08 May 2009

Moroni Had a Mother

Moroni had a mother. Mormon had a mother. Despite the stripling warriors getting all the credit for a superior education, Helaman too had a mother.

I’ve thought a lot about these women over the past several years. I’ve tried to imagine how Moroni’s mother felt when he whipped out that Title of Liberty, prepared to take on Amalickiah—and all the hosts of hell, if need be. There was a time I would have guessed that her heart filled with righteous pride, but now I know better. Most likely, she smiled when Moroni came home on leave, but the minute he returned to the front lines she cried, Why you? There are men everywhere! Why don’t they go? Why can’t you till the earth, tend the flocks, preach the gospel . . . weave baskets . . . do anything but risk your heart and soul in battle?

I think it’s even harder to send a son off to war in this dispensation. After all, the Nephites knew their sons were fighting for their lives. As Americans and Latter-day Saints, we support our government and cherish our freedom, but we prefer to do it from a safe distance. “Good” little Mormon boys are not groomed for the military. Primary and Mutual are designed to prepare our kids for marriage, college, and missions—not boot camp. Think about it. Who hopes to be called on the kind of mission where they’ll carry a gun with their Book of Mormon? It is not surprising then that when a bright, active LDS kid from a good family turns nineteen and enters not the MTC but the USMC, nobody knows what to say. Nobody knows what to think. This, of course, includes the guy’s mother.

Even living in one of the most supportive wards in the Church doesn’t help as much as you’d think it would. While not a single week passes without a public prayer offered for the men and women in the military, it is done at the request of the bishop—who means it—and uttered by rote by people who mostly do not. My husband and I are often asked for an account of our sons’ well-being, but the people who ask often do so in low voices, as if it shames us to have sons in the service “instead” of serving the Lord. (The Lord Himself does not consider the two mutually exclusive.) Indisputably, a young person’s willingness to live or die for his country is not as admirable in our culture as it is curious. Unfortunately, the way some people react to it is even curious-er. Another of my favorite examples: since his enlistment, my youngest son has received a monthly ward letter that is always addressed Dear Elders (and Matt). That Matt is also an elder never occurred to its author; perhaps because his name badge was of the desert-camouflage variety.

This is not meant as criticism. I don’t know what to make of those boys of mine, either. The only thing that surprised me more than my youngest son’s determination to become a Marine was my eldest son’s enlistment in the Army after a two-year mission for the Church. I swear we used the same Family Home Evening manual and attended the same meetings as the rest of you. Curious and curious-er, say Alice and I. Sure, I’ve always believed that a well-trained, well-equipped, all-volunteer military must be maintained to ensure the rest of us continuing our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness, but I also assumed somebody else’s kids would take the job.

Even though it didn’t work out that way, I am here to report that it is all behind us now—as of this very morning, in fact. After half a decade of viewing life through an olive-drab looking-glass, we have returned to the somewhat less-surreal world of civilians. My youngest returned from Okinawa a few weeks ago, and my eldest left White Sands last night. They will both be home for Mother’s Day. They are alive. Healthy. Whole. As holy as they ever were—which is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

I can’t contain the gratitude that fills my heart, but I know that when I have my children all together for the first time in years, not every tear I shed will be for joy. I will never be able to forget other women who are not so blessed. As I celebrate Mothers Day, other mothers all over the country (world) will wait by the phone for their children to report in from life-missions foreign, domestic, religious, and military. Some military moms will not hear a loved one’s voice because their sons are too deep within Iraq, Afghanistan, or South America to reach a phone. These women are blessed, and they know it. (The phrase “no news is good news” was coined in time of war.) They recognize their good fortune because every one of them knows of a mother who will spend her special day at the bedside of a hurt or maimed child. Even these latter count themselves fortunate because what mother in our country does not know of another whose beloved never came home at all?

God bless us, every one.

Moroni was a man who did not delight in bloodshed but whose soul did joy in the freedom of his country. He pledged his life to the welfare of his people because his heart swelled with thanksgiving to God for the privileges and blessings bestowed upon them. No doubt his mother’s heart was also swollen with many emotions; surely she carried equal parts fear and longing side-by-side with hope and faith. Moroni was not young when he left the service, but I like to imagine that his mother reached an exceedingly old age. (If I were even half as talented as David or Heather, I would write a book to make it so, if only in fiction.) I truly hope she lived long enough to see her beloved son retire to his own house to spend the remainder of his days in peace.

My sons’ service was not as remarkable as Moroni’s, but the remainder of their days are hopefully much, much longer. (I expect more prayerful preparation, leadership, and service from them both.) In the meantime, they have dedicated a portion of their youth to serving their country while remaining true to their God. I appreciate and admire them for that. How well I remember the Family Home Evening we hung a brass “Return with Honor” sign on our front door and discussed its meaning. My sons did not go where I thought they would go, or do what I thought they would do, but I know beyond doubt they served well, magnified their priesthood, and righteously impacted countless lives. I know I am blessed beyond measure to see them return safely home . . . and with honor.

Not even Moroni’s mother would ask for anything more.

06 February 2009

Interview with Janette Rallison

Janette Rallison is a very busy lady. She is also the most dedicated, giving, and all-around nice person you'll ever meet. I had only to sound just a little desperate (and more than a little pathetic) and she dropped everything to answer your questions. ALL of them. I hope you appreciate this even half as much as I do!

This then is the blog you hoped it would be!

What was Janette's path to publication in the national market?
I wrote a book that would work in the national market, sent it to an agent that some SCBWI folks suggested, and after about a year of waiting and anguish while it was shopped around, I had Tim Travaglini at Walker Books (He's now at Putnam) convinced that I could write well. Tim is brilliant.

If this book is turned into a movie, will Janette make sure it stays true to the book or will she let them tweak it?
My Fair Godmother was over 300 pages and the average movie script is a 100 pages, so it goes without saying that most books are tweaked for the movies. I hate to think of 200 pages being chopped/condensed and rewritten, but that's just the way it is.

Seriously, now, I read you biography on your website, and know that you've written several other books, mostly young adult novels. Have you any plans to write a novel aimed at us more ... mature persons?
You're in luck, mature persons reading this, I did write some LDS romances and a Sci-fi novel under the name Sierra St. James. And they're great books too.

If casting were completely up to you, who would be in the movie? Did you have a mental image of any of these people in mind as you created your characters?
I love the guys from Prince Caspian so I would probably cast Ben Barnes as Hunter and William Moseley as Tristan. Savannah and Jane would be a little harder because you would have to find actresses that looked like sisters.

Here is my question. When do you find time to write with 5 kids? I have 3 and it's tough to get in the mood to write when there is so much to do.
At first I wrote during nap time, then at favorite show time, then at preschool time. I even wrote long hand while nursing. I paid older kids to play with the younger kids so I could write. You don't get much written when you have little kids but if you can manage a page or two a day then you can have a book written in less than a year.

I'd be interested in knowing if she plans on writing anymore fantasy books and if she would ever do more writing about any other fairy tales or myths (like Greek and Roman Hera & Aphrodite, etc myths).Yes, I want to do more fantasy. And although I hadn't really planned on doing a sequel to My Fair Godmother, I left it open so I could, and it looks like the book is doing well enough that I might--so I'll need to come up with some more fairy tales to send people to.

Now, for the question: In Kerry's quote, Janette's discussion of the power of the wish shows an interesting perception of the strength and courage necessary to change. Do you feel any of that ambivalence as you head towards a movie after breaking into the national market?
No, actually I only feel like squealing like a teenage girl. The producer called me today and I was barely capable of coherent speech. I told him I was a big fan of Sky High so he is sending me an official Sky High backpack. How cool is that? I mean, even if the book never makes it to the theaters, I'll have a Sky High backpack. What was the question again? (You see how I go all incoherent while talking about the possibility of a movie.)

That said, Chrissy really is right about wishes. Sometimes they do swallow you whole. How many of us who sit down at our computers with the intent to write a book and then get it published and market it, feel like that wish has swallowed us whole?

If you can you tell how lovingly jealous we(well, me)are, will you tell us what wish you made that changed you/your writing so you could do all this?When I started out in my writing group all my friends were wishing that their books would get published. I decided not to wish for that because I thought: what if it happened but my book wasn't really any good? That would be worse. Everyone would know I was a horrible writer and wonder how I got published, and people would trash my book, and it would end up on sale for .99 in the bargain bin. (That happens, by the way, even to good books.)

So I decided to wish that I would become a good writer and I read writing books, took classes on writing, and went to conferences. That is always my advice to budding writers: Don't worry about getting published so much. Worry about learning the craft of writing, then publishing becomes easier.

Where did you learn so much about wishes?
High school where I spent a lot of time wishing I would get noticed by certain young men and other things that didn’t happen.

If Ms. Rallison could have three wishes of her own, what would they be?A self cleaning house would be right up there on the list. So would world peace, but I might put the self cleaning house before world peace (which shows you what kind of person I am.) I'd probably also wish to rule the world or something like that which would end up not making me happy at all. But think of the changes you could make if you ruled the world. I could, for example, dictate that spelling had to make sense from here on out. Goodbye silent p in pnemonia and in alphabet and all sorts of other places Ps don't belong like psychiatry.

Does Ms. Rallison give her story characters any of her own personal traits?
Always. Which is why they usually have a weakness for chocolate and are lousy drivers. They also tend to embarrass themselves.

My question: Does your bishop ask you to speak in sacrament more often after you were published and are you in your ward or stake YW presidency? Just kidding about the second part. None of my business.
Nope, perhaps they're worried what I'm going to say. (Although I do get asked to write camp skits and road shows. It turns out that's not an entirely bad thing. I got the idea for My Fair Godmother from a road show I wrote. Go fractured fairy tale theme! The original was called Beauty and the Priest. And right now I'm in Primary. I love it!

What use of metaphor in your recent release did you enjoy writing the most? And which use of metaphor do you think was used to the most dramatic impact?
In the fairy's report at the beginning of the novel I talk about predatory guys being sharks. It was fun to play a little bit with that image since I don't usually use a lot of literary symbolism in my books. My publisher wanted me to take out the whole report and I had to sort of fight them over it. I liked the report, and besides I was afraid that if the reader didn't get to see the situation from Jane's side first, everyone would hate Jane and Hunter and would be waiting for Savannah to take revenge. I didn't want the book to be about revenge.

How long did it take you to write this book? I remember from reading her blog a while ago that she was trying to write a book in two months, and I'm curious if this is the one.
Nope, that wasn't this one. This one probably took around six months.

In the past year, what is one of your favorite book signing experiences?
I did one in my old neighborhood and got to see all of my old friends. It was sort of like a funeral, only I didn't have to die for it.

Okay, my question: Having read quite a few of your books (and owning even more) where do come up with your ideas? And please keep them coming???!!!I get ideas from my teenagers and from my own mind that likes to wander far too much when I should be paying attention to things like driving the car.

I have a question! Is she going to write a sequel to her sci-fi novel Time Riders now that it is getting published by Desert Book soon? :)
I hope so. Echo is one of my all time favorite characters.

My question is: Does Janette plan on continuing in the YA market or will she consider writing adult fiction?Both! And I wish I had more time!

After many and deep thinking things in my brain, the only question that I came up with is, do you find writing a little everyday helps you be more creative?
Yes, and another side effect is that my house is a mess. Oh well.

Will you play a cameo part in the movie, like Stephenie Meyer did? If so, what would you like to play?
That would be so cool. If and when they start filming it, I'll have to beg the producer and see if they'll let me walk across the background or something.

What time of day are you more productive - morning? evening?
Anytime my family isn't around is what works best for me.

Do you write longhand, or are you computer oriented?
Mostly I write on the computer but if I'm out watching a soccer game or something I take a notebook and write long hand.

Can you write with life going on around you - or do you need quiet?

I need it quiet, definitely.

To read more about this very talented writer, visit her website and her blogsite!

Thanks, Janette!

30 January 2009

My Fair(no Y) Godmother

There’s one thing I’ve wondered my whole life. It’s not the meaning of existence or why bad things happen to good people. I’ve wondered why Cinderella was able to leave behind a glass slipper. Does that make sense to you? Ella’s ball gown turned back into rags, her carriage once again became a pumpkin, and her horses shrank back into vermin—albeit mice pleased to find themselves in more upscale digs. Why then, when the clock struck midnight, didn’t her glass slippers disappear with the tiara and jewels?

Yeah. It’s really bothered me, too.

Thankfully, after years of anguished questioning, I read the simple (and simply brilliant) explanation in My Fair Godmother. (And if you think I’m just going to tell you, you’ve got another think coming. Read the book; that’s undoubtedly the best advice I’ll give you this year.)

I wrote too many book reports in school to enjoy revisiting it in my old age, so you’re out of luck there. But I will say that if a fairy godmother sparkled into my bedroom right now to offer me three wishes, I wouldn’t have to consider for a half-second. I’d use the first wish to beg to write even half as well as Janette Rallison. I might use the second to wish to someday be famous (or cool) enough to garner a nod like three writers we all know and love did in this one. (Nope. Not telling you that, either.)

On the other hand, if my godmother were anything like Chrysanthemum Everstar—a teenage godmother-in-training who has only paid enough attention in class to be a fair godmother (at best)—I might add a clarifying addendum. Or eight. Since Rallison’s heroine Savannah does not, she finds herself in the Middle Ages, cast in the roles of Cinderella, Snow White, and a remarkable damsel in her own right. To say more might constitute a book review, but since it’s also difficult to say less, I will add that I love this book! I love everything from the perfect dust jacket and the lovely lavender/pink binding to the fanciful typesetting. I love the enchanting romance, marvelous characters, and I deeply love and admire the best fairy tale writing by a mortal since Hans Christian Andersen. (Is that a Whitney category?)

But you know what I love most? (Aside from a reasonable explanation for Cindy’s glass slippers.) I love that Janette Rallison captures my imagination and makes me laugh out loud, but she also makes me think and feel. So many of the stories passing as the “best” books for youth, young adults, and the rest of us in the national market these days are . . . how do I put this nicely? . . . pointless. (Some are worse than pointless, but that can be the subject for another blog on another day.) Some of the books in our market are . . . preachy. (I’m having a little trouble being “nice” today, apparently.) My Fair Godmother is neither. Very subtly but surely, Rallison ensures that every reader leaves her stories wiser, better, and surely more cheerful. That, boys and girls, is the epitome of great writing.

For all these reasons and more I predict that Janette has a runaway best-seller on her hands.
It’s already been optioned as a movie. (I can’t tell you how many times while I was reading I thought what a great movie it would make. Can I pick them, or what?) Our local Barnes & Noble couldn’t unpack the boxes fast enough to keep this book on the shelves. After my third unsuccessful trip to town, I turned to Amazon. Fortunately for you, in my enthusiasm I must have clicked that “one click” option one click too often. Since I have two copies, I can play fairy godmother myself and make somebody’s wish for a copy of this book come true.

Caveat: after observing Chrissy as closely as I have, I can’t make it easy. In Chrysanthemum’s words: Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you? Those type of wishes have no power. The only wishes that will ever change you are the kind that may, at any moment, eat you whole. But in the end, they are the only wishes that matter. Now then . . .

Now then, to win my extra copy of My Fair Godmother, all you have to do is write in the comments trail one thing you wish you knew about Janette Rallison or her many works. I’ll choose my favorites and send them to Janette for a response next week. (This will effectively grant my third wish: to get a guest blog from the mega-famous and super-fantastic Janette Rallison.) After she answers your questions, Janette will draw a winner at random and we’ll announce it at the end of the blog.

Ready? Set? Wish!