Monday, November 30, 2009

Thumbs Way Up

I have always loved to read. My mother enjoys sharing the story of my first day of kindergarten. I came home rather disgruntled and when she asked me what was wrong, I replied, "I still can't read!" Evidently she had told me that when I started school, I would learn to read. And since I grew up in a family where that was encouraged, and I already possessed a love of books at that tender age, reading was important to me. It still is.

My family can testify that I'm always reading one or more books at any given time. While I currently don't possess the time I wish I did to read, I still manage to spend precious moments each morning, savoring a good book. It's a great way to start the day, and it has been part of my early morning prep for a very long time.

That said, I would like to tout a series of books that I recently finished. I had read the first two books in this series a few years ago. This past summer, I decided to start the series anew and read all four volumes. I love historical novels, and these particular books touch on an era that was a big part of my father's side of the family: the Civil War. The books I'm talking about were written by our own, Nancy Allen Campbell---the "Faith of our Fathers" series.

I can't say enough good about this wonderful series. Nancy has written a story that will not only hold your interest, but it will also open your eyes to an important interval in our nation's turbulent history. The main characters are primarily from the same family tree---one Birmingham family lives in Boston, the other Birmingham family in South Carolina. Obviously, they are on opposite sides of the invisible wall that existed between the northern and southern states at that time. This series portrays well the volatile emotions that existed with regard to human slavery. Members of both clans take active part in the ensuing war, often with surprising results.

Filled with historical vignettes that were carefully researched by the author, these books help the reader gain an education on the pertinent issues of that age. These books also depict the challenges that were part of that conflict. Families were literally torn apart. Hearts and souls were tested as a way of life was obliterated. I found myself reflecting on the tremendous price paid by those who fought valiantly for freedom, a gift I suspect we often take for granted.

I highly recommend this series of books. Not only will they provide an enjoyable read, but most readers will be deeply touched by the sacrifices made by valiant souls who possessed the courage to make a difference.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving Day is here. Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, this day doesn't always get its due. Since it's one of the few holidays that doesn't involve tangible gift giving other than a few hostess gifts and some hearty salutes to the chef, it often is relegated to the status of a lesser holiday. If truly observed as originally intended, it should be the best holiday of all since gratitude is the strongest mark of religion, of human love, of patriotism, of maturity, of social responsibility, and of mental health.

There are few of us who couldn't compile a long list of things, concepts, or people to whom we owe gratitude. High on my own list are family, home, country, blessings of the Gospel, health, a steady income, a car that functions well, my computer, good food, a telephone that connects me with loved ones, and the list could go on and on.

There is one blessing I wish to highlight this day. I am grateful to be an American. I have great love and respect for the European countries my ancestors once called home, but I am an American through and through. I love the freedom and opportunities this country provides. I love Americans' sometimes brash, but always positive "We can do it" attitude. I love the mountains and streams, the plains and deserts, and the beaches of this country. I love the cities and the small towns. I love the churches and temples with their spires reaching toward heaven. I love our varied population, pulled together from every other culture and ethnic grouping. I love our schools and universities with the American assumption that everyone is capable of learning. I love the American blending of social classes and our sense that anyone can fulfill their personal capabilities; that dreams can come ture.

On this day, I think we need to recall the words of a man who lost his life forty-six years ago while president of this great country. John F. Kennedy said, "My fellow Americans, ask not what our country can do for you---ask what you can do for our country." Too often we fail to appreciate our country and turn President Kennedy's statement around. Seeking freebies from our government is not a sign of gratitude. Doing the least we can do for ourselves is not gratitude. Destroying our country's values is not graditude. Making our country over into a mirror image of the countries we or our ancestors came from is not graditude. Complaining about our government and doing nothing to improve it is not graditude.

Showing gratitude for our country means being politically and socially involved. It includes respecting other viewpoints without relinquishing our own values. It includes worshipping God as our own consciences dictate and allowing others to do the same. Gratitude includes prayers of thanksgiving, a quiet thank you to someone who has shown us a kindness, and thoughtful acts of consideration toward others. It means personal acts of charity.

One way to show gratitude for this country is to remember the men and women who serve in our military, those who lie in military hospitals, and the families our service people left behind when they were deployed to distant lands. One simple way to let these people know we're proud to be Americans and say thank you for their scrfices for our freedom is to send a serviceman a Christmas card. If you don't know a service member personally you can still choose to do this. Send the card to:

Holiday Mail for Heroes

PO Box 5456

Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Be sure to sign the card and entitle it to Dear Service Member, Dear Veteran, or Dear Service Member Family. Don't include a letter or any kind of insert. And don't include personal information such as email or mail addresses on the card. You can write a brief note on the card. Oh, and no glitter. These cards are each individually scanned to ensure they are safe before being forwarded to military hospitals, families, and soldiers far from home.

If you wish to send telephone cards or gift certificates, don't send them to the above address. Check with for information on how to send such items. And do it before December 7th.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, a scrumptious dinner, and a quiet moment to reflect on your blessings.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Want to Buy a Zoo?

I know it’s Thanksgiving but I’d really rather rave about a book I just finished. I think you’ll understand why when I tell you this: If you’ve ever wanted to do something but weren’t sure how you were going to do it, this book is about moving forward, one step at a time. If you’ve ever wanted to take on something huge and wondered if you were crazy to even think you could do it, this book is about daring to dream about possibilities.

First, do you remember your visits to the zoo when you were little? Weren’t they amazing and wonderful? And did you ever think you’d like to live in a zoo or at least work at a zoo, feeding the animals (if not exactly cleaning up after them)?

I confess that zoos often made me sad. I felt bad for the animals who lived in such restricted areas when no doubt their genes had geared them towards a different, more “free” life. And yet, I also knew that without zoos, very few of us would ever see and learn about these animals.

So when I saw the title I was intrigued: “We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals That Change Their Lives Forever,” by Benjamin Mee.

Who wouldn’t be curious? And who would actually buy a zoo? No question of why one would buy it—but do you know anyone who actually bought a zoo? Sure, people buy houses and cars and even companies. But a zoo? With wild animals (that could eat you)?

This is the story written by a fairly ordinary man (granted, a man who made his living writing, which helps immensely in creating a wonderfully readable book) who comes across a zoo and is intrigued by the possibilities. Now it makes a difference that it was not just him, it was his sister, mother, and brothers as well (his wife and children were interested enough to at least humor him). After Ben’s father died, the children started looking for a larger home around Devon, England, so their mother could live with one of their families. And that’s why the real estate information for a large home, with zoo on the 30-acre grounds, came to their family.

It probably helped that from the beginning, the idea was so impossible that the pressure was completely off. It was just curiosity that led the family to visit the zoo, but once the seed was planted, as Ben said, he knew he would always regret it if he let this opportunity slip away without trying for it. And though he and his family were complete amateurs in terms of running a zoo, they had some important skills to contribute. Ben was a journalist who specialized in do-it-yourselfing fix-it-ups, which is pretty critical for anyone who wants to buy a run-down zoo. He was also interested in animal psychology and behavior and in fact had been gearing up to write a book on humor in animals, a project that had to be put on hold. His brother had worked in a zoo with reptiles and more recently had experience as a business manager, also important when running a zoo, which is a business, after all.

Perhaps the most important thing that Ben and his family could bring to the zoo was their great compassion for the animals, many of whom would be put down if the zoo could not find a buyer who could invest the time and money to bring the zoo up to date and up to required standards.

Not that the family had lots of money, but they were resourceful. And in that astounding way that things fall into place, things did fall into place, piece by piece.

Not only is “We Bought a Zoo” about buying a zoo, it’s about taking that one step forward and then another and another, following your heart and your instincts and working hard—they were rebuilding a zoo, after all—to make something good and worthwhile happen, not just for the zoo animals themselves, but for people and for the planet and all its animals, since a zoo is where children first learn about wild animals and their place in our world.

Find the time to treat yourself to this wonderful book. Until you can get to the book, you can watch the CBS interview with the author at the link below, or google videos (by author and title) for more. The BBC also did a four-part documentary on “Ben’s Zoo” and you can even see footage of the Dartmoor Zoological Park and animals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Autumn Leaves

It's fall and I raked up a bunch of leaves in our back yard. It was a beautiful day and my body loved (and needed) the workout. After two hours of raking I had three huge piles of pale yellow, ochre, ruddy red, and brown leaves. It was lovely. As I stood admiring my work, a thought struck me. What am I going to do with all these leaves?

I couldn't burn them, because now-a-days you have to have a permit, a special metal container, and a fire extinguisher near by. Besides, Al Gore might give me dirty looks for contributing to the (bogus) green house effect.

I couldn't put them into bags and take them to the dump, because I would get a black mark for contributing to the land-fill problem.

I couldn't start a compost heap, because my neighbors would complain about the stink, and then ask me if I had the audacity of becoming a tree hugger person in the middle of suburbia.

So, I left them. Yep...they're sitting out there in the back yard; three huge piles of leaves enjoying the sunshine and waiting for the snow to cover them up. I figure the snow will dematerialize them during the winter, and come spring, my husband will just mow them into oblivion.

I guess I could go back out and scatter the leaves around again. I mean, it's what Mother Nature did in the first place. Who am I to try and improve on her brilliance?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Turkey Triumph

When we realized my mom would soon be leaving this earthly existence, I set about recording her life history on tape. (Many of you already know this..) I asked her every question I could think of and thought I had some valuable memories and information recorded.

It wasn’t until that following November (She passed away in July) and Thanksgiving was about a week away that I realized, with all the interviews and questions asked, I had forgotten to ask her for all of her cooking secrets for making the best tasting turkey and stuffing anyone could dream of.

That year, I had been crazy enough to offer to take on the task of cooking the turkey for our entire family. I thought it was important to carry on the Thanksgiving traditions that were always so dear to my mom. Though this was our first year without her, I thought we needed to be together as a family. It didn’t hit me I had no clue how to cook like mom did and I was sure that that’s exactly what the family was longing for—just like I was.

I learned a few lessons that year. For one, no matter if you have recipes written down follow it to a tee, nothing is as great as mom’s home cooking. (I had located mom’s stuffing recipe—I was so careful, still, mine didn’t taste the same) I set about asking anyone and everyone what their secrets were for the perfect moist turkey. Not knowing which would work best, I tried them all. I’m proud to announce the meat fell from the bones. Sorry, I had to brag—I have never cooked a turkey quite as well as I did that first year, even though every year since then I have attempted to follow the very same tricks. Go figure???

So with this blog, I want to make it’s purpose two fold. I am cooking again this year and would love to hear everyone’s secrets for the perfect turkey. I need another turkey triumph. So please! Send me your no-fail secrets and fast. I’m in trouble again!

The other purpose is this:

This is my last post before Thanksgiving so I feel I’d be ungrateful if I didn’t count a few of the blessings I am thankful for this Thanksgiving season. I’d love for you to share with us what you’re grateful for as well.

I am truly blessed to have a wonderful husband and family whom I love that will put up with my quirky ways—I am grateful for their support in all I do, and I have such good friends who stand by me and help me—bless all their hearts for tolerating me.

At this time of year I am reminded that each of the struggles and trials I have in my life gives me the opportunity to grow closer to my Savior, for which I am very grateful. I know these things are for my own good. They will give me experience and they can increase my faith. Something again, I am grateful for.

I am also grateful for my testimony, the atonement, and the peace that the gospel brings into my life; for the hope and direction I have because of it.

I am thankful for opportunities that have come my way; for the people who have helped make that possible, and the ones that have made my journey so enjoyable.

I am thankful to live in this country and for the freedoms I enjoy. I feel a great debt of gratitude to all those who have served our country to enable me the freedoms that I fear I may at times take for granted.

I also want to say I am thankful for my friends of the V-Formation. I consider their friendship an incredible blessing in my life. I love and admire each and every one of them. I am also thankful for the chance to gather my thoughts here (as haphazard as they may seem at times.) :)

I could go on and on, but I want to open it up to you. Here’s your chance to mention things you’re grateful for this year— and don’t forget, I need those turkey cooking secrets!

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Enid Blyton

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Last night I watched a BBC documentary recreation of the life of Enid Blyton. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan as a child - I had the entire Famous Five series, and most of the Secret Sevens, plus Mallory Towers and St. Clare's. At one stage I remember I modelled my signature on Blyton's with two little lines under my name - I think I was about ten. I noticed that things seemed a little different in her books; I didn't have servants, didn't eat tongue sandwiches or drink ginger beer, and I didn't know anyone who went to boarding school (although it sounded so fun and exciting!) but the outcry against Enid Blyton's books went over my head. I was incenced when libraries and schools banned them. I loved her books, and hadn't noticed that they were racist, or that all the working class characters were criminals.

Sadly, having watched the documentary about her life, my sympathies are now firmly with the libraries, and those who want to rewrite her 750+ books to fit in better with the modern age. I suppose to some extent she's the product of a different age, but she was a shockingly bad mother. She worked in her study all day, seeing her two daughters for an hour each evening. If they had misbehaved in any way, their punishment was to lose that hour with their parents.

The scene that sticks in my mind is that of Enid telling her eight-year-0ld daughter that she was remarrying. She had been having an affair with the surgeon Kenneth Darrell Waters for some time and it had led to the break-up of her marriage (although she divorced on the grounds of her husband's adultery, in order that she might save face). Enid chose to break the news of her impending marriage to little Imogen by cheerfully and abruptly telling her that "Uncle Kenneth" would be her father now, and she was to call him Daddy. When Imogen tearfully asked about her real father, she was told "Oh, he's gone off to war; I doubt we'll see him again." When the little girl became upset, her mother scolded her and sent her to bed without supper.

Later, Imogen saw her mother talking to a man in the garden (Blyton's estranged brother, Hanly, who had come to inform her of their mother's death) and asked innocently who it was. Blyton declared her "a little sneak" and sent her off to boarding school. Neither of her two daughters featured in the film again. Little Imogen is now 74 and I wonder whether she contributed to the research for the film.

There are many authors who lead lives which we, as Latter-day Saints, might consider unconventional or dubious. My question is, does knowing something about the author's personal life affect your enjoyment of their books? If you disapprove of an author's lifestyle, do you boycott their work? Alternatively, if you admire an author on a personal level, do you make an extra effort to buy their books even if you find them uninspiring? Knowing Enid Blyton to have put more time into writing for other people's children than mothering her own, would you buy her books for your children?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thanksgiving Memories

I love this time of year. I've always loved the fall colors, and the crisp biting air as the seasons change. And one of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. I enjoy getting together with loved ones, sharing fun memories, playing games, hearing family stories, and savoring delicious food. This particular holiday took on an even deeper meaning for me when we discovered that some of our ancestors (like John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley) were among those who took part in the first Thanksgiving dinner held so many years ago.

This past month, I've had 3 separate opportunities to snap pictures of wild turkeys. I know turkey wasn't a featured menu item for my ancestors during their Thanksgiving feast, but this member of the poultry family is an important item for most who celebrate this fun holiday. As such, I'll share a couple of those pictures and a silly poem I wrote about turkeys last year. And if you feel so inclined, feel free to share some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories.

Turkeys on the Run

Turkeys on the run
Aren't having any fun
Dodging Pilgrim wannabes
They hide behind the trees.

Turkeys on parade
Think they have it made
When hunting season ends
They try to be your friends

Turkeys with attitude
Border on being rude
They strut across the road
Rebellion is their code.

Turkeys in the rain
Serve to entertain
When droplets hit their head
They look up---drown---fall dead.

Turkeys aren't too smart
But they try to do their part
Making Thanksgiving day complete---
Their revenge---we overeat.

Cheri J. Crane

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I'm not a member of LDStorymakers and I'm not on the Whitney Committee, but I feel strongly that the Whitney Awards are a needed way to honor LDS authors and promote clean fiction. Not many novels will be released between now and the end of the year, so now is a good time to look back over the novels by LDS authors that have arrived on bookstore shelves this year and pick out the ones most deserving of this honor. This means you. Because this award is highly dependent on reader input to be successful, there is a need for large numbers of readers both inside and outside the writing and publishing field to nominate the best books. A book must receive five separate nominations to be in the running.

The Whitney Awards were devized by a small committee sponsored by LDStorymakers, but is independent of that organization. This will be the third year to present the awards which are given in six categories plus an overall Best Novel of the Year.

For a novel to be considered for an award it must be written by an LDS author. It doesn't have to stick to LDS standards (personally, I think it should). It doesn't have to be published by an LDS publisher. It doesn't have to adhere to any established writing guidelines (though in most cases nominees are well written according to accepted literary standards). Anyone who profits from a particular novel such as the author or anyone in his or her household, the editor or publisher of the book or employees of the book's publishing house are ineligible to nominate the book. Friends can nominate so this an added reason nominations are needed from the general reading public. It would be a shame for an author who doesn't write too well, but who has lots of friends to be nominated while a great author was missed solely because everyone assumed he or she would get lots of nominations from someone else so why should they bother.

Below are the various categories. Get out your pen and make a list of the best books you've read this year in each category. If you think it's a tossup between two or three great mystery/suspense novels or any other category, nominate them all. You can nominate as many books as you like, but you can't nominate a single title more than once. Perhaps you're unsure which category a book fits in. That doesn't matter; you don't have to specify which genre a nominee should be placed in. And if you're like me, you won't always agree with the categories every book is paced in for the judging anyway.

Best Romance:

Best Mystery/Suspense:

Best Youth Fiction:

Best Speculative Fiction (This category includes sci-fi, fantasy, time travel, and last days fiction):

Best Historical:

Best General Fiction:

If you're wondering which books are eligible for nomination, there's a pretty complete list of novels written by LDS authors on LDS Publisher. You can also check reviews written by me for Meridian here to refresh your memory of stories written earlier in the year. I didn't review all of the eligible novels, but I did write reviews of a good share of them. Some books, though written by LDS authors aren't considered LDS novels and I don't review those.

All you need to do to nominate an author/title is go to this site and fill in the blanks. Be prepared to fill in title, author, and publisher. Let's give deserving authors/titles a resounding number of nominations. Don't let this piece of important business get lost in the coming holladay rush.

Why I Love Writing

I don't have time to write this blog today. I don't have time to eat, drink or even go to the bathroom. I have two book deadlines, a Gospel Doctrine lesson to prepare, book reviews to write, oh, and a family to take care of, but I'm making myself sit down and do this because I've had the most wonderful experience recently, and I wanted to share it.
Over the last eight weeks I've been doing a Library Lecture tour around the Salt Lake Valley. My topic was "How to Write from Your Heart and Not Your Head." I've had the opportunity to spend an evening with some wonderful people, people who have been bitten by the writing bug and have stories inside of them just bursting to get out.
Part of the reason I wanted to do this lecture tour was to give me a chance to "give back" so to speak. In doing so, I've been reminded of something wonderful. I've been reminded of why I love writing so much.
About fifteen years ago I was sitting in the audience at a writing seminar, listening to the teacher go on and on about getting published. I remember thinking, "Is this ever really going to happen? Will I ever get published?" My doubts weren't based as much on my ability and writing talent, or my desire to get published, but on the criticism and cynicism of others. People (family and friends - you know who you are!) would sometimes roll their eyes as I tried to tell them about my writing projects and where I was submitting my stories and all the rejections I was getting. It was as if a ticker board was going across their forehead telling me their thoughts, "Why do you keep wasting your time with this?", "Does it take a house to fall on you before you realize this is never going to happen?", "Don't you have anything better to do with your time?"
After a while, I quit telling people what I was doing, and just kept it to myself. Even my husband didn't really know much about what I was doing. I'd come out of the closet and declared "I'm a writer!" only to go back in again where it was safe.
It was hard. It was hard because I loved what I was doing so, so much, yet no one believed I could do it. No one but me.
So, in spite of it all, I kept at it. I kept trying and trying. And, by dang, I did it. And I believe with all my heart it wasn't about talent and being a brilliant writer, it was about passion, persistence, hard work and dedication.
And that's why I do these lecture tours. I want to tell other writers my story. I want them to know that they can do it. They can get published IF . . . and that's the key work, IF they are willing to work hard and never give up.
I'm actually glad that during my struggle to get published I was forced to dig deep and really find out what I was made of. I think that has made me a better writer. It certainly has made me appreciate and never take for granted this gift I've been given. This gift of being published and being able to have a voice in the world.
And that is why I love writing.

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Writer's Journey

I just read for the second time Five Pages a Day: A Writer’s Journey by Peg Kehret. Peg Kehret may not be as well known as some of the “biggies,” like J.K. Rowling or Lloyd Alexander, but she’s had a very satisfying career as a writer. She’s written about 40 books for children/young teens and a dozen nonfiction books on various topics. In fact, the Library of Congress called her home to identify which Peg Kehret she was and which books she wrote because clearly there was more than one Peg Kehret because of the great variety in these books. Surely no one person would have written them. But she had. And they all have a part in her story.

She begins with her first writing venture, the Dog Newspaper, when she was 10. She asked everyone in her neighborhood to tell about their dogs, but since they had very little to say, she ended up writing about her own dog, B.J., who did have an interesting story. He had been found as the only surviving puppy in a litter by her uncle’s unit in Germany during World War I and the soldiers kept the puppy until the end of the war, when they decided to pool their money to get the dog to the U.S. (They had named him B.J., because it was a Big Job to take care of him.) Then they had a drawing and Peg’s uncle won the drawing. Although Peg felt her first issue was a great success, sadly, her venture barely made it to a fourth issue.

I love hearing stories of writers when they were children. I’m so impressed when I hear of writers who wrote their first book when they were 8 or 10 or even 16. In fact, I like that I wrote poetry in high school. I probably would cringe to read it now, but I love that I loved words when I was young and that I knew they could be used to express feelings and to create images that recreated those feelings in others.

Peg did have some great writing opportunities when she was younger and by describing them, she also gives would-be writers some ideas for their own writing. She proofread a newspaper and wrote commercials for a radio station when she was in high school, but married at 18 instead of going to college. It took her a while to get back to writing but that rediscovery for her provides many lessons as well. She started taking community classes but when her husband was transferred out of state, she learned that she couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition for more classes. So she decided, since she already knew she wanted to be a writer, to spend the next year writing, until she could qualify as a resident and go back to school.

Here she enters into really fun and useful part of her book, how she slowly began to earn money with her writing, but then, I think every single chapter and all her stories about her writing failures and successes are useful, both to writers and to the editors who work with writers. I particularly appreciate that her apprenticeship before writing her first book took involved her writing for several magazines and also writing in response to several contests, where she won a car and a trip to Hawaii, among other things. But more than winning things—although they were useful to her young family and validating to her as a writer—was that they helped instill a discipline that invited creativity.

I’m going to stop here and simply say that about 10 copies of this book are available on Amazon for $2 plus shipping. Peg’s style is incredibly readable and I think writers at all stages will enjoy her story.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Favorite Characters

I taught a class on creating characters last week at our public library. It was a fun opportunity to review some of my favorite people in literature. I read brief character descriptions from some of my favorite books, then discussed how I created mine.

The first excerpt I read was from The Secret Garden, one of my all-time favorite books when I was growing up. Frances Hodgson Burnett said of her character: "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression." I loved Mary as she outgrew her self-absorption and was curious (and brave!) enough to investigate the crying sounds in the big scary house and find Colin, then bully him into a cure.

I read many more, but there isn't room nor time to go into all of them here. I did, however, read an example from Emeralds and Espionage, my first book, showing a serious flaw in character introduction. My heroine plunges into her adventure without the reader having any idea who she is or what she looks like - and in the first few drafts, it remained that way until some kind editor pointed out that it was about 25 pages into the book before the reader ever knew her name. My only excuse was that it was my first book - and that I clearly saw her and knew all about her. I just failed to communicate that early on to my readers.

I liked Allison. She was adventurous, head-strong, intelligent - after all, she spoke a dozen different languages. :) And she was beautiful, but humble through it all. (All the things I wanted to be, I guess.) When I created her, I went through the entire character sketch so that I knew everything about her: what she like to eat, read, listen to, do in her spare time, her parentage, her job, her car, her friends, her dreams. All these things will have a bearing on what she does and how she reacts in any given situation. I had to know about her education, ethnicity, possessions, obsessions, beliefs, religion, ambitions, fears, attitudes, character flaws and strengths as well.

Some of the participants in the class asked if this was really necessary when you write a book. I feel that it is absolutely essential. If you know your character, you know how she/he will react when faced with a problem, in an emergency, in a tense situation or confrontation. And if you write a character sketch, you won't have to go back later and see if her eyes were blue, green, hazel, brown or gray.

I was diligent in forming Allison beforehand, but didn't think it was necessary with the secondary characters, but as they began playing a major role in the story, I discovered their history and description needed to be fleshed out in a character sketch. As I added the Anastasia team, it was absolutely necessary to do that for them, or I could never have kept up with their idiosyncracies which are always an important part of any character.

I loved Maggie McKenzie. I had so many story lines for her, so much possibility. I'm sad that she is retired. A life snuffed out too soon.

So I am a total advocate of doing an extensive character sketch on your main characters. If they have fun quirks, make them a part of the story. Let your readers empathize with their flaws and rejoice in their strengths. If you know your characters well, this should make writing about them so much easier - and even fun!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

True Patriots

My neice is being deployed to Afghanistan.

She is now at a two week combat training camp while her sweet husband, who is also in the Air Force, takes care of their two young daughters. My neice will have a month home with her family and then be half way around the world for six months.

They seem to be taking it in stride. I suppose that's part of being a military person: accepting orders, never flinching from duty, and being strong even when the call means great personal sacrifice. I honor my niece and nephew, and all in the military. They are true patriots. I stand humbled and amazed by their commitment and bravery.

I'm trying to be brave, but I find myself weeping every time I see an American flag, or catch a glimpse of anything on television that shows service men and women in combat gear.

I also get angry when I see political leaders who are attempting to change the very base of this wonderful country. Oh, indeed, the United States of America isn't perfect, but we are great. Our Constitution has stood the test of time and made us a country of heart and substance. I'd love one of those unethical politicians, who doesn't think this country is great, to look my niece in the eyes and see what she thinks about America. I do believe they'd get a very honest and straightforward answer.

My niece will be laying much on the alter of freedom. I wonder if the said politician would willing do the same?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Puzzles And Books Under Construction

I can’t help but think how much writing novels compares to a puzzle.

Though I can’t really claim to know the proper steps to producing a magnificent puzzle nor do I know the secrets or have the ability to write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, I do believe there are some similar procedures to acquire both finished products.

Just as there are numerous styles of books, there several types of puzzles. First of all, you need fresh original puzzles to capture your audience just as fresh ideas captivate your reading audience.

I myself, am terrible at putting together a puzzle with anything more than a 100 pieces, I have learned that finding the pieces to the border gives me a good basis to work with,. Likewise, a first draft gives my story direction. While working with my border, I watch out for the corners. In writing, my draft helps me to beware not to “write myself into a corner.” (I still manage to do that from time to time but it was a good analogy, anyway.)

Persuasive thinking can be done with wording content just as writing in a crossword puzzle makes you think one way when the answer is really another. This is a fun way to throw the reader into questioning who the villain of the story might be and give them multiple choices to choose from.

While writing. hidden within an author’s plot are words that heighten the suspense, just as words can be found in word search puzzles. Sometimes they are easy to spot, while other times a reader skims over them, unaware that they have any significance until later in the story.
Brain teaser puzzles work in a similar fashion. The author has written the story in such a way that the answer may be right in front of your very eyes but you don’t see it until the author reveals it to you and even then you wonder how you missed it. (I love those kind of books-- the hard to figure out ones-but the answer was right there all along!)

Events interlock and lead up to the climax of the book, they keep the reader wondering what will happen next just as piece by piece the jigsaw puzzle eventually reveals the full picture.
Some puzzles require grids. As an author it’s crucial to keep track of time lines and character roles. Have you ever read a book when a character role was confused with another? YIKES! Bad writing and bad editing. I shamefully admit a time line was a hard lesson for me to learn.

Every child’s favorite is the Tic- Tac- Toe, Three in a row puzzle. Basically there are three parts to the story, the beginning (introduction) the climax, and the ending. Okay, there is a lot of stuff in between those three steps too but the point here is that when the story is told, it’s time to end it.

And then there is the all time favorite of every Primary and Sunday School teacher who finds their lesson has ended early, the Hangman style puzzle. It’s the common knowledge puzzle. In writing, you may have the bad guy figured out, but you read on because you love the book so much that you have to see how it ends. So really, “Hangman” is a bad name for this analogy-- I was going more for the “Common Knowledge” theory on this one.

Last but not least, the “Jigzone Puzzle.“ You may be wondering what this puzzle has to do with writing. When I find writer’s block has me stumped, I wander over to the “Zone.“ Sometimes I just need a break and this is my favorite puzzle site. It’s about all the puzzle I can handle, nothing too mind boggling. It gives me a quick escape while my book is under construction.

May all your puzzles be best sellers!

Here’s a "Happy Harvest" challenge for you:
Click to Mix and Solve

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guy Fawkes

by Anna Jones Buttimore

With all this talk of Halloween, I have to do my British thing and talk about my memories of Guy Fawkes when I was a child. We didn't really do Halloween, you see. I never went trick or treating, never carved a pumpkin, never went to a Halloween party. When I was young, it was all about Guy Fawkes, more commonly called Bonfire Night, on 5th November.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

As a child I recited this exciting rhyme, eagerly anticipating the bonfire and fireworks, but actually I didn't know much about Guy Fawkes. In fact, I didn't know until just now, when I looked him up on Wikipedia, that he wasn't actually burned at the stake.

In the early morning of 5th November 1605, following an anonymous tip-off, barrels of gunpowder were discovered in the cellars underneath the houses of parliament. Guido (Guy) Fawkes was also found slipping away. Although he wasn't the mastermind of the plot to blow up parliament, with King James I and all the Lords and Nobility inside, he was in charge of its execution. He was tortured and sentenced to be executed by being hung, drawn and quartered, along with his co-conspiritors. However, in the event he jumped from the scaffold and broke his neck. Probably sensible given the alternative. When the plot was foiled, the King asked Londoners to light bonfires to celebrate the aversion of the tragedy. The tradition of lighting a bonfire on 5th November has continued in Britain for over 400 years now.

As children my sister and I would make a Guy, collecting old clothes and stuffing them with newspaper to make an effigy-of-sorts. Sometimes we would take our Guy and stand on the street near our local newsagents asking passers-by for "a penny for the guy". We'd then take the money home to our parents. In most families, the money was spent on fireworks, and the Guy was then burned on the family's bonfire. We only had a tiny garden, however, so while Dad would occasionally buy a cheap box of fireworks and set off a few in the garden, we usually went to an organised display run by the Parish Church or the Local Council.

There is a particularly evocative smell around Bonfire night. It's a heady mix of woodsmoke, sulphur and baked potatoes, and I have only ever smelt that delicious combination on 5th November. We'd wrap up in our coats, hats and scarves and huddle together behind the roped-off section, watching a much more impressive Guy than ours burning on top of the bonfire, laughing at the mist of our breath, and exclaiming about the fireworks. I always loved the Catherine Wheel best of all. We'd each have a sparkler, and we'd write our names in the air.

My middle daughter's birthday is 7th November, so occasionally she gets to go to a display on her birthday, which makes it extra-special. This year's is at our Bishop's home, and I suspect will involve quite a lot of food too.

Incidentally, did you know that it was Guy Fawkes who is responsible for the word "Guy", meaning a man, entering the language? Apparently, all those children asking for a "penny for the guy" caused the word "guy" to be applied to any funny-looking chap. When the word crossed the Atlantic, it lost its pejorative meaning. So if you refer to "your guy", you are harking back to a foiled terrorist plot 400 years ago.

Monday, November 2, 2009


We've experienced quite a week in our ward. One of our stalwarts, a man everyone loved, passed away quietly. He had been battling Lou Gehrig's disease for quite some time. Recently, we thought he was improving and our hopes were raised that all would be well. It is---just not in the manner we had envisioned.

With heavy hearts, we girded up for the funeral. I've spent quite a bit of time the past few days with this man's sister who is a friend, and someone that I now visiting teach. Her heart is understandably shattered. She had been spending several hours each day with her brother, rendering service and lifting spirits. Her hopes had risen with the improvement she had witnessed. Her brother's death was not the miracle she had prayed for. Also, this woman's father passed away 6 months ago, and she is still healing from that great loss. Her heart is very tender, and the months ahead will be challenging.

Since I'm still the fearless leader for the YW in our ward, I had another concern: one of our Mia Maids is the youngest daughter of the valiant man who slipped from our lives this past week. Three other YW in our ward are nieces. This is a difficult time for all four young ladies. Somehow we have to help them ease through the heartache of losing a loved one.

In the middle of all of this, another ward stalwart, our previous bishop, suffered a massive heart attack. He was life-flighted to Utah for emergency by-pass surgery. His wife is our current Relief Society president. She was hit from all sides. She had been out of town to be with a daughter who had given birth to her first child when she received the news about her husband's heart condition. As she made preparations to leave and be with her husband, this woman's father passed away with a heart attack.

Wow! Is it pouring trials our direction, or what? It seemed as if it was storming like crazy in all of our lives. In a state of shock, we pulled together to survive. Knowing this funeral would be huge, all of our ward organizations rallied to help the remaining member of the R.S. presidency. (The woman I mentioned above who had aided her brother each day, is the other counselor in this presidency.)

To make matters even more entertaining, for weeks, our activities committee had been pulling together a huge Halloween party. It was to take place on October 31st. As it turned out, this would be the day of the funeral. Several of us wondered if it would be better to cancel the festivities in light of what had happened. Our wise bishop decided to continue with the plans that had been laid. He was definitely inspired.

Some of us who had been asked to help with the Halloween Carnival\Ward Trunk & Treat, had to hurry home to change clothes after the funeral so we could return to the church in time to set up the Halloween games. As we hurriedly redecorated the gym, we wondered if anyone would come to this event.

Surprisingly, most of our ward returned to celebrate what was left of this particular holiday. A goodly share of these people dressed in costume, including the children of the man whose life had been celebrated during the earlier funeral. This Halloween party proved to be a much needed stress release, and a chance to focus on something fun. It was the exact sunburst that was needed in our lives that night.

Life is like that. Storms move in and we often think it is the end of the world. Our faith is shaken and we wonder how we're going to survive. Then the Son bursts through the clouds and we realize that we're not as alone as we were thinking.

Our Savior is always there for us, no matter what trial we're enduring. He has experienced more than any of us can possibly comprehend, and His Atonement can heal our hearts if we will but turn to Him. When hearts are shattered, it is difficult to focus on the light He can bring into our lives. Our challenge is to look beyond the clouds, toward the Son-bursts of hope that will help us survive the difficult days ahead.