Friday, October 31, 2014

Learning to Float

by Mare Ball @ ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK

I went to the beach with my sister and some friends last week, and while away I planned to fix some writing issues, catch up on reading some of my favorite blogs, read The Screwtape Letters, and create new blog content. I had such big plans.

Well. I'm sure you've heard the phrase, if you want to make God laugh - tell him your plans. HA!  I came home further behind on all my writing/reading projects.

The Internet was intermittent in the beach house.  My Surface tablet kept doing weird things.  A sore ankle I've been dealing with acted up.  The beautiful weather kept calling me outside.  Sense and Sensibility and Mama Mia were on the DVD list, and pretty soon, I just didn't care about working. I preferred to make apple dumplings and help my sister make greeting cards.

I don't take vacations often, and it's hard for me to mentally release my writing.  I love writing, so a week away with the girls (no interruptions) sounded great.  But after about four days of attempting to get things done, and failing, I embraced the goof-off time and discovered I really loved it.

Who knew?

I think God knew.  He placed in me this call to write, so I blame him for my compulsion.  But, He also gave me a week away and slowly but surely removed the tools I use to write.  I found myself daydreaming and laughing and sleeping in and feeling lazy.  My head cleared a bit, and I began to just enjoy the moment.  This is not something I do naturally.  I'm always focused on what's coming up, what's due, what needs preparation.  I'm a long-term thinker.  To float for a week seemed foreign at first, but then...I loved it.  I could have used a few more days as a floater, actually.

I ended up thanking God for tugging me out of my own life for awhile.  I did come home refreshed. Which is what vacations are about, I'm told.  I probably need to get away more often.  My hubby had a good week without me and accomplished a lot of things around the house. 

I guess the world won't suffer if I take a break from writing. 

I hear God laughing again.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

You'd Be Surprised

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
 
Ladies and gents, it has been a surprising couple months since I wrote about my experience with postpartum depression. I confess I had my qualms about posting it. I wasn’t exactly sure how to say what I wanted and wasn’t exactly sure why I was doing it in the first place. However, I think I have now discovered two unexpected reasons.

First: I received messages, both public and private, from many wonderful women who had similar experiences. Some had done so in the past, and some were still going through it. I was stunned. Among these were women who seemed fantastically happy, whom I had never seen without a smile. I never would have known they had wished, as I did then, for it to all just go away.

It is tragic that there are so many of us who don’t talk about our difficult experiences, especially in such an important phase of life. I’m sure it’s partially the phase itself that makes it so hard to speak up. We’re supposed to be filled with inexpressible joy when we bring babies into the world, right? So we have no right to complain or feel anything painful—especially when there are people in the world who can’t experience this joy, or people who have given birth and lost babies, or people who have . . . fill in the blank. We think we have no right to feel darkness, so we pretend we don’t.

This is not a pain competition, where the person with the most pain is given a gold medal and only she is allowed to talk about it.

Knowing that there were so many women dealing with similar difficulties made me want to be more aware and more loving. It was a visceral, personal reminder that others really are all dealing with more struggles than I can see from the outside, and I hope that to some of those women it was a reminder that they are not alone.

The second thing that post did for me was to pave the way to help me see ways I am personally loved. See, a couple weeks after I wrote that post, my husband was out of town for a week for business.* I had a little emotional breakdown about it—which was too funny and ridiculous not to share, so I did so.**

That week I received dinner and playdate invitations and from multiple friends (though, sadly, none of them involved overwhelming quantities of meat)—more invites than I normally get in a month. They had seen that I needed something and responded. And to top it off, I received an anonymous gift card to the crazy-expensive restaurant I mentioned in my little breakdown! The hubby and I are going to eat snooty churrasco, and we aren’t even going to have to pay for it. I am very, very excited.

The point is that I was surprised and warmed to see how much I was loved—and I don’t think it was a coincidence that the offers came after I had willingly shared that my life wasn’t perfect. Admitting that I had needs opened the way for others to meet them.

Of course it’s not a cure-all, and it won’t always work that the moment you admit to your struggles, someone will be there to give a hug and lend support. But if you just pretend everything’s fine all the time, then you don’t even give people the opportunity. And you might be surprised to find out that people really love you and want to help.

* Here again I find myself feeling like I should just buck up and shut up because in my area lots of women’s husbands are out of town for six months at a time for military deployments. So a measly week is child’s play.
** This is a link to my personal/family blog, so if you’re a crazy weirdo type, feel free not to click the link.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Story Behind Drops of Awesome: An Interview With Author Kathryn Thompson AND a DOA Giveaway!


by Kasey Tross


You have heard us mention Drops of Awesome around here a few times (click here to read what I had to say about it), and I lucked out and got invited to be part of the launch team for the Drops of Awesome BOOK! How lucky am I, right? And really, how lucky are all of us that Kathryn Thompson turned her amazing blog post into a book/journal??

As part of the launch team, I had the opportunity to read the book and do the journaling, and it was such a delightful, confidence-building experience. One of my assignments was to pick some of my favorite quotations from the book, and it was extremely difficult to not just copy and paste the whole book! Here is one of my very favorites:

"If you’ve ever heard that negative voice putting you down…then two things are certain: you are someone who cares and you are someone who’s trying. If you didn’t care about doing right or improving your life, you wouldn’t be bothered at all by your perceived failures.” 

That was just one of my many “aha” moments as I read. Not only was I journaling my drops of awesome- putting them in writing, recording them, being able to see my successes- I was also getting all of these fantastic little boosts along the way, along with journaling exercises that made me really think about the way I think and how it affects me.

 I am planning on purchasing several copies of this wonderful book as Christmas gifts, because it’s so much more than a book- it’s a way to help others realize their own value and a way to help them be kinder to themselves. And to me, that is a priceless gift.

Today I am thrilled to have Kathryn with us to share the story of how Drops of Awesome came to be, from an inspired idea all the way to the amazing book. AND she’s offering a free copy of the book to one lucky winner! (Find out how to enter after the interview.)


Me: Welcome, Kathryn! We’re so excited to have to you here today! Time for the interrogation...

I’ve read that you started your blog as a way to deal with postpartum depression, and that’s something many moms struggle with. How has writing helped you emotionally?

KT: I think we all do better emotionally when we have a strong creative outlet. When I am writing fiction, I escape into a different world and become someone else entirely. I can create problems for my protagonist, solve those problems, and I can give her the power to control her own destiny. Giving power to my characters inspires me to feel more in control and powerful myself. Blogging has also been a great outlet because it keeps me constantly focused on what is funny about my life. When things go wrong, the blog helps me view my struggles through a humorous lens and if I can laugh about what bugs me, then things don’t seem quite so bad.

Me: Laughter is the best medicine. And so are some Drops of Awesome- Your Drops of Awesome post is amazing! Do you feel that it was inspired? How did it come to be?

KT: Drops of Awesome was direct inspiration. It came to me as a loving flick on the forehead from my Heavenly Father in a time when I really needed it. I was beating myself up and I feel like He was not happy with how I was treating myself, one of His much loved kids. At the time, I was teaching a class of young women who needed it as well. It’s one of the rare occasions in my life where I was given inspiration that I knew had to be shared, but I had no idea how far it would travel.

Me: Ha, a “loving flick on the forehead.” Love that. So, how did Drops of Awesome go from a blog post to a book?

KT: When the post started getting passed around all over Facebook, it caught the attention of a small publisher with a mission to strengthen families. They approached me about turning the post into a print journal and the project was born.

Me: Dream come true! So Drops of Awesome is both a book and a journal- how did this unique format come about? What benefits do you feel that this format has over an ordinary book?

KT: I have to give credit here to Christopher Robbins and David Miles at Familius. The journal format was their brain flash and I loved the idea that my readers could co-write the book with me. Drops of Awesome is a deeply personal concept because it deals with exploring what’s going on in each person’s brain and the way they talk to themselves. So the journal works really nicely to encourage that process of self-discovery. Also, it was a great first print publication for me because it was an easily manageable amount of content to generate and organize. Baby steps to publication.

Me: Speaking of baby steps, you have a busy life as a blogger and a mom- how do you balance your writing time with your mommying?

KT: I don’t. This is a really difficult aspect of writing for me. When I am into my blog or a fiction project, I am IN and my creative process sometimes comes at the expense of my kids and my husband. I tend to work until it becomes really obvious that I’m working too much and then I scale way back and repeat the cycle. For me, it’s about checking in every once in a while and honestly asking myself if I’m happy with the big picture of my life. If I’m not, I adjust. As my youngest is starting school next year, my plan is to only write when they're out of the house. I’m interested to see if it’s really possible.

Me: Sounds like a good plan- does that mean there are other books in the works from Kathryn Thompson, either fiction or nonfiction? 

KT: Yes! I’ve been shopping around my first YA fiction manuscript Dark Bird and I’ve had great success getting requests from agents but not so much success once they peruse the entire manuscript. So I’m reworking it and I have a couple of other fiction projects in the works. There is nothing more fun than creating stories. I’m also working on a veggie cookbook.

Me: So exciting! Okay, one final question- What is one thing you hope your readers gain from Drops of Awesome?

KT: I want people to know they can be happy right now and that no matter where they are in their lives, they are their own best asset.


Hear that? You are your own best asset! Many thanks to Kathryn Thompson for doing this interview and for offering a giveaway.

Now for the goodies: if you want to enter to win a copy of this inspiring book, simply leave a comment below. If you want a bonus entry, then share this post on social media- Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter- and come back here and let us know that you shared it in the comments section. Winners will be selected at random at 12:00 noon EST on Thursday.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pride Vs. Humility

I read somewhere that writers have large egos. After all, it takes a good size ego to decide to write something that you know thousands of people will not only want to read, but spend good money to read it. Pride is something I've always struggled with. I seem to go either completely prideful and think that I'm so wonderful, or I become self- deprecating and think that I'm lower than dirt. There's got to be a happy medium. There's got to be a way to excel at my talents and not be prideful or self-deprecating.

About a year ago I came across this quote by President Ezra Taft Benson:
"Pride is concerned with WHO is right; Humility is concerned with WHAT is right."

This is the answer! I can try to make sure that I use my talents to do WHAT is right, and try to ignore those thoughts that tell me I'm using my talents to prove to people how right I AM! This isn't easy to do, but how grateful I am to have this direction on how to take pride out of my life. Plus when I remember that all I have, even my talents, are because God has given it to me, I remember to humble myself before Him and give all the glory to God.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jumping into the NaNoWriMo Deep End


National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, begins in a week! For those who don't know what the heck that is, here's the mission statement of the National Novel Writing Month organization (did you know it's a 501(c)(3) nonprofit? Cool.):

National Novel Writing Month organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.

What the mission statement doesn't say is that November, NaNoWriMo, is the month that you take 30 days to write a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel. The website www.nanowrimo.org gives you a whole set up with an account, inspiration resources, and a way to track and advertise your progress. It's a great way to jump-start a novel, to put the cattle prod to the lazy muse, or just to get one of those super-awesome story ideas down on paper instead of rattling around causing weird dreams.

I've always said I would do NaNo when I had time. I've come to realize, I'll never have time unless I just FIND the time. So, this year, I am going to take the plunge and try to pound out 1,600 words a day for a 50,000 word total for the month. That's the plan.  Now what's my prep work going to look like?

Well, for starters, I am a die-hard "pantser." I have held to my method of typing and discovering my stories as I tell them, and for the creative outlet, it works very well. I love the surprises and the journey of discovery. For the "try and help support my family by being published" part of my plan, it doesn't work so well. And for NaNo? I'm pretty sure it will suck all the words out of my brain and put them somewhere in an alternate dimension for the month. I have a few things I'm going to try to do at least for the month to facilitate the whole novel being written:

#1: I am going to outline. Sort of. I don't have time to learn to do it well, so I am going to give myself a crash course in at least one and probably several outlining methods. I already have SIX tabs open with different outlining theories.

#2: I got a trial of Scrivener. We'll see if/how that helps.

#3: I am committing myself to getting up early and going to bed at a decent time. My husband and I keep talking about doing this (see the last post on false starts), but it's crunch time. Gotta do it.

#4: Gonna sign up on that www.nanowrimo.org and also commit to my American Night Writers Association sisters that I am going to do it. Having that accountability and support will help push me to reach for that 50K goal. In addition, I'll have my husband on board the support train. That's important because this is a change to my daily routine.

Now, something to remember about NaNoWriMo is that it is not to have the novel edited and published, just the first draft--so it really does emphasis quantity. I am excited to give myself a framework (which I hope to at least have mostly complete before November starts) and just go crazy creatively to complete the novel. I'll edit it later. Probably fifty times, if I'm just letting myself write without inviting my inner critic to the party.

What about you? Are you doing NaNo this year? What are your strategies for a successful National Novel Writing Month?

Happy Tappity-Tap-Tapping and see you on the other side!!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Just Rewards

 
Have you ever wondered why it seems so easy for many authors to maneuver the Perils of Publishing with such ease?  I often feel like some Angel of Literacy has taken some authors by the hand and walked them through the entire process and gently set them down in a comfy chair at a book signing tour, with a hundred eager readers already waiting in line to get their pre-paid copy autographed.  I’ve worked tirelessly at this craft; you’ve worked endlessly to create and revise; we’ve massaged our foreheads from the laptop key indentations when we were following a vein of inspiration late into the night and lapsed into unconsciousness.  Where are OUR just rewards? 

When I was 15 years old, I was invited to attend a very special camping trip.  Every young man in our Stake that had earned his Eagle Scout award during the previous year was invited to attend a three-day camping trip.  This may not seem like the perfect punctuation to years of earning merit badges and trying not to roll around in too much poison ivy, but you see, we would all be riding…horses.  I learned a lot on this trip about ‘just rewards’.


I don’t know what romantic notions ya’ll have about venturing into the wilderness, eating meager rations stashed in one’s backpack, and trimming the callouses and lancing the blisters formed from too many miles hiking in the same pair of soggy boots, but the idea of riding through the beautiful desert landscape of Arizona filled me to the brim with cowboy ‘YeeHaw!’  I had finally graduated to mountain man status, to gently lead my noble stead over hill and down dale until we reached old man Reeves’s ranch (complete with crabapple orchard) where we would rub down our horses, lean back against our dismounted saddles, and stare at the crackling fire while reminiscing about our days of Scouting. 

For the most part the trip was idealic for us boys; a crusty trail boss that had spent more time around horses that my heart had beat thus far in my lifetime; bacon-wrapped fillet mignon and all the beans and Dutch oven cornbread we could stuff into our cheeks; and one-one time with one of the finest animals the good Lord ever created. 

We learned the proper way to shoe our horses, we had epic crabapple fights at the ranch corral, we learned to endure a dusty trail, and we gave thanks each night in prayer for the Lord letting us find our ‘cowboy self’. 

But, like most group dynamics, there always seems to be that one guy, that one person, who just refuses to fall in line with the spirit of the whole experience.  There’s always that one person who refuses to comply, refuses to obey, has to always do things their way, or worse, no way.  They try to go it alone.  Today, that one person is easily identified as being the first person kicked off of the island.  They make everyone uncomfortable because they don’t seem to follow the unwritten rules of the group.  When it’s a young person, this is the kid who you see being pulled aside by an adult because their ‘look at me’ behaviors are having the desired effect.

On our horseback outing, we had such a young man.  He refused to pay attention to the trail boss when we were being taught how to properly saddle our horses; he seemed to wander off just at the moment he was supposed to be helping with KP duties after mealtime; he most certainly wasn’t “…helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind” as a portion of the Scout Law states.  When he was away from the group, we questioned his actually earning his Eagle Scout award because, after the many life changing experiences that occurred on the way to earning this prestigious award, surely some goodness must have rubbed off on him.

In the saddle, he was a holy terror.  If the trail boss had been allowed to bring his gun, I’m almost certain he would have fired a few rounds in this boy’s direction.  The boy yelled at the poor animal when it wouldn’t respond to his wishes.  He was constantly reminded that, yes, the horse had to be watered and fed before the humans got to eat.  And heaven help the Scout who tried to reach out a brotherly hand of support and encouragement.  It was briskly swatted away, either by word or by deed.  This young man demonstrated the worst attributes of a Scout and a young man that I had ever seen.  What a tragedy.
 
But I am a personal witness that Heaven keeps score.  Indeed, there are times when ‘just rewards’ are meted out to those that, metaphorically or literally, need a good swat on the behind.

It was the morning of our last day of the outing.  We were exhausted and dirty, but supremely happy with our accomplishments and the steps we’d taken towards manhood during the trip.  We were saddling our horses one last time for the ride to the base camp where the horse trailers were parked waiting for their four-legged passengers.  We were all cinching up our saddles and coaxing our horses to accept the bridles bits we were offering them.  But our challenging friend was impatient to get going.  He jammed the bit in his horse’s mouth.  He slammed the saddle down on his horse’s back.  He punched the horse in its back left flank because it kept trying to turn in circles.  His actions were definitely putting a dark cloud over the finale of our trip. 

But then, suddenly, the horse did something that I shall never forget.  I know it did it on purpose because that horse was smiling when it did it, and I’ll swear on a stack of chuck wagon cookbooks in any court of cowboy justice.  When the boy was throwing his most ugly tantrum that horse simply moved his front left hoof about a foot to its left and stood right on the boy’s foot.  At that moment, the clouds parted above and a warm ray of sunshine shone down upon that little miracle.  As the boy hooted and hollered that he was being murdered by his equine, his horse stood there, unmoving, in regal splendor.  We all looked at each other and smiled, trying very hard to stifle the laughs that were threatening to burst forth.  Even the old trail boss purposefully took his sweet ol’ time walking over to get the horses hoof off of the boy’s foot.    
                                                                              

Needless to say, the boy was sufficiently humbled.  He remained quiet and compliant the rest of the trip, occasionally wiping away a tear.   We later found out that his foot was just fine, but his ego would take a bit longer to heal.

My point in sharing this story is to remind all of us that there really are ‘just rewards’ meted out.  They come in two forms: Either they are consequences eventually handed out to the antagonists around us, who we perceive as always getting the easy road forward when we have to claw our way around and over every obstacle; and, they are handed out to those who have been valiant and long-suffering on their path forward, playing by the rules, lifting another along the way.


To all of us who are still trying to write that next “great American novel”; fear not, we will someday get our ‘just rewards’.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to Win NaNoWriMo

by Katy White

Autumn is my favorite time of year, what with the holidays, the fact that I can FINALLY wear boots and scarves and sweaters without getting my sweat on *gnashes teeth at Phoenix* and, just as important as the rest of the list, the fact that it's time for NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.

I loved the experience last year so much that I tried it again for my own personal Camp NaNo this summer and found it equally enjoyable. If you're unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, several of us posted about this event last year (and the year before, and the year before, etc.), and we covered things from Plotting for Pantsers, to a reminder that first drafts are meant to suck (complete with quotes from famous authors), to general tips, and more. But essentially, it's a time of year where writers all around the world band together and try to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

So today, I'd like to write about my limited, but fabulous, experience with NaNo.

Tip I: Before November 1st, the most important thing you can do, in my mind, is prepare in advance. I use Scrivener to organize my writing and to house my outline (if I've done one, and more and more I'm finding that it doesn't suck out my soul to have a beat sheet (seriously, check out Save the Cat Beat Sheets. They're unbelievably helpful)), and to organize my research on locations/floor plans/character descriptions and psych profiles/etc. I'm super visual, so I need to understand everything about the characters and world I'm writing, even if the character is based on my sister and it's set in a city I used to live in.

Tip II: Take a month-long Facebook fast (or whatever social media is your poison). And, if you don't mind the pressure of follow-up questions like "When do I get to read it" and the subsequent lecture on the publishing industry such questions require you give, tell people why you'll be absent all November. However, if you don't want people up in your business, just make up a religious holiday. We're (mostly) Mormon. It'll make you sound holier. ;)

Okay. With that done, here's a glimpse into the mental state I'll be assuming in a few short days (told in the style of Bridget Jones):

-Write.
-Write more.
-Must stop deleting sentences and write, already.
-Letting toddler chat and play in crib for 10 extra minutes after waking from nap is sign of v. good, v. balanced mother. AM NOT A BAD PERSON!
-Hmm, is it "lay, laid, laid" and "lie, lay, lain"? Let's go to Grammar Girl...NO. Must not get off task. Will fix in revisions. Must write more words.
-Mmm. Diet Pepsi is v. v. good friend. Maybe best friend. Should write Diet Pepsi a thank you note. Should purchase thank you notes. And more Diet Pepsi. Wait, no. Should write more.
-Saving Mini Eggs in freezer since Easter really was brilliant use of storage space. Must remember to tell husband about need for additional freezer for next year...
-Waking up half hour early to write every day. Am She-Ra, Princess of Power.
-Hmm. Is that really how to spell guard? Guard guard guard guard guard guard. No, cannot be right. Spell check broken. Must Google "How to fix spell check". NO. STAY ON TASK.
-Writey-writey-write.

:)

Good luck to all of you doing NaNo this year! If you have any real tips, please share them below!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nine Unexpected Benefits of Being a Mormon

by Anna Jones Buttimore

When someone is baptised a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they do it because they have come to truly know that Jesus is the Christ, and they have repented and turned to Him. As they covenant to follow Him for the rest of their lives, they gain the healing power of the atonement and forgiveness of their sins, their lives are forever enriched, and they have the promise of fullness of joy and eternal life with their loved ones to cherish.

That's a pretty big benefit to gain from the simple step of walking into a font filled with water.

There are several other benefits which might be quite unexpected however. While these don't apply to everyone, here are some major advantages I have found to belonging to the "Mormon" church.

1. An Enhanced Social Life


Ten years ago I moved into a new home in a new area and threw a housewarming party. I invited the neighbours, the parents I had met at the school gate, and the local ward members.

One of those schoolmums later admitted that she had attended my housewarming party because she felt sorry for me. I'd only lived in the town for a couple of weeks, and she was concerned that I might sit all night in an empty house staring forlornly at the punch bowl. Instead, half the ward turned up and my house was packed to the rafters with welcoming well-wishers, most of whom had brought a gift. And there was no punch bowl.

One of the great advantages of being a Latter-day Saint is that wherever in the world you go there's a happy crowd of people eager to get to know you and help you settle in, and ready to love you and welcome you to their social circle.

2. Public Speaking

Many people are terrified of public speaking, but not lifelong Latter-day Saints. Almost as soon as they can talk they will be going up to a podium in front of hundreds of people to give a talk, a presentation or a lesson. Because there is no paid ministry in the church, everyone contributes, everyone gets a regular opportunity to speak in Sacrament meeting or give a lesson. Speaking to a large crowd of people becomes almost second nature.

3. Friends all over the World

LDS missionaries (of which there are currently 88,000 worldwide) are sent out from across the globe to places far from home. That means you get to meet a lot of missionaries who have come from a long way away. In the last year alone we have had missionaries in our ward from Albania, Holland, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Brazil and of course America. I'm still in touch with many of them through Facebook, and seeing posts by those who have gone home gives me insight into their lives and the cultures they come from. It's great when discussing far away places to be able to say, often, "I've got a friend who lives there."

4. Help when you need it

Our ward is fairly large for the UK, with average sacrament meeting attendance of just over 100. Among the congregation we have three electricians, two hairdressers, two carpenters, a tree surgeon, a builder and an accountant (my husband). One of the hairdressers regularly styles our family's hair, the builder installed our kitchen, and one of the carpenters put up a bannister on our stairs. Not that these people do jobs for members of the church for less than the going rate - they have to make a living - but it's good to have someone you know and trust to ask for advice and expertise.

Plus Mormons, and especially missionaries, love to give service. In just the last few months missionaries have laid my garden path and dismantled an old shed, and yet they still ask us if there is anything else they can help us with. It's traditional in LDS circles that when someone is moving house the men turn out to lend a hand, and the women take casseroles to ladies who have just had a baby.

If you need help, whether paid expertise or voluntary assistance, it's there.

5. Childcare

When my children were small, church was a wonderful oasis of peace. Sacrament meeting was a bit of a struggle, but afterwards there was two hours of nursery for the tiny one, and two hours of Primary for the older two. In other words, I was my own person for two blissful daytime hours. Not only were my children being cared for and educated for free, but I got to sit with actual adults and have real adult conversations. Intellectual in-depth scripture study for the first hour, then wonderful time with the other women for the second hour learning things which were of real benefit to my life and refreshed my flagging spirit. For two wonderful hours I was something more than a meal-provider and nose wiper, I was myself again, a valued member of a Sunday School class and the Relief Society sisterhood.

Later, as the children grew, Young Women doing their personal progress or service projects were always keen to babysit so that my husband and I could have a night out. Motherhood is wonderful, but it doesn't allow for much time off. Mormon mothers get a guaranteed two hours of child-free time each Sunday morning.

6. Education

I'm not talking about the Perpetual Education Fund (which provides funding for education for members of the church in poorer areas) although that's a wonderful programme. I'm thinking now of the extra education I have gained through the church. Just this past Sunday a superb teacher taught me one of a course of lessons on how to teach effectively. I have previously been taught how to understand a time signature and conduct music (although please don't tell my ward or they'll ask me to do it), how to research my genealogy, and many other practical things quite apart from the regular Sunday lessons.

7. Free membership of Ancestry.com

Because the LDS church has contributed so much to the study of genealogy, from photographing church registers to indexing records, Ancestry.com has repaid this effort by giving every member of the church free lifetime membership. All you need is your church membership number and you can log in for free. It's usually around £120 per year, so that's pretty sweet.

8. Free Weddings


My husband and I have now been married for eight years, and our wedding was, to all intents and purposes, free. Because we were members of the church we married in our ward chapel (Temple marriages are not legally recognised in the UK so we were sealed later the same day) and had our reception in the cultural hall. The Bishop gave his services for free of course (he is also a licensed registrar) and the use of the building cost nothing. Members brought food for the reception as their wedding gifts for us (carefully orchestrated by our wedding planner - also a member working for free - so that we got a good mix of fine food) and the florist, cultural hall decorator, videographer and photographer were also members who provided their services free of charge as a gift for us. In the end we paid only for our outfits, rings and the wedding cake.

My eldest daughter is now nineteen, has been with her LDS boyfriend for two years, and they are starting to think about marriage. Naturally they will get married in our ward building, and have their reception in the cultural hall, so again the venue and officiant will be free. When people often spend thousands hiring the venue for the wedding, this is no small advantage. Unfortunately I don't think Gwen wants a bring-a-plate buffet reception...

9. A Career


I always wanted to be a writer, but fifteen years ago when I started it was extremely difficult. You had to write a superb book, and send it (by post) to publishers and agents hoping that one of them might like it enough to offer you a contract. Then, as now, the odds were not in your favour, and the quality of your writing wasn't really the deciding factor - many "slush pile" manuscripts never got read at all.

But (and this is a very personal benefit, so forgive me if it doesn't apply to you) I realised that there was a small niche market which might just be my way into publishing. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to read widely from good books, and they generally prefer not to read books which include sex scenes, violence or bad language, and so there is a thriving market for uplifting and clean LDS books, often featuring LDS characters. With fifteen million potential customers it's not a small market either, and many LDS writers have successfully moved on to become big names in the mainstream market.

I thought - wrongly, as it turned out - that getting published by an LDS publisher would be easier that getting a contract with a mainstream publisher. Actually, the standard has to be just as high, but I was lucky enough to get a contact with Covenant Communications, and have now had five LDS novels published, with more to come. I'm, also starting to publish within the mainstream market although, actually, I have decided that I prefer writing for the LDS audience. Look out for Haven in a bookstore near you soon!

No one joins the LDS church for the social life, the free membership of Ancestry or so that missionaries will paint their fence, but these are, nevertheless, among the many wonderful blessings of being a member of Jesus Christ's restored church.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I wanted to write, but . . .

by Merry Gordon

I usually have a golden hour on Mondays that I set aside for myself to read, to write, to indulge in a bubble bath . . . whatever strikes my fancy.  Unfortunately, more often than not disaster strikes long before my fancy gets a fair hit.  Here’s a tour of yesterday’s golden hour.  Maybe you can relate?


5:18 PM

I want to write. 

But I should probably make my oldest daughter practice piano first. 

She begins pounding out the suite from Downton Abbey on our 108-year-old upright, a violent musical melodrama that rattles its keys down to the pin block and my teeth down to the sockets.
 
I slip into the kitchen and begin popping Advil like Pez.  It’s going to be a long evening.



5:27 PM

I want to write.

But I should probably check my youngest daughter’s homework first. 

Turns out she’s out of books to read for her reading log.  We’re moving in two weeks; we’ve packed almost everything, with the exception of my antique volumes.  By the time I get to her, she’s thumbing her sticky fingered way through my 1753 edition of Restoration dramas. 

“Mommy, why do all the s’s look like f’s?”


She’s just about to use a rare religious tract as a coaster.  A minor heart attack ensues, and within moments my darlings (both darlings—those decked in leather and vellum, and those decked in Hello Kitty) are restored to their rightful places. 

This victory warrants a handful of chocolate chips.

5:35 PM

I want to write. 

But I should probably make sure my son’s finished his snack first. 

He has dubbed today “No Pants Monday.”  He sits on the couch in his underpants with a smug grin and the remnants of his snack.  I say ‘remnants’ because he has long since crushed each Cheerio into a fine beige mist that swirls through the sunlit gaps in our blinds like its own little honey nut weather system.   I could toss him in his room and risk a meltdown, or I could grab the dustbin and be grateful we had the foresight to buy flooring in exactly the same color as most breakfast cereals. 

I settle on the latter.

5:43 PM

I want to write.

But I should probably work out first.  

I think guiltily back to the handful of chocolate chips and do a crunch and a half-hearted squat (which I can’t really count because I’m actually just picking up the kids’ piano books from the floor).  I bookmark a workout video on Youtube and vow to do better tomorrow.

5:45 PM

I want to write.

But I should probably make dinner first.

I start scrolling through Pinterest, determined to find a delectable and healthy recipe for my family like the good Mormon Mommy I am.  The gluten-free vegan eggplant lasagna looks good . . . ooh, wait, is that a Halloween nail tutorial?

6:09 PM

I want to write.

But my husband’s pulling in the driveway.  The garage door opens.  I throw a tray of tater tots in the oven, close out my Pinterest feed (I’ve gone from nail art to cat memes to how to pair patterned tights with flats), and pretend I’ve been answering work emails for the past 20 minutes.

“Hello, love, how was your day?”

I just smile weakly.

6:18 PM

I wanted to write. 

My golden hour’s run out, turned to dusk and bath time and a flurry of lunches to pack for the morning. 

I wanted to write, and I didn’t.

But my oldest daughter’s ready for her piano recital, and youngest daughter learned the meaning of the word ‘cudgel’ before I found her some more grade-appropriate reading material. My son’s chubby thighs are peeking out from his Spider Man undies, and he even helped me sweep up the Cheerio particles.  My own thighs are no smaller today, and it’s tater tots and burgers for dinner, but I did pin a great tutorial on how to stock a small pantry. 



This is just how it goes sometimes.  In the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 


And at the end of the day, I can live with that.



Monday, October 20, 2014

In Which You Don’t Have to Pay $300 for a Writing Conference Because I Went For You (1st Session)



You’re welcome.

:-)

Yes, on Saturday I had the truly wonderful opportunity to attend the James River Writers Conference here in Richmond, VA. From what I’ve seen of other writers conferences, this one is smaller, but even more awesome because everything is so up close and personal. Anytime you can sit and listen to Barbara Kingsolver (of "Poisonwood Bible” fame- yes, pick your jaw up off the floor) chat with Erica Orloff while you’re having lunch at a table with a couple of editors, after which you are going to go have a pitch meeting with an agent...well, let’s just say I call that a good day.

It was a really good day. And I’m sure you’re wondering how my pitch went...well...it was great! The agent really seemed to “get” my book, and she was super nice and asked me some great questions, one of which was about how the love story part of the book turned out in the end and when I told her she said, “Oh, good. That’s what I was hoping for.” :-) She asked me to send her the first 25 pages, so I’ll be doing that this week! Hurrah!!

Okay, back to the rest of the conference. Let’s start with the plenary session: “Ideas Worth Writing.” Stacy Whitman was the first speaker, and she talked about finding your voice. She said:

- Voice must come from the writer: it’s not something that can be edited into existence.

- A story may have been told before, but it’s never been told in your voice. Voice is important!

- READ! Read stuff in your style AND outside your style. Don’t let your voice get completely swallowed up in one style or author.

- WRITE! Use your own experiences and try to “hear” your characters in your head. Take notes of the things people around you say, and their expressions. It’s okay to base your characters off of real-life people.


This is an amazing creation by a very talented artist who drew these visual notes AS the speakers were speaking during the plenary session. It was really something to watch. After it was finished, they had it on display in the lobby. It’s not only fun to look at, but there is some really great advice in there! Click on it to see a larger version.


Moving on to Brian J. Jones, who took his cues from Jim Henson, whose official biography he wrote:

- If it’s something you love enough, you can make a living at it.

- “Puppets without trained puppeteers are a toy box. Writing without trained writers is a phone book.”

- Give yourself permission to really stink at writing- behind closed doors. Apparently when John Lennon was writing “Something in the Way She Moves” he couldn’t think of a good word to come after “attracts me like ____” so someone told him to just put a random word there and move on. The word he chose? “Cauliflower.”

- Jim Henson was constantly told “no.” So he just kept going.

- Be original. Do your OWN thing.

- Have FUN!


Next week I have a very exciting interview for you, but don’t worry, more writing conference notes will come in the weeks to follow!


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