Despite Autism, Jason Grows in Independence

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

I think his sister has had something to do with it, and that’s no surprise because siblings play a crucial role when it comes to autism.

Allison left to begin serving her mission this past Wednesday. She’ll be gone for 18 months in the environs of San Bernardino, California, and, even though she was only home for a few weeks to prepare, she’s already had an impact on her brother.

First, he decided to finally do actual baptisms in the temple a couple of weeks ago. If you recall my recounting of his own baptismal experience at age 8, you’ll realize what a huge step this was for him. But he knew this would be his last such outing with the youth in the ward and his distaste for the feeling of wet clothes was overcome by his desire to make his sister proud of him.

Then, this past Tuesday evening when we met as a family with our stake president for Allison’s setting apart as a missionary, Jason got ordained to the higher Melchizedek Priesthood as an elder first. That way, he was able to lay his hands along with those of my husband and the stake president atop Allison’s head as President Meyer set her apart and pronounced a beautiful blessing upon her.

These may seem like small, unimportant steps to those outside the LDS Church, but they are a huge step forward in his progression as a son of God. He’s come a long way since I took this picture of the two of them outside the Twin Falls Temple:

As Allison serves faithfully, I only expect him to grow all the more so that he, too, is prepared to serve a mission come next January.

In mentioning Allison, I thought I’d share the poem I wrote for her the night before she left, for it will apply just as equally to him some day (I need only change “Daughter” to “Son”):

“Called of God”

Come . . .

Come out of the wilderness

Of confusion, doubts, and fears,

And toil in my vineyard for months, even years,

My Daughter,

For I have called you to the work

And in righteousness

You come.

Sow . . .

Sow seeds of faith, hope, and charity

For these, my other children who are lost,

With patient prayer, and led by My Spirit, ignore the cost,

My Daughter,

For their hearts will soften as you testify

Of all you know in verity

And you will sow.

Gather . . .

Gather my sons and daughters to the fold

That they might be enfolded in my arms once more,

And use your time well, seeking and preaching from door to door,

My Daughter,

For now is the time to thrust in with all your might

That you may bring many to behold

As you gather.

Reap . . .

Reap unknown blessings both now

And through eternity for countless souls,

As you proceed through patient daily toil to reach your goals,

My Daughter,

For you are blessing more than self

And multitudes will bow

As they, with you, reap


Originally posted 2012-07-13 14:06:31.

“Thriller Thursdays” – Keys for Suspense

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

How to write “Killer Thrillers” that make readers say, I can’t put the book down because the suspense is killing me?

I hope to come up with answers to that on my own as I read these top thrillers. The Silence of the Lambs was terrific all the way through.

I’ve now begun Stieg Larrson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and honestly found the beginning a bit spotty. The prologue was wonderful (I am not against prologues when they’re done well), but the next 15 pages or so felt info-dumpy…until I got to that girl. You know. The one with the tattoo. Talk about an intriguing character! Now I’m hooked.

Stay tuned. I should have it finished by next Thursday.

In the meantime, here are five suggestions given by novelist Daniel Palmer (son of bestselling writer Michael Palmer) at this year’s Thrillerfest for getting started on writing a “killer thriller.” (I particularly loved the idea of “cannibal stew.”)

What do you think of his suggestions? And do you think prologues get in the way of a good thriller? Do you even read them?

Originally posted 2012-07-12 11:28:55.

“Moleskine Mondays” – “L” is for Library Suspense

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

I LOVE personal libraries for reading suspense or any other type of book. I also happen to love modern architecture, and the Schönberg Residence in Charlotte, NC, designed by Toby Witte and Jahan Nourbakhsh for Dialect Design, just happens to wed the two in an eye-popping manner. Check out this “climbing library.”

Built in 2010, the house certainly stands out in its tree-lined neighborhood, but you can tell from a few different pictures that books mean a lot to this family with three young daughters, aged 4, 7, and 11. I can easily picture a child climbing one step, pulling out a book or two, and settling down to read. Then, upon finishing the books, putting them back (at least any mother would hope they’d pop them back into their shelf before moving on) and climbing up another step or two to settle on cushions and read some more.

Here are two more pictures:

See the red box with the picture window that juts out from the house? That’s the adult reading corner, I believe (whose shelves you get a better view of in the picture just above this one). You can see the kids’ climbing library opposite.

Here’s the designer’s sketch of that whole wall in bas relief:

And here are some closeups of the bookshelves set right into the walls in a way that almost makes them seem portable:

All the photographs are by Armando Bellmas for ArchDaily. As their own review put it:

The “boxes within boxes” construction of recessed shelves reveals shadow lines that seemingly float the shelves inside the library walls…The sheer presence of the climbing library has enriched residential life for the Schönbergs. The family’s emotional center has shifted to the environs of the library while the treasures of their international lives have an ideal place to reside.”

I wasn’t at all surprised to find this house had been “liked” for Facebook by more than half a million viewers, including my brother, David Parker, who is an architect.

Hmmm. He likes it, I like it…and he’s an architect…

Can you guess what I’m thinking?

Originally posted 2012-07-09 13:47:10.

“Thriller Thursdays” – The Suspense of Silence

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris contains one line that says it all about suspense novels . . . and harks back to my idea about the connection between suspense and human DNA:

“The washing machine’s rhythm was like a giant heartbeat, and the rush of its waters was what the unborn hear – our last memory of peace.”

Interesting, isn’t it, that our last memory of peace should be filled with noise? A comforting noise we grew used to for months. It’s silence that’s truly frightening.

And that was only one of the several terrific passages in this literary thriller. Here are a few more:

“Back at his chair he cannot remember what he was reading. He feels the books beside him to find the one that is warm.”

“Typhoid and swans – it all comes from the same place.”

“Over this odd world, this half the world that’s dark now, I have to hunt a thing that lives on tears.”

And, finally, this from Dr. Lecter’s last note to Clarice:

“Well, Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming? . . . I won’t be surprised if the answer is yes and no. The lambs will stop for now. But, Clarice, you judge yourself with all the mercy of the dungeon scales at Threave; you’ll have to earn it again and again, the blessed silence. Because it’s the plight that drives you, seeing the plight, and the plight will not end, ever.”

Whether or not you’ve read the book and/or seen the movie, most of you have gathered enough about the plot of this thriller that I don’t think it’s worth summarizing here. Instead, I want to share a few of my basic impressions.

First, the bad language was sprinkled with care, not enough to make me set the gripping read aside. Though the crimes and criminal behavior described in this story are definitely perverse, it wasn’t a gory read. In fact, Harris is a minimalist when it comes to description. He can tell you everything you need to know about a person with one or two sentences, plus great dialogue.

That’s not to say he left out details. The book teemed with all kinds of information, always specific and important–either to the story or a character. In fact, there was so much detail that I simply had to look up the biography of this author. Had he been a former FBI agent? How did he know all this stuff?

The answer: research. As it turns out, his background is in journalism and he once worked a police beat. Still, the amount of research this novel displays, as well as its range and depth, is IMPRESSIVE!!! (And I’m not easily impressed.)

Two things about the writing stood out:

1) I loved the way he used Lecter to help reveal to the reader in a very natural and unforced way the background of FBI trainee, Clarice Starling. Bit by bit, the story gets peeled away for us.

2) There was an interesting switch to present tense now and then that kind of pulled me out as a reader, pushing the story to a safer, middle distance. In that way, all the uncomfortable aspects came off more clinically . . . as if the whole tale is being played out and observed from behind one of those windows in an interrogation room.

I’m sure if I thought about it longer, I would have a lot more to write, but if you want food for thought with regard to each and every chapter of this book, as well as the author’s own ruminations on his most famous character, I recommend this site.

Harris apparently hasn’t given an interview since 1976, but according to fellow novelist, Stephen King, Harris finds writing to be like “writhing on the floor in agonies of frustration . . . the very act of writing is a kind of torment.” I think you can sense that when you read what he had to say about creating the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the link above.

As a suspense novel, as a thriller, The Silence of the Lambs definitely deserves the five star ranking I gave it.


Originally posted 2012-07-05 14:36:24.

“Moleskine Mondays” – “O” is for Organization

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

Location, location, location. What’s true in real estate is also true in writing. While the best of us may be able to hunker down and churn out words at any time in any setting, most of us (me included) need our “cave”–somewhere to hibernate and create.

I love looking at the broad range of writers rooms and offices, and found an excellent series on several current, well-known (in British literary circles, anyway) English authors posted in The Guardian three years ago. I’ll probably be referring to several on my “O” Mondays.

One, in particular, rang a bell. That of the British art historian and writer, Frances Spalding.

Here is the picture of her office (photographed by Eamonn McCabe) published in The Guardian on June 26, 2009:

And here is how she, herself, described it:

Apart from its central chimney and platform base, this house is entirely made out of wood. And very sympathetic it is too. It was built for the artist Elisabeth Vellacott in 1959. She had very little money and so the architect, Peter Boston, insisted it had to be all roof. An A-frame building well suits an artist, for it permits a double-height window beneath the apex. But for a writer, it is less good, limiting opportunities for bookshelves as well as walls on which to hang pictures. I have, therefore, yet to achieve a library-room and still live with books and papers squeezed in wherever space allows.

But what I gained with this house was an enormous desk. It is an artist’s working bench, with slots on one side where canvases can be stored. In Vellacott’s day it was thick with oil paint and the grime of charcoal. Without my asking, the builders, while renovating the house, one day sanded the surface of the desk, to great effect. As a biographer and art historian, I often work with images and text. Recently, while coping with the last stages of my new book – John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art – the entire desk was covered with page proofs, making it possible to check illustrations against lists, sources and textual references.

With light coming in on all sides, the room absorbs the mood outside. Grey days here remind me of Stevie Smith and her “loamish landscapes”. Despite having written her life, only now do I understand why an empty park, in the winter rain, had, for her, a “staunch and inviolate melancholy that is refreshing”. Then, too, on sunny days, this room fills with light that quivers and slowly slides round the walls, sometimes forming diamond shapes. The novelist Rebecca Stott noticed this when viewing the house, after Vellacott’s death. She eventually pulled out as its buyer, but recreated it and the surroundings in her novel Ghostwalk. So now, having been semi-derelict, the house lives on, in wood and words.

Why did this ring a bell? I only finished reading “Ghostwalk” by Rebecca Stott some months ago, so I knew exactly what Spalding meant when she wrote that “the light slides around the walls” in her office on sunny days. Though I can’t find the bit about the light in her novel just now, here are a few other snatches showing how Stott described the writer’s house in “Ghostwalk”:

She called it The Studio, but it reminded him of the witch’s gingerbread house in the forest, its wooden-tiled roof sloping precipitously all the way to the ground…Elizabeth had commissioned the architect to give her a steep-ceilinged expanse of white studio space to write in and a little bedroom tucked away in a mezzanine floor under the roof…Her work table was different too. The oak slab on which she worked was usually invisible under piles of papers and goods and card files.

I have yet to have the writer’s room of my dreams, but I’m fond of the small alcove in our master bedroom that I’ve made into my “cave.”

A large picture window lies at my back (unfortunately the only view is our neighbor’s house and I always have to keep the blinds down to cut out the glare on my computer monitor…so we’re considering having stained glass put in once we can afford it).

On one wall hangs a copy of a hand-drawn rendition of “The Pink House” in Beirut (it took up much of our view of the Mediterranean from our apartment there) by an artist friend of the family. On the other is a David Roberts print of the Gulf of Aqaba (a wedding gift from my parents).

My large light-colored wooden wraparound desk and a wide, two-drawer filing cabinet (topped by family pictures) take up most of the rest of the space, along with a couple of cat beds. In winter, Peach uses the heated one; in summer, he curls up in the cat-o-sphere.

I’d post pictures but things are a bit messy just now. I promise to post one next time I blog about writer’s rooms…probably in 9 weeks.

So, what is your room or office like? Large or small? Cluttered or tidy? Any unique touches?

Originally posted 2012-07-02 06:00:11.

Pathway Accepts Jason

Present word count of WIP:  59,985

Jason got accepted! In this next phase of his ongoing autism story, he’s been admitted to the BYU-Idaho Pathway Program, which is perfect for someone like him with Asperger’s.

According to the letter, as a new Pathway student, he’ll begin his studies in the Academic Start Curriculum. Once he completes three semesters satisfactorily, he’ll be a regular online BYU-Idaho student and able to pursue any of a number of college degrees.

Here’s a short video about the program:

While the program is new and really still only getting started, it’s going to have a tremendous reach all over the world eventually. Here’s a map showing how far it had expanded last year:

I guarantee it has grown since then and it’s exciting to think Jason will be a part of it come September. This will give him the opportunity to continue to live at home and even hold down a job or serve a local service mission while completing his course work.

Now if I can only talk him into learning how to drive. That’s the next big goal.

Originally posted 2012-06-29 09:49:07.

“Thriller Thursday” Preview and How Suspense Fits In

Present word count of WIP:  59,427

They say not all thrillers are suspense novels and not all suspense novels are thrillers. So what’s the difference? And how does Mystery fit in?

It remains confusing in my mind, but I like Maeve Maddux’s delineation here. Nevertheless, I think one of the reasons I’m taking on this huge reading project is to help me clarify these genres.

As defined by International Thriller Writers, you can characterize a true thriller by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

For a lengthier description of what makes a novel a thriller, I recommend this site.

For those of you who haven’t yet looked up NPR’s list of “Killer Thrillers,” these are the first 20 I’ll be devouring in order:

1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

3. Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson

4. The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum

5. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

7. The Shining, by Stephen King 

8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

9. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker

12. The Stand, by Stephen King

13. The Bone Collector, by Jeffery Deaver

14. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton 

15. Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

16. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

17. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton

18. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

19. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth

20. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

In all honesty, I’ve already read at least seven of these thrillers (I can’t recall for sure if I read “The Andromeda Strain” or if I’m simply remembering the movie). However, I am not going to skip over those I’ve already read. I’ll read ALL of them in order to gain the full perspective.

One of my readers, Bob, already contacted me about having read and/or seen the movie version of most on this list. I realized then that much of what we might think of these stories has likely been slanted either positively or negatively by their movie versions. I thought that would make for a couple of good questions to put to all of you:

How many of these first 20 have you actually read (before seeing the movie)? (If you only saw the movie, it doesn’t count.) Of those you have read, which would you rank at the top?




Originally posted 2012-06-28 13:16:14.

The Suspense of “Moleskine Mondays”

Present word count of WIP:  59,112

Whether you’re writing suspense, romance, fantasy, or science fiction, or simply in need of a handy sketchbook, nothing beats a Moleskine notebook for jotting down ideas and sketching on the go.

Where did these notebooks originate? According to Wikipedia, these kinds of notebooks were standard in 19th and 20th century Europe and used by such writers and artists as Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Henri Matisse.

Today’s Moleskine notebook is designed to look like those used by the English novelist and travel writer, Bruce Chatwin. In fact, he gave the books their nickname in The Songlines. His original supplier, a stationery store owner in Paris, told him in 1986 that the last notebook manufacturer, a small family-owned establishment in Tours, France, had gone out of business. He said, “Le vrai Moleskine n’est plus” (“The real Moleskine is no more”). He quickly bought up the remaining stock.

So if they died out, how is it that we have them today? Apparently, the Italians came to the rescue in 1997 (long after I left Milan). Two years later, they started distributing beyond Italy in Europe and the U.S., eventually expanding into Asia.

Anyway, they eventually got bought out, appropriately enough, by a French investment fund, though the items continue to be designed in Italy. Today, Moleskine products range from notebooks to bags, computer cases, reading glasses, pens and pencils, booklights, and reading stands. They are available in more than 53 countries and usually found in bookshops.

So what do I mean by “Moleskine Mondays?”

Every Monday, I’m going to try and blog about things having to do with the business of writing. I chose “MOLESKINE” as an acronym to summarize those things:

1. Media – things like…

  • moleskin notebooks, PCs, iMacs, iPads, Typewriters, Netbooks, Laptops, pens, etc.

2. Organization – things like..

  • office layouts, outlining methods, filing methods, planners, etc.

3. Libraries – I love personal libraries, so this will include..

  • cool ideas for personal home libraries (with pictures) and how best to organize them.

4. E-readers – you guessed it…

  • reviews (pros and cons) about each kind of e-reader as well as news of developments in the digital age.

5. Software – this means…

  • reviews (pros and cons) about the different software writing programs available on the market and their prices.

6. Knowledge – this will cover…

  • the best resources for research information and/or training for writers, whether it’s a website, a book, or a writing conference.

7. IPad Apps – naturally, these posts…

  • will review the different apps a writer might find useful and why or why not they work.

8. Networking – I’ll discuss…

  • the various social networking possibilities online, as well as how best to build relationships with agents, publishers, bookstores, book clubs, online reviewers, schools, and libraries (I’ll be wanting a lot of input here since so many of you know so much more than I do).

9. Events – you know, ideas for all those writer events like…

  • book signings, book club appearances, book launches, school appearances, conference presentations, etc.

How cool is it that my favorite number happens to be 9 and there are exactly 9 letters in MOLESKINE? Believe me, I’m going to welcome a ton of input and shared experience each Monday. Though I’ll try to post in order by letter, you won’t know the exact topic until you read it. That’s where the suspense comes in. I’ve just covered Media with this post about Moleskine notebooks, so next Monday it will be something about Organization.

What do you think about “Moleskine Mondays?” Did I leave anything out about the business of writing and, if so, can it still fit somewhere in my acronym?

Originally posted 2012-06-25 16:40:44.

A Suspense Novels Diet

Present word count of WIP:  58,962

Suspense novels are thrilling . . . when read in moderation. At least, that’s my theory. And any good theory needs testing, right?

As I’ve written in this article, humans are geared for suspense, but is there such a thing as too much? Would a steady diet of suspense fiction keep you on the edge of your seat, or would it begin to seem repetitive?

I’ve decided to find out. Two years ago, NPR put out a list of the top 100 “Killer Thrillers” as voted on by their listeners, and I’m going to read and review every book on that list. Except for some books by friends, as well as other books I may have to judge for contests, I’m going on a “suspense diet.”

Beginning in July (after my daughter has left for California), each Thursday will be my “Thriller Thursday” in which I’ll post a review of one of the “Killer Thrillers.”

Granted, it may take me 3-5 years to get through the whole list, but I’m game. (Note: I’m also perfectly willing to set a book aside if it proves too gory, violent, vulgar, or salacious. This may well cut the list in half, but at least I’ll get through it quicker.)

#1 on the list and first up: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (Shudder!)

I want to find out two things:

1) Will they continue to thrill or become repetitive?

2) What kind of effect will such a reading diet have on me personally?

What do you think the answers to those questions will be a year from now? I’d love to hear your own theories.

Originally posted 2012-06-22 22:53:42.

A New Phase of Education for Jason

Present word count of WIP:  57, 414

Strangely enough, Jason’s elementary and secondary education were both marked by newspaper coverage.

The first was The Press-Enterprise newspaper back in Riverside (a decade before they had an online version), when he attended Sunshine Early Childhood Center:

The latest was his inclusion by the online edition of The Tri-City Herald in their slide show of Richland High School’s graduation ceremonies. It’s one of my favorite pictures of him because he is simply beaming!

Jason gets his high school diploma, graduating Magna Cum Laude!

Now, he begins the next phase of his education as he transitions into adulthood.

First, this past Sunday he was sustained by the general membership of our stake (equivalent to a Catholic diocese in our church) to receive the higher priesthood and be set apart as an Elder. The actual ordination will probably take place in early July before his sister leaves on her mission. This will help him prepare to serve a mission in our church soon after he turns 19 in December.

In the meantime, however, he plans on beginning college studies in the fall. BYU-Idaho offers a new online program, by which those with learning/social disabilities like Jason can learn the social and study skills they will need to succeed in college courses. Called the Pathway Program, it offers weekly skill-building meetings at the local LDS Church Institute and some college prep courses. Once he is accepted into the program and has completed three semesters satisfactorily, he can be enrolled online with BYU-Idaho to pursue the degree of his choice.

He meets for his entry interview tonight, forty-five minutes from now. I promise to add an update, detailing how the meeting went (or as much as I can get out of him about it, anyway). Wish him luck!

If all goes well, he’ll begin attending Institute next week and then the Pathway courses will begin in September. The terrific thing is that I believe he’ll be able to continue his studies while he’s serving a local service mission for the Church beginning in January!

Now, if we can only figure out how to occupy his time this summer, besides helping him try to find a job. I have a few plans, but I’ll write more about them in a couple of weeks when I next post about Jason.

In any case, I’m looking forward to my son’s educational achievements in the future. Perhaps he’ll even make the newspaper again!

Originally posted 2012-06-15 06:00:10.