Monday, September 30, 2013

Avoiding Whales

So there I was, minding my own business, when an irritating inner nudge began to pester. I did my best to ignore it, coming up with all kinds of reasons to reject the prompting. No one needs to hear from me today. Others will share the message that needs to be contributed. It won't come out right anyway--and then I'll be mocked.

As these thoughts and others plagued during Fast Sunday, I continued to sit on my nice, comfortable seat, squirming in place until my husband inquired if I needed to make use of the facilities down the hall. =)

I found myself thinking of others who had felt a similar way. Take Moses, for instance. He was told that he needed to journey back to Egypt and have a chat with Pharaoh. I'm sure his inner struggle went something like this:

He won't listen to me anyway. Other people could do a much better job of sharing this message. It won't come out right--and then I'll be mocked. 

Then there was Jonah: They won't listen to me anyway. Someone else could do a better job of sharing this message. It won't come out right--and then I'll be mocked. Plus, I'm a tiny bit scared of these people. 

So on and so forth. In the case of Moses, he was given the reassurance that all would be well, and he was provided with a spokes-person in the form of his brother, Aaron.

Having a gifted spokesperson would be real boon. If I had such a thing, I could merely gesture to him/her and let them take over the conversation, testimony, talk, fireside, etc. whenever things get difficult. "And now, a word or two from someone who actually makes sense . . ." The pressure to strive for perfection would fade, since my personal spokesperson would see to it that the message I desire to convey is done so in the best way possible. I would LOVE that. ;)

However . . . I'm sure there could be a downside. For instance . . . what if my spokesperson had different ideas about how to present my message . . . and what if the message changed, based on their perspective? Then it would cease to be what I felt prompted to share. Hmmmm.

Let's reflect on Jonah. Maybe he had the right idea. When in doubt, run away. =) At times, I can see when this is preferred to standing up in front of people who judge you when something is stuck between your teeth, your shirt is buttoned wrong, or you're wearing two different shoes. These occasions tend to inspire creative mockery from the audience.

Upon further reflection, it didn't do Jonah any good to run away. He nearly caused the drowning demise of an entire shipload of people, not to mention the fact that he was swallowed by a whale. I can think of more enjoyable pastimes. I suspect Jonah was so relieved to be spit up on the shore, that suddenly, talking to the scary group of people seemed to be a better option. And we all know how Jonah's story turned out--an entire city was saved because he finally found the courage to share God's message.

I guess what I am attempting to say is this . . . when we receive promptings to do something . . . and it's a good thing . . . (one has to consider where the prompting is coming from) do it. As Nephi discovered, a way is provided for us to accomplish those often overwhelming "assignments." And as Joseph Smith learned, great things can come from small and simple acts of obedience. (See D. & C. 64:33-34 &; Joseph Smith History 1:7-19, not to mention, D. & C. 123:16).

Did I heed the prompting I was given yesterday? Grudgingly at first . . . but, yes, I finally did. I'll admit that I dragged my feet every step of the way up to the pulpit . . . but after gathering my courage, I did my best to share what was in my heart. Did it come out perfectly? No. After I returned to my seat, I was hit with "Dang it! I meant to say, this and this and this." Sigh . . .but then a quiet sense of inner peace indicated that I had done the best that I could do and all was well.

That's all our Father expects from any of us. We are given opportunities to do good things in this troubled world. We simply need to listen to the Still Small Voice, gather our courage, and faithfully strive to do our best. We may never know why we felt prompted to do some items--but I can testify that if it's a good thing, it's important to simply do it. Do it without questioning: "Why," "How," or "Me? Really?" If we will give heed to positive promptings, we will receive the guidance and help we need, one step at a time.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Believe in Yourself

I've always loved Edgar A. Guest. When I was in elementary school I memorized some of his poems, and amazingly, sixty years later I can still remember some of them. The cadence was beautiful and memorable, as in the following: Believe in yourself. Believe you were made To do any task without calling for aid. Believe, without growing too scornfully proud That you, as the greatest and least are endowed. A mind to do thinking, two hands and two eyes Are all the equipment God gives to the wise. Believe in yourself. You're divinely designed And perfectly made for the work of mankind. This truth you must cling to through danger and pain; The heights man has reached you can also attain. Believe in yourself and step out unafraid; By misgivings and doubts be not easily swayed. You've the right to succeed; the precision of skill Which betokens the great you can earn if you will; The wisdom of ages is yours if you'll read, But you've got to believe in yourself to succeed. Edgar A. Guest We are now working with young single adults and so many of them need these very special thoughts. A grandson leaves in 10 days for his mission. He needs to believe this. Another grandson is walking too close to a dangerous line and he desperately needs to understand and believe this. The world is a scary place today. If we could help everyone understand and believe the truths that flow through this short work, I think it might not be quite so scary.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Become a Writer

Don't become a writer if you want a career of social interaction. Writing is a solitary business. Writers often secret themselves away behind a locked door, in an attic, at the library, or in a beach house or cabin. Alex Haley, the author of Roots, used to sign onto a tramp steamer as a part-time work hand. I guess his cramped stateroom somewhere on the way to Fiji was the perfect get-away for his inspiration.

It's difficult to describe what goes on in a writer's brain when they're smacking down the words: wrenching effort is what it feels like 50% of the time, 25% it's brain freeze, 20% the words float out of you skull like bubbles and disappear into the ozone, or cosmos, or astral plain. Only 5% is inspirational bliss.

This is the reason we have to be hermits when we write. We mumble, we speak out loud in the voices of our characters, we scream in frustration when we can't think of the word we want, we scream in terror if we lose the storyline, and we scream in delight when a paragraph says exactly what we want it to say. We walk around grumbling. We walk around grumbling and eating Cheetos. And, we often sob loudly when we have to kill off one of our beloved characters. This behavior is not conducive to a normal workplace environment, and so writers tend to be solitary workers.

Don't get me wrong--it's wonderful to see a book published, to handle it and admire the cover, but then reality hits and you realize if you want to keep your name "out there" you have to go back "in there" and be a hermit for six months.

Just something to think about.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Extreme Makeover - Manuscript Edition

My current work-in-progress is 125,000 words long. It's a sci-fi epic, and they tend to be pretty huge. Goes with the territory.

Unfortunately it's not economical to print a novel that long by an author new to the genre, so I've been told to trim it down to below 90,000 words.


A challenge, you'd think. I am going through cutting out every single word which doesn't contribute to the story. Every sentence which isn't advancing the plot is history. Every phrase which doesn't enhance the narrative, deleted. It's turning my turgid work into a fast-paced, pithy and tight story which I am loving more with each cut.

Here's an example. In this scene, Emon walks into the cafeteria to find a table loaded with food for him. Among the delicious fare he describes is "a huge omelette filled with what looked like some type of vegetable salsa". At least, it was in the epic version. In the abridged version it is "a huge omelette filled with vegetable salsa." Six superfluous words slashed from one phrase. But really, is it vegetable salsa or isn't it? Does it matter to the plot whether he's not 100% certain what the omelette is filled with?

I waffle, I have realised. There are a lot of unnecessary words in my books. I might write all my books this way in future - ramble pointlessly in the first draft, and then mercilessly slash through my manuscript chipping off all the bits that don't make it look like something beautiful.

Editing is fun!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Learning From & Letting Go of The Past

Well, here we are, smack dab in the middle of September. The leaves are starting to turn vivid colors in the canyons, and though the sun is shining here and there (between impressive rain storms) a drop in the temperature indicates we are shifting from summer into fall.

Life is like that--it moves incredibly fast and it is full of change. You just think you've adjusted to one season, and another clamors for attention. Sometimes, it is good to look back and remember important highlights from previous eras--it helps form balanced perspectives for future adventures.

Earlier this month I returned to the place I consider my hometown--Ashton, Idaho. (My family moved eight times while I was growing up, but we spent the four years I was in high school in Ashton.) It was an interesting visit to this beautiful small town. As I walked around, savoring the crisp fall air, I felt a familiar urge to snap a few photos. [Those who know me well are rolling their eyes, very much not surprised by this tendency. ;) ]

I took a picture that won't mean anything to most people . . . but the empty spot on the side of Main Street holds a special place in my heart--the high school I once attended used to sit in this location. All that remains are a few trees, a patch of dried grass, and an empty parking lot. The deserted area tugged at my heart-- then I reminded myself that a brand new high school, both bigger and better, now exists on the other side of town. Some changes are good . . . it's just a little heart-rending to shift gears and move on.

While I was tripping down memory lane, I asked my husband to drive by the house my family purchased while we were in Ashton. It's located about two blocks away from where the old high school used to exist. The house appeared to be in great shape, with nice siding and a new roof. A sign indicates that it's for sale yet again. As I stood there, tears made an appearance. I quietly snapped a couple of pictures, took a deep breath, and walked down the street.

Turning, I gazed at the park that stands between my old house, and where the high school used to be. Tears gave way to a sense of peace as I realized that a horrendous ordeal that occurred during my sophomore year has helped shape me into a stronger, more determined individual. It was also a reminder of the importance forgiveness plays in all of our lives.

Years ago, as I walked home through that same park during the winter of my sophomore year in high school, I was attacked by an unknown assailant. By heeding the promptings that came through the gift of the Holy Ghost, I was able to get away with my virtue intact--a handful of bruises were the only visible marks that remained of that nightmarish evening. The inner bruising, however, would take years to heal. To this day, if someone walks up behind me and I'm not aware of their presence, a brief sense of panic descends. It is so much better than it was, however--and I have the Savior to thank for that great gift. 

Several years after I was married, I experienced a healing moment in the temple that helped me understand I had to let go of the hate I had developed for the person who attacked me. Tears flowed that day, too, as I gave my pain to the Savior, and though I still jump when someone approaches me from behind, the anger, the sorrow, and the fear have faded into peace. I no longer harbor ill will toward whoever was responsible for the assault.

I have learned that if we so choose, we can release pent-up anger, inner pain, and the sorrow others have caused us when we give those negative emotions to the Savior. He knows best how to heal our hearts--and He has already atoned for what others may say or do to hurt us. When we continue to hang onto grudges, we're basically turning our backs to our Elder Brother. We can't fully enjoy life and experience the peace of heart our Father and Savior wish for us to find until we forgive.

Though I will never know in this life who the culprit was who caused me so much pain (the police were never able to prove who it was who attacked me that night) I had to release the angry hatred I was carrying around inside--it was tearing me apart. I have discovered that the same is true for other moments in my life when I have been offended or hurt. We have to let go of the negativity to heal. We must forgive others, and we must forgive ourselves when mistakes are made.

As I walked through the park in Ashton a few days ago, I did so with total peace of heart. And later that day, I met up with beloved friends from my youth as we celebrated our friendship by eating pizza and enjoying huckleberry shakes in the pizzeria that now exists where my dad's drugstore used to be.

Life is change. That's part of why we're here. If everything remained the same and we weren't tested and tried, we would never learn the lessons our Father desires us to experience while on this earth. I know I will be forever grateful for the education I've received thus far in my mortal journey. Some courses have been more difficult than others, but each one has helped to shape me into who I am today.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I don't watch much television, but for some reason over the past few weeks I've drifted into watching Ninja Warrior--at least I think that's what it's called.  It's a show taking place in Las Vegas where the various contestants compete on an obstacle course hoping to be proclaimed the first American Ninja Warrior.  Most of the contestants wind up falling from rolling drums, swinging cables, or some other dangerous obstacle into the water below.  The few who actually make it through to the end of the course seem to me to be the ones who are neither cocky and arrogant nor nervous and hesitant, and they are the ones I find myself cheering for.  They're often the ones who have a band of family and friends cheering for them too. Life's a lot like that.  Sure sometimes the cocky and arrogant appear to be the winners and sometimes the nervous Nellys luck out, but overall I think those who succeed in this life and feel good about their accomplishments are the ones who approach challenges with a mixture of confidence and humility. They're the ones who want to win for their loved one's sake and when they win they turn first to their family instead of the TV cameras and the pretty young woman there to interview them. 

Because I'm a writer and over the years I've become accustomed to drawing parallels between most things that happen around me and writing, humor me as I draw a few parallels between writers and that Ninja show.  To even compete the contestants spend years working out in gyms, rock climbing, running marathons, eating right, and doing whatever it takes to build the strength, speed, and endurance needed to qualify.  Writers, too, need to do what it takes to qualify.  This usually means a lot of reading, attending writing classes and conferences, observing both physical and human nature, studying language and grammar, and learning the art of self-discipline.  (The self-discipline is necessary to keep us writing instead of playing on face book, watching TV, or cleaning the house instead of writing.) 

We have to be confident enough of our ability to actually finish what we start and submit it to a publisher or agent and to keep writing when we get those inevitable rejection letters.  We also need to be humble enough to learn from or at least live with poor reviews when we finally do get published. 

I feel great sympathy for the contestants who fall in the water after they've worked and trained so hard.  I feel great sympathy for writers who spend years perfecting a book then meet with one rejection after another. I can't help admiring those contestants who come back after failing, sometimes three or four years straight.  I also admire writers who take those rejections, work harder, and resubmit their manuscripts. 

My senior high school English seminar teacher, who knew I wanted to be a writer gave me some advice I've always remembered following some gushing remarks from a visiting writers' club president who compared my style to Hemingway's.  He said "Don't compare yourself to other writers. Be yourself.  But always remember you're better than someone, but someone out there is better than you."  I'm often asked at book signings and by those who dream of a writing career what advice I would give them.  Sometimes I pass on my teacher's advice and sometimes I simply say, "Read everything you can get your hands on.  Write something even if it's a journal entry or a shopping list every day. Join a critique group and stop talking long enough to listen to what the others have to say. Finish what you start and submit it; when you get it back, fix it and submit it again." 

Win or lose, luck sometimes plays a role, but hard work and perseverance are the attributes that can be counted on to take writers or Ninjas to the next level.

* * * 

This may be the last blog I write for a while for the V-formation.  I'll be having some pretty involved surgery before my turn rolls around again and it will depend on how quickly I recover how soon I'll be ready to blog again.  But I'll be back.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

At a Loss for Words

It is a sad state of affairs when a writer is at a loss for words. It usually means that the inspiration has dried up, or there are no adequate words to express either the beauty of a place or the  horror of a situation.

Recently I have been at a loss for words, and so I struggle to bring my thoughts together to finish this post. The words bumping around in my brain are harsh and filled with pain. Those words are hard to share because I want the world to be kind, lovely, and peaceful, and it is not. So, to compensate I go to my safe place of travel, and family, and puppy dogs. Is there any question why so many people right now are hooked on watching cats on Youtube? Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with watching sweet cuddly cats, but I think it's the equivalent of sticking one's head in the sand.

The world is a mess right now. And, yes yes, I know, it's been a mess for thousands of years, but I am living in this mess, and it breaks my heart. I am a student of history, so I am well aware of the depravities of Rome, the horrors of the Inquisition, and the atrocities of Communist leaders like Mao and Stalin. Please! Wake up and be aware that between 58 and 70 million Chinese perished from execution, torture, starvation, and suicide during Mao's 27 year reign. Wake up! There is evil. There is right and wrong. There is a standard, and that standard is not set by Washington DC, or you and me, or Hollywood, or some philosophical think tank. come the words. Evil is pouring in on every side and there's only one way to combat it--personal rightness. Stop being abusive, lying, cheating, being unchaste, watching pornography, taking drugs, being a drunk, being selfish, ignoring the poor and the needy. Stop taking a hand out if you don't need it. Get to work. Stop complaining. Stop being proud and thinking yourself better than your neighbor.

Light is the only way to combat darkness. If you aren't in the light you encourage darkness. If you hate the evil taking place in Syria where thousands of innocent people are suffering--where families are blown apart and children are gassed, you must ask yourself, are my actions allowing evil to increase? If my personal rightness were stronger would I be able to push back some of that darkness?

It is the one idea that gives me hope. Personal rightness is something over which I have control. It is something over which you have control. My dad used to say, "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

If you aren't part of the light, you're part of the darkness.

Wake up!

How's that for words?