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

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

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

Here is her description of SPINSTER’S FOLLY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND…

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

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

Jason Gets Scheduled

Each week, I grow more and more suspicious that this Pathway Program was designed with someone like my son in mind.

First, they had a lesson that basically talked him into attending college for real. Then they had a lesson that made him focus on his future and what he might want to be. Next came a lesson about general and particular goals in certain areas of life–intellectual, physical, spiritual, etc.–in the immediate future (he chose the physical…but I’ll post more about that next time).

And this week, he had to make a daily schedule.

What an eye-opener (to him, anyway). His father and I were already well aware of how he spent most days.

First, he had to track how he spent his time over 24 hours. Just the idea of it made him uncomfortable, and it’s obvious why when you examine the results:

(Just click on the image for a closer look)

In case you’re having a hard time reading the fine print, the result showed that he essentially spent a third to half his day on the computer. He calls it “researching” but he’s basically surfing the web and reading about all his favorite topics on Wikipedia or checking Facebook, Mugglenet, and the like.

Then they had the gall to ask him what he learned about himself from this exercise. As he put it to me (but not on the question sheet…there he was a bit more diplomatic), “I learned I’m a lazy slob!”

He’s exaggerating, of course, but the lesson did get through that it was time to reorganize his priorities. And that’s just what he was required to do next. Make a list of his priorities and things he needed and wanted to do. Then he had to make up a new kind of schedule.

Here’s what he came up with (after a bit of nudging from me):

(Again, click for a closer peek)

What an improvement in his use of time! I think it helped that the week before we’d already gotten him (and me) going on an exercise routine, but the addition of the commitment to spend actual daily hours in the local library, not to mention time reading rather than glued to a computer monitor, really made a difference.

As I reminded him, he can’t hope to be able to hold down a full-time job schedule until he’s able to maintain a personal schedule of his own. So on Monday we begin the new schedule. I’m so proud of the strides he’s making!

And my suspicions that the designer of the Pathway Program must have an ASD child of his own only continue to grow.

Originally posted 2012-11-09 13:09:07.

“Wednesday Writer” – J. Lloyd Morgan

First of all, the J. stands for Jason (one of my favorite names… :D). Apparently another writer by that name started publishing first, so today’s featured author had to scramble for an original pen name. While he writes novels and is best known for his series that began with THE HIDDEN SUN, Jason has also written memoir and short stories. In fact, his story “The Doughnut” was one of the top five winners in the Parables for Today contest. But more about his short stories later.

Me:  First of all, how did you and your family weather Super Storm Sandy there in North Carolina? Anything in particular that you did to prepare? And did it live up to its billing?

Jason:  I posted this on Facebook on Monday, October 29th: “The storm to end all storms has moved beyond North Carolina–but not before I was frightened to death by the media outlets. Upon further reflection, I may have resorted to cannibalism too soon.”

To be fair, we were on the far edge of the storm–very little rain and some mild gusts of wind. We’ve had much worse storms that never got the national attention this storm received.

(Well, we’re glad you don’t live in New York or New Jersey…and Jason and I are both very sorry for those who got the worst of Sandy.)

Me:  You’ve said you’re dyslexic. How old were you when you were diagnosed and how did it impact your experience with reading as a youth? (Also, I’d love a picture of you at the age you were diagnosed.)

Jason:  Back in the day, dyslexia wasn’t really understood as it is now. There are different aspects of it–the common thread is how the brain processes information. In kindergarten, I failed “knows the difference between left and right.” Later, I did poorly in spelling. When I read and write, I add or leave out extra words that my mind sees as being (or not being) there. When I was in high school, we learned about dyslexia and it was like a revelation. After taking some tests, it was verified that I have a form of it.

Growing up, I felt stupid because other kids were able to spell words without really trying. I just couldn’t get it. It takes lots of practice and, frankly, spell check has allowed me to become a writer. (Let’s hear it for spell check!) Alas, I don’t have a picture of me at that age. (Oh, well. Disappointment happens.)

Me:  I see you were a BYU Communications major like me. Given the fact that you ended up on the broadcasting side before taking on novel writing, I’d like to hear how your experience in television has helped prepare you for your career as an author.

Jason:  While directing in the NYC area, I was able to meet a boatload of diverse people: politicians, entertainers, reporters and anchors, engineers, technicians–and many more. I’ve drawn on those experiences for characters in my books. (Hmm…I wonder which character was inspired by Dan Rather?)

Directing live TV taught me the importance of pacing. It’s another skill that has transferred from TV to writing. In addition, we had a saying: “5 o’clock comes at the same time every day.” Either you’re ready for the broadcast or not. It taught me to set deadlines and stick to them.

Me:  The first two books in your series, The Bariwon Chronicles, are already out–THE HIDDEN SUN and THE WAXING MOON–with the next story, THE ZEALOUS STAR, due in 2013. What is the premise of the series, the thing that ties all the books together?

Jason:  I wanted to create character driven stories where they couldn’t solve their problems using magic or modern technology. The books share a common, fictional setting during a fictional time, and are written to be stand-alone books tied together with overall plot points and moral themes.

They are told from multiple points of view, though with only one point of view at a time. Readers tell me they enjoy the twists and turns–and some have written me fairly strong letters about how upset they got with the main villain or the bad things that happen to the characters. (A true sign of success.) All was forgiven in the end, however.

Me:  Why fantasy? Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors and why?

Jason:  I smile when I’m asked this question. I, personally, don’t believe my books (aside from THE MIRROR OF THE SOUL) are fantasy. (Oops. My mistake.) Magic isn’t used and there are no non-human creatures in the books. They aren’t historical fiction, either, because they take place in a fictional land during a fictional time. The Bariwon Chronicles are really medieval fiction–how’s that for a sub-genre for you?

Authors that I read in the past that influenced me are Orson Scott Card, Grey Keyes and Gerald N. Lund. For current fantasy writers, I’ve really enjoyed the works of Kelly Nelson, Berin Stephens and Michael Young. (Hmm…more writers to tap for future interviews. :D)

Me:  You’re also working on a realistic novel based on an experience you had while on your LDS mission in Mexico. (And I’d love a picture of you taken while on your mission.) How is that coming along and what is the basic theme? Any other realistic novels in the works?

Jason:  WALL OF FAITH is completed and is in the rejection, er, submission phase. Here is the challenge: LDS publishers don’t want to touch it because it openly discusses real issues missionaries have on their missions. It doesn’t sugarcoat it. At the same time, it has a positive message and it’s not controversial enough for non-LDS publishers. I had one of my LDS beta readers tell me, “Thank goodness I didn’t read this before I sent my son on his mission. I just want to get a letter each week with him telling me everything is perfect and he’s having the best two years of his life.” For that reason alone, it needs to be published. (I agree, even though I currently have a daughter on a mission.)

Elder Morgan holding up a sign in Mexico

My current work-in-progress is realistic fiction. (More about that in a second.)

Me:  Tell us about your writing process and your current work in progress. (See?)

Jason:  Every story I write always starts with a “what if?” question. I get a general idea for the characters, setting and their final destination and then, I make it up as I go. I believe in the power of inspiration and discovery while I’m writing. Most of the best scenes I’ve written were spontaneous.

I plow through the first draft until the end. Then I let it sit while I work on another project. When I return to it, I rewrite it, often making drastic changes. The end result is usually quite different from the first draft.

My current work in progress is about a young man who moves from North Carolina to Utah right before his senior year in high school. He attends the same school where his mom and dad met–which brings with it certain pressures and baggage. I’ve set it in the late 1980’s (for a very specific plot reason) and so I’m having fun going retro with a lot of the elements in the book.

(I should have asked for a photo of Jason from the 80’s.)

Me:  Let’s say you’ve got a week with no access to pen, paper, or computer device. What would you spend your time doing and why?

Jason:  Well, I can interpret that question a few ways. I’m going to go with the idea that I’m not able to write for that week. I’d spend as much time as possible reading. I’ve found by reading different authors and genres, I improve as a writer. (Darn it. I should have cut off access to books and e-reader devices, as well. I’m just curious about what different writers do when they can’t read or writer.)

Me:  Please describe your writing space, particularly anything unique about it, and provide a picture.

Jason:  My wife and I share an office in our office. (That would never work for me. My husband loves company…and not in a quiet way.) I write using a wireless keyboard on my lap–don’t know why. On the wall above my computer monitor are copies of my books and awards I’ve won. They act as a reminder that I can do it, even if I’m struggling at the moment.

See all the awards? He CAN do it!

Me:  Finally, I’m curious about the book you’ve written based on the songs of Chris de Burgh–THE MIRROR OF THE SOUL–due out early next year. How did this project come about and what is the premise of the story?

Jason:  Chris de Burgh, known in the USA for “The Lady in Red” and “Don’t Pay the Ferryman,” has always been one of my favorite musicians. When the music scene changed in the 1990s his popularity in the States faded, but he still does very well all around the world.

Chris de Burgh with his guitar

In 2006, he released a LP called “The Storyman.” On it is a song called “The Mirror of the Soul.” It’s a nine minute epic, telling of a large diamond that lands in France just after the Hundred Years War. The person who finds it discovers it glows when he touches it. He brings it to a local, corrupt Abbot, who takes the diamond because he believes with it he can gain power and money.

It’s really a metaphor about how people in our day use whatever they can to get gain and the results of doing so.

When I heard this song, I thought, Wow, this would make a great book. I got bold and contacted Chris de Burgh’s management. It took some (okay, a lot of) persistence, but I got a response. They liked the idea and asked for an outline to share with Chris.

In order to flush out the song to a full novel, I incorporated many of Chris’s other songs into the book, weaving their tales with the main story. Chris loved it and gave his permission and blessing. (Lucky!!!) I’m very excited for its release.

Thank you for the interview! I enjoyed it!

Likewise. And I’m also excited to read THE MIRROR OF THE SOUL…along with your upcoming anthology of short stories, THE NIGHT THE PORT-A-POTTY BURNED DOWN (due out in December).

For more information about Jason, his family, and his projects, check out his website.

And next week, I’ll be interviewing Marsha Ward, whose fourth volume in the Owen Family Saga–SPINSTER’S FOLLY–just came out.

Originally posted 2012-11-07 06:00:57.

“Wednesday Writer” – Sarah M. Eden

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

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

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

Now let’s start pulling back the layers.

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

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

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

That’s just how we roll.

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

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

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

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

Isn’t she darling in her first dance costume?

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

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

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

Short answer: I’m an evil genius.

(And the Princess of Prescience!)

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

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

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

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

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

The red hair is a giveaway.

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

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

Dreamy Tony in another woman’s arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

(So where’s the picture?)

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

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

Aha! Part of her secret office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Case closed.)

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

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

Two influential parents. One cute couple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week:  J. Lloyd Morgan

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

A Possible Career for Jason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wednesday Writer” – David Farland

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

First, a bit about the book and its author:

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

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

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

Finalist in the Global Ebook Awards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Talk about precocious!)

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

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

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

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

Me:  Which is harder? Science fiction or fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wednesday Writer” – Rachelle Christensen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(First, the protagonist, Austin)

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

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

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

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

(Hope you got your mouse back.)

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

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

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

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

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

(Sounds intriguing and fun at the same time!)

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

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

Thanks for the fun interview!

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

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

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

And the Winner is . . .

Kelly Nelson!

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

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

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

Starting Down the Pathway to College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wednesday Writer” – Gregg Luke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From boggie boarding…

to scuba diving. What will he try next?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history.

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

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

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

Michael Crichton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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