Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Angel Moroni Is UP!

Approximately 1 year from now we will be celebrating with an open house and dedication of this beautiful new temple near Liberty- Right next door to our new Stake Center. AWESOME!

*These pictures were taken from the church's Temple website. Check it out for up to date construction and new pictures

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Story of Who I Am

As writers we have stories we want to tell. Some stories are sad but some are empowering. Some are hysterical while others are pathetic. We share ideas and experiences through powerful “what if” types of circumstances. We imbue our characters with heroic traits and fatal flaws because we all possess a portion of both within us and the story we tell is in many ways an extension of ourselves. We tell stories to entertain but also to educate and when all is said and done our goal is to make some kind of difference in the life of the reader, and if we accomplish that in even the smallest way, with a laugh or a cry, or sharing an “ah ha” moment, we feel successful.


Sometimes we forget that not only do we tell stories, we ARE a story that is still being written. Our lives, our pains, our successes and failures all make up the story of who we are. Every person is a story. Some stories may seem more compelling than others but that is largely due to the way in which the story is told and of course, the ending. Some stories are short while others are long but we are all in the process of writing our own story. Are we writing the kind of triumphant story we hope for or are we living a tragedy?
Are we the hero or the villain? Are we the main character or do we relegate ourselves to the periphery of our own lives, content to stand in the background to be controlled by the dominant forces around us? Do we succumb to our fatal flaws or do we overcome them in a way that would make a reader cheer and cry for joy because of our success?


Our characters grow organically in ways we never imagined. This often happens because of unique circumstances that force them to face challenges they didn’t anticipate. We too will have opportunities to grow as we face challenges we would rather skip. Life cannot be planned out perfectly to avoid every danger and pain, sadness and heartbreak, but like our characters we can have a plan. We can and should have a destination in our mind that guides us through our trials; otherwise we will wander aimlessly as mere subjects to be acted upon.


Would we care about the Lord of the Rings trilogy if Frodo Baggins gave up before finishing his mission? We couldn’t really blame him could we? His task was difficult, seemingly impossible. He could have quit, easily. He had numerous setbacks, but what value would that story have? Likewise, what value will our story have if we allow our flaws to dominate our lives? Conversely, how thrilling will our story be when we embrace our inner hero?


This is the story of who I am… The ending is yet to be written.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Movies That Inspire

Continuing in my recent theme of Favorites, I decided to list a few of the movies I find most inspiring. While story content touches different people in different ways, I believe there are some themes, or common archetypes that draw people to a story. And lest any of you be offended that some of these films are Rated R, let me just remind you that ClearPlay and TV editing are wonderful things.

First, A Few Good Men. In its most basic form, this movie is about right and wrong and pits the powerful against the weak. Our main character, JAG Attorney Caffey defends two Marines accused in the death of a fellow Marine at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Through his investigation he discovers a cover up. Just as the weak Marine at Guantanamo died because of powerful opposition, the defendants are also being railroaded because the strong wield their power unfairly. Tom Cruise’s character must decide how much he is personally willing to risk protecting those who are unable to protect themselves.

This movie is an example of strong themes people are inspired by.
1- Even in a world of confusion and moral relativism, there is right and wrong
2- Defending the weak
3- Risking yourself for the greater good
What’s not to love about a character that overcomes personal weaknesses to be an example of such courage and moral clarity?

Second, Field of Dreams. Some people think of this as only a baseball movie but they are wrong, and wrong in a BIG way. Although baseball is an integral character within the film, this movie is about a whole lot more. I still remember the feeling I had as I sat in the theater watching this in 1989. I was literally on the edge of my seat and this is not an action packed film. Instead of explosions and intrigue, this movie is about a man’s search for understanding. He wants to understand who he is and his role in this life. Even though he doesn’t know it, he wants to make up for the mistakes of his past. He wants to reconnect with his father and this happens in a most unique and emotional way.

In this story, our main character takes a leap of faith and does something totally crazy because he believes it’s the right thing to do. Even though he is wrong about WHY it is important for him to be obedient to the promptings he receives, he is right that it is important and he is rewarded in ways he never imagined.

Even though this isn’t a “spiritual” movie, there are themes of eternal truth.
1- Family relationships endure past death.
2- We receive blessings when we listen to and are obedient to promptings
3- God knows us even better than we know ourselves and he seeks to bless us with what we need most.
4- Faith is rewarded after it is tested

Finally, The Shawshank Redemption is based on the Stephen King Novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Yes it is by Stephen King. No, there are no monsters or supernatural evil powers at play. The only evil we have to worry about in this movie is the real evil found in man, which is often more frightening than an imagined Boogeyman.

After being imprisoned for the murder of his wife, Andy Dufresne learns to cope with the despair of being confined. He watches and learns from the way other prisoners manage their imprisonment and eventual freedom. He builds lasting friendships and is able to serve others, even within the walls of prison. I don’t want to give anything away in case you haven’t seen this, but if you haven’t, shame on you. I suggest you rectify this problem immediately. This movie motivates and inspires and the payoff at the end…WOW!

So what do we learn and feel from Shawshank Redemption?
1- Though life isn’t always fair we will eventually earn our just reward
2- Hope is the leaven of life. Without it, life is a prison of drudgery and despair.
3- Freedom is often a state of mind. With the right attitude a man can be free, even in prison, or in bondage, even while enjoying physical liberty.

I want to watch all of these movies again. They are FANTASTIC! I highly recommend, them, though again, remember clearplay or TV editing may help you to fully enjoy the movie without the distractions of bad language. I don’t think any of these films would be listed in the “Inspirational” genre but all are inspirational to me. Each of the main characters in these films overcome obstacles that would likely stop the best among us. They become stronger, better people through their efforts. These movies and their characters appeal to emotions and common themes that I think are held common by all of us. Prove me wrong.
Put these films on your queue and enjoy! Prepare to be inspired. What movies inspire you and why?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The 4 C's of Writing Emotion

I’ve recently been thinking about favorites. What makes a book one of my favorites? Why do I like a particular movie better than all others and what makes a song something I need to hear over and over. As I’ve created lists of favorite movies, books and songs lately I’ve realized that in each case, the book, the movie or song speaks to me and touches my emotions. It tells me a story and makes me feel something. Maybe it reminds me of a pain I’ve felt or makes me laugh at something stupid I’ve done. But ultimately, if I’m going to reread, re-watch or re-listen, I want to feel good at the end. This doesn’t mean everything needs to end perfectly in a utopian world with kittens and unicorns, but after being reminded of the sting of life I want to feel hope that things can be better and that even the most challenging struggles can be overcome. Some people prefer tragedies but I prefer hope.

In lending we determine an individual’s credit worthiness based on the 3 C’s: Capacity (ability to repay), Collateral (security), and Character (the likelihood that someone will repay- i.e. credit history). Today I’d like to refer the 4 C’s of writing with emotion. Perhaps we can evaluate the emotional worthiness of our work to make sure we pack the emotional punch we intend in connecting with our readers.

How do we convey the emotion that we want our reader to experience? Answer: the 4 C’s.

Content- This is the stimulus, or substance of what is meant to elicit the emotion. Maybe it’s the tragic death of family, or a child, or the pain of unrequited love. Maybe it’s the fear caused by physical danger or emotional distress. In Defensive Tactics, Jimmy faces each of these emotional situations as he overcomes the tragic loss of loved ones. He finds himself in physical danger when he is unwittingly drawn into the heat of an FBI investigation. The themes must be broad enough to appeal to a large audience but feel personal enough to help the reader empathize and relate.

Conflict- This is the turmoil and tension created by the emotional situation. This drives the story forward and grips the reader by the throat to let them know, “You’d better keep reading. You can’t stop now.” This prompts us to read on so we can find out what happens to Jimmy.

Context- The emotion must advance the story, not act as a distraction. The emotional situation has to fit into the action of the story and not serve only itself. It needs to mean something in the larger scheme of things. How does the fear of physical harm move the reader? How does the understanding of Jimmy’s tragic past make us care about his future? How do we allow a glimmer of hope to penetrate the gloom of Jimmy’s life?

Character- If we don’t care about the character, we don’t care about the story. If I don’t feel a connection or have an emotional investment in the individual, I won’t care about what happens to him. I won’t tear up when he sits alone in a chapel, staring comatose at an infant casket and I won’t cheer for him when he starts caring for others more than himself. I must be able to invest in the character enough that I will invest my emotion in his story.

These 4 C’s must weave together, binding the reader to the story. Hopefully at the end, the reader will think about the characters and maybe even apply a lesson or two to their own lives. Hopefully, we will leave the reader feeling an emotional connection to the story so that the next time someone asks them if they’ve read any good books lately, they’ll remember ours.

What books have you invested in emotionally?

Book Review: StarScout Rising by Gary Darby

There is no question about it. Star Scout Rising: First Trail by Gary Darby is hard core science fiction. This book is exactly what it claims to be.
You'll get a good feel for the book by reading the blurb on the back cover:
"The thundering acid tsunami raced towards Del as he tried in vain to pilot his damaged scouter out of its path. Tremors ran through the ship as it lost altitude and speed. Del had only one option, to dive the craft deep into the lake of acid ahead of the wave. Del glanced at his controls and wondered, 'would the bulkheads hold when the scouter slammed into the lake surface? Did the little ship have enough juice to power through the thick goo?'
Del didn't know. He only knew he had but one chance to save his ship and his comrades. With one final look back at the speeding swell, Del tipped the nose of the scouter over in a downward arc toward the orange liquid and the dark depths below."
This book is filled with creative details of space exploration and political intrigue as well as heroic rescues and tests of loyalty to friends and comrades. It has villains to despise and heroes to admire. I congratulate Mr. Darby on publishing this first volume of the planned Star Scout Trilogy. It is a monumental feat to complete a first novel and I wish him great success.
Having said that, I do have reservations about the book. I consider myself a sci-fi fan but maybe not hard core enough to fully enjoy this book. While I appreciate the intricacies of the plot and character development, as well as the clean reading it provides, I found parts of the action to be over the top and some of the elements to be a bit familiar. This very well could be more a reflection on the reader than the work. I would recommend this book to the die hard sci-fi enthusiast. To the casual sci-fi reader like me, expect to dive in to the deep end of hard core sci-fi entertainment.
You can purchase StarScout Rising here.
Best of luck Gary.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Music That Makes Me Feel Something!

Yesterday as I was driving in the car with my daughter, a GREAT song came on the radio. She immediately reached over to change the channel but I wouldn't let her. I told her that this is one of my Top 10 favorite songs of all time. That got me thinking about why it was one of my Top 10 favorite songs. There is a lot of great music. What is so special about this song? Do my other favorites share a commonality? The answer is yes. Each song makes me feel something emotionally.

I love music! It touches my heart in a way few things can. In high school I was very involved in choirs and in college this morphed into writing music. I write lyrics that mean something to me and I put them to a melody that matches the story and sentiment. Then I try to figure out how to play it on the piano or guitar. I play and sing the words that I wrote and remember the emotion I was feeling at the time I wrote the lyrics.

The music of my favorite artists penetrates deep and I greatly appreciate the skill with which they share their feelings about loss or pain, hope, redemption, love, dreams and heartache. Here are a few of my favorites.

Steve's Top 10
Fire and Rain.............................................James Taylor
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me.........Elton John
Let It Be.................................................... Beatles
The Dance................................................. Garth Brooks
Redemption Song..................................... Bob Marley
Everybody Hurts..................................... REM
Goodnight Saigon..................................... Billy Joel
I'm Not Ready to Make Nice.................. Dixie Chicks
Dream On................................................. Aerosmith
The Story................................................. Brandi Carlile
*One Day More....................................... Les Miserables (Honorable Mention)

Undoubtedly, your favorites will be different. What music touches you?
FYI- Most of these can be found on my playlist at the bottom of the blog.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ugly Characters Rock!

Recently I did a blog post about female characters we love. I enjoy sassy, strong willed, intelligent, creative, feisty female characters like Veronica Mars. This got me thinking about male characters I enjoy and I realized I like ugly characters. I don't know why but the uglier, the better.

Case 1- Guerrero from TV's Human Target played by Jackie Earle Haley. I don't mean to denegrate the man because of his looks, but...he's no Christopher Chance and that's the way I like it.

Like the female characters I mentioned, Guerrero has an uncanny ability to do whatever it takes to get the job done. He is super tough, sarcastic and can even be cruel. Even though he's a small man, I do not doubt for a second that he would bury me in a heartbeat if I crossed him, yet he's loyal to those he respects. If I were to create my own justice league of non-super tough guys, Guerrero would be on my team.
Guerrero is complicated. He runs on both sides of the law and is ethically challenged, yet he is consistent within his own morality.

Case 2- Ron Howard's Brother (AKA Clint Howard)

In case you think I am being rude, in the credits for The Waterboy, Clint's acting credit is listed as "Ron Howard's brother".

This is an ugly man, but I mean that lovingly. His unusual appearance, just like Guerrero, adds depth and reality to the characters he portrays. Not everyone can look like George Clooney or Brad Pitt (thank goodness- though some female readers may disagree), but I love that he is comfortable in his own skin. Not every man should be a leading man, but every character should add layers, contrast and conflict to a story.

These ugly characters do just that.
When we write our characters, I hope we make them unique in some way. Not every person in the world is beautiful. Every character we write should be interesting in some way, but they don't have to be a gorgeous movie star, because even some movie stars are ugly.
What characteristics do you appreciate in male characters?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Portrait of A Mother- By Michael Young

Back a number of months ago, Cedar Fort Publishing ran a contest to find a short story for a Mother's Day booklet they are releasing this year. I thought this was a wonderful idea so I spent time mulling over some ideas that I would like to write. I never did write my story but that's okay because Michael Young wrote one and I love it.
Michael was announced as the winner of the contest and the short story is ready for release on March 8, just in time for Mother's Day. For $2.99 (less than the price of many greeting cards) you can purchase this beautiful short story in a lovely booklet. The story is sweet and really shares the feelings we all have for our mothers. Your mother will truly appreciate it.
You can pre-order Portrait of A Mother here.
For more information about Michael Young and his last novel, The Canticle Kingdom, check out the review and interview I did with him back in November. He is a very interesting and talented guy.
You just can't go wrong buying this as a gift for your mother this year.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

T= r(eliability) + d(elight)

We all know that trust is hard to earn but easy to lose, kind of like money. Without trust, society plummets into chaos so it is important to build and maintain relationships of trust.
Why would we work if we didn't trust that we would be paid by our employer for our effort? Why would we marry if we didn't trust our spouse to be loyal and loving? Why would we invest our time in an activity if we didn't trust that we would find some value? The answer to these questions is...We Wouldn't and We Don't.
Another way of saying we don't "trust" someone or something, is saying that we don't "believe" they will do what they say they will do. We base these judgements on our own experience and the trusted experience of others. If I work at my job and my paycheck bounces, I have lost trust in my employer because I don't believe my employer is reliable enough to pay me. I don't believe I will experience the benefit from the work. At this point it may be difficult to rebuild my trust in that employer. If it is possible to regain trust it will take time and consistent demonstration from that point on that I will be paid on time and my check will not bounce.
Trust also plays a role in how we choose our media, be it books, TV, movies, music or internet news. Let me share a simple formula for trust that I recently came across.
r is Reliability and d is Delight
Maybe this is too simplistic but lets take a look. If I value reading books that don't glorify inappropriate sexual relationships, foul language or excessive violence and gore I will seek out those kinds of books from sources I trust. I will trust those sources because they have demonstrated to me that they are reliable in their clean content and I will delight in reading a story that jives with my moral sensibilities. Through my personal experience and the experiences of others who I place my trust in, I believe that I can find good, clean reading through publishers and writers that cater to the LDS audience. If I were to purchase a book from a trusted publisher or author and found graphic sex, language and violence in that book, the trust would be broken. If, after a period of time I found them to be reliable again so I could delight in the reading, my trust in them would be restored.
In business we call this "Know your customer" and in writing we would call it "Know your audience". "Trust comes from meeting and beating customer expectations." We must know who we are writing for. We must know what their expectations are and we must be consistent in both the quality of the story we tell and the content with which we tell it. If we fail to meet the expectations of our readers we will lose their trust.
I used the example of clean, PG rated reading as something I value and expect but in every aspect of writing we can either build or destroy trust. We can build trust through our style, language, plot strength, believability of characters, so on and so forth.
As we prove ourselves to be reliable in providing quality, well-crafted stories that are clean and appropriate we will bring delight to our readers. When the reader delights in our book they will seek out our next book. They will return to our publisher for similar books and we will have established a valuable relationship of trust.
What can an author do to gain the trust of his reader?
Has an author ever lost your trust? How or why?