Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for ZEST

What is zest?

Well, other than a soap. ("You're not fully clean unless you're ZESTfully clean!" C'mon, I know you're singing it in your head.)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines zest as "an enjoyably exciting quality."

I want my writing to have "an enjoyably exciting quality." I want it to have ZEST! Zest is what readers crave; it's what agents and editors look for when they crack open your manuscript for the first time. So how do we get the ZEST into our writing? Here are a few things I've learned in the last few years about achieving zesty writing:

1. In late, out early. I LOVE this advice- these four little words are a perfect way to test your manuscript for zest. This basically means that you want to dive right into the action at the beginning of your story and pull out with just enough questions at the end of your chapter to leave the reader needing to know what happens next. You're writing a story, not a chapter in a textbook. You don't have to explain everything and then wrap it up neatly- you need a little bit of that roller coaster effect to get your reader's heart pounding.

For a great article about how to achieve "In late, out early", check out this post at Utah Children's Writers. 

2. Think outside the box. I know, it's totally cliche, but I think it's something every writer needs to remember- you have to find a way to stand out somehow.

When I entered the Totally Cliche writing contest, my brain started working and I started a few ideas, then promptly deleted them because I knew that every other writer would probably be doing the same thing. I started wondering what I could do with cliches that would be fresh and different. I immediately thought of my dad and the terrible puns he would tell based on cliches and I suddenly knew: a writer trapped in a world of cliches! Why not take it to the extreme and write a story filled to the brim with cliches? And that's how poor Alice ended up at Castle Cliche, with tall, dark, handsome Aman (Aman's home is his castle) who sent her on a wild goose chase.

That summer I also entered the Wedding Letters contest sponsored by Jason F. Wright. He asked for his fans to write wedding letters to his fictional couple for their pending nuptials. This project involved many virtual crumpled-up sheets of paper as I wrote what I was sure everyone else was writing- the same old advice to listen to each other, don't go to bed angry, always kiss each other goodnight, etc., etc., etc. Finally I asked myself- How can I make my letter different? I came up with the idea to write a wedding letter with marital advice that wasn't marital advice. My letter was about laundry. I explained that once you get married, the whole laundry situation changes, and I explained how important it was to do laundry together, to never go to bed with dirty laundry, and to always remember why you loved those clothes in the first place. It was a letter about laundry- but it wasn't about laundry. It was a letter about marriage- but it wasn't about marriage.

That letter became a finalist in the contest (didn't win b/c contest was based on popular vote- as in, you tell everyone you know to vote for you...I need to get to know more people!) and it stood out enough to Jason Wright (have I mentioned before that he is a New York Times Bestselling author??) that he contacted me personally to let me know how much he liked it and he even mentioned it (and me!) in a televised interview. Outside the box pays off, people!

It's time to think outside the box with your manuscript- how will your YA dystopian novel be different from every other YA dystopian novel? Why does the agent NEED to represent your book? How is this book totally yours and totally fresh? If it's still living inside the box, you need to sprinkle it with some zest and yank it out, people!

3. Watch your tone, young lady. Maybe it was because my mom was getting her doctorate in communications- specializing in nonverbal communication- while I was in high school, but boy did I ever learn that so often it's not what you say- it's how you say it!

This is a lesson that I definitely learned through blogging. When I first started my blog, The Beautiful Thrifty Life, I originally thought that I was 'supposed' to sound like a magazine. Every post had a very detached, straightforward, authoritative-sounding tone. I thought this made me sound like I was someone who knew what they were talking about. So I prattled on like that until one day I came across a blog called Thrifty Decor Chick. I grew to really love this blog, seemingly because of the great home decorating ideas and the wonderful, bright photos. However, when I took a closer look as to why I loved this blog so much I realized that it was the tone. The blogger was honest. She was funny. Reading her blog was like hanging out having lunch with a friend- not sitting alone reading a magazine article. Her tone made her come alive to me, and suddenly I realized that I didn't have to pretend to be something I wasn't- I could just sound like, well, ME!

Just like the dial tone on a phone helps you know you're connected, the tone in your story is what will connect you with your readers.

Ooh. That was good.

Finding the right tone is something that needs work in my WIP. My main character is pretty cool, but I don't think she really has her own identity yet. I'm still working on throwing some zest her way in the "tone" department and making her a little more 3-D. I like her too much for her to be a plain jane. I want my readers to connect with her.

So tell me, any more ideas on how to add some ZEST to your writing?

And by the way, thanks so much for joining us for our A to Z Challenge- hard to believe we made it through the whole alphabet already! More fun stuff in store for May...stay tuned!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Co-writing week 2

We talked a little bit about some of the perks of co-writing in our Co-writing part 1. Writing together with your sister and best friend is definitely a perk! We love our writing sessions. Like we mentioned in Part 1, when we get on the phone/computer, we don't just talk about our WIP or current blog post, we talk about EVERYTHING! And we love it. Any stay-at-home mom could attest to that feeling of joy when you get have conversation with another adult. Even if most of what we talk about is our kids!

Perk: Idea swapping.
Unlike solo writers, our brainstorming sessions bounce back and forth as we throw out ideas. It is really fun because then we not only have our own beginning ideas, but the other person's ideas, PLUS new ideas that we come up with based on our thoughts from our counterpart. It is great! So coming up with a list of possible solutions to a problem in our writing becomes easier and faster with many more options to chose from.

Perk: Writer's Block...Detours...Short Cuts!
Being able to have a co-writer to turn to when you get stuck is definitely a benefit to our writing! Often times, in our WIP, one of us will write on a section for a while, then when we get stuck or run out of ideas, we pass it on to the other to continue. Using each others ideas, once again, helps us to get passed our block, revise, or continue on with the story fresh and energized.

Perk: Editing.
As we pass the story back and forth, we need to read what the other has written before we can continue. As we read through, it gives us the opportunity to edit and revise. This not only helps minimize grammatical and punctuation errors, but it also allows us to catch inconsistencies in the story, plot, or characters.

Perk: Confidence!
It builds our confidence to hear from our writing partner, "Oh, I like that idea!" "You are brilliant!" "That works better, let's do that." And other similar comments as we toss around ideas. With confidence comes the courage to keep going and build our self esteem.

Perk: Staying on Track.
Having a partner to be accountable to helps to keep us from sidelining the project when life gets hectic. We know we have someone that is counting on us, and will keep reminding us to get in there and write.
Perk: It's uplifting.
When life can get you down, husbands are out of town, or life seems kind of bleak, its nice to know there is someone to turn to, an activity to share in and pull ourselves up from the blues.
Perk: Somehow we are always on the same page!
Our ideas mesh and flow and become one. It just works. We aren't writing two completely different stories with the same characters, it is one story coming together from two different minds.
We feel that the old saying "two heads are better than one" definitely applies to our situation. We feel that together we are whole, we make a complete writer. It is an amazing journey and we are enjoying every minute of it!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for You

The question I get asked the most by aspiring writers is this, There are a million books about (mourning, weight loss, parenting, etc). I'm just a nobody. What can I bring that's any different?

My answer is always the same... you.

So What if you're not a celebrity? You have something that nobody else has: your story, your voice, and your life experience. Don't let anybody tell you any different.

Yes, there have been lots of books about losing a loved one. But there have been no books about losing your loved one.
That doesn't just apply to non-fiction. How many times have we read boy meets girl, or girl meets vampire? What sells books is your unique narrative voice. What do you have to say and how can you say it differently from everyone else?

As a writing exercise, my teacher had us all go outside and look at the road. Then he had us go inside and write a paragraph about the road. As you can imagine, the six of us, though we all looked at the same road, had remarkably different things to say about it. One of my favorites said it looked like a meeting place for lost souls.

Point is, you bring something to the table that is awesome and unique and deserves to be written. So don't try to make your book like any other that's been written before. Don't model it after a best seller.
Model it after you.
Tell your story.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Weeds, Words & Work

W is for Weeds

It's springtime, and that means (if you live anywhere blessed by winter weather) time for the green, and the birds, and the tulips to return.  The earth is shedding its solemn white and brown winter coat and donning a wardrobe of color.

If you have a yard, spring also means time to head outside and prepare the garden for another planting season.

There is nothing like a garden - whether it grows flowers or vegetables.  And yet every garden, regardless of size or location, is prone to the same unchanging problem: weeds.

They are hardy, prickly, aggressive and unrelenting.  If you're not careful, they'll replace your growing plants with something much less desirable.  They wipe out everything in their path, and then continue on their conquest to the neighbors' yards.

And we've all had those neighbors - the one's with weeds waist high that seed and blow around on the wind - the one's who just don't seem to care.

So how does one get rid of weeds?  There are a few different options:
  1. Go to the store and buy weed killer (the trouble with this is it kills the good plants too)
  2. Hire a professional to do it for you  (the trouble with this is it costs money)
  3. Ignore them (the trouble with this is it frustrates the neighbors)
  4. Roll up your sleeves, put on some gloves, and get to pull them yourself (the trouble with this is it's work)
Ultimately, the how of de-weeding is up to the individual gardener, but the old advice of putting some effort into a task can produce real results - especially if you can get the weed out by the root.  It may take work, it may take effort, but the weed free garden that results is worth it.  And working in the dirt is very healthy, and can be satisfying.

W is for Words

It's revision time, and that means you've experienced the satisfaction of finishing the first draft or a WIP.  You've come down from the euphoria of accomplishing a difficult feat and are ready to dig in again.

There is nothing like seeing your words come to life - the characters, the plot, the scenes that you love spilling over the pages (or screen).  And yet every manuscript, regardless of length or author experience/expertise is prone to the same unchanging problem: errors.

They are frequent, difficult to spot, and sometimes embarrassing.  If you want to be considered seriously by an agent or editor, or you are self-published and want your work to be credible to your reading audience, you have to find and eradicate them.

And we've all read those books - the ones with errors on every page or huge factual discrepancies, that we want to throw across the room and yell "Agggh!"

So how does one get rid of errors?  There are a few different options:
  1. Click on the spellchecker button in your writing software. (the trouble with this is it doesn't catch everything)
  2. Rely on your critique partners to find errors for you (the trouble with this is they will still always miss some)
  3. Ignore them (the trouble with this is it frustrates your readers - and kills your credibility)
  4. Roll up your sleeves, research good editing skills and practices, and get to work.  This involves invoking options #1 and #2 (option #3 is still a really bad idea!)
With weeds and words, putting the time and effort into a garden or a manuscript is work.  But with weeds and words, work put forth can actually become something beautiful - opportunity and success.

So fellow writers - go pull out your gardening tools, and get to work!

Thought I'd leave you with this little thought:  How do you tell the difference between a vegetable and a weed?  Give it a pull - if it comes out easy, it's a vegetable!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Value

Megan is unable to post today, so I'm excited to be filling in for her. (This is Nikki BTW!) I really do miss writing on the blog, but I'm very excited for all the writers we have right now. Ok, now on to my post. I work at a school. One morning I came in early to help with morning recess and noticed that all the kids were waiting for the playground to open. There was one large group of kids waiting to go to the tether all courts that are really close to where they were standing. But the P.E. teacher told them that anyone who wanted to play tether ball had to first run to around the light post at the other end of the field then to the tetherballs. They all agreed and soon the playground was open and this large group of children began running as fast as they could to go around the light post so they could get to the tetherballs. Because of their different abilities, the group of kids heading to the tetherballs had turned into more of a line with kids arriving at the tetherballs and lining up orderly. Some could argue that this wasn't fair, that only the good runners would get to be first, but what I saw was children learning to work hard for something they really wanted to do instead of a big mob shoving and pushing their way into line. This made me think of the publishing world and agents and big publishing houses. It's easy to say they aren't a fair way to determine whose books will be on shelves. But let's face it has been the best system to push writers to do their best. It's not a perfect system by any means, but it is a system. Now that self-publishing has become so easy to do and accessible to everyone, the system is crashing down around us. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I do wonder about how the value of writing will change. Will writers just publish to publish, will readers lower their standards to get cheaper books? Will writers value their journey to authordom as much? Will writers value themselves enough to put their very best work out there even if it means waiting years for their ability to grow? Will readers value traditionally published authors more? There are lots of questions to be asked about where the publishing world is going. Many people are asking them, but nobody has the answers. I don't have the answers either, because I think the answer is different for each person. Some of us need the validation of knowing we ran around that light post and earned the right to call ourselves author. But others of us just need to play the game to feel good about our writing. Either way, we are a community that should value and support each other no matter what place we hold in line!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for UP

(Amber was unable to post today so she had asked us, Ashley and Jessica, to fill in for her.)

Clouds, balloons, Sun, Moon, Stars. What do you think of when you hear the word "Up"? For us, we like to think of the direction we are going with our writing. We enjoy reading the posts and comments on the MMW blog and have learned so much already. It is exciting to be a part of such a great group of writers. Though we still have so much to learn, it is nice to be able to share our experience with you as we climb this ladder. It is kind of like when you have a new baby. Every little smile, each small achievement is amazing to you, and you want to tell everyone about it! Sometimes it is easy to forget that the mother of 5 sitting next to you isn't going to be as excited about your child's first step as you are, but you feel so grateful that she sits and listens to the story anyway. It feels good to share what you learn and experience with others even if they have already experienced that themselves.

As we make this climb and reach new heights, we will be able to look back and see how far we've come.

When I (Ashley) think of the word "up" I also can't help but think of my 18-month-old. He is my third child and has proven already to be the one I am going to have to always keep my eye on. This little guy is a mischievous little trouble maker who loves to climb! The up part wouldn't be so bad, it is the down part that scares me to death! My little man will walk off the couch...just walk straight off without any thought to how far the ground is or if there is anything there to break his fall. I have pulled him down from the kitchen table, the bathroom counter, the top of the piano, the list goes on.

Jessica says this has brought another "U" word to mind: "Unconditional" It is amazing to think of all the things our children can do and yet, we still love them. Mr. Mischievous was found a few days ago in our bathroom stirring the toilet water with our TV remote. My daughter, as I write this, is throwing a fantastic tantrum because she doesn't want to empty her garbage. And yet I love my kids more than anything. I know that as they grow up, there will be many more challenges and frustrations. Things much worse than a soaked TV remote, tasks much more important than emptying a garbage to be upset about. But through it all, I know that I will love them, just as our Savior loves them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Thank You!

I was pleasantly surprised last week to see in the comments on my post that Christie Wright Wild awarded Mormon Mommy Writers the Pot of Gold Award on her blog, Write Wild. Click on the link above to check out her blog and see the nice things she had to say about us here at MMW!

So now my job is to present this award to four more bloggers who I think deserve this "Pot of Gold" for their blog's excellent content and appealing & easy-to-navigate design. And the winners are (in no particular order):

1. Maggie Fechner, of Mommy's Always Write- I found Maggie's blog thanks to a Saturdays Stories post we did about her last year. She is a Mormon, a mommy, and a published author (not a mere writer!) and her posts are always honest and seem to hit home with me. Her beautiful spirit shines through in her writing, and it's always a pleasure to see what's going on in her head each week! Great job, Maggie!

2. Shawni Pothier of 71 Toes- I discovered this amazing woman and her blog after attending Time Out for Women back in October. Shawni is the 2011-2012 Young Mother of the Year, and I'm pretty sure that she deserves that title and more! Her blog details life with her 5 children, and she keeps it real and fun! Shawni always has some great advice and wonderful motivation- if nothing else than to tell us that even the mother of the year isn't perfect! She's also a professional photographer, so her photos are just gorgeous. Thanks, Shawni!

3. Angie Lofthouse of Notes From the Writing Chair- I'm a new follower to Angie's blog, but I've found myself getting excited whenever I see a new post from her pop up on my blog feed, if nothing else than I get to go look at that amazing photo she has at the top of her page- if that's the view from her writing chair, then where can I get a chair like that?? :-) I found Angie through the LDS Writers Blogfest earlier this month. She is also a published author and offers some great motivation on her blog. Way to go, Angie!

4. Melanie Jacobson of Write Stuff - Melanie is another blogger I found through Mormon Mommy Writers, and someone else I really look forward to reading. Melanie's blog (whose tagline is "Very writey, not at all stuffy."- LOVE that!!) is lighthearted, fun, witty, and smart. She always makes me laugh and think at the same time, which is a great talent to have. I love her style! Keep it up, Melanie!!

Great job, ladies! Thank you for inspiring me to be a better writer and blogger.

I hope that you take the chance to stop by and enjoy each of these ladies' fun blogs, and a big thanks again to Christie for her kind award. It's nice to know that the work we do over here means something to people! :-)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

'Begin at the beginning,' the King said gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

One thing we have discovered about our writing style, is that we have a hard time knowing how to start a story. Those starting words, that beginning paragraph seems so difficult We seem to be able to come up with filler and guide our characters through the story, coming up with ideas to throw in, but where and/or when do those characters actually start? What drives them? Coming up with our initial idea for our story came quite easily and from there, as we tossed ideas back and forth between each other, it began to grow. Then we got to a point when we needed to have a beginning before we could take our characters any further. There didn't seem to be anywhere to go unless we knew where we were coming from. So, we had to think back, to get to know our characters and find out where they came from and why they are who they are.
As we went back and began to deveolp our characters, we noticed a lot of our main story content change. It wasn't just about events any more, it was about people, feelings, desires. While our ultimate ourcome for the story did not change, the road we began to take to get there took some different turns.

In Relief Society last Sunday the lesson was "The Immortality of the Soul." It was a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the eternal perspective we can have as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. There was some discussion on what made our church different from others in our beliefs of the progression of the soul.

"Our comprehension of this life is that it is eternal life -- that we are living in eternity today as much as we ever will live in eternity." Teachings of Presidents of the Church - George Albert Smith

As members of the church we are blessed with a knowledge that this life is eternal. We know where we came from, we know why we are here, and we know where we can go. We understand our divine potential. It is amazing to think of what our lives might be like without this knowledge. There are so many others who don't have this knowledge. They don't know where they came from, why they are here.  They don't know that there is more to come. This life is merely part of the story and it continues beyond death.

"Oh, how sad we would be if we thought that death terminated our career. If, when our life's labor on earth was finished, we had no opportunity to go on developing, there would be little to inspire us to live as we should here." Teachings of Presidents of the Church - George Albert Smith

Our eternal perspective has the ability to change our path in this life. We, like our characters, can change our path in this life based on this knowledge of where we came from and where we are going. We didn't just appear out of thin air into this life. We were lovingly created and placed in our own little story. We create our characters with love, and create a world for them to live in. We form them and guide them. Sometimes we discover they are not going where we originally wanted them to go and it changes their path and where they might finish up in the end.

Our stories doesn't have any purpose without this knowledge of who our characters are, of what they are and what drives them. Our own story, like we said in the beginning, could not continue on until we knew about our characters and where they came from. We are so grateful for the knowledge of where we came from. We know that there is so much more beyond this life. It can give us great comfort, and give us an outline of how to live our lives, so that we can maximize this Divine potential.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Success

So What is Success? What does it look like? When do you know you have it?

These are all questions that I've struggled with (ok still struggling).
Whatever I did, someone was better. Half of my friends went to Ivy League schools and the other half skipped school and became actors, writers, etc. And who was I? A stay at home mom. Big freakin whoop.
I didn't have a big important 9-5 corporate job. Hilary Rosen would accuse me of "... never having worked a day" in my life.

Well this past year I've learned how to look at success a little differently. I even have a whole chapter about it in my book, Finished being Fat: An accidental adventure in losing weight and learning to finish. (coming out in January 2013, :) thank you for asking ) As darn near every woman can tell you, motherhood is the hardest and lowest salaried job on the planet. First you have to grow a human being, which is pretty impressive considering I can't even get my veggies to grow.  You are responsible to teach your kids right from wrong, clean up sick, feed them healthy stuff, feed them crap when they won't eat the healthy stuff, get them to school in semi clean clothes, make sure when they're teenagers that they keep going to school, and the list goes on and on. Motherhood is definitely not 9-5, it's 9-life.

I've decided that if my kids are still alive at the end of the day, I'm a success. It doesn't matter if they're the cutest dressed kids on the block, or the lead in the school play.  As long as they are growing and improving as little people, then I must be doing something right.

Now for the hard part, applying what I've learned to writing. At first, my only goal was to finish a book. Once I did that the next logical step was to get it published. Okay, did that. Now I'm told that if I want my book to be a "success" it's up to me to market the heck out of it. So I'm working my butt off, doing all the things my publisher has asked me to do: work on building an author's platform, blog, gather facebook friends, tweet stuff, get endorsements.

I've started having nightmares. I'm over analyzing everything I do. Do enough people "like" me? Do I have enough followers? How many people are reading my blogs? Once again, whatever I'm doing, it feels like it's not enough. I feel like a failure compared to everyone else.

Stop. Reboot. Go back to my original question. What is success? Is it being on the New York Times Best-sellers list? Is it have 5000 Facebook friends and hundreds of likes per post? Is it getting on a daytime talk show? If I did all these things then could I finally call myself a "success"?

Those things are all nice and fabulous, but I think success is something a little deeper. Just like in motherhood, I think success is changing one life for the better. Even if it's your own. If your story, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, has touched someone... congratulations- you are a successful writer. So What if you self publish, or have a small indie publisher. Doesn't matter.You have made a difference. Something you created has made the world a little brighter.

If that isn't success, I don't know what is.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Reaching

You may be wondering what reaching is, or what type of reaching I'm talking about.

Reaching for the stars?

Reaching our readers?

Reaching for that bit of chocolate? ;)

Actually, I'm thinking about reaching deep within. Ourselves. And using what we know to make our writing the best it can be. LDS author Heather Moore recently did an INTERVIEW where she discussed putting emotion into your writing. And while Heather is, of course, spot on, I just wanted to add a little bit of my own experience and observation.

Writing a story is a relatively simple process. We've been doing it since grammar school. But, writing a story--especially a novel-length story--that keeps your readers hooked, invested, and interested from chapter to chapter can be daunting. But, I submit, it's something ALL of us can do. We are writers. This is what we chose (one could argue it chose us). We CAN do this.

Each of us has experienced intense emotion in our own lives, even though our lives are different and these emotions were brought about by different happenings. But if I asked you to recall a time when you were absolutely devastated, I bet you could. Or a time when you were so happy words failed you. Or a time--even from childhood--where you can remember being so scared it defied logic.

 Your characters don't have to have the same experiences you did to bring about this or that emotion, but you can reach within and bring out that particular feeling that can then be conveyed to your reader through your words. We can be powerful writers. No, we won't affect every reader the same way, but if you lace your writing with powerful emotion, you will bring about a response. I'm not going to say that's always easy. Currently, one of my works in progress involves reliving some really difficult feelings from my past, things that I have long put behind me. Odd how they're still there to be called up as needed, though.

Remember, There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quotes

I love a good quote. I have a little notebook sitting on my bookshelf. On the front is a picture of Elijah Wood as Frodo. The inside is filled with pearls of wisdom. While the letter Q could stand for quail, queen or quilt, query or quintessential, I decided today I would go with quote.

Here's a few good one's I found:

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."
E.L. Doctorow

"The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense."
Tom Clancy

Once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can scratch it but a pen.
Samuel Lover

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. -E. L. Doctorow

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
Ernest Hemingway

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork. ~Peter DeVries

I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is ransom notes. ~Philip Dusenberry

What about you? Have any good quotes to share? Post them in the comment thread...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for: Portraits and PHHHTTH!!!

"Inspiration is for amateurs."
Chuck Close

So yesterday as I spoke with my mom about my current WIP, she blurted out, "Inspiration is for amateurs." I was a bit taken aback by this, since my mother is never derogatory about me or my efforts. She immediately clarified her statement, saying she'd recently heard of this artist named Chuck Close and shared his story and why this statement of his is profound in more ways than one. Mr. Close, born in 1940, suffered through several difficulties as a child and youth, including losing his father and discovering he had Prosopagnosia. It's a neurological disease where his ability to recognize and remember faces is almost nil. Yet look at some of his art:
What looks like a large photograph, even in the extreme close up of the eye, is in fact acrylic on canvas. Mr. Close has, for his entire career, painted hyper realistic portraits. For him, this need to recreate faces in fact helps him recognize people. That minute focus, constant concentration on bits and pieces of a face eventually brings the whole face into view.

But in 1988, his life crashed around him. During an awards ceremony, he felt a pain in his chest. After the presentation, he crossed the road to the hospital, where he suffered a such a severe seizure he severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. After years of therapy he has regain the partial use of one arm. An assistant tapes a paint brush to his wrist (NOT his hand, which is unusable), and Mr. Close continues to paint.

From far away this portrait is still amazingly accurate, though in a more pixelated way. But look at the close up of the eye. Each of these "pixels" is precise, its colors chosen with care, its intensity and placement deliberate. Is his art "less" or "more" now because up close you can see the forms used in it? In my mind, they are both masterpieces.
I wanted to bring these two pictures up to make a point. When I was a reader only, looking at books as some mythical creature springing forth in perfect form from the mind and hands of an author, books seems like the first picture. I could see no flaw, no spot where the skeleton was visible. And when I started writing, even as recent a few months ago, I would look at the books I would read, and even at the rough drafts of other writer's work, and wonder, "How did they do that?"
But like his post injury paintings, the underpinnings of writing are becoming clear to me. It is obvious now what I must do to get from A to Z. There is no waiting for the muse to come to me, baring a platter of sweet morsels to tempt my writing palate. No waiting for inspiration to strike. Instead you have to do the hard work. You have to create the portrait of your character pixel by pixel, brush stroke by brush stroke, until the whole picture becomes clear. And it doesn't matter how long it takes (these portraits took years to do). What matters is that you write everyday. Everyday. EVERYDAY. Even if, like me, you don't write on the weekends (that's my family time), I still write other things like journal entries. 
Then you can, like I am beginning to, give a great big PHHHTTH  to the lousy idea that you had to wait for your muse to show up whenever she wanted. It's the other way around. She was always there, she's just waiting for your butt to be in the chair. You practice listening to the whispers of the muse by using your writing muscles every day. Period. And that's when inspiration comes, when you are in the throes of wrestling with your WIP, when characters reveal aspects of themselves they would never have if you'd just come once a month like half hearted visiting teaching. Who are you going to bare your soul to: the people who say as they run out the door "Call me if you need anything", or the friend who sits with you, listens to you, cheers you on in the good times and holds your hand through the bad? It's the same with our characters, plot, and whole story.
So sit down. Write. 'Cause inspiration is for amateurs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Overcoming Obstacles

The list of excuses on why you can't accomplish your goals grows longer by the second.  As a mother, I even hear my child blaming others for her mistakes, and I'm certain she has observed this response.

We have our obstacles, but an obstacle does not have to stop us in our tracks.  
The hardest obstacle to get around is ourselves.  

We can gripe, moan, and finger-point until the cows come home, but the truth of the matter is we will not complain ourselves into a better situation.  Even if our complaints are valid.  Life is not always fair.  We must sometimes take the hard road, while others never even had to travel to gain their reward.

If the weather man says it will be great day to visit the beach, but is thundering and lightening before your toes touch the sand; you can stand on the beach with your arms thrown up yelling how the weather man lied.  You would be very right, but more likely than not the storm will keep raging.  You, however, have the choice to come in from the rain.

You may not be able to get in the word count goals you had for the day, but that doesn't mean you can't write at all.  Our journeys as Mormon, as mommies, and as writers completed one step at a time.  The joy found in the journey is a personal choice. Today I challenge you to look the (wo)man in the mirror in the eyes and tell him/her that (s)he will not be allowed to stand in your way any longer.

 "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Neurological Condition

Did you know that I'm a total freak of nature?

Don't answer that.

But yes, a little-known fact about me is that I have a peculiar neurological condition called synesthesia. The reason I'm writing about it today is that when I was scouting ahead to see which letters I'd be covering during our A to Z challenge, I noticed that I had the letters H, N, T, and Z, all of which are in the yellow-orange color range.
And that's where I've lost you, haven't I?

Allow me to explain. People with synesthesia, or "synesthetes", like me have this weird thing with our brains in which we connect two "sensory pathways." The most common is the kind I have (see, I'm not a total freak) in which people see letters in color. Other kinds can cause people to see colors associated with musical notes, give spatial placement to numbers or dates, or any number of other odd connections.

I think I may have been in my teens when I brought up my colorful alphabet to my family members, and I discovered that my brother had the same thing. We compared colors, thinking that maybe it was just because we learned our letters using the multicolored alphabet magnets on the fridge as kids, but we discovered that we had almost completely separate color assignments for each letter. (His were ALL wrong, in my opinion- I mean really, F is brown? Seriously? F is totally purple.)

Since then I've casually mentioned this to other people, like my husband, for one, and I mostly get those squinty-eyed, furrowed-eyebrow looks that come when people are weighing how difficult it might be to get you committed to a mental institution.

Fortunately, a few years ago I happened upon a tv news article (Dateline, maybe?) that discussed synesthesia and how it manifests in different ways. As I recall, I jumped off my couch, pointed at the tv and started yelling, "SEE???? I'M NOT CRAZY! I'M NOT CRAZY!!!"

Yeah, no one was around. I wasn't exactly helping the case for my mental competency.

I've read up on the phenomenon since then (I much prefer "phenomenon" to "condition") and I've discovered that it actually does run in families (it's "congenital") and out of curiosity before writing this post I casually asked my 6-year-old what color the letter "A" is. She said, "Huh?" I said, "Well, when you close your eyes and imagine the letter A, what color is it?" She thought for a moment, then said confidently, "Purple." I asked her about a few more letters and she quickly spouted off her assigned color for each letter. When I did the same exercise with my 7-year-old son later he had the same response. Both were able to respond readily with specific colors ("No, Mom, K is more like a bluish-green than a forest green").

Hooray! I'm not the only freak in my house!

I'm not sure if my synesthesia helps with my writing. I believe it's helped me with spelling, however, because having certain letters in words can change their whole chromatic scheme. For example, the word "cemetery". The only "warm" tones in that word for me are the t (orange-yellow), the r (red), and the y (yellow). The c (gray), the e's (forest green), and m (blue) all keep that word in the cool spectrum. If you tossed out an e and added in an a (yellow) at the end instead, it would change that balance. But here's the rub- my brother, also a synesthete, is a lousy speller (sorry Erik, you know it's true). Soo...who knows?

Bet you didn't know I saw a rainbow every time I read and write, did you? If you'd like to find out more about my freakish brain, check out this Wikipedia article on synesthesia. But totally ignore that colorful graphic they have there- the only colors that are close to being right are the e's and the number 3. Sheesh.

Do you or someone you know have synesthesia? Leave a comment! We'll form a support group! ;-)

Sunday, April 15, 2012


For the next few weeks we decided to give you an inside look into how we write together. We never really considered ourselves what you might call writers before this experience. The decision to write was somewhat sudden and out of the blue. After having the initial idea to write a book we just jumped in without much planning or knowing what we were really doing. It has definitely been a learning process writing together. We have found that writing as a team comes with its own set of challenges. We've been able to make our way through, learning as we go.
One of our biggest challenges is scheduling. We have to find time when we can both sit down and work. That has been harder the last while with kids being in preschool and running here and there. A lot of the time we will just call each other and talk while we do other things. As of late we have tried to set aside a two hour block of time that we can sit at our computers and "Skype 'n write." This has worked out great so far. However, those little challenges still creep in.
Distractions are another challenge, this probably applies to all writers. We can sit down and get our creative juices flowing only to be distracted by a phone call, one of our children needing something, a dog needing to go outside...the list could go on and on. Not all distractions are unpleasant or unwelcome. We are probably our own biggest distraction. As we write and talk about our WIP we also end up talking about everything else. Seriously, EVERYTHING. We talk about what we did the other day, who we've talked to, what our kids have been doing, recipes we've tried. It's really nice. :) This has turned out to be one of the biggest perks of writing with your sister. We believe that these tangent conversations benefit our writing. Not only do we get some of our best ideas from the things we talk about, but it gives our brain a break so we can get back into the story fresh and new.
Another one of the challenges we face is not being experienced or schooled in writing. Neither of us has what you might call a diverse vocabulary. While we both struggle with this it brings out one of the benefits of writing together. It seems like when one of us gets hung up on a word the other can usually find the solution. Very much the whole "two brains are better than one."
The next challenge is the fact that we are so green. When we got started we had no idea about word count, writing conferences, or even HOW to publish a book. We had no idea what a WIP was, or a beta reader, or even a query letter. There are still many things we know nothing about in this great big world of writing. We hope to learn from all of you readers. (Feel free to comment and teach!)
You might think that the biggest challenge we face is confrontation or disagreements with our ideas. However, we feel we have been very blessed on this journey because we have yet to have any disagreements or conflicts, and we started our idea almost 4 years ago. Things have run rather smoothly, all things considered. This has definitely been a team effort. When we stumble in our progress we stumble together and can help pull each other up. That's not to say we haven't had our fair share of difficulties, as we've just shared a few, but when it comes to working together we seem to have always been on the same page. *har har* This above all is why we feel it's so important to keep pushing through and meet our goal.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mistakes in Motherhood

Not a day goes by without a moment where I think, yup I have scarred my kids for life.

Words sound a whole lot different coming out of my mouth than my five year old's. Sometimes I can't tell how harsh something sounds until it's parroted back at me.

The other night my oldest daughter was playing with her little sister. Apparently a two and half year old does not grasp the finer nuances of whack-a-mole and my preshcooler took issue with that.
 "If you can't play right, you don't get to play," she shouted and threw the game across the room.
I took issue with her behavior. My reply was angry and scolding,  "If you can't play nicely, you won't have any friends and no one will want to play with you." Then, since it was close to bedtime, I sent her off to her room to chill out and go to sleep early.

Alas she did not go quietly in the night. For the next half hour I could hear her screaming from her bed. "I don't want to go to sleep. I hate you. I'm going to go find a new family."  A little while later I heard the phrase that broke my heart. "I don't want to be alone. I need friends."

Somewhere along the line I had screwed up. I had made a colossal mistake in motherhood and made my daughter feel unloved. It had not been my intent to hurt, just a frustrated attempt at correction. So What was I gonna do about it now?

I felt it would be an even worse mistake to let my child go off to sleep thinking that no one loved her. So I sat down with her, gave her loves and took the 2 minutes to explain why her behavior was unacceptable. Basically what I should have done in the first place. Afterwards I got my kiss goodnight and she was out like a light.

Not so much for me. I sobbed to my husband that I was the worst mother in the whole world. That we should start saving now because my kids would end up having huge therapy bills. He reminded me that kids were pretty darn resilient and my daughter would get over it. And the next time I got angry, I should just love 'em to death.

Sure enough, the next day my daughter gave me oodles of love and hugs. Telling me she loved me, that I was the best mommy ever. What I learned was that everybody makes mistakes. In particular, I will continue to make mistakes. It's what we do afterwards that defines us as a parent.

I for one am going to apologize to my mother for the time I packed up my stuffed animals and ran away to my best friends house. I don't remember what she did that made me so angry, but I remember the tears in her eyes when she couldn't find me. Sure when I was discovered I got grounded, but I also got nearly hugged to death.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Laughter

This is my husband, Bryan. He didn't look like this when I married him...

Whenever a camera comes out in my house there is at least one goofy picture taken. Usually several. Why? Because laughter really is the best medicine. And I married into a family of jokers. And I'm raising a family of jokers.

I had a rather serious childhood, and I can tell you it didn't do me a whole lot of good. So while we have our serious moments, Bryan and I make sure we include time for fun and just plain silliness. Like this picture. Because it's good for us. And, like that old cliche, the family that plays together stays together.

As writers, I think we should consider laughter, and it's cousin, humor, as we write. There's a reason TV dramas have comic relief. Everyone needs to smile once in a while. And constant drama isn't good for us. I probably cite Harry Potter a lot, but some of my favorite moments are when someone inadvertently makes a joke, or the author makes a point of creating humor in a scene.

When I happen to be in the room when someone is reading one of my manuscripts or books, I am pretty good at ignoring them. Except when they laugh, giggle or chortle. I don't necessarily write humor, but I do have moments that ease or break the tension--and I do want to know if they are laughing at the same things that made me smile writing them.

So, laugh. Make your kids laugh. Tell a bad joke, or even a semi-good one. I don't know any great jokes unless I'm quoting someone else. But I will leave you with one my daughter told me:

"What do you call a handsome magnet?"

You smiled, didn't you? ;)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kids

We’ve all heard it said, and perhaps we’ve all felt it. As authors, the books we write become like our very own children. We love and nurture and dream about them, from the first moment we feel the life spark within us, till the moment we kiss them and kick them out the door, full of fear and hope for the good we hope they do in the world.
I’m at that stage in my current WIP, that near-the-end-of-first-draft stage, which could be alluded to the ninth month of pregnancy. That stage where you’re sick of being overly huge and incapable of doing anything else and all you want to do is scream “Get this thing out of me!”, and yet you also yearn for the not-too-distant moment when you get to hold that first draft in your hands, feel the real, flesh and blood reality of this beautiful thing you’ve created, and imagine the possibilities that the future and some good parenting hold.
I love my babies. I love that newborn smell, the softness, closeness of the experience. And I hate being nine months pregnant.

My baby.
I’m finding a parallel between that and first drafts. I’m so anxious to finish. I want to be done. I want to move on to revisions and editing. But, like every stage of childhood, each stage of writing has its pros and cons.
Because once this WIP becomes a newborn, and not just an idea floating inside my mind begging to be born, the work and effort and sacrifice does not diminish, it just changes.
There will be poopy diapers (all those dreadful parts that must be cut, because let’s face it, they are poopy diapers).
There will be sleepless nights for feedings (because every stage of creating comes with sleeplessness at some point).
There will be that terrifying moment when you pass that newborn off for someone else to hold, not knowing if their touch (or critique) will be gentle; if their approval will be constructive.
But that newborn manuscript, with love and care and time, will grow and develop and mature.
Like our kids. The ones we write for. The ones we write about. The ones we love, and nag, and sometimes, for just a moment, can’t stand. But ultimately, wouldn't want to live without.
Just like our books.
Know what else? It takes a community to raise a kid. I truly believe it takes a community to write a book. From author, to illustrator, to agent, to editor, to cheerleader, to beta reader, to publisher, to bookstore customer, we cannot do this alone. So reach out – be a friend and find a friend.
And don’t forget to love your books – and your kids. They grow up and leave home all too soon.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for: What's up with the name Jennifer?

When I was a teenager, I decided I wanted a different name than the one my parents gave me. I tried out all kinds of names, wrote them with my last name in a notebook the way some people do with their boyfriend's last names, but I was sure that "Megan" did not fit me. I was not a Megan. But everything I tried either sounded like an 19th century novel or a stripper.
I even asked my mom if there were any other names they were considering when I was born. (My sister was almost Mercedes. After the car. I know. My mom put her foot down.) But "Hilary", while great for the Secretary of State, didn't fit me at all. I have internalized Megan. And I'm cool with that. At the time I was born, Megan was a very uncommon name, even though there are lots and lots of little girls running around with that moniker these days.
So what is my beef with the name Jennifer? Nothing. Well, except there seems to be a cosmic collusion to give people with the name Jennifer the ability to write amazing books. I don't know if I've pointed this out to you yet, but I have a very good friend from high school, Jennifer Nielsen, whose books have exploded onto the scene. Her newest, the first in the Ascendance Trilogy, The False Prince, just came out this month. I got it yesterday. Read it yesterday. It has been compared to both Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games and Megan Whelan Turner's Newberry Award winning The Thief. I've read both. Enjoyed both. In my opinion, The False Prince blew them out of the water. It was that good.
So I mentioned I got the book yesterday. My very good friend, Jennifer Griffith, also a published author, had purchased the book for me for my birthday. Read her review of The False Prince (and the funny thing that happened with this copy of the book before it reached me). Jennifer Griffith's new book, Big In Japan, is due out in July. I helped her, in a small way, prepare it for submission, and I can tell you it's gonna be big. (No pun intended.) Funny, sweet, and exciting, this book defies genre, but is all together wonderful. (I wish I had a link of some sort to a trailer or cover or something, but I don't have one yet. Come back in July. I'm sure I'll have all kinds of stuff then.)
Of course, I can't fail to mention our very own Jenni James, who while I don't know her personally, is the co-founder with Nikki of this blog. She has seven children, cans, and can write books in a single bound. Like in three weeks. When I was at the ANWA conference, the publisher of her Jane Austen Diaries, Walnut Springs Press, was there. Her editor, Linda Mulleneaux, mentioned Jenni as the only author she knew who could write a book in two months and submit it almost perfectly ready for print.
So here I have three real life examples of Mormon Mommy Writers, all named Jennifer, and all, it seems, with the writing "green thumb". I've been mulling this over for a while, wondering if there was some kind of magic in that name. That if you have that name, and you're a writer, you have a golden ticket to writing fabulous books.
But after I'd pondered this for a while, it occurred to me that I knew something else about these women. They are all determined, driven, and darn hard workers. That while it's an amazing coincidence, what really makes these women worth emulating is their ability to see the job through, to work even when it's hard, and to keep the end goal in sight.
So there it is. I will NOT be changing my name to Jennifer. I will, however, be tempted to tattoo "Determined, Driven, and Darn Hard Worker" on my forearm, if only to continually remind myself that these qualities are the ones that get books written and published.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Inspired

Inspiration can come in many shapes and sizes.   All of the contributors to Mormon Mommy Writers, and our commenter constantly inspire me.  In General Conference, the speakers inspired me to do be and be better.  I especially pondered some statements in Elder Uchtdorf's talk "The Merciful Obtain Mercy."

I will never understand the pettiness of others and how sometimes people attempt to build themselves up by tearing others down.  This is why I am so inspired by the community here at MMW.  From all I have observed within the LDS writing community, there is a system to build each other up with no need to tear down others.  Someone else's success is not to be envied. It is something to celebrate.  Personally, I enjoy passing along all the great novels I have been lucky to read.

Keep cheering each other on, and showing the world that the best way to build oneself up is to support all those around you.  

 If you would not be forgotten, 
as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write things worth reading, 
or do things worth the writing.
Benjamin Franklin

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Heaven

Me in my heaven sitting about 2 feet away from literary agent Jeff Kleinman. I totally stole this photo from Jason Wright's facebook page. Thanks, Jason! ;-)

...because that's what I was in when I attended the One Day Someday Writing Workshop over the weekend! Imagine this:

- 20 aspiring writers
- 1 New York Times bestselling author
- 1 very well-respected literary agent from New York City
- 1 editor from Shadow Mountain publishing
- 1 public relations executive (he's the guy you call to book your appearances on the Today show when your book hits the top of the charts)
- 6 hours to pick the brains of all of the above.

Each gave us a few words of advice and then let us have at them with questions and even, in the case of the editor, our book PITCHES!

Shut the front door, right?

The group was small enough that we all got our questions answered, and the agent's Q&A started to run into our lunch time so he suggested we all just trot on over to the Glory Days Grill (across the street) and grab lunch together so we could keep on chatting. So yes, on Saturday I had lunch with a literary agent. For reals.

Here are a few of the juiciest tidbits I picked up from these literary rock stars:

Jason F. Wright, New York Times bestselling author:

- Keep a writing journal handy to "capture the flash"; a handheld audio recorder is also a great tool for those driving-in-the-car or middle-of-the-night inspirations.
- You can grow into your writing, but you can't be taught to have a great idea. If you have a great idea, trust in it. The writing can be learned.
- Pour some concrete. If you just keep going back over what you've already written again and again you will not only be stuck in one place but you will make yourself crazy. Your WIP is like a sidewalk- each day try to lay a little more fresh concrete on your work.
Jeff Kleinman, agent for Folio Literary Management, LLC:

- If you're looking for an agent, find books that are like yours, written by first-time authors like you. Check the acknowledgements page and find out who their agent is. In your query to the agent, mention the book and the author and let them know that you've got something similar.
- While you're waiting to hear back from agents, DO something. Enter writing contests, win awards, get published in magazines or online- anything to build your credentials.
- Agents and publishers are desperate for great books; the problem is that most books come to them before they're ready.
- Get critiques from people you don't know- as many as possible- have them draw a horizontal line in the text anytime their mind wanders. That will help you discover where you're losing your audience.

Chris Schoebinger, editor for Shadow Mountain Publishing:

- Know the market, know what's selling and what's been "done" (ex: the market is saturated with vampire books and dystopian novels- they are on their way out at the moment)
- It's all about timing - sometimes it's as simple as whether or not the editor or agent has had lunch before they read your manuscript. Sometimes you might have ended up in a pile of manuscripts with premises nearly identical to yours. Keep trying until your manuscript ends up in the right hands at the right time.
- Dreams do come true. A high school student was in attendance at this workshop, pitched his idea to this editor and the editor was intrigued. He asked him to send him what he's got! How awesome is that?? Lesson learned: take advantage of every opportunity. Know your book, know how to sell it in an elevator (45 seconds or less!).

Matt Birch, of Matt Birch Consulting (PR firm):

- Know the "So what?" of your book. Why should people care about it? What makes it something special?
- Find where your audience hangs out. Blogs, forums, etc. Get your book out there!
- Social media is your friend. Facebook is a great way of reminding people about you and your books on a daily basis (Jason Wright is a great example of this).
- You're never done marketing your book- you can't get it out there TOO much!

Later that day my husband asked me what I thought was the most important thing I learned at the workshop. I realized that for me, the biggest thing was seeing that agents, publishers, and famous authors are all just people doing a job. There's no magical fairy dust sprinkled on any of it- success is the result of hard work and good timing. Something about spending that time with those incredibly helpful people made me realize that my dream of being published is well within reach. I personally feel I have what it takes to succeed and I know that if I put in the work, eventually it will pay off. Here's another "H" word for you: HOPE!

Over the next few weeks I will go more into depth on some of the things I learned (there was SO much!) and I will share how I've worked them into my plans for my WIPs. Also, I am thrilled to announce that Jason F. Wright has agreed to a Mormon Mommy Writers interview AND he gave me a signed hardback copy of his newest book, The Wedding Letters, for me to give away to one lucky MMW follower! Do you have a question you'd like Jason to answer for you? Leave me a comment and I'll try to include it in my interview!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Have any of you ever tried to grow grass from seed? In our yard we have a small patch of grass and the rest is dirt and rocks. It's not even good soil, it's just desert sand. But my husband and I thought, if a small patch of grass can grow, we can get grass to grow on the rest. So I picked up a bag of grass seed and decided to give it a try. I laid the seed, watered with some Miracle Grow, and said a little prayer of hope that something would grow. I didn't want to get my hopes up too high because our environment isn't the greatest for growing anything. Everything seemed to be against my little grass seeds. The puppy discovered that with all the watering I was doing to keep the seeds moist, it made the ground nice and soft, better for digging. Little children also think mud is fun and could not stay out of the yard no matter how many times they were told not to go over there. The birds soon discovered the seeds and have made regular trips to our yard for snacks. The worst hindrance for the poor little seeds were the wind storms. Near hurricane force winds brought in a cold front with temperatures dropping close to freezing. I thought for sure that none of the grass seeds could survive all this. But I held onto that small bit of hope that something would grow, and I diligently watered the yard twice a day.

After about 3 weeks of this, I was out watering one morning and noticed that there were small blades of green poking up through the dirt. I got so excited! I started to look closer at the dirt as the water sprinkled over it. Then, I saw some more, and over in the corner more! It isn't much, just a few blades here and there, but there IS grass growing! A few of those seeds were able to hold on and take root. Through all the wind, the trampling feet and paws, the cold temperatures, and even the birds pecking around for something to eat. These little seeds survived!

I couldn't help but think of how like our lives this little scenario is. How many little things in our lives try to dig us up, trample us under, or blow us away in the wind before we can grow strong roots. But if we hold tight to the things we have and know are true, and soak up the living waters of our Savior, we can survive anything! How many times have missionaries come home sad, and feeling like they have failed because they only baptized one or two people. But even that one soul is special to Christ. Just as my few little grass seeds will grow and flourish and go to seed if given continuous nourishment, that one soul can turn to many as they share the Gospel with their friends and family. Through generations this one soul will blossom into many. D&C 18:10,15,16

As you look out over our yard now, you see several patches of new grass growing. So why did the seed grow in some areas and not in others? I noticed that the areas where the grass is growing are the low spots in the yard where the water puddles. As the water flowed over the dirt, it carried the loose seeds with it to these puddles, where the water stayed and it gave them the atmosphere they needed to survive.

We can be like these little seeds. We have been taught to stand in holy places, where we will be surrounded by good influences and where the spirit can dwell. If we do, we will be fed and strengthened. I worry sometimes about raising my children in this world where it seems there are so few holy places left. It strengthens my desire to make my home that holy place, where my children (and anyone else who comes into my home) can be at peace and be spiritually fed. I don't want my home to be a spot of ground that may receive some moisture every other day or so only to dry up, lose that ability to stand firm against the strong winds that blow all around it. I want our home to be a puddle!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Gardening with Caleb Warnock

As a mom, I struggle to find a balance with my time, skill , and money. None of which seem to be abundant. I want to provide healthy nutritious meals for my girls. But with my husband currently unemployed, my budget tends to lend itself more to Dino nuggets than fresh fruits and veggies. If only I knew the secrets of my Mormon ancestors. Well, what do you know, there’s a book for that.

Caleb Warnock does nothing by half measures. He’s a teacher, an author, and a gardening master. He combines all of these together in his national bestselling book, The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers.
       Caleb Warnock 
This Saturday So What is brought to you by the letter G and the number 2. That’s because it’s a 2 part interview with Gardening Guru, Caleb Warnock. After reading G is for Garderning, hop on over to my blog to read Part 2, G is for Writing Guru.

This week I sat down with Caleb and this is the gist of what he had to say.

Betsy: So first off, where the heck did the gardening come from? Natural green thumb since birth or something you discovered later in life?

Caleb: My great-grandparents had huge, gorgeous gardens. As a child I loved to visit and we would gather eggs and pick raspberries and eat all the vegetables we collected for dinner. And then there was their root cellar. That was really neat. Growing up, I just figured that everybody’s grandparents lived like that.

Betsy: What do you think are the 5 biggest gardening mistakes?

Caleb: 1. Choosing the wrong crops for the season length you have in your location.
          2. Spending money on stuff you don’t need like expensive fertilizers, a drip system or fancy grow boxes.
          3. Not knowing the difference between a family garden and a hobby garden. The point of a family garden is to be economical and efficient. A family garden might not look (or cost) like Martha Stewart’s, but when done right, it will put food on the table.
          4. Not planting the things your family will actually eat. Like planting more zucchini than you could ever possibly use. It doesn’t matter if it’s easy to grow if no one in your family will ever eat it. Beginning gardeners especially tend to get discouraged if they grow things their family doesn’t want to eat.
          5. Going too big, too soon. You might think you can “make” the kids water and weed, but by the end of the summer you’ll be doing most of it yourself. Be prepared for that.

Betsy: What does living self-sufficiently mean? For me, that means doing my own grocery shopping. Why should I care?

Caleb: Not everyone does care, and that’s okay. But with the economy collapsing in 2008, a lot of people are really struggling to stretch their money. Sometimes there aren’t a lot of ways you can “give yourself a raise.” The mortgage, the car payment, insurance -- all pretty fixed. But if you can grow some of your own food, you can cut your grocery budget. Most families with kids spend between $400 and $1,000 a month at the grocery store and eating out. If you can cut that by a quarter, or half, that’s real money. If you do decide to live self sufficiently, you can have better tasting  and healthier food at a fraction of the cost. You can literally save hundreds of dollars a month from the grocery store and eating out. If you are willing to put in the work, you will have money saved and give yourself a raise in other areas.

Betsy: So can anybody do this? Or do you need to live on a farm?

Caleb: If you want to do it, you can, no matter where you live. I’ve gardened everywhere I’ve lived. I’ve grown lettuce in pots in the windows of BYU student housing. I grew a garden as a newly married in married housing, in a condo, and now we have an acre and a half. I’ve used community gardens, or sectioned a little piece of bare ground behind an apartment complex. You can do it. Start in the summer and have at least part of one meal a day, or a week, be from your garden. You can start simple and move up. Now, we try to eat at least part of one meal a day that comes from our property. And on some days, we eat three meals a day from our property -- garden veggie omelets, soup, roasted vegetables.

Betsy: After reading your book, my mom calls you, “The Chicken Whisperer”. I understand you’ve had a number of chicken consults recently.

Caleb: Someone called me last week, sure that their chicken had gone blind overnight. It hadn’t. It was just focused on brooding on the eggs in the nest. But it’s not just chickens. I get emails on everything. Yesterday I got an email with pictures of someone’s grapevine. They were sure there was something wrong with it. There has been so much knowledge lost from our pioneer ancestors. I can’t get to everyone’s questions, although I am much more likely to answer emails if they mention they’ve bought my book. They guilt me into it.

Betsy:  So is this book just a how-to gardening book?

Caleb: Definitely not. It’s how families can eat self-sufficiently 365 days of the year. And forgotten knowledge. For example, 93 percent of seeds found in garden catalogs in the U.S.  in 1903 are now extinct.

So tighten your belt and buck up your courage and give gardening a try. I’m going to start small with 
strawberry pots and squash. No chickens just yet. Caleb Warnock’s book, The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers, is available here at,  as well as Utah Costco stores, Deseret Book, and Seagull. His next book, The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast: Breads, Pancakes, Waffles, Cinnamon Rolls and Muffins, is now available for pre-order on
And as I’ve already said, Caleb is not just a gardener. He is also an amazing Writing Guru, and pretty much the main reason I’ve got three book contracts. Yep, Caleb taught me most everything I know. Pick up a few tips and hop on over to Part 2 of this interview- G is for Writing Guru


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