Friday, November 23, 2007

Learn new words...feed the world!

I've been playing at lately, during my lunch break.

Every writer needs a spectacular vocabulary in order to choose exactly the right word. is a vocabulary building game. You're given a word and have to choose among three possible definitions, some of which are the less common usage. It's great for SAT prep, but also great for writers.

There's an added bonus. Everytime you get a word right, the site donates ten grains of rice to the United Nations to feed the hungry. Ten grains may not seem like much, but combined with the grains earned by all the other word-hungry people on the site, it makes a difference. Yesterday, those of us who learned between turkey helpings donated 147,385,350 grains of rice. You can check their history to see how much has been donated altogether.

I find the combination very addictive. I like learning new words and I like feeding the hungry. As I watch the grains of rice fill my "bowl" and see the running total, I feel good, which of course, motivates me to play a little longer, but also to try to remember the words I miss so I'll get them right next time.

The game learns your abilities as you play, although it doesn't save from game to game. It gives you some test words to choose your level. If you miss several words, it slides you down. If you get several right, it slides you up. The goal is to make you keep learning without getting frustrated.

There are 100 levels, but I read few people make it past 50. I keep hovering around 40, up a little, down a little. I am going to make it to that magic 50.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ideas are like crystals

by Patricia

In The Right to Write, author Julia Cameron wrote that ideas are like crystals in the mind of an artist. Now, I'm not a chemist or a mathemetician so I can't give you all the details of how and why crystals form and the results that occur when they connect. Actually, I'm not sure if I can explain how and why ideas form and what happens when, like pieces of a puzzle, they begin to lock into place. All I know is that when I am writing a novel, scenes and snippets enter my mind, one after another. Getting them into a document in some form of logical order is sometimes a struggle. Occasionally, ideas surface, only to be discarded, trumped by ones that make more sense as part of the plot. One thing I have learned, though, is that the scenes that play over and over in my mind usually have some significant meaning and are meant to be included in the story.

One example of this occurred during the prewriting of the last book in the Kevin Kirk Chronicles series, The Final Farewell. (Prewriting includes all the time spent meditating on the story.) Two scenes played over and over in my mind and wouldn't go away. First, I kept seeing Kevin sitting on the bank of the Mississippi. Second, I saw Kevin at Fort Defiance, Ill., standing at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

I'm no psychologist so I can't claim to understand why these visions returned, over and over, and how I could know internally, instinctively, without knowing logically, why they were important to the story. It was as if they were the pole, the magnetic north my story compass was meant to point to.

The moment in the writing process did come, however, when I realized why these events were important.

I am, for lack of a more sophisticated term, a symbolic thinker. I'm sure that's why I am fascinated by parables in the scriptures and literary allusions. These two moments at the river are symbolic for Kevin. At the confluence, as he observes the two awesome, powerful rivers merging to make a whole, he realizes there are forces larger and more powerful in his life than he has been able to comprehend. On the riverbank, for the first time in his life he is keenly aware of the concept that, like a river, "time stops for no man." You either sink, swim, or sit on the bank and live the rest of your life afraid to ever make a move.

As I look back on the process of creating the story, I understand why these scenes are relevant to the decision Kevin must ultimately make in the story, how they are almost like tools that unlock a compartment of knowlege inside himself, helping him understand his own weakness and to have confidence in his faith. But at the time I was in the creative process, the scenes were snippets of time that, at the time, didn't appear to connect to the story at all.

The point of my rambling is this: Don't discount those recurring scenes, those odd bits of vision that keep popping up in your mind. Don't dismiss the snippets of action you daydream or visit over and over in your sleep.

Your brain may be trying to tell you something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Snake for Thanksgiving

By David Woolley

I never should have agreed to ten days in a snake-infested jungle, hanging out with local Indian villagers and checking out ancient ruins as possible settings for a future book. But when Ryan Wilson (93 Premier) won an almost-all-expense-paid spot on the Choice Humanitarian cultural work project and expedition to the hinterlands of Guatemala and when his parents declined to fill the required chaperon position, dummy me, I accepted the calling to watch over the boy. Which means when those indigenous cannibals come after us white men, I'll volunteer to go hunt for more firewood while they boil Ryan in a pot.

Early this coming Saturday morning, November 17th, we arrive in Guatemala City and hook up with our eight-member expeditionary team before puddle-jumping in a prop plane into the mountain jungles of Guatemala. Picture a remote airstrip just wide enough for one 12-seat, rusty-bucket, single engine craft from the 1960s to squeeze between mammoth rain forest vegetation rising forty feet off the jungle floor. No radar. No tower. No terminal. Nothing but a lone wind sock made from the intestines of the last white man to land in those parts and you get just an inkling of the stupidity required to volunteer for an adventure like this.

The pre-departure handout from the expeditionary force reads: "In Guatemala we run into numerous creatures which the villagers will tell you cause Muerto--dos horas. All you Spanish speakers out there are already laughing. For you non-linguistic types, the rough translation is "dead in two hours." The literal translation is, "What the heck was I thinking?" In this particular Central American jungle there are, and I quote, "coral snakes, poisonous lizards, poisonous millipedes, and tarantulas," to say nothing of the larger beasts with long fangs and complete disregard for the power of a US passport or the long arm of the US State Department. The advice from the expeditionary force? Be careful. The closest hospital is more than a two hour mad-dash through the jungle. I repeat: "Muerto, dos horas!"

Right next to the I-hate-poisonous-creatures line is the I-detest-pre-departure-shots-filled-with-half-dead-microscopic-organisms line. All that doctored-up gamma globulin is engineered to develop an immunity to yellow fever, white fever, black plague, DPT, DT and Sparta. And they still don't have a shot for the common cold. But then, after reviewing the goal production stats from the U18 state cup third group match, we haven't much of a shot either.

There are lots of shots for this expedition, none of which I have allowed be administered to me due to my complete hatred of needles. Needles in the arm. In the bum. In the thigh. One in my big toe. They're the kind that swell up, hurt lots and produce hallucinations of men with spears and painted faces. The expedition Nazis (aka the Wilson family) finally stepped in and set up an appointment with the health department on Wednesday morning, otherwise the immigration service would have likely booted me from the plane. We could hope, right?

There are some redeeming virtues to this expedition. Ryan Wilson will likely never complain about his mother's cooking again. I get to visit the most likely site for the ancient coastal mountain Land of Nephi (Guatemala City), the likely site of the City of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) and also the ruins of the most likely location for the Mulekite's ancient city of Zarahemla (Tikal) on the sprawling eastern plains region of the country. We both get to play soccer with the locals (Go Rangers) as long as we bring our own ball. No pig bladders please. We get to help put in the seasonal crops. And the Guatemalan Indian villagers get to watch us run for cover at the first sighting of an *eighty-legged millipede.

So next Thursday, November 22nd, while the rest of you are enjoying moist turkey, mashed potatoes accented with a light brown gravy, a helping of your mother's yams, some sage & onion dressing and your aunt's sweet rolls, Ryan and I will be dodging poisonous darts from the rival villagers across the piranha-infested Grijavla River while fighting over the last helping of raw snake flesh. In all your feasting next week, don't forget to offer a prayer of thanks in our behalf. We'll likely not be in much of a thankful state of mind.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

*Editors Note: millepedes have between 80-450 legs so an eighty-legged poisonous millipede like the one mentioned above, would give us the greatest chance of survival. Its much slower and certainly out-runnable.

Getting a Late Start

There is an article in the paper about a woman in my area who didn’t commence to be a writer until she was fifty. Her husband told her she’d always wanted to and she’d best get started. Robin Hathaway followed the usual path, lots of rejections, eventually a few with encouraging notes, but after ten years, she hadn’t sold anything and decided to quit. Her daughter talked her into one more try—the Saint Martin’s mystery book contest. She entered, put it out of her mind, and won. Her first book was published when she was sixty and she’s doing pretty well these days.

I’m rapidly approaching fifty, and although I have a book out and one on the way, I am now trying to teach myself to write fiction. Oh, I’ve written it, even sold a few short stories, but they’re bad. (Some are online at if you don’t believe me.) This time, I want to do it right. I want to make things up sometimes and the type of writing I do doesn’t let you make things up.

It’s encouraging to know writing is one career you don’t have to get started on when you’re 21. I love knowing that when I send in a manuscript, the readers haven’t a clue that the author has gray hair, wrinkled clothes, and a messy office. If the writing seems immature, they can picture me as a hopeful twenty-year-old instead of an experienced middle-aged woman, as long as they don’t read my published books first and find out I have grown children.

Hathaway’s advice to writers is to persevere. It’s good advice. Many great writers took decades to get noticed, so if this is important to you, keep sending out your work.

But don’t forget to hone your skills while you’re submitting. It’s not enough to submit. You have to study and practice, just as you do with anything else you hope to do well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Giving Thanks

During the month of November I try to think every single day about things I am thankful for. In a writerly way I would like to mention a few of those things I appreciate and express my gratitude towards.

A written form of communication. I am grateful we do not have to rely on the ancient tradition of the story keeper where one person was chosen at a very young age to memorize and retain the history and information of the tribe since written form of communication was not readily available to all of them.

Symbols in the form of numbers and letters that speak to me off of a piece of paper when organized together to create words, phrases, and paragraphs.

Punctuation. It's like road signs that tell us when to stop, be cautious, slow down, speed up, and watch for animals interrupting the journey.

Authors of ages past who have preserved bits and pieces of their eras, their beliefs, their cultural mores, their rules and standards in the things they've written whether it be fiction or nonfiction. This helps me better understand the whys of humanity.

I am amazed that it isn't the generals, the political or religious leaders I look to historically, it's the writers. The writers are the purveyors of our history just as the ancient story keepers did. And I am so grateful they did and still do. could I make a list and not include books. I can go anyplace, I can be anybody, I can escape any problem just by turning the pages of some book and allowing myself to jump into the midst of it.

And finally, I am so so thankful for writing paraphernalia, pencils, notebooks, papers, pens, old typewriters, modern computers, and the like that enable all of us to record who we are and what we think about humanity, and thus we all become the story keepers of our time.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Autumn of Her Discontent

A new, young, and very talented writer recently bemoaned her honorary mention placement in a local writing contest. Surely she should have done better! She even sought out the judge and consulted her to determine “what she had done wrong.” Of course, she had done nothing wrong, and had obviously done many things right; as we all know, judging is selective.

I told her this honor would look great on her resume, and who would know it was a small contest? An award is an award, and she had entered her work in a contest for the first time, which takes a lot of courage. For some of us it’s akin to the nightmare of being naked in school without your homework. And yet we do it.

And, with her first entry, she had won a prize. She should have been thrilled, and I hope she is by now. Perhaps, as gifted and as determined as she is, she is still unhappy about the outcome. That may spur her on to continued improvement I her writing, so perhaps that discontent will work for her. For me, I’ll take happiness, even if I wish I’d done better.

So October 25th’s advice at was perfect: Celebrate every writing success and never lose your sense of wonder about each opportunity.

We’re taught to be modest in our personal lives, but most writers must blow their own horns to get noticed. It goes against the grain for most of us. But do list any writing success in your resume, and be proud of it.

And please take a moment to send me your favorite rejection letters! see details at my blog:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Remembering Why We Write

My first book contract came at the worst possible time. My husband was living in the east and I was in the west, unable to join him until our western lives got wrapped up. My oldest daughter was getting married and I was packing and preparing for a wedding all at once. I had a very demanding calling. And then unexpectedly, I had to write a book on deadline.

One day I found myself feeling stressed and frustrated. I was behind in everything, the calling was getting harder, and the book wasn’t going. As I stared at the computer I felt ready to give up. I shot off an unhappy email to Patricia (yes, our Patricia) asking why I ever thought I wanted to be a writer in the first place. At the moment, it seemed like the least desirable career in the world.

Much to my surprise, she responded just moments later. I looked at a list of ten blessings that came into my life because I’m a writer. I wondered how she made that list so fast. Then I started to laugh. I recognized the list because I had written it myself some time ago. Patricia had challenged me to make the list. She made one too and we swapped lists. She had saved mine and in my moment of frustration, returned it to me.

We all write for different reasons, and we’ve all had different results. I’m guessing, though, that you could find ten ways writing has blessed your life. Write them down and put them in a safe place to refer to when you’ve gotten one too many rejection letters or the writing is going badly.

Or, send it to a friend who can return it in your moment of need.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Congratulations to Patricia!

. . .. who won the "Scare-Your-Pants-Off" story starter at ldspublisher's blogspot! I highly recommend the site. If you're not familiar with it, take a look at it:

and be sure to read Patricia's entry.