Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween?

Halloween? Not my favorite holiday. When did this celebration get started? Medieval days? The Dark Ages? Perhaps it acknowledges the last gasp of summer. The demise of the sun. The death of warm pleasant days. All I know is that when it nears the end of October I get grumpy and anxious. I've even been known to flip my calendar over to November a week early.

When my kids were little I got involved with making their costumes. That was creative and a bit fun, but the rest of it: the gore, evil masks, and begging for candy did not impress me. I couldn't wait until the last of the trick or treaters scurried off into the dark night, and I could turn off the lights, and say a prayer of thanks that all hallows eve was over.

Some people are Halloween lovers. For weeks, they decorate their yards (as though it were Christmas), they watch scary movies, and they go to haunted houses. These semi-adults love to dress as witches, goblins, and monsters and scare the wits out of the little kids who just want candy. Candy! That's another baneful subject all together. Don't get me wrong, I like candy. In fact, there are a few kinds of dark chocolate that make me smile, but there's something wrong with kids going out with a bucket or pillow case and coming back, after a few hours of looting, with enough candy to rot their teeth for a year. Can I just say, dentist bills? Really scary.

So, there's my diatribe on the lovely holiday of Halloween. If you love it--go out into the dark night and enjoy! If you're like me, I advise looking forward to November 1st!

Oh no! Is that my doorbell ringing?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Why do people do the things they do?  In real life it's sometimes impossible to unravel the reason some people do the things they do, but in novels the motivation is essential to the story. It's not good enough to have the hero do good things just because he's the designated "good guy" nor for the villain to do bad things because that's what bad guys do. The motivation for an action needs to be comparable in strength to the act committed. 

To be believable, writers need to be students of human nature.  They do this by being people watchers, reading news stories, and researching cause and effect through text books, listening to knowledgeable people in various professional capacities, and through drawing on personal experience.

As a journalist, I learned to question Who, When, Where, and Why, then found these Ws carry over into the fiction field.  It's the Why I'm concerned with today.  This past year I've undergone four major surgeries; the last just four weeks ago was the scariest and has left me with the most severe life altering after affects.  During my recoveries, along with a lot of physical therapy to learn to walk again and to adjust to becoming a total diabetic, I've done a lot of reading, including a number of books in genres I don't usually read.  Along with nearly a hundred books read, most of which I enjoyed, there were some that held little interest for me, three I couldn't force myself to finish, and several that left me wondering what was the motivation behind the actions taken by various characters.  There was even one that changed a character's motivation from financial greed to obsession.  Actually motivation can change, be enlarged, new factors brought in, but the change needs to be built into the story and made plausible to the reader. 

William Faulkner was a master at clarifying motivation.  Even his bit part villains rated a back story (not an info dump), leaving the reader with a clear picture of what made that character tick. Faulkner never wrote a dystopian novel, yet strangely two dystopian novels I recently read, A Nothing Named Silas by Steve Westover and The Witnesses by Stephanie Black, reminded me of why I enjoy Faulkner.  They both skillfully shared why their characters were in the predicaments they were in, why they continued to fight against the impossible, and why their adversaries were also motivated. 

Sometimes people do unexpected awful things seemingly out of nowhere, but a deeper analysis nearly always shows the factors that motivated the action.  It's usually easier to understand the protagonist's motivation, but author's often skimp on the other side of the coin. Envy, greed, hate, revenge, sense of inferiority, laziness, political zeal, religious fervor, lies, coverup, jealousy, control, and the list goes on and on for negative behavior.  Behind each word is an experience or philosophy that drives the villain and though these motivations are not usually the primary focus of the novel, they clarify the protagonist's dilemma and are important to the story.  It's not enough to know what the hero has at stake, when understanding what the villain has at stake clearly ratchets up the suspense and provides a more balanced story.  If the motivation is insufficient or weak the story loses credibility.  

Those of us who are news junkies and have a preference for printed news find ourselves frustrated with electronic news sources that don't answer all of the Ws.  We become even more frustrated with novels that fail to convey why the story matters, why the antagonist does what he does, and why the protagonist cares enough to fight back or escape.  Without motivation behind action, there is no story.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Christmas Gift

It's amazing to have a story published. It's doubly amazing to have that story transformed into a children's picture book. And, if the story finds its way into film, it is a gift--in my case a wondrous Christmas gift.

I normally do not promote my writing via blog, but this story is meaningful and dear to my heart. Besides, it's a tale that has a lovely message for this mixed up and materialistic age. It is based on a Christmas my dad and his siblings experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930's. My grandmother, Mary Margaret, had passed away a few year earlier and my Grandpa Kamp was raising five children on his own. My dad, Norman, had just recovered from polio which had left his legs weak and his left arm completely crippled. It was a rough time when the saying "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without" was on the lips of every parent. The prospect for any type of celebration that Christmas of 1931 was bleak. The story relates how my dad and his siblings created a Christmas of sharing and joy...with very little money. And the amazing gift my dad made for his little sister will hopefully make kids think about sacrifice and service, and how the heartfelt gifts of Christmas honor the baby in the manger.

The first week in November (for a limited time), this story will be shown on the big screen in Utah theaters. After that, it will be available on DVD at Amazon, Deseret Book, and Seagull Book.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Giving Blood

by Anna Jones Buttimore

On Friday I am giving blood. I've donated every sixteen weeks for several years now, and I think this will be about my 20th donation, so I'll probably get a little badge or a card or something.

I love giving blood. It just feels so amazing to know that I can do something so simple to save a life. I have never suffered any ill effects from it, and I have never found it painful. I also rather enjoy it because, with three children, a job and a seminary teacher calling, I rarely find time during the day to lie down for fifteen minutes. I don't mind the free drink and biscuit afterwards, either!

More donors are always needed, so why not pop along to your nearest session and fill in the health questionnaire to see if you're eligible? You too could save a life before the weekend rolls around.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Finding Peace During Troubled Times

As was mentioned repeatedly during this last session of General Conference, we live during troubled times. And as President Monson pointed out--there have always been troubled times. Since this life is basically a testing ground--a chance for us to develop our character and prove ourselves, there will be challenging trials.

I'll admit, however, that it is a bit disconcerting when one's country takes a nose-dive. These are uncertain moments and none of us quite know what to expect. When scary episodes take place during this journey we call "life," there is a formula we can follow to survive. I know this because I have survived a few perilous tests during my own mortal adventure.

Take the year, 1983. (Yes, as my children point out, I'm aging by the minute.) Several challenging events surfaced in my life. For starters, my pancreas finally gave up the ghost, and I went on insulin permanently. yay. This was a challenge, since my blood sugar levels tended to bounce everywhere but where they were supposed to be. I went from the 40 range up into the 400's at the drop of a hat, or so it seemed. (Normal people tend to bounce between about 80-120.) It didn't help that my husband and I discovered that I was expecting our first child during that tempestuous time. Needless to say, it was a challenging pregnancy--but prayers were answered and we survived. After nine challenging months, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Just as it seemed as though we had passed that life test with flying colors, I developed blood clots in the main vein in my left leg--the one that takes blood to the heart. The largest clot was the size of a golf ball. Nice. So my newborn son went home without me as I endured 10 more exciting days in the hospital. This time the challenge was to stay alive, since everyone feared that the largest clot would dislodge and hit my heart. Good times. ;)

I survived yet again, beating the odds, and I returned home on crutches. Just as I began thinking the worst was over, my father, who had been enduring health challenges of his own, took his own life. My entire world seemed to implode. It took my family many years to pick up the pieces of that heart-rending challenge.

How did we get through all of that? I can look back now and see a pattern, since it's one I have clung to during other character-building moments. The most important thing is to keep breathing. Oxygen is our friend and we need it to keep going forward. So, take a few deep breaths when disasters descend, but don't hyperventilate. ;)

Keep your spiritual batteries charged. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as: prayer, studying the scriptures, hitting the temple, and reading through the inspirational talks given by our church leaders (hint: General Conference talks especially contain the tidbits of spiritual wisdom we need to continue our mortal journey.) Find what works for you, and do it daily. This is crucial.

Write out what you're feeling. During the nights when I couldn't sleep, I felt prompted to write out what was killing me inside. Then I shredded those pages into the garbage bin. It always made me feel lighter inside, and it hooked me on writing. This led to all kinds of interesting adventures, like eventually getting published.

Learn to take life one day at a time. And, as my mother has often pointed out, sometimes you can only deal with one minute at a time. After my father's death, she would wake up each morning and think, "All I have to do is to get up and get in the shower." Then that morphed into: "All I have to do now, is get dressed." Etc. and so forth. Take life in bits and pieces for a while. Don't let the big picture scare you into a non-functioning abyss.

Vent to a good friend. Sometimes it helps to simply share the fears inside your heart. This is an important release and it helps you make sense of challenges that often don't. There are times when all we need is a listening ear to sort through tribulation.

Make time for physical activity. There were times when I simply needed to go for a brisk walk to clear my head, or to play an aggressive game of racquetball. It helped me get rid of negative emotions that were tearing me apart.

And I can't emphasize this last suggestion enough: DO ACTS OF SERVICE!!!! I found that whenever I did something for someone else, it chipped away at the pain I was carrying around inside my troubled heart. The more I did for others, the better I felt.

As you can see, these are simple things, and yet they are huge when it comes to surviving distressing times. I find that I always return to this formula when mountainous obstacles block the path of my mortal journey. We can learn to climb those mountains, one step at a time--and along the way we learn that we are never as alone as we sometimes think we are. The veil is thin and there are numerous loved ones from the other side who are constantly cheering us on our way. We are indeed children of Heavenly Parents who are also cheering for us as we move forward past stumbling blocks. With their help, we can learn to turn those blocks into stepping stones along our path.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Happiness List

My daughter and I were talking on the phone this morning, and while our conversation meandered through many topics: holidays, travel, cookie baking--the one thought that intrigued me was her Top 10 Happiness List. She had taken time to ponder the things that made her happy on a daily basis, and then she'd made her list of the top 10. When she mentioned a few of them to me, I realized they weren't earth shaking things, but bright little moments of joy.

I wanted a Happiness List! So, as soon as I'd hung up the phone I grabbed pencil and paper and began jotting down happy events. It was fun. It made me smile. As you can imagine, I came up with many more than 10, but settled on these (for now).

Sitting next to my husband (and enjoying it after 40+ years of marriage)
Seeing random acts of kindness.
Participating in random acts of kindness.
(The above two I snuck from my daughter's list, but they're my favorite too)
Laughing with my daughter, sisters, and friends.
Walking in the mountains.
The shared AMEN after grace at a big family dinner.
Seeing tearful hugs of greeting at the airport.
Enjoying the welcoming antics of my daughter's dog Beans.
The color yellow. (and chocolate) I know that's sort of 10 and a 1/2, but I had to sneak it in.

As I said, I wrote down many other happiness creators, but these are my current 10. It was a joyful way to spend the morning. It lifted my heart and put a smile on my face for the day.

Thanks, daughter!

(I'd love you to share some of the things from your happiness list!)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Cadbury Family

by Anna Jones Buttimore

George Cadbury

One person can make a difference.

I visited Cadbury World last weekend. It's a chocolate factory, and the tour was almost as wonderful as the chocolate. What I found most interesting, however, (OK, second most interesting after the chocolate) was the history of the Cadbury family.

John Cadbury (born 1802) was a Quaker. His religion made him unable to go to University or into the military or professions, so as well as campaigning against animal cruelty he opened a shop in Birmingham which sold tea, coffee and chocolate drinks. With his brother, he successfully formulated a way to turn chocolate into an edible bar, which proved very popular. He bought a factory in Birmingham to manufacture the chocolate bar, and passed the business onto his sons George and Richard. When they developed milk chocolate in 1904 (chocolate had previously been very bitter) the company really took off.

George Cadbury's suggested rules for the health of his employees - apart from the cold bath, I think these are still great advice and ahead of their time.
Birmingham was (and is) a large industrial city, and it greatly upset George that many of his workers lived in the tiny and squalid back-to-back houses of the slums. So he bought a large site in the countryside, close to the railway and canal, and built not only a factory, but an entire village of comfortable, attractive and affordable houses for the workers. 

He named this village Bournville, after the river Bourne which runs through it. As well as the homes George built several churches, schools, separate swimming baths for men and women, sports facilities, and ensured that at least 10% of the land remained parkland. He didn't build any pubs, however. Quakers are teetotal and to this day there are no pubs in Bournville. In fact, in 2007 residents of the village went to court to stop Tesco, the largest supermarket in the UK, stocking alcoholic drinks in their new Bournville branch. They succeeded.

George was years ahead of his time in the way he treated his workers, too. He directed them to live healthy lives according to his personal philosophy (see above) and decades before the NHS they all had dental and medical care available at work. Their working week was just five-and-a-half days (a whole day shorter than normal for the time), and George Cadbury would even stand in the rain under his trusty umbrella looking for the tram so that his female workers didn’t have to. When he saw the tram coming, he would call them from where they were sheltering.

I love chocolate, as my waistline testifies. I also loved Bournville. It is still a beautiful village, even though the city of Birmingham has grown and swallowed it up. I’m happy to know that one amazing man, George Cadbury (and the brothers, sons and grandsons who carried on his business until it was sold to Krafft recently), could make such a difference to so many lives, and bring so much happiness.