Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Christmas Thank You

The Christmas Wish List contest just ended and I posted the winners in my previous post, but I want to thank all those who participated.  In fact I'd like to thank all of you who read my blogs and better still, read my books.  Over this past year I have been touched by many of your comments.  My blog today is one more Christmas memory, one that haunts me still.  It was the Christmas I made my mother cry and I learned something important about gratitude.

At fifteen, a pleated, plaid wool skirt was all I wanted for Christmas. I knew there wouldn’t be much beneath the Christmas tree that year, but how I hoped for that one thing. Our farm community was small and no one had much money, but it seemed I was the only girl in our high school who didn’t have a pleated wool skirt.


Somehow in my mind, the skirt I dreamed of was two shades of blue with white and black, forming a lovely plaid. It would be that thick kind of wool so popular that year and would fall just an inch or two below my knees. I had a blue sweater that would be perfect with it, a hand-me-down that had hardly been worn.

In the weeks before Christmas I participated in the school play, went ice skating, and even gave my little brother an early Christmas present with the last of my baby sitting money. He was a cowboy in the elementary school pageant and I’d found a cute pair of toy spurs. I warned him he wouldn’t get anything from me on Christmas, but he was so excited about the spurs, he claimed he wouldn’t care. With a family the size of ours, I figured he wouldn’t even notice one less present on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve came and we gathered in the front room. Daddy read the Christmas Story from St. Luke, then came the passing out of gifts. In our family we always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve. We exclaimed over cheap bottles of perfume, knee socks, and the other inexpensive gifts my siblings and I had purchased or made for each other. Mama served us slices of fruitcake or bowls of carrot pudding, then we were off to bed.

It wasn’t visions of sugarplums that danced in my head that night, but a pleated wool skirt. I wanted that skirt with all my heart.

When morning came, my sister and I dressed in our icy bedroom before making our way down stairs. The kitchen was warm and filled with good smells, we pitched in to help Mama and our helping frequently took us past the archway leading to the front room where we surreptitiously peeked at the small mounds set on the sofa and under the tree.

When Daddy and my brothers finished with the milking and other chores, it was time to see what Santa had brought, though most of us were well beyond the years when we believed in the jolly gent. Hardly daring to breathe, I followed the younger kids into the front room. At first I couldn’t tell which gifts were meant for me. Then I saw it, a flat bundle, wrapped loosely in a folded piece of tissue paper. It was my skirt! I knew it had to be my longed-for skirt.

Carefully, I pulled back the tissue and stared in confusion. It was fabric; a piece of cloth. That didn’t disappoint me. My mother could sew better than anyone else I knew. But the fabric was pink! Pink with little black speckles! Of all colors in the world, my least favorite has always been pink. It wasn’t thick and slightly rough like my friends’ wool skirts. It felt spongy and slick. It was the ugliest piece of cloth I’d ever seen. I bit my lip to keep from crying.

“What’s that?” One of my brothers pointed to an oblong lump in the middle of the piece of fabric.

Struggling to control my distaste at even touching that piece of pink cloth, I unwound it to discover a navy blue book. A consolation prize I thought. At least I’d have something to read. I reached for the book and turned it over in my hands. This time I couldn’t stop the tears. The book was a hymn book---a hymn book for a girl who was tone deaf and consequently had little interest in music.

I caught a glimpse of Daddy’s broad smile. He loved to sing and was convinced that if I took a little more interest in music, I’d soon love it too. I sank onto the couch and turned my head away, pretending interest in the truck and cap gun my youngest brother was exclaiming over.

At some point I became aware of my mother sitting beside me. As from a great distance I heard her say she was sorry there hadn’t been time to make up my skirt before Christmas, but she’d start on it the next day and I’d be able to wear it when school resumed after New Year’s.

“It doesn’t matter,” I muttered.

“I was lucky to find such a good piece. It’s a wool and silk blend and if it hadn’t been on the remnant table we couldn’t have afforded anything so nice. I’m not sure it’s a big enough piece to pleat, but it will make a lovely straight skirt.”

Something seemed to snap inside me. “But it’s ugly,” I cried.

Mama looked bewildered. “For weeks you’ve been talking about a wool skirt. I thought---.”

“It’s pink! It doesn’t even look like wool! I just wanted a skirt like the other girls are wearing to school.”

“You’ll like it better when you see how nice it will look on you.” I ignored the hopeful note in her voice.

“I won’t ever like it,” I sobbed. “It’s not only ugly, but it gives me the creeps to even touch it!” I ran upstairs to hide, but not before I saw tears spill down Mama’s cheeks.

It was Christmas day, but Mama cut out the skirt and began stitching it for me that day. I stood for fittings when asked. I even wore the skirt to church the next Sunday and one other time, but how I despised it. I never again said I hated it, but Mama knew. She never spoke of it either and eventually the skirt disappeared, but I’ve never forgotten it. If it had just been my disappointment with a gift that didn’t suit my taste, I would have forgotten it long ago, but by the time I first stood in my slip while Mama pinned the pieces of that skirt, I knew that skirt would always be a reminder of the Christmas I made Mama cry.

In the years since that Christmas I’ve thought of that skirt each Christmas season or whenever I’ve seen that particular shade of pink---and when I stood at my mother’s graveside years later. I know how little my parents had and how much my mother sacrificed to come as close as she could to what she thought I wanted. I’ve thought of that skirt each time I’ve received a gift I didn’t care for or want and when I’ve given gifts I’ve realized too late weren’t quite right. The years since that Christmas have impressed upon me how much love goes into each gift placed under the family Christmas tree and I hope I’ve become more sensitive to the generosity of others and a more gracious receiver.

Each time I hear that familiar quote from Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” I can’t help thinking it may be more blessed to give, but receiving is harder.

Shortly before Christmas a few years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the days between my hospital stay and Christmas I was pretty well confined to either my bed or the big chair in the living room. With excellent insurance benefits, two daughters still at home, a married daughter nearby, and a husband and son who were excellent cooks, I was in no danger of starving, yet every few hours the doorbell would ring and a neighbor, visiting teachers, Relief Society presidency, or even my children’s friends would be standing on the steps with bread, cookies, pies, or complete dinners. The Young Women gifted me with the Twelve Days of Christmas. I felt embarrassed and awkward accepting their generosity, yet somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that long ago Christmas when my mother wanted to give me something nice because she loved me and I spurned her gift. I smiled and accepted each and every gift, knowing that the givers felt a need to give and without a gracious receiver they would miss the blessings of giving. I didn’t need the gifts, but oh how I needed the love each gift represented. Over the years I’ve come to suspect that when the Savior said it was better to give than to receive, included in that admonition is a subtle suggestion that a grateful heart is included as one of those “better gifts.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tamera Westhoof and Lisa are winners

Congratulations Tamera and Lisa!  You are the winners of the Christmas Memories Wish List contest.  Please send me your wish list of at least five LDS novels you would like and I'll do my best to send a book from your list.  Send your list to bhansen22 at msn dot com and include "wish list winner" in the subject line.  Send your snail mail address too.

The next contest won't start until January, but I'll post a Christmas story on Thursday.  Merry Christmas to you all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

LAST DAY TO ENTER

Today is the last day to enter the Wish List Christmas Memories contest on this blog.  Enter as many times as you like.  Each follower is entered once and each person who makes a thoughtful comment will be entered twice, more comments-more entries.   All entries will be numbered and the numbers put in a bucket for a random drawing.  The winner will receive his/her choice of an LDS novel from my over-flowing bookshelves. I will pick a second winner solely from the comments on the basis of the one I like best.  So please share your best, worst, or simply most memorable Christmas memory in the comment trail.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A COLLECTION OF CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Is there an event around which more memories are centered than Christmas? A look through the photo albums I've kept over the years and I find more pictures were taken on Christmas or around Christmas than any other time of the year.



Christmas is always a reminder of the childhood years, of Santa arriving on a fire truck, by helicopter, and even of the community program in a small Idaho town when a dozen young farmers and ranchers hefted Santa's sled on their shoulders to carry it and the jolly elf into the school gym. It brings memories of little brown paper sacks filled with peanuts, hard candy, and a single chocolate; if we were lucky there was an orange in the bag too. There was always an orange in the toe of my stocking Christmas morning! Remember all of the Santas and Christmas trees we colored as children, then ohed and ahed over similar masterpieces our children and grandchildren produced.

There was the first Christmas as a married couple, a Christmas when we were so poor I painted a Christmas tree on our front room window because we didn't have any money to buy a tree, the Christmas we received a darling baby girl, all those Christmases when our children were growing up and we were playing Santa and trying to teach them that Christmas meant more than presents, the Christmas pageants where our children, then our grandchildren presented the story from St. Luke, and of course the time our cat climbed the Christmas tree and tipped it over.



Even for someone as tone deaf as me, Christmas memories include music. Christmas carols are some of the first music I really heard. Over the years I've attended a lot of choir and band Christmas concerts with my children and grandchildren; I love hearing and singing (even if I can't carry a tune) Christmas carols at church, and each CD I play brings back special memories like the year our high school choir provided the music for the Baptist Church's Christmas service because their pastor was our choir director and he needed a choir. (We used to be able to do things like that).


Christmas is a time to build golden memories of giving. Coins dropped in a Salvation Army bucket, playing secret Santa, an anonymous check, coats and blankets donated to a shelter, a bag of groceries for someone who needs it, a sidewalk shoveled, a few hours of free babysitting, a telephone call to someone who is lonely, and the list goes on and on. Rich or poor we can give something.

Good memories are one of life's greatest pleasures and so I'm wishing all of my blog readers a Christmas filled with warm memories to treasure throughout all your days.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING MEMORIES

This morning as I debated whether or not to go Christmas shopping, a funny little memory came to mind.  My parents took all of us kids, there were seven of us, the eighth hadn't come along yet, to Idaho Falls to do our Christmas shopping.  My older brothers set out with Daddy, but they soon let him know they could manage on their own.  Mama was trying to help us younger kids, but I kept wandering off. 

I found my brothers and showed them a gift I wanted to buy.  They groaned, but bought it for me, then reunited me with Mama and the rest of the family.  Mama then assigned my older sister to keep track of me.  We wandered around until I found a gift I wanted to purchase for another sibling.  She paid for it then took me back to Mama before I could spend any more of her small hoard of coins. 

Mama made it clear to Daddy that she couldn't help the two little ones shop or do any of her own shopping while trying to keep track of me.  That left Daddy to shepherd me through the stores.  I had a great time picking out presents, which he paid for, and when we finished he took me to a store with a soda fountain and bought me a chocolate malt.

At the end of the day, we all piled into our car for the hour long ride back to Arco.  My brothers and sisters began moaning over how broke they were.  They didn't even have enough money to buy a treat for themselves when they finished their shopping.  Finally one of them in a teasing voice asked me how much money I had left, assuming my meager amount of money saved from finding eggs around the farm and selling them to the grocer in Arco was long gone.  I opened my little plastic wallet and showed them I hadn't spent a penny.  They had all assumed I was out of money and kindly tried to help me.  Of course, they were all mad at me, but honest, I didn't know I was supposed to pay for the things I bought myself.  No one asked me for my money.  It became the family joke for years afterward, "Don't go shopping with Jennie."

I love the memories shared thus far by those of you who have submitted Christmas memories.  It's going to be hard to select a winner.  Keep the stories coming!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

LET THE CONTEST BEGIN

The blogosphere is full of contests right now, so what is one more? It's the December Wish List contest. Again, I'm only running one contest this month, but this one is open to both commenters and followers, however those who make comments will be entered twice for each comment made on any post I write for this blog between now and Christmas. If you're a follower and make several comments as well, you'll get one chance for being a follower and two chances for each comment you make. In addition I will award a prize (a book of course) to the person I feel best expresses their feelings about a Christmas memory, the importance of a specific Christmas tradition, or a personal example of a gift given or received. During the month I will be sharing with you some of my Christmas memories and the Christmas traditions that have impacted my life. The contest will run until December 20th.

Christmas pageants were once a huge part of the elementary school experience. I started school (first grade, no kindergarten) in the small town of Moore, Idaho. Our school didn't have a gym, so we trudged through the snow each day to rehearse at the nearby LDS Stake Center. Mothers were expected to make our costumes out of crepe paper, wire, and in a few cases actual fabric. Now I can't even imagine sewing costumes out of yards and yards of crepe paper! My mother was good at it and she not only made my costume, but my big sister's too, and one for a neighbor girl. One year I was a snowflake, one year a poinsettia, and another a Christmas tree with all kinds of creative dangling decorations. My big sister was an angel one of those years and how I envied that golden halo she wore! By the end of the program my undies would be the same color as my crepe paper costume.

The family I grew up in consisted of Mom and Dad, five brothers, two sisters, and me. We didn't have much money and our gifts to each other weren't elaborate or expensive. One tradition we laugh about now is our brothers always gave us three girls each a box of cherry-covered chocolates for their Christmas gift to us. Most of us let that tradition go after we grew up, but recently while my younger sister was so ill, she talked about how she and the brother between us in age, kept up the tradition all of these years. They changed it a little. Vic gave Vada a box of the chocolates and she, in turn, gave him one every Christmas for all these years. I think Vic will feel an ache this year and each Christmas as long as he lives when there's no gift-wrapped chocolates under his tree and no one pretending to be surprised when he presents his gift to her.

Even if you don't win this contest, putting Christmas memories on paper, is a great way to add to your journal. Also if your memory or tradition becomes story length, you might consider submitting your entry to LDS Publisher http://ldspublisher.blogspot.com/2010/11/2010-christmas-story-contest.html That's a fun contest and the winning stories get published in a book. Some of you have written wonderful comments during previous contests, so let yourself go and share your memories and traditions. The contest starts right now.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Double Winner Picked

Kelsi Rose is the winner of the Gratitude Wish List contest.  She will receive two books from her Wish List.  Kelsi Rose, please send me your Wish List (long list) and your mailing address to bhansen22 at msn dot com  Congratulations!
The next contest will have a Christmas theme and begin Dec. 1.  More details later.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

REFLECTING ON BLESSINGS

I'm posting this a little early since there's a good chance I won't get to it tomorrow morning. You see I've got a turkey to stuff, potatoes to peel, and a few jillion other tasks planned, but I don't want to miss the most important part of the day--just being thankful for all of the many blessings that have come my way.

TODAY IS THANKSGIVING DAY

Ever since October Conference, I've been thinking and talking about gratitude and since today is a day set aside for giving thanks, there are a few more things for which I wish to express thanks. At the top of my list is a deep sense of relief and gratitude that at the moment my family is cancer free. The last few years half been rough on that score with the loss of four family members and hard fought battles by several others. I, myself, am a cancer survivor and my doctor reminded me just last week that it has been seventeen years. I am deeply grateful for the medical teams and the prayers of loved ones who gave me those seventeen years. As hard as it was to face my own cancer, it was harder to watch two of my daughters suffer through their battles with the dreaded disease and I'm doubly thankful they are both strong and healthy today.

I'm part of a very large, diverse family. When we get together, we look like a mini United Nations. I am grateful for the bond of love we share even though we represent half a dozen different ethnic groups and I'm not sure how many different religions. As one niece said "we love each other anyway, warts and all. And man, we have a lot of warts." I'm grateful for every last one of my family members and all of our assorted warts.

I'm grateful for my immediate family, my husband, my children and their spouses, and my grandchildren. I think they're pretty special and there isn't a day that I don't thank God for their presence in my life.

Serving in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple is a choice blessing in my life and I'm so very thankful I've been given this opportunity. In addition to the spiritual blessings I receive and the joy that comes through this service, I also appreciate the many friends and those who read my books who whisper a quiet greeting to me there.

I'm appreciative of my country and the privilege I have of living in America. Like my family, our government has a generous number of warts, but it's a privilege to live in a land where I and every citizen has a voice in fixing those warts.

I appreciate and give thanks for a warm, comfortable home and a generous bounty of food on my family's Thanksgiving table. Even good food tastes better when shared with loved ones and there are a good number of loved ones gathering around my table today. I, indeed, have much to be grateful for.

LAST CHANCE TO ENTER THE GRATITUDE WISH lIST CONTEST! Just tell us something your grateful for and why in the comment trail. A winner will be drawn on Friday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

LAST WEEK

This is the last week of my gratitude contest, so share those things you're grateful for in the comment section.  Someone is going to win a couple of books from their personal wish list.

I shared a few pictures of this weekend's winter storm on facebook, but here are a few of my favorites for those of you not on facebook.  The first is the view from my back deck and the second is the view from my front porch, taken early in the morning just before sunrise.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the Birds

As many of you know, I like having birds in my yard.  Lots of birds.  There's one bird however that leaves me with mixed feelings.  Every winter a sharp shinned hawk decides our back yard is her private dining room.  I'm no expert, but I think she's a female because of her size and with this breed the females are almost twice the size of their male counterparts.  Sometimes she shows up on consecutive days and sometimes she only appears a couple of times a week.  But always, when she leaves there is one less little bird at our feeders.  I love watching her; she's truly a beautiful bird, yet I feel sad each time she kills one of the little birds whose only crime was looking for a free meal.

I didn't take the picture above, but merely borrowed it from another web site.  I do take most of the photographs I use on my blog and that brings me to a point of gratitude.  I'm grateful for cameras and even more grateful for how easy it is to edit and print photoes today.  I got my first camera when I was twelve or thirteen, a gift from my older brothers.  It was just a little Brownie Kodak, but for years it was the only camera I owned and I took a lot of pictures with it.  Unfortunately getting those pictures developed and printed was expensive and somewhere around here I still have a few rolls of film I never did get developed.  My next camera was a Cannon that wasn't even really mine.  When I started out as a reporter, my editor put it in my hands and informed me I was expected to take my own photos to accompany the articles I wrote.  Next came a Fujica with all kinds of lens to choose from.  I fell in love with that camera and when I left journalism, my publisher allowed me to keep it in lieu of two weeks of vacation time.  My last few years as a reporter and editor, the paper hired a part time photographer who loved teaching me how to use that camera for best results.  In time several of my children borrowed that camera to use in college or high school photography classes.  Now I mostly use a little digital camera.  I miss those super lenses on my old camera, but it is so worth it to be able to pop that little plastic square out of my camera and into my computer and voila!  I have pictures.

But that hawk is a sneaky lady.  She eludes my camera with incredible skill leaving me with fuzzy pictures--but one of these days, I'll get a really good shot like the one above of her.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today I'm grateful for our military Veterans


Veterans Day is one of those holidays that always seems to get overlooked. After all, how can a day to honor soldiers compete with the likes of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas? Somehow we manage to forget that without those soldiers who endured unspeakable trauma and too often death, we wouldn't be free to celebrate the flashier holidays.
Armistice Day or Veterans Day was established as a legal holiday in the United States to honor those who fought in World Wars I and II, but has since been expanded in the USA to include members of America's Armed Services no matter which war they served in or may be currently serving in. Other nations who were involved in World Wars I and II observe this day too. In Canada the day is called Remembrance Day. In fact our friends to the north still observe the day more fully than we in the USA do. Though there has been some fiddling with the date, it is still observed by most nations on November 11, commemorating the day in 1918 when World War I formally ended.
As a child, almost everyone I saw; schoolmates, family, strangers on the street, wore a crimson poppy on Armistice Day to show our support and to honor those who fought for us, especially those who were buried on foreign soil. There was a national sense of togetherness brought about by this simple symbol and the dimes collected for their sale went to support programs aimed at benefitting veterans, particularly those who had been wounded. Red poppies still appear on the lapels of newscasters and many ordinary citizens in Canada while the custom has almost disappeared here. I remember that at precisely 11:00 a.m. a minute of silence was also observed in schools, places of business, and even the radio went silent. Once almost every school child could quote the opening lines of a poem composed by John McCrae, a soldier who wished to honor a friend who died on a Belgian battlefield where he noticed the bright, sturdy flowers growing in fields that had been disturbed by war and where the flowers seemed to flourish between the crosses erected to honor the war dead.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Perhaps it is human nature to ignore unpleasant things until they touch us personally, but most people I know are hardly aware we've been at war for nine years, ever since America was attacked by foreign terrorists in 2001. Those of us who have had loved ones deployed during that time are certainly aware we are at war, but those who haven't, have too often gone on living their lives mostly untouched by this challenge to freedom and our way of life, other than being inconvenienced at airports and uttering complaints about the monetary cost of war.
Today is a day to set aside our political differences and simply honor those who risked their lives or gave their lives for freedom. It's a day to thank a soldier. It's a day to remember all those who sacrificed time, healthy bodies, or their lives so that we can choose our own government, our way of worship, our educational goals, our careers, and even so we can sit down together with our families to enjoy a holiday dinner. When it comes to gratitude, our military and especially my son-in-law, cousins, brothers, my friend Kerry's son, and the young soldiers I met at Walter Reed Army hospital, rank among those I blessings I'm most grateful for.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Random Gratitude Thoughts

This morning as I walked across the school yard with my grandson, I was very grateful for a warm coat.  I looked around and was pleased to see every child in his class was wearing a coat.  Last year there were several without coats and I want to give thanks for the many individuals and organizations that sponsor coat drives each year or pass on their children's outgrown winter coats.

I'm thankful too this morning for central heat.  I spent a lot of mornings as a child huddling beneath the covers waiting for Daddy to get a fire started in the stove to warm our house.

I'm thankful, too, for all the fun the piles of leaves in our yard provided my grandson and me last weekend.
I'm feeling grateful today too for being able to walk without pain.  It took a very painful shot into a tendonitis clump to accomplish the deed and tons of painkillers to ward off the migraine I always get following those shots, but today I feel great and will be on my way to the temple in a few minutes.  That's something else I'm grateful for.  I love serving in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple.

I know all of you have many things, great and small, for which you are grateful.  Please share them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Continuing the Gratitude Theme

Some of the things I'm grateful for may seem a little silly to some of you, but nonetheless, they're things I'm grateful for.

Except for a few short months we never had indoor plumbing until I was sixteen years old.  I am grateful to have bathtubs and toilets in my house.  Laugh if you want, but those who grew up in remote rural areas such as I did, know why this item is high on my gratitude list.

I'm grateful for my older sister and brothers who taught me to read.  I'm thankful too for the many teachers who nurtured my love for the written word.  I can't even imagine a life without reading.

I'm grateful for my little Saturn Ion.  It starts---every time.  I learned to drive a series of clunkers and spent a lot of time sitting in parking lots, at stop signs, and other inconvenient places waiting for some good Samaritan to give the clunker a charge or a push.

I'm grateful for this beautiful Fall weather.  There's something unique about an Indian Fall; the light has a special quality, the last flowers of the season are especially beautiful, and I hate wearing a coat.

I'm thankful for birds.  We keep three feeders in our backyard, and yes sometimes it gets a little expensive to keep them filled, but my husband and I get a lot of pleasure out of watching the various kinds of birds that visit our yard, and even laugh at the squabbling sparrows who arrive in droves.

Keep those gratitude comments coming.  Only those who add gratitude comments to my November blogs are eligible for the Wish List prize this time around.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Changing the rules

I'm changing the contest rules this one time.  This month the Wish List contest will last until the day after Thanksgiving.  Only those who make comments on this blog between now and Thanksgiving will be eligible to win and the prize will be two wish list books.  The theme will be gratitude and you can express your appreciation for anything you are truly grateful for in the comment trail.  Enter as many times as you like.

And speaking of gratitude I'm grateful for my family and how much fun we have together.  Usually we're a pretty low key bunch, but every Halloween my son and his wife throw a party for our family.  They always have the most innovative costumes. 
Along with way too much good food, those family members brave enough to don costumes pose for the family portrait.

TWO WINNERS

Winner of the last Wish List book failed to contact me, so I drew two winners today:  Danyelle Ferguson and Mindy Battraw.  Congratulations!  Please send me a list of five or more LDS novels you would like to own and I'll send one of them to you (if someone else hasn't already claimed it).  Send your wish list and mailing address to bhansen22 at msn dot com.  Please include Wish List in your subject line.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Get Ready, Get Set, Nominate

The year is winding down and it's time for LDS fiction readers to give some thought to nominees for the annual Whitney Academy Awards. These honors are awarded in various categories, generally referred to as genres. Genre fiction and popular fiction are terms used interchangeably in discussions of literary works. They don't mean the exact same thing, but their definitions are close enough that I'm not going to quibble. For this discussion, either term will refer to the type of fiction purchased and read most frequently by readers, though literary fiction is not excluded.

I'm often asked to define what the various genre labels mean, and I'll be honest, defining categories of fiction is not as easy as it may sound. Many authors, teachers, librarians, and critics disagree on precise definitions, and for good reasons. What the reader brings to a book is often as critical as what the author put into it. Someone I admire greatly and I have often disagreed over the genre categories various books have been placed in for judging the Whitney Awards. She may see a story of historical significance while I recognize a beautiful love story as the paramount element of the story. I might call a story Young Adult and she sees it as General Fiction.

I'm pleased to hear that this year LDS novels may be entered in more than one genre for Whitney Academy judging. There have been several occasions where a truly excellent book has been a finalist or even won when it didn't come close to fitting the parameters of the category it was placed in and equally sad were the omissions of great books because, though some readers may have thought they were a particular genre, the judges did not. In my opinion there's nothing wrong with a title being recognized in more than one category. Hopefully this decision will make recognition of the truly best books more probable.

At one time the term LDS Fiction was considered a genre class of its own. Now LDS fiction is broken into as many categories as is main stream fiction. Here's a quick, though not definitive, rundown of the various genres.

Romance: This category includes love stories which may be humorous, historical, western, suspense, or mystery as well. Some readers lump all stories considered of particular interest to women in the romance category; others prefer a separate women's issues genre which includes social issues stories dealing with parenting, abuse, divorce, and other subjects generally discussed more openly by women than men. By the way, stories where sexual attraction is the major factor, more so than the actual relationship and emotions experienced by the lovers, is another genre, not romance.

Historical: These stories are set in a previous time period and are related to known facts of that era. They may or may not include historical figures. Unless the setting is historically accurate and the events of that period can be documented, novels in this category are generally considered more speculative than historical. Stories based on a verse of scripture or a little know scriptural character, particularly those from the Book of Mormon where little is known of day to day life and precise locations, sometimes fall into a strange limbo as the background and events are more guesswork than based on fact. Educated guesswork often places these novels in the historical realm, but whether they belong there is questioned by many historical readers. Historical accuracy is of prime importance to readers of this genre.

Mystery/Suspense: Sometimes Mystery and Suspense are lumped together as one genre though they are not precisely the same. A mystery includes a puzzle to be solved while suspense implies high tension and may not even involve solving some unknown question. Both have as many sub genres as writers are able to imagine. Many include a great love story. They can be set in any time period or place, real or imaginary.

Speculative: This category is loaded with sub genres. Some of the most popular are those that make a guess about the future, whether it is the Second Coming, near annihilation of our planet, or Space exploration. Some make educated guesses concerning a previous time period such as the Ice Age or a scriptural time period. Others deal with imaginary demons, monsters, special powers, mythical characters, or life on an alternative world. Horror, especially if imaginary creatures or pseudo science are involved, may fall in this category. Science Fiction and Fantasy are both generally included in speculative fiction.

Westerns: Westerns deal with the settlement of the Western United States. They are usually lighter than historicals dealing with this same time period. Horses and/or cattle usually appear prominently and there is a strong distinction between good and bad. Native Americans often play a role in this genre as do miners, guns, and wild animals native to the West.

Youth Fiction or YA: This category is broken down into all of the same genre classifications as adult fiction though the characters are younger, the language a little simpler, and the stories are of particular interest to a younger audience. There is usually a "coming of age" factor shown as the characters progress toward maturity. Once YA was considered pretty much aimed toward the high school/college age crowd, but now often includes the first post college years when young people first step into the real adult world. On the other hand, when I worked as a librarian, I found more and more books once considered middle readers, suitable for fifth through eighth graders, reclassified as YA.

General Fiction: This is a catchall category for books that don't fall into any other category well. These books range from social issues, explorations of philosophies, to a blurring of several other categories. Sometimes they exhibit elements of literary works. Horror is generally considered a sub genre of General Fiction, especially if it contemporary and closely linked to possibility, but because of its increasing popularity it may be placed in its own genre.

I urge readers to get nominations in for the 2010 Whitney Awards. Any novel written by an LDS author and released during 2010 is eligible. For this award to be of significant worth in the field of LDS fiction, there needs to be more nominations come from non-industry-related readers. To read more about the Whitney Awards Program or to nominate a novel(s) go here. You can suggest which category or categories you think your favorite novels fit in, but you don't have to. You are also welcome to expand, agree, or disagree with my definitions of the various genres in the comment trail below. I'll even forward your comments to the chairman of the Whitney contest.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From the Pumpkin Files

 Arazona and Charlie demonstrate a truly sincere pumpkin patch.


Tigger might be too little for candy and trick or treat, but he's sure cute.


They're so grown up now, they won't appreciate this old picture.
Halloween and costumes go together, but there was a time when a few LDS fiction writers didn't need Halloween to dress up and act a bit scary.  While searching for an old picture through some past files, I ran across a few costume pictures from the past.  Remember these folks? Jeff Savage, Rob Wells and Michele Bell really got into those old mystery dramas.  Of course, I had my moments along with Kerry Blair, Betsy Green, and Michele.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to start a Halloween contest


October is half over and we're half way to Halloween, just two more weeks. I tried to think of a Halloween theme for the October Wish List 2 contest, but since LDS fiction doesn't produce many horror novels and I have none to give away, I guess that's not too great of an idea. To be perfectly honest I don't like the creepy, bloody, scary stuff, but I enjoy the little kids' Trick or Treat costumes, the candy, pumpkins, scarecrows, and all of the light, fun side. When it comes to books, my favorite Halloween style covers and titles belong to Kerry Blair, Ghost of a Chance and Mummy's the Word. Both Gregg Luke and Stephanie Black write the kind of suspense that borders on horror, but never quite crosses that line. There are a few LDS writers who write horror, but their books are general market, not LDS. So let's keep to the fun side of Halloween for this contest. I want to hear what your favorite Halloween activities are, what costumes your kids are wearing this year, do you attend Halloween parties, and whether or not you like to read the gory, scary, nightmare kind of books. One more thing, I think it would be fun to post reader's Halloween pictures over the next two weeks. If you would like me to post a picture of your kids, your pet, or you in Halloween costume on this blog, send your photo to bhansen22 at msn dot com. Be sure to mention the name of this contest in your subject line so I won't delete it with my junk mail. The senders of any pictures used will receive a double entry in the contest.
Oh, and lest I forget, the winner of the October Wish List 1 contest is Cindy R. Williams. Cindy send me a list of five or more books on your wish list and your mailing address. Send it to bhansen22 at msn dot com. Remember all followers are included in each contest and those who make comments on any of my blogs during the contest period are entered in the drawing to win an LDS novel of his/her choice from the books sent to me for review.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What Matters Most

I did something Thursday night I haven't done since I was a teenager, and that was a long time ago. I slept for eleven hours straight. My life has been highly stressful the past few years; I've lost to death my father, two siblings, a brother-in-law, and three sisters-in-law. During this period of time, a son-in-law was also severely wounded in Iraq. Added to that were a daughter's, a sister-in-law's, a brother-in-law's, and a cousin's successful battles with cancer. Through most of this time I attempted to keep up my house, my gardens, a Primary class, two days of service at the temple, my writing, and reviewing along with all of the other things we women, wives, mothers, and grandmothers try to do. I constantly nagged myself to work harder, move faster, get more done. All while battling a crippling bout of tendonitis in one knee. I've always been guilty of over scheduling and trying to do everything. The final straw seemed to be accepting an assignment to clean the temple between 9:30 and 12:30 the night between my two temple days last week. It's an assignment I really do enjoy, but by the time I finished my shift Thursday, my mind felt numb and I was barely functioning. I fell asleep around eight thirty and didn't awaken until after seven thirty Friday morning. Since then I've been thinking a lot about President Dieter Uchtdorf's conference talk on things that matter most.

These words stuck in my mind: "When stress levels rise, when distress appears, when tragedy strikes, too often we attempt to keep up the same frantic pace or even accelerate, thinking somehow that the more rushed our pace, the better off we will be . . . If life and its rushed pace and many stresses have made life difficult for you to feel like rejoicing, then perhaps now is a good time to refocus on what matters most."

Illnesses and deaths come unexpectedly, but most other "obligations" can be rescheduled or skipped if we have enough sense to do it. A counselor in my ward's bishopric realized how stressed I felt and had me released from teaching Primary a few months ago. Of necessity I backed off from my previous writing level--hence no book out this year. Cleaning the temple is an important and satisfying experience, so I went even though I was already over tired. I enjoy the comments people make about our yard and gardens and I enjoy gardening. It has bothered me greatly to see grass and weeds marring the beauty of my flowers, so I pushed my knee beyond what it could tolerate. Now there are many gardening tasks I cannot do. I've always been a little "house proud" and with many family members staying with us for short and long visits during cancer treatments and visits to family members in cancer specialty hospitals near us, but far from their homes, I attempted to keep our house spotless and clean sheets on the beds in our spare rooms. Now my knee thoroughly objects when I try to vacuum. My failure to live up to my goals and standards, the times I didn't spend with my children and grandchildren, the ball games and school programs I missed, the book I didn't get ready for publication, all left me feeling guilty. Clearly I'm one of those who didn't stick to the basics President Uchtdorf referred to in his talk.

It is said that any virtue when taken to an extreme can become a vice. Over-scheduling our days would certainly qualify for this. There comes a point where milestones can become millstones and ambitions, albatrosses around our necks.

It's a hard lesson, but I think I, and most other people, need to learn to let go of some things. We need to decide what is the most basic essentials and let lesser time consumers go. President Uchtdorf listed four important areas which he considers most important in our busy, cluttered lives. First he suggests we "turn to Heavenly Father and seek His wisdom regarding the things that matter most." His list is comprised of four areas he considers vital, beginning with our relationship with God. Second is our families. Third is our relationship with our fellowman. And the fourth, but not necessarily the least important, is our relationship with ourselves.

May I suggest that you reduce the rush and take a little extra time to get to know yourself better. Walk in nature, watch a sunrise, enjoy God's creations, ponder the truths of the restored gospel, and find out what they mean for you personally.

I'm going to take President Uchtdorf's challenge to simplify my life and to focus on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship. I've picked one thing from one of the four basics he suggested and plan to concentrate on letting it improve my life. I could have picked many goals, but if I choose too many, I won't accomplish any of them well. I plan to keep the basics firmly in mind as challenges come my way and learn to separate what is truly important from those things that don't really matter or can be done at another time. I hope others will accept his challenge too. Pick just one area where you can improve and decide on one specific thing you can do to simplify and improve your life. Then do it. I plan to.

Monday, October 11, 2010

OUT OF INK

I know I've neglected a lot of things lately, but this is downright annoying. I'm out of ink. I attempted to print a few pictures I've taken lately and discovered I've neglected to update my ink supply. That's one of those details I usually watch closely.


As a writer, details are something I try to watch closely, but like my ink supply, I sometimes get careless. I double check facts; I watch spelling and grammar like a hawk, but my punctuation has been known to be on the careless side. I know the rules; I really do. That doesn't mean I follow them. I throw in commas wherever it seems natural to pause, I'm generous with semi colons and I can never quite remember when to use an em dash and when to let thoughts trail off in three little dots. I always think that when I finish a manuscript, I'll fix the punctuation, but too often I miss something. (By the way, Annette Lyon currently has a great mini-lesson on semi colons on her blog).


I love authors who work realistic details into the background or setting, use details to make a procedure clear, or add these bits to make a character someone the reader can relate to. Without these tidbits, a novel becomes like the pictures I tried to print this morning, blurred streaks of gray. Yes, a story can get bogged down in too much trivia, but a careful writer learns the details of the setting for his/her story, studies the occupation, time period, and social customs the character would know, and develops a character whose physical description and idiosyncrasies remain constant--unless there is a deliberate change for plot-related reasons.


Getting the details right involves research, reviewing facts, and paying attention. I know my editor would appreciate more careful attention to detail in the way I use punctuation and as a reviewer who has recently read some really poor novels and some really good ones, I think I can safely say readers will show their appreciation for better attention to details, on writers and editors parts, by repeat purchases of books by those authors who watch the details.


Now about those pictures I tried to print. Until I get to a store that sells ink, this is the best I can do.



First trophy!My grandson, Brandon's first soccer team.


P.S. The current contest ends this Friday, so get those comments made.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Running Late

I'm sorry I'm late posting the winner of my September Wish List 2 contest. I was out of town most of the week. I loved the comments concerning the future of LDS Fiction posted on Meridian and I'm glad so many of you enjoy LDS Fiction and took the time to read my article and comment. I like the new Meridian format that gives readers an opportunity to comment directly on columns and features they like or dislike, and allows them to add something they find pertinent. So many people who enjoy LDS fiction live nowhere near a store that carries this fiction and must depend on ordering online, over the phone, or by mail which adds to the cost of the books. Comments by readers added to my reviews are a big help for readers everywhere to make choices concerning books to order or to pick up when they are able to visit a bookstore that carries LDS materials.

Now to announce the winner: Vicki Firth Please contact me within a week at bhansen22 at msn dot com to give me your wish list and mailing address.

A new contest begins now and runs through October 15. The past few weeks have been extremely stressful for me and I haven't found a particular theme for this contest (October Wish List 1), so I'm going to ask you to comment on any topic connected to LDS fiction or you may ask me questions concerning my own writing, reviewing, or anything writing related. If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does. (I'll also decide whether or not a question is appropriate).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pictures to Accompany Blog

I haven't quite figured out how to post pictures with blogs written on Word Office and opened on Blogger, so here are the pictures that should accompany the following blog.







Ignore the dates on the pictures. I obviously need to reset the date stamp on my camera. They were all taken yesterday, not ten years ago!

A Change of Season

As many of you already know, my sister passed away Saturday morning. Her greatest desires through her long ordeal were to go home and to see her grandchildren. Her son and his fourteen year-old twin sons visited her several times while in the hospital in Salt Lake. Her daughter's two children, both adults, came too, but what was hard was not to be able to see her granddaughter's twin girls (six) and their little brother. The small children weren't allowed in the cancer unit. And how she longed to see her grandson's much anticipated baby due in November. The day before she died, when death was inevitable, her husband and son made arrangements to transfer her to a hospital nearer their home and all of the grandchildren were able to visit her and say good-bye.

When the medical transport left Salt Lake Friday morning I cried, but a little song our father taught us when we were children came to mind. It went "one little, two little, three little Indians, four little . . ." Because there were ten of us in our family we changed the words to "one little, two little, three little Smiths, four little . . ." and on up to ten, then we counted backward "ten little, nine little, eight little Smiths, seven little . . ." The thought came to me that we're down to six now, but on the other side, they're up to four.

Feeling lost and sad yesterday, I found it difficult to settle into any of the many tasks I've ignored over the long months of my sister's illness. My son-in-law, Steve, decided I needed to get out, get away for a little while. He and my daughter with their three children came to collect my husband and me for a drive along the Alpine Loop. Seated next to my ten-year-old granddaughter, I took pleasure in her loving smiles and quick mind and laughed at our seven-year-old's efforts to eat all of the snacks and keep his little brother from getting too wild. It was a beautiful day, but I couldn't help thinking of how much my sister loved the mountains and changing of the seasons. It was a refreshing trip and brought me a sense of peace, reminding me that my little sister is no longer suffering, but is Home with our older brother and our parents. We finished the day with dinner in Heber and I found something especially dear about sitting next to my rambunctious, outgoing four-year-old grandson, my youngest, who is never still for a moment. Again I felt regret that my sister won't be able to interact with her grandchildren and take pleasure in a simple outing with them again and I was deeply reminded of how dear my grandchildren are to me.

Seeing the trees change with the end of one season and the beginning of another, I couldn't help thinking that the death of a loved one is also a change of season. Those of us who remain behind will see our lives change because of her absence. The change of season for her, I believe, is as dramatic and beautiful as the foliage changing from the green beauty of summer, to the vibrancy and colors of Autumn.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm inviting you to go to Meridian Magazine and read my column there. Instead of my usual review of an LDS novel I've talked about the condition of today's LDS Fiction and where I think LDS fiction is headed in the future. I talked to quite a few people, mostly authors and editors, before writing this column. As a writer and a reviewer I can't help wondering where readers (and others) see LDS fiction in today's market place, in your homes, and in your lives. What do you think is good about LDS fiction? What would make it better? and Where do you think LDS fiction will be two years or five years down the road? Please respond on Meridian's comment trail, or here. (By the way, everyone who responds with thoughtful comments at either of these locations, will be entered in the ongoing Wish List contest on my blog.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Attitude and Preparation

This past week hasn't been one of my better weeks. I told everyone to look under Entertainment for my reviews on Meridian when I should have said look under Books. I've spent extra time at the hospital with my sister this week so my brother-in-law could go home for his own Dr.'s appointment, thus I didn't get a blog posted on the V-formation or on my blog. I was expecting my column on Meridian to be posted on Thursday; it wasn't. It has a new posting date Monday, Sept. 20, so look for it then. (This column is about the current state of LDS Fiction and where I think it's going in the next few years and I would really appreciate comments here or on Meridian from readers, writers, and anyone else with a stake in the future of LDS fiction.) I have tendonitis in one knee and it's been acting up all week; do you suppose stress is a factor in that? I've read five books in the past few weeks. Three were awful, actually one was excellent for the first half then it fell apart. The other two books, both by consistently excellent authors, were good and even may have been better than I rated them, but with so many distractions I had to read in fast, short time bursts that made concentrating difficult.

Anyway enough of my Perils of Pauline whining. I spent a little more than an hour this morning clearing away weeds and overgrown foliage in my flower beds. It barely made a dent in what needs to be done, but as I worked I found myself planning where to plant new bulbs for next spring, debating whether a plant that didn't do well in its present spot might do better if I moved it to another location, and feeling good about my accomplishments because it will make next Spring's garden so much prettier. Spring is a long time away, but preparing now makes a tremendous difference in both the workload and the pleasure in my garden when it arrives.

It occurred to me that the editorial process of a book is much like fall garden work. Clearing out repetitions, getting rid of spelling and grammar errors, moving a section from one chapter to another where it fits better, results in a far better book on that magical day when it is finally released. I don't have a release date yet for my next book, though it has been accepted by my publisher, but there are things I and other writers and editors find make the editing process flow more smoothly and the satisfaction with the finished product that much greater. One of these is to keep a file of notes during the writing process, a chapter by chapter outline (some writers outline before, some after), and a character list with detailed descriptions. The editing process can begin many months, sometimes a year or more, after the manuscript is finished, so keeping these items can save precious time and headaches when the time does come to edit since it makes jumping back into that story easier.

Okay, I'm determined next week is going to be better, my Spring garden will be beautiful and colorful, and I won't moan and groan about my next editing process. Attitude and preparation! I'll keep reminding myself of those two things.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oops!

My column that was supposed to run on Meridian this morning didn't, so if you comment on any of the last four reviews I posted there, I'll count your comment as a contest entry. Comment here or there. www.ldsmag.com My reviews are listed under the heading Entertainment - Book Reviews

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One contest ends another begins

Violettes is the winner of a Wish List Book. Please send me your wish list, five or more books from your wish list. Please don't include really recent books that are probably going to be Whitney nominees. I'll make some of them available next April after the awards have been decided. Along with the list, please include your mailing address. Send the information to bhansen22 at msn dot com. Include "wish list" in the subject line. And congratulations!

The next contest starts tomorrow. Please read my column on Meridian and respond either here or in the comment trail on Meridian. www.ldsmag.com

Monday, September 13, 2010

Catch Up!

Last Wednesday a car hit my internet service provider's equipment and demolished it. Five days without internet service was a royal pain, therefore I'm afraid I became a royal pain for Quest. I have a column to submit! I work from home! I want to talk to a real person! Their update line, reached after a dozen, automated questions was still just a recording that simply told me I didn't have service at the present time, but their technicians were working on the problem. Arrgh! Anyway I finally have internet back and tons of catching up to do.

To add to the last few days' frustration, my sister has developed an infection in her lungs and is back in the hospital. She's so tired and depressed she just wants to quit fighting, her husband is a powder keg ready to explode He's already thrown a few near-tantrums. Fatigue and worry will do that to a person.

I'm embarassed for my fellow journalists who turned the crack-pot ravings of one not-too-bright self-proclaimed preacher into an international incident. It's disappointing to see the world press feeding Iran's thirst for publicity as they drag out the release of a US woman who shouldn't have been anywhere near Iran in the first place and shouldn't have been arrested over such a silly non-issue either. I think I might resort to throwing something at Peter Caroon if I hear his "cheap cheap" commercial one more time. I'm really tired of the lies and innuendos candidates are already using in their campaigns and even more disgusted with media and supporters who jump on small matters to turn them into major stumbling blocks.

If I sound cranky today, I truly apologize because I'm a strong believer in looking for silver linings. And there are good things happening around me too. My publisher accepted my Murder Comes Calling manuscript. (The title is subject to change) I attended a fun and yummy Stake picnic Saturday and last night was the Oquirrh Temple Devotional held at the tabernacle in Salt Lake. Both were wonderful feasts, one for the tummy and one for the soul.

Meridian's comment feature attached to my columns is now working. I'm looking forward to hearing your comments on my various reviews. Should I add comments any of my blog readers make to my contest? You'd have to comment here too, so I'd know if you read both my Meridian review column and this blog. By the way the current contest ends in two days.

I'm not sure whether by strict definition this is a blog or just some random rambling. After an absence from internet contact for five days, let's just say it's my way of playing catch up.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fall is Coming, Ready or Not

Officially there are three more weeks of summer, but September first always feels like the end of summer and the beginning of Fall. The storm that greeted the Wasatch front a couple of days ago looked and felt like we were jumping straight from summer into winter and bypassing Fall. We had so much hail our lawn and driveway looked like we'd gotten our first snowfall. The hail didn't all melt from the neighbors' roofs until well past noon.

There's something about the changing of seasons that seems to herald new beginnings. A new school year begins of course, but other changes occur too, as we shift from summer casualness to a more productive time. Summer heat encourages relaxed days while Fall's cooler days suggest it's time to get back to business, to take inventory of how we spend our time, to clean our houses, and set or complete goals.

In the writers' world, we tend to suddenly realize how close we are to general conference and to the holiday season and vow to finish our WIPs before we become swamped with pre-holiday book signings and events. We remember there are only a few months left to nominate our favorite books for Whitney awards.

Fall also brings frenzied political posturing before the November elections. There's a lot at stake, so let's get involved early and make certain we're prepared to be informed voters who actually vote.

It won't be long now until we see the turning of colors on the trees and shrubs (the few leaves left after the hail chewed most of them to shreds), gardens will produce their last ears of corn, the zuchinni will be gone, and we'll be marvelling at the beauty of the last roses of the year. It's hard to say farewell to fresh peaches, fat watermelon, sun-ripened tomatos, and the bounties of another summer, but Fall brings its pleasures too and that is my challenge for September's first Wish List contest. What will you miss most about summer and what is your favorite Fall thing? If you list one book (or more) you've nominated for a Whitney, I'll include your name twice in the next drawing.

It's that time again

Time to announce winners! Two winners were drawn this time Kelsi Rose won in the drawing for commenters only and Kimberly Job won in the drawing for everyone. Please send your wish lists of five or more books to bhansen22 at msn dot com along with your mailing address. Please include "wish list" in your subject line. Please respond by Sept. 6.

Friday, August 27, 2010

DO THE MECHANICS MATTER?

Just how important are the mechanical aspects of writing? Most of us have gotten so accustomed to the occasional typo, left out word, or misused word, we automatically read what a sentence should have said and gloss over the electronic errors that are so prevalent in today's communications. However, most of us expect something a little better from books, even though they, too, are victims of our modern dependence on electronic devices. But it is not only copy writing errors that plague large numbers of books, there is a serious shortage of meaningful editing as publishers, especially small, shoe-string publishers, and self-publishing services depend on computers instead of educated, knowledgeable people to prepare manuscripts for publication.

Currently I am reading a novel that makes me want to cry, not because the story is sad, but because it is so poorly presented. There are typos, left out words, and wrong words galore--and this isn't even a self-published book. To be perfectly honest, the characters are great and I can relate to the main characters and feel great sympathy for them. The plot is compelling and fascinating. BUT--and this is a big But--I am struggling to follow the point-of view. Every character's thoughts are revealed and I doubt the author ever heard of the scene/sequel sequence. Paragraphs are thrown in here and there, revealing information only God or the author could possibly know in advance. The book is a technical mess. I can understand the publishers acceptance of the novel on the basis of the plot and characters, but I don't understand why a qualified editor didn't help the author clean up point-of view, sequence, or at least correct misused and misspelled words. I won't mention the title, author, or publisher of the book, but I won't review it either. The saddest thing about this book is that the author has considerable talent for inventing a story, but because of the poor presentation and clumsy structure of the book, he/she will probably receive few royalties and will become discouraged and give up on writing and readers will lose a potentially beloved author.

Anyone who is serious about writing needs to prepare the best manuscript possible. Don't depend on an editor to "fix" it. Most editors are spread too thin, have too heavy a work load, and cannot take the time once allowed for working on a given novel. No matter how much talent someone has in any field, to become the best he or she can be, that person must study and practice. That means for a writer, studying books on grammar, style, and novel structure. There are plenty of books on the market and in public libraries that teach the mechanics of novel writing. And if you didn't pay close enough attention in high school and college English or language courses, there are books that teach grammar and word usage, sentence structure, and parts of speech. Every would-be writer should have a really good dictionary, a big fat unabridged dictionary, not one of those little paperback college editions. A thesaurus is also helpful. The internet can be helpful too. There are all kinds of helpful online resources from dictionaries, style helps, and translations to blogs (such as The Lyons Tale by Annette Lyon) that aids in word and grammar usage and overall writing tips and helps on LDS Publisher. Many published authors and others in the publishing field write regular features on their blogs concerning various aspects of writing. Organizations such as Romance Writers of America, League of Utah Writers, American Night Writers Association, and LDStorymakers are among organizations that offer help to their membership on a regular basis and sponsor conventions and workshops to aid writers. Many colleges and universities also sponsor writing workshops.

In my opinion, the technical side of writing matters a great deal. Is it asking too much to have a great plot, characters I can care about, and a presentation that flows so smoothly it never intrudes on my enjoyment of the story?


 


 


 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Plot or Characters

Plot versus characters is a little like the old chicken and the egg question. To many readers It's not a matter of which comes first though, but which is more important. For me, plot might just have a little edge, but no matter how great the plot, I never am satisfied with a book peopled by crummy characters.

Plot is vital to me; I've never really enjoyed the kind of novel where the angst-filled protagonist flirts with insanity, struggles with some kind of mental complex, or grapples with depression if that is the main crux of the story. Many literary novels take a character and build an entire book around the character's inner emotional struggle. These same problems are fine character attributes if there's a plot to the story too. Other writers concentrate so heavily on action and plot twists, the characters are the same at the end as the beginning and the reader has no idea who they are. Many readers and writers seem to think a novel should be all action or all inner character development. The best novels in my opinion are those where the characters become real to the reader and grow and learn through the course or events of the story. One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from a reader who said when she finished reading When Tomorrow Comes she felt she should call up George and Jacey and invite them to dinner.

So how do we create characters that feel real? Some writers, including me, take a sheet of paper, put the character's name at the top, then list eye color, hair color, physical details such as height, weight, where and when the person was born, where went to school, employment record, parents, siblings, hobbies, likes, dislikes, and everything else that identifies that person. One romance writer who spoke at a conference I attended said she goes to a doll-maker who makes a doll from her description of her heroine and she keeps the doll on her desk while writing her story. Another says she hunts through magazines and clips out pictures that fit her idea of each character and tacks them to a board by her desk. The important things is a character must be firmly entrenched in the writer's mind if there is to be any hope of the character being real to the reader.

I commented once in a review that an author's heroine didn't feel real and she sent me an angry email telling me how real the character was because she was actually herself. I suspect she read much more into the actual words she wrote than her readers possibly could. Most writers, unless they're writing an autobiography, don't project themselves well into their novels because our characters seem to take on better or worse attributes than we actually possess. In one of my early books I thought I was using myself as a model for a character and wound up seriously wounding my ego as I got letters from several readers saying how much they loved the book, but they disliked that character.

Another conference speaker once advised the audience not to create "stupid heroines." I've always considered that good advice. She also said our heroines need to be strong in their own right and shouldn't have to be rescued by a "man or a miracle." More good advice. On the other hand, I dislike wimpy heroes who can't get anything right either.

It's possible to have the best characters in the world and still have a poor story. Something has to happen or there's no story. That something needs to place the protagonist or someone he/she cares about in danger, be a changing point in the main character's life, or in some way present a puzzle to be solved. There's a good reason why the major genres appeal to readers. It's because the characters are pitted against a major challenge they must defend against, outwit, or in some way overcome. In a well-written novel the reader identifies with the antagonist and pits her/his own reasoning and skills against the problem, gaining a sense of achievement as the problem is solved whether it's defeating the bad guys, planning a wedding, or moving forward with renewed purpose.

I freely admit I like a book with an intricate plot and strong characters. I read all kinds of books, but I prefer action and a well thought out plots whether the story takes place now or in the historical past. I've read and enjoyed some books in almost every genre, but I quickly become bored with mythical characters, unreal worlds, and magical potions, and the frenzied attempt some writers make to be meaner, bloodier, or more shocking than anyone else. Shock is not a substitute for plot. Whatever genre I pick up I want characters I can like and believe in and a problem with challenging twists and turns.

Okay, I've expressed my feelings about plot and characters, I'd like to know how other writers view these two important components of writing, and more importantly, I'd like to hear from readers about whether you consider plot and characters of equal importance or does one matter more than the other? I'll do two drawings on August 31. One will include only those who make thoughtful comments on this topic and the other will include everyone who comments and those who are followers. Oh, and I think I'll call my contests simply Wish List one or two. That makes this one Wish List Two since it's the second one this month.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quick Announcement

Jennifer is the winner of an LDS book of her choice. Jennifer, please send me a wish list of five or more LDS novels and I'll send you one from your list or request a new list if your choices are already gone. Please send your list and your mailing address to bhansen22 at msn dot com. I'll start the next contest tomorrow. Put Wish List in the subject line so your message doesn't get lost in my junk file.

Monday, August 9, 2010

To Blog or Read; That is the Question

Shall I blog or read? I've got some really enticing books on my "to read stack." I just finished Stalk Lake City by Sheralyn Pratt and I've got a great sounding historical, a chick lit style romance, and two very different sounding mystery/suspense novels. And I've received notification of a couple more books on their way to my mailbox. Hmmm.

Just a quick roundup of events in my life perhaps, then I'll grab a book and read for an hour or so before going downtown to see my sister. She's doing well and may be able to leave the hospital in about a week--not to go home, but to go to the motel where her husband has been staying for the past three months which is near the hospital should they need to make a quick trip back. Some days she can get out of bed and walk pretty well; others she needs help with everything. She's going through some pretty intense physical therapy right now, but her attitude is great because her last bone marrow test showed no sign of the leukemia. Now she just needs to heal from the cure.

We got a surprise yesterday. My sister-in-law called to say their new grandson had been born. He arrived a bit too early and too fast and was having problems so he was being air-lifted from Pocatello to Primary here in Salt Lake. We met family at the hospital and were glad to see them, but regretted the circumstances that brought them down here. The baby seems to be doing well and it is reassuring to have him at Primary. They let me go into the NICU to see him, and as little as he is and with lines running from his mouth, nose, and feet, he's still a beautiful baby.

We attended the international Brough Family reunion over the weekend too. It's certainly intersting to meet cousins from four different countries and a dozen different states. It's a good thing our family organization has published a book with our geneology because I'll never remember all of my living relatives, leave alone those we've discovered dating back about seven centuries. We have the distinction of being the largest family organization on record.

And just so you'll know, I've started separating my long historical novel which I had hoped would come out this year into two books. This book started out as Diamond in my
Bracelet series, then when the series was cut short and I took the diamond out of it, I turned it into an epic western historical. Too much material, too long time span, so my publisher asked me to rework it again and make two books out of it.

Now off to do a little reading!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I Don't Get It

I don't get it. I never have. What is the motivation behind petty, mean actions? Sure I understand theft, revenge, and a host of other crimes, but why does anyone do petty, mean things from which they gain nothing, aren't around to gloat over the victim's reaction, and prove nothing but their own moronic mentality?

Several people I know have had their Facebook accounts hacked and an insulting message has gone out to their friends, including young children, along with a link. The message is stupid and the link usually turns out to be a pornographic site. Vandals break out car windows; a nut job fires BB pellets from an overpass, beer cans are tossed on a church lawn, gravestones are overturned, and when we first moved to our present home we planted a thousand dollars worth of trees in the median strip only to have someone run over all those new trees with a truck, destroying them all. Graffiti is a constant, senseless destruction of property all across our country from which no one gains anything and our beautiful country becomes less beautiful.

This problem extends beyond vandalism. Just take a look at the comment trail on news stories. Those comments are riddled with hateful, mean insults. Bloggers often have to remove comments that are crude, mean-spirited, or outright obscene in their comment trails. Few writers have been spared rude, derogatory, unhelpful comments concerning their work. Honest constructive criticism is not the same thing as mean, hurtful insults.

Politics has raised the art of lies, half truths, and insults to a level that has turned off too many citizens from the political arena and destroyed trust in our government. Mean, negative campaigns often deprive citizens of the best representation and wastes millions of dollars. Time is wasted too as candidates and supporters spend their time smearing each other or refuting the other's claims instead of dealing with real issues.

Almost all countries with some form of democratic government are facing immigration problems at the present time. Instead of working out solutions to real problems such as religious freedom, employment, education, upward economic mobility, drugs, security, etc., many people resort to petty name calling, broad racial generalizations, hateful actions, and a lot of shouting that only serves to divide people and delay solutions.

It's easy to blame easy access to electronic media and its faceless nature for much of today's disregard for manners and the feelings of others, but Facebook and other social networks, comment trails, and other electronic media don't deserve all of the blame. Vandals broke into and trashed homes while the owners were away, rioters burned and looted their own neighborhoods, politicians lied about their opponents, and punks shot up traffic signs long before Blackberries, iphones, and computers made relationships impersonal. Today's electronic gizmos merely make being obnoxious easier.

We can blame society, poor parenting, lack of religious training, too much idle time, unsupervised computer access, or even some kind of genetic defect for the insane urge some people seem to have to hurt or destroy. There are probably mental or emotional reasons why some people have an urge to hurt, destroy, or deface. They may all be valid causes. I don't know. I just know I don't get it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's Get Bloggy

Blogging isn't easy. With so many people doing it, you'd think it was one of those things even a cave man could do. The truth of the matter is, it isn't hard when you have something to say and time to put it down in words. The problem arises after blogging for months or years to not repeat yourself. Even harder is the time commitment. Even bloggers who spout off anything that comes to mind without regard for anyone's feelings, grammar, spelling, being overly personal, facts, etc. still have a time investment. Thoughtful bloggers may spend hours trying to get a few paragraphs to sound just right.

I and a number of other writers, who also blog, were recently wondering if our blogs are worth the time invested in them; time we could be spending writing, reading, cleaning our houses, weeding the garden, going to the temple, or doing hundreds of other tasks we sometimes let slide in order to blog. On one hand blogs are a great way to interact with people who share our interests, family, fans, or others with whom we wish to stay in touch. Blogs are more personal than social sites such as Facebook and provide greater options for interaction such as contests, instruction or explanations, previews, or reviews. Then there's the matter of are they being read?.

I decided to make blogs the focus of the next contest. Just answer a few questions.

1. How many blogs do you read a day? a week?
2. Do you blog?
3. Do you like behnd-the-scenes details about the writing and production of books?
4. Are you interested in the various blogs that run contests (such as mine)?
5. Have you ever bought a book because of a friend's blog review?
6. Just comment on any aspect of blogging pro or con.

Commenters names will be entered twice in the next drawing. Each follower's name is automatically entered. The winner will send me a wish list of LDS novels and I will send one of the books from the list to him/her. Occasionally the books on a winner's list are all already spoken for, likely to be Whitney winners and therefore aren't available until after the next Whitney Awards, or for some other reason aren't available. In that case I'll ask for a second list--or you can just give me a longer list to choose from to begin with.

Winner

Primary Mary has won this round of the win-a-book contest. (I really should think up an official name for my contests. Any suggestions?) Anyway, Mary send me a wish list of five or more LDS novels and I'll send you one of them if I have it; otherwise I'll ask for another list. Contact me at bhansen22 at msn dot com with your list and your regular mail address. Please put something in the subject line to identify that you're a July winner so it doesn't get lost in my junk mail. Congratulations!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A few things

First let me say how much I've enjoyed the comments given on pioneers. Some of those comments would make wonderful blogs in their own right. Thank you, you've added to my appreciation for all kinds of pioneers.

Second, my sister has been moved from the Bone Marrow transplant unit to an acute rehabilitation center. It's not a nursing home and only has nine patients who are given intense physical therapy to help them regain mobility after a debilitating illness. Her transplant is going well and she's gone through one serious HVG (host versus graft) setback and is extremely weak. This is a big step for her and essential to regaining mobility.

I've been writing reviews of LDS novels for Meridian Magaine, an online LDS magazine for many years. This month the magazine has changed it's format and I think it has become better than ever. Instead of reviewing a whole bunch of books once a month, I now review one novel each week (Thursdays), but an archive is attached to my column so that readers can go back and read previous reviews and it is easier to follow a particular writer or topic. The magazine is bolder, brighter, has room for comments, etc. Take a look and tell me what you think www.ldsmag.com

The July contest ends Saturday. Remember each comment is a chance to win and each person who becomes a follower also has a chance to win. Anyone who comments on each blog during the contest period and is a follower could have a lot of chances.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

BLESSED, HONORED PIONEERS

There's more than one kind of pioneer and though I have strong feelings of love and admiration for the men, women, and children who pushed, pulled, and walked two thousand miles from the banks of the Mississippi to the Salt Lake Valley, they weren't the only pioneers. A lot of my ancestors were among those people who made that hazardous journey, both by handcart and wagon train. Most of them actually started their journey in Europe with a dangerous sea voyage preceding their long trek. One ancestor and her husband made it from England to Pennsylvania then lacked the funds to even build a handcart so they left their group and signed on as indentured servants. My ancestor came on to Salt Lake when her indentured time was finished, but her husband disappeared. It was rumored he died in the Civil War, but no research has confirmed that and he may have disappeared into slavery as many indentured servants did at that time, or he may have died and no one bothered to notify his wife. One ancestor lost his mother at sea and his father was buried along the Sweetwater in Wyoming. He and his little sisters came on to the valley alone. Still one other was thrown out of her home by her wealthy husband for joining the Church. She sneaked back one night, kidnapped her children, and fled to America with them. Standing on the deck of the ship that was to carry them to America and eventually to Utah, she hid a runaway chimney sweep under her petticoats while officers searched the ship for him.

But what about those other pioneers? My younger brother and sister have certificates that proclaim them polio pioneers. They were among the group of children who first were given the Salk vaccine to prevent polio. Philo Farnsworth is widely referred to as the pioneer inventor of television. We frequently refer to John Glenn and Neil Armstrong as space pioneers. I think pioneers can be anyone who, at great risk, is first to do something new, to lead the way to something better.

As Utah celebrates Pioneer Day, we tend to place the emphasis on those early Mormon Pioneers who first settled the valley and perhaps this is right in Utah, but members of the Church living elsewhere may feel a little left out on this holiday that within the Church is given prominent importance. I've never thought those pioneers who came to Utah, then were promptly uprooted to settle in surrounding states have been given proper credit for their double duty as pioneers. I also think the many converts to the Church who were first in their family to be baptized are another type of pioneers who should count Pioneer Day as their special day too. Another group of pioneers I deeply admire are the ones who joined the Church, but remained in their homelands or states, consequently suffering at the hands of those who ridiculed their faith or thought them fools.

There are more pioneers to come. Some of the strongest and best pioneers will be those who face the onslaught of temptations and fears that will precede the final days of this millennium and usher in the long prophesied thousand years of peace and the reign of our Lord.

What sets a pioneer apart from others is mainly courage. A favorite saying of mine is "Courage doesn't mean a lack of fear; it's saddling up anyway." I think that's the basic reason we celebrate pioneers. I feel certain that all of those who left homes, families, and all that was familiar to travel half way around the world were scared. But along with their fear was an even stronger belief that they were doing right, so they did it. Along with the excitement and thirst for knowledge, I suspect there was a good dose of fear in Armstrong's heart as he took that first step onto the moon, but he did it anyway. When my six-and-seven-year-old brother and sister received those polio shots we'd just learned that the first batch of serum had been mistakenly delivered with a live virus and those children who received it came down with the dreaded disease, but my siblings accepted it, though I suspect they were more scared of the needles than the possibility of contracting polio.

As this week of Days of 47 events winds down to Pioneer Day on Saturday, let's pay tribute to those pioneers we all owe our thanks, whether we are their descendants or not. They wrote a vital piece of our Church's history. Let's remember those other pioneers too, the ones who came to the Gospel one-by-one, those who remained behind to lay the cornerstones in other places, and the ones who will carry forth with courage to face the latter days. As we celebrate with picnics, rodeos, parades, and fireworks, we should pause to remember those whose courage made the 'desert blossom as a rose' and left a pattern of courage for us to follow.