Sep 29, 2015

In Defense of WAS

by Marsha Ward 

[This post is reprinted from a post published in the Writer in the Pines Blog on June 17, 2007. The misguided cautions back then against using was are still around today.]

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of writers get hyper about the word was: how its usage in a novel surely marks the author as an amateur; how terrible it must be to have more than, say, 60 examples of was in a full-length novel; how we should all do a search in our manuscripts and root out the evil word was.

I demur.

No, I didn't misspell demure, meaning quiet and modest; shy, which many people think I am. Little do they know! I mean demur, to raise objection; take exception; object.

Yes, I demur. And now I'll digress a bit, too.

When I was in school, past tense had two forms: preterite (it can be spelled without the last e) and imperfect. Preterite is the simple past tense, like I walked. Imperfect has a helping verb, yes, often it happens to be the infamous WAS: I was walking. It could even be I used to walk.

Now that grammar is much fancier than when I was young, preterite is called simply past tense and imperfect has been split into two, maybe three camps, depending on which source you cite. These are my buddy the imperfect, past progressive, and past continuous. Some people call past progressive progressive past. That's scholars for you, always changing things to get their name out there. The most commonly cited camp of the old imperfect is past progressive, but I like "imperfect," so I'll go with that in my discussion.

Preterite or past tense is used to express actions that took place in the past. Bang! The action was completed. Done. Finished.

Imperfect denotes a past tense with an imperfect aspect. The action is incomplete. It's ongoing in the past, or happened regularly or continuously until it stopped. This might be expressed with a verb ending in "ing": Mary was laboring for fourteen hours. Trust me, that's continuous and progressive, both.

Sometimes you use both preterite and imperfect in the same sentence: As I was walking in the park this morning, I saw a red-winged blackbird. Saw, was, was, saw, hmmmm. [Sorry, I almost digressed again--really far afield. I apologize.]

I studied Spanish in high school and really learned it when I served a mission for the LDS Church in South America. You might say I was learning Spanish the whole time I was there. (Aha! Imperfect!) Spanish makes no apologies for using both past tenses. They each have their use.

Okay, back to why I demur about using the word was. Writers get told to use strong, active verbs to express their action. Yes. That is the best policy, and very handy to keep out passive voice. Most writers take this to mean they always have to use preterite tense.

However . . . when an action is not complete, when it is ongoing, you just gotta use the imperfect tense, which could mean you gotta use was. I maintain that was is misunderstood, misused, and misappreciated, er, unappreciated, and using it not always leads to the dreaded passive voice. All the popular novelists use was. I say you can too! Within reason. Also, with reason. Knowing why you're using it, and all that.

Agree or disagree? Tell me your side of this issue.

Sep 24, 2015

Be As Strong As...A Rose?

Last week as I was outside waiting for my son's school bus, I looked over and noticed the start of a rose bush. It's a wispy little auburn branch, still in its infancy with only a few small leaves sprouting out of the stem.

What makes this little wanna-be bush so fantastical is that I've tried to kill that darned thing three times already! I've never been partial to rose bushes. They're pretty to look at, and they smell wonderful, but I don't want them in my yard pricking me every time I need to prune them.

When we moved into our home nine years ago, I knew the rose bushes would have to go. I had one on each side of the front door, and on each side of our garage. The first time I pulled the bushes out, only three came back. And boy did they come back in force! They grew through the winter, and my guests were constantly getting stuck on random branches poking out from the bush like spastic arms going in every direction.

The second time, I pulled the bushes and transplanted them in my dying parent's yard where they could tend the blooms from their patio and watch them grow during their final spring and summer. The roses grew to be large and vibrant – a delight to my father who would use his feet to walk his wheelchair out to the edge of the patio and water the flowers every day. Two new rosebushes grew out of the gaping holes I'd left in the ground at my house.

Finally, this spring, as a Mother's Day gift, my husband and children yanked out the two stubborn bushes, filled in the holes, covered them with three layers of extra thick landscaping tarp, several hundred pounds of landscaping rock, and giant planters filled with lilies.

But alas, the little rosebush found a way around the obstacles and is growing in spite of their greatest efforts.

Every day since I discovered this mutinous little plant, I have smiled and wondered. Is this what we need to be like? Is this how Heavenly Father wants us to act when faced with terrible adversity in our lives, feeling as if we've been wounded to our core and cannot go on? Are we supposed to be strong and resilient like that stubborn little rose bush that doesn't realize it's supposed to die? But instead finds a way through the darkness, lifts itself up, and stands proud for the world to see and admire?

I decided today, as I passed by the rosebush that it had won. It had earned the right to stay in my yard, and I will just have to let it be. It's will is stronger than mine, and I hope that it will stand as a reminder that I should remember to live my life as strong as a rose.

Sep 22, 2015

The Latest Publishing News....and it's not good

by Terri Wagner

Every once in a while I revert to my favorite form of writing for myself...technical or non fiction. Today I decided on a whim to look for the latest publishing news. The "worse economy since the Great Depression" (not my words but cannot find the link) has impacted the writing world as much as would be expected. According to the Authors Guild, if authors relied solely on their writing profits, they would be below the poverty line. Sit back and re read that. How can that be? Look at JK Rowling, Tom Clancy, James Rollins, Terry Brooks, the list goes on. Consider Jackie Collins who recently passed away. Bells go off when I read articles like this. I think it is the analyst in me.

The article continues its dismal news by blaming interestingly enough e-book publishing and Amazon in particular. Apparently the Authors Guild blames technology for the low return rate for authors. Not sure I follow that logic. And here's where my nose starts twitching and why I love non fiction.

First, what is the poverty line? Next, what is the average salary from writing and where did they get their information? Follow up, why assume it is the epublishing situation? What other information is out there available? Are salaries down everywhere? Is this a systemic or a isolated event? When did this start to occur? While novelists get a thrill out of their characters, I get a thrill out of tracking down usable information.

Out of my questions, the article answered a few, but not enough for me to decide whether this information is useful to me or not. And that is the real test for non fiction. Is it useful? The stats were derived by a survey of about 1400 writers, over 89% over the age of 50 (which is rather strange since it is young people who are technology savvy). I would have been interested in a bigger cross-section of author age. Of those authors, 33% had at least one self published book. While the Guild admittedly did the survey to ascertain the effect of ebooks on writing salaries, the whole article only whets my appetite.

This is what excites me as a writer and a teacher. Dissect the news. Decide its usefulness. Go prepare a more extensive article yourself. Hmmmm wonder how much money I could haul in that way? The article does not tell us what kind of writers these were. More fodder to uncover! Who said non fiction was boring?

Sep 19, 2015


by Cassie Shiels

To be good writers it is helpful to be good readers. Read books in your genre, read other peoples manuscripts, become a beta reader, read books in genres you are interested in but nervous to write, any of these will help you become a better writer. Reading helps us see how stories are put together, how they flow, how transitions are done, how characters interact in the written word, etc. And its just fun!

But don't just read, OBSERVE! Take time to look at the word choice for age groups (especially for children's books). Observe how much time passes in these books, how the author built up the tension (or didn't), how the author kept it a page turner (or didn't) etc.

 If you want sit and write down why you love your favorite books, what pulls you into them? What keep you up late reading at night? What element draws you in the most? What makes you put the book down?
After your observations, make a list of things you want to make sure you are writing in your own books. You could even write a list of things to make sure you don't include in your own books.

I know I always struggle with the limited time I have to write and read as a busy mother. The argument of what is more important is always there, but both are important. I might not read everyday (other then books to my kids) and I might not write everyday, but could I do one or the other every day,? Even if it was only for a few minutes?  Could I say, I am too tired to sit down and write tonight and pull out a book for ten minutes or so instead? I bet I could, and then I would be helping my writing skills either way.

Reading is awesome, and if we didn't think so I doubt we would be writers.

Happy reading and writing!

Sep 17, 2015

The Law of the Harvest

by Kari Diane Pike

It snowed in the mountains of Northern Utah last night. Friends posted stunning photos of those snow-capped peaks and talked about putting away lawn mowers and bringing their snow blowers out of hibernation. I'm just a little bit jealous.

I love autumn. Crunchy leaves under my feet, the first morning you get up and see your breath when you step out the door and the way the first frost begins the mad frenzy to bring in apple and pumpkin crops, and replenish the woodpile for those cozy winter firesides (accompanied by the cider and pumpkin spice everything one makes from the harvest, of course).

I miss autumn.

This pondering brought back memories of a certain apple tree that grew in our yard in Utah. We actually had six apple trees, but while five of the trees grew in the level, cultivated yard, the sixth tree clung to a steep, rocky incline along the edge of the property. When we first moved into that home, I complained all summer about pulling weeds  from between those rocks and trying to prune and care for that apple tree. I asked around, "Who in their right mind would plant a tree on the side of a hill and surround it with rocks?" It was nearly impossible to safely set a ladder up and have access to the fruit on that tree.

Then autumn came and with it the first frost--and my first bite of an apple from that ornery tree. The creamy white flesh snapped between my teeth. The sweet-tart juice dripped down my chin. The fresh apple scent brought visions of apple tarts, applesauce, and hot caramel apple cider. Yeah, it was that good.

I had so many apples one year, I posted several recipes and uses for apples on my very neglected personal blog. You can find them here if you are looking for ideas for some yummy apple treats. Anyway, all of these memories got me to thinking about that tree and why, of all the trees in the yard, that one had the best tasting fruit.

Let me divert a little bit first:

A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a gentleman who had lived in South America for a few years. We talked about climate and rainfall and growing things. He mentioned how the availability of water and the rich soil in some areas create conditions that allow companies to produce pine trees in half the time it takes to grow them in the United States. Instead of the usual 30 - 45 years, they can grow and harvest pine trees for lumber in as little as 15 years. They export more than 90% of their lumber to Japan. Amazing!

There is a downfall though. The wood from those fast-growing trees doesn't start forming heartwood (the dense, disease resistant, dead wood that forms as the new sapwood takes its place) until the tree is almost fifteen years old and ready to harvest. While the strength of the wood is sufficient for building purposes, it's not quite as dense or strong as the pine trees grown in more challenging climates.

Can you see where I'm headed with this?! Adversity, time, patience, and effort.  Could those be the reason that little apple tree produced such desirable apples? I learned something else, too. That crazy tree volunteered to grow in that rocky hillside. No one could tell me the variety of the apple tree because a young child had planted seeds from an apple his/her mom gave him for a snack one day. I can't help but ponder on the faith and hope and love that went into planting the seed that grew into that tree. Do you remember how magical growing things from a seed appeared to you when you were a child?

I never get tired of watching things grow. Witnessing life multiply and replenish testifies to me that there is a God in heaven who loves me and watches over me. I am grateful for the lessons I learn along the way. The Granny Smith and Red and Golden Delicious apple trees in my yard all did well. With the advantage of fertilized, aerated, and irrigated soil, they blessed our family with an abundance of good quality fruit. But that little tree on the rocky hillside had the best tasting apples of all. Was it because the tree had to work a little harder? Was it because I had to put more thought and effort into finding ways to pick the fruit? Or was it the love and hope with which the seed was planted? Maybe it was a combination of all of the above.

I'm thinking about all this and how it can be applied to my writing. I can be patient and keep practicing and working at my craft. I can learn from my mistakes and think a little deeper, drawing from the well of experience my ANWA and other writer friends have to offer. The challenges I face not only make me stronger, they give me things to write about--like how the fruit that takes the most effort to harvest usually tastes the sweetest.

Life is magnificent!

Sep 15, 2015

Flitting Thoughts

by Marsha Ward

Have you ever had one of those days when the things you had planned to accomplish get sidetracked by the things you had to jump on NOW?

Yeah. Yesterday was one of those days.

I wanted to launch into my writing first off. I made the mistake of looking at my email messages. Yahoo! An annual co-op book sale was now available in which to participate. I needed to pick a couple of books to feature, gather the requested information, send that with cover images, then pay the nominal price to be listed.

Thought: while this is designed to sell books, it isn't writing.

I got a notice that I could download or view the new ANWA newsletter. I like to keep an archive copy, so I printed the newsletter out from the pdf file on the website. Yuck! It came out all mono-typey in a san-serif font. Almost unreadable! I've had this problem before. Then I downloaded the pdf, printed off the newsletter, and the type was now wonderful and marvelous and readable.

Thought: always download a document in pdf before printing.

I really, really need to write my own newsletter with announcements that I send out to readers (like for the discounted books I've arranged to sell), but I need a new photo at the top. I spent an hour or two looking through my photo images for the present header so I could check the dimensions before I made a new one. Could I find it? No.

Thought: GRRRRR!

Maybe I should just go watch a movie and eat popcorn.

That sounds good to me!

BTW, while looking for the above photos, I. Found. That. Dratted. Header. Misfiled, of course.

Sep 12, 2015

Mini-Critique Groups

by Cindy R. Williams

A great thing is happening all around us in the writing world, Mini-critique groups. Thanks to ANWA we are blessed to have our monthly chapter meetings which serve to unite, network, teach, share, accountability and critique. Mini-critique groups are unique in that they give us weekly accountability and a longer reading and critiquing time for more in-depth help.

How do you get one going?

A great place to start is within your ANWA Chapter. May I suggest you keep your group no larger than four writers. The beauty of a mini-critique group is that it gives you more time for each individual to share. If there are four writers and you each get a half hour, you are talking two hours total. Actually, if you are like my mini-critique group, you will spend the first half little bit chatting and catching up, so we meet for 2 1/2 hours. Much longer and you begin to tire and when tired, we tend not to be as sharp.

I am also aware of a few mini-critique groups that include non-ANWA members. Great idea if you have a friend or two you want to include that are not LDS so aren't a part of ANWA. These mini-critique groups are yours to do with what you want. You don't have to report minutes. You don't have to abide by any of the ANWA by-laws and policies or procedures. You can do with them whatever you want or need.

Where to meet?

My little group meets rotates around to one of our homes. Others meet in a public place like the library (they often have meeting rooms), Barnes and Noble, Starbuck's, Paradise Bakery or some other restaurant. Use your imagination and what fits your group.

Personally, my mini-writing group is a great blessing in my writing life. I wish you great luck with this mini-critique group tool.

Sep 8, 2015

Ahhhhh Football is Back

by Terri Wagner

As the saying goes, there are only two football and not-college football. In my house, that's totally true. During the off time, we talk, discuss, argue, worry, and read all we can on how things are going. Then there's that loooonnnngggg gap between A-day games in the spring and that first game. Usually that first weekend I watch a lot of games, then I settle down and just root for my Crimson Tide.

So here's my take on the first weekend, BYU gets the nod for the most exciting moment of the weekend. A hail-Mary pass in the final seconds of the game???? Wow!!! Loved it. Saw it. My Bama gets the nod for now-I-understand-Coach Saban's-quarterback problem. It was not really resolved in this game either. I will be watching that concern. Field goal kicker...puzzling. He really is pretty bad, and yet remains the frontrunner. And as always with Coach Saban, Mr. Henry, Drake, and Howard get the job done. Ohio State...not a real game...couldn't tell much, but they won decisively. My not-so-friendly rival Auburn University won but again was not really challenged. And my second favorite SEC team LSU got rained out. So it has begun.

Down here no lie, people walk around nodding at each other and saying "Roll Tide." That is our only indication fall is on its way. Here in the Gulf Coast region, fall comes much later in October, if then.

Sep 5, 2015

Sometimes life is crazy

by Cassie Shiels

Sometimes life just gets crazy. Things pile up on each other, or everything seems to happen at once. Its those times where we feel like we are pulling out our hair for a week or two, because of LIFE!

I have been having a few weeks like that and I see at least one more week of craziness.  Something had to give and unfortunately it had to be my writing. I was doing better at writing more often, but then life happens. I felt really bad about it for a few days, until I gave myself permission to let it go for just this small segment of time. I know that means it might be hard getting back into the swing of things here in a week or two, but at least I can, And in the meantime I have more time to deal with the craziness, which has to be dealt with.

So I am here to say, if you don't always make your daily writing goals, at a time in your life where other things take importance, it's okay. And it's okay to not feel guilty or beat yourself up about it. You know, you are going back to it, after whatever craziness has ended. This is just a short segment of time. And life happens.

Sep 3, 2015

You Get What You Pray For

by Kari Diane Pike

If you follow this blog even a little bit, you are well aware of how much I have struggled the past several months with the idea of becoming what is referred to as an "empty-nester." I even tried kicking that can down the road a little farther by having a sweet niece live with us while she does her student teaching here in the Valley of the Sun. It's not quite the same. She is, after all, an adult - with her own friends and interests and responsibilities.

I decided that the best tools I have to deal with this change in life are heartfelt prayers and more serious study of the scriptures and basic doctrines of the gospel. After all, how often had I, as a mom of young children, longed for time to really sink my teeth into the scriptures? Plus, the new modified year-round schedule the Higley school district instituted helped me feel a lot better about not having students at home. I was thrilled that I didn't have to deal with the headache of school calendars.

Right away, my scripture study took me to some chapters of Isaiah that I have always struggled to understand. Okay, let's be honest. I struggle to understand all of the Isaiah chapters. So I asked Heavenly Father to help me gain a greater knowledge of that great prophet's writings. I should have been more specific. I forgot that I always get what I pray for - and that answers usually comes in unexpected ways.

Hmmmm...empty nest + desire to understand Isaiah better + negative attitude toward hard working education professionals (not really, but kind of. Nothing personal - I just think having school in Phoenix/Mesa/Gilbert in July is insane) = Sister Pike needs to be called to teach early morning seminary. After all, they are studying the Old Testament (including Isaiah) this year. Not only that, the class has students from four different schools with four different schedules. Let's give her the best opportunity we can to develop patience and understanding.

And you know what? I love it.

I am learning and growing in ways I never dreamed of. I team teach with a phenomenal woman in my ward. We have twenty students registered and average about fifteen in attendance each morning. At first, they appeared to be a tough crowd. They just sat and stared at me when I asked open questions. I couldn't tell if they were with me or not. So I started calling them out, by name (a small miracle in and of itself), and asking them directly for answers. Oh they were with me alright. Turns out, we just have a class full of extremely intelligent introverts. And they are magnificent.

Youth today have a tough gig. The other morning I asked my students to write down something on their white boards that the Lord asks them to do that their friends don't understand and for which they get ridiculed. Every student had a different answer. Just a few:

Keeping the Sabbath Day holy.
Not dating until you are sixteen.
Dressing modestly.
Following the Word of Wisdom.
Attending Seminary...

This past week's lessons included reading about Abraham and his desire to live a more righteous life despite the challenges he faced every day. His own father had turned to idol worship. Children were being sacrificed to heathen gods. Abraham even found himself laid on one of those alters, bound and prepared to be sacrificed because he preached against such wicked practices. I asked the students to ponder on how Abraham's situation 2000 years before Christ could be applied to their lives as teenagers today.

This morning's devotional by one of the freshman students made my heart sing. This young man said that he struggled a bit going to a brand new school. He wanted to make friends in all of his classes and for the most part he had been able to do that. Except for third hour. He didn't know a soul in his third hour class and that bothered him. He decided to pray about it. He asked Heavenly Father to please help him make some friends in third hour.

A couple of days later, his school counselor called him into the office. She said that due to some kind of schedule mix-up, they needed to change his third hour World History class to a third hour English class. And you know what? He discovered that he already knew several other students in that English class.

I wish you could have seen the light in his eyes as he shared this experience. I said "That. Is. Awesome. So, did you just pray about friends in third hour or did you mention World History at all?"

He clarified, "I only prayed to have friends during third hour. And that's what I got. Heavenly Father answered my prayer. He just did it in a way I totally didn't expect. That seems to be the way it happens most of the time. We get answers - we just don't always know how."

When I see the gospel at work in the lives of these young people, my own testimony grows. The power of the Savior's Atonement is real. There is hope. Everything is going to be okay.

And remember: You get what you pray for!

Life is magnificent.

Sep 1, 2015

Self-Publishing Checklist

by Marsha Ward

Several days ago I made a note to myself that I needed to find--or write--an all-encompassing work flow for getting a project from finished draft to published, in both ebook and print formats. I wanted it to include items I had forgotten in previous forays into the indie publishing world, such as registering a copyright.

I know I have such a chart somewhere among my treasures, but at the time I couldn't find it, or maybe I didn't look in the right place. At any rate, I wanted to find something that would serve, so I went hunting on the Internet.

Of course, keywords being key in a search engine, I started off with workflow. Well, that was all about software, and not what I needed at all. After a couple more adventures with keywords, I hit the right one. What I needed was a checklist.

I hit several sites that were helpful, and many that were not. Along the way, I collected links to some of the more useful ones, but none was exactly what I was seeking.

Perhaps some of these lists and posts (some of which are quite funny) will be of use to you: 

This post nearly came the closest to what I needed, plus it's designed for self-publishers: 

But then I came across this post, and found even more elements that I wanted for my list. Oddly enough, it's from a book printer's site, about sending a manuscript to them for printing, but hey, there are things there I want--also some I don't need but you might, so I include it here.

In the end, I will have to winnow through the various suggestions and write up a checklist that will work for my business, but that's okay. At least I have many suggestions so I can make a start on that project.

What will your publishing checklist contain?