Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thinking about Geese

My neighbor, the one who lives directly behind me, has turned his yard into a poultry run.  He has six big geese and somewhere between thirteen and twenty multi-colored chickens.  The chickens don't hold still long enough to accurately count, but they're pretty and colorful.  Another fifty plus doves and a few pigeons hang out there too to freeload off the generous amounts of food the guy tosses out for his birds. I suspect it's not legal to have so many geese and chickens in our neighborhood, but as far as I know no one has complained.  The roosters can't tell time and will crow any time of day, not just when the sun comes up, but it's the geese who are really noisy.  They honk when the kids go by on their way to school each morning and they honk when the kids walk past on their way back home in the afternoon.  They honk and flap their wings when walkers, runners, skateboards, bicycles, strollers, or dogs pass by.  They greet snowplows, snow blowers, loud cars, the firetruck, and any other vehicle that passes on the street with a cacophony of honks and hoots.  I've awakened in the middle of the night many times to hear them still honking away. 

We had a large flock of geese on the farms where I lived as a child.  There was KC the gander and his harem along with varying numbers of offspring.  KC was the meanest, noisiest alarm system ever invented.  We never worried about anyone helping themselves to our gas tank or unauthorized visits to our small orchard.  KC stood guard--or more accurately dive bombed with screeching honks and painful pinches to any exposed body parts of invaders who dared enter his territory.  Even us kids had to make sure KC was nowhere around before leaving the yard for a mad dash to the outhouse or barn. I discovered geese are tough old birds; they look after each other, give each other advice, and show up when they're needed.  Even peddlers stayed in their cars until Mama shooed KC to the barn.  Is it any wonder that when I was invited to join a group of writers who called themselves the V-Formation after the supportive wedge geese form as they travel thousands of miles each year, I eagerly accepted the invitation? 

Sometimes hearing my neighbor's geese makes me smile and brings back memories of being a child growing up on the kind of farm that has almost disappeared from America.  A few days ago my older brother celebrated a birthday and he and I found ourselves reminiscing about the past and our childhood.  We laughed over the scrapes we got in and expressed our regret that the life we knew then is gone forever.  And we agreed that on cold snowy mornings when the wind is screaming around the eaves of our houses, both of us have the same thought, "I'm so glad I don't have to go out to milk the cows this morning." 

My neighbors geese were not so big or loud last summer and his chickens were smaller too.  We weren't as aware of them then as we are now.  Sometimes I wish they'd be quiet, but mostly I enjoy this reminder of that time when I was a white-haired tomboy and I had a whole world to explore and had to run to keep up with my big brothers.  When summer comes and I have a garden to care for, open windows to invite in a bit of breeze, and the patio invites me to take my laptop outside, I'll wish those geese were Canadian honkers who fly away to northern lakes--or an inviting golf course--anywhere but where I have to listen to their discordant honks and bleeps!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


What makes a novel a good book?  There are as many answers to that question as there are readers, but with this being the time once again when winners are selected for the Whitney Awards, I think it's a good question for each of us to examine.  

I'll be honest and admit I'm not sure how some of the finalists got published, leave alone selected as finalists.  On the other hand there are some exceptionally fine books on the list that will leave those voting with a struggle to decide which outstanding book to choose as the best in its category.  Whitney Finalists. 

Those eligible to vote include both published and want-to-be-published writers who belong to the sponsoring organization, LDStorymakers.  Also eligible to vote are industry specialists such as a select number of publishers, editors, book store employees, critics, bloggers, and any published LDS writer whether in the LDS or general market.  No set criteria is given to these people; each must answer for him/herself what makes one book better than another. Sometimes this is hard because the LDS writing community is fairly small and most of us know each other on a personal level. It's only natural to want a good friend or someone in your critique group to win. There's a temptation too when voting to give more weight to a favorite genre than to one that is usually avoided. 

Whether or not I enjoy reading the book is my first criteria. Second is, did I gain some insight from the story?  Other questions I ask, and these are in no particular order:  Can I identify with the characters? Does the plot develop well and hold my attention? Is it well researched?  Is the vocabulary appropriate for the expected audience?  Does the author intrude on the story or insult his/her audience? Does the setting feel right?  Does it start and end well? I can forgive a few typos and most punctuation errors, but have a harder time overlooking repeated misspellings and poor grammar.

One more is: Is the story believable? All fiction requires the reader to suspend belief to some extent, but there is a limit to how far most of us can stretch our sense of credibility.  I don't like patronizing political correctness, but I don't like crass rudeness either.  Another no no for me is cheesy sentimentality or an over abundance of cutesy. 

Every year since the Whitneys began I have plodded from beginning to end through every finalist-- and enjoyed most of them. There have been a few notable exceptions I considered a waste of my time, just plain boring, not up to what I consider LDS standards, and some that just didn't appeal to my taste.  This year I won't be reading all of the categories, but I will vote in those categories that interest me most, primarily the genres I read for my review column on Meridian. Admittedly there are a few books in the areas I won't be voting in that I've read or plan to read at some time, but I don't have time now, or in some cases, the desire to read all of the books in those categories.   

Sometimes I wish there were a way to choose the top books of the year strictly by the readers, no writers or reviewers allowed.  Some suggest that sales numbers are more indicative of how good a book is than a vote by the author's peers, but even this method doesn't always denote quality since the fad factor enters in, as does the effectiveness of the publisher's advertising strategy and the depth of marketing given the book.  The huge number of books, many self-published, appearing on electronic sites now also confuse any means of measuring what is the best. 

Each year many people volunteer their time to read all of the nominees in a category, then whittle the nominees down to five finalists. I applaud them. Their task isn't easy. I also applaud Heather Moore and all who are working with her to manage a very large time intensive awards program. Your efforts are appreciated!  

Now if you've stuck with this blog this far, please accept this challenge. If you were voting and hadn't been given a list of finalists, which one, two, or three books which you read in 2012 would you choose as the "best"? Please set aside all other factors and just tell me which books you most enjoyed reading.

One more thing, this is a short month so there are only two more weeks to enter to win a copy of my new book, Where the River Once Flowed. All comments (tasteful) on any of my February blogs or Meridian reviews count as an entry. Multiple entries accepted.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Writing a book has been compared to birthing a child. There are those long months where it is developing and growing and finally it is ready to come into the world for all to see and enjoy. Having adopted our first child, I can also see parallels with a book and adopting. I submitted Too Many Ghosts: A Dominique and Duchess Mystery nearly a year ago. Parallel: We submitted adoption papers to an agency that said they might have opportunities for us. Then began that long, agonizing wait. Just like submitting a book. Does Covenant want to publish it? Is it any good? Will they reject it? A long, agonizing wait to hear from the publisher. We had several months wait after we submitted our adoption papers. We were in the Air Force in Plattsburgh, New York and after eight childless years of marriage and five unproductive fertility clinics, we decided we shouldn't wait any longer. We worried that we might be rejected because of the military life-style: moving frequently. I worried that my manuscript might be rejected for many reasons. I had never written a ghost story before. Would that even be something Covenant would be interested in? I hadn't had a book published since 2009 - a long time in the publishing industry. Did I still have a following? Were there too many other authors more in demand than I would be? Had I lost my touch since I hadn't written for awhile? The questions never stopped plaguing me in all the months it took for Covenant to notify me of their decision. In New York, we kept questioning whether or not we would be deemed the proper fit for any children they might have or that we might not have enough money (you did have to have a certain income and everyone knows the military is not the highest paying career in the world!) Then the unthinkable happened! We received orders to move and we hadn't yet been approved for adopting a child. Frantically we called our case worker and explained our circumstances. Was there any possibility that she could hurry things along? She said she was getting ready to call us. She actually had just received our approval. We would be able to adopt a child if one could be found - and then she dangled a tiny enticing promise that sent our hearts thumping. There just might be something she could do. In the same way, I received notification after several agonizing months that Covenant might be interested in publishing Too Many Ghosts if I'd remove 100 pages from the manuscript. Another enticing promised dangling before me. I immediately began slashing words, paragraphs, scenes, chapters. I did it and resubmitted it. Then began the long wait - several more months passed. No word. On pins and needles. Then simply loss of interest. A good time to stop writing. Spend my time doing things I really loved doing that weren't so angst-ridden! Back in New York, we increased our prayers and asked everyone else to do the same. We only had a month - four short weeks before we would leave the state. Would it be possible in that time to find a child for us? A couple of days later, our case worker called us and told us she had a 14 month old little girl who had never been released for adoption as she had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and had been placed with a family who had taken her to all her doctor's appointments. She was now deemed "adoptable" as she had been taken off the phenobarbital she'd been receiving. We could see her if we were interested. Interested!! YES!!! We were to bring a small toy for her to play with that she could keep. We bought a little red velvet dog and went to meet a little blue-eyed doll with a scant amount of white blonde hair. She didn't walk. They said she had been carried all the time by the kids in the family so had no need to learn. Of course, we said yes! We'll take her. They warned us there might be health problems but we figured with our military medicine, we were the perfect parents to take care of any problems she might have. We went back the next day to get her. They brought a small box of toys and she came wearing the only dress she had. With the book, weeks turned into months and there was no word from Covenant. I finally convinced myself they simply didn't want it and didn't quite know how to tell me. I must not have taken out the right words and scenes. I hadn't revised it as they hoped. Then quite out of the blue I received an e-mail from an editor with word that Covenant had accepted it and we would begin the process of editing for publication. Rejoicing!! In New York, we were told one of the reason we were approved for adoption was that we were military and we would be taking the child out of the area so the parents and the foster family wouldn't have to have the pain of seeing the child with another family. 12 days after we received Lorraine Paige (we changed her name) we left New York. The finalization of the adoption would occur in Kokomo, Indiana sometime in the next year, whenever the state got around to it. So she still wasn't really ours yet. They could come and take her away any time they felt like we weren't good enough parents. Just like the editing process. If it doesn't come out right - if I don't do it right, the proffered contract will be taken away. On a side note: The day we went to court for the adoption to be finalized, I was very pregnant with our firstborn son. It will be interesting to see if there are any additional benefits that come along with this manuscript being published!