Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Top 5's

I've got a few minutes left of the old year. As I looked back over 2007, I decided to make a list of some of some highlights. With little time left, I'll just do my favorite books of the year and my favorite family moments.

Top 5 Books Read in 2007:

"Nerd" Book: Word Myths, by David Wilton
A true delight for all word nerds, this book seeks after the sources of many common word myths and then in "Myth Buster" fashion either proves the myth correct or debunks what we thought we knew. Absolutely fascinating. (No, people's last names were not changed at Ellis Island, regardless of what Aunt Lucy says. People did that on their own later to appear more "American.")

Writing Book: The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler
Out of print but worth finding used, this book has turned my way of looking at plot and character upside down and inside out. In a good way. I think my husband must be tired of me piping up during a movie with, "This is the Ordeal," or, "How much you wanna bet she's a shapeshifter?"

LDS Novel: Tie between In a Dry Land by Elizabeth Petty Bentley and Redemption Road, by Toni Sorensen Brown
I don't consider myself one of those hoity-toity types who can't appreciate genre fiction. On the contrary, I love genre fiction. But somehow these two more literary novels just resonated with me. IADL explores real Latter-day Saints with real problems that have no easy answers. It's a complex and powerful story. In RR, I have one complaint regarding the backstory, something I think could have made the story stronger, but it's a small detail in an otherwise powerful and beautifully-written book. Both of these are books that I'd reread sentences of just because they were so well put together with great imagery.

Young Adult Novel: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling
Okay, so that may sound cliche, but it's true. My husband and I read it aloud in a matter of days (after rereading the whole series earlier this year). I read the parts at the end that got me all teary and choked up and hardly able to speak. A terrific ending to a wonderful series.

National Women's Novel: The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
This is a book I had been told to read many a time and finally got around to cracking open. All I can say is WOW. Kingsolver is a writer who officially intimidates the heck out of me. She's amazing, and this book in particular hit such a chord. I read it weeks ago, yet I still find myself thinking about it, pondering it, wondering about the characters. Very few books stick with me this long. When one does, you can bet it'll be on my favorites list.

Some Top Family Moments for 2007
As I wrote these down, I realized that I could go on and on, so I just stopped when I reached five. This has been a challenging year in some ways, but a wonderful one in many others. Five moments that were bright spots in the year:

1. Having my son ordained a deacon and my second daughter baptized on the same day. Big stuff, wonderful day all around. The only thing missing? Mom and Dad, who couldn't be there, as they were instead on the other side of the planet on a church assignment.

2. My sister nominating me for Utah's Best of State Fiction medal. Then WINNING the medal and going to the Best of State Gala with my husband (in a tux for the first time since our wedding . . . woot, woot) and both of my sisters. Also getting an up-do in my hair on my parents' dime, something they did for me since they couldn't be there in person to celebrate with me.

3) Sending my baby boy off to junior high. Biting my nails over whether the big, mean kids would eat him alive. Watching him thrive instead.

4) Seeing my real baby (who's 5 now . . .) perform in her first dance recital and love every second of it. Seeing her big sister dance at the same recital . . . and no longer look like a little girl trying to dance but look like a DANCER. And easily the best in her class, outshining them all.

5) Watching my other daughter play in the elementary orchestra after picking up the violin for one semester. I've never heard such screeching Christmas carols in my life. But it was MY girl playing with the other violins. It was awesome. I almost cried.

May 2008 bring you and yours a wonderful year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mel's Wild Kingdom

Not long ago, my sister Mel began working on a collection of essays about her childhood. When I read them, laughing so hard I cried, my kids raced in to see what was wrong. Part of my enjoyment surely came from remembering the events she describes so vividly (and accurately!), but a lot of it is simply that Mel's a great writer.

Long-time readers here may recall that as a sixth grader (totally grown up, from where I stood in second grade), Mel began scribbling stories in notebooks. That's when the writing bug bit me, because emulating your big sister is really the coolest thing ever, right?

After Mel sent me a few of her pieces, I decided that the world needed to see one of these trips down memory lane, so with her permission, below is one of several that had me rolling on the floor.

It's longer than your average blog post, but it's well worth every word. Enjoy!

Lions and Tigers and Bears—But First, a Poodle

by Mel Henderson

I spent pretty much the entire fifth grade mad at my dad. Irritated by his lack of initiative, at least. I couldn’t understand how a well-schooled, world-wise university professor, a PhD—and a grown-up, for crying out loud—couldn’t be bothered to follow up on an issue so acutely important to his family: The matter of a pet.

Dad always described me as bright, delightful, a joy, and energetic. That said, I’ve also been told I could sometimes be an intense, demanding kid. Whatever.

We had cats, but everyone had cats. As a fourth grader, I’d even somehow persuaded my parents to let me have 2 white mice, and named them Cookies and Cream. My resourceful big brother fashioned tunnel mazes for them out of empty toilet paper tubes and masking tape. I had trained the mice, or so I believed, to stay safely on top of my dresser when I let them out of their cage to play. But my delusions of being the Mouse Whisperer would tragically end because, well, we had cats.

What I truly wanted was a wild, magnificent creature, bigger than me, grander than any house cat. And I knew it could be done.

My mother raised us to do our research: We are living in the in the Information Age, there is no excuse for ignorance, young lady, and she was not raising incompetent females.

Check. I did my research. I read every book I could find on the subject in the school library. I twisted my mother’s arm enough to buy a few more from those book order fliers from school. My bedroom was wallpapered with animal posters, wild and domestic. I watched Gentle Ben, Grizzly Adams and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom every week.

I groomed and educated my animal sensibilities, and yet my parents kept bringing up little concerns, like is it illegal to own a carnivore the size of a Volkswagen when you live so close to an elementary school?

Being a born teacher and not wanting to completely burst my bubble, Dad’s strategy was to offer thought-provoking questions so that I could conclude on my own that finding and taming my own baby lion or tiger was a bad idea.

After striking out on obvious concerns like violent death in the jaws of a hunter (I had hard data supporting that it is possible to make giant cats safe if raised correctly from infancy), he’d offer questions like, “But how would a huge tiger ever get the exercise he needs?” to be met with my carefully thought-out response, “Dad, I’m riding him to school every day, then he will walk straight back home because that’s what I will have trained him to do.” Previous misadventures as the Mouse Whisperer not withstanding.

Next question.

Dad’s Socratic approach, while admirably gentle, put him alone in my angry cross hairs because it left me with a scrap of hope. I saw his questions as simply objections I was challenged to overcome, not actual considerations in making a wise decision. And I was proudly knocking every objection out of the ballpark. Score another run for Bright-Demanding-Joy.

Conversely, as a born truth-teller and anti-sugar-coater, Mom’s strategy was to strangle hope before the seed ever germinated. Her exact, unminced words were, “Of course not. That’s ridiculous.” She would often say things like, “When you’re the mom, young lady, you can have all the lions and tigers and monkeys you want in your house.”

To which I would silently respond, Hellooo . . . as if you could put predatorial carnivores under the same roof with monkeys!

Constant appeals to my father to please, please just look into it went completely unheeded. “Call the zoo today. Call ALL the zoos.” Right in the door from work and I’d hit the man with, “Dad! I found this book and the author lives in San Diego and an adult male lion lives with her and her husband. Write them a letter. I already got the envelope ready. And this book here has pictures of a bear on an actual picnic with his human family in Thailand or someplace. It’s a smaller breed of bear that is better for cohabiting with humans, but that kind would be fine!”

I could never figure out why he kept chuckling. It’s not like I was some clueless second grader who thought I was going to die if I didn’t get a pony with ribbons in its mane. But he never made even one call. I would have done it myself if I thought they’d take a kid seriously, but I needed his adult clout here. Show a little initiative.

Likely traumatized by my relentless verbal flailing, my parents’ collective “no new animals” foothold at last crumbled around my 11th birthday. They caved, allowing me to take in a 3-year old male miniature poodle, fully pedigreed AKC stock. He belonged to a friend’s grandmother who, we later learned, regularly cooked for him. He couldn’t be expected to thrive on the wretched offerings formulated in laboratories by veterinary scientists; much better to nurture a 10-pound show dog with a hot country breakfast three times a day. I think what sealed the deal for my dad was that she was willing to let us have the dog for free. Even crumbling footholds have their standards.

We were told that the poodle’s keeper/personal chef was retiring to a condo in Las Vegas and unfortunately couldn’t bring the dog with her. I suspect that once widowed, she simply found it too depressing to cook only for the dog, who never appreciated her gravy the way Earl did anyway.

Regardless, I was thrilled beyond words. My dream was beginning to come true: A poodle today, maybe a sun bear tomorrow. I was as excited and proud as a new mother and Nobel Prize winner on the same day, and I wanted to tell the world. Home video taken on my 11th birthday documents me cuddling a dirty, moppish-looking creature unsanitarily close to a birthday cake, forcing one paw into a tortured doggy-wave for the camera.

His name was Taco.

Taco came to us overfed and overdue for a grooming, but with neatly manicured nails, a properly cropped poodle tail, and the unmitigated libido of fifty randy Irish sailors. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s call it thirty randy Irish sailors.

No one escaped his affections entirely, but the dog had a particular affinity for one individual, a shy and excruciatingly proper man who visited our home faithfully once a month as a Home Teacher from the church for years. Perhaps knowing that he’d see his crush only rarely, Taco always gave this gentleman his most earnest attention.

I can still hear the strained embarrassment in my father’s voice as he called for me to extricate Taco’s trembling, iron grip from a woolen pant leg and then isolate the dog behind a closed door. This could happen multiple times in one visit, as some wandering child would invariably and unwittingly release the hound, who would run full-boar once again for the object of his affections.

I have to wonder if my dad ever looked at that poodle and wished he was a lazy female tiger, stretched out in front of the fireplace, blithely ignoring everyone in the room. So much less conspicuous.

The home teacher never stayed longer than necessary. We’d apologize for the dog, again, say our good-byes at the door, and apologize for the dog, again. Later the family relaxed in the kitchen with some brownies or lemon bars. The dog relaxed on the patio with a cigarette.

It was really only a matter of time before Dad had had enough. At last demonstrating some true animal-kingdom initiative, he made a few calls to the university’s animal sciences program and offered up the pedigreed poodle-stud to be neutered in student practice. We all knew the day had come for Taco the Wonder Stud to become Taco the Poodle Eunuch.

Once he got past his initial anatomical confusion, Taco seemed to pass through a brief depression. He did eventually pull himself together and go on to lead a very full life, enriched by his new hobby of intimidating small children. Oddly, the testosterone was gone, yet the aggression remained. He continued to serve as my loyal and adoring bodyguard, sleeping at my side and fiercely chasing off anyone he didn’t trust. He also chased off my harmless little sisters, simply because he could, perhaps as a pathetic attempt to restore some dignity, some poodle manhood denied.

I never did get a lion or a tiger or a bear. But seven years later, I voluntarily left a good-paying, soul-sucking, part time job as the records clerk for an office of remarkable neurosurgeons and one prickly office manager (who I am still convinced has no reflection in a mirror) to take a position at a veterinary hospital.

By comparison, this was heaven. Inside the first week, I knew that between the resident cranky parrot, the arthritic Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, the suicidal dachshund hell-bent on poisoning himself with chocolate, and the spoiled Persian cat with the oral hygiene of a pirate, it would be a long time before my own animal kingdom would want for excitement.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Finish Line

I made it! As of two days ago, I turned in my Manti temple manuscript. I had promised my editor he'd get it before Christmas. It was touch-and-go for a bit there, but it's done.

For those who have been following my progress, that means I reached all three of my personal writing goals for the last few months. First I had two word count goals that helped me get it drafted. Then I had a goal to get the first round of revisions done and the manuscript out to some of my personal readers. And finally, it was going over all of their suggestions and inputting them into the manuscript before turning it over to my editor before Christmas. (Wait. I think that makes more than three . . .)

I am hereby taking the next several days off to enjoy family and Christmas. I doubt I'll be near a computer much. I'll probably be reading, playing games, and taking a nap.

Sounds like heaven.

Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Conference Time!

Yes, Christmas is just around the corner, but there's something else in the air as well.

Registration for the 5th Annual LDStorymakers Conference, March 21 & 22, is now available here. The conference is always such a shot in the arm for me. It's one of my favorite times of year. (Christmas in the spring!) We've simplified the registration process so you can pay online.

This year is shaping up to be our best conference ever. Among the highlights:
  • One of our keynote speakers is Timothy Travaglini, Senior Editor at G.P. Putnam's Sons (a division of Penguin Group, USA). For those of you who know Janette Rallison, he is her editor (known by her blog readers as the "bow-tied" one).
  • The return of Boot Camp, the hugely popular hands-on critique workshop prior to the regular conference each day.
  • A Publishers' panel, with representatives from all the major LDS publishing houses.
  • Pitch sessions with both Covenant and Deseret Book
  • Manuscript reviews with Tim Tavaglini
  • Choice of some 20 break-out workshops taught by established authors (including yours truly) on a wide range of topics and covering all skill levels.
  • A writing contest
  • Entertainment by comedian David Nibley (best known from his role in The Best Two Years and one of the funniest guys around)
  • Several keynote speakers you won't want to miss
  • and more

Part of that "more" is what immediately follows the conference: The first-ever Whitney Awards Gala.

Speaking of which, if you haven't nominated what you feel are the best books by LDS authors from 2007, do it soon! You have about a week and a half before the deadline (December 31). Don't assume that a particular book is shoo-in. (I've made sure to nominate some favorites; I'm not leaving it up to chance.) Nominate from WA website link above.

Another note: The facilities for the conference demand that we cap the number of attendees, so if you plan to come, sign up soon to reserve your spot. Likewise, the pitch sessions by Deseret Book and Covenant and the manuscript reviews by Mr. Travaglini are filling up fast, even though registration has been open for only a couple of days. If you want to snag one of those, hop to it!

Heather and I (and our terrific committee!) have been doing behind-the-scenes work for next spring, and it's exciting to see the pieces gradually coming together.

See you in March!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wisdom at 5 Years

Today's post is brought to you by the sweet little mind of my 5-year-old. She is a joy in so many ways, not the least of which is her determination to give the best hugs anywhere and "permanent" kisses that can't wash off.

I almost feel guilty for enjoying this stage with her so much, because when her three older siblings were this age, I was so busy taking care of everyone else that I don't think I had the luxury of reveling in the sweetness like I can with her as the youngest.

Some of her most recent nuggets:

1) Maybe they should add this one to Merriam-Webster:
"Some boys get their ears pierced because they’re dudes. Dudes wear earrings."

2) In her efforts at keeping the family's manners in check, she insists on hearing, "You're welcome," any time she says, "thank you."

I pour a glass of milk, and she says, "Thank you . . . " If Mom doesn't respond fast enough, it's, "I said thank you!"

3) A word escaped her, so she described the object in hopes that Mom could help her remember it:

"What do you call that thing that’s like ice but it isn’t? And you eat it and you hold it? And it’s got a Popsicle stick and . . . oh, wait. I remember!"

4) And here's my personal favorite. The other night she excused herself from dinner to visit the little girl's room. While there, she belted out her current favorite Christmas song for all the world to hear.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (Reindeer)

Had a very shiny nose. (Like Monopoly!)

I about lost my dinner through my nose.

At some point today, I hope, I'll be hitting some more of the revisions for Manti. Right now, however, I need to get prettied up. My sisters are taking me out to lunch because I'm just that cool and they love me. Well, that, and I was born 34 years ago as of this morning. :-D

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Truth about Signings

In my pre-publication days, if I ever imagined having a book signing, it included images like people actually wanting to buy my book and have me sign it. Maybe (if I was getting really deep into the fantasy) a line of people.

Of course, reality crashes down after publication, and you realize that unless your book is about teenage wizards or vampires, you won't have a long line. Or any line. And you'll be lucky to sell more than one that your mom came to buy to support you.

You do book signings anyway to show your publisher you're committed to promoting yourself. You chat with the employees and get to know them. You try to meet customers, and when they pay you the slightest attention, you try to encapsulate your book into about five seconds, because that's as long as they're going to give you before moving on.

And that's if you're lucky enough to get someone to make eye contact, because as people walk in the door, they instinctively look away from the lonely author as if she has a contagious disease. Whatever path they were taking through the store, they now make sure to veer away from your table.

The experience is less than glamorous or ego-stroking.

I've done so many book signings that I've lost track of the number. It's got to be close to a hundred over the five and a half years I've been doing this. In that time, I've gotten a thick skin. If I don't sell any books, that's okay.

I've also managed to break out of my shy bubble so I can talk to perfect strangers and give them a very brief spiel. Then I walk away so they don't feel any used-car salesman pressure. It's a delight if they decide to come find me at the table and buy a book.

As for the chair at the table, forget it. Unless I'm actually signing a book (and sometimes not even then), I don't bother sitting. I'm up and around and talking to people.

While signings are still not in my top ten list of fun things to do (in fact, they're exhausting; it's tough to keep yourself "on" and smiling and cheerful and energetic for long spells), I've started experiencing a few new things in my most recent ones.

When I tell people about my books, I always mention the three old Utah temples they're about. At least once at every signing, and often more frequently, I invariably get asked, "What about Manti?"

Out of the four old temples, that one is glaringly absent, of course. It's great to be able to say, "That's next."

Then I get a response like, "Oh, good. Because that's my temple."

I'm amazed at how many people have a personal connection to one of these sacred buildings, how they are drawn to a specific one and cherish it. Many times people have bought one book or the other specifically because they grew up in Logan or their daughter went to school in southern Utah and loves the St. George temple or they were married in the Salt Lake temple.

I embarked on this entire series because of my personal love of the Logan temple. It's my temple. I was married there. So on one hand, I shouldn't be that surprised; I just didn't anticipate the intense reaction.

The second unexpected thing to happen this fall is something that turned out to be ego-stroking after all. (Who knew that was possible with a book signing?) Sometimes when I've talked to a customer about my books, they say the unthinkable:

"Oh, I have all your books. I love them."

Excuse me, wha-ha?

I'm so used to introducing myself and my work to people that it's completely bizarre to have reached the point where anyone has actually heard of me. Some have read my books multiple times.

More than once I've had to stop myself from saying, "Really? Are you serious?" and instead grin and say, "Thank you so much," with my mind spinning.

Such moments are still few and far between, but they happen just often enough now to keep me plugging along, seeing that hey, I'm making real progress, inch by inch.

And if you've been keeping track of my manuscript progress, I'm about a week away from submitting the Manti book!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Blame Josi

It wasn't that long ago that I had my 100th post and with it as many random things about me.

Now Josi has tagged me, and I'm to come up with ten more.

Let's see if I can think of something interesting that most readers don't know:

1) I've never skied in Utah, although I've lived here most of my life. I went skiing once in Finland with our youth group, but that's it. When it comes to winter sports, I'm a skating girl.

2) I always, always, always wear waterproof mascara and have never worn anything else. Ya never know when you're going to get something stuck in your eye, cry, or walk in the rain. Or through sprinklers. Or whatever.

3) The one Nintendo game I'm good at (or used to be) was Diddy Kong Racing. I used to play it with my son when he was younger as Mommy/son bonding time. I got pretty good. I pretty much suck at any other video games and have no desire to play them now anyway.

4) I learned to play chess by sitting on my dad's lap as he played with my brother, using this totally cool chess board my uncle made out of match sticks. The pieces were made from Plaster of Paris, I think, and had tiny details, including facial expressions. The king and queen were my favorites. Oh, and the rook. And the pawns. They were all cool.

5) I learned to ride a bike on a pink thing with a white banana seat and a flower basket on the front.

6) I have cute pinkie toes.

7) All of my children have the Lyon family upper lip. It's the most dominant gene I've ever seen. My mother-in-law has the lip, all six of her children have it, and every single grandchild has it (including the newest arrival, week-old Becca, who makes #15, I think). If there were no family members in the line-up, I could pick out my kids based entirely on pictures of their lips. Of their big toes, too. They also got that from Dad's side.

8) I grew up without white sugar, white flour, or a microwave. But plenty of chocolate.

9) As a kid I organized my bookshelves into a library, complete with call numbers and a check-out system.

10) I used to name cars. The one I drove in high school was Louise. In college I drove Betty. Dad's little red truck was Arthur, and Mom's car was Eleanor. One of these days I should get around to naming our 9-year-old mini van. If I ever name my hubby's truck, it'll have to be something like Phoenix, because that poor thing has died and come back to life after two bad accidents now. (What, is there a target on the tailgate that says, "Please rear-end me?")

Now for the tagging:

Lu Ann

Monday, December 10, 2007

Calibrating the Rude-O-Meter

I've gotten used to people thinking I'm weird. Characters talk in my head, I find bizarre and otherwise useless facts interesting (and wonder how they could work into a story), and so forth.

But I had no idea I was abnormal in other ways. I continue to discover just how many areas this covers when my critique group calls me on stuff my characters do or think.

Things that apparently are NOT normal.

The biggest eye-opener was with the first book I brought to the group. Everyone kept saying how completely unlikeable the heroine was. She was rude and snotty and all kinds of things.

I was horrified as they pointed to bits of dialogue to prove their point—parts that I never in a million years intended to be rude or snotty. Parts I never realized could be interpreted that way.

Apparently my rude and snotty meters needed adjusting. I know I'm not the most socially-talented person on the planet, but I suddenly realized that yikes—I had probably said lots of things in the past that had been interpreted as rude, because Brooke had to talk like me on some level, since I created her.

Learning to tweak and change how Brooke talked and behaved was a major social education for me. It was a challenge to reflect how I saw her and make readers like her.

Continuing to create likeable characters has been an on-going process for me, one that I never expected to be so hard. I also never expected the lessons to reach into my daily life. But they have. It's not uncommon for me to pause and think through something before I say it and try to run it through the rude-o-meter. (The fact that I often misread the meter is another issue.)

I've had other moments along the same lines that aren't so dramatic and life-changing, such as a critique meeting in Provo a couple of years ago. I was told in so uncertain terms by at least two group members that something my heroine did was juvenile and completely unrealistic—that any woman who would do such a thing was immature and childish. "I would hope she would have grown up since high school," was one comment.*

Oh. I guess I'm completely immature and childish, because that detail was based on me.

(I didn't tell them that, though . . . because really, people, I'm not THAT socially backward.)

*This was for a contemporary book I have shelved in favor of my historical work. (In case you were wondering which heroine in my temple books ever went to high school.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Horses Are Like Snow

There's something magical about watching snowflakes flutter to the ground, especially on a moonlit night where the stars twinkle magically behind the white flecks carpeting the ground and transforming the world. I love curling up with a mug of hot cocoa and watching the mesmerizing view as peace descends and all worries melt away.

But I hate dealing with snow. You know what I mean: the driving on slick roads, the shoveling, the wet boots, the cold hands, the lugging coats around and all that other miserable stuff.

If I could have a winter where I could just see it without dealing with it, I'd enjoy the season far more than I actually do.

With my current WIP, I've got a similar phenomenon when it comes to animals of the equine persuasion. Horses are beautiful creatures. I love watching them (or watching people ride them) as their muscles ripple and their manes and tails fly in the wind.

I do not enjoy dealing with horses, whether that's riding them or working with them in the writing world. Currently, my frustration with horses in the literary arena is of an intensity I cannot express greatly enough.

For a historical novelist, horses are a given. If you have characters go anywhere, guess what animal is pulling the conveyance? Unless you're lucky enough to be writing about a railroad, yup, it's almost always a horse. At the Journey's End had two wagon trains traveling for a good chunk of the book. I thought that was a challenge and that after writing those scenes, surely I had the horse stuff in the bag.

Besides, I have a friend who knows horses better than almost anyone, so I always run any relevant scenes by her. (She's saved me from looking really stupid many a time: "No, Annette, that would be a halter . . . and that body part is called a flank.")

So with Lynda behind me, I could manage simple horse stuff. I never went into great detail about what went on, but I wrote up enough to get the job done. Plus, after writing about those two wagon trains, surely I could handle whatever other horse scenes I'd ever need to do.


This WIP had the audacity to add a horse as a main part of the plot. (I say this because it wasn't my idea. The horse jumped into the story and stuck. I about died when I realized that I needed to hit the Internet on a major new research kick.)

To say that this mare has given me fits would be an understatement. Lynda has the horse pages now and recently called to let me know that there were several "big" things that needed changing. (When I get her notes back, I'll be hoping those "things" aren't issues that will necessitate revamping the entire plot!)

So I'm hereby pleading with my readers: If I ever flirt with the idea of including a horse as a main character again, stop me. Do whatever it takes. Confiscate my keyboard. Anything. Just don't let me go through this again!

Horses are for looking at and admiring, not for writing about.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Other Eyes

For one big reason, I feel as if I won the Utah writer lottery (assuming there would ever be such a thing!): I belong to one of the most remarkable critique groups on the planet.

It began with Lu Ann and Stephanni, who both lived in Spanish Fork and wanted to start up a group. Lu Ann pulled out her trusty directory from the League of Utah Writers and began calling around to writers in the area. This is a very scatter-shot way of creating a group, and by all odds, it shouldn't have worked as well as it did.

I remember distinctly when she called me. It was a July evening as I bathed my two children and was monstrously pregnant with my third, due at the end of the month. I was also finishing up my third year (and second pregnancy during that time) in the Young Womens presidency of my ward. I had been writing faithfully for some time, getting rejections and publishing a few articles, but I hadn't managed to get a book contract yet.

So when Lu Ann asked if I'd like to join, the answer was, "YES!" but at the same time, "Not yet!"

I knew that 1) I'd be giving birth in a couple of weeks and 2) with a newborn added to two small toddlers AND a high-demanding church calling, I couldn't possibly add one more thing to my plate without having it crack. I had a sneaking suspicion that our presidency would be released in a few months, so I asked if I could possibly join then. She said yes.

The following January I arrived with the first chapter of one of my books. When it was my turn to read aloud, my heart beat so hard and fast I swear it nearly jumped out of my throat. (All told, it took me about eight months of regular attendance to stop being so terrified to read aloud and a couple of years to stop be nervous at all.) It was tough; I had never gotten immediate, verbal feedback, and since a critique group is all about improvement, not a lot of time was spent on what I did right (if anything, which I doubt; looking back, I realize how green I was as a writer).

But I kept going back. Some group members moved away. Others just dropped out. But as we went along, new members took their places. We became close friends. We all improved dramatically. And we all started selling our work.

Oh yeah, and after I brought an entire book to the group and did some major doctoring as a result, I landed my publisher. Coincidence? Not hardly.

I'll never, ever, turn something in without my group going over it. We still meet about weekly, but many of us now have deadlines, and we rarely get to bring an entire book, chapter by chapter from start to finish. So when we finish a manuscript, we print it out and hand over the whole thing to each other, then trade edits.

I recently went over Michele Paige Holmes's next book, and she went over mine. Heather (H. B.) Moore also went over mine, and very soon I'll be going over hers. Jeff Savage is reading mine, and when that's done, I'll likely get his. Is it time consuming to read other people's stuff? Absolutely. But getting their feedback in return is priceless. (Okay, you CAN pay for a professional edit, and if you don't have a group like mine, I highly recommend it, but if I can get one in trade, why would I pay for one, especially when some of them are professional editors?)

Today I reached page 183 of 320 on Michele's edit of my Manti book. She caught a bunch of great stuff, including a historical detail hole I need to fill, typos the computer would never catch, awkward sentences, motivation issues, and so much more.

In a couple of days, I'll be getting Lynda's review back on all the horse stuff. (Ay, ay ay . . .) She's our group's resident expert on horses, and since you can't get away from them in historical novels (and darn it, this one has a horse playing a major role), I need her knowledge to make sure I don't call a bridle a harness make the horse do something really impossible.

Then there's our newest member, James (at least we think he's a member . . . James, you will come back to us, right? :D)

It's amazing that our little group has been in existence in some form since July of 1999. Come January, I'll have been in it for 8 of its 8 1/2 years. And every single person in the group has sold their work. Several are best-sellers in their markets.

If I had one tip for aspiring writers, it would be this:


And if I had a second one, it would be make sure it's a GOOD group.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thinking of Christmas

With December (and the first big snowfall of the year) here, my mind is turning to Christmas. This will be the third one in a row that I'll be an ocean and a continent apart from my parents, and it's making me sentimental.

As a child, I enjoyed Christmas more than any time of year. Now as a parent, I try to pass on some of the same traditions that made the season so special for me.

What I'm thinking about in particular right now:

1) Bing Crosby and company.
Bottom line, folks: It ain't Christmas if there isn't any Bing. My dad is of the Rat Pack generation, so I grew up listening to all the greats on his reel-to-reel tape set, almost exclusively during December. Our first married Christmas, my husband bought me a Bing Crosby Christmas CD, knowing that I'd need it to feel at home that year. I still have it, and we listen to it more than any other Christmas music.

I'm a bit like my older sister in that for years it was hard to listen to contemporary artists singing the "classics." I'm sorry, but Nat King Cole OWNS "The Christmas Song." Don't even try roasting chestnuts to anyone else.

As part of the Bing phenomenon, I watch White Christmas every year. My middle daughter has caught the bug, and it's one of her favorite Christmas traditions.

2) Pulla.
A Finnish sweet bread flavored with cardamom, pulla is not strictly a Christmas food (you can buy it at any bakery all year long). When I was growing up, December was the one time of year Dad always made pulla in beautiful braided rings. (Ironically, Mom is the Finn, but Dad was wearing the apron. Go figure.) Now I always make pulla for my family during December. The kids look forward to it, begging and pleading for the day to come when we can make pulla and they can create their own braids with the dough.

3) My first Finnish Christmas.
In 1984 my family headed over to Finland for three years on a church assignment. That first Christmas, we tried to hold onto some of our U.S. traditions while incorporating some of the Finnish ones. My biggest memories from that year: the straw and wood shaving ornaments covering the tree (gotta get me some of those one of these days) and opening half our presents Christmas Eve and the other half Christmas morning.

For the uninitiated, Santa makes his Finland stop on Christmas Eve, when everyone has big family parties. He comes in person, hands out presents, and after he leaves, they're opened. This makes for a very long day for kids; it's much easier to just wake up and open them. Splitting the unwrapping into two days was our attempt at keeping both countries' traditions.

The timing for the Finnish Christmas Even may be due to the fact that Santa's official headquarters are up by the Arctic Circle on a mountain called Korvatunturi. (I'm not making this up; check it out. I've been to Santa Land and seen the reindeer.)

4) My blue toy typewriter.
One of the best presents I ever got; I was about 8 at the time. The royal blue manual typewriter had a real ribbon and it worked just like the real thing. I ran that ribbon into the ground. Preview of coming attractions, for sure.

5) Mom's Better Homes and Gardens Trees
Our trees were always stunning. Mom would buy ornaments on clearance after Christmas, planning for next year's tree, which always had a theme. Sometimes she had Dad flock the tree, such as when we used the silver and pink decorations (a stunning tree, seriously). Whether we had Asian fans or gold garland, the tree was a sight to behold.

I struggle with what to do with our tree each year. I love the beauty of the trees I grew up with, but at the same time, I also want to showcase the Popsicle ornament my son made in second grade. We compromise--it's sort of color-coordinated (two alternating schemes), but we always slap on all the fun homemade and special memory ornaments on top of that. On top is my gorgeous bronze star hubby bought for me several years ago.

6) Moments of quiet solitude throughout my life.
I can remember sitting in the living room as a kid, the only lights being the white glow from the tree. Or the years when I had little babies and would sit and rock them by the tree. There is something mesmerizing and calming about turning off the lights, plugging in the tree, and gazing into the boughs.

I'm already making a list of the must-do traditions for this year. You can bet that everything above will be on that list, plus a few more.

Mom and Dad, wish you were here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Signings in the Air

You can tell that Christmas is around the corner.

I know this in part because of the music on the radio and the decorations in the stores and the lights twinkling on the houses around my neighborhood. (Oh, and those insanely long lists my kids keep writing—and revising—for Santa.)

Another clue is that my book signing schedule has revved into gear. This time around, nearly all of them are Fridays from noon to one o'clock. This is intentional; with the busyness of the season, I need to keep the impact on the family to a minimum, and lunch time does that. (Apologies to those who prefer a weekend or evening hour!)

Starting tomorrow (Friday, November 30), I'll be on the signing circuit. First off will be at the American Fork Seagull, and then that evening way up in Logan at the Book Table for their annual Midnight Madness event. Heather Moore and I will be going up together, and there are always lots of other authors there.

Then every Friday between now and Christmas, I'll be at a different Utah Valley Seagull. Just check out the schedule on the sidebar there.

Please come; I'd love to see a friendly face!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Dot to Dot

As I've mentioned before, I like to incorporate elements that connect my books to one another. The connections are always small threads, but I include them sort of like those "Easter eggs" you discover on DVDs, or a way for me to say hello to readers whether they recognize the message or not.

Just this last weekend as I had some holiday book signings, a store employee came up and asked about a young boy who appears briefly in Spires of Stone.

"Was that the Indian guy from your St. George book?" she asked.

I grinned. Yes, I told her. Yes, he was. His name is Abe. I'm so glad you caught it.

She clapped her hands and then turned to a fellow employee. "I told you it was him!"

I promised in that previous dot-to-dot post that my upcoming (and still untitled) Manti book would connect to Spires, but I was unsure for a long time of what the thread would be. I figured it out a few weeks ago as I was finishing it up. One character from Spires shows up briefly in one scene in a way that makes sense for him to be way down in Manti instead of Salt Lake City.

(I'm realizing that I need to clarify how old he is now, because this book takes place quite a bit later than Spires did.)

It'll be fun to see if readers notice him for who he is.

The other day another connection dawned on me, sort of a duh moment. Generally, I connect a book with the one that was released immediately before it. But this time a second possible connection occurred to me, so I'll be adding it.

This one will jump backward a couple of books, connecting Manti with my first historical temple novel. The thread will be in chapter one.

When this book is released, keep your eyes open for Lizzy from House on the Hill as she shops on Main Street.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I've Been MIA

I've been off-line for a little while. First it was the Chocolate Show craziness and then preparing to host Thanksgiving for my siblings, and then the big day itself. (Got to have the entire family over, plus have a web chat with the parents from the other side of the planet. Good times.)

Three highlights from the non-holiday time:

1) I had the opportunity to read Michele Paige Holmes's second book as she prepares to turn it into her editor. If you've read Counting Stars, you will have read the opening chapter of this book, as it was included at the back of that one. Remember Jay? This is his continuing story, and what a ride it is!

I loved it, and I'm sure her readers will too.

2) I did a bit of digging and found a couple of resources for my next project. This was a relief to me, because the temple I'll be writing about doesn't have nearly as much written about it as the others have.

3) The other--and somewhat less enjoyable--big thing I did was do a deep-cleaning on my girls' room. Ugh. The room is packed more than it should be. We're turning a former bedroom into my new office, and while we wait for that to be done, I'm still in my old office. That means all three of my girls are crammed into one bedroom.

We thought it would be a 3-4 week thing. They could handle it that long. That was in June. Yeah. Life's been busy. (I'll have to post pics of my new digs when the place is done. Can you say "built-in-bookcases"? I can't WAIT!)

In the meantime, however, having three young girls, three beds, three times the toys and garbage and artwork and silliness all in the same room tends to create a monstrous-sized challenge. It's not as if they aren't required to clean their room regularly, but if Mom isn't involved, certain things don't get a good cleaning. Toys end up under the bed. Garbage Mom would have thrown out gets pushed into corners. Dress-ups get mixed in with regular clothes. And so on.

I'm not sure how many hours we worked on that place, but in the aftermath, I carried out eight grocery-sized bags of garbage plus a good armful for the recycle bin. I'm sure I could have found more to clean (under one bed wasn't totally cleared out, I'm afraid, and we didn't organize the desk drawers, either).

We also spent time cleaning up the basement play area for when the cousins played there after the feast. Again, I'm not sure how much time I spent on that (certainly not as much as the girls' bedroom), but it was longer than the 3.8 seconds it took the crew to trash the place when they descended on it.

All in all, it felt good to get rid of all the garbage, to set things in order--even if it didn't last long.

But truth be told, it has also felt a little weird over the last week and a half to not sit down and write or blog. I've been under self-imposed deadlines for literally months, and now . . . nothing. It's intentional; I'm letting myself rest. But part of me has looked around, wondering exactly where I put myself.

I'll be taking a few more days off of the heavy stuff until I hit my manuscript revisions.

But I can't guarantee I won't be visiting blogland in the meantime.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

VIP Winner

Short post--as you can imagine, it's a busy day, being Chocolate Show week!

But I had to congratulate Kimberly, whose story was selected as the VIP pass winner.


Her confession had me laughing out loud:

My husband bought a bag of lindt chocolates to have around as an occasional treat. I snarfed them all while he was at work one day (my three year old made me do it! I swear!), and promptly panicked. I loaded the kids in the car, drove to the grocery store, and bought another bag. I then wrapped the offending wrappers up in several grocery bags and pushed the bundle to the bottom of the garbage can. He never suspected a thing. And his sympathy over me feeling ill that night? Just a little bit torturous.

Since Kimberly's not in Utah, she's decided to pass the tickets to a good friend of hers who can use them.

I definitely plan on using more stories in future issues of The Weekly Chocolate Fix. (Want to subscribe? It's free. Click here.)

So Karlene and Amber will each get four show tickets, good for the expo on both Friday & Saturday.

Ladies, just let me know if you want those to be for THIS WEEKEND or for the 2008 show.

Now I'm off . . .

Hope to see some of you at the show!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Are Vindicated

For pretty much forever, I've been the butt of jokes regarding my choice of college major: English. Few other majors get so many people poking fun. The sad thing is that in some cases, the teasing is warranted; a lot of English majors don't know what they want to be when they grow up or what they'll do with an English degree when they get it (flip burgers?).

Then there are those of us who know precisely what we're going to do with it. In my case, that meant being a writer. To remain practical, I also went into Secondary Education and planned to get a teaching certificate to be a high school English teacher. (I decided in the end to graduate sans certificate, but that's a story for another time.)

But even those English majors who were pre-law or had some other big career plan would get razzed about their major because so many people think that English is somehow easy and has about as much depth as cotton candy—that anyone could do it.

In fact, I had a close family member (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent . . . or, er, guilty) who was a manager at a company. When hiring employees, she rolled her eyes at anyone trying to apply with a degree as "fluffy" as English (her word, not mine—right in front of me, though).

During my last big semester of college, I had an American Literature class usually taken by seniors. Daring souls who were not English majors could take the class as an Arts & Letters elective, and the semester began with three such students in our class.

Within about a week, two of them had dropped the class because it was too hard.

(Can you hear my maniacal laughter?)

The final non-English student was (and I'm not making this up) pre-med. Not exactly a stupid person, right?

He stuck it out through the entire semester, but boy did he struggle. His returned papers looked like someone had dumped a bottle of red ink all over them. His tests were much the same. As the rest of us would review and compare notes prior to quizzes—discussing American Romanticism and Whitman, maybe—he'd say, "Huh? What does that mean? Where was that? I don't GET it!"

He was used to memorizing answers in science classes. Having to use an analytical side of his brain, find evidence and prove your point with words about killed him as he had to apply literary theories to works we had read. (If I recall, he also said things about the books like, "That chracter died? Where?")

The poor kid just scraped through the class, while I left each day smiling. The class was a challenge (yes, even for the English majors), but I loved every second of it. Yet it was brutally hard for him—and too hard for the other students who didn't even dare try to get through the course.

The pre-med guy is one reason I'll always remember that class; it felt good to see someone gain respect for what I had chosen to study.

Another reason I remember it is because of what happened mid-semester: President Hinckley became the new prophet.

For those of you who don't know, he was . . . dun-dun-dun . . . an ENGLISH MAJOR.

My professor, the beloved Richard Cracroft, had seen and heard plenty of put-downs about his chosen field just like the rest of us had.

I'll always remember what he said the day after President Hinckley was ordained:

"We have an English major as a prophet. We are vindicated!"

Amen, Dr. Cracroft. No one's about to mock that man's English degree.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mission Complete!

I don't think I've ever posted twice in one day, but I just had to report.

In short: I did it!

My Manti book still rough in a couple of spots, but it's drafted. Everything is bridged and coherent. The story is complete. (Not sure I'm 100% satisfied with the closing scene, but I'll tinker with it later.)

The current word count is eerily close to what I predicted: 95,044.

I still need to finish up the historical notes section in the back and then go through the stack of papers lingering on my desk from my critique group before I give them the entire manuscript to some of them to hack apart.

But all of that can wait until Monday.

For now, I'm going to revel in the fact that I reached my goal of having this book drafted by Saturday, November 10, 2007.

And it feels good.

Now, where's the chocolate?

Such a Good Liar

Before I start, I have to remind everyone to send me their chocolate stories for a chance to win VIP chocolate show tickets We've gotten two really fun entries, but I want more, more, more!

As for the liar meme:

I don't know if I should be proud of this, but out of fifteen guesses, thirteen were wrong--and one of the correct ones (Karlene's) was just because no one else had guessed that one yet.

Here's the low-down on each of my four statements:

1. Once while camping in the High Uintahs, I stood too close to the fire one morning in an attempt to warm up. I locked my knees and passed out into the fire pit, effectively singing off my eyebrows and eyelashes.

FALSE. This is the lie. I took a note when Josi said that people usually don't pick #1. Tee hee. This actually did happen to Cathy, a childhood friend of mine. I was on the same camping trip, but in the tent at the time, so I just heard about it afterward--and saw her singed lashes. Surprisingly (as Don pointed out) she wasn't hurt otherwise, likely because so many other people were nearby and caught her quick. Our Young Women group went on a week-long backpacking trip in the Uintahs each summer (lovingly called, "The Powder Puff and Huff"). Some of the best experiences of my adolescence, bar none.

2. My senior year, I didn’t make it into our high school musical because the choir teacher thought I was a junior. He wanted to give more seniors a chance to perform before they graduated. Uh, whoops.

TRUE. I didn't find out the reason I didn't make it into the play until months later. It made no sense when I wasn't on the cast list, because I knew I was good enough to at least be in the chorus (I had no delusions about getting a lead role), and there were others who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket who were on the list (seniors, I might add).

Worse, most of my friends (being those uber-thespians I've mentioned) were in the play, so they all got to spend months together, leaving me to hang out alone because they had rehearsals and such. That holiday season pretty much sucked.

Then, a month or two after the play ended, I walked into the choir room and our teacher (a dear, dear man whom I still adore) asked how my testing had gone. I had no idea what he meant, but then remembered that the juniors had some state test that day. "Do you mean the junior testing?"

"Yes," he said.

"I'm not a junior."

He went pale. "You're a senior? Oh."

I didn't think much of it until after class when he called me into his office and apologized for not casting me in the play, telling me how it happened.

One of many reasons my senior year of high school was not exactly stellar.

3. For some totally weird and inexplicable reason, instead of continuing with French which I had taken in eighth grade, I took two years of Russian in high school.

TRUE. I even won some award at BYU's high school language fair with my Russian, which never was that good, especially accent-wise. But I still get a kick out deciphering the Cyrillic alphabet.

A random but somewhat connected tidbit: The third date with my future husband was at a mission reunion. He went to Czechoslovakia (when it still was that--now it's the Czech Republic). We sat around a table while one guy played the guitar and everyone sang Czech folk songs. It was freaky to see how similar that language was to Russian but in the Roman alphabet. I had a distinct thought that maybe this is why I studied Russian in high school--that this guy and I might end up going there as a married couple on a mission some day. Yeah. Third date. Being as I was all of nineteen at the time, it freaked me out a bit.

4. I've had four epidurals, one natural childbirth.

TRUE. I know, I know, this was sort of a trick question, which Josi guessed. Many of you know I have four children. With #2, the idiot anesthesiologist (Dr. Bob--I kid you not; that was his name) did the epidural wrong. Not only did he take about half an hour to place it (something that should take oh, a minute--and keep in mind here, I'm in agonizing pain as he's trying to place it during contractions), but I had bruises all over my back for three weeks after the fact.

Worse, he put it in the wrong spot, so it never took effect AT ALL. Not one tiny bit.

By the time my doctor realized the epidural was dripping medication somewhere other than my nerves and wasn't going to do diddly, it was time to push. At that point I pretty much flipped out and wished, wished, wished, I knew something about breathing and relaxation and all that. I remember holding my husband's hand and crying, "I can't do this."

But I did, of course. Somehow.

Dr. Bob came in afterward and apologized for the bad epidural in a way only he could: "I'll only charge you half."

Had I not been so wiped--and holding my baby--I would have jumped off the bed and punched the lights out of him.

I delivered my next two babies in the same hospital, but swore that if ever Dr. Bob darkened the door, I'd personally shoot him.

Now for the fun part: I put everyone's names into a bowl and had my 5-year-old pick out the winner of a copy of Spires of Stone. She selected (drum roll, please) . . . Marcia Mickelson!

Congrats, lady! Hope you enjoy it.

And for the next fun part, tagging people:

I'll go for three of my thespian friends, the only ones from that group I'm aware of who have blogs. They were all (of course) in the play that year, which was Auntie Mame.

Em at Downstage Left (Who played the amazing Vera; holy cow, she was hilarious, although I didn't recognize her at first with the dark wig.)
Sarah (also known as Brownie) and
Blondie (who just got her own blog--I believe this is her first tag. :D)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Chocolate, Chocolate, Everywhere!

For Utah chocolate lovers, the time is almost here. Next week is the 4th Annual Utah Chocolate Show! Woohoo!

Read part of the press release here, and then continue below it for a chance to win TWO VIP EVENT PASSES, worth $95.00!!!

(I usually don't indulge in lots of bold type and exclamation points, but this is a moment that warrants such enthusiam).

About the show:

Chocolate lovers of every stripe have waited all year for what has become a fixture on the state’s holiday event calendar: The Fourth Annual Utah Chocolate Show, November 16 & 17 at the South Towne Expo Center, with more to do, see, learn, and experience than ever before.

Some of the best chocolate that Utah and the U.S. have to offer will be there, including V Chocolates, Utah Truffles, See’s Candies, and Utah’s own bean-to-bar creator, Amano Artisan Chocolates, plus many others. Attendees can sample chocolates and enjoy show-only specials as they get a jump on their holiday shopping.

Specialty Classes that require pre-registration—a long-time attendee favorite—are back, as are free how-to demonstrations on the Gygi Culinary Solutions Chocolate Stage.

A Woman’, the show’s support platform for benefitting The American Heart Association in Utah, benefits their initiatives for women. The “I Love my Heart” 5K run/walk takes place Saturday, November 17, before the show opens that day.

Other new show features include a chocolate wedding cake competition display gallery and the Utah Loves Chocolate Photography contest, sponsored by V Chocolates. Young show-goers will be delighted by a special appearance by the Chocolate Princess on Saturday from 2 to 4.

An exclusive VIP opening celebration will be Thursday, November 15, the night before the 2-day main event. That evening, the “An Introduction to Fine Chocolate” tasting class will be free, and after judging by three of Utah’s foremost pastry chefs, chocolate wedding cake competition winners will awarded. A live-action Jeopardy!-style game featuring local celebrities will benefit the American Heart Association in Utah. Vendors will offer VIP night-only specials.

Main event show tickets are $7.00 each and are good for both Friday & Saturday. Children 5 and under free. VIP passes are sold only in pairs for $95. Tickets and passes can be purchased on the show’s website, as well as at the door at their respective events.


Back? Good.

So here's the deal: One of my main jobs with UCS is writing the Weekly Chocolate Fix, a free electronic newsletter with fun chocolate trivia, recipes, show updates, and more. We award show tickets each week and chocolate prizes each month (the one for November is worth $50.00!).

Every so often, I throw in true chocolate confessions and funny chocolate stories--such as times when a mother steals from her kids' Halloween stash or licks the chocolate off her kids' toe. You know, the things real chocoholics do but don't really want to admit to.

That's where you, dear readers, come in.

Add your chocolate confession/story of no more than 150 words to the comment section (or email it to me: annette at utah chocolate show dot com).

You've got two big things going here:

1) If I select YOUR story to include in the next issue of the Weekly Chocolate Fix, you get the two VIP passes that are good for the VIP opening night celebration (which has tons of fun stuff not available at any other time--visit here for the low-down on the fun), but they'll also get you into the two-day show. And they're worth NINETY-FIVE BUCKS.

2) If I don't pick your story now, but DO decide to use it in a future issue of the e-letter, you'll receive FOUR free tickets to the 2008 show.

Really, folks, it's a no-brainer.

Now for the technical stuff: All submissions become property of the Utah Chocolate Show and may be edited for length and/or clarity.

To subscribe to the Weekly Chocolate Fix, click here. After the show, we always take a holiday hiatus before starting up again in January.

But please join us (both on the Fix and at the show next weekend)!

If you come, be sure to find me and say hello. And then give me chocolate. :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

True or False?

Tristi tagged me for a liar meme.

The idea is that I share some tidbits about me, ONE of which is not true. You guess which is the lie, and I’ll reveal the answer in a few days.

To sweeten the pot, I’ll draw one person’s name out of all the comments (regardless of whether they guess correctly) to receive a copy of Spires of Stone. Be sure I can contact you through your comment (or leave your email address).

Here are the four things. None are earth-shatteringly exciting, but hey, they’re mine. Somehow they’re mostly about my early years. No idea why; they’re just what I thought of.

1. Once while camping in the High Uintahs, I stood too close to the fire one morning in an attempt to warm up. I locked my knees and passed out into the fire pit, effectively singing off my eyebrows and eyelashes.

2. My senior year, I didn’t make it into our high school musical because the choir teacher thought I was a junior. He wanted to give more seniors a chance to perform before they graduated. Uh, whoops.

3. For some totally weird and inexplicable reason, instead of continuing with French as I had in eighth grade, I took two years of Russian in high school.

4. I've had four epidurals, one natural childbirth.

Guess away!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Grace Period

I'm crying "uncle" on my current writing challenge.

Realistically, there is no way I'll reach 95,000 words by Wednesday.

Several factors played into this, among them the fact that I'm not just drafting scenes anymore, but filling gaps, smoothing over sections, and sometimes deleting sections that no longer work. Just this morning I ended up cutting 500 words belonging to a brief scene that I now see doesn't need to be there at all.

Ironically, that's still progress. We're in the shaping and molding phase of this book now, which means that sometimes the total word count decreases before it goes back up again. But I've been working--really, I have--and consider it quite an accomplishment to have numbers officially assigned to SIXTEEN chapters. (If you know how totally spastic I write, that's impressive.)

Compound that with the fact that I think I'm coming down with a bug. Just sitting at the computer hurts.

Oh, the joys.

The upshot is that I'm giving myself a bit of a break. On the other hand, I really do need this puppy done soon in order to have time to get feedback from my priceless critique group and do necessary revisions.

Therefore, I'm revising the challenge (it's my challenge; I'm allowed): I'm giving myself until Saturday night (that's November 10th) to finish drafting this thing.

If I manage that, I'll have to treat myself to a long bath, a day of reading, or an ice cream sundae.

Update, 8:40 pm:
I now have chapters 1-19 labeled and several scenes fixed and working. Unfortunately, my net word count for the day is negative 180--the reason I'm not updating my word count on the side bar. When I have a word count higher than what's there, I'll add it.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On My Own . . . or on YouTube

In honor of the October writing assignment over at, here is my contribution.

It’s not a witty essay or a piece of fiction—just something silly that the prompt brought to mind. (That’s what a prompt does, right? Bring things to mind?) Had I managed to have more than three seconds to think straight over the last two weeks, I might have written something really inspiring and literary.

Or . . . maybe not.

* * *

As I’ve mentioned before, I went to high school with a bunch of thespians. These are people who took acting and made it a lifestyle. Their favorite party games were acting games. (Ever played "In the Manner of the Adverb"?) Their favorite pastimes were viewing or participating in plays—or listening to Broadway soundtracks.

With their insane music ability, it was a snap to stand around a piano while one (take your pick; it could be any one of half a dozen of them) sight read music and the rest sang along in perfect harmony. (Except me. "Give Annette the melody" was their sympathetic mantra.) Their competitions weren’t of the football variety, but rather Region Drama.

Being part of this group was particularly interesting since I lived in a very tight shell of shyness. These people exploded that shell off my person—which was a good thing in many ways, if uncomfortable at times. It stretched me.

It was because of them that I auditioned for and performed in three community youth theater productions. It was because of them I started taking voice lessons and tried out for the school choir. It was because of them I found my interest in ballroom dance (which in turn led to meeting my husband).

It was also because of them that I ended up playing the temptress/blackmailer Desaray Cahoon one wintry night.

Four of the gang were on a double date and decided to make a soap opera video. They spent much of the evening writing out the script. Then they called the rest of our group over to film the thing. (Essentially crashing their date, but hey—we were all buds, and it was fun.)

The story began with one of the love interests getting smacked on the head by a rival, sending her into a coma. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the story—it made more sense on paper than it did on tape—but there was also a mute girl who is cured by the pure love of her teacher, including a delightful montage between them after they discover their love. They frolicked the snow in Em’s backyard.

And then there was the blackmailing scheme of which Desaray (moi) was a part.

But the scene that had us all in stitches was when Em—the one who loved the mute girl's teacher (who was in love with the mute instead of her . . . the whole thing was dreadfully soapy)—sang a tearful rendition of “On My Own” from Les Miserables.

To fully appreciate this, you have to understand Em. She’s a consummate actress. In high school she played about every leading role possible. She won the award as the best actor of her graduating class. She went on to get a BA and an MA in theater. So yeah, the girl could (and can) act.

She can be very intense in her performances, especially her dramatic ones. Which is what made her hysterical to watch when she would take humorous material and turn it serious.

To this day, I crack up whenever I think of her dramatic interpretation of the song, “Oklahoma.” I can still hear the emotion and intensity in her voice when she’d declare, “And the waving wheat can sure smell sweet.” She had us hyperventilating.

Take that passion, add a cup of melodrama, and throw “On My Own” at her.

During the taping, one of the pianists in the group (did I mention these friends were also ridiculously talented musically?) played the music while she sang the song with the passion no Eponine has ever expressed.

I don’t know how she kept a straight face; the rest of us were rolling on the floor trying not to laugh out loud and ruin the shot.

Afterward, we had a scream watching the soap opera—then we all declared it should be burned, because someone really could blackmail us with such embarrassing stuff.

To my knowledge, it never was destroyed. In fact, I’ve met people (friends of friends) who say they’ve seen it. Um . . . yikes?

So I’m a bit scared that some day it’ll make its way onto YouTube or something.

Fast forward many years: When I wrote the book that became Lost Without You, I dropped in an inside joke that only those friends would catch. Some of them reportedly snorted out loud when they came to it.

It was when the voice teacher in the book is first introduced.

Her name is Desaray Cahoon.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Big 1-0-0

I feel like I've reached a milestone with my 100th blog post! In keeping with tradition, below is a list with 100 things about me.

1. With my children, I duplicated the family I grew up in: boy, girl, girl, girl.

2. I’m the middle girl.

3. My children don’t at all resemble my siblings.

4. Especially my son, a very mild child who hasn’t given any scars to his little sisters.

5. But my brother gave me a scar when he was being nice, not during the times he held me over the bannister, locked me in a closet, or threatened to kill me.

6. Thanks in part to being a secretary in college, I can type really fast, which is one reason I cannot write books long hand.

7. The other reason is that my handwriting is atrocious. I blame my older sister for that.

8. I have six screws in my jaw from a surgery when I was 16. Not the easiest way to fix your bite . . .

9. Recovery included having my jaw wired shut and being on a liquid diet. (Ensure, anyone?)

10. With my swollen face, I look like a demented alien in all my sister’s wedding photos, which was all of four weeks post-op.

11. But I never grew any wisdom teeth to remove.

12. I love hot cocoa, the Finnish Fazer blue milk chocolate bar, and Peter’s Burgundy. Among other chocolates.

13. In high school I broke out of my shell and auditioned for community theater.

14. As a result, I performed in Joseph (I swear, the first production of it I was ever aware of; following ours, they mushroomed everywhere and people got sick of it).

15. I also performed in Fiddler on the Roof and Into the Woods, back when I could actually hit a high b-flat without causing physical pain in listeners, which is why I got the role of Rapunzel, who hits a high b-flat almost every time she opens her mouth.

16. I refer to both of those plays in my first book, Lost Without You.

17. One of my favorite things in the world is hiking in the High Uintahs.

18. But I haven’t done that for over a decade.

19. I wanted to be a writer at the tender age of 8.

20. But I got serious about the whole thing with my first submission Labor Day weekend 1994.

21. That first submission was rejected. As were many others.

22. For years, my kids thought Mom just typed a lot.

23. When I published my first article, I enjoyed showing my byline to them. That’s when they finally “got” what I did at the keyboard.

24. I like ice cream flavors that include nuts, especially almonds and pecans. And caramel. And chocolate.

25. My eyebrow hair grows long and then curls upward. I have to trim my eyebrows with scissors to avoid looking like Gandalf.

26. I lived in Finland from the age of 10 to 13.

27. I attended the Finnish public school system and eventually learned the language quite well, although it’s very rusty now.

28. In my class a scrawny little kid named Mika led a gang of boys (who were neither little nor scrawny), and together they tried to beat up the American girl at recess.

29. His twin sister Mia and her friends made a human shield to protect me, even though they hardly knew me. She was bigger and taller than her twin brother.

30. Mia became one of my best friends from Finland.

31. Katri became the other. We’re still in touch. (Terve, lady!)

32. I had a paper route with them and Marjo, where we delivered free papers and ads to a string of apartment buildings.

33. I got pretty good at knowing how many papers belonged in each stairwell, racing up several flights of stairs and then shoving the papers into the mail slots on my way down.

34. I love Finnish summers, but hate Finnish winters, except for Christmas, which I enjoy over there almost more than I do here with all their parties, songs, and great FOOD, like riisi purro. Mmm, Mm.

35. I don’t have one favorite color, but I tend to gravitate toward deep greens and reds.

36. I took horseback riding lessons in Finland, European-style, complete with the little black helmet and the switch.

37. I was and am still terrified of horses.

38. Which makes writing historical fiction interesting, since you can’t get away from horses, which pulled all a major modes of transportation and were heavily involved with temple construction and farm work.

39. I still have the helmet and the switch.

40. My claim to fame is that I used to take jazz dance classes from Derryl Yeager, who once performed quite a bit on Broadway. He also played a certain villainous person in a movie LDS people are familiar with, as well as one of the dancers in one of my cult favorites, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. (He’s the one who’s told, “My, you are big.”)

41. I performed at a dance recital when Derryl danced with our entire class (“I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line. He played the auditioner/instructor). I was just behind him and to the right. Yeah, no pressure. I was so nervous I fell out of my double pirouette.

42. But I loved, loved, loved performing “One,” also from A Chorus Line, that same night. It freaking rocked. Even if my black nylons were twisted.

43. I can no longer do any kind of pirouette, split, or leap. Don’t ask.

44. I met my husband on a BYU summer ballroom team.

45. We were cha cha partners, and by the time he asked me out at the end of the summer, we were great friends.

46. Our height difference took some getting used to, because we had spent three months together with me looking four inches taller than I really was because of the Latin heels.

47. I’ve kept those silver Latin shoes all these years.

48. I still feel a little sheepish that I don’t remember the first time I met him. But I do remember my first impression: That he was a great dancer who could really lead, and I worked well with him.

49. We’re still working well together after 13 ½ years of marriage.

50. Knitting is a favorite way of mine to relax and unwind.

51. I took piano lessons for years but began with a pathetic teacher who messed me up (Musical theory? What’s that?), so to this day I can’t play well.

52. I look a lot like my older sister. In fact, our baby pictures are hard to distinguish.

53. She wears her hair short, so I figure I’d probably look fine with a short ‘do, but I’ve never cut my hair shorter than a bob because I’m too scared. Also because I’m too lazy to commit to getting a haircut every four weeks to maintain a short length and having to style it every day.

54. I stop traffic if I take all three of my adorably cute redheaded daughters out at the same time.

55. My parents consist of a Cache Valley farm boy and a metropolitan Helsinki woman. As a result, during their newlywed years, friends called them “Green Acres.”

56. I drive a green 1997 Dodge Grand Caravan Sport.

57. I get cranky if I don’t get enough sleep. I usually get close to 8 hours, but unfortunately, 8 hours isn’t enough for me.

58. I have a dental implant in place of one tooth, because I never grew an adult one in that spot. I managed to hang onto the baby molar for over thirty years, but when it finally bit the dust, the implant was necessary.

59. I prefer reading books from the Victorian Era and pretty much ignored 20th century literature as much as I could and still graduate as an English major.

60. Which may be why I also love writing about the 1800s.

61. I tend to be a bit of an L. M. Montgomery freak.

62. In 9th grade I even started a writing/book club and newspaper that revolved around her.

63. I had melodramatic friends in high school. I mean that both in the typical high school soap opera sense and in the literal theatrical sense. (Hi, Em, Sam, Thora, and all you other thespians!)

64. A group of us called ourselves “The Babes,”which quite frankly, was wishful thinking.

65. Except in one case, and they all know who I mean. We all hated it whenever guys would hit on her (we’ll call her the Thunder Goddess, for reasons known amongst ourselves) and completely ignore the rest of us. I mean, we were a HERD of available young women, for Pete’s sake. But she was always singled out. (Okay, fine. She was hot, and the rest of us, uh, weren’t.)

66. I am a cat person and grew up with many felines (among them Muffin, Jumper, Jumper II, Herman, Marvin, Spears, George, and Sable), but I don’t own one right now.

67. I seriously despise dogs. Okay, I also have a dog phobia of sorts, even though I grew up with two of them: a gorgeous and LARGE Golden Retriever who didn’t know his own strength and a fat, grouchy poodle named Taco who snapped at everyone except my older sister if they dared to so much as touch him.

68. I’m the tallest of my sisters by a smidge.

69. But none of us three sisters is taller than Mom.

70. My mother taught me how to sew, but I’ll never be as good at it as she is.

71. Sewing for me is now an annual event when I make my daughters Easter dresses.

72. All of the Babes thought for sure I’d go on a mission. So did I. In reality, all but two of us did, and I was one of those two. (No regrets—look what I got instead!)

73. But in some ways I had a mission experience by being the daughter of a mission president for those three years in Finland. I know all about the commitment pattern and zone conferences, and I know enough to blackmail several missionaries if I so choose. (Funny how they’ll spill stuff to a kid . . .)

74. I love food.

75. My metabolism doesn’t.

76. I have long, blonde eyelashes, so I look very different with and without mascara. (No eyes . . . EYES!)

77. I hate to sweep.

78. But I love a freshly-swept floor.

79. I had a writing course as an English major that was almost enough to make me start hating Shakespeare. We had to write 8 papers of increasing length, all about King Lear, but using different critical theories (Freudian, Feminist, New Historical, Rhetorical, Deconstructionist . . .). I wanted to strangle the teacher by midterm.

80. Fortunately, I managed to escape the class with few scars, and I still love Shakespeare, but you’d have to pay me large sums to read or see King Lear.

81. Because my feet resemble the arctic tundra, I sleep with socks on. Even in July.

82. I finished my bachelor’s degree work in June of 1995, a month and a half before my first child was due and two months before graduation ceremonies in August.

83. I actually graduated when he was two weeks old.

84. Cum laude.

85. I don’t mind doing laundry.

86. I love to take baths in the dark with a candle.

87. I used to budget my little sister’s allowance and then charge a quarter for an “accountant’s fee.”

88. I miss my parents, who are gone for a 3-year church calling. (One year down, two to go.)

89. Sometimes I mentally type what I think and signs that I see.

90. I get depressed easily.

91. When I’m depressed, I tend to overindulge in chocolate. (See #75.)

92. I’m cripplingl shy, which is something I have to battle when speaking to crowds, doing book signings, and simply getting to know my neighbors.

93. I have mild to moderate claustrophobia, which made walking through Hezekiah’s tunnel . . . interesting a year ago. Breathe . . . breathe . . . (Also see #5. Cause or effect on that one? Hmmm.)

94. I didn’t inherit Dad’s green thumb. I have a hard time keeping plants (including gardens) alive, but I grew up with the most amazing garden harvest every summer from Dad’s work.

95. I make a mean brownie. And a mean chocolate chip cookie.

96. According to my brothers-in-law, my homemade rolls are better than their mom’s—and I use her recipe.

97. But I wouldn’t attempt the rolls without my trusty Kitchen Aide.

98. Which I desperately missed during the miserable year we spent in a cramped apartment while waiting for our current house to be built and most of our stuff was in storage because building the thing was supposed to take 4 months instead of the year it actually took.

99. I love my house, so I guess that year was worth it.

100. I especially love the fact that I have my own writing office here!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Executive Decisions

I feel a little sneaky; a moment ago I wrote, "Chapter 6" at the top of a page.

Lest you think that makes no sense, I'll explain. Since I often write out of order, jumping ahead to scenes, coming back to flesh things out and bridge gaps--and since my first attempts at beginnings are rarely set in stone--I generally begin my chapters with plain old, "Chapter" until I know for sure that there's nothing missing before that one and it's clear where it belongs and what number it would be.

At least two months ago, I decided that chapters 1-5 were solidly in place and ready for their designations. In went "Chapter 1," "Chapter 2," and on through "Chapter 5." But looking at the next section, I wasn't sure.

I hesitated, going back regularly to look at it and thinking that I really should return to another character's storyline after Chapter 5 before continuing with Tabitha's situation, which was the next one written. But I didn't yet know if there was something significant happening at that point in his story to warrant a new chapter.

So, in typical skipping fashion, I'd leave it and go on my merry way to write something else. Every couple of weeks, though, I've returned to that spot and stared at it.

IS there something missing there? Or should I just continue from what is now Chapter 5 to the next scene with the same character?

Now I'm in the final crunch. I'm rereading the whole thing from page one, filling out and fixing things as I go (which, by the way, makes the word count CREEP up slowly and sometimes even reverse . . . but I AM making progress, even if the counter over there doesn't reflect it).

This morning when I came to the end of Chapter 5 and had the single word, "Chapter" staring me in the face, I remembered: Oh, yeah. I was supposed to figure out if a new scene belonged here.

What did I do? I left the computer and had lunch. I figured that maybe while I sipped some soup I'd be able to figure out what belonged there.

Lunch ended, and I had no brilliant flashes of insight. I'm taking that to mean that no, nothing belongs there, at least right now. If I tried adding something without knowing why it's there and how it plays directly to the main conflict, it'll probably be fluff.

I hate fluff.

So I sat down, planted my hands on the keyboard, and added a "6" after the word, "Chapter."

I feel so liberated. And a little like I got away with something, as if there's part of the story I decided to play hookie on.

As if it's not my story.

Writers are so weird.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Big Whitney News

We have a new development on the Whitney Awards front: Winners will receive cash prizes in addition to the actual award and all the acclaim that goes with it.

The award is becoming an exciting new entity in the market, and I am thrilled to have a seat on the sidelines to watch it happen.

One major purpose of the Whitney Awards program is to raise the quality of the literature we publish. That can only happen if the best of the best are on the ballot, and that can only happen if readers nominate books so they'll have a shot at being a finalist.

Once again I'm encouraging readers to nominate their favorite books published by LDS authors during 2007. Nominating is easy at the Whitney Awards website.

The following was announced just two days ago by the Whitney Committee:




The Whitney Awards Committee announced today that they will be offering seven large cash awards to be presented at the upcoming Whitney Awards banquet in March 2008. These cash prizes are due to the generosity of the Whitney Awards' marquis sponsor,

Founded earlier this year, the Whitney Awards program is a non-profit organization dedicated to rewarding excellence among LDS authors. With the new sponsorship of, winning authors will receive up to $1000 along with their trophy.

The Whitneys offer a total of seven awards. The five genre awards (Best Romance/Women's Fiction, Best Mystery/Suspense, Best YA/Children's, Best Speculative Fiction, Best Historical) will each be accompanied by a $500 cash prize. The two overall winners, Best Novel by a New Author and Best Novel of the Year, will each receive $1000.

"We're very excited about the sponsorship with," Robison Wells, president of the Whitney Awards Committee, explains. "There is enormous talent among LDS authors, and every year seems to produce better and better novels. This is an exciting time to be part of the LDS fiction industry. Our hope is that these awards will raise awareness about the high quality fiction available from LDS authors, and to draw in new readers."

Over a hundred years ago, Latter-day Saint Apostle Orson F. Whitney declared "We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own. . . . In God's name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth."

Anyone can nominate a novel published during the previous calendar year in any of seven categories, and a final academy of industry professionals will vote on the final ballot. Nominations are being taken for books published in 2007 by LDS authors at the Whitney Awards website:


Robison Wells
Whitney Awards President
(801) 691-9115

Whitney Awards Committee
13 West Center
Oak City, UT 84649

Monday, October 22, 2007

More on Manti

First off, I have to say that the writing conference was terrific. Several other author friends were there, including Josi (my abosolute ball of a roommate) and Jules. My co-director for the 2008 LDStorymaker conference, Heather, was also there, and the two of us had our brains going the entire time in planning mode, noticing how they did certain things and getting new ideas for the conference.

It was also a great chance to learn some new things, refresh your mind on others, and just get charged for writing in general. I even squeezed a little writing in on my Neo.

I thought I'd post a little more about the Manti trip, since it was such a great day and my husband and I took so many pictures. (Trust me; I'll spare you most of them--like the dozens of headstones--but some are just too cool not to share!)

First, to address one question from last time: I have no idea why there used to be a tunnel through the bottom of the east tower. Wild tidbit for which I have to answer!

Now for a few new photos:

Here I am standing next to a marker for where the Little Fort used to be, built to protect the early settlers from Indians. The fort was built out of solid stone, and I'm guessing the rock here is one of them.

The west doors are huge. Here I am pretending to walk inside. I'm about 5' 5", to give you an idea of how huge these puppies are. A lot of wedding pictures are taken right here.

Now this one was way cool. Right up close to the wall on the southeast side (if you go up the staircase there), you can see where this one was snapped. You can still see tool marks on the stone--lots of different sizes of chisels must have been used on these stones. Some look almost pock-marked, while others seem sort of checkerboard-like. Each worker must have had their own style.

Last one today: the EAST side of the building, which is technically the front, but you almost never see this view, since it faces the hillside. I love the double staircase--which you can't see here at all (they're below the windows; you can see the very tips of the bannisters)--because I couldn't back up far enough. The hill was in the way.

I've had a few crazy days where I've fallen somewhat behind on my daily wordcount, but I will catch up. The Manti book is almost done. It's so close I can taste it!

(Sort of like the lunch hubby and I had at Gandolpho's. Yum . . . I had no idea they make such yummy chocolate cake!)

And may I say, I really love Tabitha? She's such a neat person, even if she is fictional!


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