Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Events That Shape Our Lives by Michele Ashman Bell

The other evening my daughter and I were watching TV and as I scrolled through the channels I came across an old episode of "I Love Lucy." I felt as though old friends had entered my family room. There was Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred, caught up in one of Lucy's crazy schemes, and I felt as though all the years melted away and I was a young girl again. My daughter, 11 years old, enjoyed the show with me and I told her how I had seen every episode at least a dozen times. Lucy was part of my childhood.

As I pondered this fact, I began to think of many of the events and moments throughout my life that have shaped me and had some sort of impact on who I am and what I store in my memory bank. Many of them are moments that are important enough that I want to make sure my children know about them.

I remember watching the Beattles on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and feeling special that they had a song with my name, "Michelle, my Belle..." and thinking Paul was as dreamy as they come.

I remember in 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I stood in awe and watched the news footage and heard the famous words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

I remember the Vietnam War and how scary and confusing it was to me. I never fully understood that war and why our soldiers were treated so despicably until I did research for my Vietnam War series, "Timeless Moments" and "Forget Me Not." There have been other conflicts that have had a profound effect upon me and my family. As upsetting as some are to remember, there are things about them I hope I never forget and want to make sure my children remember.

I remember when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, an event I thought would never happen in my lifetime. Truly a miracle.

And more recently, I remember 9-11 and the horror I felt as I watched the twin towers engulfed in flames.

Events like these and others, contribute to who we are and what we become. Even though it shocks my children that I grew up with 5 channels on a black and white TV, no dishwasher, no microwave and no cell phones, it's all part of who I am. These memorable moments, good and bad, define us and help us grow.

What are moments and events in your life that stand out?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Favorite Quote for Today

Here's a quote from A.W. Tozer I came across recently and I share it in hopes that it will comfort those who are feeling the pain of loss today:

If God sets out to make you an unusual Christian He is not likely to be as gentle as He is usually pictured by the popular teachers. A sculptor does not use a manicure set to reduce the rude, unshapely marble to a thing of beauty. The saw, the hammer and the chisel are cruel tools, but without them the rough stone must remain forever formless and unbeautiful.

To do His supreme work of grace within you He will take from your heart everything you love most. Everything you trust in will go from you. Piles of ashes will lie where your most precious treasures used to be.

Thus you will learn what faith is; you will find out the hard way, but the only way open to you, that true faith lies in the will, that the joy unspeakable of which the apostle speaks is not itself faith but a slow-ripening fruit of faith.You will learn, too, that present spiritual joys may come and go as they will without altering your spiritual status or in any way affecting your position as a true child of the heavenly Father.

Then you will also learn, probably to your astonishment, that it is possible to live in all good conscience before God and men and still feel nothing of the "peace and joy" you hear talked about...

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Duty to God

Life can be so hectic that you can feel like you are swimming in circles accomplishing nothing.

It’s pretty much how I was feeling when my husband came to me and said, “Bryan needs to catch up on his goals if he’s going to earn his Duty to God award. Why don’t we start working on that this Monday night during Family Home Evening?”

I glared at him.

What I heard him say was, “What you are doing in a twenty four hour period of time that you actually need thirty six hours to accomplish isn’t enough and you need to do more.”

Okay, I admit I needed an attitude adjustment and at that precise moment, I was having a few issues.

So I smiled, not very sincerely I admit. I gritted my teeth and said, “Sure, honey, let’s do that,” and I walked away.

Come that Monday night, we all sat together as a family. My husband opened my son’s “Duty to God” hand book. As we reviewed the program, memories came flooding back to me of a couple of months ago when we sat as parents with our son’s at our Church house learning about the new program that has been set forth for the young men of the church to help them fulfill their Duty to God. I was touched by the program then, just as I was this past Monday night while my husband reviewed it for us again.

You may wonder why I would pick this topic to blog about since maybe most of the readers are perhaps women. There is indeed a program set forth for the young women as well, but since I have boys, I just wanted to mention how impressed I am that there is a program that gives the youth of today such high standards and morals to live by and if these boys will do these things, then as they fulfill their responsibilities, they will “greatly bless the lives of those around them” --that would be ALL those around them.

(I do plan to wrap up this blog with how this applies to women as well. So hang in there with me.)

The idea of the Duty to God program is to learn, act, and share. They young men learn about their duties, make plans how to fulfill them by setting goals that can be challenging but fun and of service, and share with others about the growth they have gained from it. Sounds simple? The idea is, the goals are not. These young men are setting goals that will help to shape them for their future. They are setting goals now that will help them develop lifelong habits.

They have interviews with their progress, their goals and duties must reflect them taking the initiative to be responsible and hardworking, being of service to others. They must be spiritually minded, and keep themselves morally and physically clean, young men. They must do their duty with diligence.

A book of standards that helps them set their goals is the book, “For the strength of Youth”

This is a very brief summary about the new program. For more information you can read more at

Back to Monday night—as we sat as a family—we turned to the first section in the handbook. We did the required reading and slowly my issues of the day before started to fade away. A renewed hope began to set in as we talked about goals that Bryan wanted to set for himself. I asked him if I could join him with the goal setting and he thought it would be good for all of us to work on goals at the same time. We all agreed.

I set my goals. The first goal is my relationship with family and friends. To break that down a little, I wrote: I need to be more pleasant and have a better “attitude."

Now, I don’t think we can gain a better attitude just because we say, “I’m going to have a better attitude.” At least for me, it’s not that easy. I had to have a plan in motion to achieve that goal so, I wrote down how I intended to do a few things so that I can work towards achieving a better attitude and so on.

After we worked on a couple of areas in my son’s book, it was time to call an end to that part of our Family Home Evening. It had been a good night for all of us, but especially for me. I needed a change of attitude and I could feel within my heart a desire to make that happen.

Life can be overwhelming. There are some days you reach the end of the day feeling completely exhausted and wonder about all you have not yet finished. You wonder if all you have done is ever enough. Surely we know within our hearts that it is, but I think we tend to be hard on ourselves and there are times we feel like we are bearly treading water.

There is so much I want to do and I feel there is hardly enough hours in a day to accomplish that which I need to do.

Maybe it begins with attitude.

We all have a "Duty to God." The young men of the Church have a formal program set up to give them direction. The young women do as well. We as adults have the Gospel Plan to give us direction. We all have a loving Father in Heaven to turn to. He will help us fulfill all of our duties if we will put forth our best effort and then have faith and trust in him. He’ll help us stay afloat. With that in mind, what’s not to have a good attitude about?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rain at Pine Meadows, Utah

It rained yesterday, and I thought of my sister.

When we were growing up in Lake Tahoe, California, autumn rain was one of our favorite things. The dark clouds would tumble over the high peaks of Mt. Talac, the wind would pick up, whipping white caps onto the lake's steel blue surface, and the thunder would shake the windows of our small house. Teri and I would scramble around our bedroom gathering paper, pencils, books, and crayons. After our successful foray, we'd run outside to the car just as the first cold drops of rain splooshed onto the dirt road. It never rained gently in Lake Tahoe. As the rain thudded onto the roof of the car, Teri would draw and color pictures, and I would write stories. Teri was four years older than me, and the usual patterns of our day did not find us spending much time together, or even acknowledging each other's existence, but on those days when the thunder boomed, a magical connection formed.

So, it wasn't surprising when I felt those first cold drops of autumn rain, that I thought of her. The many miles separating Pine Meadows, Utah, and Lake Tahoe, California melted away, and we were back in the old grey Ford coloring, giggling, and creating a bond that would last a lifetime...and longer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rest of the Story

Continuing with the dialogue that I've been having with a prospective author, here are the remainder of his questions, thus far, and my answers:

Q. Do you ever borrow ideas, plots, locations, characters, and such from other authors and use them in your novels?

A. Borrowing ideas is acceptable if you disguise them in your own story; borrow plots - mmm - someone said there are only about a dozen plots in literature. Everything is a variation of one of them. I guess it depends upon how much you borrow and how much you make out of it your own story. I saw a TV show the other night that gave me a great idea for my ghost story - a lost love. Nothing original there, but it will add to my story. I just needed to be reminded of the opportunity, and I'm not using it in the way they did in their story. But you get into iffy territory here, so be very careful what you are "borrowing" and how you use it.

Q. You mentioned reading a lot of other books from other authors and I wonder if a person has the ability to borrow ideas from other books much as we do when giving a talk in church.

A. People do have the ability, but not the right. :) Ideas are not copyrighted, but borrowing portions of the book, as we do when giving a talk, is called plagiarism. It is illegal and unethical.

Q. What is the official church position on writing about magic, sorcery, witchcraft, and all of these other areas that the public wants to read about but may conflict with LDS values?

A. The Church does not have an official position on writing about areas that may conflict with LDS values. That is entirely up to you. We do have free agency, after all. :)

Q. Do we have to worry about being true to our values, principles and morals when writing?

A. Again, that is entirely up to you. I am true to my values when I write. There are others who have made an incredible amount of money by giving the public what they want to read. The choice is yours. I want my grandchildren to be able to read everything I've written without being ashamed or embarrassed by my stories - or me being embarrassed or ashamed when they read them.

Q. It sounds like you have a natural gift for writing and ideas, themes, plots, characters, and thoughts flow to your mind magically. Sort of like an artist when he does his painting, sculpture, etc. He gets a vision of what his product will look like in his mind first before he creates it physically. I don't have a natural gift or creative imagination for writing. How do you develop that ability or gift?

A. I do think part of it is a gift or natural ability, but the other part is just plain hard work, plotting the story line, getting in all the elements of the story in the right place, rewriting, editing and rewriting some more. The more you write, the better you will become at it. At least, that is the premise. You have to learn the craft, because it is a craft and it can be learned, then just write, rewrite, and write some more.

Q. I guess my biggest question is how do you know as an author what is going to sell and be a big hit with the audiences? Does an author ever do audience market research and see what the American audiences are looking for in terms of reading and entertainment? Do the publishing companies ever poll their audiences to see what the American public wants to see more of and what sells best?

A. Knowing what the audience wants to read has not been a problem with me. I wrote what I wanted to read, the kind of stories I enjoy reading, knowing there were others out there who enjoyed the same thing. I write what I'm passionate about. An editor can tell you what is being accepted. The NY Times or Deseret Book Bestseller's lists can give you an idea of what is popular. I think the readers for the various publishing houses and the acquisition committees have a lot to do with what is accepted for publication, and they probably take their cue from what is currently selling well. Different genres are popular in cycles. If Westerns are riding high in the market when you begin your book and it takes you a year to write it, then it has to go through the acquisitions, editing, and rewriting process. It may be published too late for that particular cycle, unless it is an exceptional book. I guess the best answer to your questions is that audiences vote with their purchases - that's how publishing houses know what they want to read.

Q. How much money can a beginning author realistically expect to make in today's world?

A. That question can't be answered until the book is finished, published and on the market. Don't quit your day job, as they say, make your product the very best that you can, and work very hard to get it accepted, published, then promoted. Chances are, it will take a few years and a few books to make enough money to brag about. Most authors I know don't write for the money, though that is a nice perk. They write because they have stories to tell that are just exploding to get out and be told.

Q. Do you make a lot more when you book becomes a movie?

A. Having a movie made from a book published by an LDS author is extremely difficult, unless you make it big on the national market. Just remember to retain the movie rights when you sign your contract so that it CAN be made into a movie, on the off chance some screenwriter or producer discovers the book and wants to make it into a movie. But write the book first. And good luck!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Editing is Improving

I am currently attempting to write my first fantasy novel, a 100,000 word epic about an ordinary young man who discovers that he has been bred for a special purpose. I'm about halfway through at the moment, and recently sent the manuscript to some friends for their comments on how it could be improved.

Two of them came back and told me that several scenes from the beginning needed to be cut. These were scenes I was particularly proud of, and I resisted for as long as I could. Then a third person told me, very bluntly, that they were slowing down the action, and I realised I had to do some editing. With a heavy heart I hacked about five-thousand precious words off the beginning of my magnum opus. It hurt, I can tell you. But now that I re-read it I can see that the new, streamlined version is far, far better, and I'm excited about it again.

Editing is difficult, but it is necessary. However much you've sweated and laboured over something, once in a while you just have to metaphorically (or possibly literally) scrunch up the paper and hurl it towards the waste paper bin. I've commented here before that I believe editors are vital in the production of a good novel. An fresh pair of expert eyes can highlight problems you've overlooked, from poor punctuation to major continuity errors. They will take parts out, they will suggest other parts be expanded, but they will improve it.

I have a novel due for publication over the next few months, and my publishers suggested that it was "clean" and didn't need editing. Nervous about this decision, I paid to have it privately professionally edited, and I'm glad I did. As "clean" as that manuscript may have been, the editor picked up on many improvements which could be made.

One thing I have learned about the writing business is that you can't get precious about your work. Editors, publishers, test readers and others will want to change it. But they know what they are doing, and we would be wise to follow their advice. If you doubt me, just look at the number of writers who thank their wonderful and wise editors in the acknowledgements of their books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Invitation

I'm inviting you to go to Meridian Magazine and read my column there. Instead of my usual review of an LDS novel I've talked about the condition of today's LDS Fiction and where I think LDS fiction is headed in the future. I talked to quite a few people, mostly authors and editors, before writing this column. As a writer and a reviewer I can't help wondering where readers (and others) see LDS fiction in today's market place, in your homes, and in your lives. What do you think is good about LDS fiction? What would make it better? and Where do you think LDS fiction will be two years or five years down the road? Please respond on Meridian's comment trail, or here. (By the way, everyone who responds with thoughtful comments at either of these locations, will be entered in the ongoing Wish List contest on my blog.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Attitude and Preparation

This past week hasn't been one of my better weeks. I told everyone to look under Entertainment for my reviews on Meridian when I should have said look under Books. I've spent extra time at the hospital with my sister this week so my brother-in-law could go home for his own Dr.'s appointment, thus I didn't get a blog posted on the V-formation or on my blog. I was expecting my column on Meridian to be posted on Thursday; it wasn't. It has a new posting date Monday, Sept. 20, so look for it then. (This column is about the current state of LDS Fiction and where I think it's going in the next few years and I would really appreciate comments here or on Meridian from readers, writers, and anyone else with a stake in the future of LDS fiction.) I have tendonitis in one knee and it's been acting up all week; do you suppose stress is a factor in that? I've read five books in the past few weeks. Three were awful, actually one was excellent for the first half then it fell apart. The other two books, both by consistently excellent authors, were good and even may have been better than I rated them, but with so many distractions I had to read in fast, short time bursts that made concentrating difficult.

Anyway enough of my Perils of Pauline whining. I spent a little more than an hour this morning clearing away weeds and overgrown foliage in my flower beds. It barely made a dent in what needs to be done, but as I worked I found myself planning where to plant new bulbs for next spring, debating whether a plant that didn't do well in its present spot might do better if I moved it to another location, and feeling good about my accomplishments because it will make next Spring's garden so much prettier. Spring is a long time away, but preparing now makes a tremendous difference in both the workload and the pleasure in my garden when it arrives.

It occurred to me that the editorial process of a book is much like fall garden work. Clearing out repetitions, getting rid of spelling and grammar errors, moving a section from one chapter to another where it fits better, results in a far better book on that magical day when it is finally released. I don't have a release date yet for my next book, though it has been accepted by my publisher, but there are things I and other writers and editors find make the editing process flow more smoothly and the satisfaction with the finished product that much greater. One of these is to keep a file of notes during the writing process, a chapter by chapter outline (some writers outline before, some after), and a character list with detailed descriptions. The editing process can begin many months, sometimes a year or more, after the manuscript is finished, so keeping these items can save precious time and headaches when the time does come to edit since it makes jumping back into that story easier.

Okay, I'm determined next week is going to be better, my Spring garden will be beautiful and colorful, and I won't moan and groan about my next editing process. Attitude and preparation! I'll keep reminding myself of those two things.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


The other day I sent an email out to tell all the women who come to my fitness class that we were going to have a fun, special class. It wasn't until after I hit the sent button that I realized, "SNAP! I just sent that to the wrong group!" Instead of my "fitness group" I'd sent it to my "fans and friends" group. Once that sent button was pushed, I couldn't get my message back. I'm sure anyone who received that message thought, "Huh? What is this crazy lady talking about?" So, I sent yet another email to apologize.

I think I need some kind of function on my email that asks me if I'M SURE this email is going to the right people/person and if it says what I want it to say.

Not long ago I did a similar thing with a text to my daughter. I went to Seattle to visit her and we were meeting up to spend the evening together. She had just sent me a sweet text so I sent one back that was supposed to say, "You're so cute. You da bomb." I know, cheesy, stupid, but I was trying to let her know I thought she was awesome. Well, the text came out, "You're so coop, you da brat." She responded, "read the last text you sent me."

We laughed about it but you'd think I'd learn my lesson to check stuff before I send it. Maybe the problem isn't my computer, but my brain. Someday I'm going to embarrass myself by sharing something personal with a total stranger, just because I'm not being more careful.

Am I the only one whose done this? Please say I'm not.

(And by the way, I re-read this post three times to make sure I hadn't said something wrong.)

Habr a grape dat!


Monday, September 13, 2010


Bittersweet heart today- my daughter, Nina, is on the mend. She's had a nasty bout of viral pneumonia and is finally on the upswing. We're glad, because she's begun her senior year and starting her final high school swim season. Well, that's not the only reason we're glad she's getting better, but it's important.

I'm looking forward to the meets, long as they are, because I often get to sit with Wendy and yak up a storm, something we are both very good at. I also like the down time away from the little boys, darling as they are. Most of the time, meets are fun for me. (Except the one last year at Viewmont- I had a head cold and thought I was going to implode between the noise and all the chlorine in the air. That and the fact that I suddenly looked at my beautiful daughter's beautiful stroke through the water and thought to myself...Hey, wait a minute! I don't want her to get a scholarship somewhere. I don't want her to move away from me. I want her to stay forever in my house, leaving her stuff all over the place and staying up way too late, clanking her dishes around in the kitchen and making her dad and I wonder if we should just come right out and tell her she needs to get to her room for the night so we can at least make out in peace.)

Anna is fun and is getting more fun, more tender, more responsible as the days go by. We are enjoying her so much. By the time she's ready to leave home, I'm sure I'll find it a struggle to keep that stiff upper lip stiff.

And yet today, I have the word "Love" written on my arm in pink ink with a heart around it in tribute to suicide awareness week and in honor of my friend, Catina, who lost her daughter to suicide last year. I am in love with my daughters, and I ache for Catina. And yet I also am so glad that Catina has her sweet Antonio and Maia, that motherhood still keeps her busy. As I looked at my arm a while ago, the ink got all blurry and I felt my eyes burn. Strange. I thought I had cried all my tears for Abbey last year when it happened.

Our souls are eternal. Love is eternal. Our Heavenly Parents and Savior are eternal. We lift each other, and sometimes we are the ones who need lifting. And don't we all have people in our lives for whom we would gladly take all the pain? I suppose that when we hurt for other people we aren't necessarily lightening their load, but perhaps there is comfort in commiseration, in companionship. It takes a village, that I firmly believe, and not only to raise a child, sometimes just to make it through life as an adult.

I'm grateful for my village and all the wonderful people in it. I'm glad for moments that cause me to reflect on it.

What's Your Literary Autobiography?

September is my favorite month, probably because I was always ready for school after a long summer, even one spent riding around in the bookmobile my father drove and reading all day long. I have a feeling most if not all the writers on this blog loved school as well and were the students who read more than anyone else in class.

Each year when I begin teaching my editing fiction class, I give my students two assignments. One is to pick out 10 books of different genres by authors they've never read, of which they'll read five during the semester; the other assignment is a two-page "literary autobiography" telling me how they started reading, how they learned they loved it, what books they loved, and also when they started writing. Some of my students wrote their own little books when they could barely write; the mother of one student wrote her daughter's journal for her when she was just four or five. Their stories are all so fabulous that I wish I could make a book out of their stories; however, knowing what I know about a book’s marketability, I don't think the book would sell beyond the students and their parents. Maybe BYU Archives would like copies. I'm definitely going to ask.

We've occasionally shared favorite books and early writing experiences on this blog, and it's kind of magical just to hear the name of a favorite book. Can you imagine anything more fun than taking a class with 30 other people who all love books, as you do? Tomorrow they turn in a short response to their first novel of the five they read; I don't expect everyone to love love love the book they've chosen since we don't love all the books we read. A few times I've had two different students read the same book with exactly polar reactions. And I've stopped recommending my favorite books since several students have disliked books I've liked. But we can all share the feeling of loving a book so much we stay up too late at night, we don't do laundry or dishes, we cancel appointments, or take the book along with us to read for as long as we can.

I realize I haven't said anything new or terribly helpful in this blog. I just want to take a few minutes to sing the praises of September--and books.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How Do I Start WRiting?

I've been having an interesting dialogue with a fellow who excelled in Toastmasters. They encouraged their members to try new skills, so he thought it would be interesting to try his hand at writing. After several back and forth conversations, these are some of the questions he's asked and my answers.

Q. What skills and tools do you learn by attending a creative writing class in college?
A. You learn about goals, motivation and conflict, all essential elements of any good story, as well as how to present your story in logical sequence, the proper construction of sentences, and the elemental "stuff" of which stories are made. If you're fortunate, you'll learn the building blocks of suspense or how to keep your writer involved in the story.

Q. What are the advantages of attending writer seminars and workshops?
A. You meet other authors, agents, publishers, editors and see what is going on in the publishing world today.

Q. What do you learn there?
A. You can learn the craft of writing, how an editor wants your manuscript presented, and what is being accepted now by the various publishing houses, as well as specialized classes on different elements of writing.

4. How do you find out about them and are they very expensive?
Q. Check out Writer's Magazine and The Writer, as well as on line. Some are expensive - the Maui Writer's Seminar is way out of my league, but watch your local newspaper for local groups. A group in Mesa/Phoenix, Arizona, ANWA, has a conference, as well as the LDS Storymaker's Writers Conference in Utah, both in the spring. Los Angeles is filled with them and San Diego State University has an excellend writer's conference every year. Most are very affordable.

Q. Does the Church, Deseret Book, Seagull Publishing, or Covenant Books sponsor writer's seminars or workshops?
A. No, none of them do. I got my start at a writer's conference at BYU-Hawaii where Deseret Book, Covenant and Bookcraft editors attended. The closest thing to that that I know of is the LDS Storymaker's conference in Utah or ANWA in Arizona.

Q. Are there LDS writer's groups around?
A. Depending on where you live, there are many LDS writer's groups. I've never belonged to one here in California. My writer's critique group consisted of all non-members except me - a historical romance author, a children's book author, a science fiction writer, a hard-boiled detective writer, a paranormal writer and me - suspense or romantic suspense, or mystery - whichever category I fall into.

Q. How do you develop the creative imagination and vision of a writer or is it a natural-born gift?
A. That's hard. I can't tell you how to develop creative imagination. I can only tell you that if you want to write, you must just do it and it will become easier. Creative imagination may be a natural gift, but the ability to write can be developed.

Q. You said you physically go to many of the places that you write about. Is that what many authors do?
A. Many authors travel as I do to authenticate their work or get into the atmosphere of the place and setting. Others do all their research on line. There are advantages to both methods of research, but I don't want to be making mistakes when I'm describing a setting because I have only seen a picture of the place and haven't seen the rest of the surroundings.

Q. How much of your writing incorporates your actual physical research of the place and how much involves your own imagination?
A. Most of my writing incorporates the physical, on-site research I do. I keep pictures, brochures and articles I've picked up surrounding my computer so I can put myself back into that time and place as I write. Since memories aren't perfect, it's nice to have a picture so I can get it right - instead of how I may have remembered it.

Q. Do you ever add things to a location such as a castle, a village or a river that are not actually at the place that you are writing about?
A. I do add elements that aren't there if I need to spice up my story. The mansion in Santa Barbara in my first ten books was a figment of my imagination. The estate on which I created it was a golf course in Tehachapi that I simply moved to the coast above Santa Barbara and placed the mansion on it. The old English mansion in Pursued was also conjured up for story effect. It simply depends on the story. Many times I have not had to add a single fabrication in location.

This is half of the questions and answers that we ended up with, but I'll save the other half for next time so this won't get too long and boring.

Please feel free to weigh in on any of these with your own answers and I'll forward them on to this potential writer. Like the rest of us, he can use all the help he can get. :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Resoring Honor Rally

On 8/28/2010 I stepped onto the grassy area to the east of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, DC. The time was 6:30 am, and I was with my sister and two of my best friends. Thousands of others were walking from buses, cars, and the metro to gather for the Restoring Honor Rally organized by Glenn Beck.

We came prayerfully, peacefully, positively, and with a grand feeling of camaraderie. We came without political posters, but with American flags; without rancor, but with resolve to better ourselves and our families; without despondency, but with faith that with God's help we could restore America to the vision of the Founding Fathers.

At 7:30 am there were 100,000 people gathered, at 8:30 there were 300,000, and at 9:30 there were 500,000. The crowd filled in all the area along the reflecting pool, and stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial--a distance of 3/4 of a mile. To the east of the WWII Memorial there were thousands of people sitting on the hillock surrounding the Washington Monument.

With open hearts and minds we came to honor the brave, strong, and generous--not only in the military, but everyday Americans among us who live their lives with faith, hope, and charity.

In my sleep the night before the rally, I'd had many dreams of what the content of the rally might be. One image stood out clearly and remained with me upon waking. It was of a young boy scout standing before us and leading the assembled throng in the Pledge of Allegiance. As the rally began, and a young boy scout approached the speaking platform, my tears came freely. The Pledge of Allegiance from the lips of 500,000 patriots was stunning.

That day we also honored the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, whose "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered on 8/28 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King prayed that one day we would not judge people by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Amen.

The feeling of that day permeated my heart, as I know it did the others in attendance. It was a life changing experience.

After the rally my sister and I walked the grassy areas where the event had occurred. 500,000 people and there was not one piece of garbage, scrap of paper, or plastic water bottle left to litter the grounds. It may seem like a small thing, but actually, what does it say about content of character?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


In thinking of a topic to write about for my blog, I had a whole other subject in mind to write about until I had to give a lesson in Gospel Doctrine this past Sunday. The lesson was taken from the book of Hosea in the Bible.

The prophet Hosea used many comparisons in his writings because (this is taken directly from the lesson manual) comparing a complicated or unfamiliar idea with one that is simpler or more familiar makes it more understandable to the people who are being taught. Comparisons also help provide a lot of detail in just a few words. In addition to these smaller comparisons, Hosea also used extended comparisons, which are called metaphors or similitudes.

The fun thing we did to begin class was to pass out some of the comparisons and metaphors written in this chapter of the Bible to see what class members thought they meant. For an easy example, “To be as a lion” may suggest one has strength or is fierce. Hosea came up with some incredible comparisons and metaphors!

In all the time I have blogged on the V-Formation, I have never felt comfortable giving out advice on writing. To me, when I look at the ladies I am in company with on this blog, I am in awe of the talent that is here and I can only soak in what they have to say. So I feel very inadequate and unqualified to hand out any advice when it comes to writing. Rather, I feel I have so much that I can learn from each of them.

I know that I have a real shortcoming at over expressing myself when I write, so when I read that comparisons provide a lot of detail in just a few words, well, that caught my attention.

Maybe if I were to hand out any advice at all, it would be to don’t do what I do, i.e. over explain, over express, over talk the subject. I do it all. The same thing can be said in one paragraph that I say in three pages.

Just two more quick thoughts and I will end—

I am reminded of Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” ( One of my all time favorite shows—I’m swooning here)

I love Professor Higgins telling everyone about the "Cold blooded murder of the English tongue."

I write how I speak, therefore I obviously have poor grammar at times.

Have you ever read a paper or an email when some word jumps out at you because of misuse? It happens all the time in my writing and I really have to watch that so that I “write” proper.

One more song that gets stuck in my head from “My Fair Lady”

Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Don’t talk of stars burning above;
If you’re in love, Show me!

(Isn’t that such a great song? Okay they all are from that movie!)

Next problem I have with words and writing is the “Show, don’t tell” rule. YIKES! I struggle with that one too. I’m afraid I have no advice to give and will leave that one open for my friends who are the pros where this is concerned, but again, I do think my main problem lies in using too many words.
So, ladies, any advice?

In ending I feel like I should tell my friends how grateful I am to be in their company. I am constantly learning from them, for each of them is such an example to me. I feel blessed to be friends with such a classy group of women. I love and admire each of them.

I am in awe of their unique talent for expressing themselves through writing. They truly have a gift for words.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bookshops vs. Bookstores

Last time I went to Lakeside (the second largest shopping mall in the UK) I commented (on this very blog, I believe) that it seemed the Americans had arrived. It has Taco Bell, a gelato stand, and adverts for Mountain Dew although I still haven't found any in the shops. Well, on Saturday I discovered that the American bookstore has also arrived on these hallowed shores.

On my first visit to Florida (my honeymoon in 2006) I went into a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Orlando. It was my first visit to an American bookshop and was blown away by how wonderful it was. First off, it was far bigger than any bookshop I'd been into in the UK but that didn't surprise me, because everything in America is bigger. What amazed me was the atmosphere, and the fact that they seemed to want you to be there looking at the books. There was a wonderful colourful children's area with a cute little safety fence around it to stop your sprog wandering off, and plenty of toys and play activities for the children to enjoy as well as the books. There were sofas and chairs, so browsing was comfortable and enjoyable, and even a coffee shop so that you could enjoy refreshments as you flicked through the books.

Contrast that with my experience of UK bookshops which are, obviously, much smaller (think Hugh Grant's bookshop in Notting Hill) and won't have any chairs at all, let alone comfortable ones. If you read much more than the backliner the scruffy owner (usually not Hugh Grant) will be at your shoulder to remind you in a menacing tone that he isn't running a library. Moreover, there are no price stickers to be seen anywhere. The price the publishers printed on the back of the book is the price you pay. If you're lucky they might accept book tokens.

But Waterstones Bookshop... bookstore... in Lakeside has a sofa and two comfortable armchairs. Nearby is a computer terminal with a search facility enabling you to find out quickly and easily whether they stock the book you want and where in the shop you might find it. There is even a branch of Costa Coffee at the back of the store which does excellent hot chocolate. Best of all, there are price stickers on the books, and offers. I bought a book for £4 when the publishers RRP was £7.99, and also took advantage of the "Buy one, get one for £1" offer saving myself £5.99. There were helpful flyers with suggestions that if you like one particular author, you might enjoy another author who writes in a similar style or genre, and the uniformed staff were friendly and helpful and seemed to rather enjoy being there, and to be avid readers themselves. Everything about it said that reading is a great pass time, and one the store wanted to encourage, even if it was on the premises.

There are many things about America which I love and would welcome here. Mexican food. Big washing machines and dryers. Basements. Of course, there are other things I don't want under any circumstances - liberal gun laws and private healthcare. But the bookstore that celebrates reading I more than welcome. Bring on the rest of the invasion!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Media Frenzy

We truly live in a remarkable era. People can communicate in a variety of ways via such things as cell phones, texting, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, blogging, and so forth. Computers that once filled entire rooms, can now be held in the palm of one's hand. It will be interesting to see what will be invented next.

I remember typing my first novel on an electric typewriter---top of the line for its day. The down side of using this device was that whenever something needed to be corrected, it usually meant retyping an entire chapter.

How excited I was when we purchased our first desktop computer. It was a 286 IBM compatible complete with a word processor, and other software programs designed to make several tasks easier. To understand it all, I took a computer class that was being offered locally. There are still items I can do compliments of this training, despite the fact that my newest computer is now a Toshiba laptop with a 287 gigabyte hard-drive. Windows 7 is its operating system, and this laptop possesses the technology to create and play DVD's. I'm still amazed by how fast it runs in comparison to my first laptop.

This new technology has made it easier to compose manuscripts. My cell phone makes it possible for my family and friends to contact me, regardless of where I might be. It even possesses a tiny camera, if I should feel the need to snap a photo to share. And while I am grateful for these and other improvements in our world, I am also a little concerned. As with everything else, there needs to be a balance.

I've heard it said that one day books will be obsolete. That thought saddens me, and I, for one, doubt that will ever be true. I suspect there are several of us who prefer holding a book and savoring the pages, as opposed to reading text online, or via something like Kindle.

My other concern is that we aren't spending near as much time enjoying "face to face" communication. It doesn't seem that long ago when several of my neighbors and I would gather most mornings for a refreshing walk about town. Not only was this a great way to exercise, but it gave us a chance to touch base with each other. Everyone's schedules are so crazy now, we're lucky if we get a chance to wave at each other in passing. I see more of some friends online, than in person.

While I will be forever grateful for the technology that has made keeping in touch easier (I loved being able to receive e-mail from my missionary sons each week, as opposed to waiting for handwritten letters to arrive) it saddens me that so many of us are leaning toward online communication that may or may not be a healthy alternative. People can be deceiving online, taking on a persona totally different from who they really are. I believe it's much easier to discern who someone is when you can actually see their face.

I also think it's important to disconnect from all of the gadgetry periodically and to embrace life around us. We all need to spend more time outside, appreciating the beauty God created for us to enjoy. I think it's sad that so many people are caught up in make believe worlds online and in video games. I enjoy playing games . . . mostly old-fashioned board games or card games that have been family favorites for years. ;) I believe that games of this nature are a healthier alternative and a great way to bring families closer together.

So while I will always be grateful for the technology that has preserved my life (I've been an insulin pump patient for years. Just call me the bionic woman.) I think it's important to balance this progressive technology trend with old-fashioned values that in my opinion are never outdated.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I received some good news today and thought this would be a good forum for sharing it. My publisher has accepted my manuscript, MURDER COMES CALLING. Of course the title may change; it often does. I don't have a release date yet either, but I'll let everyone know once I have more details. For now I'm just happy to have a new book on its way.

The following blog was posted to my personal blog a few days ago as a follow up to the one on plot and characters and I thought I'd include it here too.

Just how important are the mechanical aspects of writing? Most of us have gotten so accustomed to the occasional typo, left out word, or misused word, we automatically read what a sentence should have said and gloss over the electronic errors that are so prevalent in today's communications. However, most of us expect something a little better from books, even though they, too, are victims of our modern dependence on electronic devices. But it is not only copy writing errors that plague large numbers of books, there is a serious shortage of meaningful editing as publishers, especially small, shoe-string publishers, and self-publishing services depend on computers instead of educated, knowledgeable people to prepare manuscripts for publication.

I recently read a novel that makes me want to cry, not because the story is sad, but because it is so poorly presented. There are typos, left out words, and wrong words galore--and this isn't even a self-published book. Simple words like desert and dessert are confused. To be perfectly honest, the characters are great and I can relate to the main characters and feel great sympathy for them. The plot is compelling and fascinating. BUT--and this is a big But--I am struggling to follow the point-of view. Every character's thoughts are revealed and I doubt the author ever heard of the scene/sequel sequence. With conflicting points of view popping up all over, it is difficult to follow the various threads. Paragraphs are thrown in here and there, revealing information only God or the author could possibly know in advance. The book is a technical mess. I can understand the publishers acceptance of the novel on the basis of the plot and characters, but I don't understand why a qualified editor didn't help the author clean up point-of view, sequence, or at least correct misused and misspelled words. I won't mention the title, author, or publisher of the book, but I won't review it either. The saddest thing about this book is that the author has considerable talent for inventing a story, but because of the poor presentation and clumsy structure of the book, he/she will probably receive few royalties and will become discouraged and give up on writing and readers will lose a potentially beloved author.

Anyone who is serious about writing needs to prepare the best manuscript possible. Don't depend on an editor to "fix" it. Most editors are spread too thin, have too heavy a work load, and cannot take the time once allowed for working on a given novel. No matter how much talent someone has in any field, to become the best he or she can be, that person must study and practice. That means for a writer, studying books on grammar, style, and novel structure. There are plenty of books on the market and in public libraries that teach the mechanics of novel writing. And if you didn't pay close enough attention in high school and college English or language courses, there are books that teach grammar and word usage, sentence structure, and parts of speech. Every would-be writer should have a really good dictionary, a big fat unabridged dictionary, not one of those little paperback college editions. A thesaurus is also helpful. The internet can be helpful too. There are all kinds of helpful online resources from dictionaries, style helps, and translations to blogs (such as The Lyons Tale by Annette Lyon) that aids in word and grammar usage, and overall writing tips and helps on LDS Publisher. Many published authors and others in the publishing field write regular features on their blogs concerning various aspects of writing. Organizations such as Romance Writers of America, League of Utah Writers, American Night Writers Association, and LDStorymakers are among organizations that offer help to their membership on a regular basis and sponsor conventions and workshops to aid writers. Many colleges and universities also sponsor writing workshops. It's unrealistic to depend on talent alone, especially when there are so many avenues available for expanding that talent with marketable skills.

In my opinion, the technical side of writing matters a great deal. Is it asking too much to have a great plot, characters I can care about, and a presentation that flows so smoothly it never intrudes on my enjoyment of the story?