Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most popular posts of 2011

Ah, New Year’s Eve. That time when I look back at the previous year and think, “What the heck? How did it go by so quickly?”

It’s also time for me to review the most popular blogs of the year—based on the number of times people accessed that blog from anywhere in the world. (This Blogger program has some nifty tools that show me stats.)

Here are the top five, with my personal favorites listed at the end.

Number 5: Updates and announcements

This blog was posted on May 7th and was basically "here is where I stand on various writing projects". It was the first time I posted a preview of my second book, The Waxing Moon, as well as previewing The Mirror of the Soul. I still have high hopes that these books will see the light of day in 2012.

Number 4: When Billboard Go Wrong

This June 12th blog is one of my humourous posts that provided some odd billboard choices.

Number 3: Questions

This post was added on July 20th. It lists a bunch of questions like, ""When I erase a word with a pencil, where does it go?"

Number 2: Angry Birds

On May 22nd, I posted this true story of a real life Angry Bird.

Number 1: Pet Peeves

This September 28th blog took off for what ever reason. It had over 1,000 more hits than the second most popular blog--even with it coming so late in the year. I guess people can really relate to the ones I posted.

My personal favorites that didn't make the list:

Double your money back

Serving suggestions

(Almost) famous quotes

Why did I like the last three so much? Read them and find out for yourself!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Tobacco Days!

I recently had to get my car safety inspected. To do so, I went to a local shop that looks to have been around forever. Though there were only a few cars in the parking lot, the lobby was fairly full. I was greeted warmly and gave my keys and registration to the man at the desk.

“It won’t be long—don’t you worry none, most these folks are just here to shoot the bull.”

“Yup,” another man said. He was old and had very few teeth in his mouth. “When you git to be our age, not much else to do but sit around and talk.”

I smiled at them and took a seat.

“So, as I was telling you, Tommy,” the nearly toothless man said, “Billy Bob was getting’ tired of that woodpecker waking him up in the morning. So, one day he got fed up and took his shotgun to the bird. He unloaded but didn’t hit a feather. His old lady came screamin’ out of the house. ‘Billy Bob! What in tarnation are you doin’? You can’t shoot a gun in town!’ She then saw all the holes in the house caused by the buckshot. Billy Bob knew he was in trouble, so ‘fore she could say anything, he said, ‘I had to do somethin’! Look at all the holes the woodpecker has made in the house!’”

I couldn’t help myself, I started laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Tommy, the man behind the counter asked.

Shrugging my shoulders, I responded, “It was a funny story.”

“It was, wasn’t it?” Tommy then looked me over. “You’re not from around here, are ya?”

“I’ve lived all over the country. I moved here about 4 years ago.”

The nearly toothless man mumbled something under his breath about how all these Yankees were ruining things.

“Now, now there Smoky,” Tommy said to the older man. “This fella ain’t done nothin’ wrong.”

Smoky folded his arms and grunted.

“Don’tcha mind him none,” Tommy said. “Ol’ Smoky is holdin’ a grudge over Tobacco Days.”

“Tobacco Days?” I asked.

“See!” Smoky said, flailing his arms in disgust. “He’s not even heard about ‘em!”

Tommy nodded. “Well, why don’t you fill him in?”

I waited a moment while Smoky seemed to size me up. He then said, “Ever since my Grandpappy was knee high to a tree frog, the town celebrated Tobacco Days. We’d hold in the middle of July. Folks from all over would come to town. All the events were down there at the Masonic Temple Racetrack Park. There’d be a rummage sale, a car show, tobacco plant judgin’, and at night, we’d have live music! It was the biggest event of the year. Ya couldn’t go nowhere without someone smiling and wishing you a ‘Happy Tobacco Days!’"

Smoky started into a fit of coughs before he continued. “It was a wonder to see. There was banners hangin’ from every story front. People would decorate their houses. You couldn’t go nowhere without seeing something about Tobacco Days.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“What happened?” Smoky repeated. “Well, whatcha think happened? We started having all sorts of people move in from up north who looked down their noses at us. Lots of them were shop owners and refused to put up signs for Tobacco Days. Over time, people from different counties would stop comin’ because they didn’t feel welcomed no more. It got so bad, if you wished anyone a ‘Happy Tobacco Days!’ they’d give you the stink eye.”

“So, about what, a dozen or so years ago, we stopped having Tobacco Days.” Tommy said.

“And it’s a terrible shame, too!” Smoky said. “Just because some people don’t want to celebrate it, why did they have to ruin it for the rest of us?”

“Mr. Morgan, your car’s done,” said a man wearing a work shirt that was covered in oil and grease. “It passed.”

I paid Tommy for the inspection and went to leave. For the first time, I noticed a small Christmas tree in the corner of the waiting room. After opening the door, I turned back around.
“Merry Christmas everyone!” I said.

Everyone wished me a Merry Christmas in return, including Smoky.

I caught the eye of the nearly toothless man. I said to him, “And in case I don’t see you in July. Happy Tobacco Days!”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trouble At The Inn

Every night in December, my family sings a Christmas song, shares a Christmas scripture and reads a Christmas themed story. Bless my wife’s heart, she can’t make it through most of them without crying.
Last night, we read one of my favorites. For the holidays, I’d like to share it with you.

Trouble At The Inn
By Dina Donahue

For many years now, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally's performance in one annual production of the nativity play has slipped onto the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.

Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, his class, all of whom were smaller than he, had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.

Most often they'd find a way to keep him out but Wally would hang around anyway not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who'd say, "can' they stay? They're no bother"

Wally fancied the ideal of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play's director, Miss Lumbar, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.

And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of beard, crown, halos and a whole stage full of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up on the m*gic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbar had to make sure he didn't' wander on stage before his cue.

Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the Inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door sat into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.

"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.

"We seek lodging."

"Seek it elsewhere," Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. "The Inn is filled."

"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."

"There is no room in this Inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.

"Please, good Innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."

Now, for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his still stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment. "No! Be gone!" the prompter whispered from the wings.

"No!" Wally repeated automatically, "Be gone!"

Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his Inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakable with tears.

And suddenly the Christmas pageant became different from all the others.

"Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room!"

Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others.... many, many others... who considered it the most Christmassy of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rewriting Shakespeare

There is this event held in November called NaNoWriMo where writers set out to put down 50,000 words to paper, so to speak. I gave it some thought, but decided that isn’t really how I write. My books tend to be written in spurts—when the creativity is flowing. In sports, they have a phrase called “being in the zone”. It means excelling beyond your normal performance. For me, I tend to write when I’m “in the zone”.

A fellow author of mine noted that if November was national writing month, December should be national editing month. In both The Hidden Sun and The Waxing Moon, the final product is quite a bit different from the original draft. That’s one of the wonderful things about being an author—you get to go back and change things.

As an example, a change was made between the first and second editions of The Hidden Sun where a couple of the district names were altered slightly to be easier to pronounce. This was based on reader feedback. Unlike some of the changes that George Lucas did to the original Star Wars (“Greedo shot first!”) any alterations I made didn’t change any plot points.

There are times, however, when a change needs to be made based on the available resources. While studying at BYU to become a TV director, I had a class where I needed to direct several different types of events. I don’t recall all that I needed to do, but I do remember there was an interview, a musical number and dramatic scene. In each case, I tried to do something a bit more elaborate than the basics.

For the musical number, I was able to direct a music video of the BYU Symphony they used to promote their upcoming world tour. I had exactly one hour to shoot all the different parts of the song using four cameras getting different shots each time the song was played. The amount of prep work that went into that was mind-blowing, but in the end, it turned out very nicely.

And then there was the dramatic scene. Again, to be different, I wanted to shoot a scene out of a Shakespeare play. I picked the scene from Henry IV where the king puts on a disguise and walks among his men the night before a big battle. I had it all planned out in my head: the wardrobe, the set pieces, how to make it look like they were sitting around a fire at night—everything.

There was only one problem. We partnered with the Theatre Department to get actors to play in our scenes. On the night of my shoot, only women signed up—when the script called for three men. What to do, what to do?

That’s when I rewrote Shakespeare . I went through the script and changed things so it was a Queen walking amongst women before the battle. Was it a bit presumptuous on my end? Perhaps. Then again, didn’t they have men play women’s parts in the original Shakespeare plays?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Timely Graduation

When I attended BYU, there was a great concern over something called “timely graduation”. What does that mean? Well, that it was taking too long for students to graduate. The school had a way of identifying students who were taking too long and inviting them to come to one-on-one meetings with an advisor to review what could be done. (In other words, “inspiring” them to hurry up)

I dare say a good number of people change their majors at least once while they are in college, hence the reason it took longer. My wife switched. Several of my friends and family member switched. I switched as well.

I won a scholarship for my work in electronics while I was in High School. I took a year of classes at a 2 year college in electrical engineering. What did I discover? I didn’t enjoy it.
I went on my LDS mission and when I came back, I decided to finish my Associates Degree and then transfer to BYU.

When I started attending BYU, I chose the Communications—Broadcasting with an emphasis on Production. Why? When I was in High School, I used my electronics knowledge to become one of the engineers at our radio station, KOHS. While doing that, I got to learn how to edit music, promos and the like—and I thought it was fun.

However, to get into the program at BYU, I was required to take a number of pre-requisites before I could even start to take the classes I wanted to take. By this point in time, considering the credits I had earned at the other school, I was a Junior before I was even in the program.

In addition, we were required to take a 0 credit class 4 times while in school. It was a 1 hour a week lecture where we got graded for showing up. It was only offered during the fall and winter, so that was a minimum of 2 years right there you would have to attend the school.

After I got accepted into the program, we, as students, were told that the number of credits required for us to graduate with our degree was too high and couldn’t realistically be done in 4 years. Aside from all the communications classes, we were also required to take a boat load of English classes. I had to take so many, in fact, that I realized I only needed to take an additional 2 English classes to get my minor—which I did.
How did the school resolve the issue of too many credit hours being required? Simple. They took all of the communication classes and reduced the number of credit hours they were worth by 1. In other words, the number of classes didn’t change—just how many credits they were worth.

And the biggest irony of all? The one class I spent the most time and effort on was one of my required directing classes. I had to direct several programs, including an interview, a dramatic scene, a musical number and a few others. In fact, I spent more time on that one class than all of my other classes combined for that semester. Guess how many credits it was worth? That’s right: 1.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Questionable Christmas Lyrics

I love Christmas time. When I was young, it was such a magical experience. Watching the holiday specials like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated version) always sparked my imagination. Our house was always so decorated so nicely. My mother had some really neat decorations. There were the blow up reindeers.

She also would hang this mistletoe. Unlike the picture below, ours had a little elf on it. In fact to this day, when I see mistletoe anywhere, I look for a little elf hanging out on top of it.

For many years we had a real Christmas tree which was decorated with blinking multi-colored lights. These were especially cool because my brothers and I would make spaceships out of Legos and fly them around the tree, pretending the lights were lasers shooting at us.

In addition to all of this, it seemed that we always had Christmas music playing. To this day, during the holidays, I listen to Christmas music all the time. As I’ve gotten older, and become more familiar with songs, I’ve raised my eyebrows at a few of the lyrics included in many of the popular songs. Granted, over time, meanings of certain words change, or things that were once considered acceptable, are no longer so. Right away, I’ll give a pass to the word “gay” which is present in several songs. Yes, before it meant “happy”—now, it has taken on a different meaning in the mainstream.

Some of these are humorous, some are serious.

"I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus"
If I saw my wife kissing another man, I wouldn’t find it very funny.
"Little drummer boy"

My big brother is an awesome drummer—so I’m familiar with how loud they can be. As a father who has raised 4 kids, I can’t imagine a situation where someone playing the drums would make a baby happy.

"Winter wonderland"

What kind of neighborhood do you live in where children will knock down your snowman?

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas"

Do we really want to give loaded guns to some boys named Barney and Ben?
"There's no place like home for the holidays"

Some people have a different sense of what’s terrific than I do.
"Feed the world"

Ah, nothing shows the Christmas spirit like being thankful we’re not someone else.
"It's the most wonderful time of the year"

Scary ghost stories? During Christmas? Isn’t that what Halloween is for?
"Baby it's cold outside"

This song is disturbing on several levels. I was debating over this line or “Think of my life long sorrow if you got pneumonia and died.” In other words, he’s telling her don’t leave not out of concern for her, but because of how it would impact him.

"Santa Claus is coming to town"

I don’t like the idea of having people watch me sleep. It’s creepy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Book review of “The Alias” by Mandi Tucker Slack

How do I introduce The Alias? Honestly, I believe the description on the back of the book does a wonderful job.

“Jacey Grayson is an average, young, divorced mother struggling to build a new life for her son, Blaze. But when the FBI discloses some disturbing information about her ex-husband, Jacey's life becomes anything but average. At the risk of losing her identity, her future, and her heart, Jacey and Blaze flee to Utah, hoping to hide and start over once again. But no matter how far she runs or who she pretends to be, her past is always lurking nearby, bringing old fears with it. Thrilling action and a suspenseful plot make this novel an edge-of-your-seat-read.”

I found the premise of the book to be an interesting twist to what some might claim is a commonly used plot. You know, about the abusive husband with a dark secret, the wife who wants to leave it all behind to raise her son in peace, and the conflict that ensues because of the circumstances.

While I didn’t find the premise all that original, I did find the way it was presented to be quite a refreshing change.

Slack has a wonderful talent for developing characters. The lead, Jacey Grayson, is engaging. I found myself honestly caring for what happened to her. In addition, her relationship with her son, Blaze, was spot on. As a father, I could relate to her feelings and actions when it came to the well-being of her child.

While I was interested in the story and was curious what would happen next, I found it was the people in the book that kept me reading. Jacey must deal not only with protecting her and Blaze, but also with the moral conflict of taking on an alias and therefore lying to people—wonderful people she comes to care about.

I’ve lived in both bigger cities and also in small towns, and so I could relate when Slack would compare a life to which Jacey was accustomed to that of a small Utah town. It’s another example of the details that added to the quality of The Alias.

I found the end of the book to be different than what I expected, but in a good way. Actually, I believe that was the key for my overall enjoyment of the book: while the plot moved in the general direction I expected, it was written so well that I hung on and enjoyed the ride.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review of The Hidden Sun by Jaclyn Hardy Weist

I must admit that when I picked up this book I had no idea what to expect. I was in the mood for a castle, prince and princess story. I was delighted to find out that it was exactly what I wanted - with a lot more adventure mixed in than I had anticipated. It started out with a short history of the kingdom. You learn to like Eliana from when she's small, along with her nursemaid and Priest Sherwyn. You love her father and his kindness to his daughter and to his people.

Then you add the villain. This book has a variety of villains. They're smarter and more cunning than most villains. Personally I love Daimh. He's a good-looking guy that loves himself more than anything and he's not exactly a bright person. But he speaks up when it is most needed - even if its not often enough. His dad and the magistrate Caldre however are villains that you want to see brought to justice. You also have other villains that are bullies who enjoy using their positions to abuse others.

There are several tragic events in this book and you get hit hard with every one of them. The book was well-written and kept you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end. It all comes to an exciting conclusion that you will have to read!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being content—not always a good thing?

One thing about being a writer is that I’ll get ideas all the time about different stories. Sometimes I’ll dismiss them because they are too similar to others that have been written. Sometimes I’ll incorporate them into whichever book I’m writing at the time. And then there are those that I file away and will come back to time and again.

Recently, I was pondering on why, as humans, we just can’t seem to be content. There are those who are always wanting more—whether it is power, money, material items, fame, free time or any other number of things.
I listen to a lot of music and it’s amazing how many hidden gems of wisdom are in lyrics. There is a song by the group Train that has the lyric: “In a world of what we want is what we want until it’s ours.” And it’s true. Many are the times I’ve really wanted something, and when I finally get it, very soon I take it for granted.

Another lyric is from a song “Big Yellow Taxi” which has been done several times by different musicians. The version I am most familiar with was done by Amy Grant. A line from that song is “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

I’ve experienced that first hand. As an example, when we moved from Connecticut to North Carolina, my wife and kids stayed up there for a couple of months to sell the house and finish school until the winter break. Oh how I missed them! I physically ached from not being able to give them hugs. I found myself as excited as I’ve ever had been when I was going to see them again.

Now I see my wife and kids every day. I make sure to give them hugs at least once a day, and I’m constantly doing what I call “fly by kisses” on the tops of their heads when I go by them. They may think it’s corny, or even a bit weird, but I enjoy it.

Back to the idea of why people can’t be content, I was thinking of an idea where a drug was invented that allowed people to be content with what they have, and the impact that would have on the world. Part of me thinks it may not be a good thing. Would scientists seek to find cures? Would engineers look for ways to make cleaner energy and eco-friendly items? Would the homeless be satisfied with eating other people’s garbage? Would authors write books that challenge their readers to think?

During this Thanksgiving time, aside from being grateful for my Heavenly Father, my Savoir, my family and hundreds of other blessings I have, I’m also thankful for those who aren’t content to leave things the way they are, yet at the same time, use their time and energy to make positive changes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picking actors that match characters in "The Hidden Sun"

When reading a book, I get a mental image in my head of what the characters look like. Sometimes they'll make a movie based on a book. When they do that, I'm always curious on who they'll pick to play different parts and if that person matches the image in my head.

So for a bit of fun, I thought I'd pick some actors to play the characters in my book, The Hidden Sun. Some of them I picked strictly on looks, some, I chose more on the characters I've seen these actors play.

I'll have to admit this is not an original idea. I borrowed this from my friend Dan Harrington. He posted a similar blog for his book Who's at the door?

Again, I state these are my opinions—if they are different from what you think, that's ok. That's the magic of books.

Eliana (Leelee Sobieski)

I've often thought of Eliana looking a lot like my wife. In my opinion, Leelee Sobieski pulls that off with the blonde hair and blue eyes. In the roles I've seen her in, she can be both sweet and commanding.

Rinan (Clive Owen)

Granted, he's a bit older than Rinan is in the start of the book. I feel he has the looks that aren't "pretty boy"—he's more manly in a rugged sort of way.

Abrecan (Christoph Waltz)

This was a tough one. I had a hard time picking someone. My wife and I watched Water For Elephants recently (it was her turn to pick) and I thought he was quite commanding.

Daimh (Patrick Warburton)

Again, he's a bit older than Daimh is at the start of the book, but he's got the chiseled features of Daimh, plus he's got the ability to play the dimwit without being over the top about it.

Bertram (Paul Bettany)
I'd say this choice was based largely on the role he played in A Knight's Tale. He's got a sharp wit about him, yet he's got quite the vulnerable side.

Caldre (Brad Dourif)
In his roles in Dune and The Lord of the Rings, he's got the ability to play the kind of slimy character that makes your skin crawl.

Anemone (Maggie Smith)

Probably best known for her role as Professor Minerva McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies. I liked her ability to play the mentor role, while at the same time, she can show compassion.

Sherwyn (Christopher Plummer)

What's not to like about Christopher Plummer? Though in this picture he's got more hair than Sherwyn does in the book, I could totally see him bringing Sherwyn to life.

Eadward (Brian Cox)

He's one of those actors that looks familiar, but he's not defined by a sole role.

Sunshine (Bridget Regan)

She played Kahlan in the TV series Legend of the Seeker. Another actor that has the range to be tender and commanding.

Rayne (Alex Pettyfer)

This was a hard one to pick. I'm not super familiar with his work aside from I Am Number Four. Mostly, this is how I'd picture Rayne to look.

Nash (Santa Claus)

Why not? He's a jolly man, with a long white beard and says "Ho ho!" time and again.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cute + Stupid = Cupid

"Oh, you think you're being charming!" is something I often hear from my wife. I tend to walk a fine line of being loving and silly—usually tripping and falling on the silly side.

A quote from me you'll hear time and again is, "I love the fact that even though we've been married over 20 years, I can still make you laugh." And it's true. My wife has heard all my jokes dozens of times over, so I'm forced to be spontaneously silly—and she finds it funny.

Early in our marriage, this would sometimes consist of throwing a cup full of cold water on her while she was taking a shower. (She'd do the same to me)

Then there were times when we'd sit down to eat dinner and she'd get up to get something from the kitchen. I'd take her utensils and hide them. She'd come back, we'd say the blessing on the food and as we were about to eat, she would get a perplexed look on her face. The whole time, I would act as if nothing had happened.

One of my favorite silly things to do was to "stack the cards" when we'd play one of our favorite card games. While I was "shuffling", (I was actually just having the cards make shuffling sounds) I'd put the cards in an order where she'd have an amazing hand. However, mine would be just a wee bit better. This trick would only work when she was getting us some snacks to munch on while we played, as well as the fact that she rarely cuts the deck.

On more than one occasion, her pillow would somehow disappear while she was getting ready for bed, and I was already in bed reading. Spooky!

But this isn't a one way street. Oh no. She can be just as silly.

The other night, I had gotten me a drink and a bowl of chips. I placed them on our kitchen island with the intention of taking them to my computer to enjoy while I wrote. But before I left the kitchen area, I used the bathroom to powder my nose. When I returned, the cup and bowl were both there—just with nothing inside of them. She was doing the dishes and acted like nothing had happened.

All this brings me to one of my wife's favorite quotes: "Anyone can be passionate, but it takes true lovers to be silly."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blog hop completed!

Thank you all who participated in the Nov blog hop. It was a smashing success!

The winner goes by the name "BJ".

Congrats to the winner!

Monday, November 7, 2011

November blog hop

I'm excited to be part of the Giveaway Hop. What a great way to win free stuff!

I'm going to make it very simple.

Here's what I'm giving away: a rare, autographed first edition of my book The Hidden Sun. The book is in its second edition, so the first editions are collector's items.

To enter, please do the following two things:

#1 Become a follower of this blog.

#2 Leave a comment on this blog.

That's it.

Make sure to click to visit the blogs listed below for more chances to win!

Good luck!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday School Answers

Regardless of what religion you follow, considering you believe in God, I'm sure there are basic things you are taught to do. I've often heard these referred to as "Sunday School Answers".

For example, if someone were to ask you what you can do to be more spiritual, the Sunday School answer would be, "Go to church, read your scriptures, say your prayers."

What about if you are going through a rough stretch in your life? Maybe you've lost your job, had a relationship end, had health issues, or any other number of things. If you ask a religious person what you should do, you may get the same Sunday School answers.

Lately, I've noticed some people ask questions in a religious setting, and before they allow people to respond, they'll say, "And I don't want the Sunday School answers."

To which I reply, "Why not?"

I honestly think that sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be. There is something to be said for doing the basics consistently. That's true in many aspects of life. Do you want to lose weight? Eat right and exercise. Do you want to learn how to play a musical instrument? Practice. Do you find that you are tired all the time? Make sure you get enough rest.

For the example of losing weight, how many different diets are out there? How many of them contradict each other? But no one can deny if you eat less and exercise, you'll lose weight.

There is a great story which I'm sure I'll mess up if I try to retell it verbatim, so I'll paraphrase.

A Native American young man has a vivid dream one night. He sees there are two wolves inside him—each fighting for dominance. The dream is powerful enough that he goes to see his wise grandfather to ask about it. The grandfather responds that every person has two wolves inside of them: one that seeks to be good, and one that seek to be evil. The young man asks, "Which one will win?" The grandfather responds, "Which ever one you feed."

My point here is that by doing the basics in a consistent manner, we're feeding the proper wolf.

And so, the next time someone responds to a question with the "Sunday School answers", I'm going to stand up and shout "Halleluiah!"—or at the very least, smile and nod my head in agreement.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The best parts

Have you ever read a book that was really long, and just interesting enough to hold your attention, though you felt like you had to trudge through the boring parts to get to the good parts? Or perhaps the same could be said about a song or piece of music.

Maybe it's my short attention span, but I find myself doing that often.

The last book I read was a good 800 pages long. What actually happened in the book could have fit within a novel half that long (in my opinion). So, what dragged out the book? A few things, really. First, it's book six of a long series and it spends a lot of time retelling what happened in the previous books. Second, there is a lot of detail about the setting, again, in my opinion, too much detail. To me, it doesn't add to the story to know what every item in the room is made out of.

What keeps me reading a book like that? Well, the characters and overall story are interesting. In addition, I've already invested a lot of time in the series, so I'm curious to what happens next. At the same time, I'm frustrated with the author for dragging things out.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Sometimes authors have too much happen too quickly. For me, unless I'm emotionally attached to the characters, I could really care less about all the crazy stuff that happens to them. It's a fine line, to be sure—and one that is going to be different for every person.

The same can be applied to movies. A lot of the blockbusters now are, to quote Shakespeare, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". For me, the "Transformer" movies are a perfect example.
I'll admit, I've not seen the third movie. Why not? Because the first two really turned me off. I'll grant the special effects were amazing, but half the time, I couldn't tell which were the good robots and which were the bad ones. Even worse, I had no emotional attachment to the characters, so I could really care less what happened to any of them.

Lastly, what inspired this blog, is a recent project I completed. I'm a huge fan of the rock group "Yes".
I think they have produced some of the most amazing music over the last 40 years. I've seen them in concert several times, and these are musicians of the highest caliber. Having said all that, even I admit that many of their songs are long for the sake of being long. (at least to me)

So, I decided to create a CD of music of my favorite parts of Yes music. I have music editing software and I've developed the talent to use it—no doubt from my TV directing days. Over the course of a week or so, I edited down some of my favorite pieces of Yes music to just the parts I thought were the most inspiring. It can be tricky taking a 20 minute song and trimming it down to 5 minutes, and still have it sound like a finished piece of music—but it can also be a lot of fun.

I'm not selling it or sharing it with anyone else because of copyright issues. I needed to say that so I don't get sued.

The lesson I take out all of this is things I apply to my writing. In general, I think I was successful with The Hidden Sun to balance pacing with character development. It's my goal, and hope, to continue that with my future books.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Epitaphs and Etiquette

Each year, the young women and young men (ages 12 to 18) in our church congregation have an "etiquette dinner". They learn about proper ways to behave on a date.

This year's dinner was close to Halloween, so my wife asked me to come up with some epitaphs for those that didn't follow the rules.

These will mean more if you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but even if you aren't, keep in mind that some of these guidelines may seem old fashioned today. For example, waiting until 16 to date, when slow dancing, making sure there is space between the couples and such.

Without further ado, here are some of the epitaphs:

The life of Riley
Is now at an end
Asking the question,
"Can't we just be friends?"

Rest now peace
Our noble Aaron
Asked out Haley
In front of Darrin

Struck down by lightening
Were Maddie and Norman
The space between dancing
Just one Book of Mormon

Dear McKay was quite wise
He was never home late
But foolish in taking
Two girls on the same date

Please rest in peace
Our sweetest Kelley
She choked on butterflies
From inside her belly

No longer on this Earth
Is the unwise young Tom
When he told Carla
You remind me of Mom

Deep in this grave
Is our dear Nate
He tried to kiss
His very first date

At the zoo died Dallin
Dating a girl that he dug
Took too literally
Request for a bear hug

Dear Julia is gone
Not high, low or in-between
'Cos she went on a date
Before she was sixteen

Madsen is quite dead
It's hard to believe
From trying to wipe
His mouth on his sleeve

Here lies the very young Alex
He felt like such a dork
Died from embarrassment
From using the wrong fork

The far too young Morgan
Buried there in the sands
On a date with Derrick
Tried to drive and hold hands

Passed away is Daniel
On a date was this dude
Ate with his mouth open
Misunderstood "sea food"

Gone away is Brycen
Accidently mistook
While picking up his date
Beautiful Blair for Brook

David didn't have much
Between his two ears
Asking twenty-six girls
To wait for two years

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book review of "The Hidden Sun" by Angie Lofthouse

This review has special insight since Angie Lofthouse read both the first and second editions. Her blog can be found here.

Here is what she had to say:

"The Hidden Sun by J. Lloyd Morgan, 2nd edition is a fun medieval adventure, with plenty of intrigue, action, secrets, heroes and romance. This is actually my second time to read and review this book. I reviewed the first edition a little over a year ago. Since then, The Hidden Sun was picked up by my publisher, Walnut Springs, and issued in a shiny new edition, newly edited, with a new cover.

So, what do I think of the second edition? Same great story, wonderful new package! In my first review, my main complaint was a large number of typos that I found distracted me from the story. That issue has been resolved, and without those distractions, I found the story even more fun to read this time around.

I love the way Morgan uses symbolism in the book. His characters are well-developed and easy to love and root for. I found I really cared about what happened to them and to their beloved kingdom of Bariwon. But the story itself is not the only thing to love about this book. I had fun noticing (on my second time through), Morgan's skillful naming of characters and places. Can you guess the secret of Bariwon and it's seven districts (Erd, Grenoa, Lewyol, Regne, Lebu, Donigi, and Teviol)? Not to mention such events as the Mortentaun and Shoginoc.

The Hidden Sun is full of surprises. It's also a good, clean read with no objectionable content. Just the sort of thing I'm looking for!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book review of "The Hidden Sun" by Kaitlyn Kline

Kaitlyn Kline has posted her review of The Hidden Sun on her blog "Kaitlyn in Bookland". I'll have to admit, my heart sunk when I read one of the lines. It said, "I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Hidden Sun, but it sucked. . ." It wasn't until I read the next line when I started breathing again. It continued, ". . . me in from the very beginning."

Ah, good thing I'm not running for office. I'm sure that is something my opponent would use out of context.

Here is her full review:

This cover is totally worthy of a fantasy novel. There’s the castle and surrounding grounds, plus gold font. It really works.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Hidden Sun, but it sucked me in from the very beginning. Like with any fantasy, the names take a bit of getting used to, but there was a nice pronunciation guide in the front of the book. After about 30 pages, I didn’t even stumble over the names anymore.

The corrupt leaders had me fuming throughout the book. This is a novel that really evokes some emotion from the reader. There are so many twists and turns, that I thought I had things figured out, only to be told something else. It was amazing.

J. Lloyd Morgan does not hold anything back in this fantasy novel. You will read about death, love, politics...everything. Even when I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it. I wanted to solve all of the mysteries throughout the book and see the fates of my favorite characters.

I *think* this novel was billed as young adult, but I think it could really work for adults as well.

I am so excited for the sequel, The Waxing Moon. It should be available sometime next year.