Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The gift you give yourself.

This has nothing to do with writing. It is still a message I am anxious and passionate to share.


My sweet mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 months ago. After a double mastectomy and months of chemotherapy we thought she had it beat. 2 months ago we found out the cancer had returned and was terminal. Any day now she will leave this mortal existence and pass to the other side. She has been valiant throughout this journey. She has maintained her sense of humor and delightful outlook on life. She has been an example of enduring to the end. I am so sad she is leaving us. She is only 68 years old.

She hadn't had a mammogram in 10 years.

Please, please, please don't put off your mammograms, or your colonoscopies, or your annual exams.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Spread the word.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I planned to blog on writing tips today, but there has been so much heartache and pain in the group, I thought adversity would be a better subject. So I went to Neal A. Maxwell for words of comfort and solace. He said:

"A good friend, who knows whereof he speaks, has observed of trials,'If its fair, it is not a true trial!' That is, without the added presence of some inexplicableness and some irony and injustice, the experience may not stretch us or lift us sufficiently. The crucifixion of Christ was clearly the greatest injustice in human history, but the Savior bore up under it with majesty and indescribable valor."

Another: "How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life as if to say, "Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy."

When we look at adversity that way, it is so apparent that we really do need to experience it, but oh, how we dread it!

"You are all familiar with Olympic high-divers. They get scored on their dive according to the degree of difficulty. And you and I see people who are deprived in various ways performing so well in the midst of deep difficulty...I think of the scripture, "Where much is given, much is required." (D&C 82:3) and wonder if there is a sub-scripture that "Where less is given, some nevertheless return so very much...." In a sermon the Prophet Joseph rendered a verse in the Book of Hebrews differently. Paul said, "God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Hebrews 11:6) The Prophet Joseph rendered it, "God is a revealer to them that diligently seek him...." I salute all of those through whom the works of God are manifest in the midst of their deprivation ... I remind us all that we should submit to Him in the degrees of difficulty that are given to us and rejoice in those who then do so well. On judgment day when all those who have been faithful will hear the words "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt 25:23), perhaps there will be one addendum to some who have in their extraordinary deprivation (and trials) done so very well -- "Especially well done, thou good and faithful servant." (Talk given January 13, 1995)

I suspect there will be many who receive that extra word of praise and thanks from this group.

One final word from the apostle: "Exceptional souls are not developed by being made exceptions to the challenges that are common to mankind."

Exceptional souls are being made today, though our hearts ache for the suffering that brings that blessed state.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


There are several women in our neighborhood whom I consider faultless followers of Christ. I know this, not from any bragging on their part, but because, without their knowing it, I have taken note of the many quiet acts of kindness they've performed: caring day in and day out for aging parents, taking fresh baked bread or a meal over to a sick neighbor, helping serve at a church dinner, encouraging a young person who's struggling, making phone calls or dropping a note to someone suffering with the storms of life. They are the treasured "Grandma's" of the neighborhood, and I'm sure the Lord smiles at their service.

Service is second nature to them. There is no show in their offerings. There is no ego. There is no beating of the drum or the shining of lights. In his book, "All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience" Neal A. Maxwell states:

"Perfect love is perfectly patient. Loving patience with a disobedient child, long-term service in the sickness of a loved one who needs to be waited upon hand and foot--these are things that will stretch our souls more than so many other forms of service. To write a check, though the financial sacrifice is real, is not quite the same thing as day in and day out, providing brotherhood for the bedridden. Those of us who see others so ministering are privileged to see a gallantry that is Godlike in the regularity of service and in its selflessness."

I not only feel privileged to see these women serve, but I feel tutored. Without knowing it, they train me to seek for a better life.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heavenly Father, Are you really there?

The biggest thing on my mind at this time is that many people who are close to me are facing several tough challenges in their lives. Some are dealing with death by tragedy, serious health issues, financial difficulty, family discord, and some are even dealing with several of these trials all at once.

I am at a loss at what to say or do. I certainly pray for each of them and keep them in my heart and thoughts but am left pondering the statement that really bad things happen to really good people.

It’s very easy during times of heartache and struggle to question where God is and how he could possible let these things happen, but I believe that question is answered by President Spencer W. Kimball in his book,
Faith Proceeds the Miracle

“Is there not wisdom in his giving us trials that we might rise above them, responsibilities that we might achieve, work to harden our muscles, sorrows to try our souls? Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?
If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil–all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls. Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood.”

It may not make the trial easier, but it helps to keep a clear perspective on what it’s all about.

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. . . .” (Orson F. Whitney as cited in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Proceeds the Miracle, [1972], 99).

When others are suffering and struggling this is an opportunity for us to look for ways to be of service, to show that we care and that we love them. It’s not always an easy thing to do. But with prayerful consideration I believe any act of kindness would be appreciated.
People just need to know they are loved, that other’s care, and that they are not alone.

I know that people have come through for me at various times of struggle and trial. It’s at those times that I know my Father in Heaven is aware of me and my needs. It is through those people that he and blesses my life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can You Trust Reviews?

I posted a blog a couple of weeks ago about how important reviews are in helping potential buyers know whether to spend their money on a particular book. In fact, I think I may have bribed people to send me their books in return for chocolate and reviews. []

But now I'm starting to wonder. I read two books recently which made me think that reviews really can't be trusted because taste in books is so subjective. The first was a novel my book club are reading and it was one of the worst books I have ever stuggled through. The language and construction were dreadful, the thin plot predictable, it was full of mistakes and I was left feeling astonished that any publisher had accepted the book. (I then discovered that it was self-published.)

I went onto Amazon to leave a scathing review only to discover that it had ten reviews already, all giving it four or five stars and praising the "lyrical and hypnotic language", and the "wonderful story". Was this the same book? I can only assume that the writer, having parted with £1,500 to vanity publish his book, had then paid his friends to post good reviews. (I'm looking forward to discussing this matter at my book club.)

The second book was about the life of a particularly interesting character from English history, and I hated that too. The author kept digressing into evidence for her assumptions, filling pages with minor and confusing details about other characters, and making suppositions with very little evidence. I don't generally read history books, and on discovering later that there is a novelised version of this medieval woman's life, wished I had chosen that instead.

And yet this book too had excellent reviews - over thirty of them. In this case I had to conclude that since I am not generally a reader of history I have poor judgement on such matters.

I've been sent several books as a result of my chocolate bribe, and I'm wondering what I'll do if I hate any of them. I know the authors, and I don't want to lose any friends, but I have to be honest. Or do I? Do people reading the reviews know that they are influenced by personal preference and the writer's relationship with the author? What is the true value of a review when opinions on a book can differ so widely?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Timely Venting

I've been trying to finish up a new manuscript this summer. My original plans included having it entirely polished and ready to go by July. Yeah . . . that didn't happen. =) I have been able to work in writing and polishing sessions here and there, but I'm finding that life keeps happening. By that I mean reunions, weddings, camping adventures, girls' camp, and funerals continue to fill my calendar of events, making the writing rather a back-burner type of thing.

It also helps when people like my mother-in-law come to visit. She's a sweet lady, but in her opinion, sitting at the computer, working on a novel is a complete waste of time. So during her frequent visits, I rarely break out the laptop. On the other hand, she has asked me repeatedly when my next book will be finished, something I find quite ironic. ;)

It is interesting that many people assume novels just magically make an appearance. They don't realize, as Jennie touched on in her post, that it takes hours of work to write & polish a manuscript. These days, I tend to do my best writing between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. This is a time of day when I'm the only one awake and I'm not interrupted by the phone, visitors, and life in general. But that's only a couple of hours per day and it just doesn't cut it when one is trying to finish a book.

I reflect back on other books that I've successfully completed, and this was when children were underfoot, I once again served in the YW organization of our ward, and life was rarely boring. Why is it those manuscripts seemed to come together easier and quicker? Or was life not quite so crazy?

Speaking of crazy, today I have to make a decision. I've been asked to join the local Arts Council in our county. I assume this is because I have so much free time on my hands. =D Truthfully, I'm not sure I can fit in one more thing. Also, since I rarely complain about it, most people don't realize I deal with a few health glitches on a daily basis, like lupus and Type 1 diabetes. I've tried to not allow those items to interfere with my life, but as much as I resent their presence, they are unfortunately, constant companions. This means there are days when I feel like walking death. Especially when I do things like roll down hillsides on a 4-wheeler . . . but that is a story for another day.

Bottom line: it's currently a challenge to find the time needed to complete my newest manuscript, and I'm starting to resent that a little bit. So I'm venting during this post, hoping to feel better about things. I will complete this manuscript, but not as quickly as I had hoped. If all goes well, I may be ready to send it down to my editor in September. (I think by now she has caught on that I lied about the July submission.)

Am I the only writer struggling to meet deadlines these days? (This is when you all comment and make me feel better.) =D

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I feel lucky to be alive; I drove to Provo and back Tuesday. That strip of freeway between Salt Lake and Provo is not for the faint of heart.  It's confusing, but there are signs that say STAY IN YOUR LANE.  I wasn't too sure what the signs were trying to tell me, but I stayed in the lane I was in. It took me through narrow canyons of walls and trucks, around odd curves, and over a lot of bumps.  There were far too many vehicles going much too fast and a huge truck taking up two lanes.  However, I survived by stubbornly staying in my lane.

Perhaps I'm getting a bit philosophical, but it seems to me, becoming a writer is a lot like that freeway.  There's all that white knuckle slogging through learning how to write which includes a lot of reading, research, practice writing, attending conferences, finishing and submitting a manuscript or multiple manuscripts, rejection letters, and rewriting.  It's scary, intimidating, and can easily discourage a would-be writer.  But then there's a welcome stretch when the work is accepted and it looks like smooth road ahead.  Ha!  Then begins the editing, rewriting, reading and rereading searching for the tiniest errors, making appearances, being interviewed, booksignings, and reviews.  Before there's time to catch your breath, it's time to do it all over again.

At BYU Education week a couple of people stopped by my table to tell me all about the great book they're going to write "someday."  This scenario happens over and over at book signings.  I love talking to people who are seriously working at becoming writers, the ones who are slogging through the early stages, but stubbornly moving forward.  It's the "someday" ones who make me wince.  These are the ones who have never committed a word to paper, the ones who think writing is so easy they can dash of a book anytime they get around to it, the ones who think they'll become great writers when they "find time."  One of those at this signing commented, "I don't read.  I don't have to be a reader to write a good book."  All I can say to these people is "Stay in your lane.  If you didn't pick a lane that leads to the destination you want, there's little chance you're going to get there."

There were a few drivers who wove from lane to lane, exceeded the speed limit, and made the trip more treacherous than it needed to be.  Life is like that.  There are spoilers who cause problems for themselves and others.  Writers meet their share of spoilers too; "friends" and "family" who attempt to discourage.  They laugh and ridicule.  They refuse to respect time set aside for writing.  They dish out guilt for not making more money or failing to do something else that is more important in their estimation.  They deliver patronizing "what-a-fun-little-hobby" comments and put downs.  It's not easy sticking to your goal or staying in your lane when those around you are speeding, cutting in, and failing to take your determination seriously. 

To be successful at anything, including writing, commitment is necessary. Getting published may take many years.  Some writers seem to have overnight success, but this perception is usually wrong.  The lane they picked only took a different route with its own bumps and obstacles. No one becomes a doctor, a concert pianist, or even a good parent without sticking to their determination to reach that goal and doing the work needed to get them there.  Writing is no different.  Talent is only the beginning; hard work, perseverance, and  stubbornly sticking to the chosen lane is the way to success.

Stay in your lane.  Deal with the distractions without childish anger or seeking shortcuts and you'll be the one collecting royalty checks instead of the one sitting beside the road with a highway patrolman handing you a "double fine in work zone" ticket, watching all the cars who stayed in their lane pass you by.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Do you run across any of the following when you're reading? How do you feel about them? Do they jump out at you or are we becoming so accustomed to crazy speech that we no longer pay attention?

Act naturally
Advanced BASIC
Same difference
Legally drunk
Living dead
Soft rock
"Now, then..."
Synthetic natural gas
Terribly pleased
Diet ice cream
Working vacation
Government organization
Clearly misunderstood
Twelve-ounce pound cake
Found missing
Genuine imitation
Good grief
Sanitary landfill
Silent scream
Small crowd
Passive aggression
Taped live
Definite maybe
Rap music
Resident alien
Almost exactly
Alone together
New classic
Sweet sorrow
Peace force
Plastic glasses
Pretty ugly
Exact estimate
Temporary tax increase.

The dictionary defines an oxymoron as a figure of speech in which words of opposite meaning or suggestion are used together such as wise fool, cruel kindness, to make haste slowly. I would hope that as writers we can communicate clearly, without garbling our prose in this way. Just one more thing to take our readers out of the dream and make them shake their heads in bewilderment.

Wake Up and Create!

My mom always told me that things are best accomplished early in the morning, warning that after 2 o'clock in the afternoon, it's a struggle to get things done. And, I have to concede that mom was true to her word--a dynamo of early morning activity. There is only one flaw in her theory. Some of us are not sunshine early risers. It's not that I sleep in until 10 or anything, but getting up with the sun is not my idea of enjoyable. Let me sleep until 8, meditate until 9, exercise until 10 and I'm good-to-go!

As a writer, I do find that mornings are the best time for creative activity. If I can get three or four hours of earnest writing in before lunchtime, I'm a happy person. I feel good about the laundry, shopping, and house cleaning that follows along in the afternoon.

But, what does one do on the days when the dreaded writer's block occur es and writing seems like a chore akin to ironing white cotton shirts? Walks? Chocolate? Lunch with friends?

I suggest morning pages. According to Julia Cameron, in her book "The Artist's Way", morning pages are a great way to get unstuck. I love morning pages! I've been doing morning pages for ten years now and they have helped me past many a beastly mental roadblock. Morning pages are three pages of stream of conscience writing that gets the garbage out of your mind and starts the creative juices flowing. I highly recommend this to writers or artist of any ilk. I also recommend Julia's book.

Have a good morning, afternoon, and evening!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Deepest Cut of All

The other day the doorbell rang. It had been one of those crazy days, and I was downstairs getting things ready for company to arrive. Hoping my guests hadn't shown up earlier than planned on, I hastened up the stairs to answer. An older man I didn't recognize stood on my doorstep, a grim expression on his face. Before I could say anything, he gave me a doleful look, then said, "Ma'am, were you aware that your pine tree over there is a nuisance to our power lines?"

Stunned, I followed his gaze and glanced at the tall pine tree. It was a blue spruce, something my husband and I had planted years ago to the side of our home. It was at least ten feet away from the nearest power line and to my way of thinking, it was not a problem. However, I was given little choice in the matter. I was informed that it would need to be trimmed, and as such, a tree cutting service would be coming by within the week to take care of the problem. It was explained that if the cut was made now, most of the tree could be saved.

I was handed a paper explaining that the power company had the right to trim any trees that  threatened the well-being of power lines, and with that, the dour man left. When my husband returned home, I showed him the paper and shared what had been said earlier by the power representative. Kennon was about as amused as I was. When our home had first been built, we had carefully planned our landscaping, planting grass and trees where they could flourish. That particular tree had been placed several feet away from the nearest power line. Saddened by the decision that had been made without our consent, we ventured outside to take a closer look at the situation, but could not see how our beautiful tree posed a problem.

A few days passed and one afternoon as my husband and I were returning from town, we spotted the tree-cutting service truck. It was down the street at a neighbor's yard where several trees were receiving an interesting "hair-cut." Slowly that dreaded truck made its way closer to our home. Grabbing my camera, I went outside to take a final shot of our tree . . . before it was cut into a humiliating shape.

The tree still lives, but the unflattering cut will forever leave its mark. The other day as I gazed sadly at what is left of it, I was struck with an analogy. How often in our lives do we make similar cuts in the lives of those around us? Perhaps we think we are doing a good thing, pointing out the flaws others possess. But when we do so, does it help the situation, or make it worse? Are the wounds inflicted necessary . . . or is there a better way to assist those who, in our opinion, need a good "trimming?" Something to think about.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


My office is a cluttered mess.  The rest of my house is just fine; it's just my office. I'm basically a neat, orderly person, but somehow my office gets out of hand at times.  It's the catch-all for things I mean to look at later or my husband doesn't know where else to put.  On my walls are a poster of one of my early books, an award with a framed copy of The Bracelet, a painting of one of my book covers, four framed certificates, a picture of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, drawings by four of my grandchildren, a small framed picture with the names of a previous Primary class surrounding the Savior, a painting of a horse by one of my daughters, and half a dozen family photographs.  Oh, and a calendar with big squares to write in and kittens to make a grandson, who is crazy about kittens, happy when he visits me.
My desk is worse.  Along with a stack of envelopes that need to be filed, a box of tissue, and the DSL modem, there's an accumulation of mementos from friends and readers such as a decorated rock, a sugar Easter egg, a purple stemmed goblet from a Mystery Dinner, a handmade ceramic pitcher, a plush goose, a paperweight style award, and a heart-shaped box.  That's just the top.  The so-called writing surface holds my monitor, keyboard, telephone, rolodex, pens, pencils, piles of paper, a couple of small files, notebooks, a bottle of lotion, and one of my sets of scriptures. That's also where the bare bones of my work in progress resides. 
I'll spare you the details of three floor to ceiling bookcases, a printer, a paper cutter, four file cabinets, two plastic bins and all the accumulated boxes, office equipment, and sundry items that adorn or occupy space under an eight feet long table.  On one shelf of the bookcase is my stack of "to read" books.  At least I try to keep the piles neat.
I already said I'm basically a neat, orderly person so every once in awhile, but not often enough, I tear the whole room apart, go through every paper, clean every file, shred, discard, clean, and reorganize.  No matter how much I itch to do a thorough cleaning while writing, I don't.  Most of the time I vacuum, dust what I can, and keep the piles neat.  A thorough cleaning only happens between books.
My writing style is a lot like my office or my office is the way it is because of my writing style.  I research before and during without throwing anything out.  I never know what I might need.  Sometimes I outline; sometimes I don't. I write notes to myself.  I create lists of names and characteristics.  I utilize two notebooks, a file folder, post-its, and several notepads. I jot down ideas. I make quick scene outlines.  Sometimes I print out a few pages for fast reference when I'm writing a follow up scene.  Add to that my notes for reviews in progress.
Once I think the story is in pretty good shape, I send it off to my beta readers.  I don't throw anything away.  When I get the readers' feedback, I plunge back into the story, fixing this, fixing that, and discover ideas have been circulating in my head while waiting that need to be incorporated into the story or used to strengthen a point.  When I'm satisfied I've done the best I can do, I send it to my editor.  I still don't clean up or discard anything. 
After varying lengths of time, if and when I get an acceptance, the rewrites begin and I refer to my notes and scribbles.  I'm glad I didn't throw anything away. I add exchanges with my editor, print outs of various stages , etc. to my files and clutter.
At last the book is off to the printer and out of my hands.  Do I clean up all the clutter at last?  Not really.  I scoop it all into a file to sort through later.  You see, I started another book while waiting for word from my beta readers; added to it while waiting for a yes or no from my editor, and I have a whole new pile of clutter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer has killed my brain!

I had big plans this summer; declutter, finish my next novel, plant flowers around my house and in pots and hanging baskets, get organized. I had done any of those things. I've had fun with my kids being out of school, I've had fun teaching tons of Zumba classes (everyone needs subs while they go to Hawaii . . . and I stay here.) But somehow during all of the busy-ness of summer, I've forgotten how to stay focused and get some writing done.

So, while I was sitting here, staring at the "new post" screen, trying to come up with something to write, I decided to post about how to get the creative juices flowing. Sure, this is going to benefit me the most, but I figured, heck, maybe someone else out there is suffering from summer brain disorder like I am.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get your creative juices flowing.

1. Do research. Finding information regarding your story could provide jumping off points for fresh new ideas.
2. Go to the library. This could be a great change of pace for finding some creativity. The smell and feel of books alone can conjure up new inspiration in writers.
3. Read. Reading can be a great way to inspire creativity. Read a passage from a book you love, one that will transport you into that writer’s world. Or pick up a magazine and read about a topic you’ve never read about and that takes you out of your comfort zone.
4. Take a walk. Get lost in something for a while and this could spark some new ideas.
5. Sift through the thesaurus. Pick five new words to use in the next page you write. Pick words you don’t normally use.
6. Edit an old piece of writing of yours or even a piece of writing from a newspaper, a book, or a magazine. Make it more creative.
7. Don't underestimate the power of "Little Daily Rituals". Figure out what helps you think most clearly and creatively, and use that process to prepare yourself to write for the day.
8. Make sure you are alert and have energy. Drink a glass of orange juice to bump up your energy right before you start. Or to take a ten minute, brisk walk so your blood is flowing freely.
9. Music. Sometime listening to certain types of music can inspire and set a mood, trigger images and visions of scenes and settings.
10. Brainstorm. Find a quiet place, take a paper and pen (or a laptop or desktop computer, then, start by thinking about the challenge you are facing. Is it coming up with an idea? Knowing where your plot goes next? Naming your hero or heroine with a name that doesn't sound lame? Once you've identified the problem, write it down. Then start letting your brain run wild with ideas to solve this problem. Jot down every idea, no matter how ridiculous it seems at the time. You're brainstorming, not creating a Pulitzer Prize winner.
11. Exercise Your Mind (And Body) - This will get your energy levels up, release endorphins to help you feel good and empowered.
12. Try to write every day. Even if it's only a journal entry about how your day went.
13. Probably the best tip . . . BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! If you do, you can do anything!

Now that I've completed my list, I am actually anxious and excited to get back to work on my next novel. If you have some great tips on getting creative juices flowing, post them in the comment section. I'd love to know what works for you!