Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: Seeking Mansfield, by Kate Watson

-a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Yesterday was the debut of our lovely alumna Katy White's (aka Kate Watson) novel Seeking Mansfield!

Let's start this review by talking about the things that I did today. First of all, I am a super responsible adult type of human. So I definitely did all of the adulty sorts of things I was supposed to. I definitely didn't spend pretty much the whole day shooing my children outside to play so I could read. I definitely didn't make hot dogs for lunch because it was super fast and then I could go back to reading. I totally didn't let the kids watch more TV than usual so I could finish the book.

Nope. I'm way more responsible than that.

But since I did manage to read the book while also being a fabulous parent and adult, I am now equipped to review it. Hooray!

Star rating: 4/5. I really enjoyed it!

Summary: In this modern YA adaptation of Mansfield Park, Finley Price is an aspiring teen director with a crappy past and an overdeveloped sense of what she owes to her godparents, the Bertrams. Movie stat heartthrob Harlan Crawford and his sister move in next door, and Finley starts having to face all sorts of difficult things, including love.

What I liked: It's been years, admittedly, since I read Mansfield Park, and I think I would have a lot more compassion for Fanny Price than I used to. But when I read it, I just found her to be too much of a doormat. Finley Price is a wonderful modern remake of this character, giving a lot more depth to who she is and how she ended up this way. Also, I found her just much more likable.

The alternating perspectives were fun, and I really loved Oliver. Again, more than the original. Oliver was far less clueless than his Austen counterpart. It's kind of refreshing to read boys who aren't complete idiots and yet are subject to still being teenagers.

I also appreciated watching Finley and Oliver talk themselves into things that didn't make sense or fit them. It felt very real--"I'm going to do this thing because it really seems like the sort of thing I should want to do, even though I don't want to." Sigh.

Really, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was a fun read that modernized a character that lots of modern readers don't like. It also largely avoided the thing I hated most about the 1999 movie adaptation (we'll get to that below).

What didn't work for me: I think I'm a bit like the original Fanny in that I sometimes have a hard time accepting lots of shades of gray in people. So, for example, I didn't like that Finley really didn't seem bothered enough by Emma's behavior. I guess maybe I would have preferred to see Emma be more like the original Mary Crawford, very clearly a pretty awful person.

Other considerations: The 1999 adaptation I referenced above has Fanny Price tell Henry Crawford she's going to marry him (even though she doesn't want to and has been morally repulsed by him all along). Then, when she realizes she simply can't and tells him so, he sleeps with someone else. Essentially the narrative is that if she simply hadn't given in, he wouldn't have been a sleazebag. (Austen fans, correct me if I'm wrong here, but my recollection is that the original Fanny continually refused Henry, despite feeling awful about it, because she had a seriously awesome moral backbone.) It was awful and pretty much the worst narrative decision in the film (in my less-than-humble opinion). Watson's Finley is in a different situation in Seeking Mansfield, and while I don't admire some of her taste in boys, I think she puts the woman-blaming narrative of cheating where it belongs--in the trash.

Clean rating: Yay for a teen romance that I would consider quite clean. It's got a little bit of swearing (what I call the "lesser swear words"), a couple OMGs (which is pretty much my least favorite acronym ever, I admit), and I think one mention of sex? There's also thematic content--alcoholism, abuse, PTSD, and such, so it's not for younger readers, but it's also not dark.

You should go pick it up and then be a completely responsible adult, like me, and not binge read it all day. Like me.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Pain in the Neck, or What I Learned This Week

by Jewel Leann Williams

Quick story:

This week my sweet eleven-year-old son managed to roll out of his top bunk in his sleep, and landed on the six-inch-tall pile of dirty clothes on the floor but tweaked his neck. He spent the whole week miserable. I took him to Urgent Care just to make sure it wasn't anything more than a "tweak" and thankfully, that was affirmed by the doctor. She gave us some really awesome gel to use and taught him some great stretches. She told us that, even though it really hurts to do so, the best way to permanently relieve the pain is by gently stretching the area, and instead of holding everything as still as possible, to move it as much as possible. We left the office and I continued for the next few days to remind my son to move his head and neck, to do stretches, etc.
Two days later, after a night wherein the adorable four-year-old princess invaded our bed, I found myself with an inexplicable but excruciating pain in my upper back--one of those knots underneath the shoulder blade that is about impossible to get to. I commandeered some of the really awesome gel, and the husband gave me as much of a massage in that area as possible. I resigned myself to not doing the things I had planned, because how was I going to scrub two showers when I couldn't lift my arm?

The doctor's words came back to me:  no matter how much it hurts, the best thing for you to do at this point is to move it. So, I did. At first I was glad that no one was in the room with me, because I swore a little more than a little and was making this whining noise that was quite unbecoming.  Anyway, after a while, I did find that the pain lessened enough for me to start my chores (scrubbing the kids' shower was imperative, it's their job but it had been done poorly or not at all for long enough that it... well, you get the picture).  After about an hour of scrubbing (I'm not exaggerating, and I was only half done--it was bad) I realized that it didn't hurt at all anymore. Moving really, really helped!

My point in this isn't to wallow in the pity of how terrible my kids' shower was (it was really, really bad. I soaked it in cleaner, scrubbed it, and then soaked and scrubbed it again). It's not even to whine about the pain or the fact that when my little girl sneaks into bed with us, I always feel like I was run over by a train the next day.  While I was contemplating the fact that I would have not had the "move it and it will help" advice fresh on my mind had I not just been dealing with muscle pain for my boy, the Spirit whispered to me that this is an analogy for life in general.

We have trials, and they teach us things. They make us stronger. They make us more empathetic when other people go through the same things. They also give us knowledge that we can share with others who may find themselves in similar circumstances. In short, our trials are a gold mine if we can look beyond the pain and see them as learning--and teaching--experiences.

After all, the Savior himself suffered in Gethsemane to personally know how to succor us. In Alma 7, it explains that Jesus took upon himself the pains and afflictions of his people, that is, all of us, so that he would know according to the flesh how to succor his people. He could have known, in His head, by the Spirit, how to provide comfort. But there is something to be said for feeling the same pains--he wanted to physically know--according to the flesh--how our infirmities and trials make us feel so that he could truly know how to provide comfort and assistance to us. What love our Savior has for us!

This isn't a new way of looking at trials for me; but it is a good reminder that I needed this week.

In closing, I'd invite you to read Alma 7 for one of the most beautiful descriptions of our Savior's mission and Atonement.  And remember, our trials are there for a reason--they are our lessons in this school of life.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Some Fun Writing Exercises

By Lacey Gunter

Published authors often say if you want a successful writing career you should be writing consistently, perhaps even daily. Sometimes though you get stumped in your current WIP and you don't really know what to write.  I have already discussed ways to try get moving on your WIP again here and here.  Sometimes though, what you really need is just a little break from your manuscript.  when this happens writing exercises are a great way to keep you writing and maybe even generate a few new ideas. Here are a few writing exercises you might want to try next time you need a break, or even just for fun.

1. I call this one Beta Reader Blitz: Have you ever had a beta reader who didn't really 'get' your manuscript and insisted you should change it to sound more like a different genre (like maybe the genre they love writing in). Well just for fun or practice, do just that. Take you current manuscript, or even a much loved book and try and tweak it to fit a different genre and write a synopsis for it or rewrite one of the chapters.

2. This one I call Sensational Reporting: Go to your favorite news website and find a report on a situation or event that is just developing. It's best if you find an article where some important aspect of the story has not yet been discovered or reported on.  Then write a new article filling in those details or explaining the event or situation using you imagination. It can be realistic or completely farcical, just have fun with it.

3.This one is the opposite of a modern remake: Take a modern day story, like something that has happened in real life in the past 5 years, or a story that takes place in modern or future times and try to remake to fit in a different era in history, in particular, a past era.  Write a synopsis for the story or a chapter.

4. This one can be funny or romantic or perhaps even a horror: Take a much loved female character from one story and a popular male character from another story and write about the two going on a date.

Or come up with some writing exercises of your own. Either way, have fun and just keep writing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Afghans or stuffed toys

 When I first learned to crochet as a kid, I thought that serious crocheters must make afghans or tablecloths or wall hangings--big, grand things. I didn't start with big stuff, but I felt like I was working towards that.

Fast forward many years and I've gotten a few afghans under my belt, but I start to realize I don't really like making afghans. They're big and heavy and take too much time and yarn. But I really like making stuffed animals. They're cute and little and fun to give as gifts, and I can finish them in under ten hours.

I used to think that the only thing for me to write was novels. Anything else was sort of just a stop on the way to novels. But this past year I've dealt in short fiction a lot, and I've started to realize it's fun! I enjoy it. It's easier to experiment with because you can try and fail without writing 50,000 or more words before your realize it's not working. There are places you can submit short fiction too, which just makes it more fun!

Both afghans and stuffed toys are valid crochet projects. Both novels and short stories are great in writing. Sometimes you just need variety. So if you're feeling burned out on your current type of project, try something new! It might turn out that you like making stuffed toys?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Some Inspiring Thoughts from a Great Man

by Jewel Leann Williams

One would think that with me having a rare Saturday off, I would have time to post something inspiring and wonderful Well, I am posting something inspiring and wonderful, but it's coming from the mind of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  I was thinking about this quote I read on Facebook and how genuine it is while being so profound.  So I thought, I need to just gather some quotes from this great man and just soak up the wisdom and grace from them.

Without futher ado: 

"Sometimes I think we misunderstand obedience. We may see obedience as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Perhaps there is a different metaphor that can explain why we obey the commandments of God. Maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting, and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead, it is the process by which we discover what we truly are made of.”

I love this because it reminds me that the purpose of obedience isn't some power trip God has, that we have to do what he says just because He's the boss. Our Father asks us to obey to teach us who were are meant to be.

“Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you. God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked. What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”  
and related to the same subject:
“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. ... He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.”
It's so important to recognize that we are ALL failures without our Savior, and that God loves us anyway. He loves us because He loves us--there's nothing we can do to change that.

“What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. So what if the eggs are greasy or the toast is burned? Don’t let fear of failure discourage you.”

There are so many more but I wanted to end with this one--I remember the talk where President Uchtdorf urged us to create. I think we often get caught in the delusion that we have to come up with perfection if it's going to be worth anything. This quote reminds me that much of what helps me grow as a writer, as a mother, as a creator of things, is learned in the doing--and that THAT is sort of the point.

There you go, just a few of the many inspiring quotes from President Uchtdorf--- I hope that you feel a little more inspired for having read them.


 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Subbing in the Rain

By Lacey Gunter

Unless you're that strange freak of nature that submits your first manuscript and magically turns it into a sale with the first person you submit it to, you will inevitable have to face rejection and the pain and disappointment that come with it, if you're seeking to get published.

Let's face it, rejection is painful. It hurts a little less when the rejection is personalized and encourages you how and in what direction to go, but even that is still disappointing. I wish I could give you some magic formula for avoiding rejection, but if I knew one I would already be using it myself.

When you know you're getting yourself into a likely painful situation, it's usually wise to take some time to think about how you can minimize or manage the pain. This is important when you are querying or submitting a manuscript because it's easy to get depressed or discouraged and throw in the towel before the fight is over. 

If we think about rejections as rain drops and the ensuing disappointment and pain as getting wet, the goal would be to get through the rain storm as dry as possible. Obviously, we could use an umbrella, but to me the equivalent of that would be to just not sub in the first place, which would get us nowhere. So assuming it is just us and the rain, how do we get the least wet?
There has been much debate about which gets you wetter, walking or running in the rain.  The most detailed research suggests running is better, but what matters more here is that both walking or running are going to be better than just sitting down in one spot and hoping for the rain to stop.

So how does this apply to subbing?  If all you are focusing on is this one manuscript and getting it published, you may be simply sitting down and waiting for the rain to drench you in despair. You may get lucky and the rain storm will be short and the sun will shine on you and dry out your despair. But if you aren't, as most of us are not, the rain may drench you so bad you decide is it not worth the pain and hassle.

The better plan is to get up and get moving; start on a new project, explore some new ideas, immerse yourself in a new story, or even a few. This way you are actively moving toward your goal. You have more than one prospect and a rejection on one doesn't seem quite so devastating.  Your chances of reaching your goals of getting published will improve and you'll have something to distract yourself from the pain of rejection. Plus, maybe you'll find someone else running in the rain and you can just run behind them and let them get most of the drops. 😜

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Growth

 There's been a lot of talk in social sciences lately about the growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. The idea is that if you have a growth mindset, you feel like you are capable of changing and developing new skills. A fixed mindset suggests that you can only be what you're already good at.

The subject comes up a lot in education, and I've become particularly aware of it as I try to teach my children various skills, like math and reading. Consider the difference between saying, "You did a great job. You're so smart" and "You did a great job. You worked really hard." Smartness feels static. Either you are or you aren't. So if that's why you did a good job, then there's little point in trying and persisting even when you fail at first.

I have loved applying this perspective to teaching my children because I think it's crucial for them to realize that struggling with a concept now doesn't mean they always will. Today my child was in tears over skip counting, poor dear, so we stopped and I reminded her of how far she'd come. I turned to there beginning of her math book and talked about how she's started out just counting objects and circling the correct number. Now she does basic addition, can count and write large numbers fairly well, and has better number sense than she realizes.

When we turned back to those first pages, though, and talked about how far she'd come, I could see her visibly begin to relax. She really needed to see that she was growing and improving. Once she saw that, I think it helped click for her that she could keep going.

We talk about this perspective with teaching children, but I wonder how well we apply it to ourselves. When I look back at old writing of mine, I'm far more likely to cringe than to say, "Look how far I've come!" When we think about what we're good at now, do we think we'll never be good in any other areas? Or do we look at our weak areas and see opportunities for growth?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Distracted Driving (Saturday's post on Sunday)

by Jewel Leann Williams

I commute for about 45 minutes to work, down I-10, a pretty busy freeway even "against traffic" (opposite direction of the rush hours). Recently they started doing construction, the first phase of which was to close the freeway and narrow the lanes to their bare minimum width, in order to provide room for what they are doing. As I zip along these new, narrower lanes, I feel my knuckles cramping and growing white from the grip I have on my steering wheel.  The reason? The people in the lanes around me who keep swerving into my lane because they are on their cell phones (while going 75+ miles per hour, no less). Do they not think we can't see the glow of the phone as they keep glancing down?

There's just no room for error with the lanes narrowed.  People need to be paying MORE attention, not less.

Not that people should be on their phones on the freeway (or anywhere else behind the wheel, for that matter) but the stakes are higher when the slightest swerve puts you in the wrong lane and into someone else's vehicle.

Distraction can be deadly.

We just had the Saturday session of General Conference, and I was sitting with my family on our living room floor, trying to listen to the leaders of the church. Lately I've felt like it is supremely important to listen to what is being said--not that it's hasn't always been important--just with the way the world is spinning, it feels more important now. The lanes are narrowing--the "way" is getting narrower, so to speak, and the stakes are getting higher for swerving.

So I'm trying to listen, and the kids are spinning on their behinds on the floor, or fighting over a pillow, or a blanket, or a spot on the couch, or I'm having to bark at someone to wake up and pay attention. Meanwhile, I keep turning to my husband with, "What'd he just say?"

Distractions. Ugh.  I wish I could've listened better, absorbed the feeling of the talks more, instead of only kinda sorta hearing it, and then reading it later. Thank goodness for the conference videos!!

But that got me thinking.... how often do we go through life, distracted? I mean, not just the social media, the OTHER media, the everything going on that keeps us only halfway living life.

I mean, distracted from our covenants so that we are only halfway living them, swerving back and forth, dangerously close to crossing into inactivity, or complacency, or rebellion....

Distracted from the true nature of the Gospel, marching in lockstep with rules and social norms without remembering the Atonement and the plan of happiness and the true "work and glory" of the Father....

Distracted from raising sons and daughters of God, instead worrying about raising kids who star on soccer teams, or who excel at (insert thing here)....

Distracted from revelation
Distracted from the power of the priesthood
Distracted from who we are
Distracted FROM a million things that really matter, by the BILLIONS of things that really, in the eternities, don't matter at all.

Distraction can be deadly.

How grateful I am for General Conference, and for weekly meetings and for great friends, for the scriptures and for daily personal prayer, all of these things to keep us in the lines--in the Way. Let's do our best to regain our focus and not get distracted!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Summer of Service

By Lacey Gunter

After hearing some lovely and inspiring women speak tonight I was reminded of the value of service in creating a happy life. It inspired me to again strive to do more service in my life.  Not only is this an important consideration for busy moms, but I believe it is critical for our children.

Our kid-centric parenting culture is obsessed with making sure kids are having fun. I feel we do a disservice to our children if we model that this is the only way to experience joy in our lives.  At this time of year when parents are anticipating summer and signing kids up for engaging summer and sports camps, and planning their elaborate vacations to theme parks and playlands, it might be beneficial to stop and think. Amidst all this time and resources we are putting into making sure our kids are brilliant, talented and fun-loving, are we putting in the same amount of consideration on how to help our kids become more thoughtful, generous and loving towards others?

I used to put together a summer play group for my kids and the kids in our neighborhood. I put a lot of time and effort into finding or creating fun and engaging activities for the group. But last year the thought occurred to me that maybe my kids need less awesome play-dates with their friends and more character building experiences helping those experiencing a trial or sacrificing for those less fortunate. So now I try to put together a kid friendly summer service group.

The first time I did it, last summer, I thought I needed to have projects that were big and certain to make a difference in many people's lives, which was a little challenging as I didn't have very many ideas for how a bunch of young kids could do that.  But overtime, I have realized that even small but personal acts of service can make a big difference in both the people you are serving and the children doing the service. Something as simple as drawing pictures and making love or thank you notes for the people in your neighborhood can create a feeling of love and happiness in your neighbors for several weeks or even several months. At the same time, it is a completely manageable task for even a toddler, with just a little parental help, that can spark a joy for service that will lead a child to want to do it again and again.

I am looking forward to doing a summer service group again this year. The projects probably won't be as big and monumental, but I am confident they will still be life changing. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Carrying Rocks



- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

My kids and I were parked and heading off to the dentist's office when I looked at my toddler to see what was taking him so long to get out of the car. In each of his hands he was carrying a rock about the size and shape of a hot dog bun. 

I lifted him out of the car so he didn’t have to let go, and we were on our hurried way to the dentist (late, I confess). 

When we got to the office, he set his rocks down on the little table in the waiting room and happily played with the toys. I couldn't just leave these giant rocks there, though, so when we got called back to the offices, I picked up the rocks and stuffed them in my purse to dispose of later. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks. 

I was hunting for something else in my purse when my fingers brushed against something rough. I investigated and of course I found the rocks there. I'd meant to dispose of them, but I just forgot. I’d been carrying rocks around in my purse for weeks!

I tend to find metaphors everywhere, and I couldn't help wondering what sort of rocks we might be carrying around in our lives without even noticing. Things we meant to deal with but then just let them slide. Attitudes about ourselves that we maybe meant to examine for truth but just began to believe without even realizing it. Beliefs about the way the world works that keep us from achieving and being more. At first they don’t seem big or important (after all, I didn’t notice those rocks for a couple weeks!), but maybe they add up.

Am I carrying around rocks? That professor who told me I seemed dismissive of others—did I start to believe that I was just plain bad with people?* What about all those years I spent thinking I had ugly, muddy brown eyes when in reality they were green?**

What rocks are weighing you down? And why are you waiting to get rid of them?


* This is a true story, though oversimplified. His full comments were partially right and partially wrong, and I took them so very badly, but that was only partially his fault. Essentially, we both handled that whole situation badly, but that has nothing to do with this post. So I’ll just turn it into an excessively long footnote instead.

** This, weirdly enough, is also a true story. And for the record, I love brown eyes—all my children and my hubby have gorgeous ones—but in my mind my eyes were like dying grass and mud being stomped on. You know the opening credits scene from Joe vs. the Volcano? That’s how I felt about my eyes.

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