a book solely because it’s on a best selling list?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Guest Blog

Delsa Anderson is a fellow member of ANWA (American Night Writers Association) and one of the dearest, funniest women on the planet. When I read her article about printer problems in "Of Good Report" yesterday, I knew I had to share it with you. Not only is it miles better than anything I could write myself, but I can't write anything myself right now. My pit bull had surgery on Monday and I am her nurse, nanny, prison guard, and personal assistant. Moreover, unlike Mr. Wells, I don't have any "best of" articles to fall back on!

PRINTER PROBLEMS by Delsa Anderson

Sometime around 4:30 this morning I lay in bed stewing about my printer, which has told me for several days (in a very snooty way) that it's off-line! What the heck does that mean? As I stewed, I wondered which of my family and friends had time to give me a clue. My son-in-law can do it, but he works out of his house, and always has more to do than time to do it. I've already asked my proficient neighbors once, and I don't want them to know how stupid I am, technically speaking. Then, like a thunderbolt, I heard an inner voice sy, "Why don't you just get yourself in there and figure it out?"

I've tried this tactic before, and came up clueless, but my body unwillingly left the bed in accordance with my mind's frantic antics, and I sat down in front of this stupid comuter. I started with the index of the Microsoft Word for Windows Courseware. Nuttin'! I found two boxes, unused in the past two years, of extra-quality inkjet paper behind the courseware. Wow, if only I can learn how to make the printer work, I can use this stuff. I checked out the e-machines user's guide. The user is not guided to anything about restarting the printer's online usability.

Ha! The Window's XP Home edition, 10-Minute Guide! Perhaps . . . nope, nothing of use to the average shmuck, although I may get back to How to Clean Up Your Desktop. It did, however, give me some useful information about how to get to information by starting with the START button. I dallied with the START button, and the places you can go from there, but the printer was not interested. It turned on and made little scurrying sounds (as if) and then the horrid sound of a printer having a miscarriage -- a scaping, clanking sound which will never present a body of work. (If I ever decide to present such stuff, I want to be able to print it for my grandchildren.)

Reading this, you might ask, "Why didn't you go to your 'hp psc 2100 series all-in-one reference guide' first?" Because all that other stuff was piled on top of it, that's why. I used it in the order it was received! You might ask also, "Why doesn't Hewlett-Packard use some capitals when giving things a title?" The answer is, "i don't know, should they?"

Now we come to the exciting part. Somewhere, in one of the last two references, I found this notation, freely quoted: "If nothing else works, remove the power cord from the back of the stupid printer, and then plug it back in." I did, and it woke up with a little inner jerk, then pured happily as it poured out about 12 sheets of typed paper, including one in living color. Nothing sounds sweeter than a printer which has finally gone to work!

Now its 6:30 AM and I'm for bed. This dissertation does not attempt to answer the question, "Why did the printer go wrong in the first place?" All I know is, when my husband uses my printer, something bad always happens and he'd better cut it out!

Isn't it great? (Or am I the only one who relates?) In either case, you must excuse me. My dog is crying again. I copied down Elder Holland's quote from conference (No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won't make it worse) and propped it up next to her water bowl, but so far she isn't converted.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Girls and Their Secrets (No, not Victoria's)

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’m going to confess something to you that only four other people on this planet know about me.

I write fanfiction.

What is fanfiction you ask? Fanfiction is writing a story with already established characters from a movie, books, games, cartoons, comics, or television shows. There is some really good Pride and Prejudice fanfiction out there, for instance, that tells what could have happened to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. There is fanfiction for almost every television show you can think of up to and including Gunsmoke and Bonanza, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, MacGyver or even newer ones like Monk and Alias.

You can go to a site like and find a lot of fanfiction. Obviously some writers are better than others and you quickly find out which ones best match what you’re looking for in a story.

But here’s what I like best about being a fanfiction writer.

You can post a chapter and get comments on it. It’s almost like instant feedback. You also get a little following for your stories and I have to say, I have met some of the most wonderful people through my fanfiction writing. Plus, they beg me to write more and it makes me feel good. Like having my own little posse of fans.

Fanfiction chapters are generally shorter than normal novels as well, which makes it really easy to write and gets the ideas flowing and the writing juices going, if you know what I mean. Sometimes I just need that little extra oomph to get myself into the swing of writing for the day and doing a fanfiction chapter can really do that for me.

As you may have guessed, fanfiction is what I turn to when the novel is stuck and I need to just put it away for a while and do something else. Or on the days when I don’t feel like writing at all, I can put a little fanfiction chapter out there, get some love from my fans almost immediately and feel like writing again. Hey, whatever works, right?

And lastly, I love taking established characters in new directions and doing an original story with them, sort of like living out my own little fantasy of what television would be like if I was a writer for it. And yes, I stay true to my values in every story. In case you were wondering.

So there you have it. That’s the one secret I thought I would never tell. But I will never tell what I write fanfiction for–whether it’s a television show or movie or whatever. No way. No one will ever get that out of me. And if you are one of the four people who know, PLEASE don’t say anything.

A girl has to have a few secrets, right?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Reliving My Childhood Through Books

by Stephanie Black

I just finished reading Robert C. O’Brien’s novel The Silver Crown to my son. I’ve loved this book ever since my sixth grade teacher read it to our class, and I enjoyed sharing it with my son. In the book, ten-year-old Ellen gets a mysterious silver crown and her life turns upside down. Her house gets blown up. Bad guys are chasing her. She wants desperately to get to safety at her Aunt Sarah’s house in Kentucky. Instead, she ends up at a creepy castle/school hidden in the woods where a magical machine created centuries ago is at work carrying out an evil plan of world domination. The machine’s minions will stop at nothing to get their hands on Ellen’s silver crown, an artifact even more powerful than the machine. Yep, Ellen’s in a pickle. It’s a fun story and it was even more fun watching my son’s interest and excitement as the story unfolded.

At the library yesterday, I was in the children’s section with my kids, and on the shelf I saw the book Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. I was thrilled. “I love this book!” I exclaimed, thrusting it upon my thirteen-year-old daughter. She probably thought I was nuts to get so excited about a book, but I haven’t seen this book in years and didn’t realize the library stocked it. Here’s the story: eighteen-year-old Louisa Amory goes with her nine-year-old orphaned niece, Jane, to live with Jane’s grandmother for the summer. Creepy things start to happen, and it becomes apparent that the spirit of Emily, the long-dead twelve-year-old daughter of Jane’s grandmother, is determined to wreak her selfish, evil will on the living—and she’s especially interested in Jane.

I loved these books as a kid and still love them. In fact, many of my favorite books are children’s or YA books. Here are a few more favorites of mine:

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Rich old businessman Samuel W. Westing has died—was he murdered?—and his fortune will go to whichever of his colorful cast of heirs can unravel the clues and solve the Westing Game.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Spear. Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler leaves her home in Barbados and settles in Puritan-era Connecticut. Struggling to adjust to her strange new home, Kit makes misstep after misstep. Eventually her compassion for a lonely old woman leads to her being accused of witchcraft.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet, by Madeleine L’Engle. This is the third book in the series that started with A Wrinkle in Time. I loved Wrinkle, but the third book is my favorite. Boy genius Charles Wallace joins forces with unicorn Gaudior to save the world from a madman. He travels through time in his quest to bring about the change that will save the world of the future.

Secret Agents Four, by Donald J. Sobol. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read, the kind of book where not only is the plot fun and intriguing, but every line is a delight. Written by the creator of Encyclopedia Brown, Secret Agents Four is the tale of spy wannabe Ken Mullins and his friends, Orv. Bo and Horseshoes. Ken’s father works for government agency Mongoose, so Ken and company create their own teenage secret spy group--VACUUM (Volunteer Agents Crusading Unsteadily Under Mongoose). Their goal: to battle the evil forces of Cobra and thwart their plot to wreak havoc on Miami.

What books did you love in childhood that you still love now?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Eyes of a Killer

by Robison Wells

(Robison Wells does not have much time to blog today, due to very important things that are very important. But here's a quick story.)

When I was about seven years old my mom hung a picture in my room. Every night I'd lie in bed wide awake, terrified by the evil, dark eyes of the man staring back at me. I couldn't sleep; I couldn't close my eyes; I didn't dare to hide under my blanket for fear that the murderous old man would swoop down an destroy me.

It went on like this for several days. Why did my mother insist on tormenting me like this? Did she think I needed some kind of sinister overlord, glaring at me in the darkness with his deep sunken eyes? Was he supposed to frighten me into being good?

One night I decided I just couldn't take it anymore. I leapt out of bed and yanked the picture from the wall, tearing it from the thumbtacks that held it in place. And then, to hide my sin from the dark eyes of the unholy demon, I stuffed it under the bed.

Finally, I could sleep again.

And the picture? Click here.

An Interview With Rachel Nunes

Just arrived at my hotel and as seems to be the case lately, I am having internet connection problems. This is an interview I did with rachel Nunes, last year. Rachel is not only an excellent and prolific writer, but also a great person and friend.

Rachel Ann Nunes is the author of 22 books, including the best-selling Ariana series, the best-selling picture books, Daughter of a King and The Secret of the King, and the two most recent novels in her new Huntington series, Winter Fire and No Longer Strangers. Rachel lives in Utah with her husband and six children.

Jeff—Rachel, I knew you’d written a lot of books, but when I checked out your website and counted 22, my jaw dropped. Twenty-two! And that’s just the published books. When did you publish your first novel? Any idea how many total copies of your books you have in print?

Rachel—My first book came out in September 1996, a month after I'd had my fourth child. As you can imagine, it was rather a challenge to do book signings! As for how many copies are out there I can only guess that it's in the hundreds of thousands. My best-selling book has sold over 55,000 alone, and I expect that one to sell another 20,000 in the next year or so.

Jeff—What are the advantages and disadvantages to writing more than one book a year? Would you recommend it to other authors?

Rachel—The advantages are that when readers find an author they love, they want to read more—now! They'd read a new book each month if we could write that fast. The disadvantages are, of course, that writing books takes a lot of time. Writing two books a year is not something you can do easily if you're holding down another job, or if you're heavily involved in some other project or demanding situation in your life. At those times even writing one book is a challenge. I feel that as long as authors publish at least one new book a year, they can maintain their readership just fine. For me, as a stay-at-home mother, two full-length novels is about right for my lifestyle.

Jeff—On your website, you talk about your writing schedule and how you’ve managed to raise six children while writing so many books. You also point out the many cross stories in your novels. How do you manage to keep all the storylines straight?

Rachel—Actually, I don't ever have a problem keeping the storylines straight. My characters are very real to me. But to help me keep track of details, I have a character file for each novel that describes each character, their traits, and their ages when major events occurred in their lives. If I'm writing a sequel or a spin-off story, I copy that file, update the ages for the time that has passed, delete characters that won't be in the new novel and proceed from there, adding new characters as needed. That way I don't forget that Kerrianne loves to cook and organize, Cassi burns everything, and Mitch always walks around with a gerbil in his pocket.

Jeff—Do you ever worry that you might inadvertently make a new novel too close to something you’ve written before?

Rachel—There are always going to be some similarities in any author's work, themes that are dear to his or her heart, but it's only lately that I've begun to worry about storylines becoming too similar. Now I really consider each novel before I write it to make sure there are significant differences in my characters and their situations. I am absolutely positive that with all the two and half million words I've published, there will be some heroes or heroines that might be somewhat similar. But that's true in life as well. People the world over are similar—they have the same beliefs, passions, dreams, and challenges. It's how they handle what's thrown their way that's different. Still, I make it my job to see that too-similar situations happen as infrequently as possible in my writing. Ask me again when I have fifty books out and we'll see if I've succeeded.

Jeff—Do you read other romance authors?

Rachel—Yes. I read everything from non-fiction science articles and children's books to New York Times bestsellers. However, I rarely read romance of the Harlequin type. My favorite books right now are women's fiction. These are romantic novels, but they focus more on the plot and challenges a woman faces than on the actual romance. I like stories with strong plot and family ties rather than heaving bosoms and heroines who can't think about anything but the next kiss from the man they're trying to run away from.

Jeff—I remember the excitement of publishing my first book—seeing it in stores for the first time, in libraries, hearing my name in a radio ad and doing my first signing. But some of the expectations I had as a new author ended up disappearing rather quickly when reality set in. How are things different for you—both for the better and worse—than you imagined they’d be after publishing your first novel?

Rachel—I didn't really have a lot of expectations when my first book, Ariana: The Making of a Queen, came out. I was just grateful to have someone love my work. The book ended up selling really well and garnered a lot of attention in the bookstores, but in my daily life nothing really changed. Most people didn't even know I'd written a book. Only a few people heard the commercials. I'd done a miraculous thing, or so I thought, but I soon discovered that I was just one more book on the heap fighting for marketing dollars. I realized then that though all I'd ever wanted to do was write, marketing and the business of writing had to take a prominent place in my life if I wanted to be successful.

Soon, I was speaking everywhere, doing book signings, and answering dozens of letters. People still didn't recognize my name, though, until I had about ten books out. Now after ten years of hard work in this business, I get recognized a lot, sometimes in the oddest places. That can be both fun and embarrassing—depending on if I've done my hair that day.

Jeff—A lot of people—including me—have asked you to write a cover blurb for the back of their books. How hard is that to do with everything you have going on? Why not just say no? What do you do if someone asks you for a blurb and you really don’t like the book?

Rachel—As I avidly devour good books, reading a manuscript to give a blurb generally isn't a problem since I'm going to be reading anyway. But I've learned only to accept requests for blurbs by people recommended to me or by authors I know are good writers. I simply don't have time to wade through an inferior manuscript full of mistakes and plot issues. I tell these recommended authors that I'll only give a blurb if I feel I can do so honestly. I must say that I'm a lot more rigorous at guarding my recommendations now than in the past. I do have many author friends who ask me for recommendations, and if I have a concern about their manuscript, I'll mention it and ask them to fix it before I give my blurb. More rarely, when I may not have time to read the book by the deadline, I have ask them to find someone else.

There are many times when people I don't know send me their book through the Internet, telling me how good it'll be my for career if I give them a blurb. That always makes me laugh. Often these authors don't have a publisher or their books aren't up to par. In these cases, when the author is unknown to me or comes unrecommended, I must always decline. One thing important to note: I don't care who the author is, I won't read an electronic copy of a book—ever. I spend enough time at the computer as it is.

Jeff—I was intrigued by the part of your website where you talk about writing sci-fi and fantasy. Can we ever expect to see a Rachel Ann Nunes sci-fi novel in print? If so, would you use a pen name?

Rachel—I do have several sci-fi and fantasy books written, and I think I'll get them published one day, but right now I'm focusing on women's fiction. In fact, on my new website that will be coming hopefully by the end of this year (2005) the sci-fi and fantasy section will be replaced by other features such as guest author spotlights from big names in LDS publishing, samples from aspiring authors, motherhood essays by yours truly, and much more. When I do publish one of the sci-fi or fantasy books, I will likely do it under a pen name, but I'll be sure to let my current readership know that it's really me!

Jeff—What’s book number twenty-three and when can we expect to see it on shelves?

Rachel—Book twenty-three is called Chasing Yesterday, and while it's a stand-alone story, it ties into the Huntington family novels I'm working on. As of last night at midnight, I actually finished the galleys and I've seen the cover, so it's very close. I believe the actual release date is in January or February of 2006—I've been too busy to ask!

Book twenty-four, By Morning Light, the fourth and last book about the Huntington siblings should be out later in the year. I'll have to hold a celebration for reaching two dozen books, won't I? (Consider yourself officially invited, Jeff!) Meanwhile, fans of my picture book, Daughter of a King, can get the DVD version this Christmas. This is going to be a big hit for all ages.
Thanks and happy reading! Rachel Ann Nunes

Visit Rachel's Website at