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Archive for July, 2014

Eris

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The paperback edition of The Prophecy is officially for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!  http://www.unwillingchild.com 

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Yes, as many have suspected, I am a mutant.  I have a mutant super-power.  But as super-powers go, it’s pretty lame.  It would’ve been really cool if I had the ability to heal very quickly, or fly, or control metal objects, or generate ice, or heat.  (Although, my wife does say I sweat like a pig when I sleep, but that’s not a super-power.)  No, my mutant ability is nothing like that, sadly.  What is my mutant ability, you ask?  (And even if you didn’t ask, but are still reading, I’ll tell you anyway.) 

I grow mutant hairs. 

Yes, as astounding as this sounds, it’s true.  These mutant hairs grow singly in odd places on my body, and they appear at irregular intervals.  When a mutant hair does appear, it is just suddenly there seemingly overnight (or perhaps instantly) and it grows to a length of about three quarters of an inch.  One grows right between my eyebrows.  (And, no, I don’t have a unibrow—it’s just one hair!)  Another grows in the middle of my right eyebrow.  Another grows on my right earlobe.  These hairs are annoying, but when I see them, I simply pluck them. 

The mutant hairs that bother me the most are the ones that I can’t see: the ones in my nose.  The nose-hairs don’t stick out like any normal, self-respecting nose-hair should.  No, they grow inside my nose, usually right inside the tip of a nostril.  Then they curl.  Then they await their chance to strike like a ninja. 

This despicable attack invariably occurs at the worst possible moment: in the middle of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert or broadcast.  In fact, one such insidious teenage mutant ninja nose-hair attack occurred last night during the Pioneer Day Concert.  

It was right at the beginning of the finale.  Suddenly, without warning, the inside tip of my right nostril began to itch.  Horribly.  We’re not talking an annoying itch.  I can handle an itch that is merely annoying.  No, this was a devastating, all-consuming itch.  It was as if a bomb of itching powder had exploded inside my right nostril. 

And as any member of the Choir can tell you, there is absolutely nothing you can do about such an itch.  I mean, if your voice suddenly goes out or you get a “frog in your throat”, you may be uncomfortable, but you can fake it—you can simply mouth the words.  But you absolutely must not do something that looks bad on camera or draws attention to yourself.  So, if you have the sudden urge to sneeze, you just have suppress it.  And if you have a sudden, nasty itch, you absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, scratch it. 

And like I said, last night, I had a major twitching mutant nose-hair attack right as the finale began.  It was awful! 

When I first joined the Choir and my mutant power would launch a dastardly sneak attack, I would pray very hard for the itch to go away.  But that never worked, no matter how hard I pleaded with the Lord.  So, like any good military man, I realized that I needed to analyze the enemy attack and employ a different tactic. 

After much reconnaissance and analysis, I determined the following:

  • God had given me my mutant ability. 
  • God does not make mistakes. 
  • I was called to the Choir so that I could share the Spirit through music.
  • Failure was not an option.

Therefore, I needed to implement a new strategy.  I decided that, rather than praying for the itch to go away, I would pray for the strength to endure—not only to endure, but to do so with a smile on my face, a twinkle in my eye, joy in my heart, all while staying on pitch and rhythm. 

The apostle Paul spoke about a “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12.  This was some type of physical ailment that made life difficult for the apostle.  (Perhaps it was mutant nose-hairs.)  He prayed three times to the Lord and asked that it be removed.  In response to Paul’s supplications, the Savior said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul then said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

In other words, he humbly accepted the trial and relied on the Lord to help him overcome it. 

We all have our challenges, great and small.  Some are self-inflicted.  If our burdens are self-inflicted, repentance is always required.  The Lord will help us to repent.  Some challenges are inflicted by other people.  Some are given to us by God. 

We can pray for the Lord to remove our burdens.  And sometimes, He will.  But when He does not remove them, we can pray for the strength to bear our burdens and overcome our challenges. 

He will always help us to do that. 

And we will become stronger and better in the process.  And when we learn to bear our own burdens with the Lord’s help, we can help others to bear theirs.  Then we become more like Him. 

 

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We had to put down one of our two cats today.  Selena, a beautiful, tortoise-shell cat, had an aggressive form of cancer, and multiple surgeries were unable to stop it.  And although my wife and I had discussed the idea of not waiting too long to ease Selena’s pain, it became obvious over the holiday weekend that Selena was suffering greatly, even if she wasn’t vocalizing her agony.  As the veterinarian put it, “She’s stoic.”

But today was the day.

We’ve had to euthanize a number of pets over the years.  It never gets easier, even though we know we are bringing an end to pain and suffering.

I’ve always been the one to go in with the vet, to be there, to comfort the beloved pet, to hold it, pet it, speak softly to it when the time comes, but that’s not the hard part for me.  The drive to the vet is the worst part.  My wife usually accompanies me on the drive, holding the animal, trying to comfort the terrified creature.  I know Selena couldn’t understand what was being said, but it was still hard to find the words to speak to her as we drove her to the place where she was going to die.  What do you say?  “Don’t be scared?”  She had every right to be scared!  We were taking her to the scary place where she’d suffered through a number of surgeries; only this time we were taking her there to end her life.  The hardest part for me was watching my sweet wife on the drive, listening to her as she spent her last minutes with her beloved pet.

I think my dear eternal companion believes she doesn’t have the courage to be there in the final moments.  That’s my job, I suppose, to be there.  When we arrived at the vet, the woman at the counter kindly asked if I wanted to be in the room with Selena and the vet.  It would’ve been easier to just say, “No,” to walk away and leave my terrified cat to her fate, but I just couldn’t have done that.

Perhaps that’s part of being a man.  It takes courage, I suppose, to do hard things.  I was there when Selena died, while my dear wife waited in the car.  I held Selena and petted her as the vet injected her with a sedative.  I held her and petted her and spoke softly to her as she fell asleep.  Five minutes later, the vet returned.  I laid Selena on the table and petted her as the vet administered the overdose of barbiturates that would stop Selena’s heart.

But my sweet bride is mistaken if she believes she has less courage than I.  You see, throughout Selena’s illness, I could never bring myself to examine Selena’s tumors.  I left that horrible task to my wife.  My best friend, the nurturing mother that she is, she felt the tumors, examined them, determined that they were growing back. That took great courage.  Perhaps that’s part of being a woman, facing the challenges, the suffering that men are afraid to face.

I know that, if she’d had too, my wife would have found within herself the strength to be there with Selena at the end, just as I know that, if I’d had to, I would’ve examined the tumors.  But I didn’t have to, because my sweet wife had the courage to do it.  Men and women complement each other.  We are stronger together than we are as individuals.

Now we will mourn together and comfort one another.  And that is as it should be.

Goodbye, Selena.  We will miss you.

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Thank you, Sarah E. Seeley for inviting me to participate! You can find Sarah’s blog at http://slithersofthought.com/ or contact her @SarahESeeley.

About the blog hop:

We writers share these things, but informally during workshops and at conferences (and, for a handful of established writers, in printed interviews), but not so much through our open-forum blogs. With the hashtag #MyWritingProcess, you can learn how writers all over the world answer the same four questions. How long it takes one to write a novel, why romance is a fitting genre for another, how one’s playlist grows as the draft grows, why one’s poems are often sparked by distress over news headlines or oddball facts learned on Facebook…

1) What am I working on?

I’m currently working on a standalone science fiction novel, “Time’s Plague: A Tale Told in Five Acts.” Here’s the pitch:

Edgar has awoken in Hell.

Or more specifically, in the Hades Penal Colony on Callisto, moon of Jupiter.
The year is 2175, and interplanetary freighter captain, Edgar Cordell, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder he didn’t commit. He was framed by his best friend and business partner, Edmund Reagan, his ex-wife, Lyrica, and Edgar’s cargomaster, Georgie “Goner” Cornwall.

The prison is a hellish place, populated with murderers and rapists, the worst of the worst. All of them male. There is no warden, and there are no guards. All sentences are for life. There is no reprieve, no appeal. There is no escape from Hades. No ship ever lands there. It is forbidden and illegal. Prisoners and necessary supplies are dropped from orbit.

The prisoners rule.

Or more precisely, a brutal gang-lord rules—a man who calls himself “Lord Lucifer.”

Within an hour of his arrival, Edgar is savagely beaten and raped. Within days, his face is disfigured and his throat is cut.

But Edgar survives.

As I said, no ship ever lands on Callisto… that is, until a shuttle crash-lands. There is only one survivor—Lyrica, Edgar’s ex-wife, the person in all the solar system that Edgar hates most—the only woman Edgar has ever loved.

No woman can survive on Callisto. There is a plague on the moon that kills all females. When the colony was originally settled, all the women and girls became sick. 80% of them died before the colony could be evacuated.

And then there is the danger from the prisoners themselves. Edgar must find a way to protect Lyrica from the other men, get her off-world, and escape from Hades.

Lyrica is blinded in the crash. Edgar, with his scarred voice and face, is unrecognizable to her. She has no idea who her protector is. And Edgar isn’t about to reveal his identity. He assumes the persona of mad Tom Bedlam (his “prison name”).

Edgar will save Lyrica, he will protect her, but he desperately needs to know why she betrayed him… and what she was doing on the forbidden moon of Callisto.

“Time’s Plague” borrows themes and character names from Shakespeare’s “King Lear”. It is a tale of blindness, both physical and spiritual. It is a tale of love, loyalty, and betrayal, of hatred and madness, of violence and horror, and of honor, sacrifice, and friendship in the unlikeliest of places.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

LDS horror is a comparatively new genre with few entries (at least that I’m aware of). Although “Time’s Plague” is LDS sci-fi rather than horror, it’s not that different. In both cases, I like to dabble in themes of redemption, selfless courage, and agency. Although my books have elements of fantasy—sorry to break it to some folks out there, but vampires don’t exist—I’m not willing to bend the rules of physics or faith. I strive to be 100% consistent with the scriptures when dealing with matters of faith or doctrine. I love to incorporate myth and legend into my stories (Lilith, for example), but I’ll discard or alter the elements of the myth that cannot fit with the facts or established doctrine.

“The Children of Lilith” is a vampire story, but one of the things that has always bothered me about the popular vampire myth is the idea that you have no choice. If you are bitten by a vampire, you become a vampire. While that made for a frightening story, I was bothered by the idea of involuntary eternal damnation. For one thing, that’s not consistent with the scriptures. No-one can force eternal damnation on another.

So, I wanted to write a story in which vampirism is a choice. You have to choose to become a vampire. It can’t be forced upon you. You have to choose to become a serial killer in order to gain immortality, power, love, or whatever your motivation happens to be. And you can’t survive by drinking animal blood; it has to be human blood. So what happens when a decent Mormon guy becomes the world’s first and only unwilling vampire? How does he survive? How does he deal with what he has become?

How does he stay true to his covenants and beliefs?

Things have to work in my head. They must be logical. If something doesn’t work, if it doesn’t ring true, it doesn’t make it into my story.

3) Why do I write what I do?

That’s simple: because the voices in my head tell me to! (One of them just happens to be a 270 year-old Scottish penitent vampire who lives in Salt Lake City.) Seriously, though, I get an image in my mind—a tableau, if you will—that won’t let me go until I turn it into a story. Story ideas can haunt me for years. The image that inspired “The Children of Lilith” possessed me for a decade before I finally gave voice to it. My current work-in-progress has been tickling my brain since I first read “King Lear” in high school.

I love stories of selfless, moral courage. I’m inspired by the old man who survived a plane crash in the Potomac in icy water who kept pushing the life-preserver away so that others could be saved. He gave his life for complete strangers. I get choked up when I hear the story of the son who protected his mother with his own body during a drive-by shooting. I weep when I read of the teenage girl who stands firm in the face of the ridicule and persecution from her peers in order to preserve her integrity and her virtue.

We hear stories on the news of people, often innocent people, who have endured horrific evil. And we say, “Oh, that poor woman. Oh, that poor child. Oh, those poor people.” And the thought of what they have endured, what they continue to endure is so awful, that we turn it off, turn away. We’re glad that there are police, soldiers, therapists, social workers, bishops, relief society presidents, home teachers, visiting teachers, somebody else who will deal with the evil, who will try to stitch the pieces together in the aftermath.

However, the evil, the pain, the wounds, and the scars remain. In the end, only the Savior can cast out the evil, ease the pain, heal the wounds, and erase the scars.

But what of the innocent people who go through these horrors? What happens to them? Some will blame God. Some will become perpetual—almost professional—victims. Some will embrace the evil and perpetuate it, inflicting it on others. The victim becomes the victimizer.

And then there are the few who will stand and endure. They will push back against the darkness. They will trust in God that He will help them to endure, to survive, to thrive, and in the end, to be exalted.

That’s what LDS horror is all about.

Those are the kinds of stories I want to tell.

4) How does my writing process work?

I stew on an idea for a long time until the basic premise coalesces in my head. Then I research and research and research. Then I research some more. (Then I research even more.) Then I gather all my notes and write out the rules for how things work in the story. For example, for “The Children of Lilith,” I wrote down all the rules of vampirism, specifically what parts of the myth I could use (and how), what parts don’t work or are just plain silly (e.g., not being visible in mirrors, not being able to cross running water, etc.) or contradict the scriptures, and what I can bring to the myth that is new and original. Then I write character sketches and backstories. I describe settings and conditions in which the story will take place. Some writers would refer to this document as a “bible.” I simply call it my “notes.”

I don’t outline. I will write down an unordered list of “plot points” that may or may not make it into the story. I know how I want the story to end (at least in the broad strokes), but I don’t necessarily know how I’ll get there.

At this point, I’m ready to begin, but that’s never easy for me. I stew for a long time on the perfect opening, the perfect hook. This process is repeated at the start of every chapter. Once I finish a chapter, I make at least two revision passes on that chapter. Then I send it to my beta readers. I get feedback after every chapter. (I don’t want to get to the end of the story before I realize that some basic element is just wrong or makes little sense.)

Most important of all, I let the characters talk to me—so to speak. I was writing a pivotal moment in “The Unwilling” (volume 1 of “The Children of Lilith”). I knew exactly how I wanted the scene to go. I had it all planned out. Without warning, Moira MacDonald spoke up in my head and said, “I would nae ever say such a thing, laddie. Here’s what I’d say…” That moment changed not only the course of the chapter or the book, it redefined the whole trilogy—for the better. Of course, I looked back to make sure everything was consistent with what I’d already written, and I found, much to my amazement and delight, that I’d subconsciously known all along who Moira is and what she would do. Call it what you want: schizophrenia, multiple-personality disorder, or just a creative mind. Listen to your characters. They know who they are.

When I’ve finished the first draft of the manuscript, I make a revision pass of the whole. In my experience, however, very little of any substance changes.

Then I hit beta readers who haven’t been critiquing the manuscript chapter by chapter. After their feedback comes in, I’m ready to start the agonizing submissions process…

Meanwhile, I keep writing!

NEXT ON THE BLOG HOP:

On July 14th, the following authors will be continuing the #MyWritingProcess hop:

Michael D. Young: Michael is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Western Governor’s University with degrees in German Teaching, Music, and Instructional Design. He puts his German to good use teaching online German courses for High School students. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in community theater, playing and writing music and spending time with his family. He played for several years with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square and is now a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He is the author of the novels THE CANTICLE KINGDOM, THE CANTICLE PRELUDE, THE FROZEN GLOBE and THE LAST ARCHANGEL. He is also the author of the inspirational pamphlet PORTRAIT OF A MOTHER, a contributor to the anthologies PARABLES FOR TODAY and DARK STARS, the co-author of VOICES IN YOUR BLOOD and the author of several web serials through BigWorldNetwork.com. His most recent works are SING WE NOW OF CHRISTMAS, and CAROL OF THE TALES, two anthologies of short stories with the proceeds going to charity. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Bards and Sages Quarterly, Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign. Contact Mike at @mdybyu or check out his blog: http://www.writermike.com

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