Sunday, August 14, 2016

Book Review: Dear Jane by Rachel Ward

I've been busy enough as of late that I haven't done a lot of book reviews, but I've known Rachel Ward for years through the blogging community, and when she asked if I'd review Dear Jane, of course I said yes. Always a pleasure to share a friend's good news with the world. Or with a portion of the world. Okay, I have readers in a couple of countries that aren't the US. That counts, right?

Dear Jane is an LDS romance that follows Quinn Matthews on her mission and then home again, and all that happens afterwards. She and her best friend's brother fell in love right before she left to serve in Florida, but rather than staying home, she decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of being a missionary and went anyway, trusting him when he said he'd wait for her. Well, we all know how dangerous that is ... and the book's title will give it away that he did not, in fact, wait for her. She's devastated when she receives his "Dear Jane" letter, but she finishes out her mission with renewed focus, determined that she won't let it ruin her service.

I think it was this initial decision that propelled her through the rest of the book. She has a lot of stuff hit her when she gets home, but she digs in and focuses on the most important things, and that's part of what makes her a likeable character. She goes through her valleys, just as we all do, but then she gets back up again and keeps trudging forward.

I'm not going to give away too much of the plot because obviously, the goal here is for you to read the book for yourself, but I'll give a few hints.  Love sometimes comes from the most unexpected places. When those closest to us betray us, we have to look inside - and up - to keep moving forward. And what I appreciated best of all? Being righteous is not a "get out of trials free" card like some people say it is. Righteous people will have problems, but keeping the commandments helps us know where to look for comfort when those problems hit.

There are several editing issues throughout, but I'm nitpicky and those things stick out to me, so I won't do more than give a brief mention of that. I found this book really enjoyable, and I hope you get the chance to check it out for yourself. 

Purchase link: Amazon
Author's blog: Trapped Between a Scream and a Hug
Author's Facebook: Rachel Ward

Rachel Turner Ward graduated from Hillcrest High School after spending two years writing for the yearbook and the creative writing magazine. She then studied English at Brigham Young University­—Idaho, graduating with an emphasis in Literary Studies. She has contributed to several online publications, including Mormon Mommy Blogs and SheSteals. She has written a personal blog since 2009, Trapped Between a Scream and a Hug.  Rachel lives in Salt Lake with her six children and husband of 15 years.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Start Seeing Ridey Carts!

Several years ago, we saw the birth of the "Start Seeing Motorcycles!" campaign. I'm thinking of launching one of my own - "Start Seeing Ridey Carts!"

Nearly every grocery store has them - motorized shopping carts with dreadfully uncomfortable seats. They allow impaired customers to get their shopping done, and they really are a blessing. My kids and I have always called them "ridey carts" - it's a little more fun to say, I guess. At any rate, they're very common where we live, and I imagine they are where you live too.

As common as they are, though, a rather astonishing thing happens when you sit down in one. You suddenly disappear. It's like you're not even there anymore. A spotlight shines on you just long enough for people to wonder why you're using it, and then they can't see you anymore.

The things I'm listing in this post are true of everywhere I've lived and of every store where I've shopped. I'm not pointing fingers at any one town or demographic - I'm saying there are some universal issues to be explored. 

Allow me to share my story just to illustrate the points I'm going to make. We all enjoy a good story, right?

I have sacroiliac syndrome. In layman's terms, this means that at any given moment, the nerves in my hip will go numb and the muscles will stop working, and I have to drag that leg if I want to keep walking. This happens a lot when I've been sitting too long, standing too long, lying down too long . . . basically, it just happens whenever. I've learned to cope with it. I just limp a lot.  :) It's one of those invisible ailments that doesn't have any outward manifestations except that oh, I'm limping again.

That's one of the first things I want to discuss - the stigma of the ridey cart. I've heard it plenty - other shoppers speculating as to why someone is riding instead of walking. Usually their comments have to do with the other person's weight. "Well, if she wasn't so fat, she wouldn't need that cart." There's judgement attached to it, an indication that the person in the cart is somehow less valuable.

A couple of years ago, I had a cast, and when I'd go out shopping, I finally felt legal, like I had a genuine reason for being in the cart. That's just silly - outward evidence of an injury shouldn't be the determining factor in whether or not you need one, but psychologically, it did made me feel validated.

Thing is, I don't have to prove to anyone that I have a disability, just like someone with lupus or depression shouldn't have to prove that they are struggling. We don't have the right to require that of people. We don't have the right to judge them or say that they're fine just because we can't see what's wrong. I'd have to say that the vast majority of ailments are invisible, and if we base our opinions solely on what we can see, we're being ridiculous.

And yes, very often, the people who use ridey carts are overweight. That's because their disability makes it very hard for them to exercise, and then it becomes a cycle, with the lack of exercise and the disability playing off each other. But we can't point fingers and say, "Well, if that person wasn't so fat, they wouldn't need the cart." We have no way of knowing those kinds of details about someone else's life, and frankly, it's none of our business anyway. Going back to the previous paragraph, they shouldn't have to explain why they're overweight. There are a million different reasons why, and none of them are anyone else's concern. In my case, it's a combination of the disability, thyroid and adrenal problems, some underlying emotional issues, and the fact that chocolate is a thing. I told you that because I wanted to, not because I needed to. Big difference.

So, that's part one of the Stigma of the Ridey Cart - the judgment and the speculation. All very delightful, as I'm sure you can imagine. Now let's discuss part two - being invisible. Yes, you can be judged and be invisible at the same time.

Again, using myself as an example because I'm only qualified to share my own experiences, when I sit down in the cart, I immediately go on my guard because I know that no one can see me now. I have entered my own invisible plane, just like Wonder Woman. As I come around a corner, I'm the only one paying attention, so I must be the one to dart out of the way. People will park their carts smack dab in the middle of the aisle, making it impossible for me to get around. They frequently think they can outrun me, so they'll cross the aisle right in front of me, believing they can make it to the other side no problem.

But there is a problem, which is that ridey carts don't have breaks. The only thing I can do is let go of the handle, and then I coast to a stop. If you dart out in front of me and I hit you, I'm sorry, but there wasn't one thing I could do. Even if I had Fred Flintstone feet and could step on the ground and come to a stop, you'd still get hit, and let's face it - if I had Fred Flintstone feet, I wouldn't need the ridey cart.

In so many instances, I've had to back up and go around because of ladies who have stopped their carts to chat with each other and don't scoot out of the way when they see me coming. On the occasions when they do hear me excuse myself, I get one of those "looks." When I'm walking and pushing a regular cart, I'm able to go down the aisle because people move for me. I'm a real human then.

As I look back over this long post, I realize that I sound very bitter. I'm not, really. These are just experiences I've had that I don't think I would have thought about unless I were personally going through them. It's my hope in sharing this that others can become more aware. If I were to sum it all up, I'd say:

1. When you see someone in a ridey cart, please don't rush to conclusions. They are struggling with things you can't see, and they shouldn't have to prove their right to be in the cart.

2. When you pass them on an aisle, smile and be friendly. Let them know you're aware of them. Don't ignore them or duck around them like they're not even there.

3. Move your cart to the side if they're trying to get past. You'd do it for a regular cart - this is no different.

4. Please, please don't play chicken by trying to cross the aisle right in front of them. Remember that they can't stop quickly, and they would feel terrible if they hit you.

Please start seeing ridey carts. Understand that the people using them wouldn't be using them if they weren't experiencing some kind of difficulty - they're hardly the cool thing to do. Know that everyone has sorrow that the eye can't see, as the hymn says. And maybe share this link so others can start becoming more aware and we can all peacefully shop together because American consumerism is awesome, yo.

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.

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