Wednesday, January 29, 2014


One day last week my cousin was cruising along I-15 at about 65 mph during rush hour when the car in front of him suddenly darted into the next lane and Joe found a kitchen sink lying in the road right in front of him.  Both lanes on either side of him were full, leaving him no way to avoid hitting that large ceramic sink.  In seconds, he straddled it and it shredded a tire and tore pieces loose from his car's undercarriage.  He had a fight on his hands to maintain control and avoid rolling or involving another car in an accident. 

Other drivers and the Highway Patrol were kind, thoughtful, and helped him all they could, but there was no way he could have avoided slamming into that kitchen sink.  They could only help him with the aftermath. Why do I mention this story?  Recently someone brought up a hurtful remark aimed at a friend and it reminded me of a neighbor who came to me in tears following the discovery that I had breast cancer twenty years ago.  This lady said she felt she needed to apologize to me because she'd had mean thoughts about me.  She thought it was unfair that I had so much and she worked really hard and had so little.  She assumed I made lots of money just writing little stories.  She knew I had met a lot of famous people through my position on the Salt Palace advisory board and my years as a reporter.  My oldest daughter had recently married the son of a prominent community leader in the temple; my son was serving a mission, and my younger daughters had college scholarships.  I was thin then too (she added that!)  It wasn't until my cancer diagnosis that she learned one of my daughters also had cancer and we were struggling to overcome the financial loss that came with the company my husband worked for going bankrupt, leaving him without a job and the disappearance of his retirement fund.  Both of our mothers had recently died as well. 

This lady had harbored a completely romanticized and false image of me, partly because she had glamorized what it is to be a writer.  It was a shock to her to discover writers are like everyone else; we have highs and lows and we're certainly not immune to life's tragedies.  We hit kitchen sinks just like everyone else.  To be honest some of my writer friends have been dealing with some pretty severe problems in recent years, have found plenty of obstacles in their paths, and have had to fight hard to stay on course, keep writing, and protect their loved ones. Sarah Eden has a severe form of Rheumatoid Arthritis that causes her incredible pain, Kerry Blair has fought her way through MS and a bout of cancer, Gale Sears's son died unexpectedly from a disability he didn't know he had, Rob Wells struggles with extreme panic attacks, Anita Stansfield has Celiac that went undiagnosed too long and has caused her permanent health problems, Rachel Nunes spent years writing with a baby on her lap, Michele Bell was beside her son with his long scary ordeal with cancer, and the list goes on and on.  Writers are wives, husbands, parents, etc., who cope with their children's school problems, with elderly ill parents, sometimes another full time job, illness, marital differences, accidents, difficult pregnancies, unexpected multiple births,  and every problem that besets any other person. The only thing that makes writers different is that through it all, they still write.  Just as a musician continues to make music even when the world turns dark and his heart is breaking, so the writer continues to pen stories.  

Like Joe, who couldn't avoid hitting that kitchen sink someone failed to secure to his vehicle, all of us, writers  or not, will hit some difficult obstacles in our lives from time to time through no fault of our own.  These experiences aren't fun, but they do enrich our understanding and our compassion for others. Good writers internalize these experiences and they emerge as richer, more empathetic stories and more realistic characters.  Most of us fantasize about a life where everything runs smoothly, but when we read a novel where there are no problems, we're soon bored and complain that "nothing ever happens" in the book.  Just as we learn in Sunday School that there must be opposition in all things and that we can't appreciate the good if we have no understanding of the evil, so it is in writing.  We won't appreciate a happy ending if the characters haven't struggled to overcome anything. Adversities or challenges in our lives not only make us stronger and more capable of appreciating good things, but from a literary standpoint they make us better writers and readers because we have personally experienced a wide gamut of emotions which have expanded our understanding. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014


It seems that when a day starts out wrong; it just gets worse.  It's my turn to blog on the V-Formation blog today, but I have family visiting, I was late finding a book to review for Meridian this week, I got my insulin pump this week and have to run tests and go to a couple of doctor's appointments to get trained, we started back at the temple yesterday, and we had a special speaker for Relief Society last night.  What I'm trying to say is I wasn't ready to post a blog, I had nothing written and no ideas uppermost in my mind, but I thought I could get it done this morning. 

Oops! The alarm went off on my new pump to start the day, telling me it was low on insulin.  For those of you who have never reloaded an insulin pump, let me tell you the instructions are a mile long, written in a foreign language, require at least two phone calls to a diabetic specialist, and are totally incomprehensible. A task that should have taken a few minutes shot nearly two hours of my morning.

Next I called in a prescription.  Fifteen minutes later the pharmacy called to say it wasn't in stock, but they could get it by Saturday. 

I sat down at my computer and discovered I had a problem.  My keyboard had died.  I switched it out for my husband's keyboard, but the connection is different and it wouldn't work.  I put my own keyboard back on, fiddled with it a lot and got it so it would work for a few minutes, then it would die again. After a lot of maneuvering around, I finally got a keyboard that functions, though most of the letters are scraped off of the keys.

Now I was set to try to write a blog. A phone call changed my mind.  My Visiting Teaching partner called to tell me the one sister we missed earlier this month was home now and said we could meet with her if we came right now.  

I've heard it said that life is what happens when you're on your way to somewhere else.  I've found that writing is a lot like that too.  It's good to plan and outline, but sometimes a story has a mind of its own.  There needs to be room for detours, for work stoppages, and changes of direction. I don't recommend ditching plans, only allowing some wiggle room.  Life's like that, and fiction emulates life.  Whether it's the book's characters or its author, it's always good to remember there will be days like that . . .

Friday, January 10, 2014


While looking for some old pictures of my husband's family this morning for a genealogy project he's undertaken, I chanced on an album from my high school years that brought back memories.  There were newspaper clippings from competing in declamation meets, honor rolls, play programs, dance cards, basketball scores, stories I wrote for the school paper, etc.  But what caught my attention were a few short poems I didn't write, but used to recite along with a beatnic bongo drum accompaniment. I wasn't part of the beatnic scene, but it was fun to play the part at parties. Let me share them once again:

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons are billiard balls. 

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust. 

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all is now a rug.

Great Caesar's dead and on the shelf;
And I don't feel so well myself!

                            ---Arthur Guiterman

And the second one:

As I was sitting in my chair,
I knew the bottom wasn't there,
Nor legs nor back,
But I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that. 

A little Ogden Nash: 

If you hear the call of a panther;
don't anther. 

It's not the cough that carries you off;
It's the coffin they carry you off'n. 

And finally a belated Christmas poem: 

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the pad,
Not a hipster was stirring; not even Big Dad.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care;
They'd been worn six months,
They needed the air.

My taste in poetry hasn't improved much over the years.  Neither has my sense of humor. 
The picture is fifteen-year-old me the night I was crowned Homecoming queen.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


This is the time each year when most people give some thought to setting goals and to looking back at the past year.  The internet, newspapers, magazines, and television are full of lists of the ten best--or ten worst--of this or that.   I gave some thought to joining in.  The only problem is, I either can't make up my mind as to which are the ten best or ten worst books I've read.  I read over a hundred books this past year and most were pretty good.  A few were exceptional. Some were just so-so, and a few were boring. There were also a few I just couldn't make myself finish.  I reviewed a little less than half of the books I read. 

So I'm going to give you a list of books I read that stand out in my mind for various reasons.  They aren't necessarily the best or the worst; they just clicked with me.  Of course the most memorable for me are my own books, Where the River Once Flowed and two compilations that contain short, true stories I wrote, The Art of Motherhood and With Wondering Awe.  I don't usually care for speculative fiction, but I read it because reading and reviewing is what I do.  I liked The Witnesses by Stephanie Black and I liked The Others by Kristin Bryant.  Young Adult fiction is another genre I don't read much of because I review adult fiction.  However, I read a few books in this category and liked Hadley-Hadley Benson (Durfee) and Lair of the Serpent (Adams).  

Another book that appealed to me on a personal level is Nourish and Strengthen by Maria Hoagland. It's the story of a young wife and mother adjusting to type one diabetes at the same time she is adjusting to a new home and ward. The removal of my pancreas left me diabetic and with a lot of adjusting to do too.  I've lived in 22 wards and never found one with as many negative and judgmental people as the main character's new ward, but I found the information on diabetes informative, helpful, and encouraging.  

If I had to make a choice, I'd probably say Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears was my favorite 2013 book.  But close behind it would be a non-fiction book, The Mormons, an Illustrated History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other books that top my 2013 favorites list, in no particular order, are Sword of Joseph (Durbin), The Mounds Anomaly (Gunderson), Ashes, Ashes (Bellon), Proceed with Caution (Green), Sworn Enemy (Sowards), Hitchhikers (Poduska), You Came For Me (Bessey), Desperate Measures (McKendry), Checking Out (Poulson), and Longing for Home (Eden).  I could easily pick another dozen or so books that could be added to this list.  I found something worthwhile and appealing to every book I reviewed for Meridian in 2013. 

Most people's reading tastes change from time to time, often depending on the reader's stage of life such as age, health, stress level, etc. This may explain why the best written or edited books aren't always the ones we remember best.  It's the book that touches our own dreams, desires, or ideals; the one that takes us on the trip of our dreams, the one that gives us a taste of being the hero, doing something grand, teaches something worthwhile, or supports a cherished ideal that finds a niche in our hearts. Different books fulfill the needs of different people at different times, making it impossible for anyone's "top ten" to be exactly the same as anyone else's, but it's fun to look at those lists and compare our views with that of the list maker. Want to try it?  I'd love to know what others found outstanding in the books you read.  Readers, in the comment section please list anywhere from one to ten books read in 2013 you particularly liked.  Don't worry about whether your choices were the best written or had the best message, were character or plot oriented, just tell me which books you personally liked the most. I'll even do a lucky number drawing and send a prize to one person who responds with his/her own list of faves.