Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mormon Writer Blogfest: Missionary Work and the Book of Mormon

Welcome to Small and Simple Things Week, Day 2. I've written this post in my head a bunch of times, but finally decided to take a chance and put it out there. I'm Mormon. It's true. And many of you have probably been pretty suspicious about it. After all, I grew up in Small Town, Utah, Mormon Central.

I've been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the official name of the Mormon Church) my entire life. It impacts every aspect of my life. When I was 21, I spent just over 18 months of my life serving as a full-time missionary for the Church. I learned more about human nature and relationships in that short period of time than almost any other time in my life. If you aren't a Mormon, you've probably met or seen one of those missionaries: the young kid in a suit and tie or a young lady riding a bike in a skirt. We're all pretty idealistic and hopeful about the people we'll encounter. We have an innate trust and desire to serve and strengthen others.

Missionary work is a pretty big focus of the LDS Church. It's not that we're trying to be pushy or tell everyone they are wrong. It's that we have something amazing and want to share it with everyone. It's like when you read a new book or get a great idea, you just want others to share what you are experiencing. One of the things that I spent months sharing with people is the Book of Mormon. It tells the story of a people who who lived in the American continent. They believed in and waited for the coming of Jesus Christ and their experiences of faith and testimony have changed my life. There are many who hear the title "Book of Mormon" and think the Mormon Bible, but that's not accurate. I read (and enjoy) the Bible, and use the Book of Mormon to supplement my understanding of the nature of God.

As an aside, the heading for this week "Small and Simple Things" actually comes from a reference in the Book of Mormon. I think it's really applicable to our lives as writers, in addition to on a more personal level. It's from a chapter in a book called Alma. Chapter 37 vs. 6: "Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise." I like to think that this small thing (me) could possibly do something that other people look at as amazing. It's also a great reminder to do the small things so that the big things actually happen.

I'm a deeply spiritual person and sometimes have a hard time sharing that part of my life, but now that I've kind of put it out there, if you have questions or want to chat about the LDS Church, I'm open to it. Just shoot me an email or something. And you might consider checking out these other blogs for more information from other Mormon bloggers who love writing, too.


Talli Roland said...

Thanks for sharing, Kayeleen!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Thanks for sharing. Faith is such a beautiful thing. :-)

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for sharing this, Kayeleen! I love that scripture.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Kayeleen, serving a mission is such an awesome way to show your love for the Savior. Great post!

Annette Lyon said...

Great post. I got a backseat view of missionary work as a kid (10-13) when my dad was a mission president. It was one of the best, most educational, and most spiritual times of my life, bar none.

Charity Bradford said...

Wonderful post Kayeleen. As I read I thought, "Oh, I should use this in my seminary class!" That was in reference to sharing the gospel as enthusiastically as a new book we read and loved. Thanks for sharing.

Sara B. Larson said...

What a wonderful post. Where did you serve your mission?

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

It's been really fun to share this side of me.

Sara-I served 10 years ago in the Missouri Independence Mission. I got to work in the Visitors' Center there. It was amazing.

Thanks everyone for your comments. I've enjoyed connecting with people on a totally different level with this blogfest.

Sandy Shin said...

Thank you for sharing these, Kayeleen!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kaylene:

I live next door to Jeff and Marge Clayton, wonderful people. Jeff was the president of your mission, but I don't know if he was there when you were there. Any chance you know Jeff and Marge. Small world.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Hey Anonymous: the Claytons were my mission presidents. I love and miss them.

Anonymous said...

Marge Clayton just helped us remodel our home. She's a terrific artist and she did a lot of color selection stuff with us, helping us make just the right color slections. Did you know that she is a wonderful painter? Wow. Just terrific.

And Jeff is Mr. Lawyer, Sunday School Substitute teacher. He and Marge have a calling as public affairs people. They take all sorts of big whigs, like Air Force Brass from the local Air Force Base, University Presidents, Pastors, Rabbis, and Catholic Bishops, to special LDS church events like the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas concerts, Big events like temple open houses, that sort of thing. They really enjoy it.

Today, I think Marge and Jeff are hosting the President of a University at a luncheon. Tough life, eh? But someone has got to do it.

So, I have a question. What sort of things do you write? You mentioned that you are a writer.

Me too. I have four published novels. And my next one is way past due. Ugh. I shouldn't be writing on your blog. I shoul be writing on my novel.


Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Anon - I don't have anything published yet, but I'm working on two fairy tale retellings. I have a bunch of ideas for YA books. I hope to be published some day in the not-too-distant-future.

That sounds like it's right up the Claytons' alley. They were amazing at that on the mission. And Independence is a hard place to do PR.

What do you write? What's your name? Would I have read anything you've written?

Anonymous said...

That's great. I hope to see you on a book shelf near me.

Claytons wonderful.

Me? I don't ever give out my name on the internet. Its better that way.

And, if I told you the genre I write in you would likely uncover the mystery. Don't you just love a mystery? And no, that's not a hint in any way, shape or form.

If you're LDS you've likely either heard of my work OR you've read it. Wow. We may have something in common.

So there you have it. A complete deflection of your questions. Don't you just hate all that obfuscating?


Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to tell you that Marge and Jeff have a married daughter living in Greece. Her husband is a pro. basketball player. Another son who works for a company in Switzerland. And another daughter whose husband is the CFO for Intel in Moscow. They just got back from a month trip visiting the Greece and Swiss parts of the family while the Russian part of the family was here staying at their house over the MOSCOW school spring break.

What would it be like to have hotels in those countries?

Thought you'd like to keep up on the family. I think you would know the GREECE daughter since she lived with her mom and dad when they were in Missiouri on their mission.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Anon, now I'm really intrigued. I might have to ask the Claytons about their neighbor. Thanks for the mystery. I love a good challenge.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Yeah, I know Julie. She was a young'un and had to be protected from all those 19 year olds.

Anonymous said...

It won't work. I just called Marge, informed her that a certain Mrs. Hamblin, should she ask about me, is to be told complete falsehoods.

1. What? We don't have any neighbors.

2. Oh, that neighbor. They work for the FBI. You can't believe anything they say. It all a cover. And you may not want to reveal too much to them.

3. Our neighbors are actually agnostics who think they are going to rule the world by claiming to write LDS fiction.

4. If we tell you the name of our neighbor, they will throw bricks through our kitchen window. Sorry. No names for you.

Isn't Marge a terrific neighbor!!!!

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

You are in luck, then. I didn't even ask when I just posted on her Facebook page. I just mentioned that I had talked to her neighbor. Aren't I congenial?

Anonymous said...

Congenial? No. Tricky. Yes! You figured if you mentioned a certain neighbor who wrote LDS fiction that maybe she'd slip up and give out the name.

Turns out Marge and I have exchanged numerous emails today on the subject. I sent her the comment string from your blog with a demand that she swear, on penalty of losing her home, never to divulge my name to a certain former sister missionary. What else could Marge do but agree.

And since then she's emailed me your facebook attempts. You little meddler. I warned you. Now its war. All out fingernails and scratching. Do they have gunslingers for hire in Cedar City? Watch yourself. You could end up on one of my novels. And no, that is also not a hint. I don't write westerns.

Anonymous said...

Fingernails and scratching is also NOT A HINT. I don't write romance novels, though I have been known to scratch people with whom I disagree.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I happily concede, although you can't blame me for being curious. I really didn't put much effort into worming anything out of Sister Clayton. And I'm genuinely happy that you have such a great neighbor. Serving with the Claytons changed my life. :)

I'd be happy to become acquainted with you in actuality instead of just hypothetically, but I understand not wanting to give out names and information online.

(And if you really want a war, I have some pretty good connections, too. ;)

Anonymous said...

If you agree to two conditions, then I'll fess up.

1. Agree never to speak my name to any of your author friends or anyone period, with, of course, the exception of your husband. And never mention to anyone that we have ever spoken, traded writing secrets, or have had any communication whatsoever.

2. Give me your email address.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I think I can agree to the conditions you have set. Although, not telling my mom might tax my abilities. (I can keep a secret, don't worry.)

My email address is kayejazz (at) gmail (dot) com.

Kristin and Brad said...

Sister Hamblin,

This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

I don't know if you remember me, but I was in your ward in Cedar City during the 2007-2008 school year. I was roommates with ShaNez Hendrick and Kenzie Crowell. I just got married in July so my name has changed, you may remember me as Kristin Humphrey. Anyway, I was so excited when I saw your name in the Mormon Women: Who we are links. Congratulations on the link! And again, thank you for sharing.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Anon, will you ever reply?

Anonymous said...

I'm still thinking about it. Sister Clayton said to say hello. Isn't she terrific?

Anonymous said...

What kind of novel are you working on right now? Why don't you post part of it so I can read some of it...

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I'm working on a fairy tale retelling, sort of. I actually have a few tidbits of writing posted in the blog. Most of it is rough draft or second draft, but it gives you the idea. If you gave me your email address, I could just send you some snips.

Anonymous said...

If I give you my email address, then I'd have to tell you who I am. Unless, of course, I create another email address. Hmmm?

Why don't you just post your first chapter on a blog post or somewhere where I can read it and comment on it, without actually having to exchange and real, honest to gosh, concrete email...

Anonymous said...

Okay. So here's some feedback. You can shoot me now, or shoot me later. I'm only doing this because you're a friend to my neighbor. Here's some professional assistance that you may never get from a writing "friend" or even at a writing conference. Why? Because your friends want you to like them and the writing conference people want you to come back again next year. And pay the fee. And hang out. And be part of the group.

I have no skin in this game. So here goes:

Nana ran the brush through Beauty’s hair and the familiar motion relaxed Beauty.

There are two issues you should take a look at. First, the easy one. You repeated Beauty's name twice in the same sentence. Yikes. Like I said, that's the easy one, but it is very important. Repetition, even the smallest amount of it (or the large ones like repeated techniques or repeated plot lines or repeated characters) destroy your writing.

The second issue is much, much more important. It is WONDERFUL that you begin the very first sentence in this scene with the name of a character. What that means, or at least what it should mean, is that Nana is the POINT OF VIEW CHARCTER. You should try to begin every scene by including the name of the point of view character in the opening sentence. And if not in the opening sentence, in the second sentence. But then, you confuse us. You tell us Nana ran the comb through beauty's hair, but then we're TOLD that the combing has a relaxing effect on Beauty. So who is the point of view character, really? Is it Nana or is it Beauty? We have to read on down for a number of lines before we think we have it figured out. I don't want to figure anything out. I want the story to unfold. To present itself. To wash over me. To invite me to into this fairytale world through the eyes of...

I don't know? Is it Nana or is it Beauty. Which leads me to the next issue. Who did the moment engulf? Nana or Beauty?

The quiet moment engulfed her...

Who is "her"?

...and she closed her eyes to set the memory firmly in her mind...

What memory? The memory of Nana combing Beauty's hair? The memory of Beauty relaxing under the calming stokes of Nana's hand? Or is it some other memory from the past you're about to present to the reader? You simply DO NOT WANT TO CONFUSE THE READER. Not even for a couple of lines.

Then we figure out that the memory is being formed as the scene progresses when you write:

The pull of the brush. The soft pressure of a hand on my forehead. The scent of fresh lavender from Nana’s hands. “I’ll miss this.”

There is one point of view error in the word "my". This is not first person. This is third person. So you must insert the word HER for the word my and have it read, "the pressure of a hand on her forehead."

Okay, so now we figure out that its the combing of hair that IS the memeory. And we, SUDDENLY, figure out that Nana is not the point of view character. Beauty is, since she is the one smelling the perfume, and fixing the scene of Nana combing her hair into her memory.

I'll finish this in the next comment box down (it was too long for one comment box)...

Anonymous said...

Nana stopped at the wistful tone. “You’ll miss this? What do you mean?”

There is a dialouge trap that I always fall into, and so does every author. The good ones fix it. The bad ones let it stand. You're writing your dialogue and you want the character to explain things. You want to info dump or emotion dump. So you hide it in dialogue. Instead of writing a long expository paragraph, you simple have the character say:

"What do you mean?"

And then you figure you can get away with a big info dump or an emotion dump or an explanatory dump, or a foreshadow dump. DO NOT FALL FOR THE TRAP. Whenever you find that you're having your character ask "WHAT DO YOU MEAN?" make sure that all the flags go up, the bells ring, the flares go off, the fireworks blaze. And then find a better way. And be sure to remove the "What do you mean?" run of dialogue.

There's also a word choice issue you may want to consider. "Wistful" tone is far too poetic for fiction. It calls attention to your writing and reminds the reader, if even for a moment, that the author is busy trying to tell this story. Wistful rips the reader out of the scene and sets the reader a little further from the charcter. I know you and all your reader friends will likely say, no, that's a wonderful word. But if you're really worried about creating a point of view character, and drawing the reader into the scene, you'll jettison all the adjectives that are too poetic for your writing. Wistful reminds the reader that you, the author, are there working feverishly to put over a good story. Poetic pros are for poems.

“Huh? Oh, I meant, when I am married. I’m engaged to Thaddeus, you know.”

And there it is. The infodump that your what-do-you-mean question was preparing us for. Yikes!

"I'm engaged to Thaddeus."

Of course she is. Nana knows it. Beauty knows it. The author knows it. The only one who doesn't know it is the reader. This is a very BAD way to get across this information.

Nana ran her gnarled fingers through Beauty’s long brown hair. “I’ll miss this, too. When you are married, you won’t need me any more.”

There is an efficiency problem here. If you fix the previous infodump dialogue about Thaddeus, you will want to change this line of dialogue too.

“Nana, can you keep a secret?”

You rarely have a character repeat the name of the other character in a TWO CHARACTER scene. However, if you do have the character say the name, it is usually used to create a PENSIVE moment. In order to create that pensivity, you should add a bit of action following the voicing of the name of the character, then finish the dialogue line. I do that below in my example. Wait for it.

When there are more than two characters in the scene, it is a nice little way to avoid a dialogue tag, but overuse that name-the-character-in-the-dialogue trick and you're dialogue will become terribly unnatural. I would name Nana here, but I would also add a run of action to make it more pensive. I do that in my example below. Wait for it.

I'll finish this in the next comment box down (once again, it was too long for one comment box)...

Anonymous said...

“Of course, I can. It’s about Thaddeus, isn’t it? You don’t love him.”

Good dialogue usually avoids answering the question that was asked. If you find that your characters are always answering questions, your dialogue loses the power to characterize. People avoid answering. They obfuscate. And they also move on with their thoughts without answer the question. Asking the question raises the concern in the mind of the reader. NOT ANSERING the question characterizes the character more deeply and moves your story along with MUCH MORE INTEREST. I would drop the "OF COURSE I CAN." every chance I got.

“No. I mean, yes. I don’t love him, but that isn’t what I wanted to tell you.”

This character seems rather decided about not loving Thaddeus. So her No. I mean, yes. Doesn't seem true to her character. If she really isn't certain, then this works. But to have her say, No. I mean, yes. And then to have her admit, I don't love him (which is a very decided answer) creates an uncomfortable tension between these two lines of dialogue.

Nana sat down on the bed again. “I know all your secrets already. What more could you have to tell me about?”

Besides the fact that we never knew that Nana was seated on the bed previously, and to have her sit on the bed "again" is out of place, here is another question, which you may want to reconsider using. The first line is very cool (I know all your secrets). Why ruin it with the question that follows (What more could you have to tell me)?

“Nana, I’m going to take my father’s place.”

Since I don't know all the ramifications of TAKING MY FATHER'S PLACE, I can't really comment on this line. Is she renouncing marriage to do that? Is she seeking the throne? Is she seeking Thaddeus' throne? This line may be terrific if the reader understands the ramifications. However, if you're hoping that this is good foreshadowing, or that it will draw the reader into your story as a "hook", I think it is a mistake. The only reason the reader would be DRAWN into the story by this line is if they were aware of all the ramifications of what TAKING HER FATER'S PLACE means. This is a decision fraught with peril, or evil, or sacrifice, or loss of love or whatever and if the reader doesn't understand what those ramifications may be, the line will fail as a hook.

So here is what I would do with your little scene:

Beauty leaned back into the angle of her chair let Nana comb her hair. The pull of the brush, Nana's soft caress on her brow and the smell of lavendar-scented hands impressed the woman's gentle brush-strokes into a memory she would never let go. “I’ll miss this.”

Nana lowered the brush. "After the wedding, Thaddeus will employ a thousand maidservants to comb your hair."

“Nana?" Beauty glanced over her shoulder. "Can you keep a secret?”

Nana leaned in close. “You don’t love him?”

“Is it that obvious?”

Nana sat down on the bed across from her. “I know all your secrets, girl."

“Did you know I plan to take my father’s place?”

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I forgot I had that scene on the blog until you reviewed it. And what you say makes a lot of sense. Fortunately, I'm not going to hit you or otherwise inflict bodily damage. I'm not completely immune to being picked apart, but I can recognize truth when I see it. I will even refrain from trying to point out how you could possibly be wrong, because I know that is just my defensive mechanism kicking in to protect my fragile ego. (Okay. I will say that this scene isn't the very first one you read. It's a Sleeping Beauty thing, where you already know what the Father is doing and what it means to take his place.) I like the suggestions you give though. I can see how they add depth and clarity.

Did I mention I've only been writing for a year? I'm really hoping to learn the tricks that you pointed out. I know it takes a lot of practice, and often a professional eye to point out those kinds of things. You should see my first attempt. Absolutely horrible. On second thought, you really shouldn't. Nobody ever should. It's going to sit in a dark, lost, hole for a very long time.

I really appreciate you taking the time to do such a thorough critique for a stranger. That just proves you are a nice person.

Anonymous said...

Luck for me, no one will ever see my first attempt. After 8 hours on the computer, (my first computer) I called up my sister and read the entire first chapter. I thought it was terrific. All she could muster was, "That's interesting."

It wasn't. Not in the lest. I read like a very, very, very poorly written text book. Lucky for me, after I hung up, I leaned back in the chair and my foot turned the switch on the power strip. The computer went down. I lost everything! What a blessing.

I've lost hundreds and thousands of pages and scenes. To computer crashes. All sorts of things. And they were all a blessing in disguise. I had to go back and do it over. Forced rewritting is likely the only way I would have learned what little I know. I'm far too arrogont to find my weaknesses on my own.

There was no reason to pick your writing apart with so much details, but I figure I woundn't get another change so I threw the whole nine yards at you. All at once. Sorry about that.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

I decided a long time ago that honest critiques were better than fluff. True, it hurts a little to have something I created pulled apart, but if it can be put back together again in a better way, that's great.

Thanks again for taking the time to look at my work. I really appreciate it.

prashant said...

Thanks for sharing. Faith is such a beautiful thing. :-)
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Nishant said...
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