Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WNW: Spelling Protesters. Really.

I'll be the first to admit that English is a conglomeration of funky ways to spell things. That's largely because so many languages have contributed to English. We have "rules" . . . and then a thousand exceptions to each one. It's almost a surprise that any of us ever learn to read.

Let's take a quick look at a language where spelling is a piece of cake: In Finnish, spelling is the ONE easy thing. The language has an insane number of cases, all of which I had to learn at one point in grammar class.

Bragging rights: I outscored my friend Marjo on one such test, and she was annoyed because I wasn't even a Finn . . . but I'd studied. Don't ask me to do it now. Totally couldn't.

But spelling? Piece of cake. It's nice that there's something not mind-numbingly difficult about Finnish.

See, everything is phonetic. If you learn what sound each letter makes, you can read anything in Finnish. (Caveat: a few letters make difficult sounds. Point still stands.)

Hence, my little sister, who was eight when we arrived in Finland, could read aloud in class flawlessly . . . without a clue as to what any of it meant.

English, however . . . yeah, well, there's a reason spelling bees exist in the States.

And it turns out that some people don't like English having odd rules. More, they don't get that language is a living thing and that you cannot force change onto it.

(That should totally be a Word Nerd post of its own. Taking mental notes . . . although I kind of talked about it in this post.)

As a result of our funky English non-rules, we have spelling bee protesters. Seriously.

This Yahoo! article describes how protesters came to a national spelling bee in D. C. (some even dressed in BLACK AND YELLOW. Bees, get it? Haha.) to protest that English should change its spelling.

Their posters sported the following:
Enuf is enuf. Enough is too much.
Cute.

They claim that "heifer" (as in the cow) should be written as "hefer."

When I saw that, my brain went back to my childhood days of watching The Electric Company (totally dating myself) where I learned that double consonants make the vowel short, while single consonants make the vowel long.

To show the concept, they had this great skit with SUPPER MAN, who needed a P taken off his name so he could be a true super hero, a SUPER MAN. They showed the same rule applying with dinner/diner and other word pairs, adding and subtracting consonants.

(Obviously, the rule has stuck with me more than three decades later, so the show did something right. Yay for educational television! Kids, go watch more TV!)

Based on that simple idea, if we're changing the cow's name and trying to use standard, easy-to-remember rules, shouldn't the spelling protesters have suggested HEFFER?

Because yo, protesters, how do you propose we get long vowels? What if we wanted hiefer to be pronounced as HEE-fer? How would you spell that?

Then you get the Spelling Society of London, founded in 1908. I'm with them on promoting literacy and getting word out about the crazy rules, but a quick look at their site didn't clarify whether they're trying to change things. (If so, good luck, folks. 100 years hasn't done much for ya.)

Now, just for laughs (but also something that will just encourage spelling protesters, alas), something that shows just how crazy English can be.

Here is a proposed spelling of the word FISH (naturally, courtesy Dr. Oaks and his awesome teachingness):

GHOTI

How could that be, you ask?

Take these words:
ENOUGH
WOMEN
EMOTION

GH in ENOUGH creates the F sound.

The O in WOMEN is often pronounced like a short I. (Really, no one really says women with a short O. Say it aloud. No O, right? It's closer to a short I, although some dialects could argue an "oo" as in BOOK sound.)

And finally, we get SH from the TI in EMOTION.

Put them together, and those spelling protesters could argue that, based on the "rules," GHOTI is a reasonable way of spelling FISH.

Spelling has always been my weakest area of language, but I'm not about to bend to black-and-yellow costumed protesters.

English is also a beautiful language with a rich history. And like I said before, it's alive. Hence, by extrapolation, it's, oh, not dead. Therefore, you can't prescribe this or that to suddenly change it.

Whine all you want, but speakers will still speak and write the language like they have for years. Changes will happen, but they take time, and you can't insist on what they'll be.

English will continue evolve on its own, just as it has for centuries.

I just hope that texting language doesn't win out in the end. 'Cause that would be gr8.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ashleigh's Soldier & Flat Daddy

My generous readers got Ashleigh's Flat Daddy paid for before I put up her spotlight.

(That is because first, because I have the best readers EVER, and second, because I spaced telling you all about who she is until now.)

Here is Ashleigh with her sweetheart soldier, who is currently deployed:


Come July, Ashleigh's husband will have been a medic in the Army for six years. He plans to make it a career, as he loves the Army and loves serving his country. They were married in December 2008 and had their first baby, and sweet little boy, just a couple of weeks ago while Daddy was gone.

Ashleigh's husband also has a six-year-old daughter, Taylie, who lives in Washington with her mom.

During the deployment, Ashleigh and their baby boy live with her in-laws, including two nephews. The boys often ask where their uncle is; he's very involved with family when at home, so they miss him terribly. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Flat Daddy will be good for their nephews as well as for their baby.

Ashleigh is going to school as an English major (yay, English majors!) and plans to teach either at the high school or college level.

Speaking of her husband, Ashleigh says, "I think he is one of the kindest people I've ever met. He is a great, supportive and loving husband."

As the progress bars show, Ashleigh's Flat Daddy is already paid for, something I'm exceedingly grateful for, because now their baby will know what Daddy looks like when he gets home.

We already have another Flat Daddy family in the works . . . and $10 already donated to them! I'll let you know about them soon.

Thanks again to everyone who has been so generous!

Friday, June 25, 2010

This Is Why I Write

The feedback I've had from Band of Sisters has been very much what I hoped it would be rather than what I feared it might be. Actually, the response has exceeded my expectations. I went in pretty scared.

After all, I was writing about deployment: a huge topic, one that's timely, sensitive, and one that so many people not only know about but have been through firsthand. And I'm brazen enough to attempt to capture that experience when I've never been through it?

Yet that's what I set out to do.

On one hand, that's kind of what fiction writers do every time they sit down. Beginning writers' work often tends to be largely autobiographical, but eventually, if you've written long enough, you move past that and invest in stories and characters several steps removed from yourself.

My first book was a mixture of the two: I included bits and pieces of things I knew personally (I went on lots of Uintah hikes as a teen. I was hit in the head with a rock at recess and needed stitches. I performed in Into the Woods. All of those show up in the book in various ways.)

But I also addressed things totally foreign to me, such as what it would be like to marry a man already sealed to another woman. That element is a huge part of the book, and I had to emotionally go there to figure out how Brooke would handle it and how Greg would approach the idea of marrying again.

After Lost Without You came out, my aunt, who is a second wife herself, went to my mother and asked, "How did she know what it feels like?"

Yes! I got it right! The only response I had for that was, "I guess I imagined well?" That's the kind of reader feedback that makes you want to do a dance in the end zone.

As I wrote Band of Sisters, I talked with many military wives who had been through or were currently dealing with deployment. Two of them I've known for many, many years. I'd also watched firsthand as one of them went through a deployment (and thoroughly picked her brain).

In spite of my work, I feared it wouldn't land well. Maybe I'd offend because I didn't do justice to the pain or the reality or fully express my respect for the military.

One concern I had is the fact that there is no "typical" deployment, so any woman who'd been through it could say, "That's not how it was." More, what my characters experience as National Guard wives who live in regular neighborhoods is totally different from what a woman would experience if she lived on a military base during a deployment.

What would a military base wife think reading it? Would she think I got all the details wrong? I could see someone rolling their eyes and going, "There IS no Army base in Utah. Duh." But there are hundreds of Army families here. Utah soldiers have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. A street near us was recently renamed after one of those fallen soldiers. He did fight with the U.S. Army, even if there's no Army base here. (But Camp Williams is here!) I couldn't very well put that kind of disclaimer on the book, so I held my breath and hoped those deeper into the military would give me the benefit of the doubt.

I chose to write about Guard wives for a couple of reasons: first, because those were the kinds of women I had the most contact with, and my research would be more accurate using their information. But also because, frankly, it's tougher to not be on a base during a deployment. The Guard tries hard to support families in a variety of ways, but when push comes to shove, they simply can't scratch the surface of the support and benefits other families get by default from living on base.

When you're in a regular old neighborhood, likely with no other military anyone nearby, no one gets it. Even a simple conversation about what's going on with your soldier turns into a pain the neck rather than a comfort because you have explain acronyms or this particular element of the military. You can't just get a worry off your chest with a simple sentence or two.

I worried and worried and worried. I went into the project without much knowledge, so I relied heavily on several military wives for information and then, armed with that information, I tried to imagine how each of my five (very different) characters would react given their ages, circumstances, personalities, etc.

With all military details, I relied on my primary resources, down to what ranks the husbands would realistically have and why. Even though I didn't randomly make stuff up, I still mentally bit my nails to the quick waiting for people's reactions. To my huge relief, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

I recently got an e-mail from a two-time Vietnam vet who read the book and sent all his veteran friends the same message he forwarded to me, a long letter about how during the times of his deployments, he "knew" what his wife and children were going through while he was away, but he didn't "understand" until he read my book. He proceeded to tell these vets that they should all, Mormon or not, read the book so that they, too, could understand.

Another military wife, whose husband had recently returned from Iraq, downloaded the first three chapters from my website and then e-mailed me. She first admitted she never reads LDS fiction but decided to read those chapters then went on to say that even though she's a tough cookie, I wrenched a few tears out of her (something she hated to admit) because, in her words, I "nailed it."

A couple of times a week I get similar e-mails, many from women about to enter a deployment, others from women who have already been through it, and even from non-military readers who are grateful they've learned a bit what it's like and can better support a military family they know.

And then there are the other letters. The ones that have absolutely nothing at all to do with the military aspect of the book. Letters that say things like, "Wow. I realized that I'm a Nora. I saw so much of myself in her, and I learned I need to change."

Below is a snippet of an e-mail from a military wife:
I just wanted to let you know how well you portrayed what it's like. I really did relate to each woman in one way or another. The emotions in your book were very accurate and very real. The loneliness, anger, fright, feeling like you are going crazy over and over again. All of it. In fact, by the time I was done reading, I was sure that the only way you were able to portray it so well was because you had been through it yourself. I was quite shocked when I read your bio at the end and it talked about your research for the book. You did a VERY good job in your research. This is a book that I think every person in America needs to read. People just don't understand what it like. And a sign that says "you just don't get it" is so accurate. People try to relate to you and of course they try to to empathize with you, but when put in that situation, it really just makes you feel worse. . . . I have had so many feelings regarding our mobilization and it really was hard. I truly believe that I wouldn't have been able to get through it with out the gospel in our lives.
She went on to describe having a conversation with her son about whether Daddy would die (something NO mother should ever have to do) and other struggles she experienced. She wants her husband to read the book so he has a better idea of what she went through. She closed her note with the hope that I'd write a sequel or two.

When I finished reading her words, I had tears streaming down my cheeks. This went way beyond dancing in the end zone.

And I thought, THIS is why I write.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WNW: Words HS Grads Should Know: #1-10

Several years ago on the LDStorymakers e-mail list, we had a weekly vocabulary word challenge. It consisted of words that aren't necessarily used all the time, but that we should know. The idea was to challenge those on the list to use the week's word somewhere in their writing and then report back.

It was great fun, if short-lived. Not everyone got involved, but I personally got a huge kick out of later seeing a good ten of challenge words show up in Tristi Pinkston's Season of Sacrifice, knowing exactly when she'd penned those scenes and why she'd picked those words.

This was while I wrote Spires of Stone and why you'll find in it quash, auspicious, and a few other challenge words that I've forgotten.

Here's the Word Nerd Wednesday version.

Back in 2007, Houghton Mifflin put out a list of 100 words they thought every high school graduate should know.

I thought it would be fun to look at those words here . . . and maybe challenge my readers to use one of them sometime in conversation or in their writing over the next week. Or not. Or do. Whichever. I'll probably post the other 90 words piecemeal on other WNWs.

For me, some words on the list make perfect sense; they're basic cultural literacy. Others? Hmm, not so much. Some are too obscure (why should a HS grad need to know "plasma" over, oh, several hundred other words?), while others are ridiculously obvious.

Below are the first 10 on the alphabetical list.
Can you use them all properly in a sentence?

ABJURE
The first of many rather negative words on the list.

ABROGATE
Another.

ABSTEMIOUS
Sheesh. This one makes me want chocolate. I will NOT abstain!

ACUMEN
A more positive one. I like this one. I claim acumen.

ANTEBELLUM
I learned this one in 11th grade English from Mrs. Oldroyd.

AUSPICIOUS
Hah! Check it! I wonder if this list was why "auspicious" was a challenge word for us and why I used it in SOS.

BELIE
NOT pronounced "belly," as one high school friend of mine used to think.

BELLICOSE
My teens. Yep, they are. What do you mean, I'm being melodramatic?

BOWDLERIZE
I just like to say this one aloud.

CHICANERY
This one is just oozing with plot possibilities.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Signings: The Truth

Oh, my laws. I laughed so hard when I saw this video, I just had to share it.

My kids see me go to book signings. My youngest was born right after my first book came out (and 3 days after my last book signing for it), so she literally has not known a mother who doesn't do these things.

But somehow, even though they live with me, they don't grasp what a book signing IS. They envision something along the lines of Stephanie Meyer or J. K. Rowling, with crowds of adoring readers desperate to buy your book and get your signature.

My son once even wished me luck . . . that my hand wouldn't get too tired from signing all those books.

(Not much chance of that, bud. But thanks for the thought.)

Book signings are exhausting. You're "ON" for two hours (or however long) straight, trying to be energetic and chipper and helpful. And all the while, you feel a bit like a used car salesman trying to convince customers (who are trying to avoid your table as if you have leprosy) to buy your book.

Not all signings are that bad. I've had some nice ones. But the video below shows what most are like, and it gives me giggles every time I watch it.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WNW: Flarf

That is a real word. Seriously. And it's a bizarre child of the technology age.

More, it's a literary term . . . if you sort of stretch the definition of literary.

The definitions I've found for FLARF aren't that clear, at least to me. It's generally described as something like:

A form of digitally-inspired poetry, often generated from the results of Internet search engines.

Um, okay, what?

Here's how flarf works (from what I can tell; I still don't really get it):
Phrases from search engines like Google are used to spark a line of poetry. Often those lines are passed along from friend to friend, and the poem morphs. The piece of flarf takes on a life of its own, and in the end, you can't say who the original author was, because chances are, it was created by several people along the way as it evolved.

Yet I've found flarf with author attributions. (See? I don't get it.)

According to several articles I found online, the very first flarf piece began with these lines:

Oooh yeah baby gonna shake & bake then take

AWWWWWL your monee, honee (tee hee)

Ridiculous and pointless, no? Flarf has come a long way, though, because apparently it has since grown into an actual art form.

One of the most famous pieces of flarf began with the Google search terms "kitty" + "peace." It then morphed to "kitty" + "pizza." And now there's a piece of flarf poetry out there called "Kitty goes postal/wants pizza . . ."

I couldn't find the actual text anywhere, but I did find a link to a reading of it. Apparently there's an entire FLARF FESTIVAL. You can see the "Pizza Kitty" reading HERE from the festival on YouTube, as well as others from the festival.

(Turn the volume up, because the sound is pretty sad.)

The more I dug about, the more I realized that flarf is, more than anything, a community endeavor of creating new poetic works. Flarf has been published in poetry magazines. There are several books of flarf. And a flarf anthology will be published later this year. Flarf been around since about 2001, which makes me wonder why I hadn't heard of it until now.

(Possibly because I'm a techno-idiot and not a poet?)

According to Marjorie Perloff, quoted in an article in the New York Times, Flarf is a hip, digital reaction to the kind of boring, genteel poetry popular with everyday readers.

To read more about flarf, visit the NY Times article above as well as this piece from the Wall Street Journal and this post on the Modampo blog.

(Is it horrid that I find it funny that people who write flarf call themselves flarfists?)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Nuggets on the Salt Lake Temple

I love learning more about old temples . . . especially the ones I've researched and written about (cough-cough-Spires of Stone-cough-cough).


This is a shot of me next to an Earth Stone on the Salt Lake Temple.
These were the largest, most expensive,
and most difficult stones to carve. Note how BIG it is!

Recently, two fun bits came to my attention about the Salt Lake Temple. They excited me, and I thought my readers might get a kick out of them too.

The first is an article at Keepapitchinin, a great blog with Mormon history and other nuggets.

"The Mountain of the Lord's House" is a post that goes into some detail about how the granite was quarried for the temple. More, it debunks some long-held myths. (None of which, I might add, I ever used in the book.)

For example, the holes drilled into the stone weren't used to insert dowels of wood. Stories have been passed down that wood was inserted into the holes and soaked in water. Then the expanding wood broke off the stone. Either that, or they'd wait until winter, and the freezing water expanded and did the same thing. Neither is true.

The article goes into great detail about why the holes were drilled along the grain-line of the granite and just how the stones really were broken off. Fascinating stuff, really. I loved learning that the Salt Lake Temple stone wasn't quarried with explosives like other temples' were.

Much of the same tools were used, though, including drilling the holes in the first place . . . and the guy holding the drill having to really, really trust the guy above him who was swinging the sledgehammer inches from his hands.

Back during the temple's construction, City Creek ran through the temple lot, and it was used as a water source by many people and businesses in the area. For decades, City Creek has been redirected underground through pipes. Today, part of it is now above ground again, thanks to the new landscaping surrounding the Conference Center and the new Church History Library.

Here's the part of the article I thought was beyond cool: they have not only brought up part of the creek again, but they deliberately picked quarry stones to line it that bore marks from the original construction period: you can see man-made chisel marks and holes that are more than a century old.

(I need to take a trip up to Salt Lake just to see this. If and when I do, I'll post pictures!)

Go HERE to read the full article. It's worth the read.

Finally, a friend sent me THIS LINK, which shows a miniature, 3-D replica of the entire Salt Lake Temple, including the interior, down to banisters and chandeliers. It's super cool, and almost like having the chance to walk though the building in an open house-type situation as they do before temples are dedicated. The level of detail is astounding.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

POD and Self-Publishing

I've had a ton of people ask me about self-publishing, and about CreateSpace in particular, since they're who I used for my grammar book.

First off, WHY self-publish? There are good reasons to and very bad reasons to. Thinking you'll be a sudden millionaire is right up there with why NOT to. (Ain't happening.)

A few generalizations about self-publishing:

-Non-fiction has a far better shot at having sales than fiction does

-Bookstores will almost never stock your book

-As a result, your chances of selling much are pretty darn slim

-You'll sell more if you have a strong platform (more on that later)

-With the current POD (print-on-demand) technology, writers no longer have to put thousands of dollars into printing a pallet of books that they then have to hand-sell from their garage.

-POD makes it possible for ONE copy to be printed at a time and then shipped to the reader.

-Self-publishing makes the most sense when you have a book that has a tiny niche and is unlikely to be picked up by a regular house.

-You get a higher percentage of the profits, but since you're selling far fewer copies, that may not mean much. (A big percentage of $100 is way lower than a small percentage of $100,000.)


Your Platform
This is your base for getting readers. It's how well people know you, what your expertise is, how big your media visibility is, and more.

My friend Lu Ann Staheli has ghost-written two memoirs that had built-in platforms: the first for the Herrin family (the story of their conjoined twins) and the second for Jim Karol, a popular mentalist known as the "Psychic Madman." In the latter case, Jim can sell the book at the back of the room after his performances. He can sell them on his website after appearing on Leno or other TV shows. He doesn't NEED to be in bookstores.

My POD Experience
As many know, I have one self-published book. Here's its history and my experience:
I was asked to write a grammar and punctuation guide by several friends (readers, writers, and other friends) who regularly shot me off e-mails asking if this or that was correct. More times than I can count, I got responses along the lines that, wow, you can explain kooky grammar and punctuation rules in a way that makes sense.

Finally several friends suggested that I put it all into a book. (And then they could just grab it off the shelf and not e-mail me.)

This was
not a project Covenant, my regular publisher, would have had any interest in whatsoever. I knew that. I also knew that this wouldn't be something I'd want to go really big and push at the national market; they already have plenty of grammar guides out there. This was to be a labor of love for those who knew me as the Word Nerd. Fellow writers might want it. I could sell copies at conferences I spoke at. I wasn't hoping to sell thousands of copies.

Self-publishing made the most sense.

I went with CreateSpace. There are a ton of other POD companies out there, so you'll want to do your research before going with any of them. One thing that was attractive to me about CreateSpace (which is owned by Amazon) is that
I kept the copyright. Some POD companies want to take it from you (as well as the one for your next work). Not something I wanted or had to give, since I'm already under contract for other things with Covenant.

Some POD companies typeset the book for you (make it LOOK like a book, with the right trim size, headers, and all that), while others make you upload typeset files. CreateSpace requires the latter.

You can design your own cover, but I didn't want mine to look totally lame (self-pubbed books are known for
looking self-published), so I hired a graphic designer (and I love how my cover turned out).

With CreateSpace, after you upload your interior and cover PDFs, they take a couple of days to approve your files (basically to make sure you didn't mess something up). Once the files are approved, you order a proof copy. When that arrives, you look through it and make sure it's exactly what you want it to be.

The site is more accurate now with stating how long each step takes. More than a year ago when I was doing my book, I figured I could easily have copies in hand for the LDStorymakers conference. But approving the files took twice as long as they said. And then some silly techno-snafoo made the files get UNapproved. So I had to upload again and wait again.

I ended up with three different proofs as a result of different issues, all due to trying to get the thing done in time. (And there's still a typo, which KILLS me. It got through because I didn't take an extra day to have one more person proof it for me.)

Trying to get it all done in a short space was a nightmare, one I don't recommend. But, after it's set up, it runs itself.

As for pricing: They have a formula to help you figure that out.
You pick the retail price, and you do that based on their cut per book, how long the book is (there's an additional cut they take per page) and so on. Once you figure out how much THEY will take from each book, then you decide what to charge. (You can go back and forth on the site several times putting in different numbers to figure it out.) It's a definite balancing act: how much can you safely charge so people will buy the thing but so that you'll still make some semblance of a profit?

They have options for direct deposit, which makes life really easy. They pay royalties after you get at least $20 earned, and the money is paid the month AFTER that $20 accrues, to account for any returns or whatever. (So at the end of June, I'll get any unpaid royalties for May.)


One great benefit is that CreateSpace lists you on Amazon. I get about half the royalty I would compared to if someone were to buy the book via my CreateSpace store front, but since NOT A SINGLE COPY has been purchased that way, I'm not going to complain. People know and trust the Amazon name and don't know that CreateSpace is the same company.


You can sell copies through your own website, provided, of course, that you order enough inventory and are willing to make shipments yourself. And yes, you can get your own books at a huge discount, so even with getting orders and shipping them, you can still make a small profit.


They also have what's called the Expanded Distribution Channel, where other entities (like schools, libraries, etc.) become aware of your book who otherwise wouldn't. If you opt into that channel, you'll get a few more sales, but the cut you get is even smaller.


Would I do it again? Totally.


In fact, I'm planning on having a second edition of my grammar book out by next year's conference, and I had another project I was considering it for.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Four Musketeers

I used to think I knew what friendship was.

When I was a kid, it meant playing house, roaming the neighborhood, doing bake sales, being invited to one another's parties (when my best friend didn't invite me to a Christmas party, saying she was told to invite other friends and having them then go caroling to my house? Yeah, it nearly killed that little nine-year-old in me).

As a high schooler, friendship was defined largely by who accepted me into their "group." For the most part, friends were who I hung out with on weekends. They're the ones I shared all the high school drama with (of which there was much . . .), the ones I always, always worried would nudge me out of the inner circle because they'd figure out that I wasn't cool enough and didn't belong.

During that time, I had an intense sense of loyalty and always supported my friends, whether it was in a performance, recital, birthday, or even for a competition in another city. (They were freakishly talented, so that was quite the commitment.) I gave and gave and gave. Then I got horribly confused when that kind of support was never reciprocated.

I remember a dress rehearsal on the school stage for a dance concert. A couple of "best friends" were at the school at the exact same time, and they knew I was about to go on stage. I'd learned enough by this point to not expect them to come to the concert itself, but I was hurt when they didn't bother to even peek in the door to at least see the dress rehearsal. They were already in the hall. All it would have taken was turning a handle on a door.

This kind of thing happened a lot. I'm a very slow learner.

Eventually, near the end of my senior year, there was some big seminary thing. I think there was a slide show of the year or some such, and in the background was the classic Mormon pop song that goes, "Be that friend, be that kind, that you hope you might find. And you'll always have a best friend, come what may."

Bologna, I thought.

It was the first time I'd admitted to myself that no matter how hard you work on being a good friend, you can't control someone else. You can't make them be friends back.

So I sat in the back of the room and bawled, knowing that the lyrics were a load of garbage. I was the best friend I could possibly be, but I'd been kicked around over the years. A lot.

Much of the time, I didn't know if I had a group I belonged to, let alone a best friend. (People who knew me then would be surprised to hear all this, I'm sure. I hid the angst well.)

I left the room not knowing what friendship really meant.

Things only got worse when I was the second of our group to get married. There's been a lot of finger-pointing since about the period immediately following my wedding, but the upshot is that, for whatever reason, I was clearly no longer part of that circle. There was a big disconnect between me and them until the others married and had kids. That's when we finally had common ground again (like potty training war stories).

I had one friend during this time who remained single. And she never stopped talking to me just because I had a ring on my left finger. I don't recall her ever acting weird after the wedding or after I became a mom. She never changed. She was my tender mercy (and was in high school more than once, and has been a few times since).

The next real friend connection I had was over a decade ago. I served in a Young Women presidency where I bonded to the other presidency members in a remarkable way. After our release, we stayed close. But when the president was moving away and I said good-bye, I walked home hyperventilating with wracking sobs. I knew that such a friendship was rare and priceless, and that as much as we cared about one another, we'd never have the same relationship once she left the state.

My critique group is made up of people I consider dear friends, including that rare occurrence, the male friend. I am lucky enough to have two of them, and they're both like awesome extra brothers.

For me, the definitions of friendship have continued to undergo many iterations over the years.

My current view includes all of this and more:

  • A "true friend" might not be a buddy who has known you most of your life, even if you have Girls' Camp pictures and embarrassing stories you could blackmail the other with.
  • Someone who is nice 95% of the time but manages to twist a knife say, annually, is not a friend.
  • You can live in the same area for years but never truly be friends with neighbors, even if everyone is friendly and gets along. (Friendly does not equate friendship.)
  • An acquaintance and a friend are not the same thing.
  • You must earn the label of friend.
  • If someone who uses that label is really a friend of convenience, she might stab you in the back or climb over you to get what she wants.
  • Some actual friends are the kind and loving type. They are people I'd love to hang with, to talk to and otherwise have a great time with. But thanks to multiple burns of the past, I remain guarded even with most people in this category. Most of them, as truly wonderful as they are, will never see the deepest layers of who I am. I still (greatly!) appreciate the friendships we have, such as they are. What they see is most definitely real, (for that matter, I'm way too real for a lot of people, which has caused me no end of trouble and has likely lost me friends), but these connections will only ever go so far.
  • I have a very difficult time making friends, especially in neighborhoods and wards. This is largely because I'm painfully shy but don't look like it. As a result, I've been called "stuck-up" many painful times. The reality is that I don't ever feel superior to someone; I almost always feel INFERIOR and unable to introduce myself or open up. (One reason why that YW presidency was so big for me.)
  • The most surprising element of friendship of late: I can learn to love (and be loved in return) by women I've never met, thanks to blogging. (You know who you all are. You truly enrich my life.)
The point of all this (I swear, there is one):

I am more and more grateful for the three women I can call my truest friends. We've known one another a varying number of years (less then a decade in every case). We're separated geographically (we're all in the same state, but in some cases, hours away from one another). Each one has walked a different path with me, shared things unique to them and our friendships.

Yet the four of us as a group are close in a way that almost defies logic.

These women lift me. They encourage me. If I'm having an off day, they don't get offended. Instead, they come to see what they can do to help. They offer support and love and understanding. Often, as a group.

They're never more than a phone call or e-mail away. They provide listening ears. They give needed hugs. They make me smile and laugh. And because we're all in the same "weird" industry, they understand me, the way I think, and my feelings, in a way no one else can. Sometimes, just hanging out and laughing together is enough to lighten my load, because of who they are and what they represent:

True Friends.

Because the truth is, they know me (frighteningly well), and that means they're starkly aware of my plethora of large warts.

And they love me anyway.

Of late, I've found myself regularly saying prayers of gratitude for Josi, Julie, and Heather.

I love you guys. Thank you for who you are, what you represent, what you've been to me and continue to give me, and for what you put up with. I really don't know what I'd do without you.



(With Heather, Josi, and Julie, LDStorymakers Conference, April 2008.)

Mini Post: Book Winner

Been a tad busy with The Teen Writers Conference this weekend, so I failed to post the winner of Sarah M. Eden's Courting Miss Lancaster, even though Random.org did pick one.

And that winner is: Elizabeth Morgan of Writers Block

She said: "My favorite Sesame Street character is Oscar the grouch. I love the way he is, but underneath it all, he is some times nice."

Have to admit, I like Oscar too.

Congratulations, Elizabeth! (Please send me your mailing address so I can ship it to you!)

If you missed the interview with Sarah, be sure to read it. She's a hoot!

Coming Soon: Firsts and Lasts

UPDATE: Firsts and Lasts is now live as an ebook, and it'll soon be available in paperback as wel! Get the ebook HERE . I've got s...