Monday, December 29, 2014

Knowing your Destiny...

Valerie J. Steimle

Over the Christmas season, I had the opportunity to read James A. Owen's  
              Drawing out the Dragons.
Drawing out the Dragons is the first book of The Meditations series Mr. Owen has created to help other people in what ever they want to do.... How can he do that when he is a writer and illustrator? I wasn't sure what to expect.  I had to read this series because as the agreement went I got all three books as e-books of that series for free if I would read and post a review of them. To my delightful surprise, the first book was inspirational. 

For a starters, here is what the description says: 

 "I believe in you. You have a great destiny. You are meant for great things. And it s possible to live a wonderful, extraordinary life."
That is the promise offered by bestselling author and illustrator James A. Owen in this remarkable and inspirational meditation. In Drawing Out the Dragons, James shares personal stories and the deep truths he learned while navigating past obstacles and adversity toward a life of lasting belief and joy. We all have a grand destiny, but sometimes we feel we lack the power to achieve it. But we always have the power to choose. Every drawing, every life, is nothing but a series of choices and actions. Make your lines. Make your choices. . . . What you create from there is entirely up to you. Drawing Out the Dragons has the power to uplift, inspire, and change your life.

Well, that was a shot in the arm for what I needed to read.  Every year by the end of the year, I need to take a writer's break.  Usually by Thanksgiving I run out of writing steam and just need to vegetate until New Year's Day.  It's a natural thing for me and I don't miss writing at all during that time.  I still write in my journal but this rejuvenation period really fills my writer's cup.  I do other things that I normally don't have time for and with my two boys homeschooling I had the chance to do some wonderful end of the year field trips and activities without the worry of a manuscript or other writing assignments. So James Owen's book came at the right time and he wrote such a great story of how he started publishing and what it took to be successful, even after a debilitating car accident when he lost the use of his right arm.

James A Owen has written......

James A. Owen has written and illustrated five books in the bestselling Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series: Here, There Be Dragons, The Search For The Red Dragon; The Indigo King; The Shadow Dragons; and The Dragon's Apprentice. The sixth volume, The Dragons of Winter, and the seventh, The First Dragon, are forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. The series is now being published in more than twenty languages. He is founder and executive director of Coppervale International, an art and design studio that also published the periodicals International Studio and Argosy, develops television and film projects, and is redesigning an entire town, among other ventures. James has written and illustrated two dozen Starchild comics, the Mythworld series of novels, and more. He lives in Arizona with his family.

Now I have started  reading his 2nd book of this series called The Barbizon Diaries which has more inspirational messages and the 3rd book The Grand Design is patiently awaiting when I can open this book as well.

James A. Owen is an inspiration to us all no matter what career path has been chosen as he gives us the tools to be successful.  He sets the example of one who does not give up on his dream.....and isn't that what writers need to hear over and over again?  I think so.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Man Who Hated Christmas

Many families have traditions they carry out at Christmas, mine included. One involves reading scriptures, singing carols, and reading Christmas stories nightly for the twenty four eves leading up to the day we celebrate the Savior's birth.

One of my favorite stories is called "The Man Who Hated Christmas". 

Yes, that seems an odd choice at first given the season but let me explain. You see the man in the story doesn't hate the true meaning of Christmas, In fact, it's because of his high regard for the Christ child that he is saddened by the commercialism that has become associated with the holiday season. 

His wife is kind of like me, stumped for a really meaningful gift to give her husband for Christmas. Attending one of their son's wrestling match against an inner city team, he remarks how disheartened he is to see the poor boys without helmets or shoes.  

Inspiration strikes the wife and that year she foregoes getting him the usual sweater and tie and instead makes an anonymous donation of helmets and shoes to the inner city boys wrestling team. She places her gift on the tree in an envelope and on Christmas day her husband is delighted with his 'gift'.  So begins a tradition in their family.

As I rushed about stores this morning, mainly grocery shopping, I constantly held back tears, feeling overwhelmed with all I still have to do to be ready to celebrate Christmas. The shopping is done, the wrapping is begun, and all I really have left is to make and deliver treats for the neighbors. Most of my current to do list is unassociated with Christmas at this point. 

So, why the Christmas blues? 

The dread of disappointment of others. 

I'm not one who shows her love by gift giving. What if those I love and care about are unhappy with their presents? What if they are the types that receive love through gifts? How can I ever measure up? My intentions are good, but my execution is lacking. 

Honestly, I'd like to be like the man in the story. Skip my presents and do some good in the world and let me do the same for you. Wouldn't that fit in more with what the Savior taught? What he came here to do? Why we celebrate his birth?  

So, next year, make a charitable donation, put a pair of cozy socks and a bag of peppermint bark in my stocking, and I'd call that a good Christmas. 

What would you do to make your Christmas more Christlike? 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hearing the Spirit in a World of Chaos

The television.  The Internet.  Computer games.  The telephone.  The cell phone.  Pounding on the door.  Running errands.  Church callings.  Soccer games.  Doctor appointments.  The list goes on and on.  Today we are bombarded with more input than ever before.  Our brains seem about to explode from all the things we must do, places we must go, meals to prepare, dry cleaning to pick up … and then, at the end of the day, we collapse on the couch with barely enough energy to drag ourselves into bed.  We read scriptures with the family that morning, and we did get our family prayer said before we sent everyone to bed, but anything beyond that seems impossible.

And yet, we know we need to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit if we are ever to find peace in this world, to receive guidance for our daily activities, to know what choices to make, and to help us on our journey back to Heavenly Father.  We need that constant comfort and companionship.  How do we block out the sounds of the world so we can hear what is truly a still, small voice?

First, I think it’s important that we minimize the electronic chaos in our lives.  We’ve heard it said in general conference that turning off the television and the computer can be crucial in allowing room for the Spirit.  We obtain a lot of good from the Internet – we can study, read scriptures, find conference talks, do genealogy – but when we allow ourselves to get caught up in the games and the chat rooms, we spend more time on useless entertainment than we do in feeding our souls.  

Second, we can take a few minutes first thing in the morning to go to our knees and ask Heavenly Father to guide our day.  Johnny might need a ride to school and Sally can’t find her shoes, so time might be tight, but we can always fit in a few seconds to ask our Father, who loves us infinitely, to be with us.  Later, after the ride is given and the shoe crisis is averted, we can focus on our scriptures or other uplifting activities, but we’ve gotten our day off to a good start.  It’s okay to speed-pray … I’ve done it before and never felt chastised for it.

Third, we can make our spiritual nourishment a higher priority.  Yes, we may have company coming in an hour, but wouldn’t they rather visit with someone who is centered and calm than with someone who is frazzled from running around the house, scrubbing and trying to make everything perfect?  And if they are the kind of person who would rather sit in a spotless house than care about your stress levels, why are you letting them in your house?  

Fourth, I’m a big believer in the parent time-out.  This is where the mom or dad just goes in their room and closes the door.  They can leave an older child in charge, or they can wait until their spouse comes home, but they shut out the distraction of the rest of the household and be by themselves for a little while.  Sometimes it’s easy to find balance, and other times, it takes an hour, but as couples communicate their needs with each other, and take turns to cool off as necessary, they will find they are much more able to listen to those inner feelings and be guided toward making the right choices. 

Fifth, we can involve our children in our search for peace and calm.  We can make it a learning activity.  Start by playing them loud music, and then play them soft music.  Ask how each makes them feel.  Explain that we like the feelings in our hearts when things around us are softer.  Help them identify the feelings that they have when they are playing nicely together as compared to the feelings they have when they are fighting, and talk about how they would rather feel all the time. 

Last, we can take the moments we do have and make the most of them.  When I go to pick up my daughter from seminary, I often find that I have five minutes of quiet before the bell rings.  I like to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and try to center myself again.  In those quiet moments, inspiration comes and helps me with ideas for the rest of the day.

Above all, never quit trying.  The Lord is aware of our hectic schedules and He knows we don’t always have the opportunity to come to Him in private.  He will listen to us while we drive down the freeway, while we grocery shop … any time we think to speak to Him, He will listen.  And then He’ll take advantage of the first quiet moment we get to answer us.  I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christ is the Reason for the Season

by H. Linn Murphy

About this time every year the pace kicks into holiday mode. We see ever earlier sales. Black Friday is now a holiday children recognize. The Saving Christmas shows pepper the TV, punctuated by ads for glitzy toys, diamonds, gigantic screen TVs, and gleaming sportscars. We run around trying to do, make, and buy everything in time for the Big Day. We run around like ants, busy with making Christmas. But we often forget that Christ is the reason for the season. We not only forget to celebrate His miraculous birth, but the most remarkable gift anyone ever has or ever will give to us: Eternal Life. We forget God's gift to us: namely His Son.

We see all these festive decorations and gifts and helpful hints about how we should celebrate the holidays, but we often fail to see Jesus. And yet we marvel at the people from His own time and place who didn't see Him for what He was. They were too blinded by politics, or disdain for his upbringing and origins, or by their own problems. The Pharisees who should have been His biggest supporters because of their scriptural knowledge, were instead some of His greatest detractors.

 So who did see Him? Not Pilate, who thought of him as a sort of discomforting rabble rouser. Not Herod, rich and selfish King of the Jews. Not the powerful or the knowledgeable. It was the small people--the humble shepherds and servants, the craftsmen shutting their shops for the night, the publicans, and fishermen, and women drawing water at the well.

In this age, knowledge of our Savior gets overshadowed by glitzy movie and sports stars, by the rumble of science disavowing His reality, and by the jeers of the inhabitants of the Great and Spacious Building. We find ourselves either defending Him at every turn, or, like Peter at the cock's crow, weeping at our lack of faith. Sometimes the frantic pace of our lives takes Christ's place and fills the emptiness we've left as we chase the dollar bill, elusive fame, or power.

In the holidays, much of the greed and selfishness comes to a head. The refrain of "Mommy, I want that," fills the frosty air. There have been times when I sat wrapping those last presents that I felt my children had never been such brats all year and I wondered why I was rewarding such wretched behaviors. The gimme children never seemed happy. They fought over everything, especially about serving others by doing their chores. The whole season depressed me. It wasn't until, like Christ, we started focusing on the happiness of others that we started to find our own joy. 

Maybe it's time to buck the crowds, walk back down that Spacious Building ramp, and hop across the stones in the river, back to the Tree of Life. 

I remember once when I was little (we lived in Y Mount Terrace back then--married student housing). I had a Penny Brite doll, which I really loved. One home evening my dad asked us a sneaky question. "What's your favorite toy?" Thinking that I was going to get clothes for her or something equally cool, I piped up with, "My Penny Brite doll is my favorite." My sister, probably sensing more than I did, mentioned something I knew for a fact wasn't her most special toy. Then Dad said something that chilled my childish little heart. "Well then that's the thing we'll give away." My mom then made gorgeous clothes for her, and a box with homemade furniture in it for the doll. Wow. I bawled and bawled. I thought that was a really wretched thing to do. We took those offerings upstairs and gave them to another, poorer family. At first I felt so betrayed. And maybe I was, in a way, since I wasn't allowed to make that choice on my own. But I have never forgotten the way I felt at seeing that other little girl's eyes light up. (Then, because I was about five and selfish, I plotted for a little while on how I was going to take it back--but never did. There is hope.)

Later we enjoyed several 12 Days of Christmas forays. One time we lived in Oregon. My parents had moved down to Arizona and left my sister and me up there because of jobs and school, etc. That Christmas was going to be a little bleak for us. But also Mom had left lots of friends without a champion. Patricia was one of those friends. This season was especially lonely for her. She'd recently lost her husband and was feeling the pinch, once remedied by my mom's kindness. 
So my sister Lisa and I decided to do the 12 Days of Christmas on her. We bought all kinds of things we thought Patricia would like: a back scratcher, cans of soup, slippers, books, goodies and several other items. We thought we were being so sneaky running up to her porch, dropping the item for the day, ringing the bell, and racing away. 
Then one day we got caught. We were hiding in her bushes when some woman we didn't know walked out to the front porch and yelled, "Hey! Whoever you are, Patricia moved. You can have all the stuff we didn't eat back again!"

I remember thousands of meals my mom made and took to other people. I remember baking bread and every time we took it out of the oven, without fail the missionaries were there for a slice. Everybody stayed at our house--Young Ambassadors, BYU Folkdancers, Up With People kids, German Club kids, the indignant runaway children of friends. Everyone. I remember my mom giving everything from her suitcase to women in Zimbabwe, only coming home with what she was wearing and a skirt for me. She went to do service, handing out massive amounts of clothing, food, and sock dolls she made by hand. I remember her and my dad cleaning out ICU's and orphanages in Bulgaria and taking food and water to Bande Atche (or however you spell it), the epicenter of the tsunami in Indonesia. And I think of all the presents I've given her that she's turned around and given to other people. My mom lives to give. Thousands of people bless her name. That's how I want to be. Someday I'll make it.

I hardly remember any presents I ever got. What I do remember are those I gave that took some trouble. I remember their faces and how it felt to do something for someone else. Imagine, then, how Christ must feel when we accept His offerings. When we come humbly to kneel at His feet and give our lives into His careful hands, it must fill Him with exquisite joy. 

What a great birthday present!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Writer's Life

The life of a writer is different for each person. I personally use my own history and friends as fodder. Yep, in fact when I'm searching for names I find nothing works better than going through the friends I've made over the last forty years and looking for something that stands out. You want a name that sticks in peoples minds? Don't make it up, use one that is real. For my first published work the last name of my main character was Bogus. At school visits I am asked about my choice and I can honestly say that one of my besties growing up was Denise Bogus. What fun it is to use the names of people I care about and immortalize them in print. Another best friend growing up was Sara, and yes, the full name of my character was Sara Bogus.

Now, I do have to tell my friends that even though I use their names, the characters themselves in no way represent the person. In my just released YA, The Awakening, one of my characters is named John. His name comes from someone  I grew up with named Jon. He was really wild and tough. In the book though, John has allergies and can't fight. So, not my Jon, but just using his name makes me smile. And I hope it makes him smile too knowing that I was thinking of him.

Random events aren't safe either. I look back at my life as open season. When I write I include events that I remember happening, or at least imagined, growing up. When I'm writing about a school, I often picture my own schools and in my mind, the layouts match up. When I'm writing about something embarrassing, I often place myself in the shoes of my character and think about how I would have reacted, or actually use a real event.

As a writer, I am very observant of the world around me. It's true what they say, "Watch out. I'm a writer. You might end up in my book." I often see things in real life that  beg to be included in print. And my kids, yep I listen to their conversations to see what teenage dialog is all about these days. I'm kind of like a pirate that way. Of course, they also like to read my rough drafts and groan. 

What fun it is to be a writer? I am thankful for my gift of storytelling and imagination. - Dorine

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

12 Indie Publishing Blunders to Avoid!

Misty Dawn Pulsipher

My good friend, Lisa Rector is self-publishing her first novel as we speak. I have done this two times, but for some reason we forget all the little details in between books when it comes to formatting and such. So it occurred to me that this might be helpful information for Indie Authors everywhere.

First of all, I used to think 'Indie' was one of two things: a nationality or a car race. Apparently, it's actually the term used for self-publishing. So here is what I've learned about Indie publishing over the last few weeks:

 1. When you think you have a final draft on your hands, you will make approximately 800 changes to your 'proof copy' once it arrives and you're done celebrating.

 2. You will go through about 3 packs of sticky notes, because you don't want to write in your proof copy.

 3. By the time you're done with the proof copy, you'll want to burn it.

4. Do yourself a favor and don't bother manually indenting your paragraphs with tabs. You will end up deleting every one of them when you convert your file to HTML for the Kindle Edition. Instead, highlight all your text (minus chapter headings), go to LINE SPACING, LINE SPACING OPTIONS, SPECIAL (select FIRST LINE), then LEFT INDENT and make the indent that you want. It will apply the indent to the first line of every paragraph throughout your document.

5. Instead of putting a few spaces between chapters, insert a page break (CONTROL+ENTER).

6. SECTION BREAKS are a catastrophe waiting to happen. Use with extreme caution and only when absolutely necessary.

7. When it comes right down to it - prevent unpleasantness such as ulcers and nervous breakdowns by paying someone else to format your book. Create Space does it starting at $249. You'll pay more than that in acid reflux medication and counseling alone - so it will totally be worth it.

8. Watch out for backward quote marks - they will be your undoing ... just ask Melissa Lemon.

9. Order a paperback proof copy and read through it - seeing your book in that format helps you think like a reader and not like a writer - and helps to identify plot/character issues and inconsistencies.

10. If you are a perfectionist like me, take it down a notch and be willing to let insignificant things go. Like each chapter starting on the right page instead of the left. You will drive yourself and everyone around you crazy otherwise.

11. To convert your document to HTML for the Kindle Edition, click SAVE AS then select WEB PAGE FILTERED.

12. Think of the whole thing as a process rather than an event. And One More Thing . . . While you're so absorbed with things like margins, page breaks, chapter headers, and indents . . . don't forget to check the spelling of your OWN NAME on the COVER. For some reason I never noticed the H missing from my last name, even though I'd gazed lovingly at my cover for hours on end and held the proof copy in my hands.

On launch day, after I had finally approved all the proofs and clicked the little "publish" button with glee, a friend noticed the spelling error. It was another day before it was fixed and re-uploaded. In the immortal words of Mad-Eye Moody, "Constant Vigilance!"

Get Lisa's debut novel here:

Monday, December 1, 2014

What a Whirlwind Year!

A year ago today, I had my dream come true. My very first book was published and I was thrilled to death. I didn't realize at the time that it would open a floodgate of awesomeness that would leave me breathless. Last Friday I released book number six. That's right, six books in one year. It was insanity to say the least.

There are several things I've learned in the last year that will help with any future books I put out, and I hope some of those tips can help you as well.

1. Love your cover. No, seriously, You should see the first cover I had on Stolen Luck. Google it and I'm sure you'll find it. Why did I go with it? I wanted the book out now. I wanted a book available for Christmas and working with that cover artist was difficult, so I dealt with it.

Don't deal with it. It's your book. Your baby. Make sure you love the cover because you will be selling your book to other people and you don't want the constant reminder. Believe me. You could be stuck with evil leprechauns for the rest of your life. 

Lucky for me, my publisher didn't like it either and was relieved when I told him to change it. While it still doesn't fit the genre, it was a million times better than the original.

2. Don't rush. Make sure edits are done well, covers are what you want, and everything is ready before you hit the submit button. I am constantly rushing into things and I regret it later. I'm thankful for those around me that remind me to slow down, enjoy the ride, and be happy with the better results. 

3. Read the contract. If you go traditional, know what that contract says. I am currently in the process of getting my rights back on a series, and a few things in the contract that I figured I would never have to deal with are the biggest obstacles right now. Find someone that knows contract law and make sure you're not making a huge mistake.  Look at the right of first refusal, royalties, buyout options, and responsibilities for both you and your publisher.

4. Don't stress over things you can't control.  Cover artists need time to create, editors need time to edit, formatters need time to format, and even printers need time to print. Take a deep breath and realize they're doing their best to make you look good.

5. When marketing, don't burn yourself out. When Twist of Luck was released, I went all out on a huge blog tour, and I didn't see a lot of return. It was still fun, and my readers enjoyed it, but I was totally burnt out at the end. Look around for fun ideas and research to see what marketing works now. My friend just did a Twitter party and it seemed to go very well. There are also Facebook launch parties, blog tours, cover reveals, and physical launch parties. Do all of them or do one or two of them. Know your schedule and what you can handle before pushing yourself into it.

Here you go! Good luck with all your publishing ventures!