Monday, June 23, 2014

30 things that made me happy this weekend

One of the best things to happen to me since moving into my current ward has been a calling to teach Sunbeams.  I love the kids, and it's been so great getting to spend all three hours of church with my wife and son.  The experience has also been a valuable reminder of the basics of the Gospel and of just being a good person--something that I feel like I've sorely needed.  I feel spiritually refreshed every time I go to Primary.

Our lesson this week was on feelings.  Close to the end of class we tossed around a beanbag, and whoever caught it had to share one thing that made them happy.  For me this was a powerful lesson on finding joy in life no matter one's circumstances.  It's amazing how much happier you can feel when you name even the littlest things that make you happy; happiness is that simple! 

So, I thought I'd share the joy and list thirty of the little things that made me happy this weekend: 

  1. Sharing delicious peanut butter squares with my mom.
  2. Fresh-picked cherries from my parents' tree.
  3. Helping my wife with her work.
  4. Releasing butterflies into the wild.
  5. Showing up late to our apartment complex pool party and getting an entire pizza for free.
  6. Impromptu picnic with ward members.
  7. Helpful feedback from my writing group.
  8. Leslie Gilliams' discovery of doughnut making on Master Chef.
  9. Celebrating a friend's birthday.
  10. A morning walk.
  11. Helping friends move (though the fact of their moving is another story).
  12. Hanging out with the guys from my elders quorum.
  13. Talking literature with a neighbor.
  14. Cuddling with my wife.
  15. Getting three loads of laundry washed, folded, and put away all in the same day.
  16. Playing Magic: the Gathering with my brother-in-law.
  17. Chess.
  18. Buttery popcorn.
  19. New library books.
  20. Driving with the windows down.
  21. Finding out that I actually really like blueberry Pop Tarts.
  22. How cute my baby looked in his new shirt.
  23. Talking on the phone with my brother I never get to see.
  24. Taking the sacrament.
  25. Our Primary kids.
  26. The adult round of the "hot-cold" game in singing time.
  27. Hallway conversations with friends after church.
  28. A great conversation with my wife about links between science and scripture.
  29. A timely Family Home Evening lesson.
  30. My son's obsession with his toy giraffe.  (Completely heart melting!)
Now it's your turn to be happy.  What things brightened your weekend?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Process (Blog Tour)

Writers all around the blogosphere lately have been sharing their insights on their personal writing processes.  Reading a few of their posts, it's fascinating to see how differently everyone approaches their writing: what inspires them, why they write what they write, how they get their words on the page.  Fellow writer and personal friend Rachel Frost extended the invitation to me to share my own writing process with the world, and I'm excited to give you all a little glimpse into my methods.


What am I working on?

University writing classes have kept me working on short stories the past few months, and it's been a fantastic laboratory for testing all sorts of writing techniques.  One story, "Murray's Diner," brings a truck driver and a highway chef together who are both nursing wounds of disappointment.  The two become fast friends, but soon a dark secret is revealed that turns everything upside down.  There's a spaceship, cops, and a really delicious hamburger, and I'm probing around various literary magazines right now to get the story published later this year.

My current project is another short story called "The Fairy Godfather."  A high school senior discovers he has a fairy godfather when he asks a jock's girlfriend to prom.  The cultural connotations to "godfather" apply here, with a healthy dose of magic and organized crime.  I've completed one draft of the story, which is so terrible I'm ashamed to own it.  But it's in the editing process now and getting better.  My greatest challenge with "The Fairy Godfather" is that I have so many ideas that can't possibly fit into the short space required by my writing instructor, but after I've finished a few other projects I hope to come back and expand it into a YA novel.

My biggest project, and definitely my favorite, is a science fiction novel.  The current working title is Exodus, recently changed and likely to change again.  A global nuclear crisis has forced mankind into permanent orbit around its home world.  But there is more to the exodus than what the government has let on.  When police agent Roy Barrows discovers these disturbing secrets for himself, he joins an eclectic group of revolutionaries--which include a gambler, a singer, a thief, and a journalist--to expose the government and restore humanity to its terrestrial home.  With so much to gain, however, there is just as much to lose.  I've been working on Exodus off and on since I was eleven or twelve, but now I'm pushing to finally get it finished.  If I only ever publish one story, I want it to be this one!

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

What makes Exodus different from other sci-fi is that I'm really not into technology--at all--and that's reflected in my writing (my characters don't even have cell phones).  A lot of sci-fi tends to be about the technology; the story is merely a means for demonstrating things like a time machine, or a spaceship, or artificial intelligence.  This isn't true of all sci-fi, but we've all seen it.

In Exodus, civilization has moved into orbiting cities.  But that's just a backdrop; it's not what the story's actually about.  Exodus is really about how long Roy can stand against forces more powerful than he is.  It's about whether Em's gentle nature can win out over repeated heartbreaks.  It's about whether Roulette can learn to make her own decisions, and whether Lars can make peace with his.  It's about whether Wallace and Finch can put aside their game of cat and mouse and work together toward a greater good.  All the sci-fi element does is introduce these characters to each other.

Why do I write what I do?

My answer to this question is constantly evolving.  Exodus actually started out as a movie, simply inspired by things I had built with Lego.  I put in months and months of work building scenes, storyboarding, and animating.  I learned a lot about film making, but it was so much work for one twelve-year-old kid to do that eventually I figured I should just write my movie as a book.

So, originally, I was writing this story just because it was fun.  My ideas weren't very deep; I was just playing with Lego, and I wanted to share the adventure with the rest of the world.  As the story has changed over the years, so have my reasons for writing it, but fundamentally I just have a story to tell that I hope will leave a lasting impression on whoever will read it.  In general I write to inspire feeling, and if I leave even just one reader feeling something at the end of a story or a chapter, or even a paragraph, I believe I have succeeded as a writer.

How does my writing process work?

I would describe my writing process as less writing and more living.  You don't have to limit yourself to writing what you know, but the more you know, the better.  Getting away from the notebook and the computer screen is one of the very best things you can do for your writing.  I've found inspiration and observed details everywhere, but here are a few of the writing tools I've used the most frequently:

  • Reading--A great way to learn how to write is by observation.  Reading in the genre you're writing is great advice, but in addition I would just as strongly recommend reading nonfiction.  There is so much to be learned from reality.  History is full of deep, well-rounded characters that actually lived.  The world is full of interesting, unique places.  And knowing how things really work can add so much depth to any work of fiction.  Don't know where to start?  I recommend Candice Millard's The River of Doubt, an account of Theodore Roosevelt's Amazon adventure. 
  • Music--Music fuels my writing.  I use it in two ways: either I seek to write the scene that I see when a particular song is playing, or I seek to write a scene that makes me feel the same way a particular song makes me feel.  It would be difficult to identify any part of Exodus that wasn't associated with at least one specific song on my iPod.  
  • Lego--I've already mentioned how Lego inspired Exodus, but it actually comes in handy quite often.  Over the years I've amassed such a Lego collection that I have well over a thousand minifigures (conservative estimate).  With all the options available to me to mix and match, sometimes I use that to create my characters.  Or, if I've already come up with a certain character, building that person in Lego has helped me know how to describe him or her.  
Roulette Fortuna and her father Lars, from Exodus
When it comes to actually writing, I prefer a computer for speed and ease of editing.  I'm most comfortable sitting on the living room couch with my laptop.  I don't give myself a time limit; rather, I make content-based goals.  Usually I aim to write a page a day, and I edit as I go.  I write with a basic outline, but I let the story go where it wants to.  For example, I wrote a scene in Exodus where Roy is shocked to discover slaves in a government facility.  I was surprised, too.  Okay, so the story has slavery now, I said to myself.  I can work with that.  My advice to any writer is to trust your story; it knows what it needs to be.  

When I feel like my work is ready to be workshopped, I take it to my writing group for feedback, then go over it again.  Writing is a lot like washing your hair: lather, rinse, and repeat.  There should be no rush to get to a final draft.  

Next on the tour. . . .

Well, this has been fun.  I don't know who else to invite, but go read Rachel's post!  And if you're a writer, too, tell me a little about your process in the comments!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Like a dying fire the sky roared orange, softened to a pale rose, and faded into the smoky blue of twilight. Crickets chirped while the last of the day’s burning embers cooled into nighttime ash. A new star appeared over the high plains of New Mexico, the first faint dab of light on a darkening heavenly canvas. It glowed brighter and brighter as it expanded, doubling in size with every passing second. Suddenly the cosmic fireball hurtled over the plain, dropping fast in its hellish track across the sky, its shrill whistle drowning out the song of the crickets.

The earth shook with the star’s violent crash. The crickets paused, waited for the rumbling to cease. Silence overtook the plain.

Then, a single, hesitant chirp.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I'm glad some things didn't work out

I'm glad I couldn't say ch or j until I was six years old.

I'm glad I never won the spelling bee.

I'm glad I broke my leg in fifth grade and had to learn how to walk again.

I'm glad my Spanish teacher chewed me out on the first day of seventh grade.

I'm glad I wasn't one of the popular kids in junior high.

I'm glad I spent two days throwing up in the snow on my first fifty mile hike.

I'm glad I didn't make the honors program in eighth and ninth grade.

I'm glad I wasn't placed in the front of the violin section sophomore year.

I'm glad I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at age fifteen.

I'm glad I had to perform some last-minute miracles to graduate high school.

I'm glad I was required to work one Christmas Eve in my job as a debt collector.

I'm glad I never had a girlfriend before my mission.

I'm glad I had to wait till college to get an article printed in the school paper.  

I'm glad Egypt got too dangerous the semester I wanted to study abroad.

I'm glad the University of Utah rejected my application.

I'm glad it took me so long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  

I'm glad some things didn't work out, because they made room for the things that did.  

Two years ago today I took a pretty girl out on a first date.  Now, we're happily married in the temple with a baby coming any day.  We have a nice apartment in the town where we both grew up, and I'm doing what I love in school.  

Not to brag, or anything, but my life is amazing.  

It's also been full of trials and disappointments.  And thank goodness for those!  I shudder to think where I would be without them.  It hasn't been easy, but it's been a great life so far.  Here's to the road ahead--the ups and the downs. 

"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly."
--Thomas Paine

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.
--Romans 8:28

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The North Wind and the Sun

The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.

"We shall have a contest," said the Sun.

Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.

"As a test of strength," said the Sun, "Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man."

"It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat," bragged the Wind.

The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.

Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.

The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.

Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

"How did you do that?" said the Wind.

"It was easy," said the Sun, "I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way."

--Aesop's Fables

This little tale was on my mind a lot this afternoon.  During my lunch break at school I took a stroll around the courtyard, and it was so beautiful outside that I took off my jacket and found a bench to sit on.  First day of the year without a jacket!  I was in heaven.  

Spring is evidence that God loves His children.  We're not done with February yet, but Heavenly Father is giving us a little taste of warm weather to let us know we're almost there.  He's great like that.

Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
--Psalm 116:5

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life, the Universe, and Everything

My wife and I had a blast this weekend going with some friends to Life, the Universe, and Everything, a convention centered around writing science fiction and fantasy.  Many published authors were in attendance, with some big names like David Farland, Brandon Sanderson, and Orson Scott Card, all offering advice on a variety of topics that included tension and drama, character development, making the most of writing time, and selling a finished novel.  If you want to become a better writer--in any genre--it's a great idea to go at least once.

Being a creative writing major at Utah Valley University, I found this weekend's convention to be a wonderful supplement to my education.  Some of the best advice I've ever received came from Henry J. Eyring, whose grandfather said to find something you love doing so much that you think about it when you don't have to think about anything.  Well, if this is how I spent my weekend, I must be on the right track.

But I got more out of it than just writing tips.

In several discussions there were people who asked how to promote their books once they got published.  The question was answered by a different author every time, but the answer was always the same:

You've got to talk to people about your book.  Talk to everyone.  Do book tours, do social media, visit schools--be committed.  Word of mouth is the fastest way your book will get attention.

My first thought was, That sounds like being a missionary.

And that's when the Spirit called me to repentance.

I'm currently writing a novel that's sort of a mash-up of Wall-E and Final Fantasy, with a tiny bit of Battlestar Galactica thrown in.  I love talking about it.  I was explaining one little aspect of the story to my wife one day and an hour or two later she knew the book pretty much from beginning to end.  

But you know, that stuff's not important.  Not really.

If I loved talking about the Book of Mormon as much as I love talking about my novel, I'd make a greater difference in the world.  That's not to diminish the impact that fiction makes on people's lives; I can list all sorts of books that have touched me and made me a better person.  But pure truth, the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is more powerful than any other written word.  It changes lives more deeply than anything else.  Reading The Little Prince taught me how to build better relationships with people.  The Book of Mormon teaches me how to build a stronger, more personal relationship with God.  The question of priorities should be a no-brainer!

If I'm willing to talk about my novel and gain readership, I ought to be talking about the scriptures even more.  They've changed my life.  They've opened my heart and my mind to my Heavenly Father, and because of that, I have access to the aid of the most powerful, loving being in the universe every single day.  He's there for me.  He's actually in my life, and it's real.

It's real.

And that's what the world needs the most.

Thus my attempt to begin blogging again.  Mine is only one testimony.  But it is a testimony, and that's the most important thing I can give as a writer.

And you don't even have to take my word for it; just follow this link!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Our Trial in the Mountains Made Us Men

At age thirteen I took a heavy pack
And in the mountains, with the other boys,
I made a home I carried on my back
Away from all the bustling city’s noise.
We'd walk for fifty miles before we came
Again to plumbing and electric light.
By night we lounged around an open flame,
By day enjoyed the panoramic sight
Of places no one else had ever been—
At least they seemed untouched by human hands.
Our trial in the mountains made us men,
And still we dream most fondly of those lands.
But nothing was so sweet as were our beds
When in the end those pillows met our heads.

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