Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sample Sunday: The Golden Cup of Kardak

Chapter One
Urgent Messenger

Torin whistled as he headed down the forest path. He had a bag of potatoes over one shoulder and a five piece in his hand. Wouldn’t Merinne be thrilled! He tossed the coin into the air and caught it, then heard a noise in the brush ahead.

At first he thought it was just of fox or a jackrabbit, until he looked over and saw a flash of a brown cloak slipping behind a big rock. Because the colors blended into the forest so well, he thought he’d imagined a green, pointed hat—it was a wonder Torin saw anything at all. His curiosity getting the better of him, he took a step off the path to investigate.

A little woman with mousy, brown hair peered out and waved a bent hand at him. Startled, Torin caught his breath. Was she a dwarf? A gnome? She looked younger than the pictures of gnomes and dwarves he had seen in books. Her hair was pulled into a bun, but wisps had come loose and framed her face. She crooked her finger at him.

He pointed at himself. “Me?”

She looked around as if she was afraid someone might have heard, then held a finger to her lips. Again she beckoned for Torin to follow. She ran a few steps but paused and looked back to be sure he’d come.

Torin debated for only a moment. If Merinne were there, she’d insist he go straight home. But this felt different than the times he’d been duped, like when he bought a goat for milk and didn’t realize it was a he-goat until it was too late. He tucked the coin into his pocket, hoping the woman hadn’t seen it, and promised himself to not give it to her.

Again the woman stopped and waved him on. Torin stepped off the path and followed through the rough. She moved quietly as she led him to a tiny cave hidden behind some brush. He had to lean down to fit inside. She pulled Torin into hiding, throwing a glance into the wood as she drew him in.

Her wiry hands gripped his as she whispered, “Your father is alive and needs your help.”

[Title now available HERE for $2.99]

Friday, July 29, 2011

Answer & a Post

For those wondering about this week's Word Nerd Wednesday, Sandra got it right!

All the words in that list describe groups of animals. When I first saw this list, I knew a couple of them, but into a big group like this, even those definitions dissolved, and I couldn't figure it out until someone else told me. The full list is below.

Also: Today I'm guest posting at my friend Liz's group blog. (I've blogged about the awesome Liz, who I've known for over half my life, HERE.)

Read my guest post over at Hey Nonny HERE.

And the animal list:
Kindle of Kittens
Sleuth of Bears
Leash of Greyhounds
Brace of Ducks
Charm of Goldfinches
Drift of Swine
Exaltation of Larks
Grist of Bees
Leap of Leopards
Murder of Crows
Bed of Clams
Sounder of Boars
Chattering of Choughs
Spring of Teals
Trip of Seals
Watch of Nightingales
Wing of Plovers
Rafter of Turkeys
Clamor of Rooks
Kettle of Hawks
Mute of Hounds
Unkindness of Ravens
Wisdom of Owls
Train of Camels
Gulp of Cormorants
Skulk of Foxes
Rhumba of Rattlesnakes
Clutter of Cats
Bloat of Hippos
Troubling of Goldfish

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

WNW: What Do These Words Have in Common?

The registration deadline for the Precision Editing live critique workshop is coming up. The workshop will be much like the Storymaker conference Boot Camp, but all day, and with less of a crowd.

The workshop is Saturday, August 13, 10:30 to 3:30.
Cost: $35 for the day. (A one-hour lunch break is on you.)
for more info.

Serious word nerd alert here.

I found this list of terms not too long ago. I'm posting it now with a question for you:

What do all of these words have in common?

I'll post the answer later.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Rowling's Splash and Ripples

Found a great article in the Wall Street Journal, a piece that essentially said thank you to J. K. Rowling for the impact she and her books have made.

One element of the article that I had fun with in particular was the comparisons of Rowling to Dickens, thanks to my studies of Dickens as an English major. I had an entire semester course on his work and had a ball dissecting them, especially some lesser-known works (two of my favorites: Our Mutual Friend and Dombey and Son).

But for this post, I wanted to talk about the overall message of the piece.

First, yes, the article contains a lot of hyperbole. No, Rowling didn't save a world on the brink of illiteracy. Yes, many kids were reading books long before Rowling penned her first Harry Potter book. So did grown-ups.

That said, Rowling's writing and publishing changed the landscape of reading and publishing in huge ways. Love her books or not, here are just a few ways she made a splash that's still rippling:

For the first time, lots of kids as young as eight and nine were reading 700-page tomes. And it wasn't just the nerdy kid without friends. Reading became cooler than almost anything else. Really young kids got caught up in the activity like never before.

Kids who hated reading (and thought they were bad readers) suddenly decided that reading was awesome. Thousands (if not millions) of reluctant readers started their journey into books.

Then the big cross-over happened. In the past, some YA books were read by grown-ups, especially Newbery winners (most of us have probably read A Wrinkle in Time, for example), but there had never been a cross-over like this.

With HP, suddenly parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were reading the same books as young kids. Several generations were in the room discussing the same books together.

My kids were young (and in some cases, not born) when the books first came out. But the books provided hours and hours (and weeks and months) of entertainment for me and my husband. There aren't too many books out there we both like. We've read the series twice together.

Publishing houses took note of the cross-over appeal and huge sales numbers. They then seriously upped the number of their YA titles and pushed them like never before.

The ripple is ongoing. One example: this spring at the Storymakers conference, I spoke with a senior editor at a big house. She said her boss wants them to actively seek out new YA since it's such a big seller. She's floundering a bit, because in her entire career (spanning decades) she's always focused on books for adults.

Thanks to all of this, we have tons more new youth titles being published (and more titles sold and read) than, I'm quite sure, in any other time in history.

The New York Times even had to create new bestsellers list specifically for youth fiction to accommodate it all.

Many adults who never really bothered to read, did pick up Harry for whatever reason (likely word of mouth). Those same folks are now reading new books, sometimes YA, but often adult and literary fare as well. Many have even joined book clubs.

It's almost like Harry was a "gateway drug" for a lot of people to discover (or rediscover) books.

I've talked with many school teachers who are grateful for the impact Harry Potter has had. Even though current junior high students were in diapers when the first book came out, the impact continues. New students, even if they've never read Harry, benefit because they have a much wider variety of books to choose from than their peers did in the mid 90s. Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction has exploded in the last then years. (I can think of several really big YA names that probably owe JKR their careers.)

Then there' s the cultural impact. Like any big cultural phenomenon, vocabulary, ideas, and other elements from the Harry Potter universe have seeped into our consciousness. One example: the word "muggle" no longer means solely what it does in the series. People today use it to refer to others who lack a specific skill or ability in their industry. ("There's this guy in our department who's a total muggle when it comes to technology.")

I know there are others who don't agree or who don't see what I'm saying, that they and all their friends have always been readers. Basically: what's the big deal? Rowling didn't do so much. She didn't impact me.

To those people, I say: You're not normal. (And I mean that in a very, very good way!)

I'm also not normal. I've always been a reader. So are my friends. In 8th grade, some of us even set up a reading club. I can't understand people who shrug and say they can't remember the last book they read.

But those people exist, and J. K. Rowling lowered the numbers a bit.

Bottom line: I believe that the more literate a people are, the better off society is.

So yes, thanks, Jo. Big time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WNW: Metathesis

You may not know what it is by name, but you've probably done it yourself lots of times, and if you've been around kids, I'm sure you've heard more examples as they learn to talk.

Metathesis is when two sounds get flipped in the pronunciation of a word.

For young children, the most familiar one might be saying pa-sghetti instead of spaghetti, where the child exchanges the places of the S and the P.

A common example among adults is how they say the full word we write as etc. Many people say ex cetera.

That's not technically correct, but a lot of us say it. The term is really et cetera, with a T, not an X. That pronunciation makes a lot more sense when you look back at the shortened version we all use, etc.

When my son was little (and because I'm a total word nerd), I loved watching his language develop. A version of metathesis he came up with was with "granola bar."

He dropped the R altogether, as young kids often do, since it's a hard consonant to say when you're two years old. Then he exchanged place with the N and the G, but kept their accompanying vowels. So GA was swapped with NO. Oh, and two syllables was plenty for this kid.

The result: GRA-NO-LA > (drop the R and last syllable) > GA NO > (add metathesis) > NO GA

He often asked for a "noga" bar.

Below is a short video explaining more about metathesis and how this linguist had students catch her on a word she often says "wrong." She also discusses some unexpected English words that have changed permanently over time through metathesis.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Reading, Imagination, and Growth

When it comes to books and reading, I'm all for reading "marshmallow" works at times. You know, lighthearted, escapist books that are a fun romp. They don't pretend to be anything but a fun story. They aren't trying to change the world or be profound. But dang, they're fun to read, and you come away feeling happy after closing the cover.

(A big favorite of mine in this category is the 2010 Whitney winner for Romance, Julie Wright's Cross My Heart.)

I'm also a big proponent of being willing, at times, to pick up something different. That can also mean something hard.

That something could be a book with a view of the world that is different from mine (white, female, Mormon).

Maybe it's reading about a black person's experience (The Bluest Eye).

Or about someone with religious background different than my own (My Name Is Asher Lev)

Or someone living in a different time (A Tale of Two Cities).

Or a different place (The Poisonwood Bible, A Thousand Splendid Suns).

Or about people facing horrific challenges and triumphs (The Hiding Place, Man's Search for Meaning).

Or characters dealing with social issues than I'll never have to face (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, The Help.)

And so on and on and on.

At times I need lighter fare after going through a deep, heart-wrenching story, so no, I don't always read tough books, but I believe that avoiding them altogether would stunt my spiritual and emotional growth.

I'm a big fan of a balanced reading "diet," which includes marshmallows (and brownies and cream puffs) as well as solid portions of vegetables and maybe even a steak now and then.

I've had this topic on my mind for over a year, and in that time, two things have come to my attention that make the point better than I ever could.

The first is a devotional address that Dr. Van Gessel gave at BYU some years back. (In the fashion of It's a small World, he was a colleague of my father, and I've since become friends with his daughter, who has an incredibly honest and funny blog). (Read the full transcript of Dr. Gessel's talk here.)

He says, in part (bolded emphasis is mine):
Can we ever become better until we sense and wish to transcend the insufficiencies of our current life? But how do we gain an awareness of those insufficiencies? Through prayer and repentance, of course, but also through reading. Do we have any hope of becoming more like our Creator if we cannot “modify our natural angle of regard upon all things . . . to see[things] differently”—a vision altered, I would suggest, through reading? If we fail somehow to acquire the skill of entering into unfamiliar worlds anew, how can we avoid being trapped—literally damned—in our current imperfections, and how can we ever begin to imagine the infinities where God dwells and labors?
And then later he has this awesome bit, which should strike a chord specifically for Latter-day Saint readers:
Can we, I wonder, ever be gods and goddesses of our own universes, eternal parents of imperfect beings who will have to go through the mortal travails as each of us will have done, without somehow having an understanding of and even an empathy toward our flawed progeny?

I can't hep but think: reading about other people, experiences, cultures, weaknesses . . . all of that can help me grow and develop and prepare to be a heavenly parent to future spirit children who will experience things different from my mortal experience, who will be flawed in different ways than I was flawed during my mortal probation.

So the more I learn vicariously, through reading, now, the more understanding and compassion I may have in the next life.

Sobering and exciting thoughts.

Along similar lines, I recently watched the commencement address J. K. Rowling gave at Harvard in 2008. Her speech has two main parts: the benefits of failure and the benefits of imagination. The entire speech is worth watching, but for my purposes, focus on the section about the benefit of imagination, from about 11 minutes to 18 minutes.

That's where she talks about how humans are the only creatures on the planet who can mentally put themselves into another place and position, into another person's life . . . often through reading . . . and how that fact brings us power to do good: the power of human empathy. Imagination and reading are some of the most powerful ways to find such empathy. And she mentions those who close their minds, refusing to know and understand.

She says, in part:
Many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are . . . They can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally. They can refuse to know. . . . I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid. . . . What is more: Those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

I'll still indulge in literary marshmallows, but you'll never convince me to avoid "hard" books altogether that have characters, themes, and stories that make me stretch, learn, and maybe even ache.

Stories that maybe, just maybe, will help me develop a bit of godlike compassion and understanding.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

So . . . Close. Help, Please.

So I entered a photo taken several years ago of my husband and one of our daughters into a contest for pictures of fathers. Winner gets a cool camera.

The finalists are voted on by the public. I'm close, but I need help to bump our picture up and win.

You can vote once a day through Sunday, so go back tomorrow, too!

To vote, write "I vote for Dad and Daughter" in the comments under the photo.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Thanks, Valerie

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2001, I got yet another rejection from one of the two publishing houses I was bound and determined to break into (Covenant, the other being Deseret Book). This rejection had a lot of positives in it, and it included a request to revise and resubmit.

About two weeks later, I got an e-mail from an editor there who I knew personally. We'd crossed paths many times, at League of Utah Writers meetings, conferences, and so on. She was one of the most helpful and sweet people ever.

Her name was Valerie Holladay.

In her email, she said that she'd seen my work cross her desk over the years, and she knew I had the chops, but for whatever reason hadn't quite crossed the line into acceptance. Long-time readers of my blog will remember the story (HERE and HERE) about how Valerie invited me to lunch so we could discuss my writing and figure out how to fine-tune my work so it was more marketable.

I spent days frantically writing synopses of my novels so Valerie could read them in advance and give me feedback on the stories when we met for lunch. I remember the table we sat at when the light bulb went off over my head and I realized what ingredients my stories were missing. I remember talking to her in the parking lot, where she told me that if we could just get me in the door I'd "be an asset to the company."

She gave me permission to submit to her electronically, which wasn't the norm back then. But by the time that day came, I learned that she was leaving the company. At first I felt like the brass ring had been taken away from me; my advocate at Covenant was gone.

Sure, Valerie had left, but she'd taught me what I needed. That fall, I submitted what became Lost Without You, and by the one-year anniversary of our lunch, I had a novel on bookstore shelves with my name on it.

In the years since, we've corresponded here and there as friends and colleagues about topics ranging from cat training to typesetting. Most of my friends who are fellow Covenant authors came aboard after I did and never knew her.

In many ways, I owe a lot to Valerie for helping me and guiding me. She took me under her wing when I needed it the most.

I know I'm not unique in that respect. I've heard many other writers express gratitude for the friendship and help they received from Valerie.

Which is why the world lost something special on Sunday when Valerie passed away after a short bout of cancer. I didn't even know she was ill. When I heard, my heart ached.

I'm quite sure I'm not alone in saying that she will be missed.

Thanks for everything, Valerie.

Going There: Mansplaining and Real Men

I touched on this recently on Facebook, but because the horse isn't fully dead yet, here's a more thorough another beating: The te...