Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli and I talk about writing and her new book TEMPORARY BRIDESMAID

Veteran writer Lu Ann Brobst Staheli has just released a romance, Temporary Bridesmaid. Here's part of the review I posted on Amazon. "It’s a book with an interesting main character—not the dewy, young, just-turned-twenty miss of so many romances, but a successful career woman of thirty-nine with a closet full of bridesmaid dresses . . .With some nice, unexpected plot twists, Ms. Staheli carries us through the expected romance format to a sweet conclusion that leaves us smiling." You can read the whole review by clicking here.

I wanted my friends and readers to know more about Lu Ann, as she's such a force in the Utah writing community, and she graciously consented to do an interview.

 LIZ: I’m aware that you’ve been writing in the nonfiction area for awhile. Before we talk about your foray into fiction, tell me about the books you have already published.

LU ANN: I’ve published in both the non-fiction and fiction genres before. When Hearts Conjoin: The True Story of Utah’s Conjoined Twins (Richard Paul Evans, Inc.) and Psychic Madman (Source Books) are both biographies and each won Utah’s Best of State for Non-Fiction. My most recent non-fiction is also a biography of sorts. Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith (Walnut Springs Press) is a comparative study of the similarities of the lives of these two men, one the leader of a country, the other the leader of a church.

Also in the non-fiction realm, I’ve published two books for Language Arts teachers. Books, Books, and More Books: A Parent and Teacher’s Guide to Adolescent Literature was my Christa McAulliffe project, and One Day at a Time: Teaching Secondary Language Arts is a compilation of the newspaper columns on literacy which I wrote for two local newspapers.

But non-fiction is not my only genre. I’ve also published a series, Small-Town U.S.A., which includes one middle grade novel (Leona & Me, Helen Marie) about my mother’s childhood in 1922 southern Indiana during the first depression, and two young adult novels (Just Like Elizabeth Taylor and A Note Worth Taking), each about a young girl and her experiences coming of age. The first book in the Explorers series (Tides Across the Sea) has also been published. Each of them won awards from the League of Utah Writers and Elizabeth Taylor was the winner of the Utah Arts Council Juvenile Novel of the Year.

LIZ: So, with all this different, heavier-weight-type writing that you’ve done, why did you decide to write anything as fluffy as a romance? I say this without prejudice, because I’ve written romance myself.

LU ANN: Temporary Bridesmaid came about because people kept asking me to tell my own story. Although the novel is fiction, those who know me well will recognize elements of my life. I met my husband later in life and we married when I was 40 and he 35. We met at Payson Jr. High School where I was a fulltime English teacher and he came as a substitute—a temp. I had given up on ever finding a husband, and he on finding a wife. In addition, I was taking care of my elderly mother who suffered from dementia, the early stages of Alzheimer ’s disease.


LIZ: Temporary Bridesmaid is about a single, career-track woman who falls in love at thirty-nine. After reading your acknowledgements, I have to ask, are there any autobiographical elements to this story?

I guess I spoiled this one in the answer above. ;-)

LIZ: I was interested in your third story line, the character of Stephie. Why did you decide to include her as a prominent subplot?

LU ANN: Stephie just appeared out of nowhere one day as I was writing—something authors understand. I had known some young couples who were suffering from the same break-down in communication that she and Phil were experiencing. I’ve also known some young men who had become so wrapped up in their gaming that they had withdrawn from those who loved them. Her part of the story practically wrote itself. I felt the contrast to Jenny’s desire to marry and the happier couples around them both was important to the full development of the story. Life doesn’t always work out the way we—or our characters—expect it to. My plan is to eventually give Stephie a new, and perhaps happier, love story in a sequel to this book.

LIZ: What have new have you learned about writing from the experience of Temporary Bridesmaid? Or maybe I should ask, was this process any different from the nonfiction writing you’ve done?

LU ANN: With non-fiction, you do a lot of research, often needing sources you can footnote, so the process can be time intensive. But the same can be said for fiction. This novel started out to be my story, so the first draft was fairly easy—it was my NANOWRIMO book three years ago. But during the revisions, I discovered that what I thought was romantic, because it was actually how my love story had developed, didn’t read as all that romantic to people who read and wrote nothing but romance. Luckily, I have great friends and several romance writer mentors in my critique group. I think I’ve managed to keep the elements of my own personal romance true, but added just enough to satisfy other readers who enjoy a good romance.  

LIZ: What’s the next project we can expect from the pen of LuAnn Brobst Staheli?

LU ANN: I’m in final revisions for a novella that will be in the Timeless Romance Anthology Silver Bells edition. I haven’t settled on a title yet, but I will tell you it’s about Dick Wilkins and Pricilla Fezziwig, and includes the more familiar character of Ebenezer Scrooge.

After that, it’s back to non-fiction as I’m finishing a memoir titled Living in an Osmond World, which is a collection of experiences I had from the time I met the Osmond family through the years I worked for Alan Osmond Productions as an Associate Producer of Stadium of Fire.

LIZ: Is there anything else you’d like to add, anything you’d like to say to readers or potential readers?

LU ANN: My childhood dream was to be a published author, and I’ve been thrilled to see this dream coming true. I’ve always been an avid and eclectic reader, and I suppose you can use the same labels to describe me as a writer. When you follow your passion, as I am doing now, the money is nice, but the true reward is making someone smile. I hope that somewhere in my crazy list of publications I have something that does that very thing for each of you.


Thanks for letting me be a part of your blog, Liz. And thanks for bringing a smile to my face!   

LIZ: Thanks for letting us all get to know you better.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Writers Standing Against Plagiarism


Plagiarism is wrong. We’ve been taught that since we were children. I distinctly remember being taught the principle when I was in the fifth grade when I was writing an essay that involved some research. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I mean, the information was written in a book. What was the difference whether I copied it directly or just used the information? It’s a tough distinction to teach to a child.
Plagiarism isn’t a crime you can be arrested for. However, if you are a proven plagiarist, you can be expelled from school or lose your job or certification. And, the person whose copyright you infringed upon can sue you and collect money.

I’ve been aware for quite awhile that teachers are constantly on the lookout for this type of theft among the work of their students. Some have even begun employing software that can detect identical phrases in two different essays. Others will Google a student’s unusually well-honed paragraph to see if it may have been lifted from someone else’s work.

My interest in the subject of plagiarism deepened this last week when a fellow writer had her intellectual property stolen. Rachel Ann Nunes, a popular Utah writer, found out that someone had taken one of  her clean romances, changed  characters’ names, added steamy sex scenes and was publishing it through Amazon as erotica. The person was writing under the pen name of Sam Taylor Mullens.

I imagine “Ms. Mullens” felt she was safe, figuring the readership of the two genres was so different, but she was wrong. She had sent an advanced readers copy to someone who was familiar with the book she stole, and she let Rachel Nunes know.

Quite a few writers have been watching developments as Rachel has tried to find out the identity of Sam Taylor Mullens. I can tell you that, if I had written the scenario I’ve watched play out as fiction, people would tell me it was too outlandish. No one would be so stupid as to try that trick and then, when caught, react in the manner that “Ms. Mullens” did.

If you’re interested in reading about what happened—or if you just like intrigue-- it’s been chronicled on several blogs. But you might want to read about it from Rachel herself—her diary of what happened and comments from friends and (possibly) sock puppets of the perpetrator. You can find it on Rachel's blog.

There are also interesting comments on a blog called The Passive Voice

Notice as you read Rachel's blog that Dave Farland set up a fundraising site for her to help defray attorney’s fees. If you’d like to help, here’s where you do it.



You can understand why the writing community is concerned. After recently publishing my first indie book, I’m amazed at how easy it was—after the blood-sweat-tears of the writing and editing process, that is. That wasn’t easy. If you've never learned the plagiarism-is-wrong lesson, and you’ve got something somebody else wrote, boom, put it up and slap your name on it and, you’re an author.

Rachel was lucky to have an honest reviewer who was familiar with her earlier book. I wonder how many writers there are out there who are not so lucky.

Monday, July 28, 2014

DOES THIS INSECURITY MAKE ME LOOK FAT? by Michelle Wilson, a Review


I promised Michelle Wilson ages ago that I would review her book DOES THIS INSECURITY MAKE ME LOOK FAT?  To that end, I read the book and loved it.

It was about this time that Blogger began to take exception to the web browser I was using and wouldn’t let me post. I solved this problem by posting from my husband’s computer, but this was unhandy. That and my challenged memory cells made it so little blogging was done, and the review wasn’t done.

I changed web browsers and the problem was fixed. Now I could post the review.

That was about the time that the water main broke and flooded the office. We packed up everything, including Michelle’s book, and it has been sitting in the garage for about three months while we waited for the flooring to be redone.

So, tonight I began putting my office back together and found Michelle’s book. Finally, I can redeem my promise to her.  Never mind it’s been about nine months since the book came out. It can do with another little punch.

First, let me tell you about Michelle Wilson. She’s hilarious. She’s fun. But she’s also deep and able to articulate things that are serious and solemn. You’d never suspect that she has an insecure bone in her body. She confesses in this book that she does, even though, if you’ve met her, you find that hard to believe. But when she starts telling you about her insecurities you think, “She’s just like me!” This beautiful, vivacious, talented, compassionate person has the same self doubts that I do.

What makes this book so great is that it rings true. Michelle is Everywoman, and through the stories of her journey—a journey she’s still on—we find strength and hope for our own journeys.

Michelle’s book is divided into two parts. Part one is called “Learning to see.” It’s about perspective, and she names the first chapter “All the Little Leaves.” She tells the story of her first pair of glasses when she was in grade school and how, when she walked outside with them on she was amazed to see that trees had individual leaves. Throughout the first part of the book she helps us understand that it’s important that we see things correctly.

In the second part of the book, the one called “Choose to Be,” Michelle talks about forging on in spite of our limitations. Here’s a sample:

It’s okay not to be good at everything. I can’t multitask in the kitchen. I burn things when I try to multitask. I accept my limitations and operate within the boundaries that work for me. (For example, I stare at the oven timer and eat cookie dough while the cookies are baking so I won’t forget they are in the oven. It’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.)

This is a book to be read in the nooks and crannies of our busy lives. Read a few pages over lunch, or while you’re waiting in the dentist’s office. You’ll smile. You’ll nod in agreement. And you’ll go about the rest of your day with a lighter step.

 I was furnished a copy of the book to read and review, but the fact that I didn't buy the book did not color my opinion. This is a valuable book. You can get it at Deseret Book.What's more, it's on sale right now.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spider Latham is back!

Spider is back! And he’s driving the Yugo again!

I’m announcing the launch of my newest book and fourth in the Spider Latham series. TROUBLE AT THE RED PUEBLO is set in the Kanab UT/Fredonia AZ area.

Here’s Amazon’s intro:

When Deputy Sheriff turned private investigator Spider Latham is sent to help the Red Pueblo Museum, he doesn’t suspect it will cause a rift between his wife, Laurie, and himself. 

Museum Director Martin Taylor is desperate, and his son Matt is angry. Some unknown person is bent on destroying the museum financially and is about to succeed. Things turn violent. It ends with someone’s skull bashed in with an Anasazi ax, and everyone has motive for the murder. 

Can Spider untangle the web of secrecy and lies surrounding the museum before the Taylors lose it all? And in the process, can he save his own marriage?

The book is available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle, at the Nook store on Barnes and Noble, and on Kobo.

My launch party will be at the Red Pueblo Museum in Fredonia AZ on July 30. If you’re in the Kanab UT / Fredonia AZ area, come by at 7 in the evening (AZ time—it’s 8 PM Utah time) and see the museum that is the setting for the book.


I hope you’ll enjoy meeting Spider again. For me, it was like seeing an old friend I hadn’t seen in years and picking up the threads again.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

An Interview with Susan Aylworth, Author of ZUCCHINI PIE



I met Susan Aylworth three years ago at a writers conference, and we subsequently served together on the board of directors of LDStorymakers. I found her to be hardworking, level-headed, and funny, all necessary for getting things done.
 
 It’s my pleasure to introduce her and her newest novel, ZUCCHINI PIE, on my blog today.

LIZ: How long have you been writing?

SUSAN: My first novel was started on a large yellow legal pad with one of those huge third grade pencils. I was nine. If you want to count the first one I finished, that still gives me about 25 years in the business. It's what I've always wanted to do.

LIZ: Do you come from a literary background? 

SUSAN: Yes. My parents were grade school teachers who read to us (their children)  and encouraged us all to read on our own. I earned a couple of degrees in English and taught at the university level for about three decades. I love literary fiction, but I enjoy reading--and writing--in almost every genre.


LIZ: Zucchini Pie is told from several points of view. Why did you structure the story in this way? 

SUSAN: A traumatic event doesn't happen to a person. It happens to that person and everyone involved in that life. I wanted to show how Granny's death and the family situation it precipitated impacted every member of the family, each a little differently.

 LIZ: One of the points of view, Karen Burnett, is president of the Relief Society. Can you tell those not familiar with this organization what it is?

 SUSAN: Relief Society is the women's organization (also the front-line humanitarian aid organization) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Mormon Church. In other Christian faiths, it might be called the Ladies' Aid Society or something similar. The ward Relief Society president is a lay minister with most of the responsibilities that go along with ministering to a congregation, although she serves without pay and on her own time. The job is consuming in time, responsibility, and emotional commitment, and it's one of the most rewarding positions I've ever held.
  
LIZ: You deal with some pretty heavy themes: mental illness, torn-apart families.  Was there a reason you wrote about those themes--albeit with a light touch?  

SUSAN: Some Christian literature looks only at the smiling surface of life, as if terrible things can't happen in Christian homes among believers. My goal with this book was to look at some of the ugly things that do impact human lives, even among practicing, faithful people. Our Heavenly Father never promised us we wouldn't deal with mental illness or torn-apart families, only that He would be there to help us through and that, through the power of the Atonement, all that is wrong in our lives may be made right. I wanted to show ordinary but faithful people dealing with extraordinary circumstances--some coping better than others, but all of them making real, human choices.
  
LIZ: It's an interesting juxtaposition, those themes and the homey recipes. Can you tell us how you happened to do that? 

SUSAN: The two ideas arose at the same time. A friend and colleague at the university had created a writing class based on food and families. That is, students found recipes for favorite dishes that had become part of family traditions and then wrote food journals, focusing on the emotions and rituals they associated with each food. We talked quite a bit about the emotional impacts of certain foods in our lives and I went to her final presentation day where each student prepared a dish and read the journal entry that went with it. I was astonished at the deep feelings students revealed when they wrote about favorite foods.

 At the same time, I was talking with another friend about the impact of a family member's mental illness on the lives and structure of their whole family. We were recognizing that many families don't survive that strain. The idea began growing almost organically. Put together a cookbook novel with an investigation of mental illness and how members of a ripped-apart family try to cope with poor choices made by their predecessors, throw in a writer's basic question ("what if?") and you have ZUCCHINI PIE.

 LIZ: Tell us about the recipes. Does each have a connection with you or your family? 

 SUSAN: Some (Sourdough Bread, Pumpkin-Date Bread, L.A. Temple Oatmeal Cookies, for example) are family stalwarts with their own traditions and rituals. Others I dug up new just for this book. My daughter had recently taught me to make my own hummus and I've been experimenting with naan, so I enjoyed finding my favorite recipes for those. Still other recipes were answers to recent family needs, such as when I had fresh blackberries ripening in my backyard and needed something different for dinner. A few offer homage to friends who shared their own recipes and asked me to make room in the Burnetts' lives for their family favorites.
 
LIZ: Which recipe is your favorite and why? 

SUSAN: That's like asking me which child or grandchild is my favorite and it has the same answer: It depends on the day. *;) winking

LIZ:  What's the story line of the project you're working on now? 

 SUSAN: In the mid-90s I wrote a series of light romance novels set in the fictional town of Rainbow Rock, Arizona. The books were originally published in hardback by Avalon, although I've recently begun selling digital versions of the same stories. I'm currently doing the final edit of a manuscript for a new book in that series, appropriately titled RETURN TO RAINBOW ROCK.

LIZ:  What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a writer? 

 SUSAN: Read, read, read. Then, while you are reading more, write, write, write. You can't become a writer without being a reader first and you can't become a good writer without plenty of practice and learning from your own mistakes. I liken reading something wonderful written by a world-class writer and then deciding to do that yourself to watching a math genius work a kind of problem you've never seen before and then being completely clueless when you get home and try to do the problems from the book. Yes, there are geniuses who write brilliant debut novels, but most of us start with simpler stories and learn by doing. Even some of today's giants (I'm thinking of Stephen King and his book On Writing) have used that process. Once you are making progress, joining writers' groups and attending conferences can make a big difference in moving your career forward, but only writing makes you a writer.   

 LIZ: Is there any final word you'd like to offer aspiring writers? 

SUSAN: If you're toying with the idea of maybe writing a book someday and publishing it for everyone to read, take up hiking or golf or knitting instead. Writing something satisfying for your own enjoyment can be a good hobby, but writing for the public is a vocation. You can't toy with it and do it well. I believe it was Somerset Maugham who said, "I write because I can't not write." When writing consumes you in just that way, you won't say, "I wish I had time to write." You'll write and wish you had time for other things. If that's how you feel about writing, then own it: You're a writer. May it bring you joy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thermo-nators and Kool-water bags

Life has a way of surprising me. I had no thought, when we moved to the high desert last year, that we’d end with a small manufacturing process going on in the shop.


Derrill and I are busily turning out Thermo-nators and Kool-water bags.




Thermo-nators are heat shields that strap to the inside of your leg as you ride an ATV to protect from the heat radiated from the engine and transmission. The first ones I made were from ironing board covers, but they’re not washable. We had canvas on hand, and I figured that the light color would reflect the heat and be washable, too. I also knew that before the advent of modern fabrics, firefighters’ coats were made of canvas. So, I made a pair of these heat shields out of canvas with a low-loft polyester batting as insulator. They worked, and Derrill dubbed them Thermo-nators. We’re now in production, and you can find them at www.thermo-nator.com

We’re also turning out Kool-water bags. It’s a way of ensuring that on the hottest day, with no refrigeration, you’ll still get a cool drink. You can find them at www.kool-water.com

They work on the principle of evaporative cooling. The canvas allows moisture to seep through, and as that water evaporates, it brings down the temperature of the water inside. I don’t understand how it works, I just know that it does.

Not only that, it’s made out of renewable materials and helps keep plastic water bottles out of landfills.

When Derrill and I were young, canvas water bags were ubiquitous in the southwest. You’d seldom see a car traversing a long stretch of desert highway without a waterbag hung on the antenna or hood ornament. But with the advent of plastic thermoses and in-house icemakers, they pretty much disappeared.

Here’s how we came to be making them: Derrill wanted to find a water bag to take when we went out on our ATVs. I searched online to find one for his birthday and ended up buying one on Ebay that was probably as old as I am. It was in pretty tough shape (kind of like me), but after he replaced the grommets, we took it out with us. Sure enough, even when the temperature was nudging a hundred, the water in the bag stayed cool.

As I had searched on line for a bag for Derrill, I found other people who were asking where to get one. It seemed that no one was manufacturing them. Until now.

So, if you drop by to see us, check in the shop. (I call it the sweatshop.) We’ll be there, churning out Thermo-nators and Kool-water bags.

Friday, June 14, 2013

In His Hands by Jenny Hess - A Review

I didn’t know what to expect when I began Jenny Hess’s book In His Hands, but the subtitle A Mother’s Journey Through the Grief of Sudden Loss was a clue, so I was prepared for a sad story. It is a sad story—my mother would call it a three-hankie book—but it’s much more than that. My review is going to have to be random thoughts because I promised to post today, and I just finished it yesterday.

Random thought #1: Jenny Hess’s book In His Hands should be required reading, because everyone at one time or another is going to be bereaved, and having read this book is going to be forearmed. She lets you know that there are things in life that can shake the foundation of faith and familial ties, but you can work through it and arrive at a place—albeit a different place—where both faith and ties are intact.

Random thought #2: The book is well written. I remember a professor teaching me the difference between sentiment and sentimentality. He said that sentiment creates thoughts or views through good descriptions and characters, whereas sentimentality manipulates the reader’s emotions. He said here’s how you tell if something is sentimentality: when reading something makes you cry and you’re ashamed of your tears. This book made me cry, but I was never ashamed. Ms. Hess’s description of her experience in the emergency room is powerful and I know will linger with me for a long time.

Random thought #3: In His Hands reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Remembered. In that book, Lewis lets the reader accompany him on his journey as he works through his grief at losing his wife. It’s a warts-and-all journey by a person who has written and lectured widely about dealing with emotional pain as a Christian and then finds that lecturing about it is easier than living through it. Ms. Hess tells us several times how, pre-loss, she was the epitome of Mormon Motherhood Capability, and she bravely and generously lets us see how thoroughly the props were knocked out from under her.

Random thought #4: This book is a primer for how to deal with people who have experienced a profound loss. It teaches us that there are many ways to deal with that loss and that each is okay, that we should not judge because someone isn’t expressing grief the way we think they should. It also offers lessons for those on the outside looking in who want to help but don’t know how.

Random thought #5: This book is written from the perspective of a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the lessons learned are universal. See Random Thought #1.

So there you go. In His Hands is the kind of book that stays with you for days after you finish it, but those random thoughts are the ones that sprang to mind this morning. I highly recommend this book, but keep a box of tissues close by, because you will certainly be moved by Jenny Hess’s story.