Friday, February 5, 2016

Stories within stories


I think it is so cool to read, watch, or play through a story that has different levels of meaning. The twists are incredible, and being able to read back and find the clues is mind opening. There are many examples of this.

1. Inception 
Duh. Some people (like my husband) didn't like this movie because there wasn't a definitive end. The ending was left to the audience to interpret. Now, I know there are conspiracies out there claiming to know the secret that Christopher Nolan was hinting at, but I loved the fact that there was not a right or wrong answer. And don't get me started on the levels! Just like in dreams, our mind can take things we see in the real world and mix them around in our imaginations to create an unforgettable story. Of course, my dreams don't always make sense.

2. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is one of my favorite books. It starts off with a seemingly innocuous inn keeper serving his regular patrons. A stranger comes in and recognizes the inn keeper as a man, a hero, of legend. The inn keeper/legend agrees to tell his story to the stranger as long as the he does not blow the inn keeper's cover. This story is filled with love, betrayal, loss and adventure. But there are two stories going on in one book. We have the inn keeper and the stranger and everything going wrong in their present world, and then the inn keeper's past. It is masterfully written and, if you haven't read it, go check it out!

3. Princess Bride
An all time classic. This movie also has two stories going on. The first is the grandpa reading to his sick grandson, and then the story within the book. This movie has a lot of sentimental value for me. Whenever this movie comes on TV, my grandpa will make me sit down and watch the poison scene. He claims it's "the best part." Of course we end up watching the rest of the movie together.

4. Persona 4
This is a video game that has many levels as well. While I haven't personally played it, I understand that there is a "day time" version of everyone and a "night time" version. The day version is normal albeit with secrets. The night version is kind of like their alter ego. It's the person they internally struggle with or who they are keeping hidden from the rest of the world. I think we all can relate to that at one point in our lives.

5. Beyond Two Souls
Another video game. This one was very interesting because the way the story is presented to the gamer is out of chronological order. You get bits and pieces of the story as you play, learning more and more about the strange main character. When the game wraps up in a crazy climax, you can see the depth and the layers that make up the story.

I have always loved stories that slowly reveal themselves. Stories that unfold before the reader like a well-earned present. Getting to the end and seeing how everything falls into place is nothing short of magic.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rummaging Through the Tough Stuff

by Patricia Cates

What makes rummaging through drawers tough? I'll tell you. It's the memories found therein.

Bittersweet they are.

This past week I was sort of compelled (forced) to rummage through my home's kitchen junk drawers. Normally I can find misplaced items here. When that didn't do the trick, I continued to dig through every dresser in the house. I overturned every stray corner and pile possible, down to my cookbook shelf. I emptied out every pretty little storage box and basket. Twice!

You see...I desperately needed to find a thin soft-backed book that my grandmother had put together back in 1979. It holds all of the family pictures, critical dates and personal stories of my father's family history. I refer to it often. My 15 year old daughter is doing a large project to earn her medallion and it's vital she have this resource.

I soon became frustrated with myself as I have never let this book leave the house. I was also irritated at how disorganized I've apparently become. I was angry at the thought that someone might have cleaned up and put the book somewhere without my knowledge. Although that would be a rarity. Mostly I was (am) freaked out that it has gotten lost in a pile of paper somewhere and been recycled!!!

Our "office" is my library, but it also serves as a homework area. We have a long solid surface countertop laid over the top of four miniature filing cabinets. That means three workstations and plenty of computer space. Over the years the space hasn't been used much; as kids like to do homework in the kitchen, living room, family room, or in their own room, and PC's are somewhat obsolete. So the office has really just become an extra room in the basement that no one goes in, or so I thought.

When I decided to search the office for the book, I opened some of those filing cabinet drawers and I became even more annoyed. Household members had obviously been storing (shoving) all sorts of things in there for years. There were random bags of old crayons and coloring books mixed with scrapbooking paper, glue, tools, folders and receipts. I found lost eyeglasses and keys and hundreds of pictures my 21 year old daughter had taken in junior high. In the bottom of one drawer a portion of my pristinely kept Ensigns were laid bent into a shoebox too small to hold them, along with my best (lost) travel magazines. I also found a whole cabinet my husband took over when he moved in. It was riddled with unopened mail, stuff his kids made for him in grade school, and tidbits from his former life, which I totally respect. Sadly the cupboard above holds the photos and albums of my family members long passed away, as well as my former marriage. The kids can have some of them when they are older. I don't dare open one now. Knowing what's inside the pages bring about emotions I cannot face while trying to clean. Totally counterproductive.

There were too many things found in these drawers to mention here. But I will say that I fully understand why I have been avoiding them. I am reminded of my children not being little anymore. Reminded of wonderful family vacations and a failed marriage. Reminded my wonderful husband was once married to his high school sweetheart. Reminded that my kids are messy and that I hate paperwork. Maybe subconsciously I wanted to hold on to more than coloring books. I have a tough time facing the past without falling apart and I know that. Thinking of it all makes me want to cry in utter defeat, not only for the mess at hand, but for the lost hope and the former me. The former me was ultra organized and totally unbeatable. I miss her.

So this precious book may be lost for now, but it will resurface. In the mean time I am cleaning it all out. Once I got going it wasn't so bad. We (me and the former me) are about half way through now. I recycled about 15 pounds of paper from my husbands desk. His was easy. It was all unemotional business stuff he was holding onto for taxes, prior to 2008, and held no connection for me. He is grateful I did that for him, as it needed to be done. I also very neatly put his mementos safely away in a box, as I know it would be equally upsetting for him to be reminded of how sweet his ex was before she upped and left. They were really cute in high school. I cry for him too.

I have chosen to let my kids decide what to do with the coloring books. Some of them hold their best work inside the pages. The Barbie Princess one especially. I can't let it go. Hopefully they can catch a glimpse of their own sort of nostalgia and learn about families and pitching in along the way.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dead Weight

by Kasey Tross

In my quest for writing mastery (ha) I have been reading a book called Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. What I found enlightening about this book was that she illustrated each point of narrative craft (like point-of-view, metaphor, theme, etc.) with short stories.

I have never been too familiar with the short story form- well, not since high school, anyway- and so this was good for me. I like how it gave me a good microcosm of what a book should be, and while it seems counterintuitive, seeing what went into those short stories made writing a novel seem easy. Why, you ask? Because, as I learned as I read these watertight little story ships, like any load in a seafaring vessel, every word must be efficient and pull its own weight, or it gets tossed overboard.

After I'd spent an afternoon reading short stories, I'd go back to my novel and suddenly see all of these words lazily taking up space while doing no work and adding no value to my story. I turned to my husband (the non-reader) and said, "My book sure does have a lot of superfluous language."

He said, "What?"

I said, "My book has a lot of extra words."

He said, "Oh."

Here are a few examples for you:

1. My book starts with the character in a dream (I KNOW it's cliche, but there is an exception to every rule and I swear this one works! At least until I think of something better...) in which she is with her beloved horse, Mosby. When she wakes up, she realizes she's living a nightmare: Mosby is gone, and not only gone, but being put up for auction where she's pretty sure he's going to get bought by a meat market man and slaughtered. Horrifying, right? Anyway, originally I had written something like, "Then I remembered: the divorce. The move to Stonemill, to this ramshackle old house left to mom by her hermit uncle that had died. And Mosby- Mosby was gone."

Well, I went back over that paragraph- I knew when I'd written it that it wasn't as tight as I wanted it to be- and I immediately noticed the stowaways: everything before "Mosby..." I knew that cutting that out would get to the heart of the matter- but wait! That's important info for the reader to have! They need context! What if they didn't know? Well, another important thing I've learned is that sometimes it's good for the reader to not know everything right away. All they really needed to know was that Mosby was gone, and that it is heartbreaking for my main character, and as I glanced over the rest of my first chapter, I realized that most of the rest of that information was either not essential enough to know right away (and could come out later) or could be inferred from other details.

2. One of those other details I added in to emphasize the fact that they had literally JUST moved into this house was the sentence, "I grabbed my phone from off the moving box that was serving as a nightstand next to my bed."

Can you catch the stowaway?

Here's a hint: Do people typically have nightstands- or items serving as nightstands- anywhere other than next to their beds? 

Yep, that pointless preposition walked the plank. Arrr.

3. Was, was, was. What is my obsession with this word? A word of caution: if you're seeing the word "was" popping up a lot in your work, you have fallen victim to the passive voice.* This is like punching a hole in your ship, because every "was" is sucking the life out of your story and dragging it down to the fathomless deep!

Here's an example I found: "the grass was waving"

Why? Why not, "the grass waved" or, "the waving grass [insert something it did here]."

Anytime you can give the noun in your sentence something to actively DO rather than just experience, it literally- well, maybe not literally, but literaturely (yes I just made that up)- brings it to life.

"The paint was peeling off the house in long strips."

"The paint peeled off the house in long strips."

"The long strips of peeling paint littered the grass in front of the house like confetti."

Use the find function in your word processing program and plug all those "was" leaks!

4. Finally, here's an easy, hopefully no-brainer one for you:

"I ambled slowly down the driveway."

*eyeroll at my own ineptness as a writer*  *bangs head on computer keyboard*

Seriously, Kasey, have you ever seen anyone amble quickly down a driveway??

But this actually brings up two points: first, obviously don't use an adverb on a verb that already implies what the adverb says. People can't amble quickly, sprint slowly, or scream softly. Just sayin'.

Next, if you're saying things like, "I walked slowly," then zero in on that adverb and look at the verb preceding it. Chances are you included the adverb because the verb wasn't strong enough to speak for itself. Don't give verbs adverb babysitters! Make them grow up! Give them responsibility! If your character walked slowly, then think of a verb for walked slowly: "ambled," "strolled," "dragged my feet," etc. Just axe the adverbs already! Toss the scurvy scallywags to the fishes! Yo-ho-ho and a bottle o' rum!

So take a look at your writing and smoke out the stowaways, the stuff that isn't pulling its weight in your story:

1. Unnecessary details that can be left as mysteries for the reader or are inferred by other details (readers like this- it makes them feel smart).
2. Prepositions and other useless descriptors that are already implied.
3. Passive voice (WAS).
4. Babysitting adverbs.

Then give 'em the ol' heave-ho! Hang 'em by the yardarms!

Okay, I'm done with the pirate ship analogy now, me hearties (seriously, that was the last one, promise).

*Yes, I know I wrote that sentence in the passive voice. Did I mention I also learned about dramatic irony? ;-)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Medici Effect

by Jewel Leann Williams

The Medici family were wealthy bankers and merchants who came into power in the 1400's and ruled Florence, Italy until the mid-1700's.  They had their hands in everything. Some of them became Popes, and the sponsored scientists such as Galileo, and artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci. They brought the foremost intellectual, scientific, and creative talents together in one place, and under their influence the Renaissance was born.

A business writer and entrepreneur named Frans Johansson, coined the term "The Medici Effect," for what he proposes happened to bring about the Renaissance. Because the Medici's brought all of these different disciplines together, they influenced each other and that synergy fueled the creativity explosion that was the Renaissance Era. Johannson explains it as the "intersection," a place where:

...ideas and concepts from diverse industries, cultures, departments, and disciplines collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of ideas leading to extraordinary innovations. Breakthrough ideas are most often “intersectional” and occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory.
What does this have to do with writing?

It's the basis of a new way of thinking about our creativity.

I for one, have always felt that I need quiet, calm, and leisure time in order to be my most creative.

But that may not be true.

If there is something magical about different, non-creative pieces of my life crashing together to form a synergy that put my own creativity into hyperdrive, then probably the busier I am, the more creative I will become.

That's why the little notebook we writers carry around all the time is so important. While I'm doing yardwork, dishes, hanging out with kids, folding clothes, working on documents in my job, or whatever it may be, that "intersection" may occur. The trick is to mine the information and ideas when they come in so that when that elusive leisure time does come, we can further explore them.

In reality, the busier we are, the better our creativity thrives--it's just up to us to use it properly.

When do you find that you're the most creative? What surprising places or actions kick your idea-maker into overdrive? Comment below!

Thursday, January 28, 2016


by Katy White

Over the last several weeks, #novelaesthetics has been making the rounds in the twitter writing community. In a nutshell:

It's a fun, quick way to give people a sense for your novel and drum up interest in it. It's also ridiculously hard (for me...or maybe everyone?). Three pictures just seems like so few! So I cheated and did this for my novel, SEEKING MANSFIELD, instead:

I love seeing the pictures people choose to represent their projects, so if you've been looking for an excuse to do it, go to twitter and say that @katew223 or @mmwriters tagged you, and post away!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

But Will I Really?

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

I need a reality check. I think. I’m not sure. Maybe what I really need is a healthy dose of some sort of mothering gene that I didn’t get. I’ve come to accept, mostly, finally, that I don’t have what I normally think of as the standard “nurturing spirit.” I’ve written about it extensively,* and I’m slowly realizing that I have used a too-narrow definition of mothering and nurturing.

The truth is I don’t have any great fondness for newborns and babies. Sure, I have loved mine, but I don’t feel any sort of yearning toward them in general. I can look at someone else holding a baby and have absolutely no desire to snuggle it. In fact, I don’t have this feeling toward any age of children. I just don’t want to hang out with them. I have always considered this to be a major personality flaw. In fact, I still sort of do.** But at least now I have come to recognize that it doesn’t mean that I’m not a nurturing, loving mother of my own children. At least, not much.

So that’s why I get a little confused when I see a friend or stranger or celebrity post on social media, “I am just crying so much. Little Z has started walking. It’s the end of an era.” Or, “I’m so happy-sad about potty training. My kid doesn’t need me so much anymore.” Or, “I miss how little she was!” I am just generally really excited about my kids growing up more. Maybe this will stop being true when they hit the teens? I don’t know.

But even more, the posts that really puzzle me are the ubiquitous bits about how you’re going to miss the laundry and the diaper changes and whatnot. And these posts always start by addressing those of us in the throes of parenting littles, and they say, “Yes, we know you don’t think you’re going to miss it, but trust us, you will.”

To which, every time, I think, “No way.”

First of all, let’s get serious. I will be doing crazy amounts of laundry for at least the next 18 to 20 years. This is not tapering off any time soon. Also, I really don’t like doing laundry. Or dishes. Or vacuuming. Pretty much if it involves cleaning, you can guess that it’s not an activity I’m big on. So, if I don’t like it now, how am I suddenly going to get nostalgic about it in the future?

I think what they’re really saying is this: “You’re going to miss having your kids need you so much.”

To which I say, “Well, why don’t you just say that instead? That I can probably believe.” I’m sure someday I’ll look around at an empty house and think about the good times when they needed me more.*** Although, in all honesty, I am just loving having them grow up more and need me less for things like behind-wiping and pouring milk for their cereal. How are these not good things? But I can theoretically conceive of a time when I will miss the 8yo coming to me to discuss her schoolwork or the 5yo wanting to snuggle while we read a book.

But if that’s what they’re really saying, why in the world do they keep on bringing up the laundry? And they do it so emphatically. It makes me wonder—I’ve gotten over my lack of universal nurturing, but am I now missing something else? Am I genetically absent a love-of-children’s-laundry gene?

Explain it to me, world! No one has yet convinced me! (And trust me, I’ve read it about a bajillion times.) What am I missing?

Or maybe we’ll just have to wait another twenty years, and then suddenly I’ll be a believer?

* Like here, here, and here.

** Partially because it extends to all ages, not just children—I just don’t love being with lots of people. It’s partially an introvert thing and partially a socially awkward thing and partially an emotional energy thing, and it has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post. So, moving on. . .

*** But probably not those times when one of them was screaming because her favorite shirt wasn’t clean because I’d forgotten to do the laundry—or she wore it every day for the past week, and I’d washed it every night and just ran out of other stuff to wash with it. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience. This is just a hypothetical.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Change in Perspective

By Lacey Gunter

As a picture book writer much of my editing time is spent figuring out what I can take out of my texts and still maintain the heart of the story. Words are a very expensive commodity in picture books so one has to be sparing and pick them wisely.

Picking what should stay and what should go is often a difficult task. Sometimes it requires a change in perspective. You have to step back and take in the big picture to distinguish the body of the story over the unnecessary details.

I recently found a surprising parallel in my journal writing. Until recently I had always bought into the idea that journal writing is 'supposed' to be a daily endeavor and any truly faithful journal writer was diligent enough to at least try to record things daily. Yet, I often struggled with what exactly to share. Many of my days seemed unexciting or at least similar to the day before. So what exactly do you write about on a daily basis? With this perspective I often lost motivation and steam and stopped trying after only a short time.

A couple of months ago I decided to try something totally different. In an effort to make our Sundays more meaningful, I decided to sit down with each of my young children and help them write a journal of their weekly activities. After just one week of doing this with them, I discovered it was dramatically more easy to write something when looking over the perspective of a week than just a day. I decided to try this with my own journal keeping.

Wow what a difference that perspective change has made. Instead of looking at the one inch square of daily life and trying to make sense of  and interpret the few different colored lines scratched into my day, I am able to step back and see the entire portrait of my week and discover how the pieces fit together to make a meaningful and interesting portrait of a window of my life. Best of all, I am actually excited to do it, rather than dreading it.

Tying that back into your writing, if you are stuck in a rut on a current WIP and can't make sense of what to do or where to go, take a look at it from a new angle.  Is there some rule, assumption or idea that is unnecessarily tying you down? Are you focusing in too closely on a minor piece of the picture and  trying to make sense of small bits of plot or character?  Try letting go of the perspective you are stuck in and step back to see the big picture.  It  may give you just the perspective you need to see how all the pieces fit together discover what is most meaningful.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Revision Help from the Pros

by Patricia Cates
Yesterday evening was the first ever NaNoWriMo Spreecast. It was intended for those who have a work in progress leftover from the fall, and who are now perhaps stuck in the revision stage. The title of the web cast was fittingly “How to Revise Your NaNoWriMo Novel.” Kami Garcia, NYT best-selling author, served as the host fielding questions for K.M. Weiland and James Scott Bell, as they were the other guest authors in attendance. They shared many great tips in order to help the rest of us. In case you missed this, I thought I would give you a short synopsis of what was shared. There was a ton of great information on how to rewrite, what to rewrite and how to fill in gaps. Questions came in live from viewers. I only wished it were longer. 

When asked what mattered most in revision stage, the authors all agreed that it was structure. Katie M. Weiland, (a.k.a. K.W.) suggests we make sure to have all the major plot points in place. To have the bones of your book be sound is crucial, because everything else is really cosmetic. She asks us to check to see if the beats play out, to look for a midpoint, to check for sign post scenes. Are the critical ones in the right spot?  Jim agreed on structure being key and pointed out that we need to make it very clear on what the character wants, what is at stake and what will stand in their way. He believes the stakes need to be "life or death" either physically or emotionally. He asks us to look at plot points and verify that there is increasing tension happening.

K.W. added that a great hack is to let your book rest. She says to walk away from it in order to gain objectivity and give yourself some space. Jim was in total agreement and feels that writers need to give themselves 3-4 weeks away from the book, and then come back to it and view it as a reader. He says that the worst thing you can do is start on page one and start crossing things out. He likes to print off a hard copy and read it as if it were somebody else’s work and not his own. He’ll then go back and make notes in the margins as he’s reading, or use symbols that let him know what should be done. He makes note of whether it’s too slow, or confusing, or where he might be tempted to put it down and stop reading. When asked about the slow spots, Jim simply wants us to ask ourselves if the scene is necessary. If it’s not...but you don’t want to kill it...he suggests we turn up the heat. He likes to use fear of any kind, and on any level. If there is even just some worry, he feels it will bring emotion to the reader and act as a hook.

Another person asked the question about whether beta readers or critique partners were actually important in the process. Jim feels that it is an extremely important part of revision in that these people can bring about a terrific objectivity that we might not have. Katie adds that this can help an author clean up a manuscript before it even goes on to an editor, which really might only give you one good clean sweep. Jim also mentioned that it is smart to have readers of your genre take a look at your book and give input as opposed to fellow writers. K.W. likes to use craft books to help her revise before going to edit. She enjoys reading screenplay books as they help with structure so much. She suggests a few including the classic “Story” by Robert McKee, as well as “The Anatomy of Story” by John Truby.

When asked how to develop characters that might be a bit one-dimensional, K.W. talked about using internal conflict as a basis, or, the conflict between a want and a need. Perhaps the character is even buying into a lie of the story theme. Jim wants us to use the element of surprise to capture the audience as it adds another layer of interest. He says to "make it unexpected" in action or dialogue. Katie Garcia likes to see evidence of wounds and old baggage which allows the reader to understand why that person might have the world view that they do. She asks us to delve into that “one bad thing” that happened to them, that makes our character think like they do, and do what they do. Another fun tip she suggests we can use on a character is to just make their life miserable.

In order to stay motivated during revision our expert authors suggest we use a calendar or simply remember to show up for work. We can train ourselves by forming good habits and sticking with them. For those who do not have a publisher or agent yet, K.W. suggests we hire a freelance editor. Right now there are a lot of legitimately good ones out there. Katie warns to do your due diligence in researching who they are for now, as anyone can say that they are an editor. K.W. is planning on compiling a list of veteran freelance editors and posting it soon on her blog. (Can't wait!)

When a viewer asked about the amount of backstory that is acceptable, and when or where to add it, Jim had a great idea. He says to use it sparingly at first and then layer it in. By rule of thumb he says that in the first 10 pages you should only allow yourself three sentences. That’s it. Then in the next 10 pages he says to allow three paragraphs. This does allow the reader to gain sympathy and empathy for the character, but he wants to see action first.

Lastly, K.W. advises we avoid “on the nose” dialogue in our books. This would be direct answers that are not surprising or exciting. Also avoid “I love you” and the like. Save the direct statements for later on where they are actually needed. The fewer found, the more impact they will have. Jim says to trim the fat and take out filler words. This is great for those writers who need to get their word count down. If it isn’t necessary, get rid of it.

If you’d like to watch the podcast online you can do so by downloading the Spreecast App. If you don’t have access to that technology you can always purchase one of the craft books that these guest authors have written. You can check out their websites and

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Story in the Branches of Your Tree: 2 Fun Ways to Explore Your Family History

Did you know that family history is really, really fun?

I know, you're saying, "Wait- you are talking about that thing with fan charts and record numbers and death dates, right?"

I know, doesn't exactly sound like a roaring good time, but I promise you- it's really, really fun.

Here are two really fun family history "games" you can play:

1. Log onto FamilySearch or Ancestry and pick a branch of your family tree- trace it back and back and back until you find some ancestors from a place you've never been to before, a place that intrigues you. Next, go on Google Earth and find that place, then, if possible, get down to street view and see what you can see- envision your ancestors walking the streets, or farming the fields, or going to church.

Screenshot from my Google Street View adventure in Switzerland. All of the houses and shops have window boxes with flowers in them. I am in love.

For me, this was the tiny town of Limpach in Bern, Switzerland. I started noticing this place name starting with my great grandparents' marriage there in 1907 and continuing all the way back to a many-greats grandfather who was born there in 1606. After that there is no more record of the family, so it could go back even farther.

I looked on Wikipedia to find out more about Limpach and discovered that it occupies a whopping 1.7 square miles of the planet's surface, and of that, 70% is agricultural, 22% is forested, and 8% is buildings and roads. The current population is 354 people.

As I began learning more about this place, I couldn't help but wonder- what must it have been like to have your family live in such a tiny place for such a long time? Surely the village must have been like a family. 

My great grandmother left there because she found the gospel and she wanted to join the rest of the Saints in Utah. She made it, but she passed away in childbirth at the age of 31, and she and her baby are buried in the Logan City Cemetery. Sadly, her other two daughters were not raised in the Church- but her granddaughter (my mom) found it anyway, and so a portion of her descendants are following her legacy of faith.

2. Okay, if you're ready for some REAL fun, check out This is a site that is powered by FamilySearch and when you use your FamilySearch login it will go through your family tree and find every notable person you are related to in some way- and it will even show you your common ancestors! 

Through this site I discovered I have family ties to all 12 current apostles, Joseph Smith (4th cousin 7 times removed), Emma Smith (8th cousin 4 times removed), Eliza R. Snow (4th cousin 4 times removed), Wilford Woodruff (3rd cousin 7 times removed), Gordon B. Hinckley (7th cousin 3 times removed), and many more notable members of the Church. I also discovered other ties that made me a bit giddy- Ernest Hemingway (9th cousin 2 times removed), Robert Frost (9th cousin 5 times removed), Samuel Clemens (aka, Mark Twain- 8th cousin 5 times removed), and Emily Dickinson (9th cousin 2 times removed), to name a few. I'm also distantly related to several presidents, Lucille Ball (9th cousin 2 times removed), and Elvis Presley (13th cousin 2 times removed). 

It is so. much. FUN! My kids got a huge kick out of it.

Out of curiosity, I decided to see who my closest "famous" relations were, and I found 2 aunts- one a 10th great aunt, Martha Penoyer, and the other an 11th great aunt, Sarah Warren, who had been tried as part of the Salem Witch Trials. I found their stories through FamilySearch and Wikipedia, and I was shocked and appalled to learn of the things they had endured. 

The story of Martha Penoyer (Corey) was a particularly tragic one- she was tried for witchcraft in 1692 at the age of 72 years old. During her trial her husband Giles spoke out in her defense, and they wanted to try him as a witch as well, but he refused, and was put to death by pressing, "a slow, crushing death under a pile of stones." And "when the sheriff asked how he would plead, he only asked for more stones." Three days later his wife was found guilty and hanged.

As I study these branches of my family tree, I can't help but wonder what little bits and pieces of these individuals might have gotten into me. 

Did the conviction that led my great grandmother to leave her ancestral homeland find its way through the bloodline to me? 

Is my Great Aunt Martha's belief in truth, no matter what the cost, somehow manifested in me in diluted form every time I look at look at something I read on the internet with a critical eye? 

What about those amazing writers- could my talent have somehow been passed down through the decades, some tiny little glimmer of a gene that compels me to put thoughts into words? 

And those stalwart leaders of the early Church- has the power of their cumulative faith somehow shaped my own testimony in some intangible way that I will only understand after this life?

One thing I can't help thinking as I wander through the crowded and complex forest that is my family tree: there are so, so many people. So many lives lived and faded and gone. How peculiar it feels to know that I am a part of it, and that I just happen to be the living my life at this time. Of all the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers- right now it's me. I'm one of them, and it's my turn to be here, my turn to experience all the ups and downs of earth life that they all did and as we all do. I can't help but wonder what they think of it- what they think of me- and what they might expect of me. Each life seems just a blip- a fraction of a century- and that is our magnum opus. What happens before this life and what comes after are but prelude and prologue; my story is now. 

What will my story be?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Apple Tree

by Jewel Leann Williams

A couple of weeks ago I saw a video that was shared on Facebook that talked about apple trees, and creativity, and becoming who we were meant to be. I watched it and moved on, but some of the thoughts stayed with me. They percolated for a while, and then in a panic I realized that this was what I wanted to write about--and I couldn't find the video!!

After a plea for help on the Facebook and thankfully a friend who figured out what I was looking for, and I got to watch the video again.  I will link to it after this article.

So what of the apple tree?

If we look at an apple tree, we notice that it doesn't care how many apples it sells. It doesn't worry if people like the apples or not. It just does what it's supposed to do, which is produce apples.  If you see an apple tree that isn't giving apples, it is probably a sick tree, and we know there is something wrong and try to help it to return to its purpose.

The takeaway for us, as writers, is that often we get so caught up in whether people will like what we've written, or buy what  we've written, that we destroy our own creativity.  We stop writing because "no one likes what I write" or "I can't get an agent on anything I've done," or whatever reason.

But are you an apple tree? Were you born to put words out there into the world, to uplift, inspire, bring light? I affirm to you that you were. Our Father in Heaven gave you the talent and  the urge to write for a reason.

So what if you don't?

Another quote  paraphrase from this video:

We stress because we're not giving our gift that we are naturally here to give, and all day long we hear that gift inside us, whispering for us to do that thing we were born to do. 

That's the apples in us, trying to make their way up through the xylem and phloem, the trunk, the branches, the twigs, to flower and bud. Sometimes we don't feed the tree, don't give it any sunlight, and we become sick. Stressed about not writing, depressed about not creating, blocked and bitter because we say things like, "I used to be a writer, but I don't write anymore."

In a more scriptural analogy, it's because we know full well that the Master will not be happy when he sees that we've taken our talent and judged that it's not what others were given, not as shiny or as big, and we've buried it in the ground for fear.

That voice says, "Do this one thing" but we're scared, because we only see the loss of what we could give up, not the infinite possibilities that lay beyond that one leap. (More paraphrasing there)
Look what I found from Elder Russell M. Nelson!


Can I ask you (and myself more than any) to BE the apple tree? You already are placed here for a purpose, and just like an apple tree, you can nourish your purpose and give it lots of sun, shape it and strengthen it, and fulfill that purpose. Fear is the enemy as much as frost in winter (for those of us from Arizona, that's like the 3 cold nights where we put sheets on our plants).

This one is a direct quote:

There is a power in you that has been calling to you since day one, and today could actually be the day that you listen.  

How can you "access your apple tree?"


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