“Wednesday Writer” – Jeanette Bennett

All I can say is, if Jeanette’s fiction is half as funny as she is, you’re going to want to pick up one of her time travel novels right away. This was a particularly entertaining interview and some of the pictures are laugh out loud funny. :D

Jeanette Bennett(By the way, Jeanette looks a lot like my sister-in-law with this expression)

ME:  Please describe your childhood and the role that books played in your life. (I would love to post a picture of you as a child.) Also, to whom do you owe your sense of humor—your mother or your father (or some aunt or uncle)? (I’d love a picture of you with that person.)

JEANETTE:  I had a rather weird childhood. When I was six I asked my mother what I was. She told me I was Choctaw-Cherokee Indian. When I was eight I discovered that was really two tribes, not one. The other kids never teased me when I told them I was Indian. They just backed away slowly like I was crazy. Maybe because I had blue eyes and blonde hair. Maybe because I’m not that much Indian. Then when I was twelve Mom said “Oh, and you are also Irish.” And yet the whole time I was growing up, she and my grandmother both told me that of all the kids I looked the most like my great-grandmother Domie who was English. So apparently I have the recessive English genes of an Irish-half breed family. It’s hard for me to reject my heritage since I’m kind of confused as to what it is.

Baby pic(And here she is looking very Indian-ish)

I always loved books. My first experience was my first trip to the school library in first grade. The teacher took the class to the library and told us we could all check out a book, so I grabbed one. It was about a little boy getting dressed. It was the most boring book I have ever read. I read it three times. I was just so enthralled with being able to read a book. Then the teacher told me I could check out another one. I was even more excited. I learned that day I loved books. I also learned to look at a book before you check it out. (:D)

The sense of humor comes from my mom’s side of the family. Whenever we gathered for family reunions, before we even said hello, we exchanged jokes. My grandmother and grandfather (Bob and Jewell George) always saw the funny side of life, even when it wasn’t funny. They were dirt poor Okies who had come Out West to find work during the Depression. Life was hard on them, so they got revenge by making fun of it. During a disaster, like a flooded basement, my grandma would say, “Someday we will look back on this and laugh.” And guess what? We never did! But we do laugh at grandma always saying that.

Jewell & Bob George(Grandma looks like she just told a joke and Grandpa looks a bit mischievous…like maybe he’s waiting for you to sit down on that whoopee cushion he planted)

ME:  What about your childhood or adolescence made you fall in love with time travel and history?

JEANETTE:  As a kid I didn’t really like history–at least not the history that they taught in school, which was nothing but dry facts, dates and cardboard characters. What really bothered me as a kid was the way Indians were portrayed in movies and television, because I knew my grandparents weren’t savages.

So I started reading up on Native Americans. Turns out Hollywood lied. Then I wondered if maybe they lied about black history, too, and started reading up on that. If history is written by the winners, I want to read about the losers! I want to find the real history. The more obscure the more I like it.

I like the absurd time paradoxes of time travel, but the real reason I write time travel is an excuse to hop about in history to different places and show what it was really like down to ignored details. That’s what my Temporal Anthropologists are all about. For them recording a special event is secondary to recording the mundane that was never recorded. (By the way, my Temporal Anthropologist Dr. Wendell Howe has a blog about his travels in the Victorian Age and you can see stuff you probably never knew.)

(Now that is something I’m going to have to check out!)

ME:  Please explain the term “Scablander,” so that my readers who are not familiar with the terrain of Eastern Washington will understand why you refer to yourself that way. If you didn’t invent the term itself, where did it come from? (And may I please share the wonderful masthead created by one of your fans for your website, along with its explanation?)

JEANETTE:  When I was a kid growing up in the Columbia Basin, I always heard of the Scablands in whispers and wanted to visit it. Then I discovered I had been living in the Scablands all along.

scablands(The Scablands of Eastern Washington bordering the Columbia River…the uninhabited part, anyway. It does kind of make you think of a scab under a microscope, I suppose.)

Apparently the name came from pioneers passing through here as quickly as they could to get to decent country. Back in the Miocene Age, the area was flooded with lava from volcanoes again and again until the basalt was 6000 feet deep. Over time, topsoil buried it, but then during the Ice Age the Missoula Lake (what is now the Bitterroot Valley in Montana) kept flooding Eastern Washington until it scoured the top soil and dumped it all in the Palouse Hills and Willamette Valley, creating fertile farmland for them and nothing but basalt and blow sand for the Scablands. It’s all sagebrush and tumbleweeds. Is it any wonder we were picked for the Hanford Atomic Works in World War II? If it blew up, who would notice?

This area is so isolated that there are Wanapum Indians living on the river who avoided being sent to reservations because no one noticed them! I use “scablander” for my website name because I spent most of my life in the scablands. And it’s easier to remember than my name. For some reason most people either can’t remember it or spell it.

scablander500_mast(Her hand-drawn masthead. Each letter represents a character or aspect from one of her books. Click on it for a larger view, and go here for an explanation.)

Feel free to share the Masthead. Best birthday gift I ever got. (It’s very impressive!)

ME:  You’ve described yourself as a nerd. How so?

JEANETTE:  Nerd: One who is socially inept, fashion challenged and just a plain misfit.

When I was twelve, I had the epiphany that I was never going to fit in no matter what I did. Rather than feeling sad, I suddenly felt liberated! I march to my own drummer–even if he is offbeat. (Nerds unite! I’ve been called a nerd, too, though indirectly.)

nerd(Jeanette the Nerd…She says she looks like Amy on “Big Bang Theory”)

ME:  What attracts you to the Victorian period, and similarly (or not), what do you like about the genre of Steampunk and how did you come to write a short story in that genre?

JEANETTE:  My character, Dr. Serendipity Brown, is so bold and brash I thought it would be fun to have her meet a repressed, stodgy Victorian. Dr. Wendell Howe is really from the 27th century, but has been trained to fit perfectly into the Victorian Age. I’ve had people tell me he is a “steampunk” character, but since he is pretending to be Victorian, he is really “steambunk.”


To be honest I have always been attracted to the Victorian Age. I think because so much was happening. It started with technology that was hardly more than medieval and ended up with the Modern Age. Steampunk just takes that flurry of invention and bumps it up a notch.

steampunk(She says this was her attempt at a bustle for her Victorian tea party in 1974. She was doing “steampunk” before it ever became a trend…because that’s what nerds do.)

As for my steampunk story, Sky Warrior Books was doing a steampunk anthology. My husband bugged me to submit a short story so I wrote one about Wendell meeting the Wild Bunch (the real one and not the Hollywood version.) When I submitted it, I explained it was really steambunk rather than steampunk and waited for the rejection letter. They accepted it! (Smart publisher!)

ME:  Tell us about your on again, off again affair with the written word and which individual(s) played a role in encouraging you to get published? (Please provide a picture of one or more of those individuals.)

JEANETTE:  I never really fell out of love with writing. It’s just I thought it would be best if we parted since I would never be good enough. So when I was thirty-one I bid a tearful goodbye and decided to get on with my life. Then twenty years later my husband decided to take welding classes at night. So rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I decided to write while he was in class. I fell off the wagon and went on a writing binge.

(Good for you . . . and us!)

Rather than being upset with my addiction, my husband Mike seemed delighted. Who knew? He became my sugar daddy and muse. And whenever I say “maybe I should quit this selfish foolishness,” he tells me to keep writing. (Like telling a drunk to keep drinking.)

Mike Farley(Her muse)

ME:  Please share the publishing story of WALKING A FINE TIMELINE.

UnknownJEANETTE:  My husband really liked my story and thought I should publish it. My family and friends liked it, too. I went to panels and heard all the horror stories about publishers, so I never bothered to submit to them. I didn’t want to work with people out to rip me off–I could do that myself. I found out the two things you need to self-publish are an editor and a graphic artist. Guess what I did for twenty-five years? I had already set up books and websites. Even so, it was scary!

I also discovered great software for setting up books that is affordable. Check out Serif PagePlus for under $100. It compares favorably to Adobe InDesign and is much better than the more expensive Microsoft Publisher or CorelDraw. I have worked with them all. (And no I am not getting kickback.)

(Thanks for the tip!)

ME:  Do you outline or are you a “pantser” when it comes to plotting? If you do outline, what method do you follow?

JEANETTE:  “Pantser”–or maybe it’s “quilter.” I get these scenes in my head that I write out before I lose them. I might have a list I make of what order I have them in, then don’t bother to look at it again. I just write, weaving in the scenes or tossing them out. Completely unorganized. That’s what rewriting and editing are for. I don’t know if that’s the best way to write, but it’s best for me.

ME:  What are you working on now?

JEANETTE:  The Fairhaven Home for Wayward Time Travelers. Terrorists from the 27th century decide the best way to protect history from being manipulated is to eliminate all time travelers and then Dr. Serendipity Brown, the woman who invented time travel. So she hides out in a Victorian mansion in 2010 Bellingham, Washington where they will never find her (she hopes) along with her assistant Sherman and her time travel consultant, Dr. Wendell Howe. They also share the house with five other temporal anthropologists she saved in the past from the terrorists and one of her ancestors she decides to bring back.

(Definitely sounds intriguing.)

ME:  Finally, please describe your favorite writing space in the voice of your main character, Dr. Serendipity Brown, as if she had just stumbled upon it in one of her adventures. (I must have a photo of that place, whether it’s out in nature or inside your home.)

JEANETTE:  Okay, you asked for it…

(Uh-oh. Just kidding, she really got creative here, so settle in for a fun read.)

Two crazy willows beside a suburban road begin to sway. A glowing spot appears beside the curb. Slowly four tires appear, starting from the bottom working up, then a U-Haul Truck materializes as though an invisible stage curtain was being raised. The roof appears and it stops shimmering. 

A door swings open from the side of the cargo compartment where no door is showing. Out steps a middle-aged woman with dark brown curly hair bouncing off her shoulders. She is wearing purple pants and a loose blouse. “Come on, guys!” 

A skinny, short teenage boy with horn-rim glasses follows her, wearing a black Def Leppard T-shirt and jeans. Glancing around, he brushes his black hair out of his face. “Are you sure this is the right place, Ser?” 

“Of course, Sherman. Wendell says it is and our Dr. Howe is never wrong.” 

A man of medium height, medium build with medium brown hair steps out of the time machine. He is wearing a brown frockcoat and top hat, staring at an open pocket Bible. “My computer says these are the correct coordinates, Dr. Brown.” He closes his computer and slips into a pocket inside his frockcoat. “Hmm.” He studies the white 1940s house in front of him. “Hardly looks like the home of a writer, wouldn’t you agree, Serendipity dear? Of course all the writers I have ever met were back in the Victorian Age.” 

“So who is this Janet Bernet, anyway?” Sherman asked. 

“Jeanette Bennett.” Wendell corrected him. “She was a little known author who apparently predicted time travel would be invented in 2353 by a woman in Beaverton, Oregon–a woman named Serendipity Brown! Far too much of a coincidence. She could cause history to go awry. At some point she must have traveled forward in time and we must find out how.” 

“Pfft!” Serendipity screws up her face. “You and your stupid ‘time manipulation.’ I just want to meet her. Besides she never made the New York Times Best Sellers List, so how much influence could she have?” 

“I must say, I had a devil of a time finding any information on her.” 

Serendipity marches up the concrete steps and bangs on the mahogany stained door, streaked where water had unstained it. 

“Are you barking mad!” Wendell rushes to her side. 

“Come on. I saw this Janine’s photo. She doesn’t look like anyone who would carry a shotgun.” 

“That’s Jeanette, not Janine.” Wendell corrects her. 

Serendipity knocks again. “I don’t think anyone is home. Maybe we should let ourselves in?” 

Wendell looks about nervously. “Well, I don’t like breaking and entering, but the less contact we have the better. The lock looks like the old tumbler locks. My key should work.” Wendell pulls out a skeleton key and sticks it in the keyhole. He twists the loop on top and it begins to hum as it vibrates. He then tries the door and it swings open. 

“Dear heavens!” He yelps. “The place has been ransacked!” 

Sherman sticks his head in and glances around. “Naw, just a messy housekeeper.” 

“Hmmpt! The sign of a genius!” Serendipity follows her companions inside. “Now we just have to find her office.” 

Sherman points to a small alcove next to the door. Beside the blinds covering the picture window is a large desk. It has ornate scrolling and inlaid wood that is barely visible under the laptop and books. Above the desk proper are small drawers and cubby holes stuffed with notes, CDs and books. At the top is a long shelf with a CD player and over a dozen books. It has to be the nicest piece of furniture in the front room. In front of the desk is the matching chair, the cushion covered with a lavender blanket, which in turn is covered with cat hair. Beside it is a TV-tray-sized movable computer table, set lower than the desk, upon which sits a small netbook computer. 

“That can’t be her office.” Serendipity studies it. “Looks like a desk for writing bills.” 

Wendell shakes his head. “That is a Victorian writing desk, or at least a facsimile of one. Look at the books on the top shelf.” He leans over to read the titles of the books. “Thesaurus, dictionaries, grammar books, The Chicago Manual of Style, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see this desk belongs to a writer!” 

“Or a writer wannabe.” Sherman mutters. 

“Okay.” Serendipity takes charge. “Wendell, you search around for manuscripts while I check the computers. Sherman, you watch out the window to see if anyone shows up.” 

Before anyone could move the front door swings open. A short dumpy woman with long brown hair streaked with silver steps in carrying a paper sack. The sack drops to the floor. “What are you doing in my house?” 

“It’s okay. I’m Dr. Serendipity Brown. You know the woman you wrote about who built the first time machine in 2353? This is Sherman Conrad, my assistant I picked up in 1985 and of course Dr. Wendell Howe, the 27th century temporal anthropologist formerly with Cambridge University who spent most of his life in the Victorian Age. We just came to find out how you found out about us.” 

The mousey looking woman’s blue eyes snap dangerously. “I don’t know who you people are. Get the hell out of my house before I call the cops!” 

“Maybe this is the wrong Janice.” Sherman concludes. “Or maybe the wrong house.” 

“I think you’re right.” Serendipity agrees. “We better get out of here.” 

Wendell tips his top hat. “We do apologize for any…” He stops short as the woman steps past them to grab a broom out of the kitchen closet. Before she can get close enough to make contact, the intruders are out of the house. She steps onto the porch to watch the truck disappear from the top down until it is gone. She drops the broom and stares speechless. 

After a minute she shakes her head, and steps back in, locking the door. Then she chews a finger thoughtfully, and rushes over to her netbook, and begins typing. “Whoa! What a great idea for a novel! Sounds so much better than talking jackrabbits.”

desk(The messy Victorian desk of a genius)

Wasn’t that fun? You can tap into this writer’s mind further on her website or blog. And WALKING A FINE TIMELINE is available on Amazon in either print or e-book form.

Next Wednesday, I’m featuring an interview with prize-winning French thriller writer, Bernard Besson, whose newly translated novel, THE GREENLAND BREACH, is next week’s “Monday Mystery.” Check it out on Monday for an excerpt and then come back Wednesday to learn more about the author.



Originally posted 2013-10-23 06:00:38.

“Monday Mystery” – POCKET FULL OF POSIES

PocketPosies_800I have another new release to announce, this time from Julie Coulter Bellon, and it’s available on Amazon. Here’s a quick look:

They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer . . .

Hostage Negotiation Team member Bart Gutierrez is shocked to find Lucy Aguayo, a girl he knew as a teenager, working for the deadly Castillo drug cartel. This revelation uncovers a secret in Bart’s family so big it forces him to accept a dangerous offer: infiltrate the cartel to keep his family safe. Once inside the cartel’s headquarters he discovers that a large-scale attack on America is imminent and the only way to prevent it is to bring Lucy in on his plans—and hope she doesn’t betray him.


Detective Bart Gutierrez is surprised to see a woman from his past working for a drug cartel.  She isn’t the girl he remembers and he can’t understand what went so wrong that she’d resort to working for such a deadly organization. He ends up going undercover to infiltrate the cartel and hoping for a chance to convince her there’s a better life out there.  Can he do both without getting himself killed?

Lucy Aguayo has suffered the loss of her father at the hands of a cruel cartel leader. She will do anything to bring him down. When Bart enters her life again, he stirs up feelings and memories that make her question her life choices. Can she find justice for her father or should she work toward being free from her past? And where does Bart fit into this equation?


The pre-dawn air was still, as if even nature sensed the tension emanating from the group of agents and officers huddled near a police van. Bart Gutiérrez blew on his hands, the chill seeping through him. He felt keyed up, ready to get going with the high-risk arrest, but instead of doing anything productive, he was standing around impatiently while a bunch of suits took credit for staging the whole thing.

Special Response made sure everyone knew they’d scoped out the mission with high-resolution aerial photos. DEA put it out there that they’d confirmed the subject inside was, in fact, Arturo Pérez, second-in-command of the Castillo cartel. ICE and the Joint Terrorism Task Force piped in that they’d tracked him the minute his private plane had entered American air space. Only the FBI guys were silent. Bart decided he liked them. 


Julie Coulter Bellon is the author of nine international romantic suspense novels and her book All Fall Down won the RONE award for 2012 Best Suspense/Thriller. Julie loves her work partly because she gets to travel to distant lands to research and add an authentic feel to all of her books. Her favorite cities so far are Athens, Paris, Ottawa, and London. She taught journalism at BYU for fourteen years and that kept her on the cutting edge of current events and world news—which is where she gets her story ideas.


Julie offers writing and publishing tips as well as her take on life on her blog ldswritermom.blogspot.com You can also find out about all her upcoming projects at her website juliebellon.com.


Originally posted 2013-10-21 06:00:05.

“Wednesday Writer” – Candi L. Norman

Candi L. Norman, who writes under the pen name C.L. Norman, definitely has a love of books and is fortunate enough to work in our local bookstore. But I wanted to get to know the how and why of her fantasy writing.

Candi L. NormanME:  What was the first book you ever remember reading on your own, and which book gave you the idea of some day writing your own books?

CANDI:  Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish although my mom always said it was Green Eggs & Ham. I remember being fascinated by the guys who had to get their hair cut every day. (It’s so funny what particular detail in a story will capture a kid’s interest. Haircuts. Who knew?)

The book that gave me the idea of some day writing my own was never published. I loved books but I was intimidated by the idea of writing one. I mean only exotic people with lots of worldly experience can write these wonderful inventions called books, right? (Yes, that’s pretty much how we all regarded authors until we got published ourselves.)

Then my close friend in middle school showed me the rough draft of the first book in a trilogy she’d written. Wow! It was as good as anything I could pick up in the library and it was written by a girl in middle school. A girl like me. She wasn’t “old” or from some far off place where exciting things happened. That was when I knew I could write a book too.

(Now that you’re published, I hope you get her to see her own project through.)

ME:  Have you always lived here in the Tri-Cities? Please describe your childhood and the role that books played in your life. (I would love to post a picture of you as a child.)

CANDI:  I was born and raised here in the Tri-Cities, as were both of my parents. I come from a family described as ‘his, hers, and ours’ by my mother. I have five sisters and two brothers and I am the third oldest. I was also the reader in the family. Everyone made fun of me because I had my nose in a book at family gatherings and vacations. (Sounds familiar.) My uncles made a point of teasing me (and tickling me) just so that I would surface long enough to say hi.

My big brother loved to grab the book I was currently reading and remove the bookmark or close it, hoping I would lose my place in it. I learned to memorize the page number. As I grew older, I found that two of my grandmothers and my dad were readers too.  At that point, I loved to listen to them talk about books. They read different genres than I do but I adore listening to people I love talk about the books they love. It provides a glimpse into their soul that nothing else does. (Very true.)

CandiAge2(Candi at 2 and already looking at books)

ME:  How old were you when you first realized you were good at writing, and which individual(s) in your life provided your strongest encouragement?

CANDI:  I am still waiting to realize I am good at writing. I am still shocked when someone gushes about my stories. I keep working at it and hoping to get better with every word I write. (And that is exactly what will make you better and better.)

My big brother, Brian, was one of the first to encourage me to write. He said, “You should write a book. You read enough books you ought to know how to write a good one.” That might not seem like much but if Brian saw potential in you and pointed it out, you paid attention.

Brian Picture(Candi’s older brother Brian)

All of my friends are very encouraging, in particular my friends Shairylann and Veronica. (Hmm…I wonder if this is the Veronica I know.) They are both so very honest with me that when they admire my writing I can’t help but believe it. They are also very analytical and questioning which helps a ton when it comes to filling in the blanks in my stories.

Finally, the first time I shared my writing professionally was at a writer’s workshop at MisCon in Missoula, MT. I wrote a short story, Dragonslayers Anonymous, and turned it in to be critiqued by professional authors. Patricia Briggs was one of the authors who read my short story and she had a lot of good things to say about it. Since then she has encouraged me in my writing every time she sees me. Her husband even promised to build me a display case for my first print book. (How generous and what a terrific idea!)

ME:  Why fantasy?

CANDI:  Why not fantasy? I look at the fantasy genre as a door to almost every other genre out there. I can set a romance or a mystery or a horror story against a backdrop of the mystical. There are so many things I can do within the fantasy genre that I get excited at the possibilities.

ME:  Have you pursued any degrees having to do with writing? How important is the formal study of literature or writing, in your opinion, in an author’s career?

CANDI:  I have a degree in Social Sciences with an emphasis on English and History. Before I pursued that degree I was a drama major. (Now that’s key, in my opinion. I’ve found that so many great writers have a background in theatre.) While neither are directly for writing both have given me some insight into the process of creating characters and plot. (Agreed!)

In my opinion, a formal study of literature or writing is not necessary. Reading is where it’s at. Reading in your genre, reading other genres, reading non-fiction; this is how one learns about writing. I think that a degree in anything else will give a writer a sandbox to build ideas from. A college education gives you a lot of opportunity to people watch and exposure to new ideas which are also great things for a writer. But reading and reading a lot is where it’s at.


ME:  Tell us a bit about the short stories that make up your anthology, IN DREAMS. How do they differ and how are they alike? Is there a common or recurring theme in your writing and, if so, how would you describe it?

CANDI:  Oh no, I’m back in English class. (LOL. I had to include at least one uncomfortable question to keep you on your toes.) I don’t write with a look to theme or mood or any of those words they use in literature classes. I write about characters in bad situations and then I kick them when they are down. IN DREAMS is a collection of the first five short stories I have shared with the world.

Dragonslayers Anonymous is the result of a writing prompt; describe your last day on the job. From that I came up with John St. George, an aging dragonslayer located in the Pacific Northwest, who is ready to retire but when a dragon attacks he can’t turn his back. Survive to Eat is a result of an open call for an anthology. It is my attempt at a gladiator story. It also covers the back story of a major character in a novel I am working on.

(Oh, goody. You are working on a novel. But these stories sound great too!)

Most of the stories in the anthology were inspired by nightmares I’ve had. Wolves in the Mist features a monster from a recurring nightmare I had as a young child. It is also the most horrific of my stories. Off the Path is about a young boy whose only influence is a man of extremely questionable morals and unusual appetites. Finally, Empty is about a character who is so lonely that it begins to affect his sanity.

The one similarity between the short stories in this collection is in the ending. None of them have happy endings with no strings attached. Every one of these endings is costly and the characters are scarred from what has happened.

ME:  Please tell us about your writing process in some detail and describe your favorite place to write. (I must have a picture of that place, whether it’s out in nature or inside your home.)

CANDI:  For me, it starts with a character in a situation. Once I have that, I sit down and start to write from the beginning. As I move through the story, I can see further and further ahead. When I pass the halfway point I begin to get an idea of the end. I keep pushing forward until I reach the end. Once the first draft is done, I make one more quick sweep through and then send it out to my beta readers to read. Once I hear back from them, I fix problems they point out if I strongly agree that it is a problem that needs fixed. Once that pass is done, the story is done.

I write in a recliner in my living room with a laptop. (I believe you’re the second author I’ve interviewed who writes in a recliner.) I frequently have music on or the TV running some background noise while I write. While I like the idea of an office, I hate being cut off from the rest of the family, stuck in a room away from everyone else. I prefer to write where I can listen to the rest of the family as they go about their day.


(Candi’s recliner in the family room)

ME:  Tell us about your full-length novel. Does this mean you’re leaving short stories behind, or are you sticking to the form and why? Now that Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, do you think the short story will become more popular again?

Unknown(Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro)

CANDI:  I definitely have plans for a full-length novel. I started with short stories to teach myself things about writing and about the business of writing. I will most likely continue to produce short fiction on occasion but I have always aimed to write novels.

I think the short story is already on the rise. Ebooks allow for more variety in the length of stories. I think really cool things are happening in fiction because of that and readers are responding. (I definitely agree.)

ME:  Finally, tell us about Rivers of Ink and how you came to be involved in this annual local writing conference?

CANDI:  Rivers of Ink is a local conference for writers that started off as a means to connect local writers with readers. Over the years, due to feedback from participants, it has become a venue for writers to learn from writers about the craft and business. It has no genre or format boundaries either. Poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of various lengths are all a part of this conference.


I became involved by volunteering to set up chairs and show people to their seats. By the time that first conference rolled around, I was scheduled as a panelist and things rolled on from there. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate this year but I hope to again be a part of it in 2014.

(Me too, as long as I’m still living here.)

If you want to know more about Candi and her writing, check out her website and her FB page. Her anthology of short stories, IN DREAMS, is available in ebook form on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Smashwords.

Next Wednesday I’ll be talking with time travel author, Jeanette Bennett. Let’s hope you’re all on time!

Jeanette Bennett

Originally posted 2013-10-16 06:00:04.

“Wednesday Writer” – Kathleen Ellis

I am an equal opportunity author interviewer. That means that, whether I read the genre or not, I’m interested in the writer and his/her process. I think today’s interview is a first, since Kathi Ellis writes what I would call spiritual self-help books. So she’s breaking new ground for me, but I doubt it will be my last interview in this category.

Kathi EllisME:  As someone who ended up writing a book entitled THE DARKNESS CANNOT KEEP US: CHOOSING A BETTER TOMORROW, how would you characterize or describe your childhood? Where did you grow up and do you have any regrets? (I’d love to post a picture of you as a child.)

KATHI:  Actually, the book begins in the womb of my mother. Although most people would consider this an odd place to begin a story, it seemed fitting to me. I have discovered some amazing things about my own life, and the processes in it. My childhood was incredibly difficult. 

The book describes the life my brother, sister and I had. Our family was being torn apart even as I was developing in the womb, and we were all placed out for adoption. There were six living children. The oldest two had died at birth. We were placed in an alcoholic and abusive home with no love, no nurturing in our family.

Kathi as a child(Kathi as a child…it’s amazing she could smile)

I grew up in South Dakota. My greatest regret about the childhood of my brother, sister and me was that we didn’t know our birth family, including our parents and siblings. I eventually grieved a childhood lost.

(I suspected the roots of your book began in your childhood. You certainly wrote about what you knew.)

ME:  What did you want to be when you grew up and how did that evolve as you got older?

KATHI:  When I was young I always wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to help people. I think it was mostly because of the lack of nurturing I received as a child. I think on some level I knew I was meant to help people as part of my life purpose. Through my book and workshops I am able to do that now. Writing and speaking are passions of mine.

ME:  Did you go to college and, if so, what was your major? When did you realize you had a gift for writing?

KATHI:  I went to college to study nursing, but found after the first year I was too empathic toward my patients and could not deal with their pain on an emotional level.

I have always loved writing as well as reading. In high school, my teachers told me many times I had a gift for writing. I have written many unpublished essays and poetry and did publish one poem in a National Poetry Association anthology, as well as my first book, THE DARKNESS CANNOT KEEP US: CHOOSING A BETTER TOMORROW.

The Darkness Cannot Keep Us

ME:  Part of the description of the book on your website says “the author shares insights that took her from the depths of despair to fulfillment and love in every area in her life.” You’ve already touched on it, but when and why were you in “the depths of despair,” and how did you get there?

KATHI:  I was born into the depths of despair as the reader can experience in the book.  My mother was in the throes of severe post-partum depression, as I was the youngest of eight children, and our family was being torn apart even as I grew in the womb. By the time I was 18, having grown up in an abusive adoptive home, I made a decision to commit suicide. I talk about the miracle that changed that path of my life in the book. 

I felt compelled two years ago to change the direction of the book I had previously written.  As I have grown and changed throughout the years, I finally came to a point that caused me to have meaning and understanding about my early years. What I discovered was a process called cellular memory and how it affects everything we think, say and do on a totally unconscious level. Once I understood what was going on with me, I was able to heal a lot of physical and emotional pain, and correct the direction of my life. 

The depth of despair was a cumulative effect for me all through childhood. Getting to fulfillment and love was a journey that I describe in the book. I encourage others to consider the elements I have found that produce love and fulfillment in our lives.

ME:  What led you to write about your journey from despair to love and fulfillment?

KATHI:  When my youngest brother was dying in 1995, we had just lost our birth mother.  He asked me to promise him that I would make sure our lives made a difference, and would tell our story. I began this book at that time in part as a tribute to him.

When my brother passed away, he left me a book called “Hands Of Light”. It talks about the body’s human energy field. I was fascinated by the material so I decided to take some courses on it. I have studied the human body’s energy field for a long time, and became a Reiki Master over fifteen years ago. That knowledge, together with the study of cellular memory, has helped me to understand more completely how much we are in charge of our own destiny, physically, mentally and emotionally.

ME:  How did you become a motivational speaker and at what point did you develop your workshops? Please describe briefly the kind of workshop you put on and how it relates to your book (if it does).

KATHI:  I have always loved public speaking. It started when I took speech and debate in high school. In my adult life, I was active in political and social activities that called for public speaking. In the late 80’s, I joined a Toastmaster group because I was teaching adult education courses at the local college where I lived and wanted to improve my humor. Public speaking got into my blood as I began competing in Toastmasters. 

In 1994 I had the opportunity to become a Professional Development Consultant through the National Professional Women’s Network, and was trained and certified and began doing seminars. I also had the opportunity to contract with a national speaking circuit to do personal growth workshops. I lost my $50,000 investment, however, when the company was shut down by the Federal government as illegally operating a pyramid scheme. 

Now, I conduct personal growth and goal setting workshops to help people focus forward toward a better tomorrow. I know from my own experiences that what we focus on we will move toward.

ME:  Please describe the writing process you followed to produce your book.

KATHI:  Because of the promise I made my brother, I began by journaling. It was important for me to just start somewhere. The more I wrote in my journal, the more I began healing myself. 

It’s important for people to remember that all of us have a story within us. The most basic concept begins with going inside to find and touch that seed that will grow into our story.  Once we can get that story out on paper, we can move forward in our own lives. It doesn’t matter if you put your story out as fiction or non-fiction; it’s just important that you start somewhere.

(Well said. And I agree–we all have stories in us.)

ME:  Which came first, the workshops or the book? And can we expect other books from you in the near future?

KATHI:  I have to admit the workshops started before the book. However, I realize that since I wrote the book and had it published, the context and tone of the workshops has changed entirely. Writing this book has changed my life. After my youngest brother died in 1995, we had another 12 family losses and 6 of our best friends pass away in eight years.  My two older brothers passed away two years later three months apart as well. It literally sent me to my knees. (I can well imagine!) 

Two years ago, I picked up the book again, and began re-writing. I had an epiphany one morning during meditation that totally changed the direction of the book.

I will be writing more books. As a matter of fact, I have three titles in front of me to work on.  My readers are asking when the next book is coming out, so I guess that means I had better keep my nose to the grindstone and keep working on them. 

I have been really busy with the promotion of this book. Having self-published through Balboa Press, I find that much of the work is my responsibility. I’m sure it would be easier if I had a publisher that took care of all of that work for me, but right now I am arranging my own book signings and speaking engagements, etc. It keeps me pretty busy.

(Actually, unless you get signed with a big publisher, you’re still likely to have to do a lot of your own marketing. Writers rarely catch a break.)

ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space or office, and list the five things in it that make it unique to you. (And I have to have a picture of it.)

KATHI:  I have a beautiful office! My husband hung a chandelier in it because he said every queen has to have a chandelier. It has my favorite colors on the walls, a muted purple and a purplish taupe. I like lots of light in my work place. I want cheerful and warm but serene at the same time! I have light colored plush carpet on the floor. AND I have a cross stitched sign on my desk that says “SHHH – I’m talking to God!” 

I also play beautiful soothing music when I write. It helps me go within to that space where all inspiration is found.

My space is bright and cheerful, and the walls are lined with bookcases filled with books.  Most of my books are spiritual, self-help and motivational works. I have angels, pictures of my kids, grandkids, and friends around me, and a photo of my husband on my desk. He changed my life and is my life!

(And here’s the proof):

Office (3)(A beautiful, well-lit office)

Kathi’s book is available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. If you’d like to learn more about her workshops or writing, please feel free to check out her website or her author page on Facebook.

Next week I’ll be featuring an interview with fantasy author, Candi L. Norman, who also happens to work at our local Barnes & Noble.

Candi L. Norman

Originally posted 2013-10-09 06:00:30.

“Wednesday Writer” – Jordan Chaney

Jordan Chaney is a force of nature, and a natural for his style of poetry (more about that in a minute). I say he’s a force of nature because of the power of his presence. Also, not ten minutes after he saw that we’d been assigned an area of less traffic in the Barnes & Noble store to do signings, he sought out the manager. While we didn’t get moved, they at least began to send traffic our way. :D

And I’m so excited to have this opportunity to interview a poet on my blog. In my opinion, poetry is the very essence of writing and the very best writers have the souls of poets inside them. Let’s get a peek inside Jordan’s soul, shall we?

Jordan Chaney reciting poetryME:  Tell me about your father and mother and how each has affected your poetry. (And I’d love a picture of you as a child in either Alexandria, Virginia or Kennewick, Washington.)

JORDAN:  My mother was the person that introduced me to poetry when I was 6 years old. I remember her having a binder full of poems that she and her friends had written. I was fascinated by the collection because they were all typed up, laminated and 3 hole punched. It made the poetry seem special and important from my youthful mind. It drew me in. Besides poetry she used to draw pictures with color pencils from time to time, they were really good too. Her creativity made a huge impact on me as a child.

1378372_10151756996388101_1779303804_n(Jordan surrounded by books as a child in Kennewick…a Ninja Turtle fan!)

My father committed suicide when I was 3 years old. I didn’t have the chance to gather many impressions of him, but from stories I’ve heard and old polaroid photographs I’ve learned that he had a great sense of humor and he loved art as well. My dad was a hard worker. He was employed by AT&T and started out collecting change from pay phones and worked his way up to PBX installation which is climbing up the telephone poles and connecting wires to and fro I assume. I am the product of a soft-hearted poet and a hardworking electrician.

(And, believe me, it shows. The soft-heartedness in his poetry, and the work ethic in his drive to market his poetry and make connections.)

ME:  What was the first poem you ever recall reading, and which poem had the greatest influence on your desire to become a poet?

JORDAN:  The first poem that I ever read was when I was 6 years old and it was titled “Mr. H.” The poem was about a woman that was dating a man named Mr. H and it was a very abusive relationship. No matter how badly Mr. H abused the woman, she, to save her own life, could not leave him. At the end of the poem it is revealed that Mr. H is actually the drug heroin and she is losing a battle to her addiction. As you can imagine this is pretty heavy reading for a child. But it taught me personification as far as structure goes and it taught me empathy for real ills that humanity faces.

Later in life I came across a poet named Saul Williams. His poem, Amethyst Rocks, reminded me so much of Mr. H but with power and intensity. Amethyst Rocks was the first spoken word performance piece that I ever witnessed. It is still to this day the only poem that has given me chills. It completely changed my direction with where I wanted to go with poetry.

Saul Williams(Saul Williams in performance)

ME:  What did you think you wanted to become when you were in high school, and how and when did that shift to poetry? (And I’d love to post a high school picture of you.)

JORDAN:  When I was in high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to be–a public speaker and a poet.

1378336_10151756995348101_319406350_n(Jordan in high school)

In 10th grade during Career Week, we were given an assignment to write a career paper based on what we wanted to do for the rest of our life. I spoke to the guidance counselor and told her very confidently that I wanted to be a public speaker and a poet. She immediately shot back in what I know now to be a patronizing tone,  “Oh honey, that is not a real career. You need to choose something more realistic, ok?”

I was crushed. My dream was shot down. I mean here my whole life teachers and other people as well were constantly beating into my head that I could be whatever I wanted to be in life. That was the on-going campaign slogan from kindergarten on up and now all of the sudden it changed to “You can be anything you want, but choose something realistic.”

So I chose to write my career paper on becoming an Astronaut.

My latest book of poetry is titled ROCKET FUEL FOR DREAMERS. (And let me add that it’s been endorsed by local NYT best-selling author Patricia Briggs.) I never became an Astronaut per se but here I am still reaching for the stars as a public speaker and poet with hundreds of speaking engagements and poetry performances under my belt.

381689_10151400816603101_1941005730_n(Jordan proving his guidance counselor wrong in one of his workshops)

Kids, you can be anything you want to be. You just got to always believe that it is possible and that all dreams have the potential to become reality. Don’t let anyone politely guide you away from them. They don’t know about the wild fires dying to climb out of you, only you do.

(Well said!)

ME:  Why verse? Why not fiction or memoir? In other words, in your opinion, what can verse do that other forms of creative writing can’t? And what is the difference between a poet and what you call yourself–a spoken word poet?

JORDAN:  To be honest, fiction and memoirs have always been scary for me to take on as a project simply because of the length, technical aspects, and structure. I didn’t feel ready to write larger stories up till now. I am actually working on a memoir behind the scenes. (Yay! You’ll have to let us know when it’s done.)

There has always been freedom with verse. No punctuation is needed, misspelled words are welcomed phonetically if you want, it can rhyme or not rhyme, it can be long and drawn on or to the point and pithy. Poetry is Vegas for a writer. Anything goes really. (I’ll have to admit, that’s a new way of looking at it.) Though after writing it for years I have found patterns that work better than others when it comes to getting a message across.

I always have considered myself a poet. A spoken word poet to me falls under the umbrella of poet. Spoken word poetry has more of a theatrical aim than poetry that is just written to be read on page alone. When I am speaking at high schools, my talks are a blend of motivational speaking and poetry. Spoken word is a more entertaining medium and an effective way of getting a message across. Message is everything for me.

ME:  Having met you, I know you have charisma and are a real people person. How have you used those skills to enhance your career as a poet?

JORDAN:  I genuinely love people. I love meeting all kinds of people and on the upside of that you never know who somebody knows. I have shaken hands with people who have turned around and introduced me to New York Times Best Selling authors. I have met people whose stories have turned into my most popular poems. Having a genuine love for people has by default created many great opportunities, fans of my work, and most importantly long-lasting, genuine friendships. Some people call it networking, I call it friend collecting.

(And he has a gift for it. You know how moths are drawn to light? Well, he’s a light.)

ME:  Please tell us about the workshop you’ve put together, and where has it proven most effective? (I’d love a picture of you workshopping.)

JORDAN:  The first workshop that I put together is called Speaking From the Pen. It is an interactive workshop equipped with communication and improv games as well as writing prompts, all designed to help a person become a more confident, creative communicator. I have done this workshop for 4th and 5th graders, junior high and high school students, teens in alternative schools and the juvenile justice center, college kids, and even parents.

I have found that it is most effective with people that are looking for something more, for growth, for self-improvement. Because my workshops are not just getting down to the bones of writing and performing. My workshops are about unveiling your dreams and your passions and how confidence, creativity, and communication can help you get there!

481735_10151217085363101_1820929857_n(Jordan, in the rear, with one of his enthusiastic workshop groups)

ME:  Your poetry has begun to take you places. What’s the most exotic destination you’ve visited in pursuit of your art, and where would you like to go next? (I have to have a picture of you in that most exotic location.) Also, when traveling and performing abroad, do you worry about translating your verse, or do you keep it in English?

JORDAN:  The most exotic place my poetry has taken me is Athens, Greece. Earlier this year, a friend of mine posted a link for a unique opportunity to attend the Athens School of Fine Arts. I figured I would give it a shot. Lo and behold, I was 1 of 22 artists from around the world chosen to attend. (You see? His gift for friendship paid off.)

IMG_0594(Jordan in front of the Parthenon)

All that I learned there would take up about 20 pages so, in short, I learned that with art anything is possible and it is important for the world that an artist stands his ground boldly and courageously.

I am going to London next and I am beyond excited about this opportunity. Supreme elation is what I feel. I have had people ask to have my poetry translated into their native tongue and I have been perfectly ok with that. In fact, in my book there is one poem that is written for migrant workers that I had translated into Spanish.

ME:  Despite the likes of J.K. Rowling, novelists are generally classed among the poor, and poets even more so. How do you support yourself financially, or are you able to rely solely on your creative work?

JORDAN:  Gigs. Workshops. T-shirts. Speaking engagements. Performances. Books. Sometimes tips. I believe that a creative person has to also be creative entrepreneurially in order to thrive as an artist. That is the short answer.

The longer answer can be found on page 12 of ROCKET FUEL FOR DREAMERS, which can be downloaded for free from Smashwords.com or purchased at Barnes & Noble.

Rocket Fuel for Dreamers(Way to promote yourself! Who can resist a free download to get the long answer?)

ME:  Please talk about your poetic process, and the differences between your two published works, DOUBLE BARRELED BIBLE–A POET’S QUEST FOR THE ALMIGHTY and ROCKET FUEL FOR DREAMERS: POETRY. Also, what are you working on next?

Double Barreled Bible

JORDAN:  DOUBLE-BARRELED BIBLE is the rawest material I have written so far. It is all of my frustrations with religion and politics, me reconciling coming from poverty and a broken home, and struggling to find a balance between my spirit and my flesh. The tone is very heavy, real and dark with a thread of light inter-mixed throughout its pages.

ROCKET FUEL FOR DREAMERS is the opposite of DBB, it’s about self-love, it’s about going after your passions, it’s about wine, and Ninja Turtles, it’s for my son, the women that I have loved and still love, it’s peppered with Greek mythology and wild imagination. There is even a glossary in the back of the book!

(Now that’s got to be a first–a glossary in the back of a poetry book.)

I am currently putting together a chap book of 10 poems titled Maria, which will be all of the things I never said before, a confessional piece that I have found very hard to talk about in the past, and what my actual thoughts are on life, god, and religion. 

I have also written a children’s book that is being illustrated at the moment. That should be ready sometime next spring. A memoir is also in the works, tentatively titled: The Psychotic Misadventure of a Blossomed Consciousness.

I, like many creative people, keep a journal of endless ideas. I only share the ideas that are in motion.

(Nice way to put it. :D)

ME:  Finally, please share a poem that describes one of your favorite creative spaces–a place where you find it easiest to compose poetry. (And I’d love a picture of that space.)




I have a crush on you

you beautiful bulbous

berry of the gods

you galaxy of dark blue stars

you plump and precious

bottle of Pinot Noir


I simply adore you


you sometimes gorgeous green thing

drooping a thousand times from paintings always nude and next to tulips the Pinot Gris on your two lips puts the kiss in kismet

it’s serendipitous the way

we have come together


mighty migrant workers

are up to their shins in mud

are sweating in the sun

are plucking darkened rubies

all for my tongue

getting paid in pesos

to slave away

for my fair love


you are endless and without edges

a purple pearled necklace

with a cluster of cleavage

dangling beneath it

a scarlet goddess 

robed in a red dress 

sagging on the vine

marauding my fantasies

every midnight

when the sky light is merlot-like


(Note: The poem continues for several stanzas. To read the rest, you’ll have to get a copy of ROCKET FUEL FOR DREAMERS)


530546_10151727441713101_76589646_n(A beautiful, inspiring view for Jordan. Needless to say, there are many wineries in this region and I have a feeling he’s familiar with at least some of them.)

If you want to learn more about Jordan, his poetry, and his workshops, check out his website. He’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be featuring Kathi Ellis, an award-winning motivational speaker who has authored a self-help book.

Kathi Ellis

Originally posted 2013-10-02 06:00:34.

“Wednesday Writer” – Christy Leskovar

Christy Leskovar had a solid career in mechanical engineering when she happened upon some family history that was too intriguing to ignore. As she delved into the truths behind the tale, she knew this was a story waiting to be written and, setting aside her career, she set off to do just that. What resulted was her first published work–ONE NIGHT IN A BAD INN–a true story of “scandal, war, murder, and mayhem.”

Leskovar_HiRezx300x385ME:  You were born in Butte, Montana but grew up in Kennewick, Washington. Do you have any childhood memories of Butte, and, if so, which ones stand out the most? Also, how does the Kennewick of your childhood differ from what it is today? (I’d love to post pictures of you as a child in Montana and in Kennewick.)

CHRISTY:  Memories of childhood in Butte – playing piano by ear at Grandma T’s while she and Mom visited in the front room; the house shaking at 4 pm when they blasted in the mine; Dad pulling my brother and me on the sled when we went out to the forest to chop down a tree for Christmas; getting a ride home from school in the cab of the next door neighbor’s cement truck; the nuns’ formidable long black habits at St. Ann’s (I’ll bet you have some good nun stories…:D); playing kick the can in the alley; the 9 pm curfew siren; snow so high we could barely see the mailbox.

img131(Christy gets a writing desk for Christmas in Butte…signs of things to come)

As for the Kennewick of my childhood differing from today, the Tri-Cities have grown so much since we moved there at the end of 1968. That’s the biggest difference. There are many more wineries too. (Amen!)


ME:  Before you discovered the long-hidden truth about your great-grandmother that led to your writing ONE NIGHT IN A BAD INN, what were some of the most interesting things you had heard about her? (And is there a picture of her with your great-grandfather that you can share?)

CHRISTY: Before hearing that she was arrested for murdering her husband, the most startling thing I had heard about her was that she tried to force her daughter (my grandmother) into prostitution. Grandma T told me that.

(Wow! That was some kind of mother.)

Christy50 024(Sarah with Arthur Hughes before she allegedly killed him…see those cold, hard eyes?)

ME:  Okay, I can kind of tell from your college degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and French that you were somewhat undecided between the Humanities and Math and Sciences. So I wasn’t completely surprised that, after a solid career as an engineer, you decided to put it aside and try your hand at writing. Still, to do something like that, you must have had some early success with the written word. When and how did you know you had it in you to write a book?

CHRISTY:  I didn’t think about it in those terms. I just did it.

(That has to be a record on my blog for the shortest answer to the longest question ever!)

ME:  Some writers seem to have it in them from an early age and stories tumble out of them. Others come to it later in life, particularly when one story, in particular, captures their imagination. Tell us how ONE NIGHT IN A BAD INN came to you and why you were so sure you had to tell this story.

CHRISTY:  I had gone to Butte for a family funeral. While visiting Aunt Aila, she pulled out a box and from it some papers which she passed to us. They were rap sheets from the prison – for my great-uncles Bill and Archie, Grandma T’s brothers. I barely knew she had brothers (no surprise after seeing the rap sheets). Then Auntie Mary told us about the fire on the ranch, and finding the body, and that Great-grandma Sarah was arrested for murdering Arthur. I went home, went back to work at Bechtel, and then one afternoon the idea just popped in my head: I was going to go find out what happened and write a book about it.

ME:  Doing the research for this particular family saga required a lot of travel. Please describe some of the surprising places and events you found you had to investigate to do this story justice. (And I’d love a picture or two from your travels.)


CHRISTY:  It was an unforgettable adventure, chronicled in my second book, FINDING THE BAD INN. One of the biggest surprises was finding out that one of the prisoners escaped. What an escapade that turned out to be.

As for my travels, I went everywhere anything significant happened, which included Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Wales, Northern Ireland, France, and Belgium. I was attacked by a dog on a Welsh farm, had a policeman train his automatic weapon on me in Belfast, and was hospitalized in Belgium. (Can you tell how dedicated she was to uncovering the whole saga?)

Along the way I gathered amazing story after amazing story. One of the most exciting physical finds was discovering the old stone house where Sarah lived in Wales.

Old Stone House in Wales where Sarah Thomas lived as a child(Sarah’s old stone house in Wales)

(And here’s her book trailer for her second book)

ME:  What or who helped you decide to create a second book out of what was essentially your journey of research for the first?

CHRISTY:  After my trip to Wales, Ireland, France, and Belgium, I felt like I was living in a novel. Finding the story became as interesting as the story I was finding. I decided to write down what happened–my search for the story–just to preserve it for myself. Then I realized, there’s a book here.

In light of what has come out about several memoirs, I’m glad I did it, though ONE NIGHT IN A BAD INN isn’t a traditional memoir in that it was assiduously researched.

ME:  Do you have more stories in the pot stemming from your own family history and, if so, what may we expect to see next from you? I know, for example, that after the murder of her father, your grandmother was sent off to an orphanage. Did you cover her story enough in your first book or can you see possibly devoting a third book to your grandmother’s life story? (And I’d love to post a picture of you with your grandmother.)

CHRISTY:  The story of Sarah’s being arrested for killing her husband is just Part One of ONE NIGHT IN A BAD INN, which has six parts. After the mystery of the fire on the ranch is solved, at least in part, the story continues with my grandmother getting out of the orphanage, moving to the raucous mining town of Butte, Montana, (this was in 1915), meeting her handsome, footloose future husband who goes off to the First World War. It’s quite a story. (It certainly sounds like it!)

the old orphanage(Christy with her grandmother in front of the old orphanage)

First World War Trench in France

(Christy in a World War I trench during research)

Originally, I planned to write a book about all four grandparents, but as I got into the research, the story grew by leaps and bounds. There was more than enough story about my maternal grandparents for one book. My paternal grandparents are the protagonists of my next book, which I’m researching now. As with ONE NIGHT IN A BAD INN, it will be nonfiction, researched, and put in historical context.

(We’ll have to keep an eye out for it.)

ME:  What are some of the most important things to remember when writing memoir, or true crime, or family history?

CHRISTY:  Get the facts, and the memories, in context. Corroborate everything you can. You find more story that way, and you get closer to the truth. Even things you read in well-regarded “history books,” if something doesn’t sound right, research it.

ME:  How did you personally keep all of your research materials organized so you could quickly find and refer to them as you were writing?

CHRISTY:  I kept notes in notebooks and transcribed them onto the computer. I kept a timeline and notes by subject. I reviewed them many, many times. I wrote from memory, then went back to my notes and timeline to fact check myself.

(As you can tell, writing history accurately requires a great deal of patience and persistence.)

ME:  Finally, could you describe your personal writing space in the voice of your great-grandmother. (And I’d love to post a picture of your office or writing area.)

CHRISTY:  In the voice of my great-grandmother, my goodness! She was a cross between Auntie Mame and Fagin (What a combination!), so I’ll leave that up to the imagination of the reader. As for my writing space, I have a desk with a bookcase and file drawers in front of window with a lovely view, palm trees in the distance.

photo of Christy's desk(Hmmm…now how would Auntie Mame and Fagin describe this?)

Seriously, readers, if you want to give it a try, please post your best efforts in the Comments section. :D I’ll let Christy be the judge as to who captures her villainous, adventurous great-grandmother the best.

In the meantime, you can learn more about Christy and her writing on her website. And you can buy her book on Amazon.

Note: I apologize for not posting my promised interview with Karen Spears Zacharias last week, but a family situation came up that I had to attend to. I’ll try and catch her again in a couple of months.

Meanwhile, check back here next Wednesday for my interview with the popular and entertaining poet Jordan Chaney.

Jordan Chaney reciting poetry

Originally posted 2013-09-25 06:00:58.

“Wednesday Writer” – Patty Old West

Patty was one of my fellow Pacific Northwest Authors taking part in the recent group signing at Barnes & Noble, and it’s a pleasure to introduce her to you today. She has an infectious smile and I have a feeling that translates to both her children’s fiction and inspirational nonfiction alike.

Patty Old WestME:  I have to admit that when I first read your name, the phrase “The Old West” came to mind and, figuring it was a pen name, I assumed you wrote Western fiction. Of course, once I dug a bit further, I realized that wasn’t so. Please tell us how you came by your name. (And I’d love to post pictures of you with both of your husbands.)

PATTY:  I married Ken Old in 1998 in Kent, England. I had visited him and his wife there in 1993 and 1996 with friends. She died in 1977 and in 1998 I visited on my way to Kenya. I sent him a letter from there saying all my waking thoughts were of him. (Sometimes it pays to be forward, ladies!) Twelve days after he received the letter we were married, and I became Patty Old. In 2007 he died and I moved back to the States.

Reply Patty and Ken(Patty and Ken)

In 2008 I sent a Christmas letter to a man I graduated with in 1949. There was no wife listed with him in our church directory and our sixtieth high school class reunion was coming up.  He replied with his own Christmas card and I let it set until the day before Valentine’s Day when I sent a reply saying if I had mailed it a day earlier I could have asked him to be my valentine. He actually got it on Valentine’s day, and called to invite me to lunch. Five weeks later we were married and I became Patty West. The Little People stories were written by Ken so I used Patty Old West as my author name.

(Aha! Now it’s all clear.)

Reply Patty and Roy(Patty and Roy)

ME:  Where were you born and raised, and how has that affected your view of the world? (I’d love a picture of you as a child.)

PATTY:  Actually, I am from the Old West. (How fitting!) I was born on Halloween, 1931 in Denver, Colorado at my grandmother’s home. My parents moved to Central City 40 miles west of Denver—a small town at 8,000’ elevation with only 200 residents. Everyone knew everyone else in town. It was known as the Richest Square Mile on Earth for its gold mines.  We lived on the side of a hill and climbing up and down the hills gave me a sense of adventure that I never lost.

Reply Patty 18 months(Patty at 18 months…she already has that winning smile)

I attended grade school there, graduating from eighth grade at the top of a class of eight.  In 1945 my folks moved to Richland. (That’s in Washington State for those of you not yet familiar with me and my whereabouts.) The first question students asked at school was, “Where are you from?” For years my answer was always, “Colorado,” even after I had lived here longer than I did in Colorado. I am a Rocky Mountain girl at heart.

ME:  When did you develop an affinity for writing and/or storytelling, and what made you realize you were good at it?

PATTY:  Actually, it was Ken who wrote the Little People stories and I have edited them for publication. (Stop right there. I’ll let you chalk it all up to Ken, if you like, but I know enough to recognize that it takes a good writer to do editing.) He wrote in King James English and some of his sentences were a full paragraph long. He didn’t have the benefit of moving sentences around, so many of the stories were out of sequence.

I have learned a lot about writing in working with the publisher. I have been encouraged by so many positive comments about how fun and exciting the stories are to read that I am going back to re-edit book one.

The Wizard of Wozzle (straight)(Volume 1)

Ken led such an interesting life that I felt his story needed to be told so I did write his biography. I spent three years researching his life before submitting the book to the publisher. They felt it was too long so it was divided into two books.

Good and Faithful ServantOnce Met Never Forgotten

ME:  How has your Christian faith affected your writing?

PATTY:  The Little People only tell the truth so all of those stories have the underlying characteristics of Christian faith without being “in your face” about it. My deep faith means I would never write a book filled with profanity or actions contrary to Christian principles.

ME:  Okay, please tell us who the “Little People” are and how the 12-part series got started. Also, which age group are they aimed at?

PATTY:  These are stories Ken told to missionary children in Pakistan. They were isolated from parents at boarding school for months at a time. He ‘invented’ the Little People—half-a-thumb high—and a wicked wizard who tries to capture them, to encourage the children to let their imaginations soar to new heights.

When he retired, he began putting the stories in writing. He had only written a few chapters when I married him. As he finished a chapter, I would do simple editing, print it out, and we would read them together. With his prolific imagination, the continuing story became twelve books.

(Note: They haven’t all been published yet. See her website for details.)

The stories are geared primarily for 8- to 15-year-olds, but younger children enjoy having them read to them. And the adults who have read them cannot wait until the next book comes out. (That pretty much seems to cover all age groups. Smart marketing. :D)

ME:  In the series, since you’re mixing reality and fantasy, do you ever have to do research in terms of travel? And whether you do or not, what was one of your most memorable places you visited, either alone or with Ken? (Also, I’d love a picture of the site and/or a picture of your home in England.)

PATTY:  The Little People stories are based in England so there was no research regarding travel, but Ken inserted a lot of history into his stories and I have done much research verifying the details of different events in history. Ken and I never travelled together outside of England or the US, but we often visited Cornwall where he spent the early days of his life. It was his favorite place to visit.

Repty Gibbins Brook Farmhouse(Their farmhouse in England)

Reply Farmhouse Living Room(Their farmhouse living room…Isn’t it cozy?)

(*Hint: If you click the picture for a larger view, you’ll be able to see lots of clues to Ken’s far-ranging travels.)

ME:  You’ve been to some pretty exotic locales, yourself. What were some of the most fascinating and which are you most likely to write about in the future? (A picture of you in the setting would be lovely.)

PATTY:  I don’t know that I will be writing about any of the places I have visited except to mention them in my biography. I have been on every continent save one and I am going to Antarctica in February with my son. (Now that’s a biography I’d definitely be interested in reading!)

One of the countries I would enjoy visiting again is New Zealand. It is like a miniature America in its landscape. I went to Peru to view Halley’s comet and enjoyed seeing Machu Picchu. And it was interesting standing on the equator and going on safari in Kenya where I patted the nose of a rhinoceros. I taught English in China for two summers and climbed the Great Wall of China. The time there was eye-opening in more ways than one. The home I stayed in when I went to Estonia took me back to my childhood. It was like stepping back into the thirties. Compared to America, it was almost primitive.

(Patty explained that all her pictures from her trips abroad were of scenery or of the people she went with…so we shall just have to imagine Patty standing here:)

great wall of chinaME:  Please describe your process of taking Ken’s story notes, written in King James English, and turning them into finished books.

PATTY:  First I go through and change all the British spellings to American. (Hmm…my latest work involves British spellings…I might have to consult you for your expertise.) Then I do the formatting—setting margins, removing tabs, formatting titles. Then I do an initial reading and edit the sentences—breaking them up into shorter sentences. As I notice paragraphs out of sequence, I move them where they belong. I also change present progressive tense to present tense at the suggestion of the first editor I had.

(Quick grammar lesson: He walks – present tense; He is walking – present progressive)

Then I read through again, correcting errors as I find them, and change text into dialogue or thought. I also make the dialogue for Jock, the little Scottish leader of the Little People, into a Scottish brogue. The read-through before I have my daughter ‘proof’’ it for me is to check for accuracy of details, insert text to clarify the action, and improve readability.

(Sounds like quite a process!)

ME:  I know you’ve written and published two biographies of Ken. Once you’ve finished the Little People series, what do you think you’ll write next—fiction or nonfiction, and why?

PATTY:  My next project is to write my own biography so my family will have a history of my life.


ME:  Finally, please describe your office, or the area you use to write, in the voice of the Wicked Wizard. Feel free to use King James English or not. (And I must have a picture of your writing space.)


Miss Patty isn’t as smart as she thinks she is. With my brilliant mind, I would not need two printers to get my work done. And why does she need two oversize screens? Does she think she has limited vision or something? I could do just fine with the laptop screen. And the keyboard? Ridiculous! Can’t she see the buttons on her computer? Of course she has it stuck back against the wall and couldn’t reach the keys anyway. I do rather like the big TV screen that enlarges pictures and printed material. Just look at her with her nose up against the screen peering through a magnifying glass. Doesn’t she ever take a break? Her poor husband sits out in the living room hour after hour waiting for her to join him. What a patient creature he is. I wouldn’t stand for it.

(Wonderful! And here’s the visual proof:)

Patty's OfficeYou can read a lot more about Patty and Ken and their books on her website. And check out the first volume of the Little People series, THE WIZARD OF WOZZLE, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kindle.

As far as next week goes, please check in again on Wednesday for my interview with MOTHER OF RAIN author, Karen Spears Zacharias, whose work has been featured in The New York Times and The Huffington Post, as well as on CNN and NPR.


Originally posted 2013-09-11 12:28:18.

“Wednesday Writer” – M. Ann Rohrer

I met Ann a little over a month ago, thanks to a friend of mine, and now she’s a member of our local ANWA Chapter, the Columbia River Writers. I wasn’t surprised to find out she belongs to a few other writing groups, as well. And I have Ann to thank for passing along the invitation to take part in the recent Barnes & Noble Pacific Northwest Authors Event. While she has only published one book so far, I expect to see a lot more from her. Once you’ve read about her background, I think you’ll understand why.

ann-rohrer-author-_mattieME:  I heard some stories from the Pratt brothers in my BYU student ward back in the 70s about growing up in Colonia Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, but my memory’s poor. Please describe what it was like for you growing up there and include a picture or two. Also, what took your family there?

ANN:  Think southern Utah about sixty years ago; farming community, wide roads, redbrick homes with tin roofs on an acre or two; add tall cottonwood trees and Maples lining the streets. That is Colonia Juárez. Until relatively recently, most of the roads weren’t paved. One or two still aren’t, like the one that passes the family homestead where my mother now lives. I was born in the front room—the big window on the ground floor.

Colonia Juárez house(Interesting. That is not at all how I pictured it.)

My great grandparents were among the many families who came from Utah about 1886, to colonize and farm the land purchased by the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) from the Mexican government. My parents left the Colonies around 1950 and didn’t move back until 1980. But, we spent many summers visiting. My grandparents’ house was built in 1920 and didn’t have an indoor bathroom until the 60’s. We knew about outhouses and chamber pots. Haha.

Hated them.

(Can’t blame you.)

Summers in Colonia Juárez meant horseback riding, sneaking green apples from grandpa’s orchard, and proving our courage on the swinging bridge—a footbridge made of rickety planks held together with cables that would sway with every step. The crazy kids would jump up and down causing the bridge to undulate, scaring the living daylights out of us more cautious types.

Electricity was not consistent, and many a night we depended on coal oil lamps for light. Grandma cooked from a wood-burning stove and we did our wash once a week with a wringer washer (Believe it or not, I remember those! My grandma had one. That’s how old I am) and a big steel tub over a fire for the white clothes. I even remember weekly baths in the kitchen in one of those steel tubs. We all took turns. First one to bathe got the clean water. And it was never me.

(Hmm…too slow or didn’t you like baths?)

Colonia Juárez View

I thank Jeff Romney for permission to use this recent picture of Colonia Juárez. Central, in the background, is a Mormon temple, and bottom left in the foreground is a Catholic church. The building on the far right is the Juarez Stake Academy where students have attended high school since 1897. It is a private school owned by the LDS church with a dual-language program open to everyone for the price of tuition. My sophomore year was at the JSA. My parents lived in Peru, South America by that time, and their employer did not provide education after the ninth grade.

ME:  Why, when you were nine, did your family then move to Peru, and how did your years in Mexico compare to your ten years in Peru? Also, how have each of these places affected your writing? (And I must have a picture or two from your years in Peru, preferably one of them showing your whole family.)

ANN:  By the time I was five, my parents lived in Bisbee, Arizona. Dad worked for Phelps Dodge Copper Mine. About 1952 PD joined with other mines to form Southern Peru Copper Corporation. My father spoke Spanish and was hired in 1956 to help open the mine in Peru eventually becoming Drilling and Blasting foreman for SPCC. The picture below was taken about 1965. I’ll spare you the myriad of pictures of blasts that made it so deep. Dad was proud of his work.

Southern Peru Copper(Southern Peru Copper Corporation site)

Toquepala is a community carved out of the western slopes of central Andes Mountains for SPCC employees.


(You can make out the village in the lower left hand corner)

We lived at 9000 feet, the mine was at 11,000 feet, and the reservoir, where we liked to picnic, was at 12,000-14,000 feet, at the foot of the snowcaps. We could be at sea level in less than two hours. One learned to pop their ears or suffer the pain. Annual rainfall was about ½ inch. The mountainous desert was as barren as a sand dune. Close to the equator, Toquepala daytime temperatures never exceeded 75and nighttime temperatures rarely dropped to freezing.

Naturally, life’s experiences surface in my writing. Anyone reading my books will learn about green apples, weekly baths in steel tubs, wringer washers, the terror of earthquakes, and the expansive beauty and terrible force of the unforgiving Pacific.

Ann with family(Ann, front and center, with her family)

ME:  I’m curious about the reason you returned to Mexico for your sophomore year and why you didn’t stay there to finish high school rather than go back to Peru (where you earned the rest of your high school degree by correspondence).

ANN:  After ninth grade, there were three options:  boarding school in Lima 600 miles away, return home to live with relatives, or correspondence.  My parents chose to send me to Mexico to live with my Dad’s brother and his wife—wonderful people with a large family, who had a daughter my age. I was fifteen—too young, and terribly homesick. Returning to Peru for the summer, I decided to stay, choosing option three to continue my education. Through correspondence, I finished my junior and senior year in twelve months and enrolled at Brigham Young University at age seventeen. . .just.

(Good for you!)

ME:  Have you always wanted to be a writer and, if so, what was the first creative piece that convinced you that you could succeed as a writer? Please share what you remember about it.

ANN:  Haha. You should ask. It’s not glamorous, nor impressive. My mother loved my letters and told me I should be a writer. (Yay for mothers!) She said it often enough, it became a recording in my brain, and when my last child entered high school, I signed up for a creative writing class.

Over a period of fifteen years, I wrote two novels—the first one about eight times. I didn’t know if I was any good; I only knew that writing was my passion second only to chocolate and caramel. Finally, I braved a critique group about four years ago. The others were published authors who validated me as a writer. You would have thought I had won the lottery—or landed a publishing contract—I was that excited. Haha.

(We do have a responsibility, I believe, to validate each other as writers. Yay for critique groups and mothers!)

ME:  What were your earliest memories of Tucson, Arizona where your family ended up in 1965? Whether you remained there for college or went elsewhere, I’m curious if and how much you were affected by culture shock and what you ended up focusing on in college.

ANN:  I don’t remember much culture shock, other than craving bologna sandwiches and Rainbow bread. Shopping was awesome. The young men didn’t whistle or cat call. That was a relief. The biggest shock was seeing snow for the first time. I was seventeen. It quickly lost its charm. I remember one morning, my third semester, middle September, lying in bed groaning because I knew without looking, from the sloshing sounds of the passing cars, that it had snowed. Haha.

Out of money and at loose ends and very homesick, I quit school and joined my parents in Arizona. I planned to work a couple of years and go back to school. Instead, I served a two-year mission for my church in Mexico City and then got married.

(By the way, Ann and her husband are currently serving a local church service mission together here in Kennewick, Washington.)

ME:  I imagine you were (and probably still are) fluent in Spanish. After settling stateside, did you find yourself drawn to the Hispanic community? Where did you find your best friends?

ANN:  Four of my grandchildren are Hispanic. While I speak Spanish, my grandchildren don’t, and their father learned to speak it when he was a missionary in a Spanish speaking country, as did four of my six children. I have great friends of both ethnicities.

MattieME:  How did you come to write MATTIE, and what are the basic themes of the novel?

ANN:  I wrote a short story about an incident during the Mexican Revolution experienced by my grandfather. The professor suggested it would make a good chapter for a novel. It was the only positive feedback I got from him. Haha.

Except for a couple of chapters, MATTIE is set in Mexico. Based on the lives of my maternal grandparents, it is a story of struggle, faith, and courage with a hint of romance and a healthy dollop of history during the Mexico Revolution. Viva Pancho Villa!

Pancho Villa(A picture of the Mexican Revolutionary)

ME:  How would you describe your writing process and what are you working on now? Also, what is the most important principle you feel a writer should always follow?

ANN:  If at first I don’t succeed, then to heck with it. Haha. I agonize over theme, story line, plot, and characters, and get it down from start to finish. Then, I do what I love, checking for consistency and fleshing out the story with description, emotion, and dialogue.

Currently, I am in the what-I-love phase of my second novel and in the agonizing phase of my third novel, a sequel to MATTIE. For now, the sequel is percolating on the back burner at about chapter three while I get book #2 ready to pitch to a publisher.

(I told you there would be more coming.)

The most important principle a writer should follow, you ask? Is there just one? Haha. I expect every writer has a list of what is most important. Let me add just one: don’t get attached to your literary genius. Be willing to slash and burn, even if it’s brilliant.

Very painful, indeed.


ME:  Finally, please describe your writing space as the character Enos would describe it from your novel. (And please include a picture of the same space.)


“Enos thought he might find her at the kitchen table bent over a pile of papers writing in the flickering shadows cast by the coal oil lamp. Instead, she was comfortable in the family room sitting in a new fandangle chair with a hidden foot prop that whips out so she can put her feet up.  Surrounded by electric lamps, making the room bright as noonday, she opens what appears to be a black notebook without any pages. Placing it on her lap she stares for hours at a little picture-show, her fingers flying over rows of tiny squares with the alphabet painted on them in no particular order not making a lick of sense, but somehow it comes out right, like a printed page from a book.”

(Love it!)

Ann in writing space(And here she is at work!)

If you want to stay abreast of Ann’s work, you can check out her website or blog, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Her historical novel, MATTIE, is available on Amazon, Deseret Book, and Barnes & Noble.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be interviewing another local Pacific Northwest author, Patty Old West, who, together with her husband, writes fanciful tales of the “Little People.”

Patty Old West

Originally posted 2013-09-04 06:00:45.

Jason Conquers Grilled Cheese!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


(Now he’s dipping in with the knife)


(And he begins to butter the first slice)


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


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


(And then comes a slice of cheese for each)


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


(See how perfectly he’s centered them?)


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


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

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

IMG_1118(Now he waits as the timer counts down)


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

Then comes the flipping:

(Quick and sure)


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


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


(Like so)


(And now the cutting into bite-sized squares)


(First the top sandwich…)


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


(Making 16 small bite-size squares in all)


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

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

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

“Wednesday Writer” – Connie Sokol

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(Of course not.)

photo of Connie younger(The blossoming sixth grade poet)

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

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

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

(Yeah, but what did Shawn think?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Savitch

(The inspirational NBC News Anchor, Jessica Savitch)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connie on TV

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

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

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

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

(Okay, I’m exhausted. Dinner break.)

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

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

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

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

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

photo of daughters

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

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

The Life is Too Short Collection

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

Life is too short for one hair color

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

Life is too short for sensible shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caribbean Crossroads

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

40 Days with the Savior

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

Faithful Fit & Fabulous

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

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

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

photo 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Kids’ Zones:

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

(Take note, mothers!)

3. Find Your Rhythm:

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

(Great advice!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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