Monday, May 31, 2010

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

-By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army-

While living for two years in Eastern Canada, I learned about Rememberance Day. Vetrans organizations sold artificial poppies so the general public could show patriotism, and remember their dead.

I asked the natives about the tradition, and they pointed me to this poem. Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote it on 3 May 1915, after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, 22 years old, the day before. The poem was first published on 8 December of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.

According to historical accounts, Memorial Day in the United States began shortly after the War between the states. It was a day to honor the war dead and continues today. Now, we honor all of our dead.

In the last part of the poem, MacCrae passes the torch to the next generation. He charges to take up his fight.

In My generation, many of us longed for a day when war would cease. Since then, I've lost faith. I fear that mankind will never learn. Also there is the issue of security, We will always have a military.

To follow MacCrae's charge, however, and line up to continue the fight in WWI would have been disastrous. I submit we can still put the dead to rest as he requests. We can remember them. We can remember the generations of good men and women who answered the call of their country. Those who fought whether they believed in that fight or not.

We can support those who fight today, even if we wish they weren't fighting. Along with the lessons of war, we can learn the lessons of the antiwar fight. Support our sons and daughters.

As for DR. MacCrae. We will remember your friend and all the others who have fallen in war. And those who might have never served, who fight the battles of living, then die. We will remember you too.

Whether you visit a cemetary or not, this weekend, take a moment and remember those who came before. The sacrifices they made brought for you the blessings you enjoy.

One last personal, note: When you remember, try to remember the lessons of history. If we forget, we will repeat it. With all my heart, I pray we don't repeat it again.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Changes in the Plot

By Keith N Fisher

As a young man in high school, I learned to be loyal, punctual, and do a day’s work for a day’s wages. I learned the rewards of hard work. I admit, I’d rather do easy work, but I’m not afraid of hard work. (Darn, I just used a series of repetitious words, but I don’t have time to edit.)

I learned to be loyal to the company, and they would be loyal to me. Because of that belief, many of my friends went to work for the steel mill, thinking they were set for life. We should’ve known better.

When did the world change? There seems to be a climate of disloyalty in the workplace today. Everyone is looking for a golden parachute instead of investing time into a business. Experience and hard work seem to have no value. Companies stay in business long enough for executives to rake a profit, then the company disappears, like pollen in the wind, with no regard for loyal employees.

I’d like to know when did greed become the paramount concern in the world? I once listened to a young man, fresh out college, and making more money than me, ask, “What I want to know is, when do I start making the really big money?”

What does this have to do with writing you ask? Well, I planned to write about how adjusting to changes in our life often force us to change our writing habits. I guess I had some penned up frustrations forcing their way to the surface.

I’ve been a little overwhelmed lately. Who hasn’t right? The stress of life has been cutting into my writing time and I’ve noticed a serious dent in my creativity. But then I start writing and the juices begin to flow.

Writers have been given a terrific blessing. No matter what happens, life is better when we get into the zone of creation. I learned something about that during critique group this week. Two of our members were having trouble with their plots, so we put our heads together and offered suggestions. I love to plot, and brainstorming felt great.

Like my friends did with their stories, sometimes the plot in our lives takes a strange twist. We can’t seem to make the story flow. Like the books we write, sometimes it helps to think it through. Go back to a point when the plot made sense and work it forward again.

In the meantime, writing is a blessing for writers. Carve time from your granite schedule and do what you’ve dreamed of doing.

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Remembering Isaac

A book review by Keith Fisher

I sat in the conference room with my fingers crossed. Sure enough, after several tries at choosing a winner, I received an autographed copy of Remembering Isaac The Wise and Joyful Potter of Niederbipp.

I’d been listening to Ben Behunin, a successful potter, speak about his experiences with self-publishing during a League of Utah Writers workshop. Something told me I needed to read the book, but I was short on cash. How nice it was, to finally win something.

Remembering Isaac is a special book. It has a series of thumbnail pictures on the inside edge of the columns, so when you fan the pages, you get to see Ben throw a pot on the wheel. The old animation trick also gives you an indication of your reading progress. The sketches and interesting graphics strung throughout, provides the reader with a sense of perusing a potter’s sketchbook.

In the workshop, Ben spoke about his desire to produce the book he wanted, and its selling well because of a successful word of mouth campaign. Readers have flocked to Costco in order to meet Ben, and purchase the second book in the series. I wonder how it would’ve turned out, if a publisher had seen it.

I’ve got to say at the outset, this book could’ve used an editor. There are style issues and point of view slips throughout, but I didn’t care. I read through the story with a sense of purpose. I needed to find out how the story unfolded, and I gleaned words of wisdom along the way. Beyond the obvious, I found a renewed desire to follow my dreams. I want to open a shop in a small town, write, and be a friend to man.

Ben Behunin, drew the character, Isaac, who embodies a poem I’ve quoted on this blog before, but here it is again:

House by the Side of the Road
By Sam Walter Foss

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Nor hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I hope you read this book, if for no other reason, it will help you find courage to follow your dream. Now, I need to acquire a copy of the second book, Discovering Isaac.

You can find a copy of both here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Home for an Author

By Keith Fisher

After the success of the Harry Potter series, I heard that J K Rowling bought a castle. I googled it and found the attached picture. I don’t know if this is really her house, but it’s not my definition of a castle. The source where I got the picture called her house an historic Georgian country estate, built in 1865.

In my daydreams, when I’m not running plots through my mind, I think of what kind of house I’d buy, if I wrote Harry Potter.

Nichole, my friend, dreams of the day when she can purchase a tropical island and live on the beach with her laptop. Others think of mountain cabins. Still, others hope for a New York City penthouse.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? Have you seen a house in the movies and said. I could write there? When I saw the new version of Yours Mine and Ours, I fell in love with the lighthouse tower. “I could write there,” I said. I since found out it was a set and the exterior views were doctered. the lighthouse doesn't exist.

While cropping 1930's postcard images at my former job, I discovered a castle on the Rhine River in Germany, and imagined myself writing in that setting. I found a picture of how it looks today, and discovered it’s a tourist trap.

So, I’m curious. Where would you live?

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee

By Keith Fisher

When you write a blog feature called the Dead Authors Society, you run the risk of having people come back and say, “Hey, that author is still alive.” Today’s author is indeed very much alive. I hope she remains with us, for many years to come.

Nelle Harper Lee was born at a wonderful, yet turbulent time. Growing up with the likes of Truman Capote in a neighborhood where children were free to have adventures in their own yards. Neighbors were friendly and looked out for each other.

Her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is a reflection of that childhood. Published in 1960 and transferred to the silver screen, is one of the all time classics of literature. That success, I believe, squelched her efforts to get other works published. She wrote them, but wasn’t happy with her writing. Therefore, she didn’t submit those manuscripts. I hope in twenty years or more, we’ll get to see those other books. She is a magnificent writer.

In, To Kill a Mockingbird, there are so many memorable scenes it’s hard to pick one to write about. The courtroom scenes, the mad dog scene, even the knifing, were very poignant, but I think in that moment when Atticus Finch steps forward after being spit on, everyone expects him to lay his adversary flat, but he doesn’t. The amount of self-control portrayed there, was marvelous. I wish I could write characters that would hold generations of readers spellbound, like the author of this story, did.

To Kill a Mockingbird is required reading for many literature courses, as it should be. I recommend it for everyone. And if you want to see the movie, Gregory Peck’s rendition of Atticus Finch, won him and Oscar.

In my light research about Harper Lee, I came across an aledged letter she wrote in 1966. It was sent to the editor of a newspaper, in response to the attempts of a Richmond, Virginia area school board to ban To Kill a Mockingbird as “immoral literature”.

Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Few authors ever reach the success Harper Lee did with To Kill a Mockingbird. She will be remembered throughout the generations. It’s hard to build on that. A person feels they will never be that good again. I wish she could’ve bridged that gap.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Chamber, a Circle of Family

By Keith Fisher

Good morning, I’m the first to arrive at the Utah county league of Utah Writers, Spring workshop. It was either, write here, or write this blog at home and be late for the workshop. Or, wait and write it later today. You might wish I waited, since I’m having a hard time organizing my thoughts.

It’s been an interesting week with many things to do. Yesterday, I went to Ken Garff Ford, (a car dealership) in answer to the mailer they sent me. I got to try my key and see if it started the car. It was a cool car, and I didn’t win. (Of course not, right?).

On Wednesday, I made a Dutch oven dinner for my critique group and our guest. It was great to hear Tristi Bless and the food and ask that I be blessed too.

As part of two contests, in honor of Kim and Nichole’s book launches, We offered the winners an opportunity to come to our group and be critiqued. What a fun prize, and great fun for all of us, as well. Only one of the winners was able to attend this time, but we had dinner and an extremely long session. We laughed well into the night. Heather made a cake in honor of the release of Tristi’s, Secret Sisters and it was delicious.

Our guest LT Elliott, is a great writer and editor. I hope she got more out the session than we did. I know I had fun, reading her chapter. I love the way she writes.

During the session, my mind drifted back to a blog I wrote in 2008 called The Chamber. I talked about setting up a critique group. I knew I needed help with my writing, and the idea of socializing with other writers appealed to me.

During the LDStorymakers Conference that Spring I invited a few of my friends. Since then, we’ve read thousands of words together, critiqued six books that were later published. I’ve brought two and a half myself, but they haven’t been published yet.

Our group meets once a week in rotating places. Sometimes there are scheduling conflicts, but if there are three of us, we meet. We celebrate each other’s birthdays, and publishing contracts. We attend Book launches and support each other in other events. We’ve been known to read in restaurants, as well as family rooms. Whoever is hosting usually prepares snacks and we take a break during our reading to shoot the bull, and talk about Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and publishing news. We’ve laughed with each other, cried for each other, and been each other’s best friend.

I knew we had a special group, when I attended a writing event and heard a few writers express their envy. I never realized there were writers who would love to be part of it.

So, there I sat, in my living room, looking around at my friends, with gratitude for the help I receive each week. I’m also grateful for their husbands. Without the support of their husbands, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.

I don’t mean to be sappy, (I know, it’s too late.) but I have found a family of writers who support me in ways I will never be able to repay. Cooking dinner for them is an effort to show my gratitude. I earnestly hope you have a circle of friends like mine.

Well, now its afternoon and I’m listening to Dan Wells give his presentation. Sorry if this needed more editing. Blame the workshop. We had a wonderful time on Wednesday night. I think LT did, too.

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


By Keith Fisher

I hear a lot about profiling in the news lately. People being singled out because of race or other factors. As I worked in my yard the other day I realized I was profiling.

I meticulously searched through the preferred group, eliminating members of another group. Not only did I single them out I looked upon them with disdain. Toward the end of my experience, I developed a real hatred for any other group, and coddled the preferred one.

I admit, my prejudice runs deep. In the past, I was guilty of genocide, using chemical agents designed for the purpose. Yes it’s a part of my personality to profile that group and there are thousands of people just like me.

I was pulling weeds in my garden.

Its fascinating how certain weeds have the audacity to grow so close to my pea plants, it’s hard to eliminate the weed without pulling the plant too. Have I mentioned I hate weeds? I’ve been known to sacrifice a row of good plants in order to eradicate the infestation of weeds. Like nuclear weapons with people, roundup is a product designed to kill all vegetation. It doesn’t distinguish between good and bad plants.

Okay, enough about my hatred for weeds. I want to talk about another kind of profiling. I think there are too many cliché characters written into stories these days. There is the crime boss who dresses in suits with dark shirts and light ties. I see many spoiled, Nellie Olsen types, who never had a selfless thought. Also, there is the self-absorbed macho-man who believes the world would end if he wasn’t there to protect his lady. Not to mention the air headed woman who needs a man to balance her checkbook.

There are as many variations of the Snidely Whiplash character, as there are Dudley Do-Rights.

Yes, I’m just as guilty as is the next writer. I think it was Mick Jagger who said, every rock and roll song has already been written, and everything new is a variation of the original. Writing is the same way. We look for villains, heroes, and heroines. Sidekicks, authority figures, and supporting cast, but real people aren’t drawn like that.

The people I know, and interact with daily have multifaceted personalities and complicated lives. They aren’t larger than life, like the characters in a movie, but they have thousands of things influencing their nature.

I’m sure I’m preaching to choir here, but just like people profiling won’t extract terrorists from an entire group of people, characters in literature shouldn’t be drawn to conform to a mold. The more real a character becomes in my mind, the better my experience with a book.

Good luck with your writing---see you next week.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What's in Your Closet

By Keith Fisher

One of my critique group partners worked a funny, personal memory into her story the other day. She gave the experience to a character, and showed us the feelings with great clarity. For me, it was fun to know it really happened, and fun to see my friend relive the passion.

I think all writers weave bits of their personal lives into their stories, but I thought of a metaphor and a practical application for using your experiences in a story.

Obviously you can’t use your whole life. Even if you’ve lived in the extreme, it would be a memoir and you’d lose the freedom of fiction, but . . .

We’ve all heard the metaphor, used by the good folks in the mental health profession, of cleaning out your closet. They urge us to drag our fears and bad experiences out of our closets and face them in the cold light of day.

I’m not a counselor, but I know a few, so I’ll rely on them to correct me if I’m wrong.

The truth is, that some closets are bigger than others, but we all have closets. During our lives, we toss things into those closets and quickly shut the door. Then years later, something happens to open the door. The contents spill out all over the floor and we must face the mess. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen in a crowded room full of people that you’re trying to impress.

It’s easier to remove one thing at a time, facing each nightmare on your terms. After dealing with the memory, file it into another place.

Writers, when they’re plotting, tend to draw from the memories in their closets. Research is harder than picking our brain. Sometimes it’s a subtle nuance, something we’ve seen someone do. Other times it’s the memory of a special Christmas from your childhood. It can even be a terrible nightmare, forgotten long ago, and tossed into the back of your closet.

I know a writer who drew from feelings she’d had while dealing with an unpleasant situation. It made the story believable and had a cleansing affect on the writer. I know others who write their mother-in-law into a story and make them the hated villain.

I wrote a former boss into a book once, when I finished, I marveled at my feelings. I never knew I let him effect me so much.

Writers tend to notice things others don’t see. The polished craft of writing helps the writer to tell the story in minute detail. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to clean your closets and give characters things to do on the page.

So, I return to the title question, what’s in your closet?

My Five-Year Plan

By Keith Fisher

Recently, I sat listening to a writer talk about his five-year plan for becoming the author he wants to be. He emphasized goals and hard work. I turned to my friend and whispered, “I gave up on my five-year plan twenty years ago.”

My statement made me reflect on my intentions and the realities of the publishing world. Actually, I’m not sure when I abandoned the plan, but several years ago, I wrote a great story. I thought it would be easier to get that book published in the national market, if I wrote another book for the LDS Market. How foolish was that thought?

Now I sit, with five unpublished books, fifteen more in different stages of development, and a fulfilled sense of destiny. Notice I didn’t say unfulfilled? I’ve come to the conclusion I’m writing in the market where I need to, I’m fulfilling my destiny. Yes there are times when I doubt that conviction, but I’ll talk about that some another time.

My original plan went by the wayside when I realized three things. The first was, the LDS market isn’t a means to an end. I thought it would be easier to get publishing credits in that market, but I was wrong. If anything, it might be harder. It’s definitely harder with the content restrictions imposed on the writers.

The second realization came when I sat in church, during a ward reorganization. You know, when the bishopric makes a ton of new callings in order to give everyone an opportunity to serve? Some of the positions from which people had been released, had not been filled. I listened with a profound sense of confidence. I knew the Lord didn’t need me to serve in those callings at that time.

I wondered about that, though, and a new thought came to mind. I felt my calling was to write in the LDS market. Then I heard a touching story by an author who received a poignant letter talking about how his book literally saved the life of someone who read it. I was hooked. I wanted to touch lives, and hopefully, help God love his children. I can do that by writing in the national market, but it’s easier, if I can refer to spiritual things.

I haven’t totally abandoned the national market, but writing LDS fiction is what I’m supposed to be doing now.

The third realization dawned, when I went back and read my first book. It was terrible. I’ve improved over the years, but I’ve discovered, contrary to many opinions, a good story does not cover up bad writing even if it gets published. Five-year plans are great for making business goals, but learning the craft often takes longer. It has for me.

Following a plan and working toward a goal can help you stay focussed, but in a business ruled by subjective opinions, it might not be wise to make unrealistic expectations. If I were to offer one piece of advice to every aspiring writer, it would be, work like you expect to be published tomorrow, but don’t beat yourself up if you have to wait. Keep looking for ways to improve. Listen to critique partners. Listen to contest judges. Throw out the advice that doesn’t ring true, and hold onto the suggestions that make sense.

Keep writing and remember this:

In, The Screwtape Letters, by C S Lewis, Wormwood notes there are more tempters around one man than another man. He assumes the one with the most tempters is the really bad man. Wormwood’s uncle, Screwtape, corrects that assumption with the note that it takes more tempters to turn the good man away. It only takes one to keep a bad man in line.

If your talent has the capability to touch hearts for good, there will be opposition. Discouragement will come at some of the oddest times, in some of the oddest ways. You, however, have the power to overcome.

In the Bible I found this: For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, fear not; I will help thee. –Isaiah 41:13

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.