Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Contest a la The Voice?

If you haven't seen it, head over to Krista V.'s blog Mother. Write.(Repeat.) and check out the contest rolling out on May 3rd.

150 people will sign up to post their query and first 250 words on their own blogs. The four writers hosting the contest will choose their teams and coach them. The new versions will be posted on the hosting writer's blogs, and voting by 8 agents will ensue. Entries with lots of interest will get requests.

But...the entries must completed, polished and ready to query. Which is where my dilemma comes in. I've sent out my first 50 of Book of Breathings to a few readers and gotten a great response. I'm writing like mad right now, it's just it possible to finish it in time to enter this contest, or should I make my revisions to Ways to Fall and submit that?

I think I'm going to give BoB my best shot. At the very least, it will be great motivation to get it done!
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plodding along or Pugging Away?

This will be a short post to make up for the length of the last one- but I wanted to give ya'll and update on Book of Breathings. For MONTHS I have been plodding along, and now things are clicking. I mentioned that I filled in some broader conflicts, and what a difference it's making! Before I was struggling to put words in characters' mouths, straining to see them interact. That's all changed!

I still draw out the same conflict table I learned in high school English class-
Character vs. self
Character 1 vs. Character 2
Character 1 vs. Character 3 (etc.)
Character vs. Nature/setting
Character vs. Society

You can also look at all the different relationships a character has and make sure that each has different needs and expectations. Parents, teachers, employers, friends, romantic interests, friends with questionable advice...there are so many possibilities!

It;s important to focus on the antagonist just as much as the protagonist- What do they for themselves, what do they want from the people around them, what do they want from society and the world? What's standing in their way? (The answer is usually the protagonist, right? I sure hope so or you might want to choose a new MC!)

My take-home- if you don't have enough tension, look for missing levels of conflict. Make sure your characters aren't playing *too* nicely!

Happy writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Prophets: It Takes One to Know One! 3rd Annual LDS Writer Blogfest

First, I apologize for the length of this post, but it is what it is!

I'm going to deviate a little bit from the regular LDS blogfest format and share a conversation my mom and I had when she visited earlier in the month. My mom is amazing: She taught me I could do anything and she does it, too, teaching batik, stained glass, Styrofoam sculpture, ceramics, and more to emotionally handicapped or chronically truant kids who have been removed from regular schools and placed in an “Exceptional Center.” She often shares stories about being cussed at, spit on, and threatened at work, but she never stops trying to show her kids that’s there’s a better way to live. She's a devout follower of Jesus Christ, and she's not Mormon.
Can you spot the Mormons? Hint: less than half the people pictured are! Aren't the un-Mormons good sports? My mom is on the far left.

When she visits church with us, she always has a lot of questions afterward. Whether we’re talking about the nature of angels or baptisms for the dead, our discussions seem to always circle back to the same point:
"Yes, but we have prophets today, and we’ve been taught that..."

This time we spent several hours (9 PM until 2AM. Ouch! It hurt the next day!) discussing if the Bible allows for prophets today and why Nathan and I believe in modern-day prophets.

So, is it consistent with the Bible to believe that prophets can speak today? In the Old Testament, Amos 3:7, it reads "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
And from the New Testament, Revelations 11:3, John the Revelator teaches that before the Savior returns there will be two prophets in Jerusalem. So there have been prophets throughout the history of the world, before and after the Savior (Revelations was received decades after Christ’s mortal life ended.), and there will definitely be prophets before the Second Coming.

There were many opportunities for the writers of the New Testament to teach that prophets were no longer needed, but the opposite is taught in Ephesians Ch. 4, where various offices of the church are named, including prophets. They must work together "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."

According to these verses, a few conditions would make prophets unnecessary. We could all be perfect (the early church members referred to themselves as saints), everyone could have been ministered to that needed it, and the body of Christ (the Church) could be completely edified (spiritually lifted up.)

If these conditions were met, there would be a unity of faith, the members would work together as one body, a perfect man, acting up to the example set by Christ. Looking at the LDS church and at the Christian world, I don't think we've met those criteria. Thus, I think it's reasonable to assume that we need a prophet.

But what does a prophet do and how can a prophet be known for a prophet? For many, the word prophet brings to mind old men in robes with long gray beards, or for the more cynical, suicide pacts and people wearing Nikes waiting for the aliens. Human beings are capable of a large amount of deceit, and much of it is directed at ourselves.

I've studied a lot of ancient religions this year, and the range of human sacrifice and base sexuality found in many early religions is astounding. Over and over, I found myself wondering how people could believe that killing their children or stabbing sea urchin spines through their bodies, or any of hundreds of other rites could appease the gods.

People, I realized in horror, can believe anything. How can I know that I'm not just caught up in a religion because of some innate human need to believe in a higher power? What if the agnostics are right and there's no way of knowing? What if religion really is the opiate of the masses?

The answer is one that each person must find for themselves. I cannot give this knowledge to anyone, but I know that when I pray, someone hears me, someone who loves me and wants me to be happy. I know that when I read the Book of Mormon, the Bible or other scriptures, a sense of peace fills me and I am comforted. This is the power of the Holy Ghost, who testifies of truth. Prophecy is simply knowing things through the power of the Holy Ghost instead of from our own intellect or emotions. A prophet testifies of Jesus Christ and calls people to repentance. He teaches the people how they should live, representing the Lord despite human failings.

My mom asked, "But what about predicting future events, like how Noah warned of the flood?"

I had a few distinctions to point out. Not all prophets prophesied the future. Moses did not. He led the people and used the power of God to call down the plagues and part the Red Sea and provide food and water for his people. Not all prophets warned of impending doom. Nathan simply told King David a parable and called him to repentance.

A prophet does not need to demonstrate all of the possible prophetic behaviors to be a prophet. He can only do the things that God tells him to do, but all of these gifts have been demonstrated in the latter days, from Joseph Smith conversing with angels and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, to Brigham Young leading the church across the Rockies with as many miracles as Moses had. Some have seen the future, some have seen visions of the next life and the spirits of the faithful dead.

However, we are not required to blindly accept what a prophet says. In fact, In fact, the opposite is true. J. Reuben Clark said that to know when true doctrine is being taught, “we, ourselves, are ‘moved by the Holy Ghost...In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” The responsibility to seek knowledge from God is no one else's but our own.We gain knowledge by experience. We must act.

I'll tell you about a time Nathan and I followed the counsel of a prophet. Gordon B. Hinckley taught about the danger of debt, even at very low interest rates for needful things such as housing, back in 1999 when Nathan I were first married. For several years we lived in apartments, but when he became a manager up in Pittsburgh, we felt the time had come to purchase a home. Nathan’s boss at the time encouraged him to buy an expensive home (they’re all expensive, but he was suggesting a status symbol.)

We chose a smaller home instead, one that would be easier to afford if Nathan had a few bad months, since he worked commission. We were taught to have a supply of food on hand, so for a few years I had bought extra cans of fruit and spaghetti sauce, cartons of soy milk and pasta and put it down in the basement. It was nice to just send the kids down to get something when we needed it instead of having to run to the store for every little thing. I wasn’t planning on having to live off of it, not really.

Back in 2006, the mortgage industry started to collapse, and it hit the sub-prime market (where Nathan worked) first. His office had made a profit, but the company was not doing well under the new stringent laws. Nathan’s branch was closed and suddenly we were jobless.

A month later, Nathan had a job selling mortgages through a bank, but business was mainly generated through referrals, and it took months to develop relationships with realtors so that they would trust him to take care of their customers. He had a small base salary that would cover the mortgage payment and not much else, so every month we were going farther into debt. Nathan was looking at getting a second job, but I felt that I should try to get a job first, and I found a position as a line therapist for kids with autism, and things were a little better, but we weren’t quite in the black.

It was a terrible feeling to be in debt, like drowning every moment for a year. We had a few things going for us, though. We had bought a modest home. We had paid ahead on our car payment when Nathan had good months, so we didn’t have to make a car payment the whole year he was building his business. And we had shelves of food in our basement, which relieved some of our budget woes. It was a hard time, but it was such a good feeling to look at the food we had set aside and know we wouldn’t starve. (Not that our extended family would have let us starve, but it was still a comfort.) With some more tightening of the budget belt, we were spending less than we earned.

About the time that Nathan’s referrals started to come in, his dad asked him to move down to South Carolina and help run the tire stores he’d bought a few years earlier. His dad had raised the idea a few times before, but it hadn’t seemed like the right thing to do then.

(We have an idea that part of why we were supposed to go to Pittsburgh was so we could be closer to my sister who lived in Baltimore when she really needed family. In a nutshell, she joined the church on Easter Sunday after one of many visits with us. Nathan lost his job a few months later, I believe. We're still waiting for our toaster oven.)

So we moved in with the in-laws in South Carolina and started paying off our debt. I am grateful for the warning that President Hinckley gave that protected us from having a bad situation become so stressful that our marriage would be at risk, as has happened to so many others in financial trouble.

I am grateful for other prophetic teachings, like the Proclamation to the World on the Family about how to strengthen families and society, and “For the Strength of Youth” which teaches the standards which youth (and adults) should live so that they can be happy and free from addictions and regrets. There really is safety and peace in following prophetic counsel.

I am grateful for President Monson and his counselors and the Quorum on the Twelve Apostles. I love to hear them speak about Jesus Christ and how much he loves us. The spirit never fails to touch my heart with the testimony that the things they teach are true. I'm hoping that one day soon my mom will be at peace about our beliefs, but I'm already happy that we can talk about things without arguing. Thanks for reading!

Check out the other LDS writers participating in the blogfest below!

Amanda Sowards

Angie Lofthouse

Ben Spendlove

Brittany Larsen

Cami Checketts

Charity Bradford

Danyelle Ferguson

Giselle Abreu

Julia Keanini

Julie Coulter Bellon

Kasey Tross

Kayeleen Hamblin

Krista Van Dolzer

Laura Johnston

Melanie Stanford

Rachelle Christensen

Rebecca Belliston

Sierra Gardner

Stephanie Worlton
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Projects...and They Don't Involve Imaginary People...

So, this isn't Pinterest, but I wanted to share a few things I'm proud of accomplishing during spring break, because much as I would like to write in every spare moment, I have to do other stuff:

Master bath sinks unclogged. Did this this morning when the slow drainage finally got to be too much. I'll spare you the picture of the hairballs, but gross. So gross. 

Replaced Isaac's fan and added a light kit. Previously, he was using a bare bulb with the wire looped over the curtain rod, tied off on the fan speed chain. It's been like that since I tried to add a light kit a year ago and found lead had melted out of the fan speed switch in the inner fan workings. New fan, non-fire-hazard lights. We're 25% less PWT now.

I've been brainstorming about a headboard for over a year, ever since we gave the in-laws back their bedroom set when our households separated. After a few weeks of here a little, there a little, I finished this yesterday, took about 9 hours.

And the garden. Three cubic yards of compost is enough to stink up your whole neighborhood, if you wondered, but the plants are so much happier. I'm supposed to plant seedlings and some strawberry plants as well today, but I'm behind (read: not started on this week's word count) and heading out camping tomorrow morning with the young women from church. Lots of planning, supply inventory and purchasing going on there, too.

Eli and I made a power point presentation on Abraham Lincoln plus costume (kids were late for school that day).

Everything is a mess. Laundry is all over the living room, and the kids are on Spring break, which means they are occasionally going 48+ hours without changing clothes. We went to watch General Conference with Nathan's mom and stepdad this weekend (wearing clean, but casual, not necessarily matching clothes) and got there at 11:30. At 11:32 Nathan got a message from his stepmom asking if we had left yet. I called back and asked where we were supposed to have left for. Easter dinner at Mama's house! So we got in the car and drove to Mama's.

The only thing that would make this picture better is if I were wearing the turquoise plaid pajama pants I changed out of 30 seconds before we went over to Nathan's mom's house. (Twice a year, Mormons can watch church direct from Salt Lake on TV and listen to inspiring counsel. Pajamas are totally acceptable in our family!) Speaking of General Conference, I will be joining my fellow Mormon writers by blogging on April 9th about my favorite conference talk. I should get working on that...

What are you doing when you're not writing?
Glutton for Punishment?