Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't forget to add your pioneer tales!

This isn't quite a blog, but just a message to let you know life has been a little crazy lately and I've had little time at the computer.  Following our trip to St. George, there's been a family reunion, today was spent watching grandchildren, and tomorrow I'll be traveling out of state to visit family.  But the July Wish List contest goes on! Every comment following the pioneer theme will count as a contest entry and each follower will get one entry.  The contest ends Sunday and I'll post the winner sometime Monday.  If you're lucky enough to have a lazy summer day, you can read If I Should Die or any of the books I've recently reviewed on Meridian.  There have been some good ones!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Happy Pioneer Day

This past week my husband and I took a little jaunt down to Cedar City and St. George.  We had a great time, but I couldn't help feeling sympathy for those early pioneers who not only made the long trek across the plains to Utah, but were then asked to continue on to settle "Dixie."  The temperature hovered above 100 degrees while we were there, reaching 107.  I couldn't help wondering how those poor pioneers survived without the air-conditioning we found in our car and in our motel. 

We saw Richard III while in Cedar City and enjoyed it immensely.  The actor's interpretation of Richard was different from the way I had previously seen it played, but I liked it and found myself actually sympathyzing with him at times.  I had been told to expect dark and gloomy, but found myself chuckling at some scenes even though the overall story is one of greed, deceit, murder, and perhaps madness.  I was impressed with all of the major characters.  My only criticism might be directed toward some of the knights or soldiers who were a bit too chubby to be taken seriously as soldiers.  Again I thought of those early pioneers who left the Utah Territory and the LDS Church with a heritage of appreciation for the arts and a yearning for culture.

We took a little side trip to Cedar Breaks and found it beautiful and refreshing, then on to St. George and The Little Mermaid.  The show was a delight.  Of course, it's a story meant for children and there were many children in the audience, but it thrilled adults too.  There were a couple of Disney executives and the writer of the Disney version of the old classic present, seated not far from us.  The special effects created by a water curtain and projections onto the watery screen won the audience's approval. It's no wonder the night we attended was the production's twentieth consecutive box office sell out.

This whole weekend will be devoted to honoring the pioneers who settled Utah and much of the West.  It's a time for those of us who are descendants of those early pioneers and for all of those who share in the heritage they left Utah, the LDS Church, and our families to pause and give thanks for their courage, determination, and faith.  As much as any political leaders, historical heros, or social icons, these people left a legacy our generation will be hard pressed to match. Enjoy the parades, picnics, camping trips, fireworks, and all that goes with the celebration of those men, women, and children's heroic feat.  I think they'd want us to remember them by enjoying this day set aside in their honor.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Discovering a World of Light

I'm not sure the following observations qualify for our pioneer theme, but feel free to add your comments to this post or the previous two posts.  They'll all qualify toward the July Wish List contest.  You can enter as many times as you like and though I don't always comment on each of your comments, I love reading them and they give me much to think about.

One night I lay in bed unable to sleep, no particular reason, it seems everyone has one of those nights now and then when sleep doesn't come as easily as others.  As I lay there, I noticed a little green light high on the ceiling.  Smoke alarm; no big deal.  Then I noticed a little red light on my husband's bureau.  Again easy to explain.  He'd plugged in his phone to its charger.  Another little red light on the small television, illuminated dials on our alarm clocks.  Had I wandered through the quiet house, I would have found my cell phone and camera plugged in in my office with their little lights glowing away and not far away the little light on my computer and another on the printer.  In the hall I would have found the carbon dioxide alarm with it's little light and each room of the house with its smoke alarm light, tiny glowing lights on other TV's, the microwave, and other electronic equipment throughout the house.  Each piece of our alarm system has its own little light as well.

I felt like laughing; when did my life become defined by tiny lights? Even as a child, I watched for a tiny bit of glowing red.  From my bed I could see the stove that heated our house.  When I could see a glow coming from a tiny crack where a door didn't fit as tight as it should have, I knew Daddy or my brothers had started the fire and the room was warm enough to get out of bed.

Life has changed a great deal during my life, but it's funny how we still look toward light as a signal that all is well, or to expect trouble.  We need light to find our way, to carry out our daily tasks, and to enjoy beauty.  Light has been defined in so many ways, many with religious overtones.  Even Christ has been called the Light of the World.

There's one essential bit of light some writers (and other professionals) overlook in their lives.  There's a tendency to become so obsessed with writing, getting published, the dream world created, or other aspects of the author's world that living this life is forgotten or shoved far down the priority list.  That creates a hollow shell to draw on and the writer is left with little to create from reality and shallow emotions to convey in print.  I know writers who shut themselves in a room or office and forbid their families to interrupt them for anything less than fire or blood.  They don't enjoy the everyday give and take of family relationships; some never form enduring relationships at all.  Some depend on someone else to provide their support and perform their share of the menial tasks involved in running a home while they pursue their writing.  These writers cheat their families, their potential readers, and themselves.  An early teacher told me the best writers and artists create their masterpieces from life; the way light focuses on an object makes all the difference in the world, the way spiritual light touches the soul reveals both what is seen and the observer.

I know writers who write with one hand while balancing a baby on their laps, writers who coach little league, writers who are PTA or Church teachers or leaders, writers who home school, writers with full time careers, writers who take time to play with their children, to garden, to travel with loved ones, and writers who take time to live life to the fullest.  Their enthusiasm for life shines through their work.  Their difficulties and challenges make their words richer and more meaningful, filled with the light of life. Making time to write is a challenge for most writers, but it works out far better than trying to find time for anything other than writing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


My sister, Vada, was always a pioneer to my way of thinking. From the time she was a little girl and became a "polio pioneer," one of that group of children who were the first to be given the Salk vaccine, to her recent willingness to sign the papers agreeing to test an experimental cancer drug, it seems she was at the forefront of medical pioneering.  Just as those men and women who left their homes behind and stepped off into the great American frontier to be the first to make their homes in unexplored territory, there have been many people, many of whom were critically ill, who risked everything in hopes of finding a new cure, a means of easing pain, or in hope of furthering medical knowledge.
Many of the early western pioneers gave their lives along the way.  So too, have a large number of the medical pioneers, such as my sister, who lost their lives before they reached their hoped for goal.  When we hear of organ transplants, miracle vaccines, a major milestone on the way to curing cancer, we hear of the doctors and scientists involved, but seldom do we know the names of the real pioneers, the patients on whom the drug or procedure was tested or the nurses and other medical personnel who carried out an important role in the testing.
Being a writer, it seems I always find an analogy between almost any event or idea to the writing world.  In thinking about pioneers and specifically the unsung medical pioneers, I thought of all the teachers who taught me and the many other writers to put thoughts on paper and to explore the frontiers of communication and imagination .  To a good teacher, each pupil is an unknown frontier to be explored, then an innovative plan put into place to help him/her conquer the obstacles that might prevent them from achieving dominance over their own frontiers.  Though I had a few teachers who weren't exactly great, I believe I had more who challenged me, gave me the tools I needed, and fostered a belief in myself as a writer.  I consider some of those teachers; Mrs. Haney, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Ottinger, Mr. Williams, Mr. Beckwith, Mrs. Biddulph, and so many more who made my own pioneering efforts possible unsung pioneer heroes.
As a writer I'm very aware of the progression of inventors who brought about our present information age. That first typewriter must have seemed as great a miracle to writers who had formerly used pen and ink as the data processors and computers of today are to those of us who pounded out our first stories on Underwoods and Smith-Coronas.
So what qualifies one to be called a pioneer? To me a pioneer is someone who has the courage to step forward into the unknown, having faith they can conquer the obstacles they'll meet.  Pioneers are they who weigh the risks and determine that the goal is worth it.  Pioneers are they who believe so strongly in a new discovery, conquering an untamed wilderness, or blazing a path for others less strong; they're willing to chance personal disaster even if they cannot complete their journey.
I've know many people in my life I consider pioneers, and taking nothing from the remarkable pioneering heritage of my ancestors or anyone else's, I'd love to hear the stories of some of the people readers consider modern pioneers.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Back to July Wish List

The Freedom Giveaway Hop was fun, but it's over, so the July Wish List Contest begins now.  Comments on any blog I post between now and July 31 will be in the drawing. Followers are automatically entered for one drawing and those who comment will be both in a drawing of their own and combined with the followers for the second drawing. The theme will be pioneers and the prize will be an LDS novel from your wish list.  You can comment on the early LDS pioneers in this or any country, medical pioneers, space pioneers, or anyone you admire who blazed a trail for others to follow.

There are a number of people I consider pioneers in the LDS fiction field, but one in particular stands out in my mind this week.  She wasn't the first LDS fiction editor, but she was among the first to make an impact on the quality of today's LDS fiction.  She played a large role in raising the bar for the quality of LDS novels and encouraging writers to be professional, take pride in our work, and go beyond the trite and mediocre to create quality products.  I'm speaking of Valerie Holladay who was one of my first editors and who mentored and taught so manyof us.  She died last week, way too soon.  I posted a tribute earlier on the V-Formation (She was part of our group there) and I'll repeat it here.

Valerie Holladay

It was a painful shock to learn Valerie Holladay passed away this past holiday weekend. Her last email was so upbeat and positive, filled with faith and  hope, I'd begun to believe she was going to beat some pretty daunting odds.
When Val went to work for Covenant Communications, I was one of the first authors assigned to her.  She was my editor longer than any other editor I've ever worked with. We developed a relationship that went beyond author/editor.  We became friends and our friendship endured through all the years since she left Covenant and went on to other things.
Having been a newspaper reporter and editor, I thought I knew a lot about writing and editing, but from Val I learned fiction and journalism are two different things. We laughed so many times about my tendency to change a character's name in the middle of a manuscript and other little idiosyncrasies. Every writer makes unintended puns, uses a word or phrase that can be taken more ways  than one, and Val kept a little notebook of those unintended humorous accidents. I discovered from her that my editor was as fiercely determined as I to make each of my books the best it could possibly be.  Sometimes I'd look at a suggested change and I couldn't tell her words from my own. Other times she'd suggest a change I didn't like, but I knew if my version didn't work for her, it wouldn't work for my readers either, so something had to be fixed.  Often it would be something entirely different from what either of us first wrote or suggested. Valerie was always patient and generous with her time as she made opportunities to teach as well as edit.
Valerie was more than an editor to me.  She was a dear friend who supported me through my own and my family's bouts with cancer.  I was someone she could talk to as she wrestled with her mother's illness and the various problems she faced. We laughed together, we cried together, went to lunch together, and loved cats.
Where Val is now there surely must be a plethora of cats or it would hardly be heaven to her.  She nursed back to health so many abandoned cats.  She loved and worried over her many kitties as though they were her children. Sometimes, when money was tight, she scrimped on her own groceries to feed her precious pets.  I and the other writers on the V-Formation often sent her cute or funny pictures of cats, teased her a little about her darlings, but understood that her gentle soul thrived not only on helping writers, but on the love her feline babies showered on her.
Val's life included her work for several publishers, co-editing the AML publication and serving a term as treasurer. She taught English and creative writing at BYU and UVU, worked for the Church, co-authored a book about Provo, worked as a freelance editor, mentored many promising writers, and the list could go on and on.  She spent a good share of her life promoting literary works for the LDS community and working to improve the quality of writing by LDS authors.
Val's faith in God was strong and her understanding of not only her own religion, but many others, touched not only me, but strengthened those around her.  Though she never married, she loved her nieces and nephews as though they were her own sons and daughters, and she made great sacrifices to always be there for her family.  In her last weeks, she often remarked on her sister's kindness through this ordeal, and the thoughtfulness of her brothers, their families, and her ward.
I'd like to finish this tribute to a special lady with a few of her own words:

"Kerry, I read your book in one sitting (with the Easter chocolates and my diet Dr. Pepper in one hand, the book in the other, the kitten wrapped up in a blanket on my cheek). My only breaks from the book were to hydrate the kitty and take him to the litter box. What a lovely, lovely book."

"I remember how I felt when my mother died. While part of me envies someone who has finished this mortal test, the other part of me just feels the sadness of being separated from someone who has been such an important part of my life."

"I think you do a terrific job with reviews, Jennie and the balance seems just right to me. And to paraphrase Cheri (and I'm a teacher so I agree 100%), If my students all loved me all the time, I'd worry that I wasn't doing my job right. I don't know who told you that you were a meanie, but even not knowing the source, I'd have to say, consider the source on this one."

"I was at a convenience/gas store the other day and talked to a woman who was driving with her sister to Montana, along with 4 dogs, about that many kids, and 10 cats - which was why they needed two SUVs - really, no lie. I must say it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear of someone else with cats in the double digits :-)"

"Now off to school to meet with students who are revising papers and getting ready for our final (which was a cakewalk, so they could focus on revising their papers, which isn't a cakewalk for many of them). Oh well, at least they're now familiar with the concept of revision, even if it's a somewhat foreign concept. Does anyone here remember a day when you whipped out a piece of writing and thought it was actually as good as it could get and didn't need anything more?"

"Writers have to live with marketing, not a fun thing. Some writers are more marketers than writers - I'm sure we can think of lots of examples - and some are more writers than marketers. But regardless, if you have a good product, you want to get it into people's hands and that means speaking up."

Just imagine a world, or say, a group of friends, where no whining ever occurs. Sheesh, it pains me to even consider it. Whining is not only therapeutic, it's what bonds people together since we're sharing honest fears and feelings. IMHO whining only becomes detrimental when it becomes threatening and those words are put into actions, for instance, ... "I'm so depressed, I'm going to kill him/her/them etc. and out comes the knife/rope/poison... But if we all took a vow of not whining - not that it isn't a noble gesture and a vow against "public" whining might be worth doing since we have to be selective about our whining - after all, not everyone understands... For example, writers who have yet to publish might not understand that getting a book accepted and into print doesn't mean Nirvana and eternal bliss."

"More later, my friends, thanks for prayers. This is a strange experience but there are many, many beautiful and amazing blessings."  -- This last was sent just a couple of weeks ago. 

So long for now, my friend.  You're leaving a big hole in my heart, but one day we'll be together again in that cul-de-sac in heaven we goosies have long joked about and dreamed of.

Other tributes to Valerie Holliday can be found here: