Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Thoughts: Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid, the Choose Your Own Adventure books were all the rage. In case you are a poor, neglected soul and are unfamiliar with these books, I'll explain how they work - you start out on page one, and every time your character needs to make a decision, you choose which way to go and then you flip to the page indicated for that choice.

For instance, if you find a rattlesnake, you might turn to page ten if you choose to run away, and to page thirteen if you choose to stay where you are. Each book is a long series of choices, and there are a couple of alternate endings. The choices you make along the way will dictate how your story will go.

Of course, you can go back and make other choices and see what the other alternatives are. That's part of the fun of it.

I was thinking about these books this morning, and I had some deep thoughts.

You didn't always get the best endings by making the best choices. Sometimes the story was much more exciting if you chose the most dangerous path, and sometimes, if you chose the most logical path, you'd end up getting killed on the next page anyway. In retrospect, it's like the book creators weren't so much interested in getting you through the adventure safely, but they wanted to tell the most amazing story ever that was rife with danger. The reader wasn't being taught how they should really react to tricky situations, but how to ride on the edge all the way through.

One huge case in point. I picked up a type of Choose Your Own Adventure that was written for young teen girls. The character was out on a date, and the guy decided to get a little handsy. You were given two choices - one, to get away from him and call for a ride home, or two, to go along with it. Well, I chose to get away from him, and when I turned to that page, it said that he'd told the whole school about it, I was now a social outcast, and I was never asked out again. End of the story for me.

Um, what? So the "right" choice would have been to go along with it? What kind of life advice is that?

Authors of these kinds of books may not realize that what they write does impact their young reader. They might think, "Oh, these are just fun stories," but readers look to books to teach them about the world around them. The message here is, if you don't let your date go exploring under your sweater, you'll be miserable the rest of your life.

So then I got to thinking about the choices we make throughout our lives. Each choice we make today will open up new choices for us to make tomorrow. Every day is exactly like navigating through a Choose Your Own Adventure. If I talk to this person, I might hear about that job opportunity, which might lead to moving to California, which might lead to ... Not all our choices are that dramatic, but choices we make to be honest and moral will always put us on different paths from choices we make to tell a little white lie or make an exception just this once.

The most important conclusion I drew was this - choosing the path of safety may not take us on the wildest adventure, but it will bring us peace, joy, and happiness, and we'll experience all the adventures we could ever possibly handle anyway.

Every choice has a consequence. Every road has a crossroads. Every decision will bring us to a different conclusion. Nothing is guaranteed, as we all must go through trials and have learning experiences. But as we make these decisions in the best way we can, using our moral compass as a guide, our story will be the very best one for us, with a much greater chance of a happily ever after.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Why Use a Pen Name?

I'm actually asked quite frequently why a person would or would not want to use a pen name when they start publishing. I decided that writing it out in a blog post would be a jolly good idea.

In my opinion, there are three main reasons why an author would consider using a pen name. These aren't listed in any particular order.

1. As a safety precaution. Some authors worry about stalkers, ex-spouses, or other unsavory individuals locating them and making their lives difficult if they publish under their own names. It has been difficult for authors such as Stephenie Meyer, for instance, who published as herself and now must use bodyguards and what-have-you. However, this is not ordinary at all. I've never had a problem with crazed fans or the like, and out of my many, many author friends, I'm only aware of one who has had a stalker. And she uses a pen name. Go figure.

2. Their name is completely unpronounceable. If their ancestors came from a foreign country or they have an unusual name for another reason, they might consider using a pen name just so it's easier for readers to request them at libraries and bookstores and such. Or, if they happen to have the same name as a famous person, they might choose a different name for themselves. My name is unusual, but it's served me well because there's only one of me.

3. To differentiate between genres. If an author is well known for writing middle-grade fiction and then decides to write adult horror, they might choose to use a pen name so their middle-grade fans don't accidentally pick up the horror novel and be scarred for life.  Or a sweet romance author might choose another name for her erotica novels. It's something authors to do help steer their readers where they want to be. They know what to expect when they pick up a book by that author. However, if they're writing YA romance and then decide to write adult sweet romance, they don't need a pen name because those two genres are similar enough that the same audience can read both and will probably enjoy both.

Using a pen name isn't difficult. You don't need to do anything legally to make that name yours - you can have your publisher send the checks in your real name and you can use your real name on your business license and so forth. Some authors do a DBA where they add their author name onto their bank accounts, but I haven't done that since all my checks are made out in my real name.

When you choose your name, run a search on Google and make sure there isn't someone else by that name doing things you don't want to be associated with, and check Amazon to see if there are other authors by that name.  If all that checks out, take a second to make sure that website address is available, and then snatch it up immediately.

I'd say that the vast majority of writers don't need a pen name, but you know your circumstances better than anyone and will know what you most prefer to do.

A Touch of Gentility

Side Note: I don't shop at Target. That has nothing to do with their bathroom policy - I don't like their selection and I don't like their prices. I've felt that way for years. To find out how I feel about bathrooms, keep reading.

I look back and remember going to my grandma's house as a child. She'd be in the kitchen baking up something in the oven, my grandpa would be reading the newspaper in his living room chair, and the grandchildren would run in and out, taking cookies from the jar on the counter that was always full. What precious memories those are to me years after my grandparents passed.

They were raised in a time when you'd say "sir" or "ma'am" simply as a matter of course, when you'd stop and help someone whose car had broken down along the side of the road, and when you'd give someone the benefit of a doubt and trust their good intentions until you found out they weren't who they said they were - and you knew that for a fact.

Today, all I have to do is look at social media to start longing for those days to return.

It seems there are many who are eager to take offense first and ask questions later ... if ever. Opinions are shouted and screamed, accompanied by name calling and personal attacks. In my grandfather's time, two fellows might disagree on who to vote for, but it would rarely disintegrate into profanity and attacks on someone's moral character.

It seems there are many who distrust others' intentions and believe that they're rarin' for a fight or trying to be hurtful rather than taking a moment to listen to what is really being said.

It seems there are many who are careful to be politically correct, but who have forgotten something even more basic - kindness. Simple kindness, which is more inclusive and more powerful than any mandated way of speaking.

It's true that technology has brought us a long way since my grandparents' time. We've made tremendous advances in science and medicine and transportation. But I fear that many have slid backwards in terms of respect. If you and I disagree, we can do so without coming to verbal blows about it - and yet, there are those who spend their time looking for the next fight, the next battle.

I have a challenge for all of us, and that's to take a step back and understand that the beliefs we hold dear may not be dear to others - and that's okay. We are each given the choice as to how to think and feel, and taking away their ability to choose their beliefs would also take away our ability to choose our beliefs. On both sides of every issue, we should state our position, and we should allow others to state theirs without the whole thing being reduced to mud slinging. Sadly, those who do this most will never see this post.

And as far as bathrooms go, what if we were to take this furor and this angst we feel on both sides of the issue and concentrate instead on lobbying for a third bathroom? It needn't be as large as the others because statistically speaking, there probably wouldn't be a line of people waiting for it, but it would be a compassionate way to address the issue for everyone, including those who are transgender ... I can't imagine that public restrooms have ever been comfortable for them, and I don't see the opening up of just two bathrooms as being the right solution for them either. At whatever stage of their transformation, they might enjoy a little more privacy and respect.

It's my hope that we can see each other as human beings all sharing space on this planet and not leap into attack mode whenever something is presented that opposes our world view. I'd like to see conversations, not battles. I'd like us to stop using social media to say things we'd never say to someone's face ... and to stop letting social media callus us to the point where we would start saying those things to people's faces. We are all, at heart, good people just navigating our way though life the best we can. Let's wave at each other as we go by instead of sticking out our tongues. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spotlight: The Magnificent World of Spirits by Marlene Bateman Sullivan

Life. Death. Life.

Not everyone who visits the spirit world stays there. The Magnificent World of Spirits: Eyewitness Accounts of Where We Go When We Die, gives fascinating glimpses of life beyond the veil by people who visited the spirit world during the early years of the LDS Church.

Filled with stories of insight and inspiration, The Magnificent World of Spirits is a stirring book that combines documented personal experiences with scripture, commentary, and quotes from latter-day prophets and other leaders. This book will bring you peace as you come to understand what awaits on the other side of the veil. After reading this book, you will never think of life—or death—in the same way.

Author Marlene Bateman Sullivan paid a visit to my blog today to talk about her new release and share with me how she got the idea to write this book. 

"Years ago, as I was doing research for another book, LDS Heroes and Heroines, I came across some touching stories in early Church history about people who had visited the spirit world. I found so many personal accounts in journals and other personal records, and in old newspapers and magazines, that I divided the material into two books. 

"The first book was Gaze Into Heaven; Near-death Experiences in Early Church History, which contains over 50 accounts of people who had near-death experiences. Writing that book encouraged me to write The Magnificent World of Spirits: Eyewitness Accounts of Where We Go When We Die, which is about people who also visited the spirit world, through dreams, visions, and other means. Their experiences are almost identical to those who had near-death experiences.

"Each one of these experiences is a comforting testimony that God lives, that He loves us and that when we die, life will continue on in a beautiful place where we will be reunited with our departed loved ones, be freed from earthly trials and disabilities, and experience great joy and happiness."

This book sounds fantastic, Marlene! It can be purchased online at and also at Deseret Book and other LDS store locations.  

Reading these experiences can bless us with a better understanding of this life and increase our knowledge of the life to come. We can benefit from the insights people gained when they entered the spirit world and use that to reevaluate our lives and use our time on earth more productively.


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