Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Super Secret Project

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Well I’ve been working on a super secret project for a couple of months now. No one knows about it except my family and a few close friends. It’s one of those kind of projects where you feel like you might jinx it if you tell too many people about it, you know? But today I am going to let you in on my secret.

When I first realized what I was going to be doing, I was surprised because I didn’t know if I could do it. I’m a mother of six with two cats and a dog to boot, juggling my teaching career and writing career. It was a little scary to me to be starting something like this. I knew that if everything went as planned, this new project would totally change my life and everything I had anticipated. I would have to proceed carefully.

A few of my family members were concerned when they heard about my new project, because I’ve had previous health conditions, and they wondered if it was wise to start a project of this magnitude since it can often be stressful. I admit, I was a little concerned myself, but I wanted to trust in the Lord, to trust that He knows what's best. I do know that this is a miracle and sometimes I can hardly believe it's happening to me. Especially now. Still, I’ve been worried. The kind of worry that makes you weepy, happy, and sick to your stomach all at the same time.

Have you guessed what it is yet?

Because it looks like the project is a go, I’ve been starting to stock up on some of the materials I’ll need to see the project through. Remember how I said I’d gone through and organized my house recently and decided to get rid of a lot of things? I’m sort of regretting that now. But, on the other hand, it’s fun to get new materials. I’m definitely going to need them.

And, if you really want to know the truth, I haven’t been able to spend much time at the computer the last couple of months. Some days I am just overcome with the new project. Yesterday was the first day I’ve even written anything beyond my weekly blog. Sometimes, when I can clear my mind of what this new project means to me, I still think of my story that I’m working on. But mostly, I can’t think of much beyond the new project.

Have you guessed what it is yet?

Psst. Come closer. Let me whisper it in your ear.

A little closer.

Come on, I won’t bite you! Although I am a little hungry since I haven’t been able to eat a full meal for many, many weeks. *wink wink*

Yep, you guessed it. My super secret project is that I am going to have a baby in late summer if all goes well.

Please pray for me that it does.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Promotion Commotion

by Stephanie Black

With two months remaining until the release of Fool Me Twice and with Rob taking pot shots at a ghost as they discuss branding, my thoughts turn to promotion. I’ll have a new website up soon (I had a compatibility problem with my old one that made it a pain in the nuisance to update. Having a website that I never update is not, I assume, the best promotional tool in the box).

So what are the best promotional tools? LDS Publisher recently gave some advice on author promotion, and an interesting discussion followed in the comment trail. Not everyone agrees on the best way for an author to make a success of his/her career.

Among our Frog Blog authors, I’ve seen a variety of promotions, including such things as Rob’s book-related Internet sites and treasure hunt and Jeff’s first-chapter writing contest. Sariah is currently doing a drawing on her website where you can win fun prizes relating to her new book.

Here are my questions for all of you:

From an author's point of view: what promotions have you done that you feel gave you the best return on your time and money? On the other hand, what promotions have you done where you ultimately felt that the effort/money wasn’t worth the results? What do you feel is the most effective use of your time?

From a reader's point of view: what promotions have the greatest effect on you when it comes to stirring your interest in a book? If over the past year, you read a book by an author you hadn’t tried before, what piqued your interest in that book and led you to pick it up?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Brands of Wrath

by Robison Wells

LDS Publisher talked the other day about Branding, as it relates to books and authors. As branding is my forte, I thought that I’d talk a little bit about it as well. Consequently, this is one of those blogs that will be addressed just about solely to writers, and if you’re just a regular ol’ reader, well, sucks to be you. (However, even if you don't care about brands, there's a fun little link in the article for you.)

To join me in this branding quest, I invited none other than your old friend Annette Lyon. She was such an astute learner last time around (when we talked about positioning) I thought she’d be a real brand ace. However, she was so popular last time that now she’s charging huge speaking fees and asking for bowls of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed. She’s so like that.

So, unfortunately, we’re stuck with the old standby: John Crummy Steinbeck.

Rob: So, John, welcome.

Steinbeck: Thanks. I’m happy to be here. It’s really been a big wish of mine throughout my whole career.

Rob: If you can call it a career.

Steinbeck: I think you can technically call it a career.

Rob: I haven’t passed through fire and death to bandy words with a witless worm, John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck: My bad.

Rob: So, I hear you have a question about marketing?

Steinbeck: Sure do, Rob. I’ve been wondering about branding. I keep hearing about the stuff, but I don’t know what it is! I mean, am I supposed to have a logo? A theme song?

Rob: If you had a theme song, it would be "Suicide is Painless" from M*A*S*H.

Steinbeck: I think you’re getting a little side-tracked, Rob.

Rob: I certainly am. Mr. John Steinbeck, please tell me what a brand is:

Steinbeck: That’s easy. A brand is your logo and your jingle and your name and that kind of stuff. You know--all those symbols about you.

Rob: Denied, fat boy. Try again.

Steinbeck: Okay, is a brand the overall package: the book and the writing and you?

Rob: Close, but no cigar. Okay, listen up—I will say this only once.

Steinbeck: Hit me.

Rob: First, here is what a brand is NOT: it is not your symbols. It is not your books. It is not your covers or your bookmarks or your even your writing style.

Steinbeck: Then, if you’ll pardon my French, what the crap is it?

Rob: Your brand exists only in the minds of your customers. Let me repeat that and put it in bold: your brand exists only in the minds of your customers. A brand is a collection of all the perceptions that your customers have about you. It is the sum total of the impressions formed through every customer interaction.

Steinbeck: So, a brand isn’t what you do or say, it’s what I think about what you do or say?

Rob: Well done. As Ralph Waldo Emerson would say “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

Steinbeck: That Emerson is a good writer.

Rob: Maybe you should learn something, John.

Steinbeck: Why don’t you leave me alone?

Rob: Why don’t you ask me another question?

Steinbeck: Fine. What exactly does it mean by “every interaction”.

Exactly what it says. It means “every interaction”.

Steinbeck: So, like, your books and… book signings?

Rob: You are so stupid, John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck: I won the Pulitzer.

Rob: The Pulitzer for “Stupidest Author Who Writes Stupid Books”.

Steinbeck: Well, yes.

Rob: By “every interaction”, I mean just that--EVERY interaction. How about: your website, your blogs, your books, your book signings, your ads, conferences, bookmarks, promotional materials, speaking engagements, conventions, fan mail, contests. Take a look at the chart below. There are a billion things that affect your brand.

Steinbeck: Why are they all pointing in different directions?

Rob: Every interaction changes customers' opinions. In this diagram, the interactions are very mixed up--customers are getting mixed messages, because the interactions all have a different focus.

Steinbeck: Weird.

Rob: I'll talk more about it in a minute. But remember: every single interaction affects your brand in some way.

Steinbeck: Even my website?

Rob: Especially your website, John Steinbeck. As a matter of fact, let’s take a good long look at websites. Every little bit of a website makes impressions on people who come: the graphics, the overall look, the links, the reliability.

Steinbeck: The links?

Rob: Totally the links. Let’s say, for example, that you have a link to Don’t you think that that will make a huge impression on your customers?

Steinbeck: I don’t have bad links like that. I have good links.

Rob: I’ve seen your links, Mr. Steinbeck. You’re linked to Planet Care Bears.

Steinbeck: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Rob: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I am not here to make normative judgments about your links. But what I am saying is that every little aspect of your website is going to affect your perception in the eyes of your customers.

Steinbeck: What about my blog?

Rob: Your blog TOTALLY affects your brand. Not just the quality of your writing, but the frequency of your posts, the reliability of your posts, and the topics of your posts. Again, it’s not about The Right Way To Blog vs. The Wrong Way To Blog—it’s about the impression that it creates in your customers’ minds.

Steinbeck: You keep saying this--it’s not about good or bad. If there’s no right or wrong way to do it, then why do we care?

Rob: Branding. Just because brands exist in the minds of your customers doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to shape them as best you can.

Steinbeck: But look at our link discussion a moment ago: I really like Care Bears. Some people will like them and some won’t. How am I supposed to control that?

Rob: First, you choose a brand message--you decide what you want your brand to mean--and then you align everything to fit that. The chart below illustrates this.

Steinbeck: Examples, por favor.

Rob: Well, let’s say that you’ve decided your brand message is that you’re a great literary novelist, serious and groundbreaking. Would your best move be to blog about American Idol? Or would you hand out photocopied bookmarks on hot pink paper?

Steinbeck: Probably not. Although I have no experience with great literary novels. Sorry.

Rob: Forgiven.

Steinbeck: Thanks.

Rob: However, if your brand is about youth and fun--maybe you write chick lit or humor or something like that--then it’d be just fine to blog about American Idol.

Steinbeck: You say “just fine”. Again, it sounds like your making normative judgments.

Rob: I never make normative judgments. I don’t care what you blog about. I’m merely saying that every single thing you do--blogs, speaking, everything--affects the way that people think about you. Your brand will be most effective if you focus your efforts toward your brand message.

Steinbeck: Which leaves me to think: who cares?

Rob: Who cares?

Steinbeck: Yeah. Who cares? Why do I care about a brand?

Rob: Good question. Which do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?

Steinbeck: I’m a Coke man.

Rob: That’s the first rational thing you’ve said all day.

Steinbeck: I did win the Pulitzer.

Rob: I bet your wife gets sick of it, too. Anyway, what’s the deal with the Pepsi challenge?

Steinbeck: Well, a lot of Coke drinkers said they liked Pepsi better.

Rob: Yeah, but that’s just Pepsi’s side of the story. Academic research has been done on the topic and discovered the truth about the Pepsi Challenge.

Steinbeck: Which is?

Rob: That people simply can’t tell the difference. All those Coke drinkers weren’t choosing Pepsi because it was so much better--they were choosing it because they couldn’t figure out which is which. It was effectively random.

Steinbeck: What does this have to do with branding?

Rob: Thanks for keeping me on track. If only you could do the same with your books!

Steinbeck: I’m ashamed.

Rob: A recent study took several people and gave them PET scans. During the scans, they had the people drink from two unmarked cups—one containing Coke and the other containing Pepsi. And do you know what they found?

Steinbeck: Nothing?

Rob: Yep. Their brain activity responded to the two drinks in almost exactly the same way--nothing special.

Steinbeck: Which proves?

Rob: Wait for it… Then they gave the people a cup of Coke--and they told them it contained Coke. All of a sudden, their brain activity exploded with lights and streamers. The researchers referred to it as a firework show in the portion of the brain responsible for emotional memory.

Steinbeck: Meaning?

Rob: Meaning that people don't choose Coke over Pepsi because of the tangible product benefits. They choose Coke because of all the impressions of the brand they've stored away in their emotional memory.

Steinbeck: So, the moral of the story is: a good brand is even more important than a good product?

Rob: For the purposes of sales, absolutely. However, there is the caveat that product quality will also affect your brand, so it ought to be a good product as well. If you have a good brand, it will do far more for selling your books than any simple product benefits ever will.

Steinbeck: I find this all fascinating. Thanks, Rob! You’ve changed my whole outlook on authorship!

Rob: Sadly, for you, John Steinbeck, this comes too late. You’ll never amount to anything.

Steinbeck: I have a Pulitzer?

Rob: I have a headache.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Fond Farwell and a Glorious Welcome

Today as we say goodbye to a great man, a true leader, and a faithful example to everyone he came in contact with, the spirits in heaven are undoubtedly shouting hosannas as they welcome back one of their own. And, as many have said before what a reunion it must be between President and Marjorie Hinckley. I leave the rest of this blog for you to share your memories, thoughts, and wishes.

A Fond Farewell to President Gordon. B Hinckley

I just found out a few minutes ago that President Hinckley has died. I'm sad for the loss for his family, I'm sad for my loss of a prophet I loved dearly, but I'm happy for him. I know how much he wanted to go home. I listened to him speak about how much he missed his beloved wife. I think of the celebration in heaven right now as he's welcomed back having been a good and faithful servant.

I will miss his sense of humor. I will miss his candor. I will miss his sage wisdom. I'm in awe of what he accomplished as president, prophet, seer and revelator of this church. I am thankful that he reminded me that prophets are human when he spoke of dealing with temptations and weaknesses even at his age. I am thankful for the love and compassion he had for the members of the church. I am thankful for his endeavors to go out into the world to teach them more about us and our beliefs.

I know we stand at the dawn of a new era, with a new soon-to-be called prophet to lead us and guide us. Right now I just have a hard time imagining that I will ever love another prophet the way I loved President Hinckley.

I can't believe he's gone.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My 15 Minutes of Fame

by Sariah S. Wilson

If Andy Warhol was right and we each get 15 minutes of fame, I'm afraid I had mine this week at my son's school.

My 8-year-old's teacher asked me if I would mind coming in and talking to the class about writing. They're currently studying fiction and non-fiction writing and she thought it would be fun to have a "real" author come and speak.

I had to bring the baby in with me (as she is vehemently opposed to anyone other than Mommy taking care of her) and my son enjoyed getting to hold her and showing her off to his class.

So I talked to them about writing. I asked how many of them had ever thought of being writers. Without exception, every single hand shot into the air.

I taught them about conflict and how to play the what if game. I talked about how writing was hard and the industry was hard, but that if they kept trying, they would reach their goal. Anything worth having was worth working hard for.

We talked about the covers and about titles and about research.

I told them why I had become a writer in the first place (although trying to explain the promptings of the Spirit to a secular group is a little hard to pull off).

They had so many questions (and of course these savvy kids wanted to know about advances and just how much I was paid for each book) and wanted to tell me about their own books and what they were working on. One girl even came up to show me her latest story. I tried to encourage them in all their endeavors and to keep writing every day.

This wasn't a situation where I'd had much time to prepare. Plus I'd never done a school presentaton before. I think next time I might contact a YA or children's author to get some ideas on what to talk about.

The kids did ask me to read a passage from my book. So I picked some of a fight scene from my first book, and when I stopped there was a groan of disappointment and they asked me to keep going. I did, but it got bogged down by story details that they couldn't understand (and they kept adorably mispronouncing the words Zarahemla and Lamanite). I finally had to trail off when I saw that I was losing their attention, which taught me that next time I should have a passage highlighted and ready to go that would be easy to keep track of and would exclude story-related narrative so that it could be a stand alone scene.

But I tried to wrap up my remarks after we'd all been chatting for 45 minutes. I had my son pass out bookmarks and pens (I thought the kids would love getting some goodies - they did!). While he was doing so, one of the boys came up to me with a piece of paper and asked if he could have my authograph. Too cute. So with a smile I signed his paper for him. Then one of the girls who overheard this asked if I would sign her bookmark. Several others thought this to be a good idea and the word spread throughout the entire class. The kids who had sat down jumped back up for the chance to get their bookmark signed.

It was like something off of a red carpet walk - I had this crowd of people all thrusting their bookmarks and pens at me, asking me to sign them. It was so much fun, and I enjoyed every second of it as I realized that this was probably the only time in my life such a thing would happen. I got to pretend to be famous. Hurray for the obligatory "15 minutes!"

And sure enough, a minute later the teacher instructed her students to line up single file so that I could sign each and every bookmark. So I transitioned from fame-induced frenzy to giddy booksigning to make sure that all those kids would have a story to tell their parents that night, and that they would hopefully have a fun memory of the time an author came to their class.

Although, admittedly it is sort of depressing that my 15 minutes are up. But they were great while they lasted!

Have you ever had an experience that made you feel a little bit famous?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Can You See Me Now?

by Kerry Blair

I don’t want to alarm anyone unduly, but it has recently come to my attention that when American women reach a certain age they begin to disappear. We don’t do it with flair like Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four. Rather we just seem to fade from sight, much like the Cheshire Cat, except that our smiles fade before the rest of us. I’m pretty certain that the day will come when all that is left of me is an age-spotted hand holding a small square of plastic. (While cashiers, waiters, and clerks the world over seldom give middle-aged-and-older woman a second glance, they never, ever miss our credit cards!)

Not coincidentally, this fade-effect first happens about the time we’ve discovered that our skin has gone from Spandex to crepe and our hair from dark blonde to Evening Primrose #52. (I’ve seen lots of primroses in my life, and none of them were the color of hair dye. Who thinks of the names for those boxes anyway?) Believe it or don’t, the fading that comes naturally to humankind doesn’t bother me much. What rankles is the realization that our society has become youth-oriented enough for me to pass rest of my life attracting less attention than a stealth bomber. At midnight. Under heavy cloud cover.

Frankly, I might not have noticed that I’d faded from view if my jeans had not reached critical mass. Sometime in the past two decades (most likely when my back was turned – and my face freckling from the glow of the refrigerator light bulb) I went from pleasingly plump to a dead ringer for Rosie, the female white rhino at the Phoenix Zoo. (Meaning no offense to Rosie who is quite lovely for her breed.)

Anyway, it was a wake-up call. So at great personal sacrifice (please imagine “great” italicized, underlined, capitalized and in BF – the program won’t let me do it all at once) I embarked upon a diet and have now lost more than twenty-five pounds. That’s a quarter of a hundred. Half a bag of chicken scratch. A smallish Sunbeam. Get the idea? If so, you’re the only one. Nobody – absolutely nobody – on the planet has noticed my sacrifice, or rejoiced in my modicum of success. (Well, possibly Rosie has. Her teeny little eyes widened a little when last we met.)

I’m not losing weight for recognition, of course. At least I didn’t think I was until I starting writing about it this morning. Okay, so maybe that’s all I’ve had in mind all along! As long as I’m confessing, I might as well admit that I’ve become frankly pathetic in my quest to get somebody – anybody – to say, “Well done!” (Not you. That would just be embarrassing. Step away from the comment button right now!)

Case in point. Before I discovered that I could sell my too-large clothing on ebay for fun and profit, I took a big bag of fat clothes to Goodwill. Unable to hide the smug tone in my voice I said to the attendant sorting donations, “I can’t wear these things anymore. I—”

“Dump them in the bin,” he interrupted.

“I’m just saying that I lost—”

“Lost and Found is inside. This is donations only.”

“No. I mean I lost—”


Trying another tact, I ventured, “I can’t wear these clothes anymore because—”

“We don’t care what you did to them, lady. We’ll take anything. Dump them in the bin.”

I pitched the bundle of clothes at his head.

Okay, I didn’t. I dropped them in the bin. But I wanted to do that first thing, if only to assure him – and myself – that I was really there.

Sadly, I had to re-learn that rotten little lesson about minding what you wish for. Monday afternoon, upon discovering there was little in the closet that fit me better than a pup tent, I once again ventured out to a thrift store. This time I went inside, unwilling to spend serious money on clothes I hope not to wear more than a couple of months, and eager to try the “notice me” ploy in reverse. After a wildly successful foray in the jean aisle, I plopped two pair down at the checkstand, elated that they were a size I haven’t worn since before the last baby was born. (The “baby” will soon turn 21.)

“Nothing in my closet fits me anymore,” I told the cashier hopefully*. She was cute, blonde, and possibly eighteen. If you divided her age by the number of her piercings (nine) you’d probably arrive at her approximate jean size.

And yet the blessed girl looked right at me! I practically melted from joy and satisfaction. Recognition for my hard work and sacrifice at last!

“Yeah,” she said, oozing understanding and sympathy. (Not quite the reaction I was going for.) “My mom’s getting fat, too. It happens when you get really old.”


Now that I think about it, forget I brought any of this up. Perhaps at my age fading away is a good thing. Possibly I should shoot for invisible. Then I could eat all the Ding Dongs my heart desires. (It wants about twenty this morning. Deep fried with enchilada sauce and sour cream, please. And an order of onion rings on the side. And . . . )

If I can’t swing invisible, maybe I’ll just spend the rest of my days hanging out with Rosie. If anybody does happen to see me, next to her I’ll look positively svelte.

*Note to David: I added the -ly word just for you! All the ellipses are for Rob, of course.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Don't Bang Your Head

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was sitting on my living room couch watching my five year old son spin around and around in circles. He probably spun around thirty or forty times before he stopped and staggered forward laughing until he got the hiccups. I smiled as he gulped a few breaths then began to spin again, going in the opposite direction. After another forty spins or so he laid on the ground, hiccuping and laughing. I used to spin as a child, getting that dizzy feeling as the world tilts crazily around you.

Sometimes I think that feeling is akin to sending a manuscript off and hoping that you will be accepted and published. It’s a little bit of a giddy feeling, perhaps you smile or laugh as you imagine the publishing company opening your manuscript and eagerly reading your work. But, then the hiccups come and, a few weeks later, the world tilts again as you open a rejection letter.

When the world rights itself, and you pick yourself up off the floor, you will have to begin to process the fact that your precious book wasn’t accepted.

But here are some tips I found for coping with rejection.

1. Laugh at your rejections. I personally took heart in that one of my rejection letters had the phrase in it that the timing wasn’t right for the "LSD market." Just seeing that little typo made me laugh and helped make the rejection sting a little less.

2. Learn from your rejections. Even though I threw my rejected manuscript under my bed and pouted, telling myself that I would never write again, eventually I did get it out, dust it off and make the suggested changes, which resulted in a published book. I wasted time pouting, and should have put aside my pride and just made the changes sooner. Alas, I am human, and have a sensitive soul, but rejections are part of the writing business and it can be brutal. I must say that I have learned something from every rejection, however, and am still learning what it takes to be a writer.

3. Always have a new project underway, something that will give you hope no matter how many rejections come your way. I believe that I have improved as a writer with every book I’ve finished, so I always try to have a project in the works when I have a book in the submission process. Not only does it improve my skills and give me hope, but it gives my mind and hands something to do while I wait to hear on the submitted manuscript.

I also have two quotes from other authors regarding rejection that I particularly like. Isaac Asimov once said of rejection, "I personally kick and scream, and there's no reason you shouldn't if it makes you feel better." Of course, I like this quote because it made me feel a little better about my pouting episode. The other one is from Barbara Kingsolver when said that: "This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don't consider it rejected. Consider that you've addressed it 'to the editor who can appreciate my work' and it has simply come back stamped 'Not at this address'. Just keep looking for the right address."

Isn’t that a great analogy? Just keep looking for the right address. There were several famous authors who kept on looking for that right address and didn’t give up even in the face of multiple rejections. For example:

Dune by Frank Herbert – 13 rejections

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 14 rejections

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – 17 rejections

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 18 rejections

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 29 rejections

Carrie by Stephen King – over 30 rejections

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 38 rejections

A Time to Kill by John Grisham – 45 rejections

Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 western novels – estimated over 300 rejections before publishing his first book

John Creasy, author of 564 mystery novels – 743 rejections before publishing his first book

Ray Bradbury, author of over 100 science fiction novels and stories – said to have had around 800 rejections before selling his first story

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – rejected so universally the author decided to self-publish the book

From a rejection slip for George Orwell's Animal Farm:
"It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A."

From a rejection slip for Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It:
"These stories have trees in them."

From a rejection slip for article sent to the San Francisco Examiner by Rudyard Kipling:
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."

From a rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank:
"The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level."

Rejection slip for Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street:
"Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."

So I guess the moral of the story is to never give up no matter what anyone says and no matter how many rejections you get. Improve it, change it, do what you think is necessary, but if it is a project you believe in, never surrender. Keep spinning and keep writing even with all the hiccups along the way.

Someone once said the difference between a published author and an unpublished author is that one never gave up. And I believe that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

At Sixes and Sevens

by Stephanie Black

Multi-talented novelist, poet, and musician Cheri Crane tagged me in a seven-things-about-me game. I’d rather tell you seven things about Cheri—she’s more interesting than I am—but I’ll give it a try.

1. I have five children. Three girls and two boys. The oldest is sixteen. The youngest is three. Speaking of the kids, should I be worried that my oldest daughter has this mat in front of her bedroom door?

Actually, Amy is on the long-arm-of-the-law side of things. She wants to be a police officer when she grows up and is very involved in our local law enforcement Explorer post. When she found this mat in an online store, she thought it was hilarious.

2. I hate squash. Gag-reflex hate it. I always have. I can handle zucchini, though I wouldn’t seek it out, but any kind of winter squash—ick.

3. I'm way out of it when it comes to popular TV shows. My teenager downloads Psych episodes online, and I've watched some of those. But I’ve never seen American Idol or The Office, or whatever other shows are hot at the moment. I’d probably enjoy them if I did watch them, but I’m just not interested enough to figure out when they're on or to take the time to watch them. I did watch some of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, but only because one of my husband’s grad school classmates was on the show (and he won!). If I want to see a TV show, I can get it from Netflix. We’ve watched a lot of Monk that way. My current favorite is Ballykissangel, the BBC show from a decade or so back. It’s set in a small town in Ireland, which lends a nice air of nostalgia to the show (we used to live in Ireland), which brings up number four:

4. I once flunked an Irish driving test. I’d tell you more about it, but I don’t want to talk about it. It wasn’t one of my favorite life experiences. Nothing like having a U.S. license for eighteen years (with a good driving record) and then getting told that no, you’re not worthy to be on the roads. Those Irish road tests are brutal.

5. Mitt Romney used to be our Gospel Doctrine teacher.

6. I don’t have any pets, nor do I want any. This makes me sound like Grinch McScrooge, but I’m just not a pet person. I didn’t grow up with pets—who needs pets when you have younger siblings? We did have a cat--or rather a succession of cats—in my later teen years. They didn’t last long—we lived on the edge of the desert, so we’re assuming coyotes might have had a hand in pet population control. But I was off to college by then, and didn’t ever have much to do with the cats. I think dogs and cats and other furry critters are fine, as long as they belong to someone else. My teenager has three hermit crabs, but that's the extent of our pets.

7. I have strange nicknames for my children. For instance, I have a son named Stephen. Sometimes I call him Peter. Why? I don’t know. His first name isn’t Peter, nor is his middle name. “Why didn’t you just name him Peter?” my family asks. “I don’t like the name Peter,” I reply. Actually, this isn’t true. I like the name Peter just fine—I just like Stephen better. Why do I call him Peter? It just has that . . . je nais sais quoi that makes it ring as a nickname. Sometimes I call him Pietro. I call my younger son Binks, even though his binky days are long past. My second daughter is Slio (her name is Shauna), though I don't use her nickname as much as I used to.

Okay, now I’m supposed to tag seven other people. I’m going to tag the seven Ink Ladies: Katie Parker, Crystal Liechty, Tamra Norton, Robyn Heirtzler, Marcia Mickleson, Elodia Strain and Marsha Ward. I think I'll tag Anne Bradshaw too. I know that's eight people, but who's counting?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Different kind of blog today.

When I talk about art I tend to talk about books or TV or movies. I've neglected, on this blog, to ever talk about visual art. And... I'm going to neglect talking about it today as well, except to say that I have a lifelong love for the abstract. Often, when I'm particularly stressed, I sit at my computer and stare at these paintings.

Grey Alphabet, by Jasper Johns

Red Poppy, by Georgia O'Keefe

Untitled [Seagram Mural], by Mark Rothko

Red, Orange, Tan, and Purple, by Mark Rothko

Three Flags, by Jasper Johns

Blue, Green and Brown, by Mark Rothko

To the Unknown Voice, by Wassily Kandinsky

The Deep, by Jackson Pollack
(The Deep is my very favorite painting.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why I Write

Last week I wrote about why I run. So today, in order to reach perfect circularity, I should run about why I write. Not entirely sure how I would do that. How about running on about how I write? Given the length of my recent blogs, it’s entirely doable.

Some people write because they “have to.” It’s like breathing for them. I’m not like that. Just ask my editor at Covenant. In fact there are times when I find I can’t write. I don’t lack the desire, it’s just that for whatever reason, my brain needs to recharge.

Some people write for fame and fortune. For most of us that lasts right up until you see your first royalty check. Certainly some people achieve fame and fortune from writing. But most of them keep on writing even when they have all the fame and fortune they could ever want. It’s not about the money or most of us would have stopped a long, long, time ago.

Like running, writing is hard. You have to work at it close to every day or it becomes even harder. There are times when you literally curse your keyboard, and wonder why you ever started this stupid story. For pretty much everyone except the kindergartener who gets her first story on the fridge, writing comes with lots of rejection. Even writers whose first book turns into a bestseller get rejected by someone. Just check out the one-star ratings on Amazon. And I think those rejections sting no matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing.

So why write?

For the moments like my good friend Jules experienced, where a girl and her entire family took the missionary discussions and got baptized. At her baptism, the girl said it was because of reading Jules’ book that she investigated the church. Or the man from Kenya who asked to meet with the missionaries after reading my first book. Not that those moments are always about the church at all. But just having someone feel like their life is better or more meaningful because of something you wrote is the ultimate high. Like Jules told me, none of the rejections matter a hill of beans compared to this.

For the times when you hear someone laugh, or cry, or gasp, at something you wrote. And for the times when they tell you how little sleep they got the night before, because they just had to find out what happened.

For the chance it gives you to teach others what you’ve learned. Over the next month and a half I’ll be presenting to the Nebo Reading Council Young Writers, League of Utah Writers Spring Round Up, Shirley Bahlmann’s Ephraim writing group, American Leadership Academy parents, Life the Universe and Everything Conference, and The LDStorymakers Writing Conference. I’ll get to join James Dashner, Julie Wright, Chris Schoebinger, Orson Scott Card, and a host of writers I’ve admired for years. I’m thrilled to be able to teach others and to learn from some truly great artists.

I talked last week about how often running is hard, but how there are times when you feel as if you are floating. There are times like that in writing too. Times when the hole in the page is so big you can see your world with crystal clear vision and your fingers race across the keyboard, trying to get down every word before the hole closes and you are back to picking and pecking your way through unknown passages.

Last week Lisa Mangum, my editor at Shadow Mountain, asked me to put together discussion questions for the back of my YA fantasy. At first I could only come up with things like, “If Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Master Therapass got in a fight, who would win?” Which is an intriguing question, you must admit. Later I realized there actually were some questions I came up with that made me feel pretty good about the values kids might be able to pick up from my story. Like “Marcus feels different from the other boys in his school because of his disabilities and because of the way he can grow dim and sense things before they happen. Kyja feels different because she can’t do magic. Has there ever been a time when you felt different? Does being different have to be a bad thing? How can being different be good?”

If I can expand a child’s horizons with my stories and make them ponder questions like this, I will have succeeded beyond my greatest wishes.

But ultimately I write for the readers. I write because it makes me smile when I get e-mails—even when they tell me they hated my cliff hanger ending. Okay especially that. Because it tells me that my characters have become real to them. That somehow through the magic of words on paper I have been able to convey what’s in my mind into their mind. There’s a kind of magic to that.

And on that note, I’d like to share with you a final example of why I write. I got an e-mail from Michele, a good friend and fellow writer (who happens to be up for a Whiney for her first published novel!). She said that she’d forwarded my running blog to her father who is a fellow runner and that he loved it. She also sent me an interview her daughter, Alyssa, did for her sixth grade class. Alyssa is at the top of my favorite fan list already for pre-reading Farworld and writing in her comments, “This is the best book I will ever read.” Can you get better praise than that? Her interview is with one of my characters, Shandra Covington. Her mother forwarded it to me exactly as Alyssa wrote it and I laughed my head off. She has such a great voice and such a fun style, I have no doubt she’ll follow her Mom’s writing success.

Here is the interview. I only bleeped out one line, because Alyssa has read some of my new book and I don’t her to give any of it away. If you haven’t read the first two Shandra Covington mysteries and plan to, there are a few pretty big spoilers.

Interview with Shandra Covington main character from Dead on Arrival
By: Alyssa Holmes

Alyssa: "Hello Shandra, and just how are you today?"

Shandra: "I am doing fine."

Alyssa: "So Shandra how are you feeling after the incident at Echo Lake?"

"Well," says Shandra. "To be honest I'm not doing all that well."

"You're probably doing a lot better than any other girl who gets chased by a tractor, shot in the ribs, and jumped out of a barn," says Alyssa.

Applause from the audience after the speech.

"Well," says Shandra. "I'll have to admit that those few months ago seem like a vacation after what's been going on lately."

Alyssa: "Oh, do tell us."

"Tell , Tell , Tell!" chants the audience.

"Well," says Shandra again. "It all started when a woman dressed like her father, whose name was Pinky Templeton, came in and said that his dead wife was trying to kill him, but the only problem was that he was dead. Then the same afternoon he or she really put an explosive in her car and it blew up with her father's body inside of it. But I'm still not finished, at the end I thought that Pinky was my father, but it was Pinky's only daughter. She got shot and died, so when that was all over, my friend Bobby called and had news and was coming over to my apartment to tell me the good news. but when I got there—" (Shandra crying) "Bobby was curled up on the floor with—" (More sobs and crying) "—blood coming out of his chest. And worst of all I almost lost my friend Cordelia Dunes the day of the explosion that Pinky made. She chased him on her bike and was very close and got hurt severely," said Shandra.

"Alright everybody. Let's give it up for Shandra." (applause) "Now Shandra can we just ask you a few more questions?"

"Sure," she said.

Alyssa: "So Shandra, have you ever figured out the mystery of your father, is he really dead, why did he leave, and does he really love you?"

Shandra: "I am so sorry to say but I can only answer two of the three questions. First of all, no I have not figured out the mystery of my father, and sometimes I give up hope that he is still alive. But I know my father left to protect my family, and last of all, my father did love me. Pinky told me that he loved me and was always there watching me secretly."

Alyssa: "Well Shandra thank you so much for all of the time that you have spent with us today. So everybody let's give it up for Shandra one last time!" (applause from the crowd erupts .)

(Music plays in the back ground)

Thanks Alyssa. That made my whole week. I can’t wait for an interview with Kyja!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The No More Procrastination Contest (Should Have Been Sugar and Spice)

by Sariah S. Wilson

Last October, when “Desire of Our Hearts” came out, I intended to run a contest. Then stuff happened. Time passed and more stuff happened. I kept imposing new deadlines for myself to start this contest up, but life refused to let me. So now here I am toward the end of January and still needing to run a contest for this book.

So starting on January 21 and running to February 21, each day I will be giving away a small gift bag that includes vanilla bath salts in a pretty purple glass bottle, a stress reliever in the shape of a chili pepper, and other little fun stuff that represent the Sugar and Spice relationship of Sam and Alma in “Desire of Our Hearts.” (Said prizes make a lot more sense if you have read the book.) On the last two days of the contest, in addition to the gift bag I will also give away an autographed copy of “Desire of Our Hearts.”

Only members of my newsletter will be the winner will be eligible to win for the first five days of the contest, and it will be a newsletter member who will win one of the two copies of the book (so good luck to those who are already members, and there’s an incentive for non-members to join my newsletter list. I promise not to inundate you – I think last year I sent out one newsletter).

You can go here to my website to enter the contest.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Teaser

I have new contest information that I will post tomorrow. Be on the lookout for how you can enter!

And woo-hoo on being nominated for a Whitney alongside Stephenie Meyer! Now, I know there's no way I could ever possibly win, but can I even tell you how much fun it is just to say that I've been nominated for the same award as Stephenie Meyer? My teenage sister's friends at school decided that this makes me so completely cool. Not that any of them will read my books, but they're happy for the quasi-two degrees of separation.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stupui Videre Te Hic!

by Kerry Blair

A copyeditor at Covenant recently asked me to translate a Latin phrase that appears in a book of essays I have coming out in March. (More about that to come. Probably much more. Poor you.) Thus have I pondered this week the hours and hours I put into learning a dead language. When I finished my twelfth hour -- at BYU with emeritus professor J. Reuban Clark, III -- my father gave me a poster that read:

SI HOC SIGNUM LEGERE POTES, OPERIS BONI IN REBUS LATINIS ALACRIBUS ET FRUCTUOSIS POTIRI POTES! (If you can read this sign, you can get a good job in the fast-paced, high-paying world of Latin!)

Brother Clark gave each of his “A” students a bumper sticker that read: SI HOC ADFIXUM IN OBICE LEGERE POTES, ET LIBERALITER EDUCATUS ET NIMIS PROPINQUUS ADES. (If you can read this bumper sticker, you are both very well educated and much too close!)

Those two things – and the ability to amaze and annoy everybody in my pew by singing all four verses of Adeste Fideles in its original language – are about all I’ve gotten out of all those years of effort. Until today. Today, dear readers, I intend to waste (I mean “fill”) an entire blog with Latin phrases that you too can use for fun and profit! (Yes, I’m desperate. Like Stephanie, I haven’t a spare minute in which to wax creative. Unlike Stephanie, I have no incredibly creative clock to show you.) Try these phrases out and let me know how it goes.

Everyone knows veni, vidi, vici, but here are a few phrases that I frankly find handier:

Veni, vidi, verti (I came, I saw, I fled) -- pinned to the RS bulletin board on quilting night.
Veni, vidi, vixi (I came, I saw, I survived) -- scrawled on the chalkboard after Primary.
Veni, vidi, vitavi (I came, I saw, I avoided at all costs) -- penned at the bottom of a sign-up sheet for drivers to transport Scouts to and from the mud caves.
Veni, vidi, vagii (I came, I saw, I cried) -- what I mutter every Friday amid the shambles of my living room after Cub Scouts.

Paene advenimus? (Are we there yet?)
Quod facitis me non iuvat. (That which you are doing does not please me.) I often say this to the dog since canem male -- bad dog -- hurts her feelings.
Specta ne in laetro gardiaris. (Mind you, don’t step in anything unpleasant.) I say this to the Cub Scouts when the dog's been in the front yard before den meeting.
Relinque me in pace. (Leave me in peace.) Said mostly to my pesky cat who always wants to lay on my keyboard when I'm trying to type.
Purge cameram tuam, puer. (Tidy your room, young man.) Regretably, I don't have anybody to say this to anymore, but maybe some of you can use it.
Non dulce est cum seminibus olivarum eum ferire dum dormit. (It’s not nice to pelt him with olive stones when he’s asleep.) Unfortunately, over Thanksgiving when the kids were all home, I did have someone to say this to.
Te ad ludum gladiatorum cum fratre tuo mittam. (I’ll send you to gladiator school like your brother.) Maybe I said this one once too often. A second of my sons joined the military without me sending either of them. Come to think of it, though, it still worked pretty well on the non-military olive-pit thrower.

Utinam logica falsa tuam philosophiam totam suffodiant! (May faulty logic undermine your entire philosophy.)
Utinam modo subiunctive simper male utaris! (May you always misuse the subjunctive!) These two lines were favorites of Brother Clark, so I just had to throw them in.

Alaudarum M cape, linguas exseca et sepone. Alauda abice. Linguas mitte in sartaginem cum Paulo olei et frige cito. Eas traice ad patellam calidam. Quattuar sufficit. (Obtain 1,000 larks. Remove tongues and set aside. Discard larks. Saute tongues in pan with a little oil. Transfer to hot platter. Serves four.) You won't find that on Martha Stewart's website. Well...I guess it wouldn't surprise me too much if you did. But she'd never discard the larks. She could come up with fifty tasteful and clever things to do with bird carcasses, I'm sure.

Sorry, but that’s really all I have time for. Videam te mox!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Musings of a Cluttered Mind

By Julie Coulter Bellon

Over the holidays, I decided to organize my basement. I love the feeling of being organized and we had put this off for a very long time. My husband and I were up until 1 a.m. almost every night going through toy boxes, paper boxes, books, magazines, and old computers. We took a huge load to our local Deseret Industries and another huge load to the dump. By the time New Year’s came around, our basement had been transformed from the maze of boxes it had been. We now have a large game room that the entire family can enjoy with the foosball table, airhockey table, and train table, along with the entertainment center. While I still have some paper boxes to go through, the effort was well worth it.

But during that marathon organizing, we were flipping through channels on the TV and found this little show called "Clean House" on the Style network. It’s this very motivated woman named Niecy who takes her team into people’s horribly cluttered homes and tries to get them to part with their stuff so they can organize it and make it over. It was so interesting to me to watch them try to reason with people. For instance, they worked really hard with a grown man who is standing in a room filled with junk, that it’s okay to let his toy Godzilla go. I mean, this man was really attached to this stuff. In a way that made you feel sorry for him because he was stunting his life by not being able to let go of stuff that he never used, but only held on to for sentimental reasons.

Now far be it from me to judge this man and his toy Godzilla. I have stuff that I wouldn’t want to part with as well. I keep stuff that wouldn’t mean much to anyone. For instance, I kept the shoes I wore when I walked to the Parthenon in Greece and to Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul preached. They’re hot pink shoes that I would never wear anywhere else and they sit in my closet, but they have sentimental value to me. It would be hard to give them up. (In my own defense though, this guy and his Godzilla action figure were standing in a room so cluttered you had to make a small path through it to walk in it. My clutter is hidden in my closet!) But my point is, there are some things that mean something to you, that don’t mean anything to someone else.

So it is with writing.

When I was an editor and would tell people where they needed to improve their manuscript, what scenes needed to be cut, and where the writing needed to be tweaked, I can’t tell you how many times an author would say, "No, I need to keep that." It didn’t seem to matter that the scene weakened the story, or it was overly sentimental, or it was out of character or whatever the problem was, the author was generally unmoving and was anxious to tell me why that particular piece of writing meant so much to them. Even after our discussion and explaining why it still needed to be cut, some authors still wanted to hang on to their sentimental toy Godzilla that was holding them back from having a great story.

However, on the other hand, my editor gave me back my manuscript dripping in cuts and tweaks that made my heart ache. And I wanted to protest a few things and tell her what that scene meant to me. I did explain in one instance, and while I had to tweak it a little to make it more clear, I got to keep the part I wanted, but the others I had to let go. It was like the editor was my "Clean House" team and I was Toy Godzilla man. They made the suggestions that were based on the big picture, that would be an improvement in my life---and after some balking, I finally gave in and trusted them that they knew what they were talking about.

It's definitely a compromise between all the parties in these sorts of situations. But just like Toy Godzilla man eventually got an organized, clean house hopefully, after all the editing, I will end up with a clean manuscript that will bring the same feeling of accomplishment I got after working hard to make our basement usable and a place where everyone wants to be.

So get rid of your toy Godzillas that you’re hanging on to. Free yourself, free your editor, free your mind!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Time Flies

First of all, huge congratulations to the Whitney finalists!

Second of all, today is another mini-blog. So sorry. I promise I'll actually write a real blog one of these days. But I've been up to my eyeballs in Whitney stuff, and when we finished that, it was full speed ahead on my audio abridgment, which is due tomorrow. Word count curently stands at 56, 471. The audio department wants 54K. I'm hoping they'll take 55K, if delivered with a pleading look and an air of desperation. My family suggests cutting out extra words by hacking off the end of the story and making it a cliff hanger--"If you want to find out what happens, you'll have to READ THE BOOK!" Jeff Savage would no doubt take this route.

Actually, I'm pretty pleased with the abridgment so far--as pleased as a writer can ever be with a process that involves slicing, dicing, hacking, and squeezing the heck out of a novel. I think the story even makes sense, though I could be wrong. I'm going back through it now and I'm worried that I cut too much of the explanation on the Elvis cloning incident. Without adequate backstory, it really doesn't make sense that Martha Stewart would be so involved.

In other news, here's a picture of a writer's clock that my husband gave me for Christmas. He took a regular clock and created his own background for it. Though you can't see it in the picture, the background consists of tons of quotes about writing. I love it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Whitney Award Finalists Announced

SALT LAKE CITY, UT: The Whitney Award nominating committee today announced the finalists in a much-anticipated new program to honor the best of 2007 fiction by Latter-day Saint writers. Sponsored and endorsed by LDStorymakers, an LDS authors’ guild, the Whitney Awards offer national recognition and significant cash prizes to authors whose books win in one of seven categories.

Cash prizes of $500 each have been donated by and will be awarded to one author in each of five genre categories. The online magazine also provided for two additional prizes of $1000 each for the winners of “Book of the Year” and “Best Book by a New Author.”

To be eligible for consideration, a book must have received at least five nominations from its fans. More than fifty works by new and established authors in both the LDS and national markets met the preliminary criteria.

This year’s nominees are listed below in alphabetical order by genre:

Counting Stars by Michele Holmes
Desire of Our Hearts by Sariah Wilson
Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
The Independence Club by Rachel Nunes
Loyalty’s Web by Joyce DiPastena

The Deep End by Traci Hunter Abramson
Grave Secrets by Marlene Austen
Hazardous Duty by Betsy Brannon Green
The Operative by Willard Boyd Gardner
Sheep’s Clothing by Josi S. Kilpack

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
Bullies in the Headlights by Matthew Buckley
First Day by Allyson B. Condie
How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend by Janette Rallison
Rise of the Evening Star (Fablehaven, Book II) by Brandon Mull

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Hunting Gideon by Jessica Draper
The Lights of Mahonri Moriancumer by Phyllis Gunderson
The Well of Ascension (Mistborn II) by Brandon Sanderson

Beyond the Horizon by Judy C. Olsen
Land of Inheritance (Out of Jerusalem, Vol 4) by Heather Moore
On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell
Spires of Stone by Annette Lyon
Upon the Mountains by Gale Sears

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Wet Desert by Gary Hansen
Counting Stars by Michele Holmes
Beyond the Horizon by Judy C. Olsen
On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George
Land of Inheritance by Heather Moore
On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell
The Operative by Willard Boyd Gardner
Upon the Mountains by Gale Sears

This ballot now goes out to members of the voting academy, a select group of LDS publishers; bookstore owners, managers, and employees; members of the LDS writers guild; print and online magazine publishers; reviewers; and others working in the field of LDS literature.

Winners will be announced at a gala banquet on Saturday, March 22 at the Cottonwood Inn in Sandy, Utah. Tickets are now on sale at or

Special Lifetime Achievement Awards will also be presented that night to three persons whose bodies of works and tireless efforts have made a significant impact on the field of LDS popular fiction. This year’s honorees are Jennie Hansen, Dean Hughes and Anita Stansfield.

The Whitney’s inaugural year features a solid line-up of contenders, according to committee chair Robison Wells. “I’ve really been overwhelmed by the response we’ve had,” Wells said. “Hundreds of readers nominated their favorites. The amount of talent among LDS writers right now is really incredible.”

Other members of the nominating committee include Stephanie Black, Kerry Blair, James Dashner, Crystal Liechty, B.J. Rowley, and Julie Wright.

For more information on the Whitney Awards, visit


Ever since I was young I’ve been a runner. This doesn’t mean I have run consistently since I was young. In fact I’ve gone for years at a time when I didn’t run or ran only very sporadically. But every time I put on my shorts and lace up my shoes it feels right. Seeing the pain I put myself through to get back in shape and then to stay in shape, I have often been asked, “Why? Why do you run?”

Why do I run? There are plenty of times when I ask myself the same question. Running is hard. Really hard. Even when I am in my best shape, I am usually gasping by the end of a long run. My legs tremble. My side aches. I sweat gallons. I quickly get out of shape when I stop, and it seems to take forever to get back in shape. It’s crazy right?

I’ve come up with a lot of answers over the years. My most common is, “Because it feels so good when I stop.” But I’ve also been known to go with, “Because I don’t have the eye-hand coordination for any other sport” or “Because I love eating so much it’s the only way I keep from crushing the scale.” I guess those are all true answers to one extent or another. But the real answer is a lot harder to articulate. It’s so personal, I’m afraid people won’t understand or will take lightly something which means a lot to me.

The best way to explain why I run is with a few images. They may not mean a thing to you. You may read them and still think to yourself, “But it’s still running.” That’s okay I guess. I mean I don’t understand how people can love knitting or going to the opera. But if these images don’t convey why I love to run, I couldn’t make you see anyway.

Image one. It’s nearly dusk on a late summer day. My dad, my younger brother, and I are running along a trail that parallels the south fork of the American River. Although most of the river is fast flowing, this stretch, called Natomas, is between two dams, and the water splashes back the evening sun as though it is coated with a million tiny diamonds. To our left is a high cliff of red clay that has absorbed the day’s heat and reflects it back now as the air begins to cool. My brother, Craig is probably twenty-five and I am two years older.

As the three of us reach the last two miles of the run, my father can see we are holding ourselves back to stay with him. “Go ahead,” he says nodding toward the upcoming straightaway.

“Are you sure?” we ask, enjoying our time with him, even if we are slowing down a little.

“Go,” he puffs, “before you two kill me.”

Like hounds being released to the chase, we open up our pace and soon leave the rest of the world behind. Shoulder to shoulder we match each other stride for stride and for ten wonderful minutes it feels almost as if we are no longer tethered to the Earth. It feels like gliding, like floating. The ground moves beneath me, but I am not sure whether it is me or it that is stationary.

All at once I have the feeling that we are not alone. I glance behind me but my father is far away in the distance. “It’s our brother,” Craig says, as though reading my thoughts. “The one that Mom miscarried.” And without question I know he’s right.

For the rest of the time we run in silence—not three, not two, but one. In complete harmony. In complete peace. Perhaps understanding a moment this perfect is too good to waste on words.

Image two: I am driving to Sugarhouse Park. I thought I knew how to get there. After all, I served my mission just down the street. But I’ve taken several wrong turns and I’m late. I’m afraid I’ll miss the event I have come here for. At last I see the deep blue pond and the green grass. All the parking lots are filled with cars and busses and I begin to panic. I see a long line of figures race by and wonder if I’m too late. But no, they are boys. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally I discover an open space and quickly take it. As I step out of the car, I hear the crack of a starter’s pistol and I glance around wildly, craning my neck—looking for any signs of movement. There they are. A flash of color. Red, white, green, yellow, and blue tank tops and shorts flicker through the trees in the distance and come my way. Scanning their faces I search for the one I know so well. At last I break into a run myself. Dressed in slacks, loafers, and a button-down shirt I fly across the grassy hill toward the pond, as though I am still a kid myself.

Then I see her—rounding the end of the water less than fifty yards away. “Go, Erica, go!” I scream, pumping my fist as I run toward her. My daughter glances toward me and a grin breaks across her face. But she doesn’t falter. Her long thin legs pump like the legs of a strong foal. Her pace is steady. It’s a pace I’ve come to know well as we’ve trained together over the last year. Talking and laughing. Aching and pushing.

“Go get ‘em!” I scream. And she does. For just a moment I am at her side and we run together. She gives me a thumbs up just before one of the judges blows his whistle and waves me away from the race. I drop back abashed, but he gives me a knowing grin. Maybe he has a daughter too. A runner.

Soon she will disappear over the next hill, just like she will disappear from my life in a few more years. Of course I’ll meet her at the finish where she will be flushed with the pride of a good run. And I know she’ll never disappear from my life completely—even when she finds the man of her dreams. But for now it is enough to watch her run the good race as my chest swells with pride.

Image three. Many years have passed since my dad and I ran along the banks of the American River. He is now seventy and I am forty-four. He has lost a step or two, but he is still running when many men his age have relegated themselves to the recliner, or the bed, or worse. It’s been a couple of years since I have run regularly, and I am out of shape. But at the beginning of the year I signed up to run with him in the Hobble Creek Half Marathon. Thirteen miles. A distance which seemed doable six months ago, now seems infinitely more intimidating.

After running every Saturday together for the last three months, we know neither of us is as strong as we should be. But we both signed up and we’re not turning back. We got up early this morning—well before the sun showed its head above the Eastern mountain tops—to catch the crowded school buses that carry us up the canyon to the start of the race. The mountain air is chilly, but I know it will be hot by the time I finish.

We mill around with the rest of the crowd, waiting for the last of the racers to get to the start. We stretch a little, greet people we know, and chat with people we don’t. My dad can talk to anyone. We meet a woman and her daughter. The daughter has come all the way from Orlando. They will test themselves against this race to decide if they are up to the St. George Marathon in less than two months. My dad encourages everyone he meets and tells them they look good.

The start of the race has been delayed because not all the bus drivers showed up. That will make the end of the race even hotter. Nature calls, but the lines for the portapotties are twenty deep and the little plastic outhouses reek. By mutual consent we head up a small canyon trail that leads into the trees and take care of business. After all it was nature calling not the portapotties anyway. As we come back we see several people follow our lead and head up the trail. We laugh and decide we are trend setters.

“How do you feel?” I ask my dad.

“Like I wish I hadn’t signed up for this,” he says.

“Me too.” I grin, knowing that while being back in bed sounds great. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Finally the starter announces the busses have arrived and a cheer goes up. Most of the people begin to crowd toward the starting line. But we ease back a bit. We believe in the strategy of an old timer from San Francisco, who said of his pace, “I start slow and back off from there.”

There are so many people in front of us we don’t even hear the crack of the gun. But we can tell the race has started by the movement that begins at the front of the pack and rolls toward us like a gentle wave. At last we are moving—running side by side like we have for so many years. I have no idea what the rest of the race will bring. I expect I’ll be in a lot of pain thirteen miles from now, but for the moment I am content to let my feet carry me forward.

As I look over the crowd, I see many people faster than us and a few slower. I see runners in a group chattering like magpies, making me wonder how they even find time to breathe, and solitary runners with unknown music pumping into their heads. I see runners younger than us, but almost none older than my dad. He glances toward me, with no idea what is going through my mind. “Doing okay?” he asks.

“Yep.” I nod and look away. Will we run this race again or one like it? I hope so, but who knows what may happen between now and this time next year. I watch my dad jogging easily down the asphalt. He may not be rich or famous. He may not have his name transcribed in any history books or invent a medicine that will save the world. But if I can be just like him in another twenty-five years, I will consider my life a success.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Getting My Sunday School Class to Behave

by Sariah S. Wilson

I don't know if your ward is like this, but in my ward we apparently believe that everyone should have a calling. So I was in Primary for a while. Just before and after I had my baby I was in the library, but now that she's a little bit older, I got called to teach in Sunday School.

Apparently my 16/17 year old class (which included one of my brothers) had quite the reputation (such as climbing out the windows during class and other general rowdiness). Even after I'd had this calling for several weeks, on my way to class after Sacrament I was routinely stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I never did. Why?

1 - I set down ground rules. I told them that when I was talking they couldn't talk (if they something to contribute to the lesson, they could raise their hand or otherwise get my attention). I explained that if I went to the effort of preparing a lesson, simple respect would dictate that they could at least be quiet even if they didn't want to listen.

2 - I gave them a couple of minutes at the beginning and end of class to talk. Teenagers like to talk, apparently.

3 - I bribed them with treats. If they misbehaved or I had to repeatedly shush them, there would be no treats. I let them pick out the treats (brownies one week, cupcakes the next, etc.). This had the effect of them policing themselves. ("Dude, shut up. I want cookies.") It's also something I can phase out as time goes on, and no treats at all on Fast Sunday so they have to be good two weeks in a row.

4 - I told them my mom would come in and smack them around if they didn't behave (wonderful, sweet, loving woman, but she is the mother of nine and doesn't take guff from anyone). (I had to edit to add: Just in case anyone takes me literally, she wouldn't actually smack them. She wouldn't have to. All she has to do is raise one eyebrow and flare her nostrils a little and everyone runs to obey. She has that command and conquer thing down. I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids that people said were uncontrollable or never behaved and within minutes they were behaving like angels for my mom. She is truly the kid whisperer.)

5 - And this is probably the most important one - I promised to do my best not to bore them, and that I would try to help them learn something they hadn't ever learned before.

When I think about my Sunday School experience as a teen, I remember only sheer and total boredom. Same with the majority of my seminary experience. I had one teacher - Sr. Hymas - who really taught me anything at all.

A lot of this came from being very familiar with the scriptures. There was little teachers could teach me that I didn't already know.

So when I approach my lessons, I remember that today's teens are even more familiar with scriptures than I was at the same age. They already know the importance of 1 Nephi 3:7. They know the story, all the ins and outs and ups and downs. They could probably tell it to me in reverse order.

I do think it's good that we have some of that repetition to keep those lessons fresh in our minds. But there will be other teachers who will be called to fulfill that purpose.

I've expressed on the blog before that in order to better appreciate the sacred, we often must first understand the secular of a culture and people totally foreign to us in almost every way imaginable. As January brought in the Book of Mormon for us to study, I promised my class that I would teach them things even their parents didn't know so that they might have the opportunity to gain a deeper spiritual appreciation when they read the Book of Mormon.

I also promised to bring in my authentic recreation Nephite/Lamanite sword if they were really, really good. I'm thinking the Ammon story might be a good time for that.

I can't even tell you how excited I am to be teaching these scriptures that I love so well and have spent so many years researching. I'm ready to do some good!

Have you ever had a particularly difficult calling? How did you handle it?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is It Friday Already?

Just for the record:

Never once in the eighteen-some months I’ve been here have I felt comfortable posting in the same week as any of these people. It’s very much like being the weird cousin at the family reunion. You know who I mean: the girl who wears green knee socks and a blue skort and has to remove her retainer (publicly) before giving an oboe rendition (badly) of “Come, Come Ye Saints” for (excruciatingly painful) talent night. You know what? Let’s not talk about it. I need to not even think about it in order to get through the rest of the day!

I’ve never run for anything in my whole life. True fact. Well, I guess I “ran” for PTA president once, but mine was the only name on the ballot. (Does that count?) I can’t remember ever competing for anything, either. In fact, I’m not even fun to play games with. I lack whatever gene it is that makes an otherwise sane person fight to the death for Marvin Gardens. Don’t vote for me. (Not that you would have anyway.)

I’d worry about myself (more than I do already, I mean) except that in comparison with some people I come across on the Internet I’m doing just fine, thank you very much. Just this morning I read about:

Mark Malkoff, a film maker and sometime comedian on The Colbert Report who moved into an IKEA while his apartment was being fumigated. He chose a living room, office, and bedroom that worked for him and made himself at home. He didn’t mind the commute from floor to floor, but was dismayed to discover that they turn off all the lights at midnight and that the televisions and laptops are all fake. I’m considering moving myself. There are no downsides for me. I’m always asleep before midnight, I don’t watch much TV, and having a cardboard computer would go a long way toward helping out with my aforementioned blogging problem.

Chidi Ogbuta, a new bride in Texas, felt bad that she was leaving her childhood behind with a dream left unfulfilled: she’d always wanted a life-sized doll that looked just like her. Her doting father’s solution was to get her a life-sized wedding cake. There’s a picture here of the groom plunging a knife into her thigh. Better than her heart, I guess. The headline reads: You may now eat the bride. Excuse me but . . . yuck.

I did read about one thing creeper than that bride cake: a growing industry of fake babies called “Re-Borns.” I have no idea why they chose that name but it gives me pause. Maybe I’ve been overly influenced by the New Year Twilight Zone marathon, but aren’t re-born people almost always a bad thing? (Not speaking evangelically, of course.) Anyway, according to the site I perused, these dolls “cry, squirm and are the objects of intense affection by their ‘mothers.’ Loved like real babies, they’re taken for walks, bathed, and even have their diapers changed.” Not surprisingly, they cost almost as much as real babies too. Now I want a grandchild as much as the next woman, but if one of my kids ever shows up with one of those things I’m locking the door and calling the local “guidance center.”

There’s more – much more, to my dismay – but I have two edits, a pronunciation guide for audio, eight Cub Scouts, a daughter going away to college tomorrow, and a waist-high stack of Whitney nominees awaiting my attention today.

I know! Let’s have another contest! (You people are bored, right?) Tell you what, you all find something stranger than what I came up with this morning and post it in the comments section. If I think it is as good or better than mine, I’ll mail you an authentic Frog pen/bookmark/ruler thingie. (Only The Frog could come up with a gadget this cool!) Don’t worry, I’m relatively easy to impress.

It’s impressing I’m not good at. (See above.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Comfort Zone

By Julie Coulter Bellon

Do you know how hard it is to have to post after the hilarious Robison Wells and the incredibly talented Stephanie Black? I have no funny blog to post, no cover to show off.


I do have one thing I could tell you about though.

Right before Thanksgiving, my oldest son, who is a senior in high school and an officer in the Health Occupations Student Association, was asked if he would participate in a Dancing with the Stars fundraiser for the high school. They were asking officers from several school clubs to be partnered up with someone from the ballroom dance team, learn a dance, perform it and compete for a cash prize in front of the whole school. At first, he wasn’t very excited about it. They wanted him to do the jive and he’s six foot five with a size 14 shoe and he didn’t want to look like he was lumbering around the dance floor in front of all of his peers. It was definitely out of his comfort zone. But he eventually agreed to do it and has spent the last six weeks practicing almost every day in between basketball practices, games, school, and his job. He worked hard to learn the dance set to the song, Johnny B. Goode. His partner, thankfully, was tall as well, so they matched well as a couple. They were doing two tricks during the routine, a sausage roll and a cartwheel where he holds her and she spins around and upside down in three inch heels. I was surprised at the level of difficulty, but they were confident they could pull it off.

Yesterday afternoon was the final dress rehearsal before the competition that evening. I gave my son the last once-over in his costume before he left and wished him luck. An hour later, my husband and I packed all of our other children into the van and, of course, went early to get good seats. Even Grandpa came down to see it.

When we got there we were handed a program and a ballot. Each person got one vote and whichever couple got the most votes, would win the competition and the cash prize. There were six couples and my son was listed to perform fourth. I sat down nervously to wait and my five year old sat next to me. He watched the clock like a hawk, telling me minute by minute how much longer we had to wait before it started which, of course, heightened my anxiety because when the program was late in starting got mixed in with, "Mom, one more minute’s gone by and it hasn’t started yet. They’re late. How many more minutes?"

Finally the lights dimmed and it began. They introduced all six couples, everyone clapped politely, and then the competition got underway.

The first couple did a nice samba, and the next couple did a lindy. They both performed well, but the couple that had done the lindy had done really well, I thought. They were sure to get a lot of votes. The third couple also did a samba, and the girl in that partnership was very popular with the crowd since she was on the drill team. I knew they were sure to get a lot of votes.

Finally, it was time for my son to perform. They came out on stage and stood there facing the audience. Some music began to play, but it didn’t sound like Johnny B. Goode and they continued to stand there. It was the wrong music. Talk about making them more nervous! Finally the right music started and they began to move around the dance floor. I bit my lip as the first trick came up, but she landed the cartwheel thing perfectly. The couple behind me commented that my son wasn’t smiling and I bit my lip harder so I wouldn’t turn around and say anything. He was nervous and concentrating! I focused again on the dance. The hardest trick was coming up–the sausage roll where he holds her arms and whips her through his legs, twists her around and stands her back up. The moment arrived. It went off perfectly and the crowd roared its approval. It was over. He’d done so well I couldn’t stop smiling and clapping and neither could the crowd. It was a great moment.

The rest of the competition was a blur after that, with some quickstep and mambo. I got our ballots out and helped all five of my children vote (yes, they all voted for their brother). We watched a short dance showcase by the dance team which included a Grease medley and a West Coast swing that was fun and done really well. But the moment of truth had arrived.

The six couples were called back to the stage. The announcer told them that the votes had been counted and that it was close. The winner had only won by five votes. Then the announcer turned and asked the audience to give them all one more round of applause. I swear I was on the edge of my seat. The announcer asked for a drum roll . . . and then . . .

He won. My son won the competition.

He was elated and I could barely stop myself from jumping out of my chair. It was a sweet moment. I watched him accept everyone’s congratulations afterward, knowing that this had been a hard thing for him, something he’d never tried before and was totally out of his comfort zone, but he had worked hard on it. Standing there, as his mother, in that second I saw my son who is about to experience a whole lot of new things in his life when he graduates high school this year. He is going to work hard, and sometimes he will win and sometimes he won’t, but I saw in that moment, someone who thinks he can do it, who has the fortitude to try. And it made me proud.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My New Cover

by Stephanie Black

Things are tough on the campaign trail, especially when you're the lazy people's blast-from-the-past candidate. It's almost too much work layering those Izod shirts and keeping the collars pointing up, and then after all that effort, my supporters are too lazy to come to my rallies. And you can bet a bushel of Sariah Wilson's free hot dogs that no one is willing to hold my campaign posters and wave them at passing cars. They just duct-tape the signs to bus benches and go home to watch MacGyver, a show popular among my supporters because it specializes in classic 80's hairdos.

So I don't have much time to blog today, what with the demands of political life. That and I've got an audio abridgment to do for my new book, Fool Me Twice.

Here's the cover of the book. Release date is April.

Don't forget to vote for me! My slogan: Big Hair, Not Big Government.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

New Hampshire Predictions

I try to stay out of the political world on this blog, despite the fact that I really love politics. Other than slandering libertarians and complaining about the boringness of local government, I’ve maintained a pretty good distance. However, that style of level-headed self control is gone, baby! In light of today’s caucuses in New Hampshire, I’ve decided to make a few predictions.

First of all, Kerry Blair will lose and lose big. The New Hampshire voters won’t agree with her weird Arizonian positions (such as her refusal to participate in Daylight Savings time, and her insistence that 95 degrees in January is okey dokey). She seems to have slightly too much integrity at times, making her unlikely to lie to Vladimir Putin’s face, and many doubt her willingness to nuke Mexico, should the need arise. Also: you can’t have goats and chickens and snakes and honeybees at the White House.
My prediction: less than 2% of the votes.

Second, Julie “Coulter” Bellon will lose, and rightfully so. She has three big obstacles to her campaign. First, her sister-in-law is Ann Coulter. The extreme left will hate her for that relation. Unfortunately, Julie and Ann have had a recent falling-out due to Julie allegedly stealing Ann’s sweet potato pie recipe last Thanksgiving and claiming it as her own! So, the extreme right has declared Julie to be a communist and an America-hater. Second, she’s from Canada, which not only makes her technically ineligible, but also makes her socially awkward. Third and lastly, Julie parties on the weekends with terrorists and dictators.
My prediction: probably twice as many votes as Kerry, but that isn’t saying much.

Third, Jeff Savage. Not much can be said here, except that Jeff was leading the polls by double digits a few weeks ago but has since seen a huge drop-off in support. It might be due to the debate last week wherein Jeff failed to realize that Pakistan was a country, insisting that it was a type of peanut butter-flavored treat. And, continuing his stubborn dedication to this flawed premise, he described Peanut Packy and Snacky Stan, the lovable animated duo. And then, while Charles Gibson was trying to get Jeff to explain his position on healthcare, Jeff left the podium and did a dance called the Packy Snack Attack. I’m sure you can find it on YouTube.
My prediction: 15% of the vote. (I’m assuming that 15% of voters don’t know what Pakistan is, either.)

Fourth, Stephanie Black. While most candidates are pushing an agenda of change, Stephanie is embracing the status quo. “Why change?” Stephanie said yesterday in an exclusive interview. “Change is a big pain in the patoot. I mean, I’m not running for president so I can spend a whole bunch of time working.” To better illustrate her reluctance to change, Stephanie and her staffers have reverted back to the fashions they wore in high school. New Hampshire grocery stores report that they’re running out of Aqua Net.
My prediction: 20% of the vote. (All the lazy people.)

Fifth, Sariah Wilson. She’ll win. In a controversial move, she’s been funding her campaign with her own fortune. And by “campaign”, I mean that she’s been giving out a lot of free hot dogs. And by “fortune”, I mean that her grandfather died and left her with twenty-two-thousand tons of hot dogs. She’s not only managed to attract the poor and hungry voters, but also all the cheapskate rich voters and the hot dog-loving middle class.
My prediction: 59% of the vote.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction

by Sariah S. Wilson

So here are things that happened to me during my vacation that if I put them in a book, no one would believe me because the coincidences are simply too overwhelming (and I promise you that each and every one is completely true).

First off is something that didn’t actually happen to me per se, but is a great story nonetheless. I had a best friend in high school who had been my best friend since eighth grade when she figured out that I was LDS based on my name (she was LDS as well and in a different ward). We had one of those competitive on and off types of friendships through the years, and after high school we didn’t really stay in touch. When we were freshmen, she had a boyfriend who we will call Brad Tussell. She broke up with him for one of the reasons teenage girls break up with their boyfriends. Brad never quite got over her. I know they remained friends, but I don’t believe they ever really dated again as she was the type who always had a boyfriend that was not him.

I saw her a few times in college after she transferred to the Y from another school, but our lives had really diverged and we didn’t hang out that much. She did call and invite me to her going away party before she left on her mission. I got to introduce her to my now-husband, and she told me that she had been in contact with good old Brad, who had since moved from our California city to Tacoma, Washington. He told my friend that he had prayed about it and that he knew they were supposed to get married. He told her that there would be a sign – she would be called on her mission to his hometown.

Guess where she got sent on her mission? Yes, that’s right. Tacoma, Washington. Of all the missions in the world, she gets sent there. Bizarre, right?

But my friend didn’t see it as a sign and when she got home she married someone else. Had a couple of kids. We talked periodically on the phone, sent Christmas cards.

So this year I contacted her via e-mail because last year’s Christmas card got returned. She sent me an email saying that it had been a crazy year – last year she got divorced and this year she got remarried.

To Brad Tussell.

I was in such shock. Other people aren’t freaking out quite as much as me – I think it was because I was there when all this happened and how funny that all these years later they found their way back to one another.

The second weird thing that happened to me was from buying my baby a Cabbage Patch doll. It’s one of the newborns and I bought it because it reminded me of my daughter – it had a small dimple on the left cheek and just sort of looked like her. I have fond memories of my own Cabbage Patch doll – how I stood in a store holding onto it so that no one else would grab it, how my parents could only afford it because it had been ripped open and one of the shoes was missing.

I took it home, stuck it in the closet, and then wrapped it up on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day we opened it up for her. I sniffed the doll, loving that baby powder Cabbage Patch smell that all the dolls have. I pulled out the various little fun stuff included with the doll, including the adoption papers.

Do you know what this doll’s name was? Now, keep in mind that I did not look at the name before that moment. I never even glanced at the papers when I bought it.

The doll’s name was Sariah Daisy.

What are the odds of that? How many people do you know named Sariah? (I realize it might be higher for you than the average person since LDS people do give that name to their daughters.) I just thought of all the dolls in the world with all the names that they have, how did I manage to pick up a Cabbage Patch doll that looked like my daughter and had my name? Too weird.

The last thing is that one of my aunts has started coming back to church. She doesn’t have a car right now and so her home teachers have been picking her up and driving here there. They told her that recently they were helping an inactive sister to come back to church, but that she’s been having a hard time as she was older and didn’t have anyone to sit with (and also lacked a vehicle). They asked my aunt if she would befriend this woman. My aunt agreed.

They picked the woman up and helped her into the car. She looked at my aunt and called her by name. My aunt was, understandably, a little freaked out and asked how the woman knew her. The woman replied that she was her aunt – she had been married to my grandfather’s brother. This great-aunt had, once upon a time, wanted to adopt my mother and her brother. She and her husband were unable to have children and since my grandmother had so many, wanted my grandmother to give those two children to her. My grandmother, obviously, couldn’t, but this great-aunt and her husband would take my mother and my uncle every weekend to go do fun things. They did eventually adopt a child of their own, but my mother had always felt close to her aunt because of all the time they spent together. But they lost touch, as sometimes happens in large, extended families.

And then she just shows up, in my aunt’s ward in Indiana, a member of the church (which she was not when she was younger).

Have you ever had a real life situation that was stranger than fiction?