Friday, May 27, 2011

To One in Paradise

I wouldn’t turn every dream I’ve ever had into a novel, but that has worked for me at least once.

The Scifi novel I finished writing last year was based off of two dreams that I had during the early part of my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had the first dream during my time at the MTC (missionary training center) and the other was in the first area where I was assigned in the field. The first one… well, it might baffle one to hear that this dream sparked that story. It makes sense to me, but some people have commented on how it is interesting that this particular dream helped me conceive of Salvages.

The hardest thing for me to get over in the MTC was not being able to read any literature besides the Holy Scriptures and the Missionary Library. I adore literature and it was difficult for me to reconcile my mind with the fact that I would be cut off from said literature for eighteen months. I accepted it quickly enough. After all, I had accepted the call already which to me meant that I had turned my will over to God.

I was thinking a lot about The Divine Comedy. My father went on his mission to Italy and owns a beautiful illustrated copy of The Divine Comedy in the original Italian text. I couldn’t read it at the time, but I remembered being very sad that I hadn’t thought to write down the last stanzas of each of the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso in Italian before I left. I thought to myself that it would have been very nice to have those words in my journal as a kind of talisman and a link to my father and his beautiful experience as a missionary.

The MTC is great. I covered my love/anguish concerning the MTC in my letters home. It does make one go a little crazy to be so confined. One of my companions was a marathon runner. She keenly felt the sobering effects of being shut up behind walls. We were all anxious to get out into the field and yet none of us felt ready to leave. There was still so much to learn.

I had a “Mormonized” dream of the The Divine Comedy one night. I was with Virgil and instead of leading me through the nine circles of hell and beyond, he took me through the Telestial Kingdom and then The Terestrial Kingdom and then my alarm went off just as we approached The Celestial Kingdom. It was a bizarre and vivid dream, laced with horror-movie imagery and psychedelic sensations. Very trippy. I woke up, shook it off and went for a run around the rat-wheel like track in the gymnasium with the marathon runner.

I wanted more than ever to see those stanzas.

In class that day, my companions and I were distracted by the hilarious and utterly classic antics of the Elders in our district (Oh, how I miss them). My companion asked our Hermano Antonio for a suggestion of where we could go on the MTC campus that wasn’t saturated with cabin-fevered missionaries. He told us about a secluded section of the basement and said “I believe you’ll find what you’re looking for there,” and winked at me.

Very Dumbledore.

So, following his instructions we made our way to this basement of mysteriousness and came upon a secret MTC contraband library!

It had all the best books that we weren’t technically allowed to have; including a copy of The Divine Comedy in Italian.

Later someone pointed out that it might have been a test of temptation rather than a gift from a loving God. Huh. Maybe. At the time, temptation wasn’t a thought. My exact thoughts were something along the lines of ‘Well. That’s a freebee.’

I wrote those precious words in my journal to be a constant reminder throughout my mission that God does know me personally and cares. Cutting me off from the things I love, ultimately only helped me to appreciate them on a new level and in a way that was healthy and fulfilling.

A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

I can understand why it might seem strange that this incident led me to write a violent Science Fiction novel about pirates, gladiators, assassins and gangsters in Deathraces on artificially terraformed planets. Maybe not. Inspiration is something that everyone has experienced. Sometimes it comes in the form of cut-and-dry instruction just falling into our brains and sometimes inspiration is the product of our personal perspective shifting the beauty and enchantments of the world around us into overwhelming impressions that can’t be described.

This dream was the latter. The next dream was more cut-and-dry. The resemblance of certain chapters in the book to the aesthetics of the dream was completely intentional. It was gritty, decadent and there was a lot of blood, naked people, big armored monsters and a general vibe of chaos.

If I’m driving at any kind of a point (which I’m not convinced I am) it would be this: mission dreams are weird.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Everyday Dialogue

Who do you think is the hottest girl in the second grade? (One second grade boy to another)

Utah is such a saucey minx. (Actually, this one was me. It made someone laugh, although I meant it most sincerely.)

Well, he talked about himself in third person and 'invited' everyone to move up to the first six rows, but aside from that I didn't hate it. (About a fireside)

I sucketh! (From the pulput at church)

Did you listen when he rolled his r's?! I think the walls were shaking. That man has the voice of God. If he told me to part the Red Sea I'd do it! (One of my MTC companions)

We're watching Troll 2 tonight, it's not a sequal and it's not about trolls, so you know... should be good. (My sister)

Oh... these people who die... how dare they look so happy. (Grandma, reading the obituaries)


Teacher: Alright, everybody—as I call your name I want you to raise your hand in the air so I know you're here and tell me what your favorite thing to draw is. Jacob!

Jacob: My favorite thing to draw is me killing myself.

Teacher: Don't be melodramatic, you're four.

Girl 1: So what kind of men are you into?

Girl 2: 6'6" barrel chest, strong arms, deep voice, tentacles all over his head...

Girl 1: Davy Jones?!

Girl 2: Well—yes, him too. I was actually talking about D'Argo from Farscape.

Boy: I worship you. You are the Delilah to my Sampson and the Shabetha to my David.

Girl: It's Bathsheba. Also, crappy thing to say if you know the Bible.

Dad: We have something to discuss...

Me: Are you pregnant?!

Dad: Yes.

Me: ...You're joking, right?

Dad: Weren't you?

Me: In the heat of the moment I picked up on a weird vibe and got excited.

Dad: So, in that instant were you serious?

Me: I'm not sure.

Male Teacher: To understand this story, you gotta understand that my little bro... he's a little taller than me, a bit bigger and his voice is deeper.

Female student: It gets taller and bigger and deeper?! Show me!

Mom: I could loose my job any day and my daughter can't find work. What do you expect us to do?

Grandma: Well, you can always prostitute yourselves.

Mom: No one would buy me!

Grandma: Well, excuse me for giving suggestions.

Monday, May 23, 2011

se llama Sarita

On my mission I once rescued a polydactyl kitten from certain death by drowning in a Texas rainstorm.
Excerpt from diary:)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mormons don’t really party.

Amendment: Good Mormons who actually try to live their faith don’t really “party”. In party there should be definite implications towards the modern usage of the word, including drugs, debauchery, Russian Roulette; como quieres jefe. We do party in the sense of having a good time.

Staying out of the scene is alright with me. Even as a teenager, it was alright. I still occasionally stayed out until four in the morning, but my parents were cool enough to allow that and even came and picked me up unexpectedly at awful hours when I got stranded somewhere for one reason or another.

However, because of my personal standards and my convictions to remain ‘in but not of the world’ it could be argued that I missed out on certain partying-related experiences that are essential to relating to others in my generation.

I’ve heard the stories. Even if I wasn’t at the house-party with you, I still hung out with you the next day and tried to speak quietly so as not to further irritate your tender head. I commiserated with you about the dozens of new phone-numbers that were suddenly programmed into your cell-phone and the hundreds of text messages from total strangers. I have had the joys and horrors of E, Alcohol, Weeds, Shrooms, Acid, Cocaine, 8-balls etc. described in ‘hard-too-remember-at-times’ details. I laughed at the hilarious story of how you trick your friend into buying his own drugs back from you for twice as much. I got to see how utterly miserable you were the night after you slept with your best friend, your best friend’s best friend, your best friend’s boy/girlfriend, a total stranger or a total lunatic.

I have a pretty good idea what I’m supposedly missing.

I bring this up, because I recently went to what could be considered a house party except that it was totally dry, nobody got any and everyone at the party went home the next day, showered, went to work/went to sleep and then showed up at church the next day (as far as I can tell) with a clear conscious.

We danced a bit, watched movies, played retro arcade games and billiards. There was a hot-tub and a lot of food and water-bottles.

I awoke the next day in a closet under the staircase.

A horse voice asked, “Hey, are there any shoes in there with you?”

“Nah, man. Just some kitchen utensils and a fairy costume.”

I crawled out into the light, tripped over some empty water bottles and found some guy asleep on the pool-table.

I had to search for my shoes too.

In retrospect I’m really not sure I’ve been all that deprived of a proper teenage or college social experience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The incredible sensations and painful cruelties of finishing a novel (reading or writing)

I get this wonderful, satisfied feeling whenever I finished reading a book. Finishing a series is like the satisfying feeling of finishing each one of those books multiplied by how many hours reading.

Different books leave you with different vibes. Por ejemplo, I have often described how finishing the Hunger Games Trilogy was very satisfying, however it left me with a feeling like I had just been jumped, beaten and had my wallet stolen. Still, satisfying, but in equal measure it was soul crushing.

Finishing the Harry Potter series, in contrast, left one with a warm gooey feeling. Equally important.

The satisfaction that I feel when I finish writing a book is a very similar sensation, except squared. Cubed. + bonus points. It’s amazing. Writers, are you with me?! Finishing books is my favorite.

In the last year I’ve written two novels. One is a Sci Fi novel, I wrote it to be the first book in a tetralogy. My original plan was to allow a few more words than the typical 70,000 that they want for a first novel, just because I knew that the story arch was intense and… well, I decided 90,000 wasn’t so bad and I made that my goal.

Three months later I completed the rough draft. It was 160,000 words long. Oh no. So, I went through it and rewrote some stuff and ended up with a 165,000 word draft. Crap. I went through it again. 170,000. Crrraappp. FINALLY! I figured out what I was doing wrong. I needed to stop adding stuff (maybe that should have been obvious). About two weeks ago, I decided to overhaul keeping this ‘taking-away-and-not-adding’ principle in mind. Now I have a file of almost 20,000 words of stuff that I cut from the book. I trimmed the beginning and end off of most of the chapters, cut several scenes and unneeded exposition and rewrote certain sections to give the same information, but without long-winded world-building dumps. So, now I’m down to 150,000 and hoping to keep trimming since I’ve still got to sift through almost two hundred more pages of exposition-laced, rough-draft excrement.

The point is, as wonderful as it felt to finish writing that rough draft, I have a feeling it will be equally glorious when I am finished with this overhaul.

The other book, I’m charmed to admit, needs less work. I think. I hope.

It’s a YA fantasy and a proper 70,000 word novel. This one could have been as much of a disaster as the first book I wrote this last year, but I learned from my mistakes and took a realistic look at how long it was going to take me to develop this, that and the other and to do everything that needed to be done in the story. That was how the original summary of this story that I had in mind became sliced into three pieces and turned into a trilogy. It is much neater as a trilogy, as opposed to my Scifi novel which cannot be naturally divided, although I have taken that suggestion into account several times since I finished writing the book. I believe it works best if it starts where I (as of two weeks ago, since I changed that in the overhauled) started it and ends where I ended it. Things in between might need to be cut, but I can’t figure it another way. Apologies.

Here’s the big question on my mind right now though. I’ve written eight books thus far, in my little fledgling life as a writer. I have yet to complete a sequel to any of these books, either because they were meant to stand alone or because I realized the story was horrible and set it aside, never to speak of it again. I set a break for myself—one month. That’s one month to focus on editing and completing summaries and (oh yeah) my job. That was one month until my fifteen adorable little children get to run off for their summer vacations, one month to go on a diet and start running and training more seriously. It has been a fun month so far. I finished writing my YA Fantasy two and a half weeks ago, so I’ve got another week and a half to go before I begin writing another book. I thought I would only need a month to decide what to write next. My problem isn’t a lack of ideas, it is that I have far too many ideas and I don’t know which one to take on next. Usually, there is an obvious choice dangling in the forefront of my mind, begging to be made shiny and corporeal. Ish.

Anyway, I am always reluctant to work on a sequel when I still have only a rough draft of the first book. That’s why I started writing my YA novel after I finished the Scifi one, in place of beginning work on a sequel. I know exactly how the sequel will go and I have about the first two hundred pages solid in my head, but I was concerned that something major might change during the editing of the first book. So, while I was editing the Scifi monster I also started the YA piece. Now I have two completed books that need minimal editing (hopefully). At least, there shouldn’t be much more I can do personally. Both of these books have sequels already planned in detail… and I have at least four other complete synopses that are unrelated to either of these books and that want to be written, very, very badly.


Ah, well. I still have a week and a half to decide.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I want a monkey.

Pop quiz!

Do I want:

A) This monkey?

B) This Monkey?


C) A & B?

ɔ :ɹǝʍsuɐ

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jensen draws Atlas and Leda

Jensen finally drew something from one of my books. Yay, Jensen!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Some recovered posts from the blog with the hard-to-remember-name.

I’m so totally shown up.

I used to keep a regular blog when I was a teenager. And I cheated and had my dad post my mission letters while I was in Texas, so that turned into a blog.

A few months ago I decided I should blog again, but I didn’t get around to it until General Conference weekend in April—hence my last entry. Then I forgot about my convictions, yet again and today I’ve finally decided to post something.

I might be a little all over the place, but only three people are reading this right now anyway and they all live with me

So… topic… I spent this last weekend at the LDStorymakers writing conference. It was wonderful. Over all, I had a magnificent time and learned/relearned lots.

Let’s put my writerly education in context, shall we?

I was thirteen when I decided that I was going to write a novel. I figured it would be amazing. Aren’t all novels by thirteen year olds amazing? I tried and failed with a dozen different ideas for books and when I was sixteen I finally finished my first novel. It was terrible but someone wanted to publish it anyway. I got myself an editor and a publishing company—they were new, and on shaky ground financially, but that was perfect for me—I was young and just wanted to get published. After a year of rewrites and going back and forth with the company, they went under. I was sad for them, but it honestly felt like destiny to me. I was not supposed to publish that book and I had long since stopped loving it. I had continued writing and managed to finish a few other terrible books, which in spite of their flaws, I loved a lot more.

Ultimately, my experience as an almost published teenaged author was very positive. I learned how to compromise, how to snip and trim and occasionally chop up my writing. I learned how to accept suggestions and edit. This helped immensely as I got older and more mature and eventually figured out that although it was going to be a lot harder than I had initially thought, I really did want to be a writer.

So. I wrote more books, but I was never satisfied with anything. Even to me, my writing felt like it lacked experience. I started to think that my mind was coming up with story lines that were too mature for my skills. Then something great happened; I put my papers in and served an amazing eighteen month mission in Texas.

That, in and of itself deserved several novels to explain, but I’ll just skip to the relevant for this blog entry part; I learned Spanish. Spanish is a beautiful, logical language and while I was on my mission, I spoke and wrote a lot of Spanish and not much English. I came up with more ideas for books, but I didn’t do any writing. When I came home and immediately started writing again, I felt like my voice had changed completely. I couldn’t remember what was good.

I forgot English.

My solution was to write my way through it. Ultimately, that worked. It took almost a year, but I think I’m finally about back to where I was on the mechanics of writing before I left. The LDStorymakers conference last week helped remind me of a lot of the principles that I used to write by and that I had since forgotten entirely. I had so many “Duh!” moments.

For example: Passive voice is big in Spanish. We use it a lot in English too, but it’s crappy. I knew this, but I had forgotten what passive voice sounded like on the page. I could only remember one typical political line as an example.

“Mistakes were made.”

Well, I never say that.

But I do use passive voice too much now. Kevin, an awesome, genius writer friend had already been working with me to take the passive voice moments out of the two books I’ve written since I came home. Almost all of the critique I received at the Boot Camp workshop on Thursday mirrored what Kevin had said. I had fixed some things, but apparently not everything.

So, my mechanics are coming along—but as far as the other stuff goes… I think a mission can only improve upon the emotional undercurrents and connections that pull a story together through character, conflict, voice, theme, concept etc. I’m no longer worried about my skills. I can write well (when forced, and I will force myself) and as I continue working on my books and studying this wonderful language that I almost lost forever, I believe that proper mechanics will become more intuitive.

This conference was a very positive experience. I haven’t been to anything like that since before my mission, but I’ll have to make a habit of it.

Other thoughts:

Should I have a business card? I received a bunch from people at the conference—just for their blogs and stuff. I was asked for my card by people, but I don’t have one! It never even occurred to me to get a card before. If I had it would probably say something like “Ailsa Lillywhite – Person, I promise” and my facebook. Still, I felt totally shown up. Next time, I’ll bring cards.

Sara Eden is probably the cutest person ever.

Clint Johnson saved my life.

So did James Dashner and a few other people.

Won a doorprize. Sweet!

I might have gleefully broken my diet.

General Conference is Glorious! (April)

Glorious, glorious, glorious.

I'm trying not to give in to a little bit of sorrow that always creep up right around this time.

It's afternoon, Sunday April 3rd and there is only one more session of General Conference before we have to wait another six months.

I know that the point is to have some time to take to heart the teachings from the talks and spend the next six months (and ideally the rest of your life) doing something about what you've learned. However, I would be lying if I didn't say that a part of me wishes General conference were... at least a monthly thing, let's be bordering on reasonable there.

Reviewing my notes, so far I've had to write down something I had better not forget from each one of the talks.

We have yet to hear from Elder Holland.

I don't do the “He's my favorite!” with General Authorities. They are all called of God and asked to speak to us during General Conference because they have special messages for God's children. I need to listen to all of the talks with equal attention, but here's the deal; Elder Holland spoke to the MTC at large shortly before I went out into the field and he said nothing less than exactly what I needed to hear right then, I was profoundly touched by his talk. At twenty-one years old I had been listening to him speak for a while, and it was after that particular occasion that I realized, I always thoroughly enjoy—and more importantly—learn from his talks in such a way that I feel prepared to face the world again.

Also, his talks of late have been very awesome. Is anyone else keeping track? Elder Holland: 7k. World: nada. That's what my notes say, at least.

Let me share the only distressing thing so far: I did not sneak into priesthood session this time, but I still got to hear about some wonderful comments that were made. Comments directed towards the young men of the church who are still not married, and specifically the young men of the church who are not married and are doing little, not enough or nothing to change their single status.

As a single young woman living in Salt Lake City, I really appreciated this particular divine inspiration from God.

So, it's been a couple of hours and already I'm hearing the same whining from the priesthood brethren that always follows after this type of reprimand. They think they're being bullied or pressured or otherwise that it is just not fair to say those kinds of insensitive atrocities.

Umm... gentlemen. I'maslapyou.

Dear Single Priesthood,

Just get married for sobbing out loud.

Love, Sister Lillywhite

P.S. My dear cousin just announced her engagement. Good show:)