Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I haven't read The Hunger Games and I don't plan to, I don't want to see the movie either.  It may be a perfectly good book and I've heard good things about the movie, but the theme too closely mirrors a book I read a long time ago that gave me nightmares for years.  It too was about a future time and an all-controlling government.  Instead of a fight to the death by a bunch of teenagers, the young people in this book were runners who were required to run continuously for days in a mega-marathon.  Anyone who collapsed, fell, left the course, got sick, or in any way stopped running or failed to reach the finish line was shot by guards stationed along the endless course.  Huge crowds of people lined the route to watch.  To me it was too much like the sickos who filled the coliseums of Rome to watch Christians, gladiators,  and others out of favor with the rulers, battle lions, or the depraved ball games once played by ancestors of the American Indians that resulted in the entire losing team being executed to the roar of approving crowds of onlookers.  I know just enough about The Hunger Games to not want to be part of the blood thirsty voyeurs watching kids kill kids on their big screens no matter what kind of positive messages this fantasy is supposed to relay. 

All my life I've taken books a bit too seriously.  Not only do I see the characters in my own books as real people caught up in real situations, but I see the books I read by other authors the same way. You'd think anyone who has been a newspaper reporter and reads as much as I do (I've read over forty full length novels so far this year) could easily read anything and not be affected too much by it, but it just doesn't work that way.  Needless to say, I avoid reading horror novels.  Once my high school friends dragged me to a horror film on Halloween and while everyone else snickered and laughed, I tried not to crawl under my seat or wet my pants.  I'm still haunted by that disembodied hand. 

Perhaps because I internalize what I read so deeply, it has made me tolerant of other people's likes and dislikes in reading material. It has also made me thoroughly dislike the "required reading" assignments given to junior high and high school students.  I'm not against "suggested reading lists" as long as they are very diverse, but great care needs to be taken when asking an entire class to read one specific title if no consideration is given to teenagers' wide variance in maturity, life experience, moral standards, or interests.  I applaud one teacher I know who picks out half a dozen books and allows her students to choose which book each wants to read then divides the class into groups like book clubs according to the book chosen for discussion purposes. Many people don't like to read because the books they've been assigned to read in school convinced them they don't like reading, whereas young people who are exposed to a wide variety of reading material and who are allowed to develop their own tastes usually enjoy reading. By the way, I suggest that adult readers avoid falling into a rut of reading only one type of book.  Even favorites are better when interspersed with other genres and non-fiction books. 

As a fiction critic I'm quite opinionated, yet I hope because I like or dislike a book is never the reason a reader decides for or against reading that particular book.  My purpose in pointing out a book's strengths or weaknesses is to provide readers with a starting point in determining whether or not they wish to read the book.  If there are particular types of books that make a reader uncomfortable, a subject the reader has had enough of, if the reader wants strong character development, or if he/she prefers high action--these are among the pointers I try to give readers to help them decide if the book is a good fit.  Most of us have had the disappointing experience of having a friend rave about how wonderful a particular book is only to spend our hard-earned money on it, then discover the book is boring.  

It's always good to remember people, even close friends, have different tastes and life experiences they bring to a book.  It's good, too, to occasionally step outside your comfort zone.  Over the past few months I completed reading all thirty-five of the Whitney finalists.  Some I didn't care for, a few even put me to sleep, but most were exciting enjoyable experiences.  I was delightfully surprised to find a YA novel that really spoke to me and though I avoid speculative fiction as much as possible, I was amazed by some really good books in these two categories. A category I usually enjoy disappointed me and several categories left me wanting to give more than one excellent finalist a first place position.   I recommend this list of 2011 Whitney finalists to anyone who wants to diversify his/her reading experience.  

Even though I'm all for a diverse reading experience, I still dislike horror, and will continue to be rather picky about which speculative novels I read.  Just like everything else in life, I think it's good for readers to know their limits and to be tolerant of others whose tastes don't match our own.  That said I find nothing wrong with avoiding a genre that causes discomfort, violates your moral standards, or you find socially repugnant.  Only as a person experiments with different genres, takes time to read reviews, or discusses books with others can he or she find what works or doesn't work for him or her.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Book In A Week

I'm cleaning out, organizing, sorting, and trying to bring order to my life and my study. I came across this article by Pamela Schiutt from February 1999. I did this challenge once and it worked out rather well. Since I'm having a terrible time sitting myself down to the computer to write, I thought I might try it again and see how productive I can be in a week. Of course, I have to choose a week that isn't already half full, which doesn't happen until after Easter, and then I'll still have to do my shift at the Family History Center and prepare my Laurel lesson, and hope my friend doesn't need a ride to the doctor.
Many of you have already done this, but for those who haven't, this is how it works:
1. You sit yourself down in front of your computer in the morning, or whatever time block you've set aside, and you write. YOU DO NOT GO BACK AND EDIT UNTIL THE WEEK IS UP! Yes, no editing. Your goal is to get your story down on paper (computer). Don't worry that it doesn't get on the page in perfect order. You will be editing.
2. Have your pre-writing done; whether it's a germ of an idea that you want to explore or a detailed outline, know where you are going with the story.
3. Clean your slate for that week. Make no appointments. Alert your family; tell them of your plans and that you're not to be disturbed. Turn off your phone or let the answering machine take messages during the allotted time. If you have household chores that have to be done, you can set a timer. For every hour of writing, do 15 minutes worth of housework while you are plotting the next scene. (You'll be totally amazed at how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes several times a day!)
4. If you're lucky and have no housework or other duties to give yourself a break, then set a timer to go off every hour and take 15 minutes to stretch, do jumping jacks, run in place, run around the block, anything to get the blood circulating.
At the end of your week, if you stuck diligently to the plan (and the computer) you should have your basic story done.
Of all the writers who have done the Book In A Week challenge, they've basically said the same thing. BIAW taught them to turn off the internal editor and to trust their muse. Many participants were amazed by the high quality of their writing. Though they did have to go back and revise, it wasn't as extensive as they'd feared. Some were surprised by the lively voice behind the story, and that it belonged to them! Others were shocked by the page count they racked up.
Whatever your ultimate goal, go for it - and happy writing!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dick and Jane

I learned to read thanks to the Dick and Jane primers. See Jane. See Jane run. See Dick. Dick is cool. No, it didn't say cool, but I certainly thought the two peers were very cool, and when they added Spot the dog to the mix, well...

I actually remember sitting on the green vinyl couch, poking my finger at the scribbles on the page, and seeing them morph into words--words that told a story. See Jane run. Yes, I did! I did see her run, and I saw Dick throw the ball, and Spot catch the ball! It was a new world.

From those humble beginnings the world of books opened up to me, and not only books, but magazine articles, street signs, advertisements, and greeting cards. I loved going to our little library in South Lake Tahoe and foraging through the hundred or so books offered.

When I went off to college I remember stepping into the huge library and being overwhelmed at the massive scope of the offerings: non-fiction books, text books, novels, atlases, books in foreign languages, reference books...the stacks went on and on. I felt a little light-headed. How in the world could someone read all these books? Of course, it's impossible. There are not enough hours in one's lifetime. I realized then that you have to be selective. Just like picking how we spend our time in work, hobbies, and recreation, we need to be selective in our reading material. My motto is "read books that count." I'm not suggesting that you read only history books, biographies, auto-biographies, or religious texts, but don't glut your brain with frothy romances, thrilling mysteries, or escape fantasy either. I am not being a book prude. Trust me, when I'm at the beach I'm taking a good mystery book and leaving the biography at home. All I'm suggesting is that you "mix it up" a little. Expand your world.

See Jane. See Jane read. Read Jane, read!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Song Lyrics

I love music. I particularly enjoy rock, provided it has a good melody and is well sung. My favourite bands are Queen, Muse, Def Leppard, Magnum, AC/DC, ELO and Nickelback. You get the idea.

Lyrics make a huge difference to me in how much I like a track, or a band. Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but words really matter to me. A great song can be ruined by poor lyrics. (A very good friend of mine is extremely musically inclined - she can play any tune by ear - and similarly judges films by their soundtracks.)

I get that not every musician can also be a poet, but nothing makes me switch off the radio faster than hearing bad grammar in a song. Here are some examples I came across recently, two of which are on my iPod. But may not be for much longer.

  • "The female of the species is more deadlier than the male" (The Female of the Species, Space)
  • "The way the moonlight shined upon her hair" (All Summer Long, Kid Rock)
  • "I promise tonight not to do no harm" (Crossfire, Brandon Flowers)
And don't get me started on "I can't get no satisfaction."

To show the other side of the coin, here are some amazing, poetic and poignant lyrics which have real power on their own, even without the music, (and with it are just stunning). The song is Cruise Control by Def Leppard, and it's written from the point of view of a suicide bomber going on a mission:

I close my eyes, I bend in prayer
I train my mind to just not care,
And to my God I give my soul
I train my mind to cruise control.

I hear my God, He calls my name.
I must atone all mankind's shame.
And for my God I ring the bell.
I will condemn the infidel.

Daylight shines upon the hour of my faith,
I step in to the sun.
I shield my eyes from the glory of the morning
And blow it all to kingdom come.

Perfect meter (has to be for a song, of course) and perfectly rhymed apart from the rather desperate use of "bell" (unless there really is some significance to the use of a bell, of which I'm ignorant). Def Leppard are extremely good at lyrics, and that's one of the many reasons I like them so much. For them, the words of their songs are not just an afterthought, but a way to tell a meaningful story. I recommend their music. (There's no swearing or inappropriate content, in case you were worried.)

And finally, while I'm musing on song lyrics (speaking of which my second favourite band, Muse, are great at the actual music and amazingly powerful and promising titles, but not so good at following through on the lyrics) there's a particular Christmas carol lyric which drives me potty.

It's from "Silent Night", that lovely Austrian carol. In the current LDS hymnbook, and many other English collections, the third line in the third verse reads, "Radiant beams from thy holy face". This is, in fact, incorrect. It's also rather bizarre, conjuring up laser-beams of light emerging from the infant's skin like torchlight through a colander. The original English words were "Radiant beams thy holy face", which makes far more sense and suggests the Christ-child's beautiful smile. (I'm very tempted to go round the church with a marker pen doctoring all the hymn books, because it really irks me every Christmas.)

Are there any song lyrics which particularly irritate you? Or conversely, any which you think are as good as any poem?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Over the past few weeks I've read a lot of books.  I'm trying to complete the 35 finalist for the Whitney Awards.  I've also read a large number of books for my weekly review column on Meridian.  Along with reading paper books, e-reader books, and ARCs, I read a daily newspaper, a significant number of blogs, and more face book posts than I can begin to count.  With all of this reading, I've concluded that certain teachers during my elementary and high school years, must surely be mortified to see how little attention is given in today's literary world to words that sound the same, but don't have the same meaning or spelling.  Did today's authors and copy editors fail this portion of their spelling tests?  Or have they gotten lazy? 

Here's a list of words I found just in the past few weeks that made me shake my head:  Sadly most of these were in print, not on face book which is notorious for misspellings, typos, and poor grammar: 

site for cite

pour for pore

their for they're

roll for role

pays for pace

alter for altar

isle for aisle

pray for prey

principal for principle

patients for patience

wait for weight

raise for raze

pear for pare

right for rite 

It's easy to think one word and write another.  I'm as guilty as anyone of carelessness with face book posts, but I think authors and publishers need to make a greater effort to use the right word.  Words are the tools of a writer's trade and I believe good writers should constantly polish their tools, study language, increase their vocabulary, learn to spell, and stop over-trusting spell check. Few things stop the action faster in an exciting scene than the use of the wrong word, even if it sounds the same as the intended word.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Testing and Trials of Life

I have the following quote by President Harold B. Lee laminated and sitting where I can see it every time I sit at my computer. It is profound, and based on D&C 101:4-5:

"Some of us have been tried and have been tested until our very heart strings would seem to break. I have heard of persons dying with a broken heart, and I thought that was just a sort of a poetic expression, but I learned that it could be a very real experience. I came near to that thing, but when I began to think of my own troubles, I thought of what the apostle Paul said of the Master. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered, and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him." (Heb 5:8, 9)

Don't be afraid of the testing and trials of life. Sometimes when you are going through the most severe tests, you will be nearer to God than you have any idea, for like the experience of the Master himself in the temptation on the mount, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross at Calvary, the scriptures record, 'And, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.' (Matt 4:11)

Sometimes that may happen to you in the midst of your trials."

There continues to be severe testing and trials in this group. Know that angels are ministering to you, possibly unawares, but there nevertheless. And countless prayers are being offered on your behalf. You are loved.

From a Writer Who Studies History...

I've written several books of historical fiction. The last two centered around communism. The Silence of God was set during the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and Letters in the Jade Dragon Box takes place in China, and tells of the reign of Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

They were difficult books to write. As I dug deep for facts about these systems of government and the men who forced the communist ideology on their people, I unearthed the toll of human suffering caused by a flawed system and from horrific acts of cruelty. It has been calculated that during Mao's 27 year reign as leader of China, between 58-70 million of his countrymen died. And, since the country was not at war during this time period, these deaths were attributed to starvation, torture, execution, and suicide.

I know, I'm sorry...I'd much rather be writing a piece about a relaxing trip taken, or a funny story about my family, but I've been so alarmed by the cracks in America's foundation, that I can't keep quiet. I watch the political scene carefully, and I've never seen a Presidential administration so bent on undermining the basic principles of this country. This observation is not based on hear-say, but on actual words that have been said by President Obama and members of his close associates working with him in this administration. Caught on film are comments made by the President about how he wants to fundamentally change this country, how he wants to "spread the wealth," how he wishes he could do without Congress, and how he admires the disgraceful antics of Occupy Wall Street.

As a writer, I must write my feelings, and as I watch this great nation slide towards Socialism, my feelings are of anger and alarm.

As a writer, I must also write an appeal. Please, wake up America.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Best Thing About Being a Writer

Congratulations to all the Whitney finalists, a number of whom contribute to this blog. Any sour grapes I might have about not being one of them are squished into juice by the fact that I can't come over to Salt Lake to attend the gala anyway, so it's probably a good thing I'm not expected to. (Also I am now in the happy position of being a judge, so I get to read all those wonderful books!)

That must be such a wonderful thing, though. Imagine writing a book, and knowing that enough people loved it that they will invite you to a glittering evening to be cheered and clapped by your peers and given accolades and recognition for your talent. Such pride, such an accomplishment, such a moment. (At this point I think I need to mention Bono who, when collecting an award for his music last year, made the noteworthy acceptance speech; "I've received a lot of these things over the years, but I'd just like to say that this one is the most ... recent.")

Could receiving awards be the best thing about being a writer? I don't think so.

I'm currently awaiting delivery of a box of books. My latest effort, No Escape, was published last month, and fifteen copies are winging their way across the Atlantic to me (Actually limping their way rather slowly.) I love that moment of tearing off the parcel tape and holding a beautiful freshly printed copy of my very own work, then leafing through it to see how my creation looks in print. It's one of the best things about being a writer. But not the very best.

Royalties cheques are pretty good too. I'm quite fond of those. But they tend not to include as many digits as the public might suppose (mine don't anyway) so while they are nice, being paid is not the best thing about being a writer.

I've had a couple of compliments recently from people who've read my books, and that's great. It's even better when they put reviews saying how much they enjoyed the book on sites like Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari, or on their blogs or Facebook. Good reviews are a wonderful thing about being a writer, but for me unfortunately the occasional bad review negates them all.

So what's the best thing about being a writer? I think it's something that happened to me yesterday. It's when an idea, or a line, or a plot twist pops into your head, and you just can't wait to get to the computer to get it down, and when you do you get completely absorbed for what might be hours but feels like minutes, and when you finally stop you've written over 1,000 words, and your story is moving and connecting and making sense. I'm sorry that's such a long sentence, but it's exciting!

To sum up, the best thing about being a writer is writing.

Letting the Sunshine In

In January I was asked to write/direct our ward's roadshow. Good times. ;) Our theme this year: "Pick an Old Testament Story." I pondered for a time, then settled on the story of Moses, and his task to lead the children of Israel to freedom.

This story has often puzzled me. Through the help of the Lord, Moses was able to perform miracle after miracle. And these weren't just small, ordinary, every day miracles that take place all around us. These were huge, unforgettable show-stoppers, like causing horrible plagues among the Egyptians, parting the Red Sea, producing water from places where water didn't exist, bringing down manna from heaven, etc. The part that has always bothered me is that no matter what wonders the Israelites witnessed, they weren't satisfied. They were always complaining and murmuring, not to mention misbehaving when, say, Moses did things like meet with the Lord to receive important commandments and laws.

So this was the story chosen. I called the script: "Attitude is Everything--Or Why Moses Broke the Ten Commandments." Each line rhymed (an annoying habit of mine when I sometimes compose these type of things) and it was full of humor. When manna from heaven "came down," a loaf of bread was hurled onto the stage for the "children of Israel" to fight over. The birds that fell from the sky were represented by a  rubber chicken that was also thrown onto the stage. Etc. and so forth. I was hoping the youth that were involved in this production would absorb the teaching moment I prayed this production would be. At the end, we sang a song I remodeled. The lyrics are as follows:

Open Up Your Heart And Let The Sunshine In
(Modified by: Cheri J. Crane)
My mommy told me something
That everyone should know
It's all about how life should be
One’s attitude does show

She says it causes trouble
When you frown the live long day
Unhappiness is your choice
If you choose to be that way!

So let the sun shine in
Face it with a grin
Smilers never lose
And frowners never win
So let the sun shine in
Face it with a grin
Open up your heart
And let the sun shine in

When you are unhappy
You make others sad
Being grumpy is quite sinful
It means your attitude is bad

So if you're full of trouble
And you never seem to win
Just open up your heart
And let the sun shine in

[Repeat CHORUS]

I was so proud of my cast when they sang this song for the final performance. As it rang out through the audience, I found myself praying that the message we attempted to portray would be absorbed. We live in a difficult time. Trials and heartbreaking challenges surround us. And yet, despite it all, there is hope--but it's up to us to see it.

As often happens in my life, a strong analogy came to mind, one that had hit me between the eyes several years ago. I had been struggling with a bit of tribulation and woke up feeling less than cheery. In a dark mood, I stomped around, attempting to get ready for the day. As I made the bed and straightened things up in our bedroom, a task I usually complete first thing each morning, I noticed that the lighting didn't look right. Then it dawned on me that I hadn't opened the blinds that cover the window. As I walked over to accomplish this simple task, bright sunlight flooded inside that room. At that moment, a thought came to mind: "It's up to you to let the light in. It exists. It's there, but only you can open the blinds."

I've pondered that wisdom periodically . . . usually on bad days when nothing seems to go right. My attitude is up to me. I decide what kind of day I'm going to enjoy . . . or suffer through. There are days, however, when despite good intentions and positive outlook, tears still surface and heartache pierces through. Some trials are so difficult, we can't walk that path alone. Those are the times when we must trust in the Lord. If we'll simply look (Check out the story about the brazen serpent, found in both the Bible, and the Book of Mormon) we can live. Peace can enter even the most shattered heart. I've seen this happen repeatedly in my own life and I know it's true. Though I don't always succeed, I do try to look on the bright side whenever possible. I suspect that is a huge part of the test we call mortal life.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


My daughter says I should shop on line.  That's too much like the catalog shopping my family had to do when I was a kid.  Nothing looked or fit quite the same as it did in those pictures.  Unfortunately, I don't seem to do much better wandering through malls. 

Take Saturday as a case in point.  I set out to find a dress to wear to my grandson's wedding which is coming up in a little more than a week.  I tried all of the big stores, Dillards, Nordstrom, Macy's, Sears, Penny's, some place that has initials for a name, and several smaller shops.  What I found were shirts masquerading as dresses, flimsy tissue thin fabrics, plunging necklines, ugly colors, rude sales people, and very few actual dresses.  It seems jeans and shirts are the only women's apparel most stores stock. The few dresses available are incomplete.  The buyer must buy something to go over or under each dress to avoid being charged with exhibitionism. 

I have bad knees and enclosed malls have become an uncomfortable place to shop.  It's not just the miles of long corridors to wander along, but the crowds of unruly, loud people who clog the area making freedom of movement difficult.  The more open malls have fewer crowds of people just hanging out, but it's just a nuisance to keep finding and moving my car.   

I miss my mother, for many reasons, but especially when it comes to clothes.  She could sew anything and as a child I had cute dresses made from flour and feed sacks.  As I got older we picked out fabric together, then she added inches where needed and eliminated inches where not needed, making my clothes fit and feel comfortable.  I can sew, but I don't like to and it's a guaranteed way to turn me into a frustrated wreck.  Unfortunately I can't afford a personal tailor.

Some of the ridiculous things I discovered  was the same dress at one of the high end stores as I found at Sears.  It was $32.00 at Sears and $189.00 at the other store.  I wanted a drink, preferably water; coffee was easily found in several places, soft drinks at a couple with huge long waiting lines, but no water.  I saw people walking around with Dasani bottles, but never spotted anyone selling it.  Just a simple drinking fountain would have been welcome.  There were more people milling around in the mall hall than in the stores, making me suspect most people don't go to malls to actually buy anything, but just to be part of some kind of mob action. 

Okay, I'll admit it; shopping just doesn't appeal to me.  I've always been the sort that if I wanted something, I just went in, bought it, and got out.  That doesn't work too well any more. I may have to take a second look at online shopping--or maybe I can convince my daughter-in-law to shop for me.  She's good at it and she actually likes it.