Monday, February 28, 2011

Crowning Glory

The King's Speech

"The significance of that photo in the scrapbook must have been explained to me, but as a young boy I never paid too much attention," wrote Mark Pogue.

Lionel and Myrtle Logue 1907

"Lionel was ancient history to me; he had died in 1953, twelve years before I was born. The sum of my knowledge about my grandfather was that he had been a speech therapist—whatever that was—and I left it at that."

Lionel's grandson, Mark Logue

"After the death of my father in 2001, I was left the task of going through the personal papers he had kept in a tall grey filing cabinet. There, among the wills, deeds and other important documents, were hundreds of old letters and photographs collected by my grandfather—all neatly filled away."

The real Lionel Logue and Geoffrey Rush

"I found vividly written diaries in which he had recorded his meetings with the King in extraordinary detail. There was copious correspondence with George VI himself. Taken together with other fragments of information I managed to gather online, I learned more about my grandfather's unique relationship with the King."

Practicing for the speech

A passage in Lionel's diary described a conversation with the King after his annual Christmas message to the nation. "'You are indispensable,'" he told me. "Two days later he wrote me a very beautiful letter, which I hope will be treasured by my descendants."

Lionel's grandson, Mark, wrote, "Had I had the letter I would have treasured it, but it was nowhere to be found. This missing letter inspired me to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every line of enquiry in what became a quest to piece together as many details as I could of my grandfather's life."

Mark's quest for his grandfather, Lionel Logue, won an Oscar tonight.

(All quotes are from the introduction of the book The King's Speech.)

The Movie gets ★★★★★ from me and Dee!

The Royal Family

Hey! Don't you have an ancestor or two?
They may not be royalty but I bet they did some good here and there.
Writing down a few stories might be your crowning glory!

To get started, click here:
Ten Steps to Family History.

Write something up: I'll watch for you at the Oscars next year!

(I'm deep in the Irish history of someone's else's grandpa and I'm fascinated and impressed—I want to be related! I might write myself in as a long-lost cousin just to get in on the family traditions!)

Friday, February 25, 2011


This is one of my all-time favorites. Marta's friend who was a boy (as opposed to boyfriend) gave her this shirt in 6th grade, and she wore it forever. It fit her to a tee!

What's one of your favorite quotes?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Son of a Gun: Character Building

An excerpt from my novel:

Following the swollen stream, they passed through the lush timbered
basin onto the wide-open range. Spicy sage scented the late afternoon air,
mockingbirds whistled, and woodpeckers tapped, but Ruby didn’t notice her
surroundings. Finally she sighed and dropped her hands to the saddle horn.
The boy pulled up beside her. Without raising her voice, she said
gently, “JJ, I want to tell you about your name. Can we walk?”

A breeze lifted his dark blond bangs, and he resettled his hat, then
dismounted and took his mother’s reins to guide both horses.

“Your father was called Jack, Jack Smith actually.” She started from
the beginning. “I only knew him for one night. He was just passing through
Greenville and I was young and a little wild, like you, with a hankering to get
out and see the world, make a new start. Anyway, this tall, black-haired
cowboy flirted with me.” She paused, remembering. “Oh, he was quite the
sugar mouth, and he seemed so adventurous and bold . . .”

Ruby lifted the chestnut hair from the back of her neck, letting the
cool wind blow on her neck. She unwrapped her black ribbon bracelet and
tied her curls back in a ponytail, then arched the kinks out of her spine,
twisting her shoulders back to her son.

“He had a beautiful red mare, almost the same color as Cowlick is. She
was a hand taller than any other mount I’ve seen, sleek, well muscled, alert,
with a pure white mane and tail. He’d raised her from a foal, and he loved
her; he even talked to her, and he claimed she talked back. It took me two
seconds to fall in love, first with Big Red, and then with Jack Smith.”

JJ’s eyes were wide, tearless and unblinking, but his face was still soft
and mobile with boyhood, and his mouth worked against trembling.

“I thought if he liked me enough he’d take me with him,” Ruby
continued, “so I did what girls do when they want a man to like them. But he
didn’t like me enough. He was gone the next morning.” Her voice trailed off
for a moment before she went on. “So then, after a while, I had you.”

She looked at him to see if he understood what she’d just told him, and
when he wouldn’t meet her gaze she saw that he did.

“Did he ever know about me?” JJ asked. He couldn’t quite hide the
longing in his voice. Pine trees, dusky in the twilight sun, cast a shadow across
the boy’s face; frigid water bubbled in the stream, like the ice-cold answer she
had to give him.

“No, JJ. No, he didn’t.”

He plowed his toe into the damp brush edging the stream. A low bluff
surrounded by limestone boulders overlooked them, and shaded their path in
the early evening chill.

“Can we go home, now?” JJ asked.

Writing is like acting.
You pretend you are different people and see how they handle life.
It has given me insight.

It's your turn:
Imagine yourself in someone else's shoes, and write about it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trial Separation

I am so frustrated!!

I gave him my total loyalty. I can't count the nights I've stayed up with him, pouring out my heart, baring my soul . . . today I spent twelve solid hours doing his bidding and what do I get for my troubles? Nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

Why, Mac? Why? I've put everything I have into our relationship. Why are you holding back? Just spit it out. Don't keep it all inside. And don't tell me my attachment's too big—I've heard that one before. What?? You can't support my choice of font? Puh-lease!

Look, I'm sick of all those warning pop-ups. You want warnings? Here's a warning . . . I want my document! Give me my document!!

OK. I need a break. Let's cool off, get some rest. I'll turn you on again in the morning. It'll all work out. No, no. I'll feel better in a while.

I'm going to finish off the pie.

"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

What has kept you from making a deadline lately?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Beauty Tip for Late Bloomers

"The easiest way to diminish the appearance of age,
is to keep your glasses off when you look in the mirror."
—Joan Rivers

Monday, February 21, 2011

You Don't Say!

"I won't stand for gossip!
No, I sit down and make myself comfortable for gossip."
—Crabby Road

What is gossip anyway? Is it only when you say something bad about someone else, intending to ruin their reputation? Or is it when you say something good that just hasn't been told yet?

A friend of mine said recently, "I've never been able to tell my own news—my mother always told it first." Is it gossip for mom to tell the great-aunts the family scuttlebutt? Or is it helpful to know they'll hear about the raise, the house, the engagement without you having to call personally at a busy time? Is it treading on toes to share news that's not yours to share?

What about the times you could help, or know someone who could help, but it's just been discussed "in confidence?" And how do you handle a situation when it would save feelings and embarrassment to let the word get around, but the person doesn't want it known. For instance when a couple separates and passes it off as a work situation, and the neighbors are planning a surprise 50th birthday bash without understanding the possibilities.

Is acting on gossip charity? Or is it meddling? I don't mean malicious snooping; I'm referring to the friend who might be having a miscarriage and doesn't want anyone to know, but you'd love to take her kids for the day. Or the niece that tells you in confidence that her mother needs a shoulder to cry on, but says, "You can't let her know I called you."

I'm just wondering what you think. I won't tell anyone—I'm the very definition of discretion.
(Unless I see a trustworthy friend.)


Art by W. S. Hutton

There was a big jolt, and then it got bumpy. I sensed it coming, but I was going too fast and it seemed impossible to slow down. As the air escaped from my tires, I veered out of control. Everything went flat. I was having a breakdown.

It all started in June, 1981. We were excited, expecting our 7th baby, but we didn't know where we'd put her. Our house was overflowing with kids and shoes and outgrown coats: we decided to remodel the basement. The contractor said it would take two months. Perfect. The kids could all live in the family room while the bedrooms were reconfigured into two big dorms.

Too much togetherness.

Four months later Marta was born. The painter was the one who took the call announcing her birth. Workmen had taken up permanent residence in our home—it was a nightmare. One thing had led to another and construction was taking place all over the house. What were we thinking?

One day, when the baby was less than a week old, I put her in an infant seat on the dining-room table, out of danger. Her sneezing siblings were smearing chocolate on the drapes while I talked to the pediatrician on the phone. A lamp tipped over just as the doorbell rang. "We're here to see the baby" called my friend, herding her three kids around ladders and through stacks of lumber.

In the garage a saw whined. The carpenter had just removed some wooden slats that held the cathedral windows in place when suddenly a gust of wind blew the plate glass in. It shattered all over the room.

Our house back then.

Marta and the other kids were protected from the tiny shards, but I was hit—not by glass, but by the enormity of my situation. These kids were out of control. I had way too many of them, and they were all living in the family room out of boxes, and there were strange men using my bathroom, watching me and my house fall apart.

Wait, there's more . . .
(continued tomorrow.)

What put you over the edge?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Definition of a Lady


Eight months pregnant, I was wearing a green mini-dress that I made myself. I'd embroidered little pink and purple flowers on the bodice—it was too cute for words. Panty hose hadn't been invented in 1970, so my nylons were held up by a garter belt. As I walked home from work one day, I could feel it sliding lower and lower until it slipped down under my belly. My arms were full of stuff, and I was walking next to a busy street. There was no way I could make the necessary adjustments.

Just then my neighbor pulled up in his truck and offered me a ride home. I climbed in and by the time I had arranged myself in the seat, I could see that the tops of my nylons were grazing my knees. I had no idea where the garter belt had positioned itself. When we got to my door I climbed out and watched his eyes widen to take in the sight. Inside, the mirror told the story: my dress ended at mid-thigh, my garter belt was down around my knees and my nylons were puddled around my calves. That's when I learned this truth:

"A lady is one who never shows her underwear unintentionally."

It's your turn:

Reveal some secrets in your memoir.
Write about an experience that makes you cringe.

What did you learn from it?

(Leave us a link if you do it on your blog.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Story Details Anyone?

I need your help. I've spent the past few days reading about Irish fishing villages. I ran across a story I recognize, but I need more details. These are the facts I've found.

On January 13, 1843 boats from two neighboring villages, Newcastle and Annalong, set out for their usual fishing stations. The fishermen headed for an area of rocky ground about seven miles offshore. Suddenly the ocean was churning with mountainous waves and the fleet was caught in a furious snowstorm.

The people of Portaferry joined the effort to save their friends. Wives and children waited on the shore, watching for the men to return, but only two boats survived. Fourteen boats were lost in the heavy seas including a boat which had gone to the rescue. Seventy-six men perished leaving twenty-seven widows and 118 children.

What I remember about this story is a mother from Portaferry, Ireland who was waiting on the shore for her son, Pete. It was reported that his boat had gone down. She fell on the ground in grief. Her other son was preparing his own boat to go out to rescue other fishermen on the dangerous sea. She begged him not to go. "I already lost one boy tonight. I can't bare to lose another." He told her he might be able to save someone else's son and off he went into the gale.

She was beside herself with sorrow and worry for hours. Suddenly a body was spotted floating in the ocean. Men rushed out to pull him onto the shore, and the mother saw that it was her son they were rescuing. As he came out of the water she realized he had another man in tow. "I'm all right, Mother," he called. "And I've saved my brother, Pete."

Does anybody remember hearing or reading this story? I'd really like to know if the story about the mother and Pete is true, and if it's part of the Irish account. I remember it from an LDS conference talk many years ago, but I think it was originally a Reader's Digest story. (I know I've used this story and I can picture which file it was in two houses ago.)


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Be Remarkable

"Son, your mother is really a remarkable woman."

The Family in America had a great article by Bryce Christensen. He wrote that the number of homeless people on our streets does not begin to reveal the scope of homelessness in America.

"For since when did the word home signify merely physical shelter, or homelessness merely the lack of shelter? The desperate people sleeping beneath sheets of cardboard above heating grates, and probing for food in dumpsters deserve sympathetic attention. But those who lack housing are not the only people who lack homes.

"For as long as people have used the word, home has signified not only shelter, but also emotional commitment, security, and belonging. Home has connoted not just a necessary roof and warm radiator, but a place sanctified by the abiding ties of wedlock, parenthood, and family obligation; a place demanding sacrifice and devotion, but promising loving care and warm acceptance.

"Their lives anchored in some place fortified by the ties of marriage and family, the great majority of Americans have—until fairly recently—been able to refer to some special place as home, and to do so with the full and rich meaning of that word. In recent decades a devastating number of Americans cannot claim that secure base of family ties that previous generations recognized as the essence of a home."
1922 Magazine Cover

Harold B. Lee said, "The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home." You don't need to jump over the moon to be remarkable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Remembers

"The truth is, I would rather do nothing with you,
than something with anybody else."
—Leigh Standley

There was a poem on a calendar and I asked Dee to translate it.

"This is what it means," he said:

"You are mine, I am thine.
This you must always remember.

You are locked inside my heart,

and the tiny key is lost.

You must stay inside forever."

Our hearts were opening to each other. We were getting ready to invite each other in, and we were completely unaware of what that would mean . . . forever. Immer noch.

On Valentine's Day I always link to my favorite romantic tale:
Our Love Story .

Have you written yours?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Scrivener is Super!

Faster than Word! More powerful than Pages! Able to compile manuscripts in a single click! Look! Click on this link! Scrivener is a software program for writers that has blown me away. I've spent all day absorbing its power and I'm flying high!

Friday, February 4, 2011


The cottage was of ancient stone, with thick lichen on its roof slates. Nobody answered our knock, so we wandered around the back by the stream taking notes of the plants, the smells, and the sound of birds. "You there!" a man's voice boomed. "What are you up to?"

I jumped, but Dee responded with dignity. "We're searching for ghosts."

There was more to it. "We're actually tracing the history of a unique mill stone that sat at this mill until it was taken to Utah over a hundred years ago. And we're using your mill for a setting in a book."

"I've heard of that stone," he said. "It came with William Penn's settlers to the Brandywine region centuries past. From England, I understand."

These were all clues for a client named Miller, anxious to find how many generations their family had been millers. Now we had them back to Pennsylvania and possibly to somewhere in England. Stepping into the setting opens doors.

Visiting a homeland with some props and dates catches the attention of local folks.
Here in Trzesniow, Poland, just asking how to pronounce a name at the cemetery brought people with that name out of the woodwork, anxious to join in and share their own ancestry.

We were invited to the mayor's home (the one in the middle) and he tore pages out of his own records to give to us. They were of major importance to the family we were researching, and we would never have found them otherwise. Plus, being in a home, seeing the furnishings, observing the food being cooked for dinner, added an authenticity to the setting in a way a book never could.

Writing history has taught me a lot about writing fiction. Setting is a major clue to character. In a history there are actual places to visit to soak in the ambiance. In fiction it's helpful to do a real-life tour anyway of the places you'll include, and use genuine elements in your writing.

Use the facts you already know. Your ghost grew up on a farm? When?

The style of farm makes a difference.

There are clues to a person's personality in the town where he grew up, in the places his parents worked, and the surroundings he explored as a child. Farms and businesses tell stories about the economic climate of the town, just observing them. The size and prominence of schools and churches reveal the formal education of a character, and whether that was a major concern in his life.

Were folks married in a tiny church or a cathedral?
Ask around.

Were your ghosts buried on the cliff behind the church? Are the graves in a family plot, with names and dates to follow up on? Is this the poor side of the cemetery or the ritzy part with monuments and benches? Those details become conclusions that add to your story.

Is he buried out in the sticks? Alone or in a family plot?
What did it mean in that community?

Time books or financial records tell more that just cash balances. They show organizational skills, educational background, and what things were important to your ghost (or character.)

These details are often found in a town library or family archive. Phone books are available, as well as local histories and community/church scrapbooks. Pictures and articles are easily photocopied by helpful librarians. (Don't crop the photos when you get home. Make sure the colorful wallpaper and the heavy old draperies are part of the setting.) Get out a notebook and describe in detail the cabbage cooking on the stove, and the boiled tongue they offered you for lunch—even the dog hairs on the chairs. It will add veracity to your story.

Ask the librarian—"Where was this home? In the middle of town, on the outskirts?" Find out how that indicated social standing. Drive out to see the property to get a feel. This is all part of the setting that helps fill in the blanks about your character. Ask to see the birth and death records, even if you already know the dates. The handwriting, the signatures of godparents, all the little details add to the feel and tone you'll be able to portray.

A town library will have archives of newspaper clippings. Were our ghosts at the fancy weddings? It will be listed. It might even say Mr. Robson and Miss Freeman became engaged at the reception afterward. They will be married June 3, 1846. Suddenly the story has new details!

It's important in non-fiction to describe the scenes accurately. Real people knew the humidity or the bone-chilling cold, the dry wind, or the lonely walk down to the sea. Pop into the local museum and see what they wore to go to the mines or the fishing boats. It shows respect to portray them in a setting they actually experienced. Fictional characters will come alive when they're placed in a realistic setting, too.

Dee loves to get a feel for the place he's describing. It brings his characters to life and he can relate to them knowing how and where they lived.

If this is a research trip, you'll have plenty to do without the usual tourist diversions. Some city tours might add to your understanding, but concentrate on what you're trying to accomplish. Mr. Miller had Dee draw up an itinerary and planned a trip to uncover details of their ancestors on a trip to England.

"Shrewsbury was so difficult to get to," he said after they got home. "We decided to visit Bath and tour the Cotswolds, see Stratford on Avon. I couldn't face sitting in a library for days! We'll send you over for the work part of the trip!"

We're totally game! We love detecting.

Read more of our ghost hunting adventures here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Keep Quiet

"Now, look. As far as anyone knows
we're a nice, normal family."
—Homer Simpson

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Quilting History

Quilt Pattern: Log Cabin

I can't play with my imaginary friends for a while—reality's calling. When I'm not a novelist, I'm an editor, and a new biography hit my desktop today. It's time to focus in and get my needle threaded: writing history is like piecing a quilt. I'll tell you how we do it.

Dee starts a project by looking at the whole picture, observing the arrangement, the variety, the theme. "There are logs in this pattern," he might say."Tell me that story."

He breaks the story down to a list of basic facts and creates a time-line of the person's life. "1956: born. 1960: took his first tennis lesson," all the way through. It helps to see it in chronological order, with dates.

Then he starts searching for pieces. Interviews, photos, scrapbooks and letters lead to more interviews, photos, scrapbooks and letters, and a unique pattern begins to emerge. Color and texture come by stitching in current events, styles, and music of the times.

The pieces pile up and are bundled into chapters: Family, Childhood, Education, Marriage, Career—whatever the design dictates.

Dee bastes all the pieces together,

And then I do the sewing. My goal is to eliminate bumps and snags, make it smooth and even.

I'm especially excited to start my work this time. It's about a guy who was a lumberjack!

Quilt Pattern: The Lumberjack

It's your turn:

Make a time-line of the major events in your life. Go back to the list and add a source for additional material. (Example: Childhood—Aunt Ruth; Junior High—Joan; High School—yearbook.) Schedule a time to search for these pieces of your quilt.