Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Finished- Sort of

The writing process is an interesting one. It begins with an idea. Sometimes it's an experience from my childhood or a great piece of gossip. Sometimes it's a strange character that makes me laugh or something I've read the I don't agree with and want to change. With any luck that idea then expands into a story arc.

Once the concept of the story is solidified, I begin writing. The dishes pile up, the laundry barely gets done and I write. Necessities are still taken care of, children are hugged and fed but everything else must wait while the story emerges.

When the last word is written, there is a huge feeling of success. That happened this morning for me. I finished my manuscript "An Angel In the Family." I did my happy dance and emailed out the draft to six of my closest friends and now, I've just begun.

The truth is, I have finished very little. I've only begun the editting process. Then I have to try to sell it to a publisher, and it goes through another edit, and then I try to breath life into the market by begging for reviews, blogging about it and telling everyone that will listen what a great book it is.

But for today, I will pretend I've actually finished something. After all I wrote the words "The End"- Wa-Hoo!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How Many Children Should I Have

Recently I ran into an old friend that reminded me of this story. It touched her and changed her life as it did mine so I thought I'd share it.

We grew up having a personalized song for each child in our family. Robin's was a cool jazz "When the Red Red Robin comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along." Mine was the theme song to a robot commercial put out by Mattell in the mid sixties. It was bad but not as awful as poor Weston. His song went "Shh- be quite as a mouse/ There's a baby in our house." I couldn't imagine why my mother would chose it. Didn't she realize he would grow up? He wasn't even the youngest in the family. He was a middle child. So one day I asked my mother why she had chosen that one for him and she told me-

When my mother was expecting her sixth child, she had decided it would be her last. With my father travelling so much and a full house already, she thought she was done. She felt this new baby would be a boy and she was going to name him Weston. Well, as she lay on the delivery table all doped up she could hear the voices of a number of children laughing. One said, "Isn't it funny? Mother thinks you are coming and its really me." Shortly after that the doctor placed a beautiful little girl in my mother's arms. She named her Robin.

Because of these events, my mother felt she should have that boy. She got pregnant again and had another girl, Carolyn. Finally three years later Weston was place in her arms and mother gave him the song since he would certainly be her last child and the baby of our family forever. She was done.

But soon after this time, my mother had a dream. She dreamed that a little girl with bright blond hair was crying and crying. The child told my mother that she wanted to be in our family and didn't want to be forgotten or left behind. My mother took the dream seriously. She had another boy, Robert, and another boy, William. Then she finally had a girl with red hair that she named after herself. Jaroldeen Edwards.

Mother thought that maybe she had just gotten the child's hair color wrong in the dream and was thinking that eleven was probably all she would have, but soon after that she had the dream of the little blonde girl again and Patricia was born whose beautiful blonde hair is her trademark.

How grateful I am that my mother listened and had all twelve of us. I can't tell you how wonderful it has been to be part of my fabulous family. But how nice that my mother's story touched someone else into being brave enough to move forward and create their own. I cheer anyone willing to make the huge sacrifice to create a large happy family unit. Such homes are sacred and rare places where the most valiant saints flourish.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Done and What's Fun

Well, the stockings are laying around the house surrounded by wrappers and the ham is just a ragged bone that's been picked dry. My older son went back to work and my husband is answering scores of emails from his days off. Christmas is over and I've got to roll up my sleeves and face the laundry room, but before I do, I'd like to make a few observation about the day.

First, less is more. This year we decided to only do three gifts for each of the children, one that was substantial and two little things. I was worried because in the past we have done more but this was not only a White Christmas, but a Tight Christmas as well. The funny thing was that when it was done, Camron, my fourteen year old said that this was one of the best Christmases he could remember in the present department. Wow, that was a surprise.

Second, games aren't fun. It is finding the right match for your audience in a game that is fun. I love Scrabble but when you play with boys who take fifteen minutes to put down the word "well", it is NO fun. We did play UNO attack which was great and Big Buddha which I totally STINK at. Maybe that's why my children love it so much.

Third, having missionaries over on Christmas day is the best gift of all. We have two boys out on missions right now so it was so nice to have the elders over as substitutes. They stayed and did their phone calls home in the other room. We had so much fun talking, eating, playing and watching Kung Fu Panda. All in all it was a fabulous day.

Thank goodness the season continues for another week of fun.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Can't Believe I Won the Christmas Story Contest

One blog that I visit often is It is written by an anonymous LDS Editor who does a great job of promoting LDS fiction and informing readers and writers of trends and the lastest buzz. Anyway, she sponsored a Christmas Story Contest and I won. If you're in the mood for a Christmas story, here it is:

A Real Baby in the Manger
By Christine Thackeray

“They’re at it again.” Brother Fortner adjusted his royal robes and rolled his eyes.
I huffed, putting down my clipboard. “Those darn shepherds, what is it this time?”
The entire cast of almost one hundred people was shivering under their sewn up sheets at the dress rehearsal of our live nativity. This event had become a wonderful tradition for over twenty years running, and the entire town looked forward to coming on the Saturday before Christmas to watch the Mormon pageant. It was a great missionary tool, using the talents and resources from all three wards in our building. The angels sang in perfect harmony and the three kings wore lavish costumes with gifts of real myrrh and frankincense. We even had a real donkey that behaved beautifully-- if only I could say the same thing about the shepherds.
In the past it had always been an ‘adults only’ experience, but for some reason this year the Bishop had gotten the idea to use the sixteen-year-old priests as shepherds. It was a huge mistake. Everyone else took their parts seriously, but the shepherds had spent most of their time joking around or pulling pranks. They had sort of devolved into their own shepherd gang with my son as the ringleader.
As I quickly rounded the corner where the boys were supposed to be waiting for their cue, I nearly fell on my face. Josh had been holding his crook out to intentionally trip me. I barely caught myself and turned to face him, “What are you thinking? This isn’t funny.”
The three other boys held in their snickers while Josh shook his head, “It wasn’t supposed to be for you. Ty had asked Bro. Fortner to come over…”
“Listen, you guys, I am serious. This play is important and I want to see you change your attitudes.”
“Mom, we don’t even want to be here. You can fire us and we won’t mind.” The other boys nodded their heads in agreement.
I looked at them and took a deep breath. “The pageant is tomorrow. Please, I beg of you, just behave for one more day.”
Ty shook his head, “This is stupid.”
“It is so sad you can’t see what we are doing here.” I said to him and then turned to all the boys. “If you try to feel the spirit of this event and remember what we are celebrating, you might get something out of this.”
I walked away feeling hopeless. When the shepherds started poking the ugly doll in the manger, I let them go home early and we finished the dress rehearsal without them.

The next day the weather was not cooperating. It rained all day. The cold gray added to the dread that filled my heart every time I thought about the manger scene and those darn shepherds. As we started loading everyone in the car to head over for the performance, I cornered Josh in the garage.
“Honey, please, can you…”
“Mom, stop,” Josh shook his head. “I’m going to this stupid thing for you but the truth is I don’t even want to be part of it. All the guys feel that way.”
“But, Josh, we are celebrating Christ’s birth. This is important.”
“Is it?” My son clamped his mouth shut.
I looked at him seriously. “What is that supposed to mean?”
Josh ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just not feeling it this year. Don’t you ever wonder if all this crap really happened or if it ‘s like some myth.”
“What are you saying?”
He shook his head, “Oh forget it. I’m doing it, aren’t I?”
My son’s words struck me with fear. He always attended church and seminary and had never mentioned doubting before. I looked at my watch and was already later than I should have been. I would have to deal with this later. Maybe this was the reason the Bishop had felt so impressed to include the boys, so I could face my son’s feelings. As I drove I said a silent prayer that somehow I could help to touch my son’s heart.
We pulled into the church parking lot as the sun was going down. With many willing hands, the costumes and makeup were complete and everyone was in place at the right time. My stomach was doing flip-flops and I wasn’t sure if it was more from the anticipation of the pageant or from my son’s words. I could see him laughing with his friends in the dim light and didn’t know what to do or say to him.
At that moment a young mother walked up to me. She held her infant in her arms. “Sister Adams? I don’t know why, but I want to ask if you would like to use my baby for the baby Jesus.”
“Usually we don’t use a real baby because of the cold and fear that they might cry.”
“I know.” The young mother bowed her head. “But are you sure? Sammy is a good baby and the night is so warm.”
She was right. I hadn’t noticed that the weather had turned. The sky was clear and I guessed it was probably in almost sixty degrees, warmer than it had been all day. Suddenly I doubted my original reaction and took the small bundle. “Thank you.”
I gave the baby to the sister portraying Mary just moments before the performance began and stood on the sidelines watching the story unfold, while the shepherds seemed oblivious to what was happening under the floodlights on the lawn before hundreds of people watching on blankets and lawn chairs.
Mary rode on the donkey with a caring Joseph. The couple were turned away over and over again until one kind innkeeper led them to the stable. There amid the animals, Mary held her new baby and laid him in a manger.
The lights cut out and suddenly a spotlight danced across the shepherds who were swaggering around at the back of the lawn. When the light shone on the angel, they pantomimed extreme shock with a comical attitude that brought chuckles from the audience. Once the full choir appeared, they stole the show by one of them full out fainting. I shook my head in frustration.
The angels finished their musical number which was beautiful and Josh stood and said, “Let us go and see where the child lay.” He said it with a flat meaningless tone that made me cringe. The boys walked in unison across the lawn as though they were in a music video, moving their shoulders and hips from side to side. I covered my face and didn’t want to look but peeked through two of my fingers.
As they came to the stable, they each looked and then did a double take. Josh fell to his knees, followed by his friends. They bowed their heads in rapt silence and the angels began to sing. I lowered my hands and felt the Spirit fill my heart. The sudden change seemed to affect the entire audience and the power of that scene made the reality of Christ’s birth and life once again shine in my heart.
The pageant ended and people flocked forward to congratulate everyone in the cast. Many said it was the best one we had done and more than one person mentioned the shepherds and how they had been so touched by their performance.
Late that night I finally got in the car where Josh was waiting for me. Before I turned the key in the ignition, he reached out and touched my arm. “Mom?”
“Yes.” I turned to him and couldn’t read the look on his face.
“That was awesome.”
“You did an incredible job, by the way. When you knelt before the manger, people said they felt like they were there. I never knew what an incredible actor you were.”
“I wasn’t acting.” Josh swallowed. “No one told me it was a real baby. I was expecting that dumb doll. When I walked up and saw the real baby- it totally caught me off guard and I fell to the ground. I realized that was how I was looking at the church. I was thinking it was something plastic and fake, not real. As I looked at the baby, I knew there was a real baby in Bethlehem all those years ago. There was a real Christ who died for me. It is real, you know?”
I looked at my teenage son with the light of conviction shining in his eyes. The sight of him doubting in the garage flickered in my mind and the difference was nothing short of a miracle. It hit me that this miracle happened because a living Christ reached out through an inspired bishop, a sensitive young mother and a simple manger bed to touch my son’s heart and change his life forever. I closed my eyes so grateful that Christ lives and loves us even now. Patting my son’s arm I blinked back the tears of joy from the corners of my eyes.
“I know, Josh. I know.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

C. S. Lewis and an Early Christmas Treat

This spring my sister and I worked feverishly to get out our C. S. Lewis book before she left on her mission with her husband to Brazil. We had some nice reviews come out at that time but what a sweet Christmas surprise to get a review just this week from T. Lynn Adams at Bella Online. Here's what she had to say:

Review of C.S. Lewis, Latter-day Truths in Narnia

I read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and still recall wondering as a child what it must feel like to ride a flying lion. Later, during various conference talks, I fell in love with the quotes of a wonderful thinker named C.S. Lewis. How excited I was to learn that the man who wrote fantasy for children also penned philosophy. I remember wondering if he was LDS. Between flying lions and soaring thoughts, C.S. Lewis has held a special place in my literary world.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. At a recent Stake Conference I was listening to a speaker quote C.S. Lewis when I noticed a man toward the front nodding enthusiastically. Afterwards I approached the brother and said, “You’re a C.S. Lewis fan, aren’t you.” He was surprised by my observation. “How did you know?” he asked. I told him his enjoyment of the C.S. Lewis quotes, nodding in agreement as the speaker read them, gave him away.

It’s fun to find another true Lewis fan.

That is why I loved book C.S. Lewis: Latter-day Truths in Narnia, by Marianna Richardson and Christine Thackeray. This book compiles into one place so many things LDS readers have quietly nodded over in agreement.

The book, published by Cedar Fort, is divided into three sections and three appendices. The first section contains his life history, (no, he is not LDS) his conversion story (he was once an atheist), and a brief look at his entry into writing.

The section reviews some of his fictional writings, pointing out Latter-day truths and gospel principles woven into the stories.

The third section, my favorite, “examines some of the most notable references to C.S. Lewis by modern apostles and prophets.” Did you know that C.S. Lewis was quoted by Neal A. Maxwell in the very first issue of the New Era? Or that the Prophet Ezra Taft Benson quoted C.S. Lewis in his masterpiece address, Beware of Pride, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10; quoted in Ensign, May, 1989)

The appendices show LDS references to some C.S. Lewis quotes organized by topic, by speaker and finally by lesson material.

From pride to the role of women and the importance of family through to the eternities, the authors of this book note that C.S. Lewis had a way to pen words that “are easy to understand, almost simplistic. Yet there is a deeper meaning that causes one to pause and think more profoundly.”

“His voice,” they write “has an ‘every man’ quality, as though he is struggling beside us, which enables people of all kinds to relate to his message. But along with his personal weaknesses and trials, C.S. Lewis openly witnesses time and again of his personal faith in Christ as both a partner in helping us overcome our challenges in this life and as our Savior in giving us the opportunity to share in His glory in the next. It is this powerful testimony of the Savior that rings true to members of the Church.”

Another reason I enjoyed the book was not just the collection of C.S. Lewis gems but they also incorporated comments by General Authorities. It's like a compilation of your favorite authors. Furthermore, Richardson and Thackeray, write powerfully as well and I found myself underlining just as many of their comments, words and impressions as the masters they were discussing. Hurray for them! My book is filled with personal markings, underlining, margin notes and even my own hand-written index in the front of the book to help me reference favorite quotes in the future.

This would be a great book to give to yourself or others. When you give it though, make sure you include a marking pen. I quarantee this book will be marked, underlined, written on and dog-earred by every avid C.S. Lewis fan who gets it.

If you want to have more fun with it, wrap it up with a copy of the Chronicles of Narnia, a copy of Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters, or even the new Prince Caspian DVD.

Just don’t forget that marking pen!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Jail and Trying to Make Fun

With over a week of snow the fun of it is over. Unfortunately the snow isn't. All the children are bored. Normally my kids would be out making snow forts and having a great time but it isn't that type of snow. It's wet and slushy and most of it melts by the end of the day but then by morning we get a new supply.

Today the roads are not good so home is where we stay. I've got to pull it together and make this day a treat but everyday has been a treat and we're getting sick of just watching movies and eating Christmas cookies.

When I was on my mission there was a woman who invited us to dinner on a Wednesday. Now Wednesdays were bread pudding day at the local bakeries where they would take all the pastries they hadn't sold, chop them up and mix them with eggs, cream and sugar and then bake it. It was delicious but depending on the day you would get a smaller piece or a huge one, depending on how many left overs they had. Well, this day we had a HUGE piece and then headed over to this dinner appointment.

The woman had prepared an impressive spread but everything on the table was sweet. She thought it would be a treat to have a meal of desserts. I remember eating barely enough to seem polite and leaving with a craving for protein. I think that's how my children are feeling right now. Too much fun. We need to do something. We need to accomplish something we can be proud of.

So Greg is out slipping around on the unsafe roads and is going to pick up paint and brushes and we are finally going to work on the secret room. Yeah!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Snow Week, "Surface" and Seeding a Story

Who knew that a snow day would quickly turn into a snow week?

Again, Portland has no snow removal equipment so when the roads are icy and it stays below freezing, everything just shuts down. We've been out of school since Monday and it snowed another few inches today so I doubt anything is happening scholastically through the next weekend. My guess is they'll just take Christmas break early.

Ironically the roads are crowded with bored housewives and high schoolers without a clue of how to drive in the slightly difficult conditions. The truth is I'm more afraid of the other drivers than the snow and ice.

Yesterday was frittered away watching movies on Netflix. We watched "Father of the Bride" which was filmed in San Marino, the town I grew up in. According to the producers it is middle class which still has me dumb-founded. Then we watched "Top Hat" and "Singing in the Rain". At that point the kids said enough with the oldies and we watched the entire season of "Surface."

For those who haven't watched it, "Surface" is a teenage soap opera about a new species of electrical sea monster that affects a teenager, a marine biologist and a redneck. Their lives eventually intersect as they try to save the world but in the end are too late.

With the last episode the coastal cities are flooded and the sea monsters seem to be taking over, but the teenager has special abilities that connect him to the creatures, the marine biologist's best friend is one of the scientists that genetically engineered the creatures and the redneck is in the middle of a divorce (but the reality is no one cares about the redneck- he's just annoying.)

The point is that the writers did an incredible job of creating subplots to build another season on. They seeded the scripts with these little branches of story while staying true to the major plotline and completing it. They also did an admirable job of creating a viable cliffhanger at the end of each episode in the season. The sad thing is that the show got cancelled because "Deal or No Deal" was getting good ratings and cost much less to produce.

I think sometimes the same is true of books. A book can be fabulous, but may be rejected due to financial considerations. A book of poorer quality but a sure bet by a famous author will often supersede really good manuscripts, case in point- Glen Beck fiction. It's too bad because in a perfect world the best stuff would always win out.

Oh, well. My children said that we would just have to make up the ending ourselves and of course it all ends happily ever after. (Maybe the governments could set off nuclear devices above the atmosphere creating an electromagnetic pulse that would knock out all the electricity, killing the creatures in an instant. Oh, I think that was already used somewhere.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow Day

In Portland it rarely snows and so most of the towns don't invest in plows at all. As a result when it does snow, everything shuts down until it melts.

Last night as we came home from Tithing Settlement on icy roads we were pretty certain that today would be an unexpected winter vacation and it was- A Snow Day!!! The children were up at the break of dawn without a single complaint. I think they were attempting to even the scales by trying to yank me out of bed unwillingly earlier than I was planning on.

The time has been swallowed up with playing and singing Christmas Carols, straightening rooms, finishing homework and playing video games. But the weather didn't warm up and so nothing melted. The snow is still here and may be for the rest of the week. We just got a call that tomorrow will be off as well.

I'm excited but I think it's got to be a little more planned because as their freedom waned it got grumpy. All of us do better with a schedule and some goal to accomplish. So tomorrow we'll have to do something wonderful- I've got it. Christmas Cards!

It will be a great day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tis The Season To Be Frustrated

We are getting into the Christmas spirit late this year. Thanksgiving was wonderful with family and friends, and then my hubby and I took off for a week to go to the sealing of my nephew. It was a beautiful experience.

Once we got back, I had a week of laudry, undone homework and general mess to clean up, while Greg left on another business trip. So here it is almost the middle of December with nothing Christmas-y to speak of in our house.

Yesterday afternoon I zipped by Fred Meyers for my daughter who had to buy a birthday gift and grabbed a variety of lights. When we moved two years ago we got rid of alot of our holiday stuff, and then last year in the rental we did very little.

Well, when I got home, it was pouring rain and then we had to run out to go Caroling with the cubscouts, so by the time we got back home nobody wanted to do the lights. I left early with Anna to get her driver's test this morning and when I came home, you would have vomited- my husband used 90% on one small tree which now looks like a glowing plasma ball. Then he threw up two little strings on the lower branches of a huge tree, so it looks like a pathetic.

Now my house looks like a disfunctional family with a husband that was forced against his will to put up Christmas lights. Can you say passive aggressive behavior? If that wasn't enough, no one wants to go get the Christmas tree. My children aren't really spoiled but don't really WANT anything. They are happy to hang out together and don't understand why we simply don't read the Christmas story. Why do we have to put up a huge tree, yank out all the storage bins, cover it with stuff and put it away a few weeks later?

Well, I'm forcing these grinches out the door with a smile. Maybe we'll just get a really small tree this year and call it good.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Judge Not, Especially at Middle School Christmas Concerts

Last night we went to a Christmas Concert at the Middle School for beginning band. My daughter was so excited. She had practiced night and day for weeks and even had her older sister do her hair for the occasion.

The band director had prepared a 23 minute program (which I love him for.) At one point he introduced each set of instruments. The flute section was made up of nine girls- my daughter included- and played "Angels We Have Heard on High." They did very well. Then the trumpets played "The First Noel" and most hit their notes. When it was the french horn's turn, there were only two in the section. They were to play "Carol of the Bells." Well, this girl started and I swear she didn't hit a single note that she was supposed to. The little boy beside her that was doing the "ding, dong" harmony was wonderful but this girl stunk and I was surprised the band teacher put her and us through the torture of this disastrous performance.

After the concert I asked my daughter about it. She explained that this girl had practiced for weeks and had the number down perfectly, but she had gotten braces the day before. Every note she played was agony against her torn gums and lips and still she had made the attempt. Suddenly, my attitude totally changed. My heart went out to her and I admired her bravery.

I wondered how many times I do that. Judge someone without knowing what is really going on in their life and heart. Without knowing that, it is impossible to judge the truth. Nope, I'll leave that up to the Savior. It's only my job to love and I need to do that better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beating Linda Adams

I have recently signed up for facebook and with this new attempt to blog more have also tried to be more of a presence there. Well, Linda invited me to try the word challenge. It saves your friend's scores and so you can compete against them.

The first try I did okay but was still below Julia and Linda. With all my children behind me screaming out words, I beat Julia but Linda- ugh! Her score is so high up in the stratusphere that there is no way I'll get there. But did I give up? NO!

All night I kept trying while my children are asking for homework help and the kitchen is screaming for my attention. (Luckily my hubby is on a business trip.) I kept trying after the children went to bed and didn't keep the laundry chugging away (I'm still behind from last week.)

So I crawl into bed late last night and then get up at the crack of dawn to keep at it. When I started seeing repeats, I figured it is hopeless. So I finally have backed off and admit openly, for the world to know, that Linda Adams is better at Word Challenge than I am. Bummer!

Now I better get off my bum and get to work.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day Three and Confining Prose

Okay, here I am at day three of consistently blogging. Wa-hoo! The key is to start a routine. So I'm trying one step at a time.

Like I said yesterday, I've started working on "An Angel in the Family." It's the story of the baby I lost and how he has proven to still be an active participant in our lives. I've got my outline and have started writing but the struggle is confining what I share to what feeds the premise of the project.

Journals and sometimes blogs just ramble and soon become boring but a work like this has to be concise and each chapter has to feed the point. I find I keep on taking tangents which I think are interesting but totally are sidetracking from the heart of what I'm trying to say.

In this way writing a concise memior is much more difficult than I ever imagined because so much more DID happen. Still, no one wants to read every moment. Man, this is hard! Well, the only way I know to do hard things is to stop whining and roll up your sleeves, so I better just get back to work.

If anyone has suggestions... they'd be appreciated.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A New Direction

So I promised myself I'd blog every day this week and if I don't get another goal accomplished (I've blown my diet and am still four loads behind on laundry) at least I'll get my blogging done.

While we were in the temple last week, my husband turned to me and asked, "Are you doing what the Lord wants you to?"

What a question???

I turned to him and shrugged. I know I could do better in every area of my life, but I think I've got the biggest rocks in place. I doing okay with cubscouts, the kids are thriving and a felt really guided to writing- so I guess the answer is yes.

But questions like that sometimes linger and this one did.

On Sunday morning I was lazing in bed late (we have eleven o'clock church) when I suddenly felt I should go a different direction. The last few weeks I have spent hours researching everything Herod in preparation for my next project, but this impression was so clear I didn't dare ignore it.

Three years ago I lost a baby and then four days later my father died. I had so many personal spiritual experiences and nothing short of miracles happen at that time that I wanted to write it out and share it, but stopped after getting about forty pages into it.

Well, out of nowhere I knew I needed to finish that project first.

Monday morning (yesterday) I started looking for my old file, but I've been through two computers since then. Greg gave me a backup disk, but it wasn't there either. I was ready to give up when he brought out a portable hard drive and sure enough it was there. So I started again.

I think my problem last time is that I tried to edit out the worst parts and so it wasn't really true. Who knows if I'll be brave enough to actually share it with anyone, but for some reason I'm writing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Long Cyber Vacation


For the last month I sort of went on an extended cyber vacation. No blogging, very little email responses (I was almost 200 behind at one point.) Instead I've been finishing homework assignments with my kids, preparing and living through Thanksgiving and then the week after running off to Utah for my nephew's sealing.

Now that I'm home again for the first time and the dust has settled, I've got more to do than you can imagine. Between house guests and a week of unsupervised teenagers the laundry is screaming at me, every corner seems filled with old homework assignments or gym clothes and the kids didn't do as good a job of letting out the puppy as I had hoped so all my rugs could use shampooing.

Will I ever get it all done or simply find myself crushed to death under the weight of all I should be doing? Only time will tell.

Maybe I should go on reality vacation-- or maybe that's what I am doing right now by blogging. Well, back to work.

This week I'm going to try to blog daily- just to get back into it. We'll see if I reach my goal.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finally Done!

So last night at 3am I finished my final edit of Lipstick Wars: Another Visiting Teaching Adventure and emailed it to my publisher. It was such a relief to have it out and it felt good to reach my goal but all day I sort of wandered. Maybe that was because I was running on only three hours sleep- do you think?

When you're writing a story sometimes you get so caught up in it that you miss it when it's gone. I asked on LDS Storymakers what people do when they finish a manuscript- or any large project for that matter. Many go right into the next one but others take a break and clean up the projects they have let go while their whole heart and soul have been lost in their book. I haven't quite decided what I'm doing but I don't have to quite yet.

This weekend I'm going to San Fransisco to play tourist with my husband. I better be careful though with all the anti-mormon riots. I haven't been since I was a little girl and can't wait to ride a trolley and eat Ghiredeli chocolates. I'm not sure how to spell it and both Greg and I fight about how to pronounce it but it should still be fun. See ya.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's A Wonderful Day and Novel Idea

Last night I was up until 2 a.m. finishing my initial edits on "Artemus and the Knights of Light." It's a cute story that's got a lot of good going for it but like many first novels (mine included) it has POV and story arc issues.

After my initial reading, I struggled with how to get my arms around the project. Sunday afternoon I was thinking about the writing process in general and did a quick search on how to write a bestseller. An article came up that I doubt I could find again but in it, the author suggested using a table or speadsheet to map out the scenes of your book.

One thing I've learned about writing is that its different for everyone. I could never do this before I started writing. I'm an organic author. I start with a basic premise and then sort of live through my stories and see how they grow from the seat of my pants. BUT for editing and revisions, what a fabulous tool.

With this story that was the perfect answer. As soon as I could see it simplified in front of me, I could figure out how to intensify and streamline the plot to add suspense and interest.

Now I'm going to do it on the final edit of my own manuscript.

Hooray for good ideas!!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Critique Group, Attack! or What Should A First Chapter Contain

I don't know how many of you have ever been to a writing critique group but it's a fun experience. I love seeing people rip apart what I've written and excited to discuss my motivation and clarify if I really have a plot point or simply like this scene so much I'm misleading and boring my audience (which I do far too often.)

In response and perhaps because of this fact, I attack my fellow group members with the same gusto and in the end we find what is best in what we have written. Invariably I have left feeling that my work is better and hope I've helped those writer's around me. It's great!

So last Tuesday we had a new friend come to critique group. She is in her early twenties, just out of college and was a little hesitant to read. We did our pieces first and then she began. Jackie's work was wonderful! It is about a family of elves whose mother dies of a strange disease. Elves hardly ever get sick and the calamity forces these elves to go to the land of humans to find a cure. Great premise!

The only issue was that the conflict wasn't introduced until twenty pages into the story and you weren't sure who the main character was, his weakness or his obstacle. Maybe I'm going through the growing pains of a new writer but the more I read and write, the more formulaic I'm becoming, believe it or not. I hope Jackie comes back because we sort of drowned her in suggestions like simply dropping the first chapter and starting with the second but I hope she does because she is a great writer.

BUT I also wanted to clarify what a first chapter should contain:

1. Grab the Reader- Everyone agrees that the most important thing the first sentences of you book must do is to grab the reader. In the first 13 lines there should be enough action, unanswered questions or pathos with your main character to suck the reader in.

2. Introduce the Main Character- Books are about being given the privilege of living on someone else's shoulder for a while and vicariously experiencing their most challenging, thrilling or scary moment and watching how they overcome it through change. If I don't like the main character, sorry, I don't want to go for the ride. And if I don't know who the main character is, I'm done.

3. Introduce the Main Conflict or Hint at it- In romance the main conflict is will these two people fall in love despite some great flaw. Almost without exception the hero/love interest is either introduced or mentioned by one of the main character's friends ("Did you hear about the new CIO? He used to be a male model.) In other types of fiction where the conflict may be the destruction of a world or simply overcoming shyness, the conflict either needs to be thrown in the readers face through the first humilating scene or hinted at subtly as your character participates in something truly attention grabbing. By the end of the first chapter I've got to have an idea what the book will be about.

4. Plan on It Changing- I doubt that many writers ever keep their first chapter close to the same by the time a book goes to print and most first time writers' books don't really begin until the third chapter. That's okay but expect that your first chapter is going to be chopped up, revved up and slimmed down. It's the first chapter that sells your book and it should go through the most stringent editting. Have lots of people read it. Change it. Try new first scenes. Make it shine.

5. Don't Make it Too Long- I hadn't thought of this but it's true. That first chapter should suck people in. When they end it, it is the first feeling of satisfaction the book gives them and you want them to feel that as soon as possible. If there is information you can put into back story, take it out of that first chapter. Start in the middle, I'm not reading a diary of this person's whole life so you don't have to tell me everything up front. Give me the action, introduce your main character and conflict and leave me with a cliffhanger.

6. Yup, End with a Cliffhanger- NOT at the end of the book but definitely at the end of the first chapter. Does the last sentence leave me starving to read the next paragraph. What vital question have you left unanswered? Leave me wanting more.

Lastly, I have to admit that I think I did none of these for my first book. In my second I did a better job but I can see why this is important and as I reviewed my favorite authors I found that most did this perfectly. Wow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Will Call for Readers

I finally finished the rough draft of my next visiting teaching adventure. It has been a long hard process. I've heard that a second novel is one of the hardest things to produce.

There are many reason for this.
1. You want it to be better than your first.
2. The first is done out of passion for the plot or subject. This second is done out of a sense of obligation so writing becomes work.
3. There is a little bit of fear of failure which induces writer's blockage.
4. It was a more complex plot so I was swimming in brand new territory.

So enough of the excuses. Here it is.

Lipstick Wars: A Visiting Teaching Adventure
Lindsay is a young mother with a toddler who keeps escaping. One day he runs to the home of a reclusive artist who changes their family forever. Meanwhile a vindictive neighbor across the street is doing everything in her power to get rid of Lindsay and her family. The state gets involved but so does the entire ward.

If you'd like to give it a read, leave a comment or email me and I'll forward you the file. Thanks.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Weekend Women's Writing Retreat

This weekend was seriously heavenly! I spent it at Silver Lake with about twenty other brilliant ladies who all had one thing in common- the love of the written word. It was a wonderful experience and almost more than one blog can hold so I think I'll piece meal it, touching on a point each time.

Today I'll just give a taste of the experience and a brief overview of all that I learned. Then I'll get into the nitty gritty later.

After six hours of driving with Julia(goofyj) and Donna and her daughter Mandy, the four of us arrived at a gorgeous cabin right on a picturesque little lake surrounded by mountains and evergreens. You felt like you were living on a postcard.

Right away we met Liz Adair who organized the entire ANWA event. It is so interesting to finally meet someone that you only have an internet relationship with. Her sky blue eyes and sparkling personality were a joy. How grateful I was to be included and considered her friend.

We were one of the first to arrive. I assumed that everyone would know each other but me, yet the truth was many of the people had not met before but something amazing happened. It only took one question, "Tell me about you work in progress" and an automatic connection was made. I heard brillant stories, plot ideas and personal ambitions, most being balanced with motherhood and other responsibilities.

It was invigorating to be around so many women of creation and vitality. I laughed so much that my sides ached and I talked so much I became hoarse. Each night I got to bed far later than I should have not wanting to sleep and miss a single word of the lives, thoughts and future dreams of these fabulous ladies.

There were a number of lessons and writing exercises which I'll review later but I'll end with two great things I learned.

When I left the retreat, I was on a high because the entire weekend was overflowing with such unity, love, sisterhood and support. I mourned a little because in our ward I don't always feel that same connection and I wondered why. Then it hit me. At the retreat we all had a common dream that was important enough for each of us to sacrifice to be there. That dream or goal connected us from the moment we met.

In the church if we could remember our common goal with more clarity, I believe that same unity would fill our hearts and encourage us to naturally reach out more than we do. I am so guilty because I have been very withdrawn since moving into my new ward and I plan on repenting of that immediately.

The truth is I worry alot that I am weird. I love to come to new plateaus of understanding, I love expressing complex ideas, I often open my mouth and look around to see people blankly staring at me not understanding a word I said. I also HATE my body. My thyroid went out a number of years ago and the weight gain is my nemesis.

This weeked I suddenly was in my element. Like the eagle among chickens that can't understand why he craves more, I was able to finally soar to the highest mountain crags and rub shoulders with others of my kind- writers alike.

On the way home my two friends and I (and Mandy) went to the outlet Mall and went shopping together at Dress Barn for Women. It was incredible. Because I wasn't going with my size 7 daughter, I felt totally comfortable as we all tried on the same outfits and laughed at our flaws and complimented our strengths. Going home, I felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time.

What a gift this weekend was of friendship, learning and joy. Life is good--- and I haven't even told you about the writing stuff yet.

Thank you again Liz!!!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Santa Letters," A Pleasant Surprise

At the request of a friend I agreed to review The Santa Letters, a story about a young widow struggling through her grief to find the joy of Christmas. Although the book is beautifully constructed, the cover blurb seemed to tell of a trite plot and I put off reading it. When I finally did, what a pleasant surprise! Stacy Gooch-Anderson reaches beyond the over-used real meaning of the season and gives illustrations of how we can celebrate this holiday with a depth seldom thought of or remembered.

Emma, a recent widow, is surprised by a letter on her front porch sealed with the initials "SC." The children are certain they are from Santa and thus begins a series of gifts that take them through the Christmas Season. With each letter comes a gift at first but as the story continues, the family begins to give far more than they receive. As the last box arrives, I find myself still touched by its sweet message and looking forward to making our Christmas a better celebration than ever this year.

There is a reason this book is getting so much buzz- it deserves it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In the Spirit Zone

This has to be short but it's wonderful. At the RS Broadcast another point that was brought out was that if we have the Spirit, we will have the power to be more creative. In order to have the Spirit I've found I have to earn it by doing first things first. I have to get my kitchen under control, read my scriptures, work on my personal goals and reach for charity. With what is left, I'm free to fly.

So I decided Monday to put the Lord to the test. I worked all day doing the things I had put off for weeks and ended up with NO time to write. I went to bed in tears feeling cheated somehow but in the night I had a dream. In my dream my husband was suppose to come home at a certain time but something came up that was really important. When he didn't come home at the time I planned, I was furious. He explained the delay and I told him I wasn't mad because he was late, but because it wasn't what I had expected. He promised that tomorrow he'd come home early and we'd play all afternoon.

When I woke up, I had great hope. The house was in great order. We read scriptures as a family at the breakfast table and when the kids left it only took me an hour to pull things together, unpack two boxes and get to writing. And the words just flowed!

That night I had a scout committee meeting, a critique group and practice for the kids; the next day I had to make birdhouse kits for scouts and was going with a friend to a doctor's appointment in the afternoon and had cubs after school. I was so bummed because there was no way I'd even get in a word edge-wise. But as luck would have it, the first place I went to look for the wood had birdhouse kits and they sold them to me at a discount because it was for cubs. I spent the rest of the morning writing and had a small miracle happen at the doctor's office. Good stuff.

So this morning I've got to run. My kitchen is a shameful mess and the dog pooped in the apartment again. I've got loads of wash, still have boxes to unpack and I've got to read my scriptures but if I boogie and earn it, I believe my writing will be sharper than ever 'cuz I'll be in the zone- the Spirit Zone.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Who Will Be My Mother

Wow. I 've got to say that I LOVE Sister Beck! If you haven't seen her talk from the General RS Broadcast go do it with a box of kleenex (unless you're Sonja- she never cries.)

She spoke of many things but the one that got me was when her parents were called on a mission. She was a young mother and it was before email. She asked, "Who will be my mother?" And her mother answered, "The Relief Society."

As I was retelling the story to my husband, he said, "That's a crock." (He said that because I've had some hurtful experiences in RS years ago.) But I shook my head and had to disagree. Although there may be some individuals who don't get it, the concept of Relief Society is that we are bound together by a force greater than our own personal preferences like motherhood. We serve with an eye of what is best for our fellow sisters, not simply what they would want or is popular like motherhood. We love each other unconditionally and continue to reach out even when pushed away like motherhood.

I'm still getting used to my new ward. I know like 10% of the sisters in R.S. What's funny is I know most of the YW leadership and the Primary. But that just means I've got my work cut out for me. I'm determined to do better and really be a part of their lives.

Now that my mother is no longer on this side of the veil (I'm still too young to be an orphan), perhaps this has more meaning. Or perhaps I just finally understand it more.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where Do Stories Come From

This week I read a book by Thomas Tryon called "The Wings of Morning." It looked like an intellegent historical romance set at the turn of the century but it was actually a bizzare tale about the horrible destroying effects of true love and how most people that survive this life are lucky because they never experience it, settling for something far less.

Later I looked at a biography of the author's life. He was an disenchanted Hollywood actor who specialized in horror and mystery. He never married and preferred men. Suddenly I totally understood the truth he was attempting to portray because he really believed it, but I didn't. For me love was not what I expected but something a million times more deep, complex and satisfying than simple attraction, which this writer mistook for "true love." So I sat down and outlined a modern story to rebutt his well written but totally inaccurate novel. I can't wait until I finish my next two projects because I actually think its going to be pretty good.

After I sat in front of my six page outline, I thought that it was interesting that this book would inspire me to organize a story. Which got me wondering where writers come up with the basis for their books. Looking around I found an article from Dan Brown (not THE Dan Brown.) He is a columnist for the Free London Press and he said that writer's need to be sponges. If you are running out of ideas you have to read, watch TV or live a little. He also said that in a pinch you can find what other writers are writing and take an opposite view.

So I suppose the foundation of my story is not that original then. But he also said that is only the seed or kernel that gets you started and then you find yourself evolving from there. Hah, so it is original.

Stephen King has apparently written a book "On Writing" that tells his experience, which again often came from events in his life, albeit shifted, expanded or totally twisted. When I was a teenager his books creeped me out but they were compelling.

Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite writers, says that her stories usually begin with a what if scenario. What if a boy left standing after a botched suicide pact was accused of murder? What if a little girl developed an imaginary friend who turned out to be God? What if an attorney didn't think that the legal system was quite good enough for her own child? Then she begins researching and it morphs from there.

Stephanie Meyers said the origins of "Twilight" began as a dream. It is also interesting that JK Rowlings said that Hermione was actually alot like herself as a child- a know-it-all who was afraid of failure. Well, if she had a crystal ball she never would have had to worry about that.

I imagine on some level all writers insert a part of themselves into their books that's what makes them compelled to write them. But what makes them worth reading is a whole different matter. Okay, so I'm easily hooked into a story if you have left me hanging with a character that I like and I want to know what's going to become of them but 95% of the books I read end with me feeling empty or disappointed. For me the test of a really good book is when the truth at the center of the story is honest and enlightening. Those are the books that stay with me and make me want to read them again. And, I guess, that is what I'm trying to create.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Weekend and Gooping Out.

Get ready to be grossed out.

So this weekend we had planned on taking the family out to my brother-in-laws house but last minute it didn't work out. So then we planned on going to my sister-in-laws in Seattle but that didn't work out. Finally, at the last minute we descended on Greg's parents about a six hour drive south just over the Oregon border in the small community of Etna, CA.

It was an incredible time of beautiful mountain landscapes and lazy afternoons. Meals were simple and everyone was polite and helpful, trying to make a good impression for Grandma and Grandpa. The last meal on Sunday we had rerun hamburgers and hopped in the car.

I'd been fighting off a cold and was apparently losing the battle when my stomach began doing flip flops. Whether it was food poisoning, part of the virus or car sickness, it was not good. Add to that, the faucet in my nose suddenly seemed to be turned full bore and then my monthly visitor hit at the same time.

We got home hours before my husband had to leave on the airplane and I could barely lift my head off the pillow AND the next day was the first day of school. All my dreams of having the house perfectly clean with a great breakfast were thrown away with my hundreds of used tissues. Not good.

The good news is that everyone did get to school on time and I can tell I'm recovering. I don't sound like a 80 year old man who sings bass anymore, more like a 60 year old baritone. Here's for improvement.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

HELP!!! C. S. Lewis Needs You.

C. S. Lewis: Latter Day Truths in Narnia is a great book. It is an overview of his life and works and ends with a section on his use in the LDS forum, especially by church leaders. There is an index in the back that is one of the most complete you will find which includes the quotes used in general conference and their references both in LDS writings and in C. S. Lewis's.

Seagull book and the independent LDS bookstores are currently carrying it but for some reason Deseret Book is not. It went through all the necessary copyrights and was approved by church headquarters. My only guess why-- and it is just a guess- is that since we missed the Narnia movies and they recently had a CD on Lewis released, they don't feel it would be a big seller.

It was suggested to me that if a number of people would be willing to go and order the book from Deseret Book, that maybe they would start carrying it to fill those orders. If you feel you can do this, I'd be grateful.

Book Review- Deepest Water

Deepest Water Deepest Water by Kate Wilhelm

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn't give this five stars because this book took me two chapters before I was hooked. It begins with a grieving daughter whose father has been murdered. Within the first few pages I knew who did it but that wasn't the point of the story. Three women all figure it out, but there is no hard evidence. The heart of the book is what these women do about it. The subplot was great and in the end, it was a book that stayed with you. I really liked it.

(One of my little pet peeves is there is a difference between suspense and confusion and sometimes Wilhelm gets the two confused.)

View all my reviews.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Secret Room

Yesterday we were doing work around the house. Greg had decided to put a counter in the laundry room for folding. He asked my nine year old son to climb into the crawl space to find a joist. While he was there he said to his father that he could see a doorway leading somewhere. The crawl space is half size- you literally have to crawl. Well, he went through it and there was a light.

In the eave of the roof the original owners had finished out a little secret room. It was sheet rocked and the floor was carpeted. The children were allowed to color all over the walls. We looked at their hand prints and pictures, delighted. So the children grabbed markers and are adding to the fun.

They've put a TV up there and sleeping bags. What a fun surprise that we had never even considered.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Binge Reading


So I have sort of been binge reading this week. Yesterday I was so involved in the book I had that I created excuses to read it. I watched my son at football practice so I could read. Then I picked up my daughter for a sleepover who begged to stay for two more hours so I drove a few blocks, parked and read my book. At least I saved gas by not driving home and back again.

I know I could read constantly if I don't check myself and with all these wonderful titles I just inherited from my mother I'm surrounded by temptation. Do they have a twelve step program to help you keep your reading in balance?

Some people can read their books in little snippets and put it down- I admire that sort of self control. It's like people that can take one bite of a candy bar and save the rest for later. I've never been able to do that. If it's one I like, it will be gobbled down with insatiable delight the minute I relish the first bite. Same with books. Three night this week I've read until far into the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the house was fast asleep.

I rarely don't finish what I read. Not out of a sense of obligation but out of sheer curiousity. I have to know how it ends. The only exception is if I don't like the character at all. This week I tried to read a literary work that a friend had told me about. I read the first chapter and wasn't thrilled with the premise. By the second chapter I wanted to throttle the main character because she was just a conceited, selfish airhead. The bottomline is I didn't care what happened to her so I couldn't see forcing myself to commit that much time to it. I abandoned the book. At first I felt guilty but then I thought that maybe I'm just making better decision with how to use my time.

And with all the time I've saved not reading that one, I could fit in that biography on Roosevelt and Churchill that I've been eyeing. It looks fascinating.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sorry, Life Got in the Way

Okay, I know it has been way too long since I blogged but if you had lived at my house lately, you would understand why.

Right after the writer's conference, I drove out to Utah to my parents home. (This is a picture of all twelve kids in our family at the funeral.) When I arrived the rest of the family had already been there and the few things left were either in boxes or scattered piles of things no one wanted but no one had the heart to throw away. It is an eerie feeling to disemble your parent's home after they are gone. I'm way to young to be an orphan.

We rented a Penski Truck and headed back home with it filled to the gills. The only problem was that when I was got home, I had to make room for it all. We got rid of two book shelves, a large sectional sofa and a washer and dryer and drove them to the good will in the same truck.

It took me a solid week of arranging things to get them like I wanted them but I think it turned out great! I talked Greg into buying new shelves for the office to put the five boxes of books I inherited. I got two couch sets and even filled the little shelf in my front hall with my mother's silk flowers.

By the time all this happened, with one son starting football, scout meetings and just life with five children at home, I finally turned my attention to my son who was about to turn 18 in three days. He had finished his eagle project, told me he had the write-up done and was working on his last three merit badges. He even said he had contacted the counselors.

Well, on the Thursday I finally sat down with him and asked him to show me his stuff. The neighbors could hear my scream of horror. He had drawn some nice pictures for his art merit badge but hadn't done a museum or art visit; he had left a message on the genealogy counselor's answering machine twice but that was it and he had done electricity with his brother but never gotten it signed off and forgot to call the counselor.

The eagle write-up was in four separate files, none of which went together but you could tell he had really tried. So we immediately called around. We replaced fingerprinting with genealogy since we couldn't find an available counselor in time. We re-did all the 15 requirements for electricity, since his original couselor didn't have time to meet with us. It was a hard one. We had to make an electro magnet (which was sooo cool) and hook up a buzzer with a button and light with a pull switch. The hardest part is that everything at the hardware store works on alternating current and you had to use batteries so it was hard to find all the supplies. We had to pull apart a flashlight to find a light bulb that would work.

By Saturday everything was done and in the mail, and we sat back and relaxed for one minute. BUT because I had been so focused on George, the laundry was backed up, the house looked like a tornado hit and I don't even think I got on the computer for over a week.

Sunday George turned 18. We had two other families over and a great day. He didn't want or need anything so I went to the dollar store with my daughter and we got him eighteen little things. We wrapped them separately and by the end of the day both Camron and William said that is what they wanted for their birthdays. Funny, since I spent so much on William last year. You'd think I'd learn. The magic trick cards were a huge hit as was the grooming kit, yo-yo's and root beer.
By Monday I was in knots. I just felt over-used and like I needed to unwind. Greg left on a business trip and I wandered around, not wanting to clean or do much of anything. I let the children play all day and grabbed a stupid Delinsky from my mother's old books called Three Wishes. I was surprised because my mother liked some trash fiction too. Often I read to be lifted, to learn and to stretch my mind, but sometimes I just want to escape and be entertained.
The story was cute and predictable but a definite page turner with a very clever premise. When I gobbled up the last page at three o'clock in the afternoon still in my pajamas, I felt like I had gone on vacation and was ready to come home.
I think that's the best gift of fiction. It refreshes me.
So life is good. I've got two weeks before school starts and I plan on enjoying the time with the children and coasting through. The majority of the shopping is done so it's just a matter of having fun- that is something I'm good at.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Willamette Writer's Conference, Close to Heaven

This weekend I went to the Willamette Writer's Conference and it was WONDERFUL! Going in, I didn't know a soul and even forced my husband to accompany me to registration, so I'd have someone to talk to. That totally backfired because they had pitch practice and I was lapping it up like honey while my DH was so bored he couldn't see straight. We left early and I was suddenly fine with being with these kindred spirits for the next three days.

I learned so much that my head is still reeling. I found out that there is something called SECOND BOOK SYNDROME. It is really common when someone who has had their first book published to struggle with their second because their first was written without a deadline or even the expectation of being published. The fear of failure and the stress of wanting to do better on the next one can squelch the little bit of creativity you have and leave you defunct.

It was a relief because I'm struggling with my next book. I'm 2/3rds of the way through it, have the synopsis complete but have been incredibly frustrated trying to keep it real and intense. I found out why.

I learned about only having 3 beats of dialog and stating the central conflict in the first scene which has to be some essential truth. Each scene needs to increase the central conflict. Some editors even said when the pacing is off, they write out the proportions of exposition to action to make sure it isn't too fast, losing the reader, or too slow, boring him to death.

Well, with all the tools I've picked up I'm ready to plow ahead. My goal was to have the manuscript complete before the end of summer. That's three weeks and counting. I hope I make it. But I'm so seriously grateful for the incredible efforts of writers far more advanced than me. (I know, they hate superlatives and adjectives, too- I'm in trouble.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Friend in Minnesota, A One-Eared Cat, A Friend in Oregon and Magic Erasers

It fascinates me how so many seemingly unrelated events can conspire together to change attitudes. Although it probably happens all the time, it is only rarely that I actually recognize it and smile because its like I lived in a good book with twisting plots and subplots.

I spent the last ten hours scrubbing the house we just moved out of from top to bottom in preparation of handing back the keys and finding how much of my deposit I really get back. As I'm scrubbing away on the walls with my magic eraser, my husband walked in the door and I couldn't contain myself, "These are the coolest things in the world!"

The words catch in my throat because three years ago a friend of mine in Minnesota, Denise Gunnell, was talking to me and out of the blue she asked if I had tried Magic Erasers. She told me to try them and I bought them the next week. Well, I thought they were just like any other sponge and was less then impressed.

Then we moved to Oregon and my cat got in a cat fight. Her ear was scratched pretty badly as she adjusted to the new neighborhood cats but she wouldn't leave it alone. Each time it would scab over she would scratch it raw and then flick her ear, splattering blood every where. I took her to the vet a number of times but everything we tried didn't work. No matter how we bandaged her, she'd pull out of it and flick blood on the walls, doors and ceilings. It looked like we had a mass murderer living in our midst.

Finally the vet figure it was cancer and we had the ear amputated. I spent hours wiping up the blood but it wasn't until we got read to move out and I moved bookshelves and other furniture that I discovered thick dried on brown bloody spots all over the place. We tried to wipe them up but they seemed fused to the paint.

Then Sonja, my friend up the street came to help with MAGIC ERASERS. She got them wet and scrubbed back and forth like an eraser (duh!) and voila! the mess was gone. I'm like.. WOW, that is magic- thus the name. So now I'm sold on the product and good friends.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gifts are Distributed So Unfairly!

Have you ever met someone who is a natural athlete, musician or artist? It's like they just have this gift from heaven that gives them a clear vision or steady hand or unique perspective and when you are around them you suddenly realize that you are more normal than you ever imagined?

The scriptures come crashing to mind that we shouldn't compare... i.e. "all truth is independent in that sphere in which it was created" and "to every man is given a gift" but some people truly have more as illustrated by the parable of the talents. Now in the end, whether you have only one or a whole handful of talents you get the same reward, but in the meantime it is humbling when you are feeling pretty good about your three and you sit next to someone that has hundreds.

As you probably know, we just moved and I joined a writing group. Well, we have five members but only three are active. The other scout leader and I are strong writers. (SL is always grammatically accurate with no typos unlike me) but the young mother of five that we meet with is incredible. She makes me laugh every other Wednesday and literally dazzles me with her prose.

Luckily, she is on my side and I feel like I'm improving, just sitting in her shadow. It's a great thing. The same is true for the online critique group I'm with. There are a few members that are awesome- they see things I would never think of. What a gift!

I guess I want to publicly thank those great talents that are helping me along the way and hopefully with enough work I'll grow from three to maybe eight- over the next few years.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

God is a God of Irony

Sorry I haven 't blogged lately- and in fact, when I look at the blogs I've done I've got to say sorry I haven't used my brain lately. It's still there- just so focused on busy-ness it doesn't ever get to slow down and consider the fun stuff- I think they call that pondering.

Well, today the dishes are done, the children are relatively happy and I found a second to write out my insights about the story of Ammon (Alma 15-29- ish). Man, it is interesting stuff! Actually I'm really just writing what occurred to me for the first time in Sunday School but I didn't say because they were running out of time and basically, nobody cared about it but me.

The thing that hit me most today is GOD IS A GOD OF IRONY. Now by irony I don't mean sarcasm or deception but the juxtaposition of opposites to bring deeper clarity to a theme or subject. I suppose that Satan's entire story is ironic in that his attempts to destroy mankind end up time and time again to make us stronger as we resist him and turn to Christ. The story of Abraham sacrificing his son holds incredible irony in that Abraham's father had tried to sacrifice him to an Egyptian God. Both were delivered.

Ammon's story begins with his trip to the Lamanites where he becomes a servant. His legendary experience at the waters of Sebus change the hearts and minds of an entire people with the acts of a SWORD. When the Lamanites join the church by the thousands, they decide to bury the very means of their conversion. As the unrepentant Lamanites gather to fight against these new converts, they decide to bury their weapons and die rather than be tempted to sin. Ammon must stand and watch as hundreds of the people he has taught and loved are slaughtered. We often weep for Alma and Amulek watching the saints at Ammonihah be burnt alive but what of poor Ammon having the ability to protect them but having to stay his hand.

When the enemies see that their work of death changes nothing, they drop their swords and more are converted that day than die. (Hugely IRONIC.) In the end the righteous Lamanites leave and join the Nephites. (Of course, their children become the Stripling Warriors who fight and are not killed like Ammon who was the source of their coming to the gospel.)

There are so many lessons to be learned from this story but the one that hit me today was simply we need to be wary of demonizing objects. In this story a sword was not only an object of protection, miracles and valiance but also of sin, cruelty and oppression. I know everyone has heard it said a million times, so here's one million and one, "It's not what it is, but what you do with it."

In our day this is true of SO many things but the first one that came to mind was the computer. The computer can be a great source of righteousness. With it we can do our genealogy, uplift, communicate with family, search the scriptures and words of the prophets and even reach all the way to Albania to write my wonderful missionary son who I miss more than you can imagine. One the otherhand, it can be the basis for not only hours of wasted time but true addictions and immoral communications that can destroy families and souls. Like the righteous Ammonites, if those addictions are severe, the answer to freedom may lie in burying your computer and never allowing yourself to be tempted again. Scary.

I hope instead that I use my computer like Ammon to strengthen the kingdom and bring souls to Christ because giving up all the benefits it offers would be hard. Really hard.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Day At the Beach

This week my two little nieces from Texas came up to go to EFY with my daughter of the same age. They stayed a few extra days and we decided it would be nice for them to go to the beach. We have only lived in Oregon a year and have been to the coast twice. Once in October which was miserably cold but we expected it and had the entire beach to ourselves. We had a marvelous time exploring and digging in the sand until our fingers lost all feeling.

The other day was last summer and it was warm and pleasant but a bit windy. The children went up to their knees in the water, pretending to contend with the waves but never really making the commitment to actually swim until they gave up and came back blue-lipped. I think that was last August.

Now I warned the girls that the Oregon Coast was cold and they needed to bring a jacket, and I repeated myself until I felt I was nagging. I finally loaded five of my own children and the two nieces and we drove the ninety minutes to the ocean. The ride began nicely enough with songs and stories but within a half an hour my preteen had smacked my eight year old with a ball in the eye accidentally and everyone was feeling claustrophobic and bored.

We finally arrived and headed toward the beach with the sand dunes. At Bob Straub State Park, you park your car behind a little sandbar and walk up a slight hill to the shore. We trudged up the little mound with our feet buring in the hot sand but as soon as we rounded the crest and began descending to the water, we felt a frigid violent wind whipping around us. Across the water was a black mist from the forest fires hundreds of miles north that gave the entire scene this ominous cast. To add to my sense of unrest, there wasn't another soul on the beach.

As the eight of us got closer to the water, the wind began to become more intense. It whipped up the sand and riveled the scene from "the Mummy" feeling like hundreds of bee stings against my skin. My 13 year old son was determined to deny reality and yanked off his shirt, as though we were in southern California, splashing in the water and trying not to cringe. I laid out a blanket and sat with my 17 year old to review his eagle project while the two youngest began making a sand castle with jackets still on. That's when I noticed that one of my neices didn't even bring a jacket and the other brought a very light one. Both were freezing and wrapped up in the blankets we had brought to sit on. I thought they would lighten up and play in the sand or go for a walk but my teenage daughter and the two of them just huddled and shivered for the next 45 minutes. With gas at $4.30 a gallon I was determined that we were going to get our money's worth. We had picnic supplies and I had hoped we would be there for three or four hours. This was supposed to be fun.

At last one of the children suggested we head over to the cheese factory. In mutiny they all agreed and less than an hour after our arrival, the kids were packed in the car ready to go with no regrets. We got home from our excursion hours early despite my suggestions to visit other attractions with everyone exhausted from being chilled, and spent the last day of their short Oregon vacation, watching movies in our family room.

So much for them seeing the sights. I suppose the point of their visit was to see us but it was too bad our day at the beach wasn't, well, a day at the beach.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chance Meetings

So this morning I went aqua-jogging with my friend. As we were in the hot tub we saw the stake president's wife and waved. She jumped in the hot tub with us and we all began talking. Well, of course my visit to the doctor yesterday came up because SHE referred me to him. I'm supposed to follow up with a GP for chronic pain issues but have struggled to find a good one. The children are going to a man in the church but he is very young. Although great with kids, I wasn't confident he would fill my needs. I did go to a wonderful little Vietnamese doctor when I first moved here but he was a worker's comp doc and most of those are scam artists. Even though my visit with him was wonderful, I worried that there were no women or children in his waiting room both times I went- only huge blue collar workers.

Well, there in the hot tub I was talking to Arlene and asked who she went to and she told me that she had found this wonderful little Vietnamese doctor who is so wise. It was the same man, Dr. Vu. I was amazed. I guess the thing that got me the most is I prayed just last night that I would feel like I was getting better answers and this morning I feel I did. I guess Dr. Vu it is.

Then while I'm sitting there, Arlene introduces me to another writer in the area. I'm so excited. She is connected to a big group of women I'm looking forward to meeting. It was a great morning.

Strengthen the Feeble Knees

Hope is a two-edged sword. When it is placed in something that has meaning, it can lift and inspire us to positive outcomes. But when it is puffed up in false dreams of quick, painless solutions, that counterfeit hope can be devastating once it has been dashed.

Well, it is no secret I have very bad knees. With my last pregnancy I was bedridden for much of the time and the muscle atrophy plus the effects of many babies left my knee caps pulled permanently out of place. I went to a number of specialists who were stumped by it until finally one little nurse practitioner, Mary Harms, figured it out.

Actually it is very common for women who have had more then three children, especially those with twins to have this condition. The statistics I remember is that 46% of women will experience patella-femoral syndrome or PFS. Very simply what happens is as your hips widen during the birthing process, the VMO muscle which connects your knees to your hips pulls your knee caps slightly out of their grooves. Instead of bending smoothly, your knee scraps along raw bone and sounds a little like rice krispies when you bend it.

Well, due to a few other health conditions, my PFS has gotten pretty bad. As a matter of fact I usually take the stairs one at a time. One Sunday I was hobbling down the three little steps at the front of the chapel after singing in the choir when a sister noticed my graceless decent and mentioned that she had a knee doctor that worked miracles. Now I think I've read just about everything there is on this subject. I know that for a while they were doing kneecap replacements that weren't very successful and before that they would burn the muscle so it would contract and put the patella back in place- but that lasted only a short while before the weakened muscle left you in a worse predicament. There is another procedure where they try to restructure your leg using the tibia and fibula but the recovery is difficult and the success rate isn't very high. The truth is, there isn't very much that anyone can do. You just try to diet, do isometrics and try not to use your knees too much.

Well, after listening to this woman at church I started hoping that she was right, dreaming that there really might be some simple answer. I made an appointment with the doctor and went to it this morning. I wanted so much for a miracle cure. As I sat explaining my condition to the nurse, reality started oozing in and I became somewhat weepy. Sure enough, the doctor told me everything I already knew. That I needed to lose weight, duh, and do my little exercises every night. (Turning out my feet and doing small leg lifts, twisting my leg inward until I'm pidgeon-toed over and over, and if I'm really brave wall sits with a ball between my legs.)

He said I could go to physical therapy again and that they might have a couple of things I hadn't seen yet but the reality is most true answers don't come in a pill or an operation or even in a priesthood blessing, although they may help a little. Most real solutions come by making good decisions day after day. The blessings build a drop at a time. The healing trickles in over months and years. Both physically and spiritually. Quick fixes are rarely long lasting. Bummer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Family Reunion

On the 4th of July weekend when the rest of you were shooting off fireworks and having a barbeque, I was up in the woods with 60 other Thackerays from all over the west coast. We had the once-every-three-year family reunion. I do have to say that the event was successful for a number of reasons. First, and foremost, is that I never step foot in the kitchen and as a result the food was delicious. We also had the annual horseshoe contest and the winners really were the most atheletic in the bunch, so everybody was fine with it.

One of the major activities we did was a trivia book on the many missions served by those in the family. In the last three generations there have been over forty, which I thought was pretty impressive. If you want to see the activity book, I'll post it on my website, You may be able to adjust it for your reunion if you're planning one. The next night we played jeopardy, using alot of the information they learned from the activity book. It turned out to be a great night.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

New Beginnings

Last night was the first night I've spent in our new home. We only moved the beds over so the rooms are still sparkling clean and empty. It was wonderful to have that new carpet smell around you with every corner in perfect order. I got up this morning and did sit ups and stretched, showered, read scriptures and came downstairs to my shiny kitchen (empty) where I opened the cupboards to fresh grapes, ham and whole grain bread. I ate on the back porch as the birds sang around me.

As I sat there I had to be grateful for new beginnings. It is so awesome that Heavenly Father set up this earth so that every night we end the day and every morning we get a fresh start. There is something about our natures that thrives on subtle change- that relishes the new. Every new year I set goals that usually last until the doldrums of February. At the start of summer we have new focus on the family. With the autumn comes the start of more routine and with the Christmas season we awaken a sense of tradition.

So yesterday when we had finished unpacking the first load off the trailer I sat in a circle with my children and asked what new element they wanted to add to their lives with this new beginning. One was going to keep their room cleaner, another wanted to read more, Sarah wanted nobody to go in HER room. We'll see how we do but it is a wonderful thing. I'm going to plan my days and live my plan. At least for the month of June- well, what's left of it anyway.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

You Get the Right Answers, When You Ask the Right Questions

Funny, my eyes are opening again. I wrote yesterday for the first time in three weeks and its like I'm coming out of a thick fog. Good stuff! Maybe that's because taxes are done, my papers are all in to the loan officer, no big events are looming in the future and I've given up dragging my emotions behind me as I make this move. I'm just going to do it and capture the joy along the way

So church today was WONDERFUL!!! Bro. Brooksby spoke. He is a vital, elderly man who knew my grandparents and parents very well. He serves on a number of executive boards and travels extensively despite the fact that he is probably into his eighties. He told the story of a friend who went into a convenience store with him who suddenly said they had to go. When Bro. Brooksby asked why, he shrugged and they got in the car. Before long they came across an accident and his friend was the first to come to the aid of a young woman, perhaps saving her life. As they left he said to Bro. Brooksby that it was a good thing he had listened to the Spirit or he might have missed that assignment.

We have all read in the scriptures where Nephi went back to get the gold plates the last time "not knowing before hand what he should do." But Bro. Brooksby said that it was really important that we are where we need to be so that the Lord can use us as his instruments. My husband and I both know we need to be in this other house, although we don't know the reason and so we are going. I'm looking forward to the adventure- it just took me a while. We move next Saturday and the first three days of the week I'm spending as George's chauffeur. He is supposed to get his license on Thursday- yahoo! The week is going to be stuffed full but hopefully we'll make it through.

Smiling Through the Yuckiness

Yuckiness is a part of life. We all face situations that just don't turn out the way we have planned or dreamed. Recently we moved to Oregon where the housing prices are insane. After the closing of our beautiful home in Minnesota, we were feeling antsy so my husband and I looked at a few properties. One stuck with us but it wasn't what either of us wanted. It is on a lot the size of a postage stamp, has a ton of bedrooms that no one with less than seven kids would even consider and is in a mixed, cramped neighborhood. It's been vacant for over a year but both of us couldn't stop thinking about it- it was even in the other ward- sad.In the next few days I prayed and went over the hill to where Greg works to look in neighborhoods in that area (gas prices) but felt gray inside all day and when I crested the mountain back to Newberg, I suddenly felt this huge lift like I was coming home and I started to cry. Not out of joy- I did not want that house! But my husband and I figured the market was going down so we didn't do anything about, hoping that maybe we were both imagining it.The next Sunday my Bishop called me in and released me. I looked at him in disbelief and asked who told him about the house. Nobody, he said, he had just felt inspired that there were other things I needed to be doing. I was shocked because I was YW's pres. for only one year. We went to the temple and then agreed to put in a low-ball offer, still hoping for some reprieve, but we got it. (Can you say "bad attitude"?)For the last two weeks I've been up to my elbows in contracts and financial statements (Yuck!), my husband's project has been delayed at work and he's a grumpy bear, my graduated son is trying to get his eagle project done and a job amid my encouragement (ahhh!) and with all the children home from school, I'm feeling like I'm drowning. (My the unrest at CFI and my mother's passing hasn't helped much.) In short, it has been no fun.So this morning I went swimming with a friend who told me frankly that I had been a "poo-poo monster" for the last few weeks. She said she was tired of watching me always look at the worst and live by pulling my hair out. Funny, once she said it I had to agree (I'm usually the wise-cracker on the back row or the silly woman laughing till her sides split) and as I walked away, I decided that I was going to shift. I know I am greatly blessed but maybe the greatest blessing of all is that I get to feel inspired to do something even if it wasn't what I thought I wanted to do. Faith is believing that Heavenly Father knows more than me about what's around the corner and trusting in his inspiration rather than grumbling about it. Our family motto is "Yes, Lord, I'd be happy to." It's time to buck up and live by it. See, I'm smiling.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Pent-up Emotions Can Explode at Awkward Places

Not good.

Last night was my son's graduation. I was sitting in my seat, minding my own business and trying to focus on the endless trite cliche's being toted as advice from the pulpit from the eight valedictorians, four principles and other's who were added to the endless program. I had spent the day driving back from my mother's funeral, alone with three bored children who screamed and fought in the back seat most of the fourteen hour drive home. We had arrived just hours before but were there trying to listen.

So as I sat, somewhat frustrated with the program which was far longer than any other graduation I had ever attended and feeling exhausted from the long drive and residual grief of my mother's death and the dissolution of the estate which was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life, I noticed these three small boys wrestling beside me on the grass. They were about ten or eleven years old and making a lot of noise. The ceremony was held in front of the bleachers by the football field with chairs laid in rows on the ground. The PA system was difficult to hear and the children had totally ignored my evil eye so I started looking to their parents who were totally ignoring the situation.

When one of the boys kneed another in the privates, I had it and stood, planning to encourage them to sit with their families. As I approached them, they looked back at me with defiant stares and something inside of me cracked. Maybe it was the long car ride or my mother's funeral or just the fact that this was my son's graduation and they were selfishly ruining it but I pointed my finger at them and hissed with vehemence, "You boys make me sick with your disrespect. This is my son's graduation. How dare you ruin it? Go sit with your parents now!" One of the boys tried to delay and I stepped behind him ready to scoot him towards the chair of people but he sprinted to his parents in fear and I sat down as several people stared at me in shock. The rest of the ceremony continued without any children within the area misbehaving.

I sat back with my heart racing, surprised at my feelings. Perhaps the old ways of covering our windows and wearing black during a period of mourning isn't a bad idea. It certainly would not expose you to embarassing emotional outbreaks.

Friday, May 30, 2008

My Mother's Obituary

This spring I've been in a slump. My second son went on a mission and I miss him. My knees have really been acting up and the pain has made me less energetic and responsible. I've just been barely treading water when I got a phone call from my brother that my mother was in the hospital. I should have fallen apart but I felt surprisingly peaceful. The next night she was gone. So this morning my sister asked me to write her obituary, which was tough. At first I wrote it completely sterile but then I couldn't resist and put in a little about the bright light my mother was. One of the well known stories she wrote was called the "Daffodil Principle," inspiring us to change the world one little step at a time. She was truly one of the noble and great ones and I'm honored to have been given the gift of being her daughter. Here it is.

Obituary for Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards

Jaroldeen Asplund Edwards, 76, passed away Friday morning, May 30th, at Utah Valley Medical Center after struggling valiantly with heart complications. Jaroldeen is survived by four of her five siblings, her twelve children, 76 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. Jaroldeen was born on February 23, 1932 in Alberta Canada to Julia Russell and Charles Owen Asplund. She received her B.A. in English Literature from BYU in 1954, the same year she married the love of her live, Weston Eyring Edwards.
Weston and Jerry had twelve children and moved extensively throughout their marriage, living on both coasts and in Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Utah. She has served with vigor in every auxiliary in the church and served a mission in Johannsburg South Africa where she and Weston directed the institute and seminary programs. After her youngest child went to kindergarten, Jaroldeen began writing and published twelve books, five national releases and seven works with Deseret Book. She was a popular speaker at Women’s Conference and the National Mother of the Year awards ceremony. She was also awarded the Distinguished Emeritus Alumni Award from BYU in 2002.
Of all her accomplishments, Jaroldeen’s greatest achievements have been in the lives of her family and friends. She had a unique gift to recognize and appreciate the talents in others and to make them feel loved and lifted by her presence. Her creative mind, kind heart and brilliant smile allowed her to make everything from her Relief Society lessons to ward activities to a simple story told to the grandchildren sparkle. Her generous heart filled her home with love, fun, family and friends, including an attitude that there was always room for one more. She leaves all her children and grandchildren with the knowledge that they were truly loved and they know that she loved the Lord.
A public viewing will be held Monday, June 2, at 7 p.m. at ______________________. The funeral will be the following day at 3 pm. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Weston and Jaroldeen Edwards scholarship at BYU.