Tuesday
Aug012017

An Interview with Me at Mormon Women Project

It's long, and it's the transcript of a telephone conversation, but I think it's pretty good.

A Quest for Self-Knowledge

 

Sunday
Apr162017

This Joyful Eastertide

Eugène Bernand, Les disciples Pierre et Jean courant au sépulcre le matin de la Résurrection, 1898

"Easter Communion"
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast: 
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips, Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced To crosses meant for Jesu's; you whom the East With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships, You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased, God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent: Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

I wish you all peace and hope "This Joyful Eastertide."
Friday
Mar312017

Prayers in Bath

 

I'm happy to announce the publication of my newest book, Prayers in Bath. This is a project that was over three years in the making, and I couldn't be more pleased with how it's turned out. 

Here's the description:

After several attempts at in vitro fertilization, Ted and Julia Taylor are out of money and out of hope. In an attempt to shake herself out of her depression, Julia accepts an internship on an archaeological dig in Bath, England. When she finds an ancient scroll while working in the sewer connected to the Roman baths, she sneaks it back to her flat, translates it, and discovers a secret previously lost in the shadows of legend. But her new knowledge poses significant risks, and the repercussions leave her career, her faith, and her marriage hanging in the balance.

When Mormon Artists Group founder Glen Nelson approached me about writing a piece of fiction, I was over the moon. MAG's projects are always gorgeous and unique. I knew I wanted the book to be about a Mormon woman, but that was all I knew.

Going through my idea journal, I remembered that long ago, my Welsh friend Tan Morgan told me about the curse tablets that had been found in the hot springs at Bath in England. I loved the idea of people writing out their prayers on little pieces of metal, and then throwing them in the water in the hopes that Sulis Minerva, the local goddess, would answer them. What else might be waiting to be dug up in that ancient holy place, I wondered? And that's when I knew I had my story.

The amazing Jacqui Larsen created four paintings inspired by the story (one of which is in the opening spread, above). Here's what she had to say about the process: 

When I read the novella Prayers in Bath, I was intrigued by how contemporary life intersected with historical artifacts and legends. Wanting to echo those intersections in this series of paintings, I began by looking through my collage materials. As one who collects European ephemera until my pockets bulge, I had plenty to look through. In a serendipitous moment, I came across some fragments of hand-marbled paper and 19th-century landscape engravings that would dovetail nicely with Prayers in Bath. I then layered color, lyrics from a William Blake poem referenced in the novella, and a network of circles.  Circles as halos, circles as fields of vision, even circles as worlds or realms—the ones we live in and others yet to be explored.

Graphic designer Cameron King created the lovely layout, which mirrors a lot of the details found in Jacqui's paintings. For the limited edition, Glen chose a blue-green Asahi silk with which to hand bind the covers. The end result is exquisite: 

It's also available as a paperback on Amazon. It doesn't have the paintings or the design elements printed in color, but on the other hand, it's a bit more in the realm of affordability for most of us. 

In the happiest of coincidences, I just found out I was accepted to VCFA's summer residency at Bath Spa University this July. David Almond and Lucy Christopher are on faculty there, and our VCFA professors accompanying our group are the fabulous Tom Birdseye and Sharon Darrow. And I'll get to walk around all the places my characters walk (I've only been to Bath once briefly, long ago.) Much will be learned and enjoyed, all of which will be recorded right here in the months to come. 

If you read Prayers in Bath, drop me a line and let me know what you thought. I'd love to hear from you. 

Sunday
Feb122017

Svithe: #clutch

Hope blocks a shot. It looks like she's wading, but that pool is twelve feet deep.
This post is an edited version of a letter I wrote last week to our son James, who is in France serving a two-year, full-time mission for our church. Click on the link for a definition of the term "svithe."

The highlight of my week was your sister Hope's miraculous water polo victory on Wednesday. I don't use the term "miraculous" lightly. I'll write the whole saga out for you. 
Going into Pasadena High School's varsity water polo team's game with Burbank--their last league game AND their last home game--Hope's team was 0 and 7. She was so hoping for ONE win her senior year. Her team has struggled all season long. 
If the team didn't get a single league win, they would be shut out from the post-season preliminaries and finals. Hope loves water polo, and she's worked hard and consistently to learn the sport over the past four years. 
She had been praying about the Burbank game, and I had, too. Now that the all-encompassing stress of completing college applications is done with, being a senior is kind of a drag. She's gotten a little antsy. Her two best friends are busy with boyfriends, and she only gets letters from Toby [her boyfriend, who is serving his mission in Brazil] once a week, obviously. So overall, she's been down. 
Wednesday morning, she texted me from school about how much she wanted the win. I texted, "Is Burbank beatable?" She answered, "I think so." Then I texted her Philippians 4:13, and we both kept praying as we went about our day. I emailed all my church lady friends, hoping that some could show up to cheer her on with me, and a couple of them were able to make it. 
The last home game of the season is traditionally Senior Day, so after the coaches honored Hope and the other five seniors with flowers and brief spotlights, the game started. It was intense and very evenly matched from minute one; either the game was tied or one of the teams was up by one the entire time. Every girl on our team played with energy and focus. Hope had some outstanding blocks (ten saves in all), but she missed some, too. Each time, I watched her face as she mentally got herself from discouragement back to fierceness again.
At the half, when the buzzer sounded, Hope lobbed the ball from the goal box across the pool, and it almost went in. But that's happened before. Your sister has a pretty incredible arm, and it's what you should do when time is almost up, right? You see it in basketball all the time. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. 
Fast forward to the last minute of the game. Two more goals were scored, and it was tied again at 12-12 (which is high for water polo). With 11 seconds on the clock, Hope's coach called a time out. PHS had possession of the ball. If they could hang on to it and not let Burbank score again, the game would go into sudden death overtime.
But I knew Hope didn't want that. From my spot on the bleachers, I could see her face at the gathering at the edge of the pool. She was crying; she was exhausted. She mouthed to me, "I don't want to do this anymore." I held up the sign that one of my friends had made (it read "WE LOVE HOPE") and mouthed, "You can do it." 
Time out over; everybody got back into position. The ref gave Hope the ball, and she passed it to a defensive player. That girl looked around, didn't see anyone else to pass it to, so she threw it back to Hope. Your sister was out of her goal box, but she was still 3/4 of the pool away from the opposite goal. As goalie, it would have been fine for her just to hold the ball for the last five seconds, but some other parents and I jumped up and started shouting, "Take the shot!"
Everything was in slow motion. I could see the gears of Hope's mind turning. Finally, she reared back and hurled the ball the length of the pool, and as the final buzzer sounded, the ball hit the orange canvas goal backing with a slap. The crowd went mad; you would have thought there were 500 people there.
Hope faced the stands in delighted surprise, and her always wide smile was like lightning. Her teammates surrounded her (nearly drowning her in the process, no lie), and then they all finally got out of the pool and scrummed in this wet, squealy group hug for a good, long time. Hope was crying; I was crying. Tess, who was assigned to the stats table (as she has been all season long post-concussion), was jumping up and down. She got shushed pretty hard by the ref, since the stats kids aren't supposed to cheer, but she said, "That's my sister!" 
The whole thing was like the end of Hoosiers, or really any underdog sports movie I can think of. It was one of the best moments of my mothering life, and I will never forget it. 
The next morning in seminary [which I teach every schoolday morning at 6:00], I talked about the game during the 15 minutes we usually spend on Doctrinal Mastery. I told the kids about the Philippians 4:13 text conversation, and I talked about the sports definition of the word "clutch." (Actually, I want to get Hope a T-shirt that reads #CLUTCH.)
I mentioned try-fail cycles, and how the whole game had been a series of them, and how try-fail cycles in books and movies and sports make us feel like victory is earned. I had the kids read James 2:17-18, and testified that when we have both faith and works going for us (as Hope did), we can expect miracles (assuming they are God's will to grant).
I mentioned how, in my conversations with the Lord the previous day, I had acknowledged that there is much to be learned from a losing season, and that if that was His will for Hope, so be it. But I also had the thought occur to me during those same conversations: wouldn't it be fun for Hope--who, since she's been the goalie for the entire four years of her career, has never scored a goal--wouldn't it be cool if she could score one, just once? 
Next, I brought up Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8. At the end of the day, whether we win or lose, have we fought the good fight? Even if we still look like the underdog at the end of the game, have we given it our all? If we have, then we have won even if the scoreboard says otherwise. 
I finished by bearing an emotional testimony that I knew that faith carried that ball home for the last goal. Hebrews 11:1 "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  And I knew when the ball left Hope's hand--in that second that stretched into an hour that it was in the air--that it was going in. No question. I was jumping up and down in victory mode before the buzzer blasted, because I knew Hope had already won the game. 
When I emailed friends a quick summary of the events, one of them emailed a riff back on the famous President Kimball quote, "Faith precedes the miracle." 
Hope Precedes the Miracle. That's my message to you this week. And also a post-mission suggestion: the water polo version of Hoosiers hasn't been filmed yet, and I'd be happy to collaborate with you on the script. A good sports movie will always do well. :) 
The next day, the school made a special loudspeaker announcement about Hope (as you might remember, they don't ever do announcements on Thursdays), and her coach started calling her "Kobe." She basked in the glory all day long, and I'm so glad she had that. And now, because of Hope, the varsity team got to go to prelims and then league finals after all. They won both those games, bringing their standing up from last in the league to fifth. I believe that next year's team will be able to build on that momentum. Hope's high school water polo career is over, but how grateful I am that through the sport, she's learned powerful lessons to carry forward in life. 
Saturday
Dec312016

A Decade of Superlatives

Our family in 2014. Unfortunately, we don't take group photos very often.

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016