Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In Which I Verbally Vomit...

I grow weary of extremes.

I like to walk down the middle of the road. I like looking at the scenery on either side of me. Sometimes I venture to the right because I like something I see over there, and then there are times when I stroll over to the left because something I see there resonates and makes sense. And in the middle of the road where I walk, I find a comfortable, beautiful blending of the two. I suspect there are a lot of people like me, but we are not often the voices that speak the loudest.

Being a Mormon now, a faithful, church-going, calling-holding member is a very interesting thing. A great majority of the body of the Church is politically conservative. That leaves the minority defined as liberal. But what of those of us who stroll down the middle and like it there? Sometimes it feels like a very lonely place, because opinions tend to be so incredibly polarized. And the implication is often that if your views aren’t completely committed to either one side or the other, you’re an idiot. Or a faithless rebel. Or a bigot. 

When the early Church members made their trek west to settle in Utah, it wasn’t as though that had been everyone’s first dream. I know, let’s move all of us, many of whom will die, across this barren wasteland and settle in a really ugly place with a large body of useless salt water smack in the middle.  (Which is now very pretty, actually, because they planted a lot of stuff—thank you, ancestors.) They were driven out of the U.S. That’s why they left. 

They were murdered—children, even—tortured, raped, robbed, their homes burned to the ground on top of them, their temples desecrated, their printing presses destroyed, their belongings pawed through and stolen after they were forced to flee. And there was an “Extermination Order” in Missouri, which made it legal to kill a Mormon. They were treated in a way—in the United States—that would spark horror in the minds and hearts of most of us today. 

In 2000, my editor asked me if I’d be interested in writing a Civil War series with an LDS perspective. So I wrote about the war and placed one of my characters—an LDS convert—in the middle of it, along with parallel stories about other family members and friends in different parts of the country. I also wrote about a family of slaves who were literate, and their struggles throughout the process.  I dared to include a bi-racial marriage and a whole lot of drama throughout four volumes.

The research I did, which was extensive and exhausting, led me to some impressions that still stick with me. The first was that literacy is the key to freedom. How do you enslave a large portion of a population? You don’t allow them education in any way, shape or form. Another impression that remains with me is an understanding of the bitterness and weariness most of the early LDS church members felt toward the country that had forced them out because of religious intolerance.  

These are but two of the lessons I took away from the experience, and they’ve come back to roost with me in a frustrating way this election year. To preface this, I need to explain that I am an unapologetic member of my faith. I also appreciate the “liberal” Joanna Brooks, author of Book of Mormon Girl, and the viewpoint she represents—most of which I agree with. She’s well-spoken and bright, and I like her. She says many things that resonate with me very deeply. 

In writing the Civil War series, I was steeped in research about bigotry, and to be an unapologetic member of an organization that is now characterized as “bigoted,” I find horrifying. It does not sit well with me. As much as I would like to distance myself from that concept in any way, shape or form, I stand by my testimony of my faith and draw strength from personal, spiritual experiences I’ve had that keep me attending church week after week.  

But frankly, what I do care if two people who love each other are legally married? I don’t. How, then, to reconcile that with religion, one you absolutely cannot reject or deny, or risk lying to yourself? The answer is, for me, that I stay prayerful, and close to a God who loves his children. I remain patient and watchful, and take comfort in the fact that He is very much aware of what we do down here and that all questions are answered in time. And when I listen to people who profess to be Christians, both in my church and without, who are so incredibly hateful in their speech and actions, I remind myself that we are not perfect. That my testimony of my faith is not based on its members. We are, however, here to learn and grow and love. (Kumbaya, I know. I’ve already heard it.) But Christ, during his recorded lifetime, preached a gospel of love, not hate.  In fact, the only time he was angry was when people were using His Father’s house to cheat. This tells me that despite what we may believe, collectively or individually, about people whose lives are different than our own, we damn well better be nice about it. 

And as to the other thing—the weary early Church member thing—I feel that in spades. Now no, I certainly have not been cruelly driven from my home by a stampede of lawless ignorants. Nor have I personally felt the barbs of prejudice because I am a Mormon. But wow, I’m tired. Tired of reading news reports whose authors don’t even bother to get the facts straight. (It’s not a Steak, it’s a Stake, and it represents a geographical collection of Wards, or congregations—again organized geographically. Kind of like schools within a school district. A Stake President is not a position of extreme authority over the entire body of the Church. Women in the Church are not kept barefoot in the kitchen. We can read and have college degrees and were voting in our church meetings before the rest of the country’s women were constitutionally allowed to. And maybe if you would like to know more about us, you should ask someone who is actually a member, not a professor of a student who once was, or a friend of a friend who used to have a Mormon neighbor.)

My issue of Time Magazine came in the mail with Mit Romney’s face on it, talking about how his mind works, and it was all I could do to bring it in the house. I just didn’t want to read anything else about how odd we are, or how imperfect our LDS history is, the mistakes we’ve made, or the incongruity between being a religion and a capitalistic “money making empire.”

And because Mit Romney is the Republican candidate and a Mormon, the two have become inextricably linked, in many minds. Which is frustrating for me, because the Republican Party is not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Church leadership repeatedly makes public statements about its stance as politically neutral. On Facebook, on the Church website, and from the pulpit. Do many of our LDS ideals fall in line with conservative principles? Certainly. But…wait for it…there are also gospel principles to be found on the left side of the road. 

Speaking in sweeping generalities, I like the compassionate vibe I feel from the Democratic Party. There’s a level of love and acceptance within it that I find, on the surface at least, lacking on the Right. Still speaking in the most general of terms and in relation to the Republican Party, I’ve seen the value of self-reliance, of gaining an education and relying on one’s own efforts, intellect and abilities to make a better life for one’s family. The level of self-esteem that grows from these accomplishments is visible, vital and crucial, and I’ve seen it work to the betterment of people’s lives, specifically single moms I had the opportunity to work with some years ago as they earned their GEDs and climbed out of the “system.” 

As an LDS writer in a tightly-knit community of fellow LDS writers, I’ve found several similarities among many of us who walk down the middle of the road. J.Scott Savage said once that he is more liberal than most of his LDS friends, and more conservative than most of his friends who are not LDS. This holds very true for me, as well. I have a barrage of extremism on either side of the political aisle assaulting me when I log on to Facebook. I. Am. So. Tired. Of. Political. Messages. On. Facebook. I have news for you, my friends. Republicans do not hate gay people. Democrats are not Satan.

Last election year, a fellow writer and friend of mine, Annette Lyon, posted a commentary on her blog proclaiming her blood to be “purple,” or rather a blending of red and blue. This rang so true to me I felt emotional about it. It’s ok to see both sides of an issue. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or spineless, or unprincipled. It means…you see both sides of an issue. I believe things are very rarely all black or all white. I suspect those with personalities opposite mine (I’m a Myers-Briggs ENFP, because I know you were wondering) would argue with me on that point. 

And so as I continue to peruse Facebook and see links to articles about Mormons, and memes depicting both Romney and Obama as horned devils, I console myself with this thought: 2013 is not an election year, and we’re almost there! Praise whatever deity you worship! Or not. :-)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Webb 3 and new projects

Progress! Webb 3 is nearing completion and almost ready to submit. I've had a lot going on with this book--life has intruded in a big way, and some of the huge time span between this and The Pharaoh's Daughter has been out of my control, and admittedly some within it. Sometimes it's just so much easier to not write.

Because writing is hard. The guilt that claws at my gut when I don't do it, though, is just as hard to deal with. I hate a day that passes without much writing done as much as I hate sitting down when the muse is nowhere to be seen. She's a beeotch, the muse. Fickle and self-aggrandizing. She thinks we all need her.

(Wow, did I just say all that out loud? Pay no attention to the crazy woman behind the curtain. She's getting ready for her daughter's wedding at the end of the month and realizing she hates dealing with details.)

The most exciting thing of all--other than the wedding, of course--is that when I finish Webb 3, I'm going to begin a new project in an entirely new-to-me genre and I'm thrilled about it. I'll post more details as soon as I can--it's going to be very cool.

Until then, wish me luck, and tell the muse to get over herself and come sit on my shoulder. :-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cold River, by Liz Adair

It's with pleasure that I get to do a review of Liz Adair's Cold River. This book is part mystery and part romance, which is a perfect blend for me as a reader. The fact that this book is set in the Pacific Northwest was an added bonus.

A brief description of the book from the backliner: Mandy Steenburg thinks her doctorate in education has prepared her to run any school district—until she tangles with the moonshine-making, coon-dog-owning denizens of a tiny district in Pacific Northwest timber country. She’s determined to make a difference, but the local populace still looks to the former superintendent for leadership. When Mandy lands in the middle of an old feud and someone keeps trying to kill her, instinct tells her to run. And though she has to literally swim through perilous waters, she finds a reason to stay and chance the odds.

And now my bullet list:

What worked for me:
  • First of all, the setting, as I mentioned. I will read just about anything set in the Pacific Northwest. It's one of my favorite regions ever.
  • A wonderful bonus to the setting was a good plot! :-) The book was a page turner for me, which I know is always a good sign. The author places hints, clues and questions throughout that kept me wondering if I was guessing correctly and anxious to see if I was right.
  • Mandy is a likeable character. She also shows character growth by the end of the book that takes her from a borderline education-snob to one who appreciates differing talents and abilities.
  • Mandy makes friends with the locals, brings her know-how to the job, and takes a lot of ribbing and not-so-good-natured jokes in stride. Her discouragement was believable but she wasn't a sulker, which is a good thing.
  • The author does a good job of painting a realistic community full of colorful characters with unique foibles. Backstory of the town's prominent family comes out in bits and pieces and adds to the overall plot.
  • I liked Grange, the former superintendent. As the book develops, we see the skills he brings to the community.
  • The author brings to the fore an unlikely "hero" in the form of Mo Smith, the district accountant. Through Mandy, we see a man who is largely unappreciated for his talents become someone others recognize. This is a character we often see cardboard cutouts of in books and movies--thinning hair over a bald spot, middle age, largely nondescript. Liz gives him depth and I liked it.
  • The mayhem! I loved the mayhem. Threats against her life, accidents, a former lover and a fun younger sister add to the mix. The more danger, the better, in my opinion, and every time something bad happened I found myself eager to figure out who was responsible.

I have very few complaints about the book, and I can't even say they qualify as "complaints." Perhaps just minor issues that I might have preferred to see differently. As I mentioned above, the author gives the reader good clues to see what's going to come as the plot develops. I think that Mandy should also have seen those clues a bit better than she did, however. In my mind, she would have figured out who the bad guy was long before she did. It's a balancing act as an author, though. Have your main character figure things out too quickly and you don't have much of a book.

All-in-all, this was a very fun read and one that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and settings about quirky, small-town communities. I enjoyed the book and am so glad to have had the chance to review it!