“Wednesday Writer” – Rebecca Jamison

Clean romance author Rebecca Jamison appears to have jumped on the Jane Austen bandwagon at the right time with her modern take on Emma (a follow-up to her successful retelling of Persuasion last year) coming out only eight days ago. But there’s much more to Jamison than her love of Austen and the classics.

Rebecca pink crop 2ME:  In researching you, I discovered you are tall (as in 5 feet 11 inches tall), and I wondered at what point in your childhood you began to tower over your classmates and how that affected you personally? When did you finally grow comfortable with your height, or was it never a problem for you? (I’d love a picture of you standing out among your elementary school classmates . . . or later, depending on when the growth spurt took place.)

REBECCA:  I was always one of the taller girls, but I never felt self-conscious about it. I remember in junior high, my friend told me I looked like a giraffe walking down the halls with my neck and head above everyone else’s. I just laughed.

The only thing that really made me feel bad was that people who sat in back of me in class couldn’t see when we watched a film or video. Because of that, I got in the habit of slumping down in my chair. Other than that, being tall didn’t hold me back. I danced ballet en pointe, despite the fact that I could barely cram my size ten foot into a toe shoe.

(Good for you! My six-foot tall nieces didn’t shy away from ballet either.)

becky 11 striped pjs(Rebecca towering over her sister…in striped pjs, no less!)

ME:  I’ll ask you the same question I asked Amanda Sowards (at least I think I did): If you had to choose between swimming and writing, what would you choose, and why?

REBECCA:  I’d choose writing. The great thing about writing is that it allows you to experience things in your imagination. I can write about swimming; I can’t swim about writing.

(Clever and true, but there will be some swimming authors who can probably concoct whole plots while in the water.)

ME:  I spent part of my childhood in the Washington D.C. area (a year or two in McLean, Virginia and then six years in Bethesda, Maryland), so I wondered what you favorite adolescent memories of Vienna, Virginia were and how you dealt with the transition from the humidity of the east to the dryness of Utah?

REBECCA:  Vienna was such a fabulous place to grow up. There’s so much diversity. I had friends who were Muslim, Catholic, Baptist and Buddhist. I researched a high school term paper at the Library of Congress. (Heaven!) My teachers took me on field trips to Amish country, New York City, and Russia.

(Excuse me? You had a school field trip to Russia? What kind of school did you attend anyway? I mean I know the public schools in Virginia have a high reputation, but Russia? Seriously?)

Everything there is green. (Amen!) We never watered anything. So, of course, it was a shock to come to Utah. I’d never experienced chapped lips before. I had to get used to applying lip balm. I also wasn’t used to having to drink water. When my friends invited me on a short hike, I had no idea how important it was to bring a bottle of water. They all went out of their way to offer me sips from their bottles, and being the germaphobe that I am, I learned my lesson.

ME:  Since you grew up in the east, and I know you love beaches, please tell us what your favorite beaches were? Rehoboth, Bethany, Ocean City, or may farther south to Nags Head or Kitty Hawk, NC? (And please provide a picture of yourself having fun at the beach as a child.)

REBECCA:  My favorite beach on the East Coast is in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It’s not as crowded. I’m an introvert at the beach. I like to read books, collect shells, swim, and take long walks. I don’t care about the boardwalk and all that. (I hear you.)

becky 4 at beach(At the beach at age 4 with her mom and sister)

ME:  If you could live on any beach in the world, where would it be? (And by the way, there are some lovely villas available for not too much money on the Cape Verde Islands, where you spent part of your mission.)

REBECCA:  If money and healthcare weren’t an issue, I’d choose to live in Lagos, Portugal. I spent part of my mission there, too, and it’s gorgeous. It’s an ancient city with cobblestone streets, stunning views, and gracious people. Fig trees, hibiscus, palm trees, and bougainvillea grow beside the roads. I loved standing at the top of the cliffs to look out at the blue ocean.

(Sounds like paradise. And here are a couple of pictures to prove it.)

Lagos town(The town situated above the beach)

Lagos beach

(The beach!)

ME:  I know you considered writing a hobby for many years, but what made you decide to get serious about it and pursue an MA in English with an emphasis in creative writing?

REBECCA:  At first, I wanted to be a high school English teacher, but my counselor convinced me I’d be better off teaching at the junior college level, which meant getting a Master’s degree. Choosing creative writing as my emphasis was a practical decision. (Whoa! That somehow doesn’t sound right.) I’d already taken two graduate level creative writing classes, which meant I was already halfway through the creative writing course work. (Ah, now I understand . . . you meant practical as in the quickest way to the degree.)

ME:  Tell us what prompted you to write your first manuscript, your Master’s Thesis, and the process you followed in writing it.

REBECCA:  I had to apply for admission into the creative writing emphasis, so I put together a portfolio of short stories, and . . . I got rejected. (My short stories, written for Richard Cracroft, would have gotten me rejected too, I’m certain, had I tried to apply for the same program.)

Doug Thayer was my creative writing teacher at the time. (Lucky!) I’d taken his novel writing class, and he convinced me to reapply, using the chapters I’d written for a novel. That’s how I got accepted. It’s also the reason I ended up writing my first novel. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that first rejection has been a huge blessing in my life. I don’t think I would have ever written a novel otherwise.

Doug Thayer(The man who’s influenced so many LDS writers for the better)

ME:  Your first published book, PERSUASION, was about fear and not letting it rule your life. Tell me honestly, are you like your main character in that you’re afraid to go back to your Master’s Thesis, revise it, and submit it to some major publishers? If so, why?

REBECCA:  You got me. I’m scared to death to delve back into that manuscript. There are so many problems with publishing it. For one thing, I’m a white woman writing from the point of view of a black African woman. For another, it starts out with her husband forcing her to have an illegal abortion. Then there are all the normal problems I need to work through with the plot, etc.

(I understand, but let me share an observation I recently came across from the respected author, Jonathan Franzen:  Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money. Personally, I’m hoping you take that leap of faith and re-work your thesis some day for publication.)

ME:  Tell us about your next book, EMMA: A LATTER-DAY TALE and how it’s different from the original work by Jane Austen.

REBECCA:  EMMA: A LATTER-DAY TALE is a modern, LDS version of Emma. The biggest difference from the original work is that my Emma is a much nicer person, but most people won’t notice that because they’re more familiar with the movie adaptations than they are with the book.

Emma 2x3

My Emma is an aspiring life coach, which means that each chapter starts with a motivational quote. I love that it has such a  positive, self-help-gone-haywire vibe to it. The story is set in Washington, D.C. It involves a country music star, a senator, and the paparazzi. It’s funny and inspirational.

(Sounds like a fun read.)

ME:  I read that your husband tried to scare you out of a blind date with him by asking if you’d be interested in a game of Spin the Bottle. What was your response to him, if you can recall, and how soon after you met did you know this was the guy for you? (I’d love to post a picture of the two of you.)

REBECCA:  My husband had a string of bad blind dates before my roommate suggested he go out with me, so, of course, he tried to wheedle his way out of a blind date with me. My roommate made me promise to go out with him before I read the note he’d written me. I promised. Then I read the note and laughed. The note said, “Let’s get together and play spin the bottle.” I understood why he wouldn’t want to go on a blind date, but I called him anyway. We hit it off immediately. Our first date was four hours long. (Yay! A blind date that worked!)

Rebecca and Eric(Rebecca and her daring husband)

ME:  Finally, what are you working on now and where are you doing most of the writing? (I know you write a lot between household chores, but please provide a picture of your “stationary” office.)

REBECCA:  I am halfway through my version of Sense and Sensibility.

I do most of my writing on an old laptop without Internet access, so I don’t get sidetracked by e-mail or social media. (Good for you!!!) Lately, I’ve been waking up early to write before my kids get up. I use a little desk in the corner of my bedroom.

Rebecca's Desk(Her little corner)

Check out Rebecca’s website or blog for more details about her life and work. And here’s a peek at her book trailer for EMMA: A LATTER-DAY TALE, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble:

And next week, I’ll be interviewing author and national presenter, Connie Sokol.


Originally posted 2013-08-21 06:00:34.

“Monday Mystery” – À la Christie

Agatha Christie

Long considered the maven of murder, Dame Agatha Christie had a certain formula she followed in the beginning of her career as a mystery novelist. I know because I recently watched a PBS show about her in the series “Extraordinary Women” (see the YouTube clip below) and then followed up by checking a few websites dedicated to her work, including this one.

First came the murder itself. She would begin by determining the method, victim and perpetrator. Having worked as a nurse during WWI, she had become very familiar with toxic substances and so poison was a particular favorite of hers when it came to method.

After visualizing and jotting down the essentials of the crime, she would turn her attention to the perpetrator’s true motive. She felt that it needed to be such a transparent motive that the reader would easily cast it aside as “too obvious.”

Next, she developed the rest of the cast of suspects, never too large and their lives often interwoven in unusual ways. Each was assigned a plausible motive in order to further confuse the reader, as well as secrets they were hiding about themselves.

Finally, she’d outline a plot that included necessary clues and red herrings (though not so many as to overly complicate the story). Stir in the right detective to ferret out the truth, such as Hercule Poirot in her first book, THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES, and voila! A compelling page-turner of a mystery is born.

Mysterious_affair_at_stylesSo why am I reviewing Dame Christie’s method here? Because I want you all to understand that we put it to the test during my recent road trip to Utah. By “we,” I mean my son, Jason, and I. After all, there wasn’t a whole lot to talk about during our 10-hour drive south to Salt Lake City so we decided to make up a mystery à la Christie.

We only talked it through but if you check back here on Friday, we’ll share what we came up with.

Originally posted 2013-08-19 06:00:43.

“Wednesday Writer” – Lu Ann Staheli

It’s hard to know where to begin with Lu Ann. She’s written–both fiction and nonfiction, edited, taught young minds how to write, and basically lives in a world of books, now working as a school librarian. But let’s get to know her a little better, shall we?

Lu Ann Staheli author photoME:  Since you’re a native-born Hoosier who has now lived in Utah for a long time, what would you say are the main differences between the typical Indiana Midwest temperament and the Utah mindset? And what does each add to your writing?

LU ANN:  Indiana is known for Hoosier Hospitality, and although I’ve seen plenty of hospitality through my years living in Utah, there’s just something different about it when two native Hoosiers get together. Suddenly they have a common bond, even when they may actually have nothing in common. It’s hard to explain, but my husband—who grew up in Utah—notices it whenever we visit Indiana or I interact with someone from there as well. There is almost a different language between two Hoosiers, and I find that often comes through in my writing—more of a down-home, easy-going communication, filled with colloquialisms and old tales.

When it comes to my writing, I guess I tend to be that kind of a storyteller. With work ethics, Hoosiers have the motto “I’ll get around to it,” while Utahans seem to be more like “I’ll drop everything and get it done this minute.” I get things done, actually to the point of people constantly saying they don’t know how I do all that I do, but I do set my own priorities and try not to be dictated by other people’s emergencies, if you know what I mean.

(What a terrific insight into the two mindsets!)

ME:  I imagine you’ve been writing for a long time. Can you remember your first creative story and share what it was about? (Also, I’d love to post a picture of you as a child.)

LU ANN:  I actually don’t remember much about my early stories, although I do know I spent more of my childhood telling people I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I was an avid reader, reading the most books during the summer reading program two years in a row.

By the time I was in junior high school I had discovered I could write well enough that I could get a good grade on just about anything, so I would tackle school projects with a spark of fictional creativity and ended up with lots of A grades that way. (Smart girl!)

I wrote my entire senior research paper on Macbeth one weekend by reading the play a scene at a time, considering what Zeffirelli had done with his film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, and adapting his ideas to this other Shakespeare play. (And hints of the future screenwriter, too! Wasn’t the Zeffirelli version fabulous? One of my all-time favorites.)


(I’m ready for my story now.)

ME:  What childhood event had the strongest impact on you in terms of your future as a writer?

LU ANN:  I don’t know that there was any one event. Along the way, I had some teachers who were really good; others who I perceived as maybe not so good. But I also had many teachers who were very supportive of me as a student writer. They understood that it wasn’t all about technical aspects of the first draft and they did all they could to support my interests and creativity when it came to my writing. They allowed me the freedom to explore without docking my grade as a result. (I always say that teachers are underrated and underpaid for the lives they affect.)

Probably the biggest influence, however, was my reading. As I mentioned before, I read A LOT! By the time I was 10, I’d read all the picture and chapter books in the children’s section local library. With the two summers I was involved in the summer reading program, I read over 400 books, finishing off the junior or middle grade library, and Mrs. Songer, the head librarian, gave me permission to start checking out books from the Young Adult collection by the time I was 12, two years earlier than the policy allowed. (Can I say that Librarians are also underrated?)

I read and reread those, finding many favorites—The Girl of the Limberlost, Hunger Valley, and the Cherry Ames series among them. So when I was 14, I moved into the ‘adult’ section, not at all what today’s name tends to imply. Most of the books I discovered there were much tamer than books are today. (I’ll bet!)

ME:  Since you’ve been a teacher for 33 years and a school librarian since, please share the changes you’ve noticed, for better or worse, in the books young people read today as opposed to thirty years ago. And what do those changes reveal about our current educational system?

LU ANN:  The sheer volume of books that are available to kids today is overwhelming, and the method of delivery has obviously changed through the addition of electronics. The general length of books has also increased as readers learned to accept books as large as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as more the expected norm rather than the oddity it was.

When it comes to content, there have always been issue-driven books that may have made parents uncomfortable, if they had read them. But I’m not sure they actually did back then, not the way Middle Grade and Young Adult novels have become popular with adults now. I recently reread The Outsiders and was amazed at the amount of swearing the book uses, yet I’ve never had a parent complain. Likely they read it themselves as a kid and simply don’t remember the words, only the story.  I do find there are many more books I have to warn students in my ultra-conservative community about, but they understand the simple film comparison—“This one is PG-13”—and make their choices on that. I’m happy to see that, for the most part, kids are given the opportunity in school to read books that can speak to them.

Contemporary novels allow teachers to teach reading improvement strategies in a more palpable way than sticking closely with the classics, which are too difficult simply because people no longer act or speak that way. Even the method of storytelling has changed since the time of Alcott, Hawthorne, Austen and the rest, accounting for why kids can’t connect to them. My greatest fear is that the drive to use a Common Core will once again force teachers back into teaching nothing but classics, thereby killing the joy of reading in millions of kids and stunting their growth toward becoming life-long readers and independent learners. (Hear, hear!)

ME:  Changing tacks now, how did you come to be president of the Official Osmond Fan Club, and how has that impacted your writing career? (I must have a picture of you with one or more of the Osmonds.) Also how has it impacted your marriage? (And I’d love a picture of you with your very supportive husband.)

LU ANN:  This is a really long story, a journey that I’m actually writing about in an upcoming book release, Living in an Osmond World, so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version here.

(Great way to tease us into buying the book when it comes out!)

Over the years I got to know Alan Osmond when I was traveling around the country as a fan to see his family in concert. When I moved to Utah, Alan wanted to know what I was doing here and asked me for my phone number. (I’m imagining a few heart palpitations after that request. :D)

The next thing I know, he starts calling, asking me to come along to see his boys perform here and there, take some photos, that sort of thing. I’d had several years’ experience at writing about the Osmonds through my own fanzine, so when the opportunity came up to start writing for the official fan club newsletter it was an easy segue. The woman who was running the club was looking to leave, Alan knew and trusted me, a mutual friend suggested to him that I should take over the club, and the rest is history.

Lu Ann Alan(Lu Ann and Alan Osmond)

I wrote newsletters for The Osmond Brothers, Marie Ink., and The Osmond Boys, who I nicknamed 2nd G. Then I started writing the scripts for Stadium of Fire, the July 4th extravaganza Alan started at BYU. Through my work with the boys, I did some freelance work for 16, Teen Beat, Dream Guys, and Tiger Beat Magazines about their budding careers. (All you writers out there…this shows that you never know what one writing gig will lead to, so don’t be too picky.)

I still do some occasional writing for them today, press releases, newspaper articles, an occasional blog entry for Nathan and David, and Alan and I are once again discussing a book he wants to write.

My husband and I got married right after my last full time stadium show with Alan, although I did write the script for the next year for former co-worker Marilyn Toone. When Alan moved with his family to Branson, Missouri, continuing the newsletters became impossible for me to do, so my formal involvement as president and editor ended at that time.

We’ve continued to stay close, however, and Alan and I run ideas past each other, Nathan and David know they can always call when they need something, and all of them adore my husband as much as I do. As a matter of fact, my husband and one of our sons worked on Nathan’s Stars & Stripes music video. (You’ll find their names in the credits.)

photo-6(Lu Ann and her adorable husband)

ME:  You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, and even ghostwritten stories. Which of your works was the most difficult to complete, and which has given you the most satisfaction, and why? (And please provide a cover image.)

LU ANN:  The most difficult was WHEN HEARTS CONJOIN, yet it seems like it was also easy. I had heard about the story of the conjoined Herrin twins when it happened, and when I heard their mother, Erin, pitch her book idea at a conference I thought how much I’d like to write that story for her. But she already had a ghostwriter and I was in graduate school, teaching full time both at a public school and as an instructor for Bookwise, plus my husband and I had just adopted three more sons, bringing our total to five.

I put the idea out of my mind, until publisher and New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans came to me, looking for a new ghostwriter for the Herrin story. I met with Erin, reviewed the online resources, and wrote a sample chapter. She loved it; Rick loved it; and I started to write.

Getting the details and chronology right was difficult, and many times I had to force Erin to dig deep into emotions she had tried to forget, but we needed them to be able to tell the actual story. In the midst of this, I took a terrible fall, breaking the radial head on my left elbow, dislocating my right elbow, and twisting my back and knee, yet I typed on, and nine months from the day the process began, Rick hosted a launch party and the book was born. (Now I understand what you mean about it being the most difficult.)


When it comes to the most satisfaction though, I’d have to say LEONA & ME, HELEN MARIE fits that bill. This is the story of my mother—Helen Marie—and her older sister—Leona—as they grew up in Hancock’s Chapel, Indiana, just after the depression of 1920.

My mother was a writer, although she was never published. She kept journals, wrote poetry for family occasions, and sent letters to family members all over the country, even those she hardly knew. She influenced my life as a writer (How could she not?), but also taught me that I needed to find a career that would someday support me; she didn’t think my desire to be a writer ever would.

In one way she was right; I had only published a few magazine articles and written live event scripts before she passed away in 1995. I realized if I was going to be a novelist, then I’d better stop procrastinating and write an entire novel. I’d recently read Gary Paulsen’s Harris and Me, a middle grade novel that used events from Paulsen’s own childhood to build the story.

I knew the stories of my mother’s childhood were just as compelling as any he told, so I began to write. When I got stuck, I turned to my mom’s journals and felt her spirit there, urging me on. Once the book was complete, I didn’t find a publisher for it and I began to doubt my abilities, but I started writing my next book anyway. As it has turned out, going Indie Press with Leona & Me has been the best and most gratifying thing for me. Those cute little girls on the front? My mother, Helen. is the one on the left (I can see the resemblance) and the other girl is my aunt Nonie.

ME:  Please tell us about your latest novel, JUST LIKE ELIZABETH TAYLOR (which I highly recommend, by the way), and the process you followed to write and publish it. Has your writing process changed any over the years?

LU ANN:  JUST LIKE ELIZABETH TAYLOR, a young adult novel from the Small Town U.S.A. series, is historical fiction with the feel of today. Liz faces challenges too horrific to think about, yet learns much about life, and herself, as she struggles to survive.


This novel started with a kernel of an idea, something I’d heard about on the news and it grew from there, sort of from the inside out, you might say. My husband and I had just adopted our first two sons and had been working within the foster care system for some time. I knew how difficult the lives of some of these children could be, but I also knew that adults suffered as much from situations of stress and abuse. I wanted to show that it is possible to survive, and that even wrong choices can still lead you to the path of safety and security.

I write fairly quickly when I make myself just sit and write on a single project, so, like several of my other books, this one was drafted in only a few months time. It won awards, including the Utah Arts Council Award for Juvenile novel, and editors requested a look at the full manuscript, but nothing happened on the New York scene. When self-publishing became a viable option, I decided to go that route for this book as well.

I guess that’s one way my writing process has changed. I now go into projects with much less stress. If a book doesn’t sell to a traditional publisher, I know I always have the option to self-publish, and that self-publishing no longer has the negative stigma it did when I first started writing.

ME:  Since you’re an editor, do you turn to others to edit your work or do you do it yourself? And how long does it generally take you to produce a novel, taking into account the first draft, the critique group, the revisions, the beta readers, the edit, and the final revision? Also, do you run your first draft by your critique group as you’re writing it, or do you wait until the first draft is complete to begin getting their feedback on chapters? (Sorry for loading about fie questions into one.)

LU ANN:  I always turn to members of my critique group before I ever even submit a book to an agent or editor. It’s amazing the little things you miss when editing your own book, but it’s even more amazing the big things you miss!

Authors are too close to their own writing. They think they have taken the picture in their head and put it onto the paper, but sometimes it doesn’t work out so well in the translation to the reader’s head. It is vital that you have a good critique group, beta readers, and others who will give you honest feedback. (Amen!!!)

I drafted 50,000 words of CARNY during NaNoWriMo (National novel Writing Month held each November) in 2011, which will give you a ballpark on how long it takes me to write. I’m still working on the critique and I haven’t started the revisions, but that’s because I researched, wrote, and revised the novel TEMPORARY BRIDESMAID (55,000 words) and the non-fiction history, MEN OF DESTINY: ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH (48,300 words) in 2012.

I start taking pages to critique as soon as I need something to take to critique. Sometimes the book is nearly drafted—such as CARNYother times it’s as I’m in the early stages of progress. I have found if I’m not at least 50 pages in though, it becomes too easy to set an unwritten book aside if I haven’t worked out my own ideas as to where it will finish in the end. (Good point.)

ME:  What are you currently working on and how did you get the idea? Also, in this age of digital books, please make the case for keeping an actual personal library. (I understand you have a huge one, so I must have a picture of you in front of it, if possible.)

LU ANN:  As is typical for me, I have many projects underway. I mentioned CARNY, a middle grade novel which started with the true story of my Grandpa Heffner who ran away from an orphanage when he was 12 and joined up with the circus. LIVING IN AN OSMOND WORLD is an extension of a blog series I was running about my experiences with members of the Osmond family, both as a fan and over the years I worked for Alan Osmond Productions. I’m finalizing a companion guide to BOOKS, BOOKS, AND MORE BOOKS: A PARENT AND TEACHER’S GUIDE TO ADOLESCENT LITERATURE, which was my McAuliffe project previously released in eBook. Just today a traditional publisher requested the chance to look at MEN OF DESTINY (How exciting! Congratulations and good luck!), and I’m planning to do one more revision on TEMPORARY BRIDESMAID and send queries to several national publishers for that.

I do think traditional books are important, but I also love eBooks. My Kindle is bursting with books, as are my iPhone, computer, and the Amazon Cloud. As the school librarian, I have physical books around me every day that I can read and recommend, and the women at the city library all know me by name. I have a spare bedroom in my home that is lined with shelves stacked deep. Unfortunately, in my husband’s opinion, so is the floor and the closet in that room, as well as cases of books to be found in the shed. There are bookshelves in both family rooms and the master bedroom as well, so taking a photo of my ‘library’ would be an impossible dream. The horde is just too great, so hopefully my description here will suffice instead. (I understand.)

One of my big projects this summer has been to read some of this collection to donate to the school library for either prizes or to add to the school collection, and to give other books to my friends and family as gifts for their kids. Since the end of May, I’ve read and donated over 40 books toward that goal. (Terrific! I’m sure your local library loves you!)

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space as it currently is (no tidying up) and provide a picture. (You see, I want to prove to my husband that I’m not the only writer that abides a bit of clutter.)

LU ANN:  No, you’re not the only one to have a cluttered workspace. This is after I did some cleaning up, prior to receiving your email.


(Click on the picture for a slightly bigger view)

Let me give you a tour of the desk—my laptop, two external hard drives, printer, speakers and Ott-Lite are in the center of the desk. To the left a stack of critique revisions on CARNY and an original screenplay, TERROR IN DEAD HORSE CANYON, both waiting to be entered into the computer files.

Scattered all around are bookmarks, previously published books of mine, research books, and scraps of notes and ideas, as well as a book I’m reviewing for a publisher, and my phone—don’t forget my phone! The Lucy dolls are part of my collection, and the VHS videos got moved here sometime last year and haven’t yet found a different place in the house. I won’t even go into the stuff that is piled on top of the file cabinet. HAHA!

(Thanks for the tour. I’ll have to remember to show this to my husband. :D)

We never even got into her screenwriting, but you can learn more about Lu Ann and all her projects on her website, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

And don’t forget to come back next week when I’ll be talking with clean romance author Rebecca Jamison.

Rebecca pink crop 2

Originally posted 2013-08-14 06:00:57.

“Monday Mystery” – COLD PURSUIT

Released just last month, Susan Dayley’s new interactive thriller is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in its ebook version. The reader gets to choose how they want the story to continue in this version and it’s on sale right now for $2.99. There is also a paperback version for more traditional readers.

ColdPursuitCoverHere’s a quick look:


The first time Kennady meets Atticus she is not impressed. The second time she is offended. But before the week is over, they team up to find out who sabotaged the secret alternative-energy device in the lab on the university campus. Filled with mystery suspense and romance, Cold Pursuit takes your reading experience to the next level.
This is an interactive book in the eBook format: there are links to music videos, recipes, clues, pictures etc. PLUS the story offers the reader the opportunity to choose how they want the story to go, with the possibility of 4 different endings!

Kennady noticed the storm had stopped. The light from the street lamps created pink circles on the snow beneath them. The night had become dark, and tombstones were difficult to discern more than twenty feet away. Heavy trees overhead blocked any light that might have filtered through the clouds.

Neither Kennady nor Atticus spoke as they rounded the back of the chapel, moving through the deeper shadows cast by the stone building with its gothic-arched, stained-glass windows. Nobody was there.

“Grady?” Kennady called softly. “Where are you?” She swung the flashlight’s beam around her.

“Put the coil on the ground,” the now familiar voice called from her left.

She spun in that direction. Across the road, Grady stepped out from behind a large oak tree.

“So, you know who I am,” he said.

“Where’s my dog?” Kennady demanded, shining the light on his face.

“Show me the coil.”

. . .

Just as he made a move toward her, a figure rushed him from the shadows. It was Atticus. He leaped, tackling Grady at the waist and dragging him to the snow.

Kennady screamed. The two men struggled on the ground, rolling in the snow among the graves. . .

And then everything stopped. Atticus and Grady had rolled against a large granite tombstone, and a man’s head lay against the base as if a blow had knocked him out. He lay as still as the bones six feet beneath him. A dark stain spread in the snow. The top man rose and faced Kennady.

It was Grady. “Give me the coil or I’ll do the same to you,” he growled.

*The antagonist’s name was changed to prevent this from being a spoiler.

Susan Dayley is the author of Redemption, a couple of stories that have appeared in anthologies, and numerous articles. She tutors in the mornings, attends classes at the local university, and loves to write. She recently had a party to launch COLD PURSUIT and pictures can be seen on her blog.

Originally posted 2013-08-12 06:00:47.

“Wednesday Writer” – Amanda Sowards

Amanda Sowards, who writes under the moniker A.L. Sowards, is developing a niche for herself–World War II espionage thrillers. Although she hasn’t been at it for very long, she’s already receiving recognition. Her debut novel, ESPIONAGE, was a 2012 Whitney Finalist, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her follow-up, SWORN ENEMY, is similarly lauded.

Amanda SowardsME:  How old were you when your family moved to Moses Lake, Washington, and what was it like growing up there? (I’d love a picture of you as a child there.)

AMANDA:  I was two when we moved there. Moses Lake has grown, and it seems massive when I compare it to Manassa, Colorado (where my husband grew up), but while I was living there it just seemed like a typical small town surrounded by lots of farms. Sometimes we called it Moses Hole instead of Moses Lake, but you can only get away with that if you’ve actually lived there. Despite our less-than-flattering nicknames for it, most of us had significant hometown pride.

1987(Love the glasses!)

ME:  Which came first for you . . . swimming or writing? Please describe your introduction to each, plus the main storyline of your first story.

AMANDA:  Probably swimming, if you count swim lessons. My aunt gave me my first swim lesson when I was about three months old. (Wow! You were practically born to the water.) Then I took swim lessons for a few years and started swimming competitively the summer after first grade. Back in those days, my life’s ambition was to be a lifeguard. My goals have changed a lot since then, but I did work a summer as a lifeguard, knowing it was just a summer job and not something I wanted to make a career out of.

My dad was asked to visit a new couple in our church congregation and he encouraged my mom to visit them too. My mom had four kids under the age of nine (two more would come later), so the last thing she wanted to do was add something to her to-do list. (I can well imagine!) But she went, and the wife was going to coach on the swim team that year, so my mom signed me up. The next year my older sister joined, then the year after that my younger sister started swim team. All six of us ended up swimming with our local swim team and our high school team. Four of us swam for BYU with at least partial scholarships.

(A family legacy, eh? I imagine you’ve already got your twin toddlers signed up for swimming to carry on the tradition.)

1996(Amanda, left, with her siblings . . . the youngest is now at the MTC)

I think my first book was about two friends who were riding bicycles. It wasn’t very long. I may have illustrated it with crayons.

(I think we can tell which activity was at the forefront in your early years. :D)

ME:  However did you manage to attend a writer’s conference as a third grader?

AMANDA:  It was a young writer’s conference, designed for elementary school children. It must have been an annual thing because I remember going in 5th and 6th grade too, and never having enough money for the bookstore.

ME:  I, too, developed a love for all things World War II in high school. Tell us about your History and English teachers and how they affected you.

AMANDA:  I’ve been blessed with great teachers. Most of my elementary school teachers encouraged a love for reading, and I’m grateful for that. In sixth grade, several of the teachers (including mine, Mrs. Mabry) did an entire unit on WWII. (How cool!) One teacher gave us history lectures and assigned reports, another taught reading with WWII novels, and the third did a science section on acid rain—kind of a stretch, but it supposedly tied in with WWII because all the bombing created pollution which led to acid rain? I guess we were too young to study nuclear physics and the Manhattan Project.

My favorite history teachers were Mr. Paul and Mr. Frederick. Both taught American history, and made it fascinating. Actually, Mr. Frederick was the one who introduced me to D-day deceptions schemes, and that lead to most of the plot for my fist novel, ESPIONAGE.

I think my best English teachers were Mr. Lindholm, Mr. Teals, and Mr. Robertson. They made us think. And the day Mr. Robertson told us we didn’t have to limit our essays to the standard five-paragraph formula was one of the most liberating of my entire educational experience.

(Yes! A teacher who can think outside the box and–shudder!–lead his students to do likewise.)

ME:  Were you writing stories in high school and college, too, or were classes and swimming taking up all your time? And I must have a photo of you in a race, either in high school or at BYU.

AMANDA:  The first chapter of ESPIONAGE is actually a story I did for a high school English project. After I finished it, I started thinking more about the main character and came up with ideas about what could happen next. I ended up rewriting the beginning several times (and changing it from first person to third person), but the essential plot elements of Peter’s trip to the Nazi base in France are basically the same as they were when I was a junior in high school. The rest of the book wasn’t written until after college (because I had too many other things to do during those years), but I think some of the plot ideas for later in the book had been in my head since my junior or senior year of high school. I did manage to sneak in a little research, though, in both high school and in college, when we got to choose our own research projects. I did at least two of them on D-day deception schemes, and a few on other WWII topics.

2002.09 BYU pic(Amanda racing breaststroke for BYU . . . actually, she faked it for the photographer)

ME:  Please share the story of your first book and how it progressed from idea to publication.

AMANDA:  I finished a first draft of ESPIONAGE in early 2005 (although it wasn’t called ESPIONAGE at the time—that was Covenant’s choice). By 2006 I had it cleaned up enough that I wanted to look for an agent or an editor. I got the usual rejections, and whenever that happened I went to work on revising it yet again.

Cover_FRONT_Espionage updated, small version

In the middle of 2008 I got my first rejection from Covenant via email. They said it didn’t fit their current marketing needs. I figured I didn’t have much to lose, so I emailed back and asked if there were changes I could make to have it better fit their needs. (Take a lesson. Never give up, but use rejections to your advantage.) They sent me the forms from their outside evaluators and I incorporated most of the suggestions and sent it in again. I didn’t hear anything for eighteen months, so I assumed the answer was “no,” but when I got back from taking my newborn twins to their two-week check-up, I had an acceptance email. (Yay!!!) It was almost two years after its formal acceptance that ESPIONAGE finally reached bookstore shelves, but with two infants for me to take care of, that was probably a good thing.

ME:  How would you compare it to its sequel, SWORN ENEMY? And what is the main storyline of your third WWII novel?

AMANDA:  They’re all WWII spy novels with some of the same characters. I’ve tried to write them so they can each be read without reading the other books, but there is a definite chronological order.

I learned a ton about writing with ESPIONAGE, so with SWORN ENEMY I feel I was able to fix problems earlier in the process and I think my writing has gotten a little better. The characters go through more dramatic growth in Espionage. They change in Sworn Enemy too, but the change is more subtle. Sworn Enemy has more characters and more subplots. I’d also say the “can’t put this book down” part starts a little earlier in the sequel.

Cover_FRONT_Sworn Enemy_lr

Espionage is fun because the history ties into D-day, and that’s something most people have heard about and they recognize its importance in WWII. Sworn Enemy is fun because it deals with aspects of the war most Americans aren’t as familiar with, such as the August 1944 invasion of Southern France (the same campaign Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed revolves around), and everything that was happening in Romania at about the same time.

The third book is similar to Sworn Enemy in that Peter and Genevieve are involved in separate subplots. Genevieve is in Bari, Italy for most of the book, and ends up in a spy vs. spy duel with a Italian Fascist assassin. (Sounds exciting! Besides, those of you who have read my bio know I have a thing for Italy.) Peter and some of his teammates from Sworn Enemy (Jamie, Krzysztof, and Moretti) are sent on a mission into Yugoslavia and end up stranded there, where they have to deal with not only the Nazis, but also three different factions in a civil war. The third book is perhaps more emotional than the first two (but there’s still plenty of action), and has a beautiful message about hope, even in times of war.

ME:  How many hours of writing can you put in at night once your twins are asleep without feeling like you’re neglecting your husband? In fact, what does he think of your career? (And I’d love a photo of the two of you.)

AMANDA:  I try to do most of my writing during “nap time,” which is changing into “quiet time” as my children get older, and often it isn’t all that quiet. On a good day I’ll have two hours. Then I have the evenings to spend with my husband, catch up on my reading, or browse Facebook and blogs. And yes, sometimes I write in the evenings too, especially if I’m on a deadline.

My husband has always been supportive of my writing. It was a hobby I spent several nights a week on when we met, so some of my characters have been part of my life longer than he has. Although he’s not much of a fiction reader, he’ll help me find plot holes and do quick research for me. And he was very understanding the night I spent hours pouring over pictures of WWII soldiers, trying to find a good view of their butts. (Too funny!) I wanted to check the pockets, because I’d just seen the cover for Sworn Enemy, and I loved it, but most army uniforms didn’t have pockets like that. But the Marines did, so close enough, right? (That’s a plausible excuse. Just kidding.)

55_web(Amanda with her “understanding” husband)

ME:  What are you currently working on and how would you describe your process? Do you ever see yourself moving beyond WWII fiction?

AMANDA:  I’m working on yet another WWII spy thriller, with new characters. I’m hoping to finish the first draft by the end of August. (I’m also hoping to sell my house by the end of August–we’ll see if I manage both.) It’s about two American spies working in Rome in early 1944, trying to gather information for the Allied armies, elude the Gestapo, and avoid falling in love with each other.

(Sounds terrific!)

After that, I want to write something that isn’t WWII, although I have plenty of other WWII ideas–I seem to get a new one with most research books I read. (And, believe me, she reads a lot of them. I have her as a friend on Goodreads.) I’m not sure if I want to do a contemporary suspense novel, or if I want to go back and finish a manuscript set in Serbia in the 1300s. It’s similar to my other books in terms of adventure and romance, but instead of battling Nazis, the characters are fighting the Ottoman Turks.

(Now that really sounds intriguing. My vote is Serbia in the 1300s. There are plenty of contemporary thrillers, but who’s read anything about Serbia in the early middle ages?)

My writing process changes with each novel, but I find that my outlines are getting more and more detailed with each book. And each book is being written a little more quickly than the last one, and I think those two facts are related. (I think you’re right.)

ME:  Last of all, please share the five things that make your writing space special and provide a picture.

AMANDA:  I can write just about anywhere, as long as my kids are out of my hair for a few hours! I just need my laptop. Sometimes I work at a desk, but usually I put my laptop on my lap, put my feet up on the coach, and type that way. So I actually have a lot of writing spaces: desk, upstairs couch, downstairs couch, bedroom chair (although I had to give that space up when we took the sides off the cribs). We’ll see where I end up writing when we move—I’m hoping to have my desk and my history books in the same room.

What makes these spaces special? My computer, quiet, and easy access to electricity, chocolate, and research books.

(Ah, yes. No five essentials would be complete without chocolate.)

DSCN4197(One of her several writing spaces)

You can find out more about Amanda on her website or blog, and her books are available at most LDS bookstores or online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Deseret Book, and Seagull Book.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be talking with award-winning author and editor, Lu Ann Staheli, who has recently released a great new coming-of-age novel.

Lu Ann Staheli author photo

Originally posted 2013-08-07 06:00:37.

“Wednesday Writer” – Cami Checketts

Besides being an author of clean, romantic suspense, Cami Checketts writes about health and fitness and even works as a trainer. Of course, I would imagine that having four healthy boys keeps her easily in shape. I just can’t figure out how she finds the time and space to write.

cami_checketts_photoME:  Let’s cut right to the chase. I know you get all your story ideas from nightmares. The question is, what happened in your childhood to cause such anxiety and fitful sleep issues? Seriously, what was your childhood like? (And please supply a picture of you as a child.)

CAMI:  Haha! Sadly, I had a very normal, happy childhood. (Rats! I thought I might uncover some deep, dark secret.) I’m just an extreme wimp who was scared of everything. My dad is the most patient man. He checked my closet nightly for bears and never told me just to go to bed.

552634_10151604615918191_491142820_n(Cami as a child . . . happy because there were no bears in her closet the night before)

ME:  Where did you grow up, and if you lived in more than one place, which was your favorite and why?

CAMI:  I grew up in Clifton, Idaho. A beautiful town with almost 120 residents. (Wow! That’s even smaller than Parker, Idaho where my dad grew up.) My parents lived just off of a lake where my brothers taught me to waterski by throwing me in with one ski and telling me I couldn’t get back in the boat until I got up. Brotherly love.

(And yet effective, I’m sure.)

ME:  What was your favorite subject in high school and why? And did you get any encouragement from your English teachers?

CAMI:  Definitely English. My high school English teacher was an amazing man and is still a good friend of our family. I don’t recall him saying I had potential as a writer until after I was published. Then he claimed, “You were always such a talented, hard worker. I knew you could do it!”

(Hindsight is everything.)

ME:  Having received a college degree in Exercise Science, how would you advise writers with regard to balancing their hours at the keyboard with some physical exercise. And how much does your family add to your own exercise? (I’d love a picture of you running a marathon . . . the sweatier, the better! And I hope you’ll let me post a photo of your family.)

CAMI:  The cool thing about being physically active and trying to eat healthy is that it’s been proven to make a person more creative and intellectually successful. (Time to hit the treadmill again.) For me, all of my creative ideas come when I’m running.

Smithfield Half(Cami running a half marathon . . . that’s why she’s only half sweating)

I don’t know that my family adds to my exercise, except when I’m chasing my two-year-old to put him in timeout! (Exactly.) I’m usually the one who forces them to be active, but whenever we get out on a run, bike ride, or swim, we have a great time. For me, it’s quality time at its best.

542450_10151278129263191_1375909935_n(The Checketts after a day of swimming)

ME:  I’m aware that you mom urged you to attempt your first book as a way to pull you out of post-partum depression after the birth of your second child at age 28. Why writing, though? How did she have an inkling you might have a knack for creating a story?

CAMI:  I was always writing, even if it was just a journal, and I’ve always been a huge daydreamer and reader. But, honestly, I think she was just desperate for me to have some kind of productive hobby!

ME:  Have you ever considered therapy to take care of those nightmares, or are you afraid it might dry up your well of imagination? And what is the most frightening nightmare you’ve ever had that you haven’t turned into a book?

CAMI:  I haven’t ever thought of therapy. What a fabulous idea! I usually just say a prayer, write about it, and most of the time I can go back to sleep.

I honestly can’t share with you the worst nightmares as you would think I was psychotic. Sometimes I worry about that myself.

(Oh come on. You obviously haven’t read my review of The Silence of the Lambs or you would know I can appreciate the creepy in every writer. After all, we’re not responsible for our dreams.)

I’ll share a semi-funny one. I had a nightmare about my husband cheating on me and woke up and slugged him. (Ouch! That must have been some vivid dream.) I was mad at him for two days until he finally convinced me he’d never cheat on his perfect woman (haha!).

FIL17590(Now seriously, does that look like the face of a cheater? No way.)

Dead Running Cover

ME:  One of your first books, DEAD RUNNING, seemed to coincide with your discovery of the joy of running. But your most recent book, POISON ME, is set in a retirement home. What experiences have you had, good or bad, with such places?

CAMI:  My parents managed a retirement center and I loved going to visit the people there. They were hilarious, kind, and had such great stories to tell. When my mom told me they had four deaths in one week, I was shocked and asked, “What did the police say?” She shook her head and said, “They said they were old.” And the ideas for POISON ME started rolling.

Poison Me CoverME:  Is there a common theme, other than fear or romance, that runs through all your novels and, if so, how would you explain it?

CAMI:  Family. There is almost always a strong family core and adorable children in my novels. I love children, especially my four crazy boys.

Laguna Beach(You can kind of tell, can’t you?)

ME:  How debilitating was your accident some months ago with the lawn mower, in which you lost three of your fingers? Have you had to change or adjust your writing routine in any way?

CAMI:  I did cut three of my fingers off, but they were able to sew on parts of two of them so they’re shorter but serviceable. (That was certainly fortunate!) My middle finger is an ugly nubbin, but it’s fun to scare my sons’ friends with.

As far as writing goes, it was pretty awful for the first few months, then I threw away my prosthetic finger and my Lortab (That’s a pretty powerful pain relief medication . . . not to be confused with the Lorax) and taught myself how to type again. I honestly don’t notice it much anymore.


ME:  Finally, what are you working on now, and what stage is the story at? Also, please describe where you developed it (in other words, your writing space of choice) and provide a picture of your work area.

CAMI:  I’m working on a story about a mom who blogs against a violent video game company and is stalked by a hit man. It’s definitely not a light murder mystery like DEAD RUNNING or POISON ME, but there’s still some great romance and comedy in it. I’m in the polishing stage, hoping to release it mid-September.

I love my office. My cute husband positioned my desk so I look out my window at trees and mountains. (That must have been after you slugged him.) But I develop most of my stories during my nightmares or out running. Then the trick is typing everything before I forget. With four boys that rarely happens.


(Do I spy two monitors? Doubly effective)

Thanks for having me on the blog!

(My pleasure. Happy running and writing!)

Cami shares more about her writing, family, and exercise on her website. And you can find her books for sale on Amazon.

Be sure and come back next Wednesday when I talk with Whitney Finalist and historical fiction author Amanda Sowards (aka A.L. Sowards).

Amanda Sowards

Originally posted 2013-07-31 06:00:22.


Since this is an anthology, I’m forgoing the usual bios (because there would be too many), but this exciting collection of short thrillers was published by Xchyler Publishing and is available on Amazon both in paperback and e-book. Reviews can be read (and added) on Goodreads.

ADashOfMadness_Cover(That bloodshot eye is pretty gruesome, isn’t it?)

Here’s a quick look at the stories:


One man’s crazy is another man’s norm.

Eight bizarre stories explore twisted perceptions and challenge conceptions about right and wrong. With a fascinating dive into several unstable minds, the authors examine different avenues for exposing warped cognition and mutilated logic. Each delivers a disquieting glimpse of reality.

Reformation by M. Irish Gardner: With a fresh start in life, the last thing freed inmate Todd Jefferson wants to do is live someone else’s, until the pros outweigh the cons.

Mouse and Cat by Elizabeth Gilliland: Mouse knows his place: among the filth and remnants of mankind. When given a chance to change his fate, his choice reflects more than just the intentions of his heart.

Stunner by Sarah Hunter Hyatt: As a stranger in a new town, Marin Overstreet is forced to confront a past she didn’t know existed, and defeat the man sent to silence her forever.

Five Humvees by Breck LeSueur: Three lives, three errs in judgment. Countless consequences reside within this twisted military thriller.

Morningside by F.M. Longo: Back on duty, Detective Morningside must defy the odds and solve the impossible by delving into the criminal mind.

Kissed a Snake by Ben Ireland: Abandoned as a child, Jason only wants to understand his father’s reasons. And to kill him for it. However, learning the truth leads to anything but satisfaction.

Fogo by David MacIver: A neighborhood arson, a broken home, and an overactive imagination are the least of Renata’s worries, especially when her dreams creep into her real life.

Proxy by Tim Andrew: For Bret Maher, death is a perk on the job. But when he takes on a new contract with guaranteed success, he may get more than he bargained for.

Excerpt from “Reformation”

Rita picked up his plate a little later, and Todd continued to sit and think. His prison years had flown by. He hardly remembered a thing, but the biggest motivator he’d always kept as his focus, as his flotation device in a sea of hard reality, was his brother. Shawn. A man that seemed to have forgotten him.

Author and Editor

McKenna Gardner (aka M. Irish Gardner) earned her Bachelor of Science in 2003 from Brigham Young University – Idaho, where she first began writing and editing, and her love of classic literature blossomed. Previously a marketing director and 8th/9th grade educator, McKenna finds her position at Xchyler the winning combination of a career she enjoys and her greatest passion, her children.


Originally posted 2013-07-29 11:39:29.

“Wednesday Writer” – Karen Hoover

Karen Hoover is a fighter. Life keeps throwing things at her, whether it’s health issues or loss or family issues, and she doesn’t blink.

(Except perhaps when she went in for an emergency appendectomy back in May . . . she woke up three days later to discover the doctors had rearranged her insides to help her beat off cancer yet again. Even that wasn’t a real blink, however, because she was unconscious the whole time.)

Anyway, when a problem arises, she just deals with it, and no matter what, continues to write and create. Let’s find out what gave her that kind of character and determination.

photoME:  I’ll begin with a series of questions. First, what was the first book ever read to you and by whom?

KAREN:  I’m not sure which book came first–“Are You My Mother” by P.D. Eastman or “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss (Yes! Finally I get a Dr. Seuss aficionado.), but they were both a very memorable part of my childhood.

AreYouMyMother1My father read to me every night after work and though he thought Green Eggs and Ham was disgusting, he read it to me anyway. I had no idea how much he disliked the book until I was told as an adult. (Now that’s parental love and sacrifice.)

600full-green-eggs-and-ham-coverME:  Second, what was the first book you remember reading by yourself?

KAREN:  I got two books about the same time and, again, I’m not sure which came first, though I literally read them to pieces. They were Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban (Ah, yes, a classic!) and B-9 The Hungry Metal Eater by Ester Hauser Lawrence. (Intriguing pick.)

bread and jam for francesB-9 the hungry metal eater(A picture of her worn copy)

ME:  And third, what was the latest book you’ve read, so we can get an idea of how your tastes may or may not have changed? :D

KAREN:  Currently, I am reading the serial, The Debt Collector by Susan Kaye Quinn. I’m on episode 6 and loving it. Fascinating premise.

(Hmm . . . B 9, Episode 6 . . . are you catching the common thread here?)

ME:  And what has your progression as a reader taught you about yourself?

KAREN:  I am inquisitive. I love a good mystery that makes my mind work to solve it. I love the twists of the imagination that can take me anywhere, yet keep me grounded with enough truth to make the story believable. I’d rather read than watch TV. I don’t like to be bored and I don’t like boring details. And last of all, everything, whether in life or in books, has to have a point. Also, I don’t believe in absolutes. There is always a choice.

ME:  Most of us learn to read in the laps of our mothers, but in your case, it was your father who encouraged you to read. Tell me about your relationship with him.

Daddy kisses(Karen with her doting father)

KAREN:  My father was 18 years older than my mother, and when they decided to wed he told her, “Sweetheart, between the two of us we have fifty years of bad marriages. We’ve done all the don’ts. Let’s just do all the do’s.” (What a wise man.)

That is the kind of life he lived. He spent every evening reading to me once he came home from work. When my mother told him to rest and put his feet up because he’d been working all day, he told her she’d been working all day too, and when she sat down to rest, so would he. (Wow! A man ahead of his time.)

Between his two marriages, I was the only girl, so I will admit to being a bit spoiled by him. I remember the rumble of his chest as I sat on his lap and leaned against him as he read. His voice resonated through my entire body. It was incredibly soothing.

(This is the real reason I do these kinds of interviews . . . for bits like this. Can’t you just picture it?)

ME:  How do you think the loss of your father from a sudden heart attack when you were only four affected you later as a writer?

KAREN:  It has definitely made me more empathetic and thoughtful as a person, and I think that leaks into my writing. It is easier to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you’ve had to deal with that kind of continual pain.

No father meant no Daddy/Daughter dates. It meant I had to pick a stand-in father for things like my baptism and confirmation. It has meant learning how to parent with a husband when I never had that example. It has forced me to look outside the box for answers to things, whether it be simplifying a method of moving (a zip line/pulley system for moving from a third floor apartment), or being flexible with raising children when my way is different than my husband’s.

For writing, being able to step into someone else’s shoes has made me a good character writer, because I can empathize and understand my characters as if they were real people.

ME:  I had no idea you spent the rest of your childhood in Kennewick, Washington–a stone’s throw away from where I now live. Tell me what Kennewick, now kind of the retail center of the TriCities, was like back in the 70s.

KAREN:  I loved living in the TriCities!

My grandparents moved there in the 1940s, and my grandfather alternated between farming his 100 acres and working security for Hanford when they were building one of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. He had no idea what he guarded until after the fact.

350px-Hanford_N_Reactor_adjusted(Hanford Nuclear Site in 1960)

He turned to full time farming after that and raised sheep and alfalfa. There were no fancy sprinklers back then. He had to go out and change pipes twice a day. My brother and I tried to help, but at 4-8 years old, neither of us was really much help.

Kennewick was mostly agricultural, and my family, being poor, would go out and glean the crops after the pickers had been through. We got apples, peaches, asparagus, and more, and it didn’t cost us a thing. It was a blessing at a time when it was much needed–and fun, too. My brother, Sean, and I always managed to find something fun to do when we were supposed to be working. Collecting tadpoles in the canal near the asparagus was always a favorite.

ME:  You say that you and your brother spent hours playing make-believe or “space,” as you called it. Were you influenced by Star Wars back then, and how has that affected your writing now?

KAREN:  We were definitely influenced by Star Wars, as well as Battlestar Galactica, and The Black Hole. We didn’t get to go to the movies often, but when we did we absorbed it. Most of that came once we got to Oklahoma, but it began in those early years in Kennewick.

Sean, Mom, Karen 1983 or 1984(Karen with Sean and her mother in Oklahoma)

ME:  Please share the struggles you had with reading in First Grade and how your mother helped you overcome them.

KAREN:  You would think that after all the hours my daddy spent reading with me I’d have been dying to finish learning and do it myself, but after losing him, I lost all interest in the written word. It hurt too much to read. It reminded me of him, and when you’re so young (4-6), it is hard to understand why it hurts.

When I started first grade I pretty much refused to do anything to further my english education, and so my teacher put me in the lowest reading group, where I stayed for several months. One day, after seeing my report card, my mom sat down with me and talked about reading and how disappointed my father would have been to see that report card. Talk about a knife to the heart! As I cried, she reminded me how much he loved books, and that if I could learn to love books too, it would be a way of remembering and honoring him, and that even though he was gone, through the books he would be with me.

Right then I changed my attitude and spent the weekend working on my reading. I believe that was the weekend she bought Bread and Jam for Frances and B-9 the Hungry Metal Eater. I read and I read and I read. I read out loud. I read to my brother. I read silently when Sean got bored, and within a month I had gone from the lowest reading group to the highest. The teacher had never seen anyone improve so fast.

(And I’ll bet your dad was bursting with pride too.)

CCF01182012_00000(Karen in Second Grade . . . See how happy she was once she started reading again.)

ME:  How did the move to Oklahoma when you were eight impact your preparation to write the kinds of stories you create today?

KAREN:  Moving to Oklahoma was awesome! We spent a year in a trailer while our house was built, but once it was finished, we moved onto another farm. Forty-five acres this time, but my grandparents joined us and built their own home, and both of my older sisters lived on the acreage at one point or another as well. Even one of my older brothers lived with us.

It was heaven for a kid like me. I think that was where my imagination really took off. We lived several miles from any friends so Sean and I had no choice but to play with one another. We built rafts and forts, we learned how to use a jigsaw and made crossbows and swords and shields. Anything to make our imaginary life seem more real. I hated leaving there. To this day, Oklahoma is still the home of my heart.

ME:  Was it a difficult adjustment to then relocate to Utah at age 14?

KAREN:  I thought I would love moving to Utah, but it was a real challenge. I came from the country, carrying an accent and odd words, and nobody understood who I was. Even the kids who belonged to my church mocked me. I remember coming home from school one day in tears and asking my mom, “Why don’t they like me? If we belong to the same church, shouldn’t they accept me here?”

(Exactly. Of course, this kind of thing can happen other places, too. It’s a shame wherever it happens.)

In Oklahoma I had friends from all religions—Catholic, Baptist, Born again, Jehovah’s Witness, and more. None of them cared what church I went to, and it didn’t matter to me either, and yet in Utah, where I was supposed to be accepted, I was scorned. The lesson that taught me was to keep to myself. Put a smile on my face and put on my armor because I wasn’t going to let them beat me down. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I’ve done my best.

ME:  Tell us about the first book you ever wrote, and then please share the details of how you came to create and publish your first book, THE SAPPHIRE FLUTE.

The Sapphire Flute KAREN:  Actually, my first book was THE SAPPHIRE FLUTE! I got the spark of an idea when I was 22 and played with it for almost twelve years before I discovered writing conferences. I rewrote the book from start to finish at least ten times.

One of the conferences I attend regularly, The LDStorymakers Writing Conference, has a first chapter contest. The first year they began the contest I entered THE SAPPHIRE FLUTE and two other stories. THE SAPPHIRE FLUTE took first place in the fantasy category and another of my stories took second.

I continued to place for the next two years—first place in 2008 and grand prize overall in 2009. (Impressive!) During the conference I spoke with a writer who was beginning her own publishing company and she said that if my book wasn’t snagged by someone else, she wanted to publish it. I decided to go with her company and Book 1 of The Wolfchild Saga, THE SAPPHIRE FLUTE, was released to the world in March 2010.

ME:  What else have you written since then, and what are you currently working on?

The Armor of LightKAREN:  I released book 2 of The Wolfchild Saga: The Armor of Light, and the first book in a new series, The Misadventures of a Teenage Wizard: Two Souls are Better Than One, as well as a short book of poems titled And the Mountain Burns.  I am nearly finished with book 3 of The Wolfchild Saga: The Emerald Wolf, with plans to release it in late summer or early fall of 2013.

Two Souls Are Better Than OneAnd the Mountain BurnsKaren book 4 smaller

After that I’ve got three projects in the works: Book 4 of The Wolfchild Saga: The Amethyst Eye, Book 2 of The Misadventures of a Teenage Wizard: Attack of the Zombie Roadkill, and a Serial titled The Garoux and Faye Detective Agency. As to which one will come first, I have no idea. (Sounds like you’re set for a couple of years at least.)

ME:  Finally, what is your writing process like, and please describe your writing space in the voice of your Teenage Wizard, Jeremy James Johansen. (I must have a picture of your office area, too.)

KAREN:  My writing process is sporadic at best. I am trying to become more consistent in writing every day, but most of the time I will go months and months with no writing, then write a whole book in two weeks. I do a lot of pre-writing though, so that might account for it.

I find pictures of all my characters, do character sheets so I know their characteristics and quirks, learn their history, their goals, motivations, and conflicts and more. It’s a rather extensive process, but it makes it so that I can write those books in a very short period of time.

As for JJ describing my office, well, here you go!

*tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Whoa! That’s loud! Can we turn it down a bit? Yo, thanks, dude! *clearing throat* I don’t know why my maker wants me to describe her office. I mean, it’s not like she can’t do it herself or anything. Lazy, I guess, but hey, who am I to talk? So, the office. Yeah. She moves around a lot. You’d think she had ADD or something. She just can’t seem to settle. Right now her office is in the basement right at the bottom of the stairs. It’s dark. She hardly ever turns on any lights. My mom says that will totally ruin your eyes, but the woman does it anyway. She’s got a couple of bookcases with shelves falling down, a fridge throwing up hot air to her left, and a fan trying to counteract the heat on the right. It’s kind of messy, though not as bad as my room, and she keeps a couple of rat dogs in the bathroom. I mean, who keeps their dogs in the bathroom? That’s just weird. Her other rooms were more colorful, but this one works better, so I can’t say much. Sure hope she gets to work on my next story soon though. I really want to see what zombie roadkill has to do with a portal to another world. I mean, I’ve got enough trouble, right? Sigh Oh well. I guess that’s it. 

(That was great! Here’s a look at her office.)

2013-07-22 15.52.19For more about Karen, her writing, book trailers, and all her projects, check out her website.

And next week, I’ll be talking with clean romantic suspense author, Cami Checketts.


Originally posted 2013-07-24 13:28:18.

“Monday Mystery” – Mysteries, Suspense Novels, and Thrillers Are Like Driveways

This past week, we had our driveway torn up because of cracking and appearance issues.

photo 3 of driveway

We discovered, in the process, that the pipe for the sprinkler system had been placed just under the concrete surface where it was likely to bear the most weight and wear down.

photo 2 of drivewayphoto 1 of drivewaySo before the new driveway can be poured, a trench needs to be dug and a new pipe fitted to lie more deeply under the ground.

Brian, the guy doing our new driveway, explained that you’ve really got to watch out for builders cutting corners and getting away with it simply because it’s out of view. As he put it, “They come in here ready to pour concrete and they don’t care what’s already there. They’re just going to cover it up.”

Writers can’t be like that. We may be ready to pour out a whole novel’s worth of words, but we’ve got to make sure we’ve laid the proper foundation first. Why? Because our readers will hold us accountable. Particularly when it comes to mysteries, suspense, and thrillers. We have to place certain clues in the right places and in the right ways (there, but not too obvious) and we also have to be sure and include red herrings to keep things complicated enough. After all, our readers are going to be tearing up our “driveways” as they devour our stories and there had better not be any unacceptable surprises.

What kind of driveways are we constructing in the first place? Asphalt? Concrete? One made out of block pavers? It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between all three.

But where do you draw the line in terms of genre between mystery, suspense novel, and thriller?

Author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford came up with these distinctions:

  • Thrillers have action
  • Suspense has danger, but not necessarily action
  • Mysteries have mysteries (something you don’t know until the end)

Still confused? I am. After all, I think THE BOURNE IDENTITY and THE DA VINCI CODE has all three elements.

Another agent, Jessica Faust, says there are three different kinds of mysteries: the cozy (usually involving an amateur sleuth and not too many bloody bodies), the mystery (grittier and darker…definitely more blood), and the suspense/thriller (the darkest of the three…more about stopping a killer than solving a crime). Check out her explanation here.

There’s a fascinating post by novelist Janet L. Smith describing the conclusions of suspense master, Alfred Hitchcock:

  • Suspense has no relationship to fear
  • It’s the state of waiting for something to happen
  • Therefore, the viewer or reader must be informed of an awful, impending event in order to be held in suspense, rather than merely surprised when it happens

Smith points out that a mystery, on the other hand, “is a novel of revelation, with action more mental than physical.” In this case, the audience is not kept informed.

And here’s one final analysis by Maeve Maddox.

Let’s say Mystery is Asphalt, Suspense is Concrete, and Thrillers are those driveways built with block pavers. What kind of driveway do you specialize in, and why? Please let me know in a comment below. I’m interested to find out which is most popular these days.


Originally posted 2013-07-22 17:40:31.

“Wednesday Writer” – Chris Jefferies

I pulled a switch to accommodate the needs of one of my scheduled authors, so we’re visiting today with historical fiction writer, Chris Jefferies, instead of fantasy author, Karen Hoover. But I promise–she’ll be here next Wednesday.

In the meantime, let’s get to know Chris better, shall we? This is an award-winning writer (a bronze medalist for Best Regional Fiction by the Independent Book Awards) who, like me, came a bit late to the game. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his stuff. He does.

Chris L. Jefferies, PhDME:  How old were you when you wrote your first story, and what was it about? (Also, I’d love a picture of you as a child to post with the interview.)

(Note: I asked that question assuming that he, like most of us, had first tried his hand at creating a story in elementary school . . . No such luck, but he was such a cute kid that I’m posting the picture anyway.)

chris3yrs(Here he is at 3 and he’s already showing an interest in the military!)

CHRIS:  I first began writing seriously during my Air Force career when my bosses discovered I could write. (Notwithstanding the picture above, this was not when he was three. :D)

That led to writing for professional journals and other periodicals over the years. I’ve always enjoyed reading novels, particularly historical fiction, and over a period of time I began reading them with a critical eye. I finally concluded I could write better than many of the authors I was reading. I wrote my first story during my early 60s. That story became the first ZION’S PROMISE book.

ME:  Where did you grow up and how has it impacted you as a writer?

CHRIS:  I grew up in Oakland, California, where my parents moved from Utah during the late 1930s, but my family roots remained in Utah, particularly Grantsville. That’s the town, on Utah’s western frontier, where almost all of my ancestors settled after emigrating from England during the mid-1800s. So I grew up with a keen awareness of my Mormon Pioneer heritage which, in turn, influenced my writing.

(More about that later. But here’s a picture of the land around Grantsville.)


ME:  Please fill us in on your education and career up until the time you decided to begin writing the ZION’S PROMISE series. (And I hope you won’t mind if I post a picture of you in your Air Force uniform . . . as an adult, that is.)

CHRIS:  I am a career Air Force officer and a retired colonel. Spanning 28 years, my career includes 8 years flying world-wide airlift missions, a tour flying C-130s in Vietnam, a tour as an exchange officer with the British Royal Air Force, five years on the faculty of the US Air Force Academy, service at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and two tours in Washington, D.C. (Okay, I’m officially tired.)

CHRIS UNIFORM(There’s the man in uniform.)

After retiring from the Air Force, I served as an administrator at the University of Oklahoma, and then as the Executive Director of the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and museum. (Wait! What about retirement? The Air Force didn’t wear you out?)

My educational degrees are from BYU, a Master’s from the University of Pittsburgh, and a PhD from the University of Oklahoma. (Envision a snappy military salute to Dr. Jefferies at this point.)

Chris Jefferies(He looks like someone with a PhD, doesn’t he?)

ME:  It’s apparent that history is important to you. After all, you’re a western historical fiction writer and you currently serve as editor of Prairie Lore, the journal of the Southwest Oklahoma Historical Society. Why does history matter so much to you?

CHRIS:  I’m not sure why, but history has always fascinated me. (Me too.) I have always chosen history when given a choice of reading materials. As I grew older I began to appreciate that we are who we are because of our history. It defines us as families and individuals. I firmly believe that our ancestors influence us even today, often by whisperings of the spirit. (Agreed.)

Zion's Promise 1ME:  What gave you the idea for ZION’S PROMISE, and did you envision it as a series to begin with?

CHRIS:  No, I did not envision my first book as a series. It just happened. The idea for ZION’S PROMISE grew from two sources.

First, my great-great grandfather’s journal. As I read his accounts, I was intrigued by his adventures, many of which surpassed those I had read in historical fiction novels over the years. (Hint to readers: you might be well-advised to start digging through your attics for your ancestors’ journals.)

Zion's Promise 2

The second idea grew out of my admiration for Porter Rockwell, one of the unsung heroes of Mormon history. He is a fascinating character, and the factual accounts of his exploits read better than a novel. When I realized that he and my great-great grandfather were contemporaries, whose paths had crossed, I concluded I had the source material for a novel. 

ME:  Does the story change through the course of the series and, if so, how?

CHRIS:  The story line is the adventures, trials, sacrifices and triumphs of a Mormon family emigrating from England in 1861 to join the Mormon Zion in Utah Territory in search of the blessings and opportunities it offers. That continues throughout all three volumes.

Zion's Promise 3The events evolve more than change as they emigrate, settle on Zion’s western frontier, and struggle to establish their own Zion in the face of adversity and challenges.

author.bookfair.10-12(And here’s the author at a signing)

ME:  You’ve described yourself as a “rut-nut.” Could you explain exactly what you mean by that, and please share one of your most memorable experiences in your exploration of the western migration trails. (And I must have a picture of you out on the trail.)

CHRIS:  A “rut-nut” is a self-descriptive term for one who seeks out and follows old frontier trails and roads, looking for evidence of those who originally traveled the trails.

My most memorable experience was standing on a stretch of Mormon Trail ruts in Wyoming with my father, and both of us realizing that our direct ancestors passed by that very spot. It was as though they were whispering to us.

IMG_0458(Here they are on the spot. What a resemblance between father and son!)

ME:  Please describe your research and writing process. Does one precede the other or do they go hand in hand for you?

CHRIS:  Before I begin writing, I research as much general background material relevant to my intended story as I can until I feel confident enough to start. For example, before I began volume 3, in which I describe Colonel Conner and his California volunteers sent to Utah Territory at the beginning of the Civil War, I researched what life was like for the frontier soldier. Then, as I got into writing, I referred to contemporary journals and accounts by actual soldiers of the Volunteers. So the answer is both: research begins before I write, and continues during the process.

ME:  What are five things you have on or near your writing desk that make your creative space special? (And please send a photo of your writing space.)

CHRIS:  I don’t think I have anything special in my writing space, except a good dictionary and thesaurus. And, of course, stacks of books . . . Oh yes. (You see, I knew there’s be something.) There is one special item: a needlepoint that Betty, my wife, sewed for me years ago. I still like to look at it.

(Drat! The only picture I could find of him at a desk doesn’t show the needlepoint. I wonder if it’s a design, a picture, or a saying.)

Chris Jefferies at desk(That desk looks old enough to have some history behind it.)

ME:  Finally, I hope you won’t mind sharing one of your great-great grandfather’s most interesting journal entries.

CHRIS:  Most of his entries are factual and brief, and emotion-free. Putting feeling and emotions into these accounts was my challenge as an author hoping to bring him to life. I think I succeeded. However, there is one entry he made at the journal’s end that impressed me the most as one of his direct descendants. It may be of interest to others.

William Jefferies & WO0002(First, a picture to help you visualize the man behind the pen. Chris’s great-great grandfather, William Jefferies, with two of his children/grandchildren.)

I have dwelt somewhat lengthily on several incidents in my early life, because I perceive in them the visible hand of my Father in heaven, in leading, guiding and directing my course, so as to bring me into his fold, and give me a chance to secure unto myself eternal lives, in his celestial Kingdom. Others may not acknowledge His hand in such matters, but I do, and I feel thankful to Him for the benefits of His guiding Hand all my life through, thus far; and I hope to be able to serve Him faithfully all the remainder of my days, so that when I shall have to give an account of the deeds done in the body, I may be considered worthy to be an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ, and dwell in the mansions of celestial light and glory for evermore. 

(Wow. Talk about a voice whispering from the dust.)

If you’d like to know more about Chris and his writing, please check out his website. And you can order his books here.

Next Wednesday, I promise to chat with Karen Hoover.


Originally posted 2013-07-17 15:43:24.