“Wednesday Writer” – Teresa Hirst

It’s nice to be able to interview an author of non-fiction now and then, and I’m very excited to share what I’ve learned about inspirational writer, Teresa Hirst, today. She recently wrote and published a book on using financial crises to build faith, based on the experiences of her own family.


(Photo of Teresa, courtesy of Tammie Olson Photography)

ME:  You talk about having had a Harriet the Spy persona as you grew up in the Midwest. Would you care to elaborate, and what was it about the Midwest that brought that side out of you? (I’d like to post a photo of you as a child, preferably in Harriet the Spy mode.)

TERESA:  I spent the summers of my childhood in St. Charles, Missouri, where this town on the outskirts of St. Louis hadn’t yet exploded into suburbia. I spent my pre-teen summers reading my weekly load of 10-20 books (including Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh) from the library or scouring the neighborhood or the woods behind our house for adventure.

Harriet the Spy 2

My sister and I broke up the monotony of summer days with our own versions of spying on the neighbors in their yards from the best vantage points in our garage. We even marked the spot with a piece of tape. We loved watching how other families and friends lived, although always from a distance. Unlike Harriet, these “characters” didn’t show up in my notebooks or stories, only in an unforgettable nightmare in which one neighbor chased me into the woods with a baker’s hat on his head. (How funny! :D)

My interest in people expanded into a more refined hobby when I discovered how to have conversations from reading an old copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie from my parents’ bookshelf.

(I remember that one . . . required reading for all Communications majors at BYU)

Teresa in 2nd grade small(And here’s Teresa in 2nd Grade…what a cutie!)

ME:  Did anything happen to you in your childhood that helped prepare you for the unexpected financial struggle you and your husband faced years later that you address in your inspirational book, TWELVE STONES TO REMEMBER HIM?

TERESA:  In my teen years, we moved closer into the west county suburbs of St. Louis. As a large Mormon family living a frugal lifestyle in the middle of a well-off community, I always felt like the outsider. We didn’t have a cleaning lady or expensive clothes like our friends.

In a teenage reaction to that, I spent a lot of time imagining what my future would look like in a material sense.

When my husband was in architecture school and we didn’t have any money, I did laundry at my mom’s and grilled her about how to live frugally and still live well. Our dreams then were planning the house we would build for our family someday. As we matured as a family, we carefully chose material and physical surroundings to enhance who we were—our Finnish and Danish heritage, our faith and our design aesthetic. Eventually we built a home that was thoroughly us.

To be able to afford to do this, we still lived providentially on the lessons I learned from my parents and didn’t spend frivolously. However, when the economy fell, our industry and community fell further than others. As a result, I had to slowly let go of all the material things that I thought defined who we were. The last of those was our home.

It seems obvious to say that our material things—even basics like clothes, transportation, shelter—do not define us, but that’s not the message we receive from the world or even people who surround us. And since my teenage years I’ve wrestled with that conflict. On this side of the financial crisis, though, I have a different perspective.

(If you’re interested, Teresa has written a post about what a home meant to her, entitled “Building Our Souvenir Home.”)

ME:  You must have felt you could write by the time you got through high school, since you went on to major in Journalism at BYU. When did you first recognize your ability with words, what made you recognize it, and who helped you to realize it?

TERESA:  I wrote a lot in high school, but it was mostly sappy poetry that seemed at the time to have great metaphorical depth and meaning. (I think we’ve all been there. :D)

When I started college I actually planned to pursue my creativity with an advertising emphasis in the communications department at BYU. After my first year, when I discovered I had more passion for people than products, I shifted toward journalism to pursue a more writing-focused emphasis.

I had two memorable professors at BYU whose lessons have stayed with me.

Don Norton in the English Department nurtured usage and writing skills of all sorts and taught me how to apply them to different types of writing and communication, including personal essays.

Don-Norton-stands-next-to-a-collection-of-taped(Professor Norton)

John Hughes in the Communications Department, a gifted professional editor and journalist who taught an advanced reporting class, gave me a vision of the larger world, which expanded the issues and topics of my writing. He chose me to be a group leader in that class, and his confidence in my skills helped me rise to that and other opportunities.

comms_hughes_john-150x187(Professor Hughes)

Today my husband Paul, more than anyone, propels me to develop, and encourages me in my writing.

(I’ll show a picture of him in a bit.)

ME:  So, once you graduated from BYU and were married, did you keep writing or did you put it on the back burner while raising your kids? Tell us about those years and how you kept your gift alive. (I’d love to post a picture of you and your family.)

TERESA:  I graduated from BYU in 1994 when I was 38 weeks pregnant with my first child. I loved being a mom, and turned to reading and writing personal history as a hobby that first year. After that, I took on some freelance editing and writing projects on a very limited basis—some paid, some volunteer work.

After my third child was a year old, I moved out of my mom-only world and applied and was appointed to the newspaper advisory board for our local daily newspaper. In that role, my opinions developed, and I contributed some editorial writing to the newspaper. Meanwhile, I applied my writing skills to every responsibility I had at church and always seemed to be in charge of producing a newsletter. (Yes, they discover us pretty quickly, don’t they?)

In January 2008, when all my children where busy in school, I started blogging regularly and redeveloped my professional writing skills through a number of biographical interviews that I published in various places. Two years later, I was assigned to LDS public affairs for our stake and have written a large number of news releases or articles for that responsibility. (Another experience we share.)

I did work full-time for a newspaper for two years as a result of the recession. Rather than writing there, I worked in a public relations role to organize and promote the newspapers in education program.

At home I’ve always had a workstation set apart for my writing projects. When my children were little, I set up my desk right at the edge of their playroom. As school-age children, they had desks in a U-shape around mine. Now, as they are leaving the nest and the youngest ones are in high school, I’m still physically present as I write from home. When they are off doing their homework, socializing or working, writing is what I’m doing. When they are around, I can and do make myself available. I love that about working from home.

Hirst Family by Tammie Olson Photography small(Hirst Family by Tammie Olson Photography)

ME:  Please tell us the story behind your first non-fiction book, TWELVE STONES TO REMEMBER HIM: BUILDING MEMORIALS OF FAITH FROM FINANCIAL CRISIS. And how difficult was it to find a publisher?

TERESA:  I came across this story when I was teaching an early morning seminary class for the Church. The Lord commanded the children of Israel to build a memorial of twelve stones after they crossed the Jordan River. It was a physical reminder to them and their children that God sustained and protected them on their journey. His hand was over them.

The idea of applying this Bible story of the twelve stone memorial to modern day germinated in me for more than a year before I really knew where I wanted to take it. I wanted to do something about modern memorials as testaments of God, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. I heard a woman share her story of feeding a homeless man at McDonald’s even when they were trying to save money themselves. I recognized that, like me, others were trying to find faith-filled ways to cope with less during the recession. I realized that He was also sustaining us, like he had the children of Israel, as we applied our faith and trusted in Him. What did that mean and what did it look like?

(Here’s a link to a blog post she titled “Why Memorials?”)

Twelve Stones

It is always challenging to find a traditional publisher. But when you have an LDS-focused work and something that is pretty time-specific, like this was to coincide with the Old Testament being taught in gospel doctrine in 2014, it is more of a challenge. My publisher, Walnut Springs Press, was actually reviewing a piece of fiction and asked if I had any non-fiction. I did, and we switched gears and focused on that.

ME:  Have you written and published other inspirational stories? If so, please tell us about them.

TERESA:  I published a short book about my father, David Jensen, serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. It’s available on Lulu.

support from the sky

I wrote a series of blog posts based on interviews with Vicki Carlson, wife of Elder Bruce A. Carlson of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, when he was approaching retirement as an Air Force Four-Star General.

I wrote two articles for the LDS Church News, one about Elder Carlson’s retirement from the Air Force and one about the first LDS humanitarian missionaries in Macedonia and Kosovo.

Most everything I write at my blog, Illuminate Everyday, would be considered inspirational. A couple of my favorites are Filling in the Blank” and “Five Things I Love About Motherhood.”

ME:  Are you intent on sticking with non-fiction, or do you foresee a time when you might give fiction a try, and why or why not?

TERESA:  I actually wrote a novel before I wrote Twelve Stones to Remember Him, but the timing of publication for the nonfiction was more pressing. The novel is general women’s fiction and is called Flowers of Grace. I’m working through the publication process on that right now. (Terrific!)

ME:  Please describe the writing process you followed when you wrote TWELVE STONES TO REMEMBER HIM.

TERESA:  I began looking for stories of faith from the recession. I used my blog and social media to invite participation and sent to my contacts, seeking individuals they might know who would participate. I conducted the interviews throughout 2012.

An interview consisted of setting up an in-person or Skype interview, and conducting and recording the 60- to 90- minute interview. After the interview, I transcribed exactly what was said by both of us.

After the ninth or tenth interview, toward the end of the year, I saw patterns and common themes developing. I set up the last two interviews for the end of November and began grouping material with like topics—trust in God, gratitude, and patience—together. These and other topics became the twelve common stones of a representative memorial of faith that God had upheld, sustained, and strengthened these individuals despite their financial challenge.

At this point, I wove my own story into these, added scriptures and words of church leaders, wrote transitions and drew conclusions. I then wrote the introductory material to set the premise for the story of the twelve stones memorial, why we build memorials and how they can help our faith today.

Finally, I developed the concluding section as a way to apply these stories and show how a pattern of memorial building can help us through any trial or challenge. It’s a process to recognize God’s hand in our lives, receive from Him and others with gratitude, and recall these “memorials of faith” in times of need. I learned as I went along that, indeed, coming to know He is with us in our darkest hour and then drawing upon that knowledge is the key to always remembering Him.

ME:  What are you working on now, and what ideas do you plan to pursue for the future when it comes to writing?

TERESA:  I am working on a non-fiction LDS Christmas book and a sequel to Flowers of Grace.

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

TERESA:  I have an office space in our sunroom, just off the kitchen and dining room that is my home base. Five things that make it unique to me:

  1. Two of my children still live at home, and their desks connect to mine.
  2. Windows surround my space, giving me constant light. We live in Minnesota, and light is precious to me because I never seem to get enough of it.
  3. I have a favorite hibiscus plant on my desk that is special to me. Another hibiscus inspired my novel, and this one was a gift to my sister that I’m tending while she is living in Australia. (Here’s a blog post titled, “The Plant that inspired my Novel.”)
  4. It’s pretty clean and organized because I can’t think if it isn’t. I organize each project in a binder with physical research, notes, ideas and drafts. So I just pull open the binder for that project and go to work.
  5. This place is flexible. When I get cold or want a change, I can move. I switched to a laptop last year and even ditched a monitor, so I have the flexibility to leave that space according to my mood. My back-up workspace, especially on cold winter days, is the living room couch with a cozy blanket and my feet up on the ottoman.

 Teresa's Office Space small

(It certainly looks well organized, doesn’t it?)

If you want to know more about Teresa, check out her website. Her book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Deseret Book.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be chatting with Kate Palmer, author of THE GUY NEXT DOOR.


Originally posted 2014-04-16 06:00:28.

“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.

“Wednesday Writer” – Dene Low

In terms of a career, there are two sides to Laura Dene Low Card–the professorial side, Dr. Laura Card, who teaches English at BYU . . . and the authorial side, Dene Low, who has won multiple awards for her fiction:

  • Edgar Award finalist (Mystery Writers of America) 2010
  • Editor’s Choice of the Historical Novel Society, fall 2009
  • Best of 2009, the Children’s Hour
  • And a few more best of 2009 lists.

Not to discount her teaching, but we will be talking to Dene today.

picture_15ME:  You say that where you were born is irrelevant, but I find that most authors’ backgrounds have an effect on their writing in one way or another . . . so please tell us where you were born and raised–all the countries and states–and what your early childhood was like. (And I’d love a picture of you when you were young.)

DENE:  You are so right. Where I’ve lived plays a huge part in my writing. I’ve lived in 6 states and 2 other countries: Utah, Minnesota, California, Kentucky, Texas, and Colorado plus Germany and Austria. I use scenes and memories from those places—so far, mostly Colorado and California, but the others are definitely there to supply material for my writing.

(I knew it. And had I known in advance, I might have asked to see your kids in lederhosen.)

Low Family 035(Dene in the striped dress…I think…with her sister and parents)

ME:  Generally, all of that travel, both within and without the country, indicates a military background, but was it your father or your husband that took you to all those places, or both? (And a picture of you and your family abroad would be nice.)

DENE:  My husband was an Army officer, so many of those places were lived in because of his career. However, my father was getting his education and Ph.D. and then got a job in California and then Utah, so he’s responsible for several moves.

Low Family 033(Dene with her father and sister by the Mississippi River)


(Her three oldest children at home in Germany in 1978)

ME:  I want to hear more about that mermaid book you tried to write in fourth grade. What was the basic plot and what stalled you in the first chapter?

DENE:  That’s a funny one. There wasn’t much of a plot, which is why when I got to the end of the first chapter, I kind of gave up and decided to move on to loftier things, like taking swimming lessons (no doubt pretending to be a mermaid) and roaming the hills of California with the poison oak and blue belly lizards and my dog.

(Now I’m feeling a bit itchy.)

ME:  Other than your sixth grade class newspaper, what do you consider your first success in publishing?

DENE:  I remember the day I got the check from Cricket magazine for a short story I had revised and revised and then been told I had revised the good part out of and I probably couldn’t fix it. I had let it sit for months before deciding that they couldn’t tell me I couldn’t fix it, so I did. The note with the check just said, “Persistence pays.” I was ecstatic.

(Let that be a lesson to us all!)

ME:  Where did you get your B.A., your M.A., and your Ph.D., and what is the greatest value of a master’s degree in creative writing, in your opinion? Also, how has being published affected your role as Dr. Card, the English professor?

DENE:  BA—Brigham Young University. MA—Brigham Young University, PhD—University of Utah.

The value of a master’s degree in creative writing is that it makes you write to a deadline and then you get feedback. I remember taking the first 50 pages of my thesis in to a class and getting the response, “That’s very good.” I was shocked. I thought they ought to be jumping for joy and they didn’t. So, I threw away all 50 pages and started over. (I sense a perfectionist here.) The next time I brought it in, they were wowed and I was happy. I don’t think a creative writing master’s is necessary to be a good writer, but it is worthwhile if you want to develop discipline and to push yourself and to get feedback with your tuition.

ME:  Please describe one of the most “unbelievable” experiences you’ve had in life.

DENE:  OK, it’s a cliché, but having my babies was the most unbelievable—all six of them.

After that, I’d have to say the awards ceremony for the Edgar Award that I was a finalist for with PETRONELLA SAVES NEARLY EVERYONE. It was like the Academy Awards, just like you see on TV. Lots of fun and my agent treated me like I was gold that he didn’t want to let out of his sight. (I can imagine…he’d probably lost a client or two before by not keeping close enough tabs at such events.)

042910_edgars-106MattPeytonPhotography(Dene on the far right at the Edgar Awards…if you look really closely, you can see her agent peeking through the bars behind her)

ME:  Which book did you read as a child that cemented your goal of becoming an author one day, and why do you think it had that effect on you?

DENE:  Probably King of the Wind, Little Women, Little Men, or Black Beauty or any of the many Nancy Drew mysteries…or any of the hundreds of other books that I read. (Okay, that’s really narrowing it down.)

I read nearly every book in our city library. They only let me take 5 at a time, which was discouraging, because I would finish them in a couple of days and not be able to get any more for another week. (Oh, so you’re the one that always had the book I wanted checked out…just kidding, I doubt we ever went to the same library.)

ME:  Please tell us in detail about how your book, THE ENTOMOLOGICAL TALES OF AUGUSTUS T. PERCIVAL: PETRONELLA SAVES NEARLY EVERYONE, came to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2009.

UnknownDENE:  The first time I sold the book was to an editor at a conference for one of the big New York publishers. (You see? Conferences work!)

We did two or three revisions and then she quit and disappeared and my book was an orphan. (But sometimes editors don’t.) 

I was devastated and told Rick Walton about it and he told me to resubmit and gave me the names of 15 publishers and editors. (Okay, I want Rick Walton for my friend.)

I only had one respond. (But one is all you need if it’s the right one.)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor Kate O’Sullivan had an assistant ask me for the full manuscript. (Yay!) I did another couple of revisions and then the assistant told me I could talk to Kate in person over the phone. (Even bigger “Yay!”) We worked on more revisions until the final copy. (Yes!) 

Unfortunately, another book came out from HMH just a couple of months before mine with a protagonist with the same last name and time frame and setting and subplot (Okay, a minor setback), so I had to do some major rewriting and change all those things. It worked, but it was a lot of work.

(You see? Just like the guys at Cricket magazine said all those years ago, “Persistence pays.”)

ME:  Why do you write in so many different genres (YA, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and Non-fiction), and do you plan on using pen names to avoid confusing your readers? What other books have you published and what stories do you have in the works? And how would you describe your writing process?

DENE:  My brain clickety-clicks along with the speed of a bullet and I come up with all kinds of stories. I try to write a chapter for each idea so I have the idea cemented and then I put it away in a file on my computer to work on later. (Hmm…that’s an interesting approach. Might have to try that one.)

I’ve actually finished a few of those and they are now books. (By my count, which could be off, she has had about 15 books published now for both young and older readers. You can see the whole list on her website. I’ll post a few covers.)


On a daily basis, I get up very early, write for a few hours, take a nap, and then go to work as a writing professor. I try to gather material and do research later in the day when my brain isn’t as active so I have something to work on the next morning. To start writing in the morning, I read what I wrote or researched the previous day and that starts the juices flowing. I use a pen name now to separate my publishing career from my professorial career. I write my scholarly material using my first name and married name. The pen name is really my middle name and maiden name, which is fine, because my oldest friends don’t think of me as anything but Dene, pronounced deenee. So, my pen name is really my real name. Are you confused yet? (No, because I’ve had a week or so to wrap my head around it, but my readers might be. Just remember–Laura Card, professor…Dene Low, author.)

ME:  Finally, while I know you love flying planes and riding your motorcycle (and I’d love a picture of that, please), I want to know where you really do most of your writing. Please describe your writing space in the voice of Petronella. (And I must have a picture.)

denelowbyKevinWinzeler(First, Dene on her bike)

DENE:  It is well known that some people are nest builders, while others are compulsively organized. I fall into the category of nest builder; in which category it is important to gather as much extraneous and useless stuff about one as possible in order to be comfortable. Also of importance is having said stuff within arm’s reach in case one should find a possible use for anything that might come to mind, be it a bit that has recently been added to the pile or something more anciently placed there. Extraneous and useless stuff in the form of a nest is necessary for creativity to take place as well as to keep unwanted visitors from finding their way into the place of writing and to discourage them from settling in and staying an unwelcome amount of time. In other words, mess is safety and privacy as well as comfort.

(And that is no doubt why she didn’t send me a picture of her nest…I mean, writing space. I think she gave us all a pretty clear visual, however.)

If you want to know more about Dene and her writing, check out her website and her blog.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be talking with Fay Klingler, author of several works of what I like to call “Women’s Non-fiction.”


Originally posted 2013-06-26 15:10:51.

“Wednesday Writer” – Maria Hoagland

Maria Hoagland “nailed the whole church society thing” according to one reviewer of her first LDS novel, NOURISH & STRENGTHEN, and now she has another out titled FAMILY SIZE.

Family Size Cover Final 72 dpiHere’s the synopsis:

Jessica loves being the mom of an ever-expanding family, but when an ultrasound throws her a curve, can she adapt with grace?

Dragged away from home, Maya feels deserted by her workaholic husband in a land of confusing accents and church cliques. What will it take to acclimate and save her marriage—or does she even want to?

Sloane is an algebra teacher and runner who would give up both to be a mom, but no matter what she does, pregnancy remains elusive. Can she adjust her thinking and find purpose in her life?

As their lives intertwine, can friendship and faith help these women hurdle expectations of an ideal family size?


Family Size blog tour bannerAs you can see from the above banner, Maria’s offering a free signed copy. Just click on the first link below for a shot at the prize, or click on one of the next three links to buy your own copy today:

Blog post with rafflecopter: http://mariahoagland.blogspot.com/2013/02/family-size-giveaway.html

Amazon (Kindle, but paperback on same page, too): http://www.amazon.com/Family-Size-ebook/dp/B00BFVJGG2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1361675099&sr=8-2&keywords=maria+hoagland

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/family-size-maria-hoagland/1114578255?ean=2940044315266

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/283339


Now, let’s get to know Maria a good deal better!

Maria Hoagland

ME:  How is it you became a big fan of Annie Dillard and why? (And you might want to explain who she is for those of us who might be a bit less literate . . . otherwise, we’d have to go scurrying to Wikipedia. :D)

MARIA:  LOL! I forgot I said that at one time, but she is one of the originals who inspired me–though our styles are nothing alike. What especially spoke to me about Annie Dillard’s writings when I was introduced to them by an amazing grad student/teacher in college were Annie’s nonfiction essays about nature and the application she made to her life. I realized you can write (and read) what you are passionate about and it’s that passion that will communicate to others.

I write LDS women’s fiction because that’s what I like to read. It covers ideas, issues, and feelings that are important to me. If I were to write something else just because that’s the trend readers are looking for, I wouldn’t be true to myself and get the same enjoyment and fulfillment I get out of writing what speaks to me. (Good for you!)

ME:  Please describe your development as a writer, from the beginning until now. And if you had to couch it in playwriting terms, what would you title Acts 1, 2 and 3? (And I’d love a picture to go with each act.)


Act 1: Education–In high school and college, I dabbled in writing short stories and poems while I worked on my English degree, but it was a way to pass time, not something I thought would develop into anything serious. I took all the creative writing and editing classes that were available at the time (which weren’t many), but it was what I read that fueled my writing and I just didn’t have much to say.

When my children were small, there was a huge intermission in my writing. I didn’t feel a desire to write; instead, I channeled my creativity through raising children and scrapbooking.

Act 2: Apprenticeship–When my youngest started kindergarten, all of a sudden I found myself with a strong desire to write that coincided perfectly with my new influx of ime available to do it. By this time, I felt I had some life experience and something to say that I really didn’t have a dozen years before. It took me about nine months to write my first draft of a novel, but several years to edit, re-edit, and re-re-edit that novel. I had a lot to learn about the craft and the writing process. In addition, I had to research the publishing process and find the confidence to query. It was during that time I attended my first writing conference.

That writing conference led me into . . .

Act 3: Where I am today, practicing my craft–I am writing and editing on a much faster timetable now, though still not as quickly as some. I’ve made connections with other writers, which helps me improve and make writing fun. Honestly, I know I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t gone to that first writing conference or signed up for writing groups and taken part in critique groups as opportunities arose.

(Very nice play structure, with the end yet to be determined.)

ME:  Like you, I majored in communications at BYU to be more practical, but I stuck with it. What exactly was it about writing for The Daily Universe that made you realize you weren’t cut out to be a journalist?

MARIA:  It shows that you stuck with journalism–you’re asking some difficult questions.

(Thanks…I dream of taking part in a presidential press conference some day…just kidding!)

Honestly, the worst part about writing for The Daily Universe for me was calling people. (Oh, yes! Me too!) I don’t know why it is–maybe it’s the introvert in me–but I HATE calling people I don’t know. It was that, and when I went to my very first real interview and left in tears. (Oh, no…that bad?) I think I’d be better at it now–I’ve toughened up a little in twenty-some years–but anything slightly confrontational is just not my thing. I didn’t want to force myself to work at something I dreaded; I wanted to do something I loved. (Smart girl!)

ME:  How does your husband feel about your writing, particularly when he finds you working on it while preparing dinner? For that matter, how does your whole family feel about it?

MARIA:  I’d like to say I’ve gotten better about cooking and writing, though I’m still not the best. Often, I realize I forgot to thaw something or get the crock pot started at the right time, and then we’re scrambling last minute to figure out something different. Even with my lapses, my husband is very supportive of my writing, even to the detriment of his stomach! (Now that’s true love.) The kids rarely complain, but if they happen to marry someone who likes to cook, it will open up a whole new world to them!

(I got lucky–my husband does the cooking.)

ME:  You’ve said that your first book, NOURISH & STRENGTHEN, came out of a journal entry about your family cat, and then you ended up axing the cat part of the story. I want to know what the journal entry was about.

MARIA:  I’m trying to remember exactly what that one was about and what parts stayed in the final draft. The gist was the idea of an indoor cat teasing the outdoor cat–a false feeling of safety because they were separated by glass. (She was scared to death of him “in person.”)

Sometimes we have to go out of our comfort zone to grow as a person–yeah, something I didn’t embrace at The Daily Universe, I suppose–but as far as it relates to NOURISH & STRENGTHEN, there’s a balance to learning to accept ourselves for who we are and loving ourselves even when we’re not perfect, but then there’s also expanding our talents, improving our relationships, and doing our very best.

ME:  Please talk about your particular writing process. Is there a particular time every day that you’ve carved out for writing–a time respected by your friends and family?

MARIA:  My writing schedule is a work in progress even still. I try to make every snatch of time productive–and that means carrying my Kindle and netbook with me as much as possible for when I’m waiting in the car. I don’t do much writing during family time and never on Sunday, but with all my kids in school, I’ve got most of the day to write (my other job is only part time during the school day). Because I enjoy writing, I find the time and tend to put off things like grocery shopping or Costco runs so I can sit in Barnes & Noble or a park with a netbook.

ME:  Do any of your other activities serve to better your writing? If so, please describe how.

MARIA:  Most of the time, running helps me clear my head and gives me time to think through whatever blocks or issues I have with my WIP. I’ve been known to stop running, pull out my phone to make a note, and then go on.

Also, I find that hanging out with friends, working, volunteering, and spending time with family gives me more ideas. You can’t write about life without living it.

ME:  Please describe your writing space and what makes it special. (And I must have a picture.)

MARIA:  I have a new writing space that I love–one all my own for the first time ever. My oldest child went off to BYU and will be leaving for a mission in April (Congratulations!), so when I realized that he wasn’t going to be home for two-and-a-half years and there was no reason to keep it “his” room, I transformed it into my own. I brought in everything I love that I didn’t have room for elsewhere in the house: a huge bookshelf, a love seat, a place for the cat to sit under the window, a desk that looks out the window . . . all very important to my creative process, especially when the weather’s not nice enough to write outdoors. I hated to make my son feel like he was being kicked out of his own home, but I think he knows it’s temporary–I’ll happily relinquish control when he ever has need of the room. Until then, it’s MINE!


(Here’s the love seat . . . check out the drawings!)


(And here’s the desk and window, plus what looks like a plotting board)

ME:  Finally, what are you working on now, and do you ever think about trying anything besides fiction (like Annie Dillard)?

MARIA:  I don’t think I’ll ever write anything but fiction. I have a couple more novel ideas running around in my head–one more persistently and prominently than the others–but I’m still in the idea-gathering, research-scouring, outline-producing stage, so I think I’ll keep mum at the moment until I know my idea will work.

(I understand, but if you were the President, I’d be more persistent :D.)

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Tanya! Congratulations on being named a Whitney Finalist. I’m hoping some day to make it to that stage, as well. Best of luck in May!

(Aw, thanks. And I have no doubt you will achieve that dream . . . and more.)

If you want to know more about Maria and her writing, you can check out her website or her blog.

Next week I’ll be interviewing bestselling author, Marlene Bateman Sullivan. She has a new book out!

By the way, if you’re a writer and would like to be interviewed as part of my “Wednesday Writer” series, please leave me a shout out here in the Comments section.


Originally posted 2013-02-27 06:00:47.