Tuesday, June 30, 2009

BOOK NOOK REVIEW of TRAIL of STORMS

Trail of Storms
By Marsha Ward


Trail of Storms, written by award-winning author, Marsha Ward, is her third novel about the Owen family in her post-Civil War series. Marshaling adept storytelling with an intimate understanding of her subject matter, Ward delivers loyal fans an exciting continuation of the series, while new readers will rate Trail of Storms a satisfying stand-alone read that will send them back for more.

Prepare to be transported to another time . . . another place. Ward’s grasp of western dialect and culture is like a set of old leather reins in her skilled hands, driving her story’s authenticity. The book opens with Jesse Bingham and her sisters on a tense Virginia day, under the brutal occupation of Yankee forces. High drama begins on page three and you’re already invested up to your elbows.

Trail of Storms is not a "pretty story", because these were not pretty times, and Marsha Ward does an excellent job stripping away any preconceived notions about a united, post-Civil War America. Still vastly divided and angry, prejudice continues to abound, and not just between races, but between geographies—north and south—and choices—Yankee vs. Rebs. The Binghams and the Heizers are two families torn by these elements until a merciless attack on one of their own distills each person’s core loyalties. No longer safe in Virginia, our characters lay aside differences, unite and head west.

Jesse Bingham is still heartbroken over having been abandoned by James Owen when his family headed west. With no other marriage prospects, she concedes to accept the proposal of Ned Heizer, an older-brother figure made controversial because of his service in the northern army during the war. Along the trail, they meet up with James Owens, and the tension over loyalties ignites anew.

Complex elements abound in the book, but Ms. Ward handles them honestly, contrasting the innocence and ignorance of nineteenth century decorum against the grit that era required of its men and women, particularly as they endeavored to survive a westward trek.

The Binghams and Heizers leave Virginia with little more than a wagon load of troubles and pure determination. James Owen is suffering as well--over the recent loss of his bride. Life is hard for this group, which adds to the sweetness of their interaction with a group of Mormon pioneers who briefly cross their path. It did feel rushed, but I actually enjoyed the hit-and-run feel of this exchange, and considering the threat of winter on the trail, it's likely an accurate account of how groups met, shared a few hours, and hurried quickly on. In Trail of Storms, these few shared hours provide a sweet distraction to both parties while imbuing a spiritual element of hope into a few of the more troubled Virginians.

Much of the story moves like the gait of the wagon trains along the prairie--steady action accentuated with heart-thumping chapters. This back-and-forth pace works very well for this book. The reader experiences the unsettling travail of trail life, as well as the daily, life-and-death struggle it presents. Loaded with interpersonal drama and raw western action, Trail of Storms crosses genders, delivering an appealing, engaging read men and women will both enjoy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

GOD-BLESS-AMERICA-MONDAY

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG


Of all the places I've visited, none are more dear to me than Williamsburg, Virginia. Some whine that it's too commercialized now, but all I know is all that beautiful history was nearly lost, and now it's restored thanks to the vision of a single Episcopalian priest named Dr. Goodwin, and the philanthropy of the Rockefeller family.

We travel to Europe to visit old castles. Well, here is our American equivalent--the birthplace of a nation, the place where men so revered they seem almost fictional met, ate, argued, lived, danced, fell in love and yes . . . slept.

From the rudimentary, woodsy looking cross-fences to the elegance of the Governor's Palace, the city was and is a place of extreme contrasts. Nobles and slaves, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, bonded and free. . . Elegant homes grace side streets mere steps from the stockade, the garden, the smithy's shop and court house with its stocks. It's a step back in time--a humbling, exciting, reverent big step. . .

I love this place, from the palace, to Christianna Campbell's restaurant to the Court House steps. Like Old Philadelphia, every view is familiar, immortalized in films such as the recent John Adams series and the BYU masterpiece, "A More Perfect Union."

On a personal note, this is the place where my Free Men and Dreamers series was born. We had come to the area years earlier, when the children were young and bored by our vacation choice, wanting only to hurry over to the waterpark and on to Busch Gardens. A decade later, we took two of our sons to William and Mary College to attend a religious youth retreat called "EFY". Tom and I spent a lazy week visiting the sites in this area known as "The Historic Triangle"--Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. I fell in love with the city and the industry of its people, I was swept away to another life and time as I visited the surrounding plantations, and heard the stories of sacrifice made by colonists, soldiers and frontiersmen as the new lands was settled. I knew then that I wanted to write a historic series.

We'll spend a few weeks here, (what I mean to say is I'll spend the next six God-Bless-America-Mondays to writing about this area) visiting six different sites. In the meantime, check out this Williamsburg site, and click on the link for an interactive map of Colonial Williamsburg. Enjoy the links above as well. We'll explore them in greater depth a week at a time!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

GULP, GULP, GULP. . .


Bill Hemmer of Fox news made a quip that really resonated with me. Commenting on our elected representatives' penchant for rapid-fire voting without reading any of the pending bills, he said, "It's like they're drinking from a fire hose down there. Open wide. . ."

Should bills be presented like speed-dating? Especially with the price tags and ramifications currently affixed? If you don't think so either, check out how your reps in the House voted on the Climate Change Bill. Take a moment and shoot an email off to them, telling them how you feel about their psychic ability to vote and pass a bill without ever reading it.

The ABC coup on health care felt like a smoke-and-shadow-show. Bi-partisan? Fair and balanced? Do you feel as though a little slight of hand is going on in Washington? When did we vote David Copperfield into office. (No slight intended.)

And now the Cap and Trade bill passed the House--a 1200 page bill that no one had any time to read. Who knows what's in there?

If we can exercise caution and do our homework to certify a prospective gun-buyer before giving him a weapon that could hurt citizens, shouldn't our representatives take the time to read a bill and make sure it doesn't have harmful capabilities for our citizenry?

Did you hear this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlTxGHn4sH4?

Or are we actually comfortable allowing our representatives to pay good fairy to President Obama, blindly granting him any wish he desires?

Have you heard our media belting out this important piece of information? Did you hear them replay Obama's promise that our electric bills would sky-rocket if this bill gets passed? Imagine the consequences of passage at a time when the economy is weak and staggering. There's still time to cool the Senate's heels.

Email your senators and tell them you want them to slow down, to at least read the bill before they sign it. Or better yet, tell them if they pass it, they'll be out of a job next election.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT" UPDATE

We've been told we can either learn from the past,
or we'll be doomed to repeat it. I've spent six years studying and writing about the War of 1812, whose bicentennial is fast-approaching, and sadly, I think the similarities between then and now are eerie.

Sadly, freedom frequently leads to complacency. We are not passengers on the good ship America, we are the deck hands and the ensigns at the helm. We forget that sometimes. So did they in 1812.

Consider this:

Prejudice, poverty, religious intolerance and immigration concerns weaken our social fiber.

Trade imbalances threaten the economy.

American citizens are targeted and kidnapped off ships and on foreign soil.

The government is so near bankruptcy that improvements to infrastructure are put on hold.

Terror comes to our own shores.

The citizenry rallies and is willing to fight to defend the land, but infighting so fractures our leadership, and the budget is so strapped, that our forces are under-supplied and funded. The result? They are as vulnerable as drops of water on a hot skillet.

Some states sense the depth of the problems in the federal government and they whisper about secession rather than fight to correct Washington's course.

One charismatic leader assures everyone that "all is well" and the voice of reason is silenced.

Our capital is attacked.

And the Constitution--that beautiful, living Constitution is assailed, ignored and sorely tested. It hangs by a thread.

What year am I referring to? 1812? 2009? Both? . . . That's why the story needs to be told.

I'm up to my elbows in final revisions on Dawn's Early Light, book three of my historical fiction series, Free Men and Dreamers, right now. This book is going to be phenomenal! It will surprise and inspire you.

These are the days that tested the mettle of the next generation--they that inherited the democracy from the Founding Fathers. They are the days that prepared America to become the cradle of the Restoration.

This was a unique generation, the first to be American-born. From them would come political leaders like John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson who would define this nation's policies for the next fifty years.

They were the generation whose circumstances produced great inventors like Eli Whitney, and great religionists like Joseph Smith.

These issues of their day were grievous, testing the government and defining what it meant to be an American.

These were the days of America's emergence on the world stage, the tipping point of the slavery issue, and the birth of America's love affair with the red-white-and blue.

That's why I began this series. To remind everyone how important events surrounding that neglected, forgotten, maligned war were to us as Americans, and how remarkable that generation was to the world.

Most of us have no idea. I didn't until I began digging.

I've visited most of the cities discussed in the series; climbed around forts, existing and in ruins; met with curators; interviewed historians; read a million books, (well, maybe not quite a million, but I've got bookcases filled with old, dusty books now).

Most exciting were my searches through American historical treasures through the Library of Congress, which I'll be detailing in one of my "God-Bless-America-Monday" posts. I combed through the Congressional records of the inquiries into the war. Fascinating . . . I've read James Madison, James Monroe, Joshua Barney, and the British Admirals' depositions in their own words. You can too! And I've spent hours perusing Dolley Madison's personal correspondence, reading her thoughts, her words as she watched her husband's presidency falter, and her nation's capital burn. Your heart will burn as well.

I'll be posting weekly excerpts of Dawn's Early Light beginning next week. In the meantime, please visit my web site and read excerpts of books one and two, DARK SKY AT DAWN and TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING.

So please join me on this journey.

Warmly,


Laurie

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

HOW BEING AN AUTHOR HAS INFLUENCED MY TESTIMONY OF JOSEPH SMITH AND THE BOOK OF MORMON


I've been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since I was eight-years-old. The story of my conversion is unremarkable in and of itself. We were renting a home from an LDS (Mormon) family, and one day the owner asked my mother what was then called "the golden question"--"What do you know about the Mormons, and would you like to know more."

We did.

My family was taught the Gospel by a missionary couple, we read the Book of Mormon, and within a few months, three of us--my mother, my brother and I--were baptized.

I grew up in the church, was sealed in the temple and raised my family under the umbrella of the Gospel. When my children were young, I had an experience that made me realize I had become spiritually lazy, and I began to study and pray anew. I wanted to receive a personal witness--one that was completely mine as an adult--that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that the Book of Mormon was true. I knew someday my sweet little children would come to me and ask, "Mom, is it really true?" I wanted to be able to look them in the eyes and answer, without any reservations, "Yes, my darlings, it is." And not because someone told me it was true, but because I prayed and received my answer.

I did receive my answer. It came in a deeply personal and marvelous way, and I look back and recall the moment often, with sweetness when life gets hard and when hope runs thin. There is so much comfort in knowing Joseph Smith was called by God to be the Prophet of the Restoration, and that the Book of Mormon was divinely given through the translation work Joseph Smith was called to perform. A living prophet on the earth makes all the difference.

I know these things by a witness of the Spirit. But I have an equally strong practical witness of these things, and it came through my work as an author. Consider these points with me:

It takes me about a year to produce a historical volume. My first book required three years of research and writing.

I was in my forties when I began writing, acquainted with life and it's complexities, experience that helps give credibility to my work. I've had years to gain some understanding of families and their complex concerns so I can write about families with experience.

I write, edit, delete and rewrite the same sections over and over until I feel comfortable with the text. I always review my previous day's work to assure clarity and continuity before I begin a new section.

I have access to libraries and the Internet.

I have a computer with word processing and editing capabilities.

I have the financial resources that free time for me to write.

I have dictionaries, encyclopedias, foreign language dictionaries and dozens of other reference books to help me conduct my research.

I went to college.

I travel extensively to the sites about which I am writing. I interview the curators of each place.

I have a camera with which to take numerous photos to revive my memory when I'm back home and writing.

I interview, and maintain correspondence with, historians who feed me critical information.

I've spent over forty years studying the Gospel and yet I still need to take time to reread and study scriptural passages before incorporating them into my work.

Again, even using all these tools, it took me three years to write the first volume.

I don't think my experience is singular. Ask any author.

Now click this link and watch this video about Joseph Smith's experience bringing forth the Book of Mormon. Ask yourself if he could have merely "written" it.

How Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon

Monday, June 22, 2009

GOD-BLESS-AMERICA-MONDAYS

HISTORIC PHILADELPHIA



There's a powerful spirit in the cities and buildings where this nation was born, and in no place is that more true than in Philadelphia.

Just think of the places--Independence Hall, Christ's Church, the Liberty Bell, The President's House. . . Can't you feel your arms prickle? Now say the names of the men who made these places sacred--Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison--and you can't help but feel your heart pound. Once you step beyond the doorway--even before in fact, because from the vantage point of the street, you'll find yourself entranced and spellbound, in reverent awe, thinking, "They were here. . . they were here. . ."


I remember the first time I visited the sites. I was shocked by how familiar they were, and then I realized I had seen them countless times before in historic movies. But no familiarity could dim the feelings I felt as I drew in the scent of that old wood that surrounded the Founding Fathers.

Independence Hall was my favorite stop. I confess to feeling those aforementioned chills as I gazed around the room, imagining men dressed in heavy garb, cooped up inside that stifling room, behind closed doors and windows during the blazing summer heat because the conversations they were having were too dangerous to be allowed to float outside to the citizenry. My eyes burned too. I'll admit it. It's a wonderful place.


In my opinion, every American family needs a copy of two award-winning films--"A More Perfect Union" , the history of the sacrifices made to bring forth the Constitution, produced by BYU; and HBO's mini-series, "John Adams", available anywhere DVDs are sold.


Make sure to visit Christ's Church. The spirit there is indescribable. Washington's, Franklin's, Hopkinson's names are still on their family pews. I sat in them and ran my fingers over the nameplates and my eyes moistened as they are right now as I remember the moment. I faced forward and wondered what filled their minds as they heard scriptures proclaiming freedom and God's love for all mankind being spoken from the pulpit, even as they prepared to rebel against Britain. Go there. Feel it too.

Click on the historic map, (above) of Philadelphia as it appeared in 1776. It becomes an interactive children's tour of the city, transporting you to a treasury of historic information about each building and its place in history. An even better tour, called AMERICA'S MOST HISTORIC MILE is a great start to planning a trip to Philadelphia, but if that's not possible, then sit down and take a virtual tour. There's enough information there to fill several hours. Yes, they still tell the Betsy Ross story, but you may by surprised that no historian will support it. Here are two views, (one) (two), of how and why we still revere her, at the very least as a representative of the women of Revolutionary America.

Visit Carpenters' Hall and the President's House. I shared a two-year correspondence with the curator of the historic city, Mr. Ed Lawler. I asked him innumerable questions and he supplied me with long, beautiful answers I needed to assure the historic accuracy of my Free Men and Dreamers books. Ed was working on a project of great historic import--the restoration of the President's House, the Philadelphia home provided for President George Washington when Philadelphia was the nation's capital. While excavating to uncover the original foundation, Ed and his team discovered the foundation of another building. Exhaustive research provided the the details about that second building which has, in turn, provided groundbreaking historical insight into George Washington and his family's relationship with a slave named Oney Judge. History is still being uncovered.

Click on the photo of Independence Hall. This link will take you to another virtual tour of Philadelphia that includes not only Early American history like the Liberty Bell and Christ's Church, but such fascinating historical topics as the Underground Railroad and Memorial Hall, location of the world famous, "Please Touch" Children's Museum.

Make personal history while enjoying a unique taste of the past by dining on board a clipper ship anchored in the Delaware by Penn's landing. The Moshulu, the largest four-masted sailing ship in the world still afloat, is a unique restaurant with a grand menu and unique ambiance. This was our table, and I can't tell you how wondrous it was to gaze around that magnificent interior and look out over the water while it gently rocked beneath us.

Grab a real Philly cheese steak, walk around the harbor, and make sure to see it all at night as well as by day. If you love Americana, you'll find it in Philadelphia's shops, and make a stop at the Penn Market.

So many adventures here. It's one of my pick American cities. You could spend a week here an never see it all. Let me prove it to you. Click here, then click on each pull down menu and watch the flags appear. Hundreds of things to do and see, and most of them will exhilarate the patriot in you!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Let Us Be Men

Happy Father's Day Tom, Tommy, Adam, Josh and Nick! I love each of the real men in my life.

We each have "real men" in our lives, men who have done similarly--sacrificed for us, put their own dreams aside so our needs and wants could be met., We honor them today, and hopefully every day.

A Father Indeed

To my sweet husband Tom, the man who still makes me feel like a princess. And to all the fathers, and men who aspire to this holy calling. Thank you for all you do to love, support and protect your families. We love you!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

PLEASE HOLD, YOUR CALL IS IMPORTANT TO US. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

You already know where this is going, don't you?

I spent five, (5, cinqo, cinq) hours on the phone yesterday helping my mother with her monthly bills. Less than half was spent in a conversation with a human being. I learned a lot. Some of what I learned was useful, (did you know some customer service reps are still listening to you even though that annoying "on hold" music is playing? Oh, yeah . . . read on.) Most of that time felt as if I was in a CIA-sponsored psychiatric experiment to see if they could "break" me. Allow me to recap.

(This is not for the faint-hearted. It is not going to be pleasant).

Our phone company offers a spiffy savings plan to TV/phone customers if they bundle their plans. I called to secure this savings for my seventy-six-year-old mother. I begin by calling the phone company. I explain my request. After being placed on hold five times so my service rep could "get more information", I get disconnected.

I dial again, maneuver through seven phone menus to get a real person who apologizes for my previous disconnection and then places me on hold with her "super I-promise-I-won't-disconnect-you button, and then . . . "click". You guessed it.

I try again and we get through the apology, through another holding pattern and then, yep, she tells me I'm calling the wrong department. Only my local phone company can handle this. She generously gives me another number. I dial it. . . After fifteen minutes of explaining my request, they tell me I'm at the wrong department. Another number, another phone menu, another holding pattern, another customer service rep.

(You know the drill--I explain why my voice sounds rage-filled, she apologizes, places me on hold, I hear the "click" and break into a cold sweat.) They must have various "hold" entertainment options because now, instead of music, I hear a woman speaking in an "Enya-inspired voice, describing some device that will restore peace and security to our electronic world. She coos, "Try this as a mantra today, "Surf, safe. . . surf, safe. . ."

No joke! Just as I'm beginning to wonder if I've entered the Twilight Zone, she comes back. I felt like Timmy when Lassie returned from fighting a mountain lion. "You came back!" I cry. "You came back!" (I know . . . I sound like Sally Fields at the Academy Awards). She chuckles nervously and tells me the verdict. Mom doesn't qualify. New customers qualify for this spiffy savings, but not fifteen-year-loyal-never-missed-a-payment-or-been-late customers.

Fine. . . I say the magic "customer" words. "I would like to cancel my phone service so I can sign-up with your competition and be a "new" customer."

Now they want to talk to me. In fact, my call gets expedited to the "Retention Department." I get a fellow named Mr. Menendez who really wants to help me. He hears my story, feels my pain, (he even sounded as if HE were in pain.) We spend one hour while he details how very much pain he is in over our situation, and how much the phone company wants to keep us and help us get "bundled". He approves our case, but he needs to put us on hold while he checks on one little bitty thing. "Click". I hear music for about fifteen interminable minutes, and then I hear . . . silence. I think the unthinkable has happened to me again and I turn to my mother, scream, and say, "I'm so frustrated I want to stick a knife in my eye."

I hear this voice. "Don't do that, Mrs. Lewis. Don't even SAY that."

"Mr. Menendez? (I'm shocked that he is listening to what's being said on my side of the line. "I thought I was on hold.

"Oh, I'm still here. But please don't stick a knife in your eye."

"I'm not really going to stick a knife in my eye, Mr. Menendez. It's just that I've been working on this problem for two and a half hours now, and I'm very frustrated."

"I know, and I apologize. I really want to help you. I'm approving this request on my end, but I can't speak for our partners."

"The cable company?"

"Yes. Let me place you on hold one more time while I check to see if this is going to hit a snag on their end."

"Hold? Oh, please don't disconnect me, Mr. Menendez!"

"I won't I promise, Mrs. Lewis."

"Will you (electronically) hold my hand and walk me over to the other department."

He chuckles. "I will. Don' t worry."

"Click."

Music. . .

Silence.

You guessed it. We get disconnected.

I call again, tell my story with a knife held to the receiver and get a promise that someone will set the dogs on him, track him down and have him call me back. An hour later, after five hours on the phone--he does.

We didn't qualify for the bundle after all.

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TOP 10 WAYS YOU KNOW THE ECONOMY IS BAD

One witty blog I follow is http://richmanramblings.blogspot.com. With Rich's permission, I'm posting this Top Ten list he discovered, on my blog today. The original author is unknown, but I wish I could find him/her and give them a Chia Pet in thanks. It's sad but funny. Well . . . mostly sad. . . but you'll chuckle. I promise.

THE TOP 10 WAYS YOU KNOW THE ECONOMY IS BAD. . .

10. I got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.

9. I went to buy a toaster oven and they gave me a bank.

8. Hotwheels and Matchbox car companies are now trading higher than GM in the stock market.

7. Obama met with small businesses - GE, Pfizer, Chrysler, Citigroup and GM, to discuss the Stimulus Package.

6. McDonalds is selling the 1/4 ouncer.

5. The most highly-paid job is now jury duty.

4. People in Africa are donating money to Americans. Mothers in Ethiopia are telling their kids, "finish your plate; do you know how many kids are starving in America?"

3. Motel Six won't leave the lights on.

2. The Mafia is laying off judges.

1. If the bank returns your check marked as "insufficient funds," you have to call and ask if they meant you or them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Glenn Beck - Current Events & Politics - Glenn Beck: The Letter

Glenn Beck - Current Events & Politics - Glenn Beck: The Letter

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Toto - Africa acapella CHOIR version! ( awesome!)

This is briliant! Enjoy!

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THINGS MY BRAIN MISSES

Okay, so it's not a brain--it's cauliflower. But don't you remember when you were a kid and this gnarled cabbage subbed nicely for a brain in those Halloween pranks and games? Oh . . . life was so very sweet and simple then.

I miss simple. I miss uncomplicated and innocent.

I miss the old Jon and Kate, when they were real, and struggling to make soup instead of headlines.

I miss shows where the parents were steadfast and loving and the kids could mess up and know that Father really did know best, and the mother would always be there for them.

I miss quietness--when you could step outside or go for a drive without work or telemarketers being able to cyber-stalk you 24/7. back then, you weren't off-line, you were simply "not home."

I miss big family dinners with chaotic conversations shooting across tangled arms reaching for mashed potatoes slathered in real butter. Those were the days.

I miss the days when "left" and "right" indicated the correct shoe or mitten, not policies and ideologies.

I miss the old news philosophy, when you didn't have to weigh and measure every word to find the tipping point of the truth.
And I miss my old America, that place of dreams and ambition, where freedom rang out loud and clear like a clarion bell to every nation, every people. Imperfect though she was, she was the last, best hope of earth. I miss her.

She misses us.

I can still control some things--turn off the computer, click the phone shut. I can bring my loved ones home and slather the butter on thick for a day or two. And I can bring back my sweet old America. Well, we can.

Write a letter to your congressman, post an opinion on a newspaper's blog, call a TV network and comment on the quality of their coverage. Do you think ABC is correct in their plan to provide free air-time for President Obama's federalized health-care pitch without a rebuttal? Do you like America's stance on the Iranian election? Do you enjoy being part-owner of an auto corporation? Then tell someone. Tell someone!

I'm flying my flag every day now. I'm stepping up bolder and louder. Let's all do something patriotic today. every day. . .

Let freedom ring. Let freedom ring! Let freedom RING!

Monday, June 15, 2009

GOD-BLESS-AMERICA-MONDAYS

FORT McHENRY and the STAR SPANGLED BANNER

The truth behind much of our American history, like many of our current events, is slowly being changed. The threads of truth were spun and converted, then passed round and round by travellers who paid for the suppers by aggrandizing the simple beauty of the stories in order to provide good entertainment at their hosts' dinner tables.

George Washington and the cherry tree? Delightful tale that it is, a fellow named Mason Locke Weems made that all up.

The Betsy Ross story and the first American flag? Sorry. While conducting research for my books, the curator of Philadelphia's historic district told me no self-respecting historian will touch it. Yes, you'll find Betsy's house on the city's walking tour of the city because this piece of Americana is still a tourist-favorite, but it it didn't happen. More on that in an upcoming post.

The point is, we don't need to fabricate beautiful tales about this nation and it's beginning. There are so many wonderful, poignant, and even painful true stories that need, absolutely NEED to be shared, passed on and, most of all, remembered.

If you want a beautiful flag story, study the history surrounding the Star Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. This was the flag that made the stars and stripes synonymous with America, and the banner that rallied a splintered nation. Learn about the Pickersgill women who stitched the flag on the floor of an old malt house, (brewery) because it was the only structure large enough to spread the fabric fully out.

Learn more about the humanitarian mission, the rescue of a friend, Dr. Beanes, that placed Francis Scott Key on the British Admiral's flagship the night before the battle.

He was in the company of a prisoner exchange agent, and the pair were treated like honored guests as they sat down. But as the meal progressed, the menacing conversation chilled them to the bones as plans for the destruction of Baltimore were openly detailed. The Navy would assail the fort by sea, keeping them occupied, while the army landed and marched into the city on foot.
We can only imagine the fear that gripped Key as he sat there. He had family in the city and a brother-in-law who was an officer in Fort McHenry. And recent events would have given him more cause for alarm. Key had already been a witness to the charred remains of the Patuxent River towns, set ablaze by British torches. Likewise, he had been behind the battle lines, in the company of President Madison and the Cabinet, at the bloody Battle of Bladensburg, when the unstoppable British war machine routed the American forces before burning Washington D.C., the Capitol and the White House.

Perhaps more terrifying of all, he would have known about the atrocities committed against a small Virginia town called Hampton where rapes and brutality of all manner occured. These are the fears that had to have torn at his heart as he heard what was planned for Baltimore.
When the meal was finished, Key and his friend were told they would have to remain with their hosts until after the bombardment. Preferring to be together, away from the British during the assault, they were lowered into their skiff along with Dr. Beanes to wait out the battle.
This was the vantage point and the mindset of Key as he watched the terrifyingly brilliant light of Congreve rockets bursting over the Patapsco River towards Fort McHenry that long, stormy night of September 13-14, 1814.

The rest of the story was magnificently expressed by Dr. Isaac Asimov in a speech I posted yesterday.

And as for the Star Spangled Banner itself? Well, not everything you learned as a child is quite true. I spent a morning with Scott Sheads, the curator of Fort McHenry, who is also the curator of the Star Spangled Banner exhibit at the Smithsonian. He explained that soldiers' letters and scientific studies at the Smithsonian Institute, the flag's protector, tell a slightly different tale than you and I may have learned.

It was a stormy night, and Fort McHenry's Major Armistead called for the massive garrison flag to be lowered to prevent it's heavy wool from breaking the pole during the storm. The mighty flag that flew at the beginning of the battle was replaced by a smaller storm flag. This was the red-white-and-blue beacon that was assailed during the height of the firefight.
Two hours after the battle and the rain ended, Armistead called for the storm flag to be lowered and for the large garrison flag to be hoisted atop the pole, signalling to everyone that the fort had withstood the assault, and that the Americans still controlled the city. And so, it was the glorious, garrison flag that Francis Scott Key did see on the morning of September 14, 1814, when he pulled a letter from his pocket and began to write the poem we now know as our National Anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner."

And the tatters on the Star Spangled Banner? They weren't from bullets and bombs but from scissors, as the Armistead family answsered requests from patriots who desired to own a piece of the brave banner that symbolized a new dawn for America.

Do the differences the truth brings to the story detract from its beauty? Not for me.

There are so many other wonderful truths that few people know about this magnificent story. Freed slaves and runaways fought for America's cause in Fort McHenry, even though the British were freeing slaves and organizing them into battle units, or recolonizing them as freemen. Most of the soldiers serving in the fort at that time were not born on American soil. They came here, to partake of the great American dream of liberty and possibility.

I love all these truths, but the truth I love best is that sworn enemies became loyal allies.
Now there's an American history lesson we can learn from.


(The War of 1812, the Star Spangled Banner and the Burning of Washington are the subjects of FREE MEN and DREAMERS, my historical fiction series--book one, Dark Sky at Dawn, book two, Twilight's Last Gleaming, book three, Dawn's Early Light, and book four, Oh Say Can You See? debuting August 2010). All are available at This is the Place Books, your local LDS book store, Seagull Book or Deseret Book stores.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

KNOWING HOW IT CAME TO BE CHANGES EVERYTHING


This is one of the loveliest, most thoughtful patriotic tributes I've ever read, and I wanted to share it today--Flag Day. It's been printed and circulated many times, but I don't think one can ever read it often enough. It was written by the great science fiction author, Isaac Asimov near the end of his life as he contemplated his love of our frequently-assailed National Anthem. Enjoy!
************************
I have a weakness -- I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem. The words are difficult and the tune is almost impossible, but frequently when I'm taking a shower I sing it with as much power and emotion as I can. It shakes me up every time.

I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem -- all four stanzas. This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting. "Thanks, Herb," I said. "That's all right," he said. "It was at the request of the kitchen staff.

"I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas. Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before -- or had never really listened. I got a standing ovation. But it was not me; it was the anthem.

More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the anthem and not me.

So now let me tell you how it came to be written.

In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.

At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the United States, launching a three-pronged attack.

The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England.

The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west.

The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.

The British reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, took Washington, D.C. Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1,000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.

On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release. The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.

As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the America n flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.

As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over, "Can you see the flag?

"After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Called "The Defense of Fort McHenry," it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the words fit an old English tune called, "To Anacreon in Heaven" -- a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key's work became known as "The Star Spangled Banner," and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.

Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key:

Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

"Ramparts," in case you don't know, are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort. The first stanza asks a question. The second gives an answer:

On the shore, dimly seen thro' the mist of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep.
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream
'Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

"The towering steep" is again, the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing more but sail away, their mission a failure. In the third stanza, I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise.

During World War II, when the British were our staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven - rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
And this be our motto --"In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I hope you will look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears. And don't let them ever take it away. AND IT'S SUNG IN ENGLISH!!!

Isaac Asimov
**********************

Dr. Asimov's impassioned story instantly personalized the Star Spangled Banner for me. Instead of dwelling on the difficult tune and the somewhat obscure phrases, I heard a conversation between two men who knew America's fate rested largely on which flag flew above Fort McHenry that morning. I loved the song more than ever.

This impassioned testimonial is also very personal to me because it changed the direction of my historical novels. I was writing a story set in 1850's Maryland. But when asked by my editor to expand the story, I remember how this article stirred me, and I knew where I wanted to take the novel--I fell back a generation and began to tell the story of the War of 1812 and the Star Spangled Banner. Thank you Dr. Asimov.

More on Fort McHenry and the Star Spangled Banner tomorrow on "God-Bless-America-Monday" on my blog.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

SOME THINGS I'D LIKE TO KNOW

It's been a tough week and my brain is exhausted from all the big questions of life--like, how does a giant oak grow from a small acorn? And if matter is neither created or destroyed, where did all that wood come from?

But most of the time I'm consumed by the small questions. Here are a few that are playing on my mind right now.

1. What cosmic phenomena causes some women "glow" after exposure to the sun, while others splotch?

2. What psychic ability overtakes children and husbands, making it possible for them to look at seventeen bags of groceries and request the one item you forgot to purchase?

3. Is it true that the crinkle volume of a candy bar wrapper is directly proportionate to the number of children from whom you're hiding while eating it?

4. Am I the only one who believes pantyhose should come with suspenders? Really now. . . .

5. Is anyone else stymied by the scriggly-character-IQ -test you have to take before being allowed to log on to most web sites?

6. Who programmed my Wii Fit machine to berate me for sloughing off three days?

7. And will Denny's offer me their senior discount based on my "Wii Fit" age?

8. And what's up with those "Snuggly" things? Am I the only one who can see that they're really just a backwards robe?

So what would you like to know?

Friday, June 12, 2009

OBSERVATIONS ON GETTING OLDER

As a writer, I've become an observer of people. I watch and record how they look, how they react, what motivates them. And while I won't write about them per se, I store all these tidbits away for the future, to flesh out characters in a future story.

My mother has become an interesting study for me. As she ages, I see so many changes taking place. Some are sweet and endearing. Some are worrisome and disconcerting. But always, always, she opens my eyes and I see the world through a prism very different than my own eyes permit.

She's seventy-five years-old now, a widow for nine lonely years. My brothers call her daily. My sister and I take her out and handle her chores. She and I have a weekly "date". She lives and runs (solo) a rickety little farm--well really, it's a glorified petting-zoo--complete with ducks, chickens, a mega-gaggle of geese, five steers, two miniature donkeys, some rabbits, forty-six pygmy goats, two dogs, four cats and one peacock, horse and pony. She resumed this vocation five years ago after my father died. It's unbelievable.

So once a week I pry her off the farm and back out into the world of humans. It's a tough job because she is growing more resistant to leaving her "safe place". Her world is imploding--growing more and more narrow--as she gets older. So I try to widen it for a few hours each week. Here are some of our recent adventures:

1. One of her "enlightened friends told her Chinese restaurants cook cats. Yep, cats. Naturally, she would have nothing to do with any Chinese restaurant--AT ALL. After years of cajoling, and multiple promises that cats were NOT on the menu or secretly hidden in the freezers, she agreed to try it. And she loved it! Now our favorite weekly lunch spot is . . . what else? A Chinese buffet.

2. I've been an opponent of Mom's farm. I don't want her to surrender all her animals, just pare down her herd. Couldn't any self-respecting farmer be happy with six goats? One gaggle of geese? Two lazy, over-indulged steers? She's been run over, stepped on, slammed around and bitten by her babies. But she is loyal to each one, and I have no doubt she'd go without to make sure her babies are fed. We call her steers the "Vanderbilt" cows because she feeds them so very well. If want good beef, buy one of my mom's steers. I assure you they barely move a muscle, and when turned into steaks someday, they should cut like "buttah."

3. My opposition in number two reached a new level of understanding yesterday. Mom NEEDS her pets. I saw that so clearly yesterday. Her little dog ran away, or rather he was lured away by a jealous older dog. In any case, we spent the day searching for this little escapee, driving through local neighborhoods, traipsing through people's back yards, calling the homes where he and his partner-in-crime had previously turned up. Mom was a wreck. It became so apparent that this little dog was her TV companion, her middle-of-the-night confidant when the wind smacked a branch against the side of the house, and her protector with his finely-tuned ears and sharp little bark. She was inconsolable when I dropped her off after our unproductive search. A few hours later, she called, her voice cheery and hopeful. I knew her pal had come home. Yep, she needs her pets. I understand that now.

4. One bit of research I've enjoyed most is the "interaction of old men on the prowl". My Mom is a looker at seventy-five, and old men try to pick her up. The tactics are no different when they're eighty than when they were twenty. Find something general to comment on, and move on to something more personal. When I'm with my mom, I'm the "something general" they begin with. Here's our doctor's office dialogue. No kidding. . .

(To me) "So, where are you from?"

"Carroll County. Where are you from?"

"Near Breezewood."

"Oh, you had quite a drive to get here."

"Yep."

My mom sits down after registering at the front desk.

"Are you two sisters?" he asked me, with a completely straight face. (We get this a lot. Mom goes nuts over it and I slip into the bathroom to recheck my make-up). On this occasion, Mom pulled her shy-face which is a chin-dip followed by a soft, "Ohhhhh . . .".

We all chuckled and then settled down to wait for our names to be called. I set Mom up with some Motab music on an iPod to relax her and I pulled a book I was reviewing out of my purse, and began reading. (It's clearly a western with a wagon printed on the cover.)

He asks, (completely out of the blue), "You got any (I'll be more delicate than he) dirty books in that purse of yours?"

This is a real wake-up moment for me. My mom busts up . . . I mean, BUSTS up with a cackle-laugh/embarrassed snort that generally sends her right into a coughing spasm. I swallow my gum and choke a little, curbing the urge to smack him. (He is at least eighty, after all.)

"Uh . . . nope . . . nope . . . I uh, don't. But I do have a lively little romance tucked in here if you'd like to read that."

He raises his hands and starts to chuckle. "I was just joshing you, was all."

(I laugh nervously--titter really, because what do you say after that? Offer him a Mento?)

Within a few minutes, our little masher was called into the doctor's office and our tête-à-tête was over. As soon as he was gone, Mom smiled radiantly at me, her ego again restored. "He was a card, wasn't he?" A minute later, she was fast asleep.

Yep, you can learn a lot about people from a day out with your mom. What did I learn? That we're all really about fourteen in our hearts--brave, but needing something or someone to steady us when frightened. And that we all need a few "atta-boys" and ego-pumping from time to time. Even when we're seventy-five.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

AN APOSTLE'S WARNING ABOUT CYBERSPACE

“I this day am weighed down with much … desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls” (Jacob 2:3).


These are the words Elder David Bednar used to preface his powerful May CES fireside. If anyone questions whether the Brethren are in-touch, in-tune and on-target with today's issues, they have only to study this pivotal address.

He knew it would be a difficult, sensitive topic, one as timely for the rest of us as it was for his college-age listeners. His main subject was our use of the Internet, but his warning far exceeded previously addressed concerns over pornography, hitting even the seemingly innocent users of the wondrous expanse of Cyberspace. I have to admit that it was a wake-up call for me as well.

The source of his concern was the impact certain choices can have on the delicate and essential relationship between our body, our spirit and our mind. He reminded us that, "And in this dispensation the Lord revealed that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15). Some threats to the body, and therefore to the soul, are obvious. Elder Bednar pointed out that daredevil sports with high risk intended to provide a "rush" are a misuse of our bodies. But he went on to point out some far more subtle dangers--the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing; the enticement of "virtual worlds" where anything goes because it's "not real"; and the very basic threat posed by simply being too entertained to contribute to family and personal interactions.

"Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13). On the very most basic level, cell phones, iPods, TV and online activities require a sacrifice of time. What are we doing with this most precious commodity? Take a look at the posts on a single Facebook page. How much time is idled away chasing down virtual Easter eggs, taking quizzes like "What type of shoe are you?" and scanning electronic pages of unknown people? What if that time were spent in service and friendship to real flesh-and-blood people?

On a deeper level, many people are getting caught up in more worrisome activities such as creating avatars and virtual realities that separate their mind and body. Some people admit that virtual world where their mind plays is more exciting and satisfying that the tangible reality of their real life. Elder Bednar reported that early 40% of men and 53% of women who play online games said their virtual friends were equal to or better than their real-life friends. Sobering.

He went on to point out that online flirtations are infidelities. Remember, "the spirit and the body are the soul of man." Just because there is no physical contact involved in online flirtations doesn't mean we haven't crossed a sacred line. "Remember, however, that apostasy is not anonymous simply because it occurs in a blog or through a fabricated identity in a chat room or virtual world. Immoral thoughts, words, and deeds always are immoral, even in cyberspace."

I thought about the popular video games today with their murders, hit-and-runs, and worse, and the "rush" they offer the players. Remember, "Immoral deeds are always immoral, even in cyberspace." It's a lot to think about.

While most of us would never rob a bank or shoplift at a mall, many of us feel less remorseful over downloading copyrighted material even though it's still illegal. Said Elder Bednar, "Deceitful acts supposedly veiled in secrecy, such as illegally downloading music from the Internet or copying CDs or DVDs for distribution to friends and families, are nonetheless deceitful."

Likewise, while moral people would never shoot a human being or have an affair, we live in a world where all these actions are available to us in a virtual world. The Adversary would have us believe it doesn't matter, it's just a game, but an apostle of the Lord challenges that lie. The same standards always apply and are always in force.

Aspects of technology have impacted each of us. Remembering why we are here in mortality may help keep our body and spirit in harmony, and help us keep our feet in real ground when technology calls, tempting us into virtual play grounds.

As for me? I'm trying to be more aware of how much time I spend online. Though my choices may be innocent, there are still so many other things I could be doing instead. As Elder Bednar said, "We are all accountable to God, and ultimately we will be judged of Him according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

GOD-BLESS-AMERICA-MONDAYS

REMEMBER, REMEMBER. . .

The rolling hills are quiet now--the dead long buried, the guns silent and still--but the feeling still lingers. If you've been to Gettysburg, you know.

Blood-red Gettysburg is a reverent place, a complicated place, and for three days in July, historians and experts will gather there for a symposium on how to keep its story alive and accessible to the public.

I mentioned the Journey Through Hallowed Ground( JTHG) project in last Monday's post. Each year they host their annual meeting bringing in a stellar panel of top-notch historians, authors and other notables whose presentations will teach, entertain and inspire. This year's meeting--Switching the Lens: History from a New Perspective--will be held in Gettysburg, July 15 through Friday, July 17. If you love history, particularly the Civil War, you may want to plan a little time off from work to attend a few of the truly unique opportunities available.

The meeting's primary purpose is to build support for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground project, but the planners encourage everyone to come out and become excited about the rich history present in the 175 mile swath of land the Journey encompasses.

The opportunities are many from panel discussions with extremely notable panelists/educators/authors; to a perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a screening of the Civil War epic, "Gettysburg", being presented by its director and producer, Ron Maxwell, in Gettysburg's historic Majestic Theater.

There will be book signings, a 3-D photography exhibit, a bike tour of the battle grounds and a tour of the Eisenhower Farm and much, much more. Something for everyone. Some activities are free, but most have a cost attached. All require advanced registration.

Let me recommend a few personal Gettysburg favorites. Make sure to have a meal at the Dobbin's House. I love this restaurant! The food is wonderful but it's the ambiance of the place that's phenomenal. It's like stepping back in time. Ask to be seated downstairs. If they can't seat you there, ask to at least walk through and experience the "feel" of the place with it's cold stream running along the floor to the old cold cellar. It's such a delight and its own history is amazing! I based several scenes in Dark Sky at Dawn on events that actually occured in that famous home. There's even an underground railroad station. Ask to see that as well.

A trip to the Majestic theater, mentioned above, is also a must-see. And if you do nothing else, just plan to enter the battlefield and sit quietly for a time at one of the many garden areas. I promise you'll feel the spirit of this place.

AN APOSTLE'S WARNING ABOUT CYBER-TIME

“I this day am weighed down with much … desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls” (Jacob 2:3). These are the words Elder David Bednar use to preface his powerful May CES fireside. If anyone questions whether the Brethren are in-touch, in-tune and on-target with today's issues, they have only to study this pivotal address.


He knew it would be a difficult, sensitive topic, one as timely for the rest of us as it was for his college-age listeners. His main subject was our use of the Internet, but his warning far exceeded previously addressed concerns over pornography, hitting even the seemingly innocent users of the wondrous expanse of Cyberspace. I have to admit that it was a wake-up call for me as well.


The source of his concern was the impact certain choices can have on the delicate and essential relationship between our body, our spirit and our mind. He reminded us that, "And in this dispensation the Lord revealed that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15).


Some threats to the body, and therefore to the soul, are obvious. Elder Bednar pointed out that daredevil sports with high risk intended to provide a "rush" are a misuse of our bodies. But he went on to point out some far more subtle dangers--the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing; the enticement of "virtual worlds" where anything goes because it's "not real"; and the very basic threat posed by simply being too entertained to contribute to family and personal interactions.

"Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13). On the very most basic level, cell phones, iPods, TV and online activities require a sacrifice of time. What are we doing with this most precious commodity? Take a look at the posts on a single Facebook page. How much time is idled away chasing down virtual Easter eggs, taking quizzes like "What type of shoe are you?" and scanning electronic pages of unknown people? What if that time were spent in service and friendship to real flesh-and-blood people?

On a deeper level, many people are getting caught up in more worrisome activities such as creating avatars and virtual realities that separate their mind and body. Some people admit that virtual world where their mind plays is more exciting and satisfying that the tangible reality of their real life. Elder Bednar reported that early 40% of men and 53% of women who play online games said their virtual friends were equal to or better than their real-life friends. Sobering.

He went on to point out that online flirtations are infidelities. Remember, "the spirit and the body are the soul of man." Just because there is no physical contact involved in online flirtations doesn't mean we haven't crossed a sacred line. "Remember, however, that apostasy is not anonymous simply because it occurs in a blog or through a fabricated identity in a chat room or virtual world. Immoral thoughts, words, and deeds always are immoral, even in cyberspace."

I thought about the popular video games today with their murders, hit-and-runs, and worse, and the "rush" they offer the players. Remember, "Immoral deeds are always immoral, even in cyberspace."

It's a lot to think about. While most of us would never rob a bank or shoplift at a mall, many of us feel less remorseful over downloading copyrighted material even though it's still illegal. Said Elder Bednar, "Deceitful acts supposedly veiled in secrecy, such as illegally downloading music from the Internet or copying CDs or DVDs for distribution to friends and families, are nonetheless deceitful."

Likewise, while we would never shoot a human being or have an affair, we live in a world where all these actions are available to us in a virtual world. The Adversary would have us believe it doesn't matter, it's just a game, but an apostle of the Lord challenges that lie. The same standards always apply, are always in force.

Aspects of technology have impacted each of us. Remembering why we are here in mortality may help keep our body and spirit in harmony, and help us keep our feet in real ground when technology calls, tempting us into virtual play grounds.

As for me? I'm trying to be more aware of how much time I spend online. Though my choices may be innocent, there are still so many other things I could be doing instead. As Elder Bednar said, "We are all accountable to God, and ultimately we will be judged of Him according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts."



















Elder Bednar

Thursday, June 4, 2009

WHERE THERE'S A WILL, THERE'S A WAY

THE SNEEZE

My son, Adam, sent me this little story that's circulating through Cyber-space. It was so sweet, and since it's graduation time, I thought it served as a gentle reminder that we can be an example in simple, diverse ways. Enjoy!
**********************************

They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-two students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With their rich maroon gowns flowing .. and the traditional caps, they looked almost ... as grown up as they felt.

Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and Moms freely brushed away tears.

This class would NOT pray during the commencements----not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it.

The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families. The speeches were nice, but they were routine.....until the final speech received a standing ovation.

A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then, it happened. All 92 students, every single one of them, suddenly SNEEZED!!!!

The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said, "GOD BLESS YOU, each and every one of you!" And he walked off stage... The audience exploded into applause. This graduating class had found a unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

INTERVIEW WITH LU ANN STAHELI

INTERVIEW WITH LU ANN STAHELI,
Ghostwriter on When Hearts Conjoin

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli is a talented woman with a generous heart. I was privileged to meet her at a recent writing conference about the time her newest book, When Hearts Conjoin, was released. Besides having received Utah’s top honors as an educator, she has also won numerous awards for her writing. Respected also as an editor and columnist, she was tapped by Richard Paul Evans to ghostwrite Erin Herrin’s tender story about her battle to save daughters Kendra and Maliyah, her conjoined twins, while struggling to hold her family together. When Hearts Conjoin, is this dramatic story.


Lu Ann, I was impressed to discover that When Hearts Conjoin is so much more than a medical story. It’s really about relationships. Is that what you expected going into the project?

When I first took on this project I wanted to write the story of a family. I knew I couldn’t focus on the medical details because I couldn’t write about the birth or surgeries with a voice of authority. I also didn’t see how those kinds of details could be woven into the story, which I knew had to be told from Erin’s point of view. I tried to keep the medical details the things that Erin herself knew as the events occurred. Of course, I did research and fact-checking to make sure that what I was presenting was as accurate as possible.

I know you are an accomplished author and columnist. How did those different skills combine in this book?

As a columnist, I knew that I could write this book in the short turnaround time that the Herrin family needed. They had been trying to pull the book together for a couple of years and Harpo (Oprah’s production company) had been calling to see when the book would be finished at least two months before we began. I can write a column from idea to final product in less than an hour, so I looked at each scene of this book as a column. Because I’ve written scripts and several novels, I knew I could put all of these scenes together into a cohesive book that would read like a novel, have a story arc, and yet allow readers to experience the journey this family has been through.

What qualities did you see in the Herrin family that you particularly wanted to capture in When Hearts Conjoin?

Character traits are sometimes seen as bad, but in reality those that occasionally have a negative connotation might be just the ones we most need to survive. Erin Herrin might come across to people as stubborn, and that’s just what she had to be to not only bring these girls into the world, but also to work with doctors, social workers, and perhaps even members of her own family to give Kendra and Maliyah the best chance for a healthy and fulfilled life. Jake, on the other hand, seems to be a little more laid back, a sort of go-with-the-flow kind of guy. He is always there to support Erin and his children, but he let’s Erin take the lead when it comes to working to bring good things to her daughters and sons. I wanted to let this family dynamic appear naturally in the book, yet show how each of them had to mature as they worked through their relationship and challenges in parenthood.

How did all the previous media attention given to the Herrins affect the way you approached the writing of Erin’s story?

Honestly, I didn’t look at any of the media coverage until after I had the entire book drafted. If this story was to be Erin’s it needed to come from her heart, from her memories first and foremost. When I was very close to submitting the final product to the publisher, I did review all the links Jake has kept on the family website, just to see that I’d gotten details right without them. This also helped me keep Erin’s voice instead of copying something that had already been published.

Erin Herrin was very candid in discussing the stress in her relationships with her parents and with her husband Jake. What particular challenge did this level of candidness pose for you as an author?

I’ll admit there were times that Erin wanted me to write about interchanges and emotions that were raw and painful memories for her. I felt that there were important for her to have on paper at least for a while as a release. Once the memories were written, she could then let them go. So, the original draft had everything she wanted. We did most of the collaboration via e-mail, so I would send her chapters at a time with everything included, then once we had the basic structure of a chapter I would start to craft it into what I felt would be more palatable for the general public to read. I also wanted to make sure that the book didn’t rekindle old hurts or stress so many passages went back and forth between us until we came to a balance that was honest, without being provocative. I kept asking Erin to read and reread until she felt we’d said just the right thing, then before we went to press, Jake read the book twice through as well. At the book launch party, he told me that it was really hard for him to read those first few chapters, but that they did represent who he was and what was really going on in their family at the time. He’s just glad to be past that now.

I’ve read some other interviews you’ve given where you mentioned that you had to help Erin recall some of the more painful memories needed to tell this story. How did your role change or expand as you worked with Erin?

At first I was just a writer working on a book, but as I had to move into gathering details and clarifying emotions, I began to feel like I’d stepped into the middle of the Herrin’s lives a little bit. At times I’ve felt like a therapist, at others almost like a mother as I’ve had to prod Erin into talking about her feelings and sorting through the chronology of her life. I also came to the book as the expert on writing and publishing, areas Erin knew nothing about. I tried to walk her step by step through the process so that she was aware of what she might expect. She’s had lots of media attention, done interviews for both print and film, but there is still much to help her with when it comes to marketing and publicizing the book. Rick and I are both working with her on those areas.


What did writing this book teach you about yourself and your capabilities as an author?

Although I had ghost-written before in the years I worked for various members of the Osmond family, this was my first foray into writing an entire book in the voice of a real person rather than an imaginary character. I had to learn to focus on hearing Erin speak, using her way of putting words together instead of mine. There were days I thought I was going to pull out of the project. Writing with someone else can be frustrating, especially when it’s someone you don’t know well, and there were weeks that I thought the book itself wouldn’t ever be published, so it was hard to keep myself motivated. But once I actually held a copy of the book in my hands, I was ready to start on my next project.

I understand a screenplay may be in the works. Are you currently working on that project?

Because of my screenwriting experience, Rick and I have discussed the possibility of me writing a screenplay based on this book. Who better to write the story that I already know so well? However, if a film company options the book, the only thing we can really do is express an interest in having me write the first pass. Rick has been acting as my agent in this regard, so we will see what happens. In the meantime, I have four other screen projects on the docket to write, and two that were optioned this past year.

You’ve won the highest teaching honor Utah bestows. How does your writing mesh with your role as an educator?

Obviously I teach writing as part of my curriculum at Payson Jr. High School, and I teach Book Prep classes for WriteWise, a company owned by Richard Paul Evans. As an editor for Precision Editing Group, I try to teach my clients why I’m suggesting a change or encouraging them in a direction with their manuscript so that they can learn from the process. I have one client who had much to learn when I edited his first book, and I spent a lot of time teaching him the skills he seemed to need the most. Recently I edited his second book and I almost cried with joy because he had learned and applied those things that I taught him, making the second book a joy to read from the initial draft instead of many edits later. Even some of the members of my critique group have told me how much they have learned from me about being a better writer, so I guess the teaching part is just a natural thing for me.

What other projects are in your future?

I am currently working on three biography projects with entertainers Alan Osmond, David Osmond, and Jim Karol. In addition, I have two new film script projects I’m writing in preparation for a scheduled meeting with a producer. I have three novels in various stages of draft, and I have four completed middle grade and young adult novels that I’ve been shopping to editors and agents. I continue to write magazine articles and I’m getting back into writing my newspaper column as well.


From Lu Ann:
Thanks for letting me be a part of your blog, and for your kind words about When Hearts Conjoin. If people want to buy a copy of the book, they can be ordered online at http://www.utahtwins.com/. Proceeds from the book sales go to a medical trust for Kendra and Maliyah Herrin.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

BOOK REVIEW

by Erin Herrin and
Lu Ann Staheli


In 2006, as the world watched the Herrin family’s medical drama play out, Richard Paul Evans saw another story winding through the media’s medical coverage—a mother’s story of faith and determination.

The seven-time bestselling author of such books as The First Gift of Christmas, approached Erin Herrin, the mother of conjoined twins, Kendra and Maliyah, and convinced her that her inspiring story needed to be told. He turned to author, reporter, editor Lu Ann Staheli to help Erin tell her story. The result is the tender, bestseller titled, When Hearts Conjoin, co-written by Erin Herrin and Lu Ann Staheli.

It is through this combined lens of Staheli’s notable literary gift and Erin Herrin’s poignant maternal point of view that we experience the pitch and roll of the Herrins’ lives through trial and triumph. At times intensely personal, Jake and Erin Herrin’s story is a candid illustration of the power of faith and perseverance to trump adversity and human frailty. There are lessons aplenty in this book.


On one level, When Hearts Conjoin chronicles Erin and Jake Herrin’s handling of life-altering events, culminating in the separation of their conjoined twins, Kendra and Maliyah. And while that medical miracle is at the crux of this tender book, it’s really a story about relationships—husband/wife, child/parent, sibling love and faith in God.

Peppered with just enough medical detail to illuminate the miraculous outcome of their daughters’ daunting journey, it is the painfully candid glimpses of the Herrin’s interpersonal lives that provide the greater drama. Time and again, choice and chance bring Erin and Jake Herrin to the very edge, testing the resolve of their parents, their marriage, and their faith. Through it all, it is Erin’s overarching love for her children, all of her children, that shines through.

Lu Ann Staheli performs her role with precision, guiding and structuring a complicated, highly emotional story while maintaining Erin’s point of view. This counterbalance of deep drama, told in pure first person format, magnifies the pure grit and faith of this valiant wife and mother. The foreword, written by Richard Paul Evans, expresses it this way:

“Erin Herrin’s journey is one of sheer determination and the willingness to sacrifice nearly everything to keep her family together.”


You will be moved.


(When Hearts Conjoin, published by Richard Paul Evans Publishing, 2009, is available at http://www.whenheartsconjoin.com/whc/Home.html. It can also be ordered online at http://www.utahtwins.com/. Proceeds from the book sales go to a medical trust for Kendra and Maliyah Herrin.