Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's Only a Paper Moon

A charming old popular song says "It's only a paper moon hanging over a cardboard sky." That metaphor goes through my mind as I reflect on my experience at the LDStorymakers conference this past weekend. That's LDS story makers. I don't know why the cutesy way of writing it. Maybe that's what attracted some of the air kissing wannabes I saw there. Networking is one thing but I saw so much sucking up you'd have thought it was a lemon festival. Among about 450 people from Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona and Colorado, I knew three. I wanted to be a part of this group because I'm a writer, I'm LDS, I've been married 40 years, and so I write about being LDS and being married. That's what my writing teachers always taught me – write what you know. And I thought that's probably what motivated everybody else to be there.

However, I'm not a mainstream LDS writer, and perhaps that's why I felt alien. At meals and in conference lectures, people very often introduced themselves as writers of science fiction, mystery/suspense, fantasy, historical fiction, Young Adult (YA) fiction, or romance. I didn't hear another person introduce themselves as a writer of contemporary drama. In fact, I didn't even know that's what I wrote until I interviewed with an editor from an LDS publishing company who said that's what he'd call it. The best part about that is I have less competition and potential for a bigger place in my own genre.

All or most of these writers are aiming at commercial success on the national scene, not that there's anything wrong with that, but I have a different view of my purpose. I write LDS fiction for a general adult LDS audience because I have something to say to them. I particularly appreciated Anita Stansfield's discussion of her life as a writer, the sacrifices she's made, and coming from someone whose 47th book will soon be out, that was important. It was particularly pleasing to hear her refer to her talent as a gift. Obviously she has respect for it, and that respect has driven her career. I don't read everything she writes, but I was impressed with that attitude.

On the other hand, I heard nationally successful writers discuss only the need, or not, for an agent, and the circuitous twists on the road to success. No references to gifts or reverence for their talents. The contrast with Anita's attitude was stark. There was something a bit smug about them, something of the "nyah, nyah, I made it and you didn't" from a few of them. Presenters who give their spiel with a "Gol, how can you be so stupid as to not know this" tone were more than a little abrasive.

This whole idea of writing for a particular niche audience is new to me. When I was in college, one of my writing teachers said, "If what you write is good enough, your work will find an audience." Consequently, I had no answer for an editor I interviewed with several years ago who asked me who my audience was. I didn't understand the question. I write for people who read LDS fiction, particularly adults. In fact, a male friend of mine who has read my contemporary fiction particularly enjoyed it because it wasn't like most of the books out there that are loosely referred to as "women's fiction." I hate that designation. Men who read what women read are more likely to understand the women around them.

That same editor asked me why I write, and my answer – "I can't NOT write" – apparently wasn't good enough. My books were rejected by his company. But I have never stopped thinking about the question because some day I hope to come up with a satisfactory answer. I write because, like Anita Stansfield, I have a gift and not to use it would be a sin, regardless of market trends. I write because I have a story to share with my LDS people. I write because I can't edit what I say once I've said it. (That's why I can write brilliant dialog.) I write because I love the language. I write because it's thrilling to make both sides of my brain work together.

And so I go back to my own basic motivation: When LDS lives and marriages are falling apart all around us in an environment where values are slowly corroding, why are we writing about vampires and the housewife from Orem who's secretly a CIA agent and saves the world while still getting her visiting teaching done? I'm just sayin'.

Ultimately, the irony of art is that it IS only a paper moon hanging over a cardboard sky, but the story that takes place there tells vitals truths about life, exposes significant insights, and gives readers Aha! moments they might not get anywhere else. Artists create an artificial place populated with artificial people in order to reveal truth to real people in the real world. I love irony. That's good enough for me.

By the way, after reading the first five pages of my manuscript and and discussing it with me for ten minutes, the editor at Covenant asked me to submit the entire manuscript. That made up for everything else about the conference that didn't sit well with me. But now I'm chewing my fingernails for the next few weeks until I find out what the verdict is going to be. I hope they agree with me that this is a book whose time has come.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another Oldie But Goodie (from 1996)

Tee Shirt Philosophy

It's amazing how our instant society can boil everything down to a few words or phrases easily proclaimed on our tee shirts. Attitudes – good, bad, indifferent – as expressed on shirts, can save a lot of conversation time when you meet new people. No one will misunderstand your self concept if you're wearing one that says 'All I ask is that you treat me no differently than you would the Queen,' OR 'There's nothing wrong with me that a little ice cream won't fix,' OR 'Plays well with others.' It would certainly make you stop and think if someone strolled toward you with a shirt reading 'The road to enlightenment is long and difficult… bring snacks and a magazine.'

You can immediately warn people of your life status by wearing such shirt inscriptions as 'I can handle any crisis – I have children,' OR 'I'm not having hot flashes, I'm having power surges,' OR 'First National Bank of Dad (sorry, closed).'

Middle aged or retired people, whose status may be changing, can come to terms with it by wearing the declaration 'If things get better with age, I'm approaching magnificent,' OR 'Looks too young to be retired.' Others might get right to the point with the hapless 'Over the hill? What Hill? Where? I didn't see any hill,' OR the defiant 'I'm not over the hill – I'm older than the dirt.'

Explanations about interests become immediately clear if a shirt says 'Built for comfort not for speed,' OR 'Can be bribed with cookies', OR 'So much chocolate, so little time.' You could never be confused about a person whose shirt says 'Beer is the reason I get up every afternoon.'

Even your marital status can be evident if your shirt says 'One good turn gets most of the blanket,' OR 'My wife says I never listen to her – at least that's what I think she said.'

Cat lovers can proudly declare 'You're nobody till you've been ignored by a cat,' OR in a more whimsical vein, sport a tee shirt with a cat dressed as Santa that says 'Buster patiently listened to what the mice wanted for Christmas and then he ate them.'

Sports fan(atic)s can make their propensities known with 'Sweat is nature's way of showing you that your muscles are crying,' OR 'Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, I gotta golf.' If they're completely honest, they might go for 'I fish, therefore I lie,' OR 'Hunters will do anything for a buck,' or my personal favorite, 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you get rid of him for the weekend.'

Personality shirts might help you know who to avoid, or who to make friends with. You'd think twice about the person wearing a shirt that says, 'If all the world's a stage I want better lighting.' When his shirt says 'A legend in my own mind,' it doesn't leave you with any questions about his ego. 'I get plenty of exercise jumping to conclusions, pushing my luck and dodging deadlines,' OR 'I have not yet begun to procrastinate' say more about a person than a resume' ever could.

In my housewifely role, I am amused by these slogans: 'If the world were fair, VCRs would program themselves, chocolate wouldn't be fattening, and men would have babies'; and 'Does vacuuming count as aerobic exercise?' I can also relate to 'I am woman, I am invincible, I am tired.' When I try to balance my checkbook or plan a budget, I sometimes think, 'Please Lord, let me prove to you that winning the lottery won't $poil me,' OR 'Money isn't everything – usually it isn't even enough,' OR 'When all else fails, manipulate the data.'

Life is easy when lived by a tee shirt philosophy – no responsibilities, no consequences, and none of the dimensions that make life and people interesting. Fortunately, a tee shirt is a cartoon, not a portrait, and that gives us permission not to take them too seriously.

Friday, April 2, 2010


We visited Richfield recently for a day, the place where we lived for 33 years, and went to church with old friends. It was wonderful to renew acquaintances and to reflect on new friends who appreciate us for who we are. That reflection broadened and I thought about other things I love about my life.

• Being with extended family more often and being able to entertain them – It's so much fun to plan and give a dinner party! These are wonderful people we haven't been able to see very often in the last 33 years, and it's great to have them in our home.
• Having a pedicure - Since it's so hard to coordinate my bifocals with the bending of knees and the placement of a nail clipper, I'm grateful for people willing to clip my toenails. Of course, I love the leg massage that goes along with it.
• 12 other people in my family - That number will probably be growing, now that Jordan and Heather have decided to adopt, and I'm thrilled at the prospect of having a new baby to love.
• Getting into the creative zone - There's nothing to compare with the moment a new idea dawns. A thought attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson: "I hate to write, but I love to have written." I've found a marvelous critique group here who have helped me make real progress on writing projects.
• Living in Provo - I love our sweet new manageable home and especially love having people visit. We are in a quiet neighborhood ten minutes from everything and I look forward to being able to get out and walk as the weather improves. We've been to art shows, plays and concerts since we moved here, and movies. It's nice to be able to go out in public and not be shouted at by students who recognize us. At last we are anonymous.
• Flowers in the house - Since we've been here, and for a little while before we left Richfield, we started buying flowers more often, and it adds a dimension of civilization that I hadn't fully appreciated before. Something about having a bouquet of flowers on the table inspires me to keep the clutter cleared away.
• My wonderful husband - He took such good care of me last year when I was recovering from knee surgeries, and he's still in the habit. It's great to have the companionship, the stimulating conversations, the hearty laughs together. And the love.
• Feeling valued by people I respect.
• Seeing Mt. Timpanogos out the kitchen window every day.
• Hearing the train whistle in the distance.
• As spring emerges, discovering what's planted in the yard - Today some brave little daffodils along the back fence tried to hold their heads up as spring snow fell. Globe willows are greening up all over. And my spring allergies have arrived.
• Serendipity – discovering "omelette night" at the hospital cafeteria. We had a "girls night out" Tuesday and enjoyed the company as much as the food.
• Decorating our new home and exploring new styles, creating the comfort we want to live in.
• Tackling new projects and having time enough for everything.
• The prospect of filling our guest room with family and friends this summer – bring 'em on!
• The stimulation of reading and writing, the fun of sharing my experiences and talents with others.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it comes from a grateful heart, and it's a good place to begin. What do you love about your life?