Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blog Tour for OH, SAY CAN YOU SEE by L.C.Lews

Before I turn you loose to read about L. C. (Laurie) Lewis's blog tour for her newest from the Free Men and Dreamers Series, I want to write short review.

Reading the List of Fictional Characters in the front of Oh, Say Can you See is like going to a high school reunion and reading the sign-in sheet, because you notice names that you had forgotten and all of a sudden you remember your past interaction with these people and wonder how they're doing.

And then you remember, Jed Pearson wasn't doing so well. When we last saw him, he was a prisoner of war, accused of killing someone under a flag of truce, and on his way to England to answer for this crime. He was also pretty bunged up from tangling with an explosive device as he was trying to defend Washington from the British attack.

Jed, a young man of twenty-five, is head of the family and circle of friends who live at or gravitate to The Wllows, the Pearson plantation. As Jed endures imprisonment and torure aboard ship, he finds a sliver of hope during a hurricane.

At home at the Willows, Jeds family worries about the impending invasion of Baltimore by a British force flush with the success of burning the capitol. Marcus O'Malley is called to accompany Francis Scott Key on a mission to seek the release of Dr. William Beanes, held prisoner by the British. In her inimitable style, Lewis gives us a ring-side seat to a pivotal point in American History, the shelling of Fort McHenry.

If you're like me and have sung "The Star Spangled Banner" hundreds of times, it's great to know more than the two-line explantion of how the poem--quickly set to music--came to be written. In Lewis's hands, what we find out that is that it's written by this friend, because she helps us get to know Francis Scott Key. His name is on the signup sheet at the reunion, too.

Though this book is number four in the series, it can be read as a stand alone book. L. C. Lewis handles all the story lines deftly, and again, she leaves us knowing there are more thorny problems to be solved for these young Americans. We'll be sure to read book five in the series.

So, with that, read on down and see what others have to say about L.C. Lewis's newest book. You can enter to win a necklace by posting a comment about what "The Star Spangled Banner" means to you.




It's blog tour time for

Set against the War of 1812 and the penning of "The Star Spangled Banner," Oh, Say Can You See?, the latest novel in the FREE MEN AND DREAMERS series by L.C. Lewis, brings this often overlooked period to life.

THREE people will win a copy of Oh, Say Can You See? One GRAND PRIZE WINNER will win this beautiful patriotic necklace!


Blog tour runs from December 13th--December 22nd.


It's easy to enter.
1. Visit the fabulous reviews and leave a comment letting us know why "The Star Spangled Banner" means so much to you. Remember to include your email address.
2. If you tweet about the blog tour, or post about it on your blog or facebook, leave the link in the comments section and you'll receive an additional entry.


Good Luck! Entries close at midnight (MST) on December 31.

December 13
">Braden Bell

December 14
Marsha Ward

December 15
Rachelle Christensen

December 16
Anna Del C. Dye

December 17
Stephanie Abney

December 18
Lynn Parsons

December 20
Susan Dayley
Marilyn Bunderson

December 21
Liz Adair
Valerie Ipson

December 22
Kathi Oram Peterson

****
Though the capital smolders, the battered Constitution and the presidency have survived. But the British left the struggling government no home. Gone are the symbols of America--the Capitol Building and the President's House, and nearly every relic of the infant nation. Britain's next target is the port city of Baltimore, but has the raid on Washington stiffened the Americans' backs? As the Willows women mourn their absent men - gone to war, or wounded, or captured - they await the birth of a blessed child. Miles away, attorney Francis Scott Key embarks on a diplomatic mission that will leave an everlasting mark on America. Proving that the pen can indeed by more powerful than the sword, Key records the fears and hopes of his embattled people. His epic poem soon set to music and titled "The Star-Spangled Banner," rallies a shattered nation to rise from its knees to claim the dream of "one nation under God" during the closing hours of the War of 1812.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Postum's Gone, Inka's Here

Postum was introduced as a coffee subsitute in the late 1890's by the maker of Post Cereals. Made of barley and corn, it had a robust taste and full body. During the second world war it became popular as coffee grew scarce. My mother was a coffee drinker, and when she gave it up, she tried Postum, but it wasn't coffee, so she drank hot water instead. I, on the other hand, loved the stuff. On a chilly winter evening, there was nothing better than a hot cup of Postum with sugar and cream in it--a healthy, non-caffeinated beverage.



Post Cereals discontinued Postum in 2007. About a year ago I was lamenting again the fact that you couldn't buy it any more and decided to go on line and see if maybe someone was selling off old stock. I didn't find anyone with a garage full of outdated Postum, but I did find a Postum Lovers site where people were venting about Post's decision and trying to figure out how to coerce this huge corporation to reconsider. I couldn't believe how many people had commented. Literally hundreds had taken the time to post something (pun unintended) on the site.



I was thinking about Postum on a recent chilly day, wondering if I should use up the last few teaspoons from the jar I've had in my cupboard since 2007 (if I can chisel it out, that is). My son Clay is coming home for Christmas, and I thought I'd better save it for him.



And then, this morning, my daughter brought me a Postum subsitute. It's called Inka. Made of rye, barley, beets and chicory root, it tastes very like Postum...though it's been so long since I've had a cup of Postum, the resemblance might not be as close as I think it is.



My daughter buys it at the local food co-op. You can also buy it on line.



So, if you're a Postum Lover, and if you happen to be strolling through the aisles of your grocery store and see Inka in its bright orange can, give it a try. I think you'll find it's a pretty good second best.






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And...be sure you don't miss out on the next recipe, review, scrap of wisdom or pithy thought. Become a follower on this blog by clicking on the Join this Site button on the sidebar. Check out my books behind the Liz's Books tab at the top, or read reviews of my latest book under the Reviews tab.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - A Review




I posted a week or so ago about hearing Jamie Ford speak about writing Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I promised to post a review after I read it, figuring it would be several weeks before I'd have time.


I have to regulate the fiction I read because I have no will power. Once hooked into the story, I let everything else slide until I'm finished with the book. Since I still have a day job, and if I want to keep up with my writing, I have to ration the amount of fiction reading I allow myself to do, or else I never get anything done.


However, Jamie Ford's book sat on my bedside stand tempting me, and I made a pact with myself that I could read it now, but only after I got my assigned daily list of tasks done each day. What a concept! I should have tried that years ago.


Not only that, but I think Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet--which I'll just call Hotel for the purpose of this blog--is better read that way, because it's a narrative that will stay with you, and you get to savor it, to think about each part in the intervals between .


This is the story of a young Chinese American boy, Henry Lee, on the cusp of adolescence just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Henry attends a private school where the only other Oriental is a Japanese girl named Keiko. They become fast friends, and when Keiko's family is uprooted and sent to an internment camp, Henry must not only deal with his loss, but he also must deal with his father's attitude toward the Japanese in general and this girl in particular.



This book reminds me of a gold filagree brooch. Gold, because gold doesn't tarnish, and this story is as old as time. Filagree, because the strands for Henry, his father, and his son, Marty, all follow parallel lines as they wind around, echoing the aspirations, unspoken love, and cultural gulfs each father experiences as he deals with his son. And the ones each son experiences as he deals with his father.


Jamie Ford said that Hotel is a love story, and it is. But it's more than Henry and Keiko's story. Love is there in abundance, and we see it through the lens of Henry's young heart, mind and memory.


We see the deep bond of friendship between Henry and Sheldon, a jazz musician who busks on a corner in the international district of Seattle.


We see the love Henry's mom has for him as she strives to mitigate her husband's unbending rules for bringing up their son.


We see the love of Keiko's family for each other and for America, in spite of the raw deal America has given them.


We see the love of Ethel, the absent character who appears in the flesh only at the end of the story. I wonder about Ethel. I won't give anything away, but I wonder, was Henry was too innocent and naive? Was Ethel too biddable as a young Chinese woman? Or, was her appearance on the hotel steps perhaps her own little rebellion? If so, I like her more for it.


Hotel is a haunting story, beautifully written. As a writer, I'm blown away by the way it's plotted. Jamie Ford has done a masterful job of structuring the story to give you clues that you accept without even knowing the significance they will have as the story goes along. Like the everpresent I Am Chinese button Henry's father makes him wear as protection against the anti-Japanese phobia existing on the west coast right after Pearl Harbor. You realize it has implications far beyond that stated purpose. And the jazz theme. A whole essay could be written on that alone.


Each character is drawn with care--mostly with love, even though they might not be completely loveable. I would say that Chaz is the only one Henry doesn't remember with affection. I particularly liked the way Jamie Ford drew Mrs. Beatty, a minor character that we never even get on a first-name basis with but who has a knowing, pivotal role in the playing out of this love story. Bless her husky heart, she's a good woman.


I thank Jamie Ford for this bit of Seattle History. I live in Northwest Washington, and I'll never think about the Puyallup Fair Grounds in the same way again. Yes, there was bitter along with the sweet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finding Your Inner Matryoshka


Looking back on my progression as a writer, I can see that I've gone through several different stages. I've thought about it a lot, and I call the process the Matryoshka Syndrome, after the round Russian dolls that nest one inside the other. Each doll represents a stage.

Stage 1 is the Clueless Stage.

Here are some of the symptoms:

1. You write loooong letters but seldom mail them.

2. You love crossword puzzles, puns, clever dialog in movies.

3. You scribbled stories or poetry as a child.

4. You always have your nose in a book.

5. You carry on a mental narration of things you see and do.

6. You dream in narrative.

7. You're the one picked to write the Christmas Pageant or office skit.


Stage 2 really isn't a stage. It's more of an epiphany.

This is when it hits you: you're a writer.

It's like everything is divided into Before Writer (BW) and After Writer (AW)


My Stage 2 hit when my mother died. Before then, I thought all the little narratives I did during the day were because I was always composing a letter to her. My epiphany came as I was mentally looking for words to describe the pool of yellow blossoms under a palo verde tree. I came up with saffron shadow, but I also came up with the realization that I was a writer.


Stage 3 I call Rosy Closet Dweller.

You've discovered you're a writer, and even though you never use the word to describe yourself, you think you're good at it.

You churn out stories, but you're not ready to share with anyone.

It's kind of like a nestling bird. She knows she's going to fly someday, but first she has to grow the right kind of feathers. Only with the writer, in order to grow those feathers, she's got to leave the safety of her nest.

The closet writer has to leave her rosy closet.

Stage 4 is called First Sharing.

This stage is the most crucial in a writer's development. It's like presenting your baby to view, expecting everyone to find him beautiful, and they say to you, What an ugly baby. We're so sorry."


If criticism is too harsh or not balanced with praise and encouragement, the writer may never advance to the next stage. My writing group has a maxim that we follow in giving criticism: 2 positives before the first negative. For this stage, that maxim has to be observed.

This is the time when the emerging writer needs to discover that there's more to learn. She won't want to learn if her spirit is crushed by criticism that is beyond her capability to understand. If she makes it through this stage, she's ready to tackle Stage 5.



Stage 5 is the Apprenticeship.

Like a carpenter's apprentice, you've got to learn the skill before you can buld the forms that are constantly in your head.


The way to learn to write is by writing. This is the time to write and put it out there for people to criticize. But, the writer at this stage needs to choose her critics wisely. This is the time to find a supportive writing group, people you trust who will teach without trying to quash your unique voice.

A writing group is great for several reasons.

1. You're associating with people who understand what it's like to have to write.

2. It pushes you to write. Like Weight Watchers, if you have someone to report to, you're apt to be more productive.

3. You can set critiquing standards.

4. You'll be learning the craft by lessons and practice.

5. You'll grow more used to criticism, and criticism is what will make you a better writer. It's like a pruner's shears or a refiner's fire.


Stage 6 is the Armadillo Stage.
By this time, you've grown a thick skin, and you're ready for a Critique group. The same criteria that applied to your writers group should be applied to your critique group: you need to find a circle of people you can trust. But in this instance, they need to be people whose writing you admire.

In stage 6, when you share your work, you say:

Don't pull any punches, because I want this to be good.

Tell me when it's not working.

Tell me when a passage, no matter how brilliantly written, is superfluous.

Tell me when my characters are cardboard.

There aren't any hard and fast rules about critique groups. Here is mine. It consists of Tanya Mills, Terry Deighton, Ann Acton, Christine Thackeray and me.

We named ourselves Writeminded, and we wrote bylaws governing the number of members (5), frequency of meetings (weekly), who would be chair (we rotate, each taking a 2-month stint), how much each can offer per meeting (5 pages), and how long sessions will last (2 hours).

We meet each Thursday. On Tuesday, everyone emails that week's passage to the other members, so by Thursday we're all ready to discuss. With five people we only have time to read 3 submissions each time, but we critique all. We don't read our own work. The chair gives out the assignments ahead of time of who will read whom.

Though we're great friends, we don't do any visiting. This is work time. We get right to it, and when we're done, we each email the marked-up passages back to the author.

Two of my critique group are members of my writer'group. The other two I met at a writers' retreat. Tanya lives in Eastern Washington, Christine lives near the Oregon border, and Terry, Ann and I live near the Canadian border. However, distance isn't a barrier, because we meet by Skype.

We all have our strengths:

Tanya is great with dialogue and with paring away excess verbiage.

Terry is the grammarian. She not only knows what punctuation or usage to use, she knows why.

Ann is our emotion lady. If she doesn't feel it, she lets us know.

Christine sees the big picture. She sees themes and lets you know if you're straying from your theme or defaulting on your contract with the reader.

I think my strength is vocabulary--recognizing when a word isn't quite right for the context.

I remember that inner Matryoshka when one of my group says, "I don't buy that. You haven't offered motivation." I don't get offended. How can I when she's doing me a favor? If she doesn't buy it, the reader (or agent or publisher) isn't going to either.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Photo I Didn't Get of Jamie Ford and Me

Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spoke in Stanwood, Washington yesterday, and I drove the 45 minutes to that small town way off the interstate to hear him.

I hadn’t any idea what to expect, but the ad in the newspaper—tiny and more than a week before the fact—announced the gathering to be on the third floor of the Norgaard Cultural Center, a century-old building that used to be an I O O F hall. I thought there might be thirty or forty people there.

My first clue I was wrong was when I couldn’t find a parking place in any of the parking lots within two blocks. I didn’t worry about finding my way to the Cultural Center, I just followed the two ladies discussing Jamie Ford’s book as they walked purposefully in a northerly direction.

After reaching the center, I climbed two sets of stairs and found Jamie in the lobby. He and I almost shared a podium at the Whitney Awards where he won Best General Fiction when Counting the Cost won in the romance category. I attended. He didn’t. Last night he explained that he was traveling at the time, and we chatted about that until it was time for him to speak.

By that time the room was so full that I had to carry my own chair in from a stack in the hall. There must have been 200 people—and remember, Stanwood is a small town. When Jamie asked how many had read his book, probably three quarters raised their hands. Wow! What would an author give to have that response?

Jamie gave a wonderful talk, full of humor and gentle good sense. He spoke of being drawn to love stories and used Casablanca as an example, saying that half of the story was played out off screen. He explained that the viewer wasn’t privy to the most intimate moments, but that absence only made the story more poignant and powerful because the viewer’s own experience and imagination filled in the blanks. I was thrilled to have this nationally acclaimed writer speak out for restraint in sexually explicit prose. Less is more, he said, and I agree.

The kicker of the evening was to find what had prompted this bestselling author to be in out-of-the-way Stanwood. Each year Stanwood Public Libraries hosts a community read. Books are nominated and a committee selects a book to be read by everyone in the community. Then they invite the author to come and speak, first at the high school and then at the cultural center. Jamie said he was impressed with the process-oriented questions asked by students. The community had lots of good questions, too.

All the way through, I was cursing my senior memory for forgetting my camera. A picture with me and Jamie Ford would be wonderful for my blog. But wait—I had my phone! I stood in a loooong line to have Jamie sign my book and asked if I could have our picture together. He graciously assented, and I had a lady behind me take our picture with my phone…and then I didn’t save it. Not only my memory, but my technical maladroitness betrayed me here. Ah well.

But it was a great evening. I wrote a few weeks ago about the state of flux the publishing world is in right now, with ebooks and self publishing on the rise, but last night only reinforced my conclusion that the story’s the thing. People will always welcome a well told story.

I haven’t read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet yet, but luckily I’ve dealt with all my promised reads and have a clear slate to begin. I’m looking forward to it, and I’ll review it here when I’m finished.

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Follow this blog! I'll soon be posting my review of Jamie Ford's book, and I'm going to post my healthy fried egg soon. You won't want to miss that gem. Plus, I'll be writing about the Northwest Writers Retreat.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Liz and the Limb Cast

I had never heard the term limb cast until the day before I found one. It all started when my husband, Derrill, and I sent for a DVD course on geology. Shortly after that, he bought a rock saw and began cutting rocks in two. After that, he got a polisher, and soon we decided we'd try rockhounding when we took our fall ramble to see our son in Nevada.










We loaded the 2quads on the pickup, hitched the trailer on behind, and headed out.




Nevada is a rockhounds' mecca, and we were wildly successful when we went looking for wonderstone and jasper around Fallon.



On our way back to Washington, we decided to stop in Central Oregon and spend a day there. But what to look for? That's when I read about limb casts in the guide book.


A limb cast is a particular type of agate. Agates are formed in volcanic voids. Water percolates into the void and silica dissolved in the water crystalizes into agate. Other trace minerals give agates their color. With limb casts, the void is created by a tree being covered with hot volcanic ash. The tree limb burns away, but the volcanic material around it forms a mold of what the limb used to look like. Agate forms inside the cavity, and aeons later, some rockhound finds the treasure.


So, flush with our success at the wonderstone site, we decided to go look for limb casts. The guidebook used discouraging words at some sites--it's been picked over, you might only find chips, etc.--but not at the site around Palina. That's where we headed.


I might mention that the time we picked to go to Nevada and Oregon, they were having record Indian summer temperatures. Derrill and I both are athritic, so walking for a long ways isn't an option. Add to the fact that we're used to walking at sea level and this is 4500 feet.


What I'm trying to say is that searching for limb casts on the hillsides around a ravine was tough, hot, going. I was carrying a rock pick and a spray bottle of water to wash off stones with, but mostly I used the spray bottle on myself to cool me off.



I found some small chips and a larger piece about 4" by 1/2". Derrill used a pick and shovel to mine the bank of the ravine and found nothing. By mid afternoon, we finally decided to pack it in and head back to town where the guidebook said we could see an agatized pinecone that was beautiful.





We loaded the quads and headed back on the very primitive road. Derrill stopped to check the tiedowns, and I looked down at the ground by the side of the road and saw something shiny peeking out of the dirt. Thinking it might be another chip, I got out and picked it up. Lo and behold, it was a limb cast. It was pink agate and weighed about 2 pounds.



As soon as we got back to the RV park I went on line to look up limb casts. I found out that pink limb casts are highly prized. Well, I'll tell you, I highly prize this one. Never mind that I found it while sitting comfortably in an air conditioned pickup. I had sweated and panted, stumbled and creaked for the five hours previous, and I smile every time I look at it.

I didn't take a picture of it, but you can see the marks of the bark on the outside of the pink agate.
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And...be sure you don't miss out on the next recipe, review, scrap of wisdom or pithy thought. Become a follower on this blog by clicking on the Join this Site button on the sidebar. Check out my books behind the Liz's Books tab at the top, or read reviews of my latest book under the Reviews tab.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Awakening Avery by Laurie Lewis - a Review

You may know Laurie Lewis as L C Lewis, a name under which she writes for her wonderful Free Men and Dreamers series set in the years leading up to and during the War of 1812.

Last year, Laurie took a break from her well-researched portrayal of how this war affected two families and turned her attention to a more personal matter in her most recent book, Awakening Avery.

Laurie usually writes her main characters a few decades younger than she is--lots of us do that, especially those of us who write books with a little romance in them. In Awakening Avery, Laurie Lewis has moved away from that pattern, for her main character is Avery Thompson, a middle-aged, recently widowed lady.

I love how Laurie introduces us to Avery's discovery of the nitty gritty details of a solo existence:

She smashed the television first, though she hadn't intended to. She had fumbled with the remote for ten minutes, trying to figure out how to record an NBC special, and when the TiVo brought up the screen with the list of programs to record--his list filled with westerns and mysteries and classic comedies--she lost it. She hurled the remote across the room, not intending for it to hit the center of the screen, but it did.

I can relate to that. In my house, my husband handles the remote. Laurie goes on:

There was something surprisingly cathartic about the sound. The cracking glass and the sprinkling shards of glass sounded familiar to her, like the inward sounds of her long denied heart, which broke into a thousand pieces every morning when she woke up in an empty bed and went into the bathroom where only one toothbrush hung in the holder.

That's how we meet Avery, still bruised and crippled by her loss. As we spend time with her, we watch her begin to heal, and as she heals, she begins to reach out to others. It's through this reaching out that she finds love a second time around.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a romance. It's more like a coming-of-age story, but not really like that, either. Maybe you could call it a 'coming-of-middle-age' story. It's a sweet read for a lazy weekend, a good winder-down after a stressfull week.

Leatherwood Press publishes for the LDS market, and though Avery is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that is only one side of her character. This book could be read and enjoyed by a member of any faith, because the challenges that Avery meets in her journey are common to us all.

Laurie Lewis changes to L. C. Lewis and returns to early America for her forthcoming book Oh Say Can you See. I'll review it here when it comes out.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Terry and the Bear

Whoever thought up this parenting thing, anyway? Oh sure, children are cute when they're babies, but they grow up to go hiking alone and get attacked by bears. Who needs that kind of worry in her life?



So, my daugher (pictured at left with Chango) has this particular rigorous hike she makes several times a week. Sometimes a neighbor hikes with her, but most often she hikes solo. The exercise, along with the vista from the top of the hill, helps her keep emotional equilibrium.



I have to digress here and explain that, when I wrote Snakewater Affair, Spider Latham came face to face with a cougar, and I found in my research that, with a cougar, you are to make yourself as large as possible--hold your coat over your head--and make lots of noise. Terry remembered that. Unfortunately, that's not what you're supposed to do with bears.



Here is the story in her own words.



It was just me, my Ipod, and my Great Dane, Chango. Willoughby was confessing his true love of Maryanne to Eleanor. I couldn't believe it! They had left that part out of the movie. I was just about to reach the overlook of my five-mile hike at the juciest part of Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility.



I was drawn away from the story when I heard the dog bark and saw, about 100 yards away, a big black bear. I was surprised but not alarmed. In fact, my emotion was more dissappointment that I wouldn't get to enjoy the view of Skagit Valley from that vantage point, as that was the purpose of the hike. I had seen black bear on hikes before and found them harmless as long as I kept my distance.



As I headed downhill, I heard a scuffle and turned to see Chango running away and the bear charging toward me! I was thinking, "I don't believe this." My eyes saw a cuddly, furry, black teddy bear, but my brain assured me this wasn't going to be pleasant. I tried to make myself look as big as possible and made lots of wild screaming noise, but the bear wasn't deterred. As he got within arm's reach, I walloped him on the head with my Ipod/cell phone case, which sent my phone flying. So much for my chance at 911.



The bear knocked me down and proceeded to claw at me. All the while, I'm thinking, "This is stuff you read about in the newspaper and can't be happening to me." Chango came to my rescue and pulled the bear's attention from me. I was relieved to see the bear running away from me as he chased Chango down the hill. But my relief turned when the bear did, and I found myself again waving my arms, screaming, and trying to look ferocious as the bear tore back up the hill to assault me afresh.



I have always thought Chango a dumb and obnoxious dog, though I love him dearly. But that night he became my hero as he tore up the hill and attacked the bear before she could attack me again. (I figure the bear was a 'she' and was probably protecting her young, so I could not fault her.)





With Chango wrestling the bear, I took that as my cue to run as fast as I could downhill. I fear I must have been quite the sight, becaue I did not leave off the screaming and arm flailing. I am sure I did not look ferocious on retreat. The dog got free from the bear, and the three of us--the bear, Chango, and I--went tearing down the hill.



The bear finally stopped, but I didn't. I ran about halfway down the mountain, and when I was quite sure that I was safe, I went back to Willoughby's confession.



I came away from the incident with claw tears on my jacket that left scratches and bruises on my arm and a scratch on my face not worthy of stitches (I was hoping for an excuse for plastic surgery.)

So I now have steri-strips and a story to tell, but I'm hindered in sharing, as my phone is on the mountain, guarded by a bear.



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And...be sure you don't miss out on the next recipe, review, scrap of wisdom or pithy thought. Become a follower on this blog by clicking on the Join this Site button on the sidebar. Check out my books behind the Liz's Books tab at the top, or read reviews of my latest book under the Reviews tab.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

King David and Ebooks

There has been a lot of discussion on the writers’ email loops I belong to lately about the fate of the book as it exists now, about publishing in general, and about how all this is going to affect us as authors. I tend to be one of those oblivious souls who stagger through life unaware that great things are happening all around, and I haven’t apportioned many gray cells to focus on this subject.

However, yesterday, I had a breakthrough thought. Let me explain how it came about, and then I’ll share the thought to anyone who’s still with me.

This year in Sunday school, the course of study is the Old Testament. Right now, we’re covering the story arc of King David, and a couple of Sundays ago we discussed the Bathsheba portion of that arc.

If you remember the story, David’s sin wasn’t just that he lay with a married woman, but when she found she was with child, he called her warrior husband, Uriah, home from the front for a conjugal visit so the baby would appear to be Uriah’s. When Uriah, unwilling to enjoy the comforts that his fellow soldiers couldn’t have, sleeps in the doorway instead, David has to go to plan B: send Uriah to the front lines in a battle where he is sure to be killed. When the plan is successful, David is free to take Bathsheba as (another) wife.

Nathan the prophet finds out what’s been going on and comes to call David to account. He doesn’t storm in and denounce David in a stirring oration. He doesn’t sermonize. He sits down and tells David a story. It’s a wonderful story that I may have embellished somewhat, but it goes like this:

There were two men who lived in the same city. One was rich; one was poor. The rich man had vast flocks and herds, but the poor man had only a little ewe lamb that he had raised on the bottle. It was more of a family member than livestock. It ate scraps from the table and even drank out of his cup, and it slept by his master’s bed at night.

One day a traveler came to visit the rich man, and the rich man wanted to give a great banquet with roast lamb as a centerpiece. He set about ordering preparations for the gala, but instead of calling for one of his own lambs to be slaughtered for the feast, he instructed his henchmen to take the poor man’s lamb and dress it and put it on the spit to roast.

David, hearing the story and thinking Nathan is speaking of the actions of one of his subjects, is incensed and pronounces judgment:

The man that has done this shall surely die, but first he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did the deed without pity.

And then, and this is the great part, Nathan says to David, “Thou art the man.”

So, there we have it, a story within a story, both beautifully told in the Old Testament. Nathan got David’s attention by a story. He wouldn’t have made such an impression with a sermon. He would probably have got either a yawn or a knee-jerk defensive reaction. But he sucked David in with the story and taught a great lesson.

And that’s my breakthrough thought: the story’s the thing. We will survive in some format, whether paper and ink or digitally or in a hologram. Storytellers are a necessary part of the moral fabric of our culture and civilization. I might add that we’re also a big part of the immoral fabric—but that’s another breakthrough thought for another blog.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Counting The Cost Wins the Whitney Award, is Finalist for Others


I'm almost a month late making his announcement, but between the time I won the Whitney Award and now, I managed to incubate a virus that took me right down. All I could do was lie in bed clutching my award and sleep. I didn't even want any tomato soup, which is traditional when I'm sick because it's the only thing Derrill knows how to cook.

So, now I'm well, and I'm having a hard time conjuring the walking-on-air feeling I had at the Whitney Awards.

Maybe I'll start by describing the process of selection:

The Whitney Awards were set up five years ago by LDStorymakers, a writers guild composed of published writers, to recognize excellence in literature written by LDS writers, both for the LDS market and for the general market. Books are nominated by the reading public. Simply go to the Whitney site, click on 'nominate' and go through the steps on the page.

Nominations are closed on December 31. Then, a panel of judges--all published writers--reads through the nominations and selects four as finalists in each of the genres.

These finalists are voted on by the Academy. The Academy is composed of LDStorymakers, bookstore owners, other published writers, prominent literary bloggers, and publishers. In order to vote for any book, an Academy member must certify that s/he has read all finalists in that genre. In order to vote for Best Book of the Year, the member must have read all books in all categories.
Awards are presented at a gala at the completion of the two-day Storymakers Writers Conference.

I went to the gala completely relaxed because I had no expectations of winning. I didn't prepare a speech, and enjoyed a delicious meal, listening to Christine Thackeray, Tanya Mills and my son Clay talk about the Middle East. Christine is writing a trilogy with King Herod as the main character, and she's a walking encyclopedia of all things Herod. Fascinating. Did you know he spent his early years at Petra? Clay has been to Petra several times, Tanya camped there with her family as a teenager, and I've seen the Indiana Jones movie that's set at Petra, so we were all interested in the subject.

So then it was time for the awards.

My book was a finalist in the Romance category. One of the reasons I didn't feel I had a prayer of winning was because Counting the Cost, though it's a love story, isn't really a 'romance.' The book doesn't end with a sigh, a kiss, and orange blossoms, so when they read out my name as the winner, I amost dislocated my jaw, it dropped so far.

I hot-footed it to the podium, wondering what I was going to say. I was the first one announced, and I didn't attend last year, so I had no idea what was protocol. I think I dedicated the award to my Uncle Curtis. He's the young cowboy whose life is shadowed in the book. This book is different from all my others. They were carefully plotted, but Counting the Cost was a gift. I feel as if I was given stewardship over the story, that I was chosen to tell it. It's kind of been my quest.




It was great to have my son Clay as my escort for the evening.





It was also great to have the support of all my ANWA sisters. ANWA stands for American Night Writers Association. It's a writers group made of LDS women, and it's my association with them that has helped me hone my craft to the point that I'd be winning this award. In the picture at the left, we're 'showing the love.'



The Whitney award itself is classy. It's in the shape of a book which opens and closes and has the name of the book and what the award is for etched on it. I smile every time I look at it. Who'd a thunk it?

My editor, Cecily Markland, was dealing with family issues and couldn't be at the Whitney Awards, but she held down the fort at the Arizona Publisher Association's 2010 Awards the next weekend. Counting the Cost was a finalist in two categories: Literary Fiction and Regional Fiction. It didn't win either one, but being named finalist is pretty good, too.


Thanks to all who nominated Counting the Cost for a Whitney. I don't know who you all are, but you're fellow questors with me in helping tell the story of the young cowboy, Heck Benham.

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Have you missed me? I've missed writing, and I'm back among the living, which means that I've got things I've got to write. I'm going to do healthy fried eggs, an article on face blindness, and I've got a couple of books I've read that I want to review, too. Oh, and a wuuuuunderful video I just saw. So, sign up as a follwer!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Could You Be an Angel Today? by Christine Thackeray


Mother’s Day is coming on May 9. This year I’m asking for Legos. I bought some on Ebay to have for when the grandkids come over, and I got some awesome pieces, but not enough of the regular blocks.

Now, Legos aren’t terribly sentimental, and they don’t say, ‘You’re an Angel, Mom.” I wouldn’t recommend you assume other gray-haired ladies in your life would like Legos for Mother’s Day just because I’ve put the word out that’s what I want.


I do have something to suggest that says that, though. It’s a darling little booklet containing a poem by Christine Thackeray about a mom who gets asked to stand in for a guardian angel named Gladys.


The angel in charge of scheduling who asks for help says,

“It’s just for one day. See, I have here a list.”


And then the mom goes on:


I frowned at the thick scroll he held in his fist,
“All right.” I took it. “I’ll do your bidding.”
Then I read the long page and laughed. “Are you kidding?”

But, she takes on the challenge of being a guardian angel, in addition to her other motherly duties. For one day she flies from one need to another, until at the end of the day:

When at last I collapsed in my bed close to one,
Knowing full well that the list was all done,
I expected some trumpets or heavenly choir,
But I was out cold before it could transpire.

Christine Thackeray is mother of seven children and knows all about covering bases while reaching out to others. She has a wonderful sense of the sweetly ridiculous, and it shines through here as she tells how Gladys gets her day off.


Christine sent me a copy, and I was so tickled with it, I figured I’d blog about it.

This booklet is a mere dozen pages, just the right size to tuck in an envelope and send across the country to a mother figure in your life with the note, “This reminds me of you.” Or, go to Amazon and order it and have them send it for you. I guarantee the recipient will smile.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce


I love used book stores. I love the idea of people buying used books. It's as if each dog-ear and flex of the spine adds something to the book--not power, necessarily, but maybe a patina of warmth and goodwill because of those who have carried the book, turned its pages, invested their time.


This may seem funny coming from an author who makes no royalties from the sale of used books, but if I had a choice between someone reading my book or buying my book with no intention of reading it, I'd choose to have it read.

But I digress.


I was just about to tell you about this wonderful rabbit-warren of a used book store in Bellingham, Washington. It's called Michael's Books, and I used to go there and wander the mystery and historical fiction aisles while my kids were at piano lessons. I always left time to gravitate back to the Christian book section.
That's where I found a little gem of a book by F. F. Bruce called The New Testament Documents, are they Reliable?


This book was first printed when I was two years old.


Whoa!
you say. Did they have printing presses back then?


I chuckle politely and reply that, yes, they did have printing presses in 1943, and that the book has been updated six times since then. Moreover, the book is still in print.


I bought my first copy of this book twenty years ago. Since then I've bought four more. I keep giving my current copy away, and then I have to order a new one.


So, who is F. F. Bruce? He began his scholarly life as a classicist, branching out from this foundation to acquire scholarly expertise on Judaism and Christianity, and especially the New Testament and the world that surrounded it. He held the post of Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at University of Manchester, England, and, over his career, wrote more than forty widely-used books about the New Testament. The one I bought at Michael's Books is his first.


The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable?
is written for someone like me. I'm conversant with the New Testament, but I don't know a lot about how it came to exist. Bruce takes us briefly through the formation of the canon and then demonstrates why he believes these documents are reliable from a historical standpoint.


N.T. Wright, who wrote the forward to the edition I used to write this posting, describes what F. F. Bruce shows us:


For a start, the documents themselves--the manuscripts from which our knowledge of the New Testament comes--are in far, far better shape than the manuscripts of any other work from the ancient world, by a very long way. Think of the great classical authors--Homer, Plato, Virgil, Horace, or whoever--and you'll find that our knowledge of them rests on a small number of very late manuscripts, often as much as a thousand years after the author's day. Examine the New Testament, and you'll find that our knowledge of it rests on a very large number of manuscripts, several hundred in fact, which go back as far, in some cases, as the early second century, less than a hundred years after the books were first wirtten. There is better evidence for the New Testament than for any other ancient book.



Bruce's intent isn't to convert. Rather it is to expand the reader's already-held faith. And, he suggests that, prior to reading all his information about the reliability of the New Testament documents, it might be advisable for you to read the New Testament first, if you haven't already done so.


Reading Bruce's book is a treat. It's like spending time with a brilliant but kind uncle who takes the time to explain the wonders of his world to a willing but primer-level student.


The names of the chapters are a window into the book:

1. Does it matter?
2. The New Testatment Documents: Their Date and Attestation
3. The Canon of the New Testament
4. The Gospels
5. The Gospel Miracles
6. The Importance of Paul's Evidence
7. The Writings of Luke
8. More Archaeological Evidence
9. The Evidence of Early Jewish Writings
10. The Evidence of Early Gentile Writers


Included in Chapter 5 is the Resurrection, the event all Christians celebrate tomorrow as Easter. I really appreciated F. F. Bruce's treatment of it and for this learned man's expression of faith in that world-changing, eternity-changing event.


If you want a scholarly, non-threatening, faith-enforcing book on the New Testament, I recommend this book to you.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Second Annual SWAN Century Ride

Are you a cyclist? If not, do you know a cyclist? My blog today is about a Century Ride and I hope you’ll let all your cycling friends know about it.


For the uninitiated (which was me, last year), a Century Ride is an organized, 100-mile bike ride. It’s not a race, but participants register, pay an entrance fee, and wear numbers. Many times, these rides are fund-raising events for charity.

I’m going to tell you about a Century Ride that’s happening June 5th. But first, I’m going to tell you about the charity that will benefit from the ride.

If you’re a follower of my blog, you know my favorite charity is SWAN. SWAN stands for Serving Women Across Nations, and it’s a non-profit humanitarian outreach organization that brings tools of change to impoverished women and children in Kenya and Bolivia. Microcredit is one of the tools SWAN uses. Small-business training and microcredit (small loans) are provided to poor women to enable them to start up or grow a small business to earn money to provide for their families.

SWAN sponsors the ride in connection with Sedro Woolley’s Blast From the Past town celebration. Sedro Woolley is a Norman Rockwellish, small town set alongside the Skagit River in northwest Washington State.






The SWAN Century encompasses a mile century as well as a metric century (62 miles), and a family fun ride that’s 13 miles long. The metric century follows the Skagit River east, crosses it, and follows it back west to the lunch stop. Those going on for the mile century then ride out to Padilla Bay, a part of Puget Sound.

Last year was the first annual Swan Century, and I was in charge of lunches for cyclists. The riders were enthusiastic in their comments when they rolled in. They thought the scenery was gorgeous, and they said the course was well laid out, and it was all very well organized. And they liked the food, too. There were home-made Monster Cookies (the one with M&M’s in them) at the rest stops, and for lunch we served meatball sandwiches, a huge green salad with avocado dressing, and carrot cake.

We’ve already heard from several of last year’s participants saying they’re coming back this year and bringing friends. One of the returnees is coming from Central California.






We had 90 participants last year. With those 90 participants, SWAN was able to fund eight microloans. It’s interesting that one of the recipients of those microloans was a Bolivian woman who has a bicycle repair shop.





Her name is Justa, and her loan enabled her to buy an inventory of repair parts so she didn’t have to take time away from fixing bikes to run to the store and buy the part she needed right then. Justa paid off that loan and has taken out a second one that will let her buy bicycles in kits that she can then put together and sell.




We’re hoping to double the number of riders this year. If you’re not a hard core, 100-miles-at-a-time rider, then consider the family fun ride. It’s for a good cause, and your heart will thank you, not only for the cardio-vascular workout, but for the good feeling deep down that comes from helping someone less fortunate than you.

So, save the date. It’s June 5th, 2010. Tell your friends. Maybe get a team together at work. If you’re not into cycling, you can help spread the word. Send some emails. Post the logo on your blog with a link to the web site, which is at http://www.swancentury.org/ .

And, if you come, let me know you heard about it on my blog at lunch time. I’ll make sure you get an extra meatball on your sandwich.

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Follow this blog! I've got a dandy kettle-cornish popcorn recipe to share. My husband, Derrill, was gone for a few days, and one night that's what I made for dinner. I ate the whole thing, and I thought, I need to share this with my followers. And, I still have to do the healthy fried egg post. So, stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keeping Tabs on Numero Uno

You know how, when the class picture comes around, the person you always look for first is yourself? That's the way writers are. They've got their little Google Alert Antennae out, checking for cybervibes that might sound like their names.


My antenna picked up some fun information this week that I thought I'd share.


The first is from someone who took one of the classes I taught at the Western Reserve Writers Conference last September. She was venturing out of her comfort zone and blogging, and she mentioned that she had taken my class on Raising Your Internet Profile 101. She wrote a great blog on how to avoid procrastination. (You go, Alanna! Great job.) It has to do with eating a frog--a powerful image that gets the point across. Click here if you'd like to check it out.



Next, Jennie Hansen, author and book reviewer, who had already reviewed Counting the Cost on Meridian Magazine , wrote another mini-review on her personal blog. Here's what she said:



There's a great Western included in the Whitney's Best Romance category this year. I'm not sure why it was put in the Romance Category, possibly because there isn't a Western category and the General category was already pretty full. There's a relationship between a cowboy and some other dude's wife, but I wouldn't call it a romance; they're both in love with the same person--her.



But forget the romance elements, Counting the Cost by Liz Adair is the best Western I've read in a long time and as I've said before I'm a Western fan. This one is gritty, but not profane. There's an illicit relationship, but it's not in our face and the cowboy is painfully aware it's not right. The life and actions of the cowboy are heartbreakingly realistic. And though I didn't care much for the woman in the story, I could still sympathize with the hardships her cowboy's life inflicted on her.



I think most readers, Western fans or not, will agree Liz Adair is a particularly talented writer and I personally think her understanding of the early twentieth century cowboy is one of the best I've run across


Well, that made me feel pretty good. And then, I got word of another review. This was from Rick Huff's Best Of The West Reviews. Here's what Rick Huff wrote:


He is Heck Benham, a striking handsome young cowboy with barely more than his saddle and his Levis to his name. She is Ruth Reynolds, a lovely and free-spirited woman, caught in an abusive loveless marriage with the "bean counter" hired by Heck's respected rancher boss. Maybe the passion that builds between them was never meant to be, but certainly it was never allowed to be in the straight-laced, southern New Mexico ranching society of the 1930s depicted in Liz Adair's Western romance novel, Counting The Cost. Will they decide to throw caution to the whistling Western wind? And could they weather the consequences...


Westerner Liz Adair is the best-selling author of the Spider Latham mystery series. In her first Western novel, the plot moves at sort of a Bridges Of Madison County pace. Mostly the inevitable is played out against the leisurely, but with the staccato points of a lightning strike, a bucking horse or a fist to the face. You nearly feel the remote silence, the single bird off in a field, or a distant slamming door.


Moreover, Adair displays an intimate knowledge of the cowboys' work, gear and lives. It's revealed in the details. For instance, there's a description of Heck and the hands working the remuda by forming a living corral with their ropes stretched between them that I don't recall ever before seeing in print or alluded to in song.


So there you go. You can see why I'm grinning today. Not only that, but reading Rick Huff's review made me remember sitting with my Uncle Clay--it wasn't long before he died--and having him tell me how the cowboys would make that living corral when the wrangler brought in the remuda. That was a sweet afternoon. Thanks, Rick, for reminding me.


That's my Uncle Clay in the picture above, taken when he was a young cowboy working cattle on the Jornada in southern New Mexico.




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Follow this blog! Did I promise you a healthy fried egg? Dang. Every morning when I cook them I don't have my camera. I'll try to get it done this week. It's so quick and easy and good for you.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Solution to Dirty Dancing at School Dances

We had an article in our local newspaper the other day reporting that local school officials were at wit's end at how to deal with 'dirty' dancing at school dances.

According to a report in the Skagit Valley Herald:

One Mount Vernon High School dance chaperone says the current dance craze, called “grinding,” looks to her as if students are having “sex with their clothes on,” and she’s tired of looking the other way.
“Every kid was either dancing like that or not at all,” said Carolyn Nichols, 49. “The kids who weren’t brave enough to dance like that were standing in circles talking.”


The article goes on to say that most county schools have forbidden suggestive dancing and have also threatened to stop having dances if it continues to be a problem. The article indicates that the problem is widespread in the country.

As the title of my blog indicates, I have a solution: teach the kids something different. Give them an alternative.

Since the 1960's--just after I got out of my teens--our culture has ceased to pass down our dances as part of our lore. Knowing the basic dances helped us out socially during the difficult teen years by giving us a way of interacting where we knew the ropes.

As a Native New Mexican, I not only learned the waltz, foxtrot and swing, but also the specialty dances like Cotton Eyed Joe, Put Your Little Foot and the Schottish. I was taught the dances by my parents and grandparents.

What's wrong with teaching recreational dance in P.E.? I think it's more important than pickleball.

I had this revelation this last weekend when I attended a Traditional Jazz Festival at Oceanside Oregon. Most of the people who attend these festivals have gray hair, like me. We grew up on this music, and we love to dance to it.

However, over the last few years, I've noticed more and more young people coming to dance. We call them the Lindy Hoppers, because they come to practice the Lindy Hop. There's a group from Seattle and one from Vancouver BC that come to the northwest jazz festivals. They begin dancing at ten a.m. on Saturday morning, and they're still going strong when the last band has played, thirteen hours later. Four year ago there might have been half a dozen Lindy Hoppers at the festival. This year, I judged there to be about a hundred.

The beautiful thing about it was the cross-generational connection. Young and old were sharing the same dance floor, grooving to the same music.


I've posted a couple of videos I shot of the dancing at one of the venues at ten a.m. The Lindy Hoppers follow different bands, and these were dancing to High Sierra at one of the smaller venues. One is slower, the other is up-tempo.

video

video



Here's what I've noticed as I've watched these young people dance:


  • There's lots of camaraderie among them. They change partners lots, making sure everyone gets a chance to dance. The more experienced dance with those who haven't yet completely clued in. Over the years I've noticed how several two-left-feeters have miraculously grown an opposing right foot. It's because of the coaching they got from their peers.
  • These kids are tremendously fit. Look at the videos. Each band plays an hour-and-a-quarter set. There are fifteen minutes between sets. The Lindy hoppers dance solid all day long.
  • These dances are not suggestive. There's lots of finesse, lots of inventiveness, to them, lots of athleticism, but sex with clothes on? No.
  • The kids have gone beyond learning just the Lindy Hop. One of the bands played a waltz and the dance floor (this was a very large one at the biggest venue) quickly filled up with senior citizens twirling around the room. But I also noticed about half of the Lindy Hoppers were twirling around, too. It was a beautiful moment.

I know there are those who would say that the kids wouldn't want to have a dance class in P.E. Well, I don't know. What I'm seeing with the Lindy Hoppers seems to be a ground swell, a grass roots thing. I think the kids may be hungry for that kind of knowledge: a truly American dance form danced to truly American music. A dance form that says, this is who I am. This is part of my heritage, part of my American lore.

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Follow this blog! I promise to quit philosophizing and post how to cook a healthy fried egg, soon. And I want to talk about swans and SWANs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Parenting Tip #2 - Time Out for Difficult Children

Before I share this particular parenting tip with you, we need to define what I mean by a 'difficult child.' Being a novelist, I can't do that without telling a story, so here goes.


In the late1960's my husband and I and our two sweet children lived in the Los Angeles area. We had a struggling business, so to take up the economic slack, I taught for several years in an elementary school that was located in a poverty pocket in an otherwise middle-class city. My own children attended the school where I taught, and each evening as we would drive home, I would grieve for the circumstances of my students.


My husband and I talked it over, and we decided if the opportunity arose, we would adopt an 'unadoptable' child, one that wouldn't have a chance for a happy, middle-class existence. It was to be our little mite at saving the world, one child at a time.


We were terribly naive. But, as often happens to simpletons, we got lucky. Or, at least, we got our wish. Before the year was out, we had another child. She was seven, had been a foster child for the five years since she was wrested from her negligent mother, and had been in several homes already. A fellow teacher had taught her in head start, and that's how I found out she needed a home.


This daughter came to us with a small paper bag of clothes but trunks, suitcases and duffle bags of emotional baggage. However, we wobbled along, thinking that love and structure would conquer all.


Love and structure conquered a lot. In fact, about five years later, things were going along so well that we thought we might try another rent-a-kid. We had a family council and talked it over, and the kids agreed. The state adoption worker kissed us on both cheeks and presented us with a seven year old boy.

The fact that he went to day classes at the regional mental hospital should have told us something, but his foster mother said he was teachable. Knowing that love and structure could conquer all, and having had success with our first rental, we said we'd take him. So we did.


And, it wasn't too bad. He was a sweet boy. He brought a suitcase full of clothes and a bicycle when he came, but the emotional baggage he brought was immense. He was the result of a fling his mother had with another man. She didn't leave her husband, and she waited until this son was six to give him up (there were five other siblings). During those six years he had landed in the hospital twice with parent-inflicted injuries. One day she simply took him to DSHS and said she didn't want him any more.


So, we wobbled along with that addition, too. Love and structure, you see, will conquer all, and I was the master of structure. My husband, Derrill, called me The Commandant. Sometimes the structure came easier than the love.


By the time a year had rolled around, things were going so well that we started thinking we were wonderful. We had the magic touch. Love and Structure R Us. Let's have another kid, only let's get one a little younger this time.


In no time at all we had a three-and-a-half year old boy. The adoption worker, the same one who had brought us our previous child, felt he was meant to be ours, and we thought so too. He had brown eyes, curly hair, and a dossier two inches thick. We said we knew what we were in for. We were prepared. Love and structure, after all, etc., etc.


We had some pretty good years until puberty hit first one and then another and knocked the props out of our love and structure thing. The emotional baggage all spilled open and there was no way to get everything folded neatly and put away again.


Our saving grace was our old farmhouse. As sturdy as it was ugly, it had one beautiful thing about it: nine bedrooms. Each of our children (seven by the time I was making use of this parenting tip, because we had two surprise cabooses after our last adoption) had his/her own bedroom, so I was able to send whichever of the children was acting out to his room for a time out.


There was a problem, though. Quite a few of the bedrooms were in the basement. There was also a family room down there with a TV in it, and I found that several times when one of the boys was sent to his room, he would go downstairs, slam the door, then sneak out and watch TV until I sent word that he could come up again.


It made me so mad that I had the desire to screw the bedroom door shut, or at least put a dead bolt on it. As satisfying as that would have been, it wasn't safe, so I did the next best thing. I taped it shut.


Now, the tape didn't do anything to hold the door closed. It simply let me know if the door had been opened during the period of banishment. There was no more sneaking out, because there was no way he could get back into the room, close the door, and replace the tape.


I knew I was onto something when I arrived a little early to a family counseling session and heard our therapist telling another parent about this time-out technique. I had shared it with her several weeks before.


I know none of you have difficult children. But, if you know someone who does, they might like to add this to their bag of tricks. I've got others I'll share as the spirit moves me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Reckoning by Tanya Parker Mills - a Review


I was in grade school when a teacher introduced me to the idea that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Even my non-scientific mind was wakened to all sorts of possibilities, and a lively classroom discussion ensued. That was over fifty years ago, and I still remember it.

As I grow older—and I am growing older; has anyone noticed? As I grow older, I have begun to see that matter isn’t the only thing that hangs around forever. The consequences of our actions do, too. They reverberate through time and space and wash back to us at unexpected moments and in the oddest of places. It’s almost like a cosmic economy. The smallest action—a look or a word—can be carried in someone’s heart or memory, and, years later, you’ll find that a throwaway line you uttered had deep significance to that person, and you reap either satisfaction or shame, depending on the memory.

A variation on that idea is one of the themes of Tanya Parker Mills’ multiple-award-winning book The Reckoning. Set in the months just before America’s invasion of Iraq, it’s the story of Theresa Fuller, a journalist who lived in Iraq as a child and who sneaks across the northern border to write the story of Saddam Hussein’s humanitarian crimes against the Kurdish people. Captured, she is jailed as a spy.

Most of the book deals with Theresa’s time in prison and the privation and torture she endures there. Taut and beautifully written, it’s sometimes hard to read, but never dull and never unbelievable. It’s hard to read because we care about Theresa. Tanya Mills has done a good job of letting us know the realities of Abu Grabe when it was still in Iraqi hands (and there’s an irony!) without being unduly graphic.

Captain Tariq al-Awali, an Iraqi officer, is put in charge of Theresa’s imprisonment, and he becomes the only buffer between her and the cruel Colonel Badr’s repertoire of tortures. It is through her association with, and her growing attachment to, Captain al-Awali that Theresa learns a secret about her own father and, by extension, about herself. Cosmic economy reverberates through the last half of the book, echoing still on the very last page.

Tanya Mills writes what she knows. Her father worked for the United States Government, and she grew up overseas in Greece, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Did I already say The Reckoning is beautifully written? Wuuuuunderfully written. Tanya Parker Mills’ prose is the kind that a writer reads and thinks, “Why can’t I write like that?” The Reckoning was a 2008 Whitney Award finalist and a 2009 Indie Book Award winner.

I recommend The Reckoning most highly. It’s a window on the Iraqi people in the pre-Saddam era as well as a primer on how he came to power. But mostly, it’s a great story.

Check out the book trailer here. You can purchase The Reckoning on Amazon, either in hard copy or Kindle edition. Do it!
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Follow this blog! I've got more reviews, interviews and recipes for you. I'm going to teach you how to do a healthy fried egg. Soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Introduction to the Whitney Awards


As with most of the things I plan, when the time comes to execute my plan, I'm out of the mood, and what I thought would be fun or exciting has become a chore.

That's what has happened here. I was walking on air two days ago when I heard that my latest book, Counting the Cost, was a finalist for the Whitney Award, and I wanted to explain to the world about the Whitneys. However, I had said I would blog about pancakes on Saturday, so I put off sending up Whitney rockets.


Now I've come down to earth, and I realize that I have to exercise my brain in order to do what I've promised, and I'd lots rather go take my Sunday Afternoon Nap. However, here goes:

I belong to a writers' guild called LDStorymakers. To belong to this guild, you have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and be a published author. With online email loops and writers' conferences, this group encourages us all to become better writers. It's a very pro-active, dynamic group and there's lots of camaraderie, support, and mentoring going on.

One of the aims of the group, though not necessarily stated, is to raise the level of writing in fiction published for the LDS community. Or, maybe I should say, the aim is to challenge the perception that all writers who write for the LDS market are less talented and skilled than those who write for the general market.

To that end, LDStorymakers created the Whitney Awards. Here's the process:

1. Anyone, you or me or the person down the street, can nominate a book for a Whitney. The criteria are that
  • The book is written by an LDS author. It can either be written for the LDS market or the general market.
  • The book is fiction.
  • The book is published in the year it is nominated. Self published books are eligible.

2. Nominations are closed at the end of the year. Then a panel of five judges reads all the books that received at least five nominations and selects five finalists in each category.

3. After the finalists are posted, the academy--made up of LDStorymakers, publishers, other authors, some high-profile bloggers, and bookstore owners--votes.

In order to vote for a winner in in any of the categories, the voter has to have read all five selections.

In order to vote for Best Book of the Year, the voter has to have read all thirty selections.

4. Winners are announced at a gala at the end of the Storymakers Writing Conference at the end of April.

So, there you go. Counting the Cost was nominated and selected to be a finalist. I don't mind waiting until April to see the next step. I'm not looking to win. Not crossing fingers. I consider it an honor to be a finalist, and I'm willing to leave it at that.

I hope you'll check out the finalists for this year. You might find something you'd really like to read.

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Follow this blog! Next week I'll write a review of Tanya Mills' book The Reckoning, which was a finalist in two categories in last year's Whitney Awards, and deservedly so.