Category Archives : Authors


Thoughts on Abundance from Jerry Borrowman

[My Apologies: This post was set to go up yesterday, but I have a very bad relationship with my computer]

Ultimately it’s the things we do—and the people we love—that have a
far greater impact on living an abundant life than does the stuff we
end up owning.

First, let’s talk about stuff. Advertising has always been part of
human society, going all the way back to the open market where vendors
step out into the crowd shouting for attention. Because their
livelihood depended on selling things it makes sense that they tried
to convince people that they needed what the vendor had to sell.
Whether or not any one person bought didn’t really matter very much.
But today’s advertising has become so sophisticated and persuasive
that it often distorts our very view of what it takes to lead a happy
and meaningful life. Ads constantly bombard us with images of
beautiful people having a wildly happy time while sipping a wine
cooler, driving in a sleek and expensive automobile, and dressing in
clothes that are rarely seen in real life. The message is clear—if you
want to be happy you need to spend lots of money. Fortunately, that’s
easy to do since credit card companies constantly advertise how easy
it is to get what we want right now, neglecting to mention that it all
has to be paid for later with interest.

But one has to ask, “Are the axioms ‘More is better,’ and ‘He who has
the most toys win,’ really true?” Is the secret to happiness honestly
found in a 50-inch flat screen television, or a thousand cable
channels available on demand?  Before I give my answer I want to say
that there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things—I’m
not a spoil sport who thinks that the only way to be happy is to live
a life of denial. God created a world with material abundance for our
benefit, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with acquiring things.

What is wrong is when we confuse the acquisition of stuff with the
satisfaction that should come from using it well, because that often
leads to a treadmill of pride and economic slavery that detracts from
happiness, rather than adding to it. Let me put it another way – have
you ever bought something that you were convinced would make you
happy, only to be disappointed that it didn’t live up to your
imagination? I have—too many times to count.

The simple truth is this – sometimes having less stuff adds to our
abundance. Take a house, for example. Everyone needs a place to live
and having a home that is large enough for our family is an important
purchase. But are we really happier today when every child has their
own bedroom than in the bad old days when they had to share? Having a
roommate, even a bothersome brother or sister, is one way that
children learn to accommodate one another and to see oneself as part
of a group, rather than the center of the world. Perhaps something is
lost when the house becomes so big that no one needs to share anymore.
And what leads to greater family happiness – a mortgage that is so
large that it soaks up all available financial resources, or a more
modest one that leaves room for great family vacations? Going back to
that 50 inch TV, are expensive video games more likely to lead to
family interaction and fun than a set of inexpensive board games that
force people to sit at the same table talking to each other?

It’s a paradox that much of what gives us the greatest satisfaction in
life is free: time to ponder; time with family and friends; a pick-up
game of basketball; time with friends on a golf course; or, for me,
taking time to write about something that interests me and to share it
with my readers.  Sometimes money does add to joy, like when it allows
my wife and I to take a great trips to interesting places or to visit
our adult children and grandchildren. It has also added to our sense
of financial security because of a lifetime of saving and investing
that makes us less inclined to worry—in our case, living a little
below our means has added to our abundance.

So as you think about money try to figure out what will have the great
impact on happiness – sometimes spending less may be the wiser choice.
Ultimately it is the things we do and the people we love that make the
greatest difference of all.

Jerry Borrowman is a best-selling author.  Thanks, Jerry!
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Author Interview: Michele Ashman Bell

 

INTERVIEW WITH MICHELE ASHMAN BELL

 

BEST-SELLING ROMANCE WRITER

 

 

G.G.’s note:  It wasn’t hard at all to choose who I wanted to interview on this “first” for my new blog.  I admire Michele deeply, not only as a writer, but as a person and a friend.  The first time I met her was at a signing in a remote and rather depressed area.  It was my first signing since my fifteen year illness and break from writing.  Of course, that made it “all about me”—would anyone buy this stranger’s book?  But, Michele was amazing.  She had a huge line waiting, but she gave each buyer her undivided attention, asking them questions about their lives, listening to them talk (even those without teeth), and making each one feel that for those few moments, they were the center of her universe.  She has been teaching me ever since.

 

  1. GG:As I was coming out of my depression in 2006, the first LDS fiction I read was your Paradise romance (now I’ve written my own!).  I remember how much I loved it.  How long had you been writing (not publishing) at that point?

MAB: This is a two-part answer.  First, Finding Paradise  was my 8th book, which means I had been writing for fifteen years, eleven of those years unpublished.  Second, I love how you reference reading fiction as you were coming out of your depression.  As you yourself know, LDS fiction, by and large, contains many great doctrinal principals and has the ability to teach the gospel through stories.  Isn’t that what parables were?

2. GG:How long after you started writing were you published?

MAB:Like I said it took me 11 years to get published after I started writing.  I am a self-taught writer and I learn very slowly.  I have seven unpublished manuscripts on my shelf and I kept every rejection letter (I have 67) I ever received.  It was a long, frustrating road, but I don’t regret any of it.  I learned so many important lesson through that journey.

  1. GG: What kinds of things did you learn in you “apprenticeship”?

MAB: I learned that persistence is more important than talent and that hard work pays off.  Through all those years of getting rejected, I never gave up.  Sometimes I thought about it but I couldn’t stop writing.  My head is constantly churning ideas and dialogue and descriptions and “what if” scenarios.  I also learned that even though it’s important to listen to the “helpful” criticism of others, ultimately you need to listen to your instincts and do what you feel is best.

  1. GG: Did you work alone or with a group?

MAB:I started with two critique groups, but eventually pulled out of both of them because I came away feeling so discouraged it took me an entire week to build up my confidence again enough to go back.  When the dynamics of a writing group are ideal, and the critiques honest but also positive and encouraging, then I think writers groups are a great idea.

5. GG: Of all the books you’ve written, which is your favorite? Why?

MAB: I will never really be able to answer this question.  I don’t think I can have a favorite book any more than I can have a favorite child.  I love each of them for different reasons.  BUT, if I had to say which of my books has all the elements I like in a story, then I would say it is my book Without  a Flaw.  Romantic suspense is my favorite genre and this story has all the elements to make the story riveting and exciting.  It also has a wonderful setting and captivating characters.  I love the main character, Isabelle, who goes from being an abused wife to a strong, confident woman.  She’s my hero.

6.GG:I just love your Butterfly Box series.  Will there be another sequel?

 

MAB: There were going to be 5 books in this series, one for each girl, but it looks like for now the        series is going to be finished at 3.  Hopefully circumstances will change and I’ll be able to finish the series. If not, I will be haunted by Emma’s and Chloe’s stories the rest of my life.

7. GG: Sell us on The Perfect Fit, your newest and extremely successful novel.

MAB:At BYU Women’s Conference one year I began asking women who stopped at my table who they were there with.   Most of the women were there with a group of other women made up of family members, ward members or friends.  I realized that women need other women in their lives.  The Perfect Fit  is the story of a group of high school friends who bond for life when one of their friends dies on graduation day in a car crash.  But, the questions remains, was it an accident?  They vow to stay close and help each other through life.  They create a symbol of their friendship by taking a wooden box that has a jade butterfly inlaid on top and inside they each place items that represent their friendship.  Each summer they meet for a friend reunion “The Butterfly Girls” reunion, and the box is to one of the girls to keep with them until they meet the following summer.

8.  GG:When, with your horrific schedule, do you find time to write?

MAB: That is probably the biggest challenge of my life.  Every day I have big plans to write and then . . . life happens.  A lot of it is because of the decision I made when my first book was published.  I decided I would never put my writing in front of my family or my church obligations.  Occasionally I have tight deadlines that make this a challenge but I don’t want them to ever resent my writing so I do my best to do it when it doesn’t interfere with family time.  Plus I teach about 13 Zumba classes a week which makes it tricky.  Sometimes I sit down to write and fall asleep.  BUT, I have to say, if you love something enough, you find a way to make it happen.  I pray every day for Heavenly Father to help me make the most of the day.  I couldn’t do it without His help.

9. GG:What are your goals as a writer?

MAB:I still feel like I have so much inside of me that I haven’t even tapped into.  I am very content writing for the LDS market, but there are some stories I want to write for the national market as well, so I am hoping to make that happen.  I also dream of having a book made into a movie.  That is definitely a dream I have.

10.G.G.:What role does writing play in your life (where does it fit)?

MAB: During the 11 years I was learning to write and I was submitting manuscripts and getting rejections, I kept saying, “Maybe it’s time to give up.”  But I just couldn’t do it.  Somehow I just picked myself up and my determination to make my dream come true would kick in.  I would go to sleep at night visualizing that moment when I got that phone call from an editor telling me they wanted to publish my book.  When that day actually happened I had bruises on my arms for weeks because I pinched myself over and over to make sure it wasn’t a dream.  I am a writer.  I knew it in 4th grade when my teacher wrote on my report card, “Michele has a tendency to daydream.  She would probably do well at creative writing.”  Instead of being labeled in a negative way, that ability to daydream allowed me to be imaginative and creative.  Even if I wasn’t published I would still write.

  1. G.G.: What are your long-term writing goals?

MAB: I actually dare to dream of writing for the national market, getting a book on the New York Times best-seller list and having one of my books made into a movie.  Yikes . . . I’d better get busy!

 

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As Promised . . .

In my last post on why I read what I do, I promised to share a few of my favorite beginnings of my favorite books.  I have been derailed by way too much work, but that is another story…

My favorite beginning, hands down, of any book I’ve ever read is the beginning paragraph of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles.  The bad news is that I gave my copy to my daughter as part of her “classics collection” and don’t have access to it at the moment.  However, the image created by that paragraph was of a woman seated on the quay somewhere in England, looking off in one direction with a gaze that captivated the male protagonist to such an extent that it provided the springboard for an entire novel.  I loved the novel, but my favorite part of it was that image, which I still see in my mind, it was so evocative.

My favorite current mystery writer is Earlene Fowler.  Her books are clean, her characters so addictive that you’ll read her books again and again, just to be in her world accompanied by them.  This is the first paragraph from my favorite of her books, Steps to the Altar (Berkley,2002)

Late at night when the dreams woke him, he would lie in the dark and try to forget the faces of the people he’d watched die.  Memories of them exploded in his brain, popping and flaring like star shells launched from cannons.  With a sick compulsion, he counted off their lives like a human rosary.

End of same chapter, same book:

He never expected Aaron to die.  He never expected to fall in love.  He never expected to find grace.

 

My favorite modern epic storyteller is Herman Wouk.  He begins his unmatched saga of World War II,The Winds of War (Pocketbooks, 1971), thusly:

Commander Victor Henry rode a taxicab home from the Navy Building on Constitution Avenue, in a gusty gray March Rainstorm that matched his mood.  In his War Plans cubbyhole that afternoon, he had received an unexpected word from on high which, to his seasoned appraisal, had probably blown a well-planned career to rags.  Now he had to consult his wife about an urgent decision; yet he did not altogether trust her opinions.

One of my very favorite modern literary writers is Anne Tyler.  In my second favorite book of hers (I can’t find Accidental Tourist), The Ladder of Years, she begins her strange tale with an unforgettable character sketch:

This all started on a Saturday morning in May, one of those warm spring days that smell like clean linen.  Delia had gone to the supermarket to shop for the week’s meals.  She was standing in the produce section, languidly choosing a bunch of celery.  Grocery stores always made her reflective.   Why was it, she was wondering, that celery was not called “courduroy plant”?  That would be much more colorful.  And garlic bulbs should be “moneybags,” because their shape reminded her of the sack of gold coins in folktales.

Can’t you just see Delia and the produce department?

Now for the CLASSICS:

Favorite Modern Classic opening paragraph:

When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow.  So at least he thought, and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up.  He had once been an actor–no, not quite, an extra–and he knew what acting should be.  Also, he was smoking a cigar, and when a man is smoking a cigar, wearing a hat, he has an advantage; it is harder to find out how he feels . . .

(Seize The Day, Saul Bellow, Fawcett 1956)

Favorite Nineteenth Century Classic opening paragraph:

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.  We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further outdoor exercise was now out of the question.

I was glad of it: I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped finger and toes, and a heart saddened by the chidings of Bessie , the nurse, and humbled by the consciousness of my physical inferiority to Eliza, John, and Georgiana Reed.

(I cheated–two paras in this one!  You guessed it: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte)

And to round things out, how about a visit to “the wine dark sea”–yes, the opening paragraph of Homer’s Odyssey:

This is the story of a man, one who was never at a loss.  He had travelled far in the world, after the sack of Troy, the virgin fortress; he saw many cities of men, and learnt their mind; he endured many troubles and hardships in the struggle to save his own life and to bring back his men safe to their homes.  He did his best, but he could not save his companions, and ate the cattle of Hyperion the Sun-god, and the god took care that they should never see home again.

(Now we know why the Odyssey is a classic!)

I am apologetic about the Fowles, and feel guilty for not including any Russians, but then, I don’t think Tolstoy of Dostoyevsky were ever really known for their first paragraphs.

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Everybody’s Doing It–Michele Bell’s First YA

Summer in ParisInterview of Michele Ashman Bell

GG: Most readers know that you are a very popular romance novelist. Is Summer in Paris the first YA novel that you have written?

MB: It is my first honest-to-goodness YA. Some of my other novels have a youthful tone to them, but are not genuine YA category. Summer in Paris is targeted directly to a YA audience, although I think adults are going to enjoy it also.

GG: Do your writing plans include future YA novels?

MB: I hope so! I love writing for this age group. I feel drawn to youth and want to provide reading material that will do more than just entertain them. I want to give them something to think about and maybe even inspire and uplift them.

GG: It seems to me that the dialogue and thought processes of teenagers would be a particular stretch. It appeared to me that you got both spot on! What is the most difficult challenge you face writing for Y.A.?

MB: I have teenagers at home so I am very keyed into issues and concerns kids are facing today. I also see the influences around them that are pulling these kids so many directions. I biggest challenge/goal is to write stories that will resonate with them and connect with them emotionally. Teens are a tough audience but fiercely loyal.

GG: Which genre of fiction do you most enjoy writing and why?

MB: My writing reflects my mood and what’s going on in my life. I wrote a children’s series which I absolutely loved and had so much fun with, but on the other hand I really like getting into issues for women and digging deep for emotion. Romantic suspense is my favorite genre, but seriously I feel like I reinvent myself with each book.

GG: Do you have any other books coming out in the near future?

MB: I’m so excited that the second book in my Butterfly Box series is finally coming out in July. It has been a long wait and I’m working hard on the third and final book in that series. After that I will launch in the sequel to Summer in Paris.

GG: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

MB: Typing “THE END.” J Seriously, I enjoy pretty much everything. I love research. I can get carried away doing research so I have to be careful. I really love it when I’m writing and I find myself in a completely different spot than I thought I was going. That’s when I know the characters have become real and have taken ownership of the story.

GG: Would you call your novels character driven or plot driven?

MB: Mostly character driven, but most of the time both. Stories usually happen as a result of some type of inspiration or trigger from an idea I get about a character, or from a specific setting I happen to find fascinating or fall in love with. But it’s the characters that really give me the passion for my stories.

GG Did you know the end from the beginning of Summer In Paris?

MB: I did, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to get there. I had to revamp my outline quite a few times, but I ultimately knew where I wanted things to end up. I work better that way. It’s like going on a road trip and having a destination in mind. Without a destination who knows where you’re going to end up!

GG: What is your favorite character that you have ever written? Why?

MB: In my book Without a Flaw I wrote about a woman named Isabelle who was in an abusive marriage finally found the courage to leave her situation and get her life back. I cared so much about her and loved the growth she went through in the novel. I wanted to see her succeed and find joy and happiness. She was awesome!

GG: Do your ideas come to you in the night? In the shower? While chauffeuring your children? What is your most important “composting time?”

MB: That’s a fascinating but very descriptive way to describe the process of mulling over an idea. I have paper and pencil in every nook and cranny of my life because I have to write ideas down when they come or I’ll forget them. Because, ideas come at every possible moment, usually when I’m doing some brainless activity and my mind wanders. I’ve always been a daydreamer and that seems to still be my most creative time.

GG: I know you have tremendously talented children and are extremely involved in their lives. Have you thought about that future (which comes all too fast!) when you are an empty nester? Are your writing goals different for that time of your life?

MB: I still have seven years until my youngest graduates from high school, so I haven’t really even looked that far down the road (probably denial). When I am in that phase of life though, I hope to be with you, GG, traipsing around Europe and doing research. That would be amazing!

GG: Most writers are very hard on themselves about their writing ability. You have achieved great success in your career. But, knowing you as I do, I know that, like most writers, are dissatisfied with some aspect of your work. How would you most like to develop yourself as a writer? Do you have any plans to make this happen.?

MB: I am ashamed to admit that I am terrible with grammar. I could kick myself a million times over for not paying better attention in English classes in high school (although I got great grades – go figure). I know my editor would appreciate me submitting cleaner manuscripts but right now I don’t have plans to take classes to improve this. I’m too busy writing, to learn how to write. Makes no sense to me either.

GG: We have a challenge as LDS writers to “bring people to the light.” How do you feel we can do this most effectively?

MB: I feel this obligation very strongly. Very strongly! I don’t take this lightly either. No matter which market I publish for, no matter which genre, I will always, always, make sure that my stories are consistent with the gospel and appropriate for anyone to read, especially my children and grandchildren. I don’t believe I was given this opportunity to have a voice in the LDS community, the inspirational market, by chance. Our stories can inspire without being preachy. There has to be fundamental truths involved in our characters lives and the plots. It’s the fiber of who I am and what I write, the two are intertwined.

GG: Most people don’t realize that writers serve an “apprenticeship” where they are practicing and learning to write, just like musicians and dancers learn their crafts by practicing and learning specific skills.. How long was your apprenticeship before you were published? How did you go about the task of learning to write?

MB: It took me forever. I wrote for ten years before getting published. I took advantage of community education creative writing classes, went to workshops and writer’s conferences, and joined a multitude of critique groups (I have the scars to prove it). For a while I was an evaluator for Covenant Communications and really got a feel for the LDS market. Learning to write was a long process and it was only because of persistence that I got published. I am not the most gifted and talented writer, but I am very hardworking! I don’t regret any of that time because I learned so much on that journey to getting published.

GG: What advice do you have for aspiring writers who are now serving their apprenticeship (and doubtless experiencing rejections)?

MB: I kept every rejection letter I ever received and I think I have around sixty-seven of them. I believed that one day I would look back and see all the effort I put into my goal of getting published and knew I would feel a great sense of accomplishment. It was so worth it! My advice would be to believe in yourself and never give up. If you want it badly enough it will happen, but you have to keep working and improving your craft and putting your work out there.

Click HERE to purchase Summer in Paris.  Michele’s website is HERE and she also writes a great blog, HERE.

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The Ultimate in Time Travel: Alma, by H.B. Moore

Heather Brown Moore is a lovely woman with a huge talent.  She is also a generous and dear friend.  After I joined LDStorymakers, it was Heather who “showed me the ropes” of blogging and the power  of the blog review.  She is a hard one to keep up with, rising early in the morning to write before her kids wake up, being a devoted mother to four children, participating fully in the LDS writing community, and offering help and advice to many lucky authors.  It is only fitting that it is now my turn to review her latest book.

H.B. Moore takes the admonition to liken the scriptures to ourselves seriously.  Her writings enable us to do the same.  Her book, Alma, is well-written, with her own voice so unobtrusive that you will feel like you have lived through one of my favorite slices of the Book of Mormon.  You can feel, hear, see and taste what life was like in Central America over two millennia ago.  I have had a tough time returning.  I grew to love her fictional characters, Maia (a former wife of King Noah who had embraced the teachings of the gospel), Raquel (the widow of Abinadi), and Helam (Abinadi’s brother) nearly as much as I love Alma.  And Amulon!  He is the snake of all snakes!  Moore is careful to make him human, but as he grows in wickedness, we can see what an oily character he must have been.

It would be hard to find a story from that era that is so meticulously researched, and yet the research is so well integrated into the story that it doesn’t stand out as it would in a lesser writer’s hands.  The story of Alma the Elder, when broken down into its individual elements and challenges, is really quite suspenseful.  Moore didn’t have to speculate much, as she told the tale of the egregious King Noah, his flight into the wilderness and his death by fire.  The story of the capture of the Lamanite women by the priests of Noah was told  in an ingenious manner with a clever twist..  Amulon’s hatred of Alma and the believers was the bow string of the story, being drawn tighter and tighter with every chapter.  When the people of Alma eventually escape, and the arrow cannot be fired, the reader feels the matchless power of the God of the Universe and a profound sense of relief.  And, since you have been in Amulon’s head, you can sense what a hideous feeling of defeat he was going to have as soon as he wakes up from his divinely instituted nap!

Moore’s characterizations are stellar, and the way  she has woven her story around the well-know scriptural facts is brilliant.  She has created women for her heroes who match them in strength and endurance of hardship.  As their faith is tested and they grow in their convictions, it is easy to put yourself in their shoes, experiencing what they are enduring, and learning what they are learning.  Their love stories tenderly touch the heart.

I recommend this book, Alma, for both men and women.  It will make the life and times of this remarkable prophet live in your heart, and you won’t want it to end.

*********

Make a comment on this review and get a chance to win a copy of Alma!

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Interview with Rachel Ann Nunes on Saving Madeleine

It is my very great blessing to have Rachel for a friend.  She is the most energetic person I have ever known.  Add to this a heart that is as big as Texas, and you have one powerful lady.  I don’t think she understands the word “can’t.”  The author of twenty-eight novels, including the award-winning Daughter of a King, the Whitney nominee, Fields of Home, and the beloved Ariana series, she is beloved by thousands of fans.  But I see the Rachel who strives to, and seems to succeed at doing everything.  She has enriched my life immeasurably by drawing me into the LDStorymakers’ family, of which she is the founder.  I also operate in the capacity of “Nana GG” and have been able to participate in milestone family events.  It is with great pleasure that I publish this interview on my blog.

1.  GG:  Why did you choose to write this book?  Does it represent a particular concern of yours?

Rachel: Several years ago, shock radiated throughout Utah when an infant was found dead after ingesting meth she had found in a plastic bag on the floor of her home. What made this tragic circumstance even more notable and horrific is that weeks earlier her father had forcibly taken her across state lines, hoping to protect her from her mother’s substance abuse.
Authorities found the child, placed her back with her mother, and sent the father to jail for assault and burglary. A little over a week later, the baby was dead and the mother was charged with desecration of a dead body for moving her daughter to cover up the mother’s drug abuse.
All charges against the father were eventually dropped. Sadly, this is not the only story of a child becoming the victim of a parent’s drug use. In my research, I found many more instances, some of which I’ve written under the Author Comments for the book on my website at http://rachelannnunes.com. Though these true-life experiences do not appear in my book, the events inspired me to explore what might have happened in a similar instance. Questions I asked myself include, “Can the ends justify the means in some circumstances?” and “How far would a parent go to save a child they love?”

2.  GG:  Are you taking your fiction in a different direction permanently?  If so, what path are you pursuing now?
Rachel: Saving Madeline is very similar in style to other novels I’ve written–family drama with suspense and romance. However, my next novel Imprints, also contemporary suspense, does go in a different direction as it contains a paranormal element. I’ve always been interested in fantasy, and as a believer I feel that sometimes we are given certain gifts when we need them at different times in our lives. It was only natural that at some point I’d combine my love of women’s fiction and my beliefs with my love of the supernatural. Yet at the same time the novel isn’t so strange as to be considered high fantasy or anything. I think my current readers will be very pleased.

3.  GG:  You have literally thousands of fans who wonder how you can possibly publish as much as you do while raising six children.  I have seen first hand what a hands-on, terrific mother you are.  How do you balance such an intense inner life with your love for and the needs of your children?
Rachel: The kids always came first. Period. That’s my rule. But they have learned not to run to me for every little thing. They learned to solve some problems themselves, and I learned to buy microwaveable snacks. I used to write more easily when they were little children under my desk and around my feet, but as they grew, they became involved in more things and I had less time at the computer. I’d have to tell them I was going into my office for a while and to watch this show, or play in the back yard for certain time. I’d say, “If you aren’t bleeding and it’s not really that important, then don’t come to my office. If you give me time to work, I’ll do x and x for you then.” Sometimes that even worked. I’d often leave the computer on and steal into the office for any available second.
Teenagers are even more demanding, I’ve found. They always need rides or help with some incredibly important last-minute task. But finally for the first time all six are in school (my oldest is on a mission), so I anticipate having a bit easier time writing in the next few months.
One important thing is that I’m careful to tell my children often that I love them more than my writing and if they need me, I’m available to hear what they have to say. Often that means I don’t get all the writing in that I want, but that is the life I chose when I decided to have children. They are the reward that makes not doing all I want with my writing okay. I wouldn’t trade being their mother for all the success in the world.

4. GG:  You seem to be an inexhaustible well of creativity.  Where do your plots originate?

Rachel: They just come–out of thin air, from what I see, from research, from inspiration. The more I write, the more the ideas flow. I’m always compelled to write. It’s as if I’m in a huge amphitheatre and sitting in the audience are all the thousands of story ideas and they are calling to me to write their them. The one that yells the loudest wins. Hmm, that’s sort of like real life children, isn’t it? :-) When I don’t get regular writing time, I’m pretty unhappy.

5. GG:  Do you ever have writer’s block in the Serengeti Plains (the middle of the book)?  If so, what technique do you use to unblock yourself?
I never have had time for writer’s block. There simply is too much else I have to do, so I must write when I have the time. On the occasions when I haven’t felt the strong urge to write, it’s been because I haven’t researched enough, I don’t know where the story is going, or because I’m under too much stress. These are solved respectively by doing the needed research, making a simple line-by-line list of what I have to include to finish the book, and locking myself in my bedroom for a few days to watch an entire season of 24.

6. GG:  What do you think about the direction that LDS fiction is going?  Do you think it is getting better?  If so, why?

Rachel: Overall, I think LDS fiction is getting better. However, some of it isn’t. I feel that many writers are still stuck on the conversion story, which is a great venue for the younger generation, but I personally feel converted and my reading tastes have changed. Now I want to read stories about LDS people in every day situations where they don’t have to convert their neighbor or future spouse. The real life truth is that not everyone sees the light. Perhaps every LDS author goes though the conversion phase, I don’t know. I certainly did, and I’m glad I wrote those novels. But I think it’s time LDS authors explored the other issues our people need to read about. I’m not saying we shouldn’t write about conversions at all, because when they are portrayed realistically they can be powerful and compelling, but for me, it’s hard to see a plot in a suspense novel come to a screeching halt so that we can hear a missionary discussion or have a baptism. I would much rather see the quiet convictions of a character living her religion during personal trials. Or a family who has members struggling with their faith in the midst of some compelling plotline.
I was able to attempt this in several of my LDS novels, and now I’m also reaching out to a wider market where my characters are not overtly LDS. The plot doesn’t focus at all around the Church and convincing the reader that it’s true, but rather on the lives of the characters and what they are feeling and experiencing that may or may not involve their faith (depending on the genre).
I think a lot of LDS readers are ready for this, and I’m grateful my publisher has a national imprint where they can publish such stories. I think our market is growing up a bit, focusing deeper or perhaps even on simply creating more entertaining, believable genre stories that are every bit as good as what is being published in the national market. If we continue in this direction, I think we will eventually reach an entire new set of LDS readers who now don’t read LDS novels because they are so focused on convincing rather than portraying.

7. GG: Many authors are forever indebted to you for founding LDStorymakers.  How do you manage your duties as president and still manage to have time to write so many books and raise so many kids?
Being the president of LDStorymakers does take a lot of time, but at this point, I feel I need to keep involved so that it will continue to go and expand. However, I have been fortunate to surround myself with talented and dedicated people. For most of the years, Brent Rowley and Josi Kilpack were right there, helping with everything. Josi stepped down almost a year ago, and since then Marsh Ward, Tristi Pinkston, and Annette Lyon have gone the extra mile to help Brent and me run things. As the business manager, Brent really is the backbone of Storymakers. We also have other great member volunteers who have run our conferences and pitch in wherever they can. I don’t do it alone by a long shot. Writers are great people and for the large part very capable. All our members are important to the running of Storymakers.

8. GG: Do you take vitamins?  I have never seen anyone with your energy.  If so, what are they?
Rachel: I just take a multi-mineral–when I can remember. In the winter I’ll take vitamin D. I have a type A personality, I suppose. I always have to be pushing and striving to better myself, my family, my work, and to help anyone I can. I have limits, of course, so I’ve had to learn to say no–a lot.

9. GG:  What is the most special thing about Saving Madeline?  Convince me to read it.
Rachel: Saving Madeline is about Caitlin McLoughlin, a public defender, who works hard freeing too many criminal for her peace of mind. When Parker Hathaway is arrested for kidnapping four-year-old Madeline, Caitlin thinks he is just one more criminal she must get through the system, but instead she finds a cause she can believe in. Soon she is in a race to uncover proof that will free Parker and save Madeline before it’s too late.

Saving Madeline really is the exploration of the meaning of love. Romantic love between the main characters, and the filial love between a father and his daughter. I believe people will be fascinated with how the justice system works–or doesn’t. Does the end ever justify the means? I was raised to believe it didn’t, yet, Nephi cut off Laban’s head to assure that an entire generation could live in light. If you knew your child was in danger and the law told you to stay out of it, what could you do? Who would you turn to?

10.GG:  Would you mind sharing your plans for the future of your writing?
Rachel: I plan to publish Imprints next year, which is a sequel to Eyes of a Stranger. In this novel, Autumn, on the day of her father’s funeral, discovers she has a supernatural gift (sometimes she calls it a curse) that was previously only hinted at in Eyes of a Stranger. With this gift, she is able to help a lot of people–though often it puts her into a great deal of danger. I think this will develop into a series of at least three or four books, possibly more. I also see it as a movie someday or TV series. But we’ll see. I’m really excited about it. It’s a fun plotline. She’ll have two love interests through most of the books, and I’m really not sure who she’ll eventually end up with. Though it may occasionally seem obvious to the reader, love is not always what it appears.

Readers:  Make a comment on this blog and be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Saving Madeline. To learn more about Rachel and her books, or to read the first chapter of Saving Madeline, visit her website: http://www.RachelAnnNunes.com.

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Interview with H.B. Moore

My next book: AlmaOne of the most compelling and yet spiritual authors in the LDS market today is Heather Moore.  Last year she was awarded the Whitney for Historical Fiction as well as “Best In State” for fiction in 2008.   In the next few days, her sixth historical novel adapted from the Book of Mormon, ALMA, will be published.  You can visit her blog at http://mywriterslair.blogspot.com to see a short video clip about the book.  I will be doing a review as soon as I have finished reading it, but I can tell you that it’s got me staying up at night.  It is full of suspense and brings a definite sense of reality to the story of Alma the Elder that we all love so much.  Curious about how she went about such a seemingly difficult task with such skill and grace, I asked Heather for an interview which she graciously granted.

GG: You have such an amazing gift for the art the novel, Heather. That is not something that comes easily to most of us, and you are still so young! How did you learn your craft?

Heather: Thanks, GG. That’s a high compliment coming from someone who is a great writer herself. I was always an avid reader, and I really think I was subconsciously learning novel-writing concepts as I read book after book. But when I decided to write a novel, I had to go back to square one, which took a lot of writers’ conferences, workshops, and grueling editing with my critique group.

GG: How much did growing up in your home influence your LDS writing direction?

Heather: I don’t know if it influenced me writing for the LDS market per se, but it definitely influenced me to write clean fiction. After all, my grandma, my parents, my in-laws, my children would all be reading what I’d written. Plus, there are so many talented authors out there who write in many different genres, there’s no reason for me to regurgitate what’s already been done over and over. I needed to find my niche, and so far it’s been in the LDS market, and I’ve been happy with reader reactions to my work. As far as the specific genre I’m currently published in (Book of Mormon fiction), my upbringing certainly had an impact. My father is a retired religion professor from BYU. I’ve met the likes of Hugh Nibley, etc., and have been around great scholars all of my life. Even my mother has been published on a Book of Mormon topic!

GG: You are a very dedicated mother. I think you go to every single solitary game or performance of your children, which always something (I remember those days). How do you prioritize your days?

Heather: I absolutely love to watch my children in their different activities, especially when they are enjoying the experience. When my first book came out, I had a newborn, and that was very tricky. I had a deadline to turn in book #2. So, I’d literally get up at 4:00 a.m. and write from 4-7:00 a.m. each day. The next year, with nap time and the older children in preschool/school, I was able to get in snatches, an hour here, an hour there. Or some days it was 10 minutes. The toughest thing is to stay motivated. When I do have some “quiet” time, I also have a dozen other things I could or should be doing. I’ve had to set up a writing schedule, so that I can meet deadlines, yet learn how to start early enough and stay consistent so that I can get enough sleep!

GG: How do you go about crafting your books?

Heather: I write in layers. When I first draft a chapter, I’m writing mostly action and dialog. The second time through, I’m adding in description and characterization. The third time through, I’m fine tuning and correcting. I usually have an idea of where the story will go (especially if I’m following a Book of Mormon story), but surprises always occur. When I wrote Abinadi, I knew that Helam had to be an important character in the book. After all, he was one of the first baptized at the Waters of Mormon and later on, a city was named after him. So who was he? I had no idea. I was about 200 pages into the book when I decided to make Helam Abinadi’s brother. I had to go back through the whole book and add in his character.

GG: I know you have said you are “as neurotic as the average person,” but compared to me, you are a rock of normalcy. I have drawn my talent from the things I have learned from the adversary. Is it the same for you? Or do you have the gift of empathy that enables you to feel “real” emotions with your characters? They are so real. How did they get that way?

Heather: I think most writers have to have some sort of neurotic tendencies, why else would we put ourselves through this torture? It’s like holding up your child and letting a thousand people criticize his/her personality. And then you can’t take it personally. Many people say to me: Oh, I could write a short story, but not a novel. I’m the opposite. I couldn’t write a short story, but writing a full-length book is not intimidating. Non-fiction writers are putting their personal experience directly onto paper, whereas fiction writers will use their personal experience as springboards into character and plot. For instance, in my newest book, Alma, one of the women, Maia, goes through many trials. Yet she manages to keep her faith intact. I put a little of my own convictions into her motivations. What trials have I faced that have shaken me up and made me question? Of course I haven’t been imprisoned like Maia was, but have I been wrongly accused or wrongly judged by those who don’t know my true self? And did I feel trapped and helpless? I’m not being chased by Lamanites like Maia was, but have I ever feared for my life, my safety, or for those around me? Any parent would know the feeling of that fear. I’m not a slave in a foreign land, but have I gone through the drudgery of working when I’ve not wanted to? . . . So I use my same emotional journey, and in a sense “liken” the character to myself or to those around me who are going through challenges. The challenges might not be the same in description, but they are the same in the heart. None of us are exempt from severe trials, some are physical in which others can see, others are internal and stay quiet for the most part. I believe that human nature and human emotion has not changed over the centuries. A mother who loses a son to the adversary in 128 B.C. will grieve just as much as a mother in 2009.

GG: What are your plans after you finish the current trilogy (Abinadi, Alma, Alma the Younger)? I know you have written a spectacular book on Women of the Book of Mormon. Do you plan on doing more non-fiction?

Heather: I might turn the trilogy into four volumes. I love Ammon’s story as well, and he is becoming a strong character in my current work in progress (Alma the Younger). The non-fiction book, Women of the Book of Mormon, will be out in 2010. It’s hard to look too far into the future, or I probably would be too overwhelmed and give up writing. I’ll finish Alma the Younger this winter, and then time will tell if I decide to write a book on Ammon, or something else jumps out.

GG: How long have you known you were a writer? At what age were you first published?

Heather: When I was 29, I wrote my grandmother’s biography. She was nearing 90 years old and finally decided she’d let someone work on it for her. I had just moved back to Utah from California and I’d spend time with her each week working on her life stories. She’d always complimented me in my writing (in letters, etc.). She always told me that I should write a children’s book. During the time I was writing about her life, I had an idea for a story of a young woman who lived in the 1930’s. I thought it might be neat to write the story and be able to make the things happen that I wanted to, not some other author. After all, there were thousands and thousands of books out there, why couldn’t I write one of them?

The next year I took a creative writing & publishing workshop at a college extension class. One of the first things the instructors said was that he was tired of stay-at-home moms thinking they could make money by writing novels. Well, that was me. And the rest is history. It seems when someone puts me down, it challenges me, and I rise to that challenge. I wrote two manuscripts, received plenty of rejections, then wrote a third, which took 10 months to finally get accepted by Covenant Communications. The process from start to completion was 27 months, and I was 33 years old when my first book hit the shelves.

GG: How does your testimony of the gospel impact your writing? How does it impact what you choose to write?

Heather: My testimony of the gospel has a definite influence on my Book of Mormon series. I couldn’t write it, or write it convincingly, if I didn’t know that those prophets were true prophets of God. It also comes with a bit of a weight and responsibility of living my life in a such a way that I can be open to what I need to be writing. Writing about the Book of Mormon kills two birds with one stone. I get my scripture study done, and my writing for the day. It’s great.

GG: How does your critique group work? In what ways is it helpful to you? (I hate critique groups—you must be very brave)

Heather: The members of my critique group are not dabblers in writing. They look at writing as more than a hobby, as their serious careers. Yes, we all have other obligations and some of us full-time jobs elsewhere, but we are planners. Strategizers. We are much more than correcting a comma, or making dialog consistent with characterization, but good friends and each others’ champions. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be in the critique group with such great writers. We grow and change, we challenge each other, we look out for each other and pool our resources. We meet on a weekly basis, and my journey to publishing has been much shorter because of their valuable and steady feedback.

GG: What is your very favorite part of the Book of Mormon? Why?

Heather: Great question! I really enjoy Nephi’s story. I think it’s probably my favorite. Although Alma is a close second. I admire their strength, their convictions, and their fortitude in the face of life-threatening challenges. It’s amazing to me that Nephi knew that what he was teaching his brothers would never be accepted. Yet he continued because it was the right thing to do. He had seen the future in a vision and knew that the Lamanites and Nephites would ultimately destroy each other. He moved forward in righteousness, patience, and learning. He wrote on the plates because he knew that thousands of years later, his testimony would change our hearts. You can’t ever discredit a man like that.

GG: I perceive that in your writing, you have obviously followed your passion as far as subject matter goes. What other passions do you have that may lead to future books?

Heather: I’m very interested in human nature—why people do the things they do. What are their motivations? History and religion play a major role in the grand cycle of wars, conflicts, life, and love. So by bringing my two interests together—history and religion—and combining it with one of my greatest loves—reading—I’ve found my passion in life.

GG: The inevitable question: What is the most important piece of advice you have for a beginning or struggling writer?

Heather: The longer I write and publish, the more valuable networking becomes. A new writer, or any writer for that matter, can’t hole up in an office to only write, then expect to be published successfully. Networking with other writers, publishers, agents, and editors at writers conferences, book signings, and other events will plant seeds that can move you into a successful career. It can take years to get a manuscript polished, and then more time to find a publisher. But the journey has only begun. The editing process is very time-consuming, and then comes the marketing. An author has to become educated on all aspects of the publishing business. Because it is, after all, a business, and not just a creative muse that we tap into when we are in the mood. Or when we have the time. Writing can be therapeutic on many levels, but if you want to be a successfully published author, you need to think of it as an education first, and then put together your strategy to get there.

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Interview with Michele Ashman Bell

When I started reading LDS fiction about four years ago, Michele’s books really appealed to me.  Her characters were so well developed.  Coming from the world’s idea of a romance novel to Michele’s, I was unexpectedly charmed.  Then I sat next to her at a signing.  She radiated kindness and warmth.  Every person who came up to her to talk received her full attention.  She asked them all about their lives, their hopes, their dreams.  She radiated the Spirit.  I am truly honored to call her a friend.  This interview reveals a little bit about how she became the woman and the writer that she is.

GG:  Michele, you are such a light and a beacon to so many people.  From
whence springs that inner joy that you radiate in your person and your
writing?

Michele:  Good heavens, GG, you’re even poetic in the way you ask
questions!  Since I don’t perceive myself as a person who radiates
anything (except heat when I’m having a hot flash) I am not really
sure what the answer is.  The only thing I really know is that I
believe we choose each moment of every day whether or not we are going
to let our circumstances dictate our happiness.  I always try and find
the positive in people and in life situations.  I think that once you
internalize this attitude it really does project outwardly.  Plus, I
live in a fantasy world, that might have something to do with it.

GG:  If it isn’t too personal, how do you prioritize your life?
 

Michele:  I learned this lesson the hard way.  Whoever is reading
this, please learn from my mistakes.  When I first started writing I
put my writing in front of a lot of important things namely callings
and even time with my family.  For ten years I worked at getting my
work published and became so frustrated because it just didn’t happen.
Then, I got called to be Young Women President and I was forced to
put my calling and family first, and basically put my writing on hold.
Once I learned to balance the important stuff and ALWAYS put my
family and church obligations first, I began to see success and was
finally published.  Proving once again that the Lord can make more of
our lives than we can.

GG:  Why do you write?
 

Michele:  I write because I can’t not write.  My mind is constantly
whirling and spinning stories and scenes and book ideas.  It has since
I was a little girl, as far back as I can remember.  I’ve always been
a daydreamer and had a big imagination.  It’s gotten me into trouble
plenty of times, but it is the source of creativity and every chance I
get I encourage children and adults to embrace their imagination and
let their creativity soar, even if it means sometimes you have to
crash and burn.  Even though it took me ten years of rejections before
I got published, I don’t regret anything I learned during that time.

GG:  What do you picture your life to be like in ten years?

Michele:  I’m finally realizing that having children grow up doesn’t
mean life gets easier.  I think it gets more complicated, so I’m
thinking I’m going to still be very involved with my children and my
grandchildren, enjoying time traveling with my husband (and good
friends) and I know that I will be doing my best writing then.  I
still have so much to learn and so many ideas inside of me.  I get
excited when I think about what the future holds.

GG:  How do you nurture the writer within?

Michele:  I’m not the best person to ask this because I’m not doing
very well at this.  I think that ideally the best way to nurture the
writer within is to feed our creativity by experiencing new and
wonderful things; places, people and cultures.  Reading, researching,
taking time away from the craziness of life so you can really let your
thoughts gel and ideas take shape and form, then spending time to
write and let it flow, would be like a dream come true.  Going to
workshops and conferences, writers retreats and research trips, all
would feed the muse.  With my busy life and family I’m lucky to get an
hour or two a day to write.  BUT, as long as I keep my priorities
straight I do believe strongly that the Lord is making up the
difference.

GG:  What is your writing process?

Michele:  Once I get an idea for a story, usually as a result of
discovering a great setting, becoming interested in finding out more
about a certain social issue, or creating a character that really
fascinates me, I start brainstorming.  I will research and find out
all I can about a place or an issue or a person.  From that research
I’ll get more and more ideas.  I will work up an outline and revise it
constantly until I feel like all the components of the story are the
way I want them.  Then I begin writing.  I always begin with prayer (I
need all the help I can get).  I never write on Sundays either.  I
will usually revise my outline throughout the writing process because
the characters sometimes have minds of their own and mess it up.

GG:  How do you manage to be the mother of such creative children and to
keep your own creativity alive?
 

Michele:  Not very well.  I’m tired.  I get such fulfillment and joy
seeing my children make their dreams come true that I forget to take
care of myself.  I think this is a mother’s curse and blessing.  I do
everything I can to help them but I try not to push them.  When the
desire comes from their heart then I become passionate to help them.
Their success means more to me than my own success.  But, bottom line,
if I could get more sleep at night I would be a lot more creative and
productive.  Seriously.

GG:  I know you are an aerobics instructor.  What do you feel this pursuit
adds to your life?

Michele:  Teaching aerobics does wonders to help me feel strong and
healthy, not just physically but mentally also.  I hate getting up at
6 am to workout but when I’m done I feel like I can conquer the world,
until about 2:00 in the afternoon when I almost fall asleep at
stoplights or at the computer.  I also love the ladies I teach.  They
are a source of strength, support and therapy for me.  Exercise is
crucial for our bodies and minds.  The quality of my life is better
because I exercise regularly.

GG:  What advice do you have for those of us who are creative, but struggle
with balancing our lives?

Michele:  Good luck!  Just kidding.  Like I said earlier, it is all
about priorities.  If you do the things that matter and are most
important, then you can ask for heavenly help to make up the
difference.  That’s the only way I can explain the success I’ve had.
Once you understand and believe this principle, and have enough faith
to do it, things become much more simple and good things start to
happen.

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H.B. Moore

Heather Brown Moore is a dear friend and an extraordinary writer.  I have not yet read her Out of Jerusalem series, but I want to very much.  Her book, Abinadi, published in 2008 won the Whitney Award and The Best of State for Fiction in 2009.  It is extremely well-written.  This writer has the capability of putting you right back in time to the days of King Noah’s court.  She writes with rich sensory detail and, most importantly, her characters have depth.

Raised in a home where the Book of Mormon was a central feature, she has used all the FARMS research and available archeological detail to make her books as real as possible.  Having visited the Middle East many times, she is comfortable with describing the life of Lehi’s family’s journey as real as possible. 

This week, Out of Jerusalem:Land of Inheritance, is being given away on a contest on Anne Bradshaw’s Blog: Not Entirely British www.annebradshaw.blogspot.com.  Anne is the author of Famous Family Nights.  She is also a wonderful person, who spends much time reviewing and supporting her fellow Authors.  Many of us are featured in her book, which will be released very soon by Cedar Fort.

Heather and Anne are fellow LDStorymakers, and my life certainly wouldn’t be as rich without them.  Check out their books!

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Review of Tristi Pinkston’s Agent in Old Lace

By G.G. Vandagriff

I read this book all in one sitting yesterday, and haven’t stop chuckling over it. Although it is packed with scary suspense from the first page on, it also overflows with humor. Tristi is mistress of the one liner. Speaking of the villain, the FBI agent says, "He’s taken a psychological disorder and turned it into a hobby." I roared at that one. These little gems sparkle throughout the story, so be certain you are someplace where you can laugh out loud.

The book’s heroine, Shannon Tanner, is a refreshingly honest character from page one. She has no agenda, she reacts from the heart. Tristi wishes she had had more time for development of her minor characters, however with Shannon she did a wonderful job making her unique, and not just another feminist trying not to be a damsel in distress.

The plot has a constant undercurrent of menace, even when it appears the case has been resolved. Shannon is being used as bait by the FBI to lure her ex-boyfriend who has embezzled millions of dollars with impunity over a period of years. Her protection is her "Aunt Anita," an FBI agent in drag. As you can predict, this situation is ripe for comedy and suspense.

I recommend Agent In Old Lace highly as a great read.

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