Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to an Elect Lady

Yep. I know it's not my day, but I just had to write something when I realized what day it is. A couple of years ago when Sariah asked me to join this blog, I thought mostly about what I would have to do. Could I come up with something new to write about every week (Well we know the answer to that don't we?)

What I didn't think about was how much I would gain from reading the posts of the great members of this team. Every one of them inspires me in different ways--laughter, thought, self-help.

Today is an awesome day because it is the birthday of a person who inspires me every single time she writes (or stops to talk with me for that matter.) She has helped countless people through her inspired words, her wonderfully insightful edits, and her loving personality. She is just a great, great person. I am proud to be a part of something with her, and if I had my way they'd be carving her likeness into Mt. Rushmore right now. She is just that cool.

Please join me in wishing Kerry Blair a happy, happy birthday!

Mind Over Matter?

by Sariah S. Wilson

So I'm halfway through "The Lost Symbol," and I find the take on noetic science very interesting.

It sounds all New Age-y and mystical, but I wonder how much of it is rooted in reality.

Can your mental consciousness affect your physical world?

I grew up with a variation of "The Secret." My mother said if you wanted something bad enough, to write it down and put it where you could see it every day. It wouldn't work on things like winning the lottery, but it could work on concrete, real things.

I could give you a long list of things that happened to my family growing up because of the things my mom wrote down. Things she would pray for, be mindful of, keep in the forefront of her thoughts.

I put it to the test myself when I was trying to get pregnant with my daughter. I wanted to have twins (because for some reason I thought this would be awesome and fun (to which parents of multiples are probably laughing at) and because it was within the realm of possibility since doing fertility procedures can often lead to more than one baby). So I wrote down every day on a piece of paper that I wanted twins. We already prayed at home for a baby in every prayer we said. We fasted for that baby, both in our own family and with our extended family. (I will note that I didn't ask in my prayers for twins. I've always avoided putting qualifiers on things I'm asking for in prayer.)

I wanted twins, but mostly I just wanted to be pregnant and have a baby.

Obviously, I didn't end up with twins (one of the babies didn't grow past six weeks), but I did end up with two babies once my son arrived 21 months later (that marks it as "close enough!" in my book).

One of the ways that noetic science experiments seem to work (if you're curious, you can check it out at the website Dan Brown gives in his book - the Intention Experiment) is by having the participants meditate their "intentions."

Meditation is something that's used to strike me as being something not pertaining to my beliefs, until my sophomore year of college when my bishop asked me if I meditated. Um, no, I didn't. I was lucky if I found time to brush my teeth and eat something, let alone meditate. He then opened the scriptures to show me examples of prophets and even Jesus Christ taking time to meditate, and explained how important it would be for my spiritual development.

Now, I'm not saying that I (or anyone else, for that matter) has some special magical power. I read these things and while I don't take them as Gospel truth, I do find them very fascinating. And it caused me to wonder - is this totally different than some of the things we already believe?

When we pray as a group in church, putting our thoughts together, focusing on one thing, do you consider that to be totally different?

Do you think this mind over matter is a bunch of hooey, or do you think it's possible?

Friday, March 26, 2010

High Heels and Bright Lipstick

by Kerry Blair

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to a recent Visiting Teaching Conference. Being a dutiful guest speaker, I arrived with fifty hand-painted sheep that beautifully coordinated with my visual aids and outfit. (Not that I dressed as a sheep. Although, now that I think about it, I am “fluffy” enough to make a good one.) Clearly, I had everything I needed to inspire and dazzle—except my scriptures and the carefully-prepared talk I had zipped inside the scripture case. Those I left behind on my dressing table.

Now, if you think this is going to be a blog berating myself for being so Martha-like that I remembered everything about feeding sheep but the Shepherd, you’re wrong. (Not about me berating myself; just about me doing it here.) Instead, I'll remind you of an annoying thing about people in this church. Even after you’ve publicly confessed: “Um . . . uh . . . I hate to . . . er . . . say this, but I . . . um . . . seem to have . . . er . . . forgotten my . . . uh . . . talk . . .” they still expect you to continue speaking. Um, right. Except, my message contained passages of holy writ that, while duly marked and easy to find in my own scriptures, seem somehow to disappear in every “generic” copy on earth. (Is that just me or does it happen to everyone?) Furthermore, meaningful quotes from prophets tend to lose a little punch when paraphrased by people with faulty memories.

All these things went through my head as I wished the floor would open up at my feet, but still the eyes of the congregation. Before my brain engaged, my mouth blurted, “Let me tell you about a woman I used to visit teach.” Those words led me into a couple of personally-sacred experiences and “sound bytes” I want to share with you today.

I was a super-busy mother of four young children when I was assigned to visit Mary Ann. She was an “older sister” (meaning she was then the age I am now) who lived alone in a tiny efficiency apartment. On the first visit she explained that she was in the city to be near medical treatment for cancer. Her husband worked more than a hundred miles away, maintaining their insurance and home while trying to pay the ever-mounting bills.

To say I was overwhelmed by this woman’s plight was an understatement. I recognized at once that I was too young, too inexperienced, and not nearly inspired enough to tend this poor lost sheep for the Savior. I called the Relief Society president who assured me she felt strongly that I was the right person at the right time. When I continued to protest she asked ever-so-kindly if I doubted the Lord’s ability to grant inspiration or merely her worthiness to receive it. (Relief Society presidents can be so difficult.) I ended up accepting the assignment and doing what little I could for Mary Ann. Over the course of the months I served as her Visiting Teacher, I taught her absolutely nothing. She taught me, well, absolutely everything—though I didn’t fully recognize it at the time.

Two experiences—of dozens—and then we’ll all go on about our weekends.

Lesson One. I met Mary Ann in the bygone era of Homemaking Nights—meetings I considered largely a waste of time and hot glue. Mary Ann loved them. One of the craft nights fell within thirty-six hours of a chemo treatment. When I went to pick her up, she looked not like death warmed over, but like death left out on the counter—in a hot room. Still, she staggered toward the car with crafting bag in hand. I was horrified at her gaunt face and sunken eyes and begged her to stay home to rest.

Mary Ann opened the car door and said, “Kerry, dear, you stay home to rest when you have a cold. When you have cancer, you get up and go anywhere anyone will take you.”

Lesson Two. Not long before Mary Ann was unable to continue living alone, she came to church looking absolutely spectacular. Her make-up was carefully applied and she wore a lovely new dress and (*gasp*) two-inch heels. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks as I hugged her and said, “I’m glad you feel so well at last!”

With her arms around me still she whispered, “The worse the day, the higher the heels and the brighter the lipstick.”

I have never forgotten those words, or the electricity of Spirit I felt as she said them.

As I said, it was most of a lifetime before I realized that the Lord sent me into Mary Ann’s life, not for anything I could do for her, but for everything she would do for me. I was her Visiting Teacher, but she was the shepherd. I hate to think how lost and desolate I would likely be now if I had not been blessed then by her guidance and example. Thank goodness (and God) I accepted that call.

This morning, I am still mortified to recall the evening I cared more about my handouts than my scriptures, but I’m grateful it happened. Besides a jolting reality check, it was a much-needed gift of remembrance. I woke this morning at 4 AM, in too much pain to sleep. Two weeks ago I would have taken a pill and spent the next couple of hours in the dark, bemoaning my lot in life. But I’ve been reflecting on Mary Ann too much lately for that. I still took the pill, but instead of indulging in self-pity, I got up and got dressed. (Yes, I put on lipstick, but me teetering around in high heels scares the pit bull, so I opted for my classy monkey-sock slippers instead.) Then I sat down to share with you the story of the good shepherd who—years ago—showed me the way through a wilderness I face today.

And, lest you feel slighted, here is a little sheep handout for each of you, too! It's way better than the one I painted!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Out and About with Julie Bellon

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Doing PR for a new book is really fun. I have had such a wonderful time over this past month and met a lot of great people as I’ve been interviewed and reviewed. For instance, I was on Channel 2 News at Noon a few weeks ago, and as Mary Nickles stood beside me, interviewing me, my only thought was, wow you are tall! I mean, I’m a tall woman myself being five foot nine, and she literally towered over me and she was wearing flats! Since I usually see her sitting behind a desk, I guess I just didn’t realize her height, but yeah, she was tall. (I found out this morning she played professional volleyball. I can totally see why!) She was also extremely nice and felt really bad for mispronouncing my name on air. (A lot of people say it like Bell-un, but it’s really more like Bull-lawn. It’s French so most everyone gets it wrong. I’m used to it now.) I was just excited to be meeting Mary Nickles!

I was also afraid my mind would go blank during that interview and since we were on live TV, if it did go blank, that would be bad. So we’re breezing through the interview and then at the very end, Mary says, “And where can people go to buy your book?” and I immediately said, “Seagull Book, Deseret Book . . .” and then my mind sort of blanked. Where else could they buy it? So I looked at her and just said, “And anywhere else great books are sold.” My husband thought that was the best part of the interview because it was funny, but I was just glad I didn’t look as silly as I could have!

Which reminds me, I did a podcast with the LDSWBR and while I was having a great time doing that interview, Shanda turns to me and says, “Since your book takes place in Paris, do you speak French?” And I do speak French since I took six years of it in junior high/high school, and two more years of it while I was at BYU, and have been to Quebec and Paris to try it out, so I said, yes I do. And then she asked me to say something in French, while on the air, and honestly my mind blanked. I couldn’t think of anything to say in French! I finally thought of something and said it, but then she asked me to say a particular word and I could not think of it. I felt really dumb! As soon as I got in the car to go home I remembered it though, and I wanted to run back in to the podcast and say, hey, can I say it now and have you edit it in? But of course I didn’t, and now I think of that word often. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Or maybe things like that only happen to me.

I also had an incredible triple launch party with Annette Lyon, Sarah Eden, and myself. Wow, what a night! We had three great books to launch, and honestly, we had a ton of people come, with lines of fans and amazing prizes, it was awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better booksigning. Even the staff at the Deseret Book we were at were telling us it was one of the best booksignings they’ve ever had. And just to give you a heads up, Sarah Eden is hilarious. She just has these zingers that had me laughing all night long. And her book, Courting Miss Lancaster, was really well done as well. I love Jane Austen, and Sarah’s book (which is a regency romance) has just the right amount of humor, emotion, and great connections with characters that kept me turning pages. I’m just now starting Annette’s Band of Sisters, and am really enjoying it so far.

I did have a very surprising thing happen to me at that book launch, though. There was this lady sort of watching us, and I thought she must just be shy because she didn’t approach, but then a few minutes later, she came behind our table and put her hand on my shoulder. I looked up, and she said, “Do you recognize me?” I hate it when people do that because even if I do recognize the person I most often forget their name (I know, I know, I feel dumb. I’m sorry! I meet a lot of people!) and she sort of looked familiar but nothing was coming to mind. So, in order to save face/further my humiliation, I guessed the name Tammy, because she sort of looked like my friend Tammy whom I haven’t seen in a while. This woman shook her head and said, “No. I’m your cousin from Washington!” Man, imagine my embarrassment not to recognize my own relative, never mind the cousin that I spent most of my summers with as a teenager! (In my defense however, I hadn’t seen her in over twenty-two years, when we were both much younger.) She had come to surprise me at my booksigning and brought her husband and daughter with her to meet me. But after that odd start, it was definitely a great reunion.

My book PR has also included my charity, Water for Warriors and I have met some amazing people doing my Water for Warriors project. The men and women that I'm working with at Operation Care and Comfort (part of the Red Cross) work tirelessly to get our troops care packages from home to help their water taste better, to give them something to look forward to and most of all, to let them know they are not forgotten and their sacrifice is appreciated by the American people. It is such an honor to be part of them and helping our soldiers. If you would still like to help me spread the word and be entered in my contest for helping or donating, then this is the last week to do so. Tweet, blog, or link to my website that has more details on Water for Warriors, or make a donation yourself, then email me at to tell me what you’ve done and I will enter you to win an autographed copy of my book, a copy of the DVD One Good Man, or the opportunity to name a character in my next book. Your help is greatly appreciated!

The next wonderful PR thing I am doing is the Celebrating Sisterhood event this weekend. I will be booksigning on Friday evening at the Provo Seagull on University Parkway from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and then at the South Jordan Seagull on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and then at the North Sandy Seagull from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. This is a fun event before Conference weekend with lots of prizes and authors to meet and I know you won’t want to miss it! Plus, I’d love to meet you (just don’t come up and ask me if I recognize you!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Random Thoughts

I’m so happy Rob blogged this morning. Because he posted on Wednesday, this means that legally, I can claim his blog as my own. So I’m done. Hope you enjoyed it! See you next week.

Okay, okay. I’ll say something, but I get to be random, because Rob already posted something coherent. A few thoughts:

*My daughter told me she wanted to buy some khaki pants off eBay. Fine. We can all use a pair of khakis, right? Then I get the receipt and find out she purchased “tactical pants.” Tactical pants? Because what college student doesn’t need a pair of tactical pants, along with strategic socks, a conniving sweater, and a hat that can see the big picture? Anyway, apparently these are some sort of cop gear thing that she wants to wear on ride-alongs when she gets home. Should have known. If she ever comes to me wanting to buy a vest, I’ll know to ask questions to see if Kevlar is involved.

*Here’s a really, really yummy brownie recipe from They are super easy to make, but taste like something you spent a lot of time on. They’ve quickly become a family favorite.

*Whitney tally: 26 books read, out of 30 books, with a week and a half remaining before ballots are due. I plan to vote in five out of six categories. I’ve given up hope on finishing the Historical category in time, which means I won’t be able to vote for Best Novel of the Year either. Oh well. If I were to vote for Best Novel right now, out of the 26 books I’ve read . . . wow, there are so many awesome finalists. But I’d vote for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.

*I’ve hit 74K words on my work-in-progress. I'm happy about this.

*I am not fond of eggplant. Or ranch dressing. Or bleu cheese. Mold? Really?

*I have a cold. Whoever invented Kleenex is a genius.

Feel free to be completely random in the comment trail.

A'Caucusing We Will Go

by Robison Wells

I wrote a big introduction to this blog that was essentially my attempt to explain my political views, but then I realized that it wasn't that interesting, and definitely not entertaining, and you don't care. So, let's just ignore that. Suffice it to say that I probably disagree with you (unless you're a reasonable, intelligent person). (Zing!)

Tonight was the caucus night in Utah, and I decided that it was time that I go. I've never gone before, but I needed to. If I'm going to mock local politics then I probably ought to actually attend some meetings (to give me more fodder for mocking).

I actually went to two caucuses. (Cauci? That can't be right.) First, I went to the Democrat caucus, because it started first and I figured I could get a taste of it and still have time to get to the Republican one.

Here is the basic comparison between the two, and I promise that these observations are not at all biased in any way (seriously). The Democrat caucus had more people, was far better organized, and had far fewer weirdos. (I know! I was surprised, too!) In fact, the attendee demographics at the Republican caucus seemed to be: 60% older than 70, 30% unkempt and oddly dressed, and 10% unkempt and oddly dressed people who are older than 70. (Which explains why McCain got the nomination last year.)

So, we sat in uncomfortable chairs while the district chairperson led the meeting, and I was never quite sure if he was pausing for dramatic effect or falling asleep in between announcements. Suffice it to say that he was boring.

And then we all split up and met with our precincts, and my precinct only had five people, including me. And, worse, all the votes were two-and-two, which left me as the deciding vote. And I had absolutely nothing to base my vote on. So, I told them that I was a moderate independent, and that I really shouldn't be voting anyway, since I'm not registered in either party and I was there mostly as an oberver. (Which is foruntate, because the candidate choices were: the fanatic or the conspiracy theorist.)

Here's what surprised me the most: no one, at either caucus, was talking about issues. Even when I was faced with Sophie's Choice (the nut or the wacko) and I asked them what their political philosophies were, all I got from the fanatic was "I like to keep my options open", and then the conspiracy theorist told me how "[So-and-so] is corrupt. The news won't tell you, but I can read between the lines."

And that was it. Other than the boring chairperson reading the Republican platform, that was the only discussion of issues the entire night. I must admit that, as a moderate independent, I was expecting both caucuses to yell at me and tell me why I was needed to more fully convert to their extremist ideas. But, no. No one was recruiting today, or, it seemed, even thinking about politics. Caucus Day is apparently Paperwork Day.

Part of the reason I was going to both caucuses tonight was to see if either party seemed at all attractive. I'm in the middle, which means that I don't like either side, but if I'm going to vote I need to pick someone, right?

Well, my goal was not realized. At the end of the night I picked up a voter registration form (I haven't changed my address since moving from Provo), and I filled it out and handed it in. And, when it asked for my party, I drew a giant checkmark next to 'Unaffiliated'.

But, on the plus side, someone gave me a candy bar.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My 24-Hour Utah Sojourn

by Sariah S. Wilson

(Before I begin, does anyone else feel gypped that we haven't gotten a recap of Julie's awesome triple signing party last Friday?)

Sometimes you make sacrifices for family that they won't appreciate for many, many years to come.

My brother got married this past week in the Salt Lake City temple, and being the good sister that I am, I decided to go.

I had to take my daughter and 1-year-old son with me. My husband was in the middle of finishing up a hugely important project at work and couldn't take the time off to watch the little ones. I'm sure I could have asked someone in the ward, but it seemed like a lot to ask.

I tried to plan for every eventuality - my daughter had a backpack full of new, fun activities and toys, my son had his in the diaper bag, both were laden with snacks, and I brought along the portable DVD player and some of their favorite DVDs.

Of course, the best laid plans...

It all began on my first flight with an airline, that I will avoid mentioning here, except that I will give you this hint - the name rhymes with MUNITED MAIRLINES. Anyway, there was some sort of technical glitch with an electrical panel on the plane. Nothing that would have any effect whatsoever on the operation of the airplane, but they apparently couldn't fly because on the pilot's dashboard thingy it says "fail." (Fail's right. Epic fail.)

And as always, there is apparently only one mechanic in the entire state of Ohio capable of fixing this thing, and we sat there for over an hour waiting for him to show up. In this period of time I discovered that my number one plan for distracting the kids, the DVD player, did not work. The battery had stopped functioning. (I discovered later that I could plug the adapter directly into the DVD player and it was fine. That, however, did me no good on the plane where there was a distinct shortage of electrical outlets.)

This delay made us late arriving at Chicago O'Hare, where I had a connecting flight to Salt Lake City. I asked the flight attendant if they planned on contacting the connecting flights so that they would wait for us. She repeatedly told me and the other passengers that the other flights would know exactly where we were, what had happened, and would wait.

I had 20 minutes to get from the far end of the B terminal to the low numbers of the C terminal. They are of course as far away as they could possibly be.

This would be no problem for me - I had been doing free step on the Wii. I was certainly in good enough shape to run, right?


My shins were killing me after about oh, 30 seconds.

But I made it to the plane a few minutes before it was scheduled to depart.

Where I had a great view of the plane sitting at the terminal. They refused to let me on, despite the fact that the plane was still attached to the walkway/gate. They could have opened the inner door and let me on, but they didn't.

Instead, in their vast wisdom they decided it would be better for me to sit in O'Hare for six hours waiting for the next flight to Utah. While entertaining my two little ones.

I was so grateful when I was finally able to go and board the plane (where I boarded with everyone else since MUNITED MAIRLINES doesn't allow parents with small children to board earlier), and as I tried to collapse my stroller and keep the kids next to me, a group of eight missionaries returning home to Utah from the Ukraine offered to help me. I tried to hand them my baby, and they told me they weren't allowed to hold children (which my brother confirmed when I saw him at the temple).

They did fine on the next flight when it finally happened. I've always noticed that on flights to Utah people are more talkative and friendly than on almost any other. Including the crazy drunk lady who downed four beers in quick succession and made best friends with two older gentleman and the male flight attendant. She also turned her attention to me and kept coming back to "help" me with my children. Her intent seemed good, but it was honestly the weirdest conversations I've ever had. She asked at least ten times where we were from, what my daughter's name was, kept telling her how cute she was. I considered changing my answers just to amuse myself because she wasn't retaining any of the information I gave her.

As the plane began its descent, she got up out of her chair to help me again. She started to complain about how the only hot guys on the plane were those missionaries back there and with a lot of choice swear words on what she thought about people serving the Lord, it suddenly occurred to her that I might be Mormon. When I told her I was, it was at that point she left me alone. If I'd known that was all it would take, I'd have superglued the Book of Mormon to my forehead. Both flight attendants apologized to me afterwards, but the whole thing had been pretty stressful.

By the time we got to Utah all bets were off. Thanks to Daylight Savings and the two-hour time difference, it was only 7:30 in Utah, but 9:30 to them (and they're both typically in bed by 8:00). Then we had to drive to the middle of nowhere, also known as Eagle Mountain, to my parents' home.

And understandably, everyone was excited to see the babies, waking them up, and the 1-year-old got so overloaded with all the stimulation that he was pretty much unable to sleep the whole night (which meant that I didn't get to sleep either).

They had fun with their cousins, but their schedules had been so demolished that they were both constantly sleepy for the one day we spent in Utah, where we got to attend the wedding and have all of my siblings in one place at the same time (including my missionary brother who wouldn't pick up his nieces and nephews because of that no holding kids rule).

The next day our early morning flight left at 7:05. Everyone assured me this would be no problem - that early on a weekday would find the Salt Lake Airport practically empty.


I took American Airlines home, and it took me a few minutes to figure out their checkout procedure (I miss the old days of people getting your boarding passes and taking your bags), and when I got in line for security, it went all the way from the machines to the airlines' ticketing counters. Crazy.

Fortunately an attendant saw me and told me that there was a special lane for families and it made it much easier for me to get through the whole process and as a result, I did not miss my flight. Where they let me get on the plane first so that I had time to do everything I needed to.

The kids handled that flight pretty well, too.

But the fourth flight? They were done. They fell asleep and slept for most of the way, but the flight attendants were flirting pretty heavily with some young men in our general vicinity and they woke up my daughter. Who had a 2-year-old tantrum. She was done. Nothing I offered her soothed her. She wanted her seatbelt off and wanted off of the plane. When she woke up, she woke up the baby who cried for a little while but took a bottle and calmed down. When we could finally get off the plane, I couldn't get her to move. Despite being in the second row, I decided to let everyone else get off and then worry about getting her up.

A rather corpulent man informed me on his way out that if I'd thought ahead that I would have brought gum for them to chew on, because she was obviously crying because her ears hurt.

Really? The pressure in airplanes affects your ears? Seriously? Is that what's been happening to me all these years? That must be why I brought them bottles and sippy cups and food so that they could SWALLOW. And what kind of moron gives an infant and a preschooler gum?

Too exhausted/angry to respond, I just glared at him. What makes people think that strangers want advice?

Of course, when I got off the plane with her still crying, this was one of those valet flights where you gate check your bags, so the entire hallway was lined with people waiting for their carry-ons.

I hate traveling.

I enjoyed seeing my family, but I'm so exhausted. One more reason to move to Utah so that I won't have to do this ever again.

This wasn't the worst traveling experience I've ever had - just the most recent. What's your worst traveling story?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Contest of A Lifetime--Help Our Troops

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Have you ever been outside working on a hot summer day and wished for nothing but a cold drink of water? It’s the same thing for our troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, but unfortunately, the water available to them is warm and doesn’t taste very good. What can we do to help?

Water for Warriors is currently collecting water mix-in donations at several Seagull Bookstores up and down the Wasatch Front. These mix-ins will help the water taste a little better for our troops and is a small way to let our military men and women know that we haven’t forgotten about them and appreciate every sacrifice they make on our behalf. And while it may be small, better tasting water can make a big difference, especially when the hot summer months are getting closer. Help that water taste better for our troops!

Here is a list of suggested donation items:

Sweetened Drink Mixes (Gatorade, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid)

Hot Chocolate mixes

Cider Mix

Sugar or Sweetener Packets

Cup of Noodles (no Pork)

Please help me give back to our troops and drop off your items from March 1-31 at any of these participating Seagull Book stores.

Spanish Fork
Orem (State St)
West Jordan
Provo East Bay
Fashion Place
South Jordan
Redwood Road
South Towne
Provo (University Parkway)
Orem South (University Parkway)
American Fork

In order to do my part, I am offering several prizes to those who donate and help me spread the word. Two weeks from today I will pick eleven winners and you could be one!

I will offer five autographed copies of Dangerous Connections, my new international suspense novel, five copies of One Good Man DVD, a story of another kind of unsung hero, and I will also offer one winner the chance to name a character in my next published novel—either a good or a bad guy/girl. A chance for you to live on in infamy! And see your name of the printed page! (Name is subject to my final approval and if you use a real person’s name, especially one that is still living, you must have their written permission unless you use your own name, of course.)

Here are the ways you can get entered into this contest.

For one entry:

Follow me on Twitter (@juliebellon)

Make a comment in this comment trail

For your name to be entered twice:

Tweet, link, or mention Water for Warriors on your Twitter, Facebook, or blog. Of course you may link here or to my website for more info.

For your name to be entered five times, make a donation at one of the Seagull bookstores. If you bring a friend, take a picture of both of you donating and I will enter your name another five times. Or, come and visit me at my booksignings at Seagull bookstores and bring your donation then. (My signing schedule is on my website under Events.) Besides, I’d love to meet you and thank you personally for helping.

Once you have done any or all of these things, tell me what you did, tally up how many entries you should get, and then either leave that info in the comment trail, or email me at especially if you are attaching pictures.

These soldiers need us. They need to know we haven’t forgotten them and that we care about the difficulties they are facing. Do something small, like help the water our troops have to drink taste better, because it gives back to them in a big way. I hope you will help.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Going Green

by Stephanie Black

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, which means I’m legally entitled to wax sentimental about Ireland. I have a soft spot for the Emerald Isle, since we lived there for two years. I’ve got my Irish playlist playing on the iPod (currently playing: Lisdoonvarna, by Christy Moore) and tonight we’ll be celebrating with corned beef, potatoes, and soda bread. I really should be a little more Irish about it and serve more than one kind of potato dish. Did you know that in Ireland, you can get your curry or your Chinese food served with chips (aka French fries)? I never did try that. For dessert tonight, to my children’s delight, we’ll have our traditional St. Patrick’s Day treat of a variety of candy bars cut into little pieces so everyone can sample each kind. There’s a grocery store here that sells some of the candy we could buy in Ireland. I don’t usually buy it, since it’s expensive, but it makes a fun nostalgic treat to get a Mars Bar. Too bad they don’t sell Cadbury Roses. Oh man, I’m starting to feel really sentimental. Cadbury Roses and Jaffa Cakes and McVities Digestives—mmm, those chocolate-glazed ones—and Lilt soda and sausages and Sean's brown bread (a specialty of Superquinn, the grocery store where I did most of my shopping). Cheese and onion crisps—no, I don’t miss those. They were okay, but not my favorite, though if I had some today, I’d probably swoon over them just for sentiment’s sake. Cheese and onion is the default flavor there, as opposed to plain potato chips.

Ireland is a spectacularly beautiful country. Here are some pictures, none of which even come close to doing it justice, but hey, at least it's a taste of Irish scenery. Here's a picture from Connemara:

And more Connemara:

And Mizen Head, in County Cork:

The Burren, in County Clare--there are miles of these amazing limestone fields.

Not sure what this is--it's in County Limerick, not far from where we lived:

Clare Glen--oh wow, these pictures really don't show how beautiful these places are. You'll just have to go there.

This picture was taken from a hillside in Connemara. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in my life, with the sun coming through the gray sky and turning the water silver.

The Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare.

Kylemore Abbey, in Connemara.

I'd love to go back and visit Ireland. Maybe someday when we're just tripping over piles of money, we can go back. . . let's see--how many kids do we need to get clothed and fed/through college/on missions . . .

Whither Rob?

For those of you who wonder why I never post, the answer (besides laziness and apathy) is that I lately just haven't had anything to say. However!

Astute blog followers may recall that my nerdishness runs deep, and I have recently done the most nerdiest nerd thing in all my nerdy life. Starting today, I am writing a collaborative blog with Tristi Pinkston on the subject of American Idol.


If you would like to see me blog twice a week for twelve weeks straight--crazy!--then this is the place to do it.

The link is thus:
American Idol: Point/Counterpoint

In other news, I don't need your crap. Leave me alone. I don't make fun of you for playing Dungeons and Dragons, Kerry.

Friday, March 12, 2010



A New Book nook: Trying to Unravel My Material World

by Kerry Blair

Just in case I needed a little more to feel guilty about to start the New Year, just after Christmas I borrowed a copy of Peter Menzel’s amazing Material World: A Global Family Portrait.

For this book—as well as a companion series on PBS’s Nova—Menzel’s team of photographers spent one week with “statistically average” families in thirty countries around the world. The author’s essays address each family’s work (merest survival in some cases) and their hopes for the future. As fascinating as the text is, what goes right to the heart is what Menzel calls “the big picture shot.” This is a photo of the family, taken outside their home (house, hut, high rise apartment, whatever) surrounded by all their material possessions. One of the first photos features an Ethiopian woman and her five children*, sitting in the dirt, surrounded by enough clothing, cooking utensils, and bedding to fill one tall kitchen garbage bag—with enough room left over for six or eight scrawny chickens she wishes she had. Deeper within the book, an average US family of four is shot with a wide lens, their stuff overflowing into the neighbors’ yards. (In the Nova version, I hear, the Americans’ possessions cover a football field.)

In this, if nothing else, we Blairs are above average. Admittedly, my family of seven encompasses three generations and is spread out over three apartments and a five-bedroom house. But if we pooled our stuff—which we have in the case of all the junk stored in a two-car garage at the back of the property—we’d not only fill that football field, we’d need at least a basketball court besides for all the antiques, china, and electronics I wouldn’t want to have sitting around outside.

I have been obsessing over this “plethora of accumulation” since January. Yesterday afternoon, I stood in the doorway of the aforementioned garage—trying to figure out how to squeeze in the small desk and five boxes my son is bringing down from Utah today—and decided that the time for mere obsession has passed; it is time to take serious action. Toward that end, I dragged out four crates of books and three bags of bedding that moved from Mesa to Salt Lake City to Chino—without ever being opened. On their way to Goodwill right now are more worldly possessions than the Ethiopian woman will see in her entire life. Still, I didn’t make a noticeable dent in my Great Wall of Stuff. But I will, and I’m starting with . . . drumroll, please . . . books.

As those of you who know me can attest, I am incapable of leaving a thrift store or antique shop empty-handed. The things I’m most likely to cart home (besides Blue Willow) are books; and those I’ve collected all my life. I have a caseful of treasured tomes that, carefully stacked, would occupy a negligible portion of a football field. What’s weighing down the many bookcases in my house are hundreds of “mundane” copies of the great works of literature; enough paper and pasteboard that they’d need their own U-Haul to get to the football field.

I truly love books. About the only way I part with even ratty copies of titles I love is if somebody pries it from my hand or sneaks it out under cover of darkness. (My husband does both.) But now I am able to box most of them up to move on to somebody else’s football field. Why? Because I took the good ol’ American way of eliminating clutter—by accumulating yet another material possession! (But this newest one is small. I swear!)

After years of turning up my nose at technology and swearing on Tolstoy’s grave that I would never, ever, ever trade paper-and-print books for a Kindle . . . I bought a nook. (Ha! Didn’t go back on that oath!) I’d been wavering for some time, but the Whitneys nudged me over the edge. nook* allows me to easily transfer any pdf file—making it about a hundred times easier to read the dozen nominees made available electronically this year. (My eyes are too light-sensitive to allow me to read very long on computer, so this was an answer to a prayer.)

But that’s not why I bought it. My primary motivation went back to the desire to unravel that material girl, if only a little. Thus, I’ve downloaded the complete works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Dickensen, Browning, and many, many more—all for free, and all with the look of cherished originals, thanks to the inspired Google Library Project. Works that once would have covered a baseball diamond (if not an entire football field) can now be held in my hand and referenced almost instantly.

As awesome as my new nook is—and it is awesome—there is part of me that still isn't sold on the idea. What about the magic of holding an old—or a new—book in one’s hands; of being the last in a long line—or the first person ever!—to crack its cover? I wouldn’t be happy with a digital picture of Blue Willow; can I learn to appreciate digital copies of the world’s greatest lit? I may have saved myself from being buried alive in a landslide of books, but at what cost?

What do you think? Have you ever read an e-book? Are electronic readers the answer to prayer, or the spawn of evil? Do you think our LDS market will allow people like me in Nowheresville to buy the latest LDS tiles when they are still new, without paying half again more for shipping? Do you think I’ll ever get the garage cleaned out and my material possessions down to a size that won't make me flinch? (Sorry. I couldn’t resist that last one.)

I really do want to know what you think. And if you happen to have bare spots on your football field of stuff, I would love to help you out! Bring your own U-Haul.

*This book was on loan and I have a terrible memory, so I’m making up the technicalities here. Trust me, though, wherever she lived and however many children, she was destitute.

*My capitalization isn’t that bad. Barnes and Noble went all e.e. cummings over this thing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Triple Book Launch Party is ALMOST HERE!

by Julie Coulter Bellon

Tomorrow is the big day!

3 Authors
3 Different Genres
3 New Books

The Triple Launch Party is tomorrow, FRIDAY, March 12 6:00 pm--8:00 pm at Deseret Book at University Village (East of University Mall in Orem)

There are three amazing books being launched. The first one is by Sarah Eden and is a Regency romance called, “Courting Miss Lancaster.”

The second one is mine, “Dangerous Connections,” a suspense with a touch of romance.

And the last one is Annette Lyon’s “Band of Sisters,” which is women’s fiction.

There is definitely something for everyone!

There are also some incredible door prizes being offered. I’ve listed some below.

Meg Hall Photography--get a free family photography sitting, along with a disc of the images and a copyright release letter so you can make as many copies of any photo you like.

A Book Lovers basket full of books and chocolate.

A Family Movie Night basket full of goodies and a movie.

A Pendragon Book Binding hardbound journal, 8.5" X 5.5" with 160 sheets (320 writing pages). The actual journal has hand-sewn binding with red butterfly paper and a black suede spine!

Lola's Lovelies has lovely, hand-made hair accessories and is offering TWO skinny wrapped headbands with decorative flowers on the side: one purple, the other blue! Both have been specially made just for the launch party and our readers.

Heimdahl and Sons Soaps is offering THREE cool products for GUYS, using all-natural products and fragrances: Lemon soap, Bay Rum aftershave, and a shaving bar. They're all packaged and sealed with wax in the company's trademark wooden containers.

Walls of Wisdom is offering several prizes. One winner will receive $20 gift certificate for anything on the Walls of Wisdom Home site.

SEVERAL OTHER winners will receive vinyl lettering ready to put on a wall with awesome quotes about reading and books.

Dippidee $25.00 Gift Certificate This is a bakery close to Annette’s heart. The Dippidee tagline is "Place of Sweet Surprises," which sounds like a place I could come to love.

Colorado Kernels (located in Orem) is donating TWENTY-FOUR mini bags for door prizes. They have some incredible flavors that make my mouth water.

Annette Lyon books--Annnette is also offering her first two books, At the Water’s Edge and Lost Without You, which are out of print and hard to find, but are great books to add to your book collection.

As you can see, we have the makings of a great party, the only thing we need to make it perfect is to have YOU there. So please plan on coming to win great prizes, meet great authors, and get your new book signed!

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Navigating the Sea of Books

by Stephanie Black

I enjoy getting book recommendations. It’s good to have some direction, as opposed to aimlessly sailing in a sea of books, not having any idea what to choose, which books I might like, or which books I'd rather avoid due to icky content. If I don’t know what to choose, it’s easy to just stick with familiar authors rather than branching out, and while familiar authors are fun, branching out can add some great variety (wow, awesome mixed metaphor. Seas and trees). When someone recommends a book to me, and especially if more than one person buzzes about that book, that’s a good clue that I might want to give it a try. That’s how I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. My sister suggested it, and I loved it. How likely would I have been to pick up the book otherwise? Not very. Don’t you love it when you give a book a try and it ends up being awesome? Yesterday I was at lunch with some ladies from my ward and they were buzzing about a book called The Help. You bet I want to read that one now.

When you get excited about a book, it’s fun to share it with others. My second daughter, who is an avid reader, read To Say Nothing of the Dog on my recommendation, adored it, and is now a Connie Willis fan. I love it when that happens. And I love that she read Willis’s new book, Blackout, before I did. I’d pre-ordered it from Amazon, but when it got here, I was already busy with other reading, so she read it first. I’m grateful for this, because that way, she’s the one who got smacked with the shock of a cliffhanger ending. Now that I’m forewarned, thanks to her reading the book first—way to take one for the team, Shauna—I’ll be prepared when I read it. I can handle cliffhangers much better if I know they’re coming, because then I don’t expect the book to wrap up and that lack of closure doesn't come as a "Whaaaat??? You're kidding me!" Volume 2 comes out in August. So now I have the option of just waiting until August before I read this one. But I don’t think I’ll make it that long. Connie Willis is amazing.

Reading Whitney books has been a fun expanding of horizons. It's like getting thirty recommendations for books to read, some of which I probably never would have opened on my own. I've read 20 1/2 of them now, and they've all been worthwhile reads. It's fun to try new books, and even a new genre--I can't recall if I've ever read a western before I read Liz Adair’s Counting the Cost. (Was it a western? I don't know exactly how that genre is defined, and Liz's book is in the romance category, but it was about a cowboy, so is that a western? Somebody help me out here). Anyway, Liz really made the setting come alive, and it was fun to learn more about the life of a cowboy in the context of an interesting, thought-provoking story. I’ve only finished reading in one category (General). Currently reading: Fablehaven IV. Next on the list: My Fair Godmother.

You know, I'm really grateful for books. I can't imagine life without books.

What book recommendations have you received recently that led you to discover a worthwhile book that you might not otherwise have read?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Marketing Q&A

I received an e-mail the other day from a writer who went to the ANWA conference where I spoke. I won’t include her name, but if she wants to out herself that is fine. Here is an edited version of her e-mail.


First, quick background. I'm a mom, a 3x published (in LDS fiction) author, and a bit of a hermit.
Now, from what I absorbed at the conference, the trend these days is basically little or no promotion from (national) publishers for a new novel, unless it's Aprilynne Pike's. (wink.) Self-promotion is the only promotion. How true is that?

And...what about us'ns who are more the JD Salinger type, anxiety ridden, caught in the clutches of our "real jobs" as mothers or whatever, wanting to just write and publish and stay anonymous? Is that even possible? Does Obert Skye (whoever he/she is) do that? I mean, I don't see Obert Skye out tweeting and on promo tours, and my kid owns them all. Maybe I'm the only person who shrinks in horror from fame (and still dreams of fortune)--but in that scary national market, do you think it is possible to be just a pen name these days and remain hidden? Surely publishers balk at this. But seriously. Book signings? They're just not that effective mostly. Pain, across the board pain.


This is actually kind of a tricky question. I’ll try to break it into three parts. Do most national publishers do little or no promotion? It depends on how much budget they allocate to your title and what you consider promotion. There is always some promotion. That is, they usually put your title in a catalog. They usually send out review copies. They usually make a cool cover, and that kind of thing. Your agent and your editor usually work together to give you the best chance at success they can. This is where the budget comes in. There are titles that get big budgets. Usually these are titles that got big advances and are premiere titles for the publisher. They are putting in money because they expect to recoup that money with lots of sales. If you are fortunate enough to get a big budget, hurray for you.

But don’t think that gets you out of marketing. After all, they are not just selling your book. They are selling you. You mentioned Aprilynne Pike. Aprilynne got a big marketing budget. Her book was a big title for her publisher. They worked hard to get it on the NY Times and other lists. They created a lot of buzz. Mostly they tried to sell a lot of books. As part of that, they sent Aprilynne on a lot of tours. She did school visits. She did bookstores. She went to shows. (And it’s not just because she’s so dang cute.) They sent her out because they want people to like her as an author. Think Twilight. The Twilight series is huge. But the name Stephenie Meyer is also huge. People like to feel a connection with the author. Can you imagine what Aprilynne’s publisher and agent would have said if she responded to all of this marketing with, “Thanks, but I want to stay home?”

But that’s not the norm. Most of the time you do not get a big marketing budget. This tends to be the case with books that have a smaller print run and are not featured titles. They toss you into the middle of the lake and say sink or swim. In this case sinking or swimming could be only the difference of a thousand books sold one way or the other. Six thousand (I’m purely pulling this out of the air) and you get to do another book. Five thousand and you don’t. Knowing that a thousand books is the difference between another contract, wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to sell those thousand books? Now doing a book signing or two is not going to swing a thousand sales. But a dozen book signings, a blog, some well placed reviews, and suddenly the numbers start adding up.

But as you said, what if you are a hermit? What if the thought of getting up in front of people or sitting at a table in a store makes you break out in hives? I’m not going to kid you, in this market (or really in most markets) not being willing or able to help your own sales is a handicap. Can you succeed without it? Of course. But you are starting behind the eight ball. Just the fact that you are getting out and doing things often encourages your publisher to spend more on you as well. It’s like a boss deciding to give a raise to the employee who does just enough to keep her job or the employee who goes above and beyond every day.

So what do you do? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Start with with little things you enjoy. A lot of people look at marketing the way they would look at used car salesmen or door-to-door vacuum cleaner pushers. Marketing doesn’t have to be getting in someone’s face shouting buy my book, buy my book! You like to write, don’t you? Great, get a blog. And don’t’ just write on your blog, get out and visit other blogs. Make intelligent comments. Suggest books you like. This is not hard sales. In fact pushing your book on someone else’s blog is frowned on. It’s making friends with similar tastes. And you can do this from home.

2) Visit book stores. I’m not talking about signings here. These are a whole other beast. Either you are into signings or not. If you are, do them. If you aren’t, at least take the time to visit employees of bookstores that carry your books. If you are great at making chocolates, bring those. If you toll paint do that. If you can’t make anything to save your life, find something cheap and cute to give away that will remind people about your book. Then go out and have friendly visits. As you make friends with book store employees, you will find that they start to invite you to events and promote your books. Don’t think of this as marketing. Think of it as getting out of the house for a couple of hours.

3) Start a newsletter and link the sign-up page to your blog and web site. People who read, like to know about the authors who they read. You don’t need to go overboard. A quarterly e-mail talking about what you are working on and what you are learning is great.

4) Make friends with other authors. I know authors are a scary and weird bunch. But the more you spend time with them, the more you can learn. They share tips, they invite you to events, and lunches. Authors promote each other’s books. Nothing makes a signing go better than another author to talk with while everyone who comes in the store avoids you like the plague.

5) If you have the money, consider hiring someone to do PR for you. Even on a limited budget, you can get reviews, newspaper stories, even TV and radio spots. But the good news is that it’s someone else saying how great you are and figuring out an angle to promote you.

Finally, recognize that if you want to be a successful author, you need to get out and meet people. It’s just the way the publishing world works. You like to hide behind a keyboard, but people are interested in how you came up with your idea, whether you listen to music, how you find time to write, what you like to read. Just like you work or being a better writer, work on being a better marketer. What you will discover is that it’s not nearly as bad as it seems and that no one likes to do signings except for the authors who have lines waiting for them. I know it’s hard as a mom with young kids. It’s hard with a full time job too. But honestly the getting out part is a week or two around the release of your book. Then you can hide back away in your cocoon.

P.S. Obert Skye spent two solid years visiting schools after his Leven Thumps book came out and still does many school visits and conferences every year. (Sorry :) )

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Money or Accolades?

by Sariah S. Wilson

I've been following with some interest the backlash against James Cameron's "Avatar" being nominated for an Academy Award for best picture of the year.

The critics are crying foul - they see this solely as an attempt on the Academy's part to get the millions of people who paid a lot of money to see "Avatar" to tune in to the award ceremony in order to root for "Avatar" to win.

No one is disputing that James Cameron is a fine filmmaker - and he has the awards to prove it. The critics say though that despite the amazing eye candy, the characters and plot in "Avatar" fall flat.

But was the storyline in "Avatar" a tired retread? Have we seen the same story in movies many times before? Does that mean it's not the best picture because it isn't as original as it could have been?

James Cameron doesn't seem to much care. He made the movie he wanted to make and he'll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Which got me thinking...there are some very famous authors that are repeatedly accused of not being very good writers (Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks, Stephenie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks, etc.), and yet they make an insane amount of money despite the critical backlash.

Then there are revered writers who can do no wrong and are celebrated as being top notch authors, yet many of us will never hear of them (and I can't list them seeing as how I haven't heard of them).

So if you had to choose, as an author, would you rather be a well-respected writer that everyone considered talented, or would you rather have wheelbarrows full of cash?

You can't choose both - we're leaving the JK Rowling types out of this exercise.

One or the other - money or critical acclaim?

(I'll post what I'd pick in the comments.)

Friday, March 05, 2010

Blessings of Being "Friended"

by Kerry Blair

I have a good friend who is totally anti-social when it comes to networking via Internet. She uses her computer every day to work, explore areas of interest, and even shop. She will not, however, give out her e-mail address to anybody she knows personally. The mere mention of Facebook makes her blanch. My friend believes strongly that while the Internet was ordained of God to expedite temple work and allow the Church to put up a website, all the e-mail, blogs, comments-on-news-articles and, especially, networking sites like Facebook were insinuated into the Web by Satan to fracture our society of saints and lead us to perdition. Thus, anyone who wants to communicate with her must write a letter, show up at her door, or—on a good day—call her on the phone. (Some days she mistrusts even the telephone. Certainly cell phones are evil, and you don’t want to get her started on texting and/or Twitterpating.)

You have to admit she makes some valid points. I’m not convinced I have 500 friends in the whole world, let alone on Facebook. Also, that site can be quicksand into which hours disappear without notice or fruition. Furthermore, I do too often send my friends, and even my kids, an e-mail rather than going out of my way to speak to them. (Heck, I’ve been known to IM my daughter to avoid walking all the way down the hall to her room.) Worse (?), I do communicate more with people I’ve never met in person—or maybe only actually seen once or twice—than I do talking over the back fence with my neighbor. (And I love my neighbor!) It’s also true that many of you know me much better than anybody in my ward.

That all seems pretty bad, but is it? Are we becoming less responsive to the people around us because we put so much time and effort into people “out there” in cyberspace? By use of the Internet, are we cultivating friendships that can’t sustain us in this life, nor enrich us in the life to come? Should we turn off the computers and turn toward the nearest “real” people we can find?

I was struggling with those questions—or at least considering them—before last week. As you may recall, seven days ago I had a total (and rather embarrassing) meltdown right here before your eyes. Simultaneously, I was telling anyone who asked me in person that I was “Fine. Really. Just fine. Thanks.” I admitted this to my friend who promptly pronounced it the stupidest thing she’d ever heard in her life. (For what it is worth, I think I hold positions two and three on that list as well.) But, you know what, it turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. I’ve felt better this week than I have in months, possibly better than I have the last couple of years. At first I couldn’t understand it, and then, with the aid of the Spirit, I could. Elder Maxwell often said that “prayer is the most efficacious thing one mortal being can do for another.” Don’t deny it, people. You prayed for me, didn’t you?

While I do believe that praying for people we don’t know has some value—hence the prayer rolls in the temple—I know for a fact that pleas offered up on behalf of a loved one, whether family or friend, can alter the course of a life. I have no doubt that the faithful prayers of good-hearted, intuitive people like Julie and Jennie helped to protect my youngest son in Iraq. He experienced miracles that could not have come about without someone, somewhere seeking divine intervention in his behalf. I know, too, that my life has been blessed beyond my current comprehension by people I have come to cherish by way of “social networking via Internet.” By you in other words.

I also believe that the Internet sometimes allows us to reconnect with people we knew and loved in the before-here. Almost a decade ago, upon publication of my second novel, I received an incredibly nice e-mail from a fellow Covenant author who lived in England. I wrote back. She wrote back. Weeks passed. It turns out that after a lifetime of yearning for a little sister, I had one! (She’d unfortunately been confused at birth and therefore ended up on the other side of the globe.) I’ve loved Anna forever—I know I have—and how incredibly grateful I am not to have had to spend mortality without her in my life.

I feel the same way about a few others. I have a circle of sisters now. Only a couple of them happen to live in my state. (Although one has come miles and miles and miles to visit. Today! I’m so excited I can’t stand it!) These women couldn’t be any dearer to me if we attended the same family reunions or lived on the same block. I am equally grateful for the brothers-of-the-heart the Lord has sent into my life through the miracle of modern communication. (Even if one of them chooses to remain mostly anonymous, one of them knows everything, and another tends to whine and wheedle for casseroles. Now that I think about it, a fourth is great at commenting, but not so great at coming through with that book he promised me a couple of years ago; also he stands me up at really important events.)

Anyway, while I probably haven’t made 500 friends, the fraction who haven’t given up on me are cherished. I’ll tell you a secret. Every single Friday for the past year I’ve either gritted my teeth to blog—or else studiously avoided the computer on one flimsy excuse or another so I wouldn’t have to “face” you. The truth is that being here makes me feel like a fraud. Every Friday I tell myself that I either need to slink away or ask the gang to rename the blog. (Something like Five LDS Writers and a Frog and a Fan of the Aforementioned would work.) But I haven’t done it because I’m frankly too selfish. Leaving the Frog Blog would be worse than moving away from an area I love. I have so many friends here; people who teach me and inspire me and make me laugh—often all at once. People who pray for me. People who come all the way from Yuma and Utah and Hawaii and Idaho and even Germany (!) to stay with me. That is real friendship, any way you define it.

Still, I don’t have to have spend actual physical time with Sandra to know I’d love to go shopping with her. (Hats!) I don’t have to look into Marta’s, Karlene’s, and Sheila’s eyes to know their hearts. I don’t have to be in a weekly writing group with Anne, Tristi, Annette, Stephanie, Alison or Heather to be deeply influenced by their gifts. I don’t even have to know LT’s or UTMomof4’s names to know I’d love to live next door to them. Hmm. I think the only person who left a comment last week that I’ve missed thus far in this blog is Rachel/Margaret, and her I do get to see at family reunions!

Please know how deeply grateful I am for all your comments last week. (I’m trying to respond personally and privately, but I’m slow—especially at finding e-mail addys.) But before I get back into Internet communication, I think I’ll send a snail-mail. I want to print out this blog and mail it to the well-intentioned woman I mentioned in the first paragraph. She obviously has no idea what she misses by keeping her circle of friends within arms reach. Thanks to the Internet, and to the Father of us all, we don't have to touch to be touched.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Water for Warriors

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I am so excited to announce not only the release of Dangerous Connections, in stores now, but also my charity, Water for Warriors.

As most of you know, I’ve been associated with the Red Cross group, Operation Care and Comfort for two years now. With all the research I did for the military aspect of my books, and from what I could glean from the Marine unit that was helping me while they were stationed in Iraq, I became acutely aware of how much our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan really need our support and sometimes just a little taste of home. Because of that, Skittles for Soldiers and Water for Warriors, was born.

With the summer months almost upon us, water is going to be at a premium, and from what I’m told, the water available in Iraq and Afghanistan isn’t the best tasting. So, with Water for Warriors, and in partnership with Seagull Book and Operation Care and Comfort, I am going to be collecting beverage items that will make the water taste a little better.

From now through the end of March you can drop off any of these suggested donation items at preferred Seagull locations on the Wasatch front.

Sweetened Drink Mixes (Gatorade, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid)
Hot Chocolate mixes
Cider Mix
Sugar or Sweetener Packets
Cup of Noodles (no pork)

When you bring in any of the suggested items listed you’ll also receive an entry to win a free autographed copy of Dangerous Connections. Here is the list of participating Seagull Book stores:

Spanish Fork
Orem (State St)
West Jordan
Provo East Bay
Fashion Place
South Jordan
Redwood Road
South Towne
Provo (University Parkway)
Orem South (Un Parkway)
American Fork

I am so thrilled about this opportunity to let our men and women overseas know we’re thinking about them and that their sacrifice doesn’t go unnoticed. I hope you will join me in this cause, and help our troops know that they are never forgotten, even if it’s just in this small way.

I will be on Channel 2 News at Noon discussing Water for Warriors and what it means to me on Monday, March 8th. I hope you will tune in!

And if you really want to have a great time and meet me and two other amazing authors, (Annette Lyon, her new book is 'Band of Sisters' and Sarah Eden whose new book is 'Courting Miss Lancaster') then join us at our book launch party Friday, March 12, 2010, at Deseret Book in Orem (1076 S 750 E) from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. There will be door prizes and a lot of fun. I'd love to see you there!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

One Thing a Writer Can't Control

by Stephanie Black

Within the past week, I got two very different sets of feedback on one of my books. The first was a rather scathing review. Okay, the reviewer didn’t think everything about the book stunk, but some of her comments really stung, including criticism of the main characters, whom she found flat (she liked some of the secondary characters a bit better). The other feedback came in a very complimentary e-mail, in which, interestingly enough, the writer mentioned my avoidance of “superficial character development.” I figure that if she felt to mention that, I'm pretty safe in assuming that she didn't find my main characters flat.

I find this fascinating. Two readers read the exact same book, peopled with the exact same characters. They read the exact same words. Yet they walked away with very different impressions. Not just “I liked/didn’t like this book.” But one thought the main characters were Pancake City, and the other praised me for not making pancake people. How does that work? Who’s right? Are the characters flat or not?

I think the answer is that for one reader, they were flat. For the other—they weren’t. Cosmically weird, huh? But books are like that. I think it comes down to the fact that—and this is so startling that the government should give me a grant to study it—readers are different. And I don’t just mean different in their taste in books, but different in their life experiences, perceptions, preferences, expectations, and so on. So one person, given her perceptions and preferences, looks at the characters and they don’t work for her. Another person looks at the same characters and they do work.

I think this is inevitable. We don’t read in a mental vacuum. Everything we read will pass through filters in our minds. For example, unlike the vast majority of the universe's population, I’m not a Twilight fan. I have no issue with Stephenie Meyer’s writing—I think she’s a great storyteller—but given my background, preferences, opinions, convictions, etc., I simply don’t find the story romantic. I think we’re dealing with unhealthy obsession, not love. But if Meyer had tried to write a book that appealed both to me and to all the people who do love the Edward/Bella kind of story, how many books do you think she would have sold? Another example: I read a fantasy novel that I adored. Another reader, a woman I greatly respect, read it and found it appallingly violent. Given our backgrounds, life experiences, preferences, and so on, the same book struck us in very different ways.

Now, am I suggesting that my characters are perfect and need no improvement whatsoever? Of course not. I’m sure there are things I could have done better. But I do know that no matter what I do or don’t do, I won’t ever please everyone. As an author, one thing I’ll never be able to control is what a reader brings to the table.

That’s why it's awesome that there are so many different kinds of books stacked on that table.

Diagnosed and Cured

by Robison Wells

At long last, the doctors discovered the source of my three-month-long chest pain! I know that you've all been waiting eagerly for news; the candlelight vigils and endless stream of casseroles are truly what have kept my spirits up during this difficult struggle, or something.

So here's what happened: I went to the hospital, and the doctor laid me on a table in a dimly lit room and proceeded to ultrasound my ribs and sternum. As she did this, staring intently at her screen, she declared: "There's no doubt about it. Your chest pain is caused by an overconsumption of aspartame and processed foods. I'm going to transfer you to the HICU (Homeopathic Intensive Care Unit) and start you on an IV drip of superfruit juice." Then she turned to the nurse: "Page me a Reflexologist! STAT!"

No, just kidding. That would be crazy. What actually happened is that she looked at the ultrasound and discovered that one my ribs was extremely inflamed. It took about forty-five seconds to diagnose (after three months of dorking around). The verdict: Tietze Syndrome. It's kind of like costochondritis, but with a cooler name.

A few awesome notes about Tietze Syndrome:

  • Wikipedia states that it can be caused by a number of things, including injury, coughing, vomit, or even "hearty bouts of laughter". I shall never laugh again.

  • Wikipedia also reports that it can be exacerbated by psychological stress. So, apparently, I am not allowed to be happy or sad.

  • If it was missing the last 'e', I'd have Tietz syndrome, which would mean I'm a deaf albino. Good thing I didn't miss the e!

  • Someone has made a website about Tietze Syndrome which recommends that I become a vegan. Frankly, I would rather have crippling chest pain.

The ultimate treatment for all of this was that the doctor rammed a needle into my chest, twisted it around several times, and injected shards of glass in between the rib and the sternum. (The technical name for this procedure is that I got a cortisone shot.) It was unpleasant.

However, the good news is that, after three days of pain and complaining, I am a new man. I still can't sleep at night, but my days are almost pain free. It's amazing.

In other news that is completely, 100% unrelated:

As you know, I have an agent and she is trying to sell my book. On Monday night she emailed to say that a certain publisher was interested in my thoughts about the book as a series. Yesterday she emailed to say that the publisher wanted to see an outline of that series--and wanted that outline by today. So, I spent several hours last night trying to map out two more books.

My point is not to talk about me or my book or my agent, but instead to say that I used my brother's plotting system, The Seven Point Plot Structure, and it's amazing. There is far too much advice online about how to write, and a lot of it is useless nonsense, but this plotting system is about the closest thing I've ever found to a silver-bullet kind of solution. He has an hour presentation on YouTube and I heartily recommend you watch the whole thing.

Monday, March 01, 2010

ANWA Rocks!

Saturday I had the opportunity to speak to an awesome group of writers at the American Night Writer's Annual conference in Mesa, Arizona. I had a total ball, learned a lot, and renewed many friendships.

To everyone at the ANWA conference, “Thanks for a wonderful time!” It was so great meeting many of you for the first time and seeing old friends again. “Aprilynne, thanks for letting me put horns and scary eyes on your picture. You totally rock!” Cindy and Patty, “Thanks for the rides to and from the airport. And thanks for the great meals, the great stories, and the great friendships.” Finally, thanks to the whole ANWA presidency for bringing me down and for putting on one of the most fun conferences I’ve ever attended. What a great way to spend a weekend.

If I hadn’t had to jump on a flight to Pennsylvania early this morning, I would have written more about my presentation and others I attended. Hopefully I can do an update later this week. But here is a blog by Nikki Wilson about my keynote.

Those of you who are not ANWA members. Check them out here. They are a fun bunch.