Sunday, November 30, 2014

Share The Gift

I love Christmas.

Christmas is all the beauty and joy and anticipation and love and goodness of life, wrapped into one gorgeous, month-long package.

Except, of course, when it's not.

Because we're imperfect beings, so we let it turn into chaos and stress and feeling grumpy in long lines and spending more money than we have and rushing to a million different activities and having the perfect Instagram shot of our perfectly decorated tree and lots of noise and lots of expectations and...bah humbug!

Wow.  Did you hunch your shoulder defensively and furrow your brow and sigh deeply?  Does this sound like someone you know?  Does it sound like you?

Sometimes it sounds like me.

President Thomas S. Monson states, "Finding the real joy of Christmas comes not in the hurrying and scurrying to get more done.  We find the real joy of Christmas when we make the Savior the real focus of the season."

Sometimes I need a reminder to slow down and just be.

Find that quiet place inside of you and let all the Grinchness melt away.  Picture a clear, breezy night. . .the stars are shining brightly. Breathe in deeply.  There is a hush in the air; let it seep into your bones.  Everything is still, still, still. . . .

Picture a stable.  Picture a new mother, exhausted but radiant and her humble, awed husband, hovering nearby.

Then, imagine a sweet, new baby, perfect in every detail.

Can you keep from smiling?  Can you help but feel the Spirit whisper peace and hope and glad tidings of great joy to your soul?

This is Christmas.

And it is a gift, the loveliest gift ever given.

We decorate our homes to remind us of all the beauty our Heavenly Father gave us. We put up lights to remind us of our Savior who is the light of the world.  We can't help but sing songs of praise as did the heavenly hosts who proclaimed the birth long ago to shepherds on the hill.  We give gifts to help us remember the wise men who honored Jesus, and even more importantly, to help us remember His great gift of sacrifice and love.

We speak sweeter and smile more.  We reach out to those who are lonely and have less.  We serve.  We think of our loved ones.  We do all these things, because our great Exemplar did them first.

I love Christmas, because I love Christ.

He is my friend and my Redeemer.  He is my guide through this crazy world.  He is the Prince of Peace.

He is all the beauty and joy and anticipation and love and goodness of life, wrapped into one sweet bundle of swaddling clothes on a night over 2,000 years ago.  He lives now and His gift is eternal.




The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has put together a lovely video and website to help us discover, embrace, and share the true gift of Christmas.  You can go to mormon.org/christmas to see the video and learn more.

#ShareTheGift


Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Christmas Story

By Lacey Gunter

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was a lovely time of gratitude and reflection. November is swiftly heading for the door as well. Hopefully your writing goals for the month are near completion or you are at least satisfied with your performance. I am right on schedule for completing SkADaMo and only a day behind on PiBoIdMo.  Now it is time to move on to December and Christmas.

Families all over the western world are pulling out Christmas trees and wreaths and listening to carols as they decorate the house. Of all the holidays, Christmas is probably the most rich with tradition.  These traditions can help to combat the growing wave in our society of trying to make Christmas all about the shopping and little about the sacred.

This year I am planning to start a new tradition in my family to try and keep the focus more on the birth of Christ and what it means to us.The idea was suggested to me by a dear friend and I fell in love with it immediately.

Each day in December, leading up to Christmas, we will pick a different picture book retailing of the birth of Christ or some aspect of it and read it together. I have already started picking books I plan to use. There are so many to pick from it is more than easy to find enough and to find the kind that suite your preferences. Here are some of the books I plan to use:


1. Tiny Baby Jesus, Written by Dandi Daley Mackall, Illustraated by Julia Noonan

2. A Child is Born, Written by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

3. The Third Gift, Written by Linda Sue Park, Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

4. The Nativity, by Julie Vivas

5. Jacob's Gift, Written by Max Lucado, Illustrated by Robert Hunt

 6. Humphrey's First Christmas, by Carol Heyer

7. We Were There: A Nativity Story,Written by Eve Bunting, Illustrated by Wendell Minor



8. Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale, Written by Martin Waddell, Illustrated by Jason Cockcroft


9. Baboushka and the Three Kings, Written by Ruth Robbins, Illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov


10. A Baby Born in Bethlehem, Written by Martha Whitmore Hickman, Illustrated by Giuliano Ferri

11. Christmas in the Barn, Written by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Diane Goode

12. The Story of Christmas, By Pamela Dalton

Anyone else have any great books about the birth of Jesus they would add to this list? I am really looking forward to this new tradition.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To write, or...crochet?

By: Kristi Hartman

I started the beginning of the month with a goal to sort of do Nanowrimo.  I already had about 75 pages of my novel done, but was going to use November as a jump start to hopefully get the book complete.  For awhile, I was doing really well.  I was setting aside a specific time each night to write, and had a word count I was shooting for and meeting every day.
Then, I started to slip back into my old habits.  The writing was becoming more difficult as I progressed in my story, and I was starting to question my direction of the storyline.  I started asking myself questions like,
"Where is my character going in this scene?  What is she doing there?  Why?  What is the point?"
And mostly,

"What is the point at all?!"

I guess to distract myself from my lack of writing, or my weird little funk I was in, I decided to start working on a crochet project I had stashed away in the corner of my family room.  The yarn was new and ready to go, the crochet hook, unused and waiting.  I pulled out the stuff, shrugged my shoulders, and thought, "how hard could this be?"  I had crocheted in the past, but only doing edging patterns on baby blankets. Never a complete project with just some yarn and a hook.
I watched a YouTube video about getting started, and with mounds of confidence, got to work.
All seemed to be going well for awhile, until it was curling and was starting to resemble a fan more than a rectangle.  After some google searching, I realized I was crocheting too tight. Apparently there is this thing called tension.  ;)  I sighed, and started pulling, unraveling all those hours of work.
Then, I forced myself to stop doing it so tightly and started over again.  After awhile, I was feeling confidant, and the yarn was starting to resemble something other than a ball of yarn.  I worked on it for a couple of nights, while my computer still sat, unused.  I had started to get fairly far along when I looked into my bag and noticed my yarn supply was smaller than it should have been.  If I kept going at the rate I was, I was going to make a rather long and skinny dish towel instead of a throw blanket. I went back to the website I had originally seen the pattern from and did some research.  I was crocheting the wrong blanket.  I was mixing up two different patterns.  Fabulous.
At this point, I was so determined to get it right, I gritted my teeth, and started pulling my blanket apart again.  Which, unfortunately, was not going to be the last time.  After two more failed attempts at counting wrong and ending up with a crooked blanket again, I had now restarted this 'simple' little distraction project of mine FOUR times.

So why the story of my mediocre crocheting experience?  Well, it got me thinking.  Why was I so dedicated to getting that dang blanket right, when the second my writing started to get difficult, I bailed?
I asked myself what I could learn from this whole process, and it was of course obvious.
Don't give up on your writing when it gets difficult.  And it will.  Like anything that is of worth or value, it takes time to learn and perfect, and sometimes starting over 4 (or more) times is the only way to learn.
Sure, the blanket will be nice to cuddle with on chilly nights, or when my Mom friends come over and I can pretend I'm so domestic and craft blankets from almost nothing, but the satisfaction of having my dream of a finished novel in my hands is so much more worthwhile.

Who knows, maybe someday I can read my published YA fiction novel while cuddling with my finally finished crocheted blanket.




Saturday, November 22, 2014

Drowning in the Sea of Nano

The goal is 50,000 words in one month.
Not that hard, they say, that's only 1500 words or so a day. 
Even if you fall behind, you can always catch up. 

Pretty, pretty lies, but LIES nonetheless. It is HARD HARD HARD.

It's November, after all. Kids are stir crazy and possibly still bouncing around from Halloween's sugar overdose. Thanksgiving is coming.

If you had teens (or volunteered to help) in the Phoenix Temple Cultural Celebration, then you were driving kids, sewing costumes, buying black pants, black shoes, then white shoes, white socks, no, wait, now it's black shoes again. Oh wait, now it's both. Back to the store. Then the Celebration itself, then the dedication of the Phoenix Temple! Veteran's Day, spring cleaning (It's spring here in the Valley of the Sun, by the way. Yeah, spring is in November). So much to do, and hey, let's write a novel!

Does anyone else have little keyboard shaped dents in their heads from the frustration? Okay, so that's established.

How about writer's block? Yes, that nasty beast FEEDS on NanoWrimoians like blue whales on plankton. I'm sitting here trying to write, and I've veered so far off my outline (yes, I OUTLINED) that I am now pantsing, even though DID I MENTION I OUTLINED??? The story went fabulous places, and then crashed. I don't want to go back to the outline. The pantsing version is much more awesome. AND also terrible and I hate it but I love it--

Yes, I am in the throws of the mid-Nano slump. Many of my colleagues are, as well. It's even got to the point where I have visions of Mork every time I say Nano (technically he says "Na-NU" but still). So, in honor of that, here's a little visual inspiration (it's no Avengers, and if you've seen that you know what I mean):

Okay. Got that out of the way. SO,
WHAT DO WE DO TO BREAK THE SLUMP?

Here you thought I was just going to complain and not give you any tips for breaking writer's block.  I wouldn't do that to you, gentle reader.  I have a few things that have helped me. Yesterday I did these things and got to a place where I could write 4000+ words over the course of a few hours.

1) Remember. It's not about making time,it's about protecting our time. I don't take credit for that. Deirdra Eden Boyd shared it. I had to remind myself and others that I had made a goal, a commitment, and I need to do what it takes to keep that commitment, to reach that goal. I sacrificed some much-needed relaxation time and skipped family movie night to write. It kinda stunk, but they got to watch a movie I wasn't very interested in, and I got almost unimpeded writing time.

2)Forget. Expectations have no place when you are writing for volume. I tend to edit as I write. I think about the words I want to use, sometimes a little too much. My first drafts are more polished than some people's second or third drafts. Nanowrimo isn't about that, though. In order to be able to write 50,000 words in a month, I have had to forget that expectation that what I write will be up to my normal first-draft expectations. The point is to get the novel out and ready to work with.

3)Inspire. What inspires you? If what normally inspires you isn't working in the throes of Nanowrimo, then maybe you can find something else, change it up a bit? Some little tidbits of inspiration suggestions I've found. I'll tell you about any of them I've tried, and how it's worked for me.

  • Music:  this is a huge one for me this week. I usually don't like to listen to instrumental music, but I needed a change, so I googled "melancholy instrumental music" and discovered an artist named "Hauschka" who just... wow. It fit the bill and then some. I jumped on Pandora and let them pick out music in the "Hauschka Radio" station and I've found it fits the tone of what I'm trying to write, perfectly. Here's a little Hauschka: 

One person shared their multiple playlists that help them in certain situations, including breaking writer's block. Here is a link to their post, maybe it has some musical ideas for you: 
  • Sprints:  Opening up Facebook (BEWARE! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!) and having friends to do sprints with has helped immensely.
  • Write-In:  doing a write-in is always helpful. I have a faithful write-in group, that used to be part of the same ANWA chapter, but has since been scattered to the 4 corners of the globe. Okay, Texas, Buckeye AZ, and Louisiana aren't exactly foreign lands, but they don't lend themselves to all-night potluck write-ins, either. SO, we opened up a Google Hangout and did it online. There are virtual write-in's as well as Nanowrimo-sponsored ones, or organize your own. Everyone working on the same thing is synergistic and it helps me immensely. Having someone to give you instant feedback, or suggest a word here and there can break the ice of the impending writer's block. 
  • Timers: the sprints are one take on timers, but there are other ways to do this, even alone. "Write or Die"is a software application that rewards you for meeting a goal, and if you don't, it punishes you. It might eat your words, or zombies may show up at your door. Well, maybe not zombies. Even just setting a Google Timer, and when it goes off, if you've typed your goal, you get a Coke. If not, no soup for you. 
  • TURN EVERYTHING ELSE OFF!! This one probably won't work for me. It might just make me angry. But for some, it has to be distraction free. Having my music in my headphones helps me to really enter the world where I am writing, and sometimes I even have my eyes closed, which really creeps out my son (thank you, former career where I had to type and look at a million other things all at once). Kill Facebook (unless you are using it for sprints, then just have it open JUST for that. No need to check any updates or anything). Remember--PROTECT your time. 
These are just a few little ideas. What works for me may not work for you. Heck, you may not even need it. Maybe your muse is sitting right there next to you and you are having a great laugh together at the poor whiner with her Mork and her Hauschka, just trying to finish her Nano novel in 2014.  

Oh, I almost forgot. 

4)JUST DO IT! Don't delay. Write. It's easier to write, when you're writing. You know what I mean. Good luck. May the force be with you. May the odds be forever in your favor. All that good stuff. 
And my favorite:

JUST KEEP SWIMMING!!

Discussion time:  how's your Nano-vember going?  What antidotes to mid-Nano venom do you have in your writer's first-aid kit? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Novel VS Novella

One of the trendy, ‘buzzworthy’ words going around writing circles is the word NOVELLA.  I’m not saying that it’s a new word; in fact, it may be more hipster-ish than new.  In fact, Salma Hayek would champion the word in association with her ‘Ugly Betty’ series; and, Latin American soap opera stars on Univision would embrace the word as originally belonging to their profesión.  What I am saying is that I’ve noticed a trend away from the full novel-length stories towards the shorter more niche novellas.  So, what’s the difference?


Actually, the Italians get the nod for the creation of these fictional prose narrative writings.  It usually takes up the cause of a single character, replete with multiple sub-plots, twists and ancillary characters.  A novella will usually have a word count of between 17,000 and 40,000 words.

For those of us trudging towards our world-changing novel, or maybe we’re riding the NaNoWriMo pony this month, this option is really appealing.  The story I’m currently authoring is probably going to come in at around 30,000 words or so.  Even if I flesh out the imagery a little more or do some deeper character development, it’s still not going to reach 40K.
 
So, if you’re not quite ready to make a run at a Sanderson-length story, you might consider a nice, petite novella.  Here’s a little research on the market for novellas:
·       Some regular literary journals accept them.  John Fox (BookFox) has assembled a pretty good list of literary journals that accept novellas.
·       Try a boutique press.
·       Send your work to a novella contest like the Faulkner Wisdom Competition.

John Brandon had an essay on novellas picked up by the New York Times a couple of years back in which he suggested that novellas are in their Golden Age form right now, that novellas are more handily adaptable to film manuscripts, and that three short novellas are much more interesting (and probably more marketable) than a big, clunky novel. 


Perhaps I’ll finish this post and start working on my ‘next great American novella.’

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is NaNoWriMo Right for Me?

by Katy White

This month, I'm working on NaNoWriMo and am a few hundred words short of crossing the 50,000 word mark. It's an exciting feeling, yet the thought of editing this particular first draft is giving me a bit of anxiety I don't normally have. This draft isn't as polished as my others have been. I didn't prepare well enough for NaNo (I switched projects only a few days before November), and I can feel that all over the place.

When I'm working on a WIP, I typically plan a little with the use of a beat sheet. I do a fair amount of research, which I organize in Scrivener (the best writing tool EVER--I'm not an overly detailed or ultra-organized person in regular life, but I am as a writer). Then, I write. I add more research as I need to, and every day, I start my writing time by reading and gently revising what I did the day before. The result is a fairly clean first draft (though it still needs editing and round upon round of critiques from my incredible critique partners).

With NaNo, though, I don't have the luxury of time to go back and revise what I did the day before. I rarely even read much of what was written the day before. I just start writing. When I reach a point that requires more research or very careful wording, I just write something like, "XXX--comic book joke," then come back to it later. That means that revisions are a bear. At least this time.

So...why do it this way? I'm wondering this a lot this month. I tell myself that it's a good exercise to learn to write using different methods. But is it really? I felt great about last year's NaNo novel and about the Camp NaNo novel I did this year, but both of them were very, very well planned in advance (much to my surprise). So even if I hadn't had a time constraint, I still would have drafted them quickly. Hmm.

What do you all think? Do you have any experience with something like this, when the WIP just feels clunky or a method stops working for you? Is it the idea? The lack of planning? Or is maybe NaNo not the right style for me right now? I'd love your input and advice for this stage in writing life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Writer's Toolbox

By Nikki Wilson
(Sorry to those who were hoping to read one of Merry's wonderful blogposts today, but alas she is out of internet for now so you are stuck with me!)


A writer has tools like any other craftsman. Sometimes our tools are prose, analogies, or even spell check! But other important tools include writer's conferences, writer's groups, writing classes, and even Nanowrimo which helps us hone our skills in ways that are unparalleled. Here at Mormon Mommy Writers we try to keep as many tools as we can just a click away for your convenience.

That's why we have a resource page up above in the tabs. On this page you will find many different resources like American Night Writer's Association.
Which is a writer's group for LDS women which also holds an annual writer's conference in AZ. (It also happens to be my favorite writer's conference and not just because it's close!)

Another wonderful source is Write About Dragons, in which some amazing person recorded two semesters of Brandon Sanderson's creative writing class that he teaches at BYU, onto the internet for FREE! How awesome is that?

There are many other wonderful tools for writers on our resource page including blog entries about publishing, and self-publishing and writing query letters. So be sure to check out our resource page today and leave comments below of any links that we could add to the page to make it even better!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Windows of Heaven

Today, as I sat in the celestial room of the Phoenix Arizona Temple, I felt the sweet peace and strength of the Spirit of the Lord sweep through me.  I sat with my husband and my three oldest children and participated in the second dedicatory session of this House of the Lord.  The talks were wonderful, but when the choir sang I felt the windows of heaven were opened.

I thrilled to each note, and as we joined the choir in singing the powerful hymn, "The Spirit of God", I knew that the Lord had accepted this holy house.  I knew that angels in heaven were rejoicing with us.  I was reminded of my Heavenly Father's love for me, and I was reminded of my deep testimony of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

In preparation for this temple dedication, I spent some time this morning reading and pondering Sister Linda K. Burton's most recent General Conference talk, "Prepared in a Manner That Never Had Been Known."  I loved how each of the talks in the General Women's Session were about covenants.  Making and keeping covenants--sacred promises with our Father in Heaven--brings us spiritual strength.  Making and keeping covenants helps to open the windows of heaven in our individual lives, so we can receive divine direction and heavenly healing.

Sister Burton references the parable of the ten virgins; she has us "consider this parable as a pattern for temple preparation."  Reading her talk inspired me to renew my efforts to consistently add spiritual oil to my lamp of testimony.  Being in the temple gave me a renewed desire to encourage my children to prepare themselves daily to make and keep sacred covenants.

I invite each of you to experience more fully the power of the Lord in your lives.  Sister Burton states, "As we consistently and diligently add oil, drop by drop, to our spiritual lamps, doing these small and simple things, we can have our lamps 'trimmed and burning' with astonishing preparation." When we are consistent and diligent in living Christlike lives we become a light to others, shining examples in an ever-darkening world.

With our lamps burning brightly we are prepared to receive the blessings that will be poured out upon us.  The temple is a sacred place where we are blessed with inspiration and endowed with power.   Today I felt my light grow brighter as I united my faith with that of those around me. Today I was reminded of those blessings as I felt the windows of heaven open.

I echo Sister Burton's words, "May we prepare to worthily receive saving ordinances drop by drop and keep the associated covenants wholeheartedly." I promise that as we do so we will be armed with the Lord's power and we will be surrounded by His angels and His love.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Half way there!

By Lacey Gunter

Hallelujah, we are half way through the month of November.  For all you NaNoWriMo and PiBoIdMo participants, you just have to put in another 15 days and it will all be over. Don't give up now, you can do it!

I have been able to come up with 16 picture book ideas so far. That puts me one day ahead. Which is a good thing, because I also decided to do SkADaMo this year, Sketch A Day Month. It has been quite challenging.

I am not a professional illustrator. I like to draw, and illustrating my own picture book manuscript one day would be a lovely dream. But I am nowhere near the skill level of a professional. Despite all that, I told myself "So what. Just try it." Honestly, it has taken a large amount of time and effort,  but I am glad I signed on. I have been pleased with the progress I am making, while at the same time humbled and inspired by other participant's amazing talent.

One of my SkADaMo drawings. You can find the rest of my  SkADaMo drawings on my Facebook account.

Obviously, finishing a novel, coming up with lots of great ideas for stories and improving your skills are great benefits to participating in these events. But another benefit I've discovered in the past two years of doing them is the relative ease of networking with other writers and illustrators. These activities allow for natural interactions with people of a variety of skills levels, without having to pay to go to a pricey conference or join a writing association. That alone is worth at least one attempt.

I would love to hear how things are going for everyone else who is participating in one of these activities (see easy interaction). 

Wishing you the best of luck in finishing November. Write on!

Friday, November 14, 2014

One Step at a Time

by Mare Ball @ ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK

I hit a marker this week I thought I might never reach.

I finished my book.

As finished as I can make it, until an agent, or publisher wants it, and then I understand I'll be writing it again.  Or, at least editing it to the point that it will feel like rewriting the thing.

One of my favorite quotes regarding writing is "A writer doesn't finish her work; she abandons it."  I love this quote because it has proved true for me with every project I've ever written.  I would edit endlessly, if I didn't, at some point, just decide I've done my best, I've done all I know to do, and besides, I'm kind of tired of this project.  I've come to that point with the book I've been working on for three years.

I was surprised this moment was kind of anti-climatic.  I think it's because I now have to decide if I want to find an agent, or directly pursue a publisher, or self-publish, or take my ms to Staples and just have a copy printed for myself.  Truth be told, this last option appeals to me the most.

I'm dreading the next step - selling myself.  I wrote a non-fiction book, and with those, publishers want 20-50 thousand blog visits a week to feel confident in your following, your engagement with prospective buyers.  I have about 250 blog followers.  You see my dilemma.

I'm an unknown, unproven writer.  I think my book is unique and well done, but 20 thousand other people don't think so.  They don't even know I exist.

So, I'm reading the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents.  I'm researching publishers online. And I'm saving up all my Staples coupons and rewards points just in case. 

I'm also praying that God will make it clear to me what He wants me to do with my three-year project.  On any given day, I feel confident about one direction, and then, the next day...another option seems better.  It's been a roller-coaster ride since the summer.  Every night I place my book in God's hands and say, it's yours, Lord.  What do you want to do with it?  Whom do you want it to reach? 

I have my ideas, but I'm learning I don't know enough about publishing to choose a path without some divine guidance.  I've never felt comfortable in the business world (I've always worked in the non-profit world), and publishing is a very competitive, massive business.  I'm a little guppy in a big, rough, swirly ocean. 

Having said all that, I'm moving forward in my research and hope to choose a path by the spring.  My book is about Christmas, so my goal is to close the deal, one way or another, by June 2015.  This will give me six months to market before Christmas 2015.

I had hoped things would be in place by this Christmas, but fibromyalgia intervened, and then health issues with my dad, and then I sustained an ankle injury, so "the book" ended up on a back burner more often than I had hoped.

I have to tell myself, it's OK.  It will come together when it comes together.  Otherwise, I'd be in the loony-bin.  It's so easy to stress over my writing.  I have to consciously remind myself that my writing is not life or death. 

I've written a book.  And I've finished it.  That's why I'm celebrating today.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Made-Up Words

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

We’re writers, right? And writers make things up, right? So today, just for fun, I thought I’d regale you with some of the made-up words that have come into common usage in my home. (I didn’t make them all up, though; some were my hubby, and some were other sources.)

Nebdenhall (interjection). When someone sneezes, you say, “Gesundheit” or “Bless you.” But what about when someone coughs, burps, or hiccups? What then, you wonder? Well, wonder no more. You say, “Nebdenhall.”

Zoogle (interjection). And when someone says, “Nebdenhall,” the correct response, naturally, is, “Zoogle.”

Whuff (verb). We have Cory Doctorow to thank for this one. In his novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the world’s monetary system is essentially based on reputation—how cool people think you are, how well you’re respected, your kindness, etc. And the term for this “money” is “whuffy.” So around our home, when we do something that is good and helpful, we often call it whuffing—particularly by contrast with the next entry, “fluff.”

Fluff (verb). Fluffing, as opposed to whuffing, is when you do something that’s just for relaxation or when you’re just being lazy. So, in general, there are two behavioral options: you can whuff, or you can fluff.

Foo (noun). Okay, in all seriousness, this is the one that I think really should be adopted into common usage (if not this particular word, some other word with this meaning). Yes, I know there’s already a slang “foo” out there, but this one is different. “Foo” stands for “family of origin”—which is the family you came from. So, for example, I have my foo—that’s my dad and my sibs. I have my extended foo—that’s my aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. And finally I have my family—that’s my hubby and my kids. When I think of the word “family,” I think of the one I have created, the one that takes priority over the foos.

I’m going to pull out my inner therapist for a minute here. In-law relations can be a major cause of marital tension, especially early in marriage. Even when your in-laws are awesome, there’s still an adjustment that must be made, where you shift to membership in this new unit, the marriage. I know way too many people who struggle because their parents/in-laws are prioritized over the spouse. Hey, we’ve even got a scripture about this problem! (You know, cleave unto spouse, etc.) Since I believe in the power of words, I think there’s power in changing the word you use to describe your family of origin and your new relationship to them.*

I also highly recommend not calling your parents’ house “home” anymore—where you and your family live is home, not where you used to live. When we go to Utah to visit the foo these days, we love to see them, but we’re not going “home”—that’s when we get back to Maryland.

Okay, soapboxy lecture over.

And also, my list of made-up words is over.

What about you? Any made-up words you use and love?


* Don’t even get me started on how frustrated it makes me when people talk about “starting a family” only when they’re starting to having kids. . . . Grrrrrr . . .

Monday, November 10, 2014

So, what are you going to do now?


by Kasey Tross

Last week I got an e-mail from the agent I met with at the writing conference- she very kindly (and with some helpful constructive criticism) rejected my manuscript. I was fine with it- I knew that the chances of happening to find an agent to represent my book on my first try (and picked from the few agents at a single writing conference) were slim. So really, I was okay.

So why couldn’t I bring myself to tell my mom?

Ordinarily, I tell her everything, and yet this time I was hesitant. It’s not because I thought I would disappoint her- she wholeheartedly supports me, and if anything I knew she’d tell me the agent was a moron (she’s not) and couldn’t tell a good book if it hit her in the face (also not true, I’m sure). I couldn’t quite figure out why I didn’t want to share the news with her.

I knew I should tell her, so to try to figure out why this was so hard for me, I went through the conversation in my head first- and that’s when I realized that the part I wasn’t ready for was the question:

“So, what are you going to do now?” 

My hesitancy stemmed from my lack of an answer to that question. What am I going to do now? It was a perfectly valid question- so why did it make me so anxious?

I had been in this position where all year I’d been preparing this manuscript for this conference and my meeting with the agent. My goal was to complete it, and while I didn’t do that, I did get a much clearer vision of what the book needs to be and how to get there. If I wanted to, I could plow through this thing and get a decent novel out of it within the next few months.

If I wanted to.

To be honest, I’m getting a little bit burned out on this MS, and I was almost happy to find out I wouldn’t be under pressure to finish the thing anymore. But shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I have one finished book under my belt that I feel really good about?

I started thinking about my other options:

1. I could go back to my book of Fun Poems for LDS Kids. It’s a project I’m passionate about, and I would love to see it in print (and so would several of my friends who love the poems as much as I do). It’s mostly finished- I just need to find a publisher or self-publish.

2. I could take a break from the big projects and focus on seeing if I could get some articles published in national magazines. This would be a huge financial boost for my family, and I think I could succeed if I worked at it, but it would require a lot of research.

3. I could start on a new manuscript- I have an idea for an LDS fiction story that has been swirling around in my head and in note form on my computer for quite awhile now, and it would just be really fun to write.

4. I could start on any one of the SEVERAL children’s books I have in note form on my computer. There are a lot. I could probably get through those fairly quickly and have the satisfaction of completion of several manuscripts.

Right now, I just don’t know. So many projects, so little time. Maybe I should pay attention to the order I put them in- could that be my subconscious trying to tell me something? I’m kind of thinking #1 because it’s so close to being finished, and one of my goals is just to FINISH something!

*sigh* What do you think? What should I do now?

I told my mom over the weekend, by the way. I preempted the question by telling her that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do now. (And she did tell me the agent lost out on a great book.) :-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Be a Light!

I got the privilege of helping out with the Super Saturday for the Phoenix Temple Cultural Celebration today. For those not familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, when we build a new temple, it is always a long-anticipated and celebrated event. The youth prepare for months, and the night before the dedication they put on a cultural celebration full of music and dance. The First Presidency of the church is there, and they are literally dancing for the Prophet of the Lord, praising God and worshipping Him.

Today was a sunny, warm day, and the kids were practicing and getting familiar with the field, for hours and hours. The people who have planned and taught and planned some more were out there with them, working their hearts out all day long. Some of the adults were setting up last night until after midnight. This truly is a labor of love.

I drove a vanful of teens, and after dropping them off went to my designated helping-out place. As I watched and, well, helped occasionally, I was struck by a few thoughts about life, talents, work, and yes, even writing. I do think about writing a lot--especially right now, during National Novel Writing Month.  I am sunburned and more than a little tired--not complaining, just explaining why this might seem a mite disjointed as I try to express what I'm feeling. Here are three things I remember:

1)Oh my goodness. I think I cried about 15 times today. Something like 5,000 kids on that field, sometimes together, sometimes in groups--and even as they were being teens, they were being AMAZING teens. You could feel their spirit--feel their light--even when they were being too loud to hear directions, or walking "left" instead of "stage left" (which in this case was actually right).  I was just honored to be in their presence.
                       **Takeaway from that--these kids weren't perfect, but their light SHONE through, and they weren't necessarily "trying" to have it shine. They have been becoming who they are their whole lives, and what they are, is enough. It's the same for all of us. We don't need to put forth this huge effort to show the world our light--in fact, we shouldn't be doing that. We should be improving ourselves, preparing ourselves, and then the light just shines. Who we are is enough.  Our light--our example--is a natural result of the progress we are making in becoming who God wants us to be.

2)The program had choreographed numbers, with people needing to be in a certain place at a certain time.  But, a lot of the time, the kids were not exactly where they were supposed to be. And it was O.K. I saw some weird holes in the lineups of kids where they didn't fill in the field evenly, and the people who were in charge of those things noticed them. I guarantee that the audience, President Monson, and the Lord, really are not going to see those little gaps. The effort doesn't have to be perfect in order to be acceptable to the Lord. The kids were doing their best and that was awesome!
                       **Takeaway: Well, just what I just said. Our efforts don't have to be perfect to be acceptable to the Lord. We just have to be doing our best.

3)Some of the people leading the kids were.... less nurturing, while others were amazing. The magic potion seemed to be that some people were very caught up in everything going smoothly, and others were okay with the gaps, people being a little late or early on their marks, or whatever the little foibles and perdiddles were that happened. With that many kids, it was inevitable that those things happen. It occurred to me that the kids may or may not remember the oopsies that happened here and there, but they WILL remember the feeling they got from the leaders.
                       **Takeaway:  Our own lives, efforts, and writing adventures will go much more smoothly if we can be okay with misadventures. In life, we don't know which twists, turns, and perdiddles are necessary to get us where Heavenly Father needs us to be. We will trip and fall, be late or early on our marks, and have our own "oops" moments. Those things are inevitable. Our lives can be happy in spite of those things, and maybe even because of them, depending upon OUR attitude in how we handle them.

So, I did not write a single word on my new NaNoWriMo novel today. I'll have to catch up next week. But I wouldn't have traded all 1,667 words of my daily goal for the experience of today, and the insights I received while being able to have some tiny little part in this wonderful celebration that our youth have prepared for the Lord.

PS:  DO NOT MISS THIS CULTURAL CELEBRATION!!!   You can find it online at 7 pm (Arizona time... is that Mountain now? Stupid Daylight Saving)..  www.abc15.com, or if you are local you can see on on ABC 15.2 (their "HD 2 channel).  Really. You will be uplifted.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Walk Among the Inspiration

              Let’s go for a walk together.   

We step-off down the trail at the beginning of a lovely autumn day.  The sun is bright and warm still, but the season lends itself to cool breezes.  As we emerge from a petite copse of fir trees, we find ourselves walking down a gently-sloping meadow of huckleberry shrubs, brilliant red and dusted with early-season snow.

As we descend further along the slope, we dreamily fall into the cooling shade of an overhang of red cedar that trellises a clear, cold water stream.  Along the banks are clumps of vegetation which include scruffy-headed black sedge and honey-centered partridgefoot.  We pause to rest and admire the matting of green fescue with blades bent in all directions because of the soft, downy lops that were playing on them in the moonlight the night before.  Nearby, the fan-leaf cinquefoils seem to all be pointing accusingly at the damp communities of bark streaked mushrooms and splattering of jelly fungi hugging the base of the Engelmann Spruce nestled in couples and small families surrounding this little Eden.

Refreshed of mind and body, we journey forth, this time with an incline towards a forest zone of ancient old-growth sentinels.  We soon trek our way into a swaddling of Pacific silver fir.  At a distance, we thought the silver-tipped highlights were just the accented needle tips of the seasonal makeover, but soon discover the silver treasures are really the cylindrical cacoons of next year’s babies, poised for their earthward plunge at just the right moment.  You pick up a cone and hold it close to your nose, inhaling the pungent pine fragrance, then drop the outsized seed back onto the nursery of old needles.  We trundle onward to our destination.

As we crest the rise we had been laboring to climb, the elevation drops once again. This time, however, our gaze falls upon a beautiful, pristine lake of shamrock green and teal water.  A light breeze is sighing its way across the basin causing ripples to corduroy across the glossy surface.  A small, sandy beachhead near a moderate waterfall that is feeding the lake is our destination.  Once again, we begin our descent into splendor.   
           
A friend of mine mentioned a blogger who writes like this as a form of exercise wherever she goes.  If she’s sitting in her doctor’s office, the drafts short stories full of rich imagery and finite detail about the doctor’s office waiting room wherein she is sitting.  If she’s by the pool while her children swim, she scripts the experience in the richest prose you might imagine.  When she flies in an airplane….  Well, you can just imagine what ethereal mini-masterpiece she creates in that environment.  To her, it’s all just practice; just exercise; just a mental warm-up for the really big race of the NOVEL marathon.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Handling Criticism

by Katy White

Recently, the internet has been abuzz with the story of an author who chose to cyberstalk (then physically stalk) a reviewer whom she felt had been particularly harsh in her review. While I don't want to get into the details and, truthfully, wish I'd never heard about it in the first place, I've thought a lot about why this is resonating with the writing community so much and why I feel the way I feel about it. And in doing so, I've come to one conclusion:

I don't want to be universally loved. Not as an author. Not even as a person.

Sure, I wish I lived my life above reproach and offense (which I completely, unquestioningly do not), but even if I did that, people would still have a problem with me. The Savior lived His life perfectly. Yet look at how polarizing a figure He was and still is in our day! Even Christians view Him and His teachings differently. Heck, even Mormons do. Sometimes within our own families. All of life's beauty and heartache have agency at its center, and with agency comes different experiences and opinions.

I recently had my two best friends read my new WIP. One of them is a therapist and the other is a nurse. My therapist BFF gave me the feedback that one of the characters should be darker and consider suicide, as it was not only consistent with the character's mental illness, but it would also lead to an important revelation to my main character that would give her the growth she needed. And, in my perspective, her feedback was bang on. I made the change, and I think the story is stronger for it.

Yet my other best friend, the nurse, read the revised version and said that was the only part she had a problem with. Based on personal experiences, she has a problem reading about suicide and couldn't connect to the character as a result.

And you know what? I'm happy about that. I'm happy that she had a strong emotion about it, even if it wasn't the emotion I intended in writing the character or scenes. Because she's a human being reading her book through the lenses of her own personal experience, not mine.

Think of it this way: if everyone who reads my book responds exactly the way I want them to, that obviously means the world has been taken over by automatons who have all been created in my image.

Holy shnikes, is that ever a terrifying thought.

So the next time you write something, remember to actively hope that people react differently to it. Because otherwise, you're in a weird Doctor Who version of reality that's probably going to end with you being harvested by your own automatons for spare organs.

Or something.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Road Ahead


I apologise if this post is somewhat self-indulgent, but I need your help, dear reader.

I've been thinking a lot about my writing career recently, and specifically, about the path it will take in the future.

Here's the story so far. I signed a contract with Covenant Communications in 2000 and my first novel, Haven, did pretty well. Well enough that they asked me for a sequel, and A World Away was published the following year. "Yay!" I thought. "I've made it!" So I wrote the third book in the Haven trilogy, Christmas at Haven.

Covenant turned it down. I rewrote it, changing some of the bits they didn't like, and they turned it down again. So I wrote a different book, leaving behind my genre of gentle LDS fiction and stepping into historical LDS fiction. They turned down Easterfield too.

I gave up writing and concentrated on raising my family for a few years.

In 2008 I dusted Easterfield off, read it, liked it (I still do) and sent it to a different publisher or two. Walnut Springs liked it and published it. I was back!

In 2010 Cedar Fort published Honeymoon Heist, an LDS romantic thriller.

In 2011 I changed genres again and left the LDS market altogether when Walnut Springs published my romantic thriller, No Escape.

Are you keeping up? A little over a decade, six books, three publishers, five genres. That is one crazy mixed-up writing career.

My next three books were self-published. The Saved Saint (in collaboration with Hellen Riebold) was too controversial for any of my publishers as it dealt with religious disagreements. Emon and the Emperor was my first attempt at science-fiction/fantasy which none of my publishers handle, and I put out Random Ramblings, a collection of short stories, as a free book to support my other work. They've all sold in single figures, even the free one. Self-publishing is not the way to go, for me at least.

So now I've come full circle, and Haven has been revised and updated and republished by Walnut Springs with a beautiful new cover. Next year will see the sequel, retitled Escape to Haven, and the third in the trilogy, Christmas at Haven, hitting the shelves.

The point of all this rambling is that I'm at a crossroads in my writing career. I need to decide whether I'm going to continue to strike out into the secular market--alone, possibly, given that my publishers are all LDS--or go back to what I seem to do best: gentle LDS romances. My favourite books to read are science fiction, but that doesn't seem to be what I'm best at writing.

Do I keep writing at all? It's very hard work these days, especially the publicity part, and doesn't bring a lot in the way of financial reward. I have a great day job which pays well and which I enjoy, and I do a bit of freelance editing, so it's not as though I need the money. Should I leave the overcrowded market for other up-and-coming writers?

If you've ever read any of my books, please let me know what you think in the comments. Here are my choices:

  1. Continue to write whatever my muse (his name is Phil, you can read about him here) gives me, and try to break out into the national market with a major publisher.
  2. Go back to writing LDS popular fiction.
  3. Give up writing altogether.

(If you haven't read any of my books but you'd like to weigh in, Random Ramblings is free on Smashwords, and you can download free samples of all my books on Amazon, or read the first chapters on my website, www.annajonesbuttimore.com.)

Thank you!

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