Yes, I know I’m writing these books wrong, but I don’t care. (plus a sneak peek to Book 8)

Over the years I’ve been told by critics that:

  • I wrote my books “wrong” (whatever that means);
  • That that my series wouldn’t be “successful” (by whose standards?) because it wasn’t like other people’s books series;
  • That if I really wanted to be popular (why would I want that much attention?!) I needed to change x, y, z and rewrite the whole thing;
  • And my biggest problem, I’ve been told by a few, is that my books don’t fit neatly into one particular genre. Didn’t I know I was supposed to write to conform to what’s already out there?

Yes, I knew I was doing it “wrong.”
But I didn’t care.

I wanted to write something that I wanted to read (selfish, yes—but it’s my time I’m investing in this project). I wanted to do something different, unpredictable, and not easily shoved into some neat little box.

Deciding not to conform is what made writing this series so much fun.

I took inspiration from J. R. R. Tolkien who wrote a huge fantasy series when no one else was, and he didn’t even know if anyone would read it, but that was ok because he loved what he was doing.

I also took inspiration from Terry Pratchett whose Discworld doesn’t follow any order or even scientific laws, but he didn’t care because he loved what he was doing.

I certainly don’t class myself with those two, but I sit on the sidelines and point, saying, “See? They did what they wanted—so can I!”

And so can you.
Who cares what you’re “supposed” to do? It’s your life—try something different.

I’ve been at this book series for over eight years now: has it been “successful”?

Yes, because I’ve never had so much fun in my entire life! I’ve researched, studied, learned, developed, and accomplished more than I ever thought I could. That, I believe, is success.

Some want to measure success in money and numbers, but those are meaningless to me because I make my books as free as possible, and whatever revenue I do make each month I donate to charity. As for numbers, I don’t know how many books have been downloaded on other venues, but I know that on Amazon a couple of months ago it was around 70,000 downloads. Is that a “successful” number? I have no idea. I’ve never bothered to find out.

You’ve heard it a hundred times before: be yourself, don’t follow everyone else, be your own drummer, don’t copy everyone else . . .
But hear it one more time: noncomformity is too much fun to pass up.

“She always said exactly what she thought, and she didn’t care how others took it. She only wanted to say what she was sure was right, even if she might be wrong.”

~Book 8, The Last Day, coming summer 2018

BOOK 8 teaser HORIZONTAL say what you want

They can keep changing the rules, but we don’t have to be obedient. (Plus 3 sneak peeks into Book 8)

My 6-year-old tried to play chess with me at their school’s STEM night last week. I didn’t realize he knew the rules, and it turns out he doesn’t, because he produced a secret weapon: a 6-legged spider he’d made out of clay in his class earlier.

“This is spider-guy,” he announced. “And he can eat all of your little white guys there.”

Before I knew it, the clay creature had wiped a handful of my “white guys” off the board.20180501_182939.
So that’s how this was going to be played.

“Fine,” I said, and looked around for my secret weapon. “This is Stapler Man, and he can chomp your spider-guy.”

“Good job, Mom!” he cheered as I nudged his spider off the board, but then he plunked spider-guy back into play. “But my guy has 175 lives.”

“I see,” I said, and if he was going to change all the rules every minute, like a game of Calvin Ball in Calvin and Hobbes, so could I. “Stapler Man has 180 lives, and he’s coming after your king.”

My son sighed and said, “You can’t change the rules like that, Mom.”

“But you just did.”

He hesitated, seeing that if he turned things unfairly to his advantage, I might too. (Yeah, I’m that kind of mom.) “Let’s go see the salmon babies,” he said, and the game was over as we headed to the fish tanks.

In my sophomore English classes we’re reading All But My Life, about a 15-year-old Jewish girl who is forced into the Nazi labor camps and is one of the few who survives. Last week we read about the ever-changing rules in regards to Jews; they can’t own phones, or cars, or bikes, or even fountain pens. They have to turn over the gold, their goods, their houses. Signs go up: “Gardens only for Germans,” and “No dogs or Jews allowed.”

The rules change daily, to the advantage of the Nazis, but the Jews aren’t able to play that game back at them or they’re shot.

My students, while fascinated by the story, have asked why this “history” book is in our English curriculum. We talk about language—euphemisms, propaganda, etc.—but the class is also about thinking and analyzing.

So I’ll tell them, “This memoir isn’t only about history, but about language, about control, about the direction we’re going right now. How are you going to survive in a country where the rules are changing daily?”

We all see this—it’s no secret: the elite, in various organizations, are manipulating situations to fit what they want to have happen. It’s not about the good of the country, but the selfishness of a handful. The rest of us struggle to know if we can shift those rules again, or somehow subvert them.

In the book we’re reading, Gerda Weissmann begins to learn English on the sly, and even though she’s denied an education, her father teachers her out of the textbooks they still own in the privacy of their house. (Proving that homeschooling is for subversives.)

My parents grew up in Nazi Germany. Their families–not Jews and certainly not Nazis—realized early on Hitler was going to be disastrous for Germany. Quietly, privately, they tried to subvert the changing rules the elite imposed upon them. They had more chickens than allotted and hid them when the inspectors came; they had doctors write notes excusing their children from attending Hitler Youth; they traded cigarette and coffee rations (Mormons don’t use those) on the black market for more flour and sugar; and my great-grandfather blackmailed a Nazi recruiter who tried to secure his money for their cause. The Nazis never bothered him again.

In the Book of Mormon is a story about a group of followers of God who are oppressed by their government (Mosiah 24). They’re told they can’t pray or they’ll be executed. The people simply didn’t pray out loud, but in secret, knowing that God would still hear them. Quiet subversiveness when the rules are purposely stacked against them.

It seems almost daily that the rules are changing, that more and more laws are purposely designed to hold down one group while elevating another.

Unfair? Absolutely.

But the question is, how do we respond—individually and collectively—to the oppressive elite?

Maybe a situation is benign enough that we can pull out our own “stapler guy” and change the rules once again for more even odds.

Or maybe a problem is so grave that our defiance equates our death—politically, mentally, spiritually, or literally. That’s a much more difficult situation to manage.

But there seem to be many opportunities for outward obedience yet inward rebellion.
However, there should never, ever be quiet acceptance.

Because if we don’t even try to fight, then we’ve already given up and they win.

(Because I’m so eager to get you Book 8 “The Last Day” this summer, I’m giving you THREE sneak peeks!)

#1 Sneak Peek

“Oh yes, General.” Young Pere squinted with disdain. “That makes me want to call you ‘father.’ Hit me all you want, Thorne, but you can never change who I am or what you are. So choose the slagging canyon yourself.”

From the corner of his eye, Young Pere could see Hili beaming. But Thorne stood shocked, not used to such flagrant insubordination, and evidently didn’t know how to proceed.

Finally Thorne whispered, in as sinister a voice as he could muster, “I have one more thing to do with you, Shin. Then I will kill you myself. Nothing will give me greater pleasure. Your days are numbered, make no mistake about that!”

Young Pere nodded once, not at all intimidated. Thorne was full of unmet promises; just ask anyone he’d told he’d give a medal. He still owed Young Pere a few.

#2 Sneak Peek

Shin frowned at Sergeant Beaved. “So I’m supposed to go along with all of this?” 

“If you want to live, yes!”

“Is that what all of you do?” Shin exclaimed. “Just go along with whatever unbelievable and unlikely story preserves you for another day?”

“Yes,” Beaved said shortly. “Why not?”

“Living in lies? That doesn’t bother you?”

Beaved leaned in. “What bothers me is the idea of dying, Shin.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” he said, almost believably.

“Look, Shin, just . . .” Beaved groaned quietly. “I don’t know what the truth is myself, but I do know this: you have a chance to survive this. A small chance, getting smaller each time you open that big mouth of yours. But if I were you I’d cling to that chance, do whatever it takes to preserve your life. You can fix the lies later, if necessary, but you can’t if you’re dead.”

#3 Sneak Peek

“I’m as helpful as I know to be, Teach,” Shin said down to the man following him on the slope of the mountain.

“But one could be more helpful, Shin. Considering that Thorne has repeatedly threatened one of your security detail if you fail.”

Below him, Cloud Man bounced his head, oblivious that Thorne had threatened to bounce the vial head down the mountain if the private wouldn’t be more cooperative.

“Interesting,” Shin said as he searched for better footing. “Thorne’s so ‘noble’ as to force us to seek out Salem, and he’s so ‘noble’ that he’s also threatening one of his own soldier’s lives to do so. Perhaps I’m not that familiar with the definition of nobility. Enlighten me, Teach.”

He heard Teach moan below him again, maybe because of the question or because he was smacked by another tree branch. Hopefully both.

“Nobility. Doing that which the circumstances demand.”

“That’s it?”

“Language usage wasn’t my specialty in the university,” Teach admitted.

“What was your specialty?”

“I specialized in it all.”

Shin stifled a snort. “But not language usage?”

“Why bother? Everyone knows how to talk, don’t they?”

Shin reached for another scrubby brush. “So who decides ‘what circumstances demand’? When someone is acting in everyone’s best interests and not just out of his own selfishness?”

“Are you suggesting General Thorne is selfish?” Teach asked.


The scoff behind him made Shin glance down.

Teach was aghast. “You actually admit that?”

“I said only what you’re thinking, Teach. What everyone on this hill is thinking but is too afraid to say.”

Why there will be different answers to these questions, and why that’s ok

Each of my writing classes was subjected to the following experiment.

I’d divide the students into three groups, have all of them close their eyes, then, one group at a time, they’d open their eyes to read three words on the board.

The first group would read this:


After they closed their eyes, I’d erase those words and write the next three for the second group:


After they closed their eyes, the third group would open theirs to find I’d written this:


I’d erase those words, then write the following:


Once the all the students opened their eyes again, I’d ask them, group by group, what the missing letter should be to complete the word.

The first group would quickly supply, “It’s an i. The word should be ripe.”

This is when the third group would begin to squirm, feeling like they’ve missed something.

The second group would frown a little, but they weren’t too concerned as they said, “No, the letter should be o. The word is rope.

While the RIPE group would be a little surprised, their response was nothing compared to the discomfort of the third group.

Apologetically, I’d turn to them next. Always there was hesitation, until someone would offer, “The word should be rape.”

The first two groups would stare at them in shock.

“Sorry,” I’d say to the third group, “but you proved this point: all of us see the world in different ways, based upon what you’ve been exposed to. As writers—as people—we frequently don’t understand why one seemingly obvious situation presents itself in a completely different way to others. We assume our interpretation is always the clearest, but depending upon our experiences, there may be many different ‘correct’ interpretations. And, as you can also see, our responses to a benign situation are deeply affected by what’s going on in our heads.”

If my students remembered nothing else from my classes, I’m fairly certain they remembered this example.

And it’s probably the most important lesson.

What we’re exposed to creates our interpretation of the world.

How we’ve been raised, what we watch, what we fantasize about, what we believe all taints—for good, or for bad, or for indifferent—how we interpret the world around us.

Repeatedly our society screams about what’s right and wrong, just and unfair, malignant and benign.

And here’s the crazy part: everyone is right . . . in their own minds. According to their experiences, they are interpreting the world as they think it really is.

Paul discovered 2,000 years ago, that “For now we see through a glass, darkly.” Not only are our perceptions warped by glass, but it’s tinted so that what we see isn’t even cast in the correct light.

I’ve never met anyone who actively promotes ideas or beliefs that they felt are inherently wrong.

Everyone thinks they’re seeing things as they really are, pushing for what they believe is the best thing.


There’s no solution to this. And there doesn’t have to be. There’s no correcting those who see “rope” when you know it should be “ripe.” There’s no changing someone’s mind by telling (or shouting at) them they’re wrong. That’s never worked.


There is, however, recognizing that everyone interprets the same situation differently.

Each one of my classes did the same thing at the end of this experiment: they turned to their peers in the other groups and asked, “Why did you see that word as rope when I thought it should be rape?” In less than a minute, everyone’s answers made sense.

No one argued that someone offered the wrong solution. Everyone agreed that, based upon their exposure before, each person’s response was correct.

If you don’t understand why someone thinks the way they do, try asking. I don’t believe you have a right to argue against someone’s point of view until you fully understand it. (And when you do, you may not want to argue at all.)

Two things I’ve taken away from this experiment:

  1. People don’t HAVE to agree. I’d split up friends for the groups, and they’d be surprised to hear each other’s differing responses, but they’d still remain friends. They didn’t argue, or belittle, or shun, or mock, or condemn. They’d take a few minutes to understand each other, then they’d just let the differences be.
  2. People can choose to change their minds. The attitudes which most impressed me were those of students who said, “I don’t like the way I was thinking about those letters. I now want to see the word as RIPE instead of RAPE.” And they would. No one forced them to change their minds, but they listened, open-minded and open-hearted, to why others interpreted the letters differently, and they chose themselves to accept that new way of thinking.

So can we all.

       Perrin turned to his wife. “That’s why I married you, isn’t it? You always see the sides I can’t.”
       Mahrree reached across the table to squeeze his hand. “And you always see the sides I don’t notice. Works pretty well that way, doesn’t it?
~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

A Really Bad Book

Following the notion someone once expressed to me that since it takes only about three days to read a book, it should take about that long to write one, I did.

Here is the result.

really bad book cover A really bad book BACK cover

Full of action, intrigue, aliens, a desperate princess, a lonely shoe repairer, and the obligatory wizard, there’s something for everyone, provided “everyone” isn’t too particular. 

Family-friendly and short enough to read in one sitting, even in the bathroom, this book will be perfect for those last-minute book reports. (Tell your teacher this is a legitimate book. Because I said it was.)

From start to finish, I created all of this in a 72-hour period: plot development, character names, formatting, cover creation–everything.

A word of warning: a semi-decent book takes a LOT longer than three days to write.

However, I was morbidly proud of what I created–I caught myself smiling every now and then–so I decided to publish it. (Actually, I never had so much fun writing something.)

It’s awful. Truly. I fully expect terrible reviews, and I’ll promote it later for free just to generate those affronted comments. (I’ll advertise the free days, so that you can be part of the mud slinging. Or if you want to spend $1.99 for the digital version, be my guest. It’s also available in paperback for $3.95. Would be a great joke gift for that book lover in your life. Hint-hint.)

Bad reviews ruin every writer’s day (week/life), but this time, I’ll revel in them. There’s no false advertising here, and people will know exactly what they’re getting when they read the title. Plus, it’s short–much faster to read than three days, with mistakes and typos because hey, when you write a Really Bad Book, you don’t employ beta readers.

A couple years ago I wanted to host a competition of people writing Really Bad Books in 72 hours. I did a little bit of advertising for it, but then time got in the way. (No, that’s not irony; that’s a blessing.) Some year I still may attempt to do that again. I’d love to see the drivel others come up with.

But for now, enjoy (so to speak).

(And I chose the pen name Ethyl Alkaleen, because I always thought Ethyl was the most unfortunate label for a human being. Anyone remember Ethyl Mertz? Way too close to Ethyl Mercer.)

Hoarding your praise doesn’t make it more valuable

When I was asked to be a “responder” for a writers and artists fest our school district hosts each year at the university, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My daughter had participated when she was in middle school, spending five agonizing minutes reading her writing in front of two “responders,” several peers, and some of their parents.

Thirty people might as well be thirty thousand when you’re thirteen.

Knowing the fragile natures of both writers and middle schoolers—combining the two is Mentos and Diet Coke–I anxiously drove up to the campus this morning, praying that I’d say the right things to these young writers.

The purpose of the fest is to encourage budding artists and writers, to give them a forum to perform, and to receive feedback from professionals such as authors and teachers. Encouragement, not criticism, is the point, because heaven knows sixth, seventh, and eighth graders don’t need any hits to their very delicate egos.

Even love taps can shatter them.

The co-responder in my room had done this for a few years, and gave me excellent pointers as to what to say when the child was finished stammering nervously through their work. Karen Clegg pulled the most wonderful words out of the air, and bestowed them lovingly upon the trembling tweens.

I hoped I could do half so well.

I took notes as the kids read, told them what I liked, read back to them their triumphs (knowing how thrilling it is to hear someone else read your words out loud, in an appreciative way), and thanked them for their time.

After the first session, a mom came up to us during the break and said, “Are you watching the faces of those kids when you talk about their work?”

“No,” I confessed. “I try to avoid that.”

I’m not sure why or how, but quite often I get too much from someone, especially their eyes. While they tell me a few innocuous words, I perceive an onslaught of emotions, stories, experiences, and history. Hopes, fears, frustrations, and joy hit me in the face like a frozen snowball, often when someone’s only telling me something mundane. I’m one of those people who rarely look folks in the eyes, because I’m never sure when that deluge of data may suddenly hit me. It’s easier to just listen than look.

“Watch them,” this mother insisted. “Most of these kids don’t hear such words from adults they don’t know. They devour what you say. Watch them.” 

So when round two arrived, with a new batch of fresh, pimply faces, I tried to concentrate on their expressions, and for the most part it was painful.

Have you ever had the experience of reading your work in public?

Try taking your heart, placing it on a plate, then setting it in front of hungry wolves. The emotion is roughly the same.

One of the readers that round was a tiny boy who puberty has decided it’ll visit later, maybe when he’s 17. He was the scrawny kind of thing that others sit on and don’t even realize it. He could barely look over the podium to see us responders at the table in front of him. Shuffling his pages, he wore a hesitant grin of expectancy, and dove in.

Karen and I were taking turns responding, and Tiny Man was mine. He read with great feeling the beginning of a sci-fi book he was crafting at the tender age of twelve, and later my cohort told me she was relieved he wasn’t hers, because she didn’t know anything about sci-fi. But I’m a nerd.

When he finished in his five minutes, I said, “So I’m sensing themes of steampunk in your writing.” And I looked at him.

His eyes were so bright and enthusiastic that I was startled, and I realized that I was probably the first adult he’d met there who knew what steampunk was. He nodded enthusiastically.

“How much more of your story have you written?”

“I’ve got 80 more pages!” he announced proudly.

“Wow. Took me until I was 40 to get 80 pages. So where does the story go from here?”

I’m sure I went over time with him, as he happily told me the rest of the plot, forgetting about the audience in front of him and the other kids waiting their turn. The boy positively glowed with delight to tell a stranger about his book. 

I could barely look at him, he so hurt my eyes.

For my next turn, a girl stood up, the very picture of thirteen-year-old gangliness. She, too, had been neglected by the Puberty Fairy, and trembled behind the podium, her straight brown hair framing her freckled face, and she began to read. It was essentially two pages of an ode to a special young man who had rescued her from some difficulties in her life, and there I sat, knowing that in a few minutes I’d have to deliver an encouraging critique of her description of a modern-day Thor turned mortal.

When she concluded, and the audience finished applauding, she looked to me with terrified eyes.

I couldn’t look at her for long, but I did manage, “What you’ve written is essentially a thorough character analysis. Most teens wouldn’t be able to see as deeply as you have. Heck, most adults can’t either—” and that’s when I was shocked by her response.

She had teal-tinted braces. How do I know that? Because her face split into such a wide grin that I could see every last tooth.

I wasn’t expecting that reaction, especially considering how somberly she had read her piece.

Unable to watch her anymore, I looked down at my copy of her words and did as I had with the others: read the lines I liked the best, explained what was working well, and what traits as a writer I felt she was demonstrating. I glanced up a couple of times, and nearly choked up.

Have you ever seen a tween grin out of pure joy? It’ll break your heart.

The same thing happened, again and again, and while I tried to make an effort to look at the kids, as my partner did so well, I found it much easier to sift through their pages finding more examples to praise.

At the end of each session, we stood at the front and handed back our notes to their work as they filed out, the kids giving me shy smiles as I thanked them for sharing their writing.

I was nearly in tears at the end. The fact that one of the last writers wrote a poem about her mom who died last year didn’t help much. Nor did parents coming back in to thank us for our words, to tell us that a son never gets such praise from anyone outside the family, or that a daughter is terrified to speak in front of others, and would be happy for the rest of the week.

All I did was listen, intently.

All I did was give 60 seconds of approval.

All I did was make an effort—and occasionally, it really was an effort—to find something to compliment. But there was always something to appreciate.

All I did was pray, “Dear Lord, tell me what this child needs to hear,” then I said those words which came to my mind, and the child nearly exploded in glee and relief.

After, we went to the luncheon where hundreds of middle-schoolers were collecting their food and talking about their experiences, that cute kid over there, and the author Tyler Whitesides, of the Janitor series, who had addressed them.

As I made my way through the noise and gaggle, I knew instantly which kids in the crowd had been “mine.” They waved timidly, offered me careful and happy smiles, and I’d wink back or grin, as if we shared some secret. We were friends.

I admit I shed a couple of tears as I left.

I’d never before realized how just a few words could mean so much, and I worry that I’ve been too stingy with my compliments in the past, as if hoarding my praise somehow makes it more valuable.

I realized that I paid out mere pennies of compliments, but what was received were pounds of gold that those tender teens will carry with them, hopefully for the rest of their very costly teenage years. They’ll need every ounce of encouragement to make it through.

And I’ll try to keep giving them more so that they never run out. Encouragement doesn’t cost me a thing.

“Mrs. Shin’s the only teacher who actually teaches. She’s also the only one who listens.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Book 5 Teaser–the manly art of swearing

For seventeen years I taught writing to college freshmen and high school seniors. Watching who thought swearing was mature, or cool, or the way of the world, was always fascinating.

Without fail, those who swore were the most insecure and desperate to prove something.

One semester I was asked to teach the automotive repair students at a local community college. It was an experiment to see if the very low opinion of those students might not be elevated somehow if they knew how to write a complete sentence. For some reason, the administration thought I was up to that task.

Their profanity began the first day, the moment they saw that a “girl” was teaching them (I was a mother of six children at the time—that’s how “girly” I was). Maybe each of those “boys” secretly wanted to be in the navy, judging by their level of poor language.

But in time we forged a friendship, and they related to me how everyone “dissed” them and disrespected them.

“That’s because you talk like 7th grade wusses,” I told them, hoping “wusses” was a word they could relate to. “Real grownups don’t use language like you see in the movies. Listen to people. Really listen to them. You’ll notice you’re the only ones cussing so heavily. Also watch people. Really watch them. You’ll see them wincing every time you drop the F-bomb.”

“Like you wince?”


To my surprise, they were apologetic. Turns out I was the only college instructor who ever listened to them, who actually talked with them.

I told them that was hard for me to do, because while I liked them and found them entertaining (some were very funny), I felt as if they didn’t respect me because of the words they threw at me. Literally every sentence had at least one swear word in it, if it fit or not.

High Polish Tatra mountains

To my further surprise, they became quiet, and one of them said, “But you’re the only teacher we do respect. You’re the only one who seems to care.”

So I issued a challenge. I told them that I cared so much that I wanted them to earn the respect they desperately wanted. To do so, they had to cut back on their swearing, to four words the entire class. I wrote their names on the board, and kept tally marks as if it were 6th grade. They were also allowed only one F-bomb, and if they exceeded their limits, their peers could mete out fitting punishment.

They elected that a punch to the shoulder—one per word over the limit—was a memorable deterrent.

By the end of the first day, several boys were severely bruised.

But by the end of the semester, six weeks later, these young men reported back that something was changing in the garages where they interned. They had been listening, and watching, and learning.

They noticed that their managers weren’t as profane as they were, and saved the juiciest words for only when they dropped a car hood on their hands. And their managers never, ever, swore in front of clients.

Taking those cues, my students curtailed their swearing in the shop.

The fact that I taught them some new “swear” words also helped.

I told them that when I’m frustrated or angry, I say something random, like “fire engines!” It’s the way you say something, not necessarily what you say. My swear word always make me feel better, primarily because it sounds ridiculous in whatever context I utter it. I also know a man who said “hammer!” each time he was angry, and I suggested to these young men that they find new “swear” words.

They did. While I don’t remember all of them now, I do recall that one guy loved to shout “cheese and potatoes!” in the shop. It always elicited chuckles, and he’d find himself smiling too, alleviating his anger and allowing him to fix a carburetor without beating it first with a wrench.

Eventually my students noticed that they had more patience with themselves and their work when they didn’t swear.

I know this, because for their final paper I asked them to reflect on our experiment.

They reported that they were thinking clearer, and acting kinder, and developing self control, something they didn’t think was possible.

As a result, they were respecting other people, and wanted to demonstrate that with their language.

And best of all, they were receiving respect, for the first time in their lives.

Not a single one of them improved the sentences they wrote, but looking back, that really wasn’t the goal of the class.


Farewell to a beta reader: my life preserver and sinking anchor

Writers need beta readers because they are a mixture of life preservers and anchors; on the one hand they point out the little things we can do to fix the draft, and their enthusiasm keeps us buoyant. But on the other hand they drop anchors on us, comments that can sink us into editing despair, such as, “I really hated what you did to so-and-so. Are you sure that’s the direction you want to go?”

Well, seeing as how the next three books depend on that plot development . . . no?


Writers value their beta readers because they do an enormous task for literally nothing: they read through our drafts which we think are near to perfection, point out how far from perfection they really are, then we thank them for their hours of work only by mentioning them in the back of the book and sending them a bookmark and a magnet or two.

But we couldn’t do it without them. I’ve burned through a few beta readers in the past years because it’s a demanding task “grading” someone’s 180,000-word essay. I understand when they say they can’t help this time around. But I’ve never lost one completely before, until last week.

Debbie Beier was an unusual beta reader because she could see things sideways, and I’d been looking for someone like that. I feel that’s how I’ve always seen the world—from odd angles. This was particularly frustrating in English classes where everyone would read a story/poem, begin to discuss it, and I’d be completely confused as to what they thought was “important.” While they were discussing the meaning of ‘walking in the wilderness,’ I’d wonder why the author kept referring to his yellow cat. In every class I’d search for that other sideways thinker who thought the reading was potentially absurd, while everyone else fixated on its deliberateness. (Seriously, I didn’t understand half the jargon I encountered in college. Still I graduated. That should give every college freshman hope.) 

But Debbie was the sideways thinker who also saw the proverbial yellow cat, and would notice that its whiskers were burnt off, and would then speculate as to what kind of mischief the animal got into. Maybe it was because she was a scientist—a geologist who loved rocks and observing nature. She liked to turn things on their sides, figuratively and literally, to see what was really going on.

I first met Debbie in Virginia about 14 years ago, where we were neighbors and I was her visiting teacher, assigned by our ward (church) to check up on her each month. That’s when she first developed breast cancer, and I brought her meals. But I don’t remember that. She did, however, and a few years ago when I put out the request for beta readers, she eagerly volunteered in order to pay me back for those meals I totally forgot about. Talk about a lopsided investment. I was returned far more than I put in.

Debbie was diligent and incredibly thorough. She commented, she corrected, she caught my proofing errors, and she gave feedback that both buoyed me up and dragged me down, in necessary ways.

Cancer came back to her with a vengeance two years ago, but still she carried on reading and editing for me. But by last autumn, it was getting to be too much. “Send me book 5,” she wrote me. “Even though its unpolished. I need a distraction from the pain and boredom of cancer. Plus, I want to know what happens.” So I did. Even in her exhaustion and pain, she took the time to royally roast me. In particular, she was upset with what the future of a minor character. “Don’t do it,” she begged. “It’s all wrong!”

In defense, I wrote up a synopsis of books 6, 7, and 8 so she could see how the series would end, and how that minor character played a significant role. But she wrote back that while she could see where I was going, and thanks for the entire series in a nutshell, still I was wrong. Fix it.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised at that. The poor woman was literally dying of cancer, and here I thought she’d write me back a “That was so wonderful, thank you for sharing” message. Something pleasant as an exit.

Nope, not Debbie. She was too pragmatic and honest for cloying niceties. I never knew her to be conventional in anything. Dying from cancer only meant that she had to be more diligent, and, if need be, even harsher.

In November she posted on Facebook that her end was coming, and in typical Debbie fashion she wrote, that “I’ll be dying sometime or other” and that she didn’t want to be hit with faith promoting rumors or wild ideas of going to foreign countries to be healed. She accepted her fate, and accepted our prayers.

I wrote to her the following:

Debbie, I hate to see you go, but you’re going on to a marvelous adventure. You’ve done great things here, and your graduation from this life to the next will be astonishing and wonderful, I have no doubt. I’ll pray that you’ll not feel pain, but that you and your family will feel peace.

And when you’re on the other side, I hope one of the first things you find out about is dinosaurs. Exactly when did they live? For how long? What, really, went on with them and the fossil records?!

Oh, the mysteries you’ll get to re-learn! The questions that will be answered! So many people you’ll get to re-meet and re-remember! I’m so sorry this is a physically painful experience, but when it’s over–ah, it will be amazing for you.

I’ll miss you–you’ve been a wonderful help and so supportive of my writing. Friends like you are rare. But I’m also just a bit jealous of what you’ll get to see next. If at all possible, come by some time and whisper just how amazing it is, and what I’m missing.

Thank you for your friendship. Until we meet again . . .

She passed away last Monday, in Oregon. Her funeral was here in Utah last Saturday, 100 miles away from my home. As I drove down to it, I thought, “Debbie, now that you’re not in pain anymore, about that ending for book 5. You’ve had some time to think about it . . . do I really need to redo everything with that character?”

I could picture her shrugging and saying, “I said what I said. It’s your book, but that’s what I think.”

Drat. Major rewrite coming.


Debbie’s ever kind and perennial cheerful husband Mike drove her down from Oregon to Utah to visit some friends last fall, after she learned she wasn’t going to beat cancer this time. We met at a Wendy’s, shared Frostys, talked about Virginia, and family, and dying, and shared a few laughs and tears. I took this picture from my car as they slowly walked back to theirs. But first, Debbie inspected the gravel at the bottom of this photo, found a rock that looked like a heart, and picked it up for her granddaughter. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a pile of rocks on her coffin. Maybe they were inside, with her books.

Thank you, Debbie, for never pulling your punches, and for being utterly true and honest to the end. I’ll not only miss you as a beta reader, but also as a friend.

And if at all possible, come by and whisper what you found out about the fossil record. But don’t use your geologist words—dumb it down for me a bit. You know how I think.

Why English as a major is dying

Some years ago I was hired on as an adjunct composition instructor at a public university in the Carolinas. (We’ll allow this English department to remain anonymous.) At the faculty meeting held a couple of weeks before school started, several agenda items had to be addressed. After the usual introductions, someone of importance stood up and announced, “First order of business: the censorship of the freshman reading selection!”

That caught my attention in what would normally be a dull meeting wherein I’d fill half a page of doodles.

Each year the university assigned a novel for incoming freshmen to read in hopes of having an “intellectual discussion” between students and faculty during orientation. (Nice idea in theory, but in reality it usually fails.)

Just days before our meeting, a few parents had objected to the book choice, citing its violence and a few questionable scenes. I’d never heard of the book before (again, we’ll let it remain anonymous) but according to Amazon it was a “coming of age” story about a college student who was hazed. Today I looked it up again to refresh my memory and saw that it never became a best seller since interest in it died off quickly. Its couple dozen reviews hovered around a “3” calling the book dull, unrealistic, and lacking substance.

Freshmen college students procrastinate reading this kind of stuff, especially in their last summer before college begins. 

Which likely explains why, just the week before they were to come to campus, freshmen students were finally picking up the book, not liking what they saw, and complaining to their parents.

Those parents then complained to the administrators, who, afraid of upsetting those parents who paid for their students’ tuition, agreed to pull the book as required reading.

Which in turn enraged the English department. “Censorship!” they cried.

It occurred to me that telling students they didn’t have to read a book (which most of them wouldn’t have read anyway) didn’t constitute “censorship.” No one was insisting that the books be destroyed, or planned to burn them in the commons area. They just didn’t want to read something that offended their sensibilities.

But no! insisted the English Department. This called for action! This called for a . . . for a  . . . STATEMENT!

I nearly guffawed at that, until I realized that the 60 or so faculty around me found that an entirely excellent way to Make a Stand.

Snickering quietly to myself, I then watched the most absurd display of bureaucracy. First, a committee had to be formed to write The Statement. That took half an hour, with several rounds of voting (my memory wants to say it was anonymous and with eyes closed, but maybe I’m just remembering “Heads Up, Seven Up” from elementary school), and finally a small committee was selected, and a chairman was decided, and times were set up for faculty to confer with them concerning The Statement.

(Not an actual self-portrait, but pretty darn close.)

I would have been bored silly—I was there only to pick up a copy of course policies and find out what text I was to use—had I not been so entertained by the seriousness of the process, the lengthy explanations tossed about, and the excessively self-righteous language used to tear down the self-righteous who didn’t like the book selection. (It was pretty clear which faculty helped choose it, and were personally offended.)

After that entire fiasco, which took the better part of an hour, was completed, the next item on the agenda was, How to get students interested in becoming English majors.

I know I snorted out loud then, but covered it with coughing or something, because just moments before I was thinking, “Why the heck am I here? Why did I ever once think becoming a full-time professor would be fulfilling? They’re accomplishing nothing of importance! And just look at my notes: I’ve written, ‘Get me out of here’ over and over! What 18-year-old, in his or her right mind, would watch these proceedings and think, ‘Hey, awesome! I want to be part of that!’?

The next excessively dull half hour was spent in another tidal wave of predictable “let’s have luncheons” (as if college students in this century do “luncheons”) and “let’s demonstrate how valuable an English degree is” (I was struggling to see how mine was useful) and “let’s have an open house” (seriously? An open house? To demonstrate what?).

At some point I probably blacked out from sheer boredom because I have no recollection of when or how that meeting ended. I just know that I wanted to leave, leave, leave.

Oh, and The Statement?

Five people spent two full days writing and rewriting it. And when they finished, they put a copy in each of our mailboxes.

Four pages, single spaced.

That’s no “statement.” That’s a constitution for a fascist country.

I tried to read it.

Really, I tried.

My master’s degree is in rhetoric, but I could NOT get through it. So full of jargon and big, scary words, and sentences that went on and on and on pointlessly . . . I couldn’t even understand the first paragraph.

The Statement Committee threw a new fit of fury the next day when the school newspaper wouldn’t print the statement in its entirety.
They wanted a “blurb.”
Hey, who didn’t?

The local newspaper wouldn’t even touch it. I’m sure they didn’t even know what it was about. I sure didn’t.

I stared at the monstrosity and knew, right then and there, that English as a study was committing suicide.

What happened to writing directly? Plainly? 

I wrote several versions of a statement in my head that day. One went something like this: The point of college is to expose ourselves to new ideas and experiences. We in the English department are disappointed that some of our incoming freshmen are choosing not to do so.

That’s a “statement.” Two or three sentences: something pithy, something tweetable.

Fortunately my husband was offered a job across the country, and just three weeks later I bailed out and moved far away from that stuffy soup.

Today Grammarly posted this cartoon below, which brought back those memories. I commented about my experience, and someone wrote back that he left an English site because it had become a “competition in obfuscation.” Amen! (By the way, “obfuscation” means “to confuse.”) 

Years ago I thought English was the pursuit of reading books and poetry, analyzing others’ perceptions of the meaning of life, and then sharing those ideas with others. The point, I thought, was to try to make life bearable.

 David Masciotra wrote in The Daily Beast,

“Any lover of literature . . . knows . . . it is the enchantment of experiencing life through the consciousness of another human being, albeit an invented one, and gaining unique access to the vantage point gained by entering the mind of its inventor.”

But that’s not what I’ve been seeing.

Instead, my (admittedly) very limited experience is that many professors in English departments try to prove their worth in ever-deepening holes of thought where no one really wants to go. I remember a student in my grad school classes who was unquestionably brilliant, and you could see our professors stiffen every time he opened his mouth and said, “I posit that . . .” What followed next would be a length of jargon and rhetoric that none of us in the class could follow.

In fact, I think that’s when I started doodling in the margins.

Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote this about college students in The New York Times:

“They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.”

His point was to show that students can’t write directly, and even he struggles to state that directly.

This isn’t a new trend, either. In the 1990s, the late Denis Dutton hosted the Bad Writing Contest for professors, and many of the “winners” were English professors.

Steven Pinker believes academics communicate horribly for a number of reasons: trying to impress their readers, to prove they actually know something, and getting caught up in the language itself. But, mostly, he says,

“There are few incentives for writing well . . . In writing badly, we are wasting each other’s time, sowing confusion and error, and turning our profession into a laughingstock.”

Yep. So glad my daughter’s majoring in nursing.

It took Mahrree a couple of weeks, but at the “bottom” of it all was a list she made to elucidate and disambiguate—
Clarify  what the Administrators were advising. Whenever she got stuck or tired trying to decipher the intricately convoluted—
Needlessly complicated language, she asked Perrin for ideas, and also received a few more insights from Shem. She discovered that the changes in instruction were only an advisement—for now. In the nebulous “near future” it would all be compulsorily mandatory—

~Book 2, Soldier at the Door

Planned Parenthood and its Very Care-ful Language

[Warning: this post contains graphic–yet accurate–language. Discretion is advised.] You probably don’t want to know about any of this, and may have even avoided all discussion about the Planned Parenthood videos.

But you can’t.

You MUST to know what’s going on, and more importantly, why Planned Parenthood has gotten away with so much for so many years.

“It’s all in how you say it.”

That’s one of the many rules of rhetoric: the art of using language to manipulate your audience and hide what’s really going on. Ok, that’s not an “official” definition of rhetoric, but during my graduate coursework in rhetorical theory, that’s one of the conclusions I came to.

Words are not only great illuminators, but also great disguisers of the truth, shining light over here to hide in shadows something over there. Connotations are “the emotional impact” of a word, and Planned Parenthood chooses their words oh so carefully.

Look at “Planned” and “Parenthood.” Both are innocuous, even positive, words.  We’re taught at a young age to “plan for the future,” and “make a plan,” and “plan to succeed!” Planning is something thoughtful and deliberate. How could “planning” ever be negative?

Same for “Parenthood.” Throughout the centuries “parenthood” invoked notions of family, of responsibility, of maturity.

Stick them together, and the emotional feel of the name creates a sense of “thoughtful maturity.”

That, my friends, is the art of rhetoric. The phrase “Pro-Choice” is also deliberate. Logically, the opposite of “Pro-Life” would be “Pro-Death” (of the growing baby), but no one’s callous enough to claim they are “Pro-Death.” Instead, “Pro-Choice” becomes a harmless, yet highly deceitful, phrase. Because what Planned Parenthood does is destroy babies and potential parents.

While we could go into an extensive debate about the emotional effects of abortion on women (and even men), or the moral implications of abortion, for today we’re going to stick to the analysis of language used to describe the procedure itself.

I’ve watched all of the recently released videos concerning Planned Parenthood’s techniques and methods for selling body parts, and my first thought was, “This can’t be real.” Then later, to my horror, I realized that it was as I heard Planned Parenthood defending their actions in harvesting tissue (carefully chosen words).

As a mother of nine children (most not planned, but still happily welcomed) I was at first sickened by what I witnessed, but then the inner rhetorician in me was fascinated by the deliberate use of language by Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood not only chooses their words based on connotations, but also employs many euphemisms. This is “softer language,” designed to lessen an impact.

For example, it’s rare to hear anyone say that a loved one “died.” Rather, we say that they “passed away,” or “are no longer suffering”; something gentle and careful, and maybe even a bit distracting or deceitful. Hospitals rarely have patients who die; instead, they may “code,” or “have coded,” meaning that a “code blue” had to be called for personnel to rush to resuscitate a patient because they . . . um . . . died.

We’re afraid to use the real and sharp words, because the emotional connotation can devastate those who hear and use them. Euphemisms are found everywhere—business, education, science, medicine (see an exhaustive list here ). Often euphemisms are needed to soften a blow and, sometimes, they’re even kind. But there’s always a component of misleading—subtle or obvious—and occasionally outright deceit.

Enter the “careful language” of Planned Parenthood. The hours that I’ve spent watching and analyzing the videos released to date were the most gruesome I’ve ever spent, and far more disturbing than any horror/slasher movie because all of this is real. (The only other time I’ve felt this appalled was when I studied the Holocaust in depth.) I have chosen only a few words and phrases to dissect—I mean, break down—for you to see Careful Language at work.

Phrases you may have seen/heard associated with the Planned Parenthood videos:

Words used by Planned Parenthood Connotation (emotional feel) Denotation (actual meaning, in terms of Planned Parenthood)
Procedure Very vague term: can be anything from open-heart surgery to save a life, to trimming one’s toenails Aborting a baby by forcing open a woman’s cervix, using forceps to grab the baby, then pulling it out to kill it and end the pregnancy.
Procurement Services Getting something for someone, perhaps even as a kindness (service) Giving (selling) dead babies for people to cut up and study
tissue Any random part of a body (or perhaps something you blow your nose into) Baby body parts
tissue donation Donation has a “charitable” feel, making anything that’s “donated” sound noble Giving (selling) dead babies to researchers
fetus (also specimen) Medical term for an undeveloped growth Very young baby, still growing, may even be able to survive if born as early as 22 weeks
calvarium Most of us have never encountered this word before The baby’s head
evacuation Generally, an urgent sense of “need to leave! There’s danger! Get out!” Pulling the unborn baby out of the mother’s body in order to cause its death and end the pregnancy
vacuum aspiration (which “gently empties your uterus” according the Planned Parenthood website) Oh, so a vacuum had hopes of becoming a Dyson? The method of literally sucking the baby out from the womb
“change the presentation” Some approach to explaining information isn’t adequate, so changing the presentation means replacing slides, etc. Twisting the position of the baby so that it can be pulled out more fully intact for the benefit of those buying its body parts
“intact fetal cadavers” Well, cadavers are dead bodies, so something about whole dead bodies? Whole, dead babies
“changes in technique to increase your success” everyone “changes techniques,” to improve their jumpshot or their piano playing or their piece quilting . . . Changing the way the forceps crush and pull out the baby so that more of its parts are usable by researchers
“induce fetal demise” Cause something to happen? Deliberately kill the unborn baby
“heart is still beating on aborted fetus” Umm . . . that can’t mean what we think it might . . . Yes, it does.
The baby was “aborted” but was born alive.
Then it was killed.
Outside of the mother.
Otherwise known as murder.

One more example which I took directly from a video: “If you maintain enough dialogue with the person who’s actually doing the procedure, so they understand what the end-game is, there are little things, changes they can make in their technique to increase your success”

Now translate that slew of jargon, clichés, and euphemisms into the hard language of the truth: “Tell us what body parts you want, and the person killing and pulling out the baby can give you what you want.”

Planned parenthood language

You get the idea. I apologize for the graphic nature of this post—wait, no I don’t. If we don’t fully understand what’s happening, then we’ll continue to be complicit and willfully naïve.

I refuse to apply gentle terms to something truly horrific.

That’s exactly what employees of Planned Parenthood do: immerse themselves in euphemistic connotations, and surround themselves with ideologies of “helping women” with “Care. No matter what.”

Does anyone else find those squishy words of their slogan, “No matter what,” just as chilling as I do? Fascinatingly, it’s also deliberately vague. Who receives the “Care”? And in defiance of “what”?

planned parenthood logo

Seriously, it’s the worst slogan ever because it means nothing, yet it’s also the most devious because it can mean anything.

But soft words do not hide the sharp truth of, “No matter what.”

While I am Pro-Life, I agree that there are very, very rare instances when an abortion is needed to save the life of a mother, or in the instance of rape resulting in conception. The entire premise of legalizing abortion decades ago was that it would be “rare.” Yet the Planned Parenthood website says, I assume to assuage the potential guilt of those looking into one, that “Abortions are very common. In fact, 3 out of 10 women in the U.S. have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old.“

We’ve conceived some of our nine kids at astonishingly bad times: when we were in college and had literally no money; when we were jobless; when we were losing our house to foreclosure; and when had no insurance and were essentially homeless and living with family. I admit I wept at times to realize I was pregnant yet again. But the idea of aborting that child never once occurred to me. In fact, I frequently look back and say, “Thank God that He sent us that child in the middle of the trials.” Life gets better.

Perhaps what amazes me most of all is that the vast majority of Planned Parenthood employees are women. Potential—and maybe even actual—mothers. Their coldness as they chatted about body parts over lunch stunned me. Their callousness at throwing around monetary figures, or referring to “patients” and “donations,” was dumbfounding.

The words of the apostle Paul to the Romans as he describes those who have denied God reverberates in my mind:
“Without understanding , covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:” (Romans 1:31) [emphasis added]

These women no long have “natural affection” for babies. They are also “without understanding” and “implacable” [ruthless] and “unmerciful.” Abortion is all of those.

At least Paul didn’t bother with “soft words.”

There are no “soft words” for preying upon the most innocent and helpless.

Mahrree kept mulling over Perrin’s reasons for the garbled language: to keep the wrong sets of eyes from fully understanding. ~ “Soldier at the Door” Book 2

Excuse me, but your ignorance is showing

Recently a mother of an autistic son in the Salt Lake Valley found the following stickers on her car around her Autistic Child sign:

autism stickers car

Love the random capitalization on the stickers. Hey, let’s make this letter big, just for fun!

What caught my eye, however, was this sticker. Exactly what’s this supposed to mean?


Uhh . . . what?

It means that the perpetrator is embarrassingly ignorant, on many levels.
Ignorant of autism.
Ignorant of appropriate behavior. (Stickering someone’s car? Really? That may be considered vandalism unless it’s a wedding.)
Ignorant of the English language.

There are marvelous and cringe-worthy examples of ignorance everywhere. A few samples I gleaned from the Internet:


I guess “euthanasia” was too hard to spell?

Image result for bad protest signs

What we call “irony.”

Image result for bad protest signs

So they’re hoping for many years of the same thing?

Image result for bad protest signs

Strange, I haven’t seen “half-breed muslin” at my fabric store. (And does it look like that “d” was an afterthought?)

I’m trying to decide what causes such public ignorance. Does passion for the movement cause one to forget how to punctuate, or even spell?

Or does one protest because they are ignorant?

Of course, ignorance isn’t confined merely to those who protest, nor are all protestors ignorant. Some actually know what they’re talking about.


Ok, maybe not.

But some people, it seems, never know what they’re talking about. Back in the 1980s we were newlyweds, and my husband whisked me back to “the east.” I was worried, because I had this ignorant notion that all east coast people were sophisticated, smart, and sharp. I, however, was just a little doofus from the west. How would I ever communicate?

Then I met a young man who asked what my maiden name was. When I told him Strebel, and that my parents were immigrants from Germany after WWII, he developed this odd smirk and said, “So your family were Nazis?”

I was shocked.
Worse than that, I was livid! The Nazis had ruined my families’ lives. My ancestors fought the Nazis!

I started explain that, but the young man just waved me off and said, “Yeah, you’re all Nazis.”

My new husband pulled me away, knowing there was no reasoning with ignorance.

Image result for bad protest signs

Look at her face. This is not a happy woman. Probably because she’s outraged that she doesn’t know what “you’re” means.

I’ve thought frequently about that incident over the years, and subsequent others. Back in the 1980s when I was working at a trendy clothing shop on the “sophisticated” east coast, one of my coworkers, upon learning I was LDS (a Mormon), said, “Oh, my dad said your husband can have all the wives he wants, that you belong to a cult, and that you drive horses. How come they let you out to work here?”

Oh, where to start! After an hour’s discussion trying to dispell all of that, she still regarded me suspiciously. She knew the truth, or at least liked her ignorance more than she liked my explanations.

Sounds like hell will be pretty full. I know Mormons like me are doomed, but sports nuts are damnable? I was ignorant of that.

Finding the truth was harder 25+ years ago. We didn’t have the Internet. We had to make some effort to visit libraries, read newspapers, or watch the TV news or a documentary. (Really, I’m not trying to sound sarcastic here.)

But today there’s no excuse for ignorance. We have so many resources about anything and everything, and all for free.

And maybe that’s the problem: for every drop of credible information out there, you can find a flood of rumor and nonsense. There are no fact finders on meme generators, our society’s new bumper stickers of truth. Anyone can create anything, and those who “think” they know won’t bother to research the truth.

Actually, these pyramids were built by paid workers, and by farmers and villagers who volunteered during the off season believing that their labor would help ensure their own afterlife. No slaves were harmed in the building of these pyramids.

I’ve discovered something about the ignorant: they’re afraid.
Afraid they may be wrong.
Afraid they won’t recognize the truth when they see it.
Afraid to change their attitudes.
Afraid to be humble.

Back to my “You’re all Nazis” man. The more I learned about him, the more I realized he was truly ignorant.

He didn’t read, which is the hallmark of ignorance. Not the news, not books, not anything more than bumper stickers, which constituted the bulk of his education.

His little smirk was his signal of fear. I’ve seen this odd trait in many scared people. Either they’re lashing out in a full, terrifying rage, or they’re trying to pretend they’re more confident than they are, hence the smirk. Watch for that, the next time you’re confronted with someone who’s particularly unpleasant. You’ll see their terror cowering behind the smirk. 


Oh, they’re protesting the CHURH. Whew. For a minute there, I thought they were protesting my church.

I feel badly for these people, I really do. There’s no need to be fearful, there’s no reason to remain in ignorance. There’s such a wealth of information in the world, and many good, kind people who would be willing to share what they know with you. 

But that takes humility: recognizing that we don’t know everything, and that we still have much to learn.

Unfortunately, ignorance is exceptionally prideful.

I may be a “mavrik” if I knew what it was. Perhaps you could also explain what a “socialest” is?