A V-formation flock of geese seems to have one member of the group as the leader, but each member takes its turn at the point of the V, leading the way as the others in the formation honk in encouragement. The geese stay together, even when one becomes sick or injured; the group stays with it until it is well enough to continue the journey at its regular pace.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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!