“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” – Kelly Nelson

I have yet to meet Kelly Nelson face to face, even though we share the same publisher, Walnut Springs, and she lives in my general neck of the woods–the Great Northwest. Still, I can’t wait for an opportunity to do a book signing together (hint, hint, Amy) because she certainly seems to have a way with in-person sales! While she’s only published one novel so far, I expect a lot more to follow because it’s the first in a series, The Keeper’s Saga! In fact, the sequel to THE KEEPER’S CALLING is due out in January. She lives on a large horse property with her husband and four children.

ME:  How did you come to love horses and do they ever figure into your writing? (Also, I must have a picture of you riding.)

KELLY:  I think I was born with the “horse gene.” There is an audiotape of my dad interviewing me when I was 3 years old and he says, “What do you love?” My answer: “Horses.” One of my first toys was a spring-style rocking horse purchased from a garage sale. I remember playing with that until I was at least 10 years old.

Wasn’t she a cutie? How many of us had one of these?

Every book I have ever written has horses in it. I figure life would be pretty boring without them, so my books must need to have them, as well.

ME:  What was the most life-changing event of your childhood or adolescence, and could you describe how it affected you?

KELLY:  Getting my first horse was definitely the most life-changing. Being desperate for a horse, I jumped at the chance to have any one I could get my hands on. The first horse my dad and I looked at was Misty, a thoroughbred off the racetrack. I think he liked the fact that she was fast, or maybe he was already tired of looking. (My vote’s the former.) Anyway, we bought her, and I had to learn to cowboy up or that horse would run right over me. Out of necessity, I overcame my natural shyness and developed self-confidence. (So that’s what I need to excel at Costco Signings? A fast horse? Hmm…not sure my back could take it.) The challenges I faced as a result of my horses have definitely shaped me into the person I am today.

There’s my promised riding picture! Kelly on Misty.

ME:  How old were you when you wrote your first story that wasn’t an assignment? Do you still have it and can you summarize it for us? (A picture of you at that age would also be nice.)

KELLY:  The first story I remember writing was called Cassandra. I wrote it when I was fifteen and a freshman in high school. It was the beginning of a novel about a princess caught in the crossfire of two kingdoms battling to settle a boundary dispute. And of course there is a knight in shining armor and a peasant boy she can’t help but fall in love with. I hadn’t plotted it out, so the story fizzled after about thirty pages. And yes, I still have those old sheets of notebook paper stuffed in some obscure box in my closet.

Check out that relic she’s typing on! Do you remember the green letters? But, hey, I’m impressed…she’s all set up and organized to be a writer at 15!

ME:  Okay, I married an accountant. He’s a terrific organist, too, but hardly has a creative bone in his body (except for the lovely poems he wrote while courting me)…so how did you go from being “an avid reader” with “a passion for creative writing” to a numbers cruncher? And what made you return to your real love?

KELLY:  My first passion has always been the horses. As a teenager, I recognized horses are an expensive hobby and I didn’t want the lack of money to prevent me from following my dreams. My dad was a CPA and professor of accounting at BYU, so it seemed natural to follow in his footsteps. Accounting concepts came easy for me and it was a field with a lot of job opportunities. Plus, it helped having a built-in tutor in the family.

It wasn’t until my youngest daughter went to school that I longed to pursue my writing dream. It started as a New Year’s resolution–see if I could actually write 80,000 words, have them make sense, and be a story someone would want to read. Three years later I was published, but let me tell you, they were long, hard years. (I think many of us can identify with that last bit. :D)

ME:  What are some of the main differences between the residents of Orem, Utah, where you were raised, and Cornelius, Oregon, where you now live? And which community do you pull from more for characters in your fiction?

KELLY:  Orem is a city environment and where I live now is very rural. When I was growing up, Orem had a high percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Where I live now, there is a wider variety of people in terms of their faith and their values. I have now lived in Oregon longer than I lived in Utah, so I am more familiar with the Oregon setting and use that more often in my writing.

ME:  How is it that you came to travel to such distant lands as England, France, Egypt, Israel, and the West Indies? (I’m guessing a Jerusalem Study Abroad took you to Egypt and Israel…but the West Indies?) Also, I’d love a picture of you in front of the Pyramids. You must have taken one, because everyone does.

KELLY:  You are right about the study abroad thing (Yes!), but I actually did the London study abroad during college. (Oh…okay, only half right. I did London, too, by the way.) At the end of our time in Great Britain, we spent 5 days in France, and two weeks touring Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. It was our director’s last year coordinating the summer semester, London study abroad and his youngest daughter was one of the students, so I think he went all out to make it an unforgettable experience. (I’ll say!) One of the perks of my husband’s job is the occasional reward trip. Because of that, we have traveled to fancy resorts in the West Indies, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Hawaii. (Nice!)

The obligatory pyramid pose

ME:  What gave you the idea for your first book, THE KEEPER’S CALLING, and what process did you follow to write it? Also, what are you working on now?

KELLY:  I have always been fascinated with time travel and knew I wanted to incorporate that into my novel. The events comprising the first three chapters came to mind while on a hike in Zion National Part in southern Utah. I saw several indentations in the sandstone walls and thought to myself, “What if those were caves? What if you found something buried in there that took you back in time?”

I decided on a male, high school senior for my main character and then thought, “Oh, what if he met a girl back there?” And the rest is history, or rather The Keeper’s Saga(Hmm…I think I’ll bump this up on my reading list.)

I am currently editing the third book in my Keeper’s Saga trilogy and contemplating a companion book that tells Garrick the Guardian’s story.

ME:  We’ve got to get a look at your writing space. Please provide a picture and tell us what knick-knack on your desk means the most to you and why.

KELLY:  You’ll laugh for sure. I don’t have a desk. (What? What happened to that super-organized 15-year-old?) Sitting at one tends to make my legs and back ache. I do have an incredible oak sleigh bed with a perfectly curved headboard. One laptop, a few pillows stacked behind me, and my memory foam mattress have provided all I really needed in the way of creative space.

She wasn’t kidding.

I frequently tote my laptop around to my kids’ sporting activities, piano lessons, swim lessons, etc. I am willing to write anytime, any place. I was addicted to it when I was writing The Keeper’s Saga. It was like reading a good book–I couldn’t put it down.

ME:  Finally, it has long been apparent to me that you are the “Costco Queen.” What are your secrets to a successful Costco Signing (beyond the self-confidence built up by Misty), and what was the strangest encounter you’ve had yet?

KELLY:  First of all, strangest encounter: The man and his friend who were buying a huge cart full of beer, Gatorade, chips, and other snacks for the weekend Cycle Oregon event. He had me sign a book for his 16-year-old daughter, then wanted a picture of me with him. When I stood up for the picture, he ran his eyes down me and said, “You’re a tall drink of water.” (I am 5’9″ and I was wearing heels.) I had no idea what to say to that. As if I wasn’t there, he started saying to his friend, “We should take her with us. Wouldn’t it be fun if she came with us?” This guy talked non-stop and it was hard to get a word in edgewise. Luckily, I was able to hurry them on their way and I never heard from him again. (Okay, regardless of the sleazy come-on, do you see now why I want to do a signing with Kelly? She’s hard to resist, so even if you don’t sell a lot, you’re sure to have a fun time watching her shoot down all these men…with grace, of course.) 

Hmm, Costco sales strategy: I don’t know that I have any special secrets, but I dress professionally and wear my lucky lipstick, :D …plus, I feel like the premise to my book is appealing to a wide variety of readers. If you’re interested, here is the long version of what has worked for me.

First of all, I’ve noticed there are a lot of people who don’t realize what I am doing there. You would think it is pretty obvious, but I have had so many people ask me for clarification. Even after introducing myself as either a “local author signing books today” or in Utah, I say, “I’m from Oregon and I’m in town signing books today,” they will still ask, “You wrote this book?” or “Will you sign it for me if I buy it?” I figured this out on my second book signing in Oregon. A lot of people assume we are Costco employees, so I think it is important to make sure they know who I am and why I’m there.

To get people to pause long enough for me to tell them this, I say, “Would you like a bookmark?” The negative of this is that you can burn through a lot of bookmarks. (If you buy in bulk, like 4,000, they are around $.02 each.) I used to hold the bookmark out to them as I asked, but then I realized that I was making it easier for them to take it than to say no, and I was probably giving bookmarks to people to whom I had no chance of selling a book. Now I ask people without actually holding the bookmark out. If they are interested, they have to walk over, but if not, it is easier for them to turn me down than to take the bookmark.

You can kind of tell when someone is interested by the longing look in their eyes or their body language. Sometimes I hold out the book and say, “You can take a look at it, if you’d like.” I’m always surprised at how many people will take it and say, “Thank you,” like I just did something really nice for them. Getting the book in their hands is always a step in the right direction. If they linger after I introduce myself and look a little interested, I will just keep talking. I flip the book over and point to the counter on the back and say, “It’s about a high school senior who finds this gold device buried in a cave on a summer camping trip in Zion’s. He touches one of the buttons inside and it takes him back to 1863. Of course, he has NO idea what has happened to him. He rescues a girl back there and saves her life. It was her grandfather who buried the counter, so as long as he’s alive it will only work for him. And of course there are people who want to take it.” Give or take a little, that is basically what I say.

I try to find something about my book that might appeal to people wherever I am, and I try to find something that makes me unique. So at home, I say I’m local. In Utah, I say I’m from Oregon. In Oregon, I say the book is set locally, or it is about a Hilhi senior. In Utah, I make sure to include the bit about Zion National Park.

When they ask me what age group it is for, I tell them young adult fiction. But I’ve noticed if I can tell some specific stories about actual readers, that usually gives me a good response from potential buyers. For example, I might say, “I’ve had kids as young as 10 and 11 read it, all the way up to a 90-year-old man who read it twice because he liked it so well.”

That was an info dump if I ever saw one. :D Probably way more information than you wanted.

Not at all. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (including me) who will appreciate the tips. And if any of you want to know more about Kelly and The Keeper’s Saga, just click on her website. Ready to start reading her series? Click here.

Originally posted 2012-12-05 13:03:05.

Reading, Reading, and More Reading

Present word count of WIP:  54,620

Sorry for slacking off here. I know I missed posting last Friday and this past Monday, but I was in the middle of a terrific writer’s conference (LDS Storymakers)…and then I was still recovering from it.

(A ten-hour drive in one day is not easy, despite M&Ms and other caffeinated products, particularly after you’re coming off of five nights of only 3-5 hours of sleep on average. But an audio book leant to me by my writing/conference buddy, Liz Adair, certainly helped!)

Anyway, it was a great conference. The best thing was that I had another excuse to see my daughter. I won’t have too many more opportunities like that before she leaves on her mission. And she even came to the Whitney Awards Banquet with me (that’s become a custom…I’ll definitely miss her next year).

Liz and I were roommates again and we also kept each other company during the massive book signing (and I got to pick up a lot of tips on how to do a signing by watching our neighbor, Janette Rallison, respond to the lines and lines of fans queued up for her signature or picture).

Liz and I at the Book Signing

Me with Janette Rallison and Rachelle Christensen

I took part in one of the critique sessions held during the Publication Primer the day before the conference and met some terrific writers there, including David King, Rebekah Wells, and Becky Tueller and her sister, Cheryl. Our group was led by Natalie Hickman, almost due to have her baby and just out of the hospital that morning. Talk about dedication to your craft!

Me with David and Rebekah

I pitched my WIP to Holly Root of the Waxman Literary Agency and she wants to see the first three chapters when it’s ready. YAY!!! She also said she’d have no problem taking on a client that wanted to write both Women’s Fiction and Middle Grade…all under my own name. Hmmm. Maybe I won’t need a pen name after all.

Also, I met with my editor, Linda Mullineaux, and they’re now looking at sending my book (which will be called something other than Laps) to press in August! I gave them a new suggestion for the title and I think they may go with it. But I’m not announcing it here until it’s finally approved. Anyway, I’m firmly a part of the Walnut Springs Press family, as shown by this picture of several of their authors taken after the Whitney Awards Banquet.

Walnut Springs Authors (Me, Angie Lofthouse, Liz Adair, Jenni James, Betsy Love, Theresa Sneed, and the injured Tristi Pinkston)

Besides the fact that I desperately need a makeover, I learned lots of great things at the LDS Storymakers Conference, as usual (particularly loved Jennifer Nielsen’s class on Middle Grade Fiction and Jeff Savage’s on Podcasts), though I didn’t get to attend nearly as many workshops or classes. That was because:

1) My body crashed after my Friday afternoon pitch . . . it’s a little too old now for these midnight film premieres (but “The Avengers” was terrific!)

and . . .

2) I volunteered to help do timekeeping for pitch sessions on Saturday morning. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be the one watching the clock rather than the one racing through my pitch over and over in my mind while waiting for the signal to go in and face the agent.

While I didn’t spend much in the bookstore, I came away with two more books to review this month. I was already set to review Jolene Perry’s Night Sky on May 14th (I just finished reading it today and have the review all written), but now I’m due to read Heather Moore’s Daughters of Jared and Tristi Pinkston’s Women of Strength, as well, before the end of the month.

Not to mention all the Whitney Award finalists and winners I’ve got downloaded. As I put in my title, it looks like all I’ll be doing the rest of this month is reading, reading, and more reading!

Originally posted 2012-05-11 13:23:28.