Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Resolution Time!

by Stephanie Black

Since it’s the last day of 2008, I figure it’s a good time to discuss two things:

1-The Whitney Awards. Today is the LAST DAY to nominate novels by LDS authors for the 2008 Whitney Awards. Josi Kilpack mentioned on her blog that many eligible novels haven’t yet received the five nominations required to make them official nominees. If you’ve read some excellent novels by LDS authors this past year, please go to the Whitney Awards website and nominate them. Don’t assume they already have the required nominations—you’d be surprised how sometimes even wildly successful novels don’t get the required noms (I served on the Whitney committee for 2007, so I saw this happen). If you loved a book, nominate it!

2—New Year’s Resolutions.

Ah, yes. It’s Self-Improvement Time. Our home teacher was talking to us about New Year’s resolutions and remarked that he didn’t go for them anymore because why wait for the new year to make the resolution?

He has a point, but it will tell you volumes about my character when I confess that I like this quality of New Year’s resolutions. “My New Year’s resolution is to lose fifteen pounds,” I can say to myself— a statement ringing with self-control and perseverance—even as I stuff chocolate into my mouth with one hand and pizza with the other because, come on, it’s only December 31st, and to jump the gun would be unsporting.

My four-year-old declared her resolution to be playing with the toys she got for Christmas. That’s the kind of resolution you can sink your teeth into. I think I’ll make a resolution like that:

Goal: Finish reading Brandon Sanderson’s Hero of Ages. My fifteen-year-old got it for Christmas, read it in two days, and now it’s in my hands. No, I will not confess to any ulterior motives in buying it for her.

And just think how good I get to feel when I finish it. Unlike 99.9 percent of the resolution-making population, I achieved my resolution!

(Tangent: My four-year-old got a stuffed fruit bat for Christmas. We had to translate for Santa when she was sitting on his knee and he asked what she wanted and she said, “A fruit bat.” I’m betting that’s the first time he’s heard that request. I’m guessing she was inspired by the fruit bat display near the fruit bat enclosure at the zoo. Her toy is quite cool, with a thirty-one inch wingspan. It’s amazing what Santa can find at Amazon these days.)

I do have some more resolutions that I’d like to make this year. I won’t post all of them, but here are a few things I’d like to accomplish:

*Do more to expose my children to classical music. I’ve been very remiss in this area. Even if they don’t develop any kind of passion for it, I’d like them to at least know what Mozart and Beethoven sound like. I’m setting a goal to play more classical music in the house.

*Learn to sing tenor. Seriously. I usually sing alto, but I can hit the higher tenor range, and I think it would be fun to learn to sing tenor on the hymns. Right now, I can’t hear the tenor notes—can’t pick them out from what the organist is playing. So I’ll have to practice.

*Finish my work-in-progress by . . . um, let’s see. At this point, it’s hard to pick a precise date, so I’m going to say “early fall.” Sometime in September or October. As the time gets closer, I’ll be able to firm up the target date.

How about you? What would you like to accomplish in 2009?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rob, the Galleria of Blogs

by Robison Wells

Quite often, I'll start writing a blog post only to discover that the topic I wish to speak about doesn't warrant an entire a post--in fact, it often only warrants one or two sentences. When I run into that problem, I'll tuck those short thoughts away, hoping that I'll have some future opportunity to pull them out and dust them off. (This may surprise those of you who assume that I'll post any old piece of crap.) (Because, usually, you're right.)

The sad news for me is that these short little snippets of blogs very rarely ever see the light of day, mostly because I always forget that I ever wrote them. However, today you're getting a whole bunch of them, with nothing to tie them together other than bullet points.

  • I'd like to file two official complaints with the following company: Jared The Galleria of Jewelry. First of all--and this is the more minor complaint--a galleria is defined as a roofed or enclosed space containing a variety of shops. Obviously, this is dumb, because Jared is just one shop, not a variety of them. However, I can forgive this, I guess, because lots of stores call themselves silly things, like the Auto Mall (which is just a big dealership), or The Dollar Shop, my barber, where a haircut costs a whopping four dollars, not one! If you can imagine!

    No, my real beef with Jared the Galleria of Jewelry is that there is absolutely nothing prestigous, classy, expensive, appealing, or sophisticated about the name "Jared". On the contrary, people named Jared tend to be boring doofuses. For example, Jared, the Subway guy. For more information about people named Jared, I consulted Professor Wikipedia and discovered that there are no other notable people named Jared. (I'm defining "notable" to mean "people I've heard of".) (Granted, I didn't read the whole list of Jareds, because it was long and boring.)

    Also, the commercials for Jared the Galleria of Jewelry are terrible. Based on the commercials, here's my guess of how the conversation went between the marketers:

    Marketer 1: We need to find an untapped jewelry market, some demographic that other jewellers haven't already discovered.

    Marketer 2: Well, so far, it looks like jewelry stores have been mostly focused on romance, prestige and quality. What if, instead, we went after the stupid people?

    Marketer 1: I'm intrigued. Tell me more.

    Marketer 2: What if we have unfunny commercials that depict obsessive, panicky nutjobs?

    Marketer 1: So, instead of actually discussing our products or services, we'll effectively be shouting "Jared! Jared! JARED!"

    Marketer 2: And I'm naming the company Jared, because I can't think of anything clever, and my name is Jared.

    Marketer 1: And our target customers are too dumb, apparently, to notice our apathy.

  • Along similar lines, I have a message for Olive Garden: you, sirs, have never had a single funny commercial in the history of your bland institution. This would not be a problem, except for the fact that all the characters in your commercials are laughing. Please write this down and tape it to your computer monitor: if the characters are laughing, but the joke is not funny, your audience will not be fooled. (Unless they're the type of people who shop at Jared the Galleria of Jewelry.)

  • Living on a college campus, I have noticed that moon boots are coming back into fashion, particularly among the trendy lady folk. One has to assume, as I do, that these stylish young women are trying to emulate the fashionability of myself as a nine-year-old nerd, or, perhaps, the chicness of Napoleon Dynamite.

    I also have to wonder what these girls are thinking: "These boots make me look SO HOT, especially since they make my feet and calves look SO ENORMOUS."

    Disclaimer: I don't want anyone to post comments here claiming that they wear moon boots because the boots keep their feet warm. You're only allowed to say that if you purchased and wore the boots back before they became trendy and hip, which you didn't. Liar.

  • A few words about some Christmas songs:

    First, "I'll Be Home For Christmas" is a very pleasant song, even though it contains the phrase "Christmas Eve will find me where the love light gleams", which means absolutely nothing. But then it ends with ""I'll home for Christmas, if only in my dreams", which is truly sad indeed, and it makes me cry.

    Second, I have some serious complaints about The Little Drummer Boy. The original song is fine, I guess, except that if the ox and lamb are truly keeping time, then why do you need a little drummer boy? Isn't that redundant? Or, is the drummer boy playing jazz?

    The Little Drummer Boy has been remade again and again by pop groups, and when they get to the line "I played my drum for him/I played my best for him", they launch into a big drum riff. And I like to imagine the little drummer boy hauling his drum kit up to the stable, setting up the bass, snares, and cymbals there in the serene quiet, and then: "BAM BAM BAM BAM BIDDIE BAM BAM BIDDIE BIDDIE CLANG BAM BAM BAM BIDDIE BIDDIE BAM BAM BAM." And then the little drummer boy throws the sticks across the stable and shouts "I've got blisters on my fingers!"

    And then He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Update, School Visits, and A Shot in the Arm

Things have been pretty wild around the Savage household of late. My daughter came home with a ring on her finger. (Much better than, say, a ring in her nose, in this dad’s opinion.)

My son left to serve his Church for two years in Columbus, Ohio, then came home two weeks later to have arthroscopic surgery on both his knees. (Did I mention I lost my job last month and our insurance ends in January?) Fortunately we managed to get most of the work done this month, and it looks like we’ll have our own insurance starting soon. (Don’t ask me how much that cost!) Somehow Santa made it around this year (thanks for the laptop!) My youngest son is pretty much joined at the hip with a 2 ½ foot Millennium Falcon that has more buttons than my laptop, and my 11-year-old son has managed not to break his neck in the snowy streets on his electric scooter.

Is this starting to sound like one of those family newsletters yet? Okay, moving on.

Beginning in the middle of January, I will be doing school visits through the end of the school year. I expect to be pretty drained by the end of the year, but it’s still one of the greatest things I get to do as a YA author. Because Shadow Mountain has turned the scheduling back over to their authors for the most part, I’ve had a chance, along with my WONDERFUL wife, to spend quite a bit of time talking to librarians and principals. I’ve heard some great things about author visits, and I’ve heard more than one horror story. So I thought I’d share a few tips with any of you who are planning school visits.

#1) Know who you are presenting to and stick to that audience. If your book is aimed at third through sixth graders, don’t do assemblies for Kindergarteners. Sure, your presentation may be so darn amazing that EVERYONE will love it. But what happens when those six-year-olds go ask Mom and Dad to buy your book? Will they really appreciate it? Likewise, if you do picture books, don’t take your show to junior high students, unless you are going to teach them how to draw or about the business.

#2) On the same note, if you present to wide age groups, prepare more than one presentation. What entertains junior high students will not entertain third graders. In fact there is a huge gap between sixth and seventh graders. Create your presentation age appropriately.

#3) In a typical presentation, I will have between 300-400 students in attendance. I will probably have another fifteen or so, teachers and staff. If my presentation is an hour (including getting everyone in and out), I am responsible for 400+ hours. Don’t waste that time. Don’t come with a long commercial for your book. Don’t plan on reading for ten of those minutes. Teach something. Entertain and educate at the same time. When I leave a school, the students will understand that all of them have unique talents (magic) inside them. They will also know the key elements of creating a story. They will have learned something that makes them better people and writers. On the entertainment side, remember that kids learn better when they are having fun. Some authors bring snakes, some tell jokes, I do magic tricks. Boring presentations are the kiss of death. Make them laugh. Make sure that when you are done presenting, the teachers want to have more authors visit.

#4) How do you get compensated for your visit? As an author, I typically leave the house at 7:30, and, if I am doing a signing, may not get back home until 9:30 that night. I have to provide my own meals and my own gas. I also lose a full day of writing, which is how I make my living. If I am doing #3 right, I am providing a valuable service to the schools and the students. How do I get compensated for that? Of course it’s great meeting the kids, and hopefully they’ll remember my name down the road. But I can’t live on hopefully.

I try to provide several options. The easiest thing is to just charge a fee. The bigger your name, the higher the fee you can get. Rick Riordan charges something like $2500 per day, and he is booked solid. I can’t charge anywhere near that. But I try to work with schools to at least get a minimal fee that will cover my costs for the day. Another way I can make money is by selling books. This can be done through pre-order forms, where the kids bring in their money and I sign a book for them while I am there. Many schools encourage this. The kids get to meet the author and get a signed book, which will hopefully encourage them to read more. Typically the bookstore will offer a discounted price or give a % back to the school as a fundraiser.

Some schools would prefer that I not sell books in their school. That’s fine too. I usually do a signing that evening, in conjunction with the school visits. One of the great things about Shadow Mountain is that they provide posters, bookmarks, and invitations to the signing. So everyone gets a bookmark, anyone who wants a poster can get one free at the signing, and kids who want to buy a book and get it personalized, can do that too. It works out really well.

Occasionally, I will do a signing where there is not a convenient bookstore close by. Then I will sell my own books. This is another way I can help defer my costs. So far it has been a win win situation. I get to meet great kids, and introduce my books. They get a great message, and get excited about reading.

#5) Lastly, put together a flier, links to newspaper articles, references from other teachers, librarians, and principals who have heard your presentation. You are calling a school cold and asking them to let you visit with their most precious resource. Wouldn’t you want your children’s principal to do a background check on someone presenting to their school? Make it easy for everyone to learn what you do and how it has been received.

That’s it for schools. My last comment is back to the whole economy thing. I was talking to my younger sister today. She is writing a book for the first time. I asked her how the edits were coming. She said something to the effect of, “Well I’ve kind of been putting it off today since the economy is so bad.” It’s a good thing we were taking over the phone or I would have shaken her!

Did the amazing economy the last few years make you a bestseller? No? Then why should a bad economy kill your career? You know what successful authors are doing right now? They are writing and editing. Because they know that eventually the economy will pick up. The books that are being purchased now won’t come out for two years anyway. That means if you wanted to have your sales hurt, you are two years too late! But if you want to be a bestseller when the economy is going great, you need to get your book turned in, um, right now!

Here’s the thing. Winners will win regardless of what the economy is doing. Losers will always find an excuse not to win. Stop worrying about what you can’t control and get to work on what you do best. Okay, that’s it. I have to get back to writing, and marketing, and writing, and marketing, and . . . well you get the picture.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas To All...(We're on Vacation)

Just stopping in to let our readers know that as per our yearly tradition, the Six LDS Writers will be taking this week off to enjoy the holidays and spending time with our families. I haven't had any word back yet on the Frog's plans, but I'm hopeful he'll be getting back to his old hopping grounds to enjoy his Christmas too.

Merry Christmas everyone - and know that this season we're thankful for all of you and your support!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How Santa is Saving Me 50% Plus When I Go Shopping

By Sariah S. Wilson

Kerry wrote a wonderful post last week about her love of Santa. I read it, loved it, tried reading it aloud to my husband and couldn’t because I got choked up. (No need to worry, Kerry routinely renders me unable to speak.)

I have a special love for Santa myself – one of my favorite Christmas books is “Santa and the Christ Child.” I’ve always thought that Santa does what he does because of his love for Christ.

When I was a little girl my family went to Knott’s Berry Farm to see Santa Claus. I don’t remember why we went there – that was not the typical sort of place that my very large family would go to (I’m assuming it was probably free to see him or something).

We waited in line for what felt like hours until it was finally our turn to see him. I don’t remember talking to Santa or telling him what I wanted. What I remember most from that meeting was when Santa Claus turned to my parents and asked where my sister was.

Please take into account that there were five other young children there. Most people would not look at a family with five small children and automatically assume that one was missing (in fact quite the opposite was typically true – “Are they all yours?” was more what we were used to hearing). But Santa was right – my sister Rachel had not come with us. Rachel was mentally handicapped and didn’t do well in crowds or in having her routine disrupted, and had respite care that day.

I remember everyone being so shocked that it took an actual minute or two before somebody responded that she wasn’t with us. Santa instructed us to give her his love. I always wondered how he knew, and although I had considered myself far too old to believe in such things, a Santa spark landed in my heart that has never since been extinguished.

That spark turned into a roaring flame this season. As our usual readers will know, just before Thanksgiving I blogged about our family’s reversal of fortune. I didn’t mean for anything to come of it. That’s just sort of how I am – writing things down when I’m miserable seems to help me work through the process (I think I get this from my mom who would only write in her journal in the depths of her pregnancy woes.).

So you can imagine my surprise when a fellow writer contacted me asking for my address. She said she had been given a book she’d already read and thought I might like and could she send it to me? I am not one to ever say no to books, so I said sure. (Who says no to free books?) Then she sneakily paired up with some other authors to send me gift cards and more books for my family. To say I was stunned when I opened the card from her would be too mild a word. It was so totally unexpected that I cried in gratitude. I tear up now thinking about it. It was so wonderful and so helpful.

Another fellow writer contacted me shortly after that and said that a few other LDS authors who had been in the same position as me at one time or another wanted to send us some help.

I cried again. (I blame pregnancy hormones for this. Despite what it may sound like in this blog, I truly almost never cry.) I was so touched.

But my gut response was to say no, we’re fine, thank you for thinking of us. It’s just how I was raised. We were taught to be fiercely independent, to provide for ourselves. We’re supposed to be the ones helping others. In fact, the only time I can really ever remember asking for help was to raise funds to get my son the ABA training he needed to help him battle his autism. And even that was so difficult for me (particularly considering one nasty letter we got in response). But I was willing to do it for him to make him better. And the Lord made certain that we got exactly what we needed for his training; and as I’ve mentioned in the past the doctors took away his autism diagnosis and say he never had it in the first place because what happened to my son just doesn’t happen (kids aren’t supposed to recover from autism). So the doctors decided they obviously must have been mistaken in the first place (despite the fact that he registered autistic on every test and met every required diagnostic).

So I didn’t say no. For my kids, I could do this. It probably helped some that I had recently heard a Sacrament talk on letting others provide service for you. I thought, I need to let them. I need to give others the chance to do service.

Then the gifts and money arrived. It was so much money that I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I couldn’t accept it. Surely there were other families more needing, more deserving than ours. Surely there were other people in more desperate and dire circumstances. How could I take it? I can’t tell how the guilt and gratitude battled within me. I felt such profound appreciation and overwhelming humility at this outpouring of love from so many different places, but I felt that I didn’t deserve it.

Literally the very next day, my fridge blew up. (Some capacitor got overloaded or something.) It stopped cooling/freezing things. Which is never good.

We called the repairman in the phone book who could come right away and had coupons that I could use. We had to replace the part and with the coupon, the bill ended up being almost precisely the amount that I had been sent. I cried again when I realized this (which fairly alarmed the repairman). How could such a coincidence occur? The Lord knew this was coming and He provided the means for the situation to be quickly resolved.

The Lord could only make certain of taking care of us in this instance through His reliance on those who follow him. Those people who had the love of Christ in their hearts, and the spirit of Santa in their actions.

So to all of you who have taken such good care of us from so many miles away, I say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (I’m crying again.) I wish there were words that would express how grateful I feel to you. There should be words – I’m supposed to be a writer. But there are none other than these - thank you and I love you all.

This has also led to a profound change in my life. Among my friends and family, I’m typically the one who looks for deals and uses coupons while shopping. I’m definitely not a spendthrift, but sometimes when it comes to my groceries it seems like money is escaping from me somehow. I keep trying to get a better handle on it, and with this current situation it made me realize that I need to be a better steward of our finances.

With that resolution in mind, I went to a local blogger affiliated with our Cincinnati newspaper (she’s based out of Kentucky) who lists deals but has never done me much good because I don’t, you know, live in Kentucky. But this time, she provided a link to a site called Money Saving Mom. I started scrolling through her posts and reading her background, FAQ and how-to tutorials. I felt incredibly stupid. How could all this have been going on without me knowing about it?

I mean, I know about websites like the Grocery Game. I did the initial free trial, but never really took advantage of it. Here I had found links to sites that were like the Grocery Game, but without the monthly cost. Money-Saving Mom has a $40 a week grocery bill for a family of four. In the past I’ve never really believed claims like that or thought it was by buying stuff my family would never eat (sensory/oral issues leave us with a lot of difficulty in feeding our kids). She’s not like that. She posts pictures of what she buys and how much she spent. It was food that my family would love!

I was EXCITED. I had a hard time sleeping that night. I followed links to other blogs and found sites like Southern Savers and Cincinnati Cents that had listings on stores that I typically shop at. When I read the tricks to CVS and Walgreens (stores that I had NEVER shopped at because of their high costs), I decided to put it to the test. I would try it.

It takes a lot of time – but I thought this would be worth it. I’m making some mistakes and learning the ropes, but at every store I’ve gone to I have saved 55% to 60%. Can you imagine cutting your grocery bill in half? These are foods my family normally eats. I got free toilet paper. Pillsbury crescent rolls for 25 cents a can. Free shampoo, free deodorant, cereal for less than $1.00 a box, and so many items where the stores were paying me to take it off their hands (i.e., Progresso soup marked down to 99 cents a can, and I had coupons for $1.10 off each one). It was amazing. And I hope to get even better and faster at it to save more money and time.

So thank you again my Santas, for the much-needed and so appreciated help, and for helping me to make such a drastic and profound change in my life.

God bless you all, and Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

12 Days of Christmas Contest

by Kerry Blair

Knowing how much you guys like contests, I thought I'd tell you about one Joyce DiPastena has just started. It's a Twelve Days of Christmas thing -- Medieval style. (Meaning that it runs from Christmas day to the Eve of Epiphany, not that you might win leaping lords or milk maids or anything like that.)

Frankly, my real motivation here is deep-seated insecurity. My gift -- a copy of Counting Blessings -- is the first one, offered on Christmas Day. I ask you, how many people are going to find time to enter a contest between now and Christmas? Yeah, that's what I think, too. I don't mind keeping the book (the stack is helping to hold up a wobbly bookcase, after all) but Joyce is a nice lady, so I hate to think how bad she's going to feel when she has to tell me that not one single person on the face of the entire earth wanted my book for Christmas. To help her out, I'll toss in something better for you Frog Followers. If you enter Joyce's contest because you saw it here -- and win -- I'll give you the book along with a miniature nativity. (Yes, it's one more thing to pack up after Christmas, but it was handpainted in Mexico and is really cool.)

The contest involves answering a question from each of twelve websites. Since I'm shamelessly begging here, I'll tell you that the answer to my question is What the Moon Saw. (One of two free e-books given away on my site.) If you want any of the other great stuff, you'll have to visit everybody else's site and figure out their clues for yourself! (Good luck with that; there are some terrific prizes!)

For all the rules and how to enter, check this out.

And again Merry Christmas!

Peace on Earth

by Kerry Blair

One of my sons recently asked what I wanted for Christmas. I replied that peace on earth would be nice.

“Bad idea, Mom,” he responded. “That would put two of your kids and a nephew out of work.”

He had a point. I have two sons in the armed forces and a nephew who works for a defense contractor. But that wasn’t really the kind of peace I was asking for in the first place – not that I would turn it down, of course.

How many times have we heard the prophecies about peace being taken from the earth in the last days? Being a little denser than your average Blair, it was only fairly recently that I realized the prophets weren’t predicting world war as much as they were lamenting the widespread turbulence that mortality brings us on a daily basis. Certainly the incredible awareness we have in these days of technology and instant information is part of the bombardment. My husband is a news junkie, but I have at last trained him to turn off the TV, change the channel, or at least mute the volume when I pass through the room. (Two minutes of CNN Headline News can be ample fodder for despair.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have to turn on the nightly news to be made aware of trial and tribulation; I can open my e-mail, answer my phone, or just look around my quiet neighborhood. If there’s anyone on earth who’s passed their life (or even a significant portion thereof) in serenity and happiness, I haven’t met them. Often we wonder if we all “are” that we might have joy (and peace) where the heck is it?

Nobody has ever asked my opinion, but I think we each brought all the peace and joy we would ever need with us. The problem is that within ourselves is often the last place we look for it.

A few decades after Ralphie got his Red Ryder, I sang in a children’s choir at the United Methodist Church. I remember only one hymn from that year, and only a portion of it. It began: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God as our Father, brothers all are we, Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now. With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow, to take each moment and live each moment in peace, eternally . . . Words and music by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller, circa 1955. (Guess what! I just looked it up online and I do know all the words. Imagine that. I’ve only sung it to myself once or twice a day for the past thirty years.)

All this is on my mind this morning because last night I opened a new book by a poet with whom I was not familiar. (I use the term “new” loosely here. This book was published in 1880 with an introduction by Charles Dickens.) I’d recently had chemo and was really too sick to read – and yet I read anyway. For hours. Adelaide Proctor is now one of the women I most want to meet in the after-here. Because of the season, I was particularly touched by A Desire. Here is a portion:

O, to have dwelt in Bethlehem
When the star of the Lord shone bright!
To have sheltered the holy wanderers
On that blessed Christmas night;
To have kissed the tender wayworn feet
Of the Mother undefiled,
And, with reverent wonder and deep delight,
To have tended the Holy Child!

Hush! Such a glory was not for thee;
But that care may still be thine;
For are there not little ones still to aid
For the sake of the Child divine?
Are there no wandering Pilgrims now,
To thy heart and thy home to take?
And are there no mothers whose weary hearts
You can comfort for Mary’s sake?

O to have seen what we now adore,
And, though veiled to faithless sight,
To have known, in the form that Jesus wore,
The Lord of Life and Light!

Hush! For He dwells among us still, And a grace can yet be thine,
Which the scoffer and doubter can never know:
The Presence of the Divine.
Jesus is with His children yet,
For His word can never deceive;
Go where His lowly Altars rise
And worship and believe.
Proctor, Adelaide; A Chaplet of Verses, published to benefit the Night Refuge for the Homeless Poor, May 1862.

Where is the peace on earth the angels promised all those many years ago in the meridian of time? In our days Christ said: Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. Doctrine & Covenants 19:23

In war and truce, poverty and wealth, health and sickness, tribulation and triumph – and all else that is part of this human condition, every person who’s ever come to this planet has been “wired” for peace and joy. Peace on earth, goodwill to men resides deep within every human heart, even if or when it seems that it is nowhere else to be found.

Peace is still my wish for this Christmas season. May peace and joy and love overflow for you and yours at the the most marvelous time of year! The ribbons and bows and busyness will soon be forgotten, and at last held at naught, but the peace and joy we find in our Savior and our families has always been there and will last forever and ever and ever.

Merry Christmas, all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fun and Inexpensive Christmas Gifts for Friends and Neighbors

by Julie Coulter Bellon

There is only one more week until Christmas. Can you believe it? We have been busy at our house finishing up Christmas cards and wrapping friend gifts, teacher gifts, and neighbor gifts. Of course it’s nothing fancy, just a remembrance really, but it is so fun to sit on the couch with my kids while we wrap their gifts for their friends and teachers. With so many people in our life that we love and admire and want to get gifts for, we’ve had to put our thinking caps on in order to be able to have something inexpensive, yet thoughtful for everyone. I love the cleverness of some of the gifts we’ve seen, received, thought up ourselves, or just found on the internet, and I wanted to share my favorites with you today.

A plate of cookies: Merry Christmas from your “crummy” neighbors

A juice pitcher filled with candy canes: We “pitcher” you raising a little “cane” this holiday season. Merry Christmas!

A box of light bulbs: Wishing you a bright and radiant Christmas

Box of Whoppers: Hope you have a whopper of a Christmas!

A pack of bubble gum: May your holidays “bubble” over with fun!

Chocolate Mousse Mix: Merry Christmousse!

A Chocolate Orange: “Orange” you glad it’s Christmas?

Cookie Dough: Here’s a little extra “dough” for Christmas

Hershey’s kisses in a wire whisk: We “whisk” you a Merry Christmas.

An eggbeater: We wish you an eggstra special holiday

Jolly Ranchers: Hope you have a jolly Christmas season!

Measuring cups or tape measure: Wishing you joy beyond measure!

Paper Towels: Blot out your troubles and absorb the Christmas spirit!

A Jar of Jam: Hope your holidays are “jam” packed with cheer!

Pencil and Notepad: Merry Christmas from our pad to yours!

Snickers chocolate bar: Don’t snicker, just be glad you got something

A Candle: May your days be happy, your heart be light, your Christmas merry and the New Year bright!

Sprite: May your Christmas be merry and sprite!

Feather Duster: You’re “dust” the finest neighbors we know!

100 Grand Chocolate bars: You’re worth a “hundred grand!” Merry Christmas!

Cheese ball and crackers: We don't mean to sound "cheesy", but we hope you have a "ball" this Holiday Season!

Strainer: We couldn’t “restrain” ourselves from wishing you a Merry Christmas!

Chex Party Mix: Remember Santa “Chex” his list twice to see who's been naughty or nice . . . so be good for goodness sake! Merry Christmas!

Sparkling White Toothpaste: You make my life “sparkle.” Merry Christmas!

Hot Cocoa: Warm wishes this holiday season.

Cheese grater: Hope you have a “grate” holiday!

I know, I know, some of them are cheesy, but what can I say? I love that. So tell me, what is your favorite gift to give your neighbors and friends?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Registration is Open!

As loyal frog bloggers, we wanted to let you know the 2009 LDStorymakers Writers Conference is now ready to take registrations. This year the conference will be held
Friday and Saturday April 24th and 25th, at the Provo Marriott.

As always we will have great presenters, including:
· Keynote Speaker Dean Lorey, who has written extensively for film, television, and recently a middle grade fantasy series.

· National agent Amy Jamison of A + B Works Literary Agency.
· Editor Stacy Whitman previously with Mirrorstone, the children's and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast, and now a consulting editor for Tor's children's and YA lines.

· Representatives from LDS publishers, including Deseret Book, Covenant.

· Plus many, many national and LDS authors.

The conference begins at 11:00 Friday and a full day Saturday, followed by the Whitney Awards dinner Saturday night. Boot camp, agent, and editor one-one-ones, and many workshops will be offered. The conference will be divided into three tracks: fiction, non-fiction, and the business of writing. We will cover topics on everything from picture books to ghost writing (and writing ghosts.)

Admission may be purchased for one or both days. Early-bird discounts will be available through January 31st. This year we have much more space, so we will not be limiting the number of attendees. But boot camp and agent and editor meetings will still be limited, and typically fill quickly. In addition, this year's conference coincides with BYU's graduation, and as a result, rooms for out of state attendees will be gone well before the conference. If you plan on attending, we highly recommend that you reserve your room early.

The price for this year’s conference is $150 for the full two days, with a $15 discount for those who register by the end of January. This is a slight increase over last year, but the accommodations are much roomier, and the food will all be handled by the hotel, including lunches Friday and Saturday, and a plated dinner Friday night. You can also register for the second annual Whitney Awards banquet at the same time.

Registration will open today at 12:00 noon, MST. Non-Storymakers can register by going to We will add the link to the registration page at noon. Storymakers can register by going to the members section and logging in.

Again, we are excited to present a show that will be even better than ever this year. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me by e-mailing

Best wishes from,

Jeff Savage and all of your friends at LDStorymakers

Making Trouble

by Stephanie Black

I just finished reading Shadow of the Crown, a romantic suspense novel by Jeri Gilchrist. The protagonist, Teira Palmer, goes to her ancestral homeland of Denmark to work for a telecommunications company. While there, she spends time with her beloved grandmother, and seeks the truth about the accusations of treason that were leveled at her grandfather during World War II--stirring the ire of some very dangerous people.

One thing I particularly liked was how Jeri creates difficulties for Teira from a number of angles. We have:

*The mysterious, angry, bitter, creepy opponent who is determined to keep Teira from exposing the evil secrets he’s been keeping for decades, even if that means killing her.

*The guy at work who wants a relationship with Teira, and who is aggressive and manipulative and not above causing trouble when she spurns him.

*The gorgeous woman who is chasing the guy Teira really likes.

*The creepy security guard—what’s up with him? Is he working for the mysterious bad guy, or is he just a weirdo?

*The angry man who doesn’t want Teira talking to his father about his old friend--her supposedly traitorous grandfather.

And there’s the love interest:

*Teira’s handsome boss, Christian. Is he the ladies’ man he appears to be? Does Teira have a future with him?

Conflict is the lifeblood of fiction, and to create a rich story, you need conflict from multiple angles. When you’re plotting out your novel, seek for different angles, different layers, different ways to put pressure on your protagonist. Who, besides the main antagonist, might make trouble for the heroine?

Take the example of Sophie, the woman pursuing the guy Teira likes. She’s beautiful. She’s ruthless. She’s dismissive of Teira. She’s the daughter of the big boss. And from the possessive way she acts around Christian—even putting word out that they’re engaged—Teira isn’t sure what’s going on between Sophie and Christian. Yes, Jeri Gilchrist could still have told the story of Teira Palmer going to Denmark, falling in love with Christian, and finding out the truth about her grandfather without the presence of Sophie, but by including her, Jeri adds another layer to the story, creating delicious tension and difficulty. Readers love conflict! And in addition to raising the reader's interest level, multiple sources of tension make your characters appear more rounded and real.

Don’t be nice to your characters. Make trouble for them.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It Quiet . . . Too Quiet

I know I have been remiss in not blogging for the past two weeks. The good news is that the other bloggers have been amazing. The other good news is that I have been working with Scott Wright, husband of the lovely and charming Julie Wright, to get the registration page up for the 2009 LDStorymakers Writers Conference. And the final good news is that the registration will begin tomorrow! I will send an e-mail out to everyone who attended last year's conference, as well as posting the link here when it goes up. We have a limited number of spots for the agent and editor one-on-ones, so you will need to register quickly if you want a spot. Look for the link sometime between noon and two. You can also watch the Storymakers web site

Can't wait to see you there!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Running Out of Time - Whitney Awards

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've been making homemade cookies tonight for my Sunday School class auction tomorrow (the kids earned points for behaving in class, reading scriptures, writing in their journals, etc.) and with the recent shift in our circumstances, I figured the best I could do was to make some things out of stuff I had around the house (and put up some of my extra books that I have). The kids all stepped up and volunteered to bring things in as well to auction off to each other. I look forward to this all year - everyone really enjoys it.

So, seeing as how I'm trying to get everything done at the last minute, it inspired me to remind everyone that the "last minute" for the Whitney Awards is rapidly approaching.

Now, if you're a highly organized person you've already promptly nominated every LDS book that you loved this year right after you read it.

But for those of you who live to procrastinate like me, all the nominations have to be in by December 31. That means you have only a few weeks left to nominate your favorite books for consideration. Like, if you haven't nominated "Servant to a King" yet, now would be a very good time to do that.

The site explains who is eligible and the various rules and how this all works. Basically, the book has to have been released in 2008 and the author has to be LDS. "LDS Publisher" has a list on her blog site of books that have been released this year by LDS authors (it is in the sidebar - you have to scroll down a little and look on the right for the list). I don't know if the list is completely comprehensive, so if anyone knows of a more complete listing, please be sure to link it in the comments here.

LDS authors don't always get a lot of respect or accolades, so I think the Whitney Awards are a fabulous way to support the books that you loved (like the way you loved "Servant to a King," right?). Please go out ASAP and nominate some books today.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Alas, Santa, There IS a Virginia!

by Kerry Blair

I have forty-eight Santas on my mantle. I would have sworn on a copy of The Night Before Christmas that I put up an even fifty, but the independent counting firm of Hil & Bandi (pictured above) insists there are forty-eight. (Great guess, Julie Bellon. You win!) I appreciate very much all the comments I received – here and through that little guy in the computer who chirps up whenever I’ve got mail.

Boy, did I get mail. I had no idea there exists an anti-Santa contingency before I received a six-page treatise on how SANTA is an anagram for Satan. (Admittedly, a woman at my book club last week probably felt similarly, but she sent me a very nice card and CD of sacred music rather than notification that I was going-to-heck-in-a-handbasket.) Either way, I was stunned. I’d never heard the Santa-as-antichrist thing in my entire life – and I’ve lived a looooong time.

My correspondent challenged me to count the number of Baby Jesus representations I put up this year, and then have the courage to publicly post that number as well. Admittedly, I have about half as many babies as I do old guys, but you’ve got to admit that most Baby Jesus figures come with huge entourages. (I have seventeen sheep and one two-foot tall camel for goodness sakes!) Suffice it to say that the nativities in my home occupy at least twice the area of the Santas, possibly three times.

But that isn’t the point.

Because cancer causes one to face the truth of mortality on an almost daily basis, I’ll admit the Santa thing worried me me a little. After all, I raised my children to believe in Santa Claus. (Boy, did I raise them to believe! On the Christmas Eve just after my youngest son returned home from Iraq, he wondered aloud what Santa Claus would bring a good little Marine. I replied that since the youngest child in our family was twenty, Santa just might miss us that year. My grown kids were so stunned and disappointed that I cleaned out a local Circle K for stocking stuffers, then got up at 3 AM and rummaged under the tree, searching for gifts suitable to unwrap and leave upon the hearth.)

Like my children, I’ve believed in Santa my whole life. I’ve believed in my Savior even longer. To me, the two are not mutually exclusive. As my family will attest, my one disappointment in joining the LDS Church was in learning there are no Christmas Eve services. I still miss the candlelight, hymns, and scripture—even when I have it all in my own living room. I’ve mostly been a good little Mormon girl, but some years the urge to worship with others is so overwhelming I have been compelled to “sneak” in with the Methodists come nine or ten o’clock. I suppose this is one more thing for which I’ll have to account at the judgment bar – likely when I face the Santa charges.

Although I’m not certain time is given to present a case for the defense, I’ve prepared one just in case. The year I joined the Church was the year Jeffrey R. Holland’s classic “Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come From a Store” was first published. It was a small little thing at the very back of the Ensign, a reprint of a talk he’d given to CES personnel. It touched me deeply as one of the truest things I’d read outside of scripture. You’re probably familiar with it. He re-tells Suess’s classic Grinch story, then testifies of the sacredness of that most holy of all nights. He writes: Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. (Ensign, Dec. 1977) While this is certainly not his thesis statement, I took him at his word. All have been welcome in my home, and yet Christ has remained the center.

Nevertheless, prompted by this year’s dire call to repentence, I did a little more research into the Santa thing. If I could be convinced I’d been deceived by a clever adversarial ploy, I was more than willing to replace all those fat guys on the mantle with my rather extensive collection of camels and wise men. (I figured it wouldn’t be much different; both brought gifts.) Unfortunately, the archives on the Church’s website only go back as far as the mid-1970s, so I can’t tell you Brigham Young’s position on the jolly saint – or even if he had one. I can tell you that I read every article with “Santa Claus” in it and discovered that while some members (like my friend) have publicly expressed horror at the superstition, the Brethren have not.

President Monson shared this story: …I had the privilege of taking my family downtown as Santa Claus made his appearance. It was interesting. Crowds gathered. One little girl had been standing on the side of the curb for what seemed to her like many minutes, waiting for this cherished event. Just as Santa Claus was to make his entry, great throngs of people crowded in front of her, blocking her view, and she began to cry.

A six-foot-three man who stood by her asked, “What’s the matter, dear?”

She said, “I have been waiting to see Santa, and now I can’t see him.”

He picked her up and placed her on his shoulders, providing her a commanding view. As Santa Claus came by, she waved her little hand toward him. He smiled and waved back to her and to everyone else in the crowd.

The little girl grabbed the hair of that big fellow and exclaimed, “He saw me! He saw me and smiled at me! I’m so glad it’s Christmas!” That little girl had the Christmas spirit. (The Spirit of Christmas, New Era, Dec. 1974)

But my favorite Santa story – the one I will tell my family on Christmas Eve this year – is from Rex D. Pinegar. He tells of a Christmas in the midst of the Great Depression. His father had died and his mother was doing the best she could to support the family. There was little money for food; he and his brother knew there could be no money for gifts. And yet, on Christmas morning, they awoke and there, in shiny-red glory, was a brand new bicycle. The tag upon it read: TO THE TWINS FROM SANTA CLAUS.

Elder Pinegar wrote: It wasn’t until several years later that we learned the beautiful, heartwarming truth. The sacrifice and concern of a loving mother, brother, and sister had made possible that unforgettable Christmas. Our brother had worked extra hours at a creamery after school. Our sister had done housework for a neighbor. Our mother had saved money from her early morning work at the cannery during the harvest months. They had worked extra hours and had sacrificed their time, their earnings, and their own Christmas gifts to provide a special Christmas for the young twins. The happiness of that Christmas was surpassed only by the discovery of their secret and their love and sacrifice for us. Here was the true spirit of Christmas—an older brother and sister lending unselfish support to parents, desiring to give anonymously that which they’d never had themselves, seeking no credit or praise for their act, expecting no reciprocation. This example of the love of children for parents and brothers I shall always cherish and value as a priceless gift. (The Truth About Christmas, Liahona, Dec. 1991)

To me, that is Santa Claus: anonymous, selfless service without any expectation of reward or reciprocation. (Except for cookies, I suppose. Santa does love cookies.)

Maybe I shouldn't have brought it up. After all, it seems to me that the issue was pretty much settled more than a century ago. In 1897, veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote: Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS… (

So, this very morning the forty-eight Santas on my mantel have been joined by two more: one for every year I’ve lived – and loved Santa Claus. I may still be deluded, but I awoke before dawn, envisioning that judgment bar I mentioned earlier. I was standing there next to a guy who smugly read aloud his life’s work: “Eighty Proofs of the Evils of Santa Claus.”

St. Peter listened ever so carefully and then muttered, “You’re kidding me, right?”

One can always hope.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Book Giving

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Christmas is two weeks away from today. Can you believe it? I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping, but I still have a few more things to do, including buying some books for my children and friends. (Most of them already have my new book, All's Fair, so I'm branching out now. ) As a reader and an author, I love to buy books, especially books that I’ve read and enjoyed myself. With the economy such as it is, books can be practical and inexpensive, yet something that can be enjoyed over and over. So today I thought I would tell you some of the books I’ve read and will be buying for gifts this year, or ones that I hope to see under the tree, in case you needed some ideas for people on your Christmas list.

Abinadi by H.B. Moore—One of the most thought provoking books I’ve read this year. What if Abinadi was really a young man with a wife and family and everything to lose?

The Host by Stephenie Meyer—I’m not usually a fan of this sort of book, but the story was complex and had me hooked until the end. It's about the human race being taken over and the aliens inhabiting their bodies. But what if there was a resistance?

Royal Target by Traci Hunter Abramson—Not her usual sort of book, this one was more weighted to the romance side, but it still had a great deal of suspense. It's about CIA agent Janessa Rogers who is guarding the Meridian Royal Family (that includes two eligible bachelors) from assassination attempts. Fun, flirty, and filled with twists and turns to the plot. A way to travel to far off lands and not leave your living room!

Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black—Loved the thriller aspect to this novel. Creepy, twisty, and fun to read. All Megan has to do is pretend to be her twin Kristen and take care of a dying woman. But the woman's house becomes one of illusion where anyone can lose their true self. Or their life. Of course there was no kissing in this one, but Stephanie promised me that there would be a kiss or two in her next book.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull—my ten year old son and I just started this series this past summer and we have loved it! Mystical creatures in a hidden refuge that is under attack by an evil organization. Even I couldn’t wait to find out what happened and we are just started the third book in this series.

Candy Shop Wars by Brandon Mull—this was the first book I’d read of Mr. Mull’s and we read it for our Bellon Family Summer Book Club. Candy with magical side effects, adults looking for a magical hidden treasure using kids, and no way to know for sure whom is really trustworthy. Again, something my fifth grader absolutely loved.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan—My twelve year old son does not share my love of reading, but this series captivated him and he can’t seem to stop reading it. It's about a twelve year old boy who discovers that he is descended from a Greek God and he starts on a journey with a satyr and a daughter of Athena to catch a thief who has stolen Zeus' master bolt.

Fields of Home by Rachel Ann Nunes—this is by far one of Rachel’s best books. It is emotionally gripping as one woman deals with present consequences of past choices.

Far World Water Keep by J. Scott Savage—I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s gotten some great reviews from kids and adults alike and I think my boys will like it.

And just in case any of Santa’s elves are reading this blog or perhaps, Santa himself, here is a list of books that I would love to see with my name on it under the tree:

The Ruby by Jennie Hansen—I have loved her Bracelet series and can’t wait to read the last installment of it. Charlie Mae has been told all her life that Mormons are wicked, yet her father's cruelty pushes her toward finding out the truth. Another action packed story in the series.

Above and Beyond by Betsy Brannon Green—I think this is Betsy’s best series yet, the first book being Hazardous Duty. I can’t wait to read this one because the first had a cliffhanger ending. Savannah is trying to help a young lady escape from her father, but her father happens to be the criminal mastermind who has hurt Savannah and her family in the past. It's a complicated web for Savannah as she enlists the services of her former flame, Major Christopher Dane.

Isabelle Webb Legend of the Jewel by N.C. Allen—I read Nancy’s earlier books and this one looks as intriguing as those did. It is about Pinkerton spy Isabelle Webb who failed in her attempt to prevent the asssassination of Abraham Lincoln. She goes to India for some needed time off and comes across another deadly plot.

Shadow of the Crown by Jeri Gilchrist—I have heard that this one is especially good, set in Denmark, and I can’t wait to read it. Teira is trying to find out more about her grandfather who was part of the resistance movement during the occupation of Denmark in World War II, but somehow his involvement seems to be coming back on his family. The closer Teira gets in uncovering her grandfather's past, the more dangerous her life seems to become.

Her Good Name by Josi Kilpack—I heard this one is something you can’t put down because identity theft is such a real problem in our society today and Ms. Kilpack puts together a riveting story with it. Chrissy is having an identity crisis. As a single woman and convert to the Church, she has always managed to find her place in life-- at least until someone else begins using her credit cards, her bank account, and, most important, her name. Now the real Chrissy must prove her innocence against a growing pile of collection notices and unpaid bills. But with no job, no money, a warrant for her arrest, and a closet full of high- heeled shoes, a girl can only get so far.

Servant to a King by Sariah S. Wilson—I have only read a small sample of Sariah’s work, but I definitely want to read more! This story is told from the perspective of the Lamanite princess who was offered to Ammon to be his bride and subsequently refused. What happens when she believes Ammon is a spy and then she is offered to another man for his wife?

The Santa Letters by Stacy Gooch Andersen—I’ve heard nothing but good about this book and would like to read it for myself. It seems particularly pertinent given the season. William Jensen is killed by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve and it leaves his family in turmoil for Christmas. Only six year old McKenna still believes in the magic of Christmas and it seems to come to life when letters from Santa begin to arrive.

Freshman for President by Ally Condie—Looks like a fun and fresh perspective on politics after a particularly turbulent year in the real world. Fifteen- year- old Milo J. Wright and his best friend, Eden, are crazy to even consider participating in the election for President of the United States of America, aren't they? Never mind that Milo is twenty years too young. Never mind the fact that he'll have to balance the election with school, his lawn- mowing job, soccer practice, and trying to understand girls. There are times in life when you just have to go for something, no matter how impossible.

Of course for a book addict like me, I've had to shorten my list considerably. What have you read this year that you would recommend?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


by Stephanie Black

Thank you, Rob, for an awesome birthday blog that I’m going to print and save to show my great-grandchildren, who apparently should be arriving any day now. And thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes.

So yes, it’s true, I’m now older than I was, though thankfully, I didn’t receive one of those insurance company birthday cards this year. You know the ones—“Happy Birthday! You’re one year older now, which means you’re one year closer to death, so this would be a good time to think about life insurance, because, honey, you are SO mortal and that clock is ticking. TICK! TOCK!” And there’s a picture of the Grim Reaper on the front. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but I’m pretty sure that’s what those cards mean.

Ah, life has indeed changed from the days when I was a skinny young bride. I look at my younger siblings who are in the young-parent phase of life, with their preschoolers and toddlers and babies or babies on the way, and I get wistful and nostalgic and yearn for the days when my children were all tiny. Not! Ha ha! Better them than me! Enjoy those diapers!

Ahem. Sorry. I did enjoy my kids when they were little, and I didn’t really mind diapers—modern disposables are a marvelous invention. It’s amazing to watch children grow, to go from larval newborn to active little chattering toddler in the course of a single year, to mature and learn, to start school, to go through the incredible process of growing up. But I have no yearning whatsoever to rewind time, and I really enjoy having older kids (and not just because I have built-in babysitters and can go to the store without an entourage of tiny Huns, bless them). The wonderful thing about life is that there are blessings at every stage, and I’m very much enjoying the blessings of being—how old am I again? Oh yeah—fifty-eight, give or take a couple of decades.

We’re on the verge of transitioning into a new phase of life. My oldest daughter will start college next year, and my youngest daughter will start kindergarten. We no longer have kids in diapers, but we do have kids who can help me use an iPod and walk me through Facebook. I love having teenagers—they’re a lot of fun. Sure, we have moments of angst and grumpiness and irrationality, but that’s not surprising, considering that recent research has shown that adolescent brainwaves are remarkably similar to those of a squirrel listening to the BeeGees (I’m kidding. I only put that in so my daughters will see it when they read my blog).

And for the record, West High's violent reputation was undeserved in MY day. We had dignity in my day. We had big hair, Izods, and dignity.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Happy Birthday, Stephanie Black!

by Robison Wells

Today is the birthday of my good friend Stephanie Black! Hooray!

Many of you might not be aware that Stephanie and I attended the same high school: Salt Lake City's West High. We are the bitter, violent rival of East High, which was the filming location of "High School Musical". So, imagine that show, and picture Zac Efron merrily dancing down the hall, and then picture a big fight breaking out afterwhich a cop smashes Efron on the head with a walkie-talkie and blood sprays everywhere. Thus describes my most vivid memory of East High School.

I wanted to post some embarrassing pictures of Stephanie. Since we went to the same high school, you'd think that I'd have old yearbook pictures of her, right? WRONG. A little-known fact about Stephanie Black: she's fifty-eight years old.

In unrelated news, President Thomas S. Monson also attended West High School, which therefore means that West is the holiest of all high schools, and the fact that we lose every single football game is merely because we're humble and charitable. "No," we say. "We don't need to catch the ball. You take it. I'll meet you down at the end zone to get you a drink."

Another little-known fact about Stephanie Black: she's not actually related to Sirius Black. Other people she's not related to: Conrad Black (aka Baron Black of Crossharbour), Bud Black (1950s pitcher for the Detroit Tigers), and Jacob Black (werewolf dreamboat who's in love with a baby). She is, however, related to Halfdan The Black, the father of the first king of Norway.

In more serious news, let me tell you how Stephanie Black and I met (and this is the point in the blog where I have stopped making things up): I was at a book signing in scenic West Jordan, Utah, and not a single customer came into the store for about two hours. There were two employees, and they were both in the backroom, doing something. (Kissing? Probably not.) Anyway, I had nothing to do, so I sat there and read Stephanie's new book, The Believer, which had just been released. And, when I left the bookstore, I bought it. This is the only time that I can recall where I bought a book at one of my booksignings. (I'm a cheapskate.)

Anyway, the reason that I bought it was because it was so dang good. I later wrote a review of it on my website (something else I don't normally do), and said many a glowing thing about it. And then I got an email from Stephanie's daughter which said, referring to Stephanie "She is a lot more of a nutcase than she lets on." And the rest is history.

But, here's my point: Stephanie asked me to do a backliner blurb for Fool Me Twice, her mystery that came out earlier this year. I did so, and sent the blurb into the publisher, and they didn't end up using it. This is surprising, since my blurb was about as flattering a thing as you can imagine. Maybe it's just that no one respects my opinion? No, that can't be it! Anyway, here's the blurb:

"Fool Me Twice is a perfect follow-up to The Believer. The suspense is agonizing and gripping, the mystery intricate and devious, and the conclusion deliciously satisfying. Stephanie Black is unbelievable--one of the most vibrant and intelligent writers in the market."

So, the question is this: how much of that blurb is true and how much of that blurb is just me trying to help my friend sell books? The answer (and this is the honest answer): I actually toned down that blurb because I didn't want to make superlative statements. But, now I'm going to anyway: I am of the opinion, and I've told her this privately, that Stephanie Black is one of the very best--perhaps THE best--writers in the LDS market.

Happy birthday, Stephanie Black! Retirement is just around the corner!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Six LDS Writers' Stephenie Meyer Connection

by Sariah S. Wilson

(Sorry for the late post - in the vein of when it rains it pours, the baby developed a fever of 102 and has wanted nothing for the last two days but to be held.)

Recently, oh, around the release date of Twilight, our daily blog reader numbers jumped dramatically. Like doubled in size.

That tends to happen when we get linked on a bigger site or an article mentions a blog one of us has done.

Not this time.

I wondered what was getting us so many hits, and as I looked into the history I realized that all these new visitors were coming for one specific reason.

Let me show you.

Head out to Google.

In the box type Stephenie Meyer. Hit return.

At the top of the screen you'll see the words: Web Images Maps News Shopping Gmail (etc.).

Click on "Images." (Or you can just go directly to this link, but that takes all the dramatic fun out of it.)

And what do you see, right there in the very first row, third picture over?

That would be the picture I took of The Frog meeting Stephenie Meyer for the first time.

I find it hilarious that out of 417,000 Stephenie Meyer image hits, our little Frog picture is in the top three.

This is the infamous picture:

And you can click here to go to the blog post where I talked about meeting her.

I hear The Frog is still wondering why people are so excited about his picture.

Friday, December 05, 2008

So This Is Friday?

by Kerry Blair

When last we left the Friday edition of the Frog Blog, it was the day after Thanksgiving and Kerry was stressed, exhausted, and just a little crabby. A week has passed and, frankly, not much has changed.

Well . . . a few things have changed. Instead of pumpkins and pilgrims on the mantle I now have:

This represents a fraction of my rather impressive Santa collection. Since I totally spaced blogging this week, we'll have another contest. Guess how many representations of Santa are on my mantle or the wall above it. (If more than one correct answer is submitted, I'll draw for the winner.) Winner gets a copy of Covenant's new Christmas compilation: By the Light of a Star. I have a story in there along with Gale Sears, Joni Hilton, and several others. It's a fun and inspirational little book, but this is not an ad. (Unless Robby or Rachel from Covenant are reading this, then it is -- I swear!)

The winner of last week's contest, the This Just In gift set, is Commenter #14, Heather! Please contact me at with your mailing info.

As much as I hate to admit it, this is honestly the best I can do right now. Join us again next week for the continuing adventures of The Old and the Nearly-Comotose.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sometimes Self-Surgery Doesn't Work

by Julie Coulter Bellon

This blog is not for the faint-hearted. You’ve been warned.

First, let me start at the beginning. About ten years ago, I had some trauma to my foot (it was stomped on) and my big toenail turned black and fell out. Well, it grew back, but then I started having problems with it being ingrown on one side. So I went to a podiatrist and had it cut out. He also did something so that the nail wouldn’t grow back. Unfortunately, the nail did grow back, but I didn’t think it was a problem. I just got some little scissors and cut down the side of the nail myself. A little self-surgery. Now this whole procedure has been working for me with no problems until last week. The other side of the same toe had become ingrown, so I thought to myself, “I’ll just cut down that side of the nail, too.” Which I did. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get all the way down to the nail bed no matter how much I tried and it was bleeding a little and hurting like crazy. By the time I came home from church the entire toe was swollen and red. By that evening I couldn’t get to sleep it was hurting so bad and a red line of infection was moving down my toe toward my foot.

Are you cringing yet? Can you feel my pain?

First thing Monday morning, I went to the podiatrist. I gingerly took my foot out of my sandal because that’s all I could wear by this time, and he stared at my somewhat mutilated-looking toe. He clucked and shook his head as I related my self-surgery story to him. “That probably wasn’t a good thing,” he told me. Yeah, I figured that out, I didn’t say. So he proceeded to numb my toe by sticking needles in between my big toe and second toe and all around the bottom of my big toe while I clutched my chair and tried not to scream in pain and scare his other patients. He sat for a minute and made small talk and then touched my toe to ask if it was numb yet. It wasn’t. But I refrained from screaming again and even mustered up a smile as he left the room for a moment.

Here’s where the gory part comes in. Maybe you should stop reading. Or, if you are eating, stop doing that while you read. Just in case.

I looked over the surgical drape that was strategically placed so the patient can’t see what the doctor is doing and I sort of wished I hadn’t. My toe was dripping in blood, and I could see what looked like bruises forming all around the bottom. What was left of my nail looked stark and white against the red. Each drip of blood seemed to testify to my scissor-happy bad judgment. I quickly looked away.

After the surgery, the doctor showed me the part of the nail I hadn’t been able to get. It looked like a quarter inch spike that had been digging into my toe. No wonder it hurt so bad! The doctor bandaged up my toe and then said, “If anything like this happens again, you come and see me and I’ll fix you right up. No more self-surgery, okay?” I nodded and tried to make a graceful exit. Which is hard when you have floppy sandals on and a big bandaged toe sticking out of the top.

But what does this have to do with writing, you ask? Well, as most of you know, I submitted a manuscript last March and have been rewriting it ever since. Performing self-surgery if you will, and it wasn’t going very well. I finally decided to call in a professional---a trusted editor to give me her opinion. She looked over my self-surgery and made a lot of comments. In fact, the red ink was bleeding all over page after page and some of the bluntness was sort of like having a needle stuck between my toes. But then she pointed out the problem. She zeroed in on exactly what I’d been dancing around and trying to rewrite and showed me what needed to be cut out. It was so simple and obvious I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. And, as you all know, once you know what the problem is, you can fix it. So I’ve been reworking the story one more time and the good news is, once this problem is corrected, it solves a lot of other problems, which really tightens and streamlines the plot and main characters. I’m smiling just writing this because it feels so good to know what I’m doing again. I’m not adrift in the sea of rewriting anymore. I’m on a measured course with the end in sight, which, hopefully will result in an accepted manuscript.

So, the moral of the story is, sometimes self-surgery doesn’t work and you need to call in the professionals. You may go through a little pain, some blood, sweat, and tears, but in the end, it will be worth it. At least I hope it will be. My toe is starting to heal nicely, and my manuscript is well on its way. Cross your fingers for me that I’ve been given the prescription for its success.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thanks, Annette!

Since Rob posted today, I figure that counts as a Wednesday blog and will therefore make me look semi-unslackerish, even if all I do is post a link to a great blog by Annette Lyon. I admire the heck out of Annette. She's a dang good writer, and a grammar genius to boot. Annette talks about expanding your characters by being aware of your character's background, etc., when writing from his/her point of view. It's a great blog; go read it. I'm definitely going to keep it in mind while working on my work-in-progress--and I'm happy to announce that I have a work-in-progress! Hooray! I started my new book. I have about 2300 words so far, which means I've got about seventy or eighty or ninety thousand words to go (shorter in the first draft, longer in subsequent ones, most likely), but I'm out of the starting gate. It's another contemporary suspense novel, but in this one, the characters will all be nice to each other, no one will get killed, and there will be lots of kissing. And a unicorn. And lots of that sparkly stuff that gets sprinkled around centerpieces to make tables look pretty.

Or maybe not.

Attention Writers: I Need Your Help

by Rob Wells

In the last week, we've had Jeff announce that he was laid off, Sariah announced her husband was laid off, and Julie announced that she'd had to cut overtime and dental benefits for her personal chef and butler. However, I would just like to say this: I was poor and unemployed before it was cool to be poor and unemployed. I'm something of a trendsetter, and the rest of you are all unimaginative sheep.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with the rest of this blog.

I have been asked to speak on very short notice to a class of BYU freshman tomorrow. Specifically, I've been asked to speak on how to keep your writing interesting. Not how to make the story interesting, but how to make the writing interesting.

Now, I make no bones about the fact that I am not classically trained. I've only had one creative writing class in my life, and when I write I focus mostly on the stories and characters--not the words, sentence structure, etc. So, while I have a few thoughts about how to keep writing interesting, I'd love to hear from you guys.

What do you think? Comment early and often.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Power of Words and Images

A week has gone by since I first found myself as a full time writer, and what a week this has been. My daughter came home with a ring on her finger last Wednesday. Actually I was not surprised, because the young man she is marrying came by on Monday and asked my permission to propose to her, so he is okay in my book. They will be getting married in the Mount Timpanogos Temple in early March.

Wednesday of this week, my oldest son will be going into the MTC, so we had lots of family come into town. He is going to the Columbus Ohio Mission and we are all pretty jazzed about that.

Those are both pretty big deals, and so I gave myself a little slack on writing. Still, I ended up with nearly 12k words written.

I could actually blog about any of the above, but Sariah’s post about movies, TV, fiction, etc, got me thinking about the power of media. I don’t think any of us who read or write would disagree that the media is a powerful influencer. What we see, read, and hear affects everything from how we view the outside world to how we feel about ourselves. You can prove this just by listening to a soundtrack from a movie you love and seeing how quickly your emotions change. This was definitely the case with me and a movie I watched this last week. The movie was Cinderella Man. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is based on the experiences of the great boxer, Jim Braddock.

The movie starts with Jim trying to support a family with three small children during the depression. Jim has been having a tough time getting any work. The electricity is about to be shut off, the milk man won’t deliver any milk, the grocery store won’t grant any more credit, and Jim’s boxing career has gone downhill rapidly over the past few years. The good news is that Jim has a fight that night which will pay fifty dollars. The bad news is that his hand is hurt and he breaks it completely during the fight. Unable to swing his good hand, Jim is unable to swing his right fist, and the referee calls the bout—meaning Jim won’t get his $50.

At this point in the movie, things quickly go downhill to the point where Jim loses his kids, at least briefly. Now I know things will turn out well, because Jim became the heavyweight champion. But even knowing that, watching the movie was twisting my stomach. Mostly because I have gone through some serious financial ups and downs in my life. The acting of Russell Crow was way too real. I could absolutely feel his pain as a father and husband who has let his family down. Even though my big financial downs are in the past, they are very real in my memory. A couple of years back, my oldest kids went and saw, “Fun With Dick and Jane.” They raved about how good it was, so my wife and I went and saw it. We both hated the movie. I suspect you can guess why if you’ve seen it. It was because when they are searching the house for something to sell, or seeing even their sod being repossessed, our stomachs were churning. Their “funny” financial upheaval was way too real to us.

About six years ago, I wrote a book called “Into the Fire.” It was a modern day story of Job. It said that on the back of the book. Even so, people who bought the book often couldn’t make it through the first half because it was too depressing. I totally understand that. In the movie, “Fun With Dick and Jane,” we knew things would turn out well. But we still found it very hard to laugh along with everyone else. Like the people who read my book, I couldn’t get past the pain in the first half of the film.

So now we go back to Cinderella Man. After all his setbacks, and even having to beg from friends and strangers, Jim gets a chance to make a comeback. And what a comeback it is. By the end of the movie, when he wins the title, I was grinning from ear to ear. It didn’t matter that I knew it was coming; the story caught me up and carried me on its wings. It didn’t matter that parts of the movie were highly changed from what really happened, or that the fight took place well before my time. As I watched the Cinderella Man make his comeback, as I watched fans across the country cheer for him, I felt like it was me making that comeback. I felt like regardless of what kinds of setbacks I might face, I would come out triumphant in the end.

That is the power we wield as authors. That is the power we submit to as readers and viewers. This is not a soap box where I will stand up and say, beware of what you read or write. That is a highly personal choice that no one else should make for you. To me, Harry Potter might be a story of love and inspiration. To you it might be a handbook on witchcraft. We both have that freedom of choice. What I will say is that when you set pen to paper, realize that you are world building, and people will be affected by the worlds you create. If they are not, you have failed. Really. It is that simple. If your story does not affect your reader, you have not created a successful story. Ahhh, but if you succeed . . . what then. That all depends on what your story is. At very least—and this is by no means a small task—you have entertained. At most, you will—through the power of words and images—have changed lives. Don’t take that power lightly or it will come back to bite you.

And readers? Beware. I am not warning you off books or movies. Exactly the opposite. Take in movies and books as you would food. But choose wisely. Images have the power to change everything from your mood to your life. If you are going through a tough time right now, give yourself permission to read something light. Or maybe you need to a story like Julie Wright's "My Not So Fairytale Life," to be reminded that we all go through trials. Nearly every published author I know has had someone tell them that a story they wrote affected a reader. For every person who couldn’t read Into the Fire, someone else told me that it helped them overcome difficult trials. Think carefully about what you need from your stories and choose the kinds of stories that will give you what you currently require. Nourish your mind and soul with the same care (or better care if you eat like me) with which you nourish your body. As authors, we couldn’t ask for anything more than that. As readers, you deserve nothing less.