Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Death On the Farm Is A Good Thing

I don't intend this post to be negative so hopefully it doesn't swerve in that direction. I am not a huge animal lover but my kids, my youngest in particular, love our pets. This morning we lost another cat. I got to thinking this morning on my way in to work that we have lost a LOT of animals over the past six years and I think its a good thing.

Six years ago we moved from an 1800 population metropolis out to the country. This allowed us more space for our children to roam and play and as my wife reasoned it also increased our capacity for more pets. Being the softy that I am I relented and one kitten became three and we got a dog, chickens and a couple of cows. The problem is, no matter how much space we have for the animals to wander, they like being close to the house, which means they also stay close to the vehicles. In the last six years I count about eleven cats that have died, nine dogs (eight of which were wild and required my "special" kind of attention), four chickens and two cows (though that was by design :>)

Every time an animal dies my kids cry. This morning was no exception. After our cat Oreo was spotted on the driveway, my wife asked me to take care of it, so I did. I trapsed throught the snow with my shovel, scooped it up and took care of the cat. Standing at the kitchen bay window, my youngest watched my every move with tears running down her cheeks. She was saddened by the loss of her pet but by the time I came back inside she was composed again, gave me a hug and headed out for school.

Death has become a regular part of our lives since we've been on the farm, and I think these experiences with the death of their pets is is a positive thing for my kids. Death is obviously the end result of all life and it is often difficult to accept the loss. It makes us sad and we miss what we no longer have. Even when we have faith in an after life, we still long for the relationships and interactions we enjoyed. Tasting of the sadness of pet death can help to build the faith and strength needed to endure greater losses in the future.

I don't mean to make too much of this, but living on the farm has provided numerous teaching opportunities that I expect will result in strengthening my children in faith and hope. Farm life is good.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hero Takes A Journey: The Star Prophesy by Joan Sowards

In reviewing Dan Harrington’s memoir, Who’s At the Door, I wrote about one of the classic master plots, STRANGER COMES TO TOWN. Today I’d like to talk about the second great master plot, HERO TAKES A JOURNEY, as I review Joan Sowards new novel, The Star Prophecy: A Book of Mormon Adventure.

The theory is this—virtually every story will fit into one, or both of these 2 master plots with varying degrees of complication and creativity. With STRANGER COMES TO TOWN, the arrival of a person, a force, or even an unexpected event throws the main character’s life into upheaval. Maybe it’s a friend, like Jimmy from Defensive Tactics showing up to ask his friend for help, or a pair of missionaries knocking on the door, or a spaceship that arrives and hovers above a city, or a tidal wave that capsizes a cruise ship. In each case a “stranger” enters the scene and creates some kind of conflict that propels the story forward.

With HERO TAKES A JOURNEY, the story centers on a physical, emotional or spiritual journey the main character embarks upon. It may be that he is forced to take a journey like Jesse James running from the law, or he may choose the journey out of a sense of duty like Frodo Baggins, or out of a sense of adventure like Luke Skywalker. Fitting a story into one of these master plots may be a stretch for some novels, but for the Star Prophecy, the fit is easy and fun.

Enoch is a young man with a mission. The great desire in his life is to sail from Zarahemla back to the land of his forefathers in search of the Messiah. He searches for and follows the signs of the Christ’s birth with faith and zeal. He prepares for years and when the time is right, he embarks on his quest to find Jesus. Enoch is our Hero and his journey is the ultimate quest to find the Savior so that he can return to his people and testify of His divinity.

The story of Samuel the Lamanite preaching about the signs of Jesus’ birth is one of my favorite Book of Mormon stories, but I had never considered the possibility that a Nephite would follow the signs back across the sea to Jerusalem in search of the Christ. What a wonderful concept! I was hooked immediately. The cast of characters fills out nicely with the “scoundrel”, the “devoted friend”, a “love interest”, and a “mentor” who leads the young men on their trek.

The journey was enjoyable and the relationships were interesting. I only have two minor criticisms. 1- Enoch was a little bit of a flat character. He started out as such a faithful young man (he had to be to begin such a quest) that there wasn’t a lot of room for him to grow as a character. Having said this, Enoch did outgrow his need for his mentor to direct him in all things. His scoundrel friend Kumeni on the other hand had plenty of room to grow. Kumeni’s journey was both physical and spiritual. He changed gradually and realistically.

2- Although the novel is set at the time of Christ’s birth, the language and descriptions didn’t fit the time. For example, there is a conversation between Enoch and a shepherd where the shepherd spoke with the kind of poor grammar that Jim used in speaking with Huck Finn. I understand that the author was trying to convey that the shepherd was uneducated and simple but it took me out of the moment. In defense of the author, I almost always have a problem like this with stories set back in time so this may be more of an indictment of me as a reader than anything else.

I really enjoyed The Star Prophesy and recommend it to my friends. With the Book of Mormon references and strong master plot, it’s like a familiar friend who manages to surprise with a wonderful idea and an engaging story. I congratulate Joan on this fun and thoughtful read. Click here to purchase.

*Though I received an ARC of The Star Prophecy, it in no way in influenced my review.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Kind of Creature Are You?

I am a creature of habit. When I go to my favorite restaurant I usually order the same meal. If I’m daring, I might rotate between two different meals. When I vacation in a certain city, I tend to stay at the same the same hotel. I wake up at the same time every morning, whether I have work or not, and I essentially follow the same routine every day. Sounds a bit boring doesn’t it, but to me it’s comfortable. I like knowing what to expect, but I’ve got to be honest, sometimes it bores me too.

Sometimes I get in a rut and need to shake things up a bit, you know, live a little. So from time to time I’ll get wild and switch my brand of chocolate cupcake or order the Chalupa instead of a Chimichanga. I’m a wild and crazy guy.

I notice I get into similar ruts in my writing. The rut I noticed most recently is that I write everything in 3rd person. There’s nothing wrong with third person. I enjoy reading it and when I envision a story in my mind, I usually view it like I would watch a TV show or movie, which lends itself to 3rd person point of view. But I have to ask myself “Do I dare try something new?” My answer this week, is “yes”!

My first two completed manuscripts, including Defensive Tactics, and my current work in progress are all 3rd person so I decided to shake things up. This week I started another WIP in 1st person POV. I’m the last of the party animals. I have to admit, this new experiment makes me a little nervous. Can I do it? Will it suck rocks? Is it a total waste of my time? The answers are- I don’t know, I don’t know, and NO. I will never know the answer to the first two questions if I don’t try, but regardless of whether it turns into a publishable manuscript or not, my new 1st person WIP is not a waste of my time because it is forcing me to stretch and grow and experiment. So far I love it.

A couple of years ago I started writing Defensive Tactics because I was curious if I could write a novel. It was an experiment. I had never written anything before, unless you count college papers, which I don’t. I wrote my second manuscript, Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island because I love adventures and treasure hunts and I wondered if I could write a mid-grade fantasy that my kids would enjoy. My kids love it but the publishing jury is still out. In both cases I took a chance to try something new.

There is comfort and safety in sticking with habit and the familiar, but there can be excitement, challenge and reward in broadening horizons.

I have a couple of questions for you.

1- What kind of a creature are you?
2- What kind of ruts do you get into? Writing? Reading?
3- How do you get out of it?
4- How many WIP do you have going at the same time?

I would love to read your answers and learn from your wisdom.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kansas City Temple- Construction Update

Check out some of the pictures of the new Kansas City Temple. Pictures were posted yesterday on the KC Temple Construction website. http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/kansascity/construction/

It is wonderful how fast the temple is going up. In just over a year it should be completed and we'll be ready for the dedication.
It is fun to watch the progress of the temple construction. I wonder if we are all taking the time to prepare and dedicate our lives to the Lord.
Hopefully we would never just sit back and watch. We are all participants in the construction of our lives as we work to be what our Father wants us to be.

We are all at different places in our personal progress. Some of us may look like the outer steel frame, or some may look complete from the outside. Regardless of where we are, we must always focus inward to be inside what our Father knows we can be.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Review: Who's At The Door? by Dan Harrington

Who’s At The Door? is a classic “Stranger Comes to Town” master plot. In this case the “Stranger” is the full time missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dan is the hero of his own story and as is always the case, the “Stranger” enters the scene and provides a disruption, which is the basis of this page-turning memoir.

To start out, I have a couple of confessions to make. 1- I have never read a memoir before, 2- Because I am such a slow reader, I really don’t read all that often. When I say I’m slow, I mean I’m REALLY slow so for me reading is a huge commitment of time. With those two confessions made, I must tell you that I read Who’s At the Door? in one afternoon. I stretched out on the couch with the fire roaring in front of me and I lost myself in the story. Since I really didn’t know what to expect from this book, I intended to read a chapter or two to get a feel for it, but just as in good fiction, each chapter had a hook that compelled me to keep reading.

As a private person myself, I find it fascinating how Dan is able to open up and share so much of his personal thoughts and feelings with the reader. There are moments of deep thought and doctrinal searching but also many moments of fun and humor as he describes the process of getting to know and become friends with various sets of missionaries. When the missionaries first show up at his door, Dan describes the excitement he feels for having the chance to teach these hay-seed Elders a thing or two about the world. He plans to awe them with the modern contraptions like…the microwave oven and microwave popcorn. He’s sure they’ve never seen anything so wonderful in their lives. Dan quickly learns that he has some misconceptions about the Elders and the entire LDS church.

Who’s At The Door? challenges members of other faiths to evaluate their misconceptions of the Mormon Church. It also challenges members of the church to look at the culture and doctrines of the church through fresh eyes, viewing it as an investigator or returning member might. If we do this we may find ways to connect with people in a meaningful way and advance our own goals in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When a “Stranger” comes into our life, do we treat them with mistrust and fear, or are we open to learn from their unique perspectives and life history? Dan’s book is not a conversion story or even a recommendation that people investigate or join the LDS church. It is simply one man’s experience as he broadens his horizons to understand a people and a faith he previously did not know. He sought knowledge directly from the people and scriptures of the LDS faith, which is a good example to all of us. He accepted the “Strangers” into his home and grew from the experience.

After finishing the book, I had many questions so I inquired of Dan and he graciously agreed to do an interview. I posted the interview on my blog before Christmas. Check out my interview here.

In case you couldn’t tell, I recommend this book. The writing style is easy and the story is compelling. Great combination. Buy it here