Friday, July 31, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XXIII

Today's Writing Journey post is really about part of my current journey, something that happened this week. Or, rather, yesterday. I began this series talking about my aspirations of wanting to be a writer back in second grade, and it's almost to the present, so I hope my readers don't mind a detour to the actual present.

A woman from the ward my in-laws recently moved from knew about my books (basically because my mother-in-law brags about me almost as much as my own mother does . . . it rocks) and that they were about the Utah temples. When she was put in charge of Girls Camp, she felt that I should be the person to come speak to the girls about that topic.

My mother-in-law put us in touch, and I agreed to go with them on a hike, where we'd eat lunch, and then I'd give a talk about temples using some of the research I've done. This was scheduled a couple of months ago.

We had to do some tricky arranging because I have two children with birthdays this week and other busy, crazy stuff, but it all seemed to be working out, largely thanks to my sweet in-laws who stepped in and made it all possible.

But then, about a week and half before I was to speak, I got a flu-like virus. (People keep asking if it was swine flu. Could have been; fit the symptoms, but the doctor never tested for it.)

I rarely get sick. Yes, I have my daily, chronic headaches to deal with and then migraines, and I have various ways of dealing with them.

But sick sick is something else, and this flu knocked me upside down and inside out. I felt like something in a WWF ring hit with a metal chair, and it left me lying like a lump of mashed potatoes.

For days, I couldn't stand to be vertical for more than about ten minutes. I have a headache calendar I'm supposed to be tracking my headaches for my neurologist . . . and during that time I had NO CLUE what to write on it, because my entire body ached so intensely the entire time, I couldn't separate what was headache and what was flu.

Worse, my husband caught it too. We were a lovely pair lying around with aches and pains, groaning and moaning. Our poor kids were pretty much ignored. Fortunately, they're old enough to forage in the pantry and take care of each other.

By the time the trip came around, my energy was pretty much back, but I had one lingering symptom: a hideous cough that just wouldn't go away. The day we packed up, the more I ran through the house getting ready, the heavier I breathed, the harder and harder these racking, nasty hideous, bone-shattering coughs came out.

And I worried.

How was I supposed to go on a hike breathing heavily and then (surely hacking up a lung) speak for an hour to these girls about an important topic?

How would I be capable of bringing in the Spirit and touching these girls' hearts so they felt in their souls that God loved them, that He wanted them to come home to Him and that the temple was the path to get them there?

How could I tell some of the stories I'd uncovered in my research of Logan, St. George, Salt Lake, and Manti, and relate them to their lives without messing it all up by gagging and hacking every three seconds?

As things stood, I couldn't. That was simple fact. I was coughing. All. The. Time.

I will admit that as an author, sometimes an appearance is about ME. At book signings, I want to look good. Maybe even if I teach a workshop, I want to make sure that not only do the writers in the room learn something, but they leave with a good impression of me.

But this was NOT one of those times. I didn't care one snit if anyone in that group ever bought one of my books. This wasn't about me. This was about about something so much bigger. This was about youth learning important truths and learning to feel the Spirit.

And I needed help.

Before we went to bed that night, and because I'm a grown-up who frankly lacks the faith of a child (and who believes that children's prayers sometimes have more power than those of grown-ups), after I gathered my four kids around me for family prayer (husband had stayed home for work), I asked a favor of each of them: before they went to bed, to say a little prayer for me that during the hike and my talk that the cough would go away. They all promised and gave me big hugs.

Before going to bed, I personally prayed hard and long. I had a difficult time getting to sleep because of the coughing. There was a really bad episode around midnight. It was so bad that one of my daughters whispered from her bed, "Mom, were you throwing up?"

My MIL and I left early the next morning, and I was still coughing. I was nervous, but I clung to the fact that I'd done everything I could: I loaded up on cough drops (I didn't take the prescription syrup, because that would make me drowsy--not good for driving), I'd prayed and kept praying, and my kids were praying for me. I'd prepared for my talk the best I could. The rest was up to the Lord.

I had a warm welcome by the Girls Camp leaders and girls. They were awesome. They even gave me a great gift: a red camping chair that they'd all signed. My cough had somewhat abated (meaning I no longer sounded like I was ready to lose a lung), but the hike was yet to come.

I'm not in bad shape, but for someone with a cough, the hike turned out to be much steeper and rougher than I'd anticipated. My breathing was hard. I was terrified. More than once I worried that if it went on much longer, I'd collapse into a coughing fit. (Oh ye of little faith . . .) I coughed three or four times during the hike, but to my surprise, not much.

We arrived at the devotional site and sat down. I popped in probably my fourth cough drop of the day, said one more mental prayer, and began.

Over the next hour, I cleared my throat a couple of times, but I don't remember coughing more than lightly once or twice.

I do remember saying a few things I hadn't planned on. I remember certain faces lighting up at various stories. I remember smiles at others. I remember a warm feeling in my own heart. I had several leaders come to me later with thank yous and gratitude and other words that touched me.

It's hard to read the faces of youth, but I hope some of what I said hit a chord with a few of them. If eyes are any indication, a few of the girls "got" it.

Afterward, I had a bite to eat then headed back down the mountain.

Not three minutes into the return hike, my cough returned with a vengeance, and I've pretty much been hacking like a banshee ever since.

I know that coughs can take forever to go away completely. Last night, my voice sounded awful, and this morning, the cough was really ugly again. You know what? I don't really mind.

For a few hours, when it did matter, my cough was held back, I believe, by a divine hand.

It's a small thing and it may sound silly to some, but for me, it was a miracle. I am deeply grateful that I was able to hike and speak, cough-free, for the sake of the message I was there to deliver to those sweet young women. .

If any of the Young Women who were at Tony Grove read this, thanks again for the great experience. You're the best. (And Shannon, thanks so much for inviting me!)

Monday, July 27, 2009

How I Helped to Almost Give a Polish Woman a Heart Attack

Back in my sophomore year of high school, two of my best friends, Sheryl and Janee, decided to do a triple group date for MORP with me. It was April, and Sheryl had just turned 16.

Since the dance was near Easter, we had an elaborate way of asking the guys out. It took literally hours to do, and I'm sure mere minutes (if not seconds) to undo:

We blew out the insides of a bunch of eggs and washed them out. Then we refilled them with a variety of items. My favorites were honey and oil. We also left some raw eggs in the basket but made holes in both ends and filled them in (I believe with a glue gun) so you couldn't tell by looking which eggs had been tampered with.

The eggs with the big question (probably four or five, "Will you" "go to" "MORP" "with me" and then our names) were all on slips of paper in sugar-filled eggs. Those ones took the longest to fill. (You'd be surprised how much sugar fits into an egg and how long it takes to gradually fill up five!

Sheryl's little sister dressed up in a pink bunny suit and delivered the baskets of eggs to each guy's house. Sheryl's date had family over at the time, and we could see them all jump in to crack open eggs. We heard later that it was a a giant mess. :)

On the day of the date itself, we created an elaborate treasure hunt. We had supposedly been captured by the KGB, and they had to find us. Remember, this was the Cold War era (totally dating myself here. I'm guessing some of my readers don't even know what the Cold War was or at least don't remember it).

My mother picked up our dates and handed them the first clue. (Side note: When she picked up mine, his father ran out the door with wide eyes. "Are you my son's date?" She assured him that no, she was the date's mother. Oh, okay then. He relaxed and went back inside. My mom is such a kidder, I wouldn't have put it past her to joke around as say that yes, actually, her son's dating a forty-something woman.)

They had to drive around to various locations in the city to find the next clue and the next. My dad was game, serving as one of the clue givers. Sheryl's uber-theatrical brother was another. He dressed up in a black trench coat with goth make-up and a scary Nazi voice and attitude that pretty much freaked the guys out. Man, I wish I could have seen that one.

The final location was supposedly "KGB Headquarters." We three girls had made a very nice meal for the guys at Sheryl's house. Sheryl's family had a big painted sign in their garage (like five feet tall) that looked like an Italian pizza guy pointing one direction, so we propped him against a tree pointing at the house. To his chest, we taped a paper that read, "KGB Headquarters."

We thought we were so clever.

It never occurred to us to think of poor Mrs. Woshnick from Poland, living next door, or that the sign was tilted slightly, so that at some angles, it almost looked like it was pointing at her house. She frantically picked up the phone and asked Sheryl's mother what this KGB business was about.

Sheryl's mother, to her credit, kept her cool. She explained the situation. Mrs. W didn't quite understand what a school dance had to do with this sign on the yard, but she did understand a "joke."

"So it's just a joke?"

"Yes, it's just a joke," Sheryl's mother assured her. "It doesn't mean anything."

"Oh, all right then . . . if you're sure."

"I'm quite sure."

We got a slight talking to. Nothing major, but more along the lines of, "It seriously never occurred to you that the woman next door used to live in a communist country and that seeing such a sign might upset her even a little?"

Um, no. No, it really didn't. We were stupid 16-year-olds trying to have fun.

And we did have fun. MORP was a ball.

I don't know where my date ended up (although he became senior class president). Sheryl's date is now a dentist and I believe lives in my stake, so I've run into him at the grocery store with no makeup on and sweats (yeah, let's all remember how great I look like that, shall we?). He was always a great high school buddy of ours.

I never did get to know Janee's date all that well. He'd recently moved from California and hated Utah. That's about all I remember about him. So I'm thinking he's elsewhere now. Just a guess.

To my knowledge, Mrs. W. still lives in that house, and nothing else has given her a Soviet fright since.

Of course, it helps that the Soviet Union itself no longer exists.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XXII

So here was this giant, hidden Mormon Woman blogging community I knew nothing about even though I'd been blogging for a long time, and the only person I knew for sure who knew where it was, was the woman who'd made the comment on that blog.

And that would be Sue over at Navel Gazing at Its Finest. Ever wonder what sparked her post that asked her readers who their favorite Mormon bloggers were? Um, well, that would be my e-mail to her saying basically, "Who in the heck ARE these people, and where can I find them?!" She said, bascially, I'll ask my readers. So she did.

I didn't even know Sue at the time. Yet Sue is one of those big Mormon women bloggers she was talking about. That's just how in the dark I was.

She got something like 84 comments to that post listing favorite bloggers. Many comments were from people who are not LDS and said things like, "Why is it you Mormon people are so dang funny?" and the like. A lot of the same bloggers' names cropped up several times.

I started blog stalking several blogs. I started commenting. I started clicking from their blogs to brand new ones. I found ones that were good fits for my personality. I added subscriptions to my Google Reader. I deleted ones that didn't feel like good fits even if they were big. For months I felt like I was on a massive treasure hunt to find this secret world I hadn't known existed before and to figure out where I fit in it.

The journey started out as a way to find places to do a blog tour. But it turned into something else entirely. I developed dear friendships during those months, friendships I now cherish. I have had opportunities open up for me. I've shared dear experiences with people. I've learned some of the greatest lessons simply by reading their words and sharing comments with each other.

No wonder there's this giant blog world of LDS women. It's like Relief Society on steroids.

I have no clue if my question to Sue sparked the idea or whether the timing is coincidental, but very shortly after she asked her readers about their favorite Mormon bloggers, she created Mormon Mommy Blogs, and now we have a giant forum and a place where we can go find one another. It's all thanks to her and Motherboard and MomBabe, but there's this teeny tiny part of me that likes to hope I had something with sparking the idea in the first place.

Even though I had created all this great relationships, I still had a blog tour to do. I made a real point of trying to do a tour not all in the same circle. Yes, I knew that some of the stops would overlap. I knew that Erin's and Lara's and Lisa's readerships overlap to some degree, but I was pretty sure that they didn't overlap at all with the LDSWritersBlogck group and their friends, and Annie is in an entirely different circle and so is An Ordinary Mom. And so on.

So I like to think that even if some readers saw several blog tour stops, that there's no WAY anyone saw anywhere near half of them (unless they were deliberately linking over from my blog). Plus, I was just happy that superstar KristinaP was willing to include my book on one of her giveaways, because everyone and their hamster knows her.

Generally with a blog tour, the blogger gets a copy of the book to read beforehand. I knew that my publisher financially wouldn't be able to do that (I had nearly 50 tour stops. They would have laughed me out of the room). So I asked if I could send out PDF files of the book to the bloggers. They were thrilled with that idea (because it was FREE). So that's what we did. It wasn't ideal; it's not so fun to read a book on a screen or use a ream of paper to print it out.

My publisher also agreed to provide 15 copies of the actual book to use as giveaways on some of the bigger blogs. I ended up doing around 22 giveaways, so I gave away some of my personal author copies. I paid for postage on all of them.

I also knew that weekends tends to be the lowest time for blog readership, so I planned my tour stops to hit Mondays through Fridays, with a couple of exceptions when the person doing the stop had to post on a Saturday for whatever reason.

I also ended up with a few people coming to me asking if they could be part of the tour, one of whom was a biggie blogger. Like I was going to say no to that. As a result, there were several days I had more than one person posting about the book at a time.

A week before, I sent out a reminder e-mail to everyone for their week with their dates with instructions. They could do anything they wanted: a review, a Q&A with me (provided I had a couple of days to get answers back to them), or something entirely different. Their creativity was awesome.

Erin lifted some of her favorite quotes from the book. Jenn talked about the memories that the smells described in the book evoked in her. And so on. It was a lot of fun.

Because they all went to so much trouble for me, I felt like the least I could do for their efforts was post when they did and link over to them. So for six weeks straight, I blogged every single day, Monday through Friday (and a couple of Saturdays). It was a serious marathon, but in some ways so rewarding and fun.

Meanwhile, for the previous several months, I'd had friends constantly e-mailing me with questions along the lines of, "Is this the correct usage of lay/lie?" Or, "Which do I use in this sentence, was or were?"

On the LDStorymakers list, similar questions were flying at me all the time.

Finally someone on the list said, "You should just write a book about this stuff so we can all stop pestering you. I'd totally buy it."

The idea was seconded and thirded and fourthed. (If those are words.) :)

I'd thought about doing that exact thing for a long time, but I'd never really gotten around to it. But I was between projects (not that I wasn't always busy). During the blog tour, I started tinkering with a grammar/usage/punctuation book.

Halfway through the tour, I looked at the calendar and realized that the LDStorymakers conference was a month away. And I was teaching a class on grammar and usage. Having a book at the conference bookstore on that very topic might be a good thing.

If I were to write something like that, it would be a self-published venture anyway; I wouldn't expect a traditional publisher to take it and distribute it through regular channels or sell thousands of it. It would be be labor of love, something I'd sell to friends and colleagues at events . . . like, um, conferences.

I got my behind in gear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

WNW: Malapropism Fun

Malapropisms are some of the best parts of English. They're funny and can make your day. (That's only a slight exaggeration.)

I'm guessing a lot of you already know what they are, but let's refresh our memories. In short, a malapropism is the unintentional misuse of a word in funny way. The sentence still makes sense, but not in the way the person meant.

One fun example is in Kerry Blair's book, Mummy's the Word, where she has a character constantly using malapropisms. You know what word she means, but what she says instead is hysterically funny. I don't have a copy on me, or I'd give examples. Just find a copy and read it. You'll get a kick out of it.

A blogger who often does entire posts showing malapropisms is My Imaginary Blog. Check those posts out here. With her permission, here's her post from last Christmas, with a whopping 32 malaprops in it.

See if you can spot them all:

***

Today it’s poring rain, but soon, in lieu of the Christmas season, snow will come and, low and behold, it will be time to dawn your best apparel and come baring gifts! Then we will all be espiring to celebrate the soul purpose of the holiday: the peace which defines description. Christmas is truly the holiday that is a par above the rest.

Although it’s tricky to thread that line between spirituality and materialism, you can fandangle ways to remember the true meaning of Christmas, and why you are at it, still enjoy all the great traditions that come back with a vintage every year. The joy and glea of Christmas are always growing by leaps and pounds. There are always the engagments — Love is a many splended thing! And there’s the holiday intertaining, with the ubber-fun parties. I’m usually very health conscience, but at the holidays it is no holds bar — I can be sueded into excepting a treat or two. Even if it does reek havoc with my diet, I can always get back on the eleptical in the New Year and get back to a healthy regime. Also, at Christmas I like to get a new outfit – this year I have an adorable camosile which will perfectly compliment my new sweater.

So, voile! I’d just assume give as receive, but, as I eluded to above, all of these great traditions can help bring the true spirit of Christmas. Here Here!

***

It's almost scary how much joy these things bring me. Back to home:

My almost first-grader has taken to using the word "technically" when she means "sort of." She'll say things like, "Well, technically, we'll be leaving for Grandma's house in an hour."

"No," I tell her, "we won't be leaving until this evening."

"Well, technically, it'll be in about an hour."

"No, technically, it won't be until after dinner."

She can't seem to get it into her head that "technically" is exactly the opposite of what she thinks it means.

But the best recent malapropism I can think of in my family was when I came across a school assignment my son did a couple of years ago when they were discussing childcare.

He'd drawn a picture of a stroller with a baby inside babbling baby talk. The stroller sat beside a staircase. The boy babysitter sprawled, sleeping on the couch, holding a phone with words coming out of it saying, "Hello? Hello? Is Jamie OK?"

Across the top of the page in big, bold letters, was SAFETY TIP #1:

And the bottom had the tip and the malapropism, which I still giggle over:

Never leave children unintended.

Not quite what he was going for, but still good advice, that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lessons from Random Stuff in My Head

Don't Be Judgmental, Because You REALLY Don't Know.
Today, my dear friend Brillig's post about put me into tears. Go read it. You'll be glad you did. (Her blog has had some techno-problems. I hope the link works.)

If Writing a Random Claims to Fame Post, Don't Forget Your Own Family.
Um, duh. Yeah, I'm feeling kinda stupid on this one.

If you live in Utah (or are LDS and shop in Seagull and Deseret Book), you have probably heard of the A Capella group VoiceMale.

Okay, so here's my giant claim to fame: The founder and vocal percussionist, John L. (there are 2 Johns in the group, so they really do use their last initials) is my dear cousin. He put the group together when they were at USU. They practiced in my uncle and aunt's home, and he often arranged (and still does arrange) some of their music.

And he's one of the most generous and sweet guys I've ever known, and that's counting all the years we had growing up together as cousins when he and my brother played Stratego in their basement.

(John's the one in the middle sitting on the couch arm. Can't you totally see the family resemblance? Kidding. Actually, he looks freakishly like my nephew. It's odd how genes jump around.)


So here's why I'm mentioning it right now: VoiceMale has an upcoming benefit concert for the Ulster Project, which has been going since 1974 to help sow the seeds of peace between the Catholic and Protestant sections of Northern Ireland. You can learn more at the Ulster Project site.

The benefit concert will be July 31 at Murray High school, and tickets are available at the Ulster website (see the link above). VoiceMale concerts are always a ball, and they're great for the entire family. And I'm not just saying that because John's my cousin or because the acrobatics he can do with his voice are mind-numbingly amazing.


Other random lessons I have learned recently:

Don't Be Overly Optimistic
I recently lost more than five (much needed) pounds. In Sunday's rush to get everyone ready for church, I grabbed a dress that used to be pretty tight on me and I haven't worn in awhile. But I've lost some weight, right? Surely it would fit now.

In the whopping 1.3 minutes I had to get it on, I discovered that I didn't quite fit into it. The buttons bulged a bit, and they ended in a place so I looked about 5 months pregnant. Ahem. No time to change into something else. I grabbed the requisite "church bag" and ran out the door.

Note to self: Do not even touch that dress until you've lost at least another ten pounds.

Six Isn't Enough, And Seven Might Not Be, Either. Because I Am a Masochist.
If you followed my Facebook whining, you'll know it took me a whopping six batches of chocolate cupcakes experiments to get ones that both tasted good and didn't sink in the middle.

(My kids kept telling me to just use the sunken ones in the cookbook and call them "chocolate ice cream bowls. Yeah . . . sure . . .)

This cookbook journey has been a massive learning curve in the chemistry of baking. (I feel like Dr. Seuss: "Oh, the things you can learn!") Recently I had an epiphany and realized two things that might make the cupcakes really great. So I jotted down two notes to try yet another batch.

Today I did batch #7 . . . but since I'm so tired lately and observant (Haha!) and lame, I noticed and applied only one of the two notes.

The cupcakes actually turned out pretty darn good. But there's that little part of me that wonders if they'd be even better if I tried one more time adding that other note, because ya know, what if it made all the difference and made them that much better . . .

But do I have it in me to make an EIGHTH batch when I'm not even halfway (and should be!) on the book? I mean really?

I need to wear make-up more often.
I've really let this one go this summer, something I've never done before. My daughter recently commented how much better I look with make-up, in her words, "not scary."

Thanks so much, cutie. I think.

In her defense, it's actually a little weird how different I look with and without makeup. Part of the difference is that my eyelashes are very long but totally blond, so without mascara, it's almost as if my face has disappeared. I've shocked people on more than one occasion with the difference. And then I have adult acne and a rather splotchy skin tone, and blue circles under my eyes. The list goes on. It doesn't take much to hide it all, but the result is very different than what we started out with.

Once I had to go to church for the first hour but was sick myself and had to leave after that to get home to a sick child. I deliberately wore very little makeup (but I did put on some mascara), because I knew people would assume simply by looking at me that I was sick (which I really was). If I wore the full face, they'd wonder why I left, and I'd end up having to answer more questions. I'd predicted exactly what happened. I had people telling me to go home because I looked so awful. All because I wasn't wearing the full eye shadow/liner/blush/lipstick combo.

Yet this summer I find myself going to the grocery store in the middle of the day having barely gotten out of my pajamas, taken a shower (If I'm lucky. I often have hair in a greasy pony tail or it's wet from the recent shower) and wearing no make-up to speak of. Not sure what my problem is. Maybe I just don't care anymore.

Regardless, I think I'm giving small children at the stores trauma. I mean, it's bad when your own kids start commenting on it. I hope I'm not embarrassing them, but I must be. Worse, they're at that age when they CAN be embarrassed by their mother.

Sometimes I Need Chocolate I Didn't Make
Like tonight. There are days I'm so sick of my "chocolate laboratory" that I just want some comfort chocolate that my hands had nothing to do with. So it was with great pleasure that I saw my husband walk in the door this evening with my favorite chocolate silk pie. I'm going to have a very large piece right now.

See you on the flip side!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XXI

So last time I was left with a book coming out in March (Tower of Strength), a YA fantasy based on a Finnish folktale I'd written because, well, I felt driven to, and now needed to shop around nationally, and I was on the LDStorymakers Conference committee and the Whitney Awards committee.

And of course, throughout all this, I'm always doing editing and magazine writing stuff.

Nope. Not busy or anything.

Right around the new year, Covenant sent out an e-mail to their authors requesting submissions for a compilation of true Christmas stories they'd be putting out for the holiday. My gut reaction was sort of, yeah, right, like I can put one more thing on my plate.

But immediately following that came a memory of a really amazing Christmas experience I'd had nearly twenty years prior. Plus, if I'm given the chance to submit something, even if I don't know if it'll be accepted, I'll usually take it. I'm nuts that way.

So I wrote the story up. Technically, I'd already written it many, many years before when Covenant had a Christmas short story contest for a similar compilation of new authors. That contest was for short stories, fiction. I didn't make it. (One more of my many rejections.)

This time I went back to that version and kinda cringed. It wasn't that bad, but I could see why they didn't want it: the piece really wasn't written that well. Man, I'd come a long way in ten or so years.

I used very little of the original and pretty much rewrote the whole thing from scratch. About the only thing I kept was the fake names for some of the people involved, because the story is real, very personal, and in some spots, painful, and I don't want the real people to be easily identified.

I submitted it and almost forgot about it because my plate was so stinkin' full. (For the sake of brevity, I'm going to finish up this story quickly: my true Christmas story was accepted a few months later and will be out this fall in the compilation. Yay!)

Now I had my blog tour to coordinate. With my first five books, I'd never done one. Of course, with my first book in 2002, blogs pretty much didn't exist, so neither did blog tours.

The summer before Tower came out, I saw a debate on a blog about whether blog tours were effective. One person said that no, they weren't, that all the tours they'd seen were, to use their term, "incestuous," meaning that the same five or ten people blogged about each other's books, so the exact same readers saw the book over and over again. The person also said that Mormon blog tours would be pointless because Mormon readers aren't online reading blogs.

One commenter disagreed, especially when referring to Mormon women. She said that there's a HUGE female Mormon blogger community, if you just know where to look. It's the new Mormon scrapbooking, she said. And so, yes, they're online, and a writer could have a very effective tour if they knew where to do it.

My eyebrows went up. I'd been blogging for some time by that point, but I still had no inkling about this huge Mormon women blogger world OR where to find it. I tend to be clueless that way.

So I decided to ask her to find out.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gratitude: My Best Friends

Recent events have made me take stock of some things, and one of those big things is looking at who are my true friends.

I believe true friends are those with whom I can be purely the real me. No games, no pretending.

These are the friends who love me as I am, no matter what. When I am with them I can express my honest opinion and be accepted even if the other person disagrees completely. (And you know that's a big deal, because I'm so darn opinionated.)

These are the people who love me even if they haven't seen me in months. We can pick up exactly where we left off last time. There's no awkward lulls or getting used to one another again.

They love me even with all my faults (a big deal, because they know all my faults).

And best of all? They think like I think.

With two exceptions (Hey, Shauna and Janee!), each and every one of my best friends is a writer.

I spent most of my adolescence aching to fit in. Trying, hoping to, and often, miserably failing.

I was so painfully shy in my early high school years that frankly, it was a miracle that by my junior year, I found a group where I thought I fit in. But by senior year they'd go off and do a bunch of big stuff without me.

So I knew that I sort of fit in with them, but I was really on edge of the group, not the inner circle. They might disagree with that assessment (go ahead and say so in the comments. I dare you; I know some of you are reading this), but from where I stand, it's the truth.

But with my writer friends, it's different.

I finally belong.

I remember vividly doing a Literacy Night event at a Relief Society Enrichment Night back when I felt welcomed by several writers but didn't quite yet feel like I was one of them.

Shortly after I arrived, Julie Wright put her arms around me, gave me one of her trademark hugs, and said, "Annette, I just love you."

And you know what? I knew she meant it. I had to hold back tears.

I hugged her back and said I loved her, too. And boy, did I ever mean it. I absolutely adore Julie. She is a gem, and I value her friendship more than words can express. From that moment, I knew I belonged.

The members of my critique group are also on the list of my dearest friends. They've put up with me for a very long time. They get an earful from me every week (poor Lu Ann has heard me longest, but Michele isn't far behind, and then there's Jeff and Heather and Rob).

They are all there for me and they genuinely care for me as family, whether it's at weekly meetings or via e-mail, whether it's to celebrate a small success or vent a frustration or just share a laugh. I can always count on them.

Then there's Josi. I still laugh at how our friendship got off to a bumpy start nearly six years ago with a totally stupid argument, but now, we're closer than many sisters. I can't imagine writing or publishing or working a conference without her in the picture (or sharing a hotel room so we can chat late into the night).

There are others who have been there for me and are dear, dear friends (the LDStorymakers list is nearing 100 now; I can't list everyone who has impacted me in a positive way!).

But this is a short list of my rocks, my dearest friends, the ones who have been with me the longest and have made the biggest impact on my life.

And I don't mean the ones who have made the biggest impact on my writing life, although if I were to make that kind of list, it would probably include most of the same people.

I mean that these friends have made a huge impact on my life.

Thanks, you guys. To each and every one of you.

You have no idea how much you've given me and how much I owe you. I've needed your friendships. I love you all. Thank you for letting me into your lives and hearts. I believe I'm a better person for it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XX

Wowzers: Part Twenty!

So as you probably figured out from last time (well, THIS was really last Friday, but you know what I mean), even though I turned in the deployment book in October of 2008, it wouldn't be out fall 2009. Instead of a lag time of roughly 9 or 10 months, it would be about twice that.

Originally the release date was "spring" 2010 (which was hard to hear, because that could mean several different months and you have no clue what to plan for), but I now have an official release date for that book: this March.

I don't yet have an official title, but for the first time in ages, I submitted a manuscript with a title. I'm calling it Band of Sisters. (Get it? Like an army "Band of Brothers"? Their wives at home are a "Band of Sisters"? It was my husband's idea.)

So far, my editor and I are still calling it that, but I have no idea if the committee is really giving it that title or whether it'll change. (I'll post that info here when I find out.)

Right about the time I was finishing up Band of Sisters (and getting ready for edits on Tower of Strength . . . remember how the time lines of of all these stories really overlap?) my husband and I took a trip to visit my parents on their latest mission when they had a two-week break for temple maintenance closure.

You can see our trip in all its glory on this blog HERE, but the short version is that my parents are the first president and matron over the Helsinki, Finland Temple and we got to see all the great sites in the area. What long-time readers may know is that I lived in Finland for three years when I was a kid while my parents presided over the mission there.

I hadn't been back in over twenty years, but even so, Finland has always felt like a second home to me, and returning even for those few days was life-changing. I really felt in so many ways like I'd come home. Smells and sounds and tastes bombarded me, bringing with them memories and emotions that had been buried for over two decades. I even got to see a dear friend a couple of times. (And we're both all grown up! How did that happen?)

I simply didn't want to leave.

One result of the trip was writing-related (of course, or I wouldn't be writing about it on this post). My dad used to teach Finnish literature classes at BYU, and because of that (and also likely because Mom's a Finn and we'd lived there), I'd learned bits and pieces of the Finnish mythology, the Kalevala.

Also, in the Finnish National museum, I'd seen the ceiling murals depicting four of the stories from the book, and I even mentioned one of them in At the Water's Edge. When I was younger, we had several decorative plates showing scenes from the Kalevala on the living room wall.

During our trip to Finland last fall, I had this gut feeling that I had to finally read the whole Kalevala myself once and for all (the one good English translation; I knew I wouldn't understand the original Finnish well enough anymore).

A second thought followed right behind the first: after reading it, I needed to novelize one of the folktales in it, much like Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days or Jessica Day George's Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. I left Finland absolutely compelled to do something similar. I just had to.

The trick was first finding a copy of the Kalevala. My sister and I searched our parents' house for Dad's copy, to no avail. Copies are hard to find, and online they run about a hundred bucks. Ahem. Not exactly in the monthly budget.

But about two weeks later, a package arrived in the mail. My husband, knowing I had this burning drive, had secretly bought me a copy online. After giving him a massive hug and smooch, I dove into it.

Before writing anything new, I had to finish my Tower edits and polish up Band of Sisters and then get through the holiday rush, but after that, I wrote a young adult novel about the Aino story very quickly. It was so much fun to write something totally different.

I hadn't dipped my toes into fantasy since my son was a baby (he'll be in 9th grade this fall). It felt good. Even better, my critique group loved it (and a couple said it might be my best work ever . . . that felt even better).

One tiny issue: This book is nothing Covenant would ever in a million years want to publish. It's just not something that would appeal to their target audience. That means to get it published, I'd have to start the national agent query and rejection process.

(We'll not discuss how many rejections I've received so far.)

Right around the time I was finishing up the Kalevala book, which I'm currently calling Song for Aino, two other projects landed on my lap because others asked for them.

Here I had a book about to be released in March (Tower of Strength, if you're keeping track) and with it a blog tour and other promotion to coordinate. And yet . . . since I have a habit of not saying no when it comes to writing stuff, I said yes to both projects.

Plus, I was on the Whitney Committee. And the LDStorymakers Conference Committee.

Spring would be a bit busy.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

WNW: Conversational Pause Lengths

One of the most interesting things I learned in my English 223 class (you know by now who taught it, right?) was about conversational rules and pause lengths in particular. It was also the first place I heard the name of Deborah Tannen (I've mentioned her before . . . read her! She literally changed how I view myself).

One thing Tannen mentions in her work is pause lengths in conversation, cues as to when it's someone else's turn to start talking. Most of the time, we aren't aware of these kinds of things as we talk, but all of us have our own internal "clock" that tells us when someone's done saying something and we're allowed to take the floor with our own thoughts.

The interesting thing is that everyone has their own pause lengths. Genders tend to have different pause lengths. So do different cultures. For some it's half a second, for some it's two seconds, for someone else it's a length in between.

And, as I've read some of Tannen's books, I've realized that even families have their own conversational styles and rules and pause lengths. The one I grew up in would be one of them.

In one of her books (I believe it's That's Not What I Meant!) she describes a male/female work team who often gave presentations together. The woman was deemed not "aggressive" enough in her approach, while she felt her partner just railroaded over her and never gave her a chance to get a word in edgewise.

Someone mentioned to her the idea of pause lengths and suggested the idea that maybe she was just waiting to long to jump in, that perhaps her partner was speaking up during what he perceived as a silence needing filling because he thought the silence had gone on a fraction of a second too long when it was her turn to speak, so he jumped back in and kept talking.

She took that advice. As uncomfortable as it was for her to jump in when he'd barely stopped talking (to her it felt like interrupting him), suddenly their presentations started going great. Instead of being offended at her "interrupting him," his respect level went up like nothing else, and she started getting rave reviews.

All because she'd previously been waiting possibly as much as half a second longer than she needed to before she spoke up.

In general, I think women have slightly longer pause lengths than men.

That's definitely not the case in my family (which consists of mostly women), nor in the family I married into (which consists mostly of men).

The first time my husband-to-be came to a dinner at my parents', I think he felt like a deer in the headlights at how fast and furious the female conversation flew around the table. Based on a lifetime of experience, it was no big deal to me; I could follow it and knew how the turn-taking worked. I don't think my poor (then) boyfriend got a word in edgewise, because there wasn't a pause length long enough for what he was used to.

(After fifteen years of marriage, he's learned how to get a word in, but most of the time, he, my brother, and the other brothers-in-law just watch us three sisters jabber. It's almost a sport, we're so good at it.)

To this day, I have to be aware of other people's pause lengths and try to reign myself in, because without even realizing I'm doing it, I can easily go on a chatty rant and roll right over someone trying to talk. To me, the pause length was short enough to indicate that it was my turn to talk. But it wasn't a long enough pause length for them.

It's a delicate balance, and I often wonder how many people I've offended based on growing up with short pause lengths.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Our "Exciting" Fourth

We spent the weekend up at my in-laws with all four of the Lyon siblings who are in Utah. (The other two are on opposite coasts, alas.)

I cannot explain how much more enjoyable these kinds of visits are to me now that my kid are older. On my side of the family, there are several older grand kids, and I remember chasing my toddlers and walking the floor to comfort babies or having to leave the grown-up table conversation to deal with an owie or just nurse a baby or whatever and being so jealous of my sister-in-law, whose boys were old enough to just run off and play. I couldn't wait for the day I could do that.

Well, MY kids are the oldest grandchildren on the Lyon side. A few years ago, I was on the opposite side of the table. Several grown-ups were playing a board game, and every few minutes, a mom or dad jumped up to take care of a toddler or baby crisis. But I was never one of them. I got to sit and smile as I watched them. My kids were older now and happily playing amongst themselves. Even better, I wasn't pregnant in the heat of the summer.

A new stage of parenthood. Aaaaaaah!

So these kinds of trips really are enjoyable to me now. They aren't the WORK they used to entail.

Grandma Lyon went to a lot of effort to create some fun activities for the grand kids: quite a feat when you realize that they range in age from about a year and a half to about 14. There was swimming and water balloon fights and a treasure hunt and more.

During the treasure hunt portion, the kids were still sporting swimsuits.

And here's where it got "exciting." The neighbors to the west (relatively new to my in-laws, as they've moved into this house within the last year) have two large dogs: a black lab and a massive brown mastiff.

The two dogs, who were obviously not leashed, jumped the pathetic excuse for a fence and decided to "play" with my son (remember, he was wearing nothing but swim trunks). Fortunately, there wasn't any majorly broken skin, but across the back of his torso, my son ended up with several deep claw marks and two or three areas that are clearly bruises from dog teeth.

And now he's (understandably) freaked out about dogs.

The owners swear their dogs are up-to-date on their shots, but we aren't taking their word for it. We made some calls. The mastiff is in a kennel until we know for sure. (I don't think there's a real problem, since the wounds aren't deep enough for something like rabies to be an issue, but the owners deserve losing their dog even temporarily.)

Turns out they were doubly cited: first for not keeping their dogs leashed, but second because the mastiff wasn't licensed. I laughed with a cackle only mothers can appreciate.

My son's had a couple of scary run-ins with dogs, so he's developed a bit of a phobia. Not a cool thing. But the thing that ticked me off the most about the situation is that what if the dogs had decided to "play" with some of the younger cousins, like my youngest (who is 6) or worse, the one who is a year and a half old? We could be talking an ER visit here.

I was THRILLED that the neighbors were cited twice. The idiots.

Moving onto a lighter note . . .

That night we watched fireworks from two different cities from the comfort of the backyard (knowing we were safe because the lab was leashed and the mastiff was kenneled). We didn't have to deal with traffic or anything and had a great light show. And that was after the traditional Lyon pyrotechnics, where the Lyon brothers take those tanks and pimp them out with other fireworks to see how big and flaming they can get them. (Safety first, right?! The Lyon brothers are all engineers of some kind, and it shows.)

The last thing of note that happened was before bed when my darling little 12-year-old daughter stared and stared at my forehead. I knew what she was looking at and said, "Sweetie, stop staring at my zit."

"But Mom," she said. "It's so . . . BIG!"

Yeah. Thanks, babe. Just wait a couple years, and your forehead will be FULL of them.

I'm excited for next year's Independence Day, as we'll be spending it with my parents.

(Less than four months until they're home from their latest mission!)

Not that I'm counting down or anything . . .

Friday, July 03, 2009

Thoughts on My Writing Journey

Today's post is a bit different (sorry for last time's cliff hanger ending; I'll resolve that next week).

Something's been bouncing around my brain as I realized that some people who are not in the publishing industry might view some of these posts in a light that I never intended, especially if they haven't read all twenty posts in the series (or whatever number we're at now).

First, a story. I promise, it's relevant.

Back when I had several tiny kids, I was part of a neighborhood book club. We got together once a month and, of course, talked about whatever book we'd read. Inevitably, as happens when you get a lot of women together, discussion often meandered into motherhood.

No mother in the group had a teen yet; we were all in the grade school or younger era, most with babies. So we had lots of talk about sleep deprivation and potty training woes and colic and vomiting and trying to get crayon off walls and how to unclog toilets after kids had flushed down a variety of things, and so forth.

One woman in the club wasn't a mother, but not for lack of trying. She and her husband had yearned for years to have a child, and every time talk veered into the whining and complaining about sleepless nights or tantrums, I could see her stiffen and her jaw clench. She never said anything aloud, but I could just read her thoughts.

She would have given anything to have a month of sleepless nights if it meant she had her own baby. She would love to have an uncooperative toddler to potty train. Crayon on the wall? Bring it on. How dare we complain about what she wanted so badly?

But here's the golden question: Did we not appreciate motherhood?

At moments, perhaps. Did we not want it? Of course we did. If you took any of those women aside and asked them what their most precious possession was, I think each one of them would have given the same answer in a heartbeat: "my children."

We loved our kids. We adored them. We were grateful for them. Perhaps we at times took them for granted, but we would never, ever give them up or devalue them.

On the other hand, motherhood, while one of the most rewarding things ever, is hard. Children are a sacrifice. Motherhood comes with problems that, going in, you never could have anticipated because you've never been there.

It's common for people to compare publishing a book to giving birth. I'm going to take that analogy a bit further.

Aspiring writers are sometimes like that woman in our book club, wanting so badly to have what the others around her do: a contract. And they can be shocked when they hear a writer complaining about their agent or the marketing department or whatever else. They'd kill for an agent or [fill in the blank].

But here's the thing: publishing is very much like parenthood. It doesn't end when you sign that contract on the dotted line (or when you bring the baby home from the hospital). You're embarking on a brand new journey you know very little about, one that has ups and downs you cannot fathom yet, because you haven't been there and have no clue what you're in for.

It's so much more than getting a book on a shelf.

I spent EIGHT YEARS submitting and getting rejected. You can believe me when I say that I don't for one second take for granted the place I'm in. If you've read this entire series, I think you know that. I scraped and clawed my way to where I am. And the view here is fantastic.

But at the same time, I'm no longer in the place of "aspiring writer." I'm a published writer. It's now a job and a career. It's work. I have a whole new host of issues to grapple with. Much like the mother who has her child grow from six months to six years to sixteen yearsof age, I have new problems and difficulties pop up with each stage of my career.

Back to the mother in our book club. Through the miracle of modern medicine, she was able to have two little girls. While they were still toddlers, she tried for another baby. AND GOT QUADRUPLET BOYS.

I have a sneaking suspicion that she had her moments of complaining . . . just like (horror!) we'd complained.

Surely, if anyone had sleepless nights, she did. Not to mention constant diaperings and feedings and so on. I imagine potty training in that house three years later was interesting to say the least.

I'm guessing she developed some empathy for the rest of us mothers in that group who just needed a little validation that, at times, mothering is hard work.

Did this woman not want those children after years of infertility? Of course not. Did she love all of them and passionately adore them? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn't mean that raising them was a cakewalk or that she didn't have her moments of whining even though having a passel of kids was exactly what she'd wanted for years.

In publishing, when you finally get that contract, you won't live life in a jetted tub, eating bon bons as you type your next Great American Novel because your life is now perfect.

I'll never, ever forget the work it took to get where I am. I still remember the exact spot I was standing when I got that acceptance phone call for my first book . . . and the way I squealed like a three-year-old when I hung up. I appreciate every tiny thing my colleagues, editors, and publisher have done to help me along the way.

But I'm still working. The journey is not over. And that won't change, no matter how grateful I am that I have another book coming out in March, no matter how thrilled I am that I just published another article or got hired to do another freelance edit. There's another hill to climb or another pit that's in my way, some new river to cross, a difficult decision to be made.

I challenge anyone to find the perfect career (including motherhood) that doesn't have those blips and difficult moments.

As you likely know, I belong to the LDStorymakers, which is essentially a guild for LDS writers. We have nearly 100 members now. We celebrate one another's successes just as greatly as our first ones, because they still mean that much to us.

But you know what? There are a lot of problems popping up regularly (I'd say close to daily) on our e-mail list. We help each other through those as well. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

I love what I do. That's why I do it, even in the harder moments.

For the aspiring writers out there, just be prepared for it: the hard times will come even after you sign on the much-anticipated dotted line.

It's called life. But that doesn't mean you aren't loving it and appreciating it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

WNW: Speech Acts

This post goes back to my favorite professor and class from BYU whom I've raved over enough that I'll stop embarrassing him by pointing him out by name. (*cough* Dr. Oaks *cough*)

Actual definitions of what a "speech act" is varies from linguist to linguist, but the basic idea is what is being accomplished by what a person says when they're speaking.

The list we got in class included the following speech acts:

Statement: John is a doctor.
Question: Are you sleeping?
Apology: I am sorry.
Directive (Order): Go outside.
Threat: I'll kill you.
Promise: I'll come back at six.

Okay, so here comes the fun part. A direct speech act is pretty obvious.

The form follows the function. Basically, with a direct speech act, if it looks like a statement, it's a statement. If it looks like a question, it's a question. The form tells you what kind of speech act it is.

So a question in a direct speech act would always has a question mark after it:

Are you sleeping?

This is a simple question asking exactly what it appears to be asking.

Indirect Speech Acts, however, get a little trickier. Form doesn't always follow function here. And this is where people often get confused and miscommunicate, assuming someone said one thing when the other person meant something else entirely.

It's fascinating to me to watch families and the degree of indirectness they get in their communications.

(If you like this kind of stuff, I highly recommend reading Deborah Tannen's work, especially That's Not What I Meant! and You Just Don't Understand. She's a sociolinguist who studies conversational styles, including indirect speech acts. She changed the way I view a lot of things.)

Here's an example showing form not following function in an indirect speech act: a question mark after something that really isn't a question:

Can you pass the salt?

The speaker here is actually giving a directive (an order), but it's indirect so it sounds more polite than just telling someone to give them the salt.

Other common indirect speech acts we see take place in the dating world.

"So, what are you doing Friday night?" is a common way for a guy to enter into the waters of asking a girl out. They both know it, but he's not actually committed to asking her out yet.

So if she says, "Oh, I have a big midterm to study for," he can save face because he never put himself out on a scary limb of potential rejection in the first place.

And neither said anything directly. He never asked her out, and she never directly rejected him.

We all do this kind of thing all the time.

A couple of years ago I noticed a similar thing at a family reunion at Disneyland (I notice these things because I'm a total word nerd. We know that, right?). The Lyon clan was in line at a ride and trying to decide where to go next.

My sister-in-law piped up loudly so everyone could hear, saying, "We were thinking about going on X ride next."

That was the end of the the discussion. As a word nerd, the moment fascinated me. What she'd said looked like a commentary or a suggestion. In reality, it was a statement of a plan. Basically, "Unless someone else has an objection, this is what we're doing next." And that's exactly what the family did.

What she'd said was an indirect speech act, and the family's communications were such that they all understood that.

Other examples of indirect speech acts:

You left the door open.
Form = Statement.
Function = Directive (Close the door.)

Do you know where the bathroom is?
Form = Question.
Function = Directive (Tell me where the bathroom is.)

Get out of here!
Form = Directive.
Function = Showing disbelief. (Think Elaine on Seinfeld.)

Here's a fun speech act: Answering a question with a silly question.
The form is a question, of course, but the function is to affirm the original question.

Examples:
Do birds fly?
Is the pope Catholic?


Performative Speech Acts are where you actually DO something by SAYING it.
Examples of these kinds of verbs include:
  • bet
  • nominate
  • apologize
  • promise
  • resign
  • baptize
  • testify
And so on. If you can say, "I hereby . . ." and add a verb to it, then it's a performative speech act. You do it by saying it.

"I hereby resign the presidency . . ." or, "I testify that I saw the defendant at the scene . . ." or "I nominate Joe for the position."

In a performative speech act,the speaker does what they're saying by saying it. You can't argue with it, saying, "No you don't," because the speaker has already done it. It's not a matter of opinion. They nominated or apologized or resigned or whatever. Whether they have the proper emotion is another story, but you can't say they didn't do the act.

A final bit: One of my favorite speech act quirks relates to the PROMISE and the THREAT.

Think about it: There is NO DIFFERENCE between the two except for what the listener wants. If the listener wants the thing to happen, it's a promise. If the listener doesn't want it, it's a threat.

Generally speaking, "I will kill you," is a threat. If it's Dr. Kevorkian talking, it's a promise.

I don't remember where it came from, but shortly after learning this, I saw this very idea used in a cute way (I have no memory where, alas).

One character said, "I'm going to kiss you."

And the other responded coyly with, "Is that a promise . . . or a threat?"

Cute line, but probably more so for word nerds like me than anyone else.


For those interested in this stuff, go back to last week's WNW, at the end of which I mentioned I'd be talking about speech acts this week. Scroll down to Jordan McCollum's comment (#3). Do you see why I giggled at it?

And another plug for Deborah Tannen's books. Read them. They are AWESOME.


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