Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, August 31, 2007

Choose the Worst

by Kerry Blair

Right off, before Anonymous starts throwing around the f-word (as in flake) again, let me say that The Frog and I tried to judge the Dark and Stormy Night Contest. We simply agonized over it for . . . well . . . maybe six or eight whole minutes before deciding to hop out for hot fudge sundaes -- gooey, delicious, with nuts for me and those crunchy little beetle-things for him (they do get stuck in his teeth, but he doesn't seem to mind except, of course, on days he has photo shoots, but he won't have another one of those unless the DBacks win the Division -- he's on the extended roster for his ability to catch flies, you know -- and that doesn't look very likely after a simply disastrous series (3-1) at Petco Park in San Diego where Greg Maddux, who never beats us despite being one of the most phenomenal pitchers of the era and my former hero back when he was a Cub -- the first time, not the second -- made our batters look like Little Leaguers) -- instead and leave the hard work to you.

If you think division races distract me, wait until we get to the pennants.

The point here is that the entries were just too good for us to be able to narrow it down to three winners -- let alone one. (We did get to six, you'll be pleased to know.) So here are the entries in the order received. We removed the names and added numbers for ease in voting. Since we know how hard this is, you may vote for three. You may also vote anonymously, but you're on the honor system to vote once and once only. (Three should be enough for you, after all.) Voting closes at midnight Saturday and the winner will be announced after Church (Del Rio Standard Time) on Sunday. The winner will be the author of the entry who received the most nominations over all. But since you were all so good, everybody who sends me their mailing address will receive a Frog Pop -- presumably made from corn syrup in the shape of a frog rather than . . . well, you know! -- and a picture of our celebrity Frog, suitable for framing.

Okay, wow. Convoluted paragraphs are like potato chips -- you can't stop at just one!

Thanks, everyone, for playing!

The Entries:

1) Alicia's lips were bright red--the exact color of that little button on turkey timers that pops up when the turkey is done--only Alicia never knew that, because she was a strict vegan and just made tofu turkey on Thanksgiving, which of course doesn't have an actual little turkey timer button, but everyone else who saw her thought, "Ahh, the turkey is done."

2) It was a dark and stormy night when I lay in my bed dreaming of sugar plums and mayflowers which, of course, I do not know what those are, but perhaps you the reader will … so you do the imagining for me, will you? You might ask how I can dream of things that I do not comprehend, but I digress… for I was writing about a dark and stormy night in which the rain fell in buckets dumped like garbage on a hot, shiny, green tin roof that a black cat pranced and hopped like a rabbit across.

3) I really like corn flakes, but sometimes they taste kind of bad. But it's okay because that's why I like them. My story starts on a dark, stormy, wintry, cold, freezing night. I was out of corn flakes and needed some more for breakfast the first meal of the day. It kind of was sad or something. But whatever. Sometimes grapefruit is good for breakfast. Or Cheerios.

4) It was a dark and stormy night. Thunder crashed across the sky and lightning illuminated the face of the man before me in garish proportions. His sinister smile sent a chill up my back and I started to run. I could hear his footsteps behind me getting closer and closer. I ran hard, my sweat mixing with the rain, feeling his cold hands grasping for me, reaching for my throat. Then I woke up. Was it only a dream? The note taped to my mirror said otherwise.

5) It was a dark and stormy knight I came upon in the otherwise deserted castle. I could feel rather than see the glare from behind that visor, burning deep, deep into my soul like a curling iron left on a block of ice. I cowered and try to shrink away from that merciless gaze, like a Styrofoam cup in the oven, but I slipped and crashed headlong into the knight, making a clatter not unlike that I time I tried to carry too many dishes down the stairs from the dishwasher. “Oh, my mistake. Just an empty suit of armor.”

6) Thunder struck, Joe leaned over the corner table at La Bernardin until he was close enough the back of her hand brushed the tip of his tie—a dark gray paisley with multiple patterns of storm drains positioned vertically across the finest Indian silk money could buy from an elderly rainforest native immigrant shop owner who sewed all of his wares by hand at night—and said, "Wow! Did you hear that?"

7) Kerry, I was going to add my account to the rest tonight but while rereading your rules and my competitors' contributions I was filled with such raucous laughter that I found myself having fallen upon the floor when a man, his dark face deeply lined with concern, stormed into the room saying, "You will pay for this." as he stared at the deep piles of dark paper that had been strewn across the floor as if by a turbulent storm when I fell. Still glaring at me with stormy eyes as I sat in the deep, dark shadows where I had fallen he asked. "Are you looking for a frog or something?"

8) He was in love with her, loved her like he loved lasagna, not just any lasagna, especially not the vegetarian kind, but the meaty juicy savory kind with extra cheese, and he could tell by the way her face flushed like steaming marinara sauce underneath a thick layer of melted ricotta that she must feel the same way; he only hoped that their love didn’t end like his love with lasagna always ended, filled with excruciating pain on the toilet.

9) A thick, dark, swirling, choking, stormy fog, frothed and coughed its way down the alley close to the River Thames, shrouding Egbert against the vile night in which humiliation had followed embarrassment of the most mortifying magnitude, when sweet Gertrude discovered the tattoo on the toe next to his pinky--it was something his cruel and merciless step-mother placed there twenty-one years ago on another dank and miserable night when she left him as a shivering infant on the doorstep of Mister Mervin of Mobberly Mansion--a lime-green, one-eyed, red-lipped frog.

10) It was a dark and stormy night, or at least that was the reason Sheryl gave her family as to why they were sitting in the storage room in the basement, eating cold green beans and spaghetti sauce, with wheat sprinkled with powdered sugar for dessert. (I must work on my food storage, Sheryl thought). Her heart pounded like a child’s drum given by a well meaning but clueless and childless uncle. Pound, pound, pound, never ending, but leading towards headaches. Would her home teachers truly think they weren’t home, or would they demand entry and see that the breakfast dishes were still on the table?

11) Tifffany Jo surveyed the darkening sky, her heart achy-breaky. A thunderstorm with a well-placed lightning bolt could call Jason to repentance, to turn his back on the yesterday’s sudden and drastic actions: his Bic- shaved head (oh, that beautiful wavy brown hair and receding hairline, how she missed it already!), the beginnings of a scraggly beard sprouting under his lower lip, the new Harley purchased with his BYU student loan, the pierced eyebrow, the tattoo of Snoopy the Red Baron on his upper arm, the studded leather jacket, and his new band of biking friends, the Bald and the Beautiful . . .

12) His face was dark and stormy. Her heart beat like a child pounding on a little toy drum that his grandparents gave him for Christmas. (Because it's not possible for grandparents to find quiet toys.) Her hands trembled as she fumbled with the doorknob, but his companion stuck his shoe, that was as dark as midnight, in the door frame. His smile was as big as a hot air balloon. There was no turning back now. These missionaries were more persistent than a grass stain in a little boy’s white pants. She would have to let them in.

13) For the second night in a row I sat in my ancient, black VW on the seedy side of town doing what I do best--minding someone else's business. (Note: I’m going to feel really bad when this wins.)

14) Lucy’s brown eyes were like two chocolate chip cookies, only burnt and made with mint chocolate chips used rather than milk chocolate, making swirls of dirtied-green in her dark and stormy glare for only a moment ago she had received the heartbreak of her teenage life; “CHAD IZ N LUV W BRT-NY” came the ominous text from her best friend followed by an obligatory “R U OK?” Lucy was sure she would never love again.

15) At the sight of Erdrick Hunter standing on her porch, Wilma screamed—not a lace-edged, rose-scented, Victorian scream, but an an eardrum-piercing, soul-wrenching cry, the kind of noise you make when you whack your little toe on the leg of a chair and most of your toes go one way and your little toe goes the other and the agony nearly knocks your eyeballs out of their sockets, not that such an accident had ever happened to Wilma, because she’d avoided chairs ever since that mishap with the Cheez-Whiz, a parakeet and a bronze bust of Socrates.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

One Sock, Two Socks, Where's Three & Four?

By Julie Coulter Bellon

There is a magical place inside my washing machine. In the deep dark recesses of this modern miracle, there is a place where only socks can go. I know, that somehow, the second the washer senses that there is a pair of socks in the load of laundry I am putting in, it secretly shudders with glee. It is a paroxysm of joy and pain—the washer knows the joy of having another sock for its guilty prisoner, and also glories in the pain it causes when the pair is separated and becomes a single.

So here I sit. With a basket full of single socks, longing for their mates. My children whine and cry that they have no matched socks to wear and what can I tell them? I have no key to the magical world of socks. I am relegated to living in this space and time, a household of socks that have no match. It is a very frustrating place to be—the world of having a mateless sock basket. It has become the desperation basket that everyone runs to when they have no more matched socks and finally just wear the mismatched ones and hope no one notices.

I’ve tried to prevent this from happening. There are little doohickeys you can buy to clip the socks together, but that didn’t work. The doohickeys just ended up in the bottom of the washer, their precious sock pried from their grasp by the unseen forces in the washing machine that revel in the joy of having my family’s socks. I’ve tried buying the same brand of socks so we could just mix and match. But inevitably, over time, that sixteen pair pack of white socks has become a three pair. I know the last matched pair is trembling with fright at the thought of the next wash, having had all his previous family pack mates being swallowed up into the great sock beyond.

So here I sit. With the basket of single socks.

What is the solution? I vote for a sockless society. We live in a numbed culture that just passively accepts socks as the norm. We mindlessly put them on every day and don’t question why. Yet, there are unseen forces working to gather socks. Have we ever questioned it? No. It could be a secret conspiracy. Perhaps there is a government agency analyzing our DNA or smell patterns from our socks! Maybe a terrorist organization is gathering socks from all over the world to analyze how they could put a bio-chemical weapon in our socks that would eat away our feet and render us useless. So, for safety’s sake, I think we should ban socks. We could have sock burning parties, meeting to decry the use of socks, yell Socks Suck and hold up signs that say, "Sock Haters Unite!"and anyone caught wearing or harboring socks would be sentenced to flogging with said socks. (Nothing stuffed in them, like rocks, of course. Unless it’s Rob Wells.)

Or, another solution would be to make the wearing of mismatched socks a cool fashion statement. Everyone would be doing it! We just need to approach some big name celebrities to start the trend. Does anyone have Matt Damon’s phone number? (By the way, I loved his new movie The Bourne Supremacy. Matt Damon really shines in the role of Jason Bourne. But I digress.)

The only other solutions I can come up with are to possibly make a lot of sock puppets, but since I have enough socks to make a puppet for the entire cast of The High School Musical, that could take some time. Maybe I should just buy extra long pants for the family, or high-top running shoes.

Or, I could just keep trying to find that elusive match, while my evil washing machine silently cackles in glee at my dilemma. Do you think if I reached far enough into my dryer with a sock in my hand, I could be sucked into the mysterious, magical sock world? Or perhaps I would hear the crackle of a secret government agency communication device and their cover would be blown. Hey, I think I just got another idea for a book. *wink wink*

Thanks, Rob!

Since Rob blogged today instead of yesterday, I figure I'm off the hook for my Wednesday blog. Rob, I owe you one, but don't expect me to pay up--at least not until you mail that stinkin' book you owe me.

Okay, I really should blog, but it's bedtime and and morning comes way early these days (it's the first week of school and the first week of early morning seminary). So I'll just post a link to my favorite literary agent blog. Nathan Bransford is knowledgable, helpful, funny, entertaining, friendly and approachable. Just don't send him a query letter that begins with a rhetorical question.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

School's back forever

Did you notice that yesterday was Tuesday? And did you remember that I'm supposed to blog on Tuesdays? Well, you can shut up, punk. I'm so sick of you and your "I wonder what Rob has to say today." You know what I have to say? Your impatience makes me embarrassed for you.

In actuality, on Monday I started my orientation at school. And where most orientations are little fluffy things wherin you play games trying to find people who also like Supertramp and Thai food, this orientation is much more involved. Instead of games, we're filling out a lot of forms, and attending a lot of lectures, being told six times an hour that the MBA program is really hard. They actually said yesterday that they purposely give you more stuff than you'll ever have time to do, because they want you to learn how to prioritize. So, high fives.

In related news, my daughter started kindergarten on Monday as well. She was all kinds of excited, and it seems to have gone really well, despite the fact that her teacher is some kind of masochistic Nazi who insists that Holly draw her letters from top to bottom, not bottom to top! I pay my taxes for this!? (Well, I'm a poor college student whose only tax expenditures are sales tax on textbooks and Coke. But YOU pay taxes for this! You should totally write your congressman.) (Unless top-to-bottom is the correct way. I can't remember.)

Anyway, it's 7:15am, and I have to leave at 7:30, and I'm not dressed yet! And the kids are eating pancakes and want me to get my laptop off the table. So, sorry this is short. If you have a problem, take it up with my professors.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Creative Deriding, or, Behind the Red Door

Funny you should mention running, Sariah. I am still recovering from running a half-marathon Saturday. The first picture is me saying, "Never again. Never again. Never again."

The second picture is just before I collapsed to the ground, while my loving wife poured gallons of Gatorade down my throat. Since I am still tired from the whole thing, and since I flew from Salt Lake to Seattle to Los Angeles today, I am going to share a story of trials, setbacks, and ultimate triumphs, as mailed to me by our loyal reader, great writer, and good friend, Jon Spell. Glad you succeeded in your quest, Jon. I look forward to having you in my class.

Creative Deriding, or, Behind the Red Door

by Jon Spell

Today, I embarked upon a journey. I expected it to be a short one, so I packed light: MP3 player for some rockin' tunes in the car, cell phone and directions. I left workand drove across town and then hopped on the freeway. I was able to use the cruisecontrol for about 2 minutes before the eccentricities of traffic prevented it. Still, I had Styx Rockin' the Paradise to keep me happy.

After about 15 minutes, I arrived in the locality of Spanish Fork. My directions werestraightforward - south 7 blocks to 300 N, turn right, go 1 block. This put me at roughly 99 W 300 N, which was the address I had written down. My true destination was nowhere in sight.

The closest thing was a Municipal Utilities building. I nearly went to that door, but decided not to. Insted, I called the phone number I had brought with me.

I spoke to Kathy, the receptionist, who told me I was just a couple blocks off. Theaddress of the school was closer to 99 N 300 W. A simple mistake. She gave me some more instructions to follow, including to enter using the mystical Red Door. I drove down and found the high school. Holy Cow! This place is huge. And no Red Door in sight.

Well, ok, I don't mind asking for directions a 2nd time, right? So, I called Kathy, told her where I thought I was. (What painted rock?) and she directed me to the white brick building with a rust trim. Look for the Red Door, she said.I walked completely around the first large building to fit the description, feeling abit more lost than I had earlier. Still no Red Door.

Aha! There, across the parking lot! The Red Door! I walked quickly towards it, feelingrelief at having found it. I shook my head and wondered whether I'd be able to find mycar again. As I got closer to the building, I felt dread in the pit of my stomach. Something wasn't right here. This building is right on the football field. It looks likea ... concession building. But there's the Red Door, just like she told me! I walked slower until I finally stopped. I looked around, but there was no one to help me. I strongly considered cutting my losses and just going home.

Dejected, I walked back to the original white brick building. I sighed and then calledKathy again. She must think I'm a complete moron. Hi, it's me again! Where am I? She laughed and then gave me the most confusing directions yet. Walk into the brick building, going through the southwest glass doors - walk along the hallway and out more glass doors and there I would be. Based on my vantage point, this would put me on the other side of the building, outside! How would that help? But I saw no alternative. This time, I kept Kathy on the line, describing my trip past the "C" classrooms. I endured all sorts of strange looks from the high school students in the hall. I saw the glass doors in front of me and thought, okay, this it. I opened the door, then noticed, there to my right,OUTSIDE of the building, yet still attached to it, THE RED DOOR!

I pushed it open and greeted Kathy, my lifeline and muse, who seemed to take my wanderings with good sport. Finally, I was able to relax and register and become the sixth student in Jeff Savage's Creative Writing class. Now the only thing left is...where did I park?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bridget Jonesing

by Sariah S. Wilson

For those who haven’t read the book/seen the cleaned up version of the movie, besides launching the chick lit craze, Bridget Jones was big on keeping track of her “progress” in not smoking, not drinking, losing weight and dealing with men. She never quite conquers the drinking/smoking/weight issues but throughout the course of the books does get better about the men thing.

I don’t have drinking, smoking or men issues, all of which my bishop is grateful for.

Which would leave…something of a weight problem.

I am in awe of people who play volleyball on the weekends or go hiking or climb Mt. Everest or whatever it is active people do. I am an inert slug. My relationship with activity has never been good. I was very, very good at getting out of running in PE. There was nothing worse to me than having to run laps. I was so bad and so slow that I remember the year when the cheerleaders were put in the same PE class with the basketball team and Coach Lake had us run a mile and timed us. Anyone who came in under a certain time would get a soda. Of course I was last. I was dying, my lungs had that metallic breathing going on and as I circled around on the third lap the coach congratulated me and told me to come in. Yes, I had one more lap. It would have been more honest to keep running. But I chose to save my life instead and collapsed in a heap on the ground. I don’t think I moved for the next two hours.

And that was when I was skinny. I had muscle tone and everything because our cheerleading coach made us lift weights. I was very proud of the fact that I could do more weight on my leg press than a lot of the football players. Now, I couldn’t bench the bar even without any weights on it, but I sure could push with my feet!

I had ambitions in college to lose weight. I even joined gyms that I went to once or twice. I tried to use BYU’s athletic facilities…it just didn’t happen. I didn’t actually need to lose weight then. I was a great weight for my height, but like every other young woman in this country, I was convinced I needed to be the size of Kate Moss. My mom kept trying to tell me that someday I would look back and realize how good I looked. She was right, as usual.

I started gaining weight my first year of marriage, which is normal, right? We had some extreme stresses from outside influences and my way of coping was food. I also pretty much expected to get fat because of hundreds of years of Germanic influence. It is the way of my people. I figured there was no hope. Medications I took contributed to the weight gain, more stress, more problems, pregnancies with enormous children, more and more food with zero activity. I am now in the scary BMI zone.

My life is feeling very out of control right now. I am at the mercy of a 12 pound person who seems to enjoy being the boss (the cutest, most adorable and cuddly boss in the whole world). I’ve recognized this urge I have to eat junk to get some sort of hold back. I decided instead to focus my efforts on trying to lose weight, doing the best I can to work with the baby’s non-existent schedule.

I’ve had bursts in the past where I’ve tried to lose weight. I joined Weight Watchers, which did help, but I found the speakers so incredibly boring that I loathed the idea of going to the meetings. What I did like was the accountability. So I thought I’d be accountable here. I started a diet this past Monday and have been forcing myself to exercise. I’ll check in every Saturday and let everyone know if I’ve met my exercise goals for the week, and post if I lost any weight in my weekly weigh-in. I’m not going to tell you my starting weight because, hello, that’s totally mortifying.

This week I exercised three times for 30 minutes. I’ll do that again next week and then the week after that I’ll go to five days for 30 minutes. Yay me.

If anyone wants to try and exercise and lose weight with me, I invite you to join me and post about your progress. Or feel free to give me lots of rah-rahs in the comments. I need them.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night -- Or Was It?

by Kerry Blair

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. ~Edward George Bulwer-Lytton in Paul Clifford (1830)

I shudder to think what it says about me, but that has always been one of my favorite lines from literature. (And I don’t use the term facetiously like the folks at San Jose State University, either!)
Almost certainly, my appreciation for Lord Bulwer-Lytton was inspired by my first love, Snoopy. From the late 60s well into the 70s I cut from the Sunday comics every Charles Schultz cartoon that featured the indefatigable, always-optimistic writing beagle.

A few of my favorites:

Snoopy sitting on his dog house typing: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! Then another! And another! And then some more. Shots, that is.

Snoopy sitting on his dog house, typing: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out!
Lucy: Isn’t there enough violence in the world today? Can’t you write about something nice?
Snoopy, typing: It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a kiss rang out!

Snoopy, typing: Some nights were dark. Some nights were stormy. Some shots rang out. Some maids screamed. Some more editors sent rejections slips.

Lucy to Snoopy: I heard you got a six figure offer for your next book. May I ask what the six figure was?
Snoopy: 000,000!

Alas, Julie relates to Earnest Hemingway while I relate to Snoopy. Do you think that in any way explains my "success" in the world of arts and letters?

Moving on . . . as a proud protégé of both Snoopy and his mentor, it is with mixed emotion I tell you that the results for the 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest were announced this week. (You know, that contest where they make fun of bad writing – presumably bad writing done on purpose.) The winner was Jim Gleeson of Madison, Wisconsin. Gleeson wrote: Gerald began—but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them “permanently” mean the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash—to pee.

Admittedly, that will be hard to top, but I think you can do it! We’re going to have our own 2007 Snoopy as Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest here on the Frog Blog – and, boy, do I have world-class prizes! The winner of our contest for the WORST opening paragraph for an LDS novel will receive (drum roll, please):

*A vintage copy of Bulwer-Lytton’s most famous work: The Last Days of Pompeii. (First published in 1834, but this copy is from the early 1900s – 1913, I think. I happen to have picked up two in my thrift-store hauntings or you’d never get it!)

*A matted, full-color photocopy of my very favorite Snoopy writing cartoon of all time. (If you think I’d give you the original you’re loony as a ‘toon.)

*A fabulous six-figure cash award. (The figure is – you guessed it – $000,000!)

Enter in the comments section. Next Thursday, which I sincerely hope will be a dark and stormy night, The Frog will pick one winner and two runners-up. The Six Writers -- including me! -- are eligible to enter. (The Frog is absolutely impartial, I swear!) You may only enter once, so give it your best shot. Extra points may be given for including dark, stormy and/or night somewhere in the paragraph. Paragraphs may exceed one sentence, but no more than 100 words.

This is it: your chance to prove to the world that you can write worse than Robison Wells! Don’t miss it!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hemingway and My Writer's Heart

by Julie Coulter Bellon

In the new issue of Writer’s Digest, they had a snippet of an interview done with Ernest Hemingway right before his death in 1961. I am including a little of what he had to say because he expresses some things that I have felt as a writer but never seemed to be able to quite nail down.

Interviewer: "How long can you actually be productive on a daily basis? How do you know when to stop?"

Hemingway: "That’s something you have to learn about yourself. The important thing is to work every day. I work from about seven until about noon. Then I go fishing or swimming, or whatever I want. The best way is always to stop when you are going good. If you do that you’ll never be stuck. And don’t think or worry about it until you start to write again the next day. That way your subconscious will be working on it all the time, but if you worry about it, your brain will get tired before you start again. But work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail."

This really hit home to me. I loved how he talked about stopping when you are going good because then you will never be stuck. I usually think once I’m in the groove I better not stop because then I’ll lose it. Perhaps this is why I do get stuck!

The second point he made that I identified with was when he talked about your subconscious working on the story all the time if you’re not consciously worrying about it. I must say my best ideas have come to me at the oddest times, and always when I’m not thinking about writing. It’s tough though because I am a chronic worrywart and I tend to put a lot of myself into my writing.

However, the most interesting thing about Hemingway’s answer was his use of "get up and bite the nail," in regards to writing every day. I know it’s just an expression, but what a visual! I mean, I’m sure that sometimes it can be several different things, since how you’ll feel about your writing could depend on the day, but biting a nail could be something to get over with, a habit, something bitter, doing something daring or maybe a little dangerous, a walk on the wild side or perhaps just proving that you can do it. And isn’t that how sitting down to write can be? I loved that little visual.

Hemingway went on to say, "When you write, your object is to convey every sensation, sight, feeling, emotion, to the reader . . . when you walk into a room and you get a certain feeling or emotion, remember back until you see exactly what it was that gave you the emotion. Remember what the noises and smells were and what was said. Then write it down, making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling you had.

"And watch people, observe, try to put yourself in somebody else’s head. If two men argue, don’t think who is right and who is wrong. Think what both their sides are. As a man, you know who is right and who is wrong; you have to judge. As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand."

Several writers I know write in public for that very reason. When they get stuck, they simply watch the people around them—their gestures, their facial expressions and then they are able to incorporate that into their story and characters. When it feels real to the writer, it will generally feel real to the reader.

I love how Hemingway described how to breathe life into your writing---put emotions, sensations, and feelings into your work. Let the reader hear the noises and smell the smells just as you did. Bring them along for the experience.

I thought the most profound thing Hemingway said in that paragraph was that a writer should not judge, but understand. Isn’t that partly why we write? To understand and highlight different aspects of the human condition? To seek ways to show different perspectives, reactions, and opinions in situations that could happen? Of course we all want to entertain and to uplift, certainly, but also to make sense of the world and events that surround us and express the stories that are clamoring to be told?

Hemingway’s little interview touched something in my writer’s heart. You see, being a writer, for me, gives me the opportunity to explore my imagination, to take my readers with me as an ordinary person in extraordinary situations. Writing can be noble, visceral, liberating or heartbreaking, but most of all, writing is where I learn things about me and the world around me, where I can find my truest self at times and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Time Shortage

by Stephanie Black

Blog lite today. Sorry. Too much to do. A few random thoughts:

*High school registration is this afternoon. Oy. Why in this day and age can’t we do this online instead of in line—in very long lines?

*I had a great weekend. My husband took me to San Francisco for our anniversary and surprised me with a trip to the theatre for Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.” I’ve listened to that operetta since I was a child and was thrilled to see it on the stage. Gilbert and Sullivan rock. We also had breakfast at a world-famous bakery. Chocolate croissants. Swoon. My husband was so inspired by the chocolate croissants that he came home and made his own. We ate some of them for Sunday breakfast and he took some to the high priests’ group. Yes, you read that right. Our high priests get treats. It all started with a former teacher who brought the most amazing cookies. Is this, like, legal? Treats in high priests? Someone better check the handbook.

*I just read Sheep’s Clothing by Josi Kilpack. It was extremely gripping and I didn’t get much done that day because I couldn’t put Josi’s book down.

*I planted some new flowers in pots in my yard and they aren’t dead yet. Three cheers for me. Maybe there is something to this watering thing after all.

*We got a family photograph taken last night. The last time we had a professional photo done, my second-grader was an infant and the youngest wasn’t even born yet. From the photo session, I’ve realized a great truth: it is nigh-impossible to convince a wriggly kid that if he’ll just quit goofing off and smile nicely for the camera that this will be finished in thirty seconds or less and he can go home. It just doesn’t register in the brain. It’s like when you tell an agitated kid who is being teased by a sibling: “If you’ll just ignore him and act like it doesn’t bother you, he’ll get bored and quit bugging you.” Of course, even if a miracle happens and the kid follows your advice, a truly skilled button-pusher can still get a rise out of his sibling. “You’re acting like it doesn’t bother you,” my nephew said to his sister with calculating fiendishness, “but I can tell it really does.” Aarrgh!

Well, I’m off to make lunch, do book things, school things, house things, kid things and church things. And chocolate things. We’ve still got Ghiradelli goodies in the cupboard.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What are ya? Yellow?

by Robison Wells

You probably didn't notice, but I didn't post last week. I didn't even write a little post announcing that I wasn't going to post. The reason: because I'm a man of mystery. Also, if I posted every week then you'd come to expect it, and then rely on it, and then, in the winter when I'm not here, you'd starve like a tourist-fed squirrel.

The other reason that I didn't post last week is because I'd just returned home from a family reunion at Yellowstone National Park, and I smelled like smoke and unshowered body odor. I assumed that you wouldn't want anything to do with me.

Yellowstone is one of my favorite places on earth. It's also probably the one place I fear more than any other. In this sense, it's not unlike the Sonic Green Chile Cheeseburger: I love it more than life itself, but it always makes me want to puke when I'm done.

My fear of Yellowstone is derived from my childhood. In an attempt to keep me alive, my parents very graphically described how quickly and unpleasantly I would die if I ever stepped off the boardwalk. "You see that hole?" they'd say, pointing to a small sinkhole near a geyser. "That's where some kid stepped off the trail AND BROKE THROUGH THE CRUST AND DIED!" Then they'd point to sign that look like the following, and I'd discover that Yellowstone safety was not another fairy tale of goblins who kidnap disobedient children. This was real.

I must admit that I've done my utmost to carry on this tradition with my children. My two-year-old, Sammy, who'd try to lick a buffalo's horn if we let go of him, is strapped tightly into his stroller. My five-year-old, Holly, holds onto my hand--well, I hold onto her hand, and squeeze it like a vice.

I remember well driving through the national park as a kid and having my mom read tidbits of history to us: how the early explorers found places where they could just set their frying pans on a rock, and the ground itself would cook their breakfast. Or when we stopped at the Norris Geyser basin, and the boardwalk was blocked with yellow caution tape--one of the geysers had exploded. Not shot water in the air like a regular geyser, but exploded, showering the area with great big rocks and superheated water. Yellowstone is a dang freaky place.

My wife, on the other hand, is generally more scared by the supernatural, but there's lots at Yellowstone to frighten her, too. About five years ago we stayed at the hotel in Mammoth, and the interior looks EXACTLY like the Overlook Hotel of The Shining fame. She still has nightmares.

Her fears were somewhat exacerbated when I had to leave a day early to get back to the LDSBA convention. She tells me that she spent that night, lying awake, her knuckles white as she gripped the flashlight (which she never turned off) and she kept the broom next to her sleeping bag, ready to ruthlessly swat hungry bears and demons.

Fortunately, no one died. No one even got injured that I can remember. And then, driving home late at night all by myself, I was within fifteen miles of home when a deer ran out in front of my car and I slammed on the brakes--stopping only three feet from him. What a waste, I thought. At least at Yellowstone I could have died in some interesting way, in an interesting place. When I go, I want death by explosion.

Two Worlds

by Jeffrey S Savage

You ever have one of those days when you seem to be constantly jumping from thing to another? At work two of my employees have left over the last couple of days. We have a new product we are supposed to be rolling out that has fallen significantly behind in development. Tomorrow the kids start school, and tonight I had the opportunity to give them their traditional back to school father’s blessings. And along with this, I’ve been busy finishing changes to one book while editing another.

In the fantasy book I’ve been doing final edits to, I was working on a small problem and discovered a major plot hole in a nearby section. As I was in the middle of solving the plot issues, my wonderful wife called me downstairs for a great dinner of lime chicken, corn cake, and pineapple (I told you she’s great.) And for a moment, I found my mind trying to separate what was going on in my book world from what was going on in the real world.

It’s funny because in the book, my two main characters leap between Earth and the magical world. At times it can become quite disorienting for them to jump back and forth. Especially since one of them needs a wheelchair to get around on earth, but can walk with a cane on Farworld. So here I am trying to separate in my mind the problem that was being solved in the book from the issues going on in my real world while my characters are doing the exact same thing.

This made me think about the fact that as authors we really do live in two worlds. I almost always fall asleep thinking about issues both in whatever books I am working on, and whatever is going on in my life. And sometimes as I drift off, the two get mixed up in my head to the point where I have some really bizarre dreams.

Stephen King spent a lot of time in several novels and short stories exploring the fine line between writing fiction and living it. The Dark Half, The Flexible Bullet, Secret Window Secret Garden, and several other books explore the concept that writing a novel that truly comes alive to you is somewhat akin to dancing on the edge of insanity. Not that I’m suggesting that authors are all crazy (only a few of you, and you know who you are.) But how many times have you pretended to be listening to someone while you are actually caught up inside a scene in your head? How many times do you talk about your characters or even to your characters as though they are real people—so real that you wouldn’t actually be all that surprised if one day they showed up on your doorstep?

Julie Wright let me read a great short story of hers where that actually happens to a Fantasy writer. His characters take him hostage and force him to submit their manuscript. Is that what makes us writers? Is it because the characters in our head get so loud that we have to let them out and have their say? Are we manic about our work because we can so vividly imagine the joy of successfully publishing their stories and the failure of having them rejected at the same time?

I guess it’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s really hard to be lonely or bored when you have a million different voices in your head pressing to be heard. On the other hand, sometimes it’s really hard to get any peace and quiet. At least until we sit down at the computer, or keyboard, or tablet, and set them free.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Judging a Book by its Cover

by Sariah S. Wilson

In my July 27 Entertainment Weekly there was a short blurb in the book review section about a new trend that has emerged - one book with multiple covers.

In the case of Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind," the publisher wanted to target readers outside of its normal audience. So they created a cover that would appeal to traditional fantasy readers, and one that looked more literary. You can check out both covers at Amazon.

They mention a couple other releases that didn't have a specific object in mind - they just wanted to have different covers, like Steven Hall's "The Raw Shark Texts" (in blue and red) and Miranda July's "No One Belongs Here More Than You" in pink and yellow (and apparently in July's case the first print run had 10,000 of each color, but all later printings will only be the yellow one). (You can probably see both of these covers at Amazon as well, but my internet connection is not working too well and I can't get them to come up.)

So then I thought - why would a publisher do this? In Rothfuss' case, it was to try and attract a larger audience. Did it work? Wouldn't the book still be put on the shelves in the fantasy section, even with the un-fantasy cover? It seems like a waste of money to me to have multiple covers. It has to cost more - and it made me wonder if the gamble was worth it.

Is it an attempt to make the books into collector's items? That if you have one of those rarer July pink covers, does that make it more valuable someday? But that doesn't benefit the publisher or the author, so I can't see the value in that.

Is there a hope from the publisher that readers will buy the book in both covers just so that they can own both? I know magazines (Entertainment Weekly especially does this) have multiple covers for the readers who will buy the same issue over and over just to get all the covers. However, a magazine costs considerably less than a book.

I thought of books I love and adore, books I read over and over, and I can say that I don't think I would buy an additional copy with a different cover unless my copy was falling apart and needed to be replaced, or if I had a beloved paperback then I might want to buy a sturdier hardcover.

So I pose the question to the readers - what reasons could a publisher/author have to release a book with multiple covers? And would you ever buy more than one copy of a book to own all the different versions of the cover?

Friday, August 17, 2007

An Exceedingly Curious Guest Blogger

My very favorite part of being part of this blog is getting to know some of the simply incredible people who happen to drop by. Last week, John Governale was here and left an address for some the Exceedingly Curious things that go on over on his web site. Poetry, prose, fantabulous downloads of original music, embroidery patterns from the nineteenth century -- I'm telling you, people, this guy's got it all! (And more.) I begged him the very same day I "met" him to guest blog here and, being a gentleman as well as a scholar, he agreed. I love what he came up with. I know you will, too!

Miracle Enough
by John Governale

A Texas oil executive tried to buy a four-mile stretch of beach from an old Scotsman. He offered the fellow a million dollars for the ocean-front property, but the Scot refused. The old man scooped up some sand and said that if the oil developer would pay him a British pound for each grain in his hand, he'd sell the entire beach for whatever amount the handful came to.

The oilman looked at the sand the old man was holding. It seemed there must be millions of grains there, so he refused.The Scot laughed, saying the American should have taken the deal because there were only about 10,000 grains in his hand.

That incident was part of the film Local Hero. When I saw it, my reaction was: only 10,000 grains? Though the movie character seemed confident in his claim, the number seemed low to me. I got some sand, dumped it on the kitchen table, and used tweezers, a magnifying glass, and a metal ruler to attempt an estimate.

If I lined up some of the smaller particles, I could get about 70 to an inch. Larger bits came to around 18 an inch. Taking the grains as they came, regardless of size, I was able to line up about 30, so that's the number I went with. Multiplying 30 x 30 gave me 900 grains in a square inch. Multiplying again by 30 gave me 27,000. Already I knew there were more than 10,000 grains in a handful, because there were almost three times that many in a single cubic inch.

I figured the Scot had about a cup of sand in his hand. A quick bit of research revealed that there are 14.4375001 cubic inches in a U.S. cup. Multiplying that number by the number of grains in 1 cubic inch -- that is 14.4375001 x 27,000 -- gave me a whopping 389,813 grains of sand in a cup. Not as many as the oilman feared, but plenty more than the Scotsman claimed.

To be honest, what brought on this interest in sand was not so much Local Hero as a report I had read recently. It said that scientists estimate there are a total of seven sextillion grains of sand on earth. This includes all of the beaches and deserts, as well as the yearly amount dumped on winter roads and driveways.The report pleased me because sextillion is my favorite large number. Some people will raise their eyebrows and say that's because it has the word has sex in it. Well, there's that, but the main reason I like this number is because Walt Whitman used it in his poem, "Leaves of Grass." There you will find this line: A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels."

A sextillion, by the way, is one followed by 21 zeros.

Just as the miracle of a common field mouse can stagger infidels, the hugeness of a sextillion can stagger the imagination. It's a number so large that if you started counting by billions -- that is, one billion, two billion, three billion, and so on -- and if you started the moment you were born and counted steadily for a hundred years, you wouldn't reach even one percent of it.

Seven sextillion grains of sand on earth. That's a lot of grains. But hold onto your beach towels, we're not done with my favorite number.In 2003, astronomers estimated that in the limited part of the universe that we can see from earth using our best instruments there are about 70 sextillion stars. That's ten times the number of grains of sand on earth.

The next time you are at the beach, scoop up 389,813 grains of sand and watch as you pour them from your hand. You have just held the earthly equivalent of 3,898,130 stars. Now look up and down the beach you are sitting on. Now look up at the sky. I don't know about you, but I'm staggered.

John Governale is the chorister and an assistant in the high priest group in a small ward in Maine. He is married and has five children and two and three-ninths grandchildren, all of whom, except for one and three-ninths, have moved back home, where they are most welcome. A prolific self-publisher with sales often soaring into double digits, John laser-prints and hand-binds his work. Many of his stories, poems, essays, and song lyrics can be read for free at He is also webmaster of, an accomplishment that will insure he is never hired as a web designer. There are a few legitimate writing credits lurking in his portfolio. His account of an incident in the 1991 Gulf War,"Sergeant Mills", was published in Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul, he contributes a weekly column, What I've Learned, to his town's newspaper, and occasionally he is invited to write about business for regional publications. Exceedingly Curious was intended to be of interest and use to Latter-day Saints. There is still hope.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green . . .

by Julie Coulter Bellon

In honor of Frog Appreciation Day I thought I would share a Tlingit Legend about frogs with you. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did. Dedicated to all the frogs out there, especially the ones in our bog.

There once was a young woman who was very vain. Her father was the village chief and her family was very respected. Many young men wanted to marry her, but she thought that she was too good for all of them. One day, she and her sister were walking beside the big lake in their village. That lake had many frogs. Several of them were sitting on a mud bank, in the middle of the lake, and she started making fun of them.

"How ugly those frogs are," she said. Then, she stooped over and picked up one which was sitting on the shore and looking at her.

"You are so ugly," she told that frog. "Even another frog wouldn't marry you!!" With that, she threw the frog back into the lake.

That very night, when the young woman stepped outside of her lodge to walk, while everyone else was sleeping, she was surprised to see a young man standing there. His clothing was decorated with beautiful green beads and he was very handsome.

"I have come to marry you," the young man told her. "Come with me to my father's house."
The young woman agreed. She had never seen such a handsome young man and wanted to be his wife.

"We must climb this hill to get to my father's house," the young man said and he pointed to the lake. They started to walk down to the water, but to the young woman, it felt as though they were climbing a hill. When they got to the water, they didn't stop...they went under.
The next morning, the young woman's family noticed that she was missing. They looked everywhere for her and when they discovered the footprints leading to the water, they decided that she must have drowned.

They beat the drums and held a death feast. People, in the village, cut their hair and blacked their faces and mourned the loss of the young woman.

One day, however, a man was walking down by the lake. When he looked at the middle, he saw a lot of frogs sitting on the mud bank. And there, in the middle of all those frogs sat the chief's lost daughter!!! He began to wade out towards the frogs, but they leaped into the water, and took the young woman with them.

The man went very quickly to the chief's home. "I have seen your daughter!" he said. "She has been taken by the frogs. I tried to get to her, but the Frog People took her with them under the water."

The young woman's mother and father went down to the lake. There, they saw their daughter sitting on the mud bank surrounded by the Frog People. Just like before, when the chief tried to reach her, the frogs leaped in and carried her under the lake with them.

Then, the chief's other daughter spoke.

"My sister insulted the Frog People," she said. That is why they have taken her.

The chief knew then what he must do. He made offerings to the Frog People, asking them to forgive his daughter. They placed dishes of food on the surface of the water. The dishes floated out, to the middle of the lake, and then sank. But, the frogs wouldn't give the young woman up.
Then, the chief placed robes, of fine skins, on the bank. The young woman and the Frog People came to the bank and took the robes. But, when the chief came close, the Frog People drew her back into the lake.

The Frog People just would not give up. At last, the chief had a plan. He gathered together all of the people in the village.

"We will dig a trench," he said. "We'll drain all of the water out of the lake, and rescue my daughter."

The people dug for a long time and the water began to drain away.

The Frog People tried to fill the trench with mud, but they couldn't stop the water from flowing out of the lake. The Frog People tried to drive the people away, but the people only picked up the frogs and dropped them back into the water. They were very careful not to hurt any of the frogs, but they didn't stop digging the trench. The water kept flowing out and the homes of the Frog People were being destroyed.

At last, the chief of the Frog People made a decision. After all, it was his son who married the young woman.

"We aren't strong enough to fight these humans," he said. "We must give my new daughter-in-law back to her people."

So, they brought the young woman to the trench. Her father and mother saw her and pulled her out. She was covered with mud and smelled like a frog!

One frog leaped out of the water after her. It was the frog that had been her husband. But, the people carefully picked him up and put him back into the lake.

The chief took the young woman home. For a long time, she could only speak like a frog does.
"Huh, Huh, Huh!!"

But, finally, she began to speak like a human again.

"The Frog People know our language," she told the people. "We must not talk badly about them."

So from that day on, the people showed great respect to the Frog People. They learned the songs that the woman had brought from the Frog People and they used the frog as an emblem.

They learned a great lesson. They never forgot what happened to the young woman who was too proud. To this day, when the people of the village hear the frogs singing, they say that the Frog People are telling their children this story too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Climbing the Walls

by Stephanie Black

We just returned from a family reunion at a gorgeous, clear green lake in Tennessee. One of the fun lake activities was a water trampoline equipped with . . . the Blob. Here is a picture of my son being bounced into orbit off the Blob. The Blob is a long, squishy, rectangular extension from ths side of the water trampoline. It's not inflated tightly, so if you jump onto one end, that end will flatten as the air is forced into the other end. This is how we played on it: a younger kid would jump onto the Blob and scoot so they were sitting near the far end. Then an adult would jump onto the other end of the Blob, which would launch the kid off the Blob and into orbit. It was really very entertaining to watch. Some of the flights weren't that good--for instance, if the kid was sitting too near the end of the Blob, he might just slip into the water without a good flight. The good bounces launched the kid high above the water, limbs flailing in every direction, after which the Blob rider would splash into the lake, bob to the surface grinning, and go back for more.

Man, but kids are flexible. And lithe and strong. I tried kneeboarding while we were at the lake. You start by lying flat on the kneeboard, and then as the boat starts going, you draw your knees up underneath you and then straighten up so you are kneeling on the board. Kids make it look so easy, but when I tried, I couldn't drag my knees up underneath me while fighting the tremendous force of the water rushing past me. If I'd kept at it for a few days I probably could have gotten up long enough to fall over, but it sure wasn't as easy as my daughter made it look. Not only am I not particularly athletic--okay, I'm not athletic at all, but when it comes to upper body strength, I have zilch. And when it comes to leg strength, I don't have much there either.

Take, for instance, the rock wall climbing that we did at girls' camp. Most of our twelve-year-old campers went shooting up the wall like it was a stroll in the park. When I tried it, I needed a boost even to get past the first footholds. Then I got stuck partway up. "I can't do this," I told the rappelling people as I trembled there on the wall. "I really can't do this." I wasn't afraid of falling--I knew the harness would catch me. I was afraid that I simply did not have the strength to climb that wall. But failure was not an option. That's how rappelling works at our camp. Our rappelling experts are wonderful, kind, encouraging, and determined. You won't fail. You can do this. The experts below talked me up that wall and darned if I didn't reach the top. After that climb, the actual rappelling was easy. I'd only rappelled once before, and that was on a little cliff-y thing. This rappelling was on the side of a huge, sheer rock face in the High Sierras. I thought I'd be scared when it was my turn to stand at the top, ready to go down the mountain, but it ended up being easy. The key was to not look down while I was starting, so before I knew it, I was on my way down the rock. It was actually very cool. I can go down--it's going up that turned me to quivering jelly.

But the funny thing about that wretched climbing wall that gave me so much trouble is that I don't feel like wow, I'll never do that again. I feel like I want to get in better shape before the next girls' camp so I can get up that wall without so much angst. Time to start eating my Wheaties and doing push-ups.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ah, ah, ah, ah, Staying Alive, Staying Alive

by Jeffrey S Savage

Sariah posted a great blog on Saturday about one hit wonders. (Or was it one trick ponies? Or one joke Robs?) This got me thinking about the flip side of that record. Let’s say you’ve got lots of books in your head. How do you make sure there is a happy home (translation publisher) for your books?

Rather than do another twenty page blog (I know you love my epistles ;), but just in case) I thought I’d post a few bullets of my own and open it up for discussion.

1) Treat your existing publisher like a valued employer. If you don’t make money for the publisher, they may find someone else to fill your slot down the road. An author who assumes sales are the publisher responsibility is making a big mistake.
2) If your genre is selling, stick with it. Don’t change horses in midstream or change chocolates in mid-bite. Or whatever the analogy you desire. (Okay I’m a pretty bad example here.) Even best selling authors see a decline in initial sales when they change genres.
3) That being said, if your last book did not sell well, feel free to jump to that next horse that just happens to be wading across the stream with you. The publisher knows you can write, so ask them what they suggest.
4) Produce, produce, produce. The more you publish the more your name gets out there.
5) This is a dicey one in our market, where moving from one publisher to another is majorly looked down on, but consider not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Maybe write a national novel along with your yearly LDS.
6) Talk to your publisher/agent/editor about what is selling? How your sales compare to other books by the publisher. If they have any new projects they are looking for. What you can do to promote better. Don’t sit back and assume everything is hunky-dorey.
7) Remember above all else that publishing is a business. While your book is your baby, the publisher has to go out and sell your baby. Anything you can do to make that transition easier is going to give you the best chance of sending more of your babies out into the world.

Just as an aside, I will be teaching my six week writing class in Spanish Fork again this fall. This year we expanded the classes to two hours each. So that’s 12 hours of writing classes for only $45. Oy what a bargain. If you live in the Utah County area and want to sign up, the info is listed here.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

One Hit Wonder

by Sariah S. Wilson

I had an RWA chapter meeting today, and whenever I actually go to one of those (haven't been able to much lately thanks to the baby) it gets me thinking about the general state of writing careers.

If I asked you to name musical one hit wonders, I bet you would instantly be able to name at least a few. Those artists can see a tremendous amount of success from that one song - they can do tours that bring in thousands of fans who listen to the other not-so-good songs just so that they can hear the one song they came to see the singer perform live.

There are many reasons for the one hit wonders - sometimes it's just pure luck and the right song comes out at the right time. No one can predict it. It might also mean that a few years later a similar song by the same artist won't have an audience because all the conditions that had to align perfectly for the success are now gone.

Other times it's because the lead singer commits suicide or the band simply breaks up (which seems to me to be the most common reason for one hit wonders). The magic is gone.

I was wondering today if such a thing is possible in the writing industry. You certainly have examples like J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee who wrote one brilliant book and then never published another novel. But is that at all typical?

Is it possible that some people only have one book in them? I read an article once by a man named Robert G. Allen, and one of the ways he suggested to make a million dollars was to write a book because everyone has at least one book in them. Is that true? And if so, does that mean some people only should write one book?

My experience so far has been that most authors are capable of many books and that they actually seem to improve as time goes on (and I really hope this is the case with my own writing).

But sometimes it seems that writers have this one amazing book and aren't ever able to capture that magic again.

Or I've run across other authors who while being multi-published have one book that stands out head and shoulders above their others. Donald Maass would call this the breakout novel. Some authors follow up their breakout novels with equally impressive novels. Others don't.

So how do you stop yourself from becoming a one hit wonder?

Friday, August 10, 2007

I'll Forgive, President Faust, But I'll Never Forget You

by Kerry Blair

President James E. Faust , second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church, passed away early this morning. You can read a touching article from the Deseret News here, and the brief notice on the news page of the Church web site here.

Like many of the younger Saints, I’ve never seen a General Conference where President Faust wasn’t seated somewhere on the stand. (I wasn’t born before his call as a General Authority like many of you, but I was reborn in the waters of baptism almost a decade after it.) In other words, I’ve been moved by his testimony and touched by his spirit as long as I can remember. President Faust’s passing feels like the loss of a surrogate grandfather, a wise and beloved friend, a prophet of God. I am saddened today for me -- for us -- but thrilled to ponder the welcome he has received in the arms of our Savior.

Have I ever told you about the first time I saw President Faust? (Or, indeed, any General Authority.) I was convert of about a dozen weeks, newly enrolled at BYU. The first Saturday in October rolled around and one of my roommates happily shared the news that we could sleep in the next day because of General Conference. I’d never heard of it. (Don’t blame yourselves, Elders Adams and Montgomery. Thanks to you, I went from clueless about the Church to a member-in-good-standing in six days. With a crash course like that, an infobit or two was bound to slip through the cracks in my gospel education.) At any rate, my roommate briefly explained the general idea of General Conference and I was stunned. Awestruck. Lot’s wife, post-pillar.

When I could speak again I said, “You mean prophets and apostles actually stand up to speak tomorrow and anybody can be in the same room and listen and see them and everything?” (My speech simply overflowed with italics in my youth. I’m better now. Not.)

She yawned. “Anybody who gets there early enough, I guess.”

I couldn’t believe it. In junior high we’d written essays on “The Historical Figure I’d Most Like to Meet.” I’d chosen Peter – and been laughed out of homeroom. Now someone was telling me I could sit at the feet of a latter-day prophet, and fourteen more apostles besides? Me? In the same place? At the same time? I went post-pillar again.

When I regained my senses I dressed hurriedly, ran out to my car, and drove to Salt Lake City – all the while praying I would make it in time to claim one of the last places in line. I’d even be willing to sit on a window ledge like that boy in Acts who listened to Peter preach. (Unlike that kid, I wouldn’t fall asleep, fall out the window, and thus necessitate a break in proceedings while President Hinckley raised me from the dead.)

I arrived at the front gate of Temple Square at 12:07 AM. The temple spires, glowing golden in the lightly-falling snow, was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I was awestruck at the pervading sense of peace. All was calm. All was bright. I looked around. A little too calm, come to think of it. I pushed against the high, wrought-iron gate. Locked. I dropped to the frozen ground in discouragement, certain I was the eleventh virgin. (You know, the one who had oil in her lamp, but no alarm clock to get her to the wedding feast on time.)

It was nearing 1 AM when a security guard approached, pointed out that even homeless people were smart enough to be elsewhere, and suggested I move on.

I was incredulous. Obviously the man was an employee of the Church, but he hadn’t heard about General Conference, either! (Remarkably secretive, those Mormons.) I explained breathlessly that in a mere nine hours prophets and apostles would assemble to speak to unworthy mortals like him and me and all we’d had to do to get a seat was arrive early enough. Then I sadly explained that we were already too late. The place was deserted. The tabernacle must already be full.

He rolled his eyes heavenward and said, “You’re a convert, aren’t you?”

To this day I don’t know how he knew, but I’m grateful he let me sit in an alcove outside the tabernacle where it was a little warmer and a lot dryer. Turns out I was the first one in the building that morning. (I know! I was surprised, too!)

James E. Faust, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, spoke that day on marriage. (No, my memory isn’t that good. I looked it up on the Church web site.) He said: “There is no great or majestic music which constantly produces the harmony of a great love. The most perfect music is a welding of two voices into one spiritual solo.” What a gift that man had for words. Truly a gift of the Spirit.

In the last General Conference (I show up a little later these days, but I always show up, if only in front of the TV), President Faust spoke on forgiveness. I won’t relate his words here because I know they’re as deeply etched on your heart as they are on mine. I’ll just say that since that talk I have been quicker to forgive, more anxious to understand, more able to let go and move on and obtain peace. It was the last – and perhaps the greatest – gift given us by this remarkable, warm, tender, loving prophet of God.

When the tears finally dry, I know I will be able to forgive President Faust for leaving us so soon, but I will never, never forget him.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Miracle

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last weekend my daughter attended a Young Women’s activity where they were tubing down a river in Idaho. She is a great swimmer, but had a life jacket on anyway, the river was fairly tame, and there was lots of supervision. She went down it a few times on a single tube and was having a lot of fun. Then one of her leaders suggested they try three people on a double tube and she agreed.

They started down the river and suddenly it was going a little faster than it had been. Before they knew it, they were in some whitewater rapids approaching a waterfall. They went down the waterfall and the innertube flipped over. My daughter was thrown off the innertube and sucked underwater, being pulled along by the rapids. She tried to swim, but couldn’t get her bearings. The rocks pounded her back and legs and she kept trying to keep her head above water to breathe and yell for help, but she was being swept away so fast it was almost impossible. Leaders heard her cries, but couldn’t get to her fast enough. People were trying to save her, but they weren’t fast enough. The only thing that was fast enough seemed to be the river that was carrying her further and further from safety.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a man reached down his arm for her and pulled her to safety. Bruised and pretty banged up, but safe, nonetheless. Miraculously, when she was finally pulled out, her flip flop that had been lost in the incident, floated by and she was able to retrieve it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that incident this week. The longer I live, the thing I see myself falling into is complacency. I feel pretty confident in a lot of areas of my life, pretty safe. I do what I can to protect myself as I navigate this world, just like my daughter did by knowing how to swim and wearing a life jacket that day. But sometimes, something unexpected happens and jolts me out of complacency. Like going over a waterfall and getting knocked off the innertube. I have friends and a support system in place, but even then, sometimes there have been situations where I’ve felt completely alone—that no one understood and that no one could help me as the rocks of trials and tribulations pound me. But always, before I am sucked under completely, there is one person who will hear my cries. One person who will always reach down to save me. That is my Savior, Jesus Christ.

The world we live in can sometimes feel like whitewater rapids. We are moving so quickly, with so many demands on our time and talents, that sometimes it feels to me like I can barely keep my head above water. Then, the small moments come, my own quiet flip flop miracle of retrieving something precious, like coming out of a trial feeling stronger and more empowered in my knowledge of the deep and abiding love my Savior has for me. Or the quiet moments when I’m reading my scriptures and the Spirit touches my heart to reassure me of their truth and I know I can face whatever is ahead.

I hope that someday I will be pulled to the safety of my heavenly home and although I may be a little bruised and banged up, I can be enfolded in my Savior’s embrace---feel the nail prints in his hands---and tell him how much I love Him before I thank him for being there for me, for not giving up on my rebellious soul and for letting me go through the rapids in my life that made me stronger.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Guest Blogger: Sheralyn Pratt

Note from Stephanie: I'm out of town again this week and have asked author Sheralyn Pratt to fill in for me. I've been a fan of Sheralyn's ever since I picked up her first novel, Spies, Lies and a Pair of Ties, the first in the Rhea Jensen mystery series. Filled with wit, suspense, vivid characters and tons of fun, the adventures of private investigator Rhea Jensen will jump from the pages and grab your imagination. If you haven't tried Sheralyn's books, do so ASAP--you're missing out! Spies, Lies and a Pair of Ties is followed by Welcome to Stalk Lake City, Idle Playgrounds, and the upcoming Kay's Story. Visit Sheralyn's website here and her blog here. Welcome to the Frog Blog, Sheralyn!

Hello, fellow bibliophiles.

Stephanie has asked me to fill her shoes for the day, but I must say I feel like a small girl playing dress up in her mama’s clothes. Such big shoes to fill!

That said, my name is Sheralyn Pratt and I am an author whose 4th book is coming out next month.

Writing is such an amazing thing! Fewer things are less intuitive to man than writing. Why? Because we think in images and feel with emotions, not in words. So many people see the perfect story in their head, but realize once they sit down to write it that they can’t… they simply can’t capture it the way they see it… the way they feel it! It’s like cognitive constipation, and they quickly come to the conclusion that they just don’t have “the gift.”

*buzzer sound* Wrong! Wrong question, and wrong answer! A better question, in my opinion?

How does one take imagery and emotion and turn into words that are once again translated into imagery and emotion by a third party?

It is a point to ponder.

Writing is like singing in front of a group or standing naked in front of a stadium of people. Any flaw is immediately zeroed in on and judged. There is an exposing that takes place when one writes honestly—however, most of us want to write without revealing ourselves, our characters, or offending those close to us. In my opinion, that is why most people are not stellar writers. We want to say something without saying it… get the accolades without facing any accompanying heat… to please and pander but then be applauded for originality and wit.

The gift of writing is its demand on us to be authentic and clear in what we present. There are no non-verbal cues to guide our readers, nor tone of voice beyond that directly indicated. Characters that are shadows of what might be real do not grasp an audience, and storylines that are apologetic frustrate rather than engage.

And so the challenge remains for those with a story to tell to actually get their feet wet and their hands dirty to actually tell the story. To be able to summarize its heart in a single sentence… to be able to give it enough flavor in a paragraph that others want to pick it up, and to make people care by the end of the first chapter. That takes a lot of love, immeasurable thought, and a willingness to stand up to a firing squad (if only in the editing room).

We all may die before perfecting the skill, but it is a worthy gift to seek. The scriptures say that all of man may be perfect but it is his tongue that defiles him (James 3… pretty much the whole chapter). Our writing being an extension of the words our tongues would speak can make it a great teacher in the game of life, if we let it be.

So, write on!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

All the best parts of Deathly Hallows

by Robison Wells

So, I quit my job on Friday. Jobs are for suckers.

I'm spending this week writing furiously, trying to get this book done before grad school starts in a few weeks. Consequently, I don't really feel like a blog. Blogs and jobs: for suckers.

Therefore, I'm going to copy and paste a series of blogs from my personal website, and assume that you never looked at them when I wrote them two weeks ago. If you did, then you get to look at them TWICE! Hooray!

But there's a twist this time: there's a contest. If you can identify all the movies/books from which these Harry Potter Spoilers are derived (in lists 1, 3, & 5) then you win a copy of my first book, On Second Thought! Sure, it might seem like a hollow promise, since Stephanie and Jon both won books back in January and I've yet to deliver them, but this time for sure! Stick a needle in my eye.


The Most Romantic Moments in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

10. Seamus discovered he really loves Parvati Patil the moment she "sat on that silly pinecone".
9. Hagrid, up to his neck in the icy water of the lake, is told by a weeping Professor McGonagall "I'll never let go". (She eventually lets go, because Hagrid, as you can imagine, is pretty heavy.)
8. As Cho Chang is about to be executed in the courtyard, Quasimodo swoops down to her rescue and carries her to bell tower.
7. Finally deciding that she can't ever make Malfoy good, Lavender Brown dresses like a sexy biker chick and joins his gang. They drive off into the sky in Greased Lighting.
6. Professor Sprout realizes that Snape's cold, aloof exterior hide his true good nature, and that he was wronged by Professor Flitwickham.
5. Nearly Headless Nick enlists the powers of phoney fortune teller Sybill Trelawney to help him contact his true love: Dolores Umbridge. Trelawney slides a gold galleon under the door. Umbridge says "ditto".
4. Grawp kidnaps Luna, climbs to the top of the Shrieking Shack, and is shot down by bi-planes.
3. Lucius Malfoy lassos the moon for Narcissa. Then he kills a bunch of people.
2. Ron and Hermione finally meet, on Valentine's Day, at the top of the Empire State Building. It turns out that Ron's bookstore was bullying Hermione's out of business, and then they jump into a volcano together. Hilarity ensues.
1. Ginny gets on her broom and flies off into the night. Harry and Voldemort walk together. You-Know-Who says "Harry, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

The most annoying political messages in Book 7

10. Dumbledore's Army has started wearing Che Guevara t-shirts.
9. The Death Eaters' worst crimes involve litter and driving SUVs.
8. Flourish and Botts gets pushed out of business by big box store Wand-Mart
7. Poverty gets the best of the Weasleys. Mr. Weasley applies for Ministry aid, but is called a welfare-mooch and starves to death in a gutter.
6. If you listen closely to the Zapruder film you can faintly hear "Avada Kedavra!" coming from the grassy knoll.
5. The House Elves take control of the factories, murder the bourgeousie.
4. Hagrid and Filch build a fence around Hogwarts, claim the centaurs are taking all the good jobs.
3. The Malfoys decide to homeschool Draco.
2. Fleur and Madame Maxime denounce their home country, begin listening to country music.
1. All this crap about orphans.

Day Three: The most inspiring moments in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

10. In the Department of Mysteries, Dolores Umbridge fights corruption with a 23-hour long filibuster. She collapses to the floor, and Scrimgeour admits his guilt.
9. Colin Creevy finally learns how to cast a patronus when Luna pumps water over his hands.
8. Professor Snape takes the troubled kids under his wing--Crabbe, Goyle, Malfoy, etc--and helps them to pass the AP Potions test. The ministry thinks they all cheated, but they take it a second time--and pass again! Snape calls Pansy Parkinson "net-head".
7. Harry builds a Quidditch field in the backyard, and his dad comes out of the corn to play with him.
6. Grawp, despite his limited mental capacity, still manages to inspire a bumper sticker, run from coast to coast, and own a lucrative shrimp company.
5. Just before Christmas, a New York court is trying to disprove the existence of magic. Young Hermione Granger enters the courtroom, approaches the bench, and then casts the Cruciatus curse on the prosecutor. The evidence is clear, and the judge dismisses the case.
4. Professor McGonagall teaches in an unorthodox manner and inspires the kids to be themselves. Ginny plays the saxaphone in a cave. Neville tries out for a play, and then shoots himself in the head. McGonagall is fired.
3. Ron takes his stand: "Wherever there's a fight so mudbloods can use magic, I'll be there. Wherever there's a Death Eater beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. An' when the people are eatin' the stuff they Apparate, and livin' in tents that are way bigger on the inside than on the outside - I'll be there, too."
2. Falsely accused, Mad Eye Moody sits in Azkaban. Bellatrix Lestrange advises "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."
1. To rescue Harry from the Gringott's bank examiner, the town's people flock to his house with baskets of Galleons and Knuts. Zuzu says "Everytime a bell rings, a Hippogriff gets its wings."

Surprising Items Found in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which indicate JK Rowling is Mormon

10. Hagrid is referred to as "one mighty and strong".
9. The Department of Mysteries now features a Rameumptom.
8. Harry recounts his past experiences: "I had the special opportunity to go to the Chamber of Secrets."
7. Introduction of new house elves in addition to Dobby, Hokey, and Winky: Omni, Himni, and Mahonri.
6. Neville is rescued from the Forbidden Forest by three men dressed in white. They advise him to get his food storage.
5. Ron and Hermione defend their relationship: snogging not mentioned in For the Strength of Youth.
4. Butterbeer replaced by cool, refreshing bottled water.
3. In climactic scene, Harry rides into the Ministry of Magic on a white horse. Claims the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is hanging by a thread.
2. Transfiguration class replaced by Enrichment.
1. The Order of the Phoenix murmurs, gets cholera, returns home.

Best quotes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

10. "I love the smell of gillyweed in the morning."
9. "I ate his liver with some Every Flavor Beans and a nice Chianti."
8. "Mrs. McGonagall, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you?"
7. "Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty centaur!"
6. "Of all the pumpkin juice joints in all the towns in all the world, she Apparates into mine."
5. "Flying Whizbees is people!"
4. "You had me at Petrificus Totalus."
3. "No, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Avada Kedavra kiled the beast."
2. "I have a feeling we're not in England anymore, Crookshanks."
1. "There's no crying in Quidditch!"

The first person to post all the correct answers in the comments is the big awesome winner! Note: they're not very hard, so you'd better hurry.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Climbing Trees

by Jeffrey S Savage

On Saturday mornings my dad and I have been training for a half-marathon which will be held toward the end of this month. Most of the run takes place in a cool green canyon, but the last couple of miles are on a bike path with almost no shade on the baking asphalt trail. The sides of the path are bordered with tall grass—golden brown at this time of year—and lots of scrub oak. The aroma of dry grass and fragrant oaks always reminds me of growing up in northern California where large gnarled oaks trees drop acorns by the bucket-load, and where the grassy fields are all dead by the time school lets out.

In particular, I’m reminded of an oak tree I saw for the first time when I was seven years old, the summer before I started second grade. We had just moved from Antioch to Pleasant Hill. Our house was situated at the end of a long, steep hill near an orchard of walnut trees that has long since been replaced by expensive townhouses and apartments.

As a newcomer, I was riding my bike around the neighborhood, when I came across two boys about my age. I don’t know that I ever really achieved “cool” status as a kid. The closest I might have come was when I was a junior in high school and made the lead in my high school play. But by second grade, the only thing I had achieved was the height of dorkiness.

Imagine for a moment a kid so skinny even the smallest shirts hung off his scrawny shoulders like a sail on a windless day, revealing scabbed elbows and huge bony wrists. Put him in a pair of black Converse high-tops with the soles flapping and the laces always dragging on the ground and tied in several places from breaking when he stepped on them. Add a pair of cardboard-stiff jeans and a dirty white tee-shirt with the Batman logo on the chest (not the new movie logo but the old red and black one from the TV series.) Now give him a pair of thick black glasses that seem to dwarf his face, and for good measure a patch over his “good” eye to supposedly fix his lazy eye.

That was me.

As I rode my Scwhinn up beside the two boys and skidded to a stop on the gravel driveway, they eyed me up and found me wanting.

“You a new kid?”

“I nodded.” As if I didn’t look lame enough, I also had a very scratchy voice at the time—think Froggy in the Little Rascals. So I tried not to talk more than necessary.

“What grade you in?”


For a few minutes we danced the ritual dance of preteen boys. Comparing notes on who lived where, what sports team we each favored, whether of not we had the same teachers, what TV shows we watched. All accompanied by much kicking of rocks and spitting on the ground.

Finally the two of them glanced at each other, and the bigger one said, “We have a club.”

“Yeah?” That seemed promising.

“But you can’t be in it.”

Okay, maybe not so promising after all. “Why not?”

“You haven’t climbed to the tree fort.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t exactly sure whether this was an invitation or a statement of fact. If they were inviting me to their fort, that was a good thing. But something about they way they looked at each other gave the feeling it wasn’t going to be as easy as that.

Back then every kid had a fort. It’s something I think is severely lacking in most kids today. Sure they have video games and computers, cell phones and MP3 players. They might even have those playhouses you buy at Home Depot and build over the weekend. But there is something about homemade forts, whether they are dug in the ground and covered with plywood or nailed out of two-by-fours in the fork or a tree, or even put together out of boxes and tarps tied together with rope. They are hot and sweaty and dirty and full of bugs, and are just about the best place to be when you are under ten.

“It’s up there,” said the shorter of the two, a kid with curly red hair that hung over his ears and a face that reminded me of the kid on the cover of Mad Magazine—but with a mean streak.

I followed the direction he was pointing and for a moment my heart stopped beating and turned to a cold painful lump in my chest.

I’ve always liked climbing trees. Even now when we go camping, my kids and I look for the tallest pine tree to climb up. It was one of the happiest moments of my life when my daughter came home with the insides of her elbows scraped and needles in her hair from climbing the neighbor’s pine tree when she was five. I about gave my mom a heart attack when I was no older than three or four and called down to her from the tippy top of a redwood in my grandma’s back yard, swaying back and forth like a flag in the wind. But this tree was different.

For one thing, the trunk curved this way and that as if it couldn’t decide exactly where it wanted to go. For another thing, the boards were old and splintered and several of them hung crookedly with missing nails. It looked to be easily seventy-five feet high from my vantage point, though it probably wasn’t half that. And it had several ominous looking knot holes that might have hidden any number of nasty surprises. Nailed at the very top of the tree, on a branch that looked half dead, was a tiny wooden structure.

“You have’ta climb to the top if you wanna be in the club,” the redhead told me as his big friend folded his arms across his chest and nodded.

Craning my neck to look up at the impossibly far away structure, I went through the pros and cons in my head. They weren’t very complicated. If I tried to climb to the fort I would probably fall and die. If I didn’t climb, these two boys—who I didn’t even know, and didn’t like what I’d seen so far—wouldn’t be my friends.

“Okay,” I nodded slowly. "But you go first."

“Huh unh.” The big kid who seemed to be suffering from some kind of allergy wiped his nose on his sleeve and shook his head. “We already climbed it. We built it. You have to go by yourself or you can’t be in our club and we’ll tell all the other kids in the club you’re a chicken.”

Even at seven, the idea that these two had actually carried the boards to the top of the tree and nailed them there didn’t seem very plausible. But their logic was implacable. Climb the tree—risking life and limb—and have friends, or chicken out, and have them tell all the other kids in second grade I was a baby. The idea that they hadn’t actually climbed the tree themselves—that they were either too scared to try or had more sense—never crossed my mind.

I looked up at the top of the tree again to the tiny fort there. It looked about the size of a postage stamp. “I’ll do it later,” I said, trying to retain some self dignity. “I have to go home now.”

“Chicken. Baby. Baby chicken!”

I honestly don’t know whether it was their names or the desire to win the friendship of these two obnoxious little boys that got me moving. I’d like to say I told the punks to get lost. That I’d go make some better friends who might actually care about whether I got hurt or not. But somehow I found myself standing at the base of the tree pulling myself up on the first rung.

As I reached carefully for the next board, they stood behind me making clucking sounds and pretending to cry. “What’s the matter? Too scared?”

The cracked boards were every bit as loose as I’d imagined—the bent nails that held them into the trunk of the oak, coated with a thick layer of rust. Every time I reached for the next rung I was sure it was going to come loose in my hand, sending me tumbling backward into air and down to the hard packed dirt below.

About twelve feet up, I checked to see how much further I had to go. Since I’d started my climb, the wind had picked up and the oaks braches swept at the cloudless sky in a dizzying sway. All at once I didn’t want to climb any higher. I’d live with them calling me a chicken. All I wanted was to feel solid earth beneath my feet.

I was reaching down with my left foot—feeling for the board below, when something ricocheted off the back of my shoe. A blur of gray chipped at the bark only a few feet from my right hand and something hard and sharp cut into my calf.

“Can’t come down till you reach the top.”

“Stop that!” I shouted. I tried to scurry back down the way I’d come, but a flurry of rocks whizzed through the air around me.

“Cry baby! Call for your mom.”

With no other choice, I climbed several more rungs, trying to get out of the boys’ reach. I don’t honestly remember much about the rest of the climb, except that it seemed to take forever. With my face pressed against the rough bark of the oak tree, tears dripping down my cheeks, I moved from one ancient-looking board to the next.

At one point I realized the only way to get to the next rung was by putting my hand into one of the basketball sized knotholes that had frightened me so much from below. In my mind I was sure there was something inside the hole that would attack me—wasps, bats, spiders. Whatever it was, it would knock me from the tree as surely as a nail coming lose under my feet.

At once I thought back to an experience I’d had when I was only a few years old and my cousin and sister had talked me into putting my hand into the hole of an old stone fence behind our house. There had been something in the hole, something alive and breathing. I’d been scared to death when I’d felt movement beneath my fingers but it turned out to be full of kittens a mama cat had given birth to a few days before.

“Let it be kittens,” I whispered. “Please let it be kittens. Not spiders or bees.”

It turned out the knothole was empty after all, and I kept climbing, not daring to look up or down. It wasn’t until I reached for the next board and found myself grasping the edge of the tree fort that I realized I’d made it all the way to the top. A dizzy array of emotions washed over me. Relief. Triumph. Joy. I’d made it. I was part of the club. The kids who’d thought I was a baby would have to tell everyone I’d climbed to the top of the tree without chickening. All the other second graders would be suitably impressed.

Pulling myself up into the fort, I clung to a narrow limb and turned around to share my victory.

No one was there.

The kids who’d I’d been so intent on impressing—who’d promised to let me be part of their club—had left while I climbed to the top of the tree. As I sat on the splintery little structure, swaying back and forth with the wind, I realized the whole thing had been for nothing. I had worked so hard to get to a place I didn’t even want to be, to impress kids who were never worth the effort and didn’t care about what I’d accomplished.

I’d like to say I came away from that experience a much wiser person. That I tucked an acorn into my pocket and anytime I thought about doing something purely to impress someone else, I looked at my acorn and chose a wiser path. Unfortunately I have been guilty more than once over the course of my life of taking a certain job, saying a certain thing, or buying some unnecessary item because I thought it would impress other people. And usually when I reached the top of those particular trees, I realized I’d climbed them for nothing.

But every once in a while I look at people who seem to be having more fun than me and realize I don’t want to be at the top of their tree. It might be the perfect place for them, the view might be better, the air clearer. But I’m usually happier with my feet set solidly on the ground, surrounded by people who love me without me having to prove myself to them. And then I’m reminded of my tree, and I think that maybe my climb wasn’t completely wasted after all.