Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Is there a word that carries more memories, hopes, faith, sadness, tradition, family bonding, and dreams than Christmas? It's a mixture of spiritual and secular, a day observed by both the religious and the profane. It's a time of giving and receiving. And for many it is also a time for quiet reflection and establishing new priorities. 

My childhood Christmases didn't include a lot of expensive gifts, though there was usually a new doll and a Christmas dress--even if the dress was made from flour sacks. The toe of one of my hated long, brown socks always held an orange, a few pieces of hard candy, a chocolate, and a handful of nuts. My siblings and I bought each other gifts at Kings or Woolworths.  Daddy read the Christmas story from St. Luke to us and Mama roasted a goose. 

Caroling hay rides, skating on silvery ponds, midnight mass, television specials, Secret Santa projects, making fudge, divinity, and popcorn balls, thought provoking firesides, along with band, drama, and choir performances eventually all became part of my growing up Christmas memories. 

As young parents, the Santa thing became important.  Money was tight and we did our best to give our small children a few of their wishes.  One Christmas we received a foster child four days before Christmas and struggled to buy him a few gifts.  The day before Christmas our mailman, recognizing that an envelope addressed to us held a check, called to have us meet him and pick up our mail at the beginning of his route instead of waiting until the afternoon when he would reach our house.  He made it possible for us to give our foster child comparable gifts to those already purchased for our own child. The lights at Temple Square, The Nutcracker performance, Christmas books, our children's choir and band performances, a soldier son far away at Christmas, Sub for Santa escapades, and various parties became part of our memories 

As our children grew up, we spent Christmas Eves with my husband's family and exchanged family gifts that night, and since my own family always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve as well, we continued the tradition as our children began their young families.  How I love seeing my grandchildren perform the nativity pageant each year and share their musical talents, enjoy the pot luck style dinner my adult children and I put together for that special night, and treasure the laughter and fun as family gifts are exchanged. Each year I take a picture of all of my grandchildren sitting on the stairs in their new pajamas. Some have decided they are too old for the pajama part now, but we still do the picture.


Along with the warm memories of Christmases past, each year I feel excited for the coming Christmas.  I look forward to all Christmas is to me; an affirmation of my faith, the love of family, and a brief glimpse of a world where giving is front and center.  I believe each Christmas season should include at least one anonymous gift.  Those who pay off a stranger's lay-away bill, randomly distribute gift cards, carry out a sub for Santa or Angel tree project, drop coins in a Salvation Army bucket, donate food to a food bank, pay a stranger's library fine, give their waitress a big tip, or merely have a kind word and a smile for a fellow human being understand the spirit of Christmas.  I believe we observe Christmas best when we show the kind of love and kindness Christ practiced, but received little of in return.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Woohoo!  I've finished my Christmas shopping! It has been done in small increments starting before my surgery in September and some was done online, but it's done.  Of course I may think of one or two more small items, then there's the grocery shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, three birthdays, and our wedding anniversary. Even my Christmas cactus is ahead of schedule. 

I figured out much too late to change the facts, that December is not the best time for a wedding or a birthday.  We will have been married for forty-nine years this Saturday.  I married the right person; no regrets there, but our anniversary gets lost each year in a flurry of Christmas parties and preparations.  Our oldest daughter, a December baby, and two of our sons-in-law with the same problem, always felt like their birthdays got a quick brush-by, combined with Christmas, or generally ignored by their friends.  So if it's not too late, try to plan a little better than we did. 

With our Christmas shopping done, we took a look at the Kohl's cash and other accumulated coupons and bonuses we'd accumulated and decided to spend them on an anniversary present for ourselves.  We bought a carpet shampooer.  I know. Terribly romantic, but we haven't been satisfied with the carpet care companies we've used the past few years and our old machine died many years ago.  Then there was that $90.00 in accumulated rewards from all that Christmas shopping. I also managed to sneak in a little more personal gift for my husband. 

Sometimes the pre-Christmas decorating, shopping, baking, parties, etc., leave us looking forward to having Christmas over.  I'm enjoying most of the pre-Christmas activity this year more than usual.  Perhaps it's because I'm not doing any book signings this year and have a little more time to spend doing other things. It's not that I don't have a book out this year because actually I do.  My publisher put out a small Christmas book this year called With Wondering Awe that includes a true Christmas story by me and stories by nine other authors.  I also have a short story in The Art Of Motherhood and a full length novel, Where the River Once Flowed which was released in February. Yet I kind of miss the signings and the fun of meeting people who are Christmas shopping.


It might be that I'm just enjoying seeing Christmas through the eyes of my two-year-old granddaughter.  She's assigned each of the horses on the carousel to different family members, the pink nutcracker is hers because everything pink is hers, and she won't go near the big nutcracker because it bites. She loves candy canes and music boxes.  And a big tree covered with interesting toys and a choo choo that races around a track are all exciting, new wonders.  And for the quiet moments she's enthralled with books that tell the story of a Baby, sleeping on the hay.


I love Christmas, not just that wondrous day, but all the shining moments that lead up to the greatest reason the world has ever been given to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nominations Needed

Think back.  What was the best book by an LDS author you read this year?  Did you nominate it for a Whitney Award?  Perhaps you read more than one book that made a lasting impression on you.  If you haven't already done it, nominate them all for Whitney Awards. 

For a novel to be nominated for a 2013 Whitney Award, it must receive five nominations before the end of the current year and be copyrighted in 2013.  It must also be a full length novel, not a short story or novella. The author must be LDS, but anyone can nominate---except those who profit from the sale of the book.  That means I can nominate books by other writers, but I can't nominate my own book.  You can also nominate more than one book per category. Every year there are great books that don't get enough nominations because readers assume lots of people already nominated them or because readers aren't aware they are the ones who should be nominating.  I nominate lots of books and many other authors and reviewers do as well, which is great, but for the awards to have real significance more nominations are needed from the general reading public. It's kind of sad when nominations come only from fellow writers. The book doesn't need to  have an LDS theme, only be written by an LDS author. 

Award categories are General, Historical, Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Speculative, Youth Speculative, Youth General Fiction, Best Novel by a New Author, and Best Novel of the Year. Historical usually includes Westerns and Speculative includes Horror.  If you don't remember the titles or authors of the books you'd like to nominate go to Meridian Magazine's book reviews or to any other LDS fiction reviewer's web or blog page to refresh your memory.  You can also go to a bookstore's online catalog and scan the book jacket blurbs. 

Nominating a favorite book is easy.  Go here.  A form will pop up.  Fill in your name and email address, then add the book or books you wish to nominate along with the name of the author(s) and publisher(s), then submit.  You'll get back an acknowledgement that your nomination has been received by the contest chairman.  So get going! Nominate away! This is the big award for LDS authors and I assure you it means a lot to all of us to have our readers show their appreciation for our efforts to provide quality, clean books by nominating your favorites for these awards.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


I really don't like to shop.  I know the stereotype is that women live to shop, but that isn't me.  I'm not good at picking out gifts for others and I can never find anything I like for me.  Still, this time of year, shopping is inevitable unless you're the bah humbug type who skips Christmas giving.  I love everything else about Christmas; the music, the decorations, the food, the nativity story, the heart-warming stories of generosity, the giving, Christmas books, getting and sending cards, the general good will, Santa, and even the Salvation Army bell ringer . I don't even mind the hustle and bustle of wandering through overly decorated malls. I just don't like traipsing through stores or scrolling through e-catalogs.  

I did a little Christmas shopping before my surgery and in the past few weeks since I've been a little stronger one of my daughters and my husband have taken me for a few quick shopping forays.  I tire too easily to leave it until December. I even ordered a couple of things online.  I've got a good start.  In fact it has been kind of fun to shop for my two littlest granddaughters.  At one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half, they don't already have every toy I can think of and they're easy to please.  My biggest challenges this year are the five eight-to-ten-year-old boys. Then there are the teenagers and the young married couple. I love them with all my heart, but shopping for the perfect gifts for them is something else. 
I seldom shop for wedding or birthday gifts anymore; a check or gift card is usually met with enthusiasm and easier for me to handle.  Gift cards are usually welcome for Christmas too, but I think everyone, especially the younger children should have the thrill of tearing into at least one wrapped present. Our family spends Christmas Eve together and that's when we exchange family presents. So I shop. But no matter how many door buster sales begin on Thanksgiving Day or how great the bargains, I won't be shopping that day. 
Shop early or shop late, but let's keep Thanksgiving a day for family, food, and gratitude and allow as many others as possible to have the day with their families too.

Friday, November 15, 2013

One of Those Catch Up Blogs

I'm not doing a great job of blogging regularly.  I'm much better now and I'm able to spend longer stretches at the computer, but somehow my ideas just don't wind up on my little screen.  Today I'll attempt to do a little catch up.

I've reached the point now where I'm trying out a pump.  It takes some getting used to and presents a few problems like what to do with it, where to place it, for the least nuisance when exercising, sleeping, or going to the bathroom.  Overall I'm quite enthused about it since it eliminates giving myself so many shots.  I just wish it did the testing too since my poor left hand fingers are a mass of bruises and kind of tender.  I can't use my right hand for testing since I had breast cancer in the past.  Financially, I had no idea being a "fragile diabetic" would be so expensive!

My youngest grandson was baptized two weeks ago.  He's a wonderful grandson and I'm so proud of him, not just because he took being baptized very seriously, but because he's tender hearted, has a great sense of humor, is doing great in a dual immersion school, and is so full of life and curiosity.

My son-in-law who was injured in Iraq has been under a lot of pressure lately and is having some problems with his heart.  He'll have to have it stopped and restarted, which is scary and involves a lot of appointments at the VA hospital.  My husband and I often watch their two-year-old while he keeps his appointments.  That's such a fun age!  She loves to go visit our neighbors chickens and geese, have tea parties with her stuffed animals, drive an old toy school bus loaded with plastic horses around the house, and she's discovered my Christmas books.  She also likes to line up her dolls and stuffed animals on the stairs or around the dining room table where she orders them to "Sit."

Last July we ordered a new patio door and screen from a nearby store. Getting it has been a joke.  Over and over it has been brought out without needed parts, with the wrong parts, or some part that doesn't work right.  Today we thought it was finally intact, installed and all was well.  But no.  The screen only opens from the outside. 

My daughter, Janice Sperry, had a cute Christmas book published last year called the Candy Cane Queen.  She just got word this week that a publisher wants a middle grade novel she wrote.  She signed the contract and it is scheduled for next June.  Needless to say, I'm really proud of her.  Speaking of Christmas books, With Wondering Awe, which includes a true short story by me is now available in bookstores. 


Thursday, November 7, 2013


Sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, Thanksgiving is almost the forgotten holiday. Since gift giving, other than a hostess gift here and there, is not part of the celebration and shoppers involvement is limited to dinner components , it doesn't get a big buzz from the advertising moguls.  After all how many turkeys can a family eat? Personally I'm glad Thanksgiving doesn't fit into the pattern of other holidays.  Instead of a noisy tribute to commercialism I think we each need a day of quiet reflection on the blessings granted to us. 

On Face Book there's a movement many people are participating in, where each day each person lists one thing he or she is grateful for. I applaud those who are taking the time to do this.  Some people do this more privately in their journals or on their desk calendars. This is great too.  However we do it, it is good to pause, and take account of the blessings, small miracles, and kindnesses in our lives. I've undergone four major surgeries in the past year and I'm deeply grateful for the doctors, nurses, and physical therapists who got me through what would have been a death sentence or at best a miserable crippled existence just a generation ago.  I'm thankful for my family, friends, and neighbors who have been generous and kind to me and my family.  I'm especially thankful for my husband who has cooked, cleaned, and watched over me in the kindest most helpful way.  And though I don't recommend losing weight the way I have, I am thankful to be fifty pounds thinner than I was a year ago. 

Thanksgiving is a good time too, to reflect on Thanksgivings past and the loved ones who no longer share our table.  I remember the Thanksgiving Day we were moving, but midway through the day Mama managed to serve us ham and beans.  I remember too, that Mama always cooked cranberries herself, no canned ones for our family and she made the best stuffing and carrot salad.  I remember the Thanksgiving I cooked the turkey, took it to my mother-in-law's house, and later placed what was left in the trunk of our car to take home.  When we reached home, we hurried five small sleepy children into the house and only emptied those things from the trunk that wouldn't fare well in the cold car overnight.  The next morning we discovered the leftovers were ruined since while we removed the few things we thought needed to be taken inside, our cat had hopped into the trunk and spent the night feasting.

We only have a couple of decorations that can be considered strictly Halloween; the rest are simply fall and harvest items.  We've just never been big about that particular holiday.  I never trick or treated as a child because my mother considered it begging and was adamant that none of her children should beg. I found costumes and trick or treating a fun adventure for small children when my own children were small, but I have no use for the creepy side of Halloween.  Therefore my decorations mostly stay in place and I add a few pilgrims, turkeys, and cornucopias.  

For many people Thanksgiving Day is simply a football and "get-ready-for-Christmas" day. They wolf down dinner in front of the TV, glued to a Christmas parade or ball game.  They study the sale ads in the paper and this year they'll be able to shop all day in many stores instead of leaping into action at midnight or whenever the early bird specials begin on Black Friday. I find it kind of sad, but it's their choice.  As for me, I look forward to dinner where conversation with loved ones is as important as a delicious feast. I want to hold my tiny granddaughters in my arms and leave them with no doubts that they are loved.  I want to hear from all my children and grandchildren about school, and friends, and work.  I want to feel assured my parents would be pleased with my family.  Most of all I want to feel the peace that comes with expressing gratitude to friends, to family, and to God for the life I've been privileged to live.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Why do people do the things they do?  In real life it's sometimes impossible to unravel the reason some people do the things they do, but in novels the motivation is essential to the story. It's not good enough to have the hero do good things just because he's the designated "good guy" nor for the villain to do bad things because that's what bad guys do. The motivation for an action needs to be comparable in strength to the act committed. 

To be believable, writers need to be students of human nature.  They do this by being people watchers, reading news stories, and researching cause and effect through text books, listening to knowledgeable people in various professional capacities, and through drawing on personal experience.

As a journalist, I learned to question Who, What, When, Where, and Why, then found these Ws carry over into the fiction field.  It's the Why I'm concerned with today.  This past year I've undergone four major surgeries; the last just four weeks ago was the scariest and has left me with the most severe life altering after affects.  During my recoveries, along with a lot of physical therapy to learn to walk again and to adjust to becoming a total diabetic, I've done a lot of reading, including a number of books in genres I don't usually read.  Along with nearly a hundred books read, most of which I enjoyed, there were some that held little interest for me, three I couldn't force myself to finish, and several that left me wondering what was the motivation behind the actions taken by various characters.  There was even one that changed a character's motivation from financial greed to obsession.  Actually motivation can change, be enlarged, new factors brought in, but the change needs to be built into the story and made plausible to the reader. 

William Faulkner was a master at clarifying motivation.  Even his bit part villains rated a back story (not an info dump), leaving the reader with a clear picture of what made that character tick. Faulkner never wrote a dystopian novel, yet strangely two dystopian novels I recently read, A Nothing Named Silas by Steve Westover and The Witnesses by Stephanie Black, reminded me of why I enjoy Faulkner.  They both skillfully shared why their characters were in the predicaments they were in, why they continued to fight against the impossible, and why their adversaries were also motivated. 

Sometimes people do unexpected awful things seemingly out of nowhere, but a deeper analysis nearly always shows the factors that motivated the action.  It's usually easier to understand the protagonist's motivation, but author's often skimp on the other side of the coin. Envy, greed, hate, revenge, sense of inferiority, laziness, political zeal, religious fervor, lies, coverup, jealousy, control, and the list goes on and on for negative behavior.  Behind each word is an experience or philosophy that drives the villain and though these motivations are not usually the primary focus of the novel, they clarify the protagonist's dilemma and are important to the story.  It's not enough to know what the hero has at stake, when understanding what the villain has at stake clearly ratchets up the suspense and provides a more balanced story.  If the motivation is insufficient or weak the story loses credibility.  

Those of us who are news junkies and have a preference for printed news find ourselves frustrated with electronic news sources that don't answer all of the Ws.  We become even more frustrated with novels that fail to convey why the story matters, why the antagonist does what he does, and why the protagonist cares enough to fight back or escape.  Without motivation behind action, there is no story.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hyacinths to Feed the Soul
I don't know John or Karen Huntsman on a personal basis, though I did shake his hand once following a stake conference meeting.  Yet over the past few weeks I've developed a deep respect for them and experienced a kindred touching of the minds. 
I returned home a couple of days ago following ten days at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital in Salt Lake City where I underwent a complete pancreatectomy.  As far as I know (the biopsies aren't all in yet), I don't have cancer, but my pancreas was behaving just the way my brother's did before his fatal run in with pancreatic cancer. My care was first rate and I can't say enough about the remarkable, caring staff at the hospital, but it's a slightly different angle than the medical care I want to discuss.
At a very young age I was introduced to a bit of poetry that made a lasting impact on me.  It's by Muslihuddin Sadi, a thirteenth century Persian poet.
            If of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
            And from thy slender store two loaves alone
            are left,
            Sell one and from the dole,
            Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.
Somewhere along the way of life I discovered there are a lot of dark, dangerous, difficult challenges that have to be faced, but that even at the darkest, most unhappy times something of beauty can make all the difference.
I spent months beside my brother's and sister's beds as they died of cancer and remember so well their anguish because they couldn't see the mountains or even a tree. My sister's room was so small it only accommodated one chair for a visitor and her window overlooked the rooftop of a lower portion of the hospital.  My brother's room was larger and its one narrow window provided a view of the parking lot.  I felt almost guilty to be in a cancer hospital that is open and beautiful, more like a luxury class hotel than a hospital dedicated to serving those suffering with today's horrifying monster called cancer.  John Huntsman has fought his own wars with cancer and determined that a hospital for cancer patients shouldn't cut them off from the world, but invite the world into their rooms.  Consequently every patient room has floor to ceiling windows.
With almost an entire wall of specially treated windows I was able to watch runners on the mountain trails by day or view the city lights spread out below me like a carpet of stars at night.
Karen Huntsman went one step farther.  She filled every hall, room, and foyer with some of the most incredible art work anyone could wish to see.  A stroll through the hospital is like a trip through an art gallery.  Those first stumbling walks following surgery are somehow easier with paintings and statuary to distract and lift spirits.  I began to feel like a painting of two geese was there just for me as a reminder of my childhood and of a group of friends who call ourselves the V-Formation.  I wish I had noted the artist's name.  A Japanese print reminded me that life doesn't always follow our plans, a group of native Americans camping beside a small fire in a mountainous forest echoed my love of Jack London stories, and an old woman with a bead necklace spoke to me of the continuity of life and generations.  With my love of horses, how could I not love a full size replica of a Spanish mare and her colt? Karen Huntsman truly understands that in our darkest times, beauty lifts the soul.
I'm tired and weak.  Today is the first I've attempted to write, but I wish to let my readers know I am healing.  I also wish to share the insight I have gained through this experience.  The soul needs to be nourished as much as does the body.  In a world that seems to glamorize darkness, ugliness, and evil there is a great need for beauty and kindness.  Today there is a great need for hyacinths to feed the soul.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Just so you know . . .

This will be my last blog for a little while.  I have to have more surgery, my last one I hope. I'll be having the rest of my pancreas removed, an insulin pump installed, and learning how to live as a "fragile" diabetic.  Hopefully I'll recover quickly.  My review columns on Meridian will continue; I've written a few ahead and made arrangements for a substitute reviewer, if I can't resume writing as soon as I think I can.

I'll admit I'm more nervous about this surgery than I was the other three this past year.  I'm tired of hospitals, hurting, and the whole business and so ready to get back to my normal life.  Thanks to the many people who have wished me well, showed me so much kindness, and included me in your prayers.

Someone told me I shouldn't announce on my blog or facebook that I'd be having surgery, but between my brothers and sons-in-law someone will be at my house most of the time my husband will be at the hospital with me and I have a couple of highly vigilant neighbors. I also pay an alarm company enough that I shouldn't have to worry about unauthorized visitors.

On the upside, recovery will give me lots of time to read!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I don't watch much television, but for some reason over the past few weeks I've drifted into watching Ninja Warrior--at least I think that's what it's called.  It's a show taking place in Las Vegas where the various contestants compete on an obstacle course hoping to be proclaimed the first American Ninja Warrior.  Most of the contestants wind up falling from rolling drums, swinging cables, or some other dangerous obstacle into the water below.  The few who actually make it through to the end of the course seem to me to be the ones who are neither cocky and arrogant nor nervous and hesitant, and they are the ones I find myself cheering for.  They're often the ones who have a band of family and friends cheering for them too. Life's a lot like that.  Sure sometimes the cocky and arrogant appear to be the winners and sometimes the nervous Nellys luck out, but overall I think those who succeed in this life and feel good about their accomplishments are the ones who approach challenges with a mixture of confidence and humility. They're the ones who want to win for their loved one's sake and when they win they turn first to their family instead of the TV cameras and the pretty young woman there to interview them. 

Because I'm a writer and over the years I've become accustomed to drawing parallels between most things that happen around me and writing, humor me as I draw a few parallels between writers and that Ninja show.  To even compete the contestants spend years working out in gyms, rock climbing, running marathons, eating right, and doing whatever it takes to build the strength, speed, and endurance needed to qualify.  Writers, too, need to do what it takes to qualify.  This usually means a lot of reading, attending writing classes and conferences, observing both physical and human nature, studying language and grammar, and learning the art of self-discipline.  (The self-discipline is necessary to keep us writing instead of playing on face book, watching TV, or cleaning the house instead of writing.) 

We have to be confident enough of our ability to actually finish what we start and submit it to a publisher or agent and to keep writing when we get those inevitable rejection letters.  We also need to be humble enough to learn from or at least live with poor reviews when we finally do get published. 

I feel great sympathy for the contestants who fall in the water after they've worked and trained so hard.  I feel great sympathy for writers who spend years perfecting a book then meet with one rejection after another. I can't help admiring those contestants who come back after failing, sometimes three or four years straight.  I also admire writers who take those rejections, work harder, and resubmit their manuscripts. 

My senior high school English seminar teacher, who knew I wanted to be a writer gave me some advice I've always remembered following some gushing remarks from a visiting writers' club president who compared my style to Hemingway's.  He said "Don't compare yourself to other writers. Be yourself.  But always remember you're better than someone, but someone out there is better than you."  I'm often asked at book signings and by those who dream of a writing career what advice I would give them.  Sometimes I pass on my teacher's advice and sometimes I simply say, "Read everything you can get your hands on.  Write something even if it's a journal entry or a shopping list every day. Join a critique group and stop talking long enough to listen to what the others have to say. Finish what you start and submit it; when you get it back, fix it and submit it again." 

Win or lose, luck sometimes plays a role, but hard work and perseverance are the attributes that can be counted on to take writers or Ninjas to the next level.


Thursday, September 5, 2013


Last week I attended a dinner for Covenant writers and employees.  We got lost on the way; MapQuest really blew the directions and we wound up near the Timpanogas temple, miles from the dinner.  Fortunately a friendly guy at the local Arctic Circle gave us real and useful directions. I had a chance to chat with Clair Poulson, Nancy Allen, Josi Kilpack, Heather Moore, and a host of other writers.  Speaking of Clair, I reviewed his latest novel today.  You can find it here.  

I don't usually review YA novels, but I recently read two I heartily endorse.  Hadley-Hadley Benson
by Jody Wind Durfee and A Nothing Named Silas by Steve Westover.  The first is about a high school student who falls for the new girl next door who has a twin brother with Asperger's. The second is a dystopian novel that shows the relationship between a completely controlled society and slavery. 

Many of you have asked about the medical problems I've had this past year.  I've had two total knee replacements and three fourths of my pancreas removed.  I'm doing really well.  I can eat almost normal and I've been able to return to serving in the temple for almost two months.  Unfortunately I still have to have one more surgery. In a couple of weeks the rest of my pancreas will be removed along with all of the attendant rearrangement and removal of various body parts that entails.  I'll be in the hospital at least a week and while I'm gone, any time my husband isn't home, my brothers and sons-in-law will hang out at our place.  An adult grandson has offered to just move in for awhile.

Last Friday we went to the Sheepdog Trials in Soldier's Hollow near Heber.  We went with our son and his wife and our two youngest granddaughters.  The little girls loved the dogs, the Baas (sheep), and a huge owl that was part of one of the displays.  They also loved lots of ice water and ice cream. It was a fun day and brought back a lot of memories from when my father raised sheep and the dogs we had.

It's time to go brush my teeth and leave for the temple.  Have a great day!


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Whatever Happened to the Kindness of Strangers?

I don't get it!  What is the point of being mean just because you can?  I don't condone, but at least I understand theft, robbery, and many other deplorable actions where the perpetrator thinks he or she is going to gain something by his/her action.  But what is there to be gained from vandalism, insulting strangers, random shootings, property destruction, hurting someone-you-never-met's feelings, or other mean actions? 

There has been a rash of churches vandalized recently.  Just this weekend someone broke into a Catholic Church in Magna, Utah.  They broke and destroyed valuable statues and art pieces pertinent not only to people of that faith, but an important part of the valley's history.  A short time ago the air conditioner was stolen from a small, poor church.  Several LDS Churches have had windows smashed and fires set inside them.  Fences and buildings are constant targets of ugly graffiti, turning them into eyesores. Bottles and cans are carelessly tossed onto lawns. Young trees are run over or snapped off. How can anyone possibly benefit from this ugly destructiveness?  

It's not just ill-mannered teenagers, but adults too, who yell insults at strangers, including small children, from the safety of their vehicles.  Trolls grab onto every opportunity to find fault and make insulting remarks every time a news story is posted on the internet whether local or national.  Ill-mannered people even post faux ratings and reviews of books, music, or movies on public rating sites.  Some go so far as to make false accusations of a crime. What is wrong with people who derive some kind of pleasure from causing emotional pain to strangers? 

There's plenty of meanness in this world directed against or between political groups, religions, cultures, races, gangs, and varying philosophies.  I've never noticed any of these being resolved by name calling, violence, or destruction.  Have we allowed hate and anger to become so common that cowards now consider vandalism and anonymous attacks to be an acceptable means of convincing themselves they're big and brave?  

I recently read a string of hateful anti-religion remarks following a news piece that actually had nothing to do with religion and the words of a familiar song ran through my mind.  "God is not dead, Nor doth He sleep."  We simply have far too many people who have changed sides, switched their allegiance from God to Satan. Which is sad since we already know who will ultimately win.  It won't be the mean guys!

Monday, August 26, 2013


Over the past few weeks I've heard from a number of authors who have been upset by ratings on public rating boards.  A couple were ones I gave lower ratings than they felt they deserved, but mostly they were writers who just wanted to vent their frustration with low ratings, what they felt were attacks by trolls, the unwieldy number of people added to GoodReads simply because they're face book friends, or other aspects of the rating game that annoyed them. 

Every year about this time I stop posting stars or numbers on Good Reads, LDS Publisher, Amazon, Deseret Book, etc. I and a couple of other authors and reviewers do this rather than let our views influence the Whitney judges and voters.  Our influence might be nonexistent, but it helps us feel we're doing our part to encourage others to make up their own minds rather than follow whatever is the popular vote.  Lately I've been thinking I might give up rating books on these sites altogether.  

There are several problems I've become aware of in the past few years concerning assigning a number or star rating to a book.  To begin with, the ratings mean different things to different people.  I consider these rankings personal opinions; others consider them professional judgments. If I give a book a five it's because I think it's worthy of Whitney Award consideration and it has enough depth to have me thinking about it long after I finish reading it, a four means it didn't interest me as much as a five or it might have a few flaws, but it's still worthy of Whitney consideration, a three generally means I liked most of it, but it just didn't capture my whole-hearted attention, a two means I couldn't really get into it, and a one means boring, crude, offensive, or a waste of time.  No marking can mean potential Whitney, so boring or disgusting I didn't finish it, I forgot to rate it, well written, but I didn't like it, or almost anything. You'll notice none of my ratings have to do with how well the book is written; they mostly have to do with my reading tastes.  Another reviewer whom I respect a great deal recently rated the same book I rated on one of these sites with very different numbers.  She loved it; I didn't.  She works with teenagers and loves teen fiction; I don't so much.  We both agreed the author has style, writes well, uses great dialog, but I found all the teen angst less than fascinating while she thought the story delved into serious issues.  One of us is not right and the other wrong; we each rated the book according to our personal response to it. (By the way I don't dislike all teen fiction and I've read quite a bit of it lately while I've been recuperating from surgery.  Some were superb and I hope they receive awards and recognition for a job well done.  I may even review a couple of them here on this blog.) 

A Romance fan is probably going to rate Sarah Eden higher than Orson Scott Card and Anita Stansfield's fans are probably not as enamored with Dan Wells as they are with her.  Those ratings are a measurement of how much the reader enjoyed the book and the reader's personal taste in reading material.  I have two books on my keeper shelf that are not well written, in fact from a professional standpoint, they're pretty clumsy and amateurish, but I love them and would rate them high, if I rated them, because of their strong personal appeal and excellent research. On the other hand I've seen wonderful books marked down because the reader expected one genre and the book picked up proved to be something else.  

Another problem I'm aware of in this rating game is people who troll.  That is, they give negative ratings to people they're jealous of, to get revenge, because they think it's a funny game, to make a friend look better by comparison, because the author is perceived to support a cause or belong to a group they oppose, etc. The anonymous nature of the internet seems to bring out the worst in some people.  One writer claims she got one star ratings on a book that hasn't even been released yet and the ratings weren't given by reviewers who often do get advance readers copies. 

Sometimes the opposite problem arises when writers who belong to the same critique group, guild, town, family, or other organization attempt to show their loyalty to each other by flooding rating sites with high marks for the work of one of their own. Also some writers and groups have campaigns to get everyone they know to go to a particular site and rate their books high. This is sad and misleading since the majority of readers aren't aware they can rate the books they read or are uninterested in doing so.  Many readers don't even know where to go to do it.   (There's a link on my sidebar)

I, and almost every other writer I know, have had our feelings hurt at some time by someone who gave us a low rating on a book we spent months, possibly years, writing.  After being a writer as long as I have, I recognize that not everyone is going to like my books and those who do will like some of them better than others.  I freely admit that I don't like every book some of my favorite writers have written, but that isn't because they aren't well-written and they won't appeal to someone else.  It's easy to say, "Get over it.  Don't take ratings on these public pages so seriously."  Most writers know ratings have little to do with sales or popularity, but still low marks hurt.  

If someone really wants to know how well written a book is or if it's the kind of book he or she wants to read, I suggest going to a reputable newspaper, magazine, or blog reviewer.  They can also checkout the synopsis of the book listed by the bookstore or on the bookliner.  Another source is friends whose taste in reading material is similar to their own.  To anyone who likes to look for ratings, I say go ahead, it's kind of fun, but remember they don't really mean much, and if you're one of those who bestows ratings, be honest, but don't be deliberately hurtful.  And to my fellow writers, I suggest growing a thick skin, consider the source, and avoid making career choices based on those ratings.  Not only have I received a one star rating, but I've seen one star ratings for Brandon Mull, Rachel Nunes, Josi Killpack, Stephanie Black, Jeff Savage, and many other authors who are doing just fine and are counted among the best. The rating that matters is the number of books sold.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Almost twenty years ago I read a horrible review of a rather mediocre book.  Though I agreed with most of the nasty comments the reviewer wrote, I felt uncomfortable with his mocking tone. There were good things too, he might have mentioned.  Imagine my surprise when the book soared to record-breaking sales in the ensuing weeks in spite of, or because of, the snide review.  I concluded it's more important to get reviewed than whether or not the review is positive. 

A few years later I accepted the job of reviewing fiction for Meridian magazine. My journalism training had qualified me as a critic, but since I was writing fiction by that time myself and knew how badly nasty comments concerning my writing could hurt, I vowed to be kinder than some of the critics I knew and simply not review books I thought didn't deserve any free publicity, point out flaws honestly but charitably, and never ridicule a writer .  Over the many years I've been critiquing books I've pretty much stuck to that philosophy, but have broadened it.  I still don't review books I seriously dislike, but that's not the only reason I decline to review some books. Because I review LDS books, I generally don't review books that are doctrinally questionable or negative toward the Church, I try not to review several consecutive books in the same genre or by the same author, I rarely review YA books, and sometimes my "to read" stack is so tall, there's no way I can review every book in the pile.  There are times too when a book doesn't strike me as terrible, but it isn't anything special either, and since I usually have plenty of books to review I go for the ones that make the biggest impact on me, present something new and interesting, are memorable, or present a fresh way of looking at an old problem. Sometimes I just get tired of reviewing books in series. Occasionally I play catch-up and review a book on my blog instead of for the magazine.   

I have little patience with ridiculing an author's work.  Even books I consider boring or trivial represent a great deal of work and effort. Finishing a book and getting it published is a huge achievement and I applaud the effort. 

I don't play the stars rating game on my review column or my blog, though sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, on Good Reads.  Often I forget to even make note there of books I've read. Only once did I give a book a one star rating and that was because the language was filthy and the author hadn't researched LDS policy. (The author came unglued over my rating!) Rarely do I post a comment or review on Good Reads.  When I do it's because the book made an impression, but I probably won't be reviewing it.  Unfortunately I managed to hurt an author's feelings recently because I made a brief comment (It wasn't negative), then didn't review the book. I feel badly about this reaction because the book has some very good passages, they just aren't linked well and the middle drags down an excellent beginning and end, but the author shows real promise and I would hate to be responsible for discouraging a writer through "faint praise." 

Over the years I've noticed that I'm often the toughest on some of the writers I admire most.  I've also noticed that the most truly professional writers never try to defend themselves, but fix what was wrong in their next book or decide it's not worth getting upset over and ignore a critic's fault finding.  I've received some great thank you notes over the years, one memorable one from an author whose book I came down kind of heavy on, and I've watched many authors move from promising to favorites.  When I first started writing fiction I could count the number of LDS fiction writers on one hand, and now there are so many I can't even name them all.  When I began reviewing, it sometimes became difficult because the other writers had all become personal friends. I have to admit those early writers were great to accept my criticism and give me the freedom to write about their work with honesty. 

In all my years as a journalist, the assignment I hated most was writing obituaries, so when I write a review I keep in mind an old atheist friend of my father's.  He often proclaimed that when he died he wanted a Mormon funeral so someone would say something nice about him.  I don't want my reviews to be any book's obituary and honesty won't let me say wonderful things about a book I don't think is wonderful.  So I'll go right on telling others what I think is great while acknowledging there might be flaws.  Remember what I learned a long time ago--just getting reviewed means you did something right.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


It was all because of toothpaste!  Five children under the age of twelve meant toothpaste smears on the sink, on the towels, down the front of shirts, and even on the floor.  That's when I got the brilliant idea to put away the toothpaste and use tooth powder instead.  I'm not sure why I thought that would be less messy.

The day I brought a tin of tooth powder home, my curious four-year-old promptly removed the lid and stuck her finger inside the can, presumably to taste the powder.  That's when disaster struck.  She couldn't get her finger back out of the tiny opening.  I tried all the usual methods for a stuck ring; soap, ice, lotion.  Nothing worked and by that time her finger was bleeding where the can had cut a deep groove around her poor little finger. 

We lived less than a block from the fire station, and being a reporter, I knew most of the firemen at the nearby station.  Leaving my oldest daughter to watch the other kids, I dashed to the fire station with my bleeding little girl.  The men were sympathetic and kind to my daughter as they tried the same methods that had failed for me.  Finally a paramedic said, "We'll have to cut it off."  He explained that he'd have to use the jaws of life, the same tool used to rip open cars to extract accident victims and though the tool is large and scary looking it would work fine. 

My child stood still and didn't cry, though pale and wide eyed, while the firemen cut away the can.  "There!  All done. I'll just put a band-aid on your finger and it will be just fine." 

She looked up at him and in a trembling voice said, "But my finger is still there." 

Both the paramedic and I had tears in our eyes as we realized my little daughter had thought he was going to cut off her finger instead of the can. I was overwhelmed by her courage, but I also learned a valuable lesson about using pronouns. Be very sure it is clear to the reader or listener what the antecedent to the pronoun is.   

I've read a number of books lately that have left me confused just the way my child had been confused over whether the author like the paramedic meant for it to stand for the can or the finger.  This problem pops up a lot on face book and it would be helpful if we all were more careful in the quick comments we make there, but let's take extra care in what we write for publication.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spur of the moment Picnic

My daughter, Mary Jo, called this morning to ask if we'd like to go with them for a picnic up Millcreek Canyon.  This past year has been spent mostly getting through and recuperating from three major surgeries.  We haven't gone many places or done much other than try to get through my medical problems, but the past few weeks we've gone out to dinner twice, resumed working at the temple, and attended two grandchildren's piano recital. I also completed a short story which will appear in a collection of true Christmas stories later this fall. Life is just getting back to normal in time for my last (hopefully) surgery which is scheduled for next month. The idea of a picnic sounded like fun so we joined them and thoroughly enjoyed lunch with our daughter's family.  Below I've posted a few pictures from our picnic and one from another daughter's children's piano recital.  The girl on the far right and the boy in a blue shirt in the middle are our grandchildren.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Words have fascinated me as long as I can remember.  My mother said I was walking and talking before I reached ten months old, but a serious injury a few months later left me silent until I was nearly two. Between my own curiosity and my older sister's diligence in sharing all she learned in first grade, I began reading at four.  I don't recall what I read at that early age except every time my Dad bought gas in the nearby town of Arco I read Boyd's Coal on the side of the building next door and Nehi Orange on the pop bottle he handed me and I had to finish drinking before we left the service station.  Several farm magazines, The Children's Friend, and the Saturday Evening Post arrived regularly in our mailbox.  My mother had a collection of storybooks she shared with me and my siblings. My older brothers and sister brought books home from school, which I read or they read to me. As you can see, I began reading whatever I could get my hands on at an early stage. 

It's not just reading and talking I like, I like words, individual words and words strung together in sentences.  Some words feel good to say.  Some give me a sense of pride because I can spell them.  Some words can brighten an otherwise dismal day. I find it interesting that some words sound like the object or feeling they represent, some don't even come close.  Many lovely sounding words have not-so-pleasant meanings.  It seems such a shame to waste words like diarrhea and pneumonia on such unpleasant meanings.  On the other hand scrumptious just sounds--well, scrumptious. There are some words I avoid speaking aloud because though I know the meaning and the spelling of the words, I've never heard them spoken and have no idea how to pronounce them.  It is said that most people have a far larger reading vocabulary than speaking vocabulary.  That's certainly true in my case.   

Some words cut and hurt.  Some are offensive.  I try to avoid these.  It seems odd that people with the most limited vocabularies are the ones most inclined to depend on offensive words in their communication efforts.   

Words go through a sort of evolution, changing with time and succeeding generations.  Thongs, square, stud, and so many other words no longer mean the same things they did when I was growing up.  In Nephi's day goodly was an adjective meaning someone with a lot of goods or in other words someone wealthy.  Later goodly became a measurement signifying a lot of something.  Today goodly is often assumed to be an adverb referring to character or behavior and is seldom used in modern written or spoken communication. 

The meanings of words are sometimes confused because some words are spelled differently and have different meanings, but sound the same.  Unfortunately meanings are sometimes confused because of similar roots.  Recently I heard someone referred to as onerous when the speaker meant ornery. And who hasn't heard someone say he or she was nauseous?  

Words are powerful.  They give us the means to communicate with others.  They give us the means to support, show kindness, share our thoughts, entertain, soothe, and work together.  Unfortunately they also give us the means to hurt, demean, mislead, misunderstand, bully, and offend others.  It's no wonder wise people have cautioned us to choose our words wisely, not say anything if we can't say something nice, and to speak no evil.  

Words are, of course, the tools of my trade.  Without words I couldn't be a writer. With the passage of years I've learned many words, mostly English (American), but I've picked up a smattering of words in a few other languages and consider myself richer for adding them to my vocabulary.  If asked what is my favorite part of writing, I'd have to say words.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


My sessions with the physical therapist always start with twenty minutes in a darkened room with a compression ice machine attached to my knee.  Other than feeling like I'm in a refrigerator this is a relaxing time to just think before I begin a rigorous physical workout to strengthen my knee and relearn how to walk.  During my last session my thoughts turned to some of the advice my parents and others have given me through the years.  Much of it was in the form of clichés, but over the years I've found truth in some of their advice, sometimes humor, and I've even found myself repeating these cautionary words of advice to my children and grandchildren. Though some of this advice has proved helpful, I've also found some well meaning advice to be completely useless, but memorable. 

More and more I find truth in the advice my dad gave me when he taught me to drive.  "Every other car has a drunk behind the wheel and the one in between is driven by a fool," he advised me as he attempted to teach me caution.  And "Never argue the right of way with a truck; there's no value in being dead right." 

When I used to run and was feeling badly because I'm not a fast runner, my brother gave me this bit of advice, "You don't have to be the fastest runner.  If a bear is chasing you, you only have to be faster than one other runner."

I overheard a son-in-law giving this advice to a nephew just before his nephew's wedding.  "There are only two rules you have to follow to have a good marriage. Rule one--she's right.  Number two--refer to rule one."
My mother always cautioned me to like and respect myself.  She said if I didn't I couldn't expect anyone else to. 

Whenever I tried to rush through a task, Mama always asked me, "If you don't have time to do the job right, when will you find time to do it over?"

My Grandpa Snowball was an interesting man who led an interesting life and built many of the dams and bridges in Idaho and Wyoming.  He was seldom without a thick wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth.  He also had a parrot that knew every swear word ever invented.  He advised me to eat pie and ice cream for breakfast so I'd get the milk, eggs, and fruit I needed to grow strong. Grandma advised him to keep his vulgar-mouthed parrot locked up when the grandkids visited. 

A classmate in high school advised me to take up drinking since I planned to be a writer.  He assured me that only alcoholics who live in unheated attics become successful writers. 

Somewhere I picked up some sound advice against becoming a know-it-all or paying too much attention to opinionated people: "Those who know the least know it the loudest. 

I've been told by more than one person in the writing/publishing field that a writer should pick one genre and stick to it, "establish your brand as one particular type of writer".  I haven't done this and I'm glad.  Writers who follow this advice may achieve more fame and make more money than I have, but I've had a grand time writing for every section of the newspaper, dabbling in magazine articles, delving into short stories, and researching and writing novels in half a dozen different genres. 

When I was a college student someone gave me a little framed motto for my birthday.  It said "Anything worth doing, is worth doing for money."  At the time I thought it was very clever and hung it on my wall.  Now the motto that graces the door to my office is one given to me by Cheri Crane, a fellow writer.  It reads, "I'm a woman of many moods, and they all require chocolate."  How my understanding of great advice has changed over the years!

There is some advice that seems to be timeless and we're all familiar with "Don't start a trip without clean underwear for in case you're in an accident" and "If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?"  Cliché, but they still provoke thought.   I've shared a small part of the advice I grew up with.  Now I'd love it if you'd tell me of the memorable advice you've received.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Adding books to Summer Trek List

I've read most of the books on my Summer  Book Trek list except Swept Up by the Sea by Tracy and Laura Hickman and In the Shadow of an Angel by Lynn Larson.  I'm adding a few other books to the list:
The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor
Be Mine by Sandra Norton Flynn
The Grecian Princess by N.C. Allen

I won one of the prizes already, a book I've already read, but will be happy to pass on to a granddaughter.  It's not too late to join.  Click the icon above to learn all of the details and register.

Monday, July 8, 2013



Romance novels outsell all other fiction.  Though women are the assumed target marketing group, many are also read by men.  Even books that aren't specifically romance novels usually contain elements of romance. Romance is often combined with another genre giving us Romantic Suspense, Western Romance, Historical Romance, Fantasy Romance, and even tie ins to Science Fiction.  In the past couple of years a branch of Historical fiction known as Regency Romance has gained stunning popularity with LDS readers.  Edenbrooke, a Regency Romance by Julianne Donaldson was awarded top honors at the last Whitney Awards Gala. 

Over the past month or so, I've read three excellent romance novels that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good story.  They're not the kind of mush that turns off many readers when romance is mentioned.  They're two regencies by two excellent authors who have become well known and a medieval romance by another superb storyteller.  Because I review LDS themed novels for Meridian Magazine, I try not to review novels with no LDS connection very often there, so I've chosen to discuss these three novels here. 

Sarah Eden's Glimmer of Hope is based on a misunderstanding which is generally a no-no in Romance fiction.  In this case, however, it works.  A young husband with strong political ambitions, who is still too dependent on his parents, leaves his bride for a trip to London.  She was to have gone with him, but at his father's urging, she is left behind.  An emergency arises and she sets out for her grandfather's estate.  Their correspondence with each other goes "astray" and they are both convinced the other has abandoned their marriage.  Imagine their surprise when they find themselves three years later unexpectedly sharing a house for Christmas.  What begins with a great deal of antagonism and mistrust slowly evolves into a glimpse of what the other has gone through in the years they've been apart and the realization of how they've been betrayed.  Eden does an excellent job of slowly revealing the dreadful loss this pair has suffered and of painting a glimmer of hope for their future.  

Eden draws her characters against a well-researched backdrop of the politics, the class distinctions, and the customs of the regency period in England.  The plot is developed well.  The characters are believable, though I found Carter, the young husband, a little spineless at first.  Fortunately he matures a great deal.  I couldn't help wondering if the couple reunited, what the repercussions of a future pregnancy might be. 

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson is also a Regency and I've seldom felt more sympathy for a character than for Kate Worthington, the book's major character.  In an era with an emphasis on manners, she finds herself a social outcast because of her parents.  Her father is a drunk and her mother is a tramp.  She has several sisters who all take after their mother.  Her mother and sisters embarrass her at every turn.  Since childhood Kate has turned to a neighbor her age and the friend's older brother.  He saved her life when she jumped into a river to save kittens someone tried to drown and that was the beginning of her awareness that she was in love with Henry, the heir to Blackmoore manor and estate.  Knowing Henry's mother has made certain he will lose his inheritance if he marries her, Kate vows to never marry and instead longs to accept an aunt's invitation to accompany her on a trip to India.  It has always been Kate's dream to visit Blackmoore and when Henry invites her against his mother's wishes, the visit is more nightmare than dream.  Her mother coerces her into an agreement that if she receives and turns down three proposals while at Blackmoore, she'll stop trying to force Kate into an unwelcome marriage and allow her to go to India. Watching Henry with the young woman his mother has chosen to be his bride and struggling to obtain the three proposals fills Kate with a great deal of misery.

Donaldson has a way of making the reader see and feel the moors and the ocean and ache for a young girl with no choices or options in her life.  Not only does she give a strong view of the way of life in England during the Regency period, but she makes a strong social statement on a way of life that offered women and those of a lower social rank a bleak existence.

I've mentioned The Knight of Redmond by Jennifer K. Clark before, but I'll say more about it now.  This story takes place many years before the Regency period during a time when feudal lords ruled and fought for supremacy.  Lily wants desperately to know more of life and have a better chance at marriage than is granted her as the daughter of the village "witch."  She's really a midwife and herbalist. Her uncle begins a journey with her to a cousin who has agreed to sponsor her, but they encounter difficulty and become separated, leaving her to flee for her life.  She encounters a young knight from a rival land and though she doesn't trust him, they join forces to protect the ruling family and her own relatives, though her family long ago turned their backs on her and her mother.

The characters in this book cover a broad spectrum of personalities. Their prejudices and religious beliefs play a strong role in their actions and motives. Conquest and force are part of their way of life with its attendant cruelties and abuses.  Lily begins as a victim of her family and her village with narrow goals and a great deal of resentment toward her mother and everyone else.  As the story progresses she discovers her own strengths, acknowledges her love for her mother and her uncle, discovers she isn't who she thought she was, and learns to trust her own strengths and intelligence. It's a very well told story of a period of history shrouded in darkness and superstition.