Jason Conquers Grilled Cheese!

After only a few weeks of practice, my son has finally learned how to make his own grilled cheese sandwiches. This is a BIG accomplishment in my book. It means Michael and I can perhaps go away for a weekend without worrying that Jason will have to subsist on Costco rolls and Ritz Bits with cheese.

(How convenient that our anniversary AND my birthday are right around the corner. :D)

Anyway, in case you don’t already know, Jason won’t eat just ANY grilled cheese sandwiches. Due mainly to his Asperger’s, he likes them done a particular way and so I decided to begin teaching him the easy part first–everything but the buttering.

On our recent trip to Utah, I challenged him to take over the placing of the buttered slices on the grill, the placing of the cheese slices, the flipping (more about that in a minute), and the cutting off of the crusts.

He got better the more he did it, though he wasn’t always happy about having to do it. Still, as we all know, practice makes perfect. He’s proven himself to be an accomplished flipper, in particular, as will be demonstrated in a video below.

Once we returned home, I finally made him take up the dreaded knife and begin to learn how to spread butter on a slice of bread without demolishing it. It took some coaching and I even had him place his hand over mine a few times to get the feeling of the knife’s angle, etc. But it worked!

And here are the pictures (and video) to prove it:

IMG_1098(First, the set up: Orowheat Country Buttermilk Bread, Country Crock Spread with Calcium, Kraft American Cheese Slice Singles, one of our blue Tupperware plates, and an unplugged griddle…the knife and spatula aren’t shown here)


(Jason lays four slices out on the plate to be buttered)


(He opens up the butter…hey, sometimes it’s not easy!)


(Now he’s dipping in with the knife)


(And he begins to butter the first slice)


(Here’s a closer look…it’s a very meticulous process for him, but that’s fine.)


(With all four slices buttered, it’s now time to set the top two, upside down, on the griddle.)


(And then comes a slice of cheese for each)


(As you may imagine, he’s very careful about placing the cheese slice just so. In fact, he’s a little perturbed that cheese slices aren’t made to fit the bread better.)


(See how perfectly he’s centered them?)


(Now it’s time to set the other slices on top…)


(And finally plug in the griddle, turn it to 325, and start the timer)

NOTE:  After years of experimenting, we discovered that Jason’s preferred grilled cheese sandwiches turn out perfectly when heated at the above temperature for only 2 minutes and 5 seconds for the first batch, and 1 minute and 35 seconds for the second batch. Yes, he eats four grilled cheese sandwiches at a sitting…four for breakfast, and another four for dinner. For lunch, he snacks on a banana and some Ritz Bits or something.

IMG_1118(Now he waits as the timer counts down)


(A closer look at the sandwiches as they are grilled)

Then comes the flipping:

(Quick and sure)


(He begins cutting off the crusts after first turning off and unplugging the griddle)


(Then he moves the crustless sandwiches over to the plate)


(Like so)


(And now the cutting into bite-sized squares)


(First the top sandwich…)


(And then the bottom before moving to the horizontal cuts)


(Making 16 small bite-size squares in all)


(E voilá! Grilled Cheese á la mode de Jason!)*

*I apologize if I mixed my French and Italian a bit there. Can’t recall if it should be “de” or “du”

Originally posted 2013-08-30 06:00:46.

“Wednesday Writer” – Connie Sokol

When I consider all that Connie has on her plate, I can’t believe she agreed to be interviewed. Where could she find the time in between mothering, writing, and presenting at BYU Education Week? This is, after all, a woman with seven kids who has written eleven books, recorded several talk CDs, and is always on the go (as you’ll come to appreciate a bit later).

Not only did she agree, she took the time to send me detailed responses and even more pictures than I’d requested. I’m going to do my best to post all of them (plus a couple I found myself). Let’s find out what drives her, shall we?

Connie-23-300x199ME:  I can’t imagine that, as a young girl, you dreamed of one day becoming a national presenter or author, or did you? What did you dream of becoming when you were young? (And I’d love to post a picture of you as a child.)

CONNIE:  Although I’ve wanted to be a writer as far back as I can remember, I had several dreams as a young girl (be a broadcast journalist, a teacher, Pinky Tuscadero)…

(Wait, that’s ringing a bell. Hold on a second while I look her up . . . Oh yeah, from the old TV show “Happy Days.” Have a look.)


(Okay, I think we’re all going to regard Connie a bit differently now. :D)

I also had a very strong spy/detective thing going on for a long time. (Me too!) After reading Harriet the Spy, I fingerprinted my family using my watercolor paints, and then I’d observe them covertly, recording revealing information such as which hairbrush was used by whom (to be revealed later at a strategic time).

Very big on Nancy Drew–she always dressed well and then was off to lunch with her friends in between sleuthing. (I read through all 50+ Nancy Drew books–my sister earned the entire set. My tweener daughter and I were at Costco a few years ago and saw 10-book packages of them with those yellow spines. I seriously felt giddy, so we’ve continued the legacy.)

(I bought the same sets for my daughter. I think it’s a mother/daughter bonding thing.)

With that being said, I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but it didn’t hit me until a pivotal moment in sixth grade. My fabulous teacher, Miss Hatch, took my poem called “Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride” to the principal because it was that good . . . and the principal couldn’t believe (so she said) that a sixth grader wrote it. I remember feeling like, “Wow, I could be a writer.” I then immediately began my first serious work titled, Mom and Me. Of course, I quickly disclaimed to everyone that it was not actually about my mom and me.

(Of course not.)

photo of Connie younger(The blossoming sixth grade poet)

ME:  Where did you grow up, and how did your environment and each of your parents affect you as a parent, a woman, and a writer?

CONNIE:  I grew up in several places in a fairly dysfunctional family environment. But what I remember most, as far as writing goes, from elementary age on is the vision of my mother reading a book in bed at night, her finger in an L-position with the thumb resting under her chin, glasses half-way down her nose. Something very comforting about that sight.

My mom taught me a lot about parenting, plenty of it helpful, some of it questionable, a bit of it downright laughable. For example, I couldn’t wear nylons as a seventh grader because they were “too grown up” so I was the ONLY cheerleader in knee socks. Or like the time I was asked to do the hula (I’m not bitter here). I was one of only THREE fifth grade girls who would dance in front of the ENTIRE sixth grade, including my then-crush, Shawn, but my mom said NO WAY to a bikini top and hula skirt. I was the ONLY girl (see a trend??) wearing a bright yellow T-shirt standing between bikini-top twins in front of the entire sixth grade.

(Yeah, but what did Shawn think?)

Shawn did not call . . . (Ah, well, every writer needs an experience with unrequited love.)

But now I say, GO MOM, and continue the modesty trend in my own family.

(I sure wish I could have gotten a picture of you in that hula getup.)

ME:  When did you realize you had a way with words and influencing people? And when did you begin to understand the responsibility that came with it?

CONNIE:  That sounds remotely like a Spiderman theme . . . (Seriously? Hmm, now that you mention it, it kind of does.)

During elementary through high school years, I felt sort of like a personal therapist, and a perpetual third wheel. People would come to me with their problems about guys/girls and then I would intensely try to help them with good answers, after which, they would skip away happily with their guy/girl and I would remain the perpetual third wheel.

BUT this helped me become better at expressing my thoughts, which helped me when writing in my journal or diary (which I started as early as age 10, possibly earlier, but that’s the earliest I’ve kept).

When I started speaking and writing things that people would actually read, that’s when I understood the power and responsibility of words. Women would, and still do, email me, saying how something I’ve written or a product they’ve purchased has changed their or their family’s lives. It’s a sobering thing to realize people actually read what you write, and then will do the things you might suggest. Keeps me on my knees and trying constantly to live what I share.

ME:  Okay, how did you go from being an Elementary Ed major at BYU to radio, TV, and the Deseret News? (And I have to have a picture of you in a TV studio.)

CONNIE:  I’d wanted to be a broadcaster back in the Jessica Savitch days (if anyone remembers those days).

(I do! I LOVED Jessica Savitch. In fact, here’s a picture of her:)

Jessica Savitch

(The inspirational NBC News Anchor, Jessica Savitch)

I went to BYU, thinking that was my star and then felt impressed to serve a mission (even though I was totally unprepared–when I was in the MTC doing a mock discussion with “investigators,” one of them pointed to the picture in the Book of Mormon with Mormon and Moroni and said, “Who is that?” I paused and said, “That’s Moses, pointing to the Promised Land.”).

(Okay, nobody can accuse Connie of never being self-deprecating.)

After my mission, I put serious thought into the realities of a future family, and I realized broadcasting wouldn’t work for me. Then I felt impressed to do Elementary Education. UGH. At the time, it occurred to me that was the major for girls who baked things for guys and didn’t plan on finishing a degree. But I’m so glad I switched. I finished my degree :D AND I baked things for my husband–AFTER we were married.

After we had children, I sort of put those dreams to the side, trying to survive young children (at one point, four kids under six). But then someone suggested I apply to speak at Especially for Youth. I agreed but was so nervous and embarrassed that I waited until the night before the application was due, then made a truly hideous video sitting in a white suit by my Christmas Tree. After a few years of EFY (Hey, it must not have been that hideous . . . maybe you look extra good in white.), friends suggested I do Education Week–that was twelve years ago when they weren’t as selective, I think.

Then Bonneville Communications asked me to audition for a family TV series (RIGHT after I’d had a baby AND had braces at the age of 40 . . . lovely). So I did that for 13 episodes (filming three or four episodes on a Saturday about every few months). That led to me being on Studio 5 with a frighteningly lame opening segment (the team at Studio 5 amazingly allowed me to continue to try to find myself on screen).

(And even though she didn’t send me this, I tracked down a photo of Connie on Studio 5.)

Connie on TV

Meanwhile, Bonneville started a women’s radio station, “Ask a Woman”, and invited me to be on daily from 3 to 6 p.m.

In a pivotal conversation I said I couldn’t do that as I was basically an at-home mom, but I could do Tuesday/Thursday from 12 to 3 p.m. They kindly agreed and for six months I hosted my own show those days, working the radio board myself, and often writing the show content on sticky notes while driving to the Salt Lake studio about an hour away.

(Are you beginning to get an idea of the energy of this woman?)

As for Deseret News, it was during that same radio year that I submitted my columns, and was summarily rejected. After overcoming the disappointment with a really good dinner and dessert, I let it be. A year later Deseret News asked me if I wanted to write a regular column, which I did twice a month for about four years, after which I stopped writing for magazines and newspapers and several others things when our family shifted into a busier stage of life (and fewer kids’ naptimes).

(Okay, I’m exhausted. Dinner break.)

ME:  (Ready to go again after some fish and a baked potato) Given your experience, what should a writer develop first, platform or product. And does it make a difference whether it’s fiction or nonfiction?

CONNIE:  Writing is a passionate experience so I believe a writer should go with what he/she is passionate about. If it’s a fiction novel that’s bursting to be told, write that. If it’s a cause you can’t get out of your head, pursue that. At the end of the day, though, having a platform—a clear and useful focus for that passion—is a dynamic combination. I feel like it’s a win-win; writing is therapy for me, and I’ve been told it’s helpful to the women reading it. That makes me feel I’m doing good in some way all the way around. I do believe nonfiction has an easier time and is a generally better vehicle for carrying that platform, although fiction has a beautiful, memorable way of threading it, too.

ME:  You seem so involved all the time (to the point that you find an appointment at a hair salon to be a waste of time). What, to you, is an ideal way to re-charge your batteries? (And if you have a photo of you doing it, I’d love to post it.)

CONNIE:  I absolutely love date-night and overnighters with my hubby; to play games like Trouble or Pit with my kids, or gather on our king-size sleigh bed with popcorn and an oldie movie (“The Court Jester” is a fave and we recite the dialogue frequently—“The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true…”); or to have quiet writing time to myself which is positively delicious, though scarce right now. I crave Zumba, delight in butter cookies and cold milk, and to devour a fabulous book that keeps me up until 2 a.m., LOVE when that happens (although not the day-after).

photo of Connie at hair salon(Connie wasting time at the hair salon)

photo of daughters

(Her daughters not wasting time…ice cream and pedicures are never a waste of time)

ME:  Tell us about your latest book and how you came up with the idea for it.

The Life is Too Short Collection

CONNIE:  I came up with THE LIFE IS TOO SHORT COLLECTION because I wanted a great gift book that I could keep in the hopper for all those times that I forgot to get an incredibly thoughtful gift for friends, visiting teachees, etc. I didn’t want a downer or a to-do, but something every woman over 20-ish could relate to and laugh with. Something upbeat, candid, happy, not sappy, with substance but not a heavy meal.

Life is too short for one hair color

The result is close to 200 pages of one to two-page essays of what I call “kitchen table wisdom with a side of humor.” It’s a compilation of the most humorous and popular essays from my other three books: LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR ONE HAIR COLOR (Now the picture above makes more sense . . . you were working, not wasting time. :D), LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR SENSIBLE SHOES, and LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR LINOLEUM.

Life is too short for sensible shoes

I have loved, loved, loved the response from women. One of my favorite experiences was at a Costco signing and hearing a woman laughing hard from almost the other end of where I sat. When I looked behind me she was at the table of books, reading from mine—woo hoo!

Linoleum-Book-Cover-150x150ME:  What are you working on now, and what do you have planned in the near future? Also, how would you describe your writing process?

CONNIE:  I’m working on finding my writing bag, never mind the time to write (with seven kids including a 15-month-old, and me at the age of 47, it’s a little hard to remember where I or my little one has left it…)

photo of writing space bag(Here’s a picture in case any of you have seen it. A writing space I’ve heard of, but a writing bag?)

I’m working on a romance series involving four old college friends of diverse ages and situations who, at a reunion, and through a life-changing event, challenge each other to achieve a bucket list dream within the year, facing unexpected trouble, defining decisions, and toe-curling romance while in England, Paris, and Italy.

(Sounds terrific! Now I understand the “research” trip to Italy I’d heard you were planning about a month or so ago.)

My writing process is a mix of passion, organization, and timing, and the amount of each depends on the type of book. When I wrote my romance, CARIBBEAN CROSSROADS, I did the full rough in about 60+ hours. LOVED that experience, could see whole scenes in my head and scurried to write them down.

Caribbean Crossroads

With 40 DAYS WITH THE SAVIOR, it was my scripture study for the holiday season that unexpectedly turned into a daily blog post that turned into a book/e-book.

40 Days with the Savior

With FAITHFUL, FIT & FABULOUS, it’s been a love labor of over ten years, living principles and practices, and fine-tuning them to their most practical and easy-to-use versions, then distilling those things down to absolute gems to help women and families live a more fulfilling and focused life.

Faithful Fit & Fabulous

I’m a sort of hybrid personality—a serious organizer but passionate writer, so the two fight a bit to see who needs to win today to get something done.

(That must be a fascinating struggle to watch. Maybe I should have interviewed some of your kids about you. :D I think the organizing wins out, though, based on the two pictures of her “writing boards” that she sent):

photo of writing board 1(I get the different categories, but what’s with the jewelry?)

photo 2

(I think she’s going to need a bigger board)

ME:  With all that you have going on, plus a family of seven kids to care for, you must be a supreme organizer. What are your top three tips for organizing?

CONNIE:  Speaking of organizing…I love being organized but with a big family I’ve had to accept the fact that my garage will never be tidy (muttering under my breath about scout equipment…) And that someone will always leave the garbage lid open just enough for the neighbor dogs to desecrate. And that the laundry will be Taylor Swift never, ever, EVER be done (because even if the counter is clear and the tubs are empty, WE ARE ALL WEARING CLOTHES THAT WILL NEED TO BE WASHED).

Hmm, my three top tips. That’s hard because what worked three months ago doesn’t necessarily work today. But here are few stand-bys:

photo of family boardphoto of family board office1. Family Boards:

We have an active board in the kitchen (See top picture above) with family mission statement (that no one but me remembers), goals (which still have April 2002 on it), important immediate papers and to dos, reading award/food certificates, chore charts, etc. Then a passive board in my office (See bottom picture above) with a picture of the kids and a clipboard underneath for really, really important things that can’t be lost (or if they are, it’s not my fault, because kids didn’t put it on The Board). These boards have saved my bacon so many times.

2. Kids’ Zones:

Each child has a cleaning zone they do for two weeks (they “Deep Clean” once a week then tidy daily, or at least are supposed to). For the Deep Clean it used to take us three hours of nightmare “working together” and bitter tears. But now, they do their zones, bedrooms, and bathrooms in about 30-60 minutes, with minimal tears, and it actually stays clean for an entire day…ish.

(Take note, mothers!)

3. Find Your Rhythm:

I’ve had to stop fighting my family’s messy rhythms and work with them. For example, my hubby likes to drop clothes by the side of his bed, so I just make sure that his side is always the one away from the door and can’t be seen. And we don’t do chores on Saturday—that’s for a project or fun (or both). Instead, we do the Deep Clean on Monday or Tuesday afternoons. Lastly, I allow myself The Abyss—a room, any room, that I can simply stuff boxes and whatnots in when life requires (i.e. speaking at Education Week, cleaning out another room/closet, mother comes to visit, etc.)

(Great advice!)

ME:  Finally, please describe how you’ve organized your workspace and the five items on your desk that are unique to you. (And I must have a picture.)

CONNIE:  I use three “places” as workspaces. (Why am I not surprised?)

1. My hubby’s massage chair that looks out the window for fun writing (so admin stuff doesn’t cloud my mind).

photo of writing space chair(Complete with blanket and pillow)

2.  My “Jane Austen” desk for functional writing like To Dos.

photo of Jane Austen desk(Nice. Jane would approve, I’m sure. Click on it to make it larger for the other answer.)

3. My writing bag, a hideous red bag which makes it easier to find and quick to tote for writing on the go.

photo of writing space bag(Here it is, again. Have you noticed her fondness for the word “hideous”?)

The five unique things on my desk (and thanks to this interview, they are now nicely situated and dusted) are:

1. Picture of my family–to remember who, what, and why I write.

2. Gratitude plaque–a gift from a speaking assignment that reminds me of the daily gift that I get to be a mom of seven AND write/speak/help women and families on the side; that all the talents He gives me are to be used for good.

3. Flowers my mom sent me when I released CARIBBEAN CROSSROADS and it hit number one on the Amazon Fiction Bestseller list. (Congratulations!) Despite a traditional publishing offer, I went with my gut and self-pubbed it. (Yay!!) Reminds me to go with my gut!

4. A statue of the Eiffel Tower–earlier this year I had an unexpected opportunity to travel to Paris, France with my daughter and baby to not only help a friend but to do research for the novel in the works (see above) that is set in, what else, Paris, France. This reminds me to open my mind and heart to dreams, to prepare for them, and to always set my books in exotic locations. I’m now opening my mind to Italy . . . (Hey, I’m still pretty fluent in Italian. Want to take me along?)

5. My Joy Wall–this is a place I put cards, thoughts, and sweet notes from family, friends, and people I’ve met that say very nice things to me. This is for days when people do not say very nice things. (I think most authors can relate.) It reminds me what to focus on. :D

All of Connie’s books, as well as other products, are available on her website, several are also available on Amazon, and you can certainly keep up with her schedule on her website or on Facebook.

I’m interviewing the first of one of my fellow local Barnes & Noble authors next Wednesday. You see, our local store had a “Pacific Northwest Authors Event” last Saturday and I was invited to do signings with over twenty other authors, including M. Ann Rohrer, who’ll be kicking off my Pacific Northwest Writers series of interviews. Many of the rest will follow.

ann-rohrer-author-_mattie(She also happens to be in my local ANWA chapter)

If you’re a published author living in the Pacific Northwest and you haven’t yet been interviewed by me, now is a good time to schedule an interview. Just email me at tanyaparkermills(at)mac(dot)com.

Originally posted 2013-08-28 13:10:10.

Response of Mormon Writers to CFI Controversy

Many of you may be unaware of what occurred recently in the smaller world of LDS Publishing, but I was among those appalled by the recent treatment of fellow writers by a particular publisher and so I put my name to a statement on the issue.

The statement reads as follows:

Mormon Writers Ask for Manuscripts to be Treated on Quality of Work not Content of Biography

In response to recent events and attention in local and national media, we authors, who are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, feel the need to express our disagreement and disappointment with Cedar Fort in their dealings with David Powers King and Michael Jensen in regards to the manuscript, Woven. We appreciate that Cedar Fort has returned the rights to the work in question and want to note that there are many wonderful people working at Cedar Fort–staff members and authors–who strive to carry out their duties with professionalism and courtesy. Nevertheless we wish to offer our support to our fellow authors and feel compelled to speak out.

As writers, many of whom have published with Cedar Fort, we believe everyone should be treated fairly and with respect, regardless of political or religious affiliation, age, gender, or sexual orientation. We believe that degrading attacks are inappropriate in any business or personal relationship. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), we understand our church to teach respect and encourage civility–even when we have differences of opinion.

While publishers have the right to choose what they will and will not publish, we believe books should be accepted or rejected upon the merits of their content, quality, and commercial viability, not on any other factor. If a publisher isn’t comfortable with an author’s personal choices, those concerns should be discussed clearly and respectfully upon signing a contract–not hours before the book goes to press.

We believe that all publishers should be clear and professional in their submission requirements, treat others with dignity and respect, and give all authors the right to be judged on the quality of their work, not the content of their biography.


Braden Bell
Abel Keogh
Rachelle Christensen
Liz Adair
Frank Cole
Jeff Savage
Daron Fraley
Steve Westover
Marilyn Bunderson
Donna K. Weaver
Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen
Matt Peterson
Heather Justensen
Tanya Parker Mills
Jennifer Shaw Wolf
Loralee Evans
Melanie Jacobson
Marion Jensen
Carole Rummage
Josi S. Kilpack
Sarah M. Eden
Jolene Perry
Michael Young
Carole Thayne Warburton
Chantele Sedgwick
Mette Ivie Harrison

I encourage those of my readers who are in agreement to go to the website where the statement has been originally posted and make a comment.

I also encourage those who also happen to be LDS writers in agreement with this statement to email writer(at)abelkeogh(dot)com and ask to have their names added (and linked to their websites, if so desired).


Originally posted 2013-08-23 11:18:19.

Jason Kills Off Cinderella’s Stepmother, Lady Tremaine

I haven’t posted a Jason update in a long while. To catch you all up, he’s finished all his Pathway courses . . . except the dreaded Math. He’ll be taking that one come January. In the meantime, he’s enjoying some freedom, and the only assignment he has these days is to learn how to make his own grilled cheese sandwiches. He’s halfway there and I’ll be posting about that next Friday, complete with pictures.

(Part of the reason we’re not pushing the driving, the math, or the mission right now is that we’re getting ready to list our house and looking into moving to Southern Utah. We want to downsize, be closer to both our families, and give Jason more opportunities to meet other LDS singles. But more about all of that in future posts.)

As I wrote on Monday, to help pass the time while driving down to Salt Lake City (and then on to St. George), I reviewed Agatha Christie’s writing methodology with Jason and proposed we give it a try. He agreed and so, first, we had to come up with a plausible victim who would have enemies.

JASON:  How about Lady Tremaine?

ME:  Who?

JASON:  You know, the stepmother from Disney’s “Cinderella?”

Lady Tremaine

ME:  Oh, yeah. Okay, she’ll do. Now we need to come up with the murder method.

He thought about that for a minute and shrugged. So I prodded his recollection of her fondness for shopping.

ME:  We could kill her off during a shopping trip in town.

JASON:  Huh? How?

ME:  Let’s see . . . since Agatha Christie was into poison, let’s come up with a really sneaky way to poison her while shopping.

JASON:  (No response)

ME:  Okay, how about this? . . . The killer applies an odorless poison to a dress Lady Tremaine has admired before, counting on the fact that she’ll likely try it on. Once she does, the toxic concoction seeps into her skin and 2-3 days later, she’s dead.

JASON:  Cool!

Now that we had the victim and the method all set, we had to determine the killer.

JASON:  It can’t be Cinderella and it can’t be the Prince. That would just be wrong.

Cinderella and the prince

ME:  Okay, who else wouldn’t like Lady Tremaine? Who else would have a motive and yet probably be overlooked by the reader?

JASON:  Maybe Anastasia would work.

ME:  Who?

JASON:  You know, the younger daughter. The one who was sort of kind to Cinderella . . . at least in the sequels.


ME:  That’s good. People probably wouldn’t suspect her because of that. But what would her motive be? Doesn’t she like her mother?

JASON:  Well, in the sequels, we find out that she doesn’t really like her mother’s iron grip on her life and that she just wants to be free to marry for love, not money. So that could be her motive.

ME:  Perfect! Now we need to figure out the motives for all the rest of the characters (not including the animals).

JASON:  Okay. Drizella, the eldest daughter, could have done it because she wants to inherit the family fortune sooner rather than later after her mother dies naturally.


ME:  (Nodding) Good. Go on.

JASON:  Who else is there?

ME:  How about the dress shopkeeper? That’s where the murder takes place. Wouldn’t she naturally be a suspect?

JASON:  I guess, but what would her motive be?

ME:  I know. She could have done it because Lady Tremaine hasn’t been paying her bills on time and the woman is about to lose her shop.

JASON:  Hmm . . . that will do.

Finally, we needed to come up with the right detective to ferret out all the clues, with the help of Cinderella and the Prince, of course. Thinking back on the movie, that left only one possibility. It was apparent to me, but I had to bring Jason around to the realization.

ME:  Okay, Jason, who was the one in the film who went all over the countryside asking questions?

JASON:  Huh?

ME:  You know, he had a glass slipper and . . .

JASON:  Oh, you mean the Grand Duke?

grand duke 2

ME:  Exactly. Even though he’s kind of a bumbling fool, he’s the perfect type to put people off their guard while secretly he’s observing their behavior and asking all kinds of innocent questions.

JASON:  You mean his clumsiness is just an act?

ME:  Precisely. Now all we have to do is sit down and plot it out.

Et voilá. An Agatha Christie-styled murder mystery. Anyone want to write it? (We won’t for fear of being sued by Disney. Although perhaps Jason might give it a go as a piece of fan fiction. I’ll let you know if he does, but I can’t promise to post it here. He keeps his fan fiction private.)

In any case, it was a fun exercise and took a good bit longer in the car than it took you to read about it here. By the way, Jason helped create this post, so give him half the credit, okay?

Originally posted 2013-08-23 06:00:17.

“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.