“Wednesday Writer” – Sarah M. Eden

Happy Halloween! While all of you are out either preparing for trick-or-treaters or getting your costumes finalized to go do it yourself, I am happily tucked away at the Rosario Marine Beach Lab for a wonderful 3-day Writer’s Retreat (the ANWA Northwest Writer’s Retreat). If you’re LDS, a woman, and you like to write, check out this retreat for next year.

In the meantime, it’s that day of the week again and I have another terrific writer to unpeel before your very eyes (not that I’m comparing her to an onion, mind you, but all writers have layers, I’ve found . . . Let’s consider her a sweet onion of the variety grown nearby in Walla Walla, Washington). :D

I first met Sarah M. Eden when we both took part in a self publishing panel discussion at the LDStorymakers Writers Conference back in 2009. As it turned out, she and I were Whitney finalists that year, along with another member of the panel–Joyce DiPastena. Since then, she’s gone on to be traditionally published, has an agent, and has become a must-have emcee at that very same writer’s conference. Oh, and by the way, she joined us up here near Deception Pass as our Writer in Residence for last year’s retreat!

Now let’s start pulling back the layers.

Me:  How old were you when you first realized the power of humor, and please describe the circumstances of that discovery? (And I’d love a picture of you at that age.)

Sarah:  I can’t remember a time when humor wasn’t a defining character trait of mine. It probably began in the womb–no, I don’t have a photo of that. (What? No ultrasound? Drat!)

My entire family is funny. Family dinners involved as much laughter as eating. The time an entire cooler of ice water spilled in the back of the minivan, the Noah’s Flood jokes went on for hours. Weeks. Okay, we actually still joke about it. My sister and I once spent an entire afternoon acting out a parody of the first two Twilight movies for our sister-in-law, complete with props and costumes, simply because it would be funny. (And you didn’t videotape it for YouTube? Have you thought about reprising it for a conference? Hint, hint.) My youngest brother was once attacked by a dog, leading to stitches and the services of a plastic surgeon. We responded in the usual way . . . a care package of doggy chew toys, kibble, and a greeting card that played “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

That’s just how we roll.

(Something tells me it’s genetic, too. Her daughter’s going to be just like her.)

Me:  Not counting “The Sun,” which you wrote at age 5 (and it sounds like it may have been one of those Kindergarten school assignments), what was the gist of the very first story you ever wrote (“The Mystery of the Broken Unicorn”), and do you still have it? Any plans to rewrite it?

Sarah:  Do I still have it? Do you doubt I would hold on to such a piece of literary mastery?! Of course I still have it. One might classify this magnificent story as a Middle Grade Fantasy. One might also classify it as horrible. One would be right on both counts. (Notice the voice change here? She’s definitely in her Regency voice.)

I begin the book by making note of the fact that the “pictures & words” are by me. That’s how you know you’re about to get quality. The story tells of a young girl whose mother has a glass unicorn on her dresser that the girl should “NEVER touch, no matter what.” So the girl, of course, touches it, and it puts a spell on her. That is the point where I wrote The End. No, really. That’s where I ended it. I didn’t know what to do next so I figured just calling it quits was the best option. (A very quick read…but a promising beginning.)

Isn’t she darling in her first dance costume?

Me:  Okay, why did you choose Social Science Research as a major when it’s apparent your true loves are literature and history? In other words, who convinced you to be practical?

Sarah:  I chose Social Science Research because it was fascinating. My emphasis was the impact of mass communication on societies, with focus on the role of emerging social media. My thesis, get this, hypothesized that emerging social media (this was in 2000) would be used to create virtual communities. *insert evil genius laugh here* Essentially, I predicted Facebook and Twitter. Someone owes me big bucks! (Well, when you put it that way…as Rosanne Rosanna Danna would say, “Never mind.”)

I still find research, be it historical, social, statistical, etc., endlessly enthralling. I love when pieces fall into place and a mystery begins to make sense. I get all giddy when I learn something new, especially something obscure. *insert evil genius laugh here*

Short answer: I’m an evil genius.

(And the Princess of Prescience!)

Me:  What was the basic plot of the short story for which you won 1st prize in the 2007 City of Glendale Short Story Competition? Any chance you’ll lengthen any of your short stories into novels?

Sarah:  Actually, I absolutely love that short story. I think it is one of the best things I’ve ever written. I have pondered many times expanding it into a full-length book, but the timing just hasn’t been right. Maybe some day. *sighs dramatically*

The story is about a 3rd Grader with a gambling addiction. No, it’s not an after-school-special type of moralizing book. It’s actually hilarious. And the main character is fantastic. (If I do say so myself.) (Hmmm…have we accidentally uncovered a layer from the author’s own past?)

Me:  After having seen both you and your husband “act” in “film,” I have to assume you both have experience in theater. Am I correct? If so, please provide details (and pictures).

Sarah:  We have both spent quite a lot of time on the stage. I began my “career” playing a dead plant in a church roadshow, followed by an unemployed elf in the 6th grade Christmas play.

The red hair is a giveaway.

Junior High School saw me placed in the oh-so-glamorous position of pretty much everybody’s understudy. By High School, I had moved up in the world, playing a 5-year-old boy (Tiny Tim, A Christmas Carol), a 7-year-old girl (Marta Von Trapp, The Sound of Music), and eventually graduating to a teenager in Hello, Dolly! and Fiddler on the Roof. I found myself typecast as Hermia in A Midsummer’s Night Dream (for those of you keeping track at home, she’s the character who spends the entire play as the butt of everyone’s short jokes).

My husband did a lot of acting in High School, as well. He was in Taming of the Shrew and Cheaper By the Dozen, among others. He was dreamy Tony in West Side Story and played Sherlock Holmes in a community theater production.

Dreamy Tony in another woman’s arms

He has the look of a lead and the skills to get the job done. I was always a sidekick. A short sidekick. Or a child. But I’m not bitter. (Much.)

(Yeah, but who’s getting all the attention now? Am I right? Good things come to those who wait, no matter their size. :D)

Me:  Do you really have, as you put it in an interview with Donna Hatch, “a contraption made up of very large books, packing tape and the back of the sofa in my living room which allows me to type while spending some quality time with my elliptical machine while burning calories to which I’d rather not become too permanently attached”? (You said then that you’d rather not provide a picture, but I DO require a picture of your true writing space…as well as a description of it in either Regency terminology or in the voice of one of your children…please.)

Sarah:  The contraption changed a little last year when we replaced our couch. Fortunately, when you MacGyver a write-while-exercising-stand, it tends to be adaptable. The current incarnation involves a packing box, a wooden cutting board and a book of Broadway ballads arranged for the piano. Here is the catalog entry I am preparing for when I sell it and make my millions:

Do you have Writer’s Butt? Is your backside expanding with every rewrite? Does drafting your newest book get in the way of burning those extra pounds?

Introducing the ‘Tend to Your Deadline and Your Waistline’ computer stand. Finally, a contraption that meets the lazy writer’s needs. Exercise while you type and look good doing it!

(So where’s the picture?)

What? You want a picture? Sorry. I don’t give out that kind of classified information–not until the patent is secured.

(Okay, what happened to the description in the voice of a Regency romance…or one of your children? Hmmm…I guess this is one writer’s lair that will remain secret in every sense…except…she let slip a clue on Facebook, so I think it’s only fair to share. Here’s a look at her plotting board.)

Aha! Part of her secret office.

(If you want the details behind the colorful board, you’ll have to check out her posting on her website here.)

Me:  You’ve also said that “writing requires a certain degree of mental instability.” How so? (And I mean this in all seriousness, as I’m most curious about the writer’s mind.)

Sarah:  Most people consider hearing voices in their head a reason to be concerned. Writers think of it as a running narrative for the scene they are writing.

A normal person would never think a fictional character of their own creation could argue with them, defy their orders, or make their own decisions. Writers embrace this without batting an eyelash.

Most people, if they wake up in the middle of the night with a random idea running through their mind, grumble a bit, roll over, and go back to sleep. Writers rush to write it down, unspeakable grateful to have finally worked through that sticky plot problem.

We pour our hearts and souls into a book we then willingly send out to the slaughter. We get rejected, criticized, ranked, Goodreaded (yes, that is now a verb) (In the same way as Amazoned?) and in many other ways alternately praised and excoriated, yet we keep going back for more rides on the pendulum of public opinion.

We are often insomniacs. We cry when we do horrible things to our characters even though we knew it was coming all along. We compare ourselves to Shakespeares and Miltons and then wonder why we never feel good enough. We can obsess over a single word for hours.

All of this and we love it anyway. This cannot be normal or entirely healthy. Mental Instability.

(Case closed.)

Me:  Which parent had the most influence on you as a writer, and how? (It would be nice to show a picture of the influential parent here.)

Sarah:  They both have influenced me. I couldn’t say one did more than the other. For the sake of answering the question, I’ll say that my mother is the one who first convinced me to seriously pursue writing.

Two influential parents. One cute couple!

I was sitting at her kitchen table bellyaching about how hard it was to find a sweet (think PG content) historical romance. I waxed long and irritated, likely using a great deal too much hyperbole. There may or may not have been references to the ridiculousness of so few sweet historicals on the shelf in light of all NASA’s accomplishments. My dear mother, rather than commiserate and accept my tendency toward dramatics, said, essentially, “So why don’t you write one yourself?”

So I did. And I gave her a spiral-bound copy of that first book for Mother’s Day the next year. The book? THE KISS OF A STRANGER.

Me:  Which is more fun–research or writing? And why?

Sarah:  It’s a toss-up. For me, the two are so intertwined I can’t entirely separate them. The historical context of my books is always a huge part of plot, character, etc. So the research determines what I write, and what I write directs my research. (Sort of like the chicken and the egg, eh?)

I set aside one day each week that is entirely for research . . . no writing (unless I’m on a deadline and don’t have a choice). Some of that is research for a specific project. Some of it is just me devouring history and learning new things. I have found so many ideas for new books, or ways to enrich stories I’ve already thought of, through a steady, consistent approach to research. (Thanks for the tip! I may just be revising my weekly schedule.)

Writing makes me a happy person. Truly. I get so excited when a storyline comes together, when the characters become real right before my very eyes. I put a lot of prep work into my books and there is something extremely satisfying in seeing weeks, sometimes months of planning turn into a story I can be proud of.

Also, I don’t like edits. I like having edited, because the book is always better. But I don’t like doing it. *bleh*

Me:  Finally, what are you working on now, and how far down is your supply of Cheetos?

Sarah:  Cheetos and I had to go our separate ways a couple years ago. Apparently, my stomach and Cheetos have a great animosity for each other. Hatred, pure and simple. I have not yet found an adequate replacement. In fact, I feel a little lonely now when I write. *wipes tear*

(By the way, am I the only one that’s noticed how attuned Sarah is to stage direction, sound effects, etc.? Something tells me she ought to give screenwriting a try.)

Right now I am working on the sequel to a romance novel my agent (Hi, Pam!) is currently shopping. It, along with Book 1, takes place in 1870 in Wyoming Territory amongst a group of Irish Immigrants sharing a valley with a group of settlers who absolutely despises the Irish. Against the backdrop of this percolating feud, our heroine finds her heart being pulled by two very different men, all while trying to sort out a lifetime of her own pain and regrets. In the words of my 9-year-old daughter, “This book is magically delicious.”

I am sure we’ll all agree once we finally get to read it. In the meantime, enjoy any of her others (SEEKING PERSEPHONE, COURTING MISS LANCASTER, FRIENDS AND FOES), including her latest: AN UNLIKELY MATCH.

And you can check out Sarah’s website here. I highly recommend her blog for reading that always entertains as well as informs.

Next week:  J. Lloyd Morgan

Originally posted 2012-10-31 06:00:04.

A Possible Career for Jason

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised to see that Jason’s homework assignments all revolved around exploring his own preferences in terms of interests and possible careers. He took three different tests online, one of which I immediately recognized as a version of the Myers-Brigg Personality Indicator test.

You know the one. It asks you to choose your preference in various situations and it’s designed to discover whether you’re introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, thinking or feeling, and perceptive or judging . . . or something like that. I recalled that when I took it, I ended up being an INFJ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging). So I was curious to see where my son would end up on this other man-made “spectrum.”

I decided to watch and say nothing as he answered the various questions, though more than a few times as he answered, I had to bite my tongue because that wasn’t how I saw him at all. In fact, I got to wondering how accurate this test could be for someone who has a hard time stepping outside of himself enough to judge how different circumstances truly affect him. His first result: ISTJ.

He went on to take the other two shorter tests and then let the computer spit out the jobs that seemed a good fit. There was only one–some kind of housing inspector. Jason and I looked at that and then at each other and said, “What?”

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, when I took one of these kinds of tests in college, I was told I was most suited to be either a Priest or a Rabbi.

Anyway, I encouraged him to take the personality test again and this time I prompted him a bit based on what I knew of my son. This second time around, he turned out to be INTJ and two main careers were suggested:

Desktop Publishing or Library Science. Both were a much better fit. Of the two, he said he’d prefer working in a Library.

I was happy to discover later, in a blog posting about careers suited to those with Asperger’s, that Library Science can be a good fit for Aspies.

In any case, based on those results, he’s begun to lay the groundwork for his college courses, with an eye toward earning either a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (which can all be done online) or a Bachelor of Science degree in University Studies (which requires some courses toward the end in residence). In either case, he’s thinking he’ll focus on the areas of English, Communications, and Literature.

Finally, a glimmer of a plan for his future. YES!

And how ironic it is that most of his senior pictures for high school were taken in our local library. Here’s one of my favorites:

Now my only concern is: With the rise of e-books, is the future of libraries in jeopardy? How will libraries change in the next five years, and will it still be a good fit for my son by the time he graduates?

Originally posted 2012-10-26 06:00:51.

“Wednesday Writer” – David Farland

I’m interviewing David Farland this week as part of a blog tour featuring his new YA fantasy novel, NIGHTINGALE.

First, a bit about the book and its author:

The multi-award winning novel, NIGHTINGALE, by best-selling author, David Farland, is available in hardback, ebook, and now in a special iPad enhanced version. This young-adult fantasy novel has already been turning heads.

Grand Prize Winner of the Hollywood Book Festival, placed first in all genres, all categories. 

Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the Year!

Finalist in the Global Ebook Awards.

Some people sing at night to drive back the darkness.  Others sing to summon it. . . .

Bron Jones was abandoned at birth. Thrown into foster care, he was rejected by one family after another, until he met Olivia, a gifted and devoted high-school teacher who recognized him for what he really was–what her people call a “nightingale.”

But Bron isn’t ready to learn the truth. There are secrets that have been hidden from mankind for hundreds of thousands of years, secrets that should remain hidden. Some things are too dangerous to know.  Bron’s secret may be the most dangerous of all.

In his remarkable young adult fantasy debut, David Farland shows why critics have called his work “compelling,” “engrossing,” “powerful,” “profound,” and “ultimately life-changing.”

“Superb worldbuilding, strong characters, and Dave’s characteristic excellent prose.” – (Brandon Sanderson, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author)

“A wonderful tale of a young man trying to find his humanity, even though he’s not quite human.  One of Farland’s very best!” – (#1 International Bestseller, Kevin J. Anderson)

The enhanced version creates an amazing reading experience complete with illustrations from several talented artists and a sample of a soundtrack that coincides with the story. Published by East India Press, a publishing company that takes e-books in a whole new direction with enhanced multimedia–soundtracks, movie clips, author interviews and more.

Farland has plans for three more books in the series: Dream Assassin, Draghoul, and Shadow Lord.

Now, let’s get to know the author a little better.

Me:  Do you recall any details about the first story you ever wrote, or at least the earliest one you can remember?

Dave:  Of course. It was called The Island of the Lost Dinosaur. I wrote it when I was five. I even drew a picture of the island and the dinosaur. I think that just about every child will do that. I also think that a disproportionate number of those stories are about lost dinosaurs. In my case, the entire title was inappropriate, since it wasn’t the dinosaur that was lost, but the island. Although, one could maintain that if the island is lost, then the dinosaur is, too. (True.) My mother just couldn’t quite understand my logic on that one.

Here is a picture of the budding author at age five, in his larvael pre-sentient state (Doesn’t that sound just like a science fiction/fantasy writer? :D), shortly before attempting his first story, a literary flop that even a mother couldn’t love.

(See those cheekbones? He hasn’t changed a bit.)

Me:  Where did you grow up and what was it about your childhood that most affected your fiction?

Dave:  I grew up in Oregon, in a little town called Monroe, population about 300 (each sign on different ends of the town had varying numbers). We had a nice river that ran near our home, 32 acres of fields and streams, and if you wanted, you could take off hiking up the creek and not cross a road for days as you traveled into forests of Douglas fir. We had lots of wildlife near our farm–deer, pheasants, ducks, cougars, beaver, and so on.

So I fell in love with nature when I was young. If you read my fiction looking for big, beautiful cities, you won’t find them.

(Okay, does anyone else feel like camping now? I do, and I don’t usually like to camp!)

Me:  Science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, generally requires a rudimentary understanding of the way the universe works, and it certainly requires a visionary kind of mindset. What kind of background, in terms of both education and books read, gave you the wherewithal to attempt science fiction from the outset?

Dave:  As a child, I only read science texts. I ran through all of our local libraries by the time  that I was about twelve. I didn’t read fiction at all, until I was forced to at about the age of thirteen.

As a teen, I wrote my first book–a text on the mustiledae family of mammals (weasels, minks, and so on). I followed it that same year with a book on the history of the development of nuclear weaponry in the United States. I also studied oceanography and forestry. That naturally led to a love for the biological sciences, including medicine, and most of my stories revolve around ideas that deal with biology in one way or another.

The first science fiction novel that I read felt rather like an Aesop’s fable–a little heavy on the moralization. From it, though, I recognized that fiction could have some intellectual value, and I began to read a little of it. I didn’t really learn to love science fiction, though, until I read Dune(Hear, hear!) Between that, Star Wars and a few other choice novels, I began really getting interested in science fiction.

But as I said, when I was young, I loved science. Once, when I was a child of about eight or nine, a neighbor asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I knew that our genome designated what kind of organism we would be, and I knew that I loved paleontology, so I said, “I want to be a paleo . . . genetic . . . engineer!”

(Talk about precocious!)

“Oh,” she said, “those are very big words. And what do those people do?”

“Build dinosaurs,” I told her. “Of course we can’t do it now, but someday we will.” (You see? He had that visionary thing going even then.)

So I went to college initially and majored in premedical microbiology, with an eye toward research in genetic engineering.

But I kept finding that I wanted to write, and paint. I imagined that I would be a doctor who wrote on the side. Then one day I realized that the desire to write was too strong–so I decided to be a writer who doctored on the side.

Me:  Which is harder? Science fiction or fantasy?

Dave:  They’re the same. Let me put it this way: you learn to write best what you love best. If you love both equally, you’ll write both with the same enthusiasm.

Never convince yourself that writing in an unfamiliar genre is easy. A couple of years ago, I thought that I would “dash off” a historical novel in a few weeks. After all, since it was based on historical accounts, it would be easy, right? That book, In the Company of Angels, was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. (And it’s great! You can take my word for it.) I won an award for it (Whitney Award: Best Novel of the Year), and it did well in sales, but it taught me a lesson. Writing anything well is hard work.

Me:  Where did you set the Guinness Record for the world’s largest book signing and for what book? And how surprised were you at the turnout? (If you happen to have a picture from that event, I’d love to post it.)

Dave:  I wrote a comic science fiction novel called A Very Strange Trip back in 1999. It was based on a screenplay by L. Ron Hubbard, and involved a moonshiner from West Virginia who has to carry a time machine across the country. The problem is, every time his truck hits a bump, the machine goes off. On his first stop, he goes back in time and meets up with a beautiful Cherokee squaw, and they keep moving further back with each trip.

Since my grandfather was a moonshiner from West Virginia, and since my grandmother was Cherokee, and since I loved paleontology, I thought it would be a hoot write. (And it sounds like a hoot to read, too.)

In any case, my publisher held a huge party down in Hollywood, with movie stars, a band, and free root beer floats. There are a lot of Scientologists in the area, so I wasn’t at all surprised that we drew a nice crowd. 

I’m thinking that next time, we’ll just use beer in the floats. That will bring in the crowds!

(Dave is the little bald guy in the center, slaving under the hot lights while thousands line up for the book signing on July 3, 1999. Note: His description, not mine. If you click on the picture, you can see a slightly larger version and make out Dave in the middle.)

Me:  Do you have plans to try any more historical fiction like IN THE COMPANY OF ANGELS?

Dave:  I don’t know. I’m fascinated by history, and I think I’d like to write another. I have an ancestor, a German boy of 12 named George Johann Wunderlicht, who was sold into slavery back in the 1700s. I’ve often thought that his family saga was worth a novel. George worked for a ship’s captain, and there is speculation that the captain became a privateer for a while, and then went to Africa to transport slaves. Though, as a Quaker, George was committed to a life of nonviolence, it’s said that he went to battle in the Civil War, even though he was in his 80s, and got shot something like three days after enlistment. So he died to help put an end to slavery. (You’re right. That would make for a fascinating story.)

I’ve often felt that a book about his life would be a great memorial, but there’s so little that I know, it would have to be more fiction than fact. (And, speaking for readers, I think we’d be okay with that.)

Me:  Tell us about your new publishing company and your current novel, NIGHTINGALE.

Dave:  East India Press is a company that I started with Miles Romney, a cousin to Mitt Romney. We hope to publish novels in multiple formats: as hardcovers, audiobooks, e-books, and most importantly as enhanced novels.

So we’ve put out NIGHTINGALE in each of those formats. Back in 1989, I was hired by IBM to work for a think-tank that would develop novels for reading on the computer. We were too far ahead of our time.

But I’ve been thinking about the possibilities for decades, and with NIGHTINGALE, we wanted to make it an experience. With the enhanced novel, we combined graphics, text, animations, and our own soundtrack with a few other features–such as author interviews.

I think that we’re closing in on what I’d like, but it can be so much better. For example, our soundtrack is really great, but it deserves to be heard in high-fidelity, and most people who read it aren’t going to bother putting on headphones when they’re reading from their iPad.

Still, I think that we created a much more immersive experience for the book.

In any case, NIGHTINGALE is a young adult novel about a young man, Bron Jones, who is abandoned at birth. He’s raised in foster care and kicked from home to home because his families find him to be “too strange.” Finally, at the age of sixteen, he meets a teacher who recognizes that he’s not even human. He’s what she calls a “nightingale,” a member of an ancient species that only looks human.

So Bron begins a remarkable journey to discover where he came from, what he is, and who he is.

(Excuse me a moment while I go order something on my iPad.)

The novel has won four awards so far this year, including the Hollywood Book Festival for Best Book of the Year, and the International Book Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the Year.

(I thought I’d post the cover again in case you’ve forgotten what it looks like.)

Me:  What prompted this particular story? Did this book start with a dream like your first work, On My Way to Paradise, or was it something else?

Dave:  Something else. When I was young, I was well aware that humans and Neanderthals had existed together for hundreds of thousands of years before the Neanderthals became extinct. I used to imagine how cool it would be if we found a tribe of them living in Siberia or the mountains of Tibet.

So that was one idea for a novel. But of course we know now that even a hundred thousand years ago, there were at least four humanoid species living together, and I’ve wondered about some of our lesser-known cousins.

Then there is a strange thing in the New Testament. It tells us that “Wise Men” came to visit Jesus at his birth and that they showered gifts on him. The word used for “wise men” or “wizards” (chakam) probably denoted a caste of court magicians similar to the ones that Moses battled with in Pharaoh’s Court. Most likely, these wise men came searching for the new “King of the Jews” because they were looking for jobs. (Okay, I’ll have to admit I haven’t heard that assumption before. Interesting.)

In any case, one day I got to fantasizing about what they might be. Could it be that they were something more than astrologers and soothsayers? Could they be something outside of humanity, creatures with real super intelligence? And so the ideas for NIGHTINGALE were born.

A couple of years later, I was talking to one of my writing students about how to approach a contemporary fantasy, and realized that I really did want to put this one on the front burner. But I had so many novels to write for the Runelords series, I had to put it on the back. The student–Stephenie Meyer–went on to do well, and I kept thinking, “I really need to get that novel out.” It’s taken a while.

Me:  I have a thing for writer’s spaces or work areas. How would you describe yours and could you provide a picture?

Dave:  My top-secret writing space (Oh, well . . . I guess that means no picture) is an over-stuffed recliner that we keep in a quiet corner of our master bedroom. My advice to writers is: make yourself as comfortable as possible. It makes it easy to write for 14 hours a day if you’re comfortable. So avoid dirty, cramped, uncomfortable, unhealthy, and nasty spaces. Also avoid places with evil vibes, war zones, or places cursed by ancient shamans. (Gotcha! And my office is in my master bedroom, too. Now I just need to talk to my husband about a nice, comfy recliner. :D)

I sometimes go to write in Mexico. I like to greet the dawn on the beach down in Baja, sitting out while the sun rises in shades of pink over the sand. (Hmmm…something else to discuss with my husband.)

Me:  Finally, how on earth do you manage to produce “David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants” every day and STILL have time for your own writing?

Dave:  I did it every day, mostly, for the first couple of years. Now I only write the advice column a couple of times a week. Originally, I thought that the column might run for a year or so, and that I would use the ideas for my book on writing. That hasn’t worked out very well. My book, Storytelling as a Fine Art, could probably be finished in a month if I pulled all of my material together. Right now, I have thousands of pages of Daily Kicks.

But the truth is, I enjoy writing the articles, and every so often I look at my ideas for new articles and realize that there is just more that needs to be said.

Well, as you’ve read here, Dave is a veritable fountain of knowledge and I love that he’s so good about sharing all he knows, whether it’s here on blogs like mine or at writers conferences like the one put on each spring by LDStorymakers, or at his own Writer’s Death Camp (which I am bound and determined to attend next year). If the Death Camp isn’t your style, he offers plenty of other workshops, as well.

Besides buying his latest book, I urge you to check out his website where you, too, can sign up to receive his Daily Kick! 

Originally posted 2012-10-24 06:00:11.

“Wednesday Writer” – Rachelle Christensen

Today’s award-winning author is one very busy and talented lady. Not only has Rachelle Christensen written two suspense novels, WRONG NUMBER and CALLER I.D., along with a non-fiction book about miscarriage (LOST CHILDREN: COPING WITH MISCARRIAGE FOR LATTER-DAY SAINTS), but she’s married and the mother of four–two boys and two girls. As if that weren’t enough, she runs, blogs quite successfully, and offers marketing services for other authors. In fact, I caught up with her in the middle of the blog tour she’s arranged for David Farland’s new book, NIGHTINGALE. (It just so happens that I’m interviewing him next Wednesday as part of that tour.) But this week, we’re getting to know more about Rachelle.

Me:  I believe you were raised on a farm in Idaho. Do you ever go back to those roots, and how has that upbringing impacted your writing? (I’d also love a picture of you doing farm chores as a little girl.)

Rachelle:  I love my farm-girl roots and I usually visit my parents a few times each year. I learned to work hard on the farm, and I feel loke that cultivated a strong work ethic that is imperative for any writer.

I included a picture of my dad and me on his tractor, riding through the bean field. Talk about work ethic–both my parents worked full-time and farmed in addition. (No wonder you take on so much in your own life!)

(Hint: You might have to click on the picture for a bigger view of little Rachelle.)

Me:  What was your first creative writing composition–a poem or a story? Do you still have it and could you either reproduce it here or summarize it for us?

Rachelle:  I wrote tons of poems for everyone in my family. They were simple poems, but my family always encouraged me. My dad would always say, “She’s a poet and her toes show it.” (It’s in the toes, eh? Hmmm . . . I’ll have to check out more writers’ feet at the next conference.) It gave me the confidence to enter my poems in a newspaper Christmas poetry contest. I think I was nine years old the first time I won and they gave me $25. That validation started a fire in me–made me realize that I could create something worthwhile.

(Wow! Published at age nine. I’m seriously impressed!)

Me:  My dad grew up in Parker, Idaho (population about 200) and longed for adventure, so he ended up living and traveling abroad. How about you? Is there something about those vast fields and drainage ditches that make a child’s mind wander to other places? If so, where did your imagination usually take you?

Rachelle:  I was constantly drafting stories in my head and out loud. While my brother and I weeded sixty acres of beans, we would pretend we were royalty that had been kidnapped and made to work in the fields. We had to find magical berries (these would be the berries from the awful Nightshade week) that would help us get back to the castle. (I love it! I think you have the beginnings of a great fantasy novel, as long as it’s set in present-day Idaho to begin with.)

I definitely had plenty of time to think. I often sang to myself to alert the animal life that I was near (read: keep the skunks away). I composed quite a few songs in the fields.

(Anti-skunk songs . . . yet another talent. :D)

Me:  Okay, why Psychology as a major and music as a minor? And how have they affected your writing of suspense novels?

Rachelle:  I actually started out thinking I would major in music therapy, which is a mixture of music and psychology. After my first semester studying and learning the job market for that major, I didn’t think it was reasonable, so I switched. By then I was about halfway to a music minor. I absolutely love music; some of my favorite times during college were the hour I spent each day inside the piano practice room.

I had always been interested in psychology–so great for my curious nature and that side of me that wanted to help others. I think my background in psychology has helped me in finding character motivations that add to the plot and sometimes turn it on its end.

Me:  You list quite a number of hobbies on your website. Besides cooking (which I imagine you do a lot of for a terrific husband and four kids), which do you spend the most time doing and which provides the greatest creative outlet?

Rachelle:  I have a problem. I want to do everything. (How did I not notice that?) I love trying new things, and I love a challenge. I’ve had to give up a lot of my hobby time for my writing but I still get excited about sewing something new or making cards and stamping. I enjoy cooking, except when my kids complain. I actually have a new website which corresponds with my new series and my creative outlet. It’s called MashedPotatoesandCrafts.com(And I love the logo in the banner!)

Me:  I’ve seen how gross college students’ apartments can get, so I must say I was rather impressed that you managed to form a cleaning business shortly after college and your crew was able to clean 80 apartments in 9 days! Just how large was your crew and please describe the worst apartment you ever encountered. (I can’t imagine you took pictures of such things, but if you did . . . yes, please share.)

Rachelle:  Yep, they were pretty nasty. I had a crew of about ten people. My younger brother and sister were my best workers. (Naturally. Like you, they’d been raised to work!)

At one of the apartments we actually had to vacuum out the oven. Another, the toilet seat was black–not exaggerating. I have no idea what they did to it, but we got it clean!

Me:  Who’s better? Your college cleaning crew or your family, and how?

Rachelle:  That would be my family, as in my Idaho family. I never realized until I went to college that my parents are both very particular about cleaning–my mom, especially. She always threatened us with the white glove test after we cleaned a room and since we lived in the sandy desert, there was always something to dust.

Me:  Okay, let’s turn to writing. Please describe your writing space as your youngest child would see it. (And, yes, I must have a picture.)

Rachelle:  My youngest child just turned two. He is fearless. The following events have actually happened. (Oh, boy! Sounds like a good story is coming.)

(First, the protagonist, Austin)

(And now the setting . . . just pretend that secondary character isn’t sitting in the chair.)

(Two-year-old): Oh, look at this beautiful new toy Mom has set up in our living room. That looks like the perfect place to try out my new dance moves. It’s a little high, but if I climb on the couch, then stand on the arm of the couch, I can just about reach–yep, there we go. I can pull myself onto the top of Mom’s new desk and . . . What’s this? I’ll just sit down right here by the printer and re-stack Mom’s paper.

Hmm, what’s this? (He grabs the webcam.) It has a funny eye in there. Maybe if I push these buttons (on the keyboard and mouse) it will wink at me. Oh, here comes Mom. She looks worried. And mad. Pshaw, she’s so stingy about her computer. I’ll just take this little black thing (the wireless mouse) and put it in my room when she’s not looking.

See, Mom, I’m getting down. Don’t worry, the desk is all yours.

(Hope you got your mouse back.)

Me:  How would your husband describe your writing process, and how would you correct him–because we all know that women have to have the last word, right? And what are you working on now, by the way?

Rachelle:  My husband, Steve, is incredibly supportive of my writing. When I whine about having to go through another round of revisions, he commiserates, then says, “But won’t that make your book better?” (Aww . . . he sounds like my husband.)

He would say that I sit and type at the computer a lot, talk to myself, and complain about editing. I wouldn’t correct much, except that I’m not always talking to myself, sometimes I’m reading aloud what I’ve written and he loves to tease me about that. :D

I’m working on a new mystery series and I’m excited because book one is just about ready to go out on submission and I’m drafting book two. Here’s a one-liner:

Adrielle Pyper is a wedding planner with a penchant for crafting and solving mysteries, but when it involves stolen wedding gowns and murder, she might not have a Pinterest board to cover her latest troubles.

(Sounds intriguing and fun at the same time!)

Me:  Finally, I know you read a lot and widely. Which genre would intimidate you the most as a writer, and why?

Rachelle:  Definitely science fiction. I don’t read as much of that genre, and I have a hard enough time thinking what to cook for dinner, let alone coming up with new tech inventions and alien sportswear.

Thanks for the fun interview!

My pleasure! If you’d like to know more about Rachelle and all her various projects, check out her website and her blog about writing.

And don’t forget! I’m interviewing best-selling author, David Farland, next Wednesday.

Originally posted 2012-10-17 06:00:12.

And the Winner is . . .

Kelly Nelson!

You’ve won an autographed copy of A NIGHT ON MOON HILL. I’ll get it off in the mail to you by Monday. (And I hope you’ll give it a review on Amazon and Goodreads when you’ve finished it.) :D

Don’t forget. Next Wednesday I’m interviewing suspense author, Rachelle Christensen.

Originally posted 2012-10-12 16:47:37.

Starting Down the Pathway to College

Last night marked Jason’s fourth week in the Pathway Program and I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen thus far. After a somewhat shaky start (more about that in a minute), he’s buckled down and begun to get used to a whole new routine.

First, some background on the program. Offered by BYU-Idaho, the program is designed for three different groups of aspiring college students–those who are academically challenged and need a little boost to get them ready for college work; those who need to put their lives in order to be ready to abide by BYU’s strict moral code; and those, like Jason, who may have difficulties or learning disorders that prevent them from being at ease leaving home for college.

The program is simple. Jason takes two courses a semester (an online course that provides reading materials, study guides, writing prompts and weekly quizzes . . . and a second course on Thursday nights in a classroom at the local LDS Institute). Following the second course, he gathers with the Pathway Director and the other classmates to discuss what they’ve learned online that week. All told, Thursday nights are pretty long–about 3 hours in class. But the rest of the week, the load is really quite light. This semester, Jason is taking a religion class and a course entitled “Pathway Life Skills.” Perfect for someone like my son.

I say that because it’s teaching him the true value of a college education and how it will affect his life and prepare him to serve himself, his family, and his community. In other words, it’s drawing him out to engage with the world he lives in. Exactly what he needs!

As I alluded to above, Jason’s first Thursday night class didn’t go so well back in September. But that was because there wasn’t clear communication about the schedule for the evening. After one and a half hours of the religion class, he was maxed out and rushed out of there before they even announced that a Pathway class would directly follow. Jason doesn’t drive yet, so my husband was waiting in the parking lot. When he got in the car and insisted the class was over, Michael thought it a bit strange but began to bring him home. Not ten minutes later, I got a call from the Pathway teacher’s wife (fortunately, a couple runs the program) asking where Jason had gone. After a quick call to my husband, they turned around and Jason, rather humiliated, slumped back into the classroom and hid in a corner for the rest of the evening. Needless to say, he didn’t get much out of that first class.

I thought we might have a problem getting him to agree to return the next week, but after a bit of coaxing and helping him with that first week of assignments, he went. Now, after three weeks, the routine is set. He checks his email regularly. He logs in for his assignments, does his reading, goes through the study guides, completes his Learning and Attendance Reports, takes his quiz, and prepares for the next Thursday evening class.

Dare I say he’s beginning to resemble a college student? It’s exciting to watch.

Once he completes three semesters of the Pathway Program satisfactorily, he’ll be admitted to BYU-Idaho as a full-fledged online student and be able to pursue one of nine different Bachelor’s degrees or five different Associate’s degrees (and those are only the degrees they’re currently offering . . . by the time he’s accepted, I imagine they’ll have more).

I can almost see my son’s future opening up! Now if we can only get him to take Driver’s Ed. Patience, I remind myself. At least he’s begun to be open to the idea of driving.

By the way, all my postings about Jason are now being shared over at Madison House Autism Foundation. It’s a terrific organization designed for autistic individuals (and their families) who are trying to find their way into and through adulthood. They’ve agreed to follow Jason’s Journey with me.

Originally posted 2012-10-12 03:00:23.

“Wednesday Writer” – Gregg Luke

(Note: A comment on this post earns you a shot at winning an autographed copy of my new book, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL.)

Having now penned six medical thrillers, Gregg Luke has definitely created his own niche among LDS authors, and all while dispensing drugs (legally) by day as a pharmacist. When I first met him at an LDStorymakers Conference, he struck me more as a blond-haired version of Tom Selleck (the mustache, of course) and so I wasn’t at all surprised to learn he wrote mystery thrillers. I should have suspected he’d be involved with movies, too.

Me:  Tell me about the story you wrote in 4th grade that prompted your teacher to write “Wonderful imagination” on the paper? What was it about and do you still have it?

Gregg:  Yes, I still have it. The story is about a village whose well had run dry. One day it rained so much that the well filled up. The mayor said each villager should only take enough water to survive. But someone came back that night and took even more. In the morning all his water was spoiled. No one could figure out the mystery until the guy finally confessed to having taken more. The mayor concluded that the water had been a gift from heaven and that the well would always remain full as long as no one else got greedy.

Yeah, I know it’s not very original, but hey, that was back in 4th grade! In retrospect, it sounds just like the Old Testament story of manna from heaven. I probably stole the story idea from a primary lesson. (Hmmm…he was into crime even back then.)

Me:  When and why did you actually begin to consider writing a book that would be published? And what did you imagine your first book would be about at that time?

Gregg:  I’ve always loved telling stories. Growing up I devoured the Willard Price adventure series. I decided right then that I wanted to write a bunch of novels filled with excitement, adventure, and cool facts.

I wrote numerous short stories for creative writing classes, but it wasn’t until I’d finished college that I thought I had the ability (or time!) to write a full novel.

My first novel was actually a Book of Mormon adventure that garnered an inch-thick stack of rejection letters.

(I think several of us have experienced that. It’s a rite of passage for any author . . . well, any author but Stephenie Meyer, perhaps.)

Me:  Growing up in Santa Barbara, CA, I imagine you must have tried your hand (actually, your hands and feet) at surfing. You just strike me as the surfing type. If so, what did you like and what did you dislike about it? If not, why not? (And even if you weren’t a surfer, I must have a picture of you from your high school years.)

Gregg:  Ha! I was definitely a beach bum, but I’ve actually never tried surfing. I was pretty good at boggie boarding (yes, it’s spelled that way) and volleyball, but my real passion was snorkeling and scuba diving. I think the best way to describe scuba diving is that it’s kind of like flying. You basically fly above the seabed, hovering, going up or down, and interacting with the marine life without ever having to touch the ground.

From boggie boarding…

to scuba diving. What will he try next?

 

Me:  In high school, what did you like more, writing or making movies? And why? Also, so many writers I know were into theater at some point in their lives. Were you involved with theater at all in high school?

Gregg:  I think writing and movie making (and even song writing) are simply different means of storytelling. I’ve done all three, because (as I said earlier) I love storytelling. Each form has its own challenges, advantages and disadvantages, and appeal. I don’t necessarily like one over the other, but I think you can learn something from each that will strengthen your craft in the others. But back then I was definitely more into filmmaking. I love everything about the craft!

Yes, I was involved in theater and choral performance in high school. I was in a few choral groups and small plays, but I never went hardcore into the drama scene. I didn’t like the emphases prevalent in those days. You gotta remember that I grew up in the 70’s where the moral attitude was “if it feels good, do it.” I didn’t want to get involved with productions which promoted that viewpoint. (I guess my high school drama group was a little more tolerant of a strict Mormon. Sure, that attitude was around, but they didn’t push it on you.)

Me:  I know you got a scholarship to BYU in Cinematography, so what made you change your major to Biologic Sciences? And did your mission to Wisconsin have anything to do with it? (Also, if you happen to still have one of your short films from those days, I’d love to feature it here. Hint, hint.)

Gregg:  I got that scholarship because I had shown a short, special effects film I made to one of the department heads at the insistence of my mom. The summer before my mission, we were on a family vacation and I’d brought a few super8 movies with me to show my cousins. We stopped by BYU so my mom could see old friends (she’s an alum), she mentioned my material to one of her friends who had a friend in the film department, and before I knew it I was showing my work to a couple department heads. I didn’t think anything of it until my mission president suggested I apply to BYU because he’d heard they had a good film department. Next thing I knew I had a scholarship because one of the department heads remembered my material.

How did that transition to science? I’ve always been fascinated with the sciences. I love everything about discovering the world around us. I love learning how it ticks. I also love watching documentaries on nature. Some are painfully boring, others are riveting. The reason why? The good ones don’t simply disseminate facts, they tell a story. I guess my love of both disciplines melded into a single passion. 

Me:  Which has had more of an influence on your writing: biology (and your current occupation as a Pharmacist) or cinematography? And please explain how.

Gregg:  Oh my career as a pharmacist has had a far greater influence on my writing. I can take just about any drug from my pharmacy shelves and with a few “what ifs” can create a story around it. Plus, I have an almost limitless cast of characters to choose from in the patients I encounter. (Some have even asked to be included in a novel. It’s a little disconcerting how many of those want to be villains instead of heroes!) (Okay, I’m not a patient, but can I be a heroine?)

Me:  Please describe your writing space as if a killer is sneaking in and trying to learn clues about the occupant in order to murder him. (And provide a picture, as well . . . not of the murder, but of your writing space. :D)

Gregg:  Really? Um, okay. Remember, you asked for it.

The small house was quiet, unassuming. Entering it had been child’s play. The intruder knew the occupants were simply empty-nesters with no real assets or valuables worthy of theft. But that’s not why she was there.

No one was home. The only living creature was an overweight, yellow cat that spent ninety percent of its life asleep. The cat was nowhere in sight. No matter. The moment was now. She’d done just enough research to know her timing was perfect.

Just inside the front door, the intruder passed a display case of archaic pharmacy paraphernalia. Glancing at the ancient medicines, she allowed herself a rare smile, imagining with a morbid sense of irony which one might complete her nefarious task with the maximum amount of suffering.

She shook her head and continued down the hallway. The first room had been converted into a small library. Such arrogance; such temerity. Even without going in she knew the shelves would be lined with his twisted taste in literature. Dean Koontz. Steven King. Stephanie Black. They were all there. All the sickos. And more. There was probably an entire shelf devoted purely to his own macabre writing. She harrumphed, knowing she could write circles around him with one hand tied behind her back . . . in her sleep . . . having gone weeks without food or water . . . or brushing her teeth.

The next room was his office. Two L-shaped desks; one for him, the other for his wife. She wrote YA fantasy: Marvelous, uplifting material that had real substance. He wrote repugnant, implausible drivel; predictable hogwash rife with blood, guts, gore, and big words that nobody knew how to pronounce, much less what they meant. The left side of his desk held his HP laptop; the right side a large blotter on which he scrawled seemingly important notes, trivial appointments, and upcoming deadlines.

Dead-lines, she snickered inwardly. Oh, there would be some very “dead” lines on that desktop real soon. The hutch above the blotter was ideal for her plans. Two sliding doors hid an assortment of reference books and teaching materials. But there was room for a bomb, too.

The rare smile returned as she removed a high yield, thermal nuclear warhead with a nominal aspect of thirty kilotons of enriched uranium, all cleverly disguised in her Mary Kay compact. Oh yes. Yes! Finally, this would be the end to Gregg Luke’s sophomoric authorship. Never again would she be drawn into his macabre tales of disease and death, which kept her up at night with really, really yucky dreams.

Setting the trigger to detonate in precisely forty minutes, the time at which he’d return from home teaching, she slid open one of the hutch doors—and gasped. Sitting inside the cubby, with a look of smug superiority and imminent doom, the yellow cat crouched poised for attack. Obviously overlooked in her shoddy research, she did not realize that the cat was a seventh-level Ninja. In a blinding flash the cat lunged, subdued the intruder, deactivated the bomb, and returned to the foot of his master’s bed to continue his nap.

The rest is history.

(Nicely done, but drat! You made me the villain. Ha! I flatter myself.)

Me:  After giving scriptural fiction a couple of tries, you seem to have found your stride by becoming the Michael Crichton of LDS medical thriller writers with such hits as BLINK OF AN EYE, ALTERED STATE, BLOODBORNE and the recent DEADLY UNDERTAKINGS. Any plans on following him further down the science fiction path and creating something “Jurassic Park”-like?

Gregg:  Wow, I’ll take that compliment! Thanks! My hero is the late Michael Crichton. He graduated from Harvard Medical School, but never really practiced medicine because he had more fun writing novels and making movies.

Michael Crichton

I’ve never written any sci-fi to speak of. I suppose I could try but I really like writing copy that has its foundation in real science. I believe that adds to its creepability (new word?). It’s one thing to say a mutation-causing element was discovered in a galaxy far, far away; it’s another to say this virus is REAL and it CAN cause the horrible things I describe. Jurassic Park the novel was infinitely better than the movie(s) because Crichton used actual science (with a little speculative license) to recreate the dinosaurs. I think I came close to that in Altered State. SPAAM is a chemical of my own making, derived from existing chemicals that function as I described in the book. Whether they actually allow for mind control is another matter; but the chemistry behind it is real. (Having a very unscientific mind, I’ll just have to take your word for that.)

Me:  Given your background in film, do you storyboard your novels, or how would you describe your writing process? And what are you working on now?

Gregg:  Believe it or not, I’m more of a discovery writer. (Me too!) I have blocks of information and disclosure that are arranged in a specific order, but I have no idea how I’m going to get from point A to point B until my characters take me there. However, in writing any scene I always “watch the movie in my head” before I begin typing. I’ve had several readers say my novels read like watching a movie, and that’s why. I use many of the elements of good filmmaking in my storytelling.

I’m currently working on about four projects. One is nearly complete, one is well under way, and two are still in their infancy. I just completed a collection of scary stories for Halloween 2013. I was asked to co-author the collection with Stephanie Black and Traci Abramson. We each wrote a Halloween-themed novella to be compiled by Covenant into one book. I’m very excited about it. I’m also dabbling in adapting Do No Harm into a screenplay. Time will tell if that pans out (pun intended). :D

Me:  Finally, is it true that you used to fence, and, if so, how did you become introduced to the sport? (I’d love a picture of you in fencing attire, preferably in the middle of a match or a practice session.)

Gregg:  Okay, now you’re scaring me. How the heck did you know that?

I like doing things out of the norm (big shock, I know). When required to take a foreign language in college, instead of taking Spanish like everyone else, I took Japanese. Instead of taking a basic gym class, I took fencing. I loved it. My coach was a former coach of the Russian Olympic team. I fought epée. But I wasn’t very good. My size was a mixed-blessing. I had a three-meter lunge, but I also presented a pretty large target to skewer.

Gregg getting skewered! (Just kidding . . . this is what he gets for not providing any pics) 

Wow, Tanya, this was fun. Talk about walking down memory lane! Thanks for your interest in my less-than-average life. It’s been fun, and I certainly hope it continues. I feel very, very blessed (and I hope that continues too).

Seriously, it was fun for me too. I wish you had your website up and working so I could point our readers to it, but you can check out all of Gregg’s books here and maybe even buy one!

Originally posted 2012-10-10 06:00:41.

And the Winner is…

RACHELLE CHRISTENSEN! (Thank you, Random.org.)

While there were only 8 commenters (not counting myself and GG), I really appreciated the feedback and dialogue about writers’ ways of thinking and their neurological makeup. Thanks again!

Rachelle, please contact GG at ggvan1(at)gmail(dot)com to let her know which of her books of those mentioned–THE TAMING OF LADY KATE, THE DUKE’S UNDOING, THE LAST WALTZ, or THE ONLY WAY TO PARADISE–you’d like to receive as an e-book as your prize. Also, make certain to stipulate the format, Kindle or Nook.

And don’t forget to check in next Wednesday for my interview with Gregg Luke!

Originally posted 2012-10-05 14:21:06.

“Wednesday Writer” – GG Vandagriff

GG has long fascinated me. First, there are those initials (which, believe it or not, I forgot to ask about). She writes a range of fiction–from romance to historical (and sometimes both)–but she always chooses an interesting, evocative setting. And, more likely than not, it’s a place she’s visited and spent time getting to know well. Let’s get on with the interview, and be sure to read through to the end because GG’s offering to give away one of her books in either Kindle or Nook format to one of those of you who leave a comment! (I’ll let Random.org decide.)

Me:  Tell me about the first story you ever remember writing.

GG:  I was in fourth grade. My story, “The Ballerina Who Couldn’t Dance,” (about a doll) won the elementary school contest. I remember how wondrous the process of writing seemed to me as the story came alive in my mind.

Me:  You say on your website that you were “wired to be a writer.” How so? And why did you ever get mixed up with finance as a career?

GG:  The reason I feel I was “wired” to be a writer is because from a very early age I was seeking and creating alternative realities. I came from a severely dysfunctional family, and this was my escape. Also, writing is in my genes–my great grandfather had his own newspaper and came from a long line of newspaper editors. (Okay, that proves it!) Another factor is my bi-polar disorder which is a very frequent malady among novelists. It causes me to take a more in-depth look at the world and my emotional responses to it. Also, the disorder causes creative tension, which is only resolved by creation itself.

(Ah, so writing heals you in a way.)

As for finance, that was a fluke. I was living in Boston looking for a job after college. I gave my resumé to Harvard and they had me interview for the job of Assistant to the Treasurer! (That must have been some resumé!) I got it. I learned about bonds and investing there. I went on to work at Fidelity Investments, and with that background, after I obtained my master’s degree, I was hired by Continental Bank of Chicago to be the first woman International Banking executive. I put my husband through law school with that job, but hated it intensely! Thereafter, I taught economics in college.

(Liz, if you’re reading this, you might want to consider GG for a future Treasurer on the LDStorymakers board of directors.)

Me:  What kinds of things happened during your childhood and adolescence that influence your writing today?

GG:  One of the really good things that happened was that my father sent me to England all alone when I was 16 to stay with a client’s family. That visit changed my life. I saw the “greater world” for the first time, made friends with people far older than me, developed a passion for history, and realized that real life could be more exciting than reading.

Also, my aunt, who also struggled with bi-polar disorder, had great faith in me and my childish scribblings. She told me I was destined to be an “authoress,” planting that idea in my mind very early. (Good for her!)

The negative influences of my home caused me to seek safety and escape, driving me to incessant reading and all my earliest writing attempts. Reading the “greats” always pays off for a writer.

Me:  In all your travels, which countries have been your most and least favorite and why? (And I’d love a picture or two of you in each, if possible.)

GG:  I love Italy the most, because Florence, the seat of the Renaissance, absolutely sparkles with possibilities. When you see the art of Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Raphael, and all the great artists of the age, it makes you realize that artistic miracles are possible. Something in the air of Florence completed a creative circle inside me. I was able to take my writing to a new level.

A view of the famous Duomo in Florence, Italy. The air does sparkle, doesn’t it?

Living in Austria for six months was a life-changer for me, as well. I was only 20. Learning the history of that nation caused me to concentrate on studying its politics, art, and economics with such dedication, that my studies grew into THE LAST WALTZ, my Whitney Award-winning epic of the First World War and the Interwar Years.

I don’t have any least favorite place. I have found something to love in all the places I’ve visited. (Well said and indicative of a natural traveler.)

Me:  How did you come to live in the Ozarks after graduating from Stanford and working as an International Banker in Los Angeles? And how much of an adjustment was it, if any?

GG:  Because of our concerns that our children would grow up with the same convoluted values as my family, we wanted to move as far away from L.A. as possible. We made the mistake of visiting the Ozarks in the spring. It was simply breathtaking. We longed for the simplicity of life there. But as anyone who reads PIECES OF PARIS will find out, life was far from simple! We were the targets of bigots the entire 16 years we lived there. It was a huge adjustment for me. However, because I had literally NO distractions (there wasn’t even a bookstore), that is where I learned to write after years of studying and practicing the discipline. All my early novels had their beginnings in the Ozarks. It was also absolutely the right place to raise our children. They had an ideal childhood with the gospel as its center and formed strong, non-materialistic values, as we hoped they would.

Me:  Having served a mission in Italy, I get what you say about how Italians seem to be born with a tendency to love unconditionally. How long were you there researching THE ONLY WAY TO PARADISE and how did that characteristic affect your novel?

GG:  I visited Florence on three different occasions while I wrote that book. The first time was for two weeks, the second time for four days, both with my photographer husband. The third time was on my own for almost a month. That last time was when I finally realized that the magic thing about Florence for me was the people. I had many unbelievable experiences during that visit, proving to me the “agape” of the Florentines, and I used all of them in my book. The title of the book implies that the only way to paradise is to learn to love with Christlike love (agape).

Me:  Let’s have a look at your writing space. Please describe it in the voice of Lady Kate from your novel, THE TAMING OF LADY KATE. (I’d also love a picture.)

GG:  This writing space is dreadfully untidy. There are at least six-months-worth of important  papers lying on the floor waiting to be filed! This woman must have a very selective brain to be able to create in the midst of such chaos! Even her files are not in alphabetical order. I do need to take her on as a project, I think. How much more productive she could be under my influence. Over her desk she has an interesting assortment of talismans, including a Grecian rag doll of all things. And she is very behind on framing her covers–she lacks the last four books! But I do like the cranberry colored walls, the leaded glass book cases, and of course the view! From this author’s window it is possible to see a lovely valley, beyond which lies a lake and beyond that a range of mountains. If I just organize it a bit, even I might find this an inspiring place to work. Though, of course, I would never be anything as frivolous as a novelist.

(Very well done. Unfortunately, GG was away from her computer–traveling–when she sent these responses and so she couldn’t send an actual photo, but I think we get the picture!)

Me:  You say that bi-polar disorder is a common ailment among writers. Why do you think this is so?

GG:  It is a documented fact. Psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamieson has written a book called “Touched by Fire,” about it. I think it is so because sufferers with this ailment go to depths and heights of emotional experience that other people do not. This enables us to draw scenes that are “larger than life.” It also carves deep into our souls, creating a void that must be filled by some kind of higher understanding of life. If this void is not filled, then suicide is inevitable. Because I am lucky enough to have the understanding of the Gospel in my life, it is possible to fill that void with the love of God. Two of my favorite novelists are Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Both of them struggled with this problem, and both arrived at the conclusion that the void could only be filled by living a Christ-centered life.

(Actually, from what I’ve read, Dostoyevsky suffered more from temporal lobe epilepsy–a condition I have–but the two conditions may be related, according to scientists.)

Me:  Tell us how and why you and your husband (Passive Guy) got involved in independent publishing. And why does he use that moniker?

GG:  David uses that moniker for irony. He started his blog and began recording a pastiche of experiences documenting the technological disruption in the publishing industry caused by the e-book and self-publishing. We became convinced that this is the ultimate destiny of the publishing industry, and that we wanted to get in on the action.

I decided to try publishing Regency romances because they sell so well in this format. I have been thrilled at the response. I have been self-published since April of 2012, and during that time my sales have far exceeded my sales as a DB author. However, that is only for e-books, and only for Regencies. My other books are still nowhere near my Regencies in sales. However, they are also doing very well. (I have the rights back to all my DB books except the two most recent.)

Me:  Finally, please explain your writing process and tell us what you’re working on now.

GG:  I am a pantser (fly by the seat of my pants). I start with character. When I’m really into the head of my characters, they tell the story. However, I am also learning that I must be in the heads of my readers. I need to be smart about what they want to read and what makes a satisfying story for them. I can’t be totally self-indulgent about this process. If I were a famous author, I could write whatever I wanted to write. But while I am still seeking to be more widely read, I need to be conscious during my writing of what readers in today’s world want to read. A lot of my books have too much angst. I think in today’s unsettled world people are looking for happiness. I know that when I am under stress, I read Regencies. The clean ones have strict values, admirable characters, and are driven to the happy ending, which is always marriage. This soothes the soul. And that is why Regencies sell. So now I am writing Regencies.

Specifically, I am 2/3 finished with “Miss Braithwaite’s Secret,” my third Regency, incorporating characters from my first two books. It will be slightly more serious in tone with better developed characters. It will be interesting to see how its sales do in comparison with my lighter fare.

Thanks for the thought-provoking questions!

My pleasure. :D

If you want to know more about GG, check out her website or blog. And if you want to win a free Kindle or Nook copy of THE TAMING OF LADY KATE, THE DUKE’S UNDOING, THE LAST WALTZ, or THE ONLY WAY TO PARADISE (your choice), please leave a comment.

What do you think about the connection between writers and bi-polar or other neurological disorders? Or what do you think about the future of self-publishing?

Next Wednesday, I’m interviewing Gregg Luke, author of medical thrillers.

(If you’re an author and would like to be featured in my “Wednesday Writer” series, just drop me an email at tanyaparkermills(at)mac(dot)com.)

Originally posted 2012-10-03 06:00:13.

Successful Launch at the Library

I don’t live in the biggest city, so when it came to selecting a venue for my book launch for A NIGHT ON MOON HILL, I only had a few options. I knew my book wouldn’t be in Barnes & Noble (yet) and, besides, that just seemed to go against one of my protagonist’s rules–encouraging the independent bookstore. Well, there were only three from which to choose and none of them quite fit what I had in mind.

Then I recalled that my main character, Daphne, and Eric, the boy with Asperger’s, spent a lot of time together in their local library. Fortunately, our local library had moved into a brand new building last year and they had a large room called the Gallery that was perfect for special events. So I called, told them I was counting on about 50 guests, and they offered to co-host the launch with me.

They had a sound system all set up, complete with a hands-free lavalier microphone, (and, if I’d needed it, a projection system), and plenty of tables and chairs–all in a lovely, glassed in setting. My friend, Billie Grimmett, a professional photographer, was kind enough to be on hand to take lots of wonderful pictures.

We began at 6:30 with about 15 or so having already arrived (including my sister, who had driven two and a half hours to surprise me . . . and Terry Deighton from my writer’s group, who, along with her husband, had driven six hours to help me out).

Me and my sister, Leslie

With classical music playing in the background (mostly Adagios by Albinoni and others–Daphne would have approved), I did my best to explain how I had come to write this particular story and then read an excerpt from the beginning, trying hard not to give anything away plot-wise.

By that point, more had arrived and we were ready for the first prize drawing. I had carefully selected prizes that somehow fit with my novel and divided them into three different drawings, with three in each group. In the first group, there was a simple pocket watch, a Kindle gift card (after all Daphne is a writer), and a home digital weather station. (Daphne also has a thing about weather . . . or, at least, she used to.)

But I didn’t want to simply draw a name and hand over a prize. Instead, I had my son, Jason, draw three names and then we had the three fish against each other for the prize they wanted. Using these little toy fishing poles (you see, in my novel, one of Eric’s obsessions is fishing), they tried to magnetically pick up as many fish as they could. The person who got the biggest catch got first pick among the three prizes. It made for some fun, competitive fishing!

Sharon won the weather station

Then while I began to sign books, those in attendance (and more were coming and going throughout the evening) either waited in line or helped themselves to some wonderful treats in back, including an “angelic” chocolate cake made by my good friend, Rebecca Elsberry, and lemon bars and cookies made by another good friend, Christy Berrett.

Rebecca slicing up her “angel” cake

After another prize drawing (for a wooden carved angel, a surprise wrapped book, and an Extra-Small Classic Ruled Moleskine notebook), I did another reading and then signed more books for those who had come later.

Terry signing in my friend, Mara

Finally, as night fell and 8:30 drew nigh, we had the final drawing, which included the biggest prize–a Nook Color gift basket–or a Moleskine Writer’s Gift Set, or a silver double dust-cover pocket watch. Afterward, I answered final questions before thanking everyone for coming.

Julie won the Nook!

And even if you didn’t win a prize, you could walk away with a bag of M&Ms (Daphne’s favorite) and a snack cup of Pringles (Eric’s favorite) . . . not to mention my book :D

I had invited 100 and slightly more than 50 came. I sold 36 books, gave 2 free copies to the library, and one each to my sister and Jason. I’m not sure what usually happens at book launches, but I felt like this was a real success. I can’t wait to do it again!

Oh, and for those of you who couldn’t make it, I’m doing a signing for “Ladies Night Out” at Far West Books in Kennewick this Saturday from 5 to 7 pm. Hope to see you there!

Originally posted 2012-10-01 06:00:02.