Monday, April 23, 2007

Start A Writing Group

If it weren’t for my first writing group, I wouldn’t be a published author today. About eight years ago, I had just finished up my degree at Utah State University in English. I was on a high because I had done really well in my courses and it had spurred me to keep writing. Then a friend called and asked if I knew of any writing groups she could join. Well I didn’t know of any, so I suggested that we start a Paradise Group. She liked the idea. She asked a neighbor who hadn’t lived here long, but taught English at the university. I asked my good friend Kathy, whom I knew liked to write and we set the first meeting.
The first time was a little frightening. Reading and waiting for a response is intimidating, especially since someone in our group was a teacher at Utah State! Fortunately, we all clicked. At first we thought we’d meet twice a month, but for this group, some busy with young children, and Anne busy with teaching classes that was too often. So instead we rotated houses and met once a month. We always had something to eat—usually muffins and fruit, tea, or juice.
I began my first novel only I didn’t know it was a novel at all. It started with just two pages of a story, but when I hit eighty pages we all knew I was writing a novel. Every month my group gave me encouragement and said they couldn’t wait to hear more. Often I would wait until the day before group and continue my ongoing saga. That two page story evolved into a published novel, "A Question of Trust."

The other members of my group haven't published novels, but still have written some great stuff, all publishable. Julie usually writes uplifting essays about parenting, but occasionally surprises us with the gem of an emerging suspense or mystery. Each of Kathy’s stories ends with us wanting to hear more. Her imagery is rich, her writing flows, and her characters are endearing, but then the next month, she usually starts something new. Anne is the same way. I love her stories. They remind me of two of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler. We have all become great friends, which means we need to allow a lot of time for our meeting. In truth even though it began as a writing group it has evolved into a support group and sometimes it’s time to go, we’ve talked from 10 AM, right through lunch and children are getting off the bus and then we hurry and read our pieces. Still if it weren’t for that wonderful group of women encouraging me, I sincerely doubt I would’ve ever gotten around to writing my books. We have include one more member, Jeannie, who is a much better writer than she gives herself credit for being. I always listen to her feedback.
My other group is a little more serious about the writing and business end of things. Right now there are three of us, all published authors. I feel it imperative that this group hears my story, because although we like each other, we have not evolved into a support group. And even though we are friends, they have no qualms about telling me where my writing sucks. Josi Kilpack is amazing at seeing plot holes and asking for motivations. Janet Jensen, whose book "Don't Marry the Mormon Boys" is coming out soon, is excellent at technicalities and giving ideas on enriching the story. Also she is really big on avoiding the passive voice. They both are looking at my story with the idea of being published, so the criticism is important. I have a habit of liking everything, so I try to look deeper when giving feedback. In this group, too, if we aren’t careful we talk too much and don’t allow enough time for feedback.
If you are at all interested in writing, I suggest you either join a group or start your own. If you start your own establish rules right from the start. Make the group a priority—in other words, schedule other appointments around it, not the writing group around your appointments. If needed set a time, and allow each writer substantial time to read and receive feedback. Let each person in the group talk. If someone in the group is shy about jumping in, it might be because they feel intimidated—ask them for their opinions. When giving feedback—always start and end with something you liked. Criticism doesn’t have to be critical. It can be, I liked this character because… and I would like to see more of … I was confused about … My favorite part was …
The writer must go home feeling good about their writing, but have specific things they feel they can improve on. Even after listening to the members, don’t always take their opinion over your own. Work on feedback while it’s fresh in your mind. Examine and then decide if they are right. If more than one person in the group says the same thing, it’s probably valid. However, sometimes people jump on the bandwagon and say something just because someone else does. That’s why for me having two groups is great. If members of both groups say the same criticism than I know I need to work on that.

I wouldn’t trade either group and I work hard to keep them both going and make them a priority. My groups are the highlight of my week. They've given me confidence and the desire to succeed. But most importantly for me, I have cherished friendships.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Birthday Fun and Tagged

Okay here it goes. A writing friend, Annette Lyon from The Lyon’s Tale tagged me. This blogging thing is fairly new to me, but this is what I’m supposed to do and you are too, if I tagged you. Otherwise feel free to just read this. My birthday is in September and it’s a great time of year to have a birthday in Utah because it’s beautiful and the leaves in the mountains are just starting to turn, which makes my birthday hike, (see April 4th blog) extra great.

Something interesting about my birthday hikes: For three years in a row, in three different hikes, I saw the same man. The first birthday hike, I saw this man I was with my good friend Kathy Herbert. We’d hiked the Jardine Juniper trail in Logan canyon. It’s about 5 miles to the top. Anyway, while we were eating our lunch a man joined us. I’d say he was about ten years older than me which at the time would’ve made him around fifty-five. He’d ridden his bicycle on the trail with levi shorts on, which I thought was a bit strange. We had a nice chat though. Fast forward to the next year. This year, my birthday group was larger, but we were hiking in a completely different area to the top of Mount Naomi, this was 2001 because it was right after our nation's tragedy, and on our way down we saw the same man—same day of the year—different hike. Then believe it or not, the next year I was hiking with my husband in a different canyon, but again very near my birthday when we saw the same man and his bicycle. This time I told him, that I’d seen him for three years in a row—he didn’t seem nearly as impressed as I was, but now I’m really curious because I haven’t seen him for about five years now. Where are you levi-shorts bicycle riding guy? Is the reason I haven’t seen you is because you’ve finally bought some real biking shorts?

Here are the rules for the game.

Also include anything unusual about your birthday--like I did.

Go to Wikipedia and type in your birth date: September 15

Find three things that happened on your birthday? I have to admit I chose the shortest things.

Lolita is published in Paris by Olympia press 1957

The first issue of USA TODAY is published by Gannett 1982

1935—Nuremberg laws deprive Jews of citizenship

Now find the birthdays of three famous people who share your birthday.

Agatha Christie 1890

1984 Prince Henry of Wales

1946 Tommy Lee Jones (actor)

Now the death of a famous person

Ethan Allen (baseball player)

Now an event/holiday

In Bulgaria
the first day of school each year

That’s it—now for the tag part. I’m trying to tag fellow bloggers who haven’t been tagged yet. Hmmmmm. This is the hard part.

Tagged bloggers: I could only come up with three people--that's because it took me forever to write this because my internet kept disconnecting.

janette rallison

julie wright

Truly this was hard for me--I hope you have better luck!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Crappy Week in Paradise

Sixteen years ago when I stepped out of the realtor’s car to look at the house we eventually purchased in Paradise, Utah, the man across the street was cursing like a sailor, or in this case as a man they say was traumatized in WW2 or who had Tourettes, one or the other. He had his head under the hood of an old car. Later as we drove by, I noticed that the car had a bumper sticker, “ Just another crappy day in Paradise.” The real word wasn’t crappy, but I’ve substituted it for my more sensitive readers.

Since that day, we’ve had a few crappy days, days where tragedies occur or you hear about someone diagnosed with cancer or where someone’s world is rocked with divorce, or scandal. Few weeks though have been overall as crappy as this last week. It started out with the suicide of a middle-aged man who grew up in Paradise. His family still lives here and I taught two of his girls in Church. The day after I read his obituary, I heard about Wes a sixty-nine year old modern day rainmaker and legendary gun-wielding character. I met Wes the first summer I lived here. I left my truck in neutral in front of our tiny post office. The ground seemed as flat as an ice sheet, but never the less it rolled into the parked car of the post mistress. Yes it did damage her car somewhat, and our bumpers were hooked together.

While I stewed about getting them apart another pickup truck came up and out stepped a man who looked like he belonged in a Western movie. He was as skinny as a rail, had long gray hair and sported a beard. His cowboy hat was tattered and he wore scuffed boots, that later I found out held his knife. It seemed like he got out some tools or maybe he pulled my truck off with a wench, I don’t remember for sure, it was sixteen years ago, but what I did notice was the gun strapped to his side. I saw a lot of that gun over the years because it was always there, the holster strap open—just in case. Wes was an imposing man, but a good man. He was the water master and rainmaker both, and that's why he welded onto his truck a large H20. He came to symbolize our community. He spent sixteen years in the Marshall Islands where he married and had children, before returning to his hometown. His house always had extra children—few of us knew who were his and who weren’t—as both he and his wife welcomed relatives who wanted to live here. When I received word that Wes was killed in a rollover accident near Grouse Creek where we had lived, and where my novels are set I felt heart sick and knew how it happened. Driving those gravel, hilly roads is tricky and deceiving, and rollovers are all too common. His son in law had to walk eight miles to get help. Wes seeded the clouds to bring rain to the valley and on the day he was buried—it rained buckets—a fitting tribute.

A day of two after Wes was killed, Sharill, a seventy-four year old rancher slipped away during the night. He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t even that old by today’s standards and could easily have lasted another twenty years. He was the last of his breed. His house was one of the first you come to, a gateway to our community and a fitting gateway, flanked on one side with barns and cows and on the other side with a wooded field, a favorite place for deer, hawks, and hoot owls. Sharill owned a good deal of land in the mountains surrounding our beautiful community. He ran cattle here and there and hired workers to help him out. Seeing Sharrill driving around in his big blue flat-bed truck to check on his herd was a common sight on my daily walks. He always lifted his hand in a wave, or stopped and rolled down his window for a chat. He and his wife were the perfect grandparents to their brood, many who live here. There house was decorated for each holiday and greeting signs lined the streets to welcome their loved ones home from missions or elsewhere. He fought to preserve his land from encroaching development.

Then on the day after they buried our rainmaker, I got another one of those phone calls that began with, “Did you hear?. . . “ Well Betty, another long time resident, who spent most of her life compiling and writing histories and a few years back published a detailed and well-written history of Paradise. She had an aneurysm and is on life-support. Word is they are taking her off today.

I wonder if Heaven was tired of the run of the mill regular folk that were entering through the Pearly Gates and needed some of our extraordinary folks, those who defined our community. One chose to go before his time, but the others were either jolted in the next life or slipped away from one Paradise to the next. All I know is this Paradise won’t be the same without them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Recently our ward Relief Society (organization for Mormon women) celebrated its birthday. Don’t ask me how many years; I was just there for the food and the company. This year our party was actually catered by a Logan restaurant-- I don’t know if the food was better than if we’d done the usual assigned fare of casseroles and salads, but it sure was nice not to have to bring anything except for a paper sack. In the paper sack we were supposed to put three things that represent two unique things about us and a hurrah moment.

Then we took turns showing our items and telling why they were included. It’s a lot like a grown-up show and tell and something I enjoyed even more than I did in Kindergarten. Last year we did it as well and I was amazed at the things I learned about people I thought I already knew. For instance one woman in our ward brought a funny looking tool that she uses to turn the ears right on animals she is stuffing! We’re not talking about stuffing you eat, like good sausage dressing you put in turkeys, but taxidermy stuffing. Not only does she stuff the animals, this sweet woman also kills the animals first. She wasn’t the only killer in our ward either. There are a few of them who love to traipse the mountains looking for trophy animals,an activity they enjoy with or without their husbands.

The hurrah moments sometimes brought tears, but none more than Lori’s hurrah moment. Lori has been battling stage three breast cancer , and through two long courses, months each course, of chemotherapy, radiation, and also surgery—she announced she is cancer-free, and is through with her treatments. Now, reconstructive surgery is next, but through all her suffering Lori has retained such a great sense of humor and optimistic spirit that she manages to lift everyone around her. For instance, I was at a wedding recently where she went up to a balding young man (she knew him well enough to be able to say this) and said—looks like we’re sporting the same hair do. Her hair at that point was coming out in handfuls.

Now the moment you all have been waiting for—what was in my sack. My sack had a pair of socks. In my opinion, socks are the absolutely only essential clothing. And it can’t be just any old pair of socks. For me they have to be comfortable, wick-away, cushy and warm in the winter, cool and comfortable in the summer. The seams must not poke or feel bulky and they need to stay up on the leg, but not squeeze off the circulation or leave those itchy ridges on my calves. I like socks even with sandals. I wear socks to bed and have done my whole life. I distinctly remember my mother tucking me into bed at night when I was very young, maybe 6 years of age, and saying ‘only little piggies wear socks to bed.’ My husband usually gives me about ten pair for Christmas. He buys them with great care from a sporting good store, because the kinds of socks I want, won’t be found anywhere else.

Growing up, all summer long I would run through the streets and dirt trails around our Orem home, but when I went to bed at night, I would wash my dirty feet in the tub and then put on a pair of socks for bed. Once I tried sleeping without socks during a hot July summer, but I didn’t make it through the night—waking up panicky—and uncomfortable until I got up to put socks on.

Another thing I put in my sack was a picture of me and some friends on my annual birthday hike. Every year for the last eleven years I’ve gone on a hike in our beautiful Cache valley mountains for my birthday. I started doing this the year I was turning 38. I was depressed that year, something that knocked me out of my normally even keel world. The hike still brought the sense of joy that I’d been missing for a while. It became a tradition—the group I invite has changed somewhat, but lately has consisted of my beloved Paradise writing group, Anne, Julie, Jeannie, Kathy and me.

Okay well this blog is getting pretty long and since I don’t know if anyone will even bother reading it I’ll finish with my last item—the hurrah moment—a newborn photo of my first grandchild, Isaiah, born August 12th.

There are so many other things I could’ve put in my sack. My life is full and I have so much to be grateful for. What would you put in your sack? I’d love to hear from you.