Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Writers can't not write. Musicians can't turn off the music in their heads. And it's next to impossible for a critic to stop critiquing. It's bad enough that most writers I know can't seem to turnoff the analysis of every book they read or movie they watch, but when that writer (me) is also a critic, it becomes hard to read just for pleasure. Oh, I enjoy most of the books I read, but there's something in my makeup that makes me want to share whatever I like or don't like, even in books I won't be formally reviewing.

This past week I've been ill, nothing serious just a rotten cold and badly infected throat, making most pursuits difficult, so I've spent a lot of time curled up in a comfortable chair, reading. I'll post reviews on Meridian of some of those books, but I read some good ones I won't be reviewing, too, and have decided to write a few things on this blog about some of them. For the most part, they are books that are too short to be considered novels, one is a book for children, and one is poetry.

Conversations with a Moonflower is a pretty little book with a thick padded cover featuring a yellow moonflower. It was written by Christine T. Hall. The book caught my attention first because my mother always planted Evening Flowers in her flower beds. They're not as pretty as moonflowers, but they bloom late in the evening , smell wonderful, and look like weeds in the daytime. When I was a little girl a neighbor had a Night Blooming Cereus plant and invited my family to see and smell this unique flower on the one summer night a year it bloomed. I have fond memories of the beautiful blossoms on that scraggly, ugly plant that looked like a dead weed the other 364 days of the year. This small book is as delightful as its namesake. It takes the reader from a time of packing up the contents of a house that had been in the family for more than a hundred years and the kindness of Amish neighbors to the understanding the protagonist achieves as she shares the Moonflower given to her by an Amish woman with neighbors and family. She not only learns about interacting with others, but discovers that in spite of the ADD she has struggled with all of her life she can have moments of quiet inner reflection and awareness that enrich her life. Through her "conversations" with the moonflower she discovers the answers to most of her questions and the solutions to most of her problems in life are already within her and only need to be brought to the forefront at the right time.

One book I read is a book for children, especially for children who are adopted or who have an adopted sibling. Since I have an adopted grandchild, whom I love dearly, I had looked forward to a chance to read this book. It's called 10 Days Until Forever and is written by David Peterson with illustrations by Tera Grasser. It's a simple little story that counts down the days until a little boy is taken to the temple to be sealed to his adoptive parents. In the process of the countdown he interacts with all the family, ward, and community people who share in his excitement over this special occasion and who care about him.

Carol Lynn Pearson has written a short book of poetry called The Sweet, Still Waters of Home. This is a book specifically written for mothers and to honor them on Mothers' Day. It takes each stanza of the Twenty-Third Psalm, explains it, and places it in the context of today's parenting challenges. I'm not a big fan of poetry nor of Pearson's non-poetry books, but somehow her poetry nearly always touches me and I like this little volume a great deal.

The Tomb Builder by E. James Harrison at 150 pages is almost long enough to be considered a novel. It is based on a man in the New Testament about whom little is known, Joseph of Arimathea. In fact, no one knows for sure quite where Arimathea was. The book is fiction and is therefore speculative, but the historical and geographical facts are well documented. The quality of writing in this little book is excellent and Harrison tells a thoughtful and plausible story of the man who owned the tomb where Christ was placed for those three short days following his crucifixion. The actual cover is not nearly as appealing as the picture of the cover, but don't let a blah cover keep you from an excellent story.

I read Janette Rallison's My Double Life, too, and have to admit I'm a Rallison fan and have been for ten years or so. She writes for the YA market, which I don't review, but I usually read her books just because I love her sense of humor and because she just keeps getting better. This is a story of two sisters who know nothing of the other's existence until the one is invited to be the other famous girl's double. It's a story that takes a look at values and honesty. Though it's written for teens, I suspect I'm not the only adult who will enjoy it. And I assure you the story is much better than the cover

I've enjoyed reading some books outside my usual areas and recommend that other readers try something new too. It's too bad I had to get sick to find the time to do it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

People are so nice

I had an awesome signing at the Ogden Seagull Book store last Saturday. It was Celebrating Sisterhood day, which meant good crowds and fun prizes. I sat next to Kevin Wasden, illustrator of the new series, Hazzardous Universe, written by Julie Wright. We had a nice time chatting and met some really nice people.

Which brings me to my point: people really are, for the most part, nice. When folks approach me at a signing with a slightly tattered copy of one of my books, it makes me feel so good. I tell them so, when they express that they've enjoyed reading my stuff, and I wish I could think of something wonderful and unique to say to really let them know how touched I am. "Thank you!" just doesn't seem adequate. Because I really am thankful.

When you write, you throw your whole self out there into the world and say, "Please, love me." I don't think there's ever been a person in the world who produced something that took time and effort, secretly hoping people would hate it. And while it's true that not everyone will love the same things, it means so much to hear from people who have looked at what you've done and expressed appreciation for it.

So if you're ever wondering whether or not you should approach a writer, or an artist, or anyone, for that matter, who's produced something you've enjoyed, trust me. Tell them. You may get a response that sounds canned, or rehearsed, but I can guarantee that with maybe very few exceptions, it's genuine. Trying to make a living by selling a product to others doesn't work well if those on the receiving end don't like it. So when people tell me they like what I've written, it's a very big deal. It means the world.

So, in a nutshell, THANK YOU. Truly.

Friday, March 25, 2011

You're Never Too OId To Learn!

I'm always apologetic about my books because, though I can tell a good story, I don't quite know the mechanics of how to make it really work so that editors love it and quit trying to fix what they perceive as being wrong. It's not the story that's not good - it's the engineering of the story that doesn't feel right, thus lately multiple re-writes.

I'm really excited that I'm able to attend this year's LDStorytellers Conference and delighted at the classes I signed up for. I thought Larry Brooks Story Engineering class sounded like something I needed: Mastering The 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. I got a note from Storyteller's that Mr. Brooks had written a book and wanted his attendees to read it before conference. I sent for it - and it totally makes sense! The nice part is that when I bought the book - something under $12, I think, he sent a 160 page free e-book on 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for successful writers. Some are really off the wall but not everything is for everybody and we can all get something out of wild and wacky suggestions.

So after I get grandkids to bed at night (I'm so exhausted I can hardly keep my eyes open, much less make sense of anything)I'm reading the book and trying to decide if I'm going to have to totally rewrite the ghost story or simply re-engineer a lot of it. Or just some of it.

I think it's weird that I can't come up with a title for this book. It's been "the ghost story" for fifteen years! I'd name it "The Cat Who . . ." if Lillian Jackson Braun hadn't already done a series by that title. But the cat figures so prominently in the book that once I come up with a fitting title, I'll have to sub-title it "A Dominique and Duchess Mystery." Mmm - that sounds like series. Probably would have been if I'd made it to Egypt.

Back to Larry Brooks: his book has me defining my core concept for the story. I think this is something that might take awhile to figure out and I'm anxious to get to it, writing down all the what-ifs that define what he's talking about. But that will have to wait until next week when my head isn't muddled with stories of dump trucks and Fancy Nancy, wading through mud puddles just because it's fun, and finding new ways to do beautiful blonde curls into something that is manageable and out of the face for school and play.

Now if I could find some way to get the two year old to sit still long enough for me to cut off some of his blond curls, that would be a miracle. The other miracle is that I actually found time this morning to blog - and though it is rambling beyond measure, it gives you insight to my state of mind - such as it is! Grandmothering on a full time basis is not for wimps!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Rest from Research

For the past eight months I have been researching the history of China, the despotism of Mao Tse-tung, and the brutality of his failed policies in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. It has not been a happy time. This was a leader who did not have the good of his countrymen in mind, but only his megalomaniac ideas of ruling the world. The evidence now coming to light paints him as a man who went to any length to fulfill his evil dream.

I'm emotionally tired from having to read of the atrocities of his reign, and deal with the frustration I've felt to see how the rest of the free world turned a blind eye to the millions of Chinese people who suffered and died under his rule. Mao ruled from 1949, when the Communists took the country by force, until 1976 when he died. During that time estimates state that between 58 million to 70 million Chinese perished. There was no war during this time, so they died from starvation, torture, execution, and suicide.

Another mighty victory for the wonderful ideals of Communism.

Wake up America! Our country is heading for Socialism and Communism. Will we be able to turn a blind eye when the government police show up on our doorsteps? If you've never been interested in politics before, now is the time to wake up and participate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's All His Fault (The Villain Of Our Story)

In our family, we’re getting ready for a wedding shower. In my attempt to come up with a couple of ice breaker games that aren’t too silly or boring, I searched the internet, grabbed a book and started making notes.

The thing is, the notebook I grabbed was one I’ve had sitting at my bedside for almost a year. It’s been moved around my nightstand from side to side so once I had my notes on wonderful shower games, I looked through it to see why I have been shuffling this particular notebook around and not just putting it away where I would have normally stored it.

“Good grief!” says I, (to myself since no one else was listening) the notebook had all my notes I had taken from a writers conference I had attended last year. They always give you a binder to take notes in, but this notebook was one I had taken myself and set aside because it had some really great useful stuff in it that I could have been using this last year while attempting to write my next book. Why do I always do things the hard way?!?

In my last blog, I shared some things I learned from my other notebook.(The binder I mentioned) Now I’ll share some things I learned from this one. I believe Jeff Savage taught the class and titled it: Villains: Creating characters we love to hate.

The thing that stands out most in my mind is that he mentions a few things I have never considered before. For example: when I think of the bad guy in a story, I picture him with evil, cold looking eyes, a scar across the cheek, a days growth of beard on his dirty, unwashed, face and greasy long hair hanging in his eyes. Can you see him? Maybe that’s a little too stereotypical but you get what I mean, right?

According to Jeff’s idea of a bad guy, picture someone who is charismatic, devious and intelligent. Maybe he has a good side and a bad side with no conscience and feels justified in what they do.

Whoa! A good looking bad guy? Who woulda thought? Okay, some writer’s have, but as a reader, don’t you find that very intriguing? I believe it leaves room to question whether he really is the bad guy or if he is a supporting character put in the story to throw off the reader. In other words, it adds more people to the list of possible suspects for the “who dun nit” list. It keeps the reader guessing. As a reader no one likes to know the outcome by the end of the first couple of pages, right?

In this class, we learned that heroes and villains are very closely tied.
They are both ordinary men who desire extraordinary things. It’s the motives that separate the villains from the heroes.

There are so many more notes with valuable information on this topic. I could go on and on.

Another way to get your reader to understand your villain’s motives is to get the reader to view things from your villain’s eyes. What happened in his life that made him the way he is? What is his actions supposed to accomplish? I think this is where you can help the reader know your villain without stereotyping or merely making your bad guy “look the part”

I guess the point I wanted to make is that it is easy to stereotype a character. Getting inside the head of your character and seeing/showing what makes them tick will help them come alive on the pages of your book for your reader. Their looks and their actions will act as a guide and help the reader get to really know them.

In ending I wanted to share one last note I had taken from the class that stood out to me.

The best villains are like the heroes if the hero had taken a different path. They can make people and hopefully the reader believe their goal was worthy, that they have struggled with their decision.

After attending the class and reading my notes, my villain could use some work, but these ideas get me excited to try some new things. Thanks Jeff, for the great info!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Query Letters

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Like Cheri (see yesterday's post), I have made a scary but exhilarating foray into the world of fantasy writing. My first attempt is pretty much complete, I'm pleased with it, and it's ready to go out to agents.

Despite having had four novels published before, this is new territory. I'm leaving the relative safety and friendliness of the LDS market and sending my precious manuscript out into the big wide cutthroat world of publishing. As I hawk it round the various austere and shrewdly unforgiving agents, I am discovering that the principal weapon in my armoury is not the brilliance of the manuscript itself, but the initial query letter.

It might be overstating the case, but the more advice I read and the more authors I hear from, the more it seems that it is the query letter that hooks the agent, not the first three chapters and synopsis, or whatever the agency requires in the way of unsolicited work.

Why is it that I can write a 120,000 word novel in a year, but it has taken me hours, even days, to write a four-paragraph letter? Possibly it's because of all the conflicting advice I've had:
  • Keep the query letter brief but include your CV, information about other books you've had published, a synopsis of your work, other successful books similar in style or story to yours, and reasons why your book is new, different and worthy of consideration.
    Short of writing the letter in an 8-point font, I don't think I can fit all that on one page.
  • Send the letter and manuscript in the post - very few agents accept email submissions - but include in the letter links to information about your previous work.
    Last time I checked, clicking on a printed link doesn't work. And if agents are twenty-first century enough to look up reviews of your previous books, why can't they accept email submissions?
  • Recognise that agents get many queries each week - make yours stand out. But send it in according to the criteria they give on their website or in The Writers' Handbook and don't be overly friendly or informal.
    If I am writing to them in the format they ask for - a one page formal covering letter plus the first fifty pages, surely what I am sending in is exactly the same as every other submission, and isn't going to stand out, short of writing my query letter on pink scented paper. Now there's an idea...
I have, I think, managed to resolve all these issues, used every ounce of my writing skill mixed with sweat and tears, and come up with a query letter which ticks all the boxes.

So whether or not the manuscript ever gets picked up, I think the query letter is definitely worthy of a Whitney.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I've been working on a new writing project. Since it's in a different genre than I've attempted before, I'm learning as I go and having a great time. It's a fantasy novel, one that I'm hoping will appeal to readers of all ages.

Part of my writing process includes having people read through my manuscripts. This is something I do before even thinking about sending it to a publishing company. I've found this is a great way to find problems in the storyline, typos, etc. And, since everyone is different, I usually end up with all kinds of opinions and suggestions. One suggestion raised an eyebrow.

Do you like having to look up words on occasion? I grew up in a household that thrived on this kind of thing. Whenever I came across a word I didn't know, my parents pointed to the dictionary. They could've made it easy and simply told me what the word meant, but they figured it would do me some good to do a bit of research to discover the definition.

Ironically, I received a large dictionary from my parents when I graduated from high school. I've probably used that gift more than any other I've ever received. I'm always looking up words, their meaning and spelling. I love words, and playing with words. You can understand my dismay when I was informed by one of my reading team that I needed to "dumb" down my manuscript. In this person's opinion, I had used words that were too complicated for most people. I was stunned.

There were two words in question: tortuous, and cortege. I could understand cortege---it is a word that doesn't come up in normal conversation. It was simply another way of saying "parade" or "procession." I liked how the word sounded, and how it fit the sentence. Plus it prevented me from saying the word "parade" repeatedly in the same paragraph. The complaint about "tortuous" left me flabbergasted. (Flabbergasted meaning: nonplussed, disconcerted, perplexed.)

Tortuous was used to describe the horrendous (ie: terrible) practical jokes that were played on one of the main characters. As one of my sons pointed out the other day, the word: "torture" is a huge part of tortuous. One would think readers could figure out what was meant by this.

My question of the day: do we avoid colorful words--words that might inspire readers to search for their meaning? What do the rest of you think?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Testing Time for New Year's Resolutions

As authors, we probably all make resolutions at the beginning of the year to increase our output, or begin a new book, or finish a work in progress. This is the testing time. Schedules are back to normal. Things we put off during the holidays are clamoring to be done, and our resolve to work daily on that manuscript doesn't seem as vital as it did when we decided to "put it off" for a bit in December. Life keeps getting in the way of writing. But March is a great time to revitalize and review those goals. (Not that you ladies need this at all, but a good reminder to pass along to budding writers.)

I've found if I make my resolutions in the form of goals, I'm able to accomplish them much more easily than just a list of resolutions that I blithely scribbled down at the start of a brand new year. The formula that works for me is simple:

1. VISUALIZE the goal or objective. Decide "what is the purpose?" of this. (To complete a manuscript for submission to XYZ publisher by December 31, 2011.)
2. PREPARE - Decide what it will take to accomplish that goal - what learning will be necessary, what classes need to be taken. (A semester of creative writing at a local college; writing classes or seminars at writer's conferences.)
3. HELP - What kind of assistance is needed? Who can help accomplish the goal? (Joining a critique group to read the work aloud and bounce ideas off is a must! I just recruited my book group to be my critique group as my 10-year old group disbanded last year. Also help from the family - "this is my writing time and it is important that I not be disturbed unless someone is bleeding!")
4. WRITE the goal down. Put it where it can be seen often as a reminder this is something important to be done. (On a sheet of paper used as place marker in your scriptures or daily journal; on a refrigerator, in a pretty frame on your nightstand or vanity, etc.)
5. ITEMIZE the goal into working increments (I will write one page per day (or 5 or 10) and review and revise yesterday's work - if that is your style of writing.)
6. SCHEDULE time daily to work on the goal. Stick to the schedule. (Even five minutes per day is better than nothing. The rest of the time, keep it in the back of your mind. Think about it while cooking, driving, walking, doing the dishes, exercising, falling asleep. Let the subconscious work on the goal for you until you get back to it tomorrow.)
7. REVIEW the goal regularly. How is it coming? (What changes do I need to make in my schedule to do this? Did I get my page written today? Did I revise that chapter that needed work?)
8. REVISE as necessary. (Another deadline this week? Can't write? Schedule Tuesday next week to write all day; friend will babysit and carpool. Pay-back the week after and give her a day off.)

Writing can be a lonely job, but all that goes with it doesn't have to be. Including others in your goal-setting process helps keep you on top of it and gives you their support and help, too. Ready, set, GOAL!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Believe in Magic

"Don't ever get too old to believe in magic!" My senior year high school English teacher issued this warning to our class more years ago than I care to claim. This wasn't an ordinary English class, but a seminar class, in which we did a great deal of reading from different types of literature and attempting various styles of creative writing. In that class I learned there is more than one kind of magic. His advice has proved excellent through the years.

There would be something sad about a society where there was no Santa Claus, no leprechauns with their pots of gold, no four-leaf clovers, and no sudden delightful surprises. There's a level of innocence restored to adults as they remember the delights of such childhood fantasies as evidenced by their eagerness to pass on these magical experiences to our children. I applaud writers who can create this kind of magic for children and all adults who remember the magic of wonder.

That teacher referred to another kind of magic as well, the kind we sometimes call the "aha moment", or that moment of epiphany when all the pieces fall into place and we "get it." I've read a number of novels lately that contain no epiphany. By the time the climax of the story should be reached, the tale falls flat, there is no surprise, no dots to connect. The clues were too obvious; they practically slapped me in the face--or there were no clues. This type of story is boring. One such story left me wanting to shout, "clever, trendy dialog is NOT a substitute for a real story." Another contained great action, but it went nowhere; there was no climactic moment. Books in series often fall into this trap. Each book is the same story; if I've read one, I've read them all. Even romance novels, mysteries, and suspense where the reader knows in advance the outcome, the lovers will commit to love each other forever, the mystery will be solved, and the clever protagonist will somehow outwit the evil forces, still need that magical moment when the reader can say, "Wow I didn't expect that" or "I had a hunch that was going to happen." Readers need that moment of triumph, that touch of awe, that climactic "Oh, yeah!"

Knowing a story needs a bit of magic doesn't always equate with writing an excellent epiphany. A good writer sprinkles a story liberally with clues and false clues. Care needs to be taken with false clues, or red herrings, to ensure they fit into the story and don't just become loose ends. Few people like clues that are practically underlined in red, but we also feel cheated when the solution pops out of the woodwork without any clues. A friend of mine who writes mystery suspense for the general market once dissected a mystery written by one of her favorite authors to see how many clues the author planted. My friend filled a whole page with clues, then admitted that only one or two aroused her suspicions until that magical moment two lines before the protagonist boldly revealed the villain.

I'm a bookaholic and I believe in magic. I read a lot of books, twenty-one so far this year, and I always look for the magic. Oh not fairies and magic wands, though those are kind of nice sometimes too, but I keep hoping with each book I pick up that it will be the one that carries me away to that magical spot that makes my heart beat faster, rewards the sleuthing side of my brain, and has me saying, "I'm glad I got to read that."

And here's another bit of advice from another former high school teacher of mine: "It's alright to build castles in the air, unless we try to live in one."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grab Your Rearders

Where do I begin?

If you were to ask any author this question, I am sure the answer would vary somewhat. Some love looking at a blank page and get excited to fill it, while others would much rather see the page filled and get more excited about doing rewrites, revising, or touching up what is already written.

But to decide how to start your story?? Well, there are several things to consider and that is really only up to the individual writing the story.

To Prologue or not to Prologue: That is the question:

Yes or No? I am not sure there is a cut and dry answer. (Please, everyone feel free to add advice here) When deciding whether or not to begin with a prologue, you need to ask yourself whether a prologue is really needed or not...

I have heard it said that a prologue is only needed when you have a weak first chapter. OUCH! I had a prologue in my very first book.

I had always thought that a prologue helps to tell a back story. Since then, I have learned that this could be done throughout the story and that many people don’t even read the prologue. However, I always do. I feel I am missing part of the story if I don’t. So my answer to that question is a definitely sometimes. Ask yourself, Is it really needed? As an author, trust your instincts. If you need it, I’d keep it really short.

First Things First:The Thriller:

“Tuesday was a fine California day, full of sun-shine and promise, until Harry Lyon had to shoot someone at lunch.” Dragon Tears, Dean Koontz

The Romantic Comedy:

“Ok.. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s only a VISA bill. It’s a piece of paper; a few numbers. I mean, just how scary can a few numbers be?” Confessions of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella

The Fantasy:

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable part of the Galaxy lies a small unrewarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

The Teen Dream:

“It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.” Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

(I am not aware of who did the research for the handout for this class as I personally have not read any of these books nor did I attend this conference class-- but I thank the person who was willing to give of their time to help us with this information.)

These are just a few examples of some openings to books that capture the readers attention. You’ll note that you can identify the “voice” or the tone that sets the story or the mood the author is trying to create right from the beginning. You can even identify conflict from the opening line.

The beginning of a book compels the reader to want to read on, it gives them a reason to turn the page. This is where you can hook your reader and even start to establish a bond between the reader and the characters of your book.

Of course a strong beginning is nothing if you don’t keep your story strong throughout… :)

But the first step is to jump in and grab your readers!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pancake Day!

by Anna Jones Buttimore

Today is Pancake Day - Shrove Tuesday. A wonderful excuse to forget the diet (it's going well, by the way - I've lost a stone already) and pig out on pancakes for the sake of tradition. The children are having pancakes at school for lunch, and when they get home it's pancakes for tea again. (I wish every day could be dedicated to some sort of food. It would make those "What shall I cook for tea?" decisions so much easier.)

Shrove Tuesday is a tradition going back many centuries, and occurs exactly 47 days before Easter. The six weeks before Easter are a period called Lent in the Church of England and Catholic tradtion; a time of repentance, abstinence and reflection. The word "Shrove" comes from "Shrive" meaning to confess, because on this day people confessed their sins so that they would be clean and forgiven for lent. Also on this day they ate all the good things they had left in the house reading for the period of fasting - and thats where the pancakes come in.

Although very few people even attend church these days (between 5 and 10% of the adult population), let alone observe lent, Pancake Day remains. Probably because it's so delicious!

Here's my recipe for British pancakes (American ones are quite different):

4 oz flour
½ pint milk
1 egg

Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the egg. Slowly add the milk, beating well all the time until a smooth batter is formed. Put it in the fridge for half and hour, then take it out and beat it again.

Heat a spoonful of oil in a frying pan until sizzling, then add a ladleful of the pancake mixture and let it spread across the pan to make a thin pancake. Fry until the top is set, then flip it (or turn it with a spatula if you're less daring) and fry the other side until golden brown.

Serve with sugar and lemon juice, or jam, or syrup, or chocolate sauce and ice cream, or... anything you like, really, except sausage and maple syrup which would obviously be gross.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Au Revoir Denise

(I originally wrote this post for my personal blog on Crane-ium. I had no idea when I composed this particular post that I would be facing the loss of a good friend. Denise Kallstrom, 49, a wonderful woman and fellow Type 1 diabetic, suffered a silent heart attack on February 22nd, the date I wrote this post. Though her body was kept alive on life support, I suspect she actually left us the day of the heart attack. She was pronounced dead on the 25th. It has been a difficult time, and yet, as with all things, there is always hope. And I suspect the message shared below was something I need to remember.)

It's snowing today. This past week we've endured a plethora of snow storms, each one leaving an impressive amount of the fluffy white stuff in its wake. As such, I've heard a lot of complaints about this year's wintry weather. They hate that we have 2-3 feet of snow on the level, in comparison to other places that barely have a skiff, if that. They want spring NOW! And there are days when I agree with that sentiment, like when I'm traveling and the roads are slick.

Some people find this time of year to be depressing. They travel to places where the sun is shining brightly, in the hopes of renewing their spirits. This works for a time. Then, as with all vacations, it's time to come home to the snow.

I sense there is a little analogy hidden in all of this. Winter has always symbolized a state of rest, or in some cultures and religions: death. All that is living hibernates for a time, buried beneath a blanket of white.

Then spring arrives, bringing new life into the world. The snow melts, the flowers bloom, the grass is restored to a shiny green. Spring represents the resurrection of all living things. It is a time we all enjoy as we push aside the knowledge that in a few short months, we will be wading through the snowy season once again.

I suspect this is one of those teaching moments our Father hopes we'll grasp--that we'll reflect on the importance of life, making the most of the time we have in mortal mode. He longs for us to shine forth as the flowers in the spring, until the snowy season arrives when all growth is at rest.

I also believe that He wants us to realize that spring will always follow winter. A restoration of all things will occur when the time is right. Until then, we should look for the beauty of whichever season is currently taking place, appreciating with gratitude all that we've been given.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Short Treatise on Cats

I confess - I am a cat person. We had a marvelous collie when I was growing up and we loved him to death! He actually was my grandmother's, but during WWII he was drafted into the army, trained, used in the war, and when they returned him to my grandmother, she thought it wiser to send Colonel to us on the farm instead of keeping him in Salt Lake City where she lived. (The rest of the story is that he became the constant companion of my brother who was killed, hit by a car when he was delivering newspapers, and a few short months later Colonel died of a broken heart.)

But on to my cats. There have been very few of my 72 years that I have not shared my residence with at least one cat. You notice, I did not say "owned a cat." I do not believe we own cats. Dogs, yes. Cats, no. They are too independent. But I'm having the most fun with my work in progress - still titled "ghost story" for want of something else. (It's been known by that title for 15 years, so I guess until I find the right one, it will stick.)

In the original story which I began writing between Emeralds and Pearls 15 years ago, the cat was a big orange tabby cat. It didn't change over the year, like some elements of the story. But as I reached about Chapter 10, I met an entirely new breed and fell in love! We had a sisters reunion in Palm Springs at one of my cousins, and four other cousins came too, so we had a a fun group and one had two cats. I don't even remember the second one because I became so enamored with Ziggy.

Ziggy is a Sineglazka Siberian cat - Russia's native cat. It has been recorded as far back as 1000 AD. It's known to be an exceptionally high jumper, strong, powerfully built, well proportioned. They have beautiful facial markings - are usually silver-gray - can be mistaken for a cousin of the Siamese and some have point markings. The fur is long - but they are hypoallergenic. They have a huge long tail and I felt like I was holding my heavy two-year-old grandson - probably 25 pounds worth! (Maybe only 20!)

They are extremely intelligent, mature slowly, taking up to five years to reach full size. They remain playful and fun loving all this time. They are, alas, very expensive. I'm not even talking hundreds of dollars - try thousands! And their eyes are the most gorgeous ice blue you have ever seen!

The parents of Ziggy were born in Russia, immigrated to the US on Aeroflot in a special wooden carrier with food and water - nonstop to LA. My cousin flew to Las Vegas from her home in Salt Lake, retrieved Ziggy and flew back the same day. Her words as she told me this were: "They are a tad expensive and it was less money to fly down and back to get him than shipping him via Delta."

You have now been introduced to the newest character in my book. Her name is Duchess (the females are called queens so I thought that was appropriate.) She has an affinity for ghosts, which works well with this story. I love her! Fortunately, this is not a straight work of fiction - after Jennie's blog I guess I would have to slip it into the supernatural genre - but then, I don't usually read that genre so I'm not sure.

At any rate, I'm having so much fun with this marvelous animal I just had to tell you about it. Val, I wish I could introduce you to the species! I have fallen in love all over again!

A fun aside: Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and his wife own a type of Siberian cat, a Neva Masquerade male cat named Dorofey. Dorofey used to fight with a cat belonging to Mikhail Gorbachev who was Medvedev's neighbor. So the Medvedevs had to have Dorofey neutered. Thought you might like that little bit of minutia.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Human Element and More on the Whitneys

I can't believe I forgot to post my blog yesterday.  I wrote it ahead of time and then forgot about it, so here it is now:

Someone recently asked how I could be a judge for the Whitney Awards when everyone knows I don't care for fantasy novels. This question is based on a couple of erroneous assumptions, for which I can only blame myself. I've been pretty open in expressing my dislike for some kinds of speculative fiction. (By the way, not all speculative fiction is fantasy). First, I don't hate all fantasy, and second I'm not a judge in either speculative category. I won't even be voting for the novel of the year because I just don't have time to read the finalists in the speculative categories. I read eight to twelve novels a month, sometimes more, as a reviewer and there's no way I can add ten speculative books, especially considering the length of those books, to my already busy reading schedule.

A good share of the LDS reading public is aware that fantasy isn't my favorite genre, but the truth is, I've read a lot of science fiction, a lot of "last days" fiction, and a whole lot of fairy tales, mythology, and fantasy. As a teenager, I think I read all of the Martian Chronicles and many other well-known science fiction novels. As I grew older my tastes changed. Through the years I've sampled most of the big name science fiction writers' works, finding few that held my interest enough to read more than one or two by any one author. I've always had a soft spot for fairy tales and as an adult have been amused by some of the better fractured fairy tales I've come across. I've been touched by a few "last days" novels and annoyed by others. I'm a little touchy about paranormal; most flirt a little too close to the occult, but occasionally I find one where the paranormal elements of the story are handled with a finesse that works for me. I do not like the kind of speculative fiction that plays around with the occult, gives tacit approval of drug use by calling drugs by some other name, or the ones that are filled with monsters and brutal violence.

Why should being less than enthusiastic about speculative fiction make me any less qualified to judge a contest open to all genres than it makes someone ineligible because they don't particularly like or spend much time reading romance or history? In any contest where apples, oranges, and potatoes are judged against each other, it would be difficult to keep out all personal bias, but I think most people, who are well enough read to qualify as judges, know the difference between good writing, mediocre writing, and just plain bad writing. I don't think it's necessary to love a particular genre to determine whether or not the book is well written, though I suspect most judges faced with equally well-written books in two different genre's will lean toward the one they personally enjoyed the most.

The Whitneys do not provide judges with a set of rules by which to judge the entries, other than requiring them to actually read the books. Different judges set different criteria. Some of the things I look for are:

Entertainment - Did I enjoy reading the book? Did it hold my attention? Does it have a spark of originality?

Accuracy: Was the research accurate and believable? Could it really happen? Does the background suit the story? Is the world the author creates consistent?

Technical Points: Does the plot move smoothly and is there a good fiction arc? Are the characters believable with at least one I can care for enough to cheer for? Do the characters grow with the story? What about info dumps, backfill, a strong opening hook? Does the book begin where the real story begins and end when the story is finished? Etc.

Acceptable social standards: It doesn't have to be LDS, but the actions, speech, and values of the protagonists should not be contrary to LDS standards.

The preliminary judges for the Whitney Awards come from a broad cross section of tastes in literature and are professionals in the publication field. I don't think anyone has stopped to question how many prefer literary over genre or history over speculation. Even if the criteria for judging were set in stone, I'm afraid there would always be a certain amount of the subjective element in the decision making. There will always be "that stupid book the judges must have been out of their mind to pick'' and the "absolutely perfect book the judges ignored."

I promise I'm as unbiased as possible as a judge and I trust the other judges are too. I think the awards are fun and important to our profession, but it would be a mistake to take them too seriously. Another set of judges could easily pick another set of winners and be just as fair. After all, there are a lot of good LDs writers out there, and not all of the best ones pick up the prizes.