More than the Whitneys and a writing conference took me off course over the past two months. But now that all of that is over and family difficulties seem to have eased, I feel ready to plunge back in, renewed and reoriented.

First, some thoughts about the Whitney Awards Gala. I loved it. I was honored to have been a finalist this year in a category that was particularly strong. The presenters did a marvelous job and were often quite creative. Sarah Eden was an inspiration! So, in the end, I didn’t mind eating the traditional “Losers Cheesecake.”


IMG_1737And here I am with my editor, Linda Prince


And two from my writer’s group–Liz Adair and Christine Thackeray

The conference was as terrific as ever, but I must admit that I took things easy (after Publication Primer, that is . . . and I had a great group) this year because, given the situation with my daughter, it was hard to keep my focus.

IMG_1732The 3 “L”adies — Liz Adair, Linda Adams, and Laurie Lewis


Me and the brilliant Michelle Wilson

Still, I came away with some valuable insights from Traci Hunter Abramson on writing a series, Michael Young on recording audio books (yes, I do have plans in that direction), and most of all, our keynote speaker, the NYT bestselling novelist, Anne Perry, put juice back into my writer’s veins. (Liz and I lucked out Friday morning and got to eat breakfast with her.)

Anne Perry

I had begun to despair that my daughter’s difficulties had sapped all my inspiration. But Perry made it very clear that, regardless of genre, theme is all important. If we overlook it and take the easy path, our writing will wilt. I suppose you could say she gave me the courage to pick my brain up again and begin to prod at my view of life for its obvious and not-so-obvious truths. Whether I’m writing for youth or adults, and no matter the genre, the message is key.

The best part of the conference was getting a request for the full manuscript of my middle grade fantasy from Dystel & Goderich Literary Agent Michael Bourret. That gave me the energy to drive on down to Kanab, Utah with fellow “Writeminded” author, Christine Thackeray, and take full advantage of a writing retreat in Liz Adair’s guest bunkhouse for four days and five nights to do a final revision of THE ACADEMY OF THE ANCIENTS: THE HEYMAN LEGACY.

IMG_1740The bunkhouse sleeps 8 — here’s one half


And there’s shelves and closet space too!

Tip #1: If Liz happens to extend such an invitation to you, do not pass it up! You’ll get clean air, quiet, a beautiful setting, homemade whole wheat blueberry pancakes with sausage or bacon each morning, and an ATV outing or two to work the kinks out. If everything were just right at this moment in our family’s life, I’d move down there in a second.

IMG_1878The ATV I rode up to the top of Antennae Mountain


Liz pointing to her neighborhood in Kanab


I’m following Christine into Peekaboo Canyon–Gorgeous!

Tip #2: Liz is putting on the Kanab Writer’s Conference at the end of October (evening of Oct. 25th and all day the 26th), so I’ll be returning to make a couple of presentations. And one of the keynote speakers is Janette Rallison. It only costs $40 (including lunch) for 20 breakout classes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (I foresee another great time in the bunkhouse.)

Mark your calendars now and go ahead and register.

In the meantime, I’ve got some writing to get back to. I’m all reoriented and raring to go.

Originally posted 2013-05-20 21:37:41.

“Wednesday Writer” – C. Michelle Jefferies

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

Christmas book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle and family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle and husband(Michelle with her aviator husband)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

(Brava! And here’s the picture):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Everett

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

“Wednesday Writer” – J. Lloyd Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elder Morgan holding up a sign in Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See all the awards? He CAN do it!

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

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

Chris de Burgh with his guitar

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the interview! I enjoyed it!

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

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

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

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

Contest Author Interview – C. David Belt

(NOTE: TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF MY CONTEST TO PROMOTE MY NEW BOOK-A NIGHT ON MOON HILL. If you somehow haven’t yet heard about the contest, go here to see the entry details, as well as the 50+ different prizes, and please think about entering. After all, there’s no limit on number of entries and there are many ways to enter. If you’ve already entered, remember that leaving a comment about this interview earns you one last entry!)

Aye, that lad sporting the kilt (unseen but imagined) and the Tam o’ Shanter, and no doubt well-armed, is none other than C. David Belt, software engineer, Mormon Tabernacle Choir singer, and author of the paranormal vampire series, “The Children of Lilith.” He has offered the first volume of his trilogy, entitled THE UNWILLING, as a prize in my contest.

Me:  First of all, as someone who grew up overseas myself, I’d be interested in knowing more about your childhood in the Far East and what took your family there.

David:  My family moved to the Philippine Islands when I was three.  My father was a high school history teacher in the DOD school system on Clark Air Force Base.  We lived off-base for a year or so and then moved onto the base.  I spent one summer with a Filipino family while my parents were travelling.  While I have vivid memories of that summer (riding in jeepnies, butchering chickens), one of the things that impressed me most was the fact that the family had saved for many, many years to be able to travel to New Zealand to be sealed in the temple.  

My parents and I travelled all over the Philippines—I met head-hunters!—and visited Thailand and Hong Kong.  My most vivid memories of those travels are the elephants, the floating market in Bangkok, feeding bananas to a monkey until he couldn’t eat anymore, and standing on the border of Red China.  The military jets flying over Clark and the naval warships at Subic Bay impressed me greatly.  Perhaps that’s why I grew up to fly bombers in the Air Force.  We returned to the states when I was nine.  We travelled on a cruise ship.  With all that wonderful food that was available, I remember ordering a ham sandwich for lunch every single day!

(Ah, cruise ships were the best way to return to the States. But don’t get me started…)

Me:  Did you write any stories as a child and, if so, can you recall the gist or the subject of your best one?

David:  Yes, I’ve been writing stories most of my life. Many of my early ones revolved around superheroes, particularly the Batman. I was particularly proud (at the time) of a werewolf tale. As a teenager, my focus moved to science fiction, including a story that bore a remarkable resemblance to the movie, “Enemy Mine,” decades before that film ever came out. (Hmm…you were either prescient or robbed!)

Me:  Okay, how did a guy who graduated with a bachelor’s in Computer Science, served as a B-52 pilot in the Air Force, and now sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir end up writing vampire novels?

David:  I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was 8 years old. I have read it seven times, almost as many times as I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the RingsDracula remains one of my favorite books. 

Most of my stories start out as an image in my head, a snapshot, if you will, like a screen-capture from a movie. The image will possess me (or at least haunt me) until I turn it into a story, till I fill in all the backstory. This one started as shot of a dark ordination, dozens of vampires surrounding a mortal man, turning him into a vampire against his will. In this snapshot I knew the vampires could not and would not convert anyone without his consent. I knew that vampirism (in the context of the image) had to be a choice. Eternal damnation cannot be forced on someone. You can be seduced into evil, but nobody can take away your salvation. I love a good vampire story, but the idea of forced damnation always bothered me. It took me ten years to get started, because I couldn’t work out how the hero could be forcibly changed if he did not choose it. I was also trying to write it as a main-stream (i.e., non-LDS) story, but it was too tied up in agency and the atonement for me to separate it in a way that made sense, in a way that was honest. When I finally gave in and made Carl LDS, everything snapped into place.

Me:  Another LDS author I know, Michael Young, also sings with the Tabernacle Choir. Do you guys ever talk about writing, maybe swap manuscripts for editing?

David:  Yes! All the time. We have a small MTC-Writers group on Facebook. (Okay, as a missionary mom, you confused me for a minute there . . . MTC . . . Mormon Tabernacle Choir, got it.) We get together and swap stories, manuscripts, etc. We proofread manuscripts, bounce ideas off one another. All our conversations revolve around writing. (And here I thought all they did was sing in their spare time. How many more MTC writers are there?)

Me:  With your day job as a software engineer, when and where do you do most of your writing? Please describe your writing space (and provide a picture).

I jot down ideas or bits of dialogue on the back of Choir announcements during rehearsals (Can you imagine what the custodians must think if David ever leaves any of his notes behind accidentally?) I get some of my best ideas while sitting in the Choir loft between songs, gazing at the vaulted space of the Tabernacle or the Conference Center. 

I DO have an office at home where I do a good portion of my writing (as well as some programming).  There I am surrounded by my sword and armor collection (as well as toy spaceships).

(Check it out. He provided several pictures. Talk about a lot of armor! More about that in a minute.)

Me:  It’s apparent you have quite the collection of medieval weapons and armor (Joyce DiPastena, eat your heart out), with an emphasis on Scottish swords. What do Scottish swords have that others don’t? And have you given any thought to writing in another genre . . . say, historical fiction?

David:  I started collecting swords twelve years ago. Most of the pieces that I acquired happened to be Scottish, but I couldn’t have told you why I was attracted to those pieces, other than I have always been fascinated with history. As I became more and more involved in my own genealogy, however, I discovered that better than 80% of my ancestral lines are Scottish. I like to think that this was the connection, at least on a sub-conscious level.

Swords figure prominently in the vampire trilogy, and I drew inspiration from specific pieces that I own and/or wish I owned.

Me:  I’ve heard of writers with dogs, and writers with cats (like me), but I’ve only met one other writer so far with a parrot (she’s in my writing group). Tell us about Mork, your Eclectus Parrot, and how he helps or inhibits your writing. (And I MUST have a picture of him, preferably jumping on your keyboard as he is wont to do.)

David:  Mork is a sweetie, but he is very demanding. We got him as a mate for our female eclectus (who later died). He was three years old and had never been handled. Taming him was a challenge. (He was convinced I was trying to eat him.) I finally just had to let him bite me repeatedly until he was convinced that I was no threat. Now he is very gentle. He allows me to hold him upside-down in the crook of my arm, as if I were holding a baby, or dangling by his tail feathers.

He frequently hangs upside-down in his cage (like a bat). (Ah, a true muse.) He does talk, but rarely when anyone is in the room. When he can hear you in another room, he can be quite chatty (trying to get your attention). He will sometimes sit on my shoulder when I’m writing, but if I’m not paying enough attention to him, he’ll sidle down my arm, slowly climb onto my hand as I’m typing, look at me quizzically, and then jump onto the keyboard. I pick him up and set him back on my shoulder. He squawks his disapproval and then slowly makes his way back toward the keyboard. So he can be a bit of a distraction, but I love having him around. (Now I understand why you write so much at Choir rehearsals.)

By the way, we DO have two cats. They are terrified of Mork.

(And here are pictures of Mork doing precisely what David described. He’s a beauty, but I’ll never complain about my cat, Peach, again.)

Me:  How would you describe your writing process, that is, when Mork isn’t getting in the way?

David:  I am very much a discovery writer. I never create an outline. I create a document of notes, character sketches, locations, backstory, plot points that I want to cover (not all of which will make it into the manuscript), etc. For The Children of Lilith, I had to write down exactly how vampirism worked in my mythos, what the rules were, how they could be killed, etc. Then I stew over a starting point, an opening scene. Once I’ve got that in my head, I plunge in. I let the characters drive the story. Often, a character, such as Moira, will speak up in my head and say, “That’s nae what I would say, laddie,” or, “I would nae ever do that,” and the story takes a whole new direction that I wasn’t expecting. (That sounds familiar, though not in that accent.) I know the beginning and the desired ending of the story when I start. The rest just happens along the way.

Me:  And what are you working on at present?

David:  The vampire trilogy is done (with book 3 in the final stages of editing). I’m currently working on a standalone science fiction novel with LDS themes and a main character who is LDS. Time’s Plague borrows themes for Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and is set roughly a century or so in the future. It starts out on a penal colony on Callisto (one of the moons of Jupiter). The story centers on Edgar, an innocent man, who has been sentenced for life (there can be no parole and no escape from the Hades penal colony) for a murder he did not commit. He was framed by his ex-wife and his best friend. The prison has no warden and is ruled by the prisoners, all of whom are male. It is literally a hellish place populated by murderers and rapists, the worst of the worst. New prisoners and supplies are dropped from orbit and no ship ever lands on Callisto… that is, until a shuttle crash-lands. There is only one survivor—Edgar’s ex-wife, the one person in the universe he hates more than any other. No woman can survive on Callisto. Edgar has to figure out a way to get her off-world and protect her from the other inmates.

Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? So he is delving into another genre, after all. (Of course, that one bookshelf in his office kind of gave this other passion away.) If you want to know more about David and his vampire trilogy, check out The Children of Lilith website.

One last note. I’ve enjoyed doing these interviews so much that I’ve decided to try to continue with a weekly “Wednesday Writer” conversation. I’m kicking it off with my son this Wednesday. Granted, he’s not published . . . yet. But he’s a writer in development and, besides, I thought you might be interested in his views on A NIGHT ON MOON HILL. After all, he inspired the story.

If any of you authors out there would like to be featured as a “Wednesday Writer” then please contact me at the email address I give on my Contact page here.


Originally posted 2012-09-24 06:00:25.