Friday, June 29, 2012

Review of At Season's End


Today I'm turning my blog into a review of a book I enjoyed, but I found doesn't quite meet my criteria for a Meridian review.  It's borderline YA and adult, lauds some questionable standards, and is a rewarding read anyway.




At Season's End by Eric Hendershot produced mixed feelings for me.  The story is of a young girl during the depression whose family follows the crops.  They pick, weed, and hoe from the citrus orchards in Florida to the apple and cherry crops in Oregon and everywhere in between. Transients, migrants, pickers, and a number of derogatory names have been given to these people.  As a child I lived a life close enough to theirs to have a feel for it.  I too, know what it is to pick raspberries, apples, peaches, cherries, potatoes, and strawberries in the big commercial fields.  I've done my share of hoeing beans and thinning beats as well.  My family didn't follow the crops, but we usually moved at least once a year, we were poor, and anyone willing to work hard could usually find farm work or attach themselves to a migrant crew, which my mother, sisters, and I did.


Sal is thirteen when the story begins and her brother, Tim a year younger.  Since her father lost the farm the family has traveled the country doing whatever farm work is available.  They earn only enough to move on to the next job. They form deep friendships with other migrant families whom they may only see once a year.  Such is the case with a young boy Sal's Paw recues from the Columbia River.  Friendship for the boy turns to love as they return to the cherry orchards each year.  This once-a-year friendship blossoms into romance, but has to survive a bumpy road when disaster strikes, leaving Sal and Tim to fend for themselves half a continent away from their rendezvous point with the boy Sal loves.


The easy acceptance of lying and manipulating is made to look necessary for survival and even commendable and clever in this book, which made me uncomfortable, especially since most of the people I once knew following this line of work were scrupulously honest .  Most of the author's depictions of this hard but addicting lifestyle is accurately portrayed along with the harsh realities of the Great Depression. I read an uncorrected advanced reader's copy which blurred the deliberate poor grammar with the typos, misspelled words, and grammatical errors of the original and typeset manuscript to make reading difficult.  In spite of these flaws, I found the story appealing and thought-provoking.  The story is well told with memorable characters and a plot arc that keeps the reader wanting more.


At Season's End is published by Cedar Fort.  Hendershot  is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are no tie-ins to the Church in the book.  He is a writer/director of direct-to-video family friendly feature films and documentaries.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A CATCH-ALL BLOG

Life has been racing by faster than I've been able to keep up this month.  In addition to getting a tiny new granddaughter, Gracie, we've celebrated five birthdays, Fathers Day, a graduation, one family member had surgery, two went to Girls Camp and little brothers visited Grandma, I've spoken at two book clubs, and my home was the scene of one of the baby showers, which meant more time than usual slicking the place up. The weeds have out-paced the flowers in my garden, there's been another round of shots in my knees, and a round of tests at the hospital.  That's in addition to the usual two days at the temple each week.  Oh, and I received word my contract for my last book went astray.  Fortunately my publisher sent me a new one and it's all signed and delivered, though no release date has been set yet.  

If that weren't enough, Meridian Magazine encountered some major problems last Wednesday and they've been offline ever since, though they're hoping to be back up tonight.  Since my column appears on Thursdays there was no review last week, but last Thursday's review will still run, just a little later than expected. 

I have managed to get some major upgrades for my computer, so hopefully my portion of cyberspace will run a little bit more smoothly.  To try out that theory, I'll post a few pictures.


This is Gracie.  She's up to five and a half pounds now!


 Sixteen month old Jen has decided to become a pianist.



My lilies seem to be thriving on neglect.


That's all folks!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Fathers Day Tribute to Daddy



I miss my father.  Daddy was my lifelong hero, sort of like John Wayne, bigger than life.  His life was filled with adventure, hard work, and devotion to his family.  He was a storyteller, too, and I'll admit I grew up uncertain whether some of his tales were fact or fiction, or possibly just embellished a bit. 

Though many of his stories dealt with his early childhood on a homestead tract near Hell's Half Acre in Idaho, most were of his years as a teenager and young adult in Canada where he drove the buggy for his mother when she carried out  her midwife duties, the long trek north by wagon train, playing hockey on frozen lakes, riding rodeo for badly needed money, his years at the Mounted Police Academy, cattle and horse drives, driving a dog team for the Hudson Bay Company, delivering serum to the northern Indian tribes, being followed by wolves, a short stint as a miner, and he also cooked briefly for a logging company. 


My earliest memories of him include him handing me a box with a rubber doll inside and of riding in front of him on his horse. As I grew older it became my job to lug heavy Mason jars of cold water or lemonade to him wherever he worked in the fields.  I'd have to set the bottle down occasionally where the condensation would leave a muddy ring in the dirt which would then transfer to my clothes when I picked up the bottle again. Once I reached him he would halt his horses or the tractor and we would sit in the shade of the farm equipment wheel to pass the bottle back and forth between us. 

From Daddy I learned to drive---though it might be more accurate to say he taught me to aim.  One cold fall day after my older siblings had to return to school, Daddy and a neighbor were trying to finish up the last of the potato harvest and they needed a truck driver.  He wired blocks of wood to the gas, clutch and brake pedals and perched me on the edge of the seat to drive while the two men bucked the potato sacks onto the back of the truck.  Daddy shifted the truck into "granny gear", told me which pedal to push, and showed me how to aim between the rows of sacks and we were off. At the end of each row, Daddy jumped onto the running board to turn the truck by reaching through the open window.  I'm proud to say I never ran over a single potato sack.

I was in the third grade when I contacted rheumatic fever.  Daddy was the Elders' Quorum teacher and every Sunday morning he'd come to my room to practice his lesson on me before leaving for Priesthood meeting.  He was patient in explaining concepts I didn't understand and I think that was the beginning of my real testimony.  Somehow I figured God must be a lot like Daddy, loving me no matter what and ready to be my best friend. 

As I got older and my big brothers left home, I took over the dairy barn whenever Daddy had to be on a fire lookout or fight a big fire for the forest service.  When he was home we were fishing buddies.  Daddy and I spent many days tramping through the wilderness areas of western Montana, then cooking our meal of trout, fried with potatoes and onions he'd hauled around in his pocket all day.  We always had to be back at the farm in time to milk the cows. 

I could always count on Daddy being there in the middle of the crowd grinning from ear to ear every time I had a role in a school or church program or play. It wasn't until my second year of college that I played a major role and was hit with a bout of melancholy when I realized it was the first performance my father had missed.  It was just too far to travel and no one around who could do the chores if he made the trip. 

Writing involves a lot of research and I quickly discovered my Dad was better than Google when I needed the name of a piece of harness, a bit of wilderness lore, or just a better understanding of customs and vocabulary of the early 1900s.  He took great pride in my writing and as soon as he finished reading one of my books, he passed it on to everyone he could think of and bragged it up to anyone who would listen.

I never lived near my father as an adult, I suppose that's why I never stopped calling him Daddy, instead of Dad as my brothers and sisters did.  We visited as often as possible and I wrote letters though he seldom did; that was Mama's job.  After Mama passed away I continued to write letters and we often talked on the phone.  He was nearing the century mark when he moved to an assisted living home and his hearing became so bad, we could no longer talk on the telephone (He had hearing aids, but hated them and seldom wore them or could find them), but thanks to my sisters, we continued to correspond through emails I sent him, and my sisters copied to read to him, then he would tell them what to say to send back to me.

I miss his political tirades; I miss the long talks we once shared, and his stories.  I miss his lopsided grin. Most of all I miss him. And sometimes I wonder if there's a trout stream up there in heaven just waiting for the day when he and I will once more sit side-by-side on a grassy bank until he leaves me to drown worms while he wanders off to do a little fancy fly casting.
 



Friday, June 15, 2012

POLITICS INTRUDES EVERYWHERE


Please forgive me for straying into politics again, but I care deeply about my country and about this issue. If you know me at all, you know I'm pretty conservative.  However President Obama's decision today concerning cancelling deportation of illegals raised in this country is both to be cheered and to be booed.


Children who came to this country because their parents brought them here illegally or whose parents overstayed their visas had no say in the matter.  They grew up here, they attended school here, they speak English, they played on sports teams here, they enlisted in our Armed Forces, they live next door, they're at an age where they are dating and intermarrying with our children---they're culturally Americans in every sense and that's more than our President can say about his background.  To send them to the countries of their birth where they know no one, have no concept of the requirements for work or school, could be in physical danger, have no friends or family, and will be cultural misfits seems grossly cruel and unfair to me.  The cold-blooded acceptance of this situation stinks and those who endorse it aren't conservative; they're inhumane.



Why wasn't this question dealt with earlier?  Three years have passed since candidate Obama took office with no noticeable effort to resolve this country's illegal immigration issue.  In the meantime thousands of American high school students have been closed out of jobs and colleges because of their limbo state. So why now?  Are these young people being used as political pawns to make the President more appealing to HHHHispanics?  By the way, many young people caught in this repugnant situation aren't Hispanics but represent many different nationalities.  I'm afraid I can't respect someone who has steadily ignored both the legal and the moral aspects of our country's immigration and citizenship crisis until seeing a way to turn it into a political tool.  Doesn't that show contempt for the population he is trying to court?


Every day we hear on the news about horrible crimes, stabbings, drug running, terrorist acts, etc. committed by those who are in our country illegally or who have been brainwashed into acting on behalf of some foreign group.  I'm all for sealing our borders to criminals.  These people cause the  hard working majority of foreign immigrants who simply want to raise loving families and give their children a better chance in life to suffer diminished reputations.  Perhaps because my family is extremely diverse (My extended family is represented by almost every race and more than a dozen national origins.) I can't buy into breaking up families, dispelling particular racial groups from this country, or punishing young people for the well-intentioned failings of their parents.  It's no crime to want a better life for your children and our immigration laws are at fault for not handling immigration in a more fair, equitable, timely, and economical manner. I applaud giving these young people a better option in life, but deplore seeing them used for political gain.  I wonder too when Congress, who should be the ones dealing with the whole immigration issue, will get around to doing anything useful to clean up the mess.


I object to immigration being turned into a political football.  This issue affects all of us; conservatives, moderates, and liberals.  There will be little progress made on this issue until we're willing to work together. It means their whole life to those who fled deplorable situations in other countries in hopes of finding a place where they could work hard to fulfill their dreams.

It's a matter of national security, it's a matter of human compassion, it affects our health, it affects our economy.  We need to root out the criminals and treat those seeking asylum with a fair shake.  The system needs a complete overall with toughness guaranteed where needed and a warm welcome when earned.  Accepting anchor babies as citizens is ridiculous while turning away children who have lived their entire lives here, but were born in some other country. It's time to recognize that where someone is born doesn't make them part of the family; it's where and how they're raised, whether they are natural or adopted citizens.




Thursday, June 7, 2012

TRUTH OR FICTION

We've all heard the saying that truth is stranger than fiction.  It has to be because some things that happen in real life just won't fly as fiction.  We need to bear this in mind as we create twists and turns in our novels.  There are just some things the reader can't buy into even if it did happen to someone real.

Most of us have been recipients of fortunate coincidences, possibly a miracle or two, or found ourselves in the middle of some unlikely incident that changed our lives.  These events may be highly spiritual highlights in our lives, may have saved us from some terrible tragedy, or taught a powerful lesson, but when a writer is tempted to use such events in novel writing there should be a big red caution label plastered on the screen before them.  I'm not saying don't ever write in a miracle, just lead up to it with care, plant clues along the way as you would for a mystery or suspense novel so that it is plausible. Too often a miracle is just a replacement for the cavalry suddenly riding to the rescue because the writer has painted him/herself into a corner and doesn't know how to get out. This holds true for conversion stories too.  It's just too convenient for someone to suddenly join the Church without any soul searching, questions, or a spiritual epiphany.

Have you ever been reading along and found yourself thinking, "Oh sure, I bet she really did that?"  That's a good way to pull the reader out of the story and make him or her want to throw your book at the wall. Overly dramatic rescue scenes involving impossible gymnastics do this for me every time.  So do intricately detailed escapes that only a hero with an advanced physics degree might calculate.  Okay, if the hero is a PhD rocket scientist I might buy it, but if the girl who is so dumb she goes down the cellar steps in the dark pulls it off, you've lost me.

There are too many reality shows on TV that  have little to do with reality.  They're scripted, people! All those phony heart to heart talks with the camera are not reality. They may be fun to watch--or not, but they're a poor example for writers who want characters and actions that feel real to readers.  I read an article earlier this week about a few pathetic people who have so fallen for such shows they actually think that like in the movie Truman they are living out their lives in front of TV cameras.

Since I'm a reviewer I read far more books than I review.  Often I find a have to skip reviewing a book because it is based on the writer or someone he/she knows and the writer has tried overly hard to be faithful to the "true story", to what really happened.  Too often the story falls into the "I wouldn't have believed it if it  hadn't happened to me" category.  If that's the case, the incident doesn't belong in a novel; put it in your journal, a biography, or family history.  Oddly enough, fiction, which is a made up story, has to be believable.

Another sin against reality I see at times, and one I've had trouble with myself, is hovering.  Just as some parents create selfish, helpless children by helicopter hovering over them, excusing instead of correcting their mistakes, writing their reports, yelling at teachers who correct them or give them a poor grade, etc., writers are sometimes so protective of a beloved character nothing negative can happen to him/her, the character is so perfect he/she doesn't make mistakes and doesn't grow.  This isn't reality and the reader knows it.

Three novels I read recently are excellent examples of making both characters and their actions believable.  I'm not a fan of science fiction but I liked Fractured Light by Rachel McClellan a great deal because her main character Llona feels real.  She talks, thinks, and agonizes like a very real seventeen-year-old without the teen clich├ęs.  She reacts in ways that suit her age and her prior life experiences. McClellan made me feel like her fantasy world is real.  The second book that fit my criteria for feeling real is Sian Bessey's Within the Dark Hills.  Annie and Evan are caught up in the very real Welsh coal mining world of the 1800s.  The fires, floods, coal dust, men, women, and children working like slaves is so real the reader feels as though he/she must go wash off the coal dust on her own skin if the book is set down for even a few minutes.  Heather Moore, writing as H.B. Moore presents one of the best conversion stories I've ever read with the Daughter's of Jared.   The conversion is so subtle as Naiva struggles with the concept of deity and faith, the reader is almost unaware the groundwork is being laid.  Naiva is stubborn, loyal, exasperating, often makes foolish choices, has a huge capacity for love, has deep rooted insecurities and low self-esteem, is intelligent, and has a strong desire to do right.  In short, she is achingly real and stirs a strong identity factor in the reader. She finds herself in terrifying, but believable danger. Though Moore bases her story on a short episode in The Book of Mormon and stays true to the few details given in the scriptures, her fictional enhancement feels alive and real.

As writers we want to be clever, original, imaginative, memorable, but when doing so, it is wise to remember we lose our readers if we aren't real.  All the cleverness in the world, the true adventures, and the stranger than fiction experiences won't cut it if they go too far in suspending the reader's literary reality.

Monday, June 4, 2012

MAY WISH LIST WINNERS

Winners for the May Wish List contest are Michelle Cunnah and Judy (no last name given but she is a follower on Notes from Jennie's Desk).  Congratulations to both of you.  Please send me a list of at least five LDS novels on your wish list and I'll send you each one from your list.  I also need your mailing address.  You can contact me at bhansen22 at msn dot com or message me on facebook.

I'm going to suspend the Wish List contest for June and July though I'll still blog as often as possible.  The summer months with vacations and so many activities aren't the best time for contests and this summer seems to be piling up more things on my to do list than usual, so I've decided to wait until August to run the contest again.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Miracle Came Our Way

What a week this has been!  A week ago Friday we made turning our son and daughter-in-law's office into a nursery a family project.  This involved removing four layers of wallpaper and two layers of paint plus moving all of the office furniture out to make remove for baby furniture.  We knew time was short, but we had no idea how little time we had.  Our newest granddaughter was born about noon on Memorial Day, five weeks early.  Little Gracie's arrival has been unconventional in every way.  After fifteen years of fertility specialists and being told it wasn't going to happen, our daughter-in-law went in for surgery on a painful, swollen knee, only to have the surgery cancelled because the pre-surgery tests said she was pregnant.  A high risk obstetrician confirmed she was not only pregnant, but six months along.  Two months after learning of the pregnancy, the baby arrived, via emergency c-section.  She's healthy, but tiny.  Mom is the one having problems with both her knee and her hip and she must use a wheelchair.

Little Gracie is in NICU and today I got to hold her.  As soon as she gains a little more weight she'll be coming home.  I hope the nursery will be finished in time.  I hope too, her mommy will soon be able to walk again and will be pain free.  We decided to go ahead with the shower scheduled for today.  It was fun and you can read more about it on my daughter's blog, Come Out When You're Happy.  There's a link on the sidebar of this blog.
Our whole family considers this precious little girl our miracle baby.

Along with all of the new baby excitement we had a grandson graduate from AMES Academy, two birthdays, and all kinds of end of school year events take place.