Monday, June 29, 2009

Your Perfect Summer Read


Almost exactly ten years ago, a woman I had met but barely knew, Lu Ann Staheli, called me. I remember where I was during that call: sitting on the lid of the toilet as my two children took their baths. Lu Ann had found my name in the League of Utah Writers directory as living near her and wondered if I'd like to be part of a new critique group.

Heck, yes! But see, I was also 8 1/2 months pregnant and serving in the Young Women presidency. I couldn't, not right then. The presidency had been in almost 3 years, so I was pretty sure we'd be released soon, and I thought that when baby was a few months old, maybe I could swing it, so I asked if they'd hold me a spot. They did.

I joined up in January of 2000. It was terrifying, to say the least, but the group wasn't quite full. A dear friend mentioned an aspiring writer she knew, and we met at a League chapter meeting. She became the next member of our group.

To this day, Michele Paige Holmes seems surprised that I was so "generous" in inviting her to the group, because, according to her, she was a terrible writer. (Don't let her fool you; she was never, ever, a bad writer.)

But the truth was, none of us was great; we were all learning and hoping to some day be published. Eventually, we all were.

Week after week, Michele brought brilliant chapters to the group. It was hard not to be envious of her skill, especially when she'd say, "This is really rough; I just wrote it an hour ago." Then we'd read it, it was freaking brilliant, and I'd go home with my chapter dripping in red ink.

Michele is good at what she does. So it was hard to watch her struggle to publication and constant rejection. It was with true joy that I heard of the acceptance of her first book, Counting Stars, which won (most deservingly!) the Whitney Award for Best Romance in 2007.

I was lucky enough to be the one who read off her winning name the night of the awards gala, and I cried tears of joy for her.

The road between her first and second published books has been a longer one than her fans hoped for, but her next novel is now out, and the wait has been worth it. All the Stars in Heaven is now in stores.

It's what some people call a "spin-off" novel, in that it takes a minor character from Counting Stars and tells his story. But this book stands alone completely; there's no need to read the first one before picking this one up.

Counting Stars dealt with heavy issues and emotions and had me weeping and laughing, often on the same page.

This book is a bit different. It did have me crying and laughing, but it has an element of suspense and action; it has you on the edge of your seat as Jay and Sarah get pulled into (and need to escape from) a drug ring with their lives.

It's an exciting read, one I highly recommend.

I'm already excited for her next book. Since I'm in her critique group, I've gotten to read a few chapters, and I'm already laughing and giggling. It's gonna be good.

But you'll just have to wait for it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XIX

I had gotten into a rhythm of turning in manuscripts mid-December and having the book released the next September. I turned in Tower with the same time frame: I submitted it December 2007 and assumed, should it be accepted (with it being the fourth in the series, I had faith it would be), that I'd see it on shelves fall 2008.

A good friend and I shared the same publishing time frame for several years; we often swapped manuscripts each fall to edit one another's work before we both turned in our stuff. Then each fall, we both had our new releases at the same time.

She got her September 2008 release. I didn't. Mine was pushed back to the next "spring," whatever that meant (a window of about three or four months: February through May).

It also meant I wouldn't have a book out in 2008.

For most of my career, I'd worked hard to get that book out every year, and except for the gap between books 1 and 2 (which, if you've read this entire series, you know wasn't because I wasn't working my tail off, but because LWY had an unusually quick push through the pipeline), I'd done it:

Lost Without You: 2002
At the Water's Edge: 2004
House on the Hill: 2005
At the Journey's End: 2006
Spires of Stone: 2007

And then . . . 2008 . . .

At first I was a bit irked, especially when my dear friend got her usual slot. But, then, I couldn't blame her for a marketing decision. The following is purely my conjecture as to why the decisions were made, but here's my guess: her books simply sell more books than mine do. This is a business, and her books are money in the bank for the publisher, much more than mine are.

Fall is the prime release slot, and she's more of a sure thing. Spires didn't have the sales it should have, and in this business, the past predicts the future. That's why I think I lost the slot.

Plus, with the stupid economy the way it is, all publishers are putting out fewer books each month. As a result of that, a lot of books are getting release dates that are farther out. It didn't affect her, but it affected me.

It's complicated. On the other hand, I knew of some writers whose books were being pushed back several times (a few months and then a few more months and then a few more months) or canceled altogether because of the economy.

So I stopped whining. Sure, I didn't get a 2008 release. And yes, by the time Tower of Strength came out, it was almost 2 years old. But at least I still had a book coming out!

One big result of all of this is that I volunteered to be on the Whitney Awards Committee. The rules might be changing soon, but at least for last year, if you were on the committee, you were ineligible for an award.

I was ineligible anyway since I didn't have a book released that year, so I figured I might as well help out. And I'm so glad I did; serving on the Whitneys was a fantastic experience, one I'll never forget.

Moving forward: When it came to the deployment book and its timeline, Kirk gave me serious hope. If I could turn it in by Halloween, he would try to push for a fall 2009 release. It the powers that be went for that, it would mean Tower would come out spring 2009, and the deployment book would come out fall 2009.

I'd have TWO books out in 2009! That would make up for not having a book out in 2008.

How cool would that be! Yes! But I'd have to get it in quick for a shot at that happening.

I worked hard finishing it up. It was truly a joy to work on; I learned to love the women in the story, and I really feel that I learned a lot about women and female friendships in the process. I turned it in, as promised, on Halloween.

And then waited and waited to hear back. Eventually, I did, although it took longer than I expected. But it was accepted, and that was a thing to celebrate. But the timeline?

Let's just say . . . head + wall = lots of banging thereon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WNW: Subjunctive Mood

FIRST, AN ANNOUNCEMENT:

Tonight (Wednesday, June 24) I'm speaking at the Provo Library, 7:00 pm. It's for the Utah Valley Chapter of the League of Utah Writers. Copies of my grammar book will be available at a discount.

I'll be talking about using archetypal characters and plot concepts to create fresh stories using what's called "The Hero's Journey." Whether you're a League member of not, please come! Everyone is welcome.


Now, back to business:

I'm sort of cheating on my Word Nerd Wednesday post today, but for good reason: I've been buried under crazy busy stuff. (Summer slow-down? Ha!)

As a result, we've got a double-dipper post.

You know how sometimes you wonder whether to use was or were in a sentence?

Like:

If she was/were home, she could tell her mom about it.

He wondered if his date was/were cold.

One of those sentences needs was and the other needs were.

Do you know which is which? AND why?

If not, take a gander at my Writing on the Wall post today. It's all about this very thing: subjunctive mood, a section adapted from my book There, Their, They're.

Next week, I hope to have the time to put together something fun about speech acts, something true word nerds can appreciate.



If you can come to the League meeting tonight, I'd appreciate it. It's always nice to NOT talk to a bunch of empty chairs. :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Would You Take the Pretty Pill?

Pretty matters. It's a reality that's unfair, but it's real.

The first encounter with it that I recall was around eight years old while taking dance classes. One girl, Erin, I think her name was, was the teacher's pet. He treated her better than anyone else, always putting her on the front row and fawning over her, giving her far more compliments and attention than anyone else.

She was a good dancer, sure, but there were plenty of other great dancers in the class. I remember thinking how unfair it was that we didn't get anywhere near the same adulation, nowhere near the same encouragement or commentary. And even with the hindsight of almost thirty years, I can honestly say I was as good as she was. It made no sense.

I complained to my mother. I described Erin. Mom raised an eyebrow, having a clue as to what what going on.

See, Erin always arrived at class with really cute dance clothes, hair in curls and ribbons. I think she had earrings, and quite possibly a thin layer of lip gloss.

Mom's eyes narrowed as she came up with an experiment. For my next dance class, I wore a brand new leotard and tights. We put my hair in darling curls with bows. Mom even added a slight, natural-looking touch of blush on my cheeks, and maybe even a tiny bit of eye shadow.

Mr. Dance Teacher couldn't give me enough attention.

It felt good at the moment (Ha! Mom's experiment worked!), but afterward, I was hurt. The only thing that had changed was my appearance. I looked cute, so my teacher acted differently. Mom was irate but not at all surprised.

It was my first experience with the reality of the world we live in. There are times we all deal with it: we dress up for a job interview, we put on nicer clothes for church. But in day-to-day interactions, yes, we're also judged. And people treat us accordingly.

But here's the important thing: no matter how we change on the outside, we're still the same people inside.

Recently I came across a blog post that brought this issue center stage for me. It posed a question: If you could take a pill that made you physically thinner and prettier . . . but stupider . . . would you take it?

The comment section stunned me: the overwhelming response was yes, the readers (mostly female) would take such a pill in a heartbeat.

The responses made me want to cry. Yes, the Erins of our world may get treated a bit differently. But do these reader really think that being pretty and skinny in and of themselves make you happy?

REALLY?

They DON'T.

For someone seriously overweight, this may hard to swallow; they feel as if they'd do anything to be thin, and if they were, they'd finally be happy. But you know what? That's not how it works. I know plenty of people (many close to me) who have lost 40 or 50 or more pounds, have looked fantastic at reaching whatever size . . . but then gained it all back. Why? Because being skinny didn't change them on the inside.

Having a new dress size didn't change their mental and emotional thermostat, the way they respond to life events and stress, the way they see the world. The same things that made them sad and happy and stressed and overjoyed before still did.

A lower number on the scale didn't change those things.

Consider this: I know plenty of people (and I bet you do, too) who have never struggled with weight issues but who are still unhappy and possibly even clinically depressed. (If being skinny makes you happy, explain that one.)

Newsflash: Skinny does not equal happy.

I've lived through this pill experiment (inadvertently, but literally). You can read that whole post here, but here's the nutshell version:

I was on a preventative migraine medication that made me lose a lot of weight. I ended up very thin (nearly 10 pounds lighter than I was at high school graduation) and looking great.

However, I physically ill all. The. Time. I felt no joy in life.

On top of that, I became, literally, stupid. One side effect basically made my brain fall out of my head. I found myself trying to focus on what my kids were saying to me and asking them to repeat themselves several times.

Once (not making this up) I had to count 3 + 6 on my fingers.

I was skinny. I was stupid. I was miserable.

As I weaned off the medication, I decided to wear a dress I could finally fit into after a good 15 years or so of being too big for it, knowing that the minute I was off the medication I'd never fit into it again. Because yes, I did enjoy being thin.

But that size did NOT make me happy. There is a distinct difference.

That medication period was a very dark, miserable time.

I had exchanged a physical improvement for the loss of my mind and intelligence.

I couldn't write then. I had a hard time reading, because frankly, I wasn't smart enough (couldn't focus enough) to follow. I was stupid, skinny, and utterly depressed.

I doubt I'll ever again be as thin as I was during those few months. While it's a nice pipe dream to think I could be, I recognize that if I ever fit into that peach-colored dress again, it'll be a fun moment, but it won't be the greatest source of my joy in life. The greatest sources of joy in my life are a lot more significant than a stupid dress.

During that time (and even since), I cannot count how many people have said they'd love to try that pill for the weight loss, even if it made them stupid. I always want to shake some sense into them, make them understand that losing who you are while being thin doesn't bring happiness.

Really, it doesn't. Happiness comes from within, not from a number on a scale, and not from a dress size.

I try not to care about the Erins among us, although I admit to being intimidated by drop-dead gorgeous women who look like they just walked off a Vogue cover. But here's the catch: I doubt they're happier just because they're skinny and pretty. They surely have their own life challenges.

No one escapes this life unscathed, curls or ribbons notwithstanding.

I'm not sure what the point of this is, exactly. On the one hand, I'm very aware that appearance is significant and that how I look affects how people treat and view me. It's an odd line to walk.

So I'm always sure to wear something a bit businessy-dressy for author appearances and the like. I wear casual clothes (jeans, sweats, t-shirts, and [who am I kidding?] pajamas) around the house. I refuse to visit the salon every few weeks to color my hair and get my nails done or to follow fashion trends. While I know it's important to make a good impression, I don't want to be an Erin.

There's a part of me that whispers that trying to be one of them will only make me miserable, because I can't be perfect. I can't be the most pretty. I can't be the skinniest.

But I can be smart. And I can be me.

No stupid and skinny pill for me, thanks.

The trick now is trying to teach my three daughters that balance: value your appearance. Present yourself well, but don't chase after perfection, thinking it'll make you happy, because it won't.

Never, ever, give up part of who you are for someone else.

I'm currently a bit chubby, but I'll stick with that if it means I'm smart and happy. Yes, I'm trying to lose weight (mostly so I don't have to buy bigger clothes, plus it's a healthy thing to do, and because exercise keeps my mood more even).

But no way would I ever again exchange smart and happy for something as shallow as thin or pretty.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

WNW: The Ellis Island Myth

One of my favorite Word Nerd books I borrowed from my good friend Lu Ann Staheli, who knows just what a freak I am about these things. She knew I'd love it, and I did. I still haven't bought my own copy, but I really, really need to, because the book is so dang cool.

It's called Word Myths, by David Wilton.

The author did a ton of research to track down the sources of many things we think we know about English and English phrases, but many of which are downright wrong. Some of these are often seen in e-mail forwards and some of which even get passed down in university English classes as truth.

He digs around and then find the truth, where possible. In many cases, he debunks the myth. Then he tells us where a phrase really came from.

In some cases, he debunks the myth and then has to admit that we really don't know where a phrase originated. Such is the case with phrase, "the whole nine yards." There are a good dozen possible explanations, and he debunked every one. None of the theories holds water. The source of that phrase is an ongoing mystery.

One of my favorite debunked myths from the book dovetails with history (shocker, huh, being that I'm both a word nerd and a history junkie).

We all know that during the Ellis Island years that a lot of family names were changed, generally made more easily pronounced by American standards. That often meant spellings were altered and sometimes entire names were changed.

Because of this, we see sad, identity-crisis moments portrayed in such movies as An American Tail, where Fievel and his family end up with all new first and last names (which, of course, makes finding each other later that much more difficult when they're separated in the film . . . sniff).

My own (maiden) last name is an Americanization. My grandfather and his parents came to U.S. in the early 1920s from Switzerland. Their last name at the time was Lűthi. It was changed to Luthy.

But here's the catch: WHEN did the name change occur?

According to Wilton, NOT at Ellis Island, because here's the thing (and frankly, it makes a lot of sense):

The U.S. agents running Ellis Island lacked the authority to change people's names.

Duh. What kind of government would allow that kind of thing? The records they took matched the ships' manifests and other records. Nothing was ever changed.

So then how did all those names get changed?

The people did it themselves later on. Many immigrants came to the U.S. looking for a fresh, new life. They wanted to feel American. As a result, they changed their own last names after arrival to look and sound more American. To feel like they belonged.

Doing so was their choice, and it always took place sometime after their visit through Ellis Island.

There were no sad, tragic moments of families losing their identities. Name changes were their own choice, a sign of embracing their new homeland.

(There were plenty of other sad, tragic moments at Ellis Island, like sending back a sick family member so a disease wouldn't spread to the U.S. or turning away someone because they couldn't read, but those are for someone else to post about.)

I tend to be a bit opinionated (shocker, huh?), and I get excited when I learn new things.

Shortly after I read this book, a brother-in-law started telling me about how his family name had been changed at Ellis Island and how sad that was. I jumped in and told him that nuh-uh, he'd been told a fake story his whole life.

Yeah. I think I took the wind out of his sails a tad.

I really should shut up sometimes. These kinds of trivia bits belong on blog posts, not at family reunions.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Clueless, Smart Girl

To this day, I'm somewhat surprised I got married, let alone at the age of 20.

Back in eighth grade I was convinced I'd never marry because I was painfully shy, and see, marrying a guy would entail speaking to one first, and like that was ever going to happen.

Fortunately, I broke out of my shell a bit in high school and ended up with lots of guy friends. So that issue resolved itself.

But I never, ever learned to flirt.

It's this void in my female psyche. A gene I lack. Or something. I seriously don't get it and never have.

I had a friend back from our high school years (rival high school, but I loved her anyway . . . bulldogs, schmulldogs . . .) who was so brilliant at flirting to the point that she often didn't realize she was doing it.

We were both in Into the Woods together. She had a boyfriend. Yet she constantly flirted with the guy who played Jack. Jack, poor kid, had no prayer of ever winning her heart, but she flirted with him so much that he hung on for the entire show, thinking that maybe, just maybe . . .

More than once I had to tell her to knock it off, she's doing it again. But I watched in open fascination. How does one do that flirting thing? It was almost a scientific phenomenon to me at that point. I could identify that she was flirting, but I couldn't figure out how such a thing was accomplished.

Later, as BYU freshman, she and I had a class together. On one of the first days of class, she pointed to a guy in the back of the room and said, "By the end of the semester, he's going to ask me out."

Yeah, right.

HE DID.

Talk about stalking prey. I was stunned and amazed.

But also a bit disgusted. Because I knew one ingredient to her flirtiness, and I wanted none of it: she pretended to be stupid. She was actually exceedingly intelligent. She got several 5s on AP tests, including on the Calculus test her junior (not senior) year. She was a Stirling Scholar. And so on. But in front of guys, you'd think she couldn't count to 20 with her shoes on.

I knew there had to be more to flirting than acting dumb, but I never did figure it out. And I never believed people when they said that the first few days of university classes were a waste because of guys and girls checking each other out.

Me? I was checking out the syllabus.

About ten years after getting married, a friend of mine said she'd gone back to BYU campus for something and was sad that the guys no longer checked her out, that she was obviously an "old" lady now.

My brow furrowed. Yet again, my lack of some feminine gene was apparent. I was never aware of guys checking or NOT checking me out. Guys actually DID that? I wish I'd known to look for it. Maybe if I'd noticed some guy checking me out, I wouldn't have felt like such a dork.

When walking across campus, I was always thinking about my term paper or (very likely) actually reading one of the many books I was assigned. (I got rather good at avoiding people and navigating stairs and the like while reading.)

So it's no surprise, really, that I didn't meet my husband in a flirty environment. As cha cha partners on a summer ballroom dance team, we had two months of becoming friends before our first date.

When I realized I kinda liked this guy, I decided to test him. We were chatting in the hall outside the practice room when he mentioned an assignment that had him worried. It was a big part of his grade, and if he didn't get a good enough score, he might lose his scholarship.

Really? Man, tough. . . . And then I worked the fact into the conversation that I had a scholarship TOO, just to see his reaction. See? Your dance partner is a smart girl. Whaddaya think of that?

Didn't faze him. That's, I believe, the closest I ever got to actual flirting.

It's also the first big point he got in my book.

The second was when he quoted Shakespeare.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XVIII

Catch up on the rest of this series HERE.

After publishing that military wives article, the topic wouldn't go away. I had pages and pages of thoughts and feelings and events these five women had poured their souls into. I felt as if they'd let me into a corner of their hearts and lives. It was an honor that a mere 1200 words didn't do justice to.

It just wasn't enough. I had to do more with it. I was driven to do more. Other people needed to understand what deployment was like for those at home. I hadn't had a clue until I interviewed these remarkable women.

Maybe I could write a longer version of the article and sell it to a bigger magazine, I thought. But even that didn't quite sit right. I wasn't sure what I should do, but I had to do something.

About that time, I had difficult moment during a Christmas Enrichment night. I ended up in the lobby feeling a bit sorry for myself, and what happened over the next few minutes turned on my writer brain.

I suddenly had an entire scene about a woman, Brenda, going through a deep depression during the Christmas season while her husband was deployed. The entire scene unfolded in my head and demanded to be written.

Keep in mind, I was still researching the Vernal Temple and fully expecting to write novel about that, although no story was really popping out at me yet. Finding one was sure taking a long time (I had a few elements floating around my brain, but nothing really solid yet), but I wasn't in panic mode. The story would come, I figured. It always does.

But Brenda's scene itched to be written. It wasn't the beginning of a story. If anything, it belonged somewhere in the middle of a book. But I sat down and wrote it.

Since I'd recently submitted Tower, I had nothing else to read at our weekly critique group meetings, so I brought that scene.

In no uncertain terms, they told me, "You have to write this book."

On one hand, I was flattered. But on the other . . . what about the whole temple series thing? Well, maybe I could do both.

I kept researching Vernal and writing this deployment book on the side. I ended up with five different women whose lives come together when their husbands are deployed together. Each has her own stage of life, her own weaknesses and trials. The story went into their friendships and support of one another. The result was something unlike anything I'd written before, something that not only shows a glimpse of deployment but also what real female friendships are about.

But when it was more than half done, I still had no story about Vernal.

It was late spring when my trusty editor Kirk told me that first of all, Tower was accepted for publication. (Yay!) But then he said the committee was asking me to do something else after that . . . something not temple-related. They thought maybe the temple series idea had run its course now that I'd done all four of the old Utah temples.

I was taken aback, because I'd had plans for Mesa, Alberta, Hawaii, Nauvoo . . . but okay, I'll put the Vernal book on the shelf and let it gather dust.

But then Kirk asked if I had any ideas for writing something else.

And I had to smile. Because not only did I have an idea, I almost had another book ready. Something that sort of spilled out of me.

I told him about the deployment manuscript. It's not a romance, I told him. It's not a historical. It's "women's fiction." And it's not remotely like anything I've done before. But I love it.

Kirk thought the idea was great and very timely and asked how quickly I could get it to him.

I bit my lip and wondered just how fast I could get it to him.

I made a leap. "By Halloween?"

Monday, June 08, 2009

Kicked out of the Young Club

I'm not sure how it happened. One minute I was a mommy with a bunch of little tykes. I regularly read parenting magazines and books and could tell you exactly at what age each of my kids got every tooth, when they sat, scooted, crawled, and had their first tastes of different foods. I lived and breathed the baby years.

Those years are gone, yes, but I'm still a mommy, right?

Okay, fine. I do throw my head back and cackle with glee when I push my grocery cart past the diaper aisle. No more of those. Bwa-hahahaha!

But apparently, I'm not really a mom anymore.

See, I signed up at a site that links to giveaways and deals for moms. (Note that it's not for "mommies." MOMS.) Right up my alley, right? I'm a mom. (I've got the strewn backpacks, mountains of laundry, and stretch marks to prove it.)

But then I started getting their e-mails.

Um, I have no need for a stroller anymore, thanks. Same goes for hair bands (you know, the kind bald baby girls wear)? Last time I bought those was probably 8 years ago. Onesies? Rattles? Baby quilts? Baby girl dresses? Infant car seats?

Are you kidding me? Since when does "baby years" mean "mother"? Giveaways for moms should also include stuff like poster boards in bulk for last-minute school reports, a gas card for all the taxi driving we do and maybe even a gift certificate to buy shoes so I can get a pair that both fit my son's honkin feet and the clothing budget. And a spa certificate.

Then I got kicked out of another club.

In my continual efforts to be frugal, I signed up at yet another site that links to bargains every day. But then I noticed on the site in big, bold letters that they cater to women in their twenties.

I didn't care at first. After all, my twenties weren't that long ago . . . I didn't think.

But then I did think.

And, um, I'm leaning toward 40. The target audience of that site was being potty-trained when I graduated high school. Ahem.

It's getting downright depressing, this age thing. On some surveys I've had to fill out lately, I'm in the next age bracket. You know, if you're 18-23 check this box, 24-29, check this one 30-34, that one.

I'm in the NEXT BOX. The one that says 35-40. That sounds so much older than 30-34. Or is it just me?

I had no problem turning 30. I was actually quite happy about it, because it felt like I might get a bit of validation. I look so stinking young for my age (stupid, baby-fat face) that people don't always take me seriously. I thought that maybe have that 3 in front of my age would help.

But now . . . being on the other side of my thirties, where you round UP to 40? Hmm. Not enjoying that so much.

Especially when it means I don't belong in the mommy club on one site and most certainly don't belong on the 20-something site.

Another sign I'm getting old? I don't recognize half the popular band names that are out right now. The Today show's summer concert series? American Idol guest stars? I don't know more than half of them. (Gaga who?)

That's pretty much the touchstone right there: not knowing the current music. Yep. What can I say? I'm a member of Generation X. That used to be a hip term. Now that X means all the things I used to be.

What a truly odd sensation.

On the other hand, I'm at a great stage. My kids are more fun now than they've ever been, and I can do things now writing-wise I couldn't before simply because my life doesn't revolve around nap times, feeding times, and pooping times. Oh, and I get to sleep through the night on a regular basis.

There's also the fact that I can look back at all the things I've learned since I was 20.

And you know, I don't think I'd want to go back there. 20 wasn't as bad as junior high, granted (few things could be worse than 8th grade), but today I know more about who I am and what life's about than I did 15 years ago.

I guess this aging thing isn't so bad. I just hope I look as gorgeous at 65 as my mom does now.

Now that I could totally handle.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Writing Journey: Part XVII

Catch up on the rest of this series HERE

I opened up the hard-copy edit, grabbed my trusty red pen and stack of sticky flags, and settled in for what I thought would be several long sessions of going over the revised and now edited manuscript of Tower of Strength. (By this point, it had a title!)

Two and a half hours later, I was done.

What?! I could hardly believe it. I'd never gone through an edit so fast.

For days (weeks?) I ping ponged between two reactions:

1) Crap. Kirk has a light touch as an editor, and he doesn't want to hurt my feelings, so this thing really sucks, and I'll never know it.

2) Wow. This must be the most brilliant thing I've ever written. It hardly needed an edit.

The reality, of course, was neither end of the psychotic-writer emotional spectrum.

The book had been quite thoroughly gone over by members of my critique group. The rewrite process was majorly streamlined with that phone conference, so at this point, there was less to worry about. And Kirk and I think similarly; I like his editing style, so I didn't have to STET much.

Plus two other factors weighed into the whole thing:

FIRST:
When I was doing revisions and edits on Spires, I was on a medication that basically made my brain fall out of my head. (You can read the whole post on that HERE.)

After the Tower edit, I had to remind myself that even though the Spires revisions and edits were intense, they were made far worse by the medication's side effects. I could sit at the computer for three hours trying to write and have absolutely nothing to show for it. It was both frustrating and scary.

While drafting, revising, and editing Tower of Strength, I wasn't on funky meds.

AND SECOND:
Maybe, just maybe, I've finally, finally learned how to craft a story half-decently the first time.

But still . . . two and a half HOURS? Not even DAYS?

I sent back the edit and soon after got yet another request from Kirk for a phone conference about my editorial notes.

I couldn't fathom why.

My old editor, Angela, would e-mail me massive lists of notes with literally dozens of things like, "on page 42, the second paragraph, who do you mean by 'he'? It's unclear in context."

You'd think I would have learned by now that Kirk just works differently. He's a phone guy, not an e-mail guy.

Our second phone conference lasted about three minutes. He had (not kidding here) a total of four questions for me. And THREE involved punctuation. Seriously. But he wanted to be sure I was okay with whatever changes were made there.

After hanging up, I think I did a jig.

Close to this time, two significant things happened.

First, I figured it was about time I research on my next temple. I decided to do Vernal, because it's the only other "old" temple in Utah, even though it was originally a tabernacle and was refurbished into a temple later. I dug up a huge, honkin' (rather pricey) book about Vernal and Uintah County and began reading.

The second thing that happened would affect my future writing path in ways I never imagined. A magazine I often freelance for was planning a patriotic issue and wanted to focus on our soldiers. A very good friend was in the middle of a deployment at the time, and I had the idea of interviewing her and some of her Army wife friends via e-mail and then writing an article about what deployment is like for the families at home.

That article was one of the hardest things I've ever written; the five women who shared their stories with me sent pages and pages of material that touched my heart and had me weeping. I was supposed to turn all of that into 800 words (about 3 pages double-spaced). No way could I do that. The editor granted me 1,200 words: still not enough to do them justice, but better than before.

You can read the final article HERE.

After the article's publication, the topic nagged and nagged in the back of my mind. I couldn't let it go. I'd shrug it off and return to my History of Uintah County book.

Move, on, lady, I told myself. You write historical temple novels.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

WNW: Why "Second"?

Last night I had this thought that I should write up my Word Nerd Wednesday post then just in case I didn't have time for it today. I didn't. I should have. But it's still Wednesday, right?

Some time ago, a writer friend from the LDStorymakers e-mail list asked a question that made me start digging in my happy Oxford English Dictionary on CD (again, I say it's one of the best birthday presents I've ever gotten!).

For those who aren't familiar with the OED, it is the ultimate English-language dictionary. In printed form, it takes up over two dozen volumes unless you get the condensed version that has four pages printed on one. (They send along a magnifying glass so you can read it. Not kidding.)

Among other things, the OED cites the earliest known printed instance of a word, so it's particularly useful for writers like me who need to know if a historical character can eat a "cookie" in 1889 or whatever.

It also has a fun word-of-the day feature. (Today's: rhodochrome.)

I don't recall who asked the question, but I do remember that it took me severalsearches and reading a bunch of printed examples of the words and other stuff onscreen to sleuth out the answer.

The question: Why does the word second mean both "the one after first" as well as a unit of time?

Disclaimer: I'm not a linguist, and I'm not a etymology expert. This is just what I've gathered from my amateur digging.

From what I found (and like I said, it took a lot of back and forthing, cross-checking and reading lots of definitions and examples), it looks like when dividing up the hour, they first used the term minute, meaning both a small, trifling size as well as the first of something.

So the first break-up of the hour is the first or minute one.

And the second section of time that breaks up minutes is the second one, or second.

Hence, minutes and seconds. Isn't that cool?

A great book about the creation of the OED is called The Professor and the Madman. It's absolutely fascinating, not only for word nerds like me, but for people who enjoy intrigue.

(Like how the OED couldn't have been possible without an insane, convicted murderer secretly helping . . .)

Next Word Nerd Wednesday: Blasting the Ellis Island myth


(Remember to drop by Mormon Woman to see my profile today.)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Visit at Mormon Woman

There's a relatively new site that is really neat. It's called Mormon Woman, but it's not for LDS women. It's for those outside our faith to get a glimpse into what real LDS women's lives are like.

Here's why I'm mentioning it: my own spotlight will be up tomorrow. Be sure to drop by there!

Mormon Woman was put together to combat the huge number of misconceptions out there. The founders hope that this site might be some people's first impression of Mormon women instead of something akin to the FLDS polygamous compounds and the women wearing pioneer garb and poofy hair (um, no . . . that's not us, and that's NOT my life or my beliefs!) or any of the many, many, other anti-Mormon sites that are so easy to land on.

Mormon Woman is a site geared toward non-LDS people to see, even just for a moment, what real Mormon women are like. The whole purpose is to just show the truth as to what we are instead of having our critics define us.

The majority of the participation they want from female Mormons isn't for networking or socializing with each other. There's nothing wrong with those things . . . there are just plenty of other places for that. (Like this one.)

Instead, Morman Woman wants individual testimonies and experiences. They want to show the differences and similarities of Mormons worldwide, to show how we stand together. To show the world that we aren't cultish or evil or even weird.

That we are strong, wonderful women with myriads of life experiences living in all kinds of situations. And that we believe in Jesus Christ just like other Christian women.

They'd like Mormon women to submit their talents, photos, essays, pictures of artwork (or quilting or cooking or other talents), videos, music, etc. etc. so the site can be a collective work that represents real, live Mormon women.

There are so many negative sites out there portraying us in negative and totally inaccurate ways. Maybe this site can make a dent in that impression. I hope so.

So come on over on Wednesday to see me!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Locks of Love and Cuteness

It's no secret that my three daughters all have gorgeous red hair, that if we go anywhere with all of them, we pretty much stop traffic.

My middle daughter has had the longest of the hair this school year, and there's a reason for that. She had plans to donate her hair to Locks of Love.

I felt split in half over the decision: I was very proud of her wanting to do something like that for children who have lost their hair (and guessing that red hair is probably in high demand, that it would be a very welcome donation), but on the other, she has such pretty, pretty hair!!!

Thursday was the big day. She picked it because Friday was the last day of school, and she wanted to show off her new 'do to her friends before summer vacation.

Before pictures:




And after:



The hair they cut off:


I still have a tiny ache when I see all the hair missing, but her bob is so darn cute that it's hard to not love it anyway. And it will grow back.

One slight problem for this mommy: She looks older with the bob.

One big benefit: No more daily tears over trying to get out tangles. Yippee!

I rarely post pictures of my kids, but with such a special occasion, I'm making an exception.

I'm proud of you, girl!

Why Suomi 100 Means So Much to Me

(TL;DR: scroll to the end to snag Song Breaker for free. Today only.) One hundred years ago, on December 6, 1917, Finland declared indepen...