Saturday, March 31, 2007
Today is Palm Sunday. Last year, on this very day, as I drove by the local Catholic Church I saw some parishoners walking out holding palm fronds that they had used in celebration, and my heart swelled in joy as I felt the connection we shared in Christ. Though Latter-day Saints make little of this particular day, yet we know of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that signaled the beginning of passion week, and we celebrate all that it fulfilled and all that it foreshadowed each time we study that passage in each of the four gospels.
I grew up knowing about Palm Sunday as well as Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. My mother was an Episcopalian. High Church. In fact, I was baptized as an infant into the Episcopalian church, and have my baptismal cap and certificate to prove it.
My uncle, an old rancher, told me once that the Smiths weren't Episcopalians, they were Lewisites, followers of Reverend Hunter Lewis, the Episcopal priest who ministered to all the towns, villages and hamlets in Dona Ana and Sierra Counties in New Mexico from about the turn of the century to almost halfway through the 1900's. Hunter didn't want to be called Father Lewis, so everyone called him Preacher.
I read his biography this year. I had found my brother's and my baptismal caps in a trunk, and as I framed my brother's in a shadow box to give to him, I wanted him to understand the full meaning of that cap, and so I found a book on the man who crocheted it.
Hunter Lewis was born in Virginia just after the Civil War to a family whose fortunes were ruined by the depredations of the battles fought on their land. As a youth he was stricken with an illness that kept him bedridden for a year, and in that time he became a student of the Bible and an excellent knitter and crocheter. He decided on a vocation in the church and prepared himself for that, but because of penury, he was thirty before he had the necessary education to be ordained. Shortly thereafter, he was sent to be a missionary in the area of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Through the years as he ministered to the people of the mission, each time Preacher Lewis set off on his circuit, visiting the villages along the Rio Grande, he would walk along the road or by the railroad track and depend on the goodness of fellow travelers to pick him up and carry him as far as they could. As he walked or rode, he would crochet caps to be given to those he baptized, and it is one of those caps that I framed for my brother.
I am awed by what I read of the goodness of this man. His Christianity was practical and effective: he would go into saloons with his collection box and ask for the price of one drink from each of the patrons. If someone tried to give more he would demur, saying that if they gave only the price of one drink, they wouldn't begrudge it, and when he came the next time, they would give again. He dispensed those funds to anyone in need, whether part of his flock or not, and for that he was loved and honored by the people of the area, no matter what denomination they belonged to. He truly ministered to all.
I am so grateful that this was the man who taught my mother, who prepared the foundation of her faith in Christianity. His visits were irregular, but his life was a living example of following the pattern set by our Savior. I know that he inspired my mother to live her life so that, when the missionaries taught her, she listened to the spirit and had the courage to be baptized.
After I read his biography, as I pondered on this, I wondered about his temple work. This weighed on my mind for some time, and I made inquiries about possibilities and procedures for someone unrelated to me. In the process of that investigation, I went on line and discovered that it had already been taken care of by someone who was related to him. This filled me with such joy that I smiled for a week.
Funny, that palms on Palm Sundy now remind me of Preacher Lewis; but they do, and when I see them I remember the connection, and remember that his work is done, and I smile again.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
There’s nothing like getting into an unexpectedly cold shower in the morning to make you appreciate the simple things in life. But four weeks later, the water heater continued to malfunction and I became very cranky at the thought of another day of cold showers and boiling water every time the dishes needed doing. The sensible part of my brain reminded me to simply be grateful for having running water in the house, but when I tried to start our fairly new lawn mower, and discovered it didn’t work either, I completely lost my sense of humor and good will.
Over the next two weeks, I spent a great deal of time and energy fuming and fretting over cold showers, an overgrown lawn, and every other troublesome inconvenience life seemed to offer. Then I came across an article by Gary and Joy Lundberg about becoming a Miracle Family. Their words and testimony about the power of prayer touched and softened my heart. I repented of my lack of faith and for neglecting to take my troubles to the Lord. I needed a miracle, and although I felt to be an unworthy servant, I humbly knelt in prayer and asked Heavenly Father to forgive me and told him all my troubles. Just the act of speaking those words out loud helped to put my problems in perspective.
I felt a little foolish taking such worldly problems to the Lord, but I asked him to start the lawn mower. I asked him to help Doug fix the water heater. Then I got up from my knees, put on my gardening shoes, grabbed my sunglasses and got the lawn mower out of the garage. I wheeled it onto the front lawn, firmly grasped the handle of the rip cord and gave a mighty pull. Nothing happened; not even a sputter or a cough.
“Okay,” I thought, “Nothing happens without a little effort. I just need to have faith and do the best I can.”
I pulled again and again. Nothing. With aching muscles, I fell to my knees. I told Heavenly Father that I knew he could start the lawn mower if it was his will. I asked what I needed to learn before the mower would start. The words that came to me were,
“Read everything on the lawn mower.”
I searched the lawn mower thoroughly. Where it said “Fuel,” I checked the fuel. Where it said “Oil,” I checked the oil. I moved from part to part, each time pulling the cord to see if the mower would start and the problem solved. Finally, I found a part that said “Air Filter.” I carefully removed it, hoping I would be able to put it back together, and discovered it was filled with dirt and debris. I dumped the contents and cleaned out the filter. I put everything back together and with all my strength, pulled on the cord. I nearly fell on my backside. The lawnmower jumped forward as the engine roared to life.
A few days later, Doug tried to use that mower in the backyard. He could not get it started. He had to take it into a mechanic for a tune-up and extensive repairs. I knew I had truly experienced a miracle. It required faith and effort, but it was a miracle, none the less. And I wonder, what was the greater miracle; a working lawn mower, or my softened heart and enlightened mind? The answer is simple. Read and follow the instructions!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
I posted some information about AAMPS on ANWA some time ago and thought I’d mention it here as well.
AAMPS, Audience Alliance Motion Picture Studios, is a fairly new company founded by Chief Creative Officer, Kieth Merrill. Brother Merrill directed the movie Winter Hawk (one of many movies) back in the 1980’s (I think it was the ‘80’s). I remember the movie well because my mother-in-law, my three sisters -in-laws and myself went to see it at least four times. We loved it and I have the DVD now.
AAMPS was started so that family friendly movies can be produced in an era where is isn’t so popular in Hollywood. Movies ideas are submitted by members and rated by members. I’m a member and I am very excited to see new ideas posted. In fact, the members are included in every phase of the movie making process.
I recently submitted my novel, Lakota Moon. I hope to see it posted soon so that members can rate it. If I get a high enough rating, it goes on to the next phase. If it continues to be highly rated, AAMPS will make it into a movie. I can’t tell you how excited I am! What a blessing to find this wonderful company willing to give the little guy (me and you) a chance to shine.
Don’t think you have to have a finished book to submit. Even ideas are accepted. Also, because it’s such a new company, they are hungry for submissions. Some members have even submitted animated submissions. I’m very impressed with what’s been submitted so far. There is so much talent out there just waiting for a chance to be seen and heard.
The reason I’m plugging AAMPS is to help all of you writers out there to have an opportunity to see your work made into a movie. The book doesn’t have to previously published. Like I said, it can be just an idea.
I also want to see AAMPS succeed. We need a movie company like AAMPS who will listen to us, the moviegoers, and produce good, family films we can be proud to watch.
Don’t just take my word for it. J Go to their Website and take a look. It won’t cost you anything to check them out. Even Sheri Dew endorses AAMPS!
Go to: www.audiencealliance.com. They are offering a 7-day free membership when you register. When I joined I had to pay the membership all at once. Now they are offering membership in easy monthly payments. You even get 6 free DVD’s! Wow, what a great deal.
It would be wonderful to see some of your books submitted on AAMPS. I hope all of you will at least check them out. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for all of us to be in on this new company.
See you at the movies!
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Joseph, a senior at the school where I teach, came into my classroom one day and asked, "Do words have power?" I then recited a scripture, one of my favorite, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." John 1:1. "Exactly," he said. "Can I quote you?" He had been having problems with people using idle words about others. He tried to explain to them that words can offend and hurt. “They’re only words,” came the others' reply.
We've all heard the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Words are powerful—“Mightier than the sword." We know how much damage a sword can do. If so, then how much more we might damage another with our words. The opposite holds true as well. Our words also have the power to bring joy, enlightenment, encouragement and a host of other positives in another’s life. As a writer I often ask myself if the words I write will bring those affirmative blessings in someone’s life. When I think about how carefully I choose my words on paper, I sometimes wonder if I am as careful to choose my spoken words.
Someone once said, “Let your words be sweet, for tomorrow you may have to eat them.” Today is a reminder to myself to always remember the power of words. Have I offended someone? Have I spoken ill of someone? That's something I need to work on.
Monday, March 26, 2007
As writers, we can appreciate and understand the creative process. My son Ted has recently completed his first music video. It was fun and interesting to watch all that he, his brothers and friends went through to make it.
The song Ted chose, “Some Postman” by a group called the Presidents of the United States of America, is about a postman who is stealing the mail sent between a guy and his girlfriend. Having just completed a mission, he immediately thought of missionaries waiting for mail, any mail. He claims, “When you’re on a mission and you get no letters for weeks, your mind starts imagining reasons why, such as the postman is stealing your letters.”
Ted hashed out his ideas for months with his younger brother who is also a guru on the computer. Rex started the storyboard, but had to turn the project over to friend Lisa when he left on his mission. They made drawings for every 3-5 seconds of the song. Completed, that in itself was fun to watch.
He put a lot of thought into who should play the parts of the mailman, missionaries, and the girlfriend, and then extended the invitations. His actor cousin Marshal accepted the mailman role right away, and actress friend Holly took the role of the girlfriend, but filling the other parts wasn’t as easy. He was surprised that others didn’t have the same enthusiasm for his video. When there was nothing to see, support was hard to muster up.
He put out an invitation to all his friends and acquaintances to come on Saturday morning dressed in white shirts and ties (as missionaries) and to bring bikes. He was hoping for 20 and got 8. They filmed the last scene. He thought it would be the hardest and wanted to get it over first. The rest of the scenes took time, but didn’t involve so many people.
Filming took many days and they filmed every scene several times. Ted then came home and scrutinized each take, choosing the best for the final. Playing the music over and over for hours and using iMovie, he carefully fit the footage in where it belonged. The timing had to be perfect. “I never realized how long a second really was!” he declared one evening after working for hours.
He’d show the incomplete video to everyone who would watch, and all his friends who didn’t consider it worth their time to show up for the bicycle scene expressed regret that they hadn’t come.
Now that the video is complete and on Google Video and YouTube, it all looks like fun and games. There is no hint of its long and hard creative process.
If you’ve had a chance to see it, I hope it made you smile!
Click here to view video
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Aside from ANWA conferences, I have to say that LDStorymakers puts on the best writing conference I've ever attended for the money. In addition, this enthusiastic group of writers endows the conference with their unique look at life as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how the process of writing fits into it. Great big kudos to the conference queens, Josi Kilpack and Julie Wright and their committee. I'm already looking forward to next year's event, which will be under the direction of Annette Lyon and Heather Moore.
The purpose of attending conferences for writers isn't just attending classes. It's also for getting to know other writers, making contacts with editors, and buying books! Connie Wolfe and I excelled at that latter purpose! Between us, we spent over $200. That's a lot of reading!
Both of us are looking forward to putting what we have learned and relearned to use when we get back home. Will we ever forget John Bytheway's impression of Barney Fife?
What writing conferences have you attended?
Friday, March 23, 2007
Today I’m offering a mish-mash of writing-(and blank-page)-related musings.
First is a quote, attributed to Nora Roberts: I can fix a bad page, but I can’t fix a blank page. Even Nora, who writes three million books a year, can’t fix a blank page. That’s why she immediately and prolifically fills them up with words.
None of us can fix a blank page. That’s why, if you’re a writer, you need to fill your blank page with words, too.
What keeps writers from doing so? Part of the problem is we’re so conscious that our words are not perfect. One of the most freeing concepts I’ve learned about writing is that first drafts are supposed to be bad. That’s the whole point of them. You write a crappy first draft, then improve on it and keep polishing until it’s a final draft.
Anne Lamott tells a story in Bird by Bird about her first drafts being "so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I'd obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I'd worry that people would read what I'd written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot." That’s how bad our first drafts are supposed to be. Something that we don’t want to show anybody else on earth.
Puke green dreck is what one writer called her first draft pages. But without a crappy first draft, your pages are blank. Sad, pathetic little blank pages with no meaning. Life without meaning. Blank pages without meaning. Writing without words doesn’t work well.
But then, after you have your crappy first draft, you have something to fix. How exciting!
And that’s what I’m pondering today. The blank page. The page that scares us away from the computer (or the pen) because it will be so very hard to cover with perfect words. Doesn’t that blank page seem to grow larger and scarier the longer we avoid it? And then, after awhile of not tackling it, suddenly we take it on--and find it’s not so tough, after all. That’s the magic of writing--when you’re actually writing, you come up with the answers you need to make the writing better. When you’re just thinking about writing, you don’t.
When you’re feeling afraid, remember what Robert Cormier said: "The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile." We’re not brain surgeons! Our first drafts don’t have to be perfect! In fact, they won’t be. We write crappy first drafts, and how freeing that concept is!
One of my favorite writing books of all time is by Richard Walter, Professor and Screenwriting Faculty Chairman of UCLA (at least at the time the book was published in 1988) entitled SCREENWRITING: The Art, Craft and Business of Film and Television Writing. He tells a wonderful story of (yes, you guessed it -- blank pages : ).
Okay, here’s the direct quote from Richard Walter’s book: The story is told of director Frank Capra, who was asked in an interview to explain precisely how he achieved that special quality known as "the Capra touch." For page after page he rambled on about this technique and that one. At great length he discussed how he had lent "the touch" to this film and to that one. And in all of these pages nowhere was mentioned Robert Riskin, who had merely written the films. The day after the interview appeared in the press, there arrived at Capra’s office a script-sized envelope. Inside was a document very closely resembling a screenplay: a front cover, a back cover, and one hundred and ten pages. But the cover and pages were all blank. Clipped to the "script" was a note to Capra from Robert Riskin. It read: "Dear Frank, put the ‘Capra touch’ on this!"
Isn’t that a great story? We can put our special touch on our blank pages, turning them from blank to powerful, with a few stops in between colored drecky green.
Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) wrote a story called The Blank Page (to read it, go to www.whiterabbit.net/@port03/Dinesen/BlankPage/blank_page.htm). "Who then," she continues, "tells a finer tale than any of us? Silence does. And where does one read a deeper tale than upon the most perfectly printed page of the most precious book? Upon the blank page."
A visit to http://www.this-page-intentionally-left-blank.org/whythat.html will bring you this tidbit: In former times printed manuals had some blank pages, usually with the remark "this page intentionally left blank". In most cases there had been technical reasons for that. Today almost all blank pages disappeared and if some still exist here and there, they present flatterly comments like "for your notes" instead of the real truth: This page intentionally left blank!
Blank pages. Do you intentionally leave your blank pages blank? Or do your fears keep you from putting your stamp on your blank pages?
The blank page. Don’t let it stay that way for too long, or it will get far too scary.
Take out a blank page and look at it. One simple white blank page. Not so scary, is it?
Now, today . . . fill it with words. And smile.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago when my stake in Mobile, Alabama sponsored the Saints Unified Choir that Gladys Knight directs and conducts.
In order for her choir to come, the missionary department of the church had to approve the building and our stake center was a very small one compared to others. It didn’t look like it was going to happen but somehow; with the prayers of our stake president it was approved. I was on the committee to help and it was an incredible month of planning and arranging. The weekend of the presentations came and the groups assigned to take care of the dressing rooms, food, and equipment setup were all busy doing their jobs. We started seven in the morning when a large 18 wheeler truck drove up to the stake center with all of their sound equipment. We only had so much time to get this entire job done before people started showing up to see the first presentation at 5pm.
The time came when all was set into motion; the audience arrived and was seated and the chapel became quiet. I really didn’t know what to expect because the choir was known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with rhythm and an attitude so sitting in the chapel waiting for this presentation was very exciting.
The choir walked in first, then Gladys Knight came in behind. The stake president made a few announcements, the prayer was given and the program started. Beautiful gospel music came from the voices of this choir. There were seventy choir members present and they really did sing as one. They sang old Baptist songs and some of our church hymns were arranged in a gospel style.
The singing was really enjoyable to listen to but it was what Gladys Knight said that touched everyone’s hearts. She spoke to the audience about why she is a member of the church. She said she finally understands why she sings so well. Her whole life of a successful singing career was to eventually spread the gospel. She sang since she was four years old and had a 56 year singing career. It was amazing to me to hear her speak of her whole life coming to this one realization: that she sings to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. What a journey! To finally realize-after living half of her life-what her whole life mission was to accomplish.
I have been thinking about that ever since. I thought about what my own mission was in my life and I think from my perspective, right now; raising my children and continuing to write about the important aspects of the American family are life goals I would like to accomplish. Everyone has a mission to accomplish here on earth and sometimes we don’t recognize what that mission is until we are well into our years as Gladys Knight did. It’s never too late to find out what purpose you have in your life. Even when you consider your life as a whole, you can find out what you are to do and then do it!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Jimmy hunched down behind the boulders waiting for Pig-head, Terrell, to come up the muddy path on his way home from school. He made a crook with his finger and skewered a booger out of his nose and wiped it on his pants. Peering through the cracks, he saw no sign of Terrell. He took some Double Bubble out of his pocket and shoved two pieces into his mouth, letting the wrappers fall to the ground. Jimmy knew Terrell would have a friend with him, big ol’ Buck, probably, but today Jimmy didn’t care. He was still crusted with mud and humility from this afternoon’s recess, so Jimmy sat and waited for revenge. The junior-high kids stayed a half-hour later than the elementary kids. That gave Jimmy time to run home to get his weapon. He reverently took a black knife from his back pocket. He gently squeezed the little button on the handle and a bright, shiny blade shot out of his little dark hand. Now he waited for justice. He pounded his fist into the rock.
“He gonna get it!” Jimmy said out loud. “I’m gonna stick ‘im good. Gonna cut up his legs so he can’t run no more and chase me no more, so he can’t play baseball no more, so he can’t walk around like he owns the world!”
He continued to slam the rock with his fist over and over, harder and harder as he tightened his lips, anger and readiness. As he tried to shine the blade on his dirty pant leg, someone tapped him on the shoulder from behind, sending Jimmy and the knife into the air.
“Jessie, what you doin’ here?” Jimmy screamed in a whisper. He jumped up high and grabbed Jessie’s shoulder, pulling him to the ground and out of site. Then Jimmy picked up the knife.
“Oooooh, twinkly! Can I play with your pretty knife?” Jessie asked with a big smile as he patted Jimmy on the nappy head with his oversized lanky hands.
“You need to get out of here, Jessie!” Jimmy scolded, trying to get Jessie’s mauling hands off of him. “Go find Charlie. Go play with his ball.”
“You’re knife be pretty like the stars, Jimmy”, Jessie said. “Can I hold your star, Jimmy, cause I can’t hold the stars way up there. They be too far away. Yours not far, Jimmy. It be twinkly, though. Can I hold it?” Jessie begged loudly while his whole face grinned.
Jimmy put his hand over Jessie’s face and shoved him backward onto the ground. “Shut up and go away, stupid! Get lost! You’re gonna ruin everything!”
Jessie got up slowly and put his long arms around Jimmy. “I like you, little Jimmy.” Jessie said and began patting Jimmy’s head again.
“Shut up, he’ll hear you!” Jimmy sighed helplessly and turned, peering over the rocks to see if they were coming.
“You got any gum, Jimmy? I could have some gum instead of your knife, Jimmy.”
Jimmy pulled a Bazooka out of his pocket, ripped most of the paper off and shoved everything else into his mouth. “I gots one for me,” he said smacking his gum up into Jessie’s face, “and none for you!”
Jessie frowned for a moment, then smiled big. “That’s o.k., Jimmy.” Jessie said clapping his hands together. “We can share!” Jessie stuck his fingers into Jimmy’s mouth, trying to get his gum.
Jimmy wriggled and kicked as he tried to release Jessie’s clutch. Without giving Jessie his gum, Jimmy bit his fingers hard. Jessie squealed and fell back against the boulders, then sat with quiet curiosity as he watched the blood drip from his fingers.
“Momma told me gum was sticky. She never said that when it stick you it hurt.”
Jimmy saw Jessie’s blood dripping to the ground. He yelled at Jessie.
“Stay right there, don’t move!”
Jimmy peered again into the woods, but there was still no sign of pig-head Terrell. Jimmy put the knife on the ground and began to tear a piece of his shirt off to bandage Jessie’s fingers.
“I’m sorry, Jessie.” Jimmy said as he yanked Jessie’s hand closer to him. “You just got in the way of my chewin.”
With great annoyance, he began wrapping Jessie’s fingers when he heard Terrell coming up the path with a couple of guys. Jimmy shoved Jessie back to the ground and reached fast for the knife. When Jessie hit the ground, he saw the knife and picked it up to try to give to Jimmy. As he came up with the knife, Jimmy came down to get it and the blade stabbed Jimmy in the hand. Blood seeped from the stinging wound and Jimmy realized immediately that this accident would prevent his attack on Terrell. He covered Jessie’s wailing mouth and held his own breath to suppress the pain. If Terrell noticed him hiding behind a rock with Jessie and saw the both of them bleeding, Terrell would make the most of it, adding to the injuries and his own count of victories.
Jessie flailed around trying to get up and Jimmy fought hard to keep him pinned, quiet and contained. Jimmy pounded his fists into the ground as he watched his opportunity walk right past him and on home. Terrell was nothing but jocular laughter and Jimmy was nothing but smoldering hate. When Terrell and his pack were far enough away, Jimmy got up off of Jessie and leaned against the boulders, not caring about the blood, his pain, or even stupid Jessie.
Jessie saw Jimmy’s blood and smiled with delight. He looked at his fingers and licked the blood. He wiped it on his shirt. A red diagonal streak soaked his shirt. He reached down and took Jimmy’s hand. He licked Jimmy’s blood and grinned. He held Jimmy’s hand and stroked it over his own blood, making a big, red “x” on his shirt. He giggled.
“Look, Jimmy! We the same!”
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Recently, I had the chance to fast with my niece who is taking the discussions and wants to be a member but has some issues that need to be resolved first. We had a conflict in the family over what should be her next baby steps to resolve said issues. I invited her to fast with me. She did it. And words fail me to express the many, many benefits that fast brought.
What struck me first was the wonderful sense of peace I received right away. Second, I was awed by how perfectly and gently and encouragingly Heavenly Father handled the situation, bringing each of us to the same conclusion, howbeit in different ways.
When my niece and I ended our fast with a prayer, I looked into her eyes and for the first time caught a glimspe of her spirit. I have had that privilege a few times with myself, as if somehow the body/physical world faded and I "saw" the spirit within. Those times are precious and fleeting.
Later that night, I reflected on just how much the gospel has come to mean to me. As a convert, I have struggled with so many of the principles. I believe my testmony building has been at times an exciting adventure but more times a long climb up a steep hill. And there are many issues I have simply chosen to put, as they say, on the stove and let it simmer, hoping someday I'll understand them.
What a choice privilege it is to be a member of the church. And how grateful I am that at the young age of 17, I made the decision to join. I live for these kind of moments. And it is at these times, I wish I was more poetic than prosaic in writing. I envy you who can turn a phase, touch with a poem or bring tears of either happiness or sadness to someone. Me? I can but merely explain in practical terms what has happened, hoping the feelings behind the words will be enough to witness what I am by nature unable to write. It is in these times, that words truly fail me.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Never in my whole life have I been what you could call thin—even with gross understatement. But once, almost sixty-two years ago, I came close.
Spring quarter’s final exams approached at Utah State Agricultural College, and I looked forward quite eagerly. Carefully, I checked my finances. I had enough to get by—barely—until I got back home to Mom and Dad in Layton. I even had enough to dry clean the few things that needed it, so rather than take them home soiled, I took a bundle to the cleaners. With my last spare dollar, I bought my final pound of Bluebird chocolates—in a paper bag, of course, which cost me ninety-five cents rather than the dollar if boxed.
About a month before, as I had gone into the Home Ec. Room to get weighed, the room was not empty. A custodian was sweeping at the back of the room. I nearly left, but decided to weigh anyway. I stole quietly to the balance scales at the front corner of the room, and eased up. Shucks! I weighed one hundred thirty pounds. At my height, it should only be one twenty, at max. Before I could step down and leave, the custodian coughed right behind me. I hadn’t heard him coming.
“I don’t know why you bother to weigh,” he said, his voice teasing. “You’ll never lose any weight.”
“I will, too!” I shot back.
“I’ll bet,” he said, grinning.
Indignation riled me. “How much?”
“You’re on!” It was the first bet I’d ever made—and the last one, for that matter.
“Okay,” said the custodian. “I’ll give you until the last day of school to lose five pounds. But you won’t”
“I will, too! I’ll be here that Friday, at four in the afternoon to collect that dollar.”
“Why should I bet?” he murmured. “If you lose the weight, I have to pay. If you don’t lose it, you simply won’t show up. I can’t win.”
My integrity was now at stake. I couldn’t back down nor would I compromise my word. “I promise, on my word of honor that I’ll be here,” I said.
“Put that in writing, and sign it,” he added.
I did. I wrote something like: I, Laurene Liljenquist, promise to be at the Home Ec room at 4:00 P.M. on Friday, June 8, 1945 to weigh in. If I weigh more than one hundred twenty-five pounds I promise to pay (I wrote his name as he dictated) the sum of one dollar.
“You’re a Liljenquist?” he commented, looking at my note. "There are Liljenquists in Hyrum, where I live.”
“My father was born in Hyrum,” I said. “His father was Ola Nilsson Liljenquist.”
“I’ve heard of him,” he said. “A great man. I think I can trust a granddaughter of his.”
He gave me a similar paper, and I left.
For about a week, I was careful about my eating. But then Johnny gave me a pound of Bluebird chocolates, which I ate, and instead of losing five pounds, I gained five. Oh well, what’s a dollar? I thought. It might go against the grain, but it’s impossible to lost ten pounds in a couple or so weeks. I’ll just pay up. I continued to eat heartily at the boarding house and snack plentifully.
My math had never been good, except when I really cared. Now, my last week of school, I went over my bank account, counted the money in my purse, and realized to my horror that I didn’t have a spare dollar. Indeed, I needed another dollar to be able to buy my bus fare home. Oh, if I just hadn’t taken my clothes to the cleaners, or bought that last bag of Bluebirds I’d just gobbled up!
I had to do somthing fast! From the charts from my nutrition book I knew how many calories per hour per pound of weight are normally used by college students for each of maybe twenty activities. Running was highest, but I don’t run gracefully. Walking rapidly came next, and climbing stairs burns a few calories over and above the walking. Sitting, even while diligently writing or crocheting, brought up the end of the list--zilch, nada, nothing. Wouldn't you know! Most of my day necessitated sitting--in classrooms, studying, at my secretary job. Except for my basal matabolism (which I blessed) my opportunity for weight loss was only morning, evening, and a little bit between classes.
I moaned my fate to some friend or other who gave me a solution. “Go on a three-day cleansing diet,” she said. “Eat no solid food, but have a can of grapefruit juice a day and be sure and drink lots of water. At least eight glasses a day. It ought to work.”
My next problem was to get money to buy three cans of grapefruit juice. I explained my dilemma to the widow at the boarding house who graciously refunded me the cost of the eight meals I would miss Tuesday through Friday. It was enough to buy the grapefruit juice, but not a whole dollar.
I bought the juice Monday evening, and borrowed a can opener from my landlady. Since there was no point in drinking it until I got hungry, I put it away for the next morning. I was not particularly eager.
“Carla, this stuff is awful,” I told my roommate Tuesda mornng, pulling a face and shuddering. “I don’t think I can stand this diet.”
“Really? I like grapefruit juice,” Carla said.
“Then have some.”
She drank a glassful, smacking her lips. She also ate hot, buttered toast. I pulled a face, tanked up on water, and left for school.
I walked as rapidly as possible, taking the longest route to the campus. For the first time I welcomed the upward sloping sidewalk, with a hundred steps beyond to the door of Old Main. Though I didn’t have a class there until later in the day, I still went inside that lovely old edifice, climbed to the top floor and jogged back down before hurrying to another building for my first class. I got there quite worn out, just as the bell rang.
Normally, I sit relaxed, but I forced myself to fidget as often as I thought of it. I knew it would make no measureable difference, but I was desperate. As soon as the closing bell rang, I jumped to my feet and hurried out. My next class was at the end of the quadrangle. Instead of short-cutting across the grass, I kept to the perimeter sidewalk, and as in Old Main, I entered each building I passed, ran upstairs to the third floor, almost trotted to the other stairway, scurried down and out the building. I repeated this at all three buildings on the way, timing myself carefully to get to my next class on time, though breathless. I did this between every class, each day. I also drank from every drinking fountain, and steered clear of the dairy shop where they sold wonderful ice cream cones. It shouldn’t have mattered. I didn’t have money to buy, but if I didn’t see goodies, my mouth might not water nor my stomach beg. Now I wonder. My calorie list did not mention digestive juice production. Might it have helped?
I really exercised to my utmost. In my last swimming class, just before noon on Wednesday I put all the muscle power I had into a good workout during the few minutes my final exam allowed me to swim. During the hour between classes, I avoided the College Bluebird, and skipped down the hill to my room, just to be able to hike back up. I took long walks after school, and if I thought nobody was looking, dared to jog unevenly along the curb, stepping one foot up, the other in the gutter. It felt like more stairs. I even vacuumed and swept floors, and did everything with exaggerated gusto, just in case.
Yet I almost despaired. After three days of nothing but grapefruit juice (and comparatively little of that, since Carla Rae drank about half) and becoming waterlogged, I had shed only a few pounds, not nearly enough. On Friday morning as I checked my weight, I knew I’d have to get drastic. If I didn't lose more weight I would lose the bet. If I had to pay off the bet, I would be not one, but two dollars short to buy my bus ticket. I envisioned myself hitch-hiking home toting all my luggage. I didn't like the picture.
In desperation, I fasted. Nothing more solid than air inwardly passed my lips all day. I tried to increase all the stair climbing and rapid walking. I eagerly sought the restrooms and when my mouth watered, if at all possible I spit. I shaved my legs and donned my most lightweight clothing. With my last final exam finally flunked, and weak with fatigue and trepidation, I approached the home Ec room at four. The custodian was there.
We greeted each other cordially and I, praying even while simulating confidence, stepped onto the scales. I was too tired to lift a hand, so I let him find the balance. I might have even closed my eyes as he tapped the indicator. Finally, he stopped.
“Well, you still weigh one hundred twenty . . ." I held my breath. ". . . three and a half,” he said.
What a relief! I grinned as he reached into his back pocket for his wallet, and extracted a dollar bill.
Hooray! I could ride the bus home.
A true story from the life of Anna Arnett
Sunday, March 18, 2007
By Liz Adair
Two days ago I stood on the third floor of the new, still-under-construction, Skagit Valley Hospital, looked out at a bulldozer being offloaded from a lowboy trailer, and thought, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”
With a hard hat on my head I had just toured the new Emergency Department, new Surgery wing, new
As I grew older and watched the different stages of the massive concrete Glen Canyon Dam, I was aware of the contribution made by each of hundreds of people I knew personally in the success of that project, and I marveled at the concept of orchestrating all those endeavors toward a single goal as huge as that one.
I became a teacher, and with that and rearing my family, I was removed from the world of building things for a lot of years. However, ten years ago I had the opportunity to join my husband on a job site. It was a dicey job, the Owner had delayed the start of construction, and the contractor knew there would be a claim against the Owner, so documentation of everything was a necessity. They couldn’t find anyone to do the job adequately, so I was elected. I left a dream job as Director of Education at
I discovered anew the joy that comes with building something of worth, something that will last. I discovered again the wonder of the cooperative process that takes an idea and turns it into a solid, functioning reality.
I also discovered anew the ingenuity and problem-solving ability of skilled craftsmen. The company my husband worked for liked to take on edgy projects, projects where there was a high element of risk, and he was their superintendent of choice on those projects. I used to smile as I processed the time cards at the number of reversals, thinking we must have a lot of dyslexics in our midst. But talk about problem solvers! Talk about skill and craftsmanship! Talk about fearlessness! They were awesome, and I was blown away each time I donned a hard hat and watched them at work.
In my current job, I’m a step removed from the hands-on-edness of those days, but I’m close enough so that, though I don’t see and talk with the craftsmen themselves, I still feel that I’m a part of the process.
Each Monday morning as I drive to seminary, I listen to an essay on NPR called “This I Believe.” Each time, I have the urge to write one that says, “I believe that
Friday, March 16, 2007
I never cease to be amazed at how often little acts of kindness people do, sometimes without realizing, it can have a profound effect upon others.
I was never really popular in school; we moved a lot and I seldom remained in any school longer than two years, and I was never a cheerleader, or had the lead in the school play, or was the star singer in choir, or was very pretty, or anything that makes people stand out in others’ memories. As a result, I’m often surprised when someone from years ago remembers me. Usually they don’t.
I recently had the opposite experience and it taught me that I never know who I may be influencing without ever knowing it.
A few weeks ago, just as I was leaving a store, I noticed a pretty lady waiting by the door talking on her cell phone. I noticed that she had vivid blue eyes and that she seemed to be watching me as I approached the store exit. As I passed her, she hurriedly ended the call and then called out, “Are you Donna?”
Surprised, I turned and replied that I was. She then proceeded to tell me that she remembered me from Girl’s Camp. I was a junior counselor and she was a new little first year. I suppose to a twelve year old, my eighteen-year old self might have seemed cool. I’m sure I didn’t appear that way to others. She told me how clearly she remembered me, and that she’d thought of me often in the years since. She said she remembered me for my kindness, and how I included everyone and loved everyone.
I can’t begin to relay how surprised I was. I had been an incredibly confused, rebellious teen and to have someone remember me in a good way touched me almost to the point of tears. After hugging her, I left, realizing how those little things we do can touch another in ways we may never know.
More than twenty years ago, I unknowingly did some small act of kindness for which she remembered me.
A few weeks ago, she remembered me, and told me she admired me. Me! Not really pretty, not popular, confused and rebellious. But as a twelve year old, she found some good in me to love and admire. And she took the time to tell me in that chance meeting.
And I will remember that act of kindness for at least the next twenty years.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
While it would be easy to blame seasonal allergies for the tears that blur my vision this morning, I have to admit I felt sad as I watched my dad and step mom end their four-week stay as they pulled their little home on wheels out of my driveway and headed back to North Country. Perhaps sad isn’t the right word. I feel so many emotions: gratitude, inadequacy, love, longing, joy, regret, hope, anticipation, and more. Gratitude, however, outweighs them all; gratitude and love. You see, over the past several weeks they introduced me to a writer’s treasure trove.
This bounty came to me in the form of PAF. You know, the Personal Ancestral File. My step mom, Kathy, showed me how to download it off lds.org. Then she copied all the information she has acquired over the years and assigned me the task of checking her work and looking for family members still in need of ordinance work. Some of the lines go back 20 generations. There are over 18,000 names in the file. Included in all these files are the notes Kathy took as she searched for and researched out each of those names. I found stories!
Reading those stories introduced me to characters; characters who are part of who I am. I had no idea I had such interesting genes! For instance, one great-grandfather was murdered by one of his tenants. Grandpa evidently was a slum lord in northern California, and took advantage of the Chinese immigrants brought over to work on the railway. Another great-grandfather was poisoned by a river boat captain while on his return trip to Missouri from making his fortune in the goldmines on the West coast. His body was never found and all his widow received was a nearly empty trunk holding a few articles of his clothing and a little gold dust…or 2 gold nuggets, depending on which version of the story you want to believe.
The story that intrigues me most of all has three or four versions listed, but the main part of the story is consistent. A man and a woman carrying a baby and a bundle, or a trunk, disembarked from an immigrant ship, most likely from France, and tried to cross a frozen river. The river ice gave way and as the couple fell in the water, they threw their baby onto the solid ice. Onlookers rescued the baby, but the couple disappeared into the cold, dark water. The baby boy was given the last name of Francis, either because people thought his family was French or because somebody actually knew the name of the family. No one seems to be able to find out for sure. One of the versions even includes a reference to a family crest on the baby's clothing, indicating that the family came from aristocracy and were possibly fleeing to the America's to escape some unknown danger!
On top of everything, I came to know my dad and step mom in a way I have not experienced before. Listening to these family stories made me aware of their colorful speech and colloquialisms.
I think I my progenitors lived as long as they did because they had a sense of humor. I mean, just try to keep a straight face when you hear or say something like, "That’s slicker than snot on a brass door knob!" I did not make that up. I hear stuff like that all the time.
So, I’m curious. How do you communicate in your family? Have you become acquainted with the characters in your life? After all, their story is in your genes!
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Robert told my mom last week that the only way for him to go was up. He'd hit rock bottom and now was on his way up! I was amazed at his words and very proud of him.
It's funny that I could see the Lord blessing my parents and nephew through these past months and couldn't see the blessings I was given. It's made me look long and hard at myself and how Heavenly Father has blessed me. I guess I get to feeling sorry for myself and forget to stop and ponder what is important in my life.
So, stop and smell the roses, guys. LOL~ when they bloom anyway!
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Coming home from work the other day I had the greatest idea pop into my little brain. They don't seem to be coming very often, so when I get them I think to myself, "Wow, what a great story idea. I'm going to write a whole book about that." But by the time I got home and then got busy doing other things, poof! there went the idea.
I've been racking my brain now for days trying to remember that great story plot idea I had and nothing. Don't you just hate that!
I can't tell you how many times I've done that. I tell my students all the time to keep a journal with you for those great moments of inspiration. I do that, but my problem is I have bought so many of those little notebooks that I can't keep track of them, or I've turned them into grocery lists and other such nonsense.
I think MaryEllen (a former ANWA member) had the right concept when she whipped off her shoe in the middle of the grocery store and wrote her idea on the insole. I laughed at the time, but hey, her book got published. Next time I have a great idea, I'm going to write it on the windshield in blood if I have to. That should help me remember. Or create a call to the psychiatric ward. But then, we writers have never been known to be exactly sane.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Sitting at my computer one day digging for words -- for thoughts -- for anything which would move that annoying blinking cursor across the screen in a productive direction, I saw a cat hair throttled around the "t" key on my laptop. Forget it, I told myself, and keep writing. It didn't happen. That cat hair attached itself to my brain.
Since I have three cats it wasn't surprising to find fur on my keyboard. But when I looked more closely, there were a bunch of hairs stuck between the keys, and one in particular, a long white one by the "t" that wouldn't go away.
I blew on it and picked at it but my fingers were too big and I couldn't blow hard enough. I got some tweezers and tried to pull it out but they were too large as well. Okay, I told myself, stay the course. Write. Forget about the cat hair. But telling myself that was like telling me to not think about the color blue. Immediately my mind turns blue and everything is sky. Don't think about cat hair. I couldn't think about anything else.
A cotton swab didn't fit into the trough and the cat hair wouldn't stick to it. I tore a corner off a piece of paper and tried to push it out but the paper tore and became wedged between the keys. I could see it next to the car hair, jamming its way underneaty the "t" key. That was when I panicked. My darling laptop was in jeopardy. The keys would stick and I would be unable to write. I would have to take my computer for repairs and lose weeks of time. The technician would shudder when he saw the hairball in my keyboard.
I would have stayed in this jam if a crashing sound behind me hadn't forced my attention away from the computer. A black cat ran out of the closet. She had knocked a box of envelopes off the shelf and there, uncovered, shining in rays of late afternoon sun like a gleaming Excalibur, was a can of compressed air with a nozzle.
I sprayed and blew until the keys were covered with frost and the can was so cold I had to put it down. The bit of paper dislodged and I pulled it out. I didn't see many cat hairs flying around, but the white one was gone.
Relief came like a fast-acting sedative. I looked at the screen, at the two lines of copy and read them. In a remote corner of my mind I saw the flicker of the idea I had been writing about. Then, in a blast of cold, canned compressed air, surrounded by flying cat hair, it went out. I was done.
I turned off the computer. Three cats follwed me into the kitchen. Tomorrow, the keyboard would be clean. Tomorrow, I wouldn't think about cat hair. Tomorrow, I would see dust in the corners of the room, a full wastebasket and an untidy collection of pencils in a drawer. They would all demand attention just as the cursor moved to the second line on the screen, just before I got into the flow, at that awful, impossible time betweent start and go when words are beginning to come but haven't errupted yet, and I'm impatient and digging and wanting them to come . . .
Sunday, March 11, 2007
It's amazing how much fear can paralyze a writer right from the start. Let's take a look at some of the fearful reasons people don't write, even when they long to do so.
- I'm afraid to write because I'll have to cut back on spending time with my friends, and they won't like me anymore.
- I'm afraid to let anyone read my work because they might steal it.
- I'm afraid to share in a writer's group because people might criticize my work.
- I'm afraid to submit my work because it might be rejected.
- I'm afraid to revise because I might get my work published.
- I'm afraid to get published because I might be successful and have to change my life.
How interesting it is that a writer's fears begin and end with making life changes.
Frequently self-doubt, a scurrilous fear, attacks a writer--even a published one--and causes him or her great anxiety, even to the extent of threatening a promising career. I know of a writer who was so convinced that he/she could not write his/her way out of a paper bag that he/she got rid of every vestige of the writing life, including the latest manuscript from the computer. Fortunately, calmer heads overruled the faulty self-assessment, and he/she has gone on to much success.
How does a writer overcome these fears?
That's a big question, because every writer faces it. Writers are notorious for mood swings from the heights of arrogance to the depths of despair. How can he or she keep on a more even keel?
Here's a list of things that help other writers. Listening to inspiring music is one suggestion. Another is reading affirmations each day, or hanging quotes above the computer monitor or in the writing space. One writer prays before writing. Another lights scented candles in the room.
Probably the best suggestion for overcoming writer's fear is to face it head on and WRITE EVERY DAY, even if it's only 100 words. This method of facing fear has the added plus of helping a writer overcome writer's block!
Someone in our writers group said she wants to pair up with a daily nagging buddy to help her write every day. I think several of us are going to act on that suggestion.
Writer Avis Hester came up with a challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days. Writer Beth Pattillo set up a Yahoo Group to offer support to fellow writers who want to take up this challenge, for whatever reason. You can join it at this website:
or by sending a blank email to:
I've just joined, so I'll have to report back later on how effective it is in helping me face my particular writing fears.
What do you do to conquer your writer's fear?
Friday, March 9, 2007
How do I write? Let me count the ways . . .
I’ve been writing for nearly 15 years and I’ve written in many different ways as I’ve worked myself from a beginner into a system of writing that works enough I’m really excited about it and what I can accomplish when using it. I’m going to toss out quite a bit of information here, but I will get down to some ideas you can use (at least the general list and order of how my group plots a book, though I couldn’t possibly go into the detail of how to do each step here today).
To begin with, I wrote sporadically. I was the hare sprinting along madly, in wild bursts, then stopping for days, weeks, even months at a time while the tortoise writers passed me up. It was during this period that I wrote the first draft of a novel in four days. Yup, count ‘em--four. One-hundred-sixty pages of dreck that then took over six months to revise (but fun to say, at least, that I wrote an entire book in only four days).
Next, I began to emulate the tortoise. Even my critique group renamed ourselves Turtles for awhile, because we wanted to work consistently. But, unfortunately, we didn’t have our system figured out yet and so we ended up plodding along, still writing sporadically, but now without the rush and temporary accomplishment of our wild hare days.
Now, years later, I still instinctively want to take the hare’s pace and path (and I do on plotting day), but I am working at instilling a new habit of writing one scene a day, but taking into account all the days (vacations, school/work days off, my husband’s every-other-Friday off) that I realistically won’t get any writing done, and on those days I don’t write. I do have a life, you know : )
Before I tell you what I actually do now that is working so well for me that I will probably be able to write 3-4 books a year consistently, let me share a great, apparently true story with you from the book One Minute Millionaire. Artists David Bayles and Ted Orland tell about an art teacher’s experiment with his grading system. On the first day of class, the teacher announced he would divide his ceramics students into two groups, grading those in Group A on the quantity of pots they produced and Group B solely on quality. Group A students would have their works weighed and receive a grade based on the poundage: an A for fifty pounds of pottage, B forty pounds, C thirty, etc. Group B only had to produce one pot to get an A—but it had to be a perfect pot. At grading time, which group do you think produced the best pots? You might be surprised. The teacher certainly was. The highest quality pots were all produced by Group A—the group being graded for quantity. While Group A students were busy turning out pot after pot, they were learning from their mistakes and improving their technique. Group B students sat around theorizing how to produce a perfect pot—but were unable to learn from their mistakes. (Much like many of us writers, as we spent years thinking about writing--but never actually writing. And I know many of you do that, because I did it for years, too.)
Make mistakes—and learn from them. In our case, write lots. Create lots of ‘plots.’ Assign yourself into Group A, and start churning out plot (book) after plot—improving your technique with each one. Stop worrying so much about how to create quality—and turn out enough books that you automatically begin to learn how to create a quality book.
After all, it might not be your first or second book that sells. What’s if it’s book #3? Or #5? Or (gasp!) even #10? Sometimes it happens that way. And if you get stuck waiting for Book #1 to sell and don’t get on to the others, you may not sell at all. Or you may go insane waiting. Yes, in this business that is a distinct possibility.
In a related vein, my father worked in the oil field for most of his life. Years ago, if there was an oil well fire, the famous oil well fire fighter, Red Adair, would be called in. He would come in with his team of experts and they would put out the fire. After the Gulf War, my father (then in his 60s) was called out of retirement to head up one of the teams (Red Adair was also there with his team) to put out the numerous oil well fires in Kuwait. My father told me that, because they were putting out so many fires, one after the other, they were able to learn how to do it efficiently and quickly, sometimes with one team putting out several fires during a single day. They would pull in a jet engine, aim it at the well, fire it up and let the huge blast of air from the engine blow out the flame, at which time the team would quickly cap off the well. Done. Over. Fire out. Just like that. Efficiently. Quickly. Nearly effortlessly (compared to the old method). Plus they now had a plan that any other team could follow, with the same results.
That’s what my critique group and I have been doing for the past two years--plotting book after book (18 in all, if I include the book we’ll be plotting tomorrow). I decided I wanted to master plotting (next is marketing, though I’m not even close at this moment--but I will be : ). I already had a system--I’d even taught it--so we decided, the three of us, to begin meeting once a month to plot a book using that method. Every three months, that book would be our own. We committed to staying until the book was done, no matter how long it took (the latest was 11:45 p.m. and we were exhausted, so now we schedule and push to make sure we’re done by 8:00 or 9:00 at the latest). And, at the end of the day, someone walks away with a plotted book.
What a wonderful period of discovery and learning this has been! We’ve learned to use a jet engine to plot with, and it’s fantastic. To learn what elements make up a satisfying ending, and how to use key scenes to give our plot a skeleton. To use our time wisely, because plotting a book is awfully hard, even if you do it with a plan. To take copious notes on our AlphaSmart (if you don’t know what that is, go to AlphaSmart.com and check out the coolest writing tool, ever, second only to the computer, itself). And, for those of you who might be thinking ‘formula’ or ‘too restrictive’ to plan all this so quickly, instead think ‘recipe’ (for success : ) and someone who cooks up an entire month’s worth of dinners in one night in order to free up dinner-making time for other things.
Anyway, one of us walks away, at the end of the day, with a completely plotted novel: key turning-point scenes, all the regular scenes in between those key scenes, and about 20 double-spaced pages of incredibly rough first draft outline. A book. In one day. Who-da-thunk? (And, yes, we go through that outline nearly ten times, and add more scenes and think of other stuff--but the basic skeleton stays in place and we add lots of beefy muscle to the book until it can stand on its own, and do handsprings around the block : )
So how does that help you? Well, when my book comes out . . . (I’m only half joking -- there will be a how-to book that comes out of what we’ve learned, because it’s so exciting and because I absolutely love to share what I’ve learned with other writers, as some of my previous students can attest). Okay, before my book, you can catch one of my classes at Lana Jordan’s cool site, jorlanpublishing.com.
But for right now, this moment, reading this, here are some tips for you to use in writing your next book.
Tip for beginners: Learn your craft. Take a class. Find a mentor. Read your dialogue aloud, and listen to conversations around you for rhythm and flow. Begin spending a little time each day learning the craft of writing--and the separate craft of plotting.
Okay, here's what my group does on plotting day ...
(1) FIGURE OUT YOUR BASIC IDEA. Can you state it in 25 words or less? (Groundhog Day: Wacky Pennsylvania weatherman Phil Connors has to relive one day over and over until he gets it right.) Choose three motivators/spicers (at least one of them a motivator) to give your novel enough oomph to get through 300 pages (motivators: love/hate, ambition, betrayal, catastrophe, chase, discovery, grief/loss, jealousy, persecution, quest, rebellion, rivalry, self-sacrifice, survival, vengeance; spicers: honor/dishonor, authority, conspiracy, criminal action, deception, madness, making amends, mistaken identity, rescue, searching, suspicion, wealth/lack of). Choose them at random and brainstorm for five minutes on possible plot twists of your book with the twist of jealousy, authority, and deception . . . Or how would it affect your book if the motivators/spicers were grief/loss, rescue, and rivalry? You can get some great ideas that way.
(2) INTERVIEW YOUR CHARACTERS (or answer questions) as if you are the character, and not the author. We want to find out who the characters are and how they’re going to react a certain way--and why. Either have someone else ask you the questions (and forget the questions you’ll find on many lists like ‘What’s your favorite color?’ as they are of no use for our purposes of finding out what kind of person this character is and what they’ll do) or fill out the questions on your own, but, either way, it’s important that you answer AS THE CHARACTER, NOT AS THE AUTHOR. Interview the hero, the e, and the villain. The questions are important, too. There’s not enough space to give you my entire interview sheet here, but here are a few important questions to get things going: What’s causing you the most trouble in your life when the story begins? What will case even more grief in your life? Even though other people might respond differently, you respond to this problem by doing what? You respond this way because you have an incorrect perception or notion about life and/or love, which is ...? Your epiphany comes when you realize this perception is incorrect and learn the truth, which is ...? The only reason your character has baggage is to motivate them reacting a certain way NOW to what is going on NOW.
(3) Figure out the STORY THREADS. In a romance, the threads will include the hero, heroine, romance, friends, family, jobs, etc. In a mystery, there will be one thread for each suspect and the murderer, main characters, sequence of events leading up to the murder, etc; in a fantasy, the threads could include magic, dragons, main characters, relationships, etc). Figure out where each thread begins and ends--and what your reader needs to see in between to believe that the thread goes from beginning to end. And then work those threads into your book. (A former colleague of mine, Sherry Lewis, came up with this great idea.)
(4) Ask yourself a few important questions . . . "What will make this story unlike every other book of its type out there?" and "What is the totally unpredictable, yet logical, twist at the end?"
(5) Come up with a truly SATISFYING ENDING. I can’t tell you how to do that here; there’s just not enough space to do that. But you do need one, so readers will want your next book. (I do have an online endings class that runs periodically.)
(6) Figure out the KEY TURNING-POINT SCENES, and the main characters' new section goals at each.
(7) Fill in the scenes from one key scene to the next, in sections.
(8) Now put it into paragraph form, one paragraph per scene, and go over it at least six times.
Whew! Now you know why it takes three of us a full day to finish the process! But imagine that! A plotted book in a day! That’s awesome! I’m so excited about the possibilities.
So now I get the best of both worlds. I get to be a hare on plotting day, and then I need to make sure I’m a tortoise the rest of the time, getting my one scene a day written and polished, so that I can consistently finish books.
Consistency. That’s really the key. The motivational speaker, Brian Tracy, said that genius is doing the same thing over and over again to get the same positive results. The opposite is the quote that says insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So first you have to figure out how to do something right, and then do it over and over--creating plot after plot, becoming one of the quantity group, learning from your mistakes and creating beautiful plots.
If you haven’t learned methods of plotting yet, take a class. Get a mentor. Learn what you need to in order to free yourself up to write. Some people might say that the plotted book restricts them, as do outlines. I say outlines free you up. I can have a fully filled out, scene-by-scene 30-page outline and re-read it six times, and see what changes need to be made much easier than I can in a 300-page novel. I tend to lose sight of the story threads at about page 100, so I need a shorter way to do things. As Kevin Anderson (who’s only written over 80 best-selling books) said at a conference: "If you don’t use an outline, then your first draft becomes your outline."
David Baldacci says he spent years not finishing any stories, but just learning the craft of writing. Even J.K. Rowling, after writing two books, when she got the fabulous idea for Harry Potter, invested two years in plotting all seven books in the series. Yes, plotting ahead works. (And, yes, even then you can’t figure everything out in advance and you’ll learn some things as you write--as Rowling did when she had to take months with one of her books because of a major plot flaw).
There are seat-of-the-pants writers (perhaps you're one of them : ) who don't want to be restricted by an outline or preplanning--but I’ve heard several famous authors report lately about the ulcers and other illnesses they attributed directly to their seat-of-the-pants approach to writing. I’d rather figure it out ahead of time, have my road map. Then I can still detour if the muse so dictates, but I can also stay headed in the right direction. And I’m free to write, having all sorts of creativity and flexibility for what to put in each scene.
I love plotting! I love writing! I love sharing!
(Now if I just loved marketing, I’d have the perfect writer’s life!)
Thanks for listening. : )
Thursday, March 8, 2007
I was happy when my first born told me she was pregnant. Posterity! That was what I really wanted. But after a couple of hours of celebrating, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was to be a “grandmother”. A grandmother? I’m 46 years old and I looked 35. I am definitely too young to be called “Grandma”. So I went about asking my friends what name for Grandma they used or what their grandchildren called them. The results were interesting.
MeeMa was the southern version and that is pretty popular where we are living in Alabama but I didn’t like it. Oma was the German form but that didn’t sound like a young grandma either. Iidee is Finnish for Grandma as YaYa was Greek. But those didn’t seem to fit either. I kept thinking there must be some name I can be happy with. Nona is Italian and Bunica, Romanian. It sounded exotic but not quite right. Nadie is Hungarian and Bubby is Yiddish. Still not right. There were also other suggestions: Mimi, Vivi, Gram, and Granny. None of those seemed to work for me so I kept searching. I asked the mail ladies at the post office. I asked strangers in line at the grocery story. I asked women at the auto center at Walmart and the Pharmacist down the street. Everywhere I went I asked, but nothing struck my fancy.
Then one of my daughters rented the movie “Rumor Has It”. This was a real eye opener for me. In the movie, the Grandmother (played by Shirley McClain) refused to be called Grandma. She didn’t like it at all and told her granddaughter to stop calling her that even though she looked old enough to be a grandma. This really frustrated her granddaughter (Jennifer Aniston) in the movie and that gave me more food for thought.
Soon after that I took a trip to Phoenix for the annual ANWA writer’s retreat and decided to drive to Los Angeles afterward to see my daughter, her husband and the newest member of the family. So there I was driving across the desert to LA from Phoenix. It’s a 4 hour drive and I put a CD in the player and started driving. I had lots of time to think. I had to make a decision. Was it really that important to find a name that didn’t sound too old or was that just my pride getting in the way? The drive went really fast and before I knew it I was driving down the freeways of Los Angeles on my way to my daughter’s house. During that time I realized something: It doesn’t really matter what you call yourself. You are your children’s grandparent.
Flying back to Alabama I made my decision. Being called Grandma was much more important for my grandchildren than for me feeling old or young. It really doesn’t matter. I can still feel young after spending time with them; it’s all a state of mind. After all, they just want a grandma and that is what counts the most.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
by Faith St. Clair
It’s 11:45 p.m. and 75º in Phoenix, AZ right now. States currently battling record snow falls throughout the country might think we’re pretty lucky. I’m not so sure…
I’m not a tree hugger or a fanatic environmentalist, but I do care for God’s creations and feel like I have a duty to beautify, care for and preserve this earth we’ve been given. So, I recycle, I take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints when I hike, I avoid driving on days when there’s a pollution advisory out and I don’t use aerosol cans. These are just a few daily routines that are hardly conscious efforts - just habits that have been embedded in my way of living after years of observing a patriotic mother who loved this land as much as she loved her children and her God.
Although we didn’t recycle when I was growing up (I’m not sure the word was invented yet…), we used it up, wore it out, made it do or did without. We knew we were blessed with this land as long as we cared for it. We didn’t litter, we picked up other people’s trash before we left the beach, including the washed-up oil deposits from the boats, and we didn’t break tree branches or run through the neighbors’ gardens. You can say that I’m just an average Jane who tries to do the right thing in taking care of our earth – not a big, revolutionary deal. But I think I’m going to have to add a few things to my routine.
My family and I watched the documentary, “aninconvenienttruth” (An Inconvenient Truth). The 96 minute DVD discusses Global Warming and the impact it is having on our earth right now as well as the projections for our future generations. Whether you look at this video through a political lens or not is irrelevant compared to the asking, “What can I do about it?” The movie is worth renting and discussing with your family the small, every day things we all can do to make a difference. http://www.climatecrisi.net/ is a great web site for learning about these efforts.
Here are a few things the site lists:
- Replace a regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (cfl)
- Move your thermostat down 2° in winter and up 2° in summer
- Clean or replace filters on your furnace and air conditioner
- Install a programmable thermostat
- Choose energy efficient appliances when making new purchases
- Wrap your water heater in an insulation blanket
- Use less hot water
- Turn off electronic devices you’re not using such as computer, T.V., stereo
- Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them such as phone chargers or hair dryers, etc.
- Only run your dishwasher when there’s a full load and use the energy-saving setting
- Insulate and weatherize your home
- Recycle at home
- Buy recycled paper products
- Plant a tree
- Get a home energy audit from your utility company
- Switch to wind or solar power
- Buy locally grown and produced foods
- Buy fresh foods instead of frozen
- Seek out and support local farmers markets
- Buy organic foods as much as possible
- Avoid heavily packaged products
- Eat less meat
I’m so grateful for smart scientists who watch out for us. I’m so grateful for this earth and I’m privileged to do my part in maintaining its beauty. Meet me on a crisp, snow-capped mountain to shout Halleluiah…because sweaty Arizona is just too hot! Imagine sweating in this dry heat! Go figure…
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Had to go to the dentist first. Good report, teeth still there, still doing their job. Everyone in the office commented on what an outstandingly beautiful day it is. The sun is shining; it's about 67 degrees; and the wind is just cool enough to keep the sunshine from being too hot. We all agreed being in the office was punishment on a day like today; and just why can't we have this kind of weather ALL the time. They apologized for having to send me back to an office and suggested I just take the rest of the day off. Too tempting for words.
As I drove back to the office (a trip of only 10 minutes, unfortunately), I keep sighing, knowing that I wanted to be outside instead of inside. I'm lucky. I work for people who allow you to work outside if you want too. However, as a technical writer, that would be difficult since I don't have the laptop. There's only one and the editor gets it most of the time.
Why does Heavenly Father suddenly give us such perfect days? I've often wondered, is it a foretaste of heaven? A reminder that He has given us such a beautiful planet? It's hard to believe life is anything but wonderful on a day like today. Maybe that's its purpose. All I know is I got back to the office way too fast. And I intend to enjoy the evening hours since I get off at 4 central time.
Pop Quiz: Which statements are technical and which are poetic (or not, depending on your definition of poetic)?
Sunday, March 4, 2007
It's 11:11 p.m., way past the time I planned to have this blog posted, and, yet, I'm still wrestling with the words.
It's not that I'm down for the count in the all-too-typical grappling of trying to make the words come. Instead, it's quite the opposite challenge tonight, as I'm overwhelmed, buried, inundated, and out-paced by the deluge of words and thoughts that are pinning my progress. With ideas coming faster than I can command them to stand in some cohesive order; words descending on me in paragraph-size chunks; memories and joys demanding to be catalogued and chronicled, I breathe deep and flex my keyboard muscles.
You see, just within the last 48 hours, I have many stories to tell...of a new grandbaby....of hearing Russell M. Nelson speak today...of driving for six hours to attend a one-year-old grandbaby's birthday party...of sharing fried cheesecake with a dear, dear friend...of dealing with ex-husbands...of laying on the bed visiting with two daughters while their children played around us...tears, laughter, joy, inspiration, angst, hope...all those words and more are wrapped up in the last 48 hours of my life.
As I try to sort it out and organize it all, I'm reminded of a delightfully simplistic strategy that I actually learned earlier in the week, before this word wave hit. The strategy could very well be the answer, the very move I need.
The "strategy" actually came in the form of an e-mail. My friend sent me one of those chain letter type, "forward this or you'll have seven years of pain" kind of e-mails. Only, this time, it was one that was well worth reading and even fun to do and forward on. It asked me to describe the sender in ONE WORD and send that one word back to her, and then to forward the e-mail to several others so they could do the same.
It was a bit of a challenge at first, but I was amazed to see how readily I was able to come up with one word to describe my friend. She and I have shared many experiences and she is many things in my life. Yet, I could easily simplify how I felt and what I knew about her and come up with one word that seemed to fit her.
It was a fun exercise and I saw a huge value in trying to distill feelings and thoughts into just one word. In fact, I would suggest you try it...and, for those of you who know me, I'd love to have you use me for your exercise if you'd like. Go ahead and try it...then post a response to how you'd describe me in one word!
While you do that, I'm going to go apply my stragegy on another front. I'll have to let you know later whether one-word journal entries work or not! I may have to fudge a little and use three or four words, but at least I will be on top, with the words working for me, rather than bowing to their chaos. After all, you can say a lot by grabbing just a few words and getting them down in phrases like: Fried cheesecake with Liz--delightful! or Ninth grandbaby--pure joy!
This will be brief--or as brief as a novelist can make it.
I just got home from Phoenix. The plane had computer trouble--something with the ability to find Seattle. As a chorus, the passengers advised the captain all he had to do was follow the freeway to LA and turn right, but he insisted on a working computer, so we sat buckled in our seats for three hours parsed into twenty-minute segments which the captain doled out, promising each time it would be fixed.
All I wanted to say today was Thank you.
Thanks to Lorna, who met me on the afternoon of her office-moving day to do some ANWA training. I learned so much, and I appreciate her meeting my schedule.
Thanks to Kari Pike, who came out of her way to pick me up at my hotel, take me to the conference, and bring me home again. It was great to get to know her and learn about all the exciting things she's doing.
Thanks to the organizers of the conference. It was super. What a great learning experience. I've been thinking about those triangles all the way home.
It was so great to see familiar faces--some of which I knew names for some some of which I had to peek at name tags for--but I won't next time! What beautiful women you are.
Thanks to Anna for the washcloth and the chocolate. I don't think I'm going to use either of them, but rather keep them to remember her by. I have to smile every time I think of Anna knitting presents to be given out to people who come to her funeral. That's truly carrying service above and beyond. You are a light to all of us, Anna, in so many ways.
My husband is home from church, and I have to go kiss him.
Well done, all you ANWA leaders. Great conference!
Saturday, March 3, 2007
Today at our annual ANWA convention, Connie Flynn, near the beginning of her excellent presentations on characterization and plotting, talked about choices to be pondered by our characters, and the consequences they might expect as a result of each choice. How did Connie know that was the theme I had already chosen to BLOG about today?
There is one area found in a whole lot of today’s media—books, movies, television, etc.—that especially upsets me: premarital sex. Way too often, when a beautiful girl meets a handsome man, the next scene shows them in bed together. And there are no adverse consequences shown or even hinted!
Perhaps the biggest reason I’m sensitive to this is (as many of you know) for sixteen years I taught Mesa’s school for pregnant students. (For the first two years I was the only 'pregnant' teacher.) During that time I interviewed, admitted, and worked with one thousand, one hundred and eleven different students. A few returned with a second pregnancy before graduation. I loved them all. I found them to be good girls who had made two important decisions: to stay in school, and to carry the baby despite suggestions, even strong persuasions, to abort and forget. Around half of the fathers were no longer in the picture, and others married, little prepared to support her. Most of them—the very young fathers and the mothers-to-be—were simply reaping the consequence of poor choices that put them in very vulnerable positions. Multiply these problems for my sixth and seventh grade students. Yes.
Now, I know there are temptations, and I’m not averse to seeing or reading of them in print, but I do expect the consequences to be at least as graphic as the sin. I’m old fashioned enough to believe the Ten Commandments are still worth following, especially by a so-called “Christian Nation,” which title we still claimed for America, when I was young.
The other side of the picture--filled with beauty--is the joy and contentment that comes through chosing self-control and wisdom.
A decade (or two, or three) ago, I wrote the following poem. I still believe it.
Choose wisely, for the choice is yours.
For every action there is
A built-in-irrevocable consequence.
It may not come immediately,
But it always catches up.
Since you cannot choose one act
And another consequence,
Why not choose the consequence first?
Then you will know
How to act.
Anna Laurene Arnett
Friday, March 2, 2007
Authors often talk about when they got “the call”, meaning the phone call either from an agent or directly from the editor that says “I’d like to offer you a contract on your book.”
Like me, these authors had spent years writing, attending workshops and conferences, reading, re-writing, editing, submitting to contests and critique partners, and then starting the process all over again until finally they get the nerve to submit to agents and editors, only to be rejected until they had enough rejection letters to wallpaper a small room. Then when the call came, they would speak of how they’d squealed, or tried to sound professional when they only wanted to scream in joy. They would try to relay the sweet euphoria of learning that someone thinks their passion is a true, marketable skill.
I had tasted a bit of that exhilaration each time I won a writing contest and looked forward to the day I’d get my own call. I wondered if I’d scream and jump up and down, or try to behave with dignity, and I hoped my time would come soon.
I have often discovered that the magical moments in life that others speak of never seem to happen that way for me. The marriage proposal certainly wasn’t the kind that I’d always anticipated. It was completely unexpected and made in a very casual, off-handed way. In fact, it was so casual that I thought for certain that he was kidding. He wasn’t.
Other major events in my life seemed to happen in much the same way. The call was just another of them. My call wasn’t a call, it was an e-mail. And I had just had minor surgery on that Monday, and had a more difficult recovery than I’d anticipated. By Friday night, I hadn’t even turned on my computer. My husband brought my laptop to my bed and asked if I wanted to check my e-mail, probably in an attempt to cheer me.
Almost lost among the over 100 e-mail messages for me, was the one from two days prior from the editor of a smaller press I’d submitted to. She said she’d like to offer me a contract on my book if I’d be willing to make two minor changes, one of which I’d already made in recent revisions.
I stared, re-read it, and then told my husband that they wanted to offer me a contract. He blinked and asked what that meant, thinking that I’d merely won another contest or something. It took some doing to convince him that I had basically sold my first book. I’m sure if I had been more excited about it, he would have caught on sooner. The times I’d won writing contests, I’d squealed and jumped up and down until I’d managed to frighten my teenagers. But instead, I lay there quietly, bleary-eyed, and told him in an uncharacteristically subdued voice that I was about to join the ranks of the published authors.
After 19 years, I realized that even though the marriage proposal was something of a disappointment, the man who made it certainly was not. Neither has life with him been. I am equally certain that my writing career will be satisfying despite its rather quiet entrance into my life.
The working title of my first published book is The Stranger She Married and the publisher is ImaJinn Books, (pronounced Imagine books). We will officially go to contract once I finish my revisions and they are approved. I will update as soon as I know more.
The best things in life may not always have the grandest entrances. I hope writing as a career is one of them.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
At the beginning of the year, our Gospel Doctrine teacher challenged us to record or thoughts and inspirations as we study the scriptures. The intention is to learn how to gain even more insight as we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As a writer, I saw other benefits as well and took up the challenge. Here is what I learned from a lesson in salt today.
Our lesson scheduled for this upcoming Sunday concerns Matthew 5 – “The Sermon on the Mount: A More Excellent Way.” The object of the lesson is to gain a greater understanding of how the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount can help us live a higher law…or how to “be better.”
Knowing how much room I have for improvement, I began my study of this chapter with gusto; looking up every reference listed in the footnotes. (Picture a starving kid at the buffet line, piling her plate, shoving bites into her mouth as she moves from dish to dish.) I wanted to understand. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be filled! (I still do!) But when I got to verse 13, I stopped “stuffing” and began tasting, relishing, and truly feasting on the words of Christ.
Matthew 5:13 says, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under the foot of men.” I have tried many times in the past to understand the symbolism of salt in the scriptures. I know that salt was one of the few means men had to preserve food, meat in particular, before the invention of refrigeration. Meat spoiled very quickly without the preservative qualities of salt. In the past, when I read that scripture, I saw the correlation between the need to be obedient and set a good example so that through the influence of the Holy Ghost we can be effective parents, teachers, and leaders. This time, I saw something more. I could see a higher law!
The footnotes to Matthew 5:13 directed me to Leviticus 2:13: “And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering; with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.” In other words, as it points out in the same footnote, salt was part of the sacrificial ritual. Without the salt, the offering was unacceptable before the Lord.
Numbers 18:19, “All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel off unto the Lord, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the Lord unto thee and the seed with thee.” Salt is a token of the covenant. But what covenant? If we are the salt of the earth, what does that mean? How does it work?
I found that Doctrine & Covenants 101:39-40 tells us, “When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men; they are called to be the savor of men; therefore, if that salt of the earth lose its savor, behold it is henceforth good for nothing only to be cast out and trodden under the feet of men.” D&C 103:9-10 is another reference. It states, “For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; And inasmuch as they are not saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men.” (Isn't it interesting that this verse uses the term "savior" rather than "savor?")
How can we be saviors of men? Oh! I think I am beginning to understand! D&C 2: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their father. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” Then D&C 138:48 says, “Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming.”It is through our baptismal and temple covenants that we “salt” the earth, is it not? Just as the sacrifices of Biblical times were unacceptable without the salt, if we fail to keep our covenants, thus losing our savor, then the earth’s creation will have been for naught, for without the salt, the sacrifice is unused and utterly wasted.
I know there is much more to this beyond my own understanding. I hope to continue to learn and grow and keep my "savor" so that I might continue to be the salt of the earth.