Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Juicy Little Secret

by Elodia Strain

When I find something I really love I like to tell everyone. To the lady in the grocery store mop aisle who’s looking at the Swiffer WetJets. “It will change your life.” To the woman asking if the massage therapist I just visited is any good. “Absolutely.” (Said with a sort of sleepy zen look on my face that I’m sure was even more convincing than the words themselves.)

So, I recently discovered the amazing and wonderful world of Pandora radio. And for those of you who have yet to use Pandora let me just tell you, like a Swiffer WetJet: It will change your life.

I have pretty specific music needs when I’m writing. I love to listen to music, but the music has to be slow and melodic and not too distracting. The best songs in this category go one step further and put me in this sort of heightened state of thinking and feeling, which for an author is like, the ultimate.

Sure, I have my iTunes. But let’s face it--hours a day of the same thing over and over can get pretty anti-creative. Enter Pandora. At this gem of a website ( you simply enter a song or an artist you like, and boom! a personalized radio station—made by what I can only think of as little musical elves—magically appears on your computer and starts to play. The best part: You can do this for as many songs and as many artists as you want! A couple of my current faves to write to: Kate Rusby radio and Sam Phillips radio.

Now, as a word of warning, for all its good points, Pandora does have one drawback. Once you start creating those awesome little stations for yourself, you just might find it hard to stop!

Friday, January 30, 2009

The end of a swimming season

My daughter swam in Region finals today and I couldn't have been more proud. She worked so hard this year to keep on top of her grades and has been dealing with a lung issue we hope to soon have diagnosed. The meet wasn't quite what she would have wanted in terms of her times, but she was there and I was so, so proud.

Now, getting there was a journey in itself. For me, today, I mean. I now am babysitting my nephew, one-year-old Alex, and I have my four-year-old, Gunder, still at home. I figured if we left the house by 1:00 I'd make it to Bountiful by 1:45 to see Nina swim her last event. I had a funny internal dialog going on, sometimes peppered with comments from the two rugrats.

Me: Have to hurry. Got the bottle, drink for Gunder with lid, Cheerios in cup, diaper. Dang. Need wipies. Ok, got the wipies. "Gunder, stop with the jumping up and down! Put your shoes on!"

Inner voice: Patience is a virtue.

Me: Shut up. Ok, set the alarm, out the door. Buckle everyone in, no movie for Gunder. "Sorry, Gunder, no movie. You'll just have to listen to the radio. No, I'm not going back in." Listen, kid, my head's going to explode if you don't stop the whining about the movie.

Inner voice: He's only four.

Me: Again, with the shut up. What is with all this blasted traffic? Who's so desperate to get out of Ogden at 1:00 on a Friday? Does nobody work a full day anymore? My day goes till midnight! I never have an early day. Wish someone would offer me four tens.

Inner voice: Idle hands are the devil's workshop.

Me: I'll give you idle hands. Ok, finally moving. Good. Going faster. Passing Lagoon.

Gunder: "I see the roller coaster!"

Alex: "Aaaaarrrgggghh."

Gunder: "I dropped my Megazord!"

Me: "You'll have to leave it, buddy. I can't reach it."

Gunder: "Please, Mom! It's just right there."

Me: (Reaching and driving with one hand), "There. Now don't drop him again!"

Inner voice: You should keep both hands on the wheel. Isan't their safety more important than Megazord?

Me: Isn't my sanity more important than anything at all? Who wants to listen to him whine about Megazord until we get there. Do you want to listen to him whine about Megazord till we get there? Ok, making ok ringing, it's Anna. "Yes, we're almost there." Driving kind of fast...hmm. The car shimmies a bit at 80.

Inner voice: Old Arab saying, Do not stand in places of danger praying for miracles.

Me: Crap. And I did pray before I left the driveway. Front tire is kind of bald. Slowing down, darn you.

Inner voice: You should slow down more. We believe in being subject to kings, rulers, (something) and magistrates and in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.

Me: Some laws were meant to be broken. There are places in the world where this speed would be considered crawling. Again with the phone. "Yes, honey, I swear I'm almost there." Ah, good. There's the exit. And pulling up to a stoplight. Ok, good, got the green arrow. Checking watch. She'll be in the pool in four minutes. What? are you kidding me? A school zone with no kids and not even a crossing guard in sight. But the lights on the sign have been turned on. Blasted kids.

Inner voice: Suffer the little ones to come unto me and forbid them not...

Alex: Aaaaarrrrrrgghh!

Gunder: Mom, he's touching me.

Me: Ok. Parking lot. Oh look, there's Anna.

Anna: "Mom, are you just going to park right here?"

Me: "Yes. The snow covers up the yellow paint on the curb. Besides, there are two other cars right there."

Inner voice: Would you follow them off a cliff?

Me: At this point, yes. And didn't I tell you to shut up?

So, needless to say, the Inner Voice needs to work on her articles of faith. And she's annoying. And she always pops up when I'm the most stressed.

The good part of the afternoon was that I saw Nina's second race, and saw her get a medal. I saw her hug her dad and get teary-eyed on his shoulder- this, the girl who rarely cries. I saw my teddy bear of a husband get teary-eyed. This, the man who always does, bless his heart. He has been in love with his girls from the moment they took their first breaths, and as I watch him try to let go as they get older, my heart breaks a little for him, even as I laugh gently with him. Well, kind of with him. He's not laughing much.

My friend Jerelyn gave a talk recently where she was honored for Good Works. She said when she goes to bed each night, she thinks, "What was the best part of my day today?" and "What was my good deed today?" Well, I suppose my good deed for the day was not ramming my dinged-up SUV into the cars in my way as I frantically tried to see my daughter's race, and the best part of my day was watching Nina's face as her dad told her how proud he is of her and how much he loves her.

I hope I never forget that moment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Depression vs. Hope

by Marsha Ward

Creative people seem to have a gene that predestines them to live on the edge of madness, teetering back and forth between darkness and light. Many authors, musicians, artists have wild mood swings or battle the impending doom of depression. In some extreme cases, they lose the war, and we are left to mourn for them.

I've been dealing with depression lately. It's not fun, and sometimes I just want to drag myself into a hole and pull it closed behind me, shutting out the world. These feelings are crippling to an author, both to the mind, the spirit, and the body. They can be triggered by--among other things--events, powerful emotions, electrical spikes in the brain, or imbalance in brain chemistry.

The trick is recognizing the onset of the condition. I'm probably a little late in that recognition, but I hope not too late to prevent a full-blown depressive period. I need to get past this, because it's very difficult to write or even participate in life when I'm in such a hole.

Folks who have never experienced depression or mood swings have no understanding of these conditions. They tend to think depression is just a case of the blues that can be turned around with a fun outing, thinking positive thoughts, scripture reading, or fervent prayer. While I don't discount the positive effects of such actions, sometimes only medical intervention and medication will help. We don't expect a type 1 diabetic to forgo daily insulin. Medical conditions that result in depression also need medication, either for the long term, or for shorter periods.

God loves his creative children. He has given them immense powers of expression in a variety of media. He also holds out hope, though prayer, meditation, scripture study, priesthood power, the Gospel, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. These vital elements have been available to me to help me keep the darkness at bay, and I am using them. I'm also going to visit my doctor.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently gave a General Conference talk called "The Infinite Power of Hope." As I read and pondered it, and participated in a recent Relief Society lesson that was derived from it, I felt the stirrings of greater hope.

I've never doubted that God loves me and has great blessings in store for me, but external pressures, spreading myself thin, and taking on too many duties and responsibilities have almost tipped me over the edge into darkness. I'll always have to guard against that, but for now, I have hope to get me through until the darkness fades and I once again walk in the sunshine.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Words of Wisdom

"Rather than dwelling on the past, we should make the most of today, of the here and now doing all we can to provide pleasant memories for tomorrow."

--Thomas S. Monson

It's easy to get caught up in the "if only I'd," or "I wish I would have," mode of thinking. "I can't believe s/he felt/said/did that to me..." Sometimes we need to let go of all of that and live in the present. I know that thinking/dwelling too much on past pains can bog us down really fast and hold us there if we let it.

The quote above is from a Thomas S. Monson talk called "Finding Joy in the Journey," and it's full of good stuff. One particular paragraph states, "This is our one and only chance at mortal life--here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief. Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that elusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey--now."

I come from an impressive line of worriers. Combined with my Myers/Briggs personality profile which pegs me as an ENFP who thinks what could be is always more exciting than what is, it makes for a pretty schizophrenic person. I worry, or I think of what could be. The reminder to enjoy the here and now is really good for me.

There's an awesome quote in Kerry Blair's Counting Blessings. She speaks of the Mary/Martha "careful and troubled about many things," (if memory serves- I don't have the book right in front of me. It's on my nightstand). Kerry's quote is, in essence, "if you must be careful, be careful not to borrow trouble." That hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm often a borrower of trouble.

The whole message of finding joy in the journey is such a valuable one. It really isn't all about the destination. I love reminders of that because it allows me to take a deep breath, smile and appreciate the details along the way that make life so rich.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm Still Alive and Kicking

I realize it's not my day to blog, but I had five minutes and had to stop by to let you know I'm still alive and kicking! My time has been completely dominated by my daughter's new website, but it's up, the publicity is rolling in and it's a success! One month online and we're pulling in good numbers of visitors, etc. 

If you haven't already checked it out, it's Now I'm going to sit back and get a chapter or two written in my novel, if I can remember the file name I saved it under.

See you all Monday!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Questions to Ask Before Marrying

I just finished reading a really great book by one of my favorite authors, Melissa Senate.

In this book, Questions to Ask Before Marrying, the main character, Ruby, finds a New York Times article that includes, you guessed it, questions a guy and gal should ask before marrying. Ruby and her fiancé seem to have the questions covered, but the last one leaves Ruby more than a little confused.

One trip, two sisters, and a handful of stops in the great US of A later, Ruby finally knows the answer to the question.

This book was one of Senate’s best in my opinion with a fun premise, great character development, and vivid descriptions that made me feel like I was traveling across the country with Ruby.

I’m not sure if this New York Times article ever did in fact exist, but if I were writing my own article it would probably be questions for a modern bride to ask her husband-to-be and it might look a bit like the following:

1. When was the last time you said something like this: “Did that girl we just passed look like Heidi Klum? Huh, I didn’t even notice her.”?
2. True or false: Women like to be told they’re suffering from PMS.
3. Finish this sentence: Online multi-player video games are________.
4. Hearing the SportsCenter theme song makes you feel a) Giddy b) Relaxed c) Nothing compared to the way hearing our song makes you feel
5. Can you memorize this quote: “There are four basic food groups: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, and chocolate truffles.”?
6. Over the past week how many items and/or areas have you left cleaner than when you found them? a) 0-5 b) 5-10 c)10-15 d) That depends if cleaning out your hard drive--so that Star Wars Battlefront won't crash--counts
7. When do you think I look best? a) When I’m dressed up for a date b) When I’m just hanging out in sweats and a ponytail c) When I’m wearing the colors of your favorite baseball team
8. True or false: There is such a thing as too many shoes.
9. The ideal special occasion gift comes from: a) The Heart b) Home Depot c) The list you found taped to your Bourne Identity DVD case
10. You’ll remember our wedding anniversary because: a) It will be etched in your mind b) It will be programmed into your PDA c) Hopefully the date will be the same as a historic Super Bowl score

Have anything you’d add to the list in my fictional article, blog readers?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Author Interview- Suzanne Reese

I would like to welcome Suzanne Reese to the blog. Today, I will be interviewing Suzanne who is here to tell us about her newly-released book, Where Hearts Prosper.

Marcia: Tell us a little about yourself.

Suzanne: I am lucky to be a stay-at-home mom living in Draper, Utah. I have five children, though three of them have crossed the threshold into adulthood. The other two are 16 and 9. The youngest is a born performer, and keeps me busy with musicals, singing engagements, and band performances. (I even got roped into being a Pick-A-Little Lady last year in Music Man because he was too young to be in the play without a parent.) I also have a wonderful husband, a son-in-law, a spoiled dog, and a soon-to-be-even-more-spoiled grandson. I have a Bachelors degree in journalism from Utah State University.

Marcia: When did you first start writing?

Suzanne: I've been a story teller and writer as long as I can remember. When I was a young mother--probably 30 or so, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. But I did it in the wrong order. I knew how to put together an excellent sentence, phrase, and paragraph or essay. But as it turned out I didn't know the last thing about writing an actual novel. The result was a story with many wonderful scenes strung awkwardly and incoherently together. I rewrote the book dozens of times while learning about scenes, pacing, plotting and so on. The manuscript still sits on a shelf in my house, and occasionally a friend or family member who read it and remembers one of those touching scenes asks me about it. But I tell them it served its purpose in teaching me the art of novel writing.

Marcia: Tell us about the book's journey to publication.

Suzanne: Where Hearts Prosper began soon after the disaster that serves as the inspiration and backdrop for the story - the flooding of the Virgin River in 2005. It took about a year to complete. The first publisher I sent it to declined, but had very nice things to say. Bonneville Books was the second.So it was a pretty painless process. The difficult part has been the editing--which felt very rushed--and the marketing. I'm not anything close to a salesperson, especially when I'm selling myself.

Marcia: What are some of your favorite books?

Suzanne: I don't have one specific genre that is my favorite (which helps explain why my current work is in an entirely different genre from Where Hearts Prosper.) My favorite authors are Jodi Picoult and Lisa Wingate.

Marcia: What else do you have in the works?

Suzanne: I'm very close to finishing a young adult science fiction novel with a working title of 'Perfectly Normal'. It is about a teenage girl from another planet who gets the chance to visit earth as a student ambassador. There's a lot of romance (and cute boys of course) and just a little science--which I know annoys true science fiction fans. But the teen girls in my life love it, and hopefully others will too.

Marcia: Thanks, Suzanne, for coming by to do this interview. I wish you great luck with your marketing and future books. For more information about Suzanne, go to her website

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Janette Rallison's My Fair Godmother

by Katie Parker

Marcia's letting me step in and blog today with a review of Janette Rallison's latest book for young adults. Thanks, Marcia! It's great to be here!

How many times can I use the word “delightful” in one book review? My Fair Godmother, Janette Rallison’s latest book for young adults, just might drive me to set a personal record. It’s one delightful book.

No, the title isn’t a typo or a misprint. It really is “My FAIR Godmother.” This is because the fairy godmother in question--Chrysanthemum Everstar, or Chrissy for short--is actually still in training. As a magical godmother, right now she’s just fair. And while her wisdom does sometimes show itself in astonishing ways, she’d rather be out shopping than carefully listening to the wishes of her clients. Which is why, when Savannah’s boyfriend dumps her right before prom and starts dating her sister instead, and Savannah feels small and lost and like she’s missing all the pieces to a happy life, the minute Savannah tries to express her longings in words her godmother, Chrissy takes them all at face value and dumps her in the Middle Ages. And Savannah discovers that what she thought she wanted really wasn’t what she wanted at all.

Savannah’s heartfelt desire to have a prince take her to prom gets her whisked to the Middle Ages, first as Cinderella and then as Snow White. Actually, she doesn’t want a literal prince so much as she wants a caring and charming young man who would treat her as if he were a prince...but that’s not exactly what she says, so that’s not exactly what her “fair” godmother grants her. Once she manages to escape from these fairy tales--and some rather disappointing princes--Savannah tries to explain to her “fair” godmother what she really meant about having a prince take her to the prom.

And that’s when one of the guys from school is whisked back to the Middle Ages instead, with the task of becoming a prince so he can take Savannah to the prom. Needless to say, he isn’t too happy with her.

And that’s all really just the beginning of the story.

I just have to say that the whole story was plain delightful. It’s got your typical happy-but-insecure teenage narrator, going through typical teenage anguish over boys and sisters and proms and bikini tops and so forth (you’ll have to read about the bikini top yourself). And then you’ve got your standard fairy-tale-type story with slave girls dreaming of rescue by handsome princes, where magic is real and valiant knights slay dragons and all those kinds of things. Then you throw them together through the efforts (or non-efforts) of a wise fairy godmother lacking in maturity and common sense...and, of course, you have a strong writer like Janette Rallison doing all the real work...and you get one delightful, hilarious, thoughtful, and even dramatic novel that young adults everywhere are sure to love.

At first I wondered about this seeming departure by Rallison from traditional young adult fiction into fantasy writing, but it’s really not as much of a departure as it may seem on the surface. Because Savannah is still like any other twenty-first century teen who’s had her heart ripped out and desperately wants reassurance of her own worth. She’s still a modern-day teen, and readers can still relate to her. It’s just that her story takes some unexpected turns when magical creatures start appearing in her bedroom. (But really, how often do things ever turn out the way any of us expect?)

So I’ve reached the conclusion that “delightful” is a great way to describe this book. I laughed all the way through it; my notes that I made as I read are peppered with profound interjections like “Ha!” and “Hee hee hee.” Other things I noted frequently were Chrissy’s occasional words of wisdom to Savannah that helped her see that she was going to need to show some strength of her own, rather than sit and wait for Prince Charming to rescue her and make everything all right.

And the plotline--well, fantasy worlds allow lots of room for convoluted and unanticipated plot turns. For instance, we could suddenly learn that a person we thought was a person isn’t actually a person at all, but is actually a goat. Or the goat might be a person. Magic, used carefully as a story element, can allow all kinds of interesting twists and turns in a story. (It’s possible that I am actually a goat.)

Even without the magical elements, exactly how the story would work out kept me guessing until the end. This was a very fun book to read, and I’m not even (quite) young enough to be part of the targeted audience. I’m sure younger readers will love it all the more. Did I mention that it’s a delightful book?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kids' Vacation=No Writing

By Marcia Mickelson

So, tomorrow my kids go back to school. That means that tonight, they went to bed at a decent hour. That means that I was finally able to write tonight. I'm doing Tristi Pinkston's BIAM this month and I haven't been able to start so far. Today was my first day of the month to write.

I just can't write when my kids are home from school. During the day, it's impossible. At night, I let them stay up late and so then I'm unable to write. By the time they go to bed, I'm exhausted. I did no writing during the holidays or the two weeks they had off from school. I'm so glad to be back on a regular schedule.

Baby is trying to give up his naps. Okay, he's three, so he's not still a baby. My other two gave up their naps at two, so I really can't complain. With no naps, I don't foresee any writing during the day. That means, most of my writing will come at night. Tonight was pretty good. 1,924 words. It felt good. My goal is to finish writing the book this month.

Why Lit Groups Rule

by Elodia Strain
(photo by austinevan)

About a month ago I got to do something that was a first for me as a writer. I partnered with the editor of my upcoming novel and wrote some book club discussion questions to go in the back of the book.

The project got me thinking a lot about book clubs (or lit groups or whatever you want to call them)—especially the ones I’ve been a part of in my life—and how cool they really are. Here’s what I like most about lit groups:

Reading books I might not read otherwise. I write chick lit so I read a lot of chick lit these days, but one of the best books I’ve ever read was forced on me in a book club: Galileo’s Daughter.

Having a variety of people with a variety of thoughts in the same room discussing the same book. I was in a book club in Spokane, Washington that consisted of an engineer from Idaho, a librarian from Seattle, a full-time mom from Utah, a flautist from California, and a substitute teacher from Maryland. The discussions we had in that group opened my mind in ways that are still a part of me.

The reading tips. I remember mentioning in one book club meeting that I was into Sarah Mlynowski novels. Another member of the group piped up with excitement that she loved Sarah’s writing style and started mentioning other authors I might like if I liked Ms. Mlynowski. Me and my new book club friend ended up trading books back and forth for a whole year, and I discovered authors I never would have without my friend's help.

Food. And, to take it one step further, food that matches the book. I’m hoping to sometime read Don Quixote again and have a whole Spanish feast. And I’ve gotten emails from people who’ve read The Icing on the Cake and made Portuguese sponge cake—a cake that plays a part in the book—for their book club meetings. There’s a good recipe for it here on Alison Palmer's review of the book.

An author or author interview. I never really knew this before, but you really can email the publisher of the book you’re reading and request the author's help with your book club. Most authors are willing to answer questions for book clubs, and some will even join your book club via telephone. In fact, some will even show up in person! Hmm...Maybe if enough of us email J.K. Rowling...

So blog readers, as you’re looking out at 2009—a span of empty months just waiting with books to be read, ideas to be formed, and fun to be had—maybe think about starting a book club. Or vamp up your current club. There are some really fun ideas for this at

And if you have anything to add to the list of the best things about book clubs, jump right in!

Have a wonderful 2009 filled with many amazing books!