Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why I Love Utah!

I don't know if people in other states feel this same way, but for whatever reason I always feel compelled to explain what's so great about my home state. I'm not really sure why, since most people who come here love it so much they either move here, or at least purchase a second home here. Especially after the 2002 Olympics, held in Salt Lake City, when the whole world sat on our doorstep. Many of them never left.

Nonetheless, I'm going to explain my passion for Utah again.

I am a Utahan, born and bred. I have travelled to several different states: Nevada, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas, New York...well, you get the idea. I've been to Canada and Mexico on our North American continent. I've been to Germany, England, France, Canary Islands, Spain, Holland, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti...again, you get the idea. I've been a few places. And in the words of the wise Dorothy, I have to say, there truly is no place like home.

From almost every window in my house I have a view of the amazing, beautiful Rocky Mountains. I can jump in my car - or on my Harley - and be in said mountains within fifteen minutes. In the winter months, I can use those fifteen minutes to be on some of the greatest slopes in the world - if I skied, that is. When I ski now, it is simply for the entertainment of my children as I tumble down the mountain. I have the Oquirrh Mountains to the west, as well. The Great Salt Lake (second saltiest in the world) is a twenty minute drive. I can be on a lake with a wave runner within half an hour, or fishing on a lake within the same amount of time. I can load up the 4-wheelers and be on the 9,000 acre Little Sahara sand dunes in two hours. Within a few hours I can be in one of Utah's 5 National Parks. (Been to Zion or Bryce? If not, you are so missing out.) We have movie theaters with reserved seating. You have no idea how great that is until you've experienced it. Maybe best of all, Disneyland is a mere ten hour drive away. We do have an amusement park thirty minutes from my house, Lagoon, which is pretty good - even if it isn't Disneyland!

You can walk around Salt Lake City, and feel safe. For the largest city in the state, it's amazingly clean. I didn't realize that, or appreciate it, until I had been in some large cities in other states and noticed an excess of litter and graffiti. Not that we don't have those things here, they just seems disproportionately less than some other places I've been. There are some less than stellar areas in Utah, but overall I think most Utahan's take pride in keeping the state clean.

We get four distinct seasons here in Utah. The temperatures hit over 100 degrees in the summer, to below zero in the winter. We might be a desert, but we shovel several feet deep snow as well. We grow Kentucky blue grass here, which is amazing to sit on, and walk barefoot across. We have some friends that moved to Texas, and the thing they miss most is the grass. When they come to visit, first thing they want to do is go outside and sit on the lawn. We grow tulips in the spring, roses in the summer, rake leaves in the fall and build snowmen in the winter.

Just so you know, there are not many polygamists who live in Utah. I believe there are around 40,000, or less than 2% of the population. Yes, the Mormon's brought polygamy here, but it was banned by the church in 1890. Do the math: that's 121 years ago. It was only practiced by Mormon's from 1843-1890. That's 47 years altogether. (Note to comedians: it's old and pretty lame to keep harping on the LDS church about something that has been banned for three times the amount of time it was practiced.) So, no, you aren't going to feel like you've stepped into a foreign world where women outnumber men, and wear pioneer dresses, with braided hair. Because of the large number of LDS church members here, you might notice people more modestly dressed, however. I am completely okey-dokey with that. I've never really been one to appreciate viewing over-exposed body parts. Not too many people look good with too much exposed skin (yes, I definitely mean me!).

The crime rate here is fairly low, approximately 96k crimes per year. I'm not sure where we sit compared to other states, but I know there is only one homicide about every 9 days. While that's still far too many in my book, it's not nearly as many as you find in other places. I know that in 1990 Utah ranked 12th in the lowest crime rate, but I'm not sure where we sit today. It is unusual, and newsworthy, when a violent crime occurs in the state. Utahan's are generally very friendly, and definitely service oriented. If you move in, you're probably going to be the recipient of a cake or two, and a casserole, or ten. Mowing a neighbors lawn, shoveling their walk, or taking the garbage cans back up to their house from the curbside it not at all unusual.

I do have to admit, one drawback is the constant road construction. It's an inside joke here that we have two seasons: road construction and less road construction. Potholes are as much a part of spring as the birds returning from the south. A good Utah business to be in is to own a blacktopping company, or manufacturing those orange cones or barrels that are on nearly every road in Utah. Overall, a small price to pay for the blessing of living here.

Anyone who's been to Utah, or who lives here now, can likely understand what I'm talking about. A more conservative state, to be sure; with beauty, opportunity, recreation and friendliness abounding, is it any wonder I'm in love with my home state?

Love your own state? I'd love to hear about it below!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do We Really Need Rules?

The other day I was talking to someone about rules, and whether we should set strict rules in our homes. So basically this is my rant about rules.

Rules are the only things that save us from chaos. We all have rules. The rules we are required to live by are called laws. We don't live by those rules, we risk the consequence of losing our freedom when we're tossed in prison. But those aren't the specific rules I want to talk about. We all know laws are to be abided and what the consequences are for breaking them.

I want to talk about other types or rules, unwritten, many times unspoken rules that govern our lives. I think many times we mistakes rules as being binding, and I suppose there are cases where that's true. Kids especially tend to hate rules. But there have been studies which show that kids who have rules they are expected to live by are generally happier, and do better in life than those who are given none, or very few, rules.

When we set up our own household, we determine what rules we want in place. Husbands and wives have to come to an agreement on this. And these rule aren't just the ones we set for our kids, but also what we set for one another. They are basically the guidelines for how we are expected to behave, to treat one another. For example, there probably aren't many marriages that will achieve any kind of longevity if one of the spouses feels they can do what they want, when they want, with whom they want. That they can stay out 'til all hours, or even for days, without letting the other know what they are doing. Or that they can spend money in any way they want.  I could go on about the rules, again unwritten and unspoken, between a husband and wife, but you get the gist.

We determine a set of rules for our children. We set down our expectations for them, and sometimes they like it, sometimes they don't. Maybe we require them to make their beds each morning, or do homework before they can go out and play, or clean the kitchen once a week. Whatever our rules are, they are ours as the heads of the households to set. There isn't anything wrong with or unfair about setting ground rules and expecting them to be followed. And if they aren't, as in anything in life, there are consequences.

When you think of the word consequence, if you're at all like me, you immediately think of negative.things. But there are consequences for following the rules as well. For example, you get to retain certain privileges and freedoms if you stick to a rule whose negative consequence might be grounding, or not being allowed to hang out with your friends.Or, in the case of an adult, the freedom that is afforded by the trust and respect you receive from your spouse/friends/children.

The Golden Rule applies to us today more than ever. Can you imagine a world where everyone lived by the "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you"? What bliss that would be. Utopia. No fighting, arguing, wars, even crime. Of course, we know we have to have opposition in all things in order to appreciate the good -- even with our kids. How great is it when they follow a rule without complaint, or tell someone else they need to follow that particular rule? That's a particularly sweet moment in a parent's life.

So, keep following those rules that aren't laws. Open doors for those entering a building when you do, say thank you to people, even for something small, smile at strangers, keep the road rage at bay, and most of all, respect everyone you come in contact with. You know, do unto others...

Monday, April 4, 2011

To Publish or Not to Publish...

Probably one of the questions I am asked the most is about how to get published.

I sure wish I had a good answer for you.

I submitted queries for both Geek Girl and Heart on a Chain to multiple agents, only on rare occasion getting past the "thanks but no thanks" form letter. It's disheartening, to say the least. A few asked for the first few chapters, one for the entire manuscript, but all ending in the same, depressing way.

I don't tell you this to discourage you in any way. You may be the author of the next Twilight and have no problem getting an agent (though I believe I remember Stephenie Meyer saying she received over 50 rejections before being picked up by her agent). I really think that it's becoming very difficult, almost impossible, to get an agent without being an already known entity...or writing about vampires.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the book or the writing being submitted. It has everything to do with the demise of the traditional bookstore. Almost all of the big name book stores have gone away, except for Barnes & Noble and Borders. Of course, Borders just closed 200 stores and I've heard that they are perhaps in trouble of bankruptcy, though that's just heresay, so don't quote me. It's sad because there is still no experience like sitting on one of the comfy couches in a bookstore, reading with a friend or your daughter/son/mother/father.

Shelf space in a book store is also at a premium. Publishers pay big bucks to have their books placed on end caps or those tables throughout the store. Even to have your book placed cover out (instead of spine out) is a deal made between the store and the publisher. And that shelf space is ever-shrinking.

For most authors, that leaves one of two options: self-publishing, or being published by a smaller, vanity publisher that will accept un-agented submissions.

Self-publishing is a tricky thing. There are a great deal of fabulous authors self-publishing right now. These are authors who might not have otherwise been published, who you would miss out on if they weren't published.

The great thing about self-publishing is that anyone can have their work published. Conversely, the bad thing about self-publishing is that anyone can have their work published. For every great indie author you find, you will probably also find someone who would most likely never have been published in any other way.

I don't want to sound cruel, or as if I'm such a great author that they are all beneath me -- trust me, nothing could be further from the truth. I think there are some who just need a little more life experience under their belt. Others are just in desperate need of a good editor. There are many creative minds out there, it's mostly just a matter of polishing their work. Unfortunately, many of them don't and put out a book that is less than stellar. This gives all of the self-published industry a bad name.

I'm begging you to give self-published authors a chance. There are many, many good ones out there. My best suggestion is read the reviews (make sure they weren't written by the author them self  or a relative). Then read these books, many of which you can buy for less than traditionally published books.

As far as being published by a smaller publisher, I think that's another amazing option for authors. Smaller publishers, many times referred to as vanity or indie publishers, are willing to take a look at a manuscript without an agent. They will publish books that the big publishers overlook. And sometimes, as in the case of my book, Geek Girl, they will even publish a book that has been previously self-published. Cedar Fort Publishing was willing to take Geek Girl on, even though it had already been out in the world for six months.

Why did I chose to go with a publisher, when I was doing well enough alone? Because I don't have the ability to get my books on shelves in bookstores. Self-published, or POD (print on demand) books are not refundable; therefore, stores will not carry them. They want to be able to return books when they can't sell them. So I decided I wanted to have it traditionally published, get it out there into stores, and see what happens.

Some people will argue that the desire to have a book on the shelf is nothing but vanity, that it's a moot point once you're already published. I disagree. Not only are there a great deal of people who still want the experience that comes with vegging in a book store, I have people asking me all the time in what stores they can purchase my books. Not everyone wants to order off the internet.

Except for in the case of ebooks, of course. Even as early as July, 2010, Amazon was reporting ebooks outselling paper books by almost 2-to-1. It seems almost monthly other publishers are adding their name to the list of those selling more ebooks than paper books. B&N is actually being very smart about this -- they now allow authors to upload their own ebooks directly to their site, without a publisher. Borders does not offer this.

So it seems not only will we soon have a lack of book stores, we may also have a lack of actual books. and, while that may not bode well for the publishing industry and bookstores, it could be a boon for authors everywhere. We may not like it, but the wave of technology is coming fast, and we can either ride it, or be swept away by it.

Have questions about publishing your work? Send me an email from my website and I'll tell you what I know (granted it isn't much!).