Thursday, March 28, 2013

Violet Monster: A Skit about Being Friendly

This is a little skit to make people laugh while encouraging them to be friendly. We wanted to make the point that everyone feels a little insecure about meeting new people. And, yes, I make fun of Tupperware.

It's based loosely on a children's book called Scarlet Monster Lives Here by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. I also took a line about cookies filled with bugs from My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck. Both are awesome children's books I highly recommend.

Violet Monster Meets her Neighbors
 [Enter monster with box of things to unpack. Monster has only one eyebrow and carries a box that contains a few odds and ends to unpack. The box also contains a mixing bowl, a spoon, a plate of cookies, a funny hat, an ugly door decoration, a bandanna, and a can of beets.]
Narrator: Once upon a time, Violet Monster moved into a cute little house in a new neighborhood. All the houses were stylish, and Violet was so happy to live there.

Violet: My new neighbors will be so happy to have me. They will give me monster hugs and bring me cookies filled with bugs. They will invite me to dinner and sell me Plasticware that burps

Narrator: Violet unpacked her things and waited for her new neighbors to come give her monster hugs and bring her cookies filled with bugs. [Violet takes a few things out of the box, looks around, then looks at her watch, drums her fingers and acts impatient.]

Violet waited a week. Nobody came.

Violet: Maybe no one noticed I moved in. I’ll make a sign. [Violet puts a sign up that says “Violet Monster Lives Here.” She waits again, looking at watch and drumming fingers, etc.]

Narrator: Violet waited another week. Nobody came.

Violet: I know! I’ll take them some cookies. I’ll make my favorite recipe—oatmeal, raisin, rolly polly.

 Narrator: Violet spent hours slaving in her kitchen to make her beautiful cookies. She arranged them on pretty paper plates and wrapped them in cellophane. Then she went to deliver them. [Violet pretends to make cookies, then takes a plate of cookies to knock on doors.]

 Nobody was home.

 Violet: Maybe people haven’t noticed how fashionable I am. I’ll strut my stuff. [Violet puts on a funny hat.]

Maybe my house isn’t welcoming enough. I’ll decorate my door. [Violet hangs an ugly wreath on her door.]

Narrator: Violet tried really hard to impress her neighbors. Still, none of her neighbors came to meet her.

Violet: Why doesn’t anyone like me? Is it because my body mass index is too high? Is it because I only have one eyebrow? Is it because my fangs need braces? I hate myself. I can see why nobody came to meet me. [Violet wipes nose and eyes with big bandanna.]

Narrator: Violet was sick of her neighborhood. She decided to take a really long walk, hoping to end up far away in a nicer neighborhood. As she walked out of her house, she saw her neighbor, Periwinkle, out working in her garden. [Enter Periwinkle Monster with potted plant and watering pot (or some other gardening props.) She is wearing a tacky hair bow. She also has a small paper bag and some plasticware.]

Violet: I should cross to the other side of the street. That way my neighbor will not have to smell me. I probably smell like pickled beets.

 Periwinkle: I should wave hello to my new neighbor, but she looks so fashionable with that hat. And her eyebrow is so thick and full. She probably won’t want to talk to me. I am still wearing the same hairstyle I wore in high school. And my door decoration is not as cute as hers. I am just not good at talking to monsters.

Narrator: Violet tried to cross the street to avoid her neighbor, but there was a car coming. She had a decision to make. Should she take another chance and try to be friendly to her neighbor. Violet wasn’t sure. After all, she was the new monster. If her neighbor really cared, wouldn’t she have come to meet her and bring her cookies already?

 Violet: I’ll give it one more try. I will smile without showing my fangs and say hello.

[Violet approaches Periwinkle.] Hello. You have a pretty garden.

Narrator: Periwinkle could not believe Violet thought she had a pretty garden. She almost hyperventilated. [Periwinkle breaths into paper bag.]

 Periwinkle: Thank you. I like your hat. I can tell you have very good taste.

Violet: I am sorry I smell like pickled beets.

 Periwinkle: I love pickled beets.

 Violet: Really?

Periwinkle: Yes! And I love your door decoration and your sign. I am so happy you are my new neighbor.
Narrator: Violet and Periwinkle learned that they had a lot in common. Violet taught Periwinkle to make pickled beets, and Periwinkle sold Violet some plasticware that burped. [Violet hands Periwinkle a can of beets. Periwinkle hands Violet some plasticware.]

Periwinkle also introduced Violet to some of the other neighbors. They gave Violet lots of hugs and high-fives. [Neighbors come to hug Violet or give high-fives.]

Once again, Violet felt happy to live in her cute little house, where she had plasticware parties, gave lots of hugs, and baked cookies filled with bugs. [Violet makes cookies with mixing bowl and spoon.]

She never forgot what it felt like to be the new neighbor. Even when she became one of the old neighbors, she tried to be the first to say hello. [She smiles and waves to neighbors.]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shopping with my Super Tall Daughter

As I've mentioned before, my daughter is 6'3". She's beautiful, but it's really hard to find her clothes. I sometimes feel bad that most of our shopping is done online, and we don't get the experience of going to an actual store to try things on.

Anyway, this week, I stumbled upon a store nearby that has jeans in her size. It's one of those farmer stores that sells cowboy clothes alongside baby chicks and animal feed. As I was looking at some dark wash jeans for myself, I saw that they carried inseam sizes up to 38! Believe me, I'm a city girl. I never thought I'd wear Wranglers, but I loved their Q-baby jeans (in a smaller inseam, of course.)

I took my daughter there that night. It was so fun to head to the dressing rooms with 10 different jeans in her size. She tried on pair after pair, finally settling on some with rhinestones on the pockets. It was so much fun! We were both really excited. Sure, it wasn't the mall, but there were baby bunnies and chicks.

While I'm on the subject of tall girl shopping, I'll just share a few other things I've learned in the past year or two since my other post about this subject has been pretty popular. Lately, we've become fans of Long Tall Sally. My daughter got this dress from them:

They also carry shoes, hosiery, and jeans. Beware the prices, though. They're pretty expensive.

We've also started buying some of her pants from American Eagle. They're more reasonably priced. I still prefer Old Navy and Gap, but my daughter likes having some variety.

If you have any tips for me about shopping, please share in the comments!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

6 Ways to Make a Character Likable

Most everyone I know can’t stand Jane Austen’s Emma. She’s a snob. When I decided to do a modern retelling of Emma, I made my main character a little less snobby than Jane Austen’s character. People still didn’t like her. I revised my manuscript twice, trying to fix Emma, but it didn’t work. She wasn’t likable.

 “Why is it so important for Emma to be likable?” you ask. “The point of the story is that snobby Emma changes to become nice Emma. She’s likable in the end.”

In the words of Blake Snyder, it’s important to have a likable main character “because liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into your story.”

As I hunkered down for yet another rewrite, I decided I’d better figure out, once and for all, how to write a likable character. So I watched Clueless, I took notes on Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of Emma, and I read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Here’s what I figured out—6 ways to turn an unlikable character into a likable character:

 1.       Eliminate the negative. If your character thinks or speaks in a judgmental way, readers won’t like her. This, of course, is the problem people have with Jane Austen’s Emma. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma comes across as much more likable because she is less negative. She doesn’t even gossip about Mr. Dixon and the pianoforte.

2.       Give her a best friend. If you give your character a friend, she seems more friendly. Cher in Clueless wouldn’t be nearly as likable without her best friend, Dionne.

3.       Have her do something a little heroic in the opening scene. This is a point Blake Snyder makes in his book, Save the Cat. The writers for The Incredibles must have read his book because, in the opening scene, Mr. Incredible stops and saves a cat. That’s why we tolerate him later when he’s rude to his fan and late to his own wedding.

4.       Write funny dialogue. People will put up with more character flaws if your character is funny. Jack Black usually plays losers with lots of flaws, but he comes across as likable because he’s funny.

5.       Make the bad guy badder. Anyone who’s unfairly treated automatically seems more likable. That’s what makes us fall in love with Anna in Freaky Friday (1995.) When we see the popular girl, Stacy, torment Anna in school, we can’t help being on Anna’s side.

6.       Help the reader feel for your character. Give readers a reason to relate to your characters. One of the least likable characters I know is Phil in Ground Hog Day, but every time he steps in the puddle of water, we feel sorry for him. He’s a jerk, but we start to like him because we’ve also stepped in puddles.

Bonus: Since writing this post, I've found one more ways to make my characters likeable. Give them a special ability. I'm not talking super-powers necessarily. Just let them excel in one special area. Readers love characters who have a special talent. Think Rainman.

This list of tricks isn’t all-inclusive. The main thing is to help your reader identify with your character and understand why it’s important for her to achieve her goals. Blake Snyder writes, “You must take time to frame the hero’s situation in a way that makes us root for him, no matter who he is or what he does.”

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Having Enough to Give Away

This is my son trying to smooth away the wrinkles in Great-Grandma's face.
 Her positive attitude is a gift to our family.
As women, we give, give, and give some more. (I know this because I've just been through three weeks straight of sick kids.) Our giving nature is what's great about us. But it can also be our downfall.

At one point, I was afraid to answer the phone because I was afraid the person on the other end might be asking for a favor. I was neglecting basic self-care like exercising, eating lunch, and flossing because I was "too busy." Have you ever felt that way? 

Making Small Changes

Three years ago, after I had my last baby, I decided I was going to start taking care of myself. I started exercising more. I put on make-up even when I wasn’t going anywhere. I wore jewelry and tried to pick clothes from my closet that looked good on me. I even bought myself some new jeans. Dressing better made me feel better about myself, and I started eating healthier food. Before I knew it, I’d lost fifteen pounds without really dieting.
Around this time, I signed up for my insurance company's health coaching program and got my own health coach for free (if you don't count my enormous insurance premium.) It was great to have someone on my side, helping me set goals and following up to see if I'd kept them. My goals started to snow-ball into other areas of my life.

 I have to add that my life wasn’t exactly hunky-dory at the time I was making these changes. I had my fair share of trials—illness and the death of a close family member were among them. But, somehow, taking care of myself a little bit helped me to feel in control of the situations.

 Benefits of Small Changes

 Even though I made the changes for myself, everyone around me benefited. My husband and kids started exercising and eating healthier. I’d been nagging my husband for years to stop eating candy bars every night, but he didn’t stop until he noticed that I was getting healthier. All of a sudden, the candy bars were no longer a problem. Since I had more energy, we started walking and running together. The kids also joined in, and soon we became a much healthier family. I started to see that when I take care of myself, I don’t need people to validate me. Instead, I can validate other people. Violà! People no longer run when they see me coming. 
My husband's grandmother is a great example of filling up your own bucket. At 98-years-old, she has been a widow for over half of her life. Yet, when we visit her, she's the one who cheers us up. Inspiring quotes are all over her refrigerator and good books are all over her shelves. It's clear she's learned to fill her own bucket, so she can give to others.

 We tell ourselves we’re too busy to take care of ourselves. In reality, when we take the time for ourselves, we have more energy to help other people.  How do you take care of yourself?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review of "Gaze into Heaven"

I'm not really into books about near-death experiences although family members have recommended those kinds of books to me. I've cracked some of those books open and tried to read them, but I haven't made it too far before getting bored. Gaze into Heaven by Marlene Sullivan is the first of this genre that's held my interest.

Gaze into Heaven contains the stories of early LDS members who had near-death experiences. At first I thought all the stories would be from pioneer days, but many of the stories occurred later than that--all the way up to the time of the Great Depression. I think what I found most fascinating about these stories was that they were recorded before the time when near-death experiences were widely publicized. Though each chapter contains an explanation about common threads in the experiences, the author allows us to read each person's story in its entirety without interruption. There was also some explanation about LDS doctrine and modern research into near-death experiences, but the stories were my favorite part.

Since I'd never read a book like this before, I learned a lot that other people probably already know about near-death experiences. Here are a few things I learned about them:
  • The first thing that happens to most people is that they see their own lifeless body from above.
  • They experience a profound sense of peace and absence of pain, though sometimes they are concerned that their loved ones are mourning their passing
  • A messenger or guardian angel comes to lead them to the spirit world
  • They have a sort of tour of the spirit world and meet friends and loved ones there.
  • They are able to see and communicate more easily
  • Many times they're given a special message to deliver or mission to fulfill before they return to life.
  • Coming back to life is very painful.
Of course, there's a lot more to learn from the book. I was impressed with the research and organization that Marlene Sullivan put into the book, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to read it. It's available online at Amazon, Deseretbook, and Seagullbook, as well as at LDS bookstores. The author's website is:


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Being the Uncool Parent

Ever since my daughter could talk, she's considered me to be a little below average on the IQ scale. She never wanted my help on a science project or on math homework. She never took my advice about make-up or hair. And, she certainly never admitted to any of her friends that I'm a published author because, after all, I write romance, and that's not really being a writer.

During all this time, I've eagerly awaited the time when she would take the ACT and SAT. Why? Because then I could tell her the scores I got when I was her age, and she would say, "Mom, I had no idea you were so intelligent. I've been wrong all these years!"

The time has finally arrived. She has taken the test. Based on her pre-test scores, I think she'll do about as well as I did all those years ago, if not better. I casually mentioned my score--yes, it probably seems like I'm a bad parent for doing that, but, if you knew my daughter like I do, you'd understand. She laughed a little bit, the way parents laugh at little children who say silly things. "Mom," she said, "the ACT is different now. So many people were getting high scores that they had to make it a lot harder than it used to be."

So . . . although I'm considered to be significantly below average in intelligence, I'm really gaining in the humility department.