Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Susan Corpany graciously consented to fill in for me this week. Life has kind of piled up and she volunteered to give me some breathing room. Susan has a delightful off-the-wall sense of humor and has written several books dealing with serious topics in a humorous way that drives home the points she wishes to make. She's also a fellow Meridian columnist and a super friend. Thanks, Susan, and I'm sorry I couldn't think of a snappy title for this blog.

I am filling in today as a guest blogger for Jennie. Since she asked me, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the V-Formation. I have a laptop skin on my computer, mostly because I need to be able to identify it when I forget to take it out of the plastic bin while going through security at the airport. It shows birds flying in a V and it says, “DARE TO SLACK - When birds fly in the right formation, they need only exert half the effort. Even in nature teamwork results in collective laziness.” (Demotivational products available at All those years in corporate America, and I had just seen too many “teamwork” posters. The pendulum had to swing back the other way for there to a balance in the universe.

It was hard to choose among all the different designs they offered, but when one finds oneself flying with the Facebook crowd, there is definitely some slacking going on, so I thought it might serve as a reminder for me to get back on task and spend less time playing computer Scrabble. Warped humor aside, though, there is definitely a lift that LDS writers and readers give each other, and I thought I would make that the subject of this blog.

Magic Feathers

Remember the scene in Dumbo where Timothy the mouse gives the little elephant a “magic feather” and tells him it will help him fly? Timothy already knew that Dumbo could fly, but since Dumbo was flying in his sleep, he needed to be convinced before he would try again. There have been many readers and fellow authors along the way that have given me needed words of encouragement that helped me to believe in myself and do what I was capable of doing that were magic feathers to me. Somewhere in my stacks of papers is a blown-up phrase from a long-retired dot-matrix printer. That paper was on my bulletin board for years, read in times of doubt and despair. Those few words kept me trying, because I knew they were sincere. Today I would just be another hit on Orson Scott Card’s website, but back in the early 90s, before the internet had taken hold, I was able to have a one-on-one correspondence with him through Prodigy. He gave praise to a short story of mine called A Month in the Life of a Relief Society President. Among other things, he told me I should try and write a novel. Then he gave me a priceless piece of advice, to find my own style, not to try and copy someone else’s style or think all writers wrote the same way. So I sat down and wrote a novel. I might never have done so without his encouragement.

We may never know when our words may do the same for someone else along the way. I taught a writing class for our local elementary school a couple of years back. In spending an hour a day for a week with a class full of third graders, I like to think that I lit a spark within a couple of them, especially the one who brought me a thank-you card with the alliteration and metaphors circled and labeled. And it was from that class that I got my all-time-favorite piece of fan mail. “We hope you come back and visit our class again. Let your conscience be your guide.”

What to Jettison

I am in the process of cutting a substantial amount from my upcoming novel, while trying to keep the core of the story intact and most importantly, not lose any really funny lines. It helps me be able to fly higher when I have input about what slows down the story or does not move it forward at all. Sometimes a writer just can’t see that as clearly as an outside pair of eyes.

I am always appreciative, although not necessarily at the precise moment, of friends who will tell me what I need to hear rather than what I want to hear. I remember a Sunday School class in college where the teacher read the quote by President David O. McKay: “It is better to be trusted than to be loved.” A fellow piped up from the back of the class, “But it isn’t as much fun.” It is fun to have people say wonderful things about your writing, but we learn more from our critics than from those who praise us. I am always grateful for those who will tell me about the metaphorical piece of broccoli in the teeth of my book so that I can improve my craft. I try to be gracious, and learn rather than take offense, hoping it is my skin that will be thick and not my head.

In checking on my Amazon listings the other day, I read with embarrassment and amusement the review my then teen-age son gave to my first novel. “Transcends the classics” is one phrase that readily comes to mind. We should never have our books reviewed by people who love us, possibly not even by people who like us, or if we do, the review should be tagged by hearts rather than stars so that the reader can take the possible bias into account.

Scott has now become much less generous and when he turns a critical eye to my work, I know I am going to get feedback that will send me back to the drawing board and help me turn out a better finished product.

“Mike shouldn’t get the girl, either, Mom. He was just as dishonest as Daniel was in his own way. She forgave him way too easily.”

“I didn’t see anything that changed in Austin’s life? Why did he suddenly decide to go on his mission? The way it is now, it looks to me like he’ll be a slacker missionary.”

Flocking Together

I am grateful for the new friendships I have made through my writing and for the opportunity I have, even though only once or twice a year, to get together with like-minded writers for whom writing to the LDS community is more a labor of love than a means of paying lots of tithing. I am always uplifted by their spirits and almost always by their writings, usually having to ship home boxes of books that I have bought or traded for, and always having several more on my wish list. I look forward to the day when I am not so far away from the epicenter and can participate more fully in the LDS writing community, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to fly west as well as south for the winter, I know a place on the Big Island that makes a great writer’s retreat.


Cheri J. Crane said...

Wonderful post, Susan. And I loved the colorful metaphor: "Piece of broccoli in the teeth of my books." ;)

It is crucial to have honest feedback when shaping a book. I've appreciated my critics through the years. They always catch things that I miss.

Jennie said...

Great blog, Susan and thanks for helping me out. That little guest house of yours in Hawaii sounds more enticing every time you mention it.

Jeri Gilchrist said...

Oh what I wouldn't give to fly south for the winter-- or if not for the winter, I'd settle for a week or even an extended weekend! Your guest house sounds divine!

What a great post, Susan! Honest feed back is crucial. It seems there are always things I overlook that others can spot. It's a huge help for me to get a good critical eye to look it over.

I loved the broccoli comment ending with the thick skin rather than a thick head!! :)

Anonymous said...

It was rather interesting for me to read the post. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

Best regards