“Wednesday Writer” – Daron Fraley

Daron has so many interests that it’s hard to know where to begin. While he says his favorite things are teaching and writing (besides his family), he also loves computers, cooking, fishing, camping, music, art, the sciences, and especially religion.

However, I must say that the most impressive thing I read in his bio was that he once fixed a gas clothes dryer using photocopier parts! Talk about a handy, “Renaissance Man.” Let’s delve a bit deeper into this Wyoming-born writer.

Daron Fraley author

ME:  You say you don’t consider yourself a cowboy even though you grew up in Wyoming. Why not? What is a cowboy, anyway, and how are you not that kind of person? (Must have a picture of you as a small boy, with or without cowboy gear.)

DARON:  I’ve known some great cowboys in my time. And most of them are admirable people… good hard-working people. Some of my following descriptions are stereotypes, but true stereotypes nonetheless from my experience growing up in Wyoming.

Cowboys may have:

Boots. Sometimes plain leather work boots, and sometimes the fancy ones made of alligator skin or snake-skin.

A farmer’s tan.

A piece of straw in their teeth that they continually chew on.

A worn-out ring in their back pocket from carrying a can of snuff or chew.

Country music blaring in the cab of their rusted out pickup truck that’s been dented from hitting fence posts and farm equipment.

A bow-legged swagger from spending too many hours herding.

I’ve got none of that. Therefore, I’m not a true cowboy.

Daron_as_a_little_boy(And here’s the little boy picture to prove it. No trace of boots or snuff. Not even a tan.)

ME:  Okay, I’ll buy that. So which came first for you–writing, cooking, or computers? And how old were you when you tried your hand at each? (I’d really like a picture of you engaged in each of these activities…please.)

DARON:  Writing and cooking and computers happened at about the same time. I had my first computer programming class in high school, at the same time that I had creative writing. I discovered that I loved to write. I entered a contest at a community college young authors day, and took 2nd place in my genre. Every summer I worked at the Irma Hotel, there in Cody, Wyoming. First year as a bus-boy, second and third washing dishes, and then I spent my Senior year, spring and summer months as a line-cook. I really enjoyed that!

(You mentioned that you wanted pictures of me writing, cooking, or working on computers. How about one of me fishing! In my hat! In the Henry’s Fork wilderness area below Kings Peak?)

(That will do nicely.)

Daron_fishing

(Hmm…kind of has that cowboy tan, doesn’t he? Too bad we can’t see his back pocket.)

ME:  Did your two years as a missionary in France do more for your writing or your cooking, and how? (I’d love a picture from your mission.)

DARON:  I didn’t do much writing as a missionary. But my fellow Elders loved the fact that I could cook. :D (I’ll bet!)

Daron_missionary(Il était beau, n’est ce pas?)

ME:  Okay, I hate to keep harping about cowboys, but it seems to me that they’re simply rugged independent loner types, and doesn’t that fit with you since you’re taking the independent route to publishing?

DARON:  Sure. You can call me a cowboy author if you want. Not the kind that writes cowboy stories or poetry, but the kind that goes out and does his own thing out of pure stubbornness.

(Ornery, ain’t he?)

ME:  Let’s talk about LDS Indie Authors, a group you had a hand in getting going. What is its purpose and why is it needed? (Full disclosure: I’m a kind of lurking member, afraid to chime in because of my relative inexperience, but grateful for all the tips.)

DARON:  Authors have been excited about all the great opportunities available to them through the many venues of self-publishing for quite a few years now. I’m a member of LDStorymakers, and I started a discussion one day about how best to serve those who would choose to self-publish. The focus of Storymakers as an authors guild has been to assist writers on their path to publication with either publishing agents or directly with the editors of publishing houses, and then help them with all things pertaining to traditional publishing, including understanding contracts.

As a group, they felt there are enough differences between the publishing methods that a new group would better serve the need of self-publishing authors. Rachel Nunes was part of that discussion, and so when Liz Adair suggested we just do a new group, Rachel took the bull by the horns (note the cowboy motif) (Atta boy!), and started the list. I joined right away.

Why is it needed? Self-publishing is here to stay. And having been published both traditionally, and by self-publishing, I can attest to the fact that in many ways the processes are very different.

Authors want to produce a quality product. If you don’t have a publishing house with content editors, line editors, typesetters, cover designers, marketing professionals, etc., then you have to do all of that work on your own… preferably by acting more as a general contractor, and hiring experienced free-lancers to help you in the areas where you either don’t have the skills, or where it wouldn’t be wise to do it on your own. EVERYBODY needs an editor.

(AMEN! My dad didn’t believe it and asked me to do a post-publication edit of his latest self-published book. After he saw all the marks in the first five chapters, he saw the light.)

LDS Indie Authors provides a forum for authors to help each other to produce the best self-published product possible.

(And it’s well worth it!)

ME:  What changes do you think the Publishing Industry will go through in the next five years?

DARON:  Traditional publishing will probably shrink and consolidate, but it won’t disappear. They will start to offer other ways to publish with them… in fact, some already have made that change. And it’s looking like self-publishing is the new slush-pile. Great stories that make a splash with readers are getting noticed by traditional publishing houses. I look for that trend to increase.

Other than that, I really wish that ebook formats would become more standardized. It would be great if we could produce just one format and have every ebook reader be able to use it. But it probably won’t happen. Besides, a little competition between device manufacturers is a good thing. It keeps them at the top of their game.

ME:  What led you to become an author and why do you write religious science fiction and fantasy? What are you working on now?

DARON:  I felt driven to write. I don’t know how else to explain it. And as far as why I write religious speculative fiction… it’s because I want to write stories that have the ability to inspire. Many genres can do that, but I have the flexibility to talk about God and miracles if I wish.

To be very frank, I believe the stories in the scriptures. Even the fantastic stories from the Old Testament. I believe they really happened. I believe we live in a day when we will see those kinds of miracles again. I hope my stories will help readers to see that the scriptures are full of truth.

(Uh-oh…He forgot to tell us what he’s working on now. Or maybe it’s a secret.)

ME:  Tell us about your writing space (and please provide a picture) in the voice of Pekah from your first book, THE THORN: Book 1 of The Chronicles of Gan.

Thorn_front-cover_medium-200x300DARON: (as Pekah)

My desk is simple, and far too cluttered for my tastes. But I have other pressing matters to attend to, so the cleaning will have to wait for another day. I do have a second sheet of… I will call it light-paper… that is similar to my glow-stone, except that it has words written upon it. Like the light-paper which allows me to write my stories, the second larger one permits me to research the histories of ancient peoples so that I might use their legends to bring my tales to life. Course’ I also got me some Jack Link’s Beef Jerky right handy, in case I get a hungered. (Sorry… Cowboy Joe slipped in there.)

(LOVE IT!)

Daron_workdesk

(Ah, the light-paper…in two sizes! I spy the jerky, too.)

ME:  Tell us about your writing journey so far and what it’s taught you about the world and about yourself.

DARON:  My writing journey has been hard at times. My first publishing experience was not a very pleasant one. But I made some great friends, and gained some ardent supporters. They kept me going when I wanted to throw in the towel. That experience was invaluable in showing me the ropes of what editing, typesetting, design, printing, distribution, marketing, etc. was all about.

Over the past several years I have come to realize that the world needs books. Stories are powerful. They change lives. They educate. They cause people to have hope, to have their own dreams, and to work hard for things they believe in. I have also discovered that the scriptures are stories. Beautiful stories of how a loving God interacts with his children. Stories of people overcoming huge obstacles and finding happiness in this life.

I want my story to be like that. I hope the same for everyone.

One last thing… I included a bonus picture. And I’m not telling you what this is… You’ll have to read THIRTY-SIX. :D

(The mark of a true independent writer…always marketing! I’ve got your book, Daron, and promise to read it after I’m done with prior commitments. After all, I need to understand all the pictures I post here.)

Thirty-Six_bonus_picture(Curious bonus picture…click on pic for larger view.)

Okay, now that he’s hooked us all, you might want to check out Daron’s official website, or, better yet, his Thirty-Six website for more information on the series. Here’s a quick synopsis of the story in book 1:

When Aaron Cohen buys a souvenir from an antiques store in Lyon, France, and then sees the police raid the store right after he leaves, he has no idea that this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Back home in Chicago, Aaron is stalked by an old man from the antiques store. Mandie, a single mother in his apartment complex, has asked that they just be friends, but Aaron can’t help developing strong feelings for her, especially now that she is being harassed by her abusive ex-husband. And in the midst of all his emotional turmoil, the souvenir he purchased turns out to be an ancient holy relic that triggers shared dreams and prophetic visions.

A mysterious dream shared with a jewel smuggler whose arrest makes the nightly news. A nightmare of horrifying tornadoes shared with Ethan, Mandie’s eight-year-old son. A dream shared with Mandie that shows Aaron her true feelings for him.

And visions . . .

Visions of historical events, centuries in the past. Visions of the Lamed Vovniks. Visions of dangerous possibilities to come.

And if Aaron doesn’t get to her in time, Mandie will die.

Intriguing, eh?

Come back next week for my interview with C. Michelle Jefferies!

C Michelle Jefferies author pic2

Originally posted 2013-01-02 06:00:12.

“Wednesday Writer” – J. Scott Savage

Jeff Savage, aka J. Scott Savage (he had to adjust his pen name because there was already an author with his same name), has always reminded me of Steven King. Without glasses in this picture.

J. Scott Savage

Sure, there’s kind of a physical resemblance, but it’s more than that. I think it’s his work ethic. He’s a writer through and through, and his writer’s brain never really clicks off. Why just last week, he had a flash of inspiration for a new YA novel and he got right to work on it. This, even though he’s already working to finish the FARWORLD fantasy series for Shadow Mountain Press, diving deeper into his new CASE FILE 13 middle grade series for HarperCollins, AND getting set for his first adult horror novel to release in January.

Yes, this is a mind that’s always churning. And the best part is . . . he’s so willing and ready to share that mind and his time with his fellow writers (even if it’s only to get them into a midnight showing of “The Avengers” on the eve of a writers conference). :D

Seriously, no one can say Jeff’s opinion on anything to do with writing or getting published doesn’t matter. But was he always that way? Let’s find out!

ME:  When you were a kid, were you as gross as some of these boys you write about? I mean, little fingers falling off into a bowl of mashed potatoes? DISGUSTING! Seriously, what was the grossest thing you ever did?

JEFF:  Is there any little kid that isn’t disgusting? I definitely was. We did things that made my mom crazy. Like the time I was starting first grade and my parents took us to see the school. They turned around and my little brother and I had picked up cigarette butts off the ground and were walking around with them between our lips. (Okay, move over James Dean…here’s a true rebel without a cause.)

Grandma and Grandpa's 50th 430(Quick, while they’re not looking, pick up the cigarette butts!)

Or the time we found a dead parakeet and decided to give it a burial. (Nice, right?) (So far…)

Then we thought how cool it would be to see what the bird looked like after being buried for a few days. So we tied a string around its neck before burying it. We pulled the string after a week and the noose came up with no bird attached. (Not quite so nice.)

(True, but a whole lot better than I thought you were going for . . . Still, I can see where the whole zombie middle grade series had its start.)

ME:  So in CASE FILE 13: ZOMBIE KID, why did you make Angelo wear glasses if Nick was most like you? Do you have issues with glasses or something? I mean, come on . . . Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, some seriously cool people (including me) wear glasses!

JEFF:  Okay, so funny you should ask. I not only wore the thick, black nerd glasses that for some reason I can’t fathom are cool now, I got an eye patch to go with them. It wasn’t even the cool pirate eye patch either. Part of the reason I gave Angelo glasses was because he is the brains of the group. He always has his head in a book. And as a person who wears glasses, aren’t we just a little bit smarter than everyone else? :D (Okay, I won’t argue with that.)

jeff 3Too cool for puppies

jeff 1Cool and slightly toothless

ME:  Which of all your books was your mom most proud of and why? Also, which parent had the greatest influence on your writing?

scan0448

JEFF:  My mom loved everything I wrote. After she passed away, I discovered poems and stories I couldn’t even remember writing. In fact, I was reading chapters from my latest WIP to her the day before she died. One of the hardest things for me about having her gone is not being able to share my stores with her. She was a great editor and my biggest cheerleader. (And I’m sure she still is.)

I think I’m a pretty even mix between my mom and dad when it comes to writing. Both of them loved to laugh, and nothing makes me happier than making someone laugh. My mom was very creative, and my dad was very adventurous, which led to some pretty funny stories, like the time he bought her a live monkey as a present and it turned out to be completely wild. (My husband LOVES monkeys, but I’m not as adventurous as your dad.)

ME:  Of all the parts of the writing process–idea germination, outlining (if you do that sort of thing), research, drafting, revision, and editing–which is your favorite and why?

JEFF:  I typically brainstorm enough to know the beginning and ending of my stories. Of course the ending might be as simple as they end up in the realm of the Zombie King and have to destroy him. Then I leap straight into writing. As I move through the story, I begin researching things that flesh out where the story goes. For example, when I learned about voodoo charms called gris-gris, I wove those into the story of the zombie amulet. When I researched zombies, I discovered bokors. My two favorite times are the very beginning when the story is fresh and somewhat unknown, and the end where it’s all about creating the exciting climax and you can’t type fast enough. (Yes! Now excuse me for a second while I look up a couple of new words.)

ME:  How many different projects are currently in process, what are they, and how on earth do you keep so many going concurrently? I thought women were the only ones who could multi-task. Give it up . . . are you a woman? (I must have a picture of you trying to display ALL your books . . . hope your hands are big enough. Of course, that would prove you’re not a woman.)

JEFF:  Well, I am pretty fond of Bed, Bath, and Beyond, so . . .

I think I was born to multitask. Right at this moment, I am answering these questions, checking in with my FARWORLD publisher, hiring an artist to do some website work, and scheduling lunch with my daughter. (“Father of the year” material, too!) That’s just the way my mind works.

Farworld_Air Keep Bk3

Writing is the same way for me. I am finishing book three in the Harper series, writing different POV chapters in the fourth FARWORLD book, and brainstorming YA ideas with my agent. When my wife asks me what I am thinking about, it can take twenty minutes to tell her everything. She’s learned not to ask. :D 

(Hmm . . . no picture. I guess we’ll have to take his wife’s word for it.)

ME:  What was the best “fishing” story you told back when you were fourteen (and had the brain of someone whose hero would be called Captain Weenie)? I don’t believe you can’t remember a single one. If you can’t, make up one now . . . please.

JEFF:  People ask me all the time when I knew I wanted to be an author. And the truth is, not until I was probably in my thirties. But looking back, I realize I was always telling stories. My cousins and I loved fishing. So when the fish weren’t biting, I made up stories. Captain Weenie was the hero and he was always trying to catch his arch rival, The Little Purple Man. Again, being a boy, there was always a river full of piranhas or alligators, a waterfall that dropped into spinning razor blades, and a great deal of potty humor.

jeff 2Captain Weenie about to cross a river full of alligators AND piranha!

ME:  What was the name of your underground paper that you published in high school and what was the most scandalous story you attempted to print? Did you ever get in trouble for it?

JEFF:  It was called Asylum. We never really got in trouble. Most of our stories were satire on local school events. You know, like significant testing has proven that the new chain link fences around the school will not withstand a nuclear attack, Pervert club has most student signups, that kind of thing. We actually were interviewed by the school newspaper in a K-Mart cafeteria. Good times!

ME:  On a more serious note, please describe your writing space in the voice of one of your favorite characters (your choice). Also, please send a picture that I can post.

JEFF:  Well, since Nick, Angelo, and Carter were there most recently, I’ll let them tell you.

“Dude, he’s got like a gazillion books in here,” Carter said, picking up a box of Cheez-Its and shaking the package to see if there were any left.

Nick examined the room. What little of the walls which were visible behind the many bookcases was painted a deep sky blue. Dragons, swords, and a variety of antique cameras covered most of the open space, and a map was tacked to a large bulletin board. He stood on his tiptoes to peek inside a miniature red restaurant called the Burger Barn. “I think this is from his first Farworld book.”

office 1

Angelo was busy flipping through the nonfiction books which ranged from an encyclopedia of Demons, to a book about body snatchers, to a thick treatise on Haitian voodoo. “I admire his reading material. But I don’t think I’d want to be a guest in his house over the holidays.”

office 2

“Are you kidding?” Carter asked, plopping into a plush leather recliner that looked like it got a lot of use. He dumped a dozen crackers into his mouth and popped open a cold diet Coke.  “I feel right at home.” 

(And so do we. Thanks!)

ME:  What are some of the biggest differences between working with a big publisher like HarperCollins and a smaller LDS publisher like Covenant or Shadow Mountain, and what was the most embarrassing thing you did that revealed one of those differences to you?

JEFF:  Mostly it’s about resources and time allocation. A smaller publisher may have a single editor working on fifty projects per quarter. While a big six editor might work on twenty to twenty-five per year. You just can’t put as much time into a book that might sell 3,000 copies as one that sells 30,000.

Another issue is contracts. Big six publishers working with experienced agents aren’t generally going to throw anything too egregious in their contracts. Smaller publishers are a lot more afraid of losing an author, so they often have more clauses you have to watch out for.

Then there’s marketing. Brandon Mull said it best: “A small publisher can do nothing for you, and a big publisher can do nothing for you. A small publisher can do a lot for you, and a big publisher can do a lot. The difference is that when a big publisher decides to do a lot, there’s more they can do.”

Covenant is my smallest, Harper is the biggest, and Shadow Mountain is in between. All of them have done things I loved, and all of them have done things I didn’t love as much. But all my editors have been amazing.

(Spoken like a true diplomat. And notice he didn’t own up to anything embarrassing? President Obama, I present your next Secretary of State!)

ME:  Finally, where do you see Publishing as an industry five years from now? Any changes and, if so, what?

JEFF:  No question there will be changes. People think e-books are the biggest change to hit publishing. But paperbacks were at least as big of a shakeup at the time. I believe some of the biggest changes are going to come in the way we find and access our books. More tools to let you enter the books you like and get suggestions on what you might like. More tools to let you share your thoughts with friends. That kind of thing. And technology will give you more options with how and where you read. (I’m visualizing a built-in iPad in the bathroom wall, 2-3 times the regular size. Now he’s even got me doing potty humor!)

Where I differ from some people is that I don’t expect publishers to go away. They are more adaptable than many people think. And a good publisher does so much more than just designing a cover and doing edits. With my CASE FILE 13 series, we went through probably a dozen series titles, looking for one that fit what we felt set the stories apart. The artwork, from the cover to the chapter pictures (which change as the book progresses), to the custom chapter fonts, to the little zombie horde on the bottom of the pages. My editor and I really worked on every aspect of the story from the narrator intro, to the future characters, to the POV for this and future books.

Case File 13 cover

The basic story is the same. But the level of professionalism increased unbelievably. I would be devastated if that all went away. Of course, not all publishers provide these kinds of services, and many people do create great stories without a publisher. But I don’t see publishers disappearing.

(Nor do I.)

If you want to learn more about Jeff and his work, check out his blog. He also has links there to purchase sites for his books.

And what about you? Where do you see Publishing in five years?

I’m taking the day after Christmas off, but don’t miss my next interview with Daron Fraley on Wednesday, January 2nd!

 Daron Fraley author

 

Originally posted 2012-12-19 06:00:10.

“Wednesday Writer” – David R. Smith

As part of a book tour launching David R. Smith’s first novel, THE DARK EAGLES: FIRST FLIGHT, one lucky reader who comments on the interview below will receive a free, autographed copy of his book. So keep reading and get ready to respond!

First, a bit about the book:

“The book was wonderfully written. It is a book for all ages and gender. Boys may like that it is from a young man’s point of view with all the adventure. I enjoyed the character development and the friendships formed from the adversity they faced.”

The Book Rack, Arcadia, CA

The Dark Eagles:First Flight
A Tale of Adventure and Freedom

Kief loves exploring the rugged mountains on his horse, Natch, with his
best friend Tarc.  But when he receives a mysterious map on his birthday,
left behind for him by his dead grandfather, Kief is thrown into an
adventure beyond even his imagination.

Leaving home to pursue his childhood dream of attending the merchant
academy on the coast, extraordinary events unfold propelling Kief, along
with his friends and his map, toward the same perilous destiny.

“Author David R. Smith does a fine job with his dialogue, which flows smoothly and wittily throughout. His interactions between characters are genuine, and the portrayals of his young female characters in particular are refreshing.”

The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, UT

 

And now for a bit about the author. (This will be two weeks in a row that I feature a writer who loves horses. :D)

David grew up spending a lot of time on a farm in Heber City, Utah and so he came by his love for both horses and the mountains quite naturally. As a youth, he thought he wanted to direct movies, but after a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s in business administration, he ended up in the corporate world. We all know you can’t keep a writer completely happy in that environment. Before long, the itch to let his mind create grew too powerful, so he set off to follow his dream (with the support of his wife and children).

Now, let’s really get to know him.

ME:  What was the most memorable adventure you had while exploring the Wasatch Mountains on your horse and how old were you? (I’d really appreciate a picture of you as a boy on your horse.)

DAVID:  When I was 12 years old, I had just finished reading The Ash Staff by Paul Fisher. My friend and I loved that story. One day after school, we saddled our horses and with our homemade swords (metal pipes smashed flat with a hammer on an anvil) we set off to explore the oak brush forests at the base of the mountains. We galloped through the narrow passes, darting around them, fighting off imaginary goblins and monsters.

(Okay, he looks a little older than 12 here, but use your imagination)

At one point, we came upon a group of deer that scattered deeper in the forest. Had we had bows, we were sure we could have killed our own dinner. We continued exploring at a walking pace to give our horses and us a rest. Then we darted off again.

I was in the lead and as I came around a bend there was a massive anthill. My horse was spooked and jumped sharply to the left to avoid the mound. My body, on the other hand, continued in its straight course and landed directly on top of the anthill.

(Smart horse, eh?)

I rolled off and sprang to my feet, brushing the red ants from my arms and clothes. I felt myself a true warrior since I had skillfully avoided receiving a single ant bite. My friend laughed so hard he almost fell off his horse. For us, it had been a grand adventure.

ME:  What made you want to be a movie director growing up? And what was your most ambitious movie project?

DAVID:  As a kid, I saw Star Wars 17 times. And that wasn’t on video, it was in the movie theatre. (Serious cash for a kid! No wonder he went for an MBA.) And I think I came close to that number with The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those two movies had a huge impact on my childhood. (Not to mention your wallet!)

I wanted to be like Lucas and Spielberg and top what they had done. I saved my money (okay, I’m not going to make the obvious comment here) and bought a Super 8 movie camera. I filmed a number of very short pieces and then set out to make my first full-length (4 minute) Super 8 movie (a roll of film had just over 4 minutes on it).

We opted for a cowboy movie since we had all the props. It was the typical outlaws-robbing-the-bank-and-the-sheriff-finding-their-secret-camp-to-get-it-back movie. All the outlaws died, complete with bloody ketchup bags and one outlaw rolling six times across level ground until his bag of ketchup broke for the zoom-in blood frame.

I remember one scene where I told my younger brother, “Okay, you are dead. You can’t move in the background on this next scene.” He told me okay. As soon as I started to roll the film, he stood up in the background, dusted off his hat, and walked off, completely forgetting what I had said. (I don’t know…it may have been intentional. After all, he was a younger brother, right? A perfect opportunity to get you back for all those times you must have lorded it over him. :D)

The movie ended with a panning of all the dead bad guys lined up like a Clint Eastwood movie. One of my friends couldn’t hold it in and had a big ole grin on his face. With no editing tools and no ability to re-shoot (I had used up my only roll of film), that would have to do.

(I hope you kept it to show your kids.)

ME:  How have your early experiences with movie-making and your later studies in engineering, physics, and business administration prepared you to be a writer?

DAVID:  Movie-making helped develop my natural creativity at a young age. Whether it was a movie I actually shot or one I planned for, I developed my ability to visualize and tell a story. Even now that I’m 43 years old, I still see scenes in my head from which I write my stories. I see pictures and then put them into words. I sometimes wish I had started writing books at an earlier age. But my engineering background and experience in the business world with people and relationships has given me a great perspective and insight that I have pulled from in my writing. My basic understanding of planetary motion came from my physics courses, which I used to create the world of Fundautum. I wanted the world to be as realistic as possible. There is something about making fantasy believable that adds to the appeal of it. Tolkien created a history and language, Rowling connected her wizard world to that of humans in England. By making it relatable it becomes more believable, even with fantasy. We want to increase our chances of going there, being a part of it. That is what I’ve tried to do, create a new world but one that readers can feel a partial connection to.

ME:  Where and when do you do your best writing, and why do you think that is so? (Please share a picture of your writing space.)

DAVID:  I have so often heard of writer’s block. It is something that I have never yet experienced. My imagination goes so fast that the problem I usually have is getting all that is in my head down on the paper. I can write anywhere. I have no problem blocking out the world.

 

(Yep, this is definitely a first for a writer’s space.)

I ride a motorcycle 140 miles roundtrip to work through northern Los Angeles. I come up with many scenes as I ride. Then, when I get to work early, I will spend time writing or I will stay up late in the evenings. Saturday mornings and holidays are especially great as everyone usually sleeps in and I have a few hours to focus. My wife often drives on longer road trips and I get a lot of writing done then as well. With lovely California weather, I enjoy writing outside on our back patio whenever I can.

ME:  I left Southern California partly to get away from the traffic, the overbuilding. Are you ever tempted to move back to Heber City, Utah? Or does some other locale seem tempting?

DAVID:  Once the mountains are in your blood, it’s hard to get them out. I’ve thought many times about moving back to Utah or Idaho or Colorado. But I was fortunate four years ago to find a small town called Newbury Park about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. It borders the Santa Monica Mountains that run along the coast. The highest peak is around 3,500 feet, which is small compared to Utah mountains, but considering it drops to sea level in a few miles, they aren’t just hills. And then I drive 20 minutes through open farm fields to get to a rugged, secluded beach where I surf until sunset with my boys while my wife walks our dog, Alex, on the beach. It’s hard to beat!

(You’ve convinced me! Click on the picture to get a much bigger view.)

ME:  I’m curious about the title of your series, THE DARK EAGLES. Why that title, and how does it relate to the theme of your series?

DAVID:  A dark eagle is a special bird that is central to the story. I hate to give away anything, so I will leave it at that. (Hmmm…we’re going to have to read the book.)

ME:  Okay, let’s say we put two authors who have influenced you–Robert Louis Stevenson and Suzanne Collins–smack in the middle of the Hunger Games. Who would get out alive and why?

DAVID:  Ha ha, that’s an easy one. (Oh, really?) It would be Robert. He knows about fighting treacherous pirates while Suzanne knows about fighting teenagers. (Haven’t faced any treacherous teenagers, have you?) Not to mention Katniss never really grew from her experience. She ended the series not any more selfless than she was at the beginning. Jim Hawkins, on the other hand, risked his life for the crew. He had true grit. (Okay, this answer alone should get the comments piling up.)

ME:  Do you prefer outlining a story first or writing by the seat of your pants? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of both?

DAVID:  I definitely write by the seat of my pants or, as Indiana Jones said, “I’m making this up as I go.” I did spend a lot of time (years) working out the overarching plot in my head, as well as all the connections and history behind the whole story. (It must have taken quite a few motorcycle rides!) But with that as the structure, I just sit down and write. I’m always amazed when my characters do something unexpected, or when something works out perfectly with the overall plan. It’s awesome. (I know exactly what you mean.)

ME:  What are you working on now and can you give us a peek into the story?

DAVID:  I’m almost finished with the next novel in THE DARK EAGLE series. In THE DARK EAGLES – WELLS IN DESOLATION,” Kief’s adventures take him across the seas to hostile and desolate lands filled with death and despair. Driven on by revenge and the raw will to survive, he encounters new friends that help him along his journey and reveal secrets about the past and his destiny. But a shocking truth threatens to doom the fate of the The Dark Eagles forever. (Pretty good peek.)

ME:  Finally, do you ever see yourself going beyond fantasy into other genres? If so, which ones?

DAVID:  Not at this point. I love fantasy and the escape from, as well as the inspiration to, real life that it can provide. Like Frodo walking up Mount Doom, fantasy can encourage us to push forward in our personal lives regardless of what challenges we face. It strengthens us and gives us hope through the characters and events they experience. Nothing seems to inspire us more than a great story!

Now don’t forget to leave a comment here if you want a chance to win a copy of David’s book!

You can learn more about David and his writing on his website, which features a rather cool interactive map to his imaginary world. If you want to buy his book, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

And come back next Wednesday when I interview the inimitable J. Scott Savage, the author of a new zombie middle grade series from HarperCollins!

   

 

Originally posted 2012-12-12 06:00:00.

Jason’s Thoughts on His First Pathway Class

This Life Skills course even helped to prep my son for his first final exam…which happens to be on this same course. He had to complete a Study Guide in two parts. The first part was a sample test, posing multiple choice questions on everything they covered. The second part consisted of three essay questions.

As I read over his responses, I thought they provided a good gauge of where his thinking now lies in terms of entering into adulthood. With his permission, I’m sharing them here:

1. What are your motivations for attending college and what do you hope to achieve by continuing your education?

My motivations for attending college are a desire to complete my education, a goal to get a decent job so I can support my future family, and I also want to learn how to use my talents in order to better serve my community. By continuing my education, I hope to achieve independence and a better sense of who I am.

2. In a well-written paragraph, explain what it means to lead with a small “L.”

I think leading with a small “L” means that you don’t strive to be in charge of everyone. Rather, you try to serve those who need your influence. Although my Chamber Choir friends voted me as “Most Influential Choir Member,” I was touched that they noticed my desire to make choir class a fun experience for everyone. Many Church leaders engage in service projects because they want to help someone in need, and that’s kind of like leading with a small “L” because they don’t want to be admired. They want to serve.

3. What three things from this course had the most meaning to you and how have those items impacted your life?

The three lessons that meant the most to me during this semester were those involving BYU-Idaho’s mission to develop disciple-leaders, career exploration and academic planning, and the setting and achievement of goals. 

I came to understand for the first time that college is about more than job preparation. At BYU-Idaho, students gradually become both better disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their fields, as well as in His kingdom. As we learn, always with our eyes turned to the scriptures, and put into practice the gospel principles studied, we cannot help but grow closer to the Holy Ghost and thus be influenced by it. In this way, we will become stronger followers of Jesus Christ. We will also benefit from the Spirit’s tutoring in our academic classes, and thus be better students. This will prepare us to lead once we leave the university. We will lead in our chosen professions, and we will lead as we are called to service in the Church. 

Before I took this class, I really had no idea what career I should pursue. And so the lesson on career exploration was extremely helpful in guiding me toward Library Science. I knew I loved books, but I wasn’t sure what jobs were available around books until I took the different assessment tests. Now I know I want to be either a librarian or an assistant librarian, and I know what courses I need to take to prepare for that field. 

Finally, the challenge to set a particular goal became meaningful in my life because it caused me to begin something I had never tried before. I had been, up until now, fairly sedentary. Not liking sports (except for swimming), I spent a good deal of time sitting in front of my computer or the TV, or reading. I decided it was time to get physical and I began an exercise regimen that continues today. This has caused me to feel stronger than before and a lot more fit. I think this will have a lasting impact on my health, and thus my life.

Let me just add that I think so, too!

Originally posted 2012-12-07 13:59:35.

“Wednesday Writer” – Kelly Nelson

I have yet to meet Kelly Nelson face to face, even though we share the same publisher, Walnut Springs, and she lives in my general neck of the woods–the Great Northwest. Still, I can’t wait for an opportunity to do a book signing together (hint, hint, Amy) because she certainly seems to have a way with in-person sales! While she’s only published one novel so far, I expect a lot more to follow because it’s the first in a series, The Keeper’s Saga! In fact, the sequel to THE KEEPER’S CALLING is due out in January. She lives on a large horse property with her husband and four children.

ME:  How did you come to love horses and do they ever figure into your writing? (Also, I must have a picture of you riding.)

KELLY:  I think I was born with the “horse gene.” There is an audiotape of my dad interviewing me when I was 3 years old and he says, “What do you love?” My answer: “Horses.” One of my first toys was a spring-style rocking horse purchased from a garage sale. I remember playing with that until I was at least 10 years old.

Wasn’t she a cutie? How many of us had one of these?

Every book I have ever written has horses in it. I figure life would be pretty boring without them, so my books must need to have them, as well.

ME:  What was the most life-changing event of your childhood or adolescence, and could you describe how it affected you?

KELLY:  Getting my first horse was definitely the most life-changing. Being desperate for a horse, I jumped at the chance to have any one I could get my hands on. The first horse my dad and I looked at was Misty, a thoroughbred off the racetrack. I think he liked the fact that she was fast, or maybe he was already tired of looking. (My vote’s the former.) Anyway, we bought her, and I had to learn to cowboy up or that horse would run right over me. Out of necessity, I overcame my natural shyness and developed self-confidence. (So that’s what I need to excel at Costco Signings? A fast horse? Hmm…not sure my back could take it.) The challenges I faced as a result of my horses have definitely shaped me into the person I am today.

There’s my promised riding picture! Kelly on Misty.

ME:  How old were you when you wrote your first story that wasn’t an assignment? Do you still have it and can you summarize it for us? (A picture of you at that age would also be nice.)

KELLY:  The first story I remember writing was called Cassandra. I wrote it when I was fifteen and a freshman in high school. It was the beginning of a novel about a princess caught in the crossfire of two kingdoms battling to settle a boundary dispute. And of course there is a knight in shining armor and a peasant boy she can’t help but fall in love with. I hadn’t plotted it out, so the story fizzled after about thirty pages. And yes, I still have those old sheets of notebook paper stuffed in some obscure box in my closet.

Check out that relic she’s typing on! Do you remember the green letters? But, hey, I’m impressed…she’s all set up and organized to be a writer at 15!

ME:  Okay, I married an accountant. He’s a terrific organist, too, but hardly has a creative bone in his body (except for the lovely poems he wrote while courting me)…so how did you go from being “an avid reader” with “a passion for creative writing” to a numbers cruncher? And what made you return to your real love?

KELLY:  My first passion has always been the horses. As a teenager, I recognized horses are an expensive hobby and I didn’t want the lack of money to prevent me from following my dreams. My dad was a CPA and professor of accounting at BYU, so it seemed natural to follow in his footsteps. Accounting concepts came easy for me and it was a field with a lot of job opportunities. Plus, it helped having a built-in tutor in the family.

It wasn’t until my youngest daughter went to school that I longed to pursue my writing dream. It started as a New Year’s resolution–see if I could actually write 80,000 words, have them make sense, and be a story someone would want to read. Three years later I was published, but let me tell you, they were long, hard years. (I think many of us can identify with that last bit. :D)

ME:  What are some of the main differences between the residents of Orem, Utah, where you were raised, and Cornelius, Oregon, where you now live? And which community do you pull from more for characters in your fiction?

KELLY:  Orem is a city environment and where I live now is very rural. When I was growing up, Orem had a high percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Where I live now, there is a wider variety of people in terms of their faith and their values. I have now lived in Oregon longer than I lived in Utah, so I am more familiar with the Oregon setting and use that more often in my writing.

ME:  How is it that you came to travel to such distant lands as England, France, Egypt, Israel, and the West Indies? (I’m guessing a Jerusalem Study Abroad took you to Egypt and Israel…but the West Indies?) Also, I’d love a picture of you in front of the Pyramids. You must have taken one, because everyone does.

KELLY:  You are right about the study abroad thing (Yes!), but I actually did the London study abroad during college. (Oh…okay, only half right. I did London, too, by the way.) At the end of our time in Great Britain, we spent 5 days in France, and two weeks touring Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. It was our director’s last year coordinating the summer semester, London study abroad and his youngest daughter was one of the students, so I think he went all out to make it an unforgettable experience. (I’ll say!) One of the perks of my husband’s job is the occasional reward trip. Because of that, we have traveled to fancy resorts in the West Indies, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Hawaii. (Nice!)

The obligatory pyramid pose

ME:  What gave you the idea for your first book, THE KEEPER’S CALLING, and what process did you follow to write it? Also, what are you working on now?

KELLY:  I have always been fascinated with time travel and knew I wanted to incorporate that into my novel. The events comprising the first three chapters came to mind while on a hike in Zion National Part in southern Utah. I saw several indentations in the sandstone walls and thought to myself, “What if those were caves? What if you found something buried in there that took you back in time?”

I decided on a male, high school senior for my main character and then thought, “Oh, what if he met a girl back there?” And the rest is history, or rather The Keeper’s Saga(Hmm…I think I’ll bump this up on my reading list.)

I am currently editing the third book in my Keeper’s Saga trilogy and contemplating a companion book that tells Garrick the Guardian’s story.

ME:  We’ve got to get a look at your writing space. Please provide a picture and tell us what knick-knack on your desk means the most to you and why.

KELLY:  You’ll laugh for sure. I don’t have a desk. (What? What happened to that super-organized 15-year-old?) Sitting at one tends to make my legs and back ache. I do have an incredible oak sleigh bed with a perfectly curved headboard. One laptop, a few pillows stacked behind me, and my memory foam mattress have provided all I really needed in the way of creative space.

She wasn’t kidding.

I frequently tote my laptop around to my kids’ sporting activities, piano lessons, swim lessons, etc. I am willing to write anytime, any place. I was addicted to it when I was writing The Keeper’s Saga. It was like reading a good book–I couldn’t put it down.

ME:  Finally, it has long been apparent to me that you are the “Costco Queen.” What are your secrets to a successful Costco Signing (beyond the self-confidence built up by Misty), and what was the strangest encounter you’ve had yet?

KELLY:  First of all, strangest encounter: The man and his friend who were buying a huge cart full of beer, Gatorade, chips, and other snacks for the weekend Cycle Oregon event. He had me sign a book for his 16-year-old daughter, then wanted a picture of me with him. When I stood up for the picture, he ran his eyes down me and said, “You’re a tall drink of water.” (I am 5’9″ and I was wearing heels.) I had no idea what to say to that. As if I wasn’t there, he started saying to his friend, “We should take her with us. Wouldn’t it be fun if she came with us?” This guy talked non-stop and it was hard to get a word in edgewise. Luckily, I was able to hurry them on their way and I never heard from him again. (Okay, regardless of the sleazy come-on, do you see now why I want to do a signing with Kelly? She’s hard to resist, so even if you don’t sell a lot, you’re sure to have a fun time watching her shoot down all these men…with grace, of course.) 

Hmm, Costco sales strategy: I don’t know that I have any special secrets, but I dress professionally and wear my lucky lipstick, :D …plus, I feel like the premise to my book is appealing to a wide variety of readers. If you’re interested, here is the long version of what has worked for me.

First of all, I’ve noticed there are a lot of people who don’t realize what I am doing there. You would think it is pretty obvious, but I have had so many people ask me for clarification. Even after introducing myself as either a “local author signing books today” or in Utah, I say, “I’m from Oregon and I’m in town signing books today,” they will still ask, “You wrote this book?” or “Will you sign it for me if I buy it?” I figured this out on my second book signing in Oregon. A lot of people assume we are Costco employees, so I think it is important to make sure they know who I am and why I’m there.

To get people to pause long enough for me to tell them this, I say, “Would you like a bookmark?” The negative of this is that you can burn through a lot of bookmarks. (If you buy in bulk, like 4,000, they are around $.02 each.) I used to hold the bookmark out to them as I asked, but then I realized that I was making it easier for them to take it than to say no, and I was probably giving bookmarks to people to whom I had no chance of selling a book. Now I ask people without actually holding the bookmark out. If they are interested, they have to walk over, but if not, it is easier for them to turn me down than to take the bookmark.

You can kind of tell when someone is interested by the longing look in their eyes or their body language. Sometimes I hold out the book and say, “You can take a look at it, if you’d like.” I’m always surprised at how many people will take it and say, “Thank you,” like I just did something really nice for them. Getting the book in their hands is always a step in the right direction. If they linger after I introduce myself and look a little interested, I will just keep talking. I flip the book over and point to the counter on the back and say, “It’s about a high school senior who finds this gold device buried in a cave on a summer camping trip in Zion’s. He touches one of the buttons inside and it takes him back to 1863. Of course, he has NO idea what has happened to him. He rescues a girl back there and saves her life. It was her grandfather who buried the counter, so as long as he’s alive it will only work for him. And of course there are people who want to take it.” Give or take a little, that is basically what I say.

I try to find something about my book that might appeal to people wherever I am, and I try to find something that makes me unique. So at home, I say I’m local. In Utah, I say I’m from Oregon. In Oregon, I say the book is set locally, or it is about a Hilhi senior. In Utah, I make sure to include the bit about Zion National Park.

When they ask me what age group it is for, I tell them young adult fiction. But I’ve noticed if I can tell some specific stories about actual readers, that usually gives me a good response from potential buyers. For example, I might say, “I’ve had kids as young as 10 and 11 read it, all the way up to a 90-year-old man who read it twice because he liked it so well.”

That was an info dump if I ever saw one. :D Probably way more information than you wanted.

Not at all. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (including me) who will appreciate the tips. And if any of you want to know more about Kelly and The Keeper’s Saga, just click on her website. Ready to start reading her series? Click here.

Originally posted 2012-12-05 13:03:05.

“Wednesday Writer” – NYT Bestselling Author Robert Dugoni

A little over a month ago, I took part in a local conference for readers and writers called “Rivers of Ink” here in Richland, Washington. I was there to participate on a panel regarding self publishing, but it gave me the opportunity to meet our keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling legal thriller author Robert Dugoni. I’ll never forget his tale of struggle and eventual success as a writer…nor his description of his first writer’s space. He very graciously said “Yes” when I asked if I might feature him in one of my interviews.

Me:  You’ve said that at age 13 you knew you wanted to be a writer. What made you decide that, and, before that point, what career(s) had you hoped to pursue, if any?

Bob:  I just loved stories. It was as simple as that. I loved to read them. Loved to write them and loved to tell them. I had a 13-year-old baseball team convinced I was a descendant of British Royalty. I had this elaborate story and they all sat in that dugout mesmerized until the end when I told them I’d made the whole thing up. They thought that was even better than the real thing. After that they’d ask me to make up something else.

(Definitely some of your earliest fans!)

Me:  Why thrillers? What makes you write suspense, and, in your opinion, why do readers crave it?

Bob:  In all honesty, I chose thrillers because I was a lawyer and Grisham and Turow had just started the legal thriller genre. It seemed a natural and the easiest fit. Unfortunately, my first book came out just as the genre had really died down. But I really just love to write. I don’t consider myself a genre writer. Often people have trouble classifying me because I don’t write your traditional thrillers with all action and dialogue. I have a lot of character development and that throws some people off. My books, I’m told, are more cerebral than a lot of thrillers. (Just my kind of thriller.) I try to write honest characters, people who have self-regard for their own well-being. I figure if my character cares about him or herself, then my readers will care about them. If I can get my readers to care, I can get them invested, and once I do that, then I can put my character in peril. People love suspense. It’s why surprise parties are a big hit. People want to not know. They want someone to outsmart them. They want to try to figure things out.

(Exactly.)

Me:  What has each of your previous occupations–gas attendant, hospital janitor, journalist, and lawyer–taught you about people? Have any of those lessons come out in your novels?

Bob:  Every lesson has come out in my novels. Everything I learned at home and every person I have encountered in my life has provided me with some material. I learned a lot pumping gas. Back then there was no self-serve. I worked alone at night on one of the busiest streets on the San Francisco Peninsula. I had all kinds of things happen. What I remember were the people who would sympathize with me when I was working so hard. And I remember the people who didn’t. It was great insight into human compassion. I couldn’t get to a pump one time and the guy had only asked for $5 of gas. It turned out to be over $8. He just stood there and watched the numbers tick by. Didn’t even try to turn off the pump. Stood there saying, “Oh I’m loving this.” Then he handed me a ten and said he wanted his five back. The mistake was mine and he didn’t care what my boss said when he couldn’t balance the books. The guy was in a suit and driving a Mercedes. Honest.

(Hmm…gas prices have changed but human nature can still be pretty low, eh?)

Me:  I know you spent several years working on learning your craft in order to write well enough to become a best-selling author. What are some of your favorite books on the craft of writing?

Bob:  Christopher Vogler’s book, THE WRITER’S JOURNEY; Sol Stein, ON WRITING; ELEMENTS OF FICTION by Writer’s Digest, all of them; and SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS.

Me:  You’ve said you’re obsessive compulsive. How does this hinder or help your writing process?

Bob:  It helps in that I have to write and once I get going I am very fast. I can write thirty pages a day when I’m going. The hard part is shutting down and letting things go. Sometimes I’m on overload and have to go and exercise just so I’m tired enough to focus.

Me:  I imagine that, as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times and then a law partner later in Seattle, you’ve seen a wide variety of offices. Please compare them to the office you set up for yourself when you gave up the law and decided to write full-time. Are you still writing there, or do you use a different office now? (I’d love to post a picture of either that first small windowless office or your current writing space.)

Bob:  I don’t have a picture of that windowless 8X8 foot office. I wish I did. I never was one for a big office. To me it was always just a place to work, get as much done and then go home. I guess it’s that old adage about not living to work but working to live. I never wanted to make my office so comfortable that I wanted to stay there. I guess I also was never comfortable with the thought that any office I would be in would be my last, that I would be an attorney forever and forty years later I’d retire and pack up and leave.  I now have an office at home that I have cluttered with knickknacks from all my travels, framed photos of my books, a picture of me running my one and only marathon, the cover of Time Magazine when the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit and my Giants World Series Ticket Stub. I also have a poster of Elvis Presley at 22 years of age that I put on a grape crate. I’ve had that poster since I was 16 and its been on a wall in my home ever since.

(Nice! I don’t even need a photo to visualize all that.)

Me:  Tell us about your experience getting an agent . . . and what finally made the difference.

Bob:  It was difficult. My first agent died and no one bothered to even tell me. (He told this story at the conference…he’d been waiting for the contract for almost a month and finally called. That’s when he got the news.) I finally got an agent when I had a product people felt worthy of representing and trying to sell. That was the bottom line. I needed a product that was good, a story that held together. I had something someone believed in.

Me:  Okay, bear with me for a minute. Let’s say they’ve arrested the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz (your favorite fictional villain). She’s being tried by the people of Oz for kidnapping, dognapping, and disturbing the peace. How would your protagonist, defense attorney David Sloane, successfully defend her when faced with a jury full of Munchkins? (A few lines of courtroom dialogue will do.)

Bob: (Cross-examining Dorothy)

“Is it true that you dropped a house on my client’s sister?”

“Oh my. I didn’t mean to.”

“Nevertheless that is a picture of your house, is it not?”

“Yes, that’s our home in Kansas.”

“But this isn’t Kansas and that isn’t Aunt Em whose legs are sticking out from under that house is it.”

“No it isn’t.”

“And my client’s sister was in possession of a pair of ruby slippers, wasn’t she?”

“I had nothing to do with that. You see, I was trying to make it home to Aunt Em when this tornado hit – ”

“Could you answer my question Ms. Gale? Those ruby slippers were on my client’s dead sister’s feet, weren’t they?”

“I guess they were.”

“And then they were on your feet, weren’t they?”

“I didn’t –”

“Ms. Gale?”

“Yes, they were on my feet.”

“So you can see, can’t you why my client would be upset, can’t you?’

“I suppose I can.”

“And she asked for those slippers back, didn’t she?”

“But Glynda the Good Witch of the South told me not to.”

“I’m sorry, did you just say ‘Good Witch of the South’?”

“Yes.”

“And I presume this ‘Good Witch of the South’ rode in on a broomstick?”

“Oh no, she floated inside of a bubble.”

“A bubble, you say?”

“Yes, a bubble.”

“Ms. Gale, did you happen to ingest any hallucinogenic drugs prior to your landing in OZ and stealing a pair of shoes off of a dead corpse?”

“Heavens, no.”

“Have a little bump on the head did we?”

“Yes, the window frame came loose and hit me.”

“And you blacked out?”

“I did.”

“Are you a vivid dreamer, Ms. Gale?”

“Oh yes, I have some wonderful dreams.”

“I don’t doubt it. The defense rests, Your Honor.”

(Well done! Case closed.)

Me:  Where do you see Publishing going in the next five years, given the growth of e-books? Are agents and publishers nervous or are they adapting, and, if so, how?

Bob:  I think we will see fewer and fewer hardbacks and fewer and fewer authors published in hardbacks. I think the successful authors at the top of the food chain will also shrink. I see publishers investing less money in new authors and giving them less time to be successful. It’s cheaper and the odds improve if the publisher invests in many authors with the hope that one of them hits it big.

Me:  Finally, did you ever get a chance to meet Scott Turow and tell him how he’d impacted your life? Or does his writing (as well as that of John Grisham) hit too close to your own to make such a meeting possible or comfortable?

Bob:  I met Scott Turow at a conference in South Carolina. He was the keynote speaker. Afterward, he was in the green room with the rest of us presenting at that conference. I walked up and told him that I’d really disliked him. He looked shocked and I told him the story. He smiled. Turned out to be a really nice guy.

(You see, Bob went to law school thinking he could write a book during his second year just like Scott Turow did. Of course, he found out he couldn’t. Then he thought he’d try and write while practicing law just like Turow did. Again, he found it impossible. So Turow had become a sticky point for him. :D)

Here’s Bob’s official website where you can find out more about him and his writing. He’s authored seven books, including his latest, THE CONVICTION.

Another thriller, MURDER ONE, just came out in paperback. But if you want to get to know David Sloane from the beginning, I recommend THE JURYMASTER. Great read!

Originally posted 2012-11-28 06:00:42.

Jason Gets Physical!

As I mentioned in the last few paragraphs of a much earlier posting when I reviewed my initial reactions to Jason’s Asperger’s diagnosis, one of the harder things to come to terms with for me was that I probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy my son’s participation in team sports. I know there are those with AS who do get into such activities, but it’s not usual. And having grown up as a “tomboy” myself, I had looked forward to playing “catch” or “one-on-one” with Jason as he got older.

Still, I held out hope that perhaps I could interest him in a more solitary game like tennis. No dice. Sports–any and all sports–turned out not to be his thing. We considered it a real accomplishment just to get him swimming. And we kept our fingers crossed when he “had” to take weightlifting and racket sports in high school to meet his P.E. requirements. He made it through both classes, but as soon as he graduated, it was back to his sedentary lifestyle.

That is why I considered his Pathway assignment two weeks ago on setting goals–and his selection of the physical goal of exercising to build muscle and gain some weight–such a gift.

I’ll be honest. I purchased the TRX Suspension Training DVD and equipment this past summer for myself and my husband. I knew we needed to get into better shape (me particularly), and I was good to begin with–as long as my daughter was around to work out with me and motivate me. But once she left on her 18-month church mission, I was on my own. And the suspension straps hung limply for 3-4 months.

Then Jason chose his goal and suddenly they were in business again! He may not care for sports, but I think he’s liking the feeling of getting stronger.

This exercise system was developed by a former Navy SEAL and it builds strength, flexibility, and endurance while burning calories and strengthening your core. As you follow the accompanying video, you can choose the easier routine or the harder, or do a mixture of both.

The Sprinter Start with the Knee Up

The Hamstring Curl with Hips Up

The Mid Row (Single Arm)

The Chest Press (Leg Extended to the Side)

The Deltoid Fly (Offset Stance)

The Kneeling Roll Out

The Plank on Hands (held for 30 seconds)

The Side Plank on Forearm (also held for 30 seconds)

(Note: I do not even attempt this one…yet.)

After all the exercises (only some of which are shown here), the video concludes with some cool-down flexibility routines.

The Lower Back Stretch

The Long Torso Twist

The Chest and Torso Stretch

And we’re done for the day.

Jason does this now three times a week. I’d started with him then got sidetracked when I had to travel to Utah for a book signing. That was actually a good thing because Jason’s dad had to cover for me and now he’s interested in doing it for himself. So now that Thanksgiving’s over, I think we’re both going to get going on this next week.

Not only has Jason begun to put on some weight (1.5 lbs. in two weeks), but he’s getting out of that chair in front of his computer…AND he’s got both Mom and Dad committed to following suit.

After all, we can’t let him show us up!

What do those you know who are autistic or have AS do for exercise? And what do they absolutely refuse to do? I’d love to hear from you.

Originally posted 2012-11-23 17:26:13.

“Wednesday Writer” – Marsha Ward, the Early Years

(This is actually the second half of my interview with Marsha Ward. If you missed the first part, go here.)

The author as she is now…

And when she was a good bit younger.

Me:  Describe growing up in Phoenix and how it impacted you as a writer. (I’d love some pictures of you as a child in that setting.)

Marsha:

When I was born, we lived in what is now very much the heart of the city of Phoenix. However, at that time, it was beyond the city limits. We had a few acres where we raised a calf or two, kept a few chickens for both eggs and meat, had a grove of citrus trees, and  incinerated our trash.

There she is as a baby!

Checking out one of the calves.

Out in the orchard.

I remember having rock fights with neighbor kids (the bully of the neighborhood, in fact) when I was quite young. I must have been no older than three or four at the time. I didn’t use very good sense on one occasion, and turned my back before bending down to pick up fresh ammunition. Of course he hit me where he aimed, and I was so blood-curdling mad! (I’ll bet she’s described that bully in a hundred different ways over the course of her novels.)

I was what was called a “tomboy” in those days, playing all the games I could dream up, and running free throughout the neighborhood as children never can today. Since my dad was in constructions, we had a considerable amount of construction stuff around the property, so I built my own cabin or “fort” from sawhorses and burlap bags, and—don’t tell my mother—it had a fireplace that I actually used at least one time.

 

Even though I had three brothers and three sisters, I liked to be alone some of the time. One favorite activity was climbing the female mulberry tree in the front yard with a book to read, and eating all the fruit I could reach until my stomach was so full it ached, and my hands had turned purple from mulberry stains.

Another favorite place to play was under the long-drooping canopy of the branches of a grapefruit tree. I spent a great deal of time under there, daydreaming. I did that a lot. I guess I still do. I had time and place to allow my imagination free rein, and I’m sure that led to my lifelong preoccupation with writing. I know I’ve used at least that childhood mulberry-picking memory in a book.

As a family, we went on camping trips; a lot of camping and day trips around Arizona. I don’t know who took the photo of our ’53 Plymouth stuffed with family members, but it’s one of the vehicles we used in our travels.

As a consequence of these trips, I got to see a whole bunch of wild country. In fact, I slept in a lot of wild country, on most occasions on beds fashioned from blankets spread atop fragrant pine boughs, not modern air mattresses on a tarp and sleeping bags over all. I’ve been in caves, peered down into mining shafts, and climbed my share of boulders and mountains. In fact, once my dad and I were stalked by a mountain lion. I had a wonderful childhood! (I’ll say!)

Me:  Out of all the teachers you had in elementary, junior high, and high school, who was your most memorable and who was your most favorite (because we all know that one may be different from the other), and why?

Marsha:   In my day we had elementary school and we had high school. I attended several elementary schools as the neighborhood got more families in it and the school district grew and built more facilities. My sixth grade teacher, Miss Glenna Jones, was my favorite teacher. She believed in me. One day she asked us a strange question—maybe not so strange during those cold war times: if schools became unavailable, which of us thought we could get our own education? I immediately raised my hand. I might have been the only one. She looked at me for a long moment, then said, “Yes, I believe you could.”

Tragically, she and her husband were murdered last year. I still can’t wrap my mind around such an act.

My 11th grade English teacher—I’m so chagrinned that I can’t recall his name—made his class memorable. He also believed in me, and he encouraged my writing efforts. One day he told the class I should be teaching the course instead of him. That blew me away!

(Impressive even then!)

Me:  How old were you when you wrote your first article or story that wasn’t a school assignment? If the recollection is clear enough, please provide a quick summary.

Marsha:  I must have been in third or fourth grade when I wrote the beginnings of a novel that featured in the first scene a young boy hiding under a piano behind a rhododendron plant, listening to the conversation of his elders. I have no idea where it would have led. I don’t have it anymore, although I remember I brushed it off and used it in a contest one time. I don’t recall winning anything, so I’m sure it needed more work.

Me:  And finally, of all the stories your father told, which was the most memorable? And how did his storytelling influence your choice of genre when you began writing? (I’ve got to get a picture of your father, preferably in the middle of telling a story, or with you…please.)

Marsha:  My dad was born in the Mexican Mormon colony of Ciudad Dublan (Dublan City), in Chihuahua State. The family came out of Mexico temporarily before the Pancho Villa troubles so my grandfather, a blacksmith, could work on building the Roosevelt Dam. When the work was finished, they returned, but left Mexico a few years later to settle in the Tucson, Arizona, area. The summers in their village of Binghampton were hot, and a favorite time celebrated by all was migrating up to the top of Mount Lemmon for two weeks to escape the heat of mid summer.

One of the pack animals was called Old Dan, and he was particular about what he would carry. He didn’t like noise. When a couple of teenagers wanted to pack a large iron kettle and other cooking pots on him, my grandpa objected, but the teens, like all boys that age, knew so much better, and insisted. My grandpa put up his hands and walked back to a safe observation post. As soon as the horse was ready to lead away, one boy grabbed the rope and gave a tug. Old Dan took one step and heard the pots rattling together. He didn’t want to continue, but the boy on the rope urged him forward. After a couple of steps, Old Dan turned into a cyclone, kicking and bucking until he got that pack off his back. The kettle ended up on the ground with a hoof-sized hole in it.

I never learned if one of those know-it-all boys was my dad, but I suspect it was so. He often told stories where he was the brunt of the joke, or had learned a hard lesson.

I’m not sure, but I suspect this is her grandfather with all his sons, including her father.

Daddy told such vivid stories that I can’t see how I wouldn’t have come to love the land and people and circumstances he described. I always felt like I had been born in the wrong century, because I believed I fit into that life.

And I believe it, too. If you’ve read one of Marsha’s westerns, you’ll know what I mean. She writes with an authenticity that can only come from channeling a voice from the past. If you haven’t read any of her novels yet, now is an excellent time to begin her Owen Family Saga, including her latest, SPINSTER’S FOLLY.

Again, you can buy Marsha’s novels on Smashwords or Amazon. And you can learn more about her from her website, her author blog, her character blogFacebook, or Twitter.

Originally posted 2012-11-21 06:00:51.

The Thoughts of Barbara Kingsolver

Back on November 9th I had the pleasure of watching a live interview with my favorite literary novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, on Goodreads. She’s the best-selling, award-winning author of such books as THE BEAN TREES, THE LACUNA, and my personal favorite, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, and now has a new book out entitled FLIGHT BEHAVIOR.

I thought I’d share some of the highlights (for me, at least). The interview was conducted by Patrick Brown, Goodreads Director of Community, but invited viewers could pose questions of their own. (No, mine didn’t get featured, but then I didn’t expect them to be.)

One viewer asked about how she achieves the knack of getting a message across (as I recall, the questioner termed it as a kind of “progressive, eco-consciousness”) without it coming off like a lecture. Ms. Kingsolver replied, as follows:

The knack is very simple. Respect my reader and respect the complexity of my subject. A novel is far more subtle than marketing or advertising or activism. In fact, I think literature is one of the few places we go to be renewed or enriched without being told what to think. That’s core to me as a writer. I’m not going to tell you what to think. As it happens, because I was trained as a scientist and all my education is in science and not writing, I carry through the world a scientist’s eye and a scientist’s mind and an awareness of biological matters…and an awareness that I’m surrounded all the time by millions of others species. That I’m not the only one. That, to me, seems simply true. To others, it may seem like eco-consciousness or something.

I loved that one sentence I highlighted in bold. That’s how I feel. I dislike books that blare a certain philosophy or attitude, for I want to form my own conclusions. It all comes back to her first response to the question. Good literature respects the reader.

Some other highlights:

  • “It is my responsibility as a writer to make sure my book is as accessible as possible.”
  • “The Poisonwood Bible is a political allegory. This family stands for what the Congo was going through at the time.”
  • “I revise infinitely. I love working on a computer for that reason. A first draft is something that has to be hammered out to make sure I can get from the beginning to the end. After that, I become a trapeze artist…Revision is the thrilling part for me…The first sentence makes a promise the rest of the book will keep. The first paragraph enlarges that promise.”
  • “Sense of place only comes from having been there…If you haven’t been there, you don’t know what the rain smells like…So I always go to the place I’m writing about.”

When asked about the role of the novel in politics, she responded this way, repeating her earlier mantra:

“My job is to respect the reader. I’m not here to tell you what to think or what to do. Literature…can change the way people think or what they do, but it does it through empathy. A novel puts you straight inside another brain. That is, by its nature, a life-changing act. It can be a political act to create empathy for the stranger.”

(This meant a good deal to me personally, for that is something I’ve tried to do in my first two novels. With THE RECKONING, I wanted to create empathy for an Iraqi or a Kurd at a time when Americans certainly regarded both peoples as terrorists, at worst, or suspect, at best. And in A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, I am certainly trying to put the reader into the mind of a person on the Autism spectrum. Having grown up abroad, I know too well what it feels like to be the “stranger,” the “other” in a culture. Literature has the power to break down those barriers between groups of people.)

She was asked whether she ever has a particular kind of reader in mind when she writes. She answered in the negative:

“I write with nobody looking over my shoulder. (Other than the authors of the books on her shelf behind her.) I’m not writing for a particular reader.”

I believe, as more and more LDS authors dare to write that way, LDS fiction will rise in the estimation of an increasingly literate Mormon society.

Some final gems:

  • “I love solitude. I think you have to love your own company to be a writer.
  • “I’ve always done these two things at once–motherhood and writing…Being a mother anchors me to the future in a way that’s very important. I can’t give up on the future.”

And finally, she was asked, “What’s the first thing you do when you start writing a new book?”

“Clean out all the junk…and move my desk for a different view.”

(Now, that’s a work space I’d love to have a picture of!)

If you have a half-hour, I encourage you to watch the whole interview and then tell me your favorite part:

Watch live streaming video from goodreads at livestream.com

Originally posted 2012-11-16 12:49:46.

“Wednesday Writer” – Marsha Ward and “Spinster’s Folly”

(Note: Marsha Ward has been writing so long and gave me so much material in my interview that I’ve decided to divide her interview into two parts. This first part will focus more on her newly released book, her writing process, and ANWA.)

Marsha Ward is an award-winning poet, writer and editor whose published work includes four novels in The Owen Family Saga: The Man From Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, Trail of Storms, and Spinster’s Folly. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed the first three and am now excited to read the fourth. She’s also written over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories, given numerous writing workshop presentations, and taught writing.

Here is her description of SPINSTER’S FOLLY:

Marie Owen yearns for a loving husband, but Colorado Territory is long on rough characters and short on fitting suitors, so a future of spinsterhood seems more likely than wedded bliss. Her best friend says cowboy Bill Henry is a likely candidate, but Marie knows her class-conscious father would not allow such a pairing. When she challenges her father to find her a suitable husband before she becomes a spinster, he arranges a match with a neighbor’s son. Then Marie discovers Tom Morgan would be an unloving, abusive mate and his mother holds a grudge against the Owen family. Marie’s mounting despair at the prospect of being trapped in such a dismal marriage drives her into the arms of a sweet-talking predator, landing her in unimaginable dangers.

Me:  Is SPINSTER’S FOLLY the conclusion of the Owen Family Saga, or do you foresee more tales? Which of the four books was the most difficult to write, and why?

Marsha:  No, the Owen Family Saga continues, with a fifth book to write that already has a title: Gone for a Soldier. I’ll go back into the Civil War to recount the experiences of the oldest son, Rulon. I’m in the preliminary research phase, getting the overview firmly in mind. Later, as I write, I’ll do research for the smaller details, as needed.

Each of the novels have had their unique difficulties in the writing , but perhaps RIDE TO RATON was the most difficult because of scenes at the end. The original final scene contained a lot of vengeful action, which had a negative energy that enfolded me for several weeks. I was angry all the time. I was treating my husband and children like dirt. I didn’t like myself one little bit. It took me a while, but finally it dawned on me that the cause of my ill temper was the bad spirit with which I had ended the novel. That brought me up short and taught me a lesson. I learned words have power.

If I, the author, was having such a bad time dealing with the aftermath of the book, how was it going to impact my readers?

I decided I didn’t want to be responsible for someone wreaking havoc upon those around him or her due to my book. I changed the ending, and made the book much stronger, I think, and leached out the bad taste in my mouth.

The novel still contains the haunting events that precipitated the prior vengeful action, but now the reader weeps at the end instead of wanting to kill someone. I’m satisfied with that.

(Interesting . . . that has been my favorite one so far.)

Me:  You’ve had to deal with both loss and health challenges in your life. Which took the greater toll on your writing, and what did you do to overcome it?

Marsha:  When my daughter was killed in an auto accident, it sucked the creativity out of me for a number of years. I was so thoroughly immersed in grief and mother-guilt (how had I not kept this from happening to my child?), that I was quite the zombie. I think I finally dealt with the problem when I was invited to join a particular writers’ group and was encouraged to get on with life. Although it came from outside myself, I’m pretty sure those people saved my sanity. 

(I find it’s true that no one understands a writer quite so well as other writers. A group is essential.)

Me:  Please describe your favorite writing space in the vernacular of my favorite Owen brother, James, the protagonist in RIDE TO RATON. (And I must have a picture of your writing area.)

Marsha:  You really want to see my computer desk? AWK! Oh well. Here’s James to describe it:

“This dear lady, who contemplated upon us Owen brothers for several long years before she gave us life, asked my oldest brother Rulon to call her ‘Mom.’ That don’t set right with me, somehow. It rolls brittle off the tongue. There’s precious little affection in the sound. Kind of hollow. I reckon I’ll call her Abuela. That’s akin to the Southern-style Meemah, or Grandma, but spoke in the Spanish lingo of my first wife, Amparo. She’s…gone now.”

I pat James on the shoulder and step back to wait for him to continue.

“Be that as it may, Abuela has this black piece of furniture sittin’ in a room of her house. It’s not wood, yet it’s not the ‘plastic’ I see about, either. She told me it’s a ‘black laminate wrapped around manufactured wood.’ What the tarnation that means, I cannot fathom. The surface of that there laminate is sort of gritty-lookin’, yet it’s smooth enough to the touch. Cool. Not warm like wood can be. There’s a shelf-like slab that pulls out and holds a sure-enough plastic contraption with letters and numbers and other geegaws that she depresses rapidly to make letters appear on a bright-colored picture frame that sits atop what she calls ‘the desk.’ (Love this!)

“Hush! It don’t look like any desk I ever saw, I tell you. This one don’t have the hidey-holes and whatnots that hide behind the rolltop. Instead, it’s got that picture frame that glows. Yep, I’m not lyin’. It glows with light, just as if it had a lamp behind to shine through a pane of obscure glass. Abuela says it’s called a ‘monitor.’

“The only Monitor I ever heard tell of was the ironclad ship the Yanks sent out to do battle against the C.S.S. Virginia in Hampton Roads in ’62. But that’s another story. I’ve been bid to tell about Abuela’s writin’ area, so I’d best continue that task.

“Abuela tend toward bein’ the untidy sort. I don’t hold it against her. She’s quite a woman. However, the top of her desk is piled with the oddest sorts of things you ever did see. There’s a yellow box sort of thing that has a flap hidin’ an assortment of stiff white cards she writes notes on. Somethin’ she calls passwords. And log-ins.

“I know about passwords from serving in the army during the past troubles. If you didn’t know the proper one for that day, you was like to get shot by the sentry. I can’t make out the meaning of “log-ins.” You could burn up the cards, but they wouldn’t last long enough to give heat nor light like a real log would do. (LOL…yes, our modern vernacular would certainly confuse those who lived 150 years ago.)

“I dassen’t touch the papers and folders she has on one side of that monitor, for fear they’ll tumble off onto the floor. On the other side, she has an assortment of pens made of that plastic stuff, a letter opener, scissors with red handles—red handles! And bent wires designed to hold stacks of paper together for safekeepin’. There’s a little plastic cylinder she calls “eyedrops,” but it’s not made of glass, nor does it have an eye dropper inside of it. She says she squeezes it and the liquid soothes her eyes.

“Abuela has a passel of papers hangin’ off the sides of her picture frame with “tape,” which appears to be a sticky sort of clear plastic that comes from a roll tucked inside another…plastic container. Whew! This world sure does cotton to plastic.

“That’s about all I can say about Abuela’s writin’ spot. I hope that does the job for her friend.”

(It certainly did, and here’s the picture to prove it!)

Me:  Along with your novels, you’ve written hundreds of articles for newspapers. Which is harder, journalism or fiction writing? And why?

Marsha:  Interesting question. I suppose I could say one is harder because it takes the other side of the brain, or some such thing, but I don’t think one or the other is a more difficult task. They are merely different. I think a competent writer can accomplish a job of writing in any genre, given the time and training. I know other writers won’t agree, but I think I’ve done enough of both kinds to consider myself a generalist rather than a specialist. Now deadlines. Don’t let me go there! (I hear you. I hate deadlines . . . of the daily variety, that is.) 

(I do believe listenin’ to James’s account above has me typing a tad bit like he sounds.) :D

Me:  What caused you to create ANWA back in 1986? How has it changed over the years and what do you see in its future?

Marsha:  ANWA, or properly, American Night Writers Association (now Inc.), came about because of my need to feel comfortable among other writers. I wanted a place where I could learn the craft without being exposed to crass language or themes, and where I could be nurtured rather than batting my head against protective sorts who viewed me as competition instead of offering to share what they knew. I tried out several groups, but soon outgrew the pat-you-on-the-back-and-say-it’s-wonderful clubs. I needed to be challenged, and I wasn’t finding a place where I could grow.

When I came across five other LDS (Mormon) women in a short period of time, each of whom had writing aspirations, I wrote down their contact information and went on my way. One day I was impressed that I had at hand what I needed. I only had to get us together. I called the other five and set up a meeting, and that was the beginning of ANWA.

The organization has gone through many phases. Lean times, when it almost died. Thrilling times, when we had a member put together a workshop that was the genesis of our writers conferences and another begin a website. Growth exploded because of that. We started chapters outside of Arizona and changed our original name of Arizona Night Writers to American Night Writers Association.

After many years of shepherding ANWA and doing a ton of work in the background to keep it going, I was tired of being jealous at the success of those I had mentored. I wanted time to write the stories swimming around in my head, and I told God so. He had thrust me into this task, and I wondered if the time would ever come for me to have a chance to see if I was a writer of any substance, or only a writing coach. I know I pleaded with him for a long time, but finally he said the time had come that I could step back. This has not been an easy transition, and it’s still on-going. However, with the help of several very hard-working, inspired leaders and workers, the burden is slowly slipping off my shoulders. It’s a huge relief, and I’m becoming used to the idea that I don’t have to “do it all” anymore. ANWA will continue to grow. It is poised for international growth soon, where it can influence thousands, and hundreds of thousands of LDS women. It can school them that they have a place in this world, where they can share their light with others through the written word. (Amen! And thank you, Marsha.)

Me:  Finally, tell us about your writing process and your current (or next) work in progress. Will you continue to self-publish and, if so, why?

Marsha:  As I mentioned in passing, after I succeed in launching my current novel, SPINSTER’S FOLLY, I’ll begin work in earnest on GONE FOR A SOLDIER. My somewhat ambitious goal is to write and publish a novel a year from now on. Self, or indie publishing can enable me to do that, where I wouldn’t be able to control such a schedule through traditional publishing. I don’t have time to dilly-dally around, waiting for the traditional lengthy publishing process. I can accomplish the necessary steps, and make a better income for myself, by being an independently-published author.

And we wish her the best of luck! You can buy Marsha’s novels, including her latest, SPINSTER’S FOLLY, on Smashwords or Amazon. And you can learn more about her from her website, her author blog, her character blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

AND…

You can check in again next Wednesday and learn even more about Martha, including details about her childhood and peeks at several old family photos. Here’s a teaser–a very young Marsha:

Originally posted 2012-11-14 06:00:12.