“Thriller Thursdays” – French Suspense with Anne Trager

I know I took several weeks off of my regular Thursday column, due to the publication of my book, but I’m back now, focusing again on thrillers and suspense. Before I continue with my reviews of popular thrillers (yes, I finished IN COLD BLOOD and THE DA VINCI CODE . . . reviews forthcoming), I want to expand my scope a bit.

Here in the United States, we tend to forget that other countries have their own bodies of literature. In fact, some of the greatest literature in the world has been produced beyond our borders. With that in mind, let me introduce someone who was determined to bring some of France’s current suspense writers to those whose native tongue is English.

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Anne Trager founded Le French Book to bring France’s best crime fiction, thrillers, novels, short stories, and non-fiction to new readers across the English-speaking world. The company’s motto is: “If we love it, we’ll translate it.”

I’ll be interviewing her here today and then, over the next few weeks, featuring some of her French authors as part of my “Wednesday Writer” series. I hope you’re as excited as I am to hear French writers talk about their processes and approach to their art.

ME:  I understand your goal with Le French Book is to bring English-speaking readers French books that they will love in English, but what made you decide to begin with crime fiction? Is that a genre you personally love, and, if so, why?

ANNE:  I love crime fiction, and to be honest, it is just about the only genre I read for my own pleasure. I love the pace, the suspense, when it grabs me by the throat and makes my heart beat faster. Give me a mystery or a thriller and I’m happy, so yes, that is why we decided to begin with crime fiction. Our motto is “If we love it, we’ll translate it.”

But there are other reasons. One is that very little commercial fiction from France is ever translated into English, and that is a shame because there are a lot of really good reads out there I believe readers will enjoy discovering. And finally, our model is to publish e-books first, and well, crime fiction is a very popular e-book model.

ME:  How do you choose your books, and why did you begin with these three–THE PARIS LAWYER, TREACHERY IN BORDEAUX, and THE 7TH WOMAN–in particular?

ANNE:  First of all, we do a lot of reading and take a lot of recommendations from readers we know. I also attend book fairs, meet authors and discuss with agents and French publishers about their current lists. We choose books we think will appeal to an American audience because of their pace and story.

As it turns out, the first books we chose were also very successful in France. My associate, Fabrice Neuman, was the first to point out THE PARIS LAWYER. We both liked the story structure and the writing. The first page just sucks you into both the main character’s past and present.

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We chose TREACHERY IN BORDEAUX because the whole story and setting revolve around wine (I love wine) and the main character is a food and wine lover in a very French way. It embodies something very culturally specific but also universal that goes well with our brand Le French Book. Also, it is the first in a long series that is a hit on French television, so there will be more books to come.

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And finally, I chose THE 7TH WOMAN because I couldn’t put it down when I started reading it. It gives you a real edge-of-your-seat rush.

images(I’ve bought all three, but I’m reading this one first!)

ME:  You’ve said that your “goal as a translator is to make sure the read in English gives the same shivers of expectation, longing to read more and pangs of emotions.” How long does it normally take you to translate a novel and how often does it require research? Also, do you get a second opinion on whether you’ve succeeded with the translation or not before publishing?

ANNE:  Every novel is different, so it could take a month or two or three or more depending on how easy it is for me to pick up the author’s style and how much research is involved. I like to meet the authors, as well, when that is possible, since the translation is something like getting in their heads and I like to discuss with them if and when we need to make cultural adaptations.

The books usually require research. For TREACHERY IN BORDEAUX, for example, I spent a lot of time reading about winemaking, to get all the vocabulary right, and the city of Bordeaux, for the sense of place, which is one of the novel’s strong points. For THE 7TH WOMAN, I spent time talking with gendarme friends to make sure I understood French police procedure well enough to give an accurate equivalent, and roaming the streets of Paris for atmosphere. And for THE PARIS LAWYER, I talked to lawyers and became rather expert in French legal procedure.

Once completed, all the translations get a second opinion from someone who has read the original in French, and they are all edited by a professional English-language editor to make sure it’s a smooth read. Then they go to beta readers.

(I wouldn’t mind being one of those.)

ME:  When did you first fall in love with France, why, and how long have you been living there now? (Please provide some pictures.)

ANNE:  I first fell in love with France when I was a teenager and was reading Gourmet magazine. To be honest, I was attracted by the good food, which I later found is more than just food, it’s a way of life. I then studied French and went to France as soon as I could. That was in 1985. I never left.

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(These pictures bring back memories of my own visit to Paris while on study abroad.)

ME:  Where were you born and raised, and what, if anything, in your childhood or adolescence pointed you toward languages, writing, and publishing?

ANNE:  Both of my parents were linguists (Aha!) and everyone in the family has a thing for language and culture, so learning another language was just natural for me. Then, once I was in France, translation was an obvious step because of my grasp of the language. From there, in order to be a good translator, you need to hone writing skills, and . . . well, that led ultimately to editing a publishing, as well.

ME:  Now I know you plan to publish more than crime fiction. In fact, you are putting out a collection of 52 SERIAL SHORTS. Why don’t you tell us about it?

ANNE:  This is a collection of short stories that don’t quite fit into any one genre. Seven of France’s top writers (the crème de la crème) got together to play a collaborative writing game first developed by the French Surrealists in the 1920s. The idea is that one writer starts a story and then hands it off to the next, who continues it, and so on until all seven writers have contributed to the one story.

The resulting stories are really fun to read, as you follow the authors setting traps for each other and having fun resolving them. They are a real study in creative talent. The stories were published in France in the form of a daily calendar. As we translate the whole collection, Le French Book is giving them away free. Readers can choose to receive a daily installment or a weekly story.

(How fun! I may just have to get together with a group of my writer friends and give this a go.)

ME:  What other genres do you foresee publishing going forward?

ANNE:  We will continue with the crime fiction and we have two spy thrillers in the works right now, along with a health and well-being book.

ME:  How would you compare the role of a translator of fiction with that of an author? Aren’t you, in a sense, also a writer with a writer’s sensibilities?

ANNE:  A translator is a kind of impersonator, who is also a writer with writer’s sensibilities. As anyone who has used an automatic online translation program knows, word for word translations are clunky at best, and well, just plain nonsense a lot of the time. Translating fiction requires understanding the author’s language, intention, plot, story structure, literary techniques, idioms, subtleties, and all the rest, and then writing a linguistic and cultural equivalent for this whole that, as you quote above, recreates for the reader the same or similar emotion and thrill that happens reading the original. You can only do this with a certain ability to write in your mother tongue.

ME:  I would love it if you would describe your own writer’s (or translator’s) space. (And please provide a picture)

ANNE:  My desk sits right smack in the middle of my office. Seven open-backed dark wooden bookshelves going halfway up the wall line the room, the rest of the wall space being reserved to large pictures I never seem to have had time to print and frame. So, when I sit at my desk, beyond my big screen I see that empty wall space in front of me, and to the right is a large picture window that looks out at my own terrace, which becomes my second office in summer.

I see a large evergreen, a walnut tree and a wisteria that is incredibly invasive come the warm weather. Behind me hang drawings done by my daughter, and a large white board I got to help me get organized and that does not actually serve much purpose. The floor space, however, does, and is duly piled up with papers, books, and other miscellanea.

IMG_0369(We didn’t get an interior shot, but she provided this picture of Pibrac, France where she lives . . . this appears to be a church, but if this is her actual home, I’m officially jealous.)

ME:  Finally, what are you currently translating and when can we expect to see it published in English?

ANNE:  I’m finishing up the 52 SERIAL SHORTS. I am also working with our editor on the adaptation of DARING TO DESIRE, which is the health and wellness book I mentioned earlier, and we are proofreading a new thriller translated by another translator, which we will be announcing soon. In addition, I have started translating the sequel to THE 7TH WOMAN. We are looking to bring some of these new books out as early as spring.

(Good! That gives me a few months to get THE 7TH WOMAN read, not to mention the others.)

Again, you can find out a lot more about Le French Book by checking out their website. And next Wednesday, I’ll be interviewing Sylvie Granotier, screenwriter, actor, and author of THE PARIS LAWYER.

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Originally posted 2013-01-17 06:00:00.

“Wednesday Writer” – C. Michelle Jefferies

C Michelle Jefferies author pic2A mother of seven, C. Michelle Jefferies’ first novel, EMERGENCE, about a hitman with a conscience, debuted last year on Halloween. (More about that later.) You’d think she’d take some time off for the holidays, but no, she also had a short story featured in the Christmas anthology, SING WE NOW AT CHRISTMAS, compiled by Michael Young.

Christmas book

And she has a new book coming out in the spring! When does this lady ever rest? Let’s find out what keeps her ticking.

ME:  Okay, first of all, what does the C. stand for and why use it as an initial? Is there another famous author named Michelle Jefferies, or do you aspire to be a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

MICHELLE:  No, definitely not a General Authority. (Laughs) The C stands for Christy; Michelle is my middle name. Not that I don’t like the name, but I have gone by Michelle most of my life. If you google just Michelle Jefferies, there are lots of semi-famous Michelle’s. So, in the interest of making myself a little different and more easily found, I added the C. Definitely not mysterious or secretive.

(Hmmm . . . I found 42 in the U.K. with your name, no one famous or semi-famous. But if you switch the spelling of your last name to Jeffries, we get a lot of professional doctor, scientist types. I still think you’re angling for GA status. We’d better keep an eye on you.)

ME:  Where were you born and raised, and how does it differ from where you live now?

MICHELLE:  I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. I grew up in the Salt Lake Valley and lived there until I went to Utah State University in Logan. It is a complete 180 degree turn from my life now. Salt Lake is a big, bustling city. Places to shop and things to do, being able to go to the thrift stores and grocery shopping within minutes.

Emery County, where I live now, is a tiny little rural village in comparison. There are less than 2,000 people in the city and it is only two miles across at any given point. There are no stoplights in the county and you can smell and hear cows in the evening. You see tractors drive down the road and cowboys in chaps and spurs in the one and only grocery store. It’s quite the difference for me. My kids love it. I’m okay with it.

(Sounds like a perfect place for a GA to be from. Think of all the anecdotes you can share from the podium.)

ME:  On a more serious note, I understand you suffered from severe asthma and allergies when you were young. How did that help or hinder your creative nature? And have you thought about giving any of your protagonists such disabilities? If not, why not? (Also, I’d love a picture of you as a child.)

MICHELLE:  I did. Thanks to modern medicine and strict avoidance of my worst allergies, I am healthier now than when I was young. I still played sports like baseball, but things where I had to run a lot like track and basketball were not for me. I think in a lot of ways it helped my creative side because I would sit on the sidelines of sports I couldn’t participate in and my imagination kicked in and created scenes for me to play in my head.

I don’t think I’d give any of my main characters asthma or allergies. In some ways they’ve made me so miserable or sick I’d hate to see anyone, even someone imaginary, with such a horrible disease. I do give disabilities to some characters. Just not those ones. 

Michelle as young girl(Michelle outside on the grass as a young girl. Is that an inhaler in her hand?)

ME:  How old were you when you wrote your first story, and do you still have it? Also, can you give us the gist of it?

MICHELLE:  The first story I wrote (that I remember in enough detail to tell you about it) was about a young lady who was captured by aliens and rescued by a “super hero type team.” I was twelve or thirteen and it was for a creative writing assignment in middle school. I got an A and the teacher complimented me on my descriptive detail. I think I still have it. I have most of my old high school writing stuff, too. I’d created stories in my head before then but it was one of the first ones I wrote about. I had found a Japanese anime called “Battle of the Planets” and fell in love with the “super team” idea. A lot of my earlier stories were in that style. Still like it, actually.

ME:  Tell us about each and every one of your seven children, particularly “destructo boy”, and have you already used any of their personality traits, or those of your husband, to help flesh out characters in your books? (I must have a picture of the whole family, if that’s all right with you.)

MICHELLE:  Okay, ready for the long list? (Yep. But first, I’ll post the picture of you with six of your kids. Guess who’s missing?)

Michelle and family

I have a 20-year-old son who is married and living in Utah County. He was my rebellious child and couldn’t wait to move away. They are happy and that is what I want for my kids.

My only daughter is almost 19, and is working on turning her mission papers in. (Yay! Good for her!) She is a sophomore at Southern Utah University and is loving college life. She is a lot like me. She loves to write and is an award-winning short story writer, and loves to bake chocolate chip cookies. (Nothing goes better with writing than chocolate . . . except when you’re trying to lose weight, of course, which I am . . . so, please, no more mentions of sweets, okay?) She is studying criminal justice and wants to be a profiler for the FBI.

(I think we can figure out what she’ll end up writing.)

My 15-year-old is a lot like his father. They love to go hunting and fishing and all sorts of outdoors things. He is studying mechanics and machining and wants to be a helicopter pilot. He is taking flying lessons from his father and wants a good summer job so he can get his airplane pilot license. (Take note, readers. Job wanted!)

My 11-year-old is a smart cookie. (No more sweets, please!) He gets all A’s and loves to play the clarinet. He is the true middle kid and likes to tease and incite all sorts of trouble with the older and younger kids.

My 9-year-old is dyslexic and, we think, high functioning autistic, although that one hasn’t been diagnosed. He struggles in school but loves life in spite of his disabilities. He’s just learning how to read with comprehension and decided that he wanted to read Goosebumps. Mom obliged, but doesn’t like the gross covers. (I’m with you there.) He loves to talk and we have to remind him to use his in-the-house voice. (Is that a nice way of saying he can get a little loud at times?)

My 6-year-old is quite the character. He is really smart. He was my earliest reader and never had a speech delay like the other boys did. He is only half-way through first grade and is reading chapter books. (Sounds like my Jason.) He is extremely sensitive, both in emotion and pain reception. He is often the one who is screaming if there’s a tussle or teasing going on. He used to conjugate verbs for fun when he was three. (Wow! I’m impressed.)

Then there’s my 2-year-old, or “destructo boy,” as we call him. He is constantly moving and getting into things unless he’s passed out. He has broken too many things to list, including his arm. He is a daredevil and doesn’t feel cold or heat. He likes the sensation of falling and has no fear. He is fiercely emotional and he loves everyone of his siblings intensely. He cries when the older ones go to school. While we call him destructo boy, he is the glue that holds my family together. Everyone loves him. Everyone seeks him out for hugs and affection. He calms the siblings down with his presence.

Baby(The adorable, ever-moving, yet calming “Destructo Boy”)

I use a lot of events and personality traits from my family in my books. I have millions of things going on in my house every day and I’d be a fool not to use my life as an idea generator. For example, when DB (Note: That’s Destructo Boy, not Deseret Book) broke his arm, I used the scene and experiences for my book, CATALYST. I have also named characters in my stories for every one of my kid’s names. That was a lot of fun to do. It makes my kids feel important, especially when doing things like edits sometimes take a lot of my time.

Because I am writing about an adult character, I use a lot of things that have happened to my husband as scenes in my books. We were at an airport one morning when we were moving my hubby’s plane. A falcon chased a pigeon past our plane and right into the propeller. It decapitated the falcon. (Gross!) Sounded like a gunshot. I watched every horrifying moment of it. It is definitely going to be a scene in some book. There’s a scene in the next book, LATENT, that is step for step an exact replay of an experience my hubby had at work. The funny thing is no one believes me that it was real. It is just too good to be real.

Michelle and husband(Michelle with her aviator husband)

ME:  You’ve said that you don’t interpret emotions or deal with them well. How has that affected your writing?

MICHELLE:  I don’t understand emotions or interpret them well. Sarcasm is lost on me. I don’t get “subtle hints” or some body language. If you do something and I am either still talking or staring at you, chances are I didn’t get it. (You do realize I’m going to test this out if I run into you at this year’s Storymakers Conference, don’t you?) It can make writing a character with emotional responses (which is most characters) really hard. Unless you’re my assassin. I have him pegged with this imaginary box that he stuffs everything in that he doesn’t want to deal with.

I actually do an “emotion” edit round on the whole manuscript when I am polishing it. It is the longest and hardest edit round I do. I have an awesome critique group that understands my issue, and they always comment on the lack of emotion and where it needs to go. (Sounds like Ann in my group. :D) I love them, they help me out a lot.

(Yes, critique groups are the cherry in a writer’s life . . . oops, I broke my own food rule. It must be about time for lunch.)

EmergenceCoverME:  Tell us about your Prophecy Rising series and how the first book, EMERGENCE, fits into it. And what are you working on now?

MICHELLE:  The Prophecy Rising series starts with a man who believes in nothing and no one except himself. He experiences life-changing events and makes a transformation, or my preferred word–metamorphosis–from bad boy to good guy. In the beginning, he has no idea who he is. He was left on the steps of a church as a newborn and has no living family or ideal to follow. The main character, Antony, in EMERGENCE is literally a wandering assassin like the old Ronins of feudal Japan. Trying to find his way.

The next books are of him finding himself and discovering that he has a lot more to himself than what he was as the assassin. He faces trials and many people who threaten his new life and loves, and he has to learn how to mesh the old assassin skills with a compassionate heart to save himself and his family.

EMERGENCE is an “accidental” book in the Prophecy Rising series. I wrote a book and every rejection or critique asked me the same questions. “Why is the main character the way he is?” After a few months of getting this question, I decided to go back in time and write the book that makes him who he is. I went to my plotting partner and we started to work out what I needed in order to write EMERGENCE. I was sick to my stomach for weeks. I didn’t want to give up the old story. I’d worked so hard on it. After weeks of worrying about the change, I accepted it and started to write EMERGENCE. It took me four months to write and another year to revise and edit it.

I just turned in the second book (working title, LATENT) to my publisher. The third book (working title, CATALYST) I wrote for Camp NANO in June. It has sat on the back burner for a few months and is next in line for revisions and editing. The fourth book (working title, PROPHECY RISING) is being plotted out in my head as we speak. It will be the next one written.

I am working on a Christmas short story right now about Antony for this year’s Christmas Advent Anthology by Michael Young. (A second edition, as it were of SING WE NOW OF CHRISTMAS.) I wrote a YA scifi/steampunk manuscript this November for NANO and it is now in the “back burner” position.

(All of this and seven kids, too? I am ashamed.)

ME:  Let’s pretend your main character, the assassin known as Antony, has to sneak into your house to find your office or writing space. Please describe in his voice how he would get in and what he would find. (I’d also really appreciate a picture of the setting.)

MICHELLE:

Antony could see the blue glow of the computer screen though the window to the left of the front door.  What on Earth was his author doing at three in the morning still awake and how was he going to get into her files if she was? Once he had the computer in hand he was fine, he knew her well enough to know her passwords.

The rest of the house was dark, and the front door locked. He could hear the dog’s low growl in the back yard. There was no way he was going to get into the house in the back.  There was one option, the living room window was open a crack. He worried what her husband would do if he found him in the house.  It didn’t matter much, he HAD to know how the next book ended.

The screen came out easily. He was sure that the kids leaning into the mesh had bent the frame enough that just pulling on the edges released it. He used the shovel he found leaning against the side of the house to leverage the window open, and slipped in. He made his way across the living room, stumbling or tripping a few times on toys on the floor. Trying to be silent, he kept his eyes on the hallway where his author’s husband should be sleeping as he pushed the office door open with his elbow. His mind ever aware of leaving fingerprints.

The room was empty, no Michelle, the computer screen glowing on the small green wood desk right under the window. To the left of the desk the printer sat on a metal cabinet covered in post it notes. A koala bear and kangaroo key chains hung from a metal paper holder. Farther to the left sat a filing cabinet and a book shelf. He could see the book EMERGENCE on the shelf and resisted the urge to pick it up and flip through the pages. He’d lived that story and he wanted to see what laid in store for him now.

To the desk’s right he observed a white cabinet that had a sculpture of him, which was pretty good if he said so, a triangle hat like the old man in Kyoto wore and other Asian objects including a Japanese tea set. Inside the cabinet as he opened the door that squeaked a little was three shelves of teapots cups and saucers.

“Drink a lot of herbal tea or is it just an obsession?” he asked as he made it past her craft table with her sewing machines on the top and supplies underneath and sat at the desk. He typed in her password and clicked on the file labeled LATENT.

(Brava! And here’s the picture):

Michelle's Office(Click for a larger view . . . notice the toys?)

ME:  Finally, I know you practically grew up in a library, thanks to your mom. How is the library in your town and do you think we’ll still have libraries twenty years from now? If so, what will they be like?

MICHELLE:  We’re really lucky and have an amazing library system here in Emery county. I know the librarians really well. They have a great selection of books and lots of events for the kids in the area.

I think there will still be libraries. I think while the electronic book won’t get rid of paper books, it will be dominant in the future. I imagine we’ll be able to go to the library and borrow a book and then, when it is due, it’s erased off your electronic device. I do not see e-devices replacing books for little kids. I’d never let destructo boy have an iPad. He’d kill it in three seconds. Little kids need to manipulate the pages and touch the pictures. I believe it is part of necessary development and a base in learning to love reading.

There’s something about turning pages and holding a book and smelling that new book smell. I just don’t see that being replaced.

(What about you, readers? Where do you see libraries and books in 20 years?)

If you’d like to learn more about Michelle and her writing, be sure and check out her website.

Stay tuned next week for an interview with Craig Everett, author of TOBY GOLD AND THE SECRET FORTUNE.

Craig Everett

Originally posted 2013-01-09 06:00:39.

“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.