Monday, February 29, 2016

My Job

With some jobs, you work 8 hours for 5 days a week and then you're off 2. With my job, I actively work 4-6 hours a day, and am on call all the rest- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My work schedule is unpredictable: I can be just sitting down to relax and have something important pop up that can end up consuming the rest of my day; I just never know.

I have a project due every day at 6:30pm. I have to plan the projects ahead of time and ensure I have all the materials I need or else I could miss a deadline. The hands-on time for the projects is about an hour each day, but I often have to plan a little extra due to those unforeseen circumstances that so frequently pop up with my work.

I have other projects with their own deadlines ongoing at all times, and if I get behind on any of them everything at the office falls into chaos. Unfortunately, I am the only one at the company who is trained to do my job, so if I drop the ball then things can get out of hand pretty quickly.

I co-manage a team of 4 people, but my co-manager works offsite most of the time, so the majority of the day-to-day management responsibilities fall to me. I try to keep him aware of what's going on, but the rest of the team will always come to me first if they have a problem, even if he's standing right next to me. It can get stressful at times.

The 4 team members that I manage are all mentally and socially handicapped. They have frequent outbursts, they squabble constantly (occasionally coming to blows), and have to be reminded often to stay on task (hence the unpredictable nature of my job and the need for me to always be on call). They need constant, around-the-clock supervision. That part of my job never ends. (And did I mention there's no overtime compensation?)

We have no janitorial staff at the office, so it's up to me, my co-manager, and my team to keep it tidy. Because my co-manager is offsite so often, the majority of this falls to me and my team. And with their handicaps they often destroy more than they help. So really, the majority of it falls to me. When my co-manager is around, he usually just assumes we've (I've) done the cleaning or that we will do it, so he doesn't worry much about it.

It was laid out very clearly in my contract that failure to do my job in a professional and expert way could (and most likely would) result in the following:

1. The death of one or more of my children.
2. Mental and/or emotional damage to one or more of my children.
3. Loss of my home.
4. Divorce from my husband.

Needless to say, this makes this job pretty important to me. On the upside, I do get bonuses:

1. Daily hugs and kisses from my team members.
2. Pride in my team members' accomplishments.
3. The knowledge that I'm doing the job God wants me to do.
4. Daily lessons in patience and kindness.

And if you're reading this, you may have the same job I do: Mom.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Tape Deck

After our commuter car broke down definitively with the clang of a rod shooting through the engine block and out the oil pan onto the pavement below, we were in need of another economical and cheap car to get me 40 minutes there and back every day.

We found our sacrificial lamb car, buried on Craigslist like Spanish gold on the ocean floor. It's a twenty-year-old car with very low miles, high reliability ratings, years and years of service records, and


For many this would be maybe a drawback. For me, pure gold. As I dug out my (large) box of tapes that I've never been able to let go, I almost giggled in anticipation of hearing some of those songs again.

I popped in a mix tape that I made in 1991 from the radio.

I know I'm not the only one who made tapes by sitting by the radio with my finger on the "pause" button, waiting for a good song.

Man. First of all, it's been a lot of years since that tape was last listened to. The fact that it still plays is miraculous in itself.

I was transported to my dorm room, with it's clever bed/couch design, leaning against the green back cushion/covered shelving upholstery, eagerly awaiting a song I'd wanted to record for days. It finally comes on and I expertly hit the pause button to begin recording the millisecond that the DJ stops talking.

A few gems:

  • Vibeology by Paula Abdul. I'd forgotten that song existed. 
  • Fishin' in the Dark. Okay, totally different direction from Paula, but I always wanted that song because it's the song I learned to country dance to. 
  • You Think You Know Her by Cause and Effect.   Yes, I have very eclectic tastes. 

Then, some popping, some squeaking, and the sound completely changes. Girls clearing their throats, while music plays in the background instead of from the radio directly.

Is this really what I think it is?

My heart flutters.

There it is. My best friend and I, singing harmony to "Except for Monday"--we both didn't really like country music, except for dancing to, but we'd started singing with it because of the harmonies. So, we did a lot of making fun of the twang while we sang along with Lorrie Morgan.

Wow. My little 96 Lexus is a time machine. I felt like I could reach out and poke my best friend in the arm.

There was more. I liked to change the words to songs, and there was my long-lost recording of "Charity Went Down to the Palace"--poking fun at the aforementioned best friend by way of Charlie Daniels.  I could sing along with my altered lyrics even 25 years later.

I have a lot of cherished memories, and I remember moments and stories that are forgotten by most of the people who lived them with me. But music--music brings those things to life for me.

There's something about a song that taps into the deepest parts of my memory banks and does more than help me recall the memory. It pulls me back to the moment and makes me feel like I did when I was there.  I was seventeen, living in a dorm room full of people I loved like sisters, doing the one thing I loved to do more than anything--sing.  I was with my soul-sister, who loved to sing harmony (and who I blended with perfectly, by the way)--who liked my humor, thought I was worthwhile to be with, didn't think I was less-than anything.  It was a sort of new feeling for me at the time. It was the extended moment in time when I started finding who I really was, instead of who I thought I was.  In some ways, I long for the empowering, freeing moments I lived in May Hall at age seventeen (and eighteen, and part of nineteen). Sometimes I wish I could go back, just to visit for a little while.

When I listen to my tapes,  I can.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What Dreams May Come

by Marianne (Mare) Ball @ ADVENTURES IN THE BALLPARK

I'm a new Grandma, and as I hold my grandson James and envision his life and pray for blessings to come his way, it takes me back to my own children - how I held them and prayed for them.

Baby James

My three children are now adults, and looking back, it's surprising how my dreams for them...well, let's just say I was naive. Or maybe selfish. Life is full of surprises.

When our oldest was seven, his IQ tested very high. Gifted classes followed, and I assumed he would pursue a very academic path. He quit college after two years. What he loved was art and music.  (He played the violin as a youngster, the guitar as a young adult.) He was very talented there as well, so I shifted my thinking.  He joined a band and moved to Arizona. He found work in a pharmacy and became certified as a pharmacy tech. Oh, medicine! I thought. Maybe he'll head to pharmacy school.
He was not the least bit interested. The band folded, but he met his future wife, who is also musically gifted, and they married a few years later. They are very happy. I thought they might have a baby soon, but they shared recently they don't think kids are for them. Okay. I clearly have no idea what God has planned for our son.

Our daughter grew up loving science, and in her senior year of high school wrote about wanting to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. She got a full scholarship to college, but two years in, discovered chemistry and changed her major. After college, she worked at a health food store. How did we go from med school plans to being in charge of produce? She dabbled in youth ministry, and then...stunned my husband and me when she decided to enter religious formation to become a Catholic sister. Huh? God worked on my heart, and I came to love the idea. After three years, she left the convent and began teaching high school science. (She's great at it, and the kids love her.) I assumed some day she would marry and have children. However...she developed an endocrine problem that derails the reproductive system. I have to admit, I have grieved about this.

Our baby, who's nearly 30, married right out of college with a history degree. I thought he would teach. He ended up working in retail for Gucci. Gucci?! We thought it would be temporary, but he moved up in the company and was there seven years. Of our three, he seemed the most ready for kids, but did not have baby James until after seven years of marriage. He and his wife were prepared to moved to KY to a new position with the job when his store closed suddenly and he was out of work - two weeks before their baby was due. They had to move. Just hours after they moved to a new home, her water broke. Curve balls, one after another. God, what are you doing? I have wondered more than once.

I share all this because I've realized, since baby James has arrived, that my dreams/expectations for my children apparently have no bearing on what God has planned for them. This makes me smile.

A mom's dreams for her child are lovely and, well, "dreamy," but looking back, I see I didn't remember that my children don't really belong to me; they belong to God. I can wish all I want for my children, but I don't know everything. I don't know what God knows about them. My husband and I made them, but God made them first. His plans are going to trump mine.

God is the ultimate creator who has divine plans for each of my children - for all of us. I want only success and rainbows for my kids, but God knows their journey is going to contain disappointments and detours, because that's how we grow. My dreams for my children are to be happy. God's dreams for them are to be holy.

Four generations - my mom, myself, my son, and baby James

I wonder what my mom dreamed for me, and what my son dreams for his son. Time will tell, but in the end, God will win. And I certainly can't do better than that.

So James, my dream for you is that you love God and seek His dream for you. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cover Reveal: You Can't Catch Me

by Katy White 

Today, we have a cover reveal from the awesome Cassie Mae for her new clean YA, YOU CAN'T CATCH ME! One of the things I always enjoy about Cassie's writing is how well she writes people's perceptions of their own bodies. It feels real and relatable, and usually really, painfully funny. I have a feeling this will be no exception.

YOU CAN'T CATCH ME releases March 28, 2016. 

How cute is that cover? And now for the blurb:

My body suuuucks. After lounging around on my butt all summer (okay, so maybe that was my bad), this body decided to become something completely foreign. So now I’m trying to make the track team and I feel like I’m a baby learning to walk again. 
A couple pounds wouldn’t have been so bad. Work those off, run like a mad woman, no problem, yeah? But no. I’ve also developed a couple of things that I definitely didn’t have before. And now my guy friends are all sitting in a pool of drool as they not-so-subtly stare at my chest. 
Combine all that drama with the fact that the new track coach is getting major flack for being a little chunky, and all I’m trying to do is convince the team that I’m not running slower because of her coaching style. 
Oh, and did I mention that I’m totally falling face-first in “like” with some guy I met in a cemetery? And no one understands it just because he’s also a little chunky. But he’s also adorable and wonderfully weird and I don’t care what they say, his look sure does it for me. 
But… I don’t know… how can I be in “like” with someone, when I have no clue how to like myself anymore?

You can preorder YOU CAN'T CATCH ME now at a discounted price! And you can find more of Cassie's books here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Anne Shirley and the Personal Essay

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Note: I’m currently enjoying a class wherein I get to hang out with teenagers each week and critique/talk about one another’s writing. A recent assignment was to write a personal essay. This, with some minor adaptations, is mine.

It was a beautiful spring evening. The sun was just beginning to set across the valley. David* and I sat on a picnic blanket, a romantic meal spread before us, with my favorite building on campus gracefully reaching up behind us. A mysterious book whose title I had not seen was settled on the blanket beside David. This was some seriously movie-quality ambience.

I grabbed another grape and popped it in my mouth to appear at ease, but my palms were sweating.

And then.

Then he opened the book and started reading . . . poetry.

The version of my brain that was still in fifth grade pretty much swooned. Here was this wonderful guy reading me love poems! Scenes from L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series swept through my brain, reminding me of all those hours I’d immersed myself in characters who ran around quoting obscure poets like they’d learned it from the womb. This was my very own Royal Gardner here (though, sadly, “David” was a much more prosaic name than “Royal”).

Perfect, yes?

But Anne does not end up with Roy. Thank heavens she grows up, gets a clue, and gets together with Gilbert Blythe.
Yes, I realize this is Morgan Harris, not Roy Gardner. But
since Roy doesn't actually exist in the movies at all, and
Morgan is pretty much the Roy stand-in, this will have to do.
 Sitting in the middle of this perfect scene, I felt something rise within me out of nowhere. It was . . . a giggle. I choked it down. A boy’s ego can only handle so much. So I held it together, attempting a level of composure that would have made Anne proud. But inside I knew, just as Anne had known, that Roy/David was not for me. I had tried, for his sake, but I already had my own Gilbert.

Anne was not the first character to appear in my life like this, nor was she the last. William Goldman’s narrative self in The Princess Bride made me want to stand up and clap when he realized life isn’t always fair. Bean from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow books helped me to feel a little less alone when I realized I suffered from a problem similar to his: too much intellect, not enough heart. Keturah, Richard III, Tiffany Aching, Javert, even the hopelessly dysfunctional Gene Forrester—something in their stories touched my own.

Every time the written word resonates with me, I am once again swept away into a different world. Sometimes the words explain something that I’d been trying to explain to myself. Sometimes they reveal a truth that I needed to accept. Some words have just released me from reality for an hour or two, giving me something fun and new and different. But I am always grateful that they exist. And this is why I write. Because of those authors who somehow tapped something important for me. Because I hope to do the same.

The stories we tell are more than reality. They take the details and the facts, and they strip them away, leaving behind something pure, true, universal. They can make us better. The best stories last in our hearts and our minds far beyond the specific words. The best characters step into our lives and change the way we see the world.

I didn’t want a Roy Gardner with his perfect movie setting. I wanted a Gilbert, someone to stick by my side when I was ridiculous, to understand when I was upset. And yes, he does, in fact, feed me grapes and read me the occasional poetry—but he doesn’t mind when I giggle.

* The poor man’s name has been changed to protect the innocent. He is still a friend, and he is a truly fantastic guy. He’s married now—to the right woman for him, someone who suits him way better than I would have—with some seriously adorable kids. I can safely say that we’re both happy with how things turned out.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

I would make a terrible literary agent.

By Lacey Gunter

In my day job I teach statistics for a local university.  It didn't take me very long in my teaching to discover that I am a slow grader. Since statistics is the application of mathematical theory to discover natural law and science, you may question why it should be take me so long to grade.  Math is right or wrong, pretty black and white, you might say.  To which I would concede, yes it is. However, in my defense, and as I like to tell my students, math is like grammar, and statistics is like creative writing.

In statistics, the black and whites only take on meaningful shape when surrounded by gray. And the right or wrongs get replaced with things like elegant, clunky or problematic.  Thus, when I am grading,  I often have to get a sense of the range of responses submitted and then weigh out the nuances and subtleties of the issues, before making an assessment.

In my writing, I have had plenty of opportunities to participate in critique groups. At any given time I prefer to be an active member in at least two different groups. Here, I have discovered, I am also a very slow critiquer.

In a live critique group, I find I typically have to sit a little while and think about what I have read or heard. I have to evaluate what emotions I felt, when I felt them and why. This usually means I am often silent through the first part of the discussion before I have formulated an intelligible assessment of what I have read.

With online critique groups I am even worse. I typically have to read through a manuscript, sit on it and think about for at least a day or two, then read it again before I feel prepared to comment on it.

Despite my slowness, I don't think I am a bad critiquer. Lots of critique partners have expressed that they appreciate and value my feedback.

So when I watch agents and editors critique a piece on the fly, or talk about how they can tell whether they will like a manuscript after just a couple of paragraphs, I am always amazed by this. How do they do it so fast? Are they so in touch with their gut and their emotional core that they can interpret how they feel about it immediately? Are they acting on mostly instinct, or is there a complex process of thought going on which they have managed to breeze through because of practice or skill?

I could never be a literary agent. My slush pile would swallow me whole before I could ever start to make a dent all on the manuscripts I would have to review.  So for all you fast critiquers out there, I desperately need your pointers. How do you do it? What am I doing wrong? What is your secret? Please share, for all the poor slow schmucks like me.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Writing Mood Swings

Today is one of those emotional writing days. Here's what's been going through my mind:

I think it is safe to say that everyone has those moments when they don't want to write. The very thought of sitting down in front of a computer after working all day is repulsive. It is a struggle to come up with any thoughts to jot down. You start telling yourself that you'll never be good enough, or you don't have anything new to publish. Those negative thoughts start to burrow deeper into your mind until you are paralyzed at your computer. Writer's block has fully set in.

I have plenty of these days. I fight those negative thoughts, but they always worm their way back into my mind. "Who would want to read my stuff?" or "How will I ever compete with the other writing greats?" or "What right do I have to try and break into the publishing world?"

Now, I'm not published (yet) and I'm not even close to getting an agent (yet), but I can tell you from experience, how hard writing is. Finding a good story, translating it from your brain onto a Word document, scanning for obvious errors, editing for hidden errors, bravely allowing others to read your work, saying small prayers as you email out your submissions to agencies, the feeling of your heart dropping when you get a generic rejection letter back...This is HARD! Part of me feels like, if you had the guts and spent the time to write a complete novel, then it should be published. It should be good enough for an agent to look at; for an editor to use their magic to perfect it. Unfortunately, life in the publishing world doesn't work that way.

But I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Trudging through all this hardship will make the the reward that much sweeter. Getting to see your name in print on your very own hardback novel, would be priceless. Seeing others reading your book in an airport lobby or requesting your book from the local library would be a dream come true. Getting kids to enjoy reading, to see your work being praised and recommended, will be worth every struggle and rejection.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Screenplay or Novel?

by Patricia Cates

So which is better to undertake, writing a screenplay or a novel? While researching and looking through the vast variety of writing styles out there, I have found that this is indeed the question at hand.
For those of us used to the novel concept, this can pose an issue. Writing an original screenplay would mean stepping out of a comfort zone of sorts for many novelists. I am currently looking into trying out the screenplay format, because I have a feeling that it would really help me nail down scenes and even draw out more dialogue. Outlining has always been a struggle. I want to just sit down and write from beginning to end, and it gets pretty crazy. It's literally impossible. So lately I have found that it’s easier to sort scenes when they aren’t engrossed in lengthy descriptions, and thus the flow of the story comes into focus quicker. Although this is possible with novel writing, the screenplay format tends to feel more organized. It does look a bit choppy on paper, and I think that’s why I’ve avoided it in the past. Back in high school we had to read quite a few plays, and to me it was only 'good fun' when we read them aloud. Plus…I just like books!
So many readers complain that their beloved books are lost in translation when moving to the big screen. That's a huge fear of mine. If this is the case, then shouldn't we simply write our books as if they were guaranteed to become box-office blockbusters at some point in time? Wishful thinking perhaps, but some people have had a ton of luck with this. What attracts me most to screenplays right now is that---should the work ever be published or produced in any form---it seems more feasible that the content wouldn’t be questioned as much as to what the writer intended. I mean…it’s ALL right there.  A quick example of this is the third installment of the Hunger Games. They did a wonderful job on the movie. However, I found Mockingjay to be the least enjoyable read out of the entire series because of the long descriptive scenes, but boy did it work on the screen. So maybe there's a happy middle ground somewhere. The trick is finding it. 
In order to find some great examples of excellently written screenplays, I checked out The Writers Guild of America list termed the 101 Greatest Screenplays. It's no surprise that many of them just happen to be book adaptations. They have Casablanca listed as the #1 screenplay of all time. The movie is based off of the book “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett. When they say, ”Based off of the novel by ___________,” it makes me crazy because I know I’ll have to get the book and read it; and then critique whether or not they kept it pure, improved upon it, or did it a gross injustice. For anyone else interested in finding inspiration, you can view the WGA list of top screenplays here!
The Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks and I am planning on paying close attention to the screenplay adaptations and original screenplay categories to see who wins. The nominees are so vastly different. Should you be interested in seeing them ahead of time, the contenders can be found at I was excited to see a few favorites on here. If you are a mom or dad, I’m sure you will agree that Inside Out was pretty cute. What a great message it sent for audiences of all ages. It was not adapted from anything...all original.
If any of you have delved into this art of screenplay writing---please feel free share your attempts, successes or failures with screenplay writing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

By Kathy Lipscomb

I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of either of these options as I am not yet published myself, but I know many authors on either side of the spectrum. And the biggest thing I have learned is:
            Either is a viable option.
            Either is a GREAT option.
            It all depends on what you want to do as the author.
            Self-publishing allows you to be in charge. Many successful indie authors talk about the freedom they have when it comes to what they can write, what their covers look like, where they sell their book and for how much. They make more money per book because they don’t have an agent and publisher to pay.
            They do stress the need to pay editors, often more than one, to help get a book to where it needs to be. Books needs to be sent to several rounds of beta readers you trust (not your mom—unless your mom is someone like Shannon Hale who is a fantastic writer and will tell it to you straight. But seriously, most moms aren’t helpful when critiquing a book.). The bad reputation that anyone can publish and therefore there are many books available online that are not good books is a real thing. There are also fantastic self-published books, but it’s hard to sift through the not-so-good to find the great ones. Which leads to marketing. As an indie author, you will spend a whole lot of time marketing your books. A lot of time. You have to be willing to put in that time and effort.
            Traditionally published authors still have to do marketing. Just not as much, and their books will be put in bookstores. When you send in a query to an agent, and then a publisher, you’re applying for a job. You are saying, I have these book ideas, but I want a team of experts to do a lot of the other work. You give up some creative say, because it’s a business. You don’t have much (or any) say in your cover. Sometimes you’ll write a book they don’t like, and you have to rewrite the whole thing. Sometimes you don’t sell well, so they drop you. This happens because publishers are a business.   
            When you publish with a traditional publisher, you don’t have to pay money up front. Someone else worries about the cover design. You work closely with an editor to make your book the best it can be. You have a marketing team who has years of experience in marketing. You can put most of your concentration into writing.
            Then there are people who are considered “hybrids.” They have some books published through a traditional publisher and some that are self-published.

            There are pros and cons to each side. Research and look at what kind of control and responsibility you want. You have options—great options either way you choose.   

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Want to be a better writer? Then start reading the right books.

by Kasey Tross

As I've mentioned a couple times this year, one of my goals for 2016 is to read 20 books, and for at least 3 of them to be on the writing craft. I find most of my books about writing at the Goodwill Outlet near my home, which means that I get an interesting mix of whatever I happen to find that has to do with writing. And in fact, I'm glad of that because it means that I end up reading books I might not otherwise choose for myself.

This past week it was "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" by Hallie Ephron. My novel is not a mystery novel. So why was this a good read for me- and why might it be for you too?

1. In essence, every novel is a mystery novel.* Every novel contains some element of mystery or else why would we bother to read it? And in fact, while reading this book I realized that there is in fact a mystery in my novel that the MC needs to solve (actually, two), but I had never thought of my book as a mystery. Now I know how to play up the mystery elements and make them tighter and more effective.

2. Mysteries have all kinds of goodies that translate well into other genres- things like suspense, action, and character motivation. This book gives some great "tricks of the trade" that have helped me see how I can better write these elements into my novel. 

3. Good writing advice is good writing advice. This book also addresses the basics like avoiding the adverbs, eliminating excess backstory, and practicing good editing- all things that every writer can benefit from.

So the next time you hit the writing section of your local library or bookstore, don't be afraid to look outside the box of your genre and check out some books that cover other styles and mediums: poetry, short stories, fantasy, etc. A well-rounded writer is a good writer!

*I watched Harry Potter with my kids this week and also had a "duh" moment- Harry Potter books are totally mysteries! We don't think of them that way because they're categorized under fantasy/middle grade, but Harry, Hermoine, and Ron are the amateur sleuths, they are in search of clues, there are plenty of red herrings along the way, and after the action mounts and the real "killer" is revealed, there is a period of reflection when other loose ends are tied up. Total recipe for mystery! Can you think of any other books that aren't classified as mysteries but could be?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

What If?

by Jewel Leann Williams

On my 40 minute drive home the other (early) morning, I had some weird “stream-of-consciousness” thoughts.  Somewhere in all of it, I had the thought that, even with the way I beat up my body; with bad food, no sleep, too much soda, no sleep... I am still pretty healthy. I have no heart problems, I generally don’t get sick, and when I do, I get better relatively quickly. Then the question popped up, 

“Yeah, but what if you actually took care of yourself?”

Imagine what I could do? How great I would feel, instead of "okay." 

That led to some other “what if’s” :

I’m doing okay spiritually. I go to church when I can (night shift Saturdays make it brutally hard to make it another 5 hours with our church hours as they are), I pray, read scriptures, do my visiting teaching, with a reasonable degree of dedication. I have a testimony and support my Prophet.

But, what if? What if I really strived to go to church? What if I really made prayers, scripture study, and magnifying my callings and my covenants a priority?

I’m doing okay with my writing. I have my biweekly blog for Mormon Mommy Writers, I have some story ideas that I tinker on when I can, and I feel like I am doing okay creatively. I am told that I write well, that people like to read my “stuff,” that I’m entertaining and eloquent.

But, what if? What if I got myself organized and really worked on writing? What if I made time to sit and dedicate myself to my craft? What if I took a class to hone my skills? What if, instead of “tinkering” I sat and WROTE?

All of these thoughts made me think about potential, or more specifically, wasted potential. 

I’m reminded of a story that President Dieter Uchtdorf told in 2011, about a man on a ship:

There once was a man whose lifelong dream was to board a cruise ship and sail the Mediterranean Sea. He dreamed of walking the streets of Rome, Athens, and Istanbul. He saved every penny until he had enough for his passage. Since money was tight, he brought an extra suitcase filled with cans of beans, boxes of crackers, and bags of powdered lemonade, and that is what he lived on every day.
He would have loved to take part in the many activities offered on the ship—working out in the gym, playing miniature golf, and swimming in the pool. He envied those who went to movies, shows, and cultural presentations. And, oh, how he yearned for only a taste of the amazing food he saw on the ship—every meal appeared to be a feast! But the man wanted to spend so very little money that he didn’t participate in any of these. He was able to see the cities he had longed to visit, but for the most part of the journey, he stayed in his cabin and ate only his humble food.
On the last day of the cruise, a crew member asked him which of the farewell parties he would be attending. It was then that the man learned that not only the farewell party but almost everything on board the cruise ship—the food, the entertainment, all the activities—had been included in the price of his ticket. Too late the man realized that he had been living far beneath his privileges.

How often am I riding along on a fabulous cruise, and for whatever reason, living beneath my privileges?

Obviously no one is perfect, and that's the point of this life--trial and error, learning and growing. 

I also know that the Atonement is here for that same purpose, to make everything work in our favor--even our stumbles and tumbles. 

But, maybe with just a skoch more effort, more conscientious decision making, more willpower, I could find myself progressing more than I dreamed possible? 

It's the human condition--we all could do more, be more, than we ever dreamed possible because we are children of the Almighty God. 

Are we remembering that as we look around and see the wonders of the world and think, "That's not for little old me." ?

Are you settling for canned beans and crackers?

What if?

Where could you be fulfilling your potential just a little better?

What steps will you take to maximize your potential? 

(Incidentally, here's a link to an amazing talk about our divine potential, by President Spencer W. Kimball:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Stories within stories


I think it is so cool to read, watch, or play through a story that has different levels of meaning. The twists are incredible, and being able to read back and find the clues is mind opening. There are many examples of this.

1. Inception 
Duh. Some people (like my husband) didn't like this movie because there wasn't a definitive end. The ending was left to the audience to interpret. Now, I know there are conspiracies out there claiming to know the secret that Christopher Nolan was hinting at, but I loved the fact that there was not a right or wrong answer. And don't get me started on the levels! Just like in dreams, our mind can take things we see in the real world and mix them around in our imaginations to create an unforgettable story. Of course, my dreams don't always make sense.

2. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is one of my favorite books. It starts off with a seemingly innocuous inn keeper serving his regular patrons. A stranger comes in and recognizes the inn keeper as a man, a hero, of legend. The inn keeper/legend agrees to tell his story to the stranger as long as the he does not blow the inn keeper's cover. This story is filled with love, betrayal, loss and adventure. But there are two stories going on in one book. We have the inn keeper and the stranger and everything going wrong in their present world, and then the inn keeper's past. It is masterfully written and, if you haven't read it, go check it out!

3. Princess Bride
An all time classic. This movie also has two stories going on. The first is the grandpa reading to his sick grandson, and then the story within the book. This movie has a lot of sentimental value for me. Whenever this movie comes on TV, my grandpa will make me sit down and watch the poison scene. He claims it's "the best part." Of course we end up watching the rest of the movie together.

4. Persona 4
This is a video game that has many levels as well. While I haven't personally played it, I understand that there is a "day time" version of everyone and a "night time" version. The day version is normal albeit with secrets. The night version is kind of like their alter ego. It's the person they internally struggle with or who they are keeping hidden from the rest of the world. I think we all can relate to that at one point in our lives.

5. Beyond Two Souls
Another video game. This one was very interesting because the way the story is presented to the gamer is out of chronological order. You get bits and pieces of the story as you play, learning more and more about the strange main character. When the game wraps up in a crazy climax, you can see the depth and the layers that make up the story.

I have always loved stories that slowly reveal themselves. Stories that unfold before the reader like a well-earned present. Getting to the end and seeing how everything falls into place is nothing short of magic.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rummaging Through the Tough Stuff

by Patricia Cates

What makes rummaging through drawers tough? I'll tell you. It's the memories found therein.

Bittersweet they are.

This past week I was sort of compelled (forced) to rummage through my home's kitchen junk drawers. Normally I can find misplaced items here. When that didn't do the trick, I continued to dig through every dresser in the house. I overturned every stray corner and pile possible, down to my cookbook shelf. I emptied out every pretty little storage box and basket. Twice!

You see...I desperately needed to find a thin soft-backed book that my grandmother had put together back in 1979. It holds all of the family pictures, critical dates and personal stories of my father's family history. I refer to it often. My 15 year old daughter is doing a large project to earn her medallion and it's vital she have this resource.

I soon became frustrated with myself as I have never let this book leave the house. I was also irritated at how disorganized I've apparently become. I was angry at the thought that someone might have cleaned up and put the book somewhere without my knowledge. Although that would be a rarity. Mostly I was (am) freaked out that it has gotten lost in a pile of paper somewhere and been recycled!!!

Our "office" is my library, but it also serves as a homework area. We have a long solid surface countertop laid over the top of four miniature filing cabinets. That means three workstations and plenty of computer space. Over the years the space hasn't been used much; as kids like to do homework in the kitchen, living room, family room, or in their own room, and PC's are somewhat obsolete. So the office has really just become an extra room in the basement that no one goes in, or so I thought.

When I decided to search the office for the book, I opened some of those filing cabinet drawers and I became even more annoyed. Household members had obviously been storing (shoving) all sorts of things in there for years. There were random bags of old crayons and coloring books mixed with scrapbooking paper, glue, tools, folders and receipts. I found lost eyeglasses and keys and hundreds of pictures my 21 year old daughter had taken in junior high. In the bottom of one drawer a portion of my pristinely kept Ensigns were laid bent into a shoebox too small to hold them, along with my best (lost) travel magazines. I also found a whole cabinet my husband took over when he moved in. It was riddled with unopened mail, stuff his kids made for him in grade school, and tidbits from his former life, which I totally respect. Sadly the cupboard above holds the photos and albums of my family members long passed away, as well as my former marriage. The kids can have some of them when they are older. I don't dare open one now. Knowing what's inside the pages bring about emotions I cannot face while trying to clean. Totally counterproductive.

There were too many things found in these drawers to mention here. But I will say that I fully understand why I have been avoiding them. I am reminded of my children not being little anymore. Reminded of wonderful family vacations and a failed marriage. Reminded my wonderful husband was once married to his high school sweetheart. Reminded that my kids are messy and that I hate paperwork. Maybe subconsciously I wanted to hold on to more than coloring books. I have a tough time facing the past without falling apart and I know that. Thinking of it all makes me want to cry in utter defeat, not only for the mess at hand, but for the lost hope and the former me. The former me was ultra organized and totally unbeatable. I miss her.

So this precious book may be lost for now, but it will resurface. In the mean time I am cleaning it all out. Once I got going it wasn't so bad. We (me and the former me) are about half way through now. I recycled about 15 pounds of paper from my husbands desk. His was easy. It was all unemotional business stuff he was holding onto for taxes, prior to 2008, and held no connection for me. He is grateful I did that for him, as it needed to be done. I also very neatly put his mementos safely away in a box, as I know it would be equally upsetting for him to be reminded of how sweet his ex was before she upped and left. They were really cute in high school. I cry for him too.

I have chosen to let my kids decide what to do with the coloring books. Some of them hold their best work inside the pages. The Barbie Princess one especially. I can't let it go. Hopefully they can catch a glimpse of their own sort of nostalgia and learn about families and pitching in along the way.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dead Weight

by Kasey Tross

In my quest for writing mastery (ha) I have been reading a book called Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. What I found enlightening about this book was that she illustrated each point of narrative craft (like point-of-view, metaphor, theme, etc.) with short stories.

I have never been too familiar with the short story form- well, not since high school, anyway- and so this was good for me. I like how it gave me a good microcosm of what a book should be, and while it seems counterintuitive, seeing what went into those short stories made writing a novel seem easy. Why, you ask? Because, as I learned as I read these watertight little story ships, like any load in a seafaring vessel, every word must be efficient and pull its own weight, or it gets tossed overboard.

After I'd spent an afternoon reading short stories, I'd go back to my novel and suddenly see all of these words lazily taking up space while doing no work and adding no value to my story. I turned to my husband (the non-reader) and said, "My book sure does have a lot of superfluous language."

He said, "What?"

I said, "My book has a lot of extra words."

He said, "Oh."

Here are a few examples for you:

1. My book starts with the character in a dream (I KNOW it's cliche, but there is an exception to every rule and I swear this one works! At least until I think of something better...) in which she is with her beloved horse, Mosby. When she wakes up, she realizes she's living a nightmare: Mosby is gone, and not only gone, but being put up for auction where she's pretty sure he's going to get bought by a meat market man and slaughtered. Horrifying, right? Anyway, originally I had written something like, "Then I remembered: the divorce. The move to Stonemill, to this ramshackle old house left to mom by her hermit uncle that had died. And Mosby- Mosby was gone."

Well, I went back over that paragraph- I knew when I'd written it that it wasn't as tight as I wanted it to be- and I immediately noticed the stowaways: everything before "Mosby..." I knew that cutting that out would get to the heart of the matter- but wait! That's important info for the reader to have! They need context! What if they didn't know? Well, another important thing I've learned is that sometimes it's good for the reader to not know everything right away. All they really needed to know was that Mosby was gone, and that it is heartbreaking for my main character, and as I glanced over the rest of my first chapter, I realized that most of the rest of that information was either not essential enough to know right away (and could come out later) or could be inferred from other details.

2. One of those other details I added in to emphasize the fact that they had literally JUST moved into this house was the sentence, "I grabbed my phone from off the moving box that was serving as a nightstand next to my bed."

Can you catch the stowaway?

Here's a hint: Do people typically have nightstands- or items serving as nightstands- anywhere other than next to their beds? 

Yep, that pointless preposition walked the plank. Arrr.

3. Was, was, was. What is my obsession with this word? A word of caution: if you're seeing the word "was" popping up a lot in your work, you have fallen victim to the passive voice.* This is like punching a hole in your ship, because every "was" is sucking the life out of your story and dragging it down to the fathomless deep!

Here's an example I found: "the grass was waving"

Why? Why not, "the grass waved" or, "the waving grass [insert something it did here]."

Anytime you can give the noun in your sentence something to actively DO rather than just experience, it literally- well, maybe not literally, but literaturely (yes I just made that up)- brings it to life.

"The paint was peeling off the house in long strips."

"The paint peeled off the house in long strips."

"The long strips of peeling paint littered the grass in front of the house like confetti."

Use the find function in your word processing program and plug all those "was" leaks!

4. Finally, here's an easy, hopefully no-brainer one for you:

"I ambled slowly down the driveway."

*eyeroll at my own ineptness as a writer*  *bangs head on computer keyboard*

Seriously, Kasey, have you ever seen anyone amble quickly down a driveway??

But this actually brings up two points: first, obviously don't use an adverb on a verb that already implies what the adverb says. People can't amble quickly, sprint slowly, or scream softly. Just sayin'.

Next, if you're saying things like, "I walked slowly," then zero in on that adverb and look at the verb preceding it. Chances are you included the adverb because the verb wasn't strong enough to speak for itself. Don't give verbs adverb babysitters! Make them grow up! Give them responsibility! If your character walked slowly, then think of a verb for walked slowly: "ambled," "strolled," "dragged my feet," etc. Just axe the adverbs already! Toss the scurvy scallywags to the fishes! Yo-ho-ho and a bottle o' rum!

So take a look at your writing and smoke out the stowaways, the stuff that isn't pulling its weight in your story:

1. Unnecessary details that can be left as mysteries for the reader or are inferred by other details (readers like this- it makes them feel smart).
2. Prepositions and other useless descriptors that are already implied.
3. Passive voice (WAS).
4. Babysitting adverbs.

Then give 'em the ol' heave-ho! Hang 'em by the yardarms!

Okay, I'm done with the pirate ship analogy now, me hearties (seriously, that was the last one, promise).

*Yes, I know I wrote that sentence in the passive voice. Did I mention I also learned about dramatic irony? ;-)


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