Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween, and Make Room for Thanksgiving!

Cool, I get to blog on yet another holiday. Halloween has always been one of my favorites. As a child, it meant getting to wear a fun costume, and going trick-or-treating--I.E. getting that important yearly stash of candy. ;) It also meant the beginning of the holiday season. Even as a child, I understood that once Halloween had come and gone, the traditional turkey day, Thanksgiving, was just around the corner, and then the all-important event, Christmas!!! It was indeed a fun time of year.

As an adult, I can truthfully say that I still enjoy this time of year. Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons. It's not too hot (especially when it snows early on) and the trees are gorgeous in the nearby canyons. Plus as the holidays approach, one by one, I get to decorate for each occasion, and fix fun food.

My oldest son came home over the weekend and he was pleased to see that despite the craziness of my life at the moment, I had still managed to decorate the house for Halloween. True, my decorations possibly fall into the "sappy" category (I tend to go for humor and light-hearted fun, not the morbid stuff that is also available for Halloween decor) but that's how I like it.

Tomorrow, I'll take down the Halloween decorations, and put up all of my Thanksgiving ornamentation. Thanksgiving is also an important family holiday for our clan, since some of our ancestors were there for that famed first gathering between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. (We actually have ancestors from both sides of the table.)

I only have one complaint this time of year---have you noticed how Thanksgiving gets crowded out of things these days? In the stores you can see that it's already going from Halloween to Christmas. It makes me want to drag out my little blue stool I use to work in the garden, stand upon it, and protest--"WHAT ABOUT THANKSGIVING?!!!" I was raised with an understanding that this time of year, following the harvest, etc. it's important to offer gratitude for the blessings in our lives. Thanksgiving in our clan has always been of greater importance than Halloween, and almost as wonderful as Christmas.

True, during these stressful times, when most families are being hit with numerous challenges, it can be difficult, coming up with a list of items to be grateful for, but I believe that an attitude of gratitude is crucial to survive the days ahead. I suspect during that first Thanksgiving, hearts were fairly tender. My 11th great-grandmother (Elizabeth Tilley) was no doubt still grieving over the loss of her parents after that first, disastrous winter in the new Pilgrim colony. Her mother perished in 1620, and her father passed away a couple of months later during the January of 1621. I'm sure it was a difficult thing for fourteen-year-old newly orphaned Elizabeth to sit down to a small feast that celebrated life and harvest during the fall of 1621, and yet, she did. She later married another Pilgrim survivor, John Howland, and together they raised a large family that included my 10th great-great grandmother, Hope Howland. I'm sure this young lady was aptly named. ;)

So as Halloween activities wind down after tonight, let's all take a moment to consider the blessings in our lives. Make room between Halloween and Christmas for Thanksgiving. Today's wordly wisdom would have us skip over this important celebration of gratitude. Perhaps if more of us protested this trend,  our nation would notice that Thanksgiving is much more than another chance to feast. It is a time of year when we need to extend our gratitude to the One who makes everything possible in our lives.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Recently I taught a class at the Book Academy and was surprised by how many people in my class had no idea what the scene/sequel sequence is.  Judging by some of the disjointed books I've read over the past year, I'd guess a lot of people don't understand this simple method of writing.  In case you're interested, here are the basics to this writing method.

To begin with, the scene half of the method consists of three parts.

Goal:  This is what the point of view character wishes to accomplish.  (Don't confuse this with the writer's goal; their goals may be and usually are quite different.)

Dilemma:  This is where the point of view character works through a plan for reaching his or her goal and attempts to carry out that plan.

Disaster:  This is where something or someone wrecks the plan or in some cases the point of view character may achieve the goal but getting what he/she wanted can itself be a disaster for various reasons.

A scene is always shown from one character's point of view.  No head hopping allowed.

Next comes the sequel which also consists of three parts.  It is usually in the same character's point of view, but can be in another character's point of view.  If handled right, there can be more than one reaction following one after another from multiple characters' points of view, but not jumbled together.

Reaction:  This is where a character reacts to the scene's disaster.  It may be as brief as bursting into tears or as long as needed to show the response to the disaster.

Re-evaluate:  This is from the same POV as the reaction and is where the reacting character works out a method of dealing with the disaster, determines that something has to be done, and considers ways of dealing with obstacles.

Resolution:  This is where the POV character makes up his/her mind to do something specific to correct the disaster.  This resolution may become the goal for the next scene which may or may not follow immediately, but should be the goal of a future scene where this character is the POV character.

Following this method is a great way to create a logical sequence to a story.  It eliminates the annoying habit some writers have of jumping from one character's head to another until the reader has no idea who is thinking or saying anything.  Consecutive scenes may be from different points of view, but a great deal of confusion and annoyance can be avoided by remembering to stay in one character's head until a scene or sequel is finished. A scene or a sequel can be as long or as brief as needed.  An entire chapter may consist of one sequence or it may contain several.  I find I average about three to a chapter, though this varies.

Another advantage to using this method is the help it gives in overcoming writer's block.  If a writer is stuck, I've found it works well to take a blank sheet of paper, space these six steps down one side of the paper, then jot down a brief outline of what needs to happen at each of these steps.

Some writers use this method to outline an entire book on paper.  Others only use a mental form of outlining, but still follow these steps.  It's an effective way to write, especially for new writers.  More experienced writers often work out a variation of this method, but still adhere to one scene/one head.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't Stop, Don't Give Up

The other day someone posted a YouTube video on Facebook that had a darling little girl singing a song from the kid's show, "Yo Gabba Gabba" called, Don't Stop, Don't Give Up. Not only was it just plain adorable but the message ran through my head all day. Then, I was at Walmart, grabbing groceries and I walked past a shirt that said:

I've always taught my kids that if you set a goal and you are willing to work hard and never give up, you can make it happen, you can make that dream come true.
I believe it with all my heart. After eleven years and 67 rejection letter I began to think I would never get a book published, but I decided to submit a manuscript one more time. After all the work, persistence and preparation, it finally got accepted.
My daughter, Kendyl, proved me right last Saturday night when she won the Miss Utah USA pageant. The look on her face says it all. On her fourth try, she finally made her dream come true.

Sometimes we stand in our own way of making our dreams a reality. Our doubts and fears create barriers and sabotage our success. Challenge yourself, dare to dream, don't stop and don't ever, ever, ever give up!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Talents--what are they, really?

Recent discussions with friends got me thinking on the subject of talents--we've probably all heard it before but I think, as women especially, we need reminders.

The scriptures tell us that we are all blessed with talents, diverse and varied, and we are expected to do something with them. A few years ago, I was involved in my ward's Enrichment Night celebration of talents. There were a wide array of us, sharing the things we'd accomplished and basking in the glow. We had a combination of writers, artists and composers.

There was a problem.

I heard later that one of the sisters told her husband she'd never attend another meeting like that one because she came away feeling like such a loser. According to her own assessment, she couldn't write, draw, paint or compose music. Ergo, no talent.

This couldn't be farther from the truth.

Not all talents produce a physical, tangible product. A loving Father has blessed us with talents both outwardly impressive and quietly crucial. Drawing on experiences of women I know, I'm going to show you what I mean.

Woman "A" is a stay-at-home mom with three beautiful kids. She's younger than I am and really has her stuff together. She has a testimony but knows how to relate in the "world," to find joy in the world. Her children are smart, the house is amazingly decorated, she cans food, knits beautifully (and learned only last year!) and gives attention to her callings while still maintaining an awesome homefront. She does these things on a shoestring budget as her husband finishes grad school. She knows who she is and is comfortable in her own skin. She's also incredibly funny and sarcastic. This makes me love her even more.

Woman "B" is dependable, gracious, lovely and generous to a fault. She cares for others despite her own illnesses. She volunteers, serves, takes care of family, delivers beautiful fireside messages, writes roadshows, and often crashes when it's all said and done because her body often can't keep up with her spirit. Now granted, she is a writer and that's one of those talents we're not discussing here, but take away the writing piece and she's still one of the most amazing people I know.

Woman "C" is one of the most beautiful and glamorous people I know in real life. She has four gorgeous kids and a gorgeously decorated home. She is put together at all times, in all things and in all places. Her attention to detail is second to none and her taste is impeccable. She is also one of the most genuinely nice people I know. I mean NICE. The first time I met her she was new in the ward and came to visit teach me with her companion. I made a snap judgment upon first clapping eyes on her, only to have it dissolve within the first five minutes of conversation. I've known her for years and that has never changed. She is genuine, classy, smart, funny and so very kind. She is more beautiful on the inside, even, that trust me, that's saying something.

Woman "D" has five children and she and her husband want one more. She is runs a home of delightfully chaotic organization and is an awesome mom. She plays with her kids, she is calm about spills, she loves her current role and is doing a darn good job with it. Having so many children and running an efficient house are skill sets that I do not possess. I have only three children, two of which are nearly adults, and I still can't find socks or a room in my house that's consistently tidy and organized.

I could go on with women "E" through "Z," but I hope you see where I'm going with this. Kindness is a talent. Organizational skills are a talent. Amazing church and community service, that is a talent. As are the following: compassion, dedication, dependability, charity, a strong work ethic, humble spirituality, seeking for and attaining knowledge, the ability to make others smile, a good grasp of life's priorities, etc.

Those talents that aren't so easily visible in terms of outward appearance are those I refer to as "quietly crucial." They are the crux of life, for they almost always mean some sort of service to others, whether in the community or within the walls of our own homes. Love is usually the root motivator, and love is pure.

Now. Let's say you've always wanted to be a photographer. Or to learn to sew. Or write poetry or your life story. Your life story in poem form. Just because you didn't leave the womb as an expert in these areas, does that mean you shouldn't try? I believe that we should spend a lifetime examining and reaching for talents we may not even know we have. We should do what we can to learn about the topic and then not be afraid to try it.

Woman "A" I mentioned above learned to knit last year. She is amazingly good at it. And we have another friend who is THAT MUCH MORE amazingly good at it, and she also just learned how to knit last year. So let's say we have me, we'll call me "good." We'll call Woman "A" "better," and we'll call Amazing Knitting Prodigy Woman "best." Does this mean I don't have a talent for knitting. No. What it means is that if I want to continue to grow and develop this talent, I must work at it. Just because my talent doesn't have me at the top of that particular game doesn't mean I don't have the talent for it.

Talents take work. With the possible exception of Mozart, I've not heard of anyone whose talents didn't require practice and honing. And truthfully, Mozart certainly progressed throughout his life--he didn't write Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at the age of 8. (Although he did write other music that I can't begin to replicate at the age of 8. Let's not talk about him anymore.)

In the New Testament we find the Parable of the Talents. One man did amazing things with his, the second man did good things with his, and the third man buried his talent. Talents, in this story, refer to currency, but the point is the same. If we bury it, it stays as it is and is of benefit to nobody--not family or friends, and not ourselves. Certainly not to our Father, who gave us those talents in the first place.

I have homework for you. Your job tonight (or tomorrow night, or anytime this week you have a few free minutes, but for sure before Sunday) is to make a list of your talents. I'm not talking about the ones that produce something tangible. First you start with you, and you list the things you ARE. Then continue the list and write down those things you produce. Maybe you're really good at canning or gardening. Maybe you can put together an awesome scrapbook. Maybe you read the newspaper front to back each day and can tell me exactly what's going on in Libya. Perhaps you know how to sew aprons on a machine. Perhaps you can give one heck of a presentation to your boss and colleagues, with or without the Powerpoint. Maybe you're the one in the office who remembers everybody's birthdays or notices when someone is down and you buy them an African Violet. Unless it's a man who's buy him a chocolate doughnut.

You keep this list in your journal, and if you don't have a journal, you grab a notebook or staple some computer paper together and start one. And perhaps on the other side of this list, you will write down a few things you'd like to do, a few talents you'd like to grow. We may have talents buried that need digging up.

Grab a shovel!

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Becoming Better

In a 1996 BYU Devotional, President Hinckley gave a challenge to youth, which of course, includes all of us. (I'm only chronologically old, but my spirit is still very young.) He said:

"You are good. But it is not enough just to be good. You must be good for something. You must contribute good to the world. The world must be a better place for your presence. And the good that is in you must be spread to others.

"I do not suppose that any of us here this day will be remembered a thousands years from now. I do not suppose that we will be remembered a century from now.

"But in this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity, above indifference. You can become involved and speak with a strong voice for that which is right.

"You cannot simply sit in your laboratory or your library and let the world drift along in its aimless way. It needs your strength, your courage, your voice in speaking up for those values which can save it." (Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, Sept 17, 1996)

When I think of the world being a better place for my presence, it is totally overwhelming. What kind of difference can I make? I'm an insignificant nobody! Then the Spirit whispers that I have raised a family who are all contributing to make the world a better place. And each kind deed I do really does make the world better for that person who was the recipient of that deed. As I teach my Laurel class each Sunday, I'm trying to instill in them good values and set a good example for them as they watch what I do in my personal life.

I'm trying desperately to finish this ghost story by Thanksgiving but yesterday my husband was rebuilding our patio and he needed my help to hoist the big pieces of lumber onto the braces. I made his world a lot better by listening for the saw to finish, then run out to help him before he struggled to lift the heavy wood by himself. Result: two pages accomplished inside. A healthy, happier uninjured husband outside. Then we laughed while we cleaned the tar off each other when we finished. Our marriage was also improved. The world was a better place.

Today I had the entire day marked off to write. But a friend who suffers from incredible pain wanted to go to lunch. She hasn't been to church for weeks because of her pain, so how could I turn her down now that she is feeling improved enough to venture out? Sometimes just the smallest of sacrifices on our part can make the greatest difference to someone else.

I will never claim to be a great writer but if my meager efforts at storytelling can help someone through their painful chemo and radiation treatments, I'm delighted. If I can provide something wholesome instead of worldly for a teenager to read, I'm happy. If I can lift the spirits of a sister who is struggling, I'm content that just maybe I can make a difference, and the world will be better because I am here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beautiful October

I live in an area of the United States where there are four distinct seasons, and although the snowy winter and hot summer often stay longer than reason dictates, spring and fall normally parade in splendor. Such is the case with autumn this year. The temperatures have been mild, and because we had such a wet spring, the change of color in the leaves has been breathtaking.

I took a walk in the mountains the other day and found myself assaulted by color: the vibrant reds of the Maples, the luscious oranges of the Ash and Oak, and the delicate yellows of the Aspens. There was a Robin's egg blue sky and a soft breeze. The sojourn was well worth my time and soothing to my soul.

I've tried to share a little of the glory in a picture, but I'm afraid the feeling won't transfer. Perhaps it's time for a walk in nature?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Things You Need to Know about Publishing

Some comments on my Facebook page made me realise that many people out there - and some reading this - may know very little about the business of publishing. Many of them may look at JK Rowling, Celia Ahern and Dan Brown and figure it's an easy way to make lots of money - see my tongue-in-cheek previous blog on

So here are some things which may seem obvious to anyone who has been involved in the business, but which many others don't know about publishing:
  • Write your book first. Or at least, write most of it. Most agents and publishers are going to ask for a completed manuscript, not a proposal. This means that you may be writing it not knowing whether it will ever be published. Accept that the only person who ever enjoys your book may be you. 
  • A full-length novel should be between 75,000 and 100,000 words.
  • Once it is written, you have a choice about how to publish it. The traditional route involves sending your manuscript, or a query letter about it, to agents or publishers. The other option is to self-publish, either as an ebook through something like Kindle Direct Publishing, or via what used to be called a Vanity press, such as Authorhouse or a smaller indie press. 
  • If you choose to self-publish, you pay for the publication and you do all the marketing. In most cases you design your own cover, write your own blurb, and have complete control over your book. It won't be edited, and it's likely your "publisher" won't even read it. It's hard work, it's expensive, you will lose a lot of money and your book will have no credibility in the market. I am enormously opposed to self publishing - I have already blogged about it here: and probably will again before long.
  • Assuming you want to be paid for your work, rather than paying for it, you then choose whether to send it to an agent or publisher (or both). Agents will take a cut of your royalties, but they will do all the hard work of selling your book to a publisher, and will probably get you a much better deal than you could get for yourself. Agents tend to be more approachable than publishers, and you will generally need to submit to them by a query letter rather than sending them your manuscript. To get their attention your query letter needs to be some of your best writing.
  • Do your research first. Check out the websites of agents and publishers, and only send your work to those who are open to submissions in the genre you have written. Check what format they want it in and submit according to their guidelines. First three chapters only? Email or hard copy in the post?
  • It's extremely rare to be offered an advance for your book - money up front to secure the right to publish. And advances tend to be relatively small - about £3,000 ($5,000). Bear in mind that this is an advance on royalties. Not only does it not mean that you won't get more money than you would with a normal arrangement, but you will need to check whether you have to pay it back should your book not sell as well as expected.
  • It's more usual once a manuscript is accepted by a publisher to be offered a contract which awards you back 10-15% of receipts, sales or cover price in royalties. But don't plan what to spend it on, because not only is it impossible to predict how well your book will sell and thus how much you'll get, but royalties are, naturally, paid in arrears, so you may not get anything until up to a year after your book hits the shelves. 
  • It can take up to a year from your book being accepted to you holding it in your hands, and there's a lot of work involved during that year, mostly editing and advance marketing. Get used to it - you will be expected to put in your fair share of marketing and promotion of your book.
  • You can't get too precious about your book. The publisher will design the cover, ask you to rewrite parts, write your blurb and even rearrange your chapter divisions.
  • Writing will not make you rich and famous. Royalties from most books are not enough to live on, and even Jacqueline Wilson, Children's Laureate here in the UK whose children's books have sold millions, was asked at a party what she did for a living. When she answered "I write books for children," she was asked, "What name do you write under?" If you want to be recognised in the street and asked for autographs in restaurants, act in films, don't write books.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hope Smiling Brightly

It would be an understatement to say that life is crazy right now, filled with challenges and heartaches for so many people. Everywhere I look I see neighbors, friends, and family members bravely facing uphill battles as they strive to continue forward on their journey through life.

The trials faced vary: scary health conditions, financial worries, the loss of loved ones, family distress, and in some instances, overwhelming schedules that seem impossible to maintain. The adversary is also pulling out all of the stops to destroy self-esteem, marriages, and families. We are truly living in the latter-days and the war for souls is raging all around us in an intense manner that can fill the bravest hearts with fear and despair.

These days I'm often reminded of a scene from one of my favorite books, "The Return of the King," by J.R.R. Tolkien. Towards the end of the story, all seems lost. Death and mayhem are taking place everywhere as the battle between good and evil rages. As the fight continues, it becomes apparent that the forces for good are dwindling, and yet the survivors cling to the hope that they will triumph, despite overwhelming odds. The way is being paved for the return of the king, who will restore all that has been lost. Keeping that goal in mind, one by one, the main characters of this book push on, refusing to give up, despite the wounds sustained.

One brave small hobbit named Frodo feels as if he holds the fate of the world in his tiny hands. He risks everything that he is to push forward toward a goal that terrifies him, and yet, he knows that is the only way to banish the evil foe that threatens all he holds dear. It takes everything he can do to press on, and he reaches a point where he feels as though he can't take one more step. That is when his trusted friend, Sam, practically carries him up that final mountain. There Frodo battles with himself and finally achieves his goal, his courageous stance halting the adversary in his tracks.

It is my belief that we are all doing our best to climb the terrifying mountains that lie before us. We are not making that climb alone. Loved ones from the other side of the veil are cheering us on, every step of the way. When we stumble, neighbors, friends, and family members walk at our side, helping us to continue on. And when it all becomes too much, we are carried by the One who walked that pathway before us.

The other day as I silently grieved for all that a dear friend is currently facing, the following lyrics popped into my head:

When dark clouds of trouble hang o'er us, and threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh--

It took me a few minutes to figure out which hymn those inspired words came from. These lyrics are from the second verse of hymn # 19, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet." The inspired message of that sacred hymn brought a ray of hope into my life, filling my heart with a sense of comforting peace.

It is true: we are led by a prophet of God. If we will heed his counsel, we will not fail. Though our challenges today seem overpowering, we can continue forward with hope in our hearts. We were all saved for this current day for a reason. Our Father knew we possessed the talents, courage, and fortitude that would be necessary to succeed. Step by step, we will triumph, even when the battle rages all around. Through hope, faith, and charity, we will place the armor of God upon us, courageously facing the challenges that come into our lives during this mortal journey. Bear in mind we are paving the way for the return of our King, when all will be restored, and sorrowing tears will be dried. Until that day comes, look for the good. Do those things that will inspire peace of heart and mind, knowing our focus shouldn't rest upon the many wounds we've sustained along the way--how well we embraced hope when all seemed lost is what will matter most.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Tuesday morning the adoption of my newest, darling granddaughter was finalized.  Saturday our family will gather at the temple to be a part of her sealing to our family for all eternity and Sunday she will be blessed.  It's shaping up to be a wondrous, happy week.

Naturally my mind has turned often to the miracle of adoption lately.  I feel deep gratitude to the young mothers who loved their babies enough to give them two parents and a better chance in life than they could. 
I feel a kind of sadness for the television shows and popular culture push for birth mothers who haven't finished school and have no real means of support, to keep their babies.  I see young women who are emotionally immature, alone, or trying to escape dysfunctional homes being taught to think "if you keep your baby you'll have someone who loves you", "only a bad person would give away her child", "It'll be so much fun to have a baby," "don't worry about the money; there's government financial help for single mothers," "what will he think of you when he learns he was adopted?" or parents who insist "you can't give away my grandchild."  Notice none of these concerns are actually for the baby.  Almost always when there's no chance of marriage or a continuing loving relationship between the parents, premature parenthood is in neither the young mother's or her baby's best interest.
Too often single girls who keep their babies end up living a life of poverty.  Their children are more likely to do without essentials, many suffer abuse from their mothers' boyfriends, and they're less likely to finish high school or go on to college.  There are exceptions of course, but it's so much harder.  I've seen grandparents who struggle to care for grandchildren, who love them, and act as parents, then suddenly have the children torn from their home when the mother decides to marry and take the children far away.  I've also seen grandparents left in charge of their single child's baby who are physically unable to provide the needed care, leaving the baby or toddler unintentionally neglected.
Adoptions these days are very open.  The young woman who chooses to place her child in a stable home can receive regular reports and pictures to assure her of the child's well-being.  In some cases she can see the child at regular intervals.  She can also finish her education, mature, establish a career, marry, and pursue her dreams, knowing the child she loves is being properly cared for and has the advantages of a loving home, enough to eat, the prospect of higher education, and the love of an extended family.
One of the greatest heartbreaks a couple can face is the knowledge that they can't have children. Here you have a couple who are committed to each other, financially prepared for parenthood, mature enough to be good parents, but for some reason they can't conceive.  If these parents are fortunate enough to be allowed to adopt a child, I assure you they feel nothing but love and admiration for the birth mother who honestly considers her baby's future needs above her own. They respect her courage in completing the pregnancy and letting go of a piece of herself for the child's better good.
Adoption is no guarantee the child will have no problems and the parents will always know how to deal with every issue, but the same can be said for all children.  Children don't come with how-to manuals, but adoptive parents receive more training than most as the proceed through the pre-adoption process.  In my state they have to pass a pretty extensive background check as well.  If anyone doubts an adopted child is loved as much as one born into a family, let me assure you there is no basis for that fear  An adopted child is always wanted.  One of my most treasured memories is that of my daughter when her first adopted child was placed in her arms by his birth mother.  The look of joy, of rightness, of love on these two young women's faces is a memory I hold priceless. The same feelings of love and awe I experience holding my other grandchildren is there for these two adopted ones.  I never find myself thinking, this one is adopted and this one isn't.  They're all my grandchildren and all eleven are the most precious children in the world. If my experience is an indication of a trend, I'd say adoption is truly a win-win proposition for all concerned. My deepest thanks goes out to two brave young women who gave my grandchildren life, then gave them the precious gift of love by allowing them to be adopted.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Our deepest fear . . . .

I ran across this quote the other day and thought the message was something every one of us needed to be reminded of frequently.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It's our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

"Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (Nelson Mandela, 1994 Inaugural speech)

Now while I might not totally agree with his terms of "brilliant, gorgeous and fabulous," (though I would most happily apply that to all of you marvelous ladies!) I do have to agree with the "talented." We've discovered our talent with words and feelings or we wouldn't be in this business. And if we don't let our light shine, the world will be a much darker place. There will be so much left undone that we could have done: budding talents to bolster and nourish; gifts of words that never were shared; thoughts and ideas that never came to fruition.

Our confidence in what we can do, our love of what we do, our assurance in our God-given abilities can and will help everyone who comes within our sphere of light. We have a responsibility to share what we've been given and help nurture those who are coming behind us. So let's be grateful for what we have, share it boldly and gladly, and know that we can make the world a better place because we were here - and let our light shine forth gloriously.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hawaiian Island Miracle

I went to the Church History Library the other day to do research for my next book of historical fiction. The story line will concern one of the first Polynesian converts from the beautiful islands of Hawaii.

Needing information, I approached one of the librarians at the front desk. I knew I would have to fill out forms to get permission to see the 1850 missionary diary of Elder George Q. Cannon, and wanted help with that process. The librarian asked me why I needed to see the diary, (understandably they're very protective of precious 160 year-old manuscripts) and I told him I was an author and my novel concerned Elder Cannon's mission in the Hawaiian Islands. The diary's pages would hold the story of one of the first Polynesian converts from the islands.

At that moment, another of the behind-the-counter-librarians said, "Are you going to write about Jonathon Napela?" Taken aback, I affirmed that I was. I asked how he knew the little-known name of Brother Napela, and this good man proceeded to tell me that he lived on the island of Molokai, and had ventured away from his home a month earlier to serve a mission for the LDS church. The island of Molokai is where Jonathon Napela and his wife are buried. I was stunned. I have had strong connections with the islands since living in Honolulu when I was a teenager. In all my years of associations, I have never met anyone from Molokai.

I told him I would be going to the islands for research, and Molokai would be one of my stops. Smiling one of those warm Hawaiian smiles, this generous man then said, "Oh, I have a daughter there who would love to show you around, and my house is vacant while I'm on my mission, so you are welcome to stay there while you're researching!"

The world might call this amazing meeting serendipity, coincidence, chance. I call it a miracle. It confirms to my soul the nearness of a loving Father who is just a whisper away.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I've asked my husband Brad if he'd be willing to be a guest blogger. He has agreed. So with thankful heart, I now turn the time over to him:

I have no idea how Jeri talks me into these things, but anyway here it is.

Well, here it is my favorite time of the year. For the 2nd year in a row I get to head up our wards Friends of Scouting drive. For those who don't know what this is, it is a fund raising drive to help support the local Boy Scout Council. To be honest, it’s a lot of work and all the money goes to the council, not the local troop, so it really isn't a lot of fun. This year there has been a good deal of negative press in the local papers about this event. It has caused me to reflect on scouting and why we should support it.

With our oldest son we had set a goal for him in scouting. We thought that he should earn the eagle scout award before he turned 16. If not then he couldn't drive or date. Well 16 came and went with no Eagle Award. We, however needed Tyler to date to give us a break from his crazy teenage ways, and we needed him to drive, for so many reasons. Shortly before he turned 18, he completed all the work necessary and was given the rank of Eagle Scout. When we got home Tyler handed it to Jeri and said here is your eagle mom.

Now Tyler is married with a family of his own. He is a hard worker and has been very successful. Every time there is an Eagle court of honor, he proudly sits in the eagles nest. Although he speaks of his hard work and effort in earning his Eagle -- he laughs and grins and we know he is very grateful for the encouragement his mom and I gave him in earning this award. It means a lot to him. I proudly wear my eagle dad pin on one of my suit jackets, it means a lot to us too.

Over the summer I went with our older scouts in our ward on a high adventure trip to the Tetons. While there, we did face some challenges and even some dangers, but we learned from that and became stronger because of it.

I recently attended a meeting that focused on venturing (16-17 yr old scouts) and the LDS church. These are young men at a critical age, and in the church we lose so many of them from activity in the Church. One of the leaders that spoke said, “In scouting we don’t wait for the young man to come to church, we take the young man on an adventure where they will come to know their Maker.” There is a reason LDS church leaders have deemed scouting the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood. Sir Robert Baden Powell, the founder of boy scouting said, “There is no Religious side to the movement, the whole of it is based on religion, that is on the realization and service of God.

On the Sunday morning session of General Conference, Sis. Dalton taught a great lesson on the influence a father can have on his daughter. That lesson can be directly applied to a mothers influence on her son. I am not sure I have seen a young man who has earned his eagle award, who didn’t get there in large part because of a mothers influence.

President Gordon B. Hinckley has stated:
"I love the Scouting movement. If every boy in America knew and observed the Scout Oath, we would do away with most of the jails and prisons in this country. This program builds boys, builds their futures, leads them on the right path so they can make something of their lives. Every man or woman who helps a boy along the road of life not only does a great thing for him but does a great thing for society as a whole."

So while it is sometimes easy to get lost in the politics and some negative aspects that sometimes surrounds this movement, let us not forget all the good that can and does come from this program. Powell said “We must change boys from a ‘what can I get‘, to a ‘what can I give’ attitude.” Isn’t that what the Savior wanted us to learn?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Emulating the Writing of Others

My current work-in-progress is a novel about four very different women who are old school friends and all find themselves single in their forties. They decide to compete with each other to see who can find a "keeper" - a really decent man - first. The losers will pay for the winner's wedding. The punchline, of course, is that they all find a keeper, but none of them realise it.

Making 80,000 words out of that premise isn't easy because actually, there's not much action. Sure, there are business lunches and PTA meetings and even dates, but really it's just the minutiae of the women's lives, and that's not all that interesting. So to help me tackle this project I am re-reading some of my Marian Keyes books. Marian is an Irish writer and one of my favourite authors, but nothing much happens plot-wise in her stories. Anyone Out There, for example, charts the recovery from a car crash of a woman who slowly comes to realise and then accept that her husband has died in the crash. And that's it. That's the entire plot. Yet it is  absorbing, funny, poignant and beautifully written. To such I aspire with Finders Keepers, so I'm hoping that in studying Marian's books I'll pick up some tips.

The most common piece of advice found on authors' websites is to read a lot. Why? Because reading helps you to recognise and appreciate good writing, which in turn helps you, if not to emulate it, then at least to recognise whether what you have written is as good.

Reading the masters of a particular genre can really help a writer to see what the reader expects from that genre, and some of the tricks and tools the author has used to create the appropriate atmosphere. To prepare for writing Emon and the Emperor I read the Percy Jackson series and re-read some of my favourite fantasy novels from my youth. I discovered that good fantasy was unapologetic and fast-paced, with relatable heroes (they almost always seemed to be male) and a good dramatic ending, preferably involving a battle and the death of a major character.

So now I'm thinking I need to plan to write a heady, angst-ridden, overpowering teenage love story, just to give me the perfect excuse to dig out Twilight again...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Star Valley Temple

I think I'm still in shock over the announcement that was made during the Saturday morning LDS Conference session. I was listening closely to President Monson as my husband and I were traveling to spend the weekend with loved ones in Utah. I smiled over each new temple site that was mentioned. In my opinion, our prophet saved the best news for last: a temple is to be built in Star Valley, Wyoming!!!

Star Valley has been like a second home for me since childhood. My mother grew up in Star Valley, which is only about 45 miles away from my current home. I spent many summers staying with my grandparents in this magical place. My mother has often commented through the years that returning to Star Valley is like recharging one's internal batteries. I totally agree. This beautiful area is such a peaceful place, surrounded by forest laden mountains, beautiful lakes and streams, and filled with down-to-earth people who work hard and play hard.

When I heard the news, I called my mother, who was doing the dance of joy in her living room. She had been listening to this same conference session and was so excited. She had never envisioned an LDS Temple in her former stomping grounds. She can hardly wait to attend the future dedication for this soon-to-be wonder.

Very soon after I talked to my mother about this news, I called my daughter-in -law, who also happens to hail from Star Valley. She was just as excited as my mother and I were over this announcement. She had just talked to her mother, who still lives in the area and told me that her mother was so happy she was crying over the news.

The closest temple to the Star Valley region lies in Idaho Falls, Idaho. That is where all of the temple ordinances have taken place for my mother's side of the family tree. To know that one will now be built in the Star Valley region is a dream come true, and the first temple to be built in the wonderful state of Wyoming!

Star Valley is part of the 7 stake region in our current neck of the woods. So for my husband and I, having a temple in Star Valley will be a wonderful thing. The closest temple for us lies in Logan, Utah, which is approximately 70 miles away. As I mentioned earlier, this new temple will be about 45 miles away, cutting the distance traveled by those in our area.

I will probably be doing the dance of joy started by my mother for quite some time. It still doesn't seem real, and probably won't until we see the spires of this future edifice. =) What a wonderful time we live in, despite all of the challenges! These new temples that are being built will affect many lives for the better. Numerous blessings will take place as a result of these inspired decisions--truly a sign that we are loved and watched over in more ways than any of us can imagine!