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June 19th, Newport Beach, CA

Yesterday, I joked about a whale-sighting (my own bloated carcass on the beach), but this morning, we went on a whale-watching cruise.  In the immortal words of Commander Montgomery Scott, “There be whales here!”  We saw TWO blue whales!  TWO.  The largest creatures to ever inhabit the planet, and we saw TWO.  The larger was probably 75 feet long.  I even got a picture of the tail.  These magnificent mammals were no more than 20 feet away at times.  We also saw hundreds (literally) of dolphins.  They came right up to the boat.  We also saw some sea lions.  It was a very successful cruise. 

I had some very expensive fish and chips for lunch… and found a fishbone. 

Next, it was off to Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.  The hall was magnificent, and the sound was incredible.  The concert (our first) went very, very well. 

Tomorrow…  Walt Disney Theatre!!!!

 

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July 18th, 2017 – Newport Beach, CA

Today, we began our sixteen-day tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Cindy and I had to get up at 4:00 AM to catch an 8:25 AM flight.  Needless to say, it’s been a LONG day.  But it has been fun. 

I’m always amazed at how well Marriott takes care of us.  Even though we weren’t supposed to be able to check into our rooms until 5:00 PM, the hotel had our room ready when we arrived before 10:00 AM.

Cindy was raised down here in southern California.  She spent many summers on the beach.  She is the epitome of the California girl (in all the good ways).  “I wish they all could be California…”  So, on our first day on Tour, we went to Newport Beach for an hour or so.  She didn’t actually go swimming (she barely got her feet wet), but I did.  We saw a sea lion swimming nearby and seagulls that would glide by, almost in arm’s reach.  The weather was perfect—not too hot, a light breeze, and clear skies.  The water wasn’t cold (once you got in it).  I had fun playing in the waves.  Then, when it came time for me to crawl out, I told Cindy she didn’t have to go whale-watching, because she’d seen me.  (You know, me, crawling out of the water like a beached…  Never mind.  If you have to explain the dumb joke…)  Anyway, it was fun. 

So, tomorrow is the first of seven concerts.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA.  Touring with the Choir IS a lot of fun, but it is also a LOT of work.  And I’m looking forward to every single minute of it!

One VERY SERIOUS complaint!  I’m 19 miles from Disney Land.  Just 19 miles!  And I don’t get to go to Disney Land!  AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!  How do you got to southern California and NOT go to Disney Land??????

 

From Jenny Flake Rabe, author of Playground Treasures:

C. David Belt has done it again! In the Witch of White Lady Hollow, Belt has outdone himself, expanding himself in his writing, including another fantastical mystery for readers to explore. He doesn’t disappoint with his sympathetic, relatable characters and dialogue that pulls you in and has you laughing one minute and crying the next. He is one of my favorite writers and authors to follow and is a gem to the writing community.

I am not a plotter or an outliner.  I cannot sit down and map out each chapter in a novel, outlining what will happen.  I can’t write that way.  I’m not criticizing anyone who DOES write this way—it just doesn’t work for me.

The reason is simple—characters are complicated.  They have faults, fears, and foibles.  They are self-deceptive.  They have doubts.  They love and hate.  They like and dislike.  They have political views.  They have religious beliefs.  They have biases.  They do good and bad.  They commit sins and transgressions and sacrifices.  They are noble and petty.  They are debilitated by childhood trauma and ennobled by overcoming tragedies.  Their families and their relationships are imperfect—sometimes wildly so.  Characters are quirky and boring, exceptional and ordinary, talented and clumsy.  They are intelligent and stupid.

And all at the same time.

In other words, they are human.  (Even if they are Vorlons, Narns, Centauri, Vulcans, Klingons, Ferengi, or Picard-fans, they are still human.)

Heroes and heroines are not exclusively heroic.  Villains are not exclusively evil.  The throwaway character on the street is not simply a device used to ask a question of our hero or get our heroine to save a kitten up a tree or a turtle in a sewer.  They are collections of WHATs—they are a glorious mishmash of WHYs.

I enjoy theatre.  I most enjoy theatre when I’m part of the cast.  I’ve had BIG parts and small parts.  And if I am the lead with hundreds of lines and a dozen songs or if I am a spear-carrier without a single line, I still need to understand who my character is and what makes him tick.  We’ve all seen the mocking commercials where some overwrought actor whines, “What’s my motivation?” and all he’s being asked to do is to drink a soda out of a can.  We laugh and say, “How ridiculous!  Just drink the soda already!”  But it’s true.  As an actor, I need to understand WHY I’m doing what I’m doing.  Otherwise, I’m just a model.  Otherwise, I’m just there to look pretty.  (Stop laughing, Cindy.  It’s just an expression!)  And yes, I do realize that models sometimes need to portray an emotion and therefore might need a motivation, but you get the point.  (Seriously, Cindy, it wasn’t THAT funny.  And it was more than a sentence ago.  You can stop laughing now.  Breathe.  Breathing is good.)

Back to characters.  Characters have to be human and relatable.  Even villains must be sympathetic (at times) or at least understandable.  Otherwise, they are BORING and PREDICTABLE.

And for me, characters drive the story.  They aren’t just there to move us from Plot Point 17 to Plot Point 18.  Characters DO stuff.  And that STUFF changes the story.  We might go from Plot Point 17 to Plot Point ZZZ93XXX, because Moira Morgan gave £100 to a “throwaway man-on-the-street” character who looked down on his luck, just for taking a picture of Moira and Carl at Stonehenge.  (Yes, folks, Moira and Carl are BACK!!!)  When I wrote that scene in my current work-in-progress (WIP), I certainly hadn’t plotted it that way.  But it was exactly what Moira would do.  And it CHANGED EVERYTHING.  That’s right—a simple act of charity, done in typical Moira-style, sent the plot off in a completely unexpected direction with unintended consequences.  Last night, as I was rehearsing with the BeOne Celebration Choir, it came to my WHY I had named another “throwaway” character… what I named him.  (Possible major spoiler for students of Celtic Mythology, so I’m not going to use his name here…)  Suddenly, his motivations became clear.  And it CHANGED EVERYTHING.  When I finally understood who Branwen is in my current WIP, it CHANGED EVERYTHING.  My beta readers said, “I did NOT see that coming.”  (And frankly, neither did I!  And that is what’s so COOL.)

So, even if you are a plotter or an outliner, don’t get so locked into your plot or outline that you don’t let your characters take over.  They know who they are better than you do.  I know that sounds insane, since they come from the author’s head, but… you gotta listen to the voices in your head.  I know I do…  By listening to your characters, you can allow the plot to go off in a different direction than you originally planned.  And who knows, it could be the RIGHT direction.

When it comes to real life, however, we cannot be plotters and outliners.  However, sadly, we too often are.  Because people are HUMAN (even if they are purple Drazi).  If we think we have someone else—anyone else—all figured out, if we put them into neat little boxes based on their apparent political affiliation or their religious headgear or their eye color or the fact that they think Picard is in any way superior to Kirk or their need to drink human blood to survive, we have sold them (and ourselves) short.  We have given up on getting to know them.  And when we do that, we don’t allow the plot (life) to move forward in the direction it SHOULD go.

And remember, don’t let fact that a Picard fan is completely and utterly delusional cause you to treat that poor soul as less than human—they’re mistaken, not evil.  That delusional and wrong person is more complicated than their choice of the wrong starship captain.  Remember the most important thing here—John Sheridan can kick any Star Trek captain’s butt.  And even if you believe (mistakenly) otherwise, I can still treat you like a child of God.

 

Written with his customary clear prose, C. David Belt has crafted a knock-your-socks-off paranormal novel set in the late 70s in Missouri. Tabitha Moonshadow and her divorced mom, Molly, are trying to start over as disparaged Mormons in a small, rural town, but overwhelming obstacles keep them on edge, dealing with forces of evil they had never even imagined. With delicate language, Belt handles the touchy issues of secrets, sexual assault, incest, and magic, while deftly guiding Tabitha in her journey involving the defense of her best friend and wielding mysterious power. Highly recommended for mature LDS readers.

Marsha Ward, author of The Owen Family Saga

“I’m almost done with this chapter.” That’s what I told the impatient flight attendant who asked me to get off the plane so she could get to her hotel. Be prepared to say that to your family, friends, your boss, or a police officer because this book grabs you and doesn’t let go until the very last page.
C David Belt, one of the premier voices in LDS paranormal fiction, delivers again with this tale of witchcraft, love, magic, and power. You’ll be enchanted with Tabitha and her mom, Molly, as they try to begin life over again in rural Missouri in 1978 only to find a new evil waiting for them. Tabitha must navigate a new high school, new friends, and new powers. Powers that Magnus, the High Priest of the Circle wants to control. Tabitha and her mom must learn who they can trust before it’s too late.
Belt deftly weaves in themes of control, sexual abuse, and the abuse of authority with magic, humor, and one young woman’s journey to discover who she really is. While certainly not graphic in nature, this book addresses rape, incest, and sexual assault and is written for a mature audience, but a mature LDS audience.
So, grab your mug of hot chocolate and get ready to settle in, y’all’re about to go one hel-, er, heck of a ride.

Dan Earl – DeWitt, MI

I’m not a horror fan, but I do love a story where the characters overcome overwhelming odds. Tabitha’s father made bad choices that destroyed her family. Tabitha and her mom are trying to start over and find themselves in a little town that is quite un-hospitable to Mormons. Tabitha is trying to understand who she really is now that life has changed so much and wondering how she might put her life back together. Those who befriend her want to use her, and she finds herself in the middle of a trap that is truly unique to her and seems to offer somethings that she has always wanted. The trap blinds her to the reality and the temptations that she is facing. She has to fall back on her faith and learn to trust others, which after being betrayed by her father is incredibly difficult. She discovers things about the past that help her to remember how to rely on inspiration from a loving Heavenly Father. This is truly a unique story. David Belt is a masterful story-teller and had me wondering how things could possibly work out from the very first chapter.

Dean R. Giles, Author of “Dragons Restored” – Provo, UT

This book was not afraid to tackle some hard questions. I loved the exploration of how a teenage girl might reconcile her magical powers with a Christian-based faith. Though it’s set nearly 40 years ago, I found Tabitha’s journey to find her place as a woman extremely relevant today. The Witch of White Lady Hollow examines some pretty complex issues. While not graphic in it’s portrayal, the story addresses sexual assault and rape with raw honesty and vulnerability. I stayed up far past my bedtime to see how Tabitha and Molly were going to fare as they navigated their new move, new friends, Tabitha’s new magic, and new romances, and I was not disappointed.

Crystal Brinkerhoff

C. David Belt has a real way with character development, creating an interesting story, and keeping you wondering what in the world is going to happen next; thus, it can be a challenge to put the book down!

Most of the time while reading The Witch of White Lady Hollow, I was reminded of how it feels to be a participant in a murder mystery dinner party. This was a murder mystery dinner in book form–sometimes even complete with an actual meal for me to munch on whilst continuing to further my reading after a good, long workday.

I had an easy time painting the town and scenes from the book in my head; I felt like I was there in the mind of each character as the author transported me, the reader, from chapter to chapter, exploring the vantage point that each character had on any given event in the story.

I enjoyed the time I spent getting to know the Moonshadows and their friends, foes, and associates. (By the way, “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens is an excellent song!) Also, discovering the clues and piecing them together helped keep the old noggin sharp, which was a very mentally-satisfying activity. Thanks for the opportunity, David!

Alison Barton – Salt Lake City, UT

My lovely wife gave me an English longbow for Christmas.  (This woman gets me!)

I have a quiver of arrows for my new longbow, and the arrows are not designed for hunting deer or splitting the Sheriff of Nottingham’s arrow on a target.  No, my arrows are all “bodkin-tipped.”  Bodkin arrows are not very accurate, but they don’t need to be.  They are designed to pierce armor.  In the Middle Ages, longbowmen would stand behind the army and fire these bodkin arrows high into the air.  The arrows would then rain down upon the enemy army, punching through armor and shields.  In short, these arrows are designed to kill people.  And they were very effective.  They fulfilled the measure of their creation.

Over the years, my wife has given me many medieval weapons, usually at Christmas.  These include swords, maces, war hammers (which are actually unsuited to the purpose of hammering in a nail), a halberd, spears, daggers, and axes.  (And shields, helms, breastplates, gauntlets, etc.)  With the exception of the official Heron-Mark Sword from Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” which is a fantasy piece, and three pieces that are actually of ancient origin, these weapons are all historically accurate, battle-ready beauties.  (Even the Heron-Mark is battle-ready.)  They are all very sharp (except for the maces and hammers, of course) and extremely lethal.  These weapons were created for one purpose and one purpose only—to kill.

I teach classes on medieval weaponry at Renaissance faires, Celtic festivals, and writers’ conferences.  The purpose of these classes is three-fold:

  1. To inspire a love of history—there are few things to compare with the light in a child’s eyes as he or she gets to hold an actual sword (under parental supervision, of course);
  2. To help authors choose weapons for their characters and to describe the use of those weapons accurately in their stories (otherwise you get eleven-year-olds wielding 3-foot-long bronze swords, which is blatantly impossible, because bronze is HEAVY and BRITTLE);
  3. To teach that there are real consequences when using lethal force and there is a very high price paid by the brave men and women who stand between us and the forces of tyranny.

You see, swords are COOL.  We love to read about swords and sword-fighting.  We watch “The Princess Bride” and are thrilled to see the Dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. Wesley) fighting Inigo Montoya in an improbably long and unlikely hand-switching rapier ballet.  We love to see Robin Hood splitting the Sheriff of Nottingham’s arrow.  And while we indulge in the fantasy of “The Three Musketeers” or the dramatic sword battles on “Highlander: The Series,” the reality of armed combat is that it is quite gruesome.  And life is not like a video game—there are no floating hearts to give you extra lives, there is no reset button, and you don’t get to go back to the last save-point when you die.

People often ask me, “If someone came into your home and threatened you and your family, what sword would you grab?”  And I reply, “My Smith & Wesson 9mm.”  Because, if someone threatens my family in my home, I will use lethal force.  But if I can’t make it to my (legally obtained) handgun, I know exactly which sword I’d grab.  And I would not hesitate to use it.

But I have never actually used one of my weapons to kill (or even to deter).  And I hope that I will never be in a situation where I would need to thrust my Roman gladius into an intruder’s gut.

Now, according to some folks who want to take away my right to own weapons (most of whom walk about with armed bodyguards), once they get my gun, they’re going to have to come after my swords too.  Because, after all, why do I NEED a sword?  Consider, however, that in the UK, where it is virtually impossible for a private citizen to own a firearm, knife violence is epidemic.  It seems that if you are intent on committing murder, being unable to legally obtain a gun is no deterrent.  (Did you know that the flail—and yes, I have one—started out as an agricultural implement used to thresh grain?  Tell that to the King of the Nazgul!)

So I will go on collecting weapons, writing about them in my novels, and teaching about them to wide-eyed children, youth, and adults.  In short, I will go on amassing objects that exist for one purpose—to kill people.  Why?  I certainly don’t NEED to own a single sword, much less dozens of them.  (There are over 80 pieces in my arsenal.)  So why?  Because I WANT to, because I think they’re cool.

And I have news for the Al Sharptons of the world.  If you come to take away my swords, be warned—I now have a longbow.

 

I found this one on Amazon:

I don’t usually delve very deeply into the horror genre, but ever since I read Mr. Belt’s “Children of Lilith” trilogy, I’ve been a fan of his work. And he’s truly outdone himself with “The Sweet Sister.”

Peggy Carson has been in love with her best friend Derek for years. She’s tried repeatedly to get him to see her as something more than a friend, but in Derek’s eyes, she remains firmly in the friendzone. So when Derek starts obsessing over a collection of old diaries that he swears were written by the same woman intermittently over a span of centuries–a woman he thinks is a fairytale princess suffering from a curse–it breaks Peggy’s heart to see him determined to pursue his “princess” who might not even be real, when she’s right there already.

Well, it turns out the princess is real: Derek manages to find her and is completely smitten with beautiful, innocent Elaine. He is convinced that her hideously disfigured sister, Morgaise, is the source of Elaine’s curse, and begins courting Elaine not only because he’s attracted to her but also to dig into the mystery surrounding her apparent hopping through time (based on what he read in her diaries) in the hopes of finding a way to free her from the curse. Peggy–knowing instinctively that Elaine and her sister are trouble–tries to dissuade Derek, to no avail. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so suffice it to say that what’s actually going on is a lot more terrifying than Derek could have imagined.

I found a lot of things to like in this book. Anyone who’s been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe probably had the same reaction I did to the name Peggy Carson–sounds a lot like Peggy Carter, Captain America’s paramour from the 1940s, right? Derek and Peggy joke about that in the book, and I appreciated the nod to a movie that I love. I was also highly amused by a scene that takes place at Salt Lake Comic Con. I looooove SLCC, and I totally identified with Peggy as a cosplayer; she dresses as Tauriel from the Peter Jackson “Hobbit” movies. But what amused me about this scene was that Mr. Belt wrote himself a cameo as an author selling books from a booth at the con.

Another thing that really impressed me was the blending of two different types of horror in the story. There’s the visceral, animal-instinct fear of death that you would probably feel when confronted with an angry bear or a pack of wolves out in the wild; we residents of first-world countries don’t really have to deal with that kind of fear very often anymore. Then there’s the more subtle, creeping fear of something that looks human and good, but is concealing evil inside, and *you can’t tell the difference.* It’s the kind of horror triggered by stories of serial killers that look like any other person, body-snatchers, or demonic possession. Both kinds of horror are present in abundance in “The Sweet Sister.” I can’t think of many things that could trigger an instant fight-or-flight response more effectively than being growled at by a pair of horse-sized obsidian-black dogs that look like they could be Hades’s literal pet hellhounds. And it seriously freaks me out to contemplate the idea of dating a guy, really getting to like him–maybe even love him–only for him to lure me, unsuspecting, into the victim’s role of a human sacrifice, because *that had been his plan all along.* Two different kinds of fear, but equally effective and masterfully blended in this book.

I think my favorite part of the book, though, was Peggy herself. She’s a proud geek, like me, and she doesn’t think she is pretty enough–which I certainly relate to, and I’m pretty sure most women do as well. But she’s also tough, brave, clever, compassionate, and not afraid to put up a fight when necessary. Additionally, I was very pleased to see her grow as a character by the end of the book in terms of gaining more confidence in herself and becoming emotionally mature enough to realize that what she originally thought she wanted wasn’t actually going to make her happy.

One more thing–the big reveal of Elaine and Morgaise’s identity/relationship had my jaw on the floor. That was the last explanation I expected, and it just made the whole book so much creepier.

Ok, I lied; that wasn’t actually the last thing. Sources of possible objectionable content in “The Sweet Sister”: not many, for a horror novel. There are a couple of grisly ritualistic murders and a seriously freaky sanguivorous tree, but the most graphic violence is kept “offscreen” so you just see the lead-up and the aftermath. This is more psychological horror than “let’s see how much fake blood and guts we can splatter across the room before somebody loses their lunch” horror. There is mention of rape, plus a scene where a man attempts it but is thwarted. No actual sex. No obscene language either.

As I said at the beginning of my review, I think “The Sweet Sister” is Mr. Belt’s best story yet–absolutely worthy of a full 5-star rating. If you want a book that will surprise you and make you want to sleep with the lights on, you won’t want to miss this one.

From Joel Rees at http://reiisi.blogspot.jp/2018/03/new-book-witch-of-white-lady-hollow.html

Some might question whether a good Mormon could write real horror novels.

But many good Mormons read horror novels. I think I might suggest that is at least one good reason why we need good Mormon authors to write in the horror genre.

The Witch of White Lady Hollow, by C. David Belt, is a new novel in the horror/fantasy genre. When it is published, you will be able to find it in the usual places. (I had the opportunity to beta-read it through the LDS Beta Readers group on Facebook.)

The setup has a Mormon divorcee, Molly Moonshadow, moving to a 1970s backwater town in Missouri with her high school-aged daughter Tabitha, to teach, and to escape from an abusive ex-husband. She has found a cheap house outside city limits where she can live with her daughter.

That the house is haunted is probably not surprising, but what–or who haunts it, and how dangerous the haunting is, is a very interesting story that takes much of the novel to unfold.

Whether the haunting is limited to their house or extends beyond it is another question of interest, as is the involvement of the local police, other high school staff, students, and even the local branch of the Church.

Belt uses the tools of horror fantasy to explore some very real issues of abuse. Sexual preference, gender identity, power relationships, and rape are also touched on. Innocent people do get hurt, but abusive people get their just deserts (sometimes in ways that are graphic enough to turn more than the stomach — be warned).

If you are looking for light fantasy, this is not. But it’s also not a one-way trip down.

I am not a fan of horror, so it’s a little out of my genre. But I think it’s a good read, and thought-provoking. I suspect that some of my friends and family who are fans of horror will find it a very good read, too.

“Life isn’t all sunshine and bunny rabbits.  And that’s a good thing.  Because too much sunshine gives you cancer, and bunnies eat their babies.”

That “fun” quote is from my oldest son.  He teaches middle school social studies, and as such, has to talk about current events.  And by the way, when he says the part about bunny rabbits and their babies, a lot of the kids get upset, but the kids who actually raise rabbits (and there are a lot of them in his class) all nod their heads.

Current events are not always “fun” to talk about.  My son makes it his goal that his students will NEVER discover his political views.  He doesn’t want to teach them WHAT to think, but rather HOW to think for themselves.

One day recently in his class, he was discussing Jerusalem and the conflict there, when one of his students suddenly stormed out of the room.  When she returned hours later to collect her books, she said, “You are the worst teacher in the world!  Why can’t you just give us a worksheet like everybody else?  I don’t want to hear about war!”  The student demanded and received a transfer to another class (where, hopefully, she will only have to fill out worksheets and not have to think about anything challenging).

My wife and I recently watched “Darkest Hour” at the theatre.  Wonderful movie!  Fantastic on every level.  And Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill?  Flawless.  It was the story of how one man stood almost completely alone in his government against the darkness consuming Europe.  At least, he thought he was alone.  Late in the movie, he finds out that he has the backing of a very important group of people—the British people.  I came home with an intense desire to watch “Dunkirk” again.  Another great movie, in that case, about the military side of Churchill’s struggle.  I immediately ordered “The Battle of Britain” (1969, Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer, and many others).  As I watched these dramatic interpretations of the darkest days of WWII from the British perspective, of a time when the Great Britain stood alone against the overwhelming might of Hitler and his monstrous Third Reich, I was thrilled.

If Churchill and Britain had not stood, hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, we would have lost all of Europe and the war.  At least that is my opinion.  So many of the British elites demanded surrender.  There was no hope, no chance.  It was madness and arrogance to say, “We will fight them!”  I so admire Winston Churchill and the courage of the Royal Air Force and the British people.

The world is a scary place.  A lot of bad… stuff is going on, at home and abroad.  And we don’t want to be scared.  We don’t want to live in fear.  We don’t want to dwell on the negative.  (Well, that’s not exactly true.  I DO know people who love conflict, who revel in negativity.  Believe it or not, I’m not one of them.)  We just want to be happy, enjoy our families, our friends, our jobs, and our hobbies.

But we are also required to be watchmen and watchwomen.  We are required to warn our neighbors.  And we cannot be watchers if we don’t WATCH.

If we don’t seek to learn about what is going on in the world, if our only source for news is the nightly news of our favorite network, or the news webpage of our choice, or our favorite radio show, or our favorite morning news and variety show, or worse—social media, then what we know or how we think is shaped by those outlets.  We are told WHAT to think, not HOW to think for ourselves.  And I don’t care what outlet you choose, the information you receive WILL be slanted.

I was once asked, “When you get to the other side, what one person do you most want to talk with—other than your family and the Savior?”  I didn’t pause or have to think about it.  Out of all the people I would most want to chat with, it would be Captain Moroni.  Most people want to gloss over the “war chapters” in the Book of Alma, but I love them.  And it’s not because of the war itself—it’s because of that man, Moroni, who stood against the darkness, who rallied men and women to the cause of the Lord and freedom.  Mormon himself wrote, “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17)

Moroni stood in a world that was full of darkness.  He was a watchman, a soldier, a patriot, and a Christian.  So was Winston Churchill.

When I finally do grow up (which is not even on the horizon), I want to be like Captain Moroni with a bit of Churchill’s wisdom and wit in the mix.  And often, that means pondering and discussing and warning about things that include the unhappy side of sunshine and bunny rabbits.

Several years ago, when President Howard W. Hunter passed after serving as the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a mere nine months, a friend of mine expressed his condolences.  My friend was Catholic, and his expression of sympathy was sincere, but he was perplexed at my response.  Although I thanked him for his kind words, he didn’t understand why I wasn’t in mourning. 

I smiled at him.  “President Hunter was a great man.  And even though he wasn’t the prophet for very long, I grew to love him.  But, it’s not about him.  It’s not about the man.  It’s never about the man.  He was not the Man in charge.” 

Howard W. Hunter was never the Captain of the Great Ship Zion.  He was merely the first mate.  And like any good first mate, he humbly followed the orders of his TRUE Captain. 

And likewise, with the recent passing of President Thomas S. Monson, while I do mourn him, I do not mourn for the Church.  I was privileged to sing at his funeral, and I honor him as a great man.  He finished his race, he served his Lord, and he is with Him now.  And he has been reunited with his beloved wife.  I am happy for Thomas S. Monson.  And I am grateful to serve in the Choir he loved.  I am grateful to have sat at his feet (well, up in the Choir loft behind and above him) and to have listened to his loving and prophetic counsel.   

But he was not the Captain either. 

I read a number of obituaries in the media published after President Monson’s passing.  Some were reasonably fair.  Others were barely disguised anti-Mormon propaganda.  One particularly disgusting piece called the Church a “leaderless gerontocracy,” and said that we would need to wait for the deaths of five more old men before we had a senior apostle “born after WWII.”  The point of the “obituary” is that we must be desperately in need of younger men to lead the Church so that we can get past the outmoded notions of the past. 

Well, to such critics I say, “You’d best find a comfortable seat, a pillow, and a blanket.  Because you’re gonna be waiting a LONG time.” 

The TRUE Captain is and always has been the Lord Jesus Christ.  And He is not going to change His mind with the times.  He is never going to say to us, “Okay!  NOW I get it!!!  You wise mortals were right all along.  Oopsie, my bad.”  He will never say that, because His Father sees the end from the beginning.  He knows all truth.  He is Eternal.  And He changes not. 

And His Son is the Captain of the Great Ship Zion. 

President Russel M. Nelson will be announced tomorrow as the new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the newly ordained prophet of the Lord.  He will serve humbly as the new first mate as long as his mission on Earth shall last.  I already love him.  I sustain him.  But he is not and never will be the Captain. 

If you are waiting for President Nelson or any other man or woman to change the Lord’s mind, you are entertaining a false hope.  And if you are offering that false hope to others, you are not helping them—you are aiding in their self-destruction and adding to their misery.  There is only one truth.  Truth isn’t malleable.  Truth doesn’t change with the years, centuries, or millennia.  The Lord testifies that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I testify that Jesus Christ lives.  I know that He loves us, that He offered Himself as a sacrifice so that we might be redeemed and cleansed from sin, so that we might be made whole.  Whatever your burdens, whatever trials you are suffering through, cast your burden upon Him.  Do not be deceived by the philosophies and “wisdom” of mortals.  Do not wallow in false and vain hopes.  He is the one true Hope. 

He knows you.  He loves you.  And He will save you if you will but let Him. 

It’s not about the man.  It is about the Son of Man.  It always has been. 

 

Yesterday was a dark day for me.  Probably one of the darkest of my life.

I’m not going to go into the reasons.  Some of them are very real.  Some of them are not.  Some of them are great and some of them are trivial.  And quite frankly, when you find yourself staring into the abyss, the how’s and why’s of what brought you to that dread position don’t matter.  All that matters is that you feel the darkness closing around you, leeching away light and joy and hope.

And the hardest part?  At least for me yesterday?  It seemed as if I were completely unable to communicate how I felt.  Not that I didn’t try.  I did.  Sort of.  Then I just gave up trying to share how I felt.  Perhaps I didn’t want to burden others with my own personal darknessespecially those I love.  Perhaps I just felt as if no one else would understand.

For most of my life, I have been able to sense pain in others.  I know at times I can be remarkably, even stupendously insensitive, but when my empathic sensors are on, I can pick up on someone else’s pain.  I can’t share it.  I can’t relieve it.  But I can feel it.

Yesterday, I encountered a dear friend.  Well, we don’t hang out or anything, but he’s a Choir friend, and over the years, he has become very dear to me.  And I saw that he was in pain.  And I felt it.  Deeply.  But I could do nothing to succor him.  Already struggling myself yesterday, I felt the darkness reaching for me all the more.

We sang the broadcast.  And we sang that beautiful, inspiring song from “Carousel”—“You’ll Never Walk Alone”:

When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark.
Walk on through the wind.
Walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on.  Walk on, with hope in your heart,
And you’ll never walk alone.
You’ll never walk alone.

During the broadcast, I sang that song.  I sang it with all my heart.  With all my soul.  Like I always do.  But it did nothing to lift my spirits.

I came through the day.  I came through my storm.  But I did not hold my head up high.

But that day is past.  And there IS a golden sky and sweet music this morning.

And I was NOT alone, even when I felt completely abandonedeven when I could see no hope, Hope was there, walking beside me.

Perhaps that’s why I write LDS horror books and why my own stupid stories make me weep like a romance novel editor.  I feel the emotions of my characters so deeply, because, quite frankly, they come from inside me.  It’s called “horror” for a reason.  You see, we all walk through storms, through darkness.  But there is that “LDS” part too.  It’s NOT really about the darkness.  It’s about passing through the storm—passing through darkness to get back to the light—grasping at hope in the midst of hopelessnessand finding it.  LDS horror, at least to me, is about finding, in our own way, that our loving Savior is still there.  He will not abandon us.  He will walk each step of the way as we drag our own individual crosses to Calvary.  “Hold on!” he cries.  “I know it hurts.  I know the pain you’re feeling is real.  I have felt it too.  All of it.  I have carried it all.  And I WILL take it away.  Just don’t give up.  Please believe me.  Believe IN me.  Walk on through the wind and rain of this life.  Let me be your hope.  Let me be your golden sky.  And you’ll never walk alone.”

As it says in one of my favorite hymns, in the final verse which we rarely sing in Church, but we always sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir,

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I know it’s hard sometimes.  I know sometimes it feels as if there is no hope.  I know sometimes all you can see is darkness.  I know sometimes all you can feel is the weight of your own cross.  But hold on.  Walk on, dragging your cross.  He has never abandoned you and He will never abandon you.  He is there, walking beside you, cheering you on, even when you can’t hear Him.  And the storm WILL pass.  And you WILL be lifted off your cross.  And you WILL see Him there with a golden sky and hear the sweet silver song of the lark.

You never walk alone.

From John Abercrombie:

In the latest Star Wars film (Episode 8: The Last Jedi), there’s a scene where Master Yoda is briefly speaking with Master Luke Skywalker about the sacred Jedi texts—which Skywalker believes are then being burned. Yoda quips “Page turners they are not,” which elicits laughter when you realize he’s indicating how boring they are. I submit that David Belt’s books, including “The Witch of White Lady Hollow”, are just the opposite; they are very interesting and compelling to read! I always have a hard time putting them down! David depicts the scenes and characters with such vivid details that it’s easy to picture them in your mind when reading through the story. From his descriptions of Tabitha, Molly, Mike, Joey, and others I can picture how they look, feel how they feel, and imagine how they would act—which makes the story really come alive. Like the protagonist in the story, I was kept guessing to the end. I was brought through a roller coaster ride of being scared, to laughing, to being angry, to sleuthing, and to breathing sighs of relief as I read it. To me these are signs of a great story that doesn’t disappoint. Enjoy!

From Adam Ward:

The Witch of White Lady Hollow by C. David Belt is the story of a teenage girl who, upon moving to a small town in Missouri, begins discovering she has special powers. The allure of those seductive powers not only creates conflict within herself as she tries to reconcile those new experiences with her Mormon upbringing, but also makes her a target of powerful and unsavory men who want to exploit her abilities.

It is a fresh story with a unique plot that will quickly captivate a reader’s interest. Belt introduces a wide range of characters that he uses to propel the page-turner’s many twists and turns, keeping the reader guessing until the very end.

Despite the book’s horror genre, Belt does a fine job of infusing humor and a Mormon protagonist’s worldview throughout the story, both of which are refreshing ways of keeping the story from getting too dark.

Although there are nuances in the book that may be missed by those not familiar with the Mormon faith, the story has a universal appeal that can be enjoyed by readers of all backgrounds.

Sex and hair color.

When I’m creating a character for a novel, writing a character sketch, the two most important physical features I list are sex and hair color.  Then comes age.  I MIGHT list eye color (probably about half the time).  Even more rarely, I might talk about the character’s height and build.  Skin color or race or ethnic heritage becomes a factor only when it’s important to the story (like being the only black kid in a predominantly white high school in the South).  Otherwise, what a character looks like DOESN’T MATTER.  (Unless it does… for the aforementioned story purposes.)  You see, I’d LIKE for readers to able to see THEMSELVES in the character.  I’d like for readers to be able to identify with the protagonist as much as possible.  (And occasionally, the villain…)

Now, I know that RACE and HERITAGE often define how we think of ourselves and others.  And quite frankly, it sucks.

I went to see the new Star Wars recently—and NO SPOILERS here—my absolute FAVORITE character is ROSE.  She is SO relatable.  She is so… ME.  And I know she LOOKS NOTHING LIKE ME.  But who cares?  The fact that she was female and had black hair and brown eyes doesn’t change a thing.  What?  You want to point out that her ancestors came from a different part of the world than mine?  You want to point out that her family tree doesn’t have its roots in Scotland?

Who cares?

She was so ME.

And besides, this was Star Wars.  In Star Wars, people come from all around the galaxy.  They are of different SPECIES.  They speak differently languages (which somehow everyone seems to miraculously understand).  They LOOK different.  And they don’t seem to notice.

Now, wouldn’t that be cool.

It seems that, as a society, as a SPECIES, we are hell-bent (no pun intended) on dividing ourselves into TRIBES.  We seem to use any excuse to divide ourselves:

  • You can’t understand me, because you’re a different sex. I mean, some people are even trying to say that TWO sexes aren’t enough.  There are 32+ genders out there, according to some people, and the number is growing.  Wow!  Even MORE ways to divide us!
  • You can’t understand me, because your eyes are a different color. You don’t know what it’s like to have blue eyes! Sound stupid?  Well, to me, at least, it’s about as stupid as differentiating us by the color of our hair or skin.  Let me get this straight?  I’m supposed to hate people, because they LOOK different?  I’d have to hate members of my own family.  We don’t all have the same eye color or hair color, after all.  And yes, some of us have different amounts of melanin in our skin.  I mean the people in STAR WARS seem to get this.  Why can’t we?
  • You can’t understand me, because my ancestors were slaves! Uh, so were mine.  And some of my ancestors were slave owners.  And so were some of yours.  Slavery has been around for a LONG time and every race has participated in it on both sides at some point.  Are you a slave right now?  Me, neither.  You want to get worked up about slavery?  How about we help liberate modern-day slaves?  I support www.ourrescue.org with monthly donations.  That’s my big cause.  After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, that’s where I send my money.
  • You hate gay people! Uh, once again, wrong.  You can ask my friends, the people who know me, and know who I like to hang out with.  I can disagree with people on the definition of what marriage is and still LOVE them.  We don’t have to hate each other just because we disagree, even if we STRONGLY disagree.
  • You can’t understand me, because you voted for <fill-in-the-blank>. Actually, I didn’t vote for whom you might assume, but I do vote according my conscience.  As I’m sure you do too.  And we don’t have to hate each other if we voted differently.
  • You can’t understand me, because you’re Sottish and I’m Irish! You hate Irish people!  Uh, no.  I married the most bonnie Irish lass in the world.  And I don’t hold her inferior Irish blood against her.  Actually, did you know that the Scottii came from Ireland?  That’s right—the Scots and the Irish are the same people.  (That’s why they both speak Gaelic.)  So, whatever country or civilization your ancestors came from, I’m VERY cool with that.  And, BTW, I’m also Jewish, Norwegian (read “Viking”), and English.  And that’s cool.  And there was this dude called Adam and this lady called Eve.  We’re all related if you go back far enough.
  • You can’t understand me, because you’re a Mormon. And Mormons HATE people who disagree with them.  Uh, do you actually KNOW a Mormon?  This may come as a shock, but Mormons are supposed to LOVE everyone.  That’s what our faith teaches us.  If individuals fall short of that goal, it’s not because they’re Mormon—it’s because they’re human.  Like you.
  • You don’t understand what it’s like to be sexually assaulted! Seriously?  Do I really need to list my sex-assault-survivor creds to you?  Again?  Well, tough.  I’m not going to.
  • You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman! Well, you got me there.  I don’t.  (And I know I already mentioned this one, but…)  I do know what it’s like to spend my life defending, respecting, and revering women and girls.

The ancient enemy (no, not the Sith) hates us.  He loathes us.  He envies us.  He wants to destroy us.  He wants to destroy us as INDIVIDUALS.  And he knows the best way to accomplish that goal is to divide us up.  You know, divide and conquer?  He wants us to hate each other for our differences.  He wants us to separate into TRIBES.  It’s a very effective strategy.  Time-tested.  Battle-proven.  And lethal, both physically and spiritually.

So, why the heck are we helping him?  Because hate makes us happy?

Hatred and division don’t make anyone happy.  Except Satan.  And it doesn’t really make him happy either.  He doesn’t know what happiness is anymore.  He doesn’t understand love either.  All he can do is pervert and counterfeit it to destroy us.  And he’s very, very good at what he does.  We, on the other hand, are not all that good at recognizing his tactics.  He doesn’t change them.  He’s not that original.  But he does rebrand and hire new spokespeople.

But we can beat him.  We can learn the lesson of Star Wars.  Even better, let’s learn the lesson of Christmas.  We are ONE people.  ONE race.  ONE species.

SOME differences DO matter.  For example, without male and female, WE WOULD NOT EXIST!  I am VERY grateful that my dear sweetheart is different from me.  Our differences are what make us interesting, what bond us together.  But the surface differences, like eye color, just don’t matter one bit.  (Well, except to say, “Wow!  Your eyes are pretty!”  Which I say a lot to a particular bonnie Irish lass.)  It’s our human souls that matter.  We all come from one Father and Mother.

Jesus came to Earth to unite us, to make it possible for us to achieve the peace and good will the angels declared.  We can’t do that with hate.  We can only do that with love.

And no spoilers here, but Rose’s final line in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (which I’m not going to quote, because that would be a spoiler) was what made that movie just about perfect for me.

Please, let’s become ONE.  The Babe of Bethlehem grew up and said, “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”  He also said, “A new commandment I give unto you.  That ye love one another as I have loved you.”  We are all children of God.  Let’s start emulating our Father and Mother and our Elder Brother, our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer, the Babe of Bethlehem, even Jesus Christ.

Author Interview

via Here is my interview with C. David Belt

Sneaking a Breath

We hold a LOT of long notes in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—I mean, a lot of really LONG notes.  Now, as a soloist (although I have never done an INTENTIONAL solo in the Choir, I do have some experience in this area), I can sustain longer notes with the proper breath-control.  But that style of singing doesn’t work in the Choir.  The strong vibrato (wobble) in the voice that a soloist can and does employ stands out.  <best-Rod-Serling-voice>Imagine if you will, 360 singers all singing with their own natural vibrato, all singing out of phase with one another.  Oh, the horror!  (Seriously, it sounds awful.)  So, when we hold those long notes, typically we have to allow some air to escape (called “singing on the breath”).  This means you run out of air much more quickly than you would normally.  And that means you can’t possibly carry the longer notes all the way to the end.

So, we sneak breaths.  And that’s okay, because the other singers around us can carry the note while we surreptitiously suck in a partial lung-full of air.  In other words, we don’t have to be “perfect” all the time.  Our brothers and sisters will help carry us along.  And when the guy next to you needs to breathe, you carry the note for him.  It’s actually pretty cool.  We strive for perfection, but we don’t have to be (and can’t be) perfect all the time.

I’m striving to be perfect, to carry my part and sustain those around me.  Life is like that.  We are MEANT to help and sustain each other on our mutual and individual quests for perfection.  We may not be able to carry on all the way to the end without a glitch, but we help each other to get to the end—in the Choir, as in life.

But as we strive to do this, an interesting phenomenon occurs.  We become so in-synch with each other that we start to sneak a breath in the same places.  This not good.  In fact, it is what I like to call… BAD.  You just can’t have everyone stop singing all at once in the middle of a note.  You can’t even have a cluster of just a few voices pause all at once.  It leaves “a hole in the sound”—the microphone picks that up, and it sounds—dare I say it again—BAD.

So, when I notice that I’m sneaking a breath in the same place as the men around me, I have to make a conscious effort to hold on just a little longer.  Once the guy next to me has breathed, I can (quietly) sneak in a little air.

Once again, this parallels life.  In striving for perfection and sustaining and lifting one-another, we have to recognize that each of us matters and each of us is different.  Our efforts are so much more efficient when we lift others according to their needs and their wants, remembering always that each of us is a unique child of God.  Remember the old proverb, “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.”

I don’t need you to be the same as me.  I don’t WANT you to be the same as me.  Our subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences are what make us interesting.  Soloists can be great, but a choir can be truly glorious.

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