“Wednesday Writer” – Chris Jefferies

I pulled a switch to accommodate the needs of one of my scheduled authors, so we’re visiting today with historical fiction writer, Chris Jefferies, instead of fantasy author, Karen Hoover. But I promise–she’ll be here next Wednesday.

In the meantime, let’s get to know Chris better, shall we? This is an award-winning writer (a bronze medalist for Best Regional Fiction by the Independent Book Awards) who, like me, came a bit late to the game. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his stuff. He does.

Chris L. Jefferies, PhDME:  How old were you when you wrote your first story, and what was it about? (Also, I’d love a picture of you as a child to post with the interview.)

(Note: I asked that question assuming that he, like most of us, had first tried his hand at creating a story in elementary school . . . No such luck, but he was such a cute kid that I’m posting the picture anyway.)

chris3yrs(Here he is at 3 and he’s already showing an interest in the military!)

CHRIS:  I first began writing seriously during my Air Force career when my bosses discovered I could write. (Notwithstanding the picture above, this was not when he was three. :D)

That led to writing for professional journals and other periodicals over the years. I’ve always enjoyed reading novels, particularly historical fiction, and over a period of time I began reading them with a critical eye. I finally concluded I could write better than many of the authors I was reading. I wrote my first story during my early 60s. That story became the first ZION’S PROMISE book.

ME:  Where did you grow up and how has it impacted you as a writer?

CHRIS:  I grew up in Oakland, California, where my parents moved from Utah during the late 1930s, but my family roots remained in Utah, particularly Grantsville. That’s the town, on Utah’s western frontier, where almost all of my ancestors settled after emigrating from England during the mid-1800s. So I grew up with a keen awareness of my Mormon Pioneer heritage which, in turn, influenced my writing.

(More about that later. But here’s a picture of the land around Grantsville.)


ME:  Please fill us in on your education and career up until the time you decided to begin writing the ZION’S PROMISE series. (And I hope you won’t mind if I post a picture of you in your Air Force uniform . . . as an adult, that is.)

CHRIS:  I am a career Air Force officer and a retired colonel. Spanning 28 years, my career includes 8 years flying world-wide airlift missions, a tour flying C-130s in Vietnam, a tour as an exchange officer with the British Royal Air Force, five years on the faculty of the US Air Force Academy, service at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and two tours in Washington, D.C. (Okay, I’m officially tired.)

CHRIS UNIFORM(There’s the man in uniform.)

After retiring from the Air Force, I served as an administrator at the University of Oklahoma, and then as the Executive Director of the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and museum. (Wait! What about retirement? The Air Force didn’t wear you out?)

My educational degrees are from BYU, a Master’s from the University of Pittsburgh, and a PhD from the University of Oklahoma. (Envision a snappy military salute to Dr. Jefferies at this point.)

Chris Jefferies(He looks like someone with a PhD, doesn’t he?)

ME:  It’s apparent that history is important to you. After all, you’re a western historical fiction writer and you currently serve as editor of Prairie Lore, the journal of the Southwest Oklahoma Historical Society. Why does history matter so much to you?

CHRIS:  I’m not sure why, but history has always fascinated me. (Me too.) I have always chosen history when given a choice of reading materials. As I grew older I began to appreciate that we are who we are because of our history. It defines us as families and individuals. I firmly believe that our ancestors influence us even today, often by whisperings of the spirit. (Agreed.)

Zion's Promise 1ME:  What gave you the idea for ZION’S PROMISE, and did you envision it as a series to begin with?

CHRIS:  No, I did not envision my first book as a series. It just happened. The idea for ZION’S PROMISE grew from two sources.

First, my great-great grandfather’s journal. As I read his accounts, I was intrigued by his adventures, many of which surpassed those I had read in historical fiction novels over the years. (Hint to readers: you might be well-advised to start digging through your attics for your ancestors’ journals.)

Zion's Promise 2

The second idea grew out of my admiration for Porter Rockwell, one of the unsung heroes of Mormon history. He is a fascinating character, and the factual accounts of his exploits read better than a novel. When I realized that he and my great-great grandfather were contemporaries, whose paths had crossed, I concluded I had the source material for a novel. 

ME:  Does the story change through the course of the series and, if so, how?

CHRIS:  The story line is the adventures, trials, sacrifices and triumphs of a Mormon family emigrating from England in 1861 to join the Mormon Zion in Utah Territory in search of the blessings and opportunities it offers. That continues throughout all three volumes.

Zion's Promise 3The events evolve more than change as they emigrate, settle on Zion’s western frontier, and struggle to establish their own Zion in the face of adversity and challenges.

author.bookfair.10-12(And here’s the author at a signing)

ME:  You’ve described yourself as a “rut-nut.” Could you explain exactly what you mean by that, and please share one of your most memorable experiences in your exploration of the western migration trails. (And I must have a picture of you out on the trail.)

CHRIS:  A “rut-nut” is a self-descriptive term for one who seeks out and follows old frontier trails and roads, looking for evidence of those who originally traveled the trails.

My most memorable experience was standing on a stretch of Mormon Trail ruts in Wyoming with my father, and both of us realizing that our direct ancestors passed by that very spot. It was as though they were whispering to us.

IMG_0458(Here they are on the spot. What a resemblance between father and son!)

ME:  Please describe your research and writing process. Does one precede the other or do they go hand in hand for you?

CHRIS:  Before I begin writing, I research as much general background material relevant to my intended story as I can until I feel confident enough to start. For example, before I began volume 3, in which I describe Colonel Conner and his California volunteers sent to Utah Territory at the beginning of the Civil War, I researched what life was like for the frontier soldier. Then, as I got into writing, I referred to contemporary journals and accounts by actual soldiers of the Volunteers. So the answer is both: research begins before I write, and continues during the process.

ME:  What are five things you have on or near your writing desk that make your creative space special? (And please send a photo of your writing space.)

CHRIS:  I don’t think I have anything special in my writing space, except a good dictionary and thesaurus. And, of course, stacks of books . . . Oh yes. (You see, I knew there’s be something.) There is one special item: a needlepoint that Betty, my wife, sewed for me years ago. I still like to look at it.

(Drat! The only picture I could find of him at a desk doesn’t show the needlepoint. I wonder if it’s a design, a picture, or a saying.)

Chris Jefferies at desk(That desk looks old enough to have some history behind it.)

ME:  Finally, I hope you won’t mind sharing one of your great-great grandfather’s most interesting journal entries.

CHRIS:  Most of his entries are factual and brief, and emotion-free. Putting feeling and emotions into these accounts was my challenge as an author hoping to bring him to life. I think I succeeded. However, there is one entry he made at the journal’s end that impressed me the most as one of his direct descendants. It may be of interest to others.

William Jefferies & WO0002(First, a picture to help you visualize the man behind the pen. Chris’s great-great grandfather, William Jefferies, with two of his children/grandchildren.)

I have dwelt somewhat lengthily on several incidents in my early life, because I perceive in them the visible hand of my Father in heaven, in leading, guiding and directing my course, so as to bring me into his fold, and give me a chance to secure unto myself eternal lives, in his celestial Kingdom. Others may not acknowledge His hand in such matters, but I do, and I feel thankful to Him for the benefits of His guiding Hand all my life through, thus far; and I hope to be able to serve Him faithfully all the remainder of my days, so that when I shall have to give an account of the deeds done in the body, I may be considered worthy to be an heir of God and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ, and dwell in the mansions of celestial light and glory for evermore. 

(Wow. Talk about a voice whispering from the dust.)

If you’d like to know more about Chris and his writing, please check out his website. And you can order his books here.

Next Wednesday, I promise to chat with Karen Hoover.


Originally posted 2013-07-17 15:43:24.

“Wednesday Writer” – Rebecca Belliston

Are you comfortable? Do you have a ready supply of chocolate (or your favorite snack if it’s not chocolate)? Then settle yourself in for a long, detailed interview with Rebecca Belliston, an author of YA Romance and dystopian fiction, and a composer of religious and classical-styled music.

index~~element457 ME:  I didn’t realize (until I was preparing for this interview) that you’re the daughter of Gerald Lund, one of the most respected and well-known authors in LDS circles, thanks mostly to his series, The Work and the Glory. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, or do you not even worry about it? How have you dealt with his fame when it comes to your own writing career? (And I’d love a picture of you with your father when you were a child.)

REBECCA:  Growing up, I had a lot of people ask me, “Are you a writer like your dad?” I’d quickly respond that I wasn’t. Not at all. I loved watching him write, reading his books, and talking about his characters over dinner and whether Joshua Steed should ever turn good. But writing was always his thing.

Until five years ago.

I had this story stuck in my head for a year, and I decided to jot down a few notes so I could hopefully stop thinking about it. (Uh-oh. That sounds familiar.) But once I started writing . . . oh boy, I couldn’t stop. (Addictive, isn’t it?) I fell in love with the process of creating, refining, and molding characters, and then trying to figure out what might happen next. And then next.

Since I never planned to write, and since I grew up being “Gerald Lund’s daughter,” I had an unreasonably hard time admitting what I was doing. It took me two weeks to tell my husband. Pathetic, right? (But kind of understandable, too.) When he didn’t disown me or laugh me out of town, I told my dad.

Gerald & Rebecca(Gerald Lund with Rebecca…and, unseen in the frame, a keyboard. Just kidding!)

My dad’s been so supportive and excited for me right from the start. I’m smiling right now just thinking about his enthusiasm. It’s been a blast to talk writing jargon with him and to watch a pro like him work through the creative process. I’ve learned so, so, so much.

But to answer your question, yes. Those are huge writing shoes to fill. Ginormous. When I found out SADIE was being published, I kind of freaked out, wondering if people would compare my book with my dad’s and expect some amazing doctrinal dissertation that would change their life.

(That does sound like a major freak out.)

You might notice that “Lund” is not in my official author name on my book covers. That was for a few reasons. Rebecca Belliston is a long enough name to fit on a cover without inserting “Lund” in there. But I also wanted to protect my dad, myself, and my readers. If people disliked my books, I didn’t want them to think less of my dad. I also didn’t want any readers to pick up my book and think they were getting a Gerald Lund-type book. I write romances.

However, one thing I inherited from my dad is the ability to write long books and long answers. (:D) Sorry. That was probably more detail than you wanted. :D

(Not at all. I love details.)

ME:  Or perhaps it’s your mother, Lynn, with all of her composing, who has been most influential creatively? (Again, I’d love a picture of you as a child with her.)

REBECCA:  While I never grew up thinking I’d follow my dad’s footsteps, I definitely followed my mom’s, even from a young age. My mom has written hundreds of songs and taught piano since before I was born. I’m told that, as a baby, I’d sit quietly on her lap during all her piano lessons. (I can think of a few piano-teaching moms who are probably envious right now.) I’ve loved music as long as I can remember.

By three years old, I was sounding out songs on the piano. (Piano lessons by osmosis, right?) By four, I was taking piano lessons. By six, I had perfect pitch, and I was writing my own songs about purple unicorns and rainbows.

My mom and I singing in a program(Rebecca with her mom)

My mom has been a huge creative influence in my life, and I love her dearly for it. She would encourage me to think about melodies and what made them unique and beautiful. Then she’d point out accompaniments that would counter the melody instead of following it.

Like my dad, my mom has been a huge support of my compositions, cheering me on in the tiniest achievements. When my first choral arrangement was published with Jackman Music, I could practically hear her screaming across the country.

As you can see, I have the best parents. I was raised in an attitude of, If you can dream it, do it! Don’t let doubt get in your way. (Great motto for all creative types, particularly writers.) I watched them get these crazy ideas that no one ever tried, but they’d just run with it and turn it into something inspiring. Fear of failure was either non-existent or unseen.

Whenever I’ve exhibited the least bit of interest in the creative process, they’ve been on the sidelines cheering me on and telling me I’m the best in the world. Ha ha. I love them!

Everything I’m doing today with books and music I owe to my parents. Seriously.

(I hope you’ll share this interview with them so they realize how grateful you are.)

ME:  What was your major in college and why? Were you able to finish a degree before your husband, Troy, swept you off your feet? (And please share a wedding photo of the two of you.) If not, do you plan on completing it at some time in the future?

REBECCA:  I took a lot of music classes in college, but I technically didn’t major in music. I wasn’t really majoring in anything. I took computer classes, medical classes, science classes, and a bunch of other stuff, but I loved too many things to narrow it down to one subject. (At least not by the time you met Troy, I take it.)

Our Wedding(Troy and Rebecca, appropriately by the piano)

Once our oldest kid was born, I knew I wanted to be at home with him all the time. I never finished my degree. I wasn’t even close. But I’ve never regretted that decision. Not once.

As of now, I don’t have plans to finish my degree because, again, I’m not sure how I’d narrow it down to one subject. I’d love to major in six things. Maybe some day I’ll find the time to do all of it.

(That’s me. I wanted to be an archaeologist, historian, actress, playwright, filmmaker, foreign correspondent, etc. That’s the great thing about being a writer. We can satisfy so many different interests in our writing.)

Instead, I’ve used Google as my university. I’m a learning addict (Here, here!), and usually it’s random, useless things that catch my interest. But I love that I can have a simple question, and .30 seconds later I get 4.2 million answers. Thank goodness for Google!


ME:  My sister and her husband lived in Detroit for a couple of years early on in their marriage and really didn’t like it, but that was almost 30 years ago. How has your family liked Detroit, and has that setting influenced your writing in any way?

REBECCA:  I was born and raised in Utah, but once my husband graduated from Utah State, we moved to Michigan. We’ve lived here sixteen years now. He’s an automotive engineer and currently works on the Ford F-150, so Metro Detroit is the place to be.

2013-Ford-F-150-Limited-front-three-quarter(2013 Ford F-150…looking nice, Troy!)

We live outside of the city 45 minutes, and we love it! Michigan is so gorgeous and green. Where we live has a strong Midwest feel. The people are so warm and open. The area is family friendly and strongly Christian, which is awesome for my kids.

(Now, if you’d asked me if I like Michigan in the dead of winter, I’d probably have a different answer.)

(It’s a good thing I interviewed you in summertime!)

Living outside of Utah and watching LDS people outside of Mormonville made me want to keep Sadie’s story outside of that little bubble. I wanted to show how LDS twenty-somethings maintain their standards when they’re in the minority. Because of that, most of the characters in SADIE and AUGUSTINA aren’t LDS. I like it that way. That’s my kids’ lives right now. There are so many good, Christian people in the world, and I have many close friends that aren’t of my faith. I guess I wanted to highlight that.

(I know what you mean. I always try to have a mix of faiths in my stories, too.)

ME:  What gave you the idea to put lyrics into your manuscript for SADIE, and do you do it again in the sequel? Also, has the song “Look Past” been recorded anywhere?

REBECCA:  I’m not sure where I got the idea for “Look Past.” It’s my first real attempt at writing lyrics. I wish it was recorded! That would be so cool! In my mind–and I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly (That’s okay…we don’t mind.)–but David Archuleta sings it. So . . . anyone know how to get Archie to record my song for me? :D (Even if we did, I think you’ll have to wait until he’s finished his mission first.)

(The more you get to know me, the more you’ll see what a dreamer I am. That’s the downside of my parents’ influence. My husband has a hard time keeping my feet on the floor. I have a bucket list a mile long, which involves Hollywood movies, Billboard-chart songs, and a lot of other stuff I’ll force myself to quit admitting.)

(Hey, don’t forget what your parents taught you. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming.)

I’m currently working on a song for AUGUSTINA, but it’s a hymn arrangement, not an original composition like “Look Past.” We’ll see if I can finish it before the release. Here’s hoping.

ME:  Tell us about your successful first novel, SADIE, as well as its sequel, AUGUSTINA, due to come out shortly. How are they alike, and what differences might your readers expect in this sequel?

SadieREBECCA:  My first novel, SADIE, is about a girl in Montana who’s dating a guy with all the appearance of being wonderful and charming. Everyone loves Guillermo. But Sadie’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he turns violent. She goes on the run and meets four quirky guys on their annual ski vacation. They take her in, hide her, and show her a different way of living that doesn’t revolve around diamonds and dinner parties.

One of the guys, Josh, catches her interest with stupid jokes and amazing piano abilities. (My love of music shines strong in the books.) But Guillermo is cunning and powerful enough to draw Sadie back in. Before she knows it, she’s in the middle of a dangerous duel between him and the FBI, and it turns deadly. She has to figure out which side she’s on and which man she loves before it’s too late.


(Slight spoiler alert ahead for those who haven’t read SADIE yet . . . even if it is by the author, herself.)

In the sequel, AUGUSTINA, Sadie is on the run. Guillermo is furious she turned against him, and her body still shows the effects of his rage. Forced to leave Montana behind, she and Josh head south where she hopes to conquer her past–even if only in her mind. But Guillermo can’t let go. He’s still orchestrating, hunting, and devising ways to exact his own kind of justice. When the law swings in his favor, he’s ready to end the feud that started the moment Josh walked into Sadie’s life.

Book two was hard to write. Sadie goes to a dark place in her mind, and as an author, I wanted to protect her from that. I love my characters. But unfortunately, that wasn’t realistic. Domestic abuse is a reality for far too many women, and I didn’t want to minimize it. So in some ways, AUGUSTINA is a little heavier than SADIE. But there is still a lot of teasing and laughter.

There’s also a change of scenery in this second book. Josh and Sadie move to Tennessee, which allows them to spend more time outside. That was a lot of fun to write. I visited Knoxville with my parents ten years back when they were filming The Work and the Glory. I fell in love with the area. It’s gorgeous.

Also in book two, Sadie spends some time focusing on her spirituality. She’s desperate to find some peace–any peace–and part of her journey is exploring Josh’s religion.

ME:  What led you to turn to dystopian fiction with CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, and do you have a publisher for that trilogy yet?

REBECCA:  CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND is a little different than SADIE and AUGUSTINA. It’s set in the future about five years after the financial collapse of America. It’s still a romance and has some suspense elements, but it’s not LDS fiction. In a way, it’s the story of a small community as much as it’s a romance.

LifeI think the most powerful question a writer can ask is “What if?” Those two little words are the reason I wrote CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND.

What if the end of America as we know it isn’t caused from some massive world war? What if it’s caused by the collapse of the economy? What if our technologically spoiled civilization suddenly has to live without running water, electricity, and even a basic grocery store? What if the government wants to help people and prevent mass starvation, but in reality, they only make things worse? What would that do to a small community of 36 neighbors? How would I survive if I didn’t have a dime to my name? (Okay, now I’m looking at a sleepless night ahead of me.)

I’m thrilled that Crescent Moon Press will be publishing this new trilogy. They’ve been so enthusiastic about the characters and story, it’s been awesome. I’m not sure yet when it will be published, but I’m starting round one of edits in the near future.

(Congratulations! I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.)

ME:  How would you describe your writing process and what part does music play in it, if any? (I must have a picture of you at the piano.)

REBECCA:  Hmmm. My writing process is constantly evolving. As I mentioned, I never planned to write SADIE. It just kinda happened. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about writing.

Now, I usually let a story play out in my mind for a while before I write anything down. I’m a daydreamer, so I start there, much to the chagrin of my family.

“Mom? Hello?”

Once I feel I’m onto something, I start to plot and outline. I use a couple of outlining methods, but I really like Blake Snyder’s beat sheet method. I also do some intense character sketching to figure out motivations, fears, strengths and weaknesses for the major characters.

From there, I start writing. First drafts are hard for me. Ironic, I know, considering I wrote the first draft of SADIE in three weeks. But I’d much prefer to edit and refine now. Still, I’ve learned to push through the first draft and allow myself to be dull and boring the first time through so I can get to the fun, refining process.

(I think most writers feel that way. I’ll bet your father does, too. And since you didn’t mention music, I guess it doesn’t play a role, but here’s a picture anyway.)

At piano(Rebecca at the piano)

ME:  Finally, I’d love a peek at the place where you do most of your writing. Please describe it in Guillermo’s voice, as if he’s come there looking for Sadie. (And we must have a photo.)

REBECCA:  In Guillermo’s voice? Oh, man. Let’s see . . .

She sat at her desk, unaware. Her back was to the room, trusting her surroundings.

I smiled. I loved this about her.

She worked from two screens, and her eyes darted back and forth, mind racing and wonderfully preoccupied. Several books were strewn about, and papers filled every inch of work space. Homework assignments. Bills. Even a random screwdriver. What was the purpose in that?

I found the answer to my own question, and my smile grew. The screwdriver was long and sharp. Perfecto!

I crept closer.

Children climbed on and off her lap, causing more typos than she could keep up with. She was distracted. Always distracted. And oh, so very trusting.

Okay. I have to stop now because I’m freaking myself out. (What? No. It was just getting good! You can’t leave us hanging there.) Anyone could sneak up to me when I write because I’m so focused. (That’s why I write with my back to a wall…and a window that doesn’t open.) Thank you so much for that little writing exercise. (Picture me turning my laptop around to face the room.)

I’m seriously tempted to clean up my workspace before snapping a photo, but I won’t. Welcome to my frazzled brain. In my defense, my computer files are perfectly organized and tidy. Sort of.

My desk(And there you have it…the scene of Guillermo’s almost crime)

You can learn more about Rebecca’s writing or watch the trailer for SADIE (and even listen to some of her musical compositions) by checking out her website and blog.

But don’t forget to come back here next Wednesday when I’ll be interviewing fantasy author, Karen Hoover.


Originally posted 2013-07-10 06:00:18.

Contest Author Interview – Danyelle Ferguson

(NOTE: If you haven’t yet heard about the contest I’m running through September 24th, go here to see the 50 different prizes and entry details 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 yet another entry!)

Not only is Danyelle a talented writer, but she’s a brave organizer. Along with her husband, she founded a non-profit organization (more about that later) and is helping the LDStorymakers group better serve more of its members by taking the lead in instituting a second conference in a week and a half, located in the Midwest in a place called Olathe, Kansas (a place I’ve just finished reading about in one of my thrillers–Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood…as it turns out one of the two real-life killers in the book holed up in Olathe before they committed their crimes). But I’ll give my review of that story in a few weeks once my contest is over. Now, on with my interview!

Me:  Tell us about the first article you had published when you were in 6th grade. Do you still have a copy of it?

Danyelle:  I do have a copy of it! My mom saved it in a manila envelope along with other articles about me from the time I was young until I graduated high school.

I was lucky enough to have an incredible 6th grade teacher–Mrs. Seasholtz–who encouraged my love of reading. One book was about a boy named Charlie, the poor crime-filled neighborhood he grew up in, and his relationship with the city sheriff. Rather than write a book report, my teacher suggested I invite our city sheriff to visit our class. I met with the sheriff, then he came to talk to my class about our city, crime, and how we could help with crime prevention. Afterwards, Mrs. Seasholtz sat me down at her computer and had me write my very first newspaper article. She included a picture of me and the sheriff. It was the neatest thing ever to see my article appear in our city newspaper. It made an even bigger impression on me when lots of people started calling, stopped me at the store or in the school hallways to congratulate me and ask more questions about the book or presentation. It definitely hooked me into not only writing, but being brave enough to share what I wrote with others.

(Now that’s the kind of teacher we all want our kids to have, isn’t it?)

Me:  I see that you’ve written everything from poems to short stories, not to mention your nonfiction. Which form of creative writing do you enjoy the most and why? On the other hand, which is the most challenging?

Danyelle:  Short stories are definitely the most challenging. It’s hard to fit in a beginning, middle, and end, as well as character development, in a small limited amount of words! I admire writers who specialize in short stories.

My poetry is very special to me. I only write poems when I’m dealing with really emotional situations. I started writing them when my mom was first diagnosed with cancer then continued through two more diagnoses. When she passed away just after my high school graduation, I wrote one final poem for her and tucked it into her casket. I’m honestly not the best poet – not even a really good one – but it’s the creative expression that fills my mind when life is swirling around me.

Me:  As my book includes a young boy with Asperger’s syndrome, I’m particularly interested in hearing about your oldest son who is autistic. Could you share briefly the journey you and your husband had in discovering and coming to terms with his autism?

Danyelle:  Oh wow. I don’t know how to briefly describe that. =) Actually, we thought our son just had speech delay. Looking back now, we had a rather typical experience. From birth, our son always tested early in all of his childhood developments. He started walking and talking at seven months old. He laughed, played with our friends’ kids. All the normal things you expect from a baby. Then somewhere between 12-18 months, he gradually stopped talking. We talked to our doctor about it, but he said that just happened sometimes and to wait until he was two years old. We took him back when he turned two – at which time he didn’t speak at all. The doctor said to wait another six months and we said no way. So he referred us to the local early intervention center. The center sent out someone to evaluate our son for speech delay. A few days later, they called to ask if they could come back for another visit with one of their specialists. This time after the observation, the specialist asked us if we had ever heard of autism. Neither my husband nor I knew anything about it. Little did we know that question would lead to a life-changing journey for our whole family. We made an appointment for our son to be evaluated at our local Children’s Hospital. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. (Me: That stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified…which really doesn’t tell you much.) All of his results came back in the severe range, except for his motor skills, which were incredibly advanced.

During the first four to six months after our son was diagnosed, I couldn’t handle reading anything about autism. I was so overwhelmed, wondering what kind of future my son would have. Instead, I dived into training sessions with our Early Intervention therapist. I attended a parent/child group therapy class twice a week. The parents in the class were incredible, helped me through those rough beginning months, and are still some of my closest friends today. Meeting families who had older kids with special needs, seeing the progress they made, helped me to have hope for my son, as well. In my opinion, coming to terms with autism–or any other special needs–is a lifelong process. We never know what challenges we will need to face as our kids become older, teens, and eventually adults. It takes patience, a commitment to learning new techniques, a sense of humor, and lots of prayer.

(Amen to all of that!)

Me:  How did that journey help to bring about your recent book, (dis)Abilities and the Gospel, co-written with Lynn Parsons?

Danyelle:  During my son’s preschool years, my husband and I were the head of the school’s parent support group. Families often asked me to help them figure out how to help their child attend church or help their church leaders understand and love their child. As I researched on the Internet, I realized there were very few resources available about disabilities and church. Over the following four years, I spent quite a lot of time working with a variety of individuals, families, specialists, and church leaders to create the resources and information found in (dis)Abilities and the Gospel. Four years is a long time to work on just one project. But my son, my friends’ children, and people I met at conferences were a constant reminder of why the book was needed. It was truly an inspiring project to work on.

Me:  Tell us about the non-profit organization you and your husband founded in relation to autism and how my readers might contribute, if they so choose?

Danyelle:  Our son attended a private autism preschool called GIANT Steps. During our time there, my husband, myself and Karen Fairchild (one of the original founders of the school) created a Friends of GIANT Steps (501c3) to raise funds to supplement the school and its curriculum. We have put on sensory-friendly Christmas concerts, benefit concerts, held auctions, and a variety of other fundraisers. Thus far, we’ve been able to add a Kindermusik program (teacher training, equipment and materials) to help the kids with sensory issues and motor skills, bought playground equipment, sent teachers and paras to specialized trainings, and brought in speakers to help parents learn tips for raising their children and developing strong family relationships. Our goal is for the kids to have the best learning experience available and for families to have the resources they need. You can learn more about FOGS or donate through their website.

Me:  My son has Asperger’s and I know it was difficult, at first, for his older sister to deal with the social ramifications. How have your other children responded to your son’s autism?

Danyelle:  My son is our oldest child. So for a long time, our younger kids didn’t think anything about him being different. Even now, for the most part, they just think of him as Isaac and that’s the way he is. But as they have gotten older (3rd grade and above), they have asked more and more questions. We are very open about Isaac’s abilities and quirks. I’ve talked to the munchkins about how sensory issues or comprehension difficulties can frustrate Isaac and signs to look for so they know when to back off and let him decompress. One thing I want my kids to understand is that it’s okay to sometimes feel embarrassed or frustrated by things their brother says or does. It’s a natural human feeling, but I ask them that when they feel that way to remember he’s their brother and they are his best friends. So it’s okay to need a break, but they should always remember that they love him too.

My oldest daughter is especially empathetic to kids who are different from their peers (no matter if it’s a disability, language difference, etc.). She’s also in our school’s gifted program and pretty analytical–a trait she completely gets from her dad. last year for her big project, she chose to write a book about various disabilities, their causes, and spotlight examples of how people who have those disabilities made an impact on their community (whether through work, service, or challenges they overcame). I was impressed with how she took a personal challenge and turned it into a way to learn, grow, and find positive uplifting outcomes too.

(Sounds like her mother too, right?)

Me:  As I’ve noted before, I’m curious about authors’ writing spaces. How would you describe yours at present as if you were putting it into a novel?


Danyelle scooted her wooden chair up to her desk, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine streaming through the bay windows. She sighed as she looked over at the pile of dishes that needed to be washed. Should she do them first? She calculated how many plates she needed for dinner that night before finally deciding she could safely ignore the ones in the sink. This was definitely one of the drawbacks of having her writing space in a nook off the kitchen. She quickly stacked her kids’ school papers into a pile and set them off to the side of her desk.

As she waited for the computer to boot up, she looked around at her little office space. She loved the trendy dark green walls with lime and white accents. Her favorite part was the white wall shelves filled with girly stuff – glass purses, Raine designer decorative shoes, and funky picture frames. She pulled out a sticky note and wrote a reminder to re-hang one of the shelves that came loose when the roof was repaired last fall. Maybe she’d actually get it done some time in the next year. She replaced her sticky note and pen back in the sparkly crystal crown that held her business cards, stamps and other office supply odds and ends that only writers loved and obsessed about. A variety of colored paper clips, cute binder clips, and multi-colored pens.

The computer chimed, signaling that it was ready for her to login and begin work. Danyelle nabbed a piece of chocolate out of her clear glass candy dish, popped the delicious treat into her mouth, then got ready to dive back into her current work-in-progress.

(And here’s the picture to show how well she described it!)

Me:  What are you working on at present?

Danyelle:  Right now, I’m working on one of the awesomest projects ever. The very first Storymakers Midwest Writers Conference! It’s Saturday, September 15th and in my backyard (well, almost)–Olathe, KS. Of course, that’s because I’m the one organizing it. We have an incredible line-up of authors coming to present. I’m honored to have Lisa Mangum (Deseret Book Editor & best-selling YA author), as well as Josi Kilpack (award-winning culinary mystery author) as our Keynote Speakers.

Along with the conference, we’re having a huge Authorpalooza. So if you’re in the Kansas City area, please stop by!

Friday, September 14th; 7-9 pm 

Authorpalooza Book Signing (Oak Park Mall Barnes & Noble, 11323 W. 95th Street, Overland Park, KS)

Authors include:  Lisa Mangum, Josi Kilpack, Heather Justesen, Don Carey, Karen Hoover, Traci Hunter Abramson, L.C. Lewis, STeve Westover, Danyelle Ferguson, Lynn Parsons, Tamara Hart Heiner, and more!

Me:  Finally, what are some of your favorite songs to sing while in the kitchen and how do your children react when you start belting them out?

Danyelle:  I have very eclectic musical tastes. I love everything from Natalie Cole to Bon Jovi to Katy Perry, with a healthy mix of my kids’ favorites–Justin Beiber, Hannah Montana, and Taylor Swift. I have a Kitchen Music playlist and sing along with whatever comes on. My favorite moment is when my big band music comes on and my hubby and I teach the kids our favorite swing dancing moves.

What do my kids think? They’re just as nutty as me. They dance around in the nook where my office desk is (also where the music is streaming from) and sing right along with me.

If you want to know more about Danyelle and her writing, take a moment to check out her website or her blog. Right now, she’s donating $5 from every sale of her disabilities book from her website to one of two worthy disability-related causes.

Originally posted 2012-09-05 06:00:35.