May 27, 2017

Keeping Up

            I’m not keeping up very gracefully; there, I said it. In the last four months, I’ve had five major trips, my daughter’s family moved (and took my heart with them), Husband retired, I planned and threw a surprise retirement party, I consoled three family members struggling with depression (while trying not to join them), I reorganized and redecorated a room in the house, I accepted a new Church position, finished my second novel, planned its book launch (Murder On Deck), and started another book, while outlining four to follow, all the while juggling routine things like keeping the house running, the refrigerator full, the weeds at bay, the gas tank full, managing the family newsletter, helping friends as needed, and ignoring the squawks of my fat and intriguing medical chart as best I can.

            We’re busy—we’re all very busy. I think the real news is that more of us don’t go up in a puff of smoke by the end of a normal week.  

             We all have the same amount of time in a day, week, month, year, although none of us know when the expiration date looms. How do we prioritize all that needs to be done without going ‘round the bend?

         I think payoff makes a big difference for me. If you offered me a million dollars to wash your dog, even though I detest dogs, I’d be there with my soap and bucket in minutes. Sometimes thoughts swirl in my head, setting up a cloud of distraction I can’t see past. In that case, writing them down (getting them out so they’re less in) is the payoff. Walking past the toy room after my three small grandchildren moved away threatened my tear ducts, so redoing that room, winnowing the roomful of toys to one bin and box of kid books, is what I needed.

        Some days I lie in bed listing all the things I wish to accomplish that day, and arise with a sense of purpose. And there are days when I lie back down at night, knowing I actually did accomplish the list. Those days are infrequent; more often, my plans are derailed by something or someone. 

         When I was a newlywed, I met a woman who was so severely scheduled, she could not let go of her calendar long enough to be of any use to anyone. If a neighbor needed help to run a child to the ER, too bad: Tuesday’s floor-mopping day. On a ward temple trip day, she’d be home washing curtains, because the third Saturday was always curtain-washing day. Personally, I can’t recall the last time my curtains made it up the list of priorities enough to be washed. I bandaged her son’s bleeding knee myself because she wasn’t done rearranging the front closet and he couldn’t wait.

             I watched this woman with fear and fascination, determined to allow myself space and time to help as needed. She accomplished more than I, certainly, but I’d like to think that days when I choose to jettison my plans, I’m choosing the better part. Some days, a friend needs a ride to the store; the laundry will wait. If a grown child needs to talk for an hour, the To Do list is set aside.

        I guess it’s the same with writing.  I know writers who stick to a rigid schedule, say 4am-7am; don’t bother them unless the neighborhood’s on fire. I also know writers who write when the muse rears her head, and not between. So long as I write a bit every day and don’t neglect  the most important tasks, I’m probably alright. Right?

May 25, 2017

Seminary Rocks

by Kari Diane Pike

I'm baaack!

In the whirlwind of end-of-school activities, out-of-town guests, family weddings, birthdays and unexpected doctor appointments, I completely forgot about popping in here. Making time to write anything has never been more challenging. I even scheduled writing sessions on the calendar and left myself reminder notes. You know that saying, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans"? Life happened. And I'm so glad it did. Life is magnificent - even when it's hard.

So, in between doctor and dental appointments and scurrying around to find last minute items for my trip to Europe (insert a squeal of excitement here) I have to share the sweetest experience we had in seminary last week.

During our study of the book of Revelation, I testified to the students about how learning to hear the Spirit speak to them and then acting on that personal revelation is the greatest skill they can learn. Actually, it's a principle we discussed all throughout the year. Near the end of each class period, I've been asking my students if anyone would share their thoughts on a doctrine or principle that stood out to them. What did the Spirit teach them during class? I'll wait for a minute or two for someone to speak up, but most of the time they just ponder for a bit. Pondering is good. But I really wanted them to share with each other.

Last week  something finally clicked. I asked the usual questions. I heard the usual silence. But just as I opened my mouth to ask a student to offer the closing prayer, Nathan sat up straight and grinned. "Oh! I have something to share. I had an epiphany yesterday."

"That's great, Nathan. What happened?"

Nathan hesitated for a moment and ducked his head. "Well, maybe it wasn't really that big of a deal. Never mind."

"Nathan! We would love to hear your thoughts. Please share it with us. You never know how what you learned might help someone else. That's what this class if for. Go ahead."

"Well, okay. So, It was getting hot outside and I got really thirsty. I wanted a root beer. I opened the fridge and I thought about how great that root beer was going to taste. It would be cold and sweet and fizzy. But then, out of nowhere this thought came to my mind. I could drink that root beer and it would be good, but after I drank it I would still be thirsty. What I really needed was water. And that's when it hit me. That was kind of like the gospel! People look for happiness and solutions to their problems, and they can drink that root beer or Sprite, but while they might enjoy it, it won't solve their problem. They need the Living Water of the gospel to really find the answers that will bring them real happiness. So, yeah. That was my epiphany."

It took all of my self control to keep from jumping over the table and giving Nathan a great big hug. The entire class buzzed with excitement. They could relate to what Nathan said. They felt the Spirit witness to them the truth of what Nathan shared.

I couldn't stop grinning. "Did you write your experience in your journal?"

Nathan looked me right in the eye and said, "Oh, I'll never forget it."

I gave him my best glare. "Nathan, write it down."

We had our last day of seminary yesterday. Even though it was a treat to sleep past 4:30 a.m. I already miss those sleepy faces and the amazing things I learned from them each morning. I can't wait to witness more of these special moments next year.

Bring on summer!


May 23, 2017

ComiCon and Me

by Marsha Ward  @MarshaWard

Several months ago, I was invited to share a booth with a friend at Phoenix ComiCon. I went back and forth before I decided to give it a go. Now there are four of us authors in the booth.

ComiCon begins Thursday, May 25, and runs through Sunday, May 28.

I'm not positive whether or not I'm a good fit for the event. I write Westerns. ComiCon celebrates popular culture, particularly in the fields of SciFi & Fantasy. But before Firefly, there were Westerns, right?

If nothing else, I can take the expenses off my income taxes in several categories, including Advertising and Fees.

Although ComiCon is not strictly a book event, authors do participate, in both booths and at "Artist Alley" tables. For me, this will be an adventure in marketing, putting my author brand out there, conquering fear and anxiety, and trying to be an extrovert for four days.

I've been working on what books to take, how many copies of each book, how to display the books, how to decorate the booth, and other details. I've sent a ton of questions to my friend, read the policies of the show innumerable times (and I'm sure I missed something!), and even had nightmares.

Yes, nightmares. Horrible, vivid nightmares of having my car stolen from downtown Phoenix, thus stranding me 150 miles from home. Once I got my parking secured, though, the nightmares went away.

The last couple of days, I've been working on handouts. One handout showcases my major series, "The Owen Family Saga," and the other has a headline of "WESTERNS, America's Timeless Fiction," with photos of nine of my works, plus fifteen QR code links to various sites on the reverse.

I also made a ring-bound set of cards with large QR codes for those who wish to go purchase ebooks on the spot. Or just look at one of the books at Amazon.

Why all the QR codes?

In view of the demographic of the attendees, I've decided to take a minimum amount of paperback books, because this crowd is more likely to buy and read ebooks. I'm attempting to make it easy for them to purchase books of mine that catch their interest!  

There are tons of apps for reading/scanning QR codes. I'm hoping many attendees will have such scanning apps.

So much goes on at ComiCon that I probably won't be sitting around watching my feet swell as I thought at first. I might get to go roam a little to take in a panel, or just wander around and see the sights. I'm sure there will be cringe-worthy costumes, but some are likely to be spectacular--even if I don't know what show or comic book character they represent.

My friends have advised me to have fun. By gum, I'm going to have fun. Really, truly.

I'll be in the Four Carat Press Booth in the Lower Level Exhibit Hall, Hall Six, Booth #1797, against the south wall. Come say hello!

May 18, 2017

I Will Not Compare Myself To Others

Normally I'm a pretty confident person.  My life is not perfect. I know it. I've come to terms with the things I cannot change, and I work harder to change what I can.

But for some reason, this last couple of weeks, I've struggled with comparing myself to others.  I don't know if this is because I spent the better part of that time with strep throat and the flu, while also caring for my youngest who had strep throat and a staph infection.  I do know this means I'm about seven pages behind on my to-do list.

I know part of my problem is that I'm spending too much time on social media. It's hard not to compare your rough draft to someone's final product.

I listen to stories from my writer friends who are cranking out a book or two or three a year, and I'm thinking, "Hey! I think I added 2 pages this month."

Plus, I'm working on a book with my sisters. Each of us has a specific list of things responsibilities for the book.  We also have a mountain of other responsibilities in addition to writing this book.  As we do our daily/weekly check-ins, I continually struggle with internal dialogue accusing me of not pulling my weight and doing as much, or as well, or as often...well, you get the picture.

Finally, last night around 1:00 a.m., as I was staying up extra late to close the self-perceived gap between me and my sisters, I threw my hands up in the air.  I closed my eyes, wishing I could go to bed and get some sleep. But my mind kept saying, "Just a few more minutes.  You're almost caught up."

For one brief moment, I remembered a conversation with my husband earlier in the day. We'd been talking about the atonement, but it just as easily related to my desire to 'keep up'.  He told me, "What you do is good enough.  It doesn't need to be  your very best, or 100% all the time.  As long as you are trying, that's good enough."

And with that thought, I drug my butt out of my chair, and shuffled to bed.

This morning, without the fog of exhaustion seeping into my thoughts, I see the error of my ways.  Why am I comparing myself to someone who isn't living the same life I am? They're not fighting my battles. They don't have the same demands on their time.  Yes, there are people who write better, more prolifically, and publish more often than me.  I will be there one day.  But there is a time and a season for everything.  This is not my time or season to be a full-time writer.  I am a full-time mother, and a part-time writer.  Full-time writing will come in time.  I just need to be patient. Comparing myself to others is like opening the front door and welcoming Satan to make himself at home.  Nothing good will come of it.

May 16, 2017

What is it about Facebook?

by Terri Wagner

So many published writers I know tell you that you need a website, a twitter account, a blog, and of course be on FB. I have often wondered what the benes are for being on FB for actually writing your novel. I see the bene for promoting and marketing your book, but writing it?

Since I love research, I went looking for the benes on having FB as part of your writing experience. Here's what I found. Hope it gives you some ideas on how to utilize FB to your advantage as a writer. Five Ways That Social Media Benefits Writing and Language author Tenore believes that social media can help you be a better writer. My favorite of Tenore's suggestions is setting yourself apart by writing your comments well. Hones your ability to write well in a larger context like a book.

Shahabi suggests that it gives the readers an "in" with their favorite author, prompting an exchange of ideas and even suggestions on where to take the characters or storyline. I particularly like that idea since I know that several early authors of the Star Wars Expanded Universe worked together and the movies coming out now include some of those Expanded Universe characters and plotlines on minor characters.

Pew Research has concluded that all the writing we do on social media can still help us in formal writing. Good news. Teachers feel that while informal writing "creeps" into formal writing, it's an opportunity to teach students about the difference between formal and informal writing, as well as clarifying what constitutes plagiarism.

I remember many years ago that President Kimball encouraged us to keep journals using formal language. Bottom line is that everyone seems to agree that writing takes practice and the more practice the better so sharpen your tools by submitting those Facebook posts and comments. It's a good thing.

May 13, 2017


              Have you ever thought about sponges? Natural sponges go way back in history. Mentioned in Old Testament, Jesus on the cross, pilgrims on the Mayflower had them, pioneers carried them across the plains, they’re used in many societies, old and recent. Natural sponges are commercially harvested in only two places on earth; Greece, and Tarpon Springs, Florida.

                     When Greek immigrants moved to western Florida, they brought sponge diving skills and heritage with them. They sent their sons into the Gulf of Mexico to explore, and were delighted to find sponge beds. A community was established.

                  Sponge harvesting process is interesting. Divers, young men ages 18-24,  wear weighted underwater suits with trailing air hoses, connected to compressors on the sponge boats. They leave all that’s familiar and descend into foreign and often hostile regions. 30 -145 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. At that depth, there is very little light, and of course, no air. They stay underwater until their harvest bags are full, returning to the boats over and over, 5-8 hours a day. The small boats stay out in the Gulf  far from shore, several weeks at a time. The divers drag long net bags, and carry rakes with them. The rakes have 4 tines five inches long, which are used to both measure and harvest mature sponges. As they walk along the sea bottom, they pop off sponges and pack them into the long bags that trail behind them. The sponges leave behind micro particles, which then grow into new sponge colonies.

             At this point, the sponges are unappealing, and almost unrecognizable. They are covered in thick black slimy skin, like squishy rocks. Back on the boat, they are dumped out of the nets and piled two deep on the boat’s decks. They are turned and tossed to dry in the blistering Florida sun. After a few days, the sponges are beaten and battered to remove the skin, which is now dry and papery.

          Now the sponges are the familiar texture and a dingy yellow, recognizable, but not yet useful. They are soaked in a caustic solution to remove sand, small shrimp, other contaminants.  They are strung like beads on a necklace and draped high above the boat's decks. After several weeks, the boat is full and returns to shore. There the sponges are clipped, graded and sold for many uses.

              If harvested and put through the process, and cared for, sponges can last many years, even generations.  If they are not harvested, they are not good for much. They will eventually die and decay. Even sea creatures will not eat them.
We are much like the natural sponges. We are content to sit in the familiar darkness, stuck firmly to our favorite rocks, where not much is required of us.   The Lord created the lowly sponges to be used and useful. He wants us to be alive, vibrant, bright, strong and of use in his kingdom.

               To do that, we must be individually gathered and brought into the light, and go through a refining process. The process of becoming all we are meant to be  is not easy. The sponges probably don’t like their process, either. We humans often grumble about leaving our favorite spot in the comfortable darkness. The sponges are not fond of being hauled out of their environment. They don’t adjust well to the piercing hot sun which causes them to die on some level. They likely protest shedding their slimy skin, a part of them they probably thought was important, but actually prevented them from becoming clean and capable and useful. Do we balk when called upon to give up our favorite sins, or lazy habits? Do we mutter when asked to serve? The scriptures refer to putting off the natural man --- is that similar to the sponges’ gooey skin, holding them back from all they could become?

We humans don’t enjoy trial, work, stress, illness, problems, sorrow, or temptation. It’s way easier to sit in the darkness, where so little is required. Sponges are meant to reach their potential, and so are we.

                  Natural sponges can last many years, and the only care they require is to be thoroughly rinsed off and left to dry between uses. Like the sponges, if we serve where needed, and rinse off sins and contaminants as they arise, taking time to dry and regroup between challenges, we can be available to help wherever we are needed in the Lord’s kingdom.

           As we go along the path called life, we must guard against the temptation to judge others. We are all at different stages of the process. Like the sponges, some are still anchored in darkness, unaware of the brilliant light available. Others are recently scooped into the gospel net, unsure of that happens next, or what is expected of them. We all know Saints who are crusty, and others who happily soak up all they can. Some may  be half dried, others basking in the hot sun, others rather flakey. Some of us need a through rinsing, some are already clean and productive, a few almost worn out in service. Some feel we want to sit on the shelf a while, others feel decidedly wrung out. 

           Living the gospel requires effort and some sacrifice.  Joseph Smith explained the important relationship between sacrifice and faith thusly, “ A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary to life and salvation.” We humans tend to be a lazy bunch, but in our hearts, we know effort is required. Deep down, we know we must DO something, even if we don’t much feel like it. 

May 9, 2017

Advice for Writers: Write the Book!

By Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

The first step to getting a book published is to write it. Here's an encouraging excerpt about that from my new book for writers, The Checklist: Indie Publishing My Way.

The essential step in publishing a book is writing it. Yeah. That. This step will take however long it does, but the sooner you develop habits that help you move forward—without an internal editor on your shoulder to make you write, rewrite, polish, and re-polish Chapter 1—the better. It doesn't matter whether or not you own the most popular writer's software out there, or if you write your 1st draft using Word, Open Office, Pages, or Notepad. The point is to push through and finish the draft, because you can't publish a book that isn't finished.

On my checklist, I allow two to three months for writing. Sometimes I hit it, and sometimes I don't, Because Life. Happens. Did I mention that I have a condition known as ADHD? That's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A great many creative people—or Creatives, for short—suffer from this malady in its various forms. The condition is difficult to deal with, but all challenges can be overcome (or so I keep telling myself).

Here's a Truth that you must remember: every writer writes differently. In other words, there is no One True Way to write. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking that their method for writing is the only method of writing.

The corollary to the Truth is that every writer may write each book differently. Okay, I don't want to scare you or introduce unneeded stress into your life, so I won't say much more about that. Just realize that you may need to write a second book using a different method. No stressing about it, okay? Just get this book finished.

Writers write using methods that string along a spectrum that ranges from Plotter at one end to Pantser at the other. Where you may fall on this spectrum (and it probably will shift from time to time and book to book) depends on how your brain is wired. Plotters feel a compulsion to know everything that will happen in a book, so they plot it out, using outlines of varying degrees of exactitude and comprehensiveness. Pantsers (the name comes from the term "writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants") are also called organic or discovery writers. They want to write the story and discover what happens as their fingers work on the keyboard. You'd be surprised how many top authors are Pantsers. Really surprised.

Pantsers often are stymied by complete outlines. For example, if I write so little as a synopsis of a book, my brain says, "Well, look there, you've written the story. You don't need me anymore," and it shuts down and refuses to cooperate with me in writing a first draft.

There is so much danger in this state of affairs that I cannot plot out a book. I can only figure out who the main character is, a vague estimate of where the book could end, and maybe a couple or three things I hope will happen along the way. I usually know when and where the story will be set, and maybe what the "inciting incident" or "change in the character's life" is. Beyond that, I have to let my mind direct my fingers when I write.

The process is really kind of cool.

That doesn't mean it's your process. It's mine. And it can change. Slightly.

Different books I've written have called for different degrees of foreknowledge, so I have ranged a bit from the Pantser end toward the Plotter end, but never so much that my brain turned off.

Go with what works for you in writing your book, but do go forward.

The Checklist: Indie Publishing My Way is now available for only $4.99 on the sites of all major ebook vendors:

Coming soon in Print!

May 5, 2017

5 Ways I am Working To Become a Better Writer

If you talk writers, nearly all of them are constantly learning about their craft.

At the 2016 ANWA Writer's Conference, I listened to Anika Arrington confess not using pages from her past books as examples for her class because her writing had changed too much over the last several years.

I remember thinking, "Your books are published. How are they not good enough?"

Since then, I've seen my writing change drastically. For the better, I hope.  Below are some ways I've worked at becoming a better writer

1. Read.  I often thought I could read or I could write, but I didn't have time to do both.  Um, No.  Find time.  Always find time.  Though I don't read as prolifically as most, I do my best. Even if it's a book in the car while waiting for my kids, or on the stairs as I wait for my youngest's bus to pull up.  Every bit counts.  Especially when I'm actively writing.  I'll nearly hyperventilate when I get to a scene that grabs me, then obsess over it for days, dissecting the scene until I know exactly how it was written to evoke such emotions.

2.  Listen. It took a while to realize I should "plug in" during my 30-minute work commutes with an audio book, a TED talk, a conference talk, Podcast, or anything that may cause my creative juices to flow. Now, I multitask. I'll try to listen while doing housework, driving, or any other time where I'm doing mindless activities.

3. Don't Listen. Some of my best inspiration is found during those aforementioned drives when the radio is off and I let my mind wander, replaying my current scene until I have the dialogue just right. I may consider 'what if' scenarios for future books, or add layers of interest to characters I'm working on.

4. Learn. I spend way too much time on Pinterest. Ask anyone who knows me. Or several who don't. I agree.  Anyone with more than 40,000 pins has a problem.  I'm sure I'll have an intervention soon.  But Pinterest has a crazy amount of resources and links to writing-related tutorials, material, information, tips, and ideas.  At last count, my Board,  "The Writer In Me" had 4,950 links to writing-related resources. Plus, I have 25 other writing-related boards. Several of the pins I've read, and others I haven't, hoping to come back when I have more time.  My goal is to read 3-4 how-to articles a week.

5. Apply.  After learning something new, I invariably end up back at my current WIP, sifting through the pages to see how I can apply my new-found knowledge. Sometimes I feel like I'm spinning my wheels, re-editing the same pages. Other times, it's as if angels are singing from Heaven.  Either way, it's forward progress.

No matter how I look at it, writing is a fluid process.  For someone who loves to learn, I couldn't have chosen a better hobby/obsession/wanna-be profession. The writer I was seven months ago at the ANWA Convention versus the writer I am are two different people. Hopefully for the better. But I know this progress is due to the efforts I make, bringing me one-step closer to being the writer I want to be.

May 2, 2017

Really? Trump's fault? LOL

by Terri Wagner

Disclaimer: This is not a policical post but a language discussion.

Recently I ran across this article that for some reason struck me as hilarious. Now I'm Trump supporter so I was curious as to what Mr. Charles Blow was ranting about. First he insults everyone that voted for Trump by saying we all use the words that people with 4-6 grade education would use, and Trump uses words even less educated than that. Then Blow adds insult to injury by saying that at least Trump is better than George W. Bush. I was laughing too hard to continue, but I just had too.

Blow goes on to say that we are so stupid we think because Trump delivers his words in "a clumsy, folksy lie delivered by a shyster using broken English..." we accept them as truth. He suggests the folksy style lowers our natural suspicion because we just think someone who talks on that level must be telling the truth.

He also insults both Trump and his supporters by directly stating that Trump watches too much TV and doesn't read that much. Implying his supporters are the same. Blow describes Trump's recent interviews with The Times, The Associated Press, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal shows a person with "the intellectual depth of a coat of paint." Blow continues by adding that "In Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter." And concludes with "Degradation of the language is one of Trump’s most grievous sins."

Like Trump or not, I am still laughing because one, Blow really thinks degradation of the language is a sin, and two, that Trump is the cause of it all. The beauty and frustration of our peculiar language is that it is fluid. As new waves of immigrants move here, our language takes on the challenge of relating to us all. Twitter and the hashtag phenomenon has totally changed the way we spell things...and I am kinda liking the challenge of learning clever ways to say things like LOL, GN, ROTFL...the list goes on.

I mean truly we do not say things like "He loved chivalrye Trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisye"...Geoffrey Chaucer. Or ""Ha! Art thou Bedlam? Dost thou thirst base Trojan, to have me fold up Parca's fatal web? Hence! I am qualmish at the smell of leek" from Shakespeare's Henry V.

Let's celebrate our language and its fluidity. And I did email Blow and say one of the underpinnings of writing to keep things on an 8th grade level. And don't worry our language can handle it.