I realize I've been a bad blogging buddy lately. You come here and then I don't go to your blog. I feel like that one sister in the ward who always has people babysit her kids but is just never free when people need it in exchange.
So, sorry! I'm hoping things ease up a bit soon. School started, of course, and for moms that means 9 months of partial freedom. For teachers, it's just the opposite, of course.
Then, I've been working like a madman on my middle grade novel. Nights, meals, bus rides to 8th grade retreats, election speeches by class officer candidates--however, I don't work on it during Church meetings because even I have my limits.
Anyway--I want to talk about that novel for a minute.
When it was first written, it was a little over 400 pages and it was brilliant. I knew it. I read a lot in this genre and I just knew it was excellent. I had some kids read it and they loved it, too.
I knew this was good. I could see in my mind how good it was. Then I gave it to some friends to read. To my surprise, they showed me the weaknesses. Too many instances of telling not showing, way too much narrative, long passages of unnecessary explanation.
At first I was confused. They must not get my genre, I thought. And then I looked more closely. They were absolutely right.
You see, my idea is wonderful. It's interesting and a little unique. And in my mind, it works perfectly. But they, of course, couldn't see my idea. They only saw what I had translated that idea into. And the two didn't match.
I fancy myself as very self-critical and tough on myself. But because I was so tuned in to the wonderful idea, I missed the rough execution.
My friends did me a HUGE favor by helping me see my work with new eyes. And I went back and slashed and sliced ruthlessly. Any writer will know what I mean when I say that each slice felt like it was going into my heart. But the book is sooo much better now!
A few more read-throughs and I'm going to send it off and try to get an agent. This endeavor was faciliated greatly by my friends, who loved me enough to be honest. They helped me see the difference between what I wanted and intended to do and what I actually did. Good friends. May I always have those kind of friends and may I always be one of those friends! I think there is a larger parallel here, but I'm going to leave it for you all to apply. I've gotta run!
Literary maven and poet supreme Terresa Wellborn is having a very cool giveaway on her blog. Among the prizes are several very interesting books that you won't want to miss. Go visit. If you haven't aready gone, you will find Terresa's blog to be a uniquely refreshing and enjoyable place to be.
Happy Monday everyone! I hope you are all well. Life is busy, busy, busy. School started last week, of course, stake priesthood meeting was on Sunday, and I have been working almost non-stop on my middle-grade suburban fantasy manuscript. And, I mean non-stop. Like staying up until 1 or 2, working on it at lunch, on breaks, and so on.
(However, I do want to assure my wife that I did nothing with it during sacrament meeting yesterday. She has grave concerns about my level of reverence from time to time and busted me once when I was the bishop for blogging during priest's quorum. Now that my calling takes me out of our ward most weeks, she lives in fear of what wild things I might be doing on any given Sunday).
On Saturday, I did something that I think was really remarkable. I slept in. I was exhausted from staying up most of Thursday night writing (remember the MG fantasy novel I mentioned?) I then woke up, opened the refrigerator and made some breakfast. I mowed the lawn and spent the rest of the day writing.
Why is that remarkable?
I'm so glad you asked. I am a history buff. Don't know much, but I love to read about it. And even with my limited knowledge, I am quite comfortable saying that we have the best and easiest lives of any people who have ever lived on this earth in any place or time. I'm serious about this. We live in unprecedented comfort and prosperity. We routinely do things that our forebearers couldn't have dreamed of.
Historically speaking, it is absolutely unheard of that we have the leisure time that we do. To sleep in, prepare a meal using ingredients we didn't have to hunt/grow/chase is really quite remarkable. To be able to spend one's time writing a novel about seventh graders and their teachers instead of fighting hostile marauders, wrestling food out of the ground, or slaving over a hot stove is so familiar to us. And I know I take it for granted. But really, it's pretty remarkable and I ought to be grateful for it.
I know this may seem strange, but with as many problems as we have, personally and in our society, I think it's good to stop and re
For most of human history, simply surviving was a matter of constant and unremitting toil.
Ok, well, I seem to have worried some of you with my posting of a recipe. So, I just want to assure you that it was a lapse. The rumors of a pedicure giveaway next week are patently false, I assure you!
Please be assured, I am a very manly sort of guy. I leave my socks out on the bedroom floor. I mow the lawn. I kill animals with my bare hands and then barbecue their remains to feed my family.
I have never used a centerpiece when giving a lesson at church, nor have I ever given out refrigerator magnets when I home teach. The only time I really used visual aids was for a marriage fireside I gave and that was a Powerpoint, which is a computer/tech thing--very masculine, you know.
I'm told I snore at night, I tend to get mad at refs who give my kids bad calls, and I am proud beyond all rational understanding whenever one of my kids has a good play or save in sports.
So, fear not. My Y chromosome is firmly in charge of my life. I will not post any more recipes and will return to the traditionally alpha male subject matter of this blog: things like talking about the plays I direct, books about the Atonement, my choir classes, gardening and so on.
Now I need to go. Those jerks at the cable company messed up my ESPN.
Well, I had a super insightful, highly provocative post thought out today. It was basically going to answer every question you've ever had about life.
Sadly, school started today and I'm too busy to post it.
So, instead, I have something that is almost as good. I am serious.
I like to eat. That would surprise you if you saw me because usually people with a physique like mine are either special operations soldiers or professional body builders.
But anyway--I like to eat, and one of my favorite things to eat is a particular kind of chicken salad.
I make this every year for Meredith on Mother's Day and make lots of extra so I can take it to work for lunch the next week. I never get tired of it.
This recipe is seriously amazing. It tastes great, and is actually quite healthy. It is also easy to make, although it's a bit on the time-consuming side to chop all the stuff that goes in the salad.
At any rate, without further ado, here is Sister Atwood's Chicken Salad Recipe. You will seriously thank me.
1 16 ox medium shells cooked drained and cooled
3 chicken breasts cooked and diced
1 ½ cups of bottled coleslaw dressing
1/3 cup of mayo
1 apple diced
red and green grapes—lg. bunch rinsed and halved
1 small green pepper diced
1 small red pepper diced
1 small can water chestnuts drained and cut up
1 lg. can of drained mandarin oranges
salt and pepper to taste
Boil the chicken and cut/shred/slice and set aside to cool.
Drain the oranges, water chestnuts. (I do this the night before)
Slice the graps, apples, peppers, etc. (I do this the night before, too. It makes it much easier)
Put it all in a big bowl and stir in the mayo and coleslaw dressing.
I enjoyed this blog post by LDS author Berin Stephens. It discusses why he reads what he does--especially YA books.
Well, hello everyone. I hope you had a good weekend. We did. Our little house was hopping and humming with activity. My son got baptized this weekend (Mormons do this at the age of 8) and so both sets of grandparents came in and that's what we did.
We love our life in TN, but the downside is that we miss family, so these moments are wonderful. In spite of 500 degree heat (600 with the heat index), we had a lovely time.
But I didn't have time to write anything or really think.
So, can I ask a huge favor. If you read and like The Road Show, would you consider posting a review at any of the following sites: Goodreads, Amazon, Deseret Book? I put links below.
If you didn't read it or if you read it and didn't love it, that's fine. No pressure.
School starts in a week, but we are already well into rehearsals for our fall play, Fiddler on the Roof. We’ve been working on the opening song this week, a large group number that is made complex by the number of students (just under 60). The choreography itself isn’t very difficult, but it learning it well enough to execute it successfully while singing and navigating around all those people makes it tricky.
This week, I spent a lot of time emphasizing some small, apparently nit-picky things. For example, I did a lot of yelling, “Left, Right, Left, Right” to help them figure out which foot they were supposed to be using at any given time. I also focused a lot on having them time some motions for another song. I’d clap and say, “Position 1. Position 2. Position 3.” And so on.
An alien coming to observe our rehearsal would possibly conclude that I had a burning desire, an absolute need to get these kids to walk left, right, left. In fact, he might think that was the entire point of our gathering.
If the same alien came to my choir class or to voice lessons, it would hear me repeatedly telling students to sing with the corners of their mouths in. “Get your corners in,” he would hear me say—over and over. “Lift your eyebrows. Put your hand on your abdomen. Breath with your diaphragm, not your shoulders.
The alien might report back to it’s leader that on earth they go to class to learn to push the corners of their mouths in, to raise their eyebrows and to use their abdomens to breathe. They also spend a lot of time marching on certain feet.
That would be correct, but incomplete. The alien made an understandable mistake in that he confused ends for means.
The goal I have is for the play to be good. But I can’t tell 13 year olds to “do a good job.” That’s not specific enough. I need to break “good job” down into its molecular components. Then, we have to practice each of those tiny details. Mastery of the details will facilitate the excellence of the whole.
However: while excellence will not come until everyone is on the right feet on the right count, that alone does not make an excellent performance. It’s a start, but without energy, emotion, and passion, the play will be empty.
Same with the corners in choir. Saying, “sing with rich, round tones that resonate in your head” isn’t going to cut it with middle schoolers. I have to isolate the techniques that will contribute to that final goal, and we have to practice. But just holding the corners of one’s mouth in don’t make one a great singer.
I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the gospel lately. Reading the scriptures and hearing the words of the prophets, it is easy to be like the alien and mistake ends for means and fundamental techniques for ultimate goals.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ consists of a myriad of small, apparently nit-picky rules, regulations, and so on. I assume that’s because our loving Father wants us to have ultimate happiness, which means being like He is. But He can no more tell us to “be like me” than I can tell my 7th graders to “sing beautifully.” Even if there is a desire, there’s not sufficient ability and understanding to get to that point.
So, he breaks things down into simple, basic steps and then drills us on them. But if we get too focused on them, we are in danger of executing a technically correct, but soulless performance.
If we ignore them, though, then we risk being sloppy, undisciplined, and not getting near the standard that He’s set for us.
The trick I'm working on is in finding how to apply His commandments in an integrated, balanced way that helps us become more like Him as opposed to simply obsessing about small things or checking items of a to-do list.
This post really is for me. I know that's a blogging cliche, but in this case it's true.
So, I have learned a lot in this last year as I've worked to get the book published. One of the things I've learned, or rather, re-learned, is how I respond to criticism.
I find that I don't really mind if people don't like my work. Of course, it's nice when people do, but it doesn't bother me if someone doesn't. In fact, I'm surprised by how objective, almost clinical I feel about that.
On the other hand, there are some things that really do bother me. Once someone gave me 5 stars on Goodreads and I knew they hadn't read the book (don't worry it wasn't any of you). That actually frustrated me more than any amount of criticism! Getting a compliment that is insincere is worse for me than an honest critique.
Another thing that bothers me is when people comment without any attempt at understanding what I was trying to do and focus on what they would have done or what they wish I would have done. Goethe said there were only three questions to ask when judging an artistic work: What was the author trying to say? How well did he say it? Was it worth saying? I've always found those are useful questions in guiding my response to books I read.
But the thing that really bothers me, I'm being authentic today, is when people are factually inaccurate about the book. Don't like something? Fine. But if you are going to write a review, please make sure that your facts are straight.
Just for the record, I want to address something I've read a few times. Why I am doing this? I know that people who read this blog are generally a friendly audience--and I love you for it. But I want to set the record straight. This is NOT an attempt to fish for compliments and get you to say, "Oh, it was such a good book!"
I promise that's not it at all. No, this is just me wanting to respond to a criticism that bothers me: The Road Show is unrealistic because the character's problem just magically end.
That is not true--it's factually inaccurate. A careful reading of the book shows that there is no magic ending. Everyone's problems are not tied up in neat little packages.
I feel strongly about that because I was very careful about that when I wrote it.
Stephanie, for example, begins taking medicine for her depression. She also begins some lifestyle changes like exercise and trying to be more present for her family. These changes allow the Lord to help her and open her understanding during the performance. Her depression isn't magically gone.
Scott has grappled with his addiction for years before the book starts. He has finally hit rock bottom and has gone to see his bishop. When he wins one bout of temptation, he realizes he still has battles ahead of him and that he's not "done." During the road show, he comes to feel the Lord's love for him and feels that he's finally forgiven. That doesn't mean his problem is over.
Curtis has some breakthroughs in the way he sees people. But he has years of habits to overcome. Clearly, he will continue to struggle. But now he has a vision, at least, of what a Christ-like leader can be. I find that to be very realistic--flashes of insight that help us realize that we are not where we need to be, followed by the desire to be better is a very common experience.
Ed has made a friend and his dad, with whom he has issues said something nice to him. His struggles to fit in and feel comfortable are not over.
Eula does get a bona fide miracle. She is healed, but only after years of suffering and the demonstration of substantial faith--not an insignificant exertion, I might add. Her house is still falling apart, she is still seriously behind on her bills, and while we hope Curtis will step up and take better care of her, she may still have to deal with loneliness.
The point of The Road Show is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. He heals and helps us through the trials and vicissitudes of mortal life. But he doesn't take away our problems. There are sweet and sacred moments when He gives us perspective, hope, and even miracles--but the miracles help us endure through the rest of our trials. They don't end them.
The Road Show happens to end at one of these high points. Perhaps as an artistic choice, one could argue that it implies the problems are solved and is therefore ineffective. That would be a valid critical point. I happen to disagree, but I could respect that point of view.
To me, however, the point is this: the characters have received grace and love so they can move on to face their problems with the knowledge that God loves them and knows them and will help them carry the burdens they bear.
Years ago I read something by someone (how's that for specific?) that I really liked. I forget who it was, so I apologize in advance, and if you know, please, enlighten me.
At any rate, this person (maybe Chieko Okazaki?) noted that when Alma the Younger was rebellious, he was called to task by an angel. Years later, that same Alma was discouraged. He was a prophet at that point and had given his life to the Lord. He had been turned out of a city and was getting ready to set his back on it for good.
An angel appeared to him and strengthened and encouraged him. He found out that it was the same angel.
I love that. The same heavenly messenger brought both reproof and comfort/praise.
In my own life I call that circularity and I love it. The Lord says his course is "one eternal round" so that makes sense to me.
Another example of this concept is from Elder Holland. (By the way, I'm too lazy to look citations up today. You'll just have to take my word for it). He talks about going to BYU as students and how lonely he and his wife felt, how homesick, how worried. They stood there in front of the President's home and felt overwhelmed. The same house where, years later, he and his wife would preside over the university.
Years and years ago, I wrote a manuscript for a middle grade fantasy novel. I sent it in to several places and it got rejected. And it should have. It's a good story, one I hope someday to polish. But it was badly flawed in many ways.
However, one rejection came with a personal note from the editor. The manuscript did not fit their needs but she said something like, "You have skill as a writer" and encouraged me to keep trying and to submit future works.
That letter has kept me going for the last 15 years or so.
I got an email the other day from someone who read my book. It was beautiful, heart-felt and complimentary note. Even better, it was complimentary about some specific things.
Yes, you guessed it. It was from that editor.
Circularity is awesome!
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