Thursday, June 15, 2017

Shameless Self-Promotion!: Mormon Lit Blitz edition

Have you heard of the Mormon Lit Blitz? It's a flash fiction contest that's been going on around this time every year for the past five or six years. Flash fiction, if you don't know, is generally considered to be fiction under 1000 words (although it doesn't include children's picture and board books, which are usually in that range too). It's fun to write--though it can be surprisingly difficult--and quick to read. Hence the "flash" part.

This year, my entry was a finalist, and this week is the voting. So I'm taking a moment to shamelessly promote my story and hope that you will go read it and the other stories then vote.

It's titled "Forty Years," and it's the story of a woman and her relationship with her mother and with motherhood.

The voting ends on Friday, so if you're inclined to vote, go do it! Here's the link to voting instructions. Also, there's a small discussion of each individual piece going on here (and of course you can page to the other stories' discussions too), so if you have a desire to share your thoughts on any of the stories, I encourage you to do so. Being writers, you know how awesome it feels to have people respond positively or thoughtfully to your work, so go share that feeling with someone else!

And if you're on Facebook, go like the Mormon Lit Blitz so that you can hear about and enter the contest next year!


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Criticism and the Writer

by Jewel Leann Williams

Unless you are writing a journal entry, or a secret document you never intend the world to see, you will endure criticism. Anyone who reads your book, poem, short story, or blog entry, will have thoughts about it, whether they express them or not.

Your words will resonate with them--or they won't.

Your characters, the setting, your pacing--all of those things will either engage them, or they won't.

So, why not get some good, solid criticism before you let your words go public, so that you can change those things that need to be corrected, before it's too late?

Well, because asking people whose opinion you value to possibly tell you things they don't like about this thing you've been pouring your soul into, is absolutely frightening, that's why!

Many writers are so terrified to hear that their "baby" is actually really ugly, that they don't ever present to critique groups or beta readers.

What's worse, some writers are so invested in their project that even if they do have beta readers, when those readers outline all the things that are wrong with the book, the writer has a meltdown. Sometimes they go on Facebook to get validation and commiseration, they may discount the criticism, or possibly take it so much to heart that they don't touch the project again.

These things ought not to be. With this in mind, I present the following steps to receiving criticism as a writer (I am talking about the kind of criticism you ASK for: critique groups, beta readers, etc.):

Step 1: Say, "Thank you."   You did, after all, ask for them to read and comment. They sacrificed time to read your project.

Step 2: get out the salt. You will need at least one grain of it to take with each comment.  You have to take into account that everyone has their own pre-established likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies that will color their perception of your work.

Step 3: Keep this advice from Neil Gaiman in mind:

When people say "This doesn't work for me," there is always a reason. However, the reason may be completely different than what they think it is. Pay attention to those things that are unsettling to your beta readers, but be aware that their solution is not necessarily the solution.

Step 4: Pray or meditate on it.  I believe that God wants me to use my talents as a writer to help His children.  Because of that, I also believe that He will direct me in the use of my writing, if I ask Him. That may not be your belief, but I promise if you take time to reflect on the things that your beta readers have told you, you can be more mindful of what changes you need to make and which ones are not necessary.

Step 5: Be true to yourself; true to your story.  But don't be afraid to "kill your darlings" if necessary.  IF NECESSARY. You don't have to. Sometimes one reader may not like something that may be perfectly wonderful to another. YOU get the final say.

Step 6: Do it all over again. Make changes, get feedback. Make more changes, get more feedback. Think of it as sanding furniture, or polishing a stone or a car... you refine, refine, refine, with finer grit sandpaper, until you can truly see the gem shining through.

What advice do YOU have for writers dealing with critiques? Post in the comments!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wasted Fruit

by Jewel Leann Williams

I have a hard-working peach tree in my backyard. It isn’t big enough for the kids to climb in yet, and it is still producing smallish, but oh-so-sweet fruit. Every year when it blooms, my heart gets happy and I start anticipating juicy heaven.

All the birds in Arizona start spreading get the word, too.

Now there are nets you can put up to keep the birds out of the tree and away from most of the fruit. Our tree is too big now. I’ve seen the shiny hanging deterrents. My brother suggested hanging plastic balls that resembled the fruit to try and help them lose interest in our fruit. The thing is, every year we get very busy in the spring and don’t ever do all those things to bird-proof.

Usually, the birds exact their “bird tax” and there is plenty left for us. Not so much this year. This is what it looked like:
Can you see all of the peaches in various states of bird-eaten desiccation?
This picture, you can't see that all of those peaches are bird-pecked, or completely eaten right on the branch--all of the usable peaches have already been picked from this part. 

All that fruit, ruined. Wasted. It's maddening.

There are a few things go we could have done to prevent this. They don’t matter at this point, and the reasons why we didn’t don’t matter either. When I look at my tree, and all of those peaches that could have blessed my family, my friends, my tastebuds.... the reasons don't matter.

We will either learn from this and take the necessary steps to prevent it next year, or we won’t and will lament the pillaging around May 2018 too.

How often is it like this in life? We have so many blessing--some are things that we've worked hard for, others are just things that Heavenly Father has ordained for our good, waiting there for the taking.

We also have the "birds" of our lives--people, circumstances, whatever--that hover around, waiting for opportunities to ruin those blessings or at least prevent us from accessing them.

There are steps we can take to prevent this from happening, fully or partially depending on the circumstance. We understand that life, just by its nature, is going to ruin some of our "fruit," but whether or not needless waste occurs is largely up to our efforts.

Then, knowing that without action on our part, our blessings will be squandered, we do--nothing. Or not enough. Or not the right things.

What it is that we need to do is different for everyone, every circumstance. The reasons why we don't do what we know we should--those reasons don't matter when you come to a realization of what could have been had you only been diligent.

Just a couple of months ago, President Thomas S. Monson gave us this challenge with a promise of blessings:

My dear associates in the work of the Lord, I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives. 

What amazing blessings we are being promised here:

  • We will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit
  • We will be able to resist temptation
  • We can overcome doubt and fear
  • We can receive heaven's help in our lives
What do we need to do to safeguard that fruit?  Prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. 

If we want those blessings, we have to do that work. If we don't, we will see those blessings squandered, hanging on the tree waiting for us, but dried up with the waiting. 

A few other blessings (and what we need to do to "obtain the fruit") from this last General Conference:

  • “Your power to do good as a group of God’s daughters will depend, to a great degree on the unity and love that exist among you.” -Henry B. Eyring

  • The Lord promises to direct our paths, but for Him to do that, we have to walk, trusting that he knows the way.” -L. Whitney Clayton

  • My beloved friends, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if we ever find ourselves living in fear or anxiety, or if we ever find that our own words, attitudes, or actions are causing fear in others, I pray with all the strength of my soul that we may become liberated from this fear by the divinely appointed antidote to fear: the pure love of Christ, for “perfect love casteth out fear.” --President Dieter L. Uchtdorf

  • One more, also from President Uchtdorf: 
  • Our service—whether great or small—refines our spirits, opens the windows of heaven, and releases God’s blessings not only upon those we serve but upon us as well. When we reach out to others, we can know with humble confidence that God acknowledges our service with approval and approbation. He smiles upon us as we offer these heartfelt acts of compassion, especially acts that are unseen and unnoticed by others. Each time we give of ourselves to others, we take a step closer to becoming good and true disciples of the One who gave His all for us: our Savior.

    By the way, although I am approaching this from a spiritual point of view, we can extrapolate my poor wasted fruit saga to writing also.  How many times could we reap some benefits, if we would just take action? We can always improve our craft, look for opportunities to expand our writing horizons, network, mentor, critique, accept critiques.... we never know what blessings may arise from taking action--or what fruit we are letting rot on the tree by standing still.

    Wednesday, May 17, 2017

    Book Review: Seeking Mansfield, by Kate Watson

    -a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

    Yesterday was the debut of our lovely alumna Katy White's (aka Kate Watson) novel Seeking Mansfield!

    Let's start this review by talking about the things that I did today. First of all, I am a super responsible adult type of human. So I definitely did all of the adulty sorts of things I was supposed to. I definitely didn't spend pretty much the whole day shooing my children outside to play so I could read. I definitely didn't make hot dogs for lunch because it was super fast and then I could go back to reading. I totally didn't let the kids watch more TV than usual so I could finish the book.

    Nope. I'm way more responsible than that.

    But since I did manage to read the book while also being a fabulous parent and adult, I am now equipped to review it. Hooray!

    Star rating: 4/5. I really enjoyed it!

    Summary: In this modern YA adaptation of Mansfield Park, Finley Price is an aspiring teen director with a crappy past and an overdeveloped sense of what she owes to her godparents, the Bertrams. Movie stat heartthrob Harlan Crawford and his sister move in next door, and Finley starts having to face all sorts of difficult things, including love.

    What I liked: It's been years, admittedly, since I read Mansfield Park, and I think I would have a lot more compassion for Fanny Price than I used to. But when I read it, I just found her to be too much of a doormat. Finley Price is a wonderful modern remake of this character, giving a lot more depth to who she is and how she ended up this way. Also, I found her just much more likable.

    The alternating perspectives were fun, and I really loved Oliver. Again, more than the original. Oliver was far less clueless than his Austen counterpart. It's kind of refreshing to read boys who aren't complete idiots and yet are subject to still being teenagers.

    I also appreciated watching Finley and Oliver talk themselves into things that didn't make sense or fit them. It felt very real--"I'm going to do this thing because it really seems like the sort of thing I should want to do, even though I don't want to." Sigh.

    Really, I enjoyed the book immensely. It was a fun read that modernized a character that lots of modern readers don't like. It also largely avoided the thing I hated most about the 1999 movie adaptation (we'll get to that below).

    What didn't work for me: I think I'm a bit like the original Fanny in that I sometimes have a hard time accepting lots of shades of gray in people. So, for example, I didn't like that Finley really didn't seem bothered enough by Emma's behavior. I guess maybe I would have preferred to see Emma be more like the original Mary Crawford, very clearly a pretty awful person.

    Other considerations: The 1999 adaptation I referenced above has Fanny Price tell Henry Crawford she's going to marry him (even though she doesn't want to and has been morally repulsed by him all along). Then, when she realizes she simply can't and tells him so, he sleeps with someone else. Essentially the narrative is that if she simply hadn't given in, he wouldn't have been a sleazebag. (Austen fans, correct me if I'm wrong here, but my recollection is that the original Fanny continually refused Henry, despite feeling awful about it, because she had a seriously awesome moral backbone.) It was awful and pretty much the worst narrative decision in the film (in my less-than-humble opinion). Watson's Finley is in a different situation in Seeking Mansfield, and while I don't admire some of her taste in boys, I think she puts the woman-blaming narrative of cheating where it belongs--in the trash.

    Clean rating: Yay for a teen romance that I would consider quite clean. It's got a little bit of swearing (what I call the "lesser swear words"), a couple OMGs (which is pretty much my least favorite acronym ever, I admit), and I think one mention of sex? There's also thematic content--alcoholism, abuse, PTSD, and such, so it's not for younger readers, but it's also not dark.

    You should go pick it up and then be a completely responsible adult, like me, and not binge read it all day. Like me.

    Saturday, May 13, 2017

    The Pain in the Neck, or What I Learned This Week

    by Jewel Leann Williams

    Quick story:

    This week my sweet eleven-year-old son managed to roll out of his top bunk in his sleep, and landed on the six-inch-tall pile of dirty clothes on the floor but tweaked his neck. He spent the whole week miserable. I took him to Urgent Care just to make sure it wasn't anything more than a "tweak" and thankfully, that was affirmed by the doctor. She gave us some really awesome gel to use and taught him some great stretches. She told us that, even though it really hurts to do so, the best way to permanently relieve the pain is by gently stretching the area, and instead of holding everything as still as possible, to move it as much as possible. We left the office and I continued for the next few days to remind my son to move his head and neck, to do stretches, etc.
    Two days later, after a night wherein the adorable four-year-old princess invaded our bed, I found myself with an inexplicable but excruciating pain in my upper back--one of those knots underneath the shoulder blade that is about impossible to get to. I commandeered some of the really awesome gel, and the husband gave me as much of a massage in that area as possible. I resigned myself to not doing the things I had planned, because how was I going to scrub two showers when I couldn't lift my arm?

    The doctor's words came back to me:  no matter how much it hurts, the best thing for you to do at this point is to move it. So, I did. At first I was glad that no one was in the room with me, because I swore a little more than a little and was making this whining noise that was quite unbecoming.  Anyway, after a while, I did find that the pain lessened enough for me to start my chores (scrubbing the kids' shower was imperative, it's their job but it had been done poorly or not at all for long enough that it... well, you get the picture).  After about an hour of scrubbing (I'm not exaggerating, and I was only half done--it was bad) I realized that it didn't hurt at all anymore. Moving really, really helped!

    My point in this isn't to wallow in the pity of how terrible my kids' shower was (it was really, really bad. I soaked it in cleaner, scrubbed it, and then soaked and scrubbed it again). It's not even to whine about the pain or the fact that when my little girl sneaks into bed with us, I always feel like I was run over by a train the next day.  While I was contemplating the fact that I would have not had the "move it and it will help" advice fresh on my mind had I not just been dealing with muscle pain for my boy, the Spirit whispered to me that this is an analogy for life in general.

    We have trials, and they teach us things. They make us stronger. They make us more empathetic when other people go through the same things. They also give us knowledge that we can share with others who may find themselves in similar circumstances. In short, our trials are a gold mine if we can look beyond the pain and see them as learning--and teaching--experiences.

    After all, the Savior himself suffered in Gethsemane to personally know how to succor us. In Alma 7, it explains that Jesus took upon himself the pains and afflictions of his people, that is, all of us, so that he would know according to the flesh how to succor his people. He could have known, in His head, by the Spirit, how to provide comfort. But there is something to be said for feeling the same pains--he wanted to physically know--according to the flesh--how our infirmities and trials make us feel so that he could truly know how to provide comfort and assistance to us. What love our Savior has for us!

    This isn't a new way of looking at trials for me; but it is a good reminder that I needed this week.

    In closing, I'd invite you to read Alma 7 for one of the most beautiful descriptions of our Savior's mission and Atonement.  And remember, our trials are there for a reason--they are our lessons in this school of life.

    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    Some Fun Writing Exercises

    By Lacey Gunter

    Published authors often say if you want a successful writing career you should be writing consistently, perhaps even daily. Sometimes though you get stumped in your current WIP and you don't really know what to write.  I have already discussed ways to try get moving on your WIP again here and here.  Sometimes though, what you really need is just a little break from your manuscript.  when this happens writing exercises are a great way to keep you writing and maybe even generate a few new ideas. Here are a few writing exercises you might want to try next time you need a break, or even just for fun.

    1. I call this one Beta Reader Blitz: Have you ever had a beta reader who didn't really 'get' your manuscript and insisted you should change it to sound more like a different genre (like maybe the genre they love writing in). Well just for fun or practice, do just that. Take you current manuscript, or even a much loved book and try and tweak it to fit a different genre and write a synopsis for it or rewrite one of the chapters.

    2. This one I call Sensational Reporting: Go to your favorite news website and find a report on a situation or event that is just developing. It's best if you find an article where some important aspect of the story has not yet been discovered or reported on.  Then write a new article filling in those details or explaining the event or situation using you imagination. It can be realistic or completely farcical, just have fun with it.

    3.This one is the opposite of a modern remake: Take a modern day story, like something that has happened in real life in the past 5 years, or a story that takes place in modern or future times and try to remake to fit in a different era in history, in particular, a past era.  Write a synopsis for the story or a chapter.

    4. This one can be funny or romantic or perhaps even a horror: Take a much loved female character from one story and a popular male character from another story and write about the two going on a date.

    Or come up with some writing exercises of your own. Either way, have fun and just keep writing.

    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Afghans or stuffed toys

     When I first learned to crochet as a kid, I thought that serious crocheters must make afghans or tablecloths or wall hangings--big, grand things. I didn't start with big stuff, but I felt like I was working towards that.

    Fast forward many years and I've gotten a few afghans under my belt, but I start to realize I don't really like making afghans. They're big and heavy and take too much time and yarn. But I really like making stuffed animals. They're cute and little and fun to give as gifts, and I can finish them in under ten hours.

    I used to think that the only thing for me to write was novels. Anything else was sort of just a stop on the way to novels. But this past year I've dealt in short fiction a lot, and I've started to realize it's fun! I enjoy it. It's easier to experiment with because you can try and fail without writing 50,000 or more words before your realize it's not working. There are places you can submit short fiction too, which just makes it more fun!

    Both afghans and stuffed toys are valid crochet projects. Both novels and short stories are great in writing. Sometimes you just need variety. So if you're feeling burned out on your current type of project, try something new! It might turn out that you like making stuffed toys?

    Sunday, April 30, 2017

    Some Inspiring Thoughts from a Great Man

    by Jewel Leann Williams

    One would think that with me having a rare Saturday off, I would have time to post something inspiring and wonderful Well, I am posting something inspiring and wonderful, but it's coming from the mind of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  I was thinking about this quote I read on Facebook and how genuine it is while being so profound.  So I thought, I need to just gather some quotes from this great man and just soak up the wisdom and grace from them.

    Without futher ado: 

    "Sometimes I think we misunderstand obedience. We may see obedience as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Perhaps there is a different metaphor that can explain why we obey the commandments of God. Maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting, and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead, it is the process by which we discover what we truly are made of.”

    I love this because it reminds me that the purpose of obedience isn't some power trip God has, that we have to do what he says just because He's the boss. Our Father asks us to obey to teach us who were are meant to be.

    “Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you. God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked. What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”  
    and related to the same subject:
    “Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. ... He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.”
    It's so important to recognize that we are ALL failures without our Savior, and that God loves us anyway. He loves us because He loves us--there's nothing we can do to change that.

    “What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. So what if the eggs are greasy or the toast is burned? Don’t let fear of failure discourage you.”

    There are so many more but I wanted to end with this one--I remember the talk where President Uchtdorf urged us to create. I think we often get caught in the delusion that we have to come up with perfection if it's going to be worth anything. This quote reminds me that much of what helps me grow as a writer, as a mother, as a creator of things, is learned in the doing--and that THAT is sort of the point.

    There you go, just a few of the many inspiring quotes from President Uchtdorf--- I hope that you feel a little more inspired for having read them.


    Saturday, April 8, 2017

    Subbing in the Rain

    By Lacey Gunter

    Unless you're that strange freak of nature that submits your first manuscript and magically turns it into a sale with the first person you submit it to, you will inevitable have to face rejection and the pain and disappointment that come with it, if you're seeking to get published.

    Let's face it, rejection is painful. It hurts a little less when the rejection is personalized and encourages you how and in what direction to go, but even that is still disappointing. I wish I could give you some magic formula for avoiding rejection, but if I knew one I would already be using it myself.

    When you know you're getting yourself into a likely painful situation, it's usually wise to take some time to think about how you can minimize or manage the pain. This is important when you are querying or submitting a manuscript because it's easy to get depressed or discouraged and throw in the towel before the fight is over. 

    If we think about rejections as rain drops and the ensuing disappointment and pain as getting wet, the goal would be to get through the rain storm as dry as possible. Obviously, we could use an umbrella, but to me the equivalent of that would be to just not sub in the first place, which would get us nowhere. So assuming it is just us and the rain, how do we get the least wet?
    There has been much debate about which gets you wetter, walking or running in the rain.  The most detailed research suggests running is better, but what matters more here is that both walking or running are going to be better than just sitting down in one spot and hoping for the rain to stop.

    So how does this apply to subbing?  If all you are focusing on is this one manuscript and getting it published, you may be simply sitting down and waiting for the rain to drench you in despair. You may get lucky and the rain storm will be short and the sun will shine on you and dry out your despair. But if you aren't, as most of us are not, the rain may drench you so bad you decide is it not worth the pain and hassle.

    The better plan is to get up and get moving; start on a new project, explore some new ideas, immerse yourself in a new story, or even a few. This way you are actively moving toward your goal. You have more than one prospect and a rejection on one doesn't seem quite so devastating.  Your chances of reaching your goals of getting published will improve and you'll have something to distract yourself from the pain of rejection. Plus, maybe you'll find someone else running in the rain and you can just run behind them and let them get most of the drops. 😜

    Wednesday, April 5, 2017


     There's been a lot of talk in social sciences lately about the growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. The idea is that if you have a growth mindset, you feel like you are capable of changing and developing new skills. A fixed mindset suggests that you can only be what you're already good at.

    The subject comes up a lot in education, and I've become particularly aware of it as I try to teach my children various skills, like math and reading. Consider the difference between saying, "You did a great job. You're so smart" and "You did a great job. You worked really hard." Smartness feels static. Either you are or you aren't. So if that's why you did a good job, then there's little point in trying and persisting even when you fail at first.

    I have loved applying this perspective to teaching my children because I think it's crucial for them to realize that struggling with a concept now doesn't mean they always will. Today my child was in tears over skip counting, poor dear, so we stopped and I reminded her of how far she'd come. I turned to there beginning of her math book and talked about how she's started out just counting objects and circling the correct number. Now she does basic addition, can count and write large numbers fairly well, and has better number sense than she realizes.

    When we turned back to those first pages, though, and talked about how far she'd come, I could see her visibly begin to relax. She really needed to see that she was growing and improving. Once she saw that, I think it helped click for her that she could keep going.

    We talk about this perspective with teaching children, but I wonder how well we apply it to ourselves. When I look back at old writing of mine, I'm far more likely to cringe than to say, "Look how far I've come!" When we think about what we're good at now, do we think we'll never be good in any other areas? Or do we look at our weak areas and see opportunities for growth?

    Sunday, April 2, 2017

    Distracted Driving (Saturday's post on Sunday)

    by Jewel Leann Williams

    I commute for about 45 minutes to work, down I-10, a pretty busy freeway even "against traffic" (opposite direction of the rush hours). Recently they started doing construction, the first phase of which was to close the freeway and narrow the lanes to their bare minimum width, in order to provide room for what they are doing. As I zip along these new, narrower lanes, I feel my knuckles cramping and growing white from the grip I have on my steering wheel.  The reason? The people in the lanes around me who keep swerving into my lane because they are on their cell phones (while going 75+ miles per hour, no less). Do they not think we can't see the glow of the phone as they keep glancing down?

    There's just no room for error with the lanes narrowed.  People need to be paying MORE attention, not less.

    Not that people should be on their phones on the freeway (or anywhere else behind the wheel, for that matter) but the stakes are higher when the slightest swerve puts you in the wrong lane and into someone else's vehicle.

    Distraction can be deadly.

    We just had the Saturday session of General Conference, and I was sitting with my family on our living room floor, trying to listen to the leaders of the church. Lately I've felt like it is supremely important to listen to what is being said--not that it's hasn't always been important--just with the way the world is spinning, it feels more important now. The lanes are narrowing--the "way" is getting narrower, so to speak, and the stakes are getting higher for swerving.

    So I'm trying to listen, and the kids are spinning on their behinds on the floor, or fighting over a pillow, or a blanket, or a spot on the couch, or I'm having to bark at someone to wake up and pay attention. Meanwhile, I keep turning to my husband with, "What'd he just say?"

    Distractions. Ugh.  I wish I could've listened better, absorbed the feeling of the talks more, instead of only kinda sorta hearing it, and then reading it later. Thank goodness for the conference videos!!

    But that got me thinking.... how often do we go through life, distracted? I mean, not just the social media, the OTHER media, the everything going on that keeps us only halfway living life.

    I mean, distracted from our covenants so that we are only halfway living them, swerving back and forth, dangerously close to crossing into inactivity, or complacency, or rebellion....

    Distracted from the true nature of the Gospel, marching in lockstep with rules and social norms without remembering the Atonement and the plan of happiness and the true "work and glory" of the Father....

    Distracted from raising sons and daughters of God, instead worrying about raising kids who star on soccer teams, or who excel at (insert thing here)....

    Distracted from revelation
    Distracted from the power of the priesthood
    Distracted from who we are
    Distracted FROM a million things that really matter, by the BILLIONS of things that really, in the eternities, don't matter at all.

    Distraction can be deadly.

    How grateful I am for General Conference, and for weekly meetings and for great friends, for the scriptures and for daily personal prayer, all of these things to keep us in the lines--in the Way. Let's do our best to regain our focus and not get distracted!

    Saturday, March 25, 2017

    Summer of Service

    By Lacey Gunter

    After hearing some lovely and inspiring women speak tonight I was reminded of the value of service in creating a happy life. It inspired me to again strive to do more service in my life.  Not only is this an important consideration for busy moms, but I believe it is critical for our children.

    Our kid-centric parenting culture is obsessed with making sure kids are having fun. I feel we do a disservice to our children if we model that this is the only way to experience joy in our lives.  At this time of year when parents are anticipating summer and signing kids up for engaging summer and sports camps, and planning their elaborate vacations to theme parks and playlands, it might be beneficial to stop and think. Amidst all this time and resources we are putting into making sure our kids are brilliant, talented and fun-loving, are we putting in the same amount of consideration on how to help our kids become more thoughtful, generous and loving towards others?

    I used to put together a summer play group for my kids and the kids in our neighborhood. I put a lot of time and effort into finding or creating fun and engaging activities for the group. But last year the thought occurred to me that maybe my kids need less awesome play-dates with their friends and more character building experiences helping those experiencing a trial or sacrificing for those less fortunate. So now I try to put together a kid friendly summer service group.

    The first time I did it, last summer, I thought I needed to have projects that were big and certain to make a difference in many people's lives, which was a little challenging as I didn't have very many ideas for how a bunch of young kids could do that.  But overtime, I have realized that even small but personal acts of service can make a big difference in both the people you are serving and the children doing the service. Something as simple as drawing pictures and making love or thank you notes for the people in your neighborhood can create a feeling of love and happiness in your neighbors for several weeks or even several months. At the same time, it is a completely manageable task for even a toddler, with just a little parental help, that can spark a joy for service that will lead a child to want to do it again and again.

    I am looking forward to doing a summer service group again this year. The projects probably won't be as big and monumental, but I am confident they will still be life changing. 

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

    Carrying Rocks

    - a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

    My kids and I were parked and heading off to the dentist's office when I looked at my toddler to see what was taking him so long to get out of the car. In each of his hands he was carrying a rock about the size and shape of a hot dog bun. 

    I lifted him out of the car so he didn’t have to let go, and we were on our hurried way to the dentist (late, I confess). 

    When we got to the office, he set his rocks down on the little table in the waiting room and happily played with the toys. I couldn't just leave these giant rocks there, though, so when we got called back to the offices, I picked up the rocks and stuffed them in my purse to dispose of later. 

    Fast forward a couple of weeks. 

    I was hunting for something else in my purse when my fingers brushed against something rough. I investigated and of course I found the rocks there. I'd meant to dispose of them, but I just forgot. I’d been carrying rocks around in my purse for weeks!

    I tend to find metaphors everywhere, and I couldn't help wondering what sort of rocks we might be carrying around in our lives without even noticing. Things we meant to deal with but then just let them slide. Attitudes about ourselves that we maybe meant to examine for truth but just began to believe without even realizing it. Beliefs about the way the world works that keep us from achieving and being more. At first they don’t seem big or important (after all, I didn’t notice those rocks for a couple weeks!), but maybe they add up.

    Am I carrying around rocks? That professor who told me I seemed dismissive of others—did I start to believe that I was just plain bad with people?* What about all those years I spent thinking I had ugly, muddy brown eyes when in reality they were green?**

    What rocks are weighing you down? And why are you waiting to get rid of them?

    * This is a true story, though oversimplified. His full comments were partially right and partially wrong, and I took them so very badly, but that was only partially his fault. Essentially, we both handled that whole situation badly, but that has nothing to do with this post. So I’ll just turn it into an excessively long footnote instead.

    ** This, weirdly enough, is also a true story. And for the record, I love brown eyes—all my children and my hubby have gorgeous ones—but in my mind my eyes were like dying grass and mud being stomped on. You know the opening credits scene from Joe vs. the Volcano? That’s how I felt about my eyes.

    Monday, March 20, 2017

    Stuck? Get HELP!

    Have you ever noticed what happens in a parking lot when someone's car doesn't work? There's this weird phenomenon- the broken-down car draws mechanically-minded men to it like moths to a flame. They see a problem and they get excited, because they think, "Hey, I might be able to FIX that!"

    Oddly enough, I've noticed that there's something similar that happens with writers and writing. We love writing. We love good writing. And what we really love is to make okay writing GREAT writing! When the opportunity arises for us to put our two cents in on somebody else's work, we usually jump at it.

    (As long as it's not our own writing. Most of us hate editing our own writing, but will happily pick apart a stranger's writing with gleeful abandon.)

    Anyway, my point is that if you feel stuck- either you're halfway through a manuscript that's writing itself into the ground or you're submitting to agents and just not getting anywhere- there is HELP available to you in the form of other writers- they're free and they're willing to be a second set of eyes on your work.

    All you have to do is Google "find a critique partner" and you'll find articles and websites like these:

    40 Places to Find a Critique Partner

    Google Groups Critique Partner Matchup

    And my personal favorite...

    LDS Beta Readers

    Keep in mind that these are not just places to look for people to help you critique your finished manuscript- they are people who are willing to help with whatever you need, whether it's fact-checking ("Does anybody know what kind of tree is commonly found on a mountain in China?") or plot work ("What would be a good reason for a toddler to end up backstage at a rock concert?") or even character development ("How do I make the bossy narcissist likable enough so the readers root for her?")

    I realized this past week that I was avoiding finishing off my NaNo book, and I decided I needed a kick in the pants, so I posted on LDS Beta Readers asking for some critique partners. I got four takers, and so I now know that they'll be expecting a chapter a week from me, and as a bonus, I get to read their stuff and critique it as well, which I love to do!

    So if you're stalled out in the parking lot of your writing journey, just open the hood and wait- help is on its way!

    Saturday, March 18, 2017

    Who is the Most Important Person in Your Family?

    by Jewel Leann Williams

    My husband sent me an article this week, by a psychologist guy named Dr. Some-Old-Guy-Who-Probably-Never-Had-Kids. Even though I generally look at articles written by psychologists in newspapers and roll my eyes, because they are usually written by old ugly men who have never had childre, I read it, because my husband sent it, and I love him, and if it's important to him, it's important to me.

    So. This doctor proposes that the problem with society today is that when asked the question, "Who is the most important person in your family?" The parents answer, "Our kids!"  He claims that this attitude makes us raise entitled children.  In my generation, he says, we knew that our parents were the most important people.**

    I've been mulling it over. He has some points. I mean, our family shouldn't revolve around the whims of the children, by any means. The value of our family does not lie in whether or not Junior gets the gold at the swim meet, or if Sister has all the latest fashions.

    But other than that, yeah, sorry. The most important people in my family ARE my children. I work to provide them a safe and comfortable environment. I would eat Fritos out of a dirty bowl for breakfast if I didn't have my family to cook for.

    True story. I work Saturday nights, until about 3 hours before church on Sunday. I also get home from church only a few short hours before I have to be back at work. I am usually so tired when I get home from work that I don't know how I drove home, and dizzy with sleep--so that I absolutely *must* take a nap. However, that nap makes me cranky and sometimes more tired, only not dizzy and ready to pass out. Every. Single. Sunday. It is a monumental struggle to get out of bed and go to church, especially knowing that I will only get a similarly short and unsatisfying nap before I have to go drive  45 minutes and work all night (and make it home) again that night. So I started giving in to the very reasonable desire for sleep over church. It felt more like survival, ya know? But the moment I realized that a few of my kids were starting to "feel sick" every Sunday so they could stay home and sleep, that did it for me. Unless I am physically ill, I drag my extremely cranky and unhappy butt out of bed and get myself to church. I absolutely would not do that if it weren't for my children.

    Family Home Evening? For my kids. Scripture study? Yes, for me, but I almost always focus on my kids and how I can be a better mother and wife.

    From the document "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

    Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

    My husband is my eternal companion. I realize my children will leave the nest, and that while I am rearing them, I am also nurturing my relationship with my husband. We are partners forever (as often as I'm sure he questions that decision). However, at this particular moment in our lives, our responsibility lies in our sacred duty to rear our children.

    So, Dr. Whomever-You-Are, sorry. You'll have to chalk me up to one of those "what's wrong with America" parents, because the most important people in my family, right now, are my beautiful, amazing children.

    And I'll punch you in the nose if you tell me otherwise, Doctor. Because I'm sleep-deprived and cranky.

    ** The "kids are not as important as the grownups" attitude is at the root of at least 1 or 2 of my current psychoses. So (expletive deleted), you hack psychologist!

    Monday, March 13, 2017

    Ode to a Minivan

    Probably spent months of my life in this seat.

    We've been together eleven years, you and I. You were sitting outside the sliding glass doors of the hospital when they wheeled me out with baby #3. And baby #4. (It was baby #2 that made us realize how much we needed you.) You held carseats and booster seats and little bottoms and carried us all over town- to church and to school; to the store and the bank; to the park and the movies. You rushed us to the ER in the middle of the night more than once; you took us 14 hours each way to Orlando, Florida three times. You took us to the apple orchard in September, the pumpkin patch every October, to Thanksgiving dinners all over the state of Virginia in November, and you hauled our Christmas tree home on your roof in December.

    Always quietly in the background of photos, never the star.

    And it showed. You were crumby and stained. You had random scraps of paper, melted crayons, cracker bits, and broken pencils stuffed down into every crevice. Your armrests were worn, your windows were never free of smudges from tiny fingers, and there was something sticky in the front cup holder that wouldn't come out no matter how hard I scrubbed (which, to be honest, wasn't that hard).

    You were one of the oldest cars in nearly every parking lot- but it was because you didn't quit. You never once left me stranded with a car full of groceries, never once conked out on a back road in the middle of the night. Every chilly school morning- even on the coldest ones- you started up without complaint and got us where we needed to go. For eleven years.

    From your front seat I passed back binkies, sippy cups, and snacks. I laid on my husband's shoulder and slept as he drove. I shed more than a few tears. I hollered, "Knock it off!" to the backseat more times than I can count. I sat quietly in the driveway and read while the little one slept, propping my book against the steering wheel, because you'd put her to sleep and it would be the only nap she'd get for the day (and therefore the only peace and quiet I'd get for the day). You soaked up laughter and spills, tears and tantrums, and you just kept going.

    Even on that fateful day a week ago, when a distracted driver smashed into the back of us, you took the hit, letting your crumple zone absorb the impact, and your safety belt hold me tight so I was able to walk away with only a sore neck. Even on that last day, you took care of me. You took care of our family, just like you always have.

    The view of an icy road through the windshield.

    People might think it's silly for me to talk to you like this, but when you've been with a car for as long as I've been with you, when you've been through as much as we have, the words "total loss" from an insurance adjuster feel like a harder hit than the one that crumpled you.

    As usual, always in the background.

    When the guy at the shop opened the chain-link gate to the lot where the damaged cars sat, so I could get the rest of our belongings out of you, it was hard to see you resting in the back corner, all marked up like a patient who was going to have surgery but didn't quite make it to the operating room. So when I opened your doors for the last time, when I tossed out one more stale pretzel, I said thank you. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for getting us where we needed to go, for being the most reliable car I've ever owned, and for protecting me that one last time.

    You served us well, little minivan, and after eleven years together, you will be missed.

    The view of a Washington, D.C. street out the back window.

    Saturday, March 11, 2017

    Patience is a Virtue

    By Lacey Gunter

    If there is one thing I could express to help a new writer starting on their journey toward getting published, it would be the value of patience. Despite how little patience exists in this breakneck-paced world we live in, you won't survive the publishing journey without it.

    We can never assume our readers will have patience. Many will drop you after a single chapter if you haven't already wooed them into staying. Or maybe just after the title and front cover, if you are a picture book writer like me.  We can't expect agents or editors to have patience. I have heard no small number of them claim they typically dump manuscripts after a single paragraph. Not to mention the worse reality when they refuse to even consider a manuscript due to a less than super sparkly query letter.  And we certainly can't expect a publishing company to have patience. Most of them won't even give your manuscript space in a super long slush pile without the official credentials of an agent, even if that slush pile is only virtual.

    But guess what folks; all of those people are expecting a boatload of patience from you.

    First of all, you've got to be patient with your manuscript. Finishing the book is just the first small hurdle, because you're not really finished. Next comes chapter/book critiques, which you better be patient in waiting for or your critique partners will pulverize both your ego and spirit into the ground as they rip apart your manuscript. It's worth the patience it takes for them to figure out nice ways to say their piece. Then you have to patiently consider all the helpful and sometimes not so helpful feedback; followed by a lot more patience with yourself as you work toward sincere improvements to your manuscript.

    Once you finally get to the point where it seems like your manuscript might actually be ready to start sending out to the world of agents, here comes another big waiting game. First, you wait weeks and months for silence.  Then if you've taken the time to search out agents who actually respond, you can wait weeks and months for form rejections letters. Once you've been patient enough to learn how to write a good query letter and actually get a chapter or book in front of an agent, you get the opportunity to wait weeks and months for personalized rejections, and boy won't your be happy about that. If you've been patient enough to decipher the meaning out of the personalized rejection and taken the time to fix up both your query letter and manuscript one day you might get to experience the joy of landing an agent.

    But don't get too excited yet, because most agents still want you to do some pretty significant edits, which you must patiently consider and work on. Then comes the lovely submission dance you just went through all over again, only this time it's your agent doing the dancing while you patiently wait in the background. So fun! Finally you might get a book contract. Woohoo, end of waiting, right? Nope, here comes lots more editing, and lots more waiting, probably two years of it. All of this of course is assuming that manuscript you wrote is good enough to publish. For most people, their first manuscript is not. So then you have to start all over.

    It may sound overwhelming and depressing. Sometimes it is. But if you truly possess the patience to see the process through, especially if you have the stamina to do it more than once and learn along the way, you have a much greater chance of success.  Just be patient.

    Saturday, March 4, 2017

    The Gift of "No"

    by Jewel Leann Williams

    I’ve been up for a major promotion at work.  I’m talking several dollars an hour more, way more responsibility, with the ability (and expectation) to direct the efforts of several people. When I applied, I saw it mostly as an opportunity to make changes and bring the people around me into alignment with the vision of my department (and with my own work ethic).  There were downsides, for sure. I’d already had a career where I was responsible for a shift of people, and I knew it was significantly more stressful than just being accountable for my own work. The schedule was going to be worse for my family, but the pay would also lessen the strain on us. I knew that I was very well-qualified (10 years supervising a 9-1-1/dispatch center pretty much covers all the bases for supervision qualifications), but there were several people up for the job, all well-qualified.

    Short story is, I didn’t get the promotion.  But, in subsequent conversations, I received an opportunity to do more of the things I enjoyed about supervising. When I worked in the police department, I helped with training, both new employee and continuing education. It was one of my passions there, and something I mentioned at length in my interview at my new company. I was given an opportunity to use those ideas and talents even as I was denied the big giant promotion. The more I think about it, the happier I am. It’s not the huge raise, but it’s also not the major jump on the stress-scale.

    How many times do we receive this same blessing in life? We want, and feel we deserve, this big thing—whatever the big thing is. It’s different for everyone.  It could be a job, a marriage, an opportunity of some sort, a friendship, whatever the “thing” is. And then, we’re blessed with the “no” answer, only to find that there is something else. 

    There’s that picture of the Savior holding a giant teddy bear behind his back, in front of a little girl who has a smaller bear. She doesn’t want to give her bear up, because she doesn’t know that the bear Jesus is holding is so much bigger.  I’d like to challenge that a little.  Sometimes, the bear is smaller. 
    I'd love to credit this, but there are so, so many copies of it out there that I couldn't find an original attributed to anyone. If anyone knows where I can find the owner to attribute, let me know!!

    Sometimes it’s not even a bear. Sometimes it’s a box of other, smaller things, things that have no relation to the bear.

    Sometimes, it can be more like an IOU. We have to miss our little bear that we love, and have faith that the sacrifice of this thing we loved and treasured, or wanted and worked for, is going to be worth it.

    The question becomes, do you believe in Jesus Christ. Do you believe what he says?

    When he tells you that He loves you, and wants only the best for you, do you believe Him?
    Do you believe that God is all-knowing? Do you believe that HE loves you?

    If you do, then even while you mourn the loss of the “thing” you wanted, and you deserved, but that wasn’t for you, then you can look forward with faith that it will be made up for.

    Sometimes, when you’re told “no,” you are instead offered something better right away.

    Sometimes you get something different—I get to use my talents in a way that I’d not really thought I ever would be able to use them again.

    Sometimes you are left with a hole, a wanting—there are mothers aching to hold children, men and women without wives or husbands, people without homes—there are as many yearnings as there are people in this world.

    This time, I got something “less” that ultimately feels like “better”—but I have things I yearn for and will probably never receive, just like anyone. I have holes where I feel losses so deep sometimes it’s all I can do to not curl up on the floor and sob for days.

    But, at the end of the day, I know that all things will—WILL—be made right. Not the “right” that I think is right with my myopic mortal vision, but truly right.

    I know this, because I know that God loves me. I know that Jesus loves me. And I know that they’ve promised me that I will have everything they have. That all things will be for my good, if I will trust Them and follow Him.

    And sometimes, the reminder of that, THAT is the gift that “No” brings to me.


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