Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:51 AM
We didn't have much money when we first got married. Patrick was teaching school at first, then began law school at Columbia the next fall. Our financial situation was of great concern to Patrick's grandfather, who I'm sure imagined us scraping out a miserable existence in some little hovel on the edge of Harlem. Grandpa would send us packages of vitamins on a regular basis; he was very worried about my health, as well as that of his future great-grandchildren.

One day, a package from Grandpa arrived that was much larger than usual. We found inside not the usual bottles of pills, but a double bed-sized bedspread. Grandpa explained in the accompanying note that he was worried that we would not be warm enough at night in the winter to come. He'd seen this very warm and durable bedspread on sale and had thought of us at once.

(Little did Grandpa know that nearly every night of our 11 winters in Manhattan, we slept with the bedroom window open at least a crack. Energy-conscious officials should put addressing the chronically overzealous radiator heating systems of New York City's apartment buildings near the top of their lists when looking for ways to cut consumption and costs.)

Warm? Yes. Durable? Without a doubt. But also: the most hideous thing I had ever seen? Absolutely.

The bedspread is a denim grayish blue, one of my least favorite colors in the spectrum. It's spattered with little black and white and gray splotches, sort of Jackson Pollock-style, just not as cool. It's machine quilted with that transparent, stronger-than-the-cords-of-death nylon thread. And it's got thick black piping running all the way round the perimeter.

(Patrick would insert here that it's not that bad. He's not mistaken very often, but in this case? He's dead wrong.)

But we didn't have a bedspread, or really any substantial blanket-type bed covering, so we used it. I was grateful to have it, and don't worry: I thanked Grandpa profusely for it and his thoughtfulness on more than one occasion.

I thought we'd surely replace it after law school, one P was pulling in the big lawyer salary and we had our own bed out of storage once more (the married student housing in which we lived was furnished). But somehow in the years that followed, there were always other things we needed, and the bedspread hung around.

Once I tried to throw it out, but I discovered that my analytical husband has a bit of a sentimental streak. "It was a gift," he protested. "It was from the heart." I couldn't argue; I have hung onto plenty of stuff over the years purely because it reminds me of the giver. Then Grandpa died, and getting rid of the bedspread altogether was no longer an option.

For a long time, it lived in the linen closet and only emerged when we needed something to put on the futon when guests stayed over. Once we got the cat, though, it enjoyed both a second lease on life and a new name: The Kevlar.

Goldberry, like most cats, enjoys attacking things that move under cover--like bare, vulnerable feet, for example. Having a brain the size of a small bran muffin, Goldberry can't differentiate between feet moved in play and feet moved innocently in sleep at three o'clock in the morning. I don't think she bears us or our appendages any malice, but her claws are razor sharp, and she is very, very strong. Her midnight ambushes did little to foster bonds between owners and pet, to say the least.

I can't remember how we discovered that her claws couldn't penetrate Grandpa's gift, but once we did, the bedspread rarely left our bed. We could waggle our ankles and Goldberry could attack to her heart's content, with no one getting hurt in the process. I believe it was Patrick who, with the cat furiously biting and rabbit-footing the blanket surrounding his legs, cackled gleefully, "It's Kevlar, cat; knock yourself out."

I've contemplated recovering the Kevlar, making some sort of duvet cover for it out of fabric I actually like and wouldn't mind seeing on the bed. Doing so is low on my project list, though; it seems like I always have ten things more urgent to accomplish. Though I still find it hideous, it evokes fond memories every day when I make the bed, and it remains much-needed protection from nightly feline aggression. After nearly nineteen years, I've made my peace with the Kevlar.

We don't choose much about our lot in life; sometimes our circumstances seem unappealing indeed. But with time, we often find that those things we'd most like to change turn out to be the things that are most useful in difficult circumstances. Patience and faith can grant us a new perspective on even the ugliest of gifts, if we will only cultivate them.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:25 AM
Long ago, I posted about resources I keep on my desk for use when I write; today, for your reading pleasure, I'll focus on online helps for writers. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but a writer should never feel alone when searching for help. The Web has so many sites for writers that one could easily spend all day perusing them instead of actually writing. Don't fall into that trap. Instead, use the sites listed below to help make the most of your writing.

All Writers:
William Shunn is a fabulous show-and-tell site illustrating exactly how to get your manuscript into the format that most publishing markets prefer.

Query Shark is another amazing show-and-tell site. It's the blog of prominent literary agent Janet Reid, who posts her edits of query letters submitted to her. My writer friend Melissa recently reminded me of this site, and I'm so glad she did. You can learn a ton by browsing through the archives and seeing what works (and what emphatically does not work) in a query letter. Ms. Reid doesn't call herself 'Shark' for nothing; she doesn't pull any punches. But she's always right, as far as I can see.

Scribophile touts itself as a free social networking site for writers, but I think it's more useful than that. Members can post works to be critiqued by peers and can critique the works of others in turn (there's a point system to it all). Writers can participate in forums for every interest from haiku to perfecting the art of speed pitching. Scribophile also hosts writing contests with some pretty sweet prizes. One runs the risk of spending a good bit of time vacuuming the cat here, but a motivated writer could also find a lot of help.

Nathan Bransford, Literary Agent is another blog, and that title always cracks me up (think "International Man of Mystery"). The San Francisco-based Nathan is young and looks like a surfer dude, but he's very much on the ball. He takes writing and publishing seriously, but is never self-important. Read his "Essentials" (links are halfway down on his sidebar), and you'll get a good and accurate education on the particulars of today's publishing world.

"Dave Farland's Daily Kick in the Pants" is an email series written by the phenomenally successful Dave Farland/David Wolverton. Dave is as generous as he is gifted, and that's really saying something. His goal is to remind people to write on a daily basis. He addresses all sorts of topics, often prompted by questions members of his large following send him. If you'd like to subscribe, email and say "Kick me!"

Short Fiction Writers and Poets:
Duotrope's Digest is fantastic. It lists thousands of markets for all genres of short fiction and poetry and gives vital information on response times for each. It also has a terrific Submissions Tracker tool; I use it to keep track of where I've sent my stories. Duotrope is completely free, but if you find it useful, consider donating to the site to help keep it running.

Speculative Fiction Writers:
Whatever is the blog of science fiction writer John Scalzi. Scalzi is smart, successful, and endlessly entertaining (and his book Zoe's Tale made my 2008 Top Ten list). He hosts a regular series of interviews with other published writers called "The Big Idea"; these informative and inspiring posts outline how recently published writers came up with and developed their stories.

Submitting to the Black Hole is another website that lists response times, but it includes speculative fiction book publishers as well as short fiction markets. Believe me, when your story has been out in some editor's slush pile for weeks upon weeks, it can help calm anxiety to visit the Black Hole and realize that you are not alone. I always report my response times to both Duotrope and the Black Hole.

Ralan's Webstravaganza lists all kinds of markets for speculative fiction and humor writers: anthologies, books, and periodicals of every form and payscale. Ralan works very hard to keep his site updated and accurate, and often has the scoop on the newest changes to markets. He also gratefully accepts donations.

LDS Writers:
LDSStorymakers is a website devoted to the growing LDS publishing market. It includes links, a calendar of events, and a market directory. LDSStorymakers hosts a writers' conference every spring; see the website for more details.

The Association for Mormon Letters boasts a market directory as well as information on regional writers' guilds and an extensive review archive. The AML also publishes the periodical Irreantum twice yearly, which devotes space both to scholarly articles and to fiction and poetry.

There you have it: the online resources I've found most useful. Do you know of any I haven't mentioned? If so, please let me know!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•4:38 PM

Annette tagged me with a photo meme, asking what the sixth picture in my sixth folder was. Here it is: James and Tess holding newly-brought-home Baby Anne back in May.

It's amazing to me how much James and Tess look alike in this photo, which is something I hadn't really considered before. I usually group James, Hope, and Anne in the 'looking like me' camp and Tess, Christian, and Daniel in the 'looking like Patrick' camp. It's fascinating how kids can look like both their parents when the parents don't resemble one another at all.

Also, Anne is huge now, and a fuzzy blonde to boot; all that dark hair she came with is gone. Oy, those kids: they're so delicious. I'd better stop, before I start crooning "Sunrise, Sunset" and weeping into my tea.

Thanks for the tag, Annette! I tag in turn Jenna, Kim, and Charrette.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•1:43 PM
A couple of weeks ago at the dinner table, seven-year-old Tess was talking about Dr. Steele, her beloved eye doctor. Dr. Steele is one of the world's leading pediatric ophthalmic surgeons; he's done Tess's two surgeries, and she has seen him regularly since she was about two years old. He's handsome, kind, and has a fabulously high-tech Manhattan office.

Our twice-yearly visits to him usually follow this agenda: a) a movie in the car (we only use the DVD player on trips of an hour or longer); b) Tess's choice of candy from the newsstand down the street from the office; c) seeing the good doctor himself; d) getting a beany baby-like toy from his special drawer as a souvenir; e) lunch at Dallas BBQ across the street afterward; and f) a quick trip to the American Museum of Natural History on the way home. Tess loves everything about Dr. Steele (and our elaborate visiting ritual); she plans to become an eye doctor precisely so that she can join his practice in about twenty years.

Anyway, Tess was chattering about her next visit to Dr. Steele, how glad she is that he is her doctor, and how she couldn't wait to see him again, etc.

Four-year-old Daniel, clearly not wanting to be outdone, said, "I have a doctor, too."

We all looked at him; this was news to the entire family.

Daniel smiled and declared with perfect confidence, "His name is Dr. Seuss."
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:47 AM

I had to speak in church yesterday, and while I was preparing my remarks on Saturday, I realized I had left something huge off of my 'Best of 2008' list. A couple of you have probably been shaking your heads in puzzlement over this fact. I'm going to fix my post in just a minute, but I'll tell you about it in a little bit of detail here as well.

Last January, I joined Pezmama's online challenge to read The Bible in 90 days. I read every word from Genesis to Revelation, and on March 30th, I was feeling pretty good to be one of seven of the original 30 who actually finished. The weekly check-ins, daily page count guides, and periodical posts of progress and insight by group members were all huge helps. I read the King James Version, but other group members used other translations, which added interest and variety to our online discussions.

Not wanting to lose momentum, I decided to read the rest of my church's Standard Works of scripture in the next 90 days: The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. A couple of good friends partnered up with me for this second challenge, and with their support, on June 30th I found myself reading the last verse of The Articles of Faith with a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

That happy feeling of realizing a goal was second to the joy in the journey, however. Reading at such a fast pace did not lend itself to in-depth study, but I did see things I'd never seen so clearly before: overarching patterns, recurring themes, and how prophets have echoed and underscored one another through the ages. I got a keener sense of the symmetry and beauty of God's plan, and I think I had heightened abilities to deal with the many challenges of last May as a result.

How would I rank this accomplishment? It's definitely in the Top Five; it may even rank right under my #1. Would I do it again? Definitely; I highly recommend it. I'm enjoying the topic study I'm doing at the moment, but someday soon the mood may well strike me to gear up for another sprintathon through holy writ.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:51 AM

I was looking for a quote on resolutions to kick off this post, but I got distracted by re-reading and snickering over my favorite 'demotivating' posters at the ever-fabulous Despair, Inc. Here I am again, and now I can't take any of the absolutely lovely sayings of Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and the like seriously any more today. Go visit Despair, and you'll see what I mean.

Though I love a good bit of snark, I'm not a cynic, especially not when it comes to goals and dreams. I have a couple of resolutions that I'm keeping to myself for the moment, but I have some writing plans that I wanted to share. Here are a few of my goals for 2009:

1) Read 100 books.

I usually read close to 80 (and I do keep lists), but last year's unique circumstances only allowed me to get through about 40. Life's too short for numbers that low; assuming I live another 50 years, if I only average 40 books per year for the rest of my life, I will have only read another 2,000 books.

Depressing: I'm sure I could go on Amazon and find close to that 2,000 that look appealing right this very minute, and that doesn't take into account all of the treasures to be published in years to come. I like the number 5,000 much, much better. We'll see how it goes.

I believe very strongly that a writer must read as much as possible. The more you read, the better you'll write. Patrick, when reading this, will want to interject something here. Be patient, honey; "wait for it" (sorry--inside joke).

2) Sell a novel. I really don't mind which one.

On this very day one year ago, I mailed out ten query packages to agents and publishing houses. Over the next several months, I received eight rejections and had two non-responses; I still expect to hear from one of those, since the slush pile at that house is roughly 12 months deep, but the other I have written off completely. Flaky agent.

Then Anne came along, and I decided to concentrate on short stories for a while. I have enjoyed developing a new side of my talent; more on that farther down the post. But now I feel ready to get my books out to people again. The fact that David Farland/Wolverton has accepted me into his novel-writing workshop--to be held this April--has refueled my long-form-writing fires. I can't wait to go!

3) Have 5 short stories published.

I've already submitted two to new venues in the past couple of days. Both have been rejected elsewhere, but I have confidence in them and am sure that both will eventually find homes. More of their siblings will follow suit. I'm using Patrick's parking philosophy as I market them.

When I park my car, I generally look towards the emptier end of the lot or street, but Patrick gets as close to the door of his destination as possible, then circles outward. Though his approach runs counter to my instincts, it does tend to get results. So instead of starting at the bottom of the the short story food chain, I'm starting at the top.

For my short stories, I have a list of the SFWA-approved markets. To qualify for membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), one must either publish a novel with a company on their approved list, or publish three short stories with periodicals on a similarly exclusive list. It's a short list, my friends, made up of the top-tier magazines in my chosen field. I've started there and am now circling outward. I covet SFWA membership and am doing all I can to get it.

4) Keep Tuesday nights and Fridays as sacred as possible.

I can usually sneak an hour or so of writing in any given day, but larger chunks of time for writing are as rare as hen's teeth given my current situation in life. I do have Tuesday nights and Fridays from 9:30 to 3:30, though. It's not much time, but I am very grateful to have it.

I will resist the temptation to do other things on Tuesday nights and Fridays, fun things like visiting with friends or watching movies. Instead, I will write. Why? Because a writer writes. If you're thinking about writing or talking about writing or doing something else that isn't writing, you're not a writer.

Do you have any goals for 2009? If so, I'd love to know that I'm not the only one; let me know, and we'll keep each other accountable.

Oh, and just in case you didn't recognize this post's title, here's one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:38 PM
For my 'Best of 2006' list, click here.
For my 'Best of 2007' list, click here.

Life just keeps getting better, though this year was more about quality than quantity. I didn't read nearly as many books, see as many movies, or eat at as many fabulous restaurants in 2008 as I did in previous years. I bought very little new music and saw almost no live theater. I didn't leave the the East Coast--let alone the country--except for two funerals. Despite all that, I count last year as the richest and fullest of my life.

Top Five Eating Experiences
1) Thomas Henkelman, Greenwich, CT
2) Petrossian, New York, NY
3) Grifone, New York, NY
4) Ocean House, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
5) Café Gray, New York, NY

Top Five Movies Seen
1) Wall*E
2) Quantum of Solace
3) Iron Man
4) The Dark Knight
5) Kung Fu Panda

Top Ten Books Read
1) The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
2) Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman
3) The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
4) Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link
5) Duma Key, by Stephen King
6) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan
7) Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi
8) Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
9) Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
10) Last Year's Apocalypse, by Douglas Lain

Top Five Aesthetic Inspirations
1) diana:muse

Best Birthday Present
Barack Obama being elected the 44th President of the United States

Greatest Accomplishments

1) Producing the utterly delicious Anne Catherine Perkins, born 13 May
2) Reading through The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price by June 30th.
3) Running yet another rewarding (if streamlined) edition of Perkins Summer School
4) Successfully completing a two-year service mission leading the local women's group of my church's 12-step Addiction Recovery Program
5) Writing my cookbook Comfortably Yum, available in mere days(!) through
6) Querying agents and publishing houses regarding two of my novels
7) Surviving rejection and/or non-response from all parties queried
8) Writing my first-since-high-school short stories and submitting them for publication
9) Having my short story "Dodmen and the Holophusikon" produced as a podcast
10) Outdoing Patrick for the first time ever in our Christmas gift exchange
11) Putting up three fantastic batches of jam: pear, red raspberry, and peach-white raspberry
12) Creating my online Advent Calendar

Thanks to all my readers: both family and friends, lurkers and commenters. You were one of the main reasons 2008 was so fantastic. Happy New Year! Let's make sure 2009 continues the upward trend.