Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, January 30, 2009

My Fair(no Y) Godmother

by Kerry Blair

There’s one thing I’ve wondered my whole life. It’s not the meaning of existence or why bad things happen to good people. I’ve wondered why Cinderella was able to leave behind a glass slipper. Does that make sense to you? Ella’s ball gown turned back into rags, her carriage once again became a pumpkin, and her horses shrank back into vermin—albeit mice pleased to find themselves in more upscale digs. Why then, when the clock struck midnight, didn’t her glass slippers disappear with the tiara and jewels?

Yeah. It’s really bothered me, too.

Thankfully, after years of anguished questioning, I read the simple (and simply brilliant) explanation in My Fair Godmother. (And if you think I’m just going to tell you, you’ve got another think coming. Read the book; that’s undoubtedly the best advice I’ll give you this year.)

I wrote too many book reports in school to enjoy revisiting it in my old age, so you’re out of luck there. But I will say that if a fairy godmother sparkled into my bedroom right now to offer me three wishes, I wouldn’t have to consider for a half-second. I’d use the first wish to beg to write even half as well as Janette Rallison. I might use the second to wish to someday be famous (or cool) enough to garner a nod like three writers we all know and love did in this one. (Nope. Not telling you that, either.)

On the other hand, if my godmother were anything like Chrysanthemum Everstar—a teenage godmother-in-training who has only paid enough attention in class to be a fair godmother (at best)—I might add a clarifying addendum. Or eight. Since Rallison’s heroine Savannah does not, she finds herself in the Middle Ages, cast in the roles of Cinderella, Snow White, and a remarkable damsel in her own right. To say more might constitute a book review, but since it’s also difficult to say less, I will add that I love this book! I love everything from the perfect dust jacket and the lovely lavender/pink binding to the fanciful typesetting. I love the enchanting romance, marvelous characters, and I deeply love and admire the best fairy tale writing by a mortal since Hans Christian Andersen. (Is that a Whitney category?)

But you know what I love most? (Aside from a reasonable explanation for Cindy’s glass slippers.) I love that Janette Rallison captures my imagination and makes me laugh out loud, but she also makes me think and feel. So many of the stories passing as the “best” books for youth, young adults, and the rest of us in the national market these days are . . . how do I put this nicely? . . . pointless. (Some are worse than pointless, but that can be the subject for another blog on another day.) Some of the books in our market are . . . preachy. (I’m having a little trouble being “nice” today, apparently.) My Fair Godmother is neither. Very subtly but surely, Rallison ensures that every reader leaves her stories wiser, better, and surely more cheerful. That, boys and girls, is the epitome of great writing.

For all these reasons and more I predict that Janette has a runaway best-seller on her hands. It’s already been optioned as a movie. (I can’t tell you how many times while I was reading I thought what a great movie it would make. Can I pick them, or what?) Our local Barnes & Noble couldn’t unpack the boxes fast enough to keep this book on the shelves. After my third unsuccessful trip to town, I turned to Amazon. Fortunately for you, in my enthusiasm I must have clicked that “one click” option one click too often. Since I have two copies, I can play fairy godmother myself and make somebody’s wish for a copy of this book come true.

Caveat: after observing Chrissy as closely as I have, I can’t make it easy. In Chrysanthemum’s words: Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you? Those type of wishes have no power. The only wishes that will ever change you are the kind that may, at any moment, eat you whole. But in the end, they are the only wishes that matter. Now then . . .

Now then, to win my extra copy of My Fair Godmother, all you have to do is write in the comments trail one thing you wish you knew about Janette Rallison or her many works. I’ll choose my favorites and send them to Janette for a response next week. (This will effectively grant my third wish: to get a guest blog from the mega-famous and super-fantastic Janette Rallison.) After she answers your questions, Janette will draw a winner at random and we’ll announce it at the end of the blog.

Ready? Set? Wish!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Random Weirdness Too

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Last week we took our son to the MTC (on my daughter’s birthday which was weird to start out with) and have been anxiously awaiting his letters. For the last nineteen years I’ve talk to, emailed, or IM’d my son every day and it is SO WEIRD not to talk to him for days and days. I’m sure we’ll get into the groove of things soon, but for now, the answers to our questions are passing in the mail so all we have are follow up questions to the first answers. Which is odd in and of itself.

I’ve also been polishing a work in progress and it’s really been a work in progress. There was this one scene that was so pivotal to the book, several plot threads hinged on it and I knew it had to be revised, but my inner psyche just didn’t want to do it because I knew that once that scene was revised, many others would have to be revised. Every time I went to revise it, I seemed to get distracted. E-mail took longer than usual, or I’d tell myself I needed to do more research, I was pretty much doing anything besides revise the scene that I knew needed work. The weird thing was, when I finally buckled down and revised it, the other scenes just seemed to fall into place and the writing went much faster. Odd.

I stink at quilting. Every time we have a quilting activity at Enrichment, I try to dissolve into the woodwork, help in the kitchen, or if that doesn’t work, I have to rummage in my purse for band-aids because I have this talent for stabbing myself and bleeding all over the quilt. When I tell people I am a horrible quilter, they smile and say they can help me. But they really can’t. I have accepted the fact that quilting is not my talent. Well, my daughter came home from school the other day with a large stab wound in her hand. Turns out she’d been quilting at school, which leads me to theorize that being a terrible quilter might be genetic. Odd, but possibly true.

I honestly seem to be able to write better when I munch on baby carrots. There’s just something about the munching that seems to stimulate my thinking/writing processes. Some people have lucky writing shirts or need to have a clean desk before they write. I just need baby carrots. Odd.

I took my baby out for an appointment and she was wearing a pink bunny hat (it’s cold outside!) and she was mistaken for a boy. I think it’s weird for someone to assume that I would put my son in a pink bunny hat. The baby is getting on a good sleeping schedule (which is very weird for a baby of mine) which has made it much easier to concentrate and to find writing time. She is one of the most happy, contented babies I’ve ever had and it still surprises me every day how amazing she is.

There’s a lot of weirdness in my life and if I share it all with you, it would probably weird you out. But it seems to be increasing and that makes me wonder. Is it just me or is there a phenomenon going on in the weirdness department? Like a worldwide weirdness epidemic or something? Are you feeling an increase of weirdness in your life? If so, do you look for other people that are weirder than you to feel better about yourself? What is your way to measure normal when you decide who or what is weird?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Charting the Star System

by Stephanie Black

Bloglet today. Sorry to be brief, but my deep, dark secret is that I’m veerrrrry slllooowwwww at blogging. And considering that my breakfast dishes are still on the table, I need to pick up my daughter at preschool in forty-five minutes, and I have a YW meeting at my house in an hour, I’m thinking I’ll cut the blog short today. (Clarification: normally, it wouldn’t bother me at all that my breakfast dishes are still on the table. I don't worry about breakfast dishes unless my visiting teachers (or YW presidency) are coming over, or I have guests staying at the house and I want to pretend to be classier than I am. Why clean up the breakfast dishes only to have lunch dishes promptly mess up the kitchen again? And even today, I don’t actually plan to do the breakfast dishes—I’m only going to clean off the table, since you can see that from the living room. Who cares about what’s in the sink? No one will see that).

Today’s brief topic, upon which I hope our readers will expound in the comment trail, is the five-star rating system used for book reviews on places like Goodreads.

It seems to me that the stars mean different things to different people. You read a three-star review and get the impression that the reviewer really liked the book. You read a different three-star review and get distinctly negative vibes. So what do three stars mean? Good or bad read? Apparently both, depending on who’s dishing out stars.

When you review books, how do you use the star ratings? If you liked a book, do you generally give it five stars, or do you reserve five stars for books that really blew you away with how awesome they were? Does three stars means thumbs up or thumbs down, or a little of both? Four stars? Two stars? The dreaded one star? What do they indicate when you post a review?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Random Weirdness

Just got back from a week doing school visits in California. We had a ball and sold lots of books. In fact we sold the Barnes and Noble in Roseville completely out of books, and I have to admit it was pretty cool when they said the only authors to have bigger signings there were Janet Evanovich and Stephenie Meyer. They even brought little cups of hot cocoa to the people waiting in line. How cool is that?

A few random thoughts from the road.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the perfect driving snacks for me are a combination of mini Butterfinger candy bars, corn nuts, mini Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies, and beef jerky. If I ever have to trade with natives, I am leaving the beads and trinkets at home and bringing those.

You know that thing you did in science class where you stuck one hand in hot water and the other in cold water, then put them both in room temperature water? Apparently Utah is the cold water glass. It was raining and like 57 degrees in the bay area, and everyone was acting like it was a freezer while we were walking around in shorts and basking.

Possibly the funniest book to ever be banned by a school is The Flim-Flam Fairies by Alan Katz. It starts with the tooth fairy explaining how you can get some money for your tooth, but she is quickly replaced by such nefarious fairies as the booger fairy, the dirty underwear fairy, the toenail fairy, and even the fart fairy. On the last page, the poop fairy wants to know if he is too late. I think the poop thing may have pushed it over the edge. Talking about poop is taking your chances in the grade school crowd. But I laughed my head off. (Which just goes to show that I am still stuck in the potty humor stage.)

Another fun picture book (which doesn’t include the words fart or poop) is You Can’t Go to School Naked, by Diane Billstrom. Diane is a wonderful person and friend of my parents who dropped by the store and bought books for her grandkids.

Clayton Books in Concord, California, still has to be one of the best indy bookstores ever. They showed me and my family a great time, we sold two-hundred books, and I got signed copies of A Series of Unfortunate Events, book 1, and a Bizarro pirate book. Thanks Joel and family, Vinitha, and the rest of the staff. You guys are awesome.

I completely agree that Hunger Games is great. I read it a couple of months ago and it is awesome. I am also reading the Seventh Tower series by Garth Nix, and have to say how amazing he is. I also love Neil Gaiman (congrats on winning a well deserved Newberry for The Graveyard Book, which I loved), but I was really disappointed by Stardust. One of those cases where I kept thinking how much better I liked the movie. Oh well, I have loved everything else I’ve read by him.

The greatest hot dogs in the world are Caspers in Pleasant Hill. I wish they would bring Caspers, In’N’Out, and Jack in the Box, out here to Utah. But then again, maybe they don’t come to cold water states.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

From "The Hunger Games" to Dave Ramsey

by Sariah S. Wilson

Today was a reading day. This is one of the luxuries of entering your eighth month of pregnancy - you can have days like I had today. I didn't have any errands to run or any place that I had to be - my husband took the boys to get their hair cut and to pick up medicine and did a great job of entertaining the baby today (her brothers are also very good at that).

My reading day technically started last night. That was when I started "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. This is a book I first heard about when I read a favorable review in The Romantic Times. Not too long after that, I ran across a review by Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly where he said he couldn't put it down. Next up was Stephenie Meyer saying she took it out to dinner with her and snuck it under the table so she could keep reading. I don't know if the kudos/favorable reviews get much better than that.

So while in Barnes and Noble using a Christmas gift card, I decided to pick this book up. I thought the premise sounded fascinating and it had such high critical reviews that it sounded like it would be worth checking out.

Once I started reading, I didn't want to stop. I truly can't remember the last time that I got that caught up in a book (possibly Harry Potter 7). It used to happen more frequently when I was younger, but as I get older and my responsibilities increase, I find that there often isn't time to get as into a book as I would like. It takes more these days to draw me in. The little people living in my house want silly things like food and clean clothes, which severely cuts into my reading time, I'm afraid.

Last night at 10:30 I thought I would go upstairs and read in bed for about an hour or so and call it a night. Instead, I suddenly realized that I had no idea what time it was or how long I'd been reading. I looked at my watch - 12:30! How had two hours passed so quickly? I knew I had to put the book down. I didn't want to, but I had to. The baby would be up at 6:00 and I needed to get some sleep.

The next morning I sent one of my sons to go upstairs and get my book for me. And then I read until I finished. And I actually yelled out loud in frustration when I read the words "End of Book One." This is a series? What? I have to wait? (And according to the Scholastic site I have to wait until September 8 until I can get the next one. If they do a midnight thing, I am SO THERE.)

Since this is an LDS blog, I will warn you that there is violence in this book. *I* didn't feel that it was gory or over the top but probably about right for a book that centers around a blood sport, but your mileage may vary. It is classified as YA, so no steamy scenes or language. Some of the deaths mercifully take place off screen, and I didn't feel completely grossed out by the ones the heroine witnesses (although be forewarned that they are still scenes of people dying in not fun ways).

This is the kind of book that you devour quickly, but it stays with you for days and days because of the topical messages on things like celebrity/fame, beauty, government and reality television. Here's the back cover blurb:

Twenty- four are forced to enter. Only the winner survives.

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

You can read the first chapter online. Be prepared to make a late night run to a bookstore if you do that. And hopefully you'll refrain from reading it tomorrow and hold off until Monday when you can rush out and pick up your own copy. It is GOOD.

But that wasn't the only thing I read today. I also picked up Dave Ramsey's "Total Money Makeover." Apparently I'm a little late to the Dave Ramsey party, but I found he made a lot of sense and I'm looking forward to implementing his strategies into my life. I didn't have a profound, epiphany type moment as others have described having, and I think this is probably because my moment came in December when I had a profound change of heart when it came to money matters. I have continued on my journey of cutting my grocery bill literally in half, but having twice as much food to show for it. For the first time ever my extra freezer is stuffed to capacity and we have an actual food storage downstairs (and I may never have to buy toilet paper again since I've been getting tons of it for free for the last two months). My attitude toward money has already changed, and I'm excited to start getting a paycheck again and better implementing Dave Ramsey's strategies to helping our family. I don't know that I can get out of debt in the 18 months he thinks it should take, but I can be better about it than I am now. I'm looking forward to starting.

Has anyone else read a helpful/great book lately?

(P.S. - I ran across a recent review of "Servant to a King" by Alison Palmer, currently my newest favorite person. Check it out!)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Valley of the Shadow of Depression

by Kerry Blair

According to Sunset Magazine, traditional Southwestern décor is once again in vogue. (At least it is here in the Southwest. Maybe don’t adopt it in Hawaii or Massachusetts; Navajo rugs do not come in tropical colors, nor do cacti thrive in snow.) This trend is heartening to me because somewhere along the way my surroundings have strayed from shabby chic to Early Monument Valley. Monument Valley, for those of you who have never been to Arizona and/or seen a John Wayne movie, is a vast stretch of red dirt and scrub brush broken up by the occasional miracle of geology – towering sandstone monoliths. They formed slowly, over millennia of time. My own monoliths of great expectations are almost as high, but formed much faster.

Perhaps “monolith” is too kind a word. While it’s true that the piles of quilting fabric that obscure the dining room table may be monoliths of great expectations, the rest of my towering stacks of stuff are mere monuments to procrastination and sloth. This morning I spent ten minutes clearing six square inches of tabletop – just enough to balance a laptop so I could blog. I haven’t seen my computer since we moved it into a spare bedroom just after Thanksgiving. It’s probably still in there somewhere, albeit buried under the six hundred books, eighty rolls of almost-gone wrapping paper, and assorted other “treasures” I hold onto in case we ever need them. (Doubtful.) Mercifully, my husband closed the door to that room a couple of weeks ago and I have yet to open it. Maybe if I wait long enough it will become a mysterious and romantic memory, like a closed-off wing of a mansion in gothic literature. Everyone who passes by the locked door will wonder what lies within, but no one will dare to enter until after my death. (And then the snooper will be buried alive in an avalanche of junk and the room will become even darker and more mysterious. I like it!)

I don’t really need the computer since I haven’t read e-mail in two weeks, but I would like to have the desk. Flat surfaces are at a premium around here. Weeks ago I moved a broken antique table into the family room until I got a chance to repair it. The inlaid top has disappeared under mail I am absolutely going to answer, thank you cards I am certainly going to send, magazines I will surely scan, coupons I will indubitably clip, Cub Scout materials I am about to organize, and Whitney books I will indeed read by the end of the month. (Fortunately, the books are the only thing with a deadline. My tried-and-true routine with coupons is to stack them up, wait for them to expire, and then recycle the paper so we can start the process again. I figure if I leave the Cub Scout stuff there long enough I’ll be released and can throw it all into a box for the next victim . . . I mean den leader. As for the magazines, well, one dates from 1902 – yes, really, and, no, I haven’t read it yet – but the rest are slightly newer. Plenty of time to get to them.)

If only time, or the lack thereof, was my problem. What I lack nowadays is the strength and oftentimes the inclination, to accomplish anything. How did a nice girl like me end up in a valley like this? I wish I knew. I sat in my oncologist’s office recently and sobbed. I told him I felt like I was being sucked into quicksand. (I am very much into simile and metaphor as you all know.) You would think that a guy who’s been dealing with cancer patients long enough to charge $75 a minute would give me my money’s worth, but no. “Perfectly normal,” he said, and even had the nerve to look me in the eye and smile when he said it. (The man keeps no letter openers nor blunt objects on his desk; now you know why.)

I’m here to tell you there is nothing “normal” or “perfect” about feeling this way. I owe half the people who read this blog an apology and an explanation. This is the apology, but the explanation is harder to define. I’ve searched the scriptures. (Jonah found more light the belly of the fish.) I’ve re-read inspiring literature. (“(S)he also serves who only stands and waits.” Bah.) I’ve eaten better and attempted to exercise. (Being in chemo and struck with an exacerbation of MS, “exercise” is often defined as making it all the way from the bed to the bathroom to a chair in the living room.) I’ve even perused a couple of self-help books. (Which were beyond doubt the musings of men mingled with the oh-so-rare glint of wisdom.) I did not sink so far as to watch talk-TV, but I was getting there.

I’d have probably attempted to climb one of my monoliths and jump, but I just couldn't summon the energy.

I’ve never been depressed – clinically or otherwise. In fact, while this is harder to confess than admitting I voted for McCain, I’ve long suspected that depression is to medical conditions what the Bunny is to Easter. I think now that I may have been at little hasty, and harsh, in my judgment. Perhaps—gasp!—I was even mistaken. Time will tell. For the last year I’ve poured poison into my system to save my life. Over the last decade I’ve taken gallons of medication to slow the progression of MS. Why then is it so much harder to even consider taking one tiny pill a day to perhaps save my sanity?

I don’t know, but I’m working on it. Even alluding to depression today was an unbelievably big step for me. (Hopefully in the right direction.) If you’ll please forgive me for the past couple of months I’ll let you know how the next few work out. And if you don’t hear from me, well, just assume I felt better and opened the door to that terrifying room after all.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yume Be Right (I May Be Crazy)

by Julie Coulter Bellon

**(Yume is the Japanese word for dream. Thanks to Meredith for the title idea today.)

I think most of us are familiar with the Bible story of Joseph interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s butler and baker while in prison. As a young girl I often wondered how the butler and the baker, and even the Pharaoh, knew which dreams actually meant something and were worthy of interpretation as compared to just a random bizarre dream. I mean, my dreams seem so real, but very random, and I don’t necessarily think that they’re worthy of interpretation or mean anything half the time.

For example, I had a dream the other night about being introduced to Annette Lyon’s father. In my dream, he was a tugboat captain in Denmark and was proudly showing us around his boat. At the bottom of his boat he had two years worth of food storage stacked in boxes. It was impressive. While we were touring the boat, however, a storm came up and we were being rocked pretty hard. Annette’s father was telling us to throw all the food storage overboard, as the boat was sinking and he was trying to make it lighter. So we all bent to the task and began throwing the food storage overboard. I was standing on the sinking ship, watching the food storage boxes floating in the water and thinking what a waste it was. Then I woke up.

Now, for one thing I’m pretty sure that LDS author Annette Lyon’s father is not a tugboat captain in Denmark. I think he’s a temple president somewhere though. I have no idea why I’d be dreaming about food storage and boats and Annette Lyon’s father. But the entire dream stuck with me. So I thought I’d get my own dream interpreted and turned to the internet. Did you know there are 2,150,000 website on dream interpretation? It turned out to be quite interesting.

For instance, I learned that dreams help you discover your true self. Perhaps all along my self-conscious has thought that food storage wouldn’t last long at my house. Or maybe I secretly wanted to be given a tour of a tugboat. But, then, according to dream interpreters, I learned that if you dream that you are in or see a boat, that signifies your ability to cope with and express your emotions. The dream interpreter also told me that to see food in my dream, represents physical and emotional nourishment and energies. Although it qualified it by saying that to dream that I am hoarding or storing food, indicates a fear of deprivation. I do not trust what I already have. So apparently I’m either looking at or feeling like someone who is emotional and fearful of deprivation. Or I’m throwing those feelings or energy away. Hmmmm…. This could get really deep.

I think if I was going to try to dream about stuff, I would try to dream about timber. Because if you have timber in your dream that symbolizes prosperity and tranquility. Toasters are a good thing to dream about, too, because that means you are quick-witted and quick-thinking. I also would like to dream about books because that symbolizes calmness, knowledge, intellect, and wisdom. I'm sure Kerry dreams about books all the time. Maybe if I dreamed about it, my book could be in a toaster to combine the two or something. I don't think I want to dream about writing, though, because dreaming about writing supposedly symbolizes a mistake you have made. Then again, I wonder what having a writer's father in my dream means. Was it was a mistake not to have read Annette's new book yet? I’m not sure. Maybe if I’d dreamed about a telegram and gotten whatever my subconscious was trying to tell me, I’d know what it really meant. But whatever it was, I think I’m going to stay away from Danish tugboat captains with food storage in their boats. For now, at least.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Before the Parade Passes By

by Stephanie Black

My niece's high school marching band was among the participants in the inaugural parade yesterday—yay, Katie! She and her band-mates traveled from sunny Arizona to freeze their tubas off in D.C. I wasn’t sure exactly what time she would march, and it took a looooonggg time for the parade to get started after it was going to start “momentarily”. After nearly three hours, (okay, I napped during the first part) the station I was watching started to wrap up their broadcast, and I freaked—her band hadn’t marched yet! Frantically, I called my sister to tell her the station I was watching was ending their coverage and where could I go to see the parade, and she said CNN, and—this will tell you how technologically clueless I am when it comes to television, cable, TiVo, that kind of thing—I had no idea how to find CNN. So I tried to find the broadcast, but alas, all was in vain—her band marched and I missed it.

Grrrr. After all that time, I missed it!

But all was not lost. My sister later found some links on the internet and sent them to us, so I got to see my niece’s band march after all. I couldn’t tell which of the tuba players was her, but it was still awesome. Isn’t that the coolest thing ever that her band got to march in the inaugural parade? It was a huge honor for them.

Good wishes and good luck to President Obama. He’s got a tough job. I’d never, ever, want to be president of the United States. Talk about a stressful job. You carry the weight of a nation and more on your shoulders, while people lie in wait to tear apart everything you say and do. How many of us could stand to have our every careless word repeated and torn apart in the media? No, thanks. My life is not always perfectly photogenic, though, of course, my kitchen floor is always spotless and my laundry put away. Ha ha! Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?

My husband and I have been asked to participate in the Marriage and Family Relations Sunday school class—no, this isn’t a personal commentary on our family; they want everyone to take the class, so they’re moving through the ward alphabetically. (We’re in a class full of B’s, with one set of stray H’s). For the first class we were asked to bring an item that represented something our family did well. I asked my daughter for ideas and she said promptly, “Bring something broken.” She suggested a TV remote with the back panel and battery missing, or a scratched DVD. It was a valid suggestion. We can break absolutely anything. We can also lose things, but I suppose it would be harder to bring a lost item as a visual aid (ha!). We’re also good at racking up library fines and collecting crumbs, pens, and Legos under the couch cushions. I was cleaning out under the cushions the other day in search of my daughter’s CTR ring (which she referred to as her “Precious”), and though I didn’t find the ring, I did find plenty of crud. I’m betting our couch weighs twice as much as it did when we bought it. Some people have skeletons in their closets--we have crud in the couch.

Either way, I'm not letting the media get their hands on this story.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama

by Robison Wells

So, I recently went back through this blog and categorized all of my 2008 blog posts. I had a really good reason for doing so (though I can't remember it now), and I discovered something interesting. In the category of Current Events, I only ever talked about two things: holidays--usually how much I dislike them--and the election.

In fact, I talked about the election about eight times this year--one sixth of all my blogs--from the time when I made bumper stickers for all us bloggers to the time that the Heat Miser and the Grinch held a townhall debate to the time that I found slogans for the candidates.

However, one interesting thing to note is that I've never actually come out and said anything about what I really think about the election. (Well, I said something once, but it was intentionally vague about my personal leanings.)

I'm a big fan of politics. I did my undergrad in political science and enjoy nothing more than discussing politics, policy, and philosophy. Unfortunately, I've also learned that politics are divisive, and political discussions can quickly devolve into heated arguments. This is the primary reason that I never talk about politics on this blog.

Well, here it is: I voted for Barack Obama.

It wasn't because I totally agreed with every single one of his policies, but overall I did like them better than I liked the other candidates'. As mentioned, I certainly don't intend to stir up any kind of argument, so I think I'll end my political proclamations there. That's not the point of today's post. (Though, if anyone has any questions about my political opinions, I'm happy to discuss them offline. robisonwells at msn dot com)

Anyway, the point of today's post is this: the inauguration was today, and I was very moved by it. Yes, I think that much of it is overblown, and yes, I know that most of the speakers had speech writers. It wasn't the production that moved me.

Last week, I took my six-year-old daughter Holly out for a Daddy-Daughter Date. She'd gotten a coupon at school for Applebee's--she did well on a spelling test--and earned herself a free kid's meal. While we were there, she talked. She's six, and loves to talk and talk and talk. (In fact, her three-year-old brother's favorite exclamation is "STOP TALKING, HOLLY!")

She started talking about what she would do when she was grown up. Her ideas were mostly about rules she'd abolish, such as "When I'm a mom, I'm going to let my kids eat dessert before dinner." So, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She gave her usual list of answers, which included a mom, a first-grade teacher, and a cheerleader. This time she added that she wants to make signs, which was a new one, and she left off an old favorite: "I want to be the person who puts papers car windows in the parking lot."

As I usually do, I asked her if she wants to play basketball. She's very tall, so I always ask, but she never is very interested.

Then I asked if she wanted to be the president. I wasn't thinking much of it--it's just something that adults tell kids they can be.

Holly replied, laughing: "Dad, girls can't be the president."

Now, I don't really know where she got that idea. It might be because she knows who the president was (Bush) and who the new president is (Obama), and she noticed they're not female. Or it might be because she was connecting national government with church organization, and knew that women couldn't be the church president. I don't know. But the important thing is that, however she deduced that women couldn't be the president, she accepted it with enough conviction that she thought my suggestion was completely absurd.

Now, before you get any ideas, let me reinforce that I didn't vote for Obama because he was black. However, I absolutely love the fact that Holly--and all kids in America--will grow up now knowing that a black man can be president.

Some people say that racism is dead in America. From my own personal experience, I can say that it's not. I remember sitting in a ward council meeting and hearing a bishop refer to Mexican immigrants as "a bunch of wetbacks". Just a month ago, a schoolmate of mine declared publically that a certain minority shouldn't be hired because "they don't like to work". When I was on my mission, living back and forth on and off of the Navajo Reservation, I heard abhorrent things being said--some by the missionaries themselves!--about the Navajo.

But think about Holly, and the millions of other kids growing up now, who will see Barack Obama on the news everyday. Will they grow up with an entirely different perception than I did? Absolutely.

Like I said, race was not the reason I voted for Barack Obama--I did that because of some of his policies. But I don't think the monumental nature of his win can be overstated. No, he's not the Messiah, and he probably won't be as effective in government as many of his supporters hope he will. But I'm glad he's there, and I'm glad that my baby, who was born seventeen days before Obama took office, will never have a conscious memory of a time when such a thing was considered impossible.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How Do You Get Rid of a Piano?

by Sariah S. Wilson

So, I have this piano. I have no idea whether or not it works well or if it is in tune. I know it makes lots of sounds, as evidenced by the cat crawling across the keys and the kids beating on it every chance they get.

It is, however, an old piano. I don't know how many owners it had before me. I have no idea what the make and model are (long since rubbed off). It is not a pretty beast either - it is in desperate need of being refinished.

I offered it for free in Relief Society to anyone who would come and cart it off. We had a bite, and someone came over to measure the piano and assured us they had made the arrangements to pick it up the next day at 9:00.

You will no doubt be surprised that the person never came over to pick up the piano. When I finally called to ask what was going on, they said they weren't able to make the arrangements/get the truck they needed and would do so in the future.

I would have felt a lot better if they'd just said the piano was ugly and they didn't want it after all. Instead we waited a couple of weeks for them to get their transportation, and it never happened.

The only options I can think of at this point are these:

1. Try and make some sort of stake-wide announcement about the piano. First, I have no idea how to do this (contact the stake RS president, maybe)? Second, I worry about finding myself in the same position of someone who will forget to show up again in the future to take this behemoth out of my house.

2. List it on craigslist and/or put an ad in the paper. The craigslist listing would be free, but I am a little worried about what sort of contact we might receive. I am in the process of joining my local Freecycle group to see if I can offer it to anyone there (another free listing option). But that's taking a while and I don't really have the patience to wait (another liability).

3. I've considered maybe trying to contact local piano teachers and seeing if anyone has a student that would like a secondhand (or fifthhand or twentiethhand, I honestly don't know how many hands) piano. But right now that feels like a lot of work that might have very little chance of success.

4. Light that sucker on fire and push it down the street. Hope no one sees me.

5. Call a junking service and pay the fees just to get it out of my house.

It has sat in my computer room for the last eight years. I don't know how to play. Neither does my husband. Our oldest will probably never play (with the current behavior/attention issues) and our second simply isn't interested. The baby enjoys banging on the keys, but I've gotten to the point where if we ever do spring for piano lessons, I'd rather them learn on a keyboard that could be set up and taken down. I don't know how, but the piano has seemed to actually increase in size since we got it. I like the idea of something that can be put away before it eats the house from the inside out.

My husband has moved the piano into our formal living room (it's the one room in the house that is typically clean and nice and where we sit with our visiting teachers/home teachers when they come over. Well, it's where we imaginably *would* have our home teachers come if they ever came over to visit). He's as tired of it as I am and as the computer room is one of his favorite places to spend time, he wanted to set up something nicer. I'd like more storage space (and he put up this large desk that we had downstairs in the basement that looks so much better and the room suddenly feels so much bigger and I'm planning on going to IKEA or something in the future to find some sort of organizer I can put on top to keep my papers because for some reason I have a lot of paperwork due to the whole writing thing and now I need somewhere other than the top of the piano to keep it).

So Option 5 is currently feeling like the best option to me, particularly since the service I looked at is very into being green and will do their best to either donate the piano in whole or strip the parts and donate those as needed. It just seems like nobody wants my ugly old piano and I don't want to keep it for another three to six months in my living room in hopes that someone will come and take it.

It made me curious as to whether anyone else had a piano to move out of their house and how you went about it. All advice/tips are currently welcome.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Writing Fairy -- Guest Blog by Pat Taylor

by Pat Taylor

Back in the day when I was into painting, I had a wonderful teacher. Her classes were in high demand because her creations were not only beautifully designed, but comical and a joy to look at.

She lived in her own magical world, and loved to tell stories as she taught. Sometimes she'd even teach in costume. One such night, she told us about the Painting Fairy. She said that many times as she had tried to create her designs, she would struggle and struggle -- never quite getting it right. She would finally grow frustrated and stuff the work in a trunk somewhere to get it out of her sight and forget about it.

Days, weeks, or months later, she would run across it and find that the Painting Fairy had visited while she wasn't looking and changed it into something wonderful -- something she absolutely loved.

I was charmed by that thought, and even found that the "fairy" began to visit me too sometimes. When I'd leave class depressed and downhearted because I felt I would never paint as well as my instructor, I would put my piece away, and a few days later when I went to take it out in the light of day (sometimes with thoughts of destruction in mind) I would find in its place a delightful piece of art!

The magic happened when I removed it from that room full of talented artists, stopped comparing my work to theirs, and accepted it for what it was -- my best effort, created from my heart.

Creativity flees when you try to force it to conform to someone else's ideal, but step back and look from a different point of view and it often becomes all that it was meant to be.

I'm counting on the fact that there's a Writing Fairy too!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rob's Theme Week

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I was contemplating Rob’s blog early this morning as I sat in a hospital waiting room, (they make you bring a responsible person to drive you home after you’ve been sedated and someone chose me to be their responsible person. Awwww) and I met the most interesting women. The first woman struck up a conversation with me about how soft and squishy the waiting room chairs were, which turned into how hard it would be to get out of said chair if you were pregnant, and then the conversation inevitably turned to children.

She told me about her children and how difficult her pregnancies had been. She had a pretty good story and I was just about to tell her something about my recent pregnancy, when another lady joined us in the waiting room, and, eyeing both of us with a smile, she said she had the best pregnancy story ever.

Just then a nurse called for her and said she could go sit with her friend until the sedation took effect. I admit, I was a little disappointed because I’d wanted to hear the best pregnancy story ever. Much to my delight, the woman nodded to the nurse, but didn’t get up. She then proceeded to tell her story. As a young woman, she’d been told she could never have children. After some difficult times in her marriage, her weight had ballooned, so she decided to get it under control, and lost a hundred pounds. After a while, she found she was putting the weight back on and the gas bubbles she had suffered with for some time had come back. Some very bad gas bubbles in her tummy. She didn’t think too much of it, however, and wanted to exercise more to lose the weight she was gaining back. While shopping with a friend one day, her friend kindly told her she was waddling and looked pregnant. The woman assured her she was not, but the friend persisted, and even went so far as to buy her a pregnancy test. The woman took it to prove that she was not pregnant and to her surprise, it came back positive. She went to the doctor who immediately sent her to the hospital for an ultrasound. The ultrasound revealed that she was full-term, pregnant with a healthy boy.

But it didn’t stop there. She had been having some funny stomach twinges one day while preparing to take a friend to the dentist. Her first thought was to just take a Tylenol and go about her day, but her friend told her she needed to get checked out, just to make sure the pregnancy was okay. When she went to get checked out, the doctors told her she was in active labor. The nurses teased her about being so unaware of both a pregnancy and labor and her one and only child was born that day, just three weeks after learning she was pregnant in the first place. I guess it was all a matter of perspective---she wasn’t expecting a pregnancy so she excused any symptoms away as something else.

She got up and left to be with her friend and the other woman and I sat in silence for a few moments. It was a good story. It was a wow story. I mean, I’d heard about women who said they didn’t know they were pregnant, but never met one and heard the story first hand. The silence between us stretched a little longer, until Rob’s conversational advice came back to me, so I brilliantly said, "How ‘bout them Yankees?”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If Rob's Going to Bring it Up . . .

by Stephanie Black

In the ongoing quest to get in shape, I pulled out my workout DVDs and tried a couple of them. My son pronounced my efforts “entertaining.” I don’t doubt it, but as long as he doesn’t post me on You Tube, I’m not going to worry. Boy are my abs sore now. Who knew I actually had abs? Which leads to my public service announcement for the day:

*No matter the state of a woman's abs, don’t ask her if she is pregnant. Just don’t.

If she isn’t pregnant, this question will not make her day. Yes, I have experienced this, more than once. It’s never fun, because no matter how the questioner tries to backpedal, what the non-pregnant woman will hear, in loud, Bose-quality stereo is: “You look fat.” No woman likes to be told this. Even if she happens to own a mirror and might, possibly, on one or two occasions, have noticed that her abdomen carries some extra baggage, she doesn’t want to hear it from you. So don’t guess. Unless the woman is thin all over except for a stomach so large that it stretches into another time zone, AND is at that moment discussing her obstetrician, the color of her crib, and her due date, don’t guess. Please? Thank you. Flabby women will bless your name for generations.

Rob, thank you for opening the floodgates. I have more to say.

What is it about child-related matters that lead people to ask questions that sound casual on the surface but are, when you think about it, extremely personal? I have five kids, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked,” So are you having more?” I’ll usually make some light reply like, “Not this week”, but come on, what a personal question! Yeah, okay, I know they’re just being friendly (or are so astounded that anyone could have such a HUGE family that they have to know more) but it’s dangerous territory to delve into someone's family planning. What if the recipient of the question desperately wants more children, but can’t have them? Or just suffered a miscarriage? It seems better to let a woman bring up numbers if she wants to—“Oh, we want eight!”—rather than probing into what might be a painful subject.

And, of course, there’s the flipside question—“When are you two going to have kids?” That teasing casual question could be a knife right in the heart of someone who has been trying for years to get pregnant. Please, oh, please don’t assume that someone doesn’t have children because she’s putting off childbearing. And if she has one child, don’t assume that she doesn’t have more because she only wanted one. I’m sure my sister, who has endured the agony of infertility, could tell stories about comments, innocently made, that cut deep.

Assumptions can be dangerous. So stay safe.

Okay, I’m done now. Remember, Rob started it.

I'd Like to Apologize in Advance

by Robison Wells

Last night on Law And Order: SVU, the murderer killed her roommate because of a medical condition known as Sleep Deprivation Psychosis. It has me a little bit paranoid now, because we had a baby eleven days ago, and my wife hasn't slept since. So, when I wash up on the shores of the East River, having been stabbed in the chest with a pen and thrown off of a ferry, you'll know who's to blame.

Babies are trouble. Sure, they may look cute enough, but they're actually devious and underhanded, waiting just until you sit down to start crying. They lull you into a false sense of security, eating really well and pretending like they're falling asleep, and then--BLECH!--all the milk comes back up.

Speaking of milk, I want to declare two things, and I'll do so proudly: my wife had an epidural, and we're bottle-feeding this baby. My pride in this is not to say that we're smarter than those who don't do those things, but just that there's a whole bunch of people who get really militant about that sort of stuff, and WE DON'T CARE. For example: the La Leche League, which annoys me. Also: the doula in my ward who shouts at random strangers when they pass her in the hallway, and tells them they should have their babies on the kitchen table, or something. (I don't really know what she shouts, because I'm exaggerating.)

People get a little too freaking worked up about babies, in my opinion. Granted, I know there's a reader out there somewhere who is saying "when you're wife murders you because of Sleep Deprivation Psychosis, I'll be here to say 'I told you so'". To that reader, I say: shut up. No one wants to hear from you.

Seriously, why is it that women are so hard on each other? I remember a Women's Conference not too long ago where the entire focus seemed to be: "no one's perfect, so why don't you women be nice to each other, 'kay?" And yet, it seems like when it comes to things like breastfeeding or childbirth or potty training or getting your kids to eat, or any other parenting activity, there's an awful lot of black-and-white judgmental activism. (And, in my experience, there's no more vicious a fighting pit than the benches that surround a playground.)

Men, on the other hand, could care less. If we discovered a method that would make a baby stop crying, we would shout it from the rooftops and be named Man of the Year--whether it be breastfeeding, pacifiers, sedatives, or duct tape. (Better yet, if we discovered a method that would prevent us from ever getting into a situation where we'd be trying to get a baby to stop crying, we'd immediately be crowned as gods.)

I've been trying to think of a male situation that compares to women arguing about parenting, and I don't think there really is one. The best I can come up with is sports: men get passionate about sports, and we want other men to know how smart we are on the subject, and to get them to agree with us. However, there's a key difference between men talking about sports and women talking about parenting: men lie. "Can you believe that the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira for $180 million?" "Oh, don't get me started on the Yankees!" (Translated: "I don't really watch baseball.")

I'm going to recommend that my wife begin to apply this method (lying) around the playground.

My Wife: "I had my baby eleven days ago."

Doula: "I hope you had it natural, in a bathtub."

My Wife: "Of course! Heck, we didn't even use a mid-wife or a doula--we did it ourselves. And then I went and did the laundry."

La Leche Leaguer: "And you're breastfeeding?"

My Wife: "Of course! In fact, I purposely go to public places to breastfeed--without a blanket, of course--just to promote the cause! The more awkward, the better!"

La Leche Leaguer: "Fight the Power!"

My Wife: "No blood for oil! Or whatever!"

Disclaimer: I didn't actually run this blog past my wife before I posted it this morning, so she might not be happy that I'm publically discussing her breastfeeding and childbirth methods. Consequently, when I'm fished out of the East River and she claims she's Not Guilty By Reason of Sleep Deprivation Psychosis, you'll know the truth.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Book Clubs

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
- Jack London

So I’m back doing school visits again, which is admittedly a lot more fun than going to a nine to five job. Where else can you suggest to a gym full of kids that a cheese-vomiting giant bologna sandwich would be a really cool arch villain? At the end of the presentation, I usually do a Q&A session. One of the most common questions goes something like this. “What was the inspiration for your book?” My typical answer is that I wanted to write a fantasy where the kids don’t turn out to be the greatest magicians or superheroes, or whatever. They have weaknesses that they have to deal with.

That is a true answer. If there is an “inspiration” I can claim, that would be it. The problem I have with the word inspiration, though, is that—in the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Authors and prospective authors tend to confuse inspiration with a sort of muse-like cloud that falls upon you while you are sleeping or showering or meditating on a park bench. Do authors get inspiration from dreams or showers or long walks in the turnip patch? Sure, but saying you should wonder the turnip patch in search of a “big idea” is like saying you should spend all your time walking along mountain streams because someone once found a gold nugget there.

Gold was discovered in Coloma by chance in a river. But later miners didn’t sit by the edge of the river waiting for a nugget to roll by. They hiked, and dug, and tested, and repeated the process all over again. In other words, they worked for their gold. Sometimes their work paid off, other times it didn’t. Authors need to take the same advice. Want to write the next great story? Don’t sit around waiting for the idea fairy to hit you on the head with her hammer of revelation. Get out and work for it.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Stephenie Myer had a dream about a vampire in a meadow. Great, call that inspiration if you want. But if that was all she had to go on, it would have been a very short book. What about the werewolves and love triangles and the good and bad blood suckers? (Not that I’ve actually read those girly books or anything. Cough, cough.) In other words, she didn’t just transcribe a dream. She took that small scene and crafted a whole series of books to go with it.

I hate to give my friend James Dashner too much credit (It makes his head swell up and turn red.) But the man is constantly coming up with cool new ideas for books. He isn’t waiting for some inspiration to strike, he is reading, and thinking, and plotting until he comes up with a cool idea that no one else has thought of yet. When Shadow Mountain suggested he come up with a few ideas to discuss during a lunch two years ago, he developed 13th Reality in a couple of weeks, and wrote up a synopsis, and sent it to them before the lunch.

I’ll be the first to admit (or maybe the hundred and thirty second) that some people come up with ideas more easily than others. But I also contend that anyone can come up with a story idea. In fact half my school presentation is showing kids that they can develop a great idea for a story in five minutes or less. And it works every time.

It’s really not that hard. Start with a genre. Pick something you’ve always wanted to write. Then throw in a handful of fun characters. Make them unique enough that each one stands out. Next give them a goal that you’d love to read about. But make it exciting. You want an idea that makes people around you go, “Wow! That sounds so cool.” Not, “Hmmm, yes, I can see how that might work.” Then throw in a dash of insurmountable obstacles. Nothing makes a story better than the point at which the reader thinks, “How can he/she possibly overcome that.” Finally, add to your meal, er story, a relish of major consequences. What happens if your hero fails? Make the consequences dire indeed. Once you’ve done all that, simmer and stir for awhile.

One of the posters to my Farworld forum suggested that a great way to come up with a fantasy name is to take a common word and change it one letter at a time. For example:

There you go. Princess Lamia. (When I Googled this name, I discovered that it is actually a real name. In Greek mythology, Lamia was a Queen of Libya who became a child-murdering daemon. But that just makes it that much cooler. When people ask you how you came up with the name, you drop that little tidbit and look educated.)

You can do the same thing with your story idea. If you are writing about a prince who falls in love with a princess and has to rescue her from a dragon, try stirring it up and see what happens. Let’s make it a butterfly who falls in love with a princess. Then instead of falling in love, let’s make it a butterfly who is jealous of a princess. Then instead of rescuing her from a dragon, the butterfly trades places with the dragon to slay the vain princess. This is just an example and is probably a lousy idea. But if you stir enough, you will end up with something that works.

Of course the concept of cranking out ideas like Big Macs may seem crass to authors who believe that all great book ideas must come accompanied by the singing of a chorus of angels and the sound of tinkling cymbals. But those are quite often the people that crank out a book every ten years whether they need it or not. If you’ve got a gazillion ideas, stop reading this and go write them down. But if you’ve been holding off, waiting for inspiration to strike, take Jack’s advice and go strike inspiration instead.

By the way, the title of this post was really just a play on words to get you to read it. Everyone loves a good book club. So if you read all the way to the end and are still looking for advice on forming a book club, um, well, "You can't wait for a book club. You have to go after it with a . . . another . . . club." Carry on.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

100,000 Reasons to Celebrate

by Sariah S. Wilson

It's been almost three years in the making, and I know no one else has probably noticed this but me (because I'm all obsessive like that), but our blog hit 100,000 unique visits! Woo-hoo! Celebration time!

It seems like a good time to do a little celebrating. We've had some great news already this week on the blog (welcome to the newest Wells' baby!), but I've got some good news as well. My husband was recently offered a job which he accepted. Thank you to everyone who kept us in their thoughts and prayers. It's a little less money than he was making before, but in an economy like this one I'm just grateful that he has a job at all. And all the things that made him miserable at his last job (the impossible-to-meet deadlines, the 14-hour workdays, the constant stress and blame), the new company is nothing like that. Their set-up is totally different and my husband is thrilled to be in such a mellower atmosphere.

It also made me recognize all over again the importance of networking (which is how we make this writing related!). He was able to land the job in part because his old boss works at the new company.

Having connections has helped me out in ways in my personal life lately - we were able to get adorable pictures and Christmas cards of the kids this year because one of my sisters works for Kiddie Kandids and had points she's earned as an employee that could be used for those pictures.

Writing wise, some of the best networking for me has been online (I don't live in Utah). The first place where I made some connections with soon-to-be/already published authors was at a forum for That's where I met Julie, Jeff and Rob. Julie was particularly encouraging to me in my writing and gave me some advice on my first chapter and publisher tips. Rob was really pro-Covenant (my publisher) and gave me his advice on trying to get published. Jeff and I realized that we had the same editor and I told him my idea for starting up this blog.

There were many other authors there who gave me advice and encouragement - like David Woolley who helped me work through writing my first battle scene - and all those posters who celebrated with me when I sold my first manuscript. It was a fantastic experience to be surrounded by so many already published and still novice writers, and it was because of those connections that I got quotes for my first book and a lot of the publicity around it came because of that networking. I didn't set out to network - I just wanted to be in a place where people wanted the same thing that I did - to be published in the LDS market.

Nowadays, my half-hearted networking comes from LDStorymakers. I should be better about developing relationships there, but on the lists I'm much more of a lurker than a poster. I feel like I know everyone there probably a lot better than they know me. I see how much they rely on one another for advice and encouragement and for help in publicity tours or for getting reviews or quotes. It is a wonderful environment to be a part of, and if you've been published in the LDS market, I would absolutely encourage you to join. If you haven't been published yet, I'd make it a goal to become part of this amazing group!

For those that are better networkers than me (and this is admittedly inspired in part by the most recent episode of Ugly Betty), what are your tips? Or how has networking helped you in your life or your career?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Snowstorms and Second Chances

By Julie Coulter Bellon

Our area was hit by a punishing snowstorm this past week. It snowed for two days straight and driving was treacherous. The kids kept hoping school would be cancelled, but it wasn’t. It reminded me of being home in Canada---through mild or massive snowstorms, as long as you can tunnel to school, school’s ON!

I went to pick up my kids at school on the second day of storming, when the snow was packed and people were sliding all over the place, and my stomach was in knots the whole time. The lane that drivers have to go in to pick up kids is fairly small and with snow everywhere it felt downright tiny. I got in line and inched forward until I was finally at the curb and could pick up my children. When everyone was loaded, I got back in the moving line, but I had a monster truck behind me. The wheels were so large I could practically see the tread on them through my back window. Mr. Monster Truck was not afraid of the weather in the least. He kept revving his engine and pulling within a hair’s breadth of my bumper. Other cars were barely missing sliding into each other, but Mr. Monster Truck was unconcerned. People like that scare me, just like large snowstorms and icy roads and driving through that with my kids in the car scares me. Thankfully, he didn’t hit me and I went on my way.

I made it home, car and kids intact, and then we proceeded to make hot chocolate. We watched the snowflakes come down for a while, feeling the warmth of the chocolate and marveling at how cold it had gotten outside, but it wasn’t long before the kids wanted to play in the snow. You couldn’t see any distinction between the sidewalk, road, or yard, since the snow was piled up so deep, so everyone got their sleds and headed for the front of our house. Neighbor kids came out as well, and everyone had a great time sledding. They came in when it got dark and we ate a warm dinner, which I was very proud of because I felt prepared. I didn’t need to go to the store for anything, I had all the food we needed even if we were snowed in for days.

After dinner, we went back to the front windows and discovered a new game. It’s called, “Prediction.” This is how you play. When you live on a somewhat steep hill on a side of a mountain, during a snowstorm the roads become icy and snowpacked. Even after warnings to stay inside, some motorists do not heed these warnings. So, when you are watching these people in their cars, trying to make it up a snowpacked icy hill, you can “predict” which ones will make it and which ones will slide back down. It was a fun game, really, because the boys would be nodding their heads, “Oh yeah, this one’s going to make it. That guy looks like he’s got guts.” But after several runs at it, it was obvious that the driver may have guts, but his car didn’t. The driver would inevitably give up and the boys would shake their heads, “dang, it was a good try though.” It didn’t surprise me how many teenagers I saw in their little putt putt cars trying to go up that hill, but I was surprised at how many elderly people tried it. Needless to say, my predictions rarely came true. Trucks that I thought would make it for sure just slid back down like butter on a corn cob. There were several close calls when they would slide, too, and barely miss hitting the people waiting to try behind them.

I thought later that I missed a good opportunity. I should have gone out and told all of those people, “Go home. It’s snowing. Snuggle in front of your fire with a good book.” And then I could recommend a few good books, mine included, of course. Like J. Scott Savage would say, it’s always about marketing. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, think marketing. Maybe next time. The weatherman says we’re going to be getting another storm this evening that could bring 6-12 more inches of snow. Maybe I’ll get my recommendations nailed down, in case I get another captive audience on my hill. Who says we don’t get second chances?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Getting in (Some Kind of) Shape

by Stephanie Black

I’ve been pretty good about exercising over the past few weeks. I didn’t do it every day over the holidays, of course, but I still exercised a respectable number of times. (I also ate buckets of Christmas goodies, but maybe the exercise canceled out two or three of those chocolate-covered almond clusters and cinnamon rolls).

In the past, I’ve been intermittent with my exercise habits. I’d have a good spell, then a dry spell, then start up again, then drop off again. Exercise has never been my favorite thing. When I took that nasty Fitness for Life class at BYU (they don’t put freshman through that anymore, do they? I hope not) where we had to exercise on our own and keep a record of it, I’d procrastinate my exercise so long that I’d end up doing aerobics in the wee hours of the morning. A friend gave me a Far Side Mug labeled “Aerobics in Hell,” where a demon instructor tells his class: “Three more, two more, one more, okay! . . . Five million leglifts right leg first! . . . Ready, set! . . . ” I could relate.

But now, considering the bad news I keep getting at doctor’s appointments, I’m feeling more motivated to exercise consistently. I exercise at home on our Elliptical. My husband goes to a gym near his work, but I prefer the home thing. If I had to get myself ready to go out in public, get my preschooler ready, drive to the gym, drop her off in childcare, exercise, go pick her up—forget it. I just wouldn’t do it. And I wouldn’t want to do it while she’s in preschool, either—yeah, I can just picture myself saying, “Hey, I have no children at home right now! I think I’ll go spend this time exercising.” Then I’d laugh, plop down on the couch, and eat a donut. Anyway, home workouts work for me. I like being able to throw on an old T-shirts, ugly pants, whatever—yesterday I was wearing Halloween socks—and hop on the machine. I can get my heart pumping and read a book while I do it, and in half an hour, I’m done. It’s not the Workout of the Stars, but it’s a nice bit of cardio. That’s “nice” as in “good for me” not as in “This is my favorite time of the day! I love exercise! It makes me feel so good!”

I do hear rumors of a “runner’s high” that some people get from exercise, but I also hear that the Ten Tribes are in the center of the earth. Okay, kidding, I acknowledge that a runner’s high exists. I’m just bitter that I don’t get it. My sister-in-law loves exercising—gets a stress-relieving endorphin rush from it, to which I can only say: “Huh?” I have never experienced this phenomenon. And neither have any of my siblings or parents. Must be a genetic thing, and our genes are more interested in the feeding trough than the treadmill. My dad ran an entire stinking marathon and never got a runner’s high.

It’s a dang shame I don’t get this endorphin thing. I’d probably be a lot skinnier if I did. But I’ll keep up my exercising, since endorphins or not, I don’t want to void the warranty on my body quite yet. I’m grateful I can exercise and hope to be able to keep it up for a good many decades to come.

Discussion question: Do you suppose our ancestors look at us and think that it's goofier than heck that we plant our sedentary bodies on machines that go nowhere and do nothing, just to get us moving enough to stay healthy? I'm betting the pioneers didn't have this issue.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Letters, We've Got Letters!

I guess a lot of people must have received Farworld for Christmas, or Chanukah, or doorstops, or maybe just because everyone else was buying books. Whatever the reason, I started getting a ton of e-mails recently. It’s been great, and I’ve been trying to be pretty quick in responding. I think getting fan mail is one of the coolest things about being an author. So today I thought I’d share some of my recent letters. I’ll just post the writers first name for privacy reasons.

BTW, if you write to me and you don’t hear back, make sure you are putting a valid e-mail in the contact box. Or just write to me at scott at jscottsavage dot com.

From Matt:
Hi i was at cook elementary when you went there so i wanted to know if you know Rick Riordan.

(No, but I’ve read his books. Does that count?)

From Jordan:
Hi do you think this story sounds good or bad it is about a kid named Jordan lost a hat at school so he went to the lost and found but when he put hi hand in he fell in to it and he finds some legos but when he touchs one they all came to life and he and they were life sized and he turnd in to a lego and they went in to and he went to many wars email me if you and I well email it to you by the way I am 9 years old.

(Who could resist a book about a kid who turns into a Lego?)

From Miley:
do you like pickles

(Doesn’t everyone like pickles? I think it’s some kind of law.)

From Abby,
I got my book report grade back, and my teacher gave me ninety-nine percent out of one-hundred percent because she did not notice that my description of my favorite picture was on the page behind the picture, when we were actually supposed to put the description of our picture on the lines below the picture, so I showed it to her and she said sorry, and that she would fix my grade in her grade book, so I actually should be getting one-hundred percent out of one-hundred percent on it but I do not know, so I will email you two back and let you know when I get my book report grade back.

(This is from a good friend introduced to me by Kerry. She was also a previous guest on the Frog blog. I include this to show all kids out there that you can ace your next book report if you do it on Farworld. And if you, you know, do a great report.)

From Skye:
you are awsome!!!!!! sorry I didn't come saturday i liked it when you came to hannah holebrook but send me a email i like you so much so far i like your book my brother wants to read your book and hes in 8th grade your the best person on earth so i hope i see you again and hope you have the best halloween ever your my bff and that means you my best friend forever i like you so much some time you can come camping with us in the summer time so my mom and dad say yes and you can bring your family i like your hand writting because i can read it your the best person on earth so you rock ill send you a message on sunday so have fun on every thing yor friend skye

(I am so going camping with Skye!)

From Kelci:

(You’ve got to like someone who is your biggest fan even though they don’t understand your books. Just wait until she reads one that makes sense!)

From Antony:
Hi I love far world as mch as I love my family. i love the cool symbols you created representing the four elemens I cant wait till the next book comes out

(Either Antony really loves Farworld, or he is just so-so with his family. I’m hoping for the first.)

From Claudia:
I know that your books are aimed at YA, however I really enjoy them and have all my friends read them. Along with my husband. I just want to know when can we expect the next book to come out? Yes I am a Grandma that loves good books. Thanks for writing another good book

(Next time someone asks me what age group I write for, I’m handing them this group of letters!)

Hope you all had a great 2008, and that your 2009 is even better!)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Max Robison Wells

Born 1-3-09. 8lbs, 11oz. 19 inches. Baby and mother doing well.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Significance of the Number 4 in the Book of Mormon

by Sariah S. Wilson

The number 4 is a big deal in Central American culture. While in our Protestant American culture we find significance in numbers like 7 or 13 (and in our LDS culture we find significance in numbers like 3 and 12), the Book of Mormon peoples seemed to base a lot of activity and spiritual significance to the number 4.

It represents a wholeness, a completeness, a finish. It would feel "right" to a Nephite. It's gone a whole cycle from start to end. Even their numbering system uses a base 20, a multiple of 4, rather than our base 10.

There are so many instances in the Book of Mormon where things are done in fours. When Alma went to teach the Zoramites, (wherein he assembled the Justice League of Uber Missionaries), he brings seven companions, making himself the eighth. When Zeniff went to go check out the old Nephite territory, there were 16 total travelers. You'll also find this 4 gets played on to make other statements - like when Zeniff goes to see the Lamanite king he brings four companions, making himself the fifth member, or the focal point and of the most significance, in order to draw the king's attention to himself.

The number of dead or wounded or soldier counts often play off as multiples of 4. When Christ came, he prophesied that it would be the fourth generation that would fall, and the prophets knew that 400 years after the coming of Christ the Nephite nation would be no more.

Both Mormon and Coriantumr spent four years preparing for what would be the final battles of their respective peoples.

This is part of the reason why I argue that it is so important to understand the culture of the Book of Mormon in order to more properly appreciate the spiritual significance. The number 4 had a high cultural/spiritual significance for the Nephite and Lamanite peoples, so when you see it mentioned it has a higher level of meaning than we would attribute to it through a cursory reading.

Then, as I taught my final lesson to my 16-year-old Sunday School class, we realized as a group that Joseph Smith had to wait four years to get the golden plates. Moroni was the one who forbade Joseph from taking them and then gave the okay when it was time. Of course it took four years. It would have had a significance to Moroni that indicated that Joseph had studied and prepared and that it became a time of completion and readiness.

So why bring this up? Well, this is the sort of thing I loved teaching my Sunday School class.

But now, as the year turns, we have entered unchartered territory. I have a new group of kids that I will have to keep in line (my brother suggested killing one in order to keep the rest of the group compliant), and they are a group that likes to TALK. I know some teachers probably don't care if their kids talk in class - I find it to be totally disrespectful. If I spend hours preparing a lesson that I hope is both interesting and insightful, I would hope they would show me the respect of at least pretending to listen by not carrying on a conversation. I think if I respect them enough to do the best job I can, they should return the favor and respect me as their teacher who does not do well with gabbing.

And I've got gabbers coming.

Problem is, we're moving into an era that I'm not all that familiar with. Doctrine and Covenants and Church history is not the time period that I've devoted myself to.

So I'm coming to you and asking for suggestions on reading material. I would love a book that goes chapter by chapter or verse by verse with commentary (my favorite kind of scripture resource). Rather than trying to find something myself, I figured somebody out there would know of a really good resource book that I could teach from.

I find it harder to teach when I don't really know what I'm talking about, and when I'm unsure I have a harder time keeping the kids' attention.

Suggest a book and save a kid from bum-bum-bum -- certain death! (Five points for knowing where the certain death line comes from.)

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Resolution for Unkept Resolutions

by Kerry Blair

To celebrate the New Year, I am going to buy a portrait-quality picture of Annie, place it in a gilt frame, and hang it above my bed.

I will do that first thing tomorrow.

Like the Little Orphan Optimist, I love tomorrow! It is the one thing most likely to get me through today.

I woke up on New Year’s Day with a slew of resolutions . . . and a nasty stomach bug. While I stuck faithfully to a diet of lukewarm water and very little else, every other goal I’d set fell by the wayside. Mostly I lay on the couch and reaffirmed my resolutions to anybody who would listen.

“Tomorrow,” I told my daughter, “I want you to show me how to use the Wii Fit.” To my son I said, “I’ll get the guest room cleaned out tomorrow so you can move your stuff in before you start student teaching next week.” When my husband muttered about having nowhere to stow the Christmas stuff in a two-car garage sans cars, I vowed: “I’m hauling all those boxes to Goodwill tomorrow.” Finally, “Don’t worry about all those oxygen canisters in the middle of your room,” I told my mother. “Tomorrow I’m going to find the perfect place to store them.”

When no two-legged family members were around to reassure, I promised the bunnies a new bed of timothy hay, the fish 25 gallons of fresh water, the dog an extra-long session of fuzzy-tug, and the cats a manicure with the new PediPaw Santa gave them. All, tomorrow, of course.

I spend most of my life living for tomorrow. The only problem I’ve ever found with this plan is the frequency with which tomorrow becomes today. Since I’m mostly upright this morning, my husband is already wondering when we’re leaving for Goodwill. A bunny has its little black nose pressed against a pane in the French doors. My daughter left the Wii Fit manual out where I couldn’t help but trip over it, and the dog has four fuzzies lined up for my convenience. And the beat goes on. Unless there’s a Joshua around somewhere to keep the sun from setting, I have absolutely no hope of completing my To Do list or my newest set of daily resolutions before midnight.

Fortunately, six days of every week come with a shiny-new tomorrow of their own! The seventh day, Saturday, is even better. While it lacks a viable tomorrow in which to cram menial chores, it comes with something even better – a Monday! Everybody knows that Monday is two days away, making it an absolute dream. Until, of course, it dawns.

Wonder how I manage to keep a single New Year’s resolution and/or keep from sinking into despair? Easy! Anyone can do it! First, obtain a pair of Genuine Little Orphan Annie Rose-Colored Glasses. (Quick! Send 72 proofs of purchase from 1940s-era Ovaltine to an address that no longer exists and wait patiently. Very patiently.) Then, come January 17th or so, just when you’ve finally realized that you haven’t yet worked on a single New Year’s resolution, the glasses will make you recall that Chinese New Year is just around the corner: a new beginning! You realize that you really should await the Year of the Tortoise (or whatever) before resuming your trek along the pathway to perfection.

Wait, there’s more to my madness!

Come the middle of March, when I still haven’t met a goal, I rejoice. The calendar shows that my birthday is right around the corner. Now there’s the day to begin a new year of life! Then if I’m lucky, Easter is still a week or three away, giving me an even better reason to resurrect a glorious new me from the gloom of the last three months. If an overdose of chocolate bunny ears causes me to slack off just a bit toward the end of April, no worries! Summer begins soon – what better time to sweep out the moldy old me and embrace a bright new persona? Of course, summer is usually pretty hectic, but kids go back to school in late August. Good deal! Every September without fail I buy a new planner and use it faithfully (for a week or so) to help chart my new course of resolution.

Admittedly, I take October through December off for the holidays. (The holidays begin on Columbus Day and extend through Halloween and beyond.) But even in those joyous times of frivolity, merry-making, and overindulgence, I look piously ahead to a fresh start in the New Year.


In the interest of truth in blogging, I must allow that there is a downside. I have yet to lose weight, de-clutter my surroundings, or write the Great American Novel. (Or even the Mediocre American Novel.) Am I worried? Not at all. Not only is today only the second day of 2009, but it is the first day of the rest of my life! What am I doing sitting here at the computer? I have resolutions to keep, an eight-foot-long To Do list to check off, a glorious new me to sculpt from the ruins of the old model! (Please pray that I have enough raw material left for something useful if not decorative.) Today, right this minute in fact, I will begin the trek up that metaphorical mountain to vistas of unimaginable splendor!

And if I become beffuddled in the foothills and wander off course yet again? Well, there’s always tomorrow.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I finally crawled into bed at 2 a.m. this morning after a great New Year’s Eve party. I love parties and look forward every year to our family New Year’s Eve party. We get shrimp, we have a chocolate fountain to dip stuff in, crackers and a cheeseball, chips and dip, and lots of pizza. We play board games and have Wii tournaments and then as we countdown to midnight, I get my crystal champagne glasses down and everyone, from my oldest child to my youngest (well, okay, not the baby) toast the new year with all kinds of sparkling cider.

This year, however, was a little different. For the first time, my older children were gone to their own parties. The house was a little quieter, but we still did all the same things we’ve always done with our younger children. I think I might have come close to a chocolate overdose with that chocolate fountain, though, (there are TONS of things you can dip in chocolate did you know that?) but it was still fun. And I am the family champion (for today, at least) in Wii bowling and Wii tennis. I think the best thing that happened, though, was having some of our oldest children come home just before midnight so they could ring in the new year with us. It made me a little misty to think that they left their friends and came home to be with us. I know, I know, I’m a sap. But, as I looked around at my family at midnight, laughing and clinking glasses, I just thought about how blessed I am and how much I’m looking forward to the adventure of 2009.

I love starting a new year. There’s just something so refreshing about it. It makes me look back over the last year and try to improve a little more for the brand new year because, generally, I need a lot of improvement and I like the idea of starting a fresh year with all kinds of possibilities. Last New Year’s Eve I found out I was expecting a baby and my husband and I couldn’t keep the smiles off our faces knowing what 2008 would bring. But here we are in 2009, our new baby is here, our missionary son is about to leave, and part of me wishes time would stand still and everything could stay how it is, for just a little while. I know it can’t, and so I’ve decided I’m just going to look forward to this year and the changes and challenges and wonderful memories I know it will bring.

One of the things I’m looking forward to this year is the association I have with the other writers on this blog. They make me laugh, they make me think, and they make me grateful that I am included in this group of amazing people. There just isn’t a more supportive and funny group anywhere. It’s been such a blessing to be a blogger here and to also have the opportunity to meet many of you who comment regularly. You make it all worthwhile.

So here’s hoping 2009 is a great one for you and yours.

Happy New Year!