Sunday, May 31, 2015

An Interview with Janet Jensen, author of GABRIEL'S DAUGHTERS

I first became aware of Janet Jensen when her book DON’T YOU MARRY THE MORMON BOYS came out. Though I’ve not met her in person, we’ve corresponded via a writers loop, and we have several mutual friends.

I’ve learned that Ms. Jensen doesn’t shy away from hard—even controversial--topics which makes her writing timely and easy to identify with.

Here’s the blurb for Ms. Jensen’s latest book:

Wrestling with issues of polygamy, homosexuality, and modernity, Gabriel’s Daughters examines them through the lives of the large, loving, and polygamous Martin family. The story is told primarily through the eyes of Zina Martin, a young girl who—upon discovering she is impregnated by her “sterile” teacher and will soon be married off to a man three times her age—escapes the enclosed polygamous town of Gabriel’s Landing, Utah. Zina then embarks on a journey of self-discovery, yet she can never fully escape the longing she has for her family and even the controversial and outdated lifestyle she once lived. Through both tears and triumph, Gabriel’s Daughters reveals a moving story that not only acts as insightful social commentary but also prompts readers to re-evaluate their lives.

I’m glad to be able to feature Janet Jensen as an author on my blog.  I’ll include a purchase link at the end of the interview.

LIZ: What inspired Gabriel’s Daughters?

JANET JENSEN: Zina’s story was originally included in early drafts of my first novel, Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys. I began to write the stories of both Louisa and Zina in alternating chapters. That led to logistical problems as the events occur in different time periods. Zina’s story also began to take on greater significance and in fact threatened to take over the whole book. To do it justice, I had to pull it out and promise Zina her own book. She was very patient.

LIZ: Does Gabriel’s Landing have a “prophet?”

JANET JENSEN: No. I chose to create a governing body, the Council of Brothers. They are a committee of very like-minded men who govern all matters secular and religious in the community.  I deliberately avoided writing a character who was the prophet or all-powerful leader, to avoid comparisons to current events. Gabriel’s Landing is a quiet community. Though life is tightly controlled by the Council of Brothers, the extreme abuses and violence uncovered in other groups, which often make headlines, do not occur in Gabriel’s Landing. It’s a town that strives to keep the traditions of their fathers. As we know, however, not everyone in Gabriel’s Landing has a happy or satisfying life.

LIZ: Given all the recent public scrutiny, do you think polygamy will survive?

JANET JENSEN: Polygamy has always been with us throughout history, and is common in many cultures. In America, some feel that prosecuting it will simply drive its followers underground. Others, citing the significant cost to taxpayers in terms of financial assistance given to women who declare themselves to be single mothers, feel the welfare system is being abused. There are certainly no clear answers.

LIZ: How do you feel about polygamy?

JANET JENSEN: I’ll let the readers form their own opinions about that. I was very surprised, however, when doing some research on the Internet—when my own photo popped up as I searched for “pictures of polygamous women.” Yep, there I was, with my three dogs, in my own backyard. That photo had appeared on my blog and as I had written a book about polygamy, it somehow became associated with the topic, or at least the search engines thought so. There’s a lesson in this: you never know where you’re going to show up on the Internet. It’s a bit disconcerting.

LIZ: Why do quilts appear prominently in the book?

JANET JENSEN: Quilts convey our heritage and culture from one generation to another. They speak of economy and necessity as well as artistry. I think every quilt has its own story, and I love the intricate varieties of patchwork quilts, both old and new.

LIZ: Why did you choose to have Zina hitchhike to Chicago?

JANET JENSEN: Because that’s where Mo and Callie were going! I really had three reasons. First, I wanted to put some some significant geographical distance between Zina and the place where she was raised. It’s the only way she can begin to learn who she is. Second, I have always loved Chicago; my husband and I honeymooned there for three years when we attended graduate school. Third, I wanted to give a little shout-out to a city that is full of diversity and vitality and class. Chicago is a good fit for Zina, and she learns to love the city, too. 

LIZ: Andy and Louisa could have higher-paying jobs in larger cities. Why did you choose to have them stay in Hawthorn Valley?

JANET JENSEN: Andy fell in love with Hawthorn Valley when he first arrived there, just out of residency, and Hawthorn Valley fell in love with him. When Louisa married him, it was with the understanding that they would share a joint medical practice in Hawthorn Valley. It’s a place where they feel needed and appreciated. They want to give their children a healthy upbringing, and neither is too concerned about material wealth. That is consistent with their upbringing, I think.

LIZ: Why did you choose to write Simon as a gay character?

JANET JENSEN: Because he is. Seriously, I asked myself what kind of man Zina would trust, given her devastating experience with her high school teacher, and almost marrying a man twice her age. It’s not a surprise that she doesn’t doesn’t trust easily, and Simon presents no sexual issues to negotiate. He simply offers friendship and companionship to his roommate. It’s something he wants, too. And he sees Zina’s potential.

LIZ: Yes, there is a bit of the Pygmalion myth in their relationship.

JANET JENSEN: Right. I loved having Zina “bloom and grow,” to borrow from another musical. She gains some survival skills in Chicago, though Mo and Callie provide her with the tender care of parents while she acquires the ability to support herself. Her native talents and intelligence are appreciated wherever she goes. Starting with Chef Damian’s tutelage at Harry’s in Chicago, Zina continues to grow intellectually. Simon can, in some ways, give her the world. He’s educated, well-traveled, and well-read. And, most important, he is trustworthy.

LIZ: You seem to like strong female protagonists.

JANET JENSEN: I do. Girls and young women need to know they have unlimited potential, even if it means they may have to fight for it. I didn’t want a high-cheekboned, square-jawed, broad shouldered romantic knight with long, flowing golden locks to gallop into town on a white horse and rescue Zina. She doesn’t need rescuing. She’s become her own person. Readers deserve more, and so does Zina. And she may find it in James.

LIZ: What elements in Gabriel’s Daughters are based on real-life people or events?

JANET JENSEN: Quilts, hope chests, bread-baking, book-burning, a visit to Russia, the nesting dolls, and friendships between women and gay men. Oh, and a smart border collie.

My thanks to Janet Jensen for a great interview. Click here for a purchase link for her book GABRIEL’S DAUGHTERS.

An Interview with Judith Kirscht, author of Hawkins Lane

I lived in the Pacific Northwest for forty years, and it was in the last two decades of that stint that I began to write. When I started, I didn’t know anything about writing communities. I didn’t know that if you scratched the surface of any city, town, village, hamlet, you’d find lots of people who scribble and who like to hang out with other scribblers and learn the craft.

Judith Kirscht
I finally found the Skagit Valley writers league and joined it, and that’s where I met Judith Kirscht. She was president of the league. I’ve since moved away from the Skagit Valley, but I’m still interested in the writing lives of the people I became acquainted with there, and when Judith announced her new book, I asked if I could do an interview.

I think you’ll be interested in her path to publication. I think, too, that her answers to the questions posed are a window to her literary style and lyrical writing. I’ll include a purchase link to her latest book at the end of the interview.

LIZ: Tell me something about yourself

JUDITH: I was born and raised in Chicago, and it wasn’t until I finished college and was raising my family in Michigan before it occurred to me that I wanted to write. Then writing had to compete with child-raising, divorce, and earning a living, so it emerged in spurts while I taught college writing first at the University of Michigan and then at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It wasn’t until I retired in 2001 and moved to Washington State that I could devote myself to writing fiction.

It took ten more years to get published. Now I’ve published my fourth book in as many years so it looks as though I’m churning them out at amazing speed, though they’ve actually been written over forty years.

LIZ: Your latest novel is Hawkins Lane. Can you tell us something about it?

JUDITH: Hawkins Lane is set in the Cascades and is a story of love gone wrong. It’s about the power of the past to disrupt our futures. Both the hero, Ned Hawkins, who is the son of a murderer, and the heroine, Erica Romano, daughter of a family with expectations she cannot face, find in each other release from their pasts. They create a life they love in the mountains—in a clearing beyond the tree-tunneled lane that gives the book’s title—and give birth to a child, but then Ned’s father is released from prison, returning Ned to his previous fatalism and sense of impending doom and disrupts the harmony. Erica rebels against this return to the past, triggering a series of disasters that threaten to bring their lives to ruin. For both their survival depends on confrontation and victory over their pasts.

LIZ: Where do you get your ideas?

JUDITH: That’s a question I ask myself—often. HAWKNS LANE grew from an image that I woke up with one morning of child looking down a tree tunneled lane that had taken everything that had happened up into its boughs as though it had never been. Well, clearly that’s the end of a story I hadn’t yet told. HOME FIRES, my third novel, grew out of short story I wrote while living next to wild meadowlands, cliffs and beach near Santa Barbara, and by hindsight I can say it came out the fairytale aspects of that place. But that’s hindsight—in the beginning I had only an image of a woman in a tower looking out to the sea. What gets expressed in my stories remains a mystery to me except by hindsight. I can only say some image triggers the unconscious—things left unresolved, unexplored but released by the pen in a process we aren’t intended to understand.

LIZ: You said you began to write when you were raising your family. What triggered it?

JUDITH: That’s another mystery, in some ways. I grew up with the understanding that a wife a mother was what I was going to be, and I never questioned it until my daughters were half grown. But when I finally asked myself whether there was something else I would like to do, the answer was instantaneous. My husband said I’d told him I wanted to write, but I have no memory of it. In any case, I took myself up to the University of Michigan—an act more presumptuous than I can ever explain—and made an appointment to talk with the professor in charge of the Hopwood Room—the room where the creative writers hung out (they had no creative writing program in those days). When I got home, I went into shock at what I’d done and realized the professor was going to ask to see my writing. Duh. I had none. So I sat down with a yellow pad and wrote about growing up near the University of Chicago football stadium while they were experimenting with nuclear fission. I don’t think it was even typed, but he read it and said “You’re a writer.”

That was all it took. I have a sign above my desk to this day that says “You’re a Writer.” I studied under him for four years, wrote two novels, and won the literary prize for which that room was named.

LIZ: And you kept it up for forty years. Why?

I think it opened a part of myself I had had no access to. I grew up in a very academic family—very left brained. My mother once mentioned I wrote lovely stories, but I don’t remember them. Emotional expression was not encouraged, so I had no ready access to that side. By the time I reached that stage of adulthood there was a whole submerged person ready to spring forth. I write to discover myself, to understand myself, to understand others, the world.

LIZ: What advice would you give to would-be writers?

JUDITH: Do it. Understand that the rational brain that directs your life will always resist opening up that other side. It’s exposure. I resist going to my computer every morning and unless I made it as habitual as brushing my teeth, I’d never get there. The rational mind is very used to having its way. After 25 years of teaching writing, I assure you procrastination is the greatest enemy of any kind of writing—academic, business, or creative; probably 90% of the papers turned in were written the night before. I have a gifted writer friend who can’t sit down to the computer until the night before our critique group meets. That’s a shame.

LIZ: What are you working on now?

JUDITH: I’m revising a novel that began during the November Novel Writing Month about three years ago. It’s been interrupted by revising other work, but it’s close to ready now. It’s set on an island in the Puget Sound. That first professor told me I write from place, and he’s turned out to be right. For me, place produces characters and characters produce stories. The Inheritors is set in Chicago, where I grew up, Nowhere Else to Go is set in a Midwestern college town in the ‘60s—a fictional version of Ann Arbor where I raised my family, Home Fires is set on that area of wild meadowland and cliffs above the beach near Santa Barbara. Hawkins Lane is the first set in the northwest—in the Cascade where I’ve never lived, but am now familiar with. 

My thanks to Judith Kirscht. As promised, click here for a link to where you can purchase HAWKINS LANE.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Interview with Robbin J. Peterson, author of GOING HOME

Today I’m interviewing Robbin J. Peterson, newly published author of the book Going Home.

I first met Robbin several years ago at Boot Camp, an intensive critique session that is a part of the Storymaker Conference held in Provo, Utah each year. I was blown away by the level of talent and craft skill displayed by the people at that table. In particular, I remember Robbin's chapter as we critiqued it. How great to find that the chapter we read and discussed is now part of her new book recently published by Covenant Communications. 

I'd like for my readers to meet this talented author. Hence the interview.

LIZ: Tell us about yourself, Robbin.
ROBBIN: Thanks, for interviewing me, Liz—you have been such a big support for me over the years, giving me and other budding authors positive feedback! The first thing I usually tell people is I have six kids. Living in California that is as unique as saying I have been to the moon. My husband and I met at Utah State University, where I graduated in English Literature, and he got a Master’s studying Asparagus. We’ve lived in California ever since. I play the viola in our local symphony, as well as help mentor music students.

LIZ: What do you love most about being an author?
ROBBIN: There are so many things! Something that first amazed me about writing is how it connected me with people. I live in a very rural area and one day I remember thinking, “Wow, I could just be folding laundry and cleaning up baby puke, but instead I’m on my computer discussing medical conditions in Peru with a senior missionary I met through a blog.” That felt really cool. Much cooler than baby puke. It was like having a secret identity. Recently, many people have asked me how it feels to be published.  And I tell them it feels really great because it does feel good to accomplish goals. But the real joy in being an author for me is the relationships I make—both real and imagined! It’s so exciting to find a new imaginary friend and follow them on an adventure. Writing a book feels just as wonderful as reading one.

LIZ: What does your family think of your writing?
ROBBIN: I am really lucky because I have a husband who not only married me because of my crazy out-of-the box thinking, but supports and encourages it. As I’m doing this interview he is holding my 7 month old baby and supervising kids doing homework. He tells anyone who will listen about my book and checks my sales and stats daily. I really appreciate him! Since my book came out it’s been entertaining to see how my kids react. My 7 year old watched my book trailer and now thinks I write about killing people. My 13 year old who actually read my book seemed dazed the next day and told her dad, “It’s really weird to see what’s going on in Mom’s head.”

LIZ: What would you like people to know about your book?
ROBBIN: It is not just a romance!
Men will enjoy this book. It’s actually an emotional/spiritual journey about a young man struggling with PTSD after a mission. I think all returned missionaries suffer from this on some level. I’ve had many mothers tell me this book has helped them understand their missionary age kids better.
It’s also appealing to a younger audience than I originally thought. I was surprised my 13 year old daughter enjoyed it. Recently I’ve seen more and more teens (boys and girls) picking it up and it resonating with them. I think the timing of this book is particularly fitting, with more missionaries out, and at younger ages than before.

LIZ: Any advice for new writers?

ROBBIN: Attend writing conferences, read books about writing whatever you’re interested in writing about, and read! There is no better teacher than a good book!

LIZ: Thanks, Robbin, for the interview. I'm going to post the back cover blurb below along with a purchase link. Good luck in your writing career!

Here's the back-cover blurb: For eighteen months, Elder John Miller has served faithfully as a missionary in the jungles of Peru. Everything seems to be clicking, including his easy camaraderie with his companion, Elder Kaai, and his girl waiting for him back home. But then Kaai passes away unexpectedly, John is overwhelmed with grief, and his faith is shaken to the core. Why did God let this happen? John returns home to heal from the devastating loss. Determined to leave the past behind him, he struggles to move forward with life--to pretend Peru never happened. But Peru did happen, and the memories continue to haunt him, not to mention the confusion he feels over his relationship with his girlfriend.

It isn't until an old friend reaches out to him that John finds the lifeline he needs. Now he must decide if he can put aside his fears and love more deeply than he's ever loved before.

Click here for a purchase link. 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Writers United to Fight Cancer Cookbook

Margaret Turley and I both belong to American Night Writers Association (ANWA) a national LDS women's writers organization, and I've known about her involvement in Writers United to Fight Cancer (WUFC) for years. She's tireless in her efforts to spread awareness and raise money for cancer research.

As part of that effort, this last year, WUFC put out a cookbook. And yes, some of my recipes are in it.

I asked Margaret if I could feature her organization and the cookbook in a blog post. I'm tardy in getting it up, but if you want to get a great cookbook and support a worthy cause, you couldn't do better than this.

Now, here's my interview with Margaret Turley:

LIZ: First, tell me about Writers United to Fight Cancer. What was the genesis of the organization?

MARGARET: Writers Unite to Fight Cancer (WUFC) was started by a group of eight friends who took writing classes together from Pamela R. Goodfellow PhD over a period of two years. As we shared our manuscripts and life stories we discovered that each of us had been involved with cancer either personally, in our families or as caregivers.

When it came time to celebrate our writing accomplishments we desired to increase awareness about cancer and assist in the battle to fight this dreadful disease that affects one out of every two men and one in three women sometime in their lives. We organized a silent auction during our book launch in November of 2010 and donated the money to the American Association for Cancer Research.

We lost one of our members two months later to stage IV lung cancer. We felt compelled to continue our efforts to raise funds for Cancer Research. Our group has grown from the original eight members to over 140 authors and supporters.

LIZ: How do you get word out about WUFC?  

MARGARET: We use social media.
Twitter:           @WritersCanFight

LIZ: What kind of fundraising events do you have? Are there any dates that you should be aware of?

MARGARET: In an effort to include authors who do not live in Arizona, we evolved from holding multiple fundraising events and book-signings to holding an annual writing contest. Our last and largest fundraising event was in February 2012 at the Arizona Biltmore where over 40 authors participated along with guest speakers in addition to another silent auction. The money raised at that event was donated to the University of Arizona Cancer Research Program and the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine / Arizona State University Cancer Research Program.

LIZ: What made you decide to put out a cookbook? 

MARGARET:  Gayle Martin of Good Oak Press, a WUFC author and publisher of our first anthology: Courage to Thrive suggested we create a cookbook to raise funds for our organization. I had also noted that many authors will include recipes associated with their novels. One of our members wrote of her experience surviving Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. In her book she shared recipes that she enjoyed while undergoing chemotherapy. 

I sent out a letter to our members and supporters and received an enthusiastic response. Many of the recipes submitted are from cancer survivors or health food experts. Other recipes are family favorites. Local flavors, and international specialties are mixed within categories that include appetizers, salads, soups, dressings and gravies, meats, main dishes & casseroles, vegetables and side dishes, beverages, candies, cookies, cakes, pies & pastries, deserts and snacks, breads, breakfast foods, remedies and more. Several recipes are gluten free and a few are dairy free for those who have allergies. 

Morgan Vanessa Harbinger donated color illustrations and the cover art. Each submitter has their picture and a bio. Authors were allowed to share a book cover and blurb for each recipe we printed. Over half the 190 recipes are represented with photographs of the finished product. We are privileged that you shared some of your award winning recipes with us.

LIZ: You are very kind. As I remember you were very patient with my deadline phobia. Where can someone get a copy of Cauldron of Love

MARGARET: The WUFC cookbook: Cauldron of Love can be purchased on our website for $24.95. 100% of the profits (proceeds above the cost of printing) will be donated to cancer research. You can buy using cash or check by calling Margaret Turley at 480-586-7902 or emailing

LIZ: This hits close to me, too, because I lost my mom to Hodgkin's Lymphoma.Thanks, Margaret, for the interview and for the great things you're doing for cancer research.