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.