Friday, October 30, 2009

AM I NOT A MAN? The Dred Scott Story - Book Review


After my last child graduated high school, I went back to college to earn my BA in English at the University of Utah. In my American History Class I first heard of the infamous legal case Dred Scott vs. Sandford brought before the Supreme Court in 1857. The court's decision overturned an act of Congress in the Missouri Compromise. I have often wondered about the people behind this case and their story. This decision ruled that a black man was not a man and had no rights as a white man. It's hard for us to imagine such a ruling today. This decision by the Supreme Court set the stage for one of our most famous and beloved presidents to become elected. You know who I'm talking about...Abraham Lincoln. How did this happen?

Democratic President James Buchanan had decided not to run for re-election, so Senator Stephen Douglas stepped up for the democrats. However, Douglas made a major mistake. He stumped referring to the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Scott vs Sanford and stated that this decision was what the Framers of the Declaration of Independence would want because they obviously meant freedom only applied to the white man. Thankfully Lincoln saw through this false assumption by Douglas and ran against him. Now that you know a little of the background of this infamous case, let me tell you about Mark L. Shurtleff's new book, AM I NOT A MAN? The Dred Scott Story.

When I was first asked to review this book, I hesitated, not because of the content, but because right now I'm extremely busy...but knowing the importance of that major decision, which changed the course of our country, I knew I had to read this book. I am so glad I did!

Shurtleff masterfully takes the reader through many perspectives in his novel. He pulls you into Dred Scott's (born Sam Blow) world making you feel his despair and yearning to be free and thought of as a "man." Not only does Shurtleff show Dred Scott's point-of-view of the events, but also the point-of-views of several Founding Fathers, of the Blow family (those who thought Scott should be free and those who treated him as property), and others who were instrumental to this time in history and the Supreme Court case. Shurtleff gives much needed background to this story and shows how complicated the issue was and how good men became involved. I must be honest, at first I found the shifts in time and different character point-of-views a bit confusing, but I'm used to fast reads. This book is to be savored, studied, and contemplated. It needs to be digested to fully understand why people felt the way they did at that time. It is a brilliant novel which I highly recommend!!!

They say reading good books build character in the reader for they make us think of not only the story, but how it parallels our lives. There are scenes in this book I will long remember. They cling to me like patriot threads and help me realize there is always hope for those less fortunate in our country. There's hope in the American people and our ability to see our errors and set them aright. There's hope that the freedoms our Founding Father's fought so valiantly to protect will endure and that those who stood up to fight in the bloodiest war our nation has ever seen--The War Between the States--did not give their lives in vain. Yes, this book gives us hope.

I encourage you to read AM I NOT A MAN? The Dred Scott Story for you will come away understanding that if Sam Blow--an illiterate slave who was barely five feet tall but had the courage of a giant--can draw attention to injustice for the hope of freedom, we too, can influence those around us to be ever vigilent in protecting our constitution and freedoms.


FYI: Launch party for this book is November 3rd at the Gateway Barnes and Noble downtown Salt Lake City. Here's the address and agenda:

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
The Gateway
6 Rio Grande Street
Salt Lake City, UT

5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Calvary Baptist Choir
6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Mark Shurtleff signs copies of his book
7:00 p.m. to 7:05 p.m. Alex Boye’ sings “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?”
7:05 p.m. to 7:10 p.m. Connie Hall reads her winning essay “Stand Up for Freedom”
7:10 p.m. to 7:20 p.m. Lynne Jackson (great-great granddaughter of Dred Scott)speaks
7:20 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mark Shurtleff reads 1st Chapter and Q&A
8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Drawing for Grand Prize and signing of any last books
For more information, contact:
Candace E. Salima

(This book was published by Valor Publishing 2009 and sent to me free of charge.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NaNo Writers


My good friend, Brenda Bensch, agreed to be a guest blogger today. For those of you who are budding novelists, she has a very important message.

Take it away, Brenda...

NOVEMBER: NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth is Almost Here!

Are you NaNo Writer? Would you like to be? What’s a NaNo you ask? As a six-year veteran of the insanity, let me tell you: it’s a month when you challenge yourself to do the impossible: write an entire novel in 30 days. A month when you get weekly encouragement (and entertainment) from famous writers, family and friends. Well, all right, the family and friends may ridicule and laugh, but you will get wonderfully encouraging words from famous writers. In the last couple of years, emails have been sent to NaNo writers from such people as Piers Anthony (Xanth series), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), Janet Fitch (While Oleander), Sue Grafton (A is for Alibi, etc.), Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants—which she wrote on NaNo!) and Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia).

How did all this madness begin? In 1999, in the San Francisco Bay area, a free-lance writer named Chris Baty got a “batty” idea: he wondered if he could write an entire novel in a month. Having decided to give it a try, he talked twenty crazy friends into writing with him. They decided they would settle on 50,000 words as their goal. (At around 250 words per double-spaced page, that’s only 200 pages, a little over 6½ pages a day—and that’s do-able!)

While only six of them “finished,” they all learned something valuable: some found they never wanted to write a novel again. Others immediately wanted to sign up for an MFA program in creative writing. In his hilarious how-to book No Plot? No Problem! Baty claims his great revelation was this: “The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline.”

Most of the original 21 dropped out, but others took their places the next year with 140 participants and 29 “winners”—those who crossed the 50,000 word mark. Last year almost 120,000 participants from over 90 countries celebrated the anniversary by producing nearly 22,000 winners with a reported output of 1,643,343,993. I say “reported” output, because the first three years when I didn’t “win,” I didn’t report my word count at the end either—and I can’t be the only one who wimped out. The truth is I had great fun, pushed myself during a very busy month and came up with three great ideas which are now being developed into full-length novels. This year, with any luck, will be my third “win.”

Give yourself a deadline! This free event all happens on line. Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org —or at least look at their website and have a few laughs. Be brave and begin on Nov. 1 (at midnight, if you’d like). Sign up to be in the Utah::Salt Lake or Utah:: Elsewhere area. Go to their opening party, or their weekly write-ins. Or not. Meet other crazies, like yourself, who are attempting a monumental task. Write. And write some more. The beauty of it is, no one cares about the spelling, the grammar, the syntax, the beauty of the language. All anyone cares about is the number of words you produce. Then, sometime in the last few days before midnight on Nov. 30, send in your manuscript (encrypted, if you like), and let their phantasmagoric computer compute your words. You’ll receive a winner’s certificate (online) if you achieve the goal. And if you don’t make the goal? What if you only write 200 words a day for 30 days? Then you’ll have 6,000 words on paper you didn’t have before. That’s being a WINNER in my book!

Monday, October 26, 2009

A BIG Thank You!!!

I owe a BIG thank you to so many people who helped me with signings this past weekend.

On my way to Idaho, I stopped by the Seagull Book Store in Logan. Margaret, the store manager, has always been so kind and thoughtful. She had to leave before the picture was taken. Melissa and Michelle took good care of me.


After the signing there, my husband and I journeyed on to Rigby, Idaho.

A BIG thank you goes out to everyone who attended the Idaho launch party for my Christmas book, An Angel on Main Street!
Wow! What an awesome experience. I was thrilled to see family and friends stop by to wish me well and buy a book. I really didn’t know what to expect, since the signing was not in a conventional book store.

The Idaho Drug in Rigby has some books, but their main business is filling prescriptions. However, this did not stop them from graciously agreeing to host my signing.

As I've mentioned in a couple of other blog postings, it was in the Idaho Drug where I would spend much of my time as a little girl reading books. The store has changed over the years, but that small town feeling remains. Not only did I see old friends I have not seen in quite a while, but I made several new friends as well. The Jefferson Star printed an interview with me, so many people who enjoy reading came to buy my book. In the picture below: my husband, Bruce; me; my sister-in-law, Tonya; and my brother, Steve.


In the picture above I'm standing with Steve, gazing at the stairwell that leads to the apartment over the store that my father owned when I was a child. Believe me, those stairs were very scary to a four-year-old. In my Christmas book I have Micah, the main character, trudging up and down stairs very similar to these.

Sitting at the table with me in the picture below is my sister, Jo. Yes, she's the cattle whisperer I blogged about a while ago. I wonder if she would become a book whisperer. Hmmm... :)
I wish I had pictures of everyone who stopped by: friends from high school and areas where we used to live, nieces and nephews, and the new friends I made that day. So much was going on that my picture-taker (Bruce) sometimes became side-tracked. But what a wonderful time. I will long remember this weekend.

Here's a big thank you to everyone who came!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Traci Abramson Interview


Are there people you would like to meet? One person I'd love to meet is Traci Abramson, the bestselling, romantic-suspsense author. I've tried to write several such books and it isn't easy juggling a suspenseful storyline along with a growing romance. Traci has the secret code for doing such a balancing act. I'm so glad I have been able to make her aquintance over the internet. I hope you enjoy my interview with this intriquing arthor.
I know that you’ve worked for the CIA. If you’re allowed to, please tell us a little about that experience.
Well, I could tell you, but then…. Well, I guess I can tell you a little bit. I actually worked in three different positions during my time with the Agency and each of them gave me very different perspectives. I was hired as a finance officer, but my duties ranged from simple financial duties to facilities, logistics, and security. The assignment that probably helped my writing the most was working in the liaison division. During that assignment, I worked with several other government agencies and was able to better understand their different roles, particularly within the intelligence community.

What made you leave the CIA to become a writer?
The main reason I left the government was to stay home with my children. I loved my job and the feeling that I was making a difference. Had it not been for my desire to put my family first, I would probably still be working for the Agency. Of course, the bonus of that decision is that I have been able to indulge in my love of writing.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
When I was little, being an author was on my list of dream careers, right along with being a veterinarian, an Olympic swimmer, a jockey, a spy and…well, you get the idea. I became more practical in my teenage years and discounted all of these as being unrealistic.

I was right about most of them. After all, anyone who doesn’t like the sight of blood shouldn’t be a vet, and I’m not tiny enough to ride in horse races. Despite my efforts, I was never fast enough to make the Olympics, and I never became a spy when I joined the CIA. I just worked with them.

Becoming a published author is still a bit of a dream, one I sometimes have to remind myself that I have been lucky enough to see become a reality. It is something I am extremely grateful for.

Tell us about your books.
Okay, you asked for it! My first novel, Undercurrents, is about a young woman who witnesses a murder and goes into the witness protection program. Life gets complicated for her when she starts dating Matt Whitmore, a U.S. Senator’s son, and her swimming talent brings her too much attention.

My next two novels, Ripple Effect and The Deep End, continue the story. They are all created as stand alone novels, but most people find that they’re more enjoyable when read in order.

Following the Undercurrents trilogy, I wrote Freefall which is a Navy SEALs, hostage rescue novel. After being freed from a terrifying hostage situation, Amy Whitmore finds herself trapped in hostile territory with Lt. Brent Miller. Together they uncover intelligence about an impending terrorist threat and find themselves racing against time.

Royal Target, with its very bright pink cover, is about a CIA operative who has to pretend to be engaged to a prince in a small country in order to help protect him and his family. It’s a really fun, romantic/suspense story.

My most recent novel, Lockdown, is the second of my Navy SEALs novels. It was written in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy and is about a woman who survived a similar tragedy. Together with a squad of highly trained Navy SEALs, they develop a course for law enforcement officers to help prevent future tragedies. Ultimately, they become involved in a real life scenario that is hauntingly familiar and puts more than one life on the line.

Additionally, I have two more books that are slated to come out next year. Crossfire (Jan. 2010) follows the story of Seth Johnson, another Navy SEAL, as he pairs up with a former flame, CIA undercover operative, Vanessa Lauton. Together they are in a race against time to unearth a terrorist plot that is expected to take place on U.S. soil. Backlash (working title) is expected to come out in the fall of 2010 and follows the story of the commanding officer of the Navy SEALs “Saint Squad.”

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
My inspiration usually comes from everyday things. I live in the shadows of the nation’s capital and many of my friends and neighbors work for the government or serve in the military. Seeing how these people live their lives, and remembering the dedication of my friends and former coworkers at the CIA have given me an endless supply of ideas. Originally, my motivation to write came from when the young women I was working with at church expressed their frustration that there were so few good books for them to read. They wanted to stretch beyond young adult novels, but the mainstream fiction contained scenes they weren’t comfortable with. Ultimately, I set out to write stories that I would enjoy but that also wouldn’t contain anything I wouldn’t want my own teenagers to read.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
Surprisingly, I don’t really follow any particular author consistently. Instead I tend to sample a lot of books by different people. As for a mentor, when my first novel was accepted by Covenant, Lynn Gardner was kind enough to share her expertise as I began navigating the exciting path into the publishing world. Throughout my career, Lynn has been extremely supportive of my writing and has truly helped my confidence in the world of LDS fiction.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be? I grew up in Phoenix and then spent my teenage years on a small farm in Arizona’s Verde Valley. So basically I’ve experienced city and country life. I also had the opportunity to live in Caracas, Venezuela for a summer during high school which gave me a wonderful insight into that culture and a different kind of city living.

Since college, I’ve lived in Northern Virginia, first in Alexandria and then in Stafford.

If I could live anywhere I wanted, I would love to live along the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
Right inside my front door is the formal living room that we converted into an office. My desk is one of those big L-shaped desks and I have a desktop in the center and a laptop next to it. (Unless one of my kids snagged it when I wasn’t looking.) Across the room is a second desk with a computer that my family typically shares.

I prefer to write on my desktop which doesn’t have any internet access on it. I find getting on the internet when I’m trying to write tends to be a huge distraction so I try to avoid using my laptop unless I need to research something.

Generally, I write the happiest when the house is quiet, with the shutters open and natural light spilling onto my desk. The quiet doesn’t happen often and my typically background music is a combination of my kids coming and going along with the Disney channel or PBS sounding from the next room.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I find that when I’m writing, I hardly watch any TV or movies, but when I’m not actively creating something I do enjoy that kind of entertainment. Generally, I like the happily-ever-after types of shows, but there aren’t any particular programs that I would adjust my schedule for. I don’t know if the movies and television shows I watch really inspire my writing except that I tend to create novels as though I’m watching a movie in my mind.

How has being published changed your life?
Personally, I don’t think being published has changed my life that much except that I have a lot more confidence in my writing now than when I first started. Of course, if you asked my sixteen-year-old daughter the same question, she would tell you that it makes me a lot busier.

When I first started writing, I was a bit of a closet writer. I rarely could relax enough to create unless I was alone, and I didn’t show my writing to anyone except for a select few family members. Over the past few years, I have found that I can now write anytime and anywhere.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your books that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
I wish! I love traveling, doing book signings, and meeting new people. Unfortunately, I won’t have the chance to do any new events until my next novel comes out early next year. I am generally pretty good about keeping my upcoming events on website (www.tracihunterabramson.com/events.html.) I also try to keep up with a personal blog (http://www.traciabramson.blogspot.com/.)

Thanks, Traci!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Strong Writing is in the Details

Next to my desk is a bookcase filled with books about how to write novels. All are very good. I’ve learned a great deal from them. Three of the main rules that are quite often given have to do with “details.” The rules are 1) show don’t tell, 2) get into a scene late and get out early, and 3) don’t put the cart before the horse. Details play a part on how to apply these rules.

Let’s begin with the first one--show don’t tell.
Okay all writers are probably guilty of this, especially in the first draft. For instance a scene might start like this…

I surveyed the battleground covered with bodies. War was horrible. I hoped I’d never have to fight again.

Talk about boring. That sentence is horrible. So let’s fix it.

An eerie quiet stole over the gory ground laden with bodies of horses, men, and young warriors. I surveyed the area around me. I’d heard about the devastation of war in my own time, the twenty-first century, but being a girl of only sixteen I’d never actually seen it up close, never fought in a battle … until today. Death was cold, grisly, and unforgiving. The scent of blood snaked through the land as steam rose from the dead. Division banners lay broken and discarded. Earth mourned her burden. The engagement for Cumeni, which had been furious and long, was finally over.

Okay, now you have show without tell. The trick is in the details. Details flesh out the scene showing you what the protagonist sees, smells and feels. Details and lots of them help make this scene in the sequel to The Forgotten Warrior seem real.

Let’s look at rule number two—get into a scene late and get out early. Sometimes books start with the beginning of time, such as…

The morning was cold and bright with the sun rising over the purple sage mountains as Regi drove to Twiggs Cafe.

This is okay, but where is the hook? What would make the reader want to read more?
What’s needed is to get into the action late…

“Regi, I don’t want you to get upset or cause a scene.” Stew Rankin, the owner of Twiggs Cafe, slung a towel across his right shoulder as he looked her square in the eyes. He leaned on the counter, his nutcracker face set in a stern take-me-serious gaze. Stew was in his late fifties and grass-blade thin. His fuzzy hair fit his head like a knit cap.

This is the opening of my book, River Whispers. The reader is dropped into the scene late—in the middle of a conversation no less. Obviously something is going on and it must be pretty important or why would Stew not want Regi to become upset or cause a scene? The reader has no idea what Regi’s morning was like, but he/she does know trouble is brewing and wants to learn more.

Now for the “get out early” part of this rule. A major problem could result in ending a scene on a flat note, such as…

Regi walked up the riverbank, pulling on her fishing line. Stepping through willows she found a dead man.

What’s flat about finding a dead man? Well, where are the details? How did Regi feel about about finding a dead man? Who is the dead man? And where is the hook to keep the reader going? Let’s beef it up.

Regi parted the willows and tromped up the bank. Stumbling over rocks, she followed the line─and found it caught on the sole of a boot. Her eyes trailed up brown denim pants, over a cocoa-stained jacket, a discarded Smoky Bear hat, and a ranger patch.
Bile rose to her throat.
Gooseflesh swooshed across her skin.
She was looking into the lifeless eyes and mud-plastered face of Park Ranger Curtis Romney.

This is the end of chapter one. The reader has a hard time not turning the page to the next chapter. Do you see the difference? Details and lots of them.

Now the third rule—don’t put the cart before the horse. This is tricky. Many times even experienced writers do this.

Example:

Regi let her line fly. She cast her line backward and forward until it arced just right.

Wait a minute. The writer states an action then shows it. This results in confusion and actions become muddled. How can Regi let the fishing line fly before she casts it back and forth and before it even arcs? What the writer needs to apply is the simple abc order of how things happen.

Try this…

Regi cast her line forward and backward until the arc was just right, then she let it fly. The reel zinged as the line flew over the current and lazily floated onto the water’s rippling surface.

See how much better it is to go step by step. Again the best results are in the details.

In applying all three rules--show don’t tell, get into a scene late and out early, and don’t put the cart before the horse--the fix is usually in fleshing out the details and bringing them clearly into focus. Try it and see if it works for you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Little Bits and Pieces of My Life


Wow! It’s finally in stores. My book…my little Christmas book, An Angel on Main Street. I know you’re probably tired of hearing about it. But, you see, this is a story that has so much of my unwritten past hidden within.

My father owned a Firestone Store, but worked part-time for the police department. At night he would make rounds, checking doors to make sure everyone locked up. Sometimes he would let me go with him. I knew all the police officers very well. Many times when they would meet me on the street they would give me a nickel so I could buy an orange soda at the Idaho Drug Store. I knew the officers cared about me and my family. It was very easy to write about a sheriff in a small fictional town. I had my father and the other officers to mold into the sheriff in my book. (In this 1950s picture from right to left is the Idaho Drug Store, Jeppson's Hardware Store, and my father's Firestone Store. I'm uncertain about the others.)

Two thriving movie theaters were in town. And it cost kids under the age of twelve a quarter to go to the show. Adults were a whopping sixty cents! Can’t imagine those prices today, can you? Going to the movies was a weekly event for many people. And, of course, before going to the show people would visit the cafĂ©. Thus, I created the fictional Pharaoh Theater as well as the fictional Kora’s Kountry Kitchen.

When I was five years old my mother had a life-threatening heart attack. I remember the day very well.

My mother was shampooing my hair for a dance recital that evening. All at once, she quit, leaving me standing with wet, soapy hair dripping in the sink. I couldn’t understand why she would leave me in such a situation. I cried out for her to come back. My grandmother happened to be staying with us. She came in and finished the job, telling me to hush up because my mother wasn’t feeling well. I was so afraid Mom would die. I remember watching my father carry Mom down many apartment steps to the street below and the car waiting to take her to the hospital. She stayed there for many weeks. When Mom finally came home, she told us of a spiritual experience she had that made her realize there really was life after death. What happened to her is a very touching story to our family, so I hope you understand why I don’t share it now. However, her experience was similar to the one my protagonist, Micah Connors, in An Angel on Main Street goes through. (In the picture is me and my older sister, Jo, in front of Dad's store.)

So maybe now you will understand why I am excited that this Christmas book is finally in print and in book stores, for it has little bits and pieces of my life within its pages.



This Friday night I will sign books at the Seagull Book in Logan, Utah between 6:30-8:30. I love going to that store! The manager and staff are so helpful and nice, plus I have the opportunity to meet their wonderful customers.

Then Saturday, I will return to Rigby, Idaho to have a signing at the Idaho Drug Store between 12:00 and 4:00. One of my fans last spring suggested that I have a signing there. I loved the idea especially for this Christmas book and especially because Rigby is my hometown. I hope if you’re in the area you’ll stop by and celebrate with me.

I made a book trailer of An Angel on Main Street. It's a bit squished in the sidebar, so I placed it here also.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gale Sears Interview


Last spring I asked Gale Sears for a blurb on the back of my Christmas book, An Angel on Main Street. Though she was very busy she said yes. I was so excited. Gale Sears is a legend in the LDS market and I was so honored that she would do this for me. Turns out we both have Christmas books coming out this month. I wanted to repay her kindness and do an interview with her for my blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Like many authors, writing started with my love of reading. Books fascinated me. I loved the smell of the pages, and the sound they made when you turned them. Beginning at eight or nine I’d write little stories and read them to my mom. I spent most of my adult years working in the theater, so I came to writing novels later in my life.

Tell us a little bit about your new book, The Route. You also have a Christmas book due for release this fall. Tell us about it as well.
The Route is a little novel about my experiences delivering meals-on-wheels to some delightful and interesting older folks. I loved writing this book because I was able to revisit those times and contemplate the lessons I learned.

My Christmas booklet, Christmas for a Dollar was published in 2008. It’s the story of a Christmas my father and his siblings had during the depression in 1931. It is coming out in 2009 as a children’s picture book with illustrations by Ben Sowards.


I know you’ve had other books published. Tell us about them.
The Autumn Sky series were my first three books: Autumn Sky, Until the Dawn, and Upon the Mountains. They are historical fiction, based in the early 1900’s before and during the Great War (WWI) and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.



What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
I love the fascinating stories of history. I love wondering how characters will react in certain historical settings. I’m also inspired by real people experiencing real challenges.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
I love Ellis Peters, Mark Twain, CS Lewis, Amy Tan…the list could go on and on. I’m also impressed with several of the LDS writers. LDS editor, Darla Isackson, and LDS author, Kerry Blair were both amazing sources of encouragement when I first stepped onto the writing road.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be? This is a great question, and a sentiment I agree with completely. I grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, and it would be difficult to find a more magical place for a child’s imagination. I was surrounded by pine trees, alpine meadows, and towering mountains. And of course, the lake itself was a thing of wonder. I live now in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
I sit in my (quiet) bedroom, in an area that has an overstuffed chair, an ottoman, and my bookcases. If I’m writing an historical novel, I’m surrounded by books and files of research. I have my stack of blank lined paper and my yellow pencils. Yes, it’s true. I write pencil on paper! Once the story is down on paper, I transfer it to the computer. I do all of my editing on the computer, but the original creative flow has to come from my brain, through the pencil, and onto the paper.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I love well-made movies in every genre except scary…I don’t like to be scared. I really love movies based on historical people and settings. As for television—I watch HGTV, the Food Network, NCIS, The Amazing Race…A well done historical movie can remind me to appreciate the lessons of history, and to wonder what other interesting stories are out there.

How has being published changed your life?
I feel very blessed to have my work published, but it’s made my life much more complicated and busy. A writer, especially in the LDS market has to spend a great deal of time marketing and promoting their books. And once you have one book done, your mind jumps to the next story. It’s amazing and chaotic at the same time.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
I don’t have any book signings scheduled as yet. My Christmas book will come out in October and I will have book signings at that time. I’ll keep you posted! My web site is: http://www.galesears.com/ and my blog site is: http://www.galesears.blogspot.com/

Thanks for the fun interview, Kathi!

Thank you, Gale!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Finding a Writing Routine


Some people have the darnedest time finding a writing routine that works for them. I understand completely. Over the years I’ve struggled finding time to write.

Years ago I tried to juggle writing books between a part-time accounting job, being a Mom and wife, and my church callings. Writing was pretty much out of the picture during tax time (January-April, but also July and October—quarterly taxes). Still over the years I was able to write four or five novels, but I didn’t seriously send them out. With each rejection I blamed not selling my books on not enough time to write.

And then to make matter worse I decided to go back to school and earn my BA. My writing came to a screeching halt for three years. But that didn’t mean I didn’t keep thinking of stories, jotting down ideas and such. Then I graduated and landed a full-time job writing and editing small concept books for children. I was writing every day!!! I should have been happy, but my novels at home nagged at me. Every time I passed by the computer or glimpsed my filing cabinet I could almost hear my stories crying for attention.

And then all of a sudden my full-time job came to an end. I was at home. The kids were grown and I finally had time to devote to my neglected stories. But first I needed to revamp my writing. I devoted months to reading young adult novels and as many Newberry winners as I could. Then to shake things up I decided to write a different book─a young adult, time-travel in first person. A writing routine suddenly took root. I was writing in the morning and editing in the afternoon almost every day!!! I finished one book sent it out to publishers and started another. Then my routine hit a snag. Researching publishers, writing queries, and searching for contests to enter began to eat away at my writing time. When I realized that the business end of writing was stealing writing time, I started doing business on Mondays, leaving the rest of the week for writing.

And then, I sold a book! Wow! Now there were edits to do and proofing. Promotion of my book became a concern. How in the world would I get the word out about my novel? Enter another distraction…the internet. Blogging for writers is a must for promotion. I set up a blog and started writing even more, but not on my stories. Again I found my time being zapped away. Retooling my thinking, I returned to Mondays as my business and blogging day, leaving the rest of the week for writing my books.

I guess what I’m trying to say is finding a writing routine and sticking to it is a constant battle because life is a constantly changing. Things come up…important things we don’t want to miss out on. But the point for a writer to remember is to keep writing. Oh, and be flexible. So there’s two things. Oh, and family comes first…then church…then your writing. And then there’s… Anyway you get my point.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Apples, Apples, Apples


Holy mackenaw! I have bushels and bushels of apples. For some reason this year our apple tree decided to give us a bumper crop. I've been looking at recipes for applesauce, apple pie filling and apple butter. I canned 24 bottles of applesauce Saturday. Some time this week I'm going to do apple pie filling. Is there something else you can do with apples other than just haul off and take a bite? And I'd love to know the secret to storing apples over the winter. A root cellar is out. I remember the root cellar my folks had. Scary!!! There were all sorts of spiders and I know there had to be some snakes down there I just never saw one. Okay so I'm grown up now, but still I have residual fears of climbing down into a root cellar.

With bushels of apples around me and searching for applesauce recipes I thought of the old movie Baby Boom. So I searched youtube and found a wonderful clip from the movie that shows the applesauce, that wonderful kiss with Sam Shephard, and more applesauce. I wonder if my new grandson would pose for a picture for a label on my applesauce jars. Hmmm.

If anyone has a great apple pie filling recipe you want to share, please send it along.



Friday, October 9, 2009

K. L. Fogg Interview


A couple of years ago right after my book, The Forgotten Warrior, was accepted for publication, I asked K. L. (Karen) Fogg if she had the time to read my book and give me a blurb. And though she'd never met me before she agreed to do it. She was between writing books and school tours. I was so excited. I remember how nervous I was taking my manuscript to her home, but she set me at ease at once. We talked about writing and she gave me some great advice that helped this rookie author. I am so thrilled that she agreed to be interview for my blog.

I know that you have been a television anchor. Tell us about that experience and why you left it to become a writer? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I was a news anchor for NBC 8 in Columbia, Missouri for several years in the late 90’s. I thought it was the best job in the world. Every day was a new adventure. I got to meet movie stars, dine with the governor, and meet interesting people from all walks of life. Some of the highlights were riding in a hot air balloon and racing wave-runners across the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The only downside was that I had to get up at 3:30 every morning. I left my dream job to move to Salt Lake City, and it was then that I decided that I wanted to become a writer. I had these ideas floating around in my head, and I thought it would be fun to be able to write my own story and not have to fact check everything. I can honestly say I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. That was the year I wrote (and illustrated) my first book.

Tell us a little about your latest book to be released.
My latest book is a time travel adventure for young adults. It doesn’t really fit into the science fiction or fantasy category, because it’s pretty realistic. I don’t know the release date yet, and I can’t divulge the title because you never know—titles can change!

Tell us about your other books.
Serpent Tide is the story of 12-year-old Wesley, the only child of the billionaire widow Imogene Vandergrift. Wesley feels like a prisoner in his mansion under the watchful eye of his domineering and overprotective mother, until the day he discovers a secret that will change his life forever. He embarks on a journey to find his real family and meets his hero Jack Mackey, the rogue Australian host of the popular TV show The Snake Stalker. Together they try to outsmart kidnappers, spitting vipers, a hurricane, and the clamoring news media. In order to survive, Wesley must uncover the mystery of legendary serpent tide and confront his deepest, darkest fear. The adventure continues in Widow’s Revenge and Diamondback Cave, where Wesley has to outrun a forest fire and find his way out of an underground cave before time runs out.



What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
It’s hard to say. I just love to write. I guess I’m always looking for ways to entertain myself, and the oddest things can trigger ideas for stories. Sometimes I can’t shut it off—I’m a terrible insomniac! I love to read and be entertained by other people’s stories, so naturally I want to share my ideas so others can learn to love reading.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
The list of authors I admire is very long, but J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain, and Roald Dahl are a few of my favorites. I don’t think I consciously try to emulate anyone, I just write what the voice in my head tells me write and then edit, edit some more, and did I mention edit?

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?
I grew up in Danville, in the San Francisco Bay Area and spent every summer at my Grandmother’s ranch in Jackson, California. Every year my two sisters and I used to hunt and catch frogs, lizards, spiders and snakes and an occasional butterfly. I was never squeamish, and only got scared once when I ran into a scorpion. It never occurred to me at the time that girls shouldn’t enjoy the creepy critters every bit as much as boys. Snakes and spiders are a big theme in my books, and maybe it’s because they fascinate me. I also spent a lot of time on the water, fishing with my dad or waterskiing. Right now I live at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, in Sandy, Utah and I love it here. I’ve lived in every region of the United States and in Tokyo Japan, and I have enjoyed each place for its uniqueness.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting? Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
Picture a small extra bedroom containing an antique rolltop desk with an equally antique computer and so much clutter you have to hunt to find the thesaurus and the mouse. This is my writing space. It can be any time of day, but most likely it’s after 11:00 pm. That’s when I do my best writing. Sometimes music or talk-radio buzzes in the background--I don’t really notice what’s going on around me. Once I have an idea, I get into the zone and sometimes hours will pass and it will feel like minutes. Occasionally I handwrite notes to myself, but I type most of it in on the computer. One of these days I may learn to use an outline.

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing?
I love a good movie. But I don’t think that a lot of today’s movies would be considered good or even make it into the “fair” category. There are so many great books—I’m a little disappointed with what Hollywood chooses to make into movies. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m a die-hard 24 fan, and I also like House, So You Think You Can Dance and The Office. I’m a huge football fan, and my teams are BYU and the Oakland Raiders (I know the Raiders are terrible, but we go way back).

How has being published changed your life?
Being published has given me the desire to take my writing to a higher level, and hopefully make movies out of my books. In the past three years I’ve visited more than 200 schools and talked to thousands of children and adults. If that isn’t life changing, I don’t know what is. This is the greatest job in the world and I love all my fans. They are the best!

Do you have a website?
You can visit my website at http://www.klfogg.com/.
You can also go to http://serpenttide.com/meettheauthor.html.

I thought you might enjoy the trailer for Karen's book, Diamondback Cave.



Thanks, Karen!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Four First Steps in Editing

It's Wednesday...the day set aside to talk about the craft of writing. I've asked a very good friend of mine, Brenda Bensch, to share some of her editing secrets.

Sit back, relax and learn from a great teacher.

So you’ve finished a short story. Or an article. Or a chapter in your book. Maybe a poem. You think you’re ready to edit, but where to start?

The first four things I encourage adult, college, or high school students to do are
• Put that to the four-part test
• Watch out for your faves
• Eliminate weak subj/v combos
• Use timeline words only as necessary

Four-Part That Test
1. Read the sentence aloud without that in it—if it still sounds all right, cut that
2. If the sentence refers to a person, always use who/whose instead of that
3. If the sentence refers to a thing, substitute which for that
4. If none of the above apply, you need that—leave it in
Not sure whether you need to go to all that work? Count how many times you’ve used that in two or three pages. If you have more than about five, put them to the test (or, if they’re so weak, why have them at all?).

Faves
Faves
are your favorite words which you use over and over again. We all have them. The example above, that, is a frequent fave for many of us. Other favorites may be more specific to you, but some common ones are so, if, it, and, then, there. I have a peculiar pattern: since I’m aware of some of the common ones, I try to avoid them—but I’m a lover of words. I’ll find an interesting, fun word like rackabones. I like it so much I end up using it three or four times— perhaps in two paragraphs or so.

--"The old rackabones drew his cloak around himself with a surprising show of dignity, even elegance. 'May I help you, Sir?' the rackbones asked, doffing a tall, grease-stained, pointy hat which only an old rackabones could love.

Where would a creature like this man find such a skinny, peaked... 'Wait a minute!' I cried. 'How did you come by that hat? I’ve seen it before...’

‘My good Sir, as we have never met, I doubt...’

‘...on Merlin’s head!’

He swiftly turned on his heel and fled, while I ran shouting after him, ‘What have you done with Merlin, you thieving rackabones?!’” --

Overkill. What are your favorites? Start noticing. Keep track of your faves. You’ll begin to realize which words you overuse. Even when they’re interesting choices, one or two instances go a long way.

Weak Subj/V Combos
The subject of your sentence—a person, place, thing, or a pronoun standing in for the person, place or thing—should be specific and interesting: a person’s name, Wyndell; or a word indicating his/her job, the teacher; station in life, His Majesty; names of buildings, the Washington Monument; specific places, Kailua Beach, etc. Then we compound the problem by adding some form of the to be verb: is, was, will be, or a combination of have/had and the to be verb: had been, will have been, etc. These combinations of a weak subject with a weak verb lead to passive sentences. Look for the ones you write, especially at the beginning of your sentences:

--It had been a long night of rain, thunder and hail.
--There were often too many things to do and to little time to finish the work.
--That was always something that bothered me. (Here, we’ve got that twice!)

Certain combinations showing up too often in your manuscript? One trick is to begin with the nearest noun as your subject and make a different word serve as the verb. In the first sentence, the earliest noun is night:

--Night fell too quickly with only the sounds of rain, thunder and hail to keep me company.

When that doesn’t work, the sentence may need to be turned around:

--We had little time to finish the work, because we had too much to do.

Finally, you may choose a complete rewrite to come up with an interesting sentence:
--As night fell, all too often rain and hail pounded the roof, and lightning took out our power; but what bothered me the most was the inability to finish my work.

Timeline Words
What I call timeline words are those which indicate sequence like then, now, first, next, later, etc. You may inadvertently insult your audience by seeming to distrust their ability to follow your thoughts unless you lead them by the hand. Think about writing an article on how to bake a cake:

--First, you take out the cake box. Then you get the eggs and milk, plus any extra ingredients you want to add like fruit, spices or chocolate drops. After that you’ll need to get your bowls and pans out. Now you’re ready to ready to begin. First, empty the mix into the mixing bowl. Then stir in the eggs and milk. Then, when your batter is smooth, add nuts, chocolate, or any other desired ingredients. Before that, you should have pre-heated your oven. Then, when it has reached the correct temperature...yadda, yadda, yadda... (Notice we’ve used first twice—how can two different actions come “first”?)

If you have only two or three steps in a process you are describing, you may legitimately refer to each by first, second, third; first, next, finally; a, b, c; or some such specific combination. Don’t assume the reader is too stupid to figure out in what order steps should be taken when you’ve written them in the correct sequence.

The other danger comes from allowing then, next, now and others to become some of your faves, when —really—you’re just thinking “Well...” or “Ummm...”—never an auspicious beginning for a new sentence.

You’ll be surprised at how much your manuscript will be cleaned up by performing these four steps. Now (yes, now!), you’ll be ready to tackle typos, spelling and grammar problems, convoluted sentences, confusing structure, outlandish language, major plot-line flaws, and all the rest of the editing process. Good luck and good writing! The Bensch Wensch

BIO: Brenda Bensch, M.A., is a writer, freelance editor and teacher. With 48 years (and counting) in Utah’s college, high school and community classrooms teaching English, writing, reading skills, drama, humanities, and debate (among others), she invites you to Ask the Teacher on her blog at http://Benschblog.blogspot.com

Monday, October 5, 2009

Baby Jonathan


I had the most awesome weekend! My daughter, Kristina, had a beautiful baby boy. His name is Jonathan Bruce. Isn't he cute?

He was born in the wee hours of Saturday morning. My phone rang just after 2:30 a.m.. Kristina called to let us know it was time. She and Greg, her husband, were going to the hospital. She didn't want me there until after she'd delivered. I understood.

I remembered when I went into labor with my daughter. Mom had been so excited and went to the hospital, but every time she would come into my room, my labor became worse. Remembering how it was for me, I did as my daughter asked and stayed home.

Of course, I couldn't go back to sleep, for I knew what Kris was going through. Finally around 4:00, I got up and took a shower. As I finished doing my hair I heard my cell phone buzz with a text. Grabbing it, I found a very short message... "he's here." I quickly woke my husband and my other daughter, Trizia, and we jumped in the car and went to see this new little addition to our family.

What a heavenly blessing!

Kris and Greg brought Jonathan home from the hospital last night. His older brother, William, was very excited to finally have a sibling. As I visited with them and held this precious being, who had so recently left our Heavenly Father, I couldn't help but wonder what Jonathan could be thinking. Does he even think? Does he only see blurry images, no faces? Or does he think he's having a surreal earthly experience and soon he will be back in heaven? Does he understand what we're saying? I'm sure there are some who think babies don't think and their abilities to understand grows as they do. And maybe they are right. No one knows for certain. But I'd like to think Jonathan has some heavenly residual and he remembers being with our Father in Heaven. I like to think that he knows how much we love him and how happy we are that he is here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Laura Bingham Interview and Review of Alvor

Laura Bingham has a special gift of painting magical pictures with words in her new book, Alvor. This is the story about a brother and sister, Bain and Erin, who happen to be twins and have been selected by mystical forces to enter their world. I don't think I will ever look at a butterfly in the same way, for Laura opened my eyes to the possibility that there may be more to these fluttering beauties than first thought. She set the stage wonderfully on the opening page with this insightful line, "Butterflies always bring good luck, but if they sit by you they leave a blessing." Nice to know. We need more butterflies in this world!

Follow Erin and Bain as they train to enter a fantasy world usually forbidden to humans. And once the brother and sister cross the threshold to this neverland filled with elves, pegasi and dragons, they learn even more...they learn about themselves and how much they truly care for one another. A wonderful lesson for brothers and sisters! Actually a wonderful lesson for all of us!

There is adventure, tension and conflict in this new YA novel, though I would have liked a touch more conflict. What can I say? I like contention...in my stories...not my life. But this minor preference doesn't stop me from recommending this novel. Laura's fantasy world is well worth your time. Young adults who have cut their teeth on Alexander Lloyd and Madeleine Engle will be spellbound by Laura Bingham's Alvor.

Now for the interview I had with Laura.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, I never considered writing until I started doing it.. It was a couple months into writing Alvor that I realized how much I loved doing it.


Tell us a little bit about your new book.
Alvor infuses impossible fantasy with the present world and the characters real enough to make it believable. In a most subtle way, it weaves a tale that helps youth recognize their self worth and inspires them to reach a new potential.
I wrote this story because I believe that we all have power inside of us. Power to change who we are, who we become and to influence the world around us. If I could reach out to readers and inspire them to see the infinite potential that lies there, I will have succeeded in the purpose of this story.

Tell us about your other books.
They aren’t published yet, but as of now, I have two more manuscripts written with more stories in my head waiting to fill pages of new novels.

What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?
I love writing- it’s like reading a great book that you just can’t put down. I don’t want to leave my characters and when I’m not writing about them, I’m thinking about what is going to happen next in their story.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
James Dashner. I look at what he’s done and I know that I can build a career too. His style of doing things works well with my personality, and because he’s a genuinely nice guy, I’m not worried that writing will change who I really am. I wouldn’t say that our writing style is the same, though. I take things from a different angle- I think all writers do. As for mentor, there is a sea of people that have influenced me in writing.

Location and life experience can sprinkle their influence in your writing. Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now - city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be? I’ve lived in Idaho since I was four. My childhood was divided between Boise and Twin Falls. I’ve lived in suburbs, farmland, and on an acre with horses. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be right where I’m at. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having enough money and time to fix up the house- it’s nearly 100 years old and needs some attention. I live in Boise- close to stores but still on an acre of land with three miniature horses and a dance studio in my backyard.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting, handwriting?
Ha ha. Good thing you can’t see my messy house. I do my internet work in the office- which was originally supposed to be the walk-in closet, and my book writing on my laptop. When the weather’s nice, I write outside. Otherwise, I get a bunch of pillows and work sitting on my bed. No music. Window open for best natural light. Now you’re wishing you hadn’t asked, right?

Do you watch television or movies? If so, what are your favorites? Do they inspire your writing? No tv. I like to watch movies on the weekends. Favorites?
It depends on my mood. I don’t like violence- so Dark Knight is out for me. Romantic comedies are nice, but I like a little flavor with other kinds too.

How has being published changed your life?
It makes writing more purposeful. Instead of doing it as an un-credited hobby, I get to pretend it’s my job. I love talking to people about books and writing, too, and that opportunity has come up a lot more.

Do you have any book signings, tours or special events planned to promote your book that readers might be interested in attending? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.
October 3 from 6-8, Deseret Book in Meridian – Lady’s Night.
Here’s my blog address: http://alvor-daretodream.blogspot.com/ and my website http://www.laurabingham.com/

Thanks, Laura!

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