Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Celebrating some of the Females in My Life on the Relief Society's Birthday

To celebrate the birthday of Relief Society this year, I decided to blog about some of the women who are or who have been closest to me in terms of family relations. This means that I will be leaving out some my closest women friends of which there are amazing, beautiful souls. So in no particular order.

Grandma Anderson: (My mom's mom) Generosity. If there isn't a good reason to say no, say yes. When I was about 12 or so, I wanted to go ice skating. In Provo there was an amazing ice skating rink called the Winter Gardens. The building was shaped like a turtle shell. It was huge, too. When we got tired of skating, we could warm up by the fire, or have a snack. Many will remember that it was later turned into a Macey's grocery store before being torn down completely. 

Well, I asked if I could go with some friends and my parents immediate response was not today. They didn't really have a great reason, from my point of view. And I admit, I would be upset as a parent, if the grandparent stepped in and undermined me, but that's what she did. I remember that she intervened and asked my parents why I couldn't go. She'd said, if I was ever going to be a good skater, I needed to go as often as possible and that it was good for me no matter what. I'm pretty sure she offered to pay. She very often handed out money when she visited. Needless to say, I got to go skating.

Plus she'd ask me what I wanted as far as her crocheting went. She made me slippers and several ponchos. They were actually popular in those days. Grandma was generous and kind. Generous with time, praise, gifts, money, and her exceptional even tempered personality. 

Nana Thayne: (Dad's Mom) Faith. When I was about 17, I stayed a couple of nights with my Grandma. This was unusual for me. Most of the other grandkids stayed with her often, but our family lived a ways away, and didn't hang out there much. So it was the first chance I had at really getting to know her. I knew she had asthma because she always carried around an atomizer in her big purse. One of the nights that I was there she went to bed in a room next to the guest room (the study with the pullout bed) and I could hear her wheezing in the next room. I finally got up to check on her and she was lying sideways with her feet sticking off the edge of her high bed. I asked what I could do and she said to call the elders. She told me to call her neighbor and ask her to get hold of someone from the ward. It must have been around midnight when they came, but they seemed more than happy to be there. Ready to serve. Happy to help. After they left, her labored breathing calmed and she slept through the night. Another thing I remember about her is that she believed that her dreams held answers for life. A visionary woman.

Mom: Grace. Not in the religious sense, though she is very faithful in her religion, but in the sense that she offers grace to everyone she knows, meaning she believes in the inherent goodness of people.  She assumes the best. I can safely say, I never heard my mother gossip about anyone in my growing up years. And if I tried to tell her a scandalous story, she seemed completely uninterested or offered an explanation of some kind, or that I shouldn't believe what I hear, or that there might be a reason for it. And most importantly, not to hold a grudge. She treats everyone with respect and kindness and nearly everyone treats her that way too.

Mother-in-law Ruth: I miss her. Read! Not only did she have a great education in a day when not many women from rural Utah did, but she continued learning and reading to the day she died. Whenever we would visit, there would be a book or two or three opened face down on the table next to her recliner. It doesn't seem like she used book marks though I could be wrong. The fact that she read and enjoyed, and bought and passed around copies of my novels was a great compliment to me. Her knowledge of the world was vast and there wasn't any subject that she couldn't talk about with at least some degree of knowledge. A truly brilliant woman.

Daughter Ginger: Adventure and courage. I once asked Ginger if she was ever scared, and she said "sometimes I am scared to death, but I just do it anyway." It over the years includes, to name only a few: rock climbing, bungee jumping, scuba diving, traveling nearly all over the world, living most often by herself in Central and South America, Denmark, San Francisco, and New York where she opened and ran her own restaurant, and now is learning Yoga in India. Take life and go. Anything is possible with enough desire and hard work. Make your own luck. Dreams can come true. A little courage goes a long way. Be confident and smile, you've got this. And she does. She has life by the tail.

Daughter-in-law Joanna: We won the lottery when it comes to our daughter-in-law, and there's a lot I could say about her as a wonderful mother and wife, but the trait that I'm trying to learn from her is diplomacy. As someone who sometimes speaks too quickly out of impatience, anger, frustration, hurt, or defense, I'd rather learn to hold my tongue, or when needed engage in a thoughtful meaningful way. Case in point. A couple of years ago, we attended an LDS branch near our cabin in Montana. There was a Relief Society lesson that was given that was not only racist, but railed on these "terrible feminist women who want the priesthood." At the time, I was in a place of deep hurt in regards to my faith. This lesson was not what I needed. Joanna raised her hand, and gently offered an alternative perspective about where a woman who wants the priesthood might be coming from and that always we should not judge the motivations of others, and to remember the Savior's example of love. Well, it calmed my heart. I whispered to her that she was my hero. Whenever, I'm able to calmly offer a loving response even when someone is triggering me, I call it being able to do a Joanna.

Granddaughter: Be authentic. She's only six, but she knows herself quite well. When she was five, she asked me if she could be something besides a mother. I told her she could and she said that her brother told her she if she was a mother she could be nothing else. I said, "well your dad is a teacher and father. Your mom teaches exercise classes besides being a mother." She said, well I want to be and listed five or six things that she wanted to be. I told her that was really great and that I was sure she could be those things. When we were back in the car, I said, I think it's great that granddaughter wants to be everything. She piped up, "I didn't say I want to be everything, I said that I want to be everything that I want to be." I loved that distinction. How silly to think or even want to be everything--there are far too many options. But to be what you really want to be--well that's pretty doable. What a great start she has. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

"Gabriel's Daughters" by Janet Kay Jensen

I really love this book! Zina Martin, is an artistic, but naive young woman from the polygamist community called Gabriel's Landing.  At sixteen, she's already past the expected age to marry.  Terrified to marry the much older man who is chosen for her, her heart is easily turned by a handsome "gentile" school teacher. When the forbidden relationship has unwanted consequences, she can't bear to bring shame to her family. There's only one thing to do and that's run away, but she's never been away from the tightly controlled community. How will she survive?


Janet Kay Jensen has an unusual talent in being able to weave a captivating suspenseful tale in a literary style--a writer's writer. We are drawn in by the fully-fleshed characters, especially Zina Martin, but also the new people she meets along the way, and those she left behind. 

I had a chance to interview my long time friend Janet Kay Jensen. I'm lucky enough to belong to a writers' group with Janet, and know what an excellent writer she is. I've loved being a part of this wonderful book form the beginning. You can read more about Janet Kay Jensen on her blog.

Book is available at Barnes and Noble, The Book Table in Logan, Amazon and more.



What inspired Gabriel’s Daughters?

Zina’s story was originally included in early drafts of my first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. I began to write the stories of both Louisa and Zina in alternating chapters. That led to logistical problems as the events occur in different time periods. Zina’s story also began to take on greater significance and in fact threatened to take over the whole book. To do it justice, I had to pull it out and promise Zina her own book. She was very patient. 

Does Gabriel’s Landing have a “prophet?”

No. I chose to create a governing body, the Council of Brothers. They are a committee of very like-minded men who govern all matters secular and religious in the community.  I deliberately avoided writing a character who was the prophet or all-powerful leader, to avoid comparisons to current events. Gabriel’s Landing is a quiet community. Though life is tightly controlled by the Council of Brothers, the extreme abuses and violence uncovered in other groups, which often make headlines, do not occur in Gabriel’s Landing. It’s a town that strives to keep the traditions of their fathers. As we know, however, not everyone in Gabriel’s Landing has a happy or satisfying life. 

Given all the recent public scrutiny, do you think polygamy will survive?

Polygamy has always been with us throughout history, and is common in many cultures. In America, some feel that prosecuting it will simply drive its followers underground. Others, citing the significant cost to taxpayers in terms of financial assistance given to women who declare themselves to be single mothers, feel the welfare system is being abused. There are certainly no clear answers. 

How do you feel about polygamy?

I’ll let the readers form their own opinions about that. I was very surprised, however, when doing some research on the Internet—when my own photo popped up as I searched for “pictures of polygamous women.” Yep, there I was, with my three dogs, in my own backyard. That photo had appeared on my blog and as I had written a book about polygamy, it somehow became associated with the topic, or at least the search engines thought so. There’s a lesson in this: you never know where you’re going to show up on the Internet. It’s a bit disconcerting. 

Why do quilts appear prominently in the book?

Quilts convey our heritage and culture from one generation to another. They speak of economy and necessity as well as artistry. I think every quilt has its own story, and I love the intricate varieties of patchwork quilts, both old and new. 

Why did you choose to have Zina hitchhike to Chicago?

Because that’s where Mo and Callie were going! I really had three reasons. First, I wanted to put some some significant geographical distance between Zina and the place where she was raised. It’s the only way she can begin to learn who she is. Second, I have always loved Chicago; my husband and I honeymooned there for three years when we attended graduate school. Third, I wanted to give a little shout-out to a city that is full of diversity and vitality and class. Chicago is a good fit for Zina, and she learns to love the city, too.  

Andy and Louisa could have higher-paying jobs in larger cities. Why did you choose to have them stay in Hawthorn Valley? 

Andy fell in love with Hawthorn Valley when he first arrived there, just out of residency, and Hawthorn Valley fell in love with him. When Louisa married him, it was with the understanding that they would share a joint medical practice in Hawthorn Valley. It’s a place where they feel needed and appreciated. They want to give their children a healthy upbringing, and neither is too concerned about material wealth. That is consistent with their upbringing, I think. 

Why did you choose to write Simon as a gay character? 

Because he is. Seriously, I asked myself what kind of man Zina would trust, given her devastating experience with her high school teacher, and almost marrying a man twice her age. It’s not a surprise that she doesn’t doesn’t trust easily, and Simon presents no sexual issues to negotiate. He simply offers friendship and companionship to his roommate. It’s something he wants, too. And he sees Zina’s potential. 

Yes, there is a bit of the Pygmalion myth in their relationship. 

Right. I loved having Zina “bloom and grow,” to borrow from another musical. She gains some survival skills in Chicago, though Mo and Callie provide her with the tender care of parents while she acquires the ability to support herself. Her native talents and intelligence are appreciated wherever she goes. Starting with Chef Damian’s tutelage at Harry’s in Chicago, Zina continues to grow intellectually. Simon can, in some ways, give her the world. He’s educated, well-traveled, and well-read. And, most important, he is trustworthy. 

You seem to like strong female protagonists. 

I do. Girls and young women need to know they have unlimited potential, even if it means they may have to fight for it. I didn’t want a high-cheekboned, square-jawed, broad shouldered romantic knight with long, flowing golden locks to gallop into town on a white horse and rescue Zina. She doesn’t need rescuing. She’s become her own person. Readers deserve more, and so does Zina. And she may find it in James. 

What elements in Gabriel’s Daughters are based on real-life people or events? Quilts, hope chests, bread-baking, book-burning, a visit to Russia, the nesting dolls, and friendships between women and gay men. Oh, and a smart border collie.