Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming Spring 2009 . . .

It's official!

My next book, titled Tower of Strength, has been accepted for publication and will be released next spring.

My fourth temple-related book, it's set in 1884 Manti, a few years before the temple there was complete. Much of the story centers around events (both real and fictional) that took place in and around the city's Temple Hill.

I love the title they picked; Tower of Strength can refer to both the temple (the towers are under construction during the story) as well as the heroine. Tabitha really is a tower of strength, and that plays a huge role in the story.

This book has been an interesting ride. I loved uncovering the story and characters. I struggled with some of the research. I laughed. I cried.

And in the end, I'm excited for my readers to meet Tabitha Chadwick and get to know her for the strong woman she is . . . even if they have to wait almost a year before meeting her!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Orcs Don't Go Bump in the Night

When he was about eight, my son went to see The Two Towers with his dad. Some people thought we were completely nuts to let a child so young see it. He'd surely get nightmares, they said. It was way too intense for a third grader. But we knew our son.

Some time before, we'd gotten The Fellowship of the Ring on DVD. As I left for a commitment that night, my husband started watching it. I was a bit concerned about the scariness level for the kids, but he promised that he'd turn it off if our son showed any signs of anxiety. The girls weren't interested anyway, so they wouldn't be watching.

When I returned that night, I discovered that not only had my little guy not been terrified by the Orcs (creatures that quite frankly freaked me out in the theater), but that he had watched the movie on his feet, jumping off the couch and pretending to slash Orcs right along with Aragon. I should have known; ever since he could hold anything relatively narrow and long, he'd been pretending to sword fight. The drive must be on the Y chromosome or something.

(Toy store store employees were horrified when we tried buying him a toy sword. What kind of psycho parents were we?! I'm sorry, but a hollow, plastic light saber doesn't do as much damage as a metal butter knife.)

He loved the movie. What about nightmares? None. At all.

A few weeks later, our 3-year-old daughter got a Disney Nintendo game starring Mickey Mouse. The game, intended for preschoolers, had cheery music a cute graphics. Typical Disney. The player was to go through the magical world and gather up the pieces of a broken mirror and put it back together again, because a ghost had broken it. That's about as much as I remember about it. All of the kids played the game, including our son as he helped his younger sisters figure it out.

Within days, he began having regular nightmares . . . about the Disney ghost in his closet.

Somehow the animated ghost terrified him and seemed real, whereas the bloodied Orcs remained firmly in his fantasy imagination. Go figure.

He wasn't allowed to play the Mickey Mouse game anymore, but he was allowed to see The Two Towers. Again, no nightmares.

The only person who got a start was my husband, who, on the way home from the theater, heard our son whisper from the backseat in a perfect imitation: "My precious . . ." who then laughed his head off when Dad jumped.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Attack on the Grammar Fascista

My family is out to get me.

It began a few weeks ago when #2 left the piano bench during her practice time and sought me out in the kitchen.

“This song is so easy,” she said. “Can I play it less times?”


Before I could answer, I had to clear my throat and get my face under control. Then I launched into a speech about count nouns versus non-count nouns and therefore the proper usage of less and fewer.

“It drives me crazy,” I told her. “Commercials mess them up all the time. It’s not less calories. You can count calories, so it’s fewer calories. It’s not like time or flour, which you refer to in general quantities—less time, less flour. So it should be fewer calories. Fewer, people! Fewer!”

#2 just looked at me. “So . . . can I play it less times, then?”


(For any other grammar fascistas out there, I don’t hold to the antiquated school of thought that one must use “may” in requests such as these instead of "can." I’m not a savage.)

The song really was easy. Normally the kids are required to run through all songs five times each, but I decided to be flexible. “Fine,” I said. “You can play it three times today . . . if you ask me again using fewer. Say, 'fewer times.'”

She grinned. “Awesome, Mom. Thanks! Can I play it fewer times?”

“Yes,” I said, glad to have bestowed such a great grammar lesson upon my offspring.

As I turned away, she shot out, “Less times!” Giggling hysterically, she bolted into the living room.

FEWER times!” I yelled after her.

LESS times,” she called back, still laughing.

That exchange has since snowballed into the family finding glee at torturing me. They’ve always known that Mom’s a bit of a nut when it comes to grammar and usage, but they’ve never used it against me.

I don’t even know how the conversation got started the other night at dinner. All I know is that suddenly everyone was thinking up horrid grammar mistakes and hurling them across the table just to see the vein in my forehead pulse.

My husband even got into the game. Knowing one of my all-time pet peeves, he found ways to inject imply and infer into every conversation for the next few hours. He purposely (and rather brilliantly, I might add) used them wrong every single time.

That night, by the time I had on my pajamas, I was on the verge of calling for a strait jacket.

“Stop, stop!” I wanted to cry out. “Oh, the humanity!”

But after a good night’s sleep, something wonderful dawned on me. If my family knows enough to use incorrect grammar just to tease me . . . they also know the correct grammar because I’ve taught it to them.


I win.

Note: Thanks to Luisa, the Ultimate Grammar Fascista (one of the highest forms of praise I am capable of), for the use of her banner.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

2, 3, Cha-Cha-Cha

My partner on the university summer ballroom team almost didn’t ask me out.

We’d spent every morning for a good chunk of the summer dancing together. I’d gone out once with another guy on the team—a boy that, while nice enough, didn’t exactly impress when he went on about how desperate he was to get married.

Over the course of the summer, my partner and I became great friends, and yeah, we flirted a bit. But I kept talking about how I was going to serve a mission, and he took me seriously on that.

I don’t remember the first time I saw him, but I do remember the first impression I had of him. It was early in the summer before we had assigned partners and instead the guys rotated between the girls every few minutes. He was my last partner of the day, and I remember thinking, Wow, this guy can really lead, and we work well together. We both finagled things so we’d end up assigned together, and we had a ball all summer long.

During that time, the film Strictly Ballroom came to theaters. I thought it would be a great excuse to hang out—ballroom is what we did, right? It wouldn’t necessarily be a date . . . I was going on a mission, remember. And I insisted that I didn’t like him like him, although when my friends asked about him, I had a hard time sticking to the story . . . . and not blushing.

He and I made plans to see Strictly Ballroom, but then it left the theater before we had the chance. Here was this guy who wasn’t afraid of a smart girl with a scholarship (big points in my book), who could quote Shakespeare for crying out loud, and who had the warmest chocolate-brown eyes ever, and my one excuse for seeing him off the dance floor had fallen through.

Dang. Now what?

Fortunately, he decided that we should still see a movie, so we went to Sleepless in Seattle. Best first date ever. No awkwardness at all. We already had inside jokes and plenty to talk about. It did take him awhile to stop looking for me four inches taller than I really was, because he was used to my silver Latin-heels-enhanced height. That first date turned into many more.

He proposed on my birthday, and the following spring, we were married. It’s been fourteen years now, and each has been better than the last. Today we work together better than we did in our fancy dancing shoes and costumes.

Happy anniversary to my life-long dance partner.

I love you more!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Seeking My Plot

Most successful writers I know have no dearth of story ideas. The majority tend to have so many ideas that they often have to sort through them to decide which book to write first.

There was a time when that described me, too. I had plot ideas swimming in my head all the time, and I have several unpublished manuscripts to attest to that. I worked on them before and shortly after the time that I wrote House on the Hill.

For years I had felt compelled to write something about the Logan temple. I'd had a love of Cache Valley and the temple there for a long time and knew that there was a story I had to write about it. At the time, I had no plans for sticking with the historical fiction genre or for writing more books about temples.

In fact, the next book I wrote was a murder mystery, a sort of sequel for Lost without You, my first book, that takes place ten years later when the daughter, Angela, is a high school senior. I had a ball writing that one (it was totally awesome when my cop brother didn't guess the bad guy).

And then House on the Hill sold. Really well. And readers were suddenly clamoring for more. That's when I got a call from my publisher that boiled down to, "Hey, let's do more of that."

When I went back to the drawing board, I realized that I really loved doing historical fiction. In a lot of ways, writing it came more naturally than some of my other, contemporary, work had. The problem was that my writing mind had left the historical arena. I had that murder mystery plus two other contemporary novels I was working on.

The question loomed large: What should I write next that would be historical?

I decided pretty quickly to write a follow-up to House on the Hill, because the number one question I was getting from readers was, "What happens to Abe?"

Well, I'll find out, I thought.

When talking it out with my husband, he suggested writing about another temple. And then doing a whole series of temple books. I loved the idea and jumped all over it.

That was a few years ago. Now I've got three temple books in print, a fourth written and awaiting acceptance, and a fifth in the research phase. It's great, and I'm loving the experience. I've learned so much Church history, things we don't generally hear about, and I've come to appreciate and respect the early Saints so much more.

The trick, though, is that I no longer have the luxury of thinking about plots ahead of time. I have no inkling of what storyline my temple books will have until I start digging into the research.

How in the world could I decide what would happen in At the Journey's End until after I read up on the types of events that really occurred on the Honeymoon Trail? I couldn't.

For me, the location and its history become a secondary character to the book, the backdrop to the main story. I still maintain that I don't want the history to become the point of any of my books. The history is and always will be the backdrop for the plot and characters. The stage, if you will. You won't find a history textbook, with gobs of things that are "good for you" shoved down your throat. Ick.

The bottom line for me is I can't come up with a viable storyline until I know what constitutes the stage: what was going on in a particular area at a certain period in time, what the "personality" of the place was.

I thought I was an anomaly in my method, but in the most recent Writer's Digest, I came across a quote in an interview with Sara Gruen, author of the best-selling novel Water for Elephants. I don't have any delusions about being the next Sara Gruen, but something she said made me think that maybe I'm not entirely loopy for working the way I do. Talking about her latest book, she said:

"I didn't think about story until I'd done a fair amount of research into the backdrops, but then it was clear."

Yes! I wanted to shout from the rooftops. That's how it is for me, too! Someone else writes this way!

Maddie from At the Journey's End popped into my head fully formed after about two weeks of research. Tabitha from my upcoming Manti book trotted "on stage" one day with her name, a great line of dialogue, and her back story after I'd been reading up on Manti for several weeks (and starting to worry that I'd never have story to tell about it).

This is the point I'm at right now. For drafting purposes, it's getting a bit late in the year for me to not have a story in mind if I hope to turn in a manuscript by the end of the year, like I usually do. There's a bit of pressure growing, that same bit of worry I've felt before.

You've been reading about that place off and on for weeks now, it says. You have no story. It won't come this time. Who are you kidding?

As much as I talk myself out of the worries, the calendar ticks away one day at a time, and I do get a bit anxious. But then yesterday I was (yes!) smacked in the face with my heroine's first name. I don't know who she is yet; I'll have to spend some time getting acquainted with her and her family. I do know she has a brother she's very close to who will play a big part. Beyond that, it's very sketchy.

But it's coming.

This morning I opened up one of my research books that I've been putting off, and I read thirty pages. It's a sign that I'm getting stoked again. The characters will show up when they're ready, and the story will, too.

I can't wait to meet them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Indoctrinating the Younguns

My mother did it for me over twenty years ago, and I'm doing it to my kids, with no apologies.

When I was around 10, and lasting for several years thereafter, Mom made a point of renting videos as a means to creating culturally-literate children. The great part was that in addition to getting a great education, we also had a ball seeing terrific classic films together.

Now when I run across fellow Gen-Xers who haven't seen these gems, I have to remind myself that not everyone had such a great learning experience from their parents in their early teens.

I plan to show my kids all the same great shows Mom shared with me, but at this point, my kids are still a little too young to appreciate the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Casablanca, or The Philadelphia Story. Ditto with some of the Hitchcock greats (my personal favorites: Charade and Wait until Dark). My son might be able to sit through something along the lines of The Dirty Dozen, being as there's a lot of guns and fighting in it. And I've toyed with showing them Some Like It Hot, since that's downright hysterical. Even the youngest might be able to get some of it.

But until they're mature enough to appreciate the older greats (with a few exceptions, like Mary Poppins and Chitty, Chitty, Bang-Bang), I'm indoctrinating them with the classics from my youth. We've gone with The Private Eyes, an 80s film starring the inimitable Tim Conway and Don Knotts. A few of the others they've watched include blockbusters like E.T., Big, Newsies, and most recently, Footloose.

(Side note on that one: I've known forever that Footloose was filmed in Utah, but now that I'm an adult—and am far more familiar with Utah County than I used to be—it was a ball watching it and recognizing actual locations. It was also fun to see one of "our" missionaries from the time my parents presided over the mission in Finland. He was an extra in the movie before he served. I had to jump off the couch, rewind the DVD, and point out Elder Sperry to the kids. We caught sight of him two or three times.)

Next up is Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which I saw over and over again at the Movies 8 dollar theater with my good buddies, twins Denise and Melinda. We saw a lot of movies together that year. (We also smuggled pounds and pounds of penny candy from ShopKo into the theater. Good times.)

Movies on my to-be-watched list: Ghostbusters, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. I regularly come up with more to add. That way I can make sure my kids get a taste of the cultural icons I grew up with.

One great thing about all this is that we're having a ton of fun watching these movies together. Each brings back all kinds of great memories for me.

Another benefit: The kids are starting to "get" references in TV shows and movies that refer to things they recently saw because I showed it to them. They're also understanding better why Mom and Dad laugh at parts of the Shrek trilogy and other movies that they don't grasp: Oh! Those lines are references to other shows! It's like a light bulb going off in their heads.

Just the other day, my daughter was home sick. We ended up snuggling on the couch together as we caught an episode of Leave It to Beaver. I didn't expect her to watch the whole thing, but my culturally-literate side kicked in, and I insisted she watch a few minutes of it. That way when she heard mentions of "The Beav" or "June Cleaver" on other shows, she'd know what it meant.

Lo and behold, that very night while watching a DVD, we heard a reference to Leave It to Beaver. She was a bit tickled to be the only kid in the family who had a reference for the line.

So thanks, Mom, for yet one more thing!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I'm Getting There . . .

I've made some progress on my catch-up list from last time:

  • Get a way overdue and much-needed hair cut. Hasn't happened yet. I'm thinking maybe Monday or Tuesday.
  • Cut the kids' hair. It's on today's "Saturday is a special day" list. This way they'll look less like homeless waifs when we walk into church tomorrow.
  • Bake a decent dinner. It's happened once so far, thanks to the crock pot. (I made homemade rolls to go with the beef stew. That counts, right?) But we've had a few unexpected issues that have thrown a wrench into having a great dinner, like an emergency trip to the doctor for DD10's possibly broken arm.
  • Do the laundry. It's now caught up to a reasonable level of completeness. The mountain is gone, and everyone has stuff to wear again. We're back to maintenance mode.
  • Go grocery shopping. Done. Of course, there were a few things I forgot to put on the list, but I DID go. We now have clean clothes AND food.
  • Clean a few toilets. That's on one of the kids' chore lists for today. So I'm getting it done, even if I'm not the one doing it.
  • Make the bed every day. Done. Except that I haven't made it yet today. But I will. I swear.
  • Get dressed before noon. Managed it every day this week except Friday, but I had good reasons. Really, I did. And today I was showered and dressed WAY before noon. Impressed? Should be.
  • Go to the library. Done. I even put a book on reserve that I have a sneaking suspicion will be a Whitney finalist this year. See, I'm trying to read up as much as I can NOW to avoid having a wild attempt to madly dash through 25 books in a few weeks like I did this year.
  • Mop. As with the toilets, one of the kids gets to do that today.
  • Sleep. Somewhat happening. Critique group tends to throw a wrench into that once a week, but I've gotten close to 8 hours most nights. And today . . . I got to sleep in. Hubby even got up and closed the bedroom door so the kiddies wouldn't bug me. Felt GOOOD. And naps? Nope. No naps. But I didn't really expect to slip one in, either.
  • Run miscellaneous errands. Hasn't happened yet. Soon, for sure.

But next week I also need to make time to have some fun with the kids. It's Spring Break, after all. One of their friends is on a big trip to California right now, and when she asked my daughter where we were going for Spring Break, she replied, "Nowhere, really. Well, we're going to the dentist."

(Cringe.) It's true. The kids really do have their 6-month appointments during Spring Break. Long story, but I couldn't avoid it. I'll have to make it up to them somehow. We'll come up with something really fun to do during the break. At least once.

And finally, I may be the last blogger on the planet to jump on board, but for those three people who haven't heard about J. Scott Savage's upcoming fantasy series, Farworld, listen up. The first book, Water Keep, will be out in a few months, and as part of the ramp-up for that time, he's planning a giant blog tour. I get to host him this summer, and one reader from my blog will get a signed Advanced Reader Copy of Water Keep.

To learn more about the series (or to host Scott as part of his tour), click here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rewrites and Catch-ups

When the writing conference was over and done with, I had two weeks to get my Manti book rewrite done and turned back in to my editor. (The illustrious and rockin Kirk, seen below during his workshop at the conference. The man is my new best friend.)

It was going pretty well . . . until a cold smacked me upside the head and laid me out, well . . . cold. I bought an extra two days, recovered (for the most part), and turned it in late last night.

What I should have done was buy three extra days, see, because when I got the extension until Tuesday, I didn't look at the calendar. Therefore, I didn't realize that yesterday was not only the day I help in my third grader's classroom, but I had a dentist appointment for a crown (and I'd already rescheduled with my dentist several times) AND a birthday lunch with one of my bestest friends ever. And my daughter's choir concert was that night.


To make my promised deadline, on both Monday and Tuesday I woke up at 5:30 am to get some work in before the kidlets woke up. This all by itself is monumental. I should get an award. Seriously.

I value my sleep higher than even chocolate. Leaving early the warmth of the covers and the softness of my pillow is just not an option for me. Heather has gone weeks at a time waking up in the wee sma's to get writing done, and I've envied that. I just cannot wake up that early and still function.

The fact that I walk around like a zombie on less than 8 hours of sleep also factors into the equation. I could easily sleep 9+ hours every night if I had the time.

Whether I behaved like a normal human being for the last two days is in question, but I did get up early, and I did turn in the book on Tuesday, as promised. (Granted, it was hours past the time Kirk had left for home . . .)

The one great thing: I'm really loving the way the book is shaping up. There were elements that were okay before, but with Kirk's guidance, I was able to knock them up several notches. From characterization to plot to pacing, the whole thing just feels stronger and better. YES!

Now that the rewrite is done, I have other projects and deadlines looming ahead of me. Of course. That's the crazy kind of person I am.

But before I delve into those, I thought I'd do a few other things I've missed out on lately:

  • Get a way overdue and much-needed hair cut.
  • Cut the kids' hair. (If my son doesn't get a cut soon, he's going to start looking like a sheep dog.)
  • Make a decent dinner (one that doesn't involve something frozen that's baked on a cookie sheet).
  • Do the laundry. (I fear my children are running out of anything to wear to school.)
  • Go grocery shopping. (Alas, I had to miss out on my Grocery Game list and sales for this week. There just weren't enough hours in my days. I think it's time I visit Costco.)
  • Clean a few toilets. (And touch up the guest bath for when critique group members descend tonight. I'll pretend it's been clean all week.)
  • Make the bed every day.
  • Get dressed before noon.
  • Go to the library (renew the book I've had for four weeks and haven't had time to read).
  • Mop.
  • Sleep. (At night. But also get naps during the day. Fine. Who am I kidding? Like that's ever going to happen.)
  • Run miscellaneous errands (make an exchange of a defective product, get milk money quarters from the bank, yada yada).

Some of those will happen today. Most will happen over the course of the next week or so. It takes me a while to play catch-up. Okay, so I'm frequently in catch-up mode and a bit frazzled.

I'm a writer. We're an eccentric lot, right? Right?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

5 Random Thoughts

1) My son is going to grow taller than me in a few months. I'm so not ready for that.

2) The other day, DD5 proclaimed her requirements for the boy she will marry someday:

  • He must like her.

  • She must like him.

  • He must like kissing.

When pressed, she admitted that making sure he's NICE would be a good idea as well. ("Like Daddy," she decided. Couldn't go wrong on that one.)

3) I've been an avid watcher of American Idol since the very first season. It's the one show hubby and I TiVo and then watch together, often when the little ones are asleep. This year the turbo-giant cell phone company, Nokia (based in Finland, my other homeland), is a sponsor.

Now you'll all know what a total nerd I am: I was so pleased to hear Ryan Seacrest pronounce the name of the company correctly; most people don't.

It's NO-kia, not no-KIA.

The stress of any Finnish word is always on the first syllable. Sheesh, people. It's not like it's an insanely difficult language. Oh, wait . . .

4) On a similar note, I've been brushing up my Finnish (once fluent but accented, now covered in brain dust) by reading the Book of Mormon in the language. I have the online English version in front of me so I can consult it when I come across passages that I don't understand.

I'm doing pretty well, except for those Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi. If I don't understand it in English, what are the chances it'll make any sense whatsoever in Finnish?

That, and even though I attended Finnish public school for three years and could speak with the best the grade schoolers around, you decide how likely it was that I would learn the Finnish terms of things I run into regularly in the scriptures.

During just today's scripture reading, I had to check the English version to translate several words.

Among them:

  • plow shares

  • pruning hooks

  • soothsayers

  • Philistines

  • idols

  • chariots

  • haughtiness

  • moles

  • bats

  • nostrils

Yeah, those are words I used in everyday conversation when I was 12 . . .

Okay, I probably heard "nostrils" from some boy classmates. But the others? I don't recall any conversations involving soothsayers or bats.

5) And finally, because it's just too good NOT to post, here's next year's conference king, Jeff Savage, being a total sport after I "crowned" him with all kinds of goofy stuff like "gauntlets of courage" (silver oven mitts) and a crown my daughter helped decorate with foam hearts and glitter. (The red sleeve is mine.)


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