Friday, July 29, 2011


The Reader's Digest featured a quote I've pondered, and I'm sure it will be food for thought for quite some time. Author Fran Lebowitz said, "The best kind of fame is a writer's fame. Just enough to get a good table at a restaurant and not enough for someone to interrupt you while you're eating."
Do you ever dream about fame? My dreams have never encompassed anything like that at all, but maybe that's because I'm not currently from New York and having lived there for two years, though we enjoyed it immensely, it is not a place that I envision myself ever living long enough to need a good table at any restaurant.
What kind of fame do you dream about? Not in my wildest dreams do I ever imagine I could make the New York Times Bestseller List, but it would be nice. Now about being chosen as Oprah's pick of the month? I could handle that. I think it would be fun to go on national TV and explain why I've chosen to write novels that have no four letter words, no graphic sex and no gratuitous violence.
However, because I have chosen to write that way, I know with certainty that Oprah interview will never happen. Still, when I have nothing better to do (driving that 15 hour stretch of Interstate 15 from California to Idaho Falls) I could daydream that some wonderful producer would decided it was time to revert to the glamour days of movies when Ross Hunter produced all those lavish Doris Day movies) and would see the beauty of my settings and find my characters irresistible.
If we give up dreaming, do we give up trying? I don't think so. But it never hurts to keep dreaming because one day those dreams just might come true. If I write enough -- If I become a good enough writer -- if I never quit trying to improve --well, I believe in miracles. And maybe I wouldn't mind being interrupted while I was eating dinner in some fancy New York restaurant after an interview with Oprah.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bits of Wisdom

I have a file snuggled into my file drawer between Bathroom Renovation and Budget, entitled Bits of Wisdom. When I hear or read a gem of thought that inspires me, or makes me laugh, I write it down and toss it into my Bits of Wisdom file. And, I will boldly confess--sometimes I tear a thought out of a magazine at the dentist's office. Confession is good for the soul. Did I read that somewhere? It's probably in my file.

When I get discouraged or need a thought to cheer me or someone else, I go to my little treasure trove of truths and pluck out a pearl of wisdom to help me through the day.

I'd like to share some gems with you.

One who makes a mistake and does not correct it, makes another mistake. Confucius

You may be the only scripture some people ever read.

Against every great and noble endeavor are a thousand mediocre minds. Einstein

The proverb warns that, "You should not bite the hand that feeds you." But, maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.
Thomas S. Szasz

The highest form of wisdom is kindness. The Talmud

If God is your co-pilot, SWAP SEATS!

So, I hope there was something there to lift, inspire, or make you laugh. Have a great day!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pioneers Then and Now

Hanging on the wall of the visitors center at Martin’s cove in Wyoming is a carved wooden sign that reads simply, “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future.”

As I think of my own family history, I am reminded of a couple of years ago. My dad and I were sitting out on his porch swing and he was telling me the stories from our family history.

Generations later, I am thankful for stories of my heritage. For the faith, dedication, and sacrifices that were made and I am grateful for my lineage. It is my desire to emulate the good virtues that these early pioneers were known for.

That same day as my dad and I sat and talked, I would just like to insert here that my dad and I have spent many hours on that old porch swing talking. I have been taught some valuable lessons, learned some life lessons, heard some great jokes, and been blessed with priceless memories there. It’s one of my most favorite places to be. It’s just one more thing I love my dad for.

Anyway, we got on the subject of Martin’s Cove and Rock Creek. I had never been there. So My dad took out family there last summer. It was a short trip but one I am sure I will never forget.

There is a bronze monument and granite marker with the names of the thirteen people buried at Rock Creek. On it is a dedication from
Pres. Gordon B.Hickley.

“Rock Creek is sacred and holy ground… how tremendous their heroism in the face of odds that are almost impossible to understand… in terms of self sacrifice, in terms of courage, in terms of faith, in terms of facing up to adversity, there is no greater example in the history of this nation… we have a great inheritance… a tremendous responsibility to live up to it. God bless us to be faithful, to be true to that which meant so much to those who died here…”

As I look to the past I have a great appreciation for the present as I think of another pioneer who has had a tremendous influence on me.

That would be my own mother.

Many church members have no personal relation to the early Utah pioneers. But there are other pioneers. Many members of the church themselves are pioneers in the fact that they are the first in their family to accept the gospel. This is where my mother comes in.

She was a covert to the church in Denmark when she was 18. The Tabernacle Choir played a big part in her initial interest in the Church, which a few years later, she became a member of the choir.

My mother could identify with friends and relatives turning away from her for her beliefs. The day she came by ship to America there were very few family members to see her off. Indeed she put up with misunderstanding and unkindness for the sake of her gospel beliefs. But she had a testimony that could never be questioned and it was her faith and her testimony that defined my mother to her dying day.

Our later day Prophet Thomas S. Monson spoke of how we each can learn much from our early pioneer ancestors, whose struggles and heartaches were met with resolute courage and an abiding faith in a living God.

“We honor those who endured incredible hardships. We praise their names and reflect on their sacrifices.
What about our time? Are there pioneering experiences for us? Will future generations reflect with gratitude on our efforts, our examples? You young [people] can indeed be pioneers in courage, in faith, in charity, in determination.
“You can strengthen one another; you have the capacity to notice the unnoticed. When you have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel, you can reach out and rescue others of your age."

Elder Holland tells us in this months Ensign,

"What are we seeing in these examples of faithful pioneers? It is what we have seen down through the dispensations of time and certainly down through this dispensation.

We are seeing what we saw when the Saints fled New York and Pennsylvania and Ohio and Missouri and then fled their beloved Nauvoo across an ice-bound river with the temple soon burning in the distance. It is what we saw when those same people buried their dead in large numbers at Winter Quarters, followed by leaving isolated graves, sometimes as tiny as a bread box, in Wyoming near Chimney Rock or at one of the many crossings of the Sweetwater River or in a snow bank at Martin’s Cove.

What we saw then and what we see now among the blessed Saints the world over is faith in God, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith, faith in the reality of this work and the truthfulness of its message. It was faith that took a boy into a grove of trees to pray, and it was faith that enabled him to get up off his knees, place himself in God’s hands for the Restoration of the gospel, and ultimately march toward his own martyrdom scarcely two dozen short years later.

I don’t know how else mothers and fathers could leave those babies in those makeshift graves on the plains and then, with one last look, weep their way forward toward Zion. The fundamental driving force in these stories is faith—rock-ribbed, furnace-refined, event-filled, spiritually girded faith that this is the very Church and kingdom of God and that when you are called, you go."

I am grateful for my pioneer heritage then and now.
These stories I have shared and more are indeed faith promoting, they are a source of inspiration to me, they give me courage, they strengthen my faith, and these people are a blessing in my life. I marvel at the courage the pioneers had. They have set the way and made an example of the way in which I would like to pattern my life with their determination and their devotion to our Savior. May I find in my own life through good times as well as trials and tribulations, that I can have the same kind of dedication, fortitude, commitment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Words of Wisdom

We are called to "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). One of the many things I love about books is how a really good writer can express something very poignant and deep, something that really touches the soul but is difficult for us mere mortals to put into words.

I love coming across these gems which give real insight into human nature, clarify deep truths, or inspire the reader. They can be found most often in books by the gifted classic authors, such as this wonderfully patriotic speech by John of Gaunt from Shakespeare's Richard II (Act II scene i).

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise ...
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea ...
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

But I have also found that modern works often include wonderful little nuggets of wisdom. Consider these segments from "Blue Shoes and Happiness" by Alexander McCall Smith.

First, Precious Ramotswe remembers her father:
"One day she would join him, she knew, whatever people said about how we came to an end when we took our last breath. Some people mocked you if you said that you joined others when your time came. Well, they could laugh, those clever people, but we surely had to hope and a life without hope of any sort was no life: it was a sky without stars, a landscape of sorrow and emptiness. If she thought she would never see Obed Ramostswe again it would make her shiver with loneliness. As it was, the thought that he was watching her gave a texture and continuity to her life."

How beautifully the writer, in the person of Precious, expresses that wonderful hope and what it would mean to be without it. In the same book, and from the viewpoint of the same character, he expresses how I feel about swearing - something it took me an entire blog post to convey far less eloquently:

"To use strong language, she thought, was a sign of bad temper and lack of concern for others. Such people were not clever or bold simply because they used such language; each time they opened their mouths they proclaimed 'I am a person who is poor in words.'"

How much we can improve ourselves, our understanding, and our education from such wonderful books! Choosing and reading "the best books" can be an enriching and enlightening experience, and can ultimately help us become better writers as we emulate these masters of the craft, and better people as we absorb the lessons they teach us.

The best books, of course, are the scriptures. My current favourite mantras, which I have learned the hard way to be some of the truest things ever written, are:

"Wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:3)
"If ye are prepared ye shall not fear" (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30)

and, of course,
"Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Discovering a World of Light

One night I lay in bed unable to sleep, no particular reason, it seems everyone has one of those nights now and then when sleep doesn't come as easily as others.  As I lay there, I noticed a little green light high on the ceiling.  Smoke alarm; no big deal.  Then I noticed a little red light on my husband's bureau.  Again easy to explain.  He'd plugged in his phone to its charger.  Another little red light on the small television, illuminated dials on our alarm clocks, even his electric razer sports a tiny light.  Had I wandered through the quiet house, I would have found my cell phone and camera plugged in in my office with their little lights glowing away and not far away the little light on my computer and another on the printer.  In the hall I would have found the carbon dioxide alarm with it's little light and each room of the house with its smoke alarm light, tiny glowing lights on other TV's, the microwave, and other electronic equipment throughout the house.  Each piece of our alarm system has its own little light as well.

I felt like laughing; when did my life become defined by tiny lights? Even as a child, I watched for a tiny bit of glowing red.  From my bed I could see the stove that heated our house.  When I could see a glow coming from a tiny crack where a door didn't fit as tight as it should have, I knew Daddy or my brothers had started the fire and the room was warm enough to get out of bed.

Life has changed a great deal during my life, but it's funny how we still look toward light as a signal that all is well, or to expect trouble.  We need light to find our way, to carry out our daily tasks, and to enjoy beauty.  Light has been defined in so many ways, many with religious overtones.  Even Christ has been called the Light of the World.

There's one essential bit of light some writers (and other professionals) overlook in their lives.  There's a tendency to become so obsessed with writing, getting published, the dream world created, or other aspects of the author's world that living this life is forgotten or shoved far down the priority list.  That creates a hollow shell to draw on and the writer is left with little to create from reality and shallow emotions to convey in print.  I know writers who shut themselves in a room or office and forbid their families to interrupt them for anything less than fire or blood.  They don't enjoy the everyday give and take of family relationships; some never form enduring relationships at all.  Some depend on someone else to provide their support and perform their share of the menial tasks involved in running a home while they pursue their writing.  These writers cheat their families, their potential readers, and themselves.  An early teacher told me the best writers and artists create their masterpieces from life; the way light focuses on an object makes all the difference in the world, the way spiritual light touches the soul reveals both what is seen and the observer.

I know writers who write with one hand while balancing a baby on their laps, writers who coach little league, writers who are PTA or Church teachers or leaders, writers who home school, writers with full time careers, writers who take time to play with their children, to garden, to travel with loved ones, and writers who take time to live life to the fullest.  Their enthusiasm for life shines through their work.  Their difficulties and challenges make their words richer and more meaningful, filled with the light of life. Making time to write is a challenge for most writers, but it works out far better than trying to find time for anything other than writing.

Friday, July 15, 2011


What makes the difference between one manuscript and another? One book and the next? Why does one story grab us by the heartstrings and not let go, pulling us into the very heart, mind and soul of the heroine/hero? And why can we easily walk away from the next story without even discovering the ending?
I believe it's because the first author put her passion into her story and the second simply wrote a story. Passion is everything in life--whether it's passion for words, stories, people, ideas, passion for life or for living.
Passion is the spark that sets your book apart from other writers. If you feel indifferent about what you're writing, your reader will immediately pick up on that. If you don't infuse your characters with that passion, they will remain lifeless, two-dimensional, and forgettable.
Passion is the sparkle in your heroine's eye, the basic motivating force that gets her through her trials and conflicts, the drive that pushes her beyond the ordinary. Let your passion live through her and excite your readers, drawing them into the magic dream you've woven.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The China Book and Liberty

The China book is finished and off to my editor. It was a difficult book to write, not because of the extensive research, or the shortened duration of time to get it done, but because of the subject matter. I became quite sick at heart because of what the Chinese people had to suffer at the hands of Mao Tse-tung. He was not a nice person. I used many first hand autobiographical book sources in my research, and their stories were wrenching. I also spoke to several people whose families escaped from mainland China when the Communists took over. They went to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and they were very candid in their feelings of Chairman Mao and the devastation he brought to the country they love.Therefore, it amazes me that anyone would say they admire Mao Tse-tung. All one has to do is a little bit of research to discover he is not a man to use as a role model for anything. Of course, even in America, there are people with strong yearnings for a Socialist/Communist government who admire the brutality of Marx and Engles' philosophy. And it is brutal. You look at any leader and administration who has twisted their government into a Communist regime and it is always done through terror, torture, and brutality.I am so grateful that I live in the United States of America. I thank divine Providence that this country of America was founded on principles of law and liberty. I honor the Founding Fathers for their deep investigation of all types of government which enabled them to forge such a miraculous document--the Constitution of the United States.I ask that you think long and hard about where "we the people" want to guide this country in the coming crucial years. We still have the amazing ability to choose. Let's not lose it through apathy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Memories of Valerie

Jennie has already written a wonderful tribute to Val, but I wanted to add my own to the many others out there. After all, she was one of our own - her name is still listed to the right as a contributor to this blog - and her passing has come as a terrible shock to me. I knew she was ill, but her emails were so upbeat about the treatments she was receiving and how well she was enduring and responding to them that I really had no idea her time was so short.

In 1997 I was almost 30 years old and keen to make headway on my lifetime ambition to write a novel. I was also a recent convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (although less-active due to my family situation) and had just discovered that there was a whole genre of Mormon fiction. So, thinking (wrongly) that this was an easy way to get published, I wrote an LDS novel and sent it to Deseret Book, who rejected it, and then to Covenant.

I still have - and treasure - the letter I received from Valerie in response. She said that she had read my book and while it wasn't suitable (and it really wasn't - it was about a sister missionary who falls in love with someone she is teaching) she liked my style and I should try writing something else. I was so thrilled to have such a wonderful endorsement of my efforts, and I still say it's the best rejection letter anyone ever received. Val and I corresponded and together we came up with the idea for Haven which was published by Covenant in 2000. I needed a lot of guidance in those days, and Valerie was a wonderful editor to work with. I still recognise whole passages in that book which were written or rewritten by her. My second book, A World Away, was also a collaboration with Val, but she left Covenant soon afterwards and it was another seven years before I could find another editor who believed in me the way she had.

In the process of working together on those books I got to know a little about Valerie, and we became good friends. So when I visited America I was a little nervous about meeting her. Knowing how capable and intelligent she was, and that she was single, I imagined a poised and intimidating Sheri Dew type figure. I was so relieved to discover that she was lovely, approachable and friendly. I stayed at her home for a couple of nights, we bonded over the cats, and we attended General Conference together in April 2003 sitting in the third row from the front in seats marked "For guests of the First Presidency". (We really were guests of the First Presidency, we weren't just being cheeky. Somewhere I have the photographs to prove it.)

It was through Valerie that I got to know someone else who means a great deal to me - Kerry Blair - and through the two of them that our group, the V-Formation, came into existence. Reading back through Val's posts I'm struck by her insight, her cheerfulness and her ability with words. As far as I know despite helping many writers produce their books she never wrote one herself. That's a pity - she certainly had the skill to do so.

She has probably appeared on the dedication or acknowledgements pages of many books, but she'll be on at least one more. On 4th July I flew to Mallorca for a family holiday. The next day I idly commented to my husband that I'd run out of people to dedicate books to, having resorted, in Honeymoon Heist (Val's review can be read here to dedicating the book to the hotel I stayed in to do the research, and the makers of my favourite TV show. My husband suggested I dedicate it to an editor. That evening I went down to the public pay computer in the hotel lobby where I got ten minutes' internet access for a Euro, and that's when I learned that Valerie had died.

If it hadn't been for Val I wouldn't have got to know the wonderful supportive circle of friends I share this blog with. I wouldn't have had four novels published, and two more in the pipeline. I owe her a great deal, and wish I'd told her that. I may only have met her once, but I counted her a very dear friend, and I will miss her tremendously.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Writing--A Half-Century of Change

So I hit a landmark occasion over the weekend and can now claim that I am a half-century in age. Wow . . . when you word it that way, it makes one sound rather old. ;) And since I seem to be approaching AARP mode, I feel it's only natural that I wax eloquently about some of the changes I've observed during my loooonnngg years in this mortal existence, especially as a writer.

First of all, despite what my children may think, we did have access to items like books when I was a kid. ;) Parchment documents were before my time. The big change here would be a subject matter that has been discussed lately on this blog: the advent of items like the Kindle or Nook. Books are now available in a computer format for easy download on these devices. Gone are the days when one could browse happily in the bosom of a favorite bookstore. Now most books (Hardbound editions are still available) can be purchased online, or in larger bookstore chains that are surviving the impact of E-Books.

While I'm enthralled with the idea of possessing an E-book reader that contains an unlimited library of books that can be carried around in one's purse, I will still want my old-fashioned books. In fact, to honor my noteworthy birthday this year, my kids got together and created a new library for me near the family room of our home, complete with brand new bookshelves. They are already filled with my collection of books, and most are organized into specific genres. I'm calling this my Kindle, the home edition. ;)

Another change: keyboarding had an entirely different meaning when I was in high school. It meant spending an hour in typing class every day, learning how to use an electric typewriter. In college, I enhanced this skill by taking advanced typing classes, figuring this knowledge could help me secure gainful employment. And those skills have come in handy with the career that developed in the writing world, so all of that training was not a waste of time. I can type faster than any of my kids, and they are impressed with my dexterity.

My first manuscript was composed on a sleek electric typewriter that was top of the line in its day. While it was impressive and even possessed a small memory capacity, if I decided to make any changes in a chapter, it meant retyping the entire thing. Let's just say that I was thrilled with my first computer, and the word processor it contained. This advancing technology has made that aspect of writing much easier. My current best friend: a nifty new laptop my husband bought for me last year. It uses Windows 7 and possesses more memory that I seem to have at the moment. =D

Back in the day, research for my books meant a series of interviews, hours spent at the local library, and traveling about the countryside. I still travel about the countryside when researching a setting for a book, but I use the internet to research details I can find at the click of a button. Instead of seeking out an expert mechanic to learn how to use the latest jack while changing a tire, I can use a Google search to find out the same information in much less time. I also cheat these days and tend to use an online dictionary and thesaurus. It saves time, and often comes up with more meanings or synonyms than I can find in my worn reference books in my new library downstairs.

Selling books these days is very different. My first book was published in 1994. To get word out, it meant advertising in newspapers, radio interviews, and booksignings. Booksignings still exist, and advertising compliments of newspapers and interviews still take place, but most of that can be done once again, compliments of the internet. Most newspapers and radio stations are available online. Utilizing items like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, and online groups like the ForeverFriends Readers' list, grants access to an untold audience.

All in all, there have been many good changes during the past few years. While I will always treasure old-fashioned items like my books, I am impressed with the technology that in my opinion, has made it much easier to write.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tribute to One of Our Own

It was a painful shock to learn Valerie Holladay passed away this past holiday weekend. Her last email was so upbeat and positive, filled with faith and  hope, I'd begun to believe she was going to beat some pretty daunting odds.
When Val went to work for Covenant Communications, I was one of the first authors assigned to her.  She was my editor longer than any other editor I've ever worked with. We developed a relationship that went beyond author/editor.  We became friends and our friendship endured through all the years since she left Covenant and went on to other things.
Having been a newspaper reporter and editor, I thought I knew a lot about writing and editing, but from Val I learned fiction and journalism are two different things. We laughed so many times about my tendency to change a character's name in the middle of a manuscript and other little idiosyncrasies. Every writer makes unintended puns, uses a word or phrase that can be taken more ways  than one, and Val kept a little notebook of those unintended humorous accidents. I discovered from her that my editor was as fiercely determined as I to make each of my books the best it could possibly be.  Sometimes I'd look at a suggested change and I couldn't tell her words from my own. Other times she'd suggest a change I didn't like, but I knew if my version didn't work for her, it wouldn't work for my readers either, so something had to be fixed.  Often it would be something entirely different from what either of us first wrote or suggested. Valerie was always patient and generous with her time as she made opportunities to teach as well as edit.

Valerie was more than an editor to me.  She was a dear friend who supported me through my own and my family's bouts with cancer.  I was someone she could talk to as she wrestled with her mother's illness and the various problems she faced. We laughed together, we cried together, went to lunch together, and loved cats.
Where Val is now there surely must be a plethora of cats or it would hardly be heaven to her.  She nursed back to health so many abandoned cats.  She loved and worried over her many kitties as though they were her children. Sometimes, when money was tight, she scrimped on her own groceries to feed her precious pets.  I and the other writers on the V-Formation often sent her cute or funny pictures of cats, teased her a little about her darlings, but understood that her gentle soul thrived not only on helping writers, but on the love her feline babies showered on her.

Val's life included her work for several publishers, co-editing the AML publication and serving a term as treasurer. She taught English and creative writing at BYU and UVU, worked for the Church, co-authored a book about Provo, worked as a freelance editor, mentored many promising writers, and the list could go on and on.  She spent a good share of her life promoting literary works for the LDS community and working to improve the quality of writing by LDS authors.
Val's faith in God was strong and her understanding of not only her own religion, but many others, touched not only me, but strengthened those around her.  Though she never married, she loved her nieces and nephews as though they were her own sons and daughters, and she made great sacrifices to always be there for her family.  In her last weeks, she often remarked on her sister's kindness through this ordeal, and the thoughtfulness of her brothers, their families, and her ward.

I'd like to finish this tribute to a special lady with a few of her own words:
"Kerry, I read your book in one sitting (with the Easter chocolates and my diet Dr. Pepper in one hand, the book in the other, the kitten wrapped up in a blanket on my cheek). My only breaks from the book were to hydrate the kitty and take him to the litter box. What a lovely, lovely book."

"I remember how I felt when my mother died. While part of me envies someone who has finished this mortal test, the other part of me just feels the sadness of being separated from someone who has been such an important part of my life."

"I think you do a terrific job with reviews, Jennie and the balance seems just right to me. And to paraphrase Cheri (and I'm a teacher so I agree 100%), If my students all loved me all the time, I'd worry that I wasn't doing my job right. I don't know who told you that you were a meanie, but even not knowing the source, I'd have to say, consider the source on this one."

"I was at a convenience/gas store the other day and talked to a woman who was driving with her sister to Montana, along with 4 dogs, about that many kids, and 10 cats - which was why they needed two SUVs - really, no lie. I must say it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear of someone else with cats in the double digits :-)"

"Now off to school to meet with students who are revising papers and getting ready for our final (which was a cakewalk, so they could focus on revising their papers, which isn't a cakewalk for many of them). Oh well, at least they're now familiar with the concept of revision, even if it's a somewhat foreign concept. Does anyone here remember a day when you whipped out a piece of writing and thought it was actually as good as it could get and didn't need anything more?"

"Writers have to live with marketing, not a fun thing. Some writers are more marketers than writers - I'm sure we can think of lots of examples - and some are more writers than marketers. But regardless, if you have a good product, you want to get it into people's hands and that means speaking up."

Just imagine a world, or say, a group of friends, where no whining ever occurs. Sheesh, it pains me to even consider it. Whining is not only therapeutic, it's what bonds people together since we're sharing honest fears and feelings. IMHO whining only becomes detrimental when it becomes threatening and those words are put into actions, for instance, ... "I'm so depressed, I'm going to kill him/her/them etc. and out comes the knife/rope/poison... But if we all took a vow of not whining - not that it isn't a noble gesture and a vow against "public" whining might be worth doing since we have to be selective about our whining - after all, not everyone understands... For example, writers who have yet to publish might not understand that getting a book accepted and into print doesn't mean Nirvana and eternal bliss."
"More later, my friends, thanks for prayers. This is a strange experience but there are many, many beautiful and amazing blessings."  -- This last was sent to the group who share this blog shortly before she passed away.

So long for now, my friend.  You're leaving a big hole in my heart, but one day we'll be together again in that cul-de-sac in heaven we goosies have long joked about and dreamed of.

Other tributes to Valerie Holliday can be found here:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Eza Taft Benson on the Key to a Country's Greatness

"In the year 1831 Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French historian, came to our country. . . .Here is his own stirring explanation of the greatness of America:

" 'I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great' (Prophets, Principles and National Survival, compiled by Jerreld L. Newquist, p.60.)

"How strong is our will to remain free - to be good? False thinking and false ideologies, dressed in the most pleasing forms, quietly--almost without our knowing it--seek to reduce our moral defenses and to captivate our minds. They entice with bright promises of security, cradle-to-cradle guarantees of many kinds. They masquerade under various names, but all may be recognized by one thing--one thing they all have in common: to erode away character and man's freedom to think and act for himself." (Ezra Taft Benson, "Watchman, Warn the Wicked," Ensign July 1973, 39)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Star-Spangled Banner - continued

Continuing Isaac Asimov's article:

"After it was all finished, Key wrote a four-stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called "The Defense of Fort M'Henry," it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the words fit an old English tune called "To Anacreon in Heaven," a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key's work became know as "The Star-Spangled Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.
Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key:
"Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Ramparts, in case you don't know, are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort. The first stanza asks a question. The second gives an answer:

On the shore, dimly seen thro' the mist of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
'Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

"The towering steep" is again, the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing but sail away, their mission a failure. In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise.

During World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling:

"Oh! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto - "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."

I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears.

And don't let them ever take it away!" Isaac Asimov

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Star Spangled Banner

I LOVE our national anthem. I can't sing it - I cry through the whole thing. I have an article I'd like to share - it's long, so since no one blogs on Saturday and Sunday, maybe I'll break it up and post portions all three days so by the 4th of July, you'll have it all. It was written by Isaac Asimov, the noted author.

"In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country.
Great Britain was in a life-and-death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.
At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander Oliver Hazard Perry sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are ours."
However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.
Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the Unites States, launching a three-pronged attack. The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England. The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west. The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York.
If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.
The British reached the American coast and, on August 14, 1814, took Washington, D.C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.
On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.
As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning, the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.
(I have to interrupt Isacc Asimov's narration at this point to add an incredible historical note: The flag above Ft. McHenry was the symbol of American freedom and determination to retain that freedom, and everyone knew it. The British targeted the flag over and over and tried to destroy this rallying emblem so important to its defenders. As the flag would be hit and fall, another man would race forward in the line of fire to restore it to its position of prominence. No soldier had to be told. They just did it because they knew of its vital significance. During the night the bodies piled up at the foot of the flag. The bombardment was so intense, they could not be removed. But that didn't deter those intrepid volunteers, those amazing heroes, from racing to replace their fallen comrades and keep the flag flying over Ft. MeHenry.)
As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see the flag?"

To be continued tomorrow, July 2