Friday, August 28, 2009

Interview with Betsy Brannon Green

I have to say, I absolutely love this woman. She is a dear friend and wonderful woman and I'm so glad she would agree to letting me interview her for my blog.

Beloved and best-selling author, BETSY BRANNON GREEN currently lives in Bessemer, Alabama, which is a suburb of Birmingham. She has been married to her husband, Butch, for thirty wonderful years, and they have eight children, one daughter-in-law, three sons-in-law and four grandchildren. She loves to read—when she can find the time—and watch sporting events—especially if they involve her children. Although born in Salt Lake City, Betsy has spent most of her life in the South. Her writing and her life have been strongly influenced by the town of Headland, Alabama and the many generous gracious people who live there. Her first book, Hearts in Hiding, was published in 2001, followed by Never Look Back (2002), Until Proven Guilty (2002), Don’t Close Your Eyes (2003), Above Suspicion (2003), Foul Play (2004), Silenced (2004), Copycat (2005), Poison (2005), Double Cross (2006), Christmas in Haggerty (2006), Backtrack (2007), Hazardous Duty (2007), Above and Beyond (2008), the Spirit of Christmas (2008), and Code of Honor (2009).

M.B.: Tell us about your current release and where you got the inspiration for it.

Betsy: My newest book is the final installation in my ‘Duty’ series, titled Code of Honor. The series began with Hazardous Duty, which introduced Savannah McLaughlin and Major Christopher Dane (known simply as ‘Dane’). In Code of Honor, Savannah has been kidnapped by Mario Ferrante. Dane surrenders himself to Ferrante in an effort to free Savannah. Ferrante doesn’t release her, but she does get away. Then she leads Dane’s men in a mission to rescue Dane. Unfortunately, Dane is less than grateful for her efforts and the two of them end up married as part of the rescue plan. Savannah expects Dane to annul the marriage – but he seems perfectly willing to remain married – in name only. There are several ups and downs and finally things are resolved – but if you want the details you’ll have to read the book!

I had several different ‘inspirations’ for this series. My father was at one time a major in the Army and I wanted to honor him – along with all the service men and women who sacrifice so much for our country. Also, I wanted to create a complicated character (Dane) and I thought having a couple falling in love – who had been in love in the past and then lost it – would be intriguing. And I wanted to try and portray the camaraderie that under the best circumstances can exist between good men.

M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Betsy: I knew I wanted to be an author when I was in the fourth grade. I never considered it a reasonable possibility and still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I’m not dreaming!

M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Betsy: I live in Alabama (nowhere near an LDS bookstore) so I didn’t even know that LDS fiction existed until I went out to Salt Lake for my grandmother’s funeral and visited the Deseret Book at ZCMI mall. I was fascinated by the idea and bought a few books, read them and then decided to give it a try. It took me 8 months to write my first book (which was actually my third published book – Until Proven Guilty – rewritten twice). I got the names and addresses of all the LDS publishers (about six at that time) and sent my manuscript to them. I was planning to wait to see how it was received before I wrote anything else – but it was summer and I had a little extra time (I work for an elementary school) so I wrote a second book – which later became Hearts in Hiding. I submitted it right after Labor Day and in October Covenant called to tell me they were interested in publishing it. Hearts in Hiding was released in May of 2001.

M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Betsy: When I began the writing process I was more daunted than discouraged. The odds just seemed impossibly against me – a Mormon woman living in Bessemer, Alabama. But I knew that if I worked hard – and if it was the Lord’s will – things would work out. Now I get discouraged from time to time. Once I finish a book I only have a short time to enjoy the euphoria of creation before I have to go back to the drawing board. And I’m always afraid that the ideas will disappear. But so far I have more ideas than time to write!

M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?

Betsy: I wish I could say that I have a regular, organized schedule. But I don’t. I try to write some every day because I find if I ever get really OUT of a story – it’s hard to find my way back in. When I’m facing a deadline I might write for 16 hours – barely stopping to eat or sleep. But usually I work writing time into the breaks I have in my regular life.

M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is
good enough to write a book about it?

Betsy: What I’ve learned is that a good book (in my opinion) requires one overall good concept and then lots of little ideas that tie it together and make it interesting. I’m not sure where the ideas come from. I have an overactive imagination and I get ideas all the time. I’m experienced enough now to recognize the ones that I could build a whole book around and ones that just need to be side plots (usually I recognize them anyway).

M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to
have their manuscripts become books in print?

Betsy: My advice is to read a lot in the genre you wish to publish in. See what’s already out there. See what works, what doesn’t. Find out what your target market is. Research your setting. Outline your idea and then fill in the blanks until you have a book. Then let your friends and relatives read it. Don’t take their criticism personally – consider it a tool to help you improve your story. Then send it out to all the publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts and pray.

M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit
down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline

Betsy: I outline. My outline changes frequently – but I consider it like the chicken-wire under a sculpture or the skeleton inside a body. You have to have some structure, some basis to begin with. Then you layer your story onto the chicken wire until it’s full and rich and the way you want it.

M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's
block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Betsy: I often come to points where I’m stopped or blocked. Sometimes I know where I want to go – just not how to get there. Other times I don’t know where the story should go from a certain point. I pray and ponder and let the situation ‘percolate’ in my mind. Then eventually an idea that will work comes to me.

M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when
you are writing?

Betsy: If I needed absolute quiet I would never have written the first word. My house is rarely a quiet place. I do like to listen to music – but it has to be exactly the right music. Words distract me so I have to have only instrumental and even then it has to be soft so I won’t listen to the music and forget to write. But usually I just write with the music of life as my background (dishwasher running, phone ringing, children talking, husband calling…)

M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

Betsy: I’m inspired by the need to write so my children can go to college and serve missions.

M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Betsy: I have many, many favorite authors. But if I had to pick one who had the most profound (and maybe the earliest) affect on me it would be Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. I loved how she was able to make us know her characters and her town and love them in spite of their weaknesses. I loved that she didn’t explain everything (there was still so much mystery about Boo Radley and his family at the end of the book) and how it ended abruptly with us wanting more.

M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

Betsy: I don’t use a critique group mostly because I don’t think there is one near me. At the beginning I was too unsure of myself to open my work up to much criticism and no I think I’m critical enough and don’t need a group.

M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?

Betsy: My books are kind of like my children and it’s really impossible to choose a favorite one. They have all provided needed funds, the occasional kitchen appliance, and cheap therapy for me (writing is so empowering – my characters all do exactly what I say!!!)

M.B.: What are you working on now?

Betsy: I just completed a new book in the Haggerty series called Murder by the Book that will come out in October. I am now working on the sequel to it (no title yet).

M.B.: Any final words you would like to share

Betsy: I would like to thank all of you who read LDS fiction and provide me (and other writers like me) with the opportunity to write clean, uplifting stories. And to any aspiring authors out there – never give up. And to the marvelous, amazing Michele Bell – thank you so much for inviting me be interviewed on your blog. It was quite an honor.

M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Betsy: My books are available at any LDS bookstore and some other bookstores (especially in the Salt Lake area). And if anyone would like to know more about me, my family and my books, please visit my website

Friday, August 21, 2009

Contest to win GG Vandagriff's novel, The Hidden Branch

The wait is nearly over! Acclaimed and beloved author, GG Vandagriff's novel of mystery, romance, and comedy, The Hidden Branch, will be released on or before September 16th. Taking place in Huntington Beach, CA, it is the fifth in the Alex and Briggie Mystery Series, but can also be read as an introduction to the series.

Anyone who buys the book on line or in the store before September 17th can qualify for an Alex and Briggie gift package and a chance to win an autographed set of the entire series by doing the following:

e-mail your name and address to GG Vandagriff

tell her where you bought the book
(See for more info)

If you haven't ready the books in this series, you are in for a wonderful treat! GG Vandagriff is one of LDS fiction's most talked about authors and her books are garnering rave reviews from fans and critics alike.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top Ten Ways to Stay Healthy

When I was on my mission back in 1980, on of our investigators, a lovely woman named Barbara, told me about a new phenomenon called "aerobics". I had told her I was trying to lost weight, so she said, "Why don't you bring your workout clothes to our next discussion and after you teach me, I can show you what it is.

So that's what we did. My companion and I taught her one of the missionary discussions, had a wonderful experience, then changed our clothes and went outside for our first "aerobics" class.

Well, long story short, Barbara did join the church and here I am twenty nine years later, doing aerobics. In fact, I've been teaching aerobics since 1982, which means I've been teaching twenty-seven years!

Lately I've felt like I was in a rut, then my daughter talked me into going to a Zumba class with her. I was nervous at first and was afraid I'd make a fool out of myself, but after the first song, I realized, I didn't care. I was having so much fun I didn't care what I looked like, and neither did anyone else in the class. Zumba is an aerobic form of exercise that incorporates moves from many dance forms; salsa, cha-cha, hip hop, Bollywood, folk dances and everything in between. I loved it and cannot get enough of it. Discovering Zumba has really helped me want to eat better and take better care of myself. I was so glad I gave it a try.

Now, I'm no specimen of health. I admit, I've gotten lazy in the past few years and don't deprive myself of goodies as much as I should. But there is one thing I have been consistent with and that's exercise. I believe very strongly that we need to take care of ourselves, especially as we age. I've talked to the ladies in the classes I teach about retiring. I just turned 50 this year and probably should. But my ladies tell me that we are all growing old together, so why should I retire? They have a point. Besides, I absolutely love teaching still. The hardest part of the workout is getting up at 5:45 a.m. in the morning.

Along the way I've learned many things that I thought I'd share with you. Bottom line is this, you are never too old to begin working out. I occasionally teach classes called, "Silver Sneakers" to the elderly population and these people are doing amazing things and having fun doing it. They are an inspiration to me.

Here's my list:

1. Be Personally Responsible For Your Health

If you don’t take good care of your health who will? Strive to be healthy. Give yourself reasons to stay healthy, whatever they are - such as an upcoming event you’re looking forward to. Take ownership of your health.

2. Think About Your Health Often

Your health is very important. Put your health in the forefront of your mind. Instead of running out for fast food, plan ahead and make healthy meals at home. You'll save money too! Give children healthy snacks. We have an obesity issue in our nation’s children and its very unhealthy. Teach by example.

3. Make Healthy Choices

In this day and age it’s easy to consume excesses without even trying. Decide for yourself if you can live with a half a portion instead of a whole one. Select water over soft drinks MOST of the time. Drink plenty of water. Sleep enough. Exercise your body and your mind. Get outdoors for some fresh air and sunshine. Enjoy life.

4. Eat more organic foods

Organic foods taste better and are better for you. Plus, getting the least amount of pesticides into your blood stream is best for your overall health and for the health of our planet.

5. Eliminate Hydrogenated Foods From Your Diet

This includes crackers, cookies, chips, and many of the quick foods we reach for when we just want a snack. Read the Labels. Hydrogenation masks the fact that your food could be rancid.

6. Read the Labels

Pay close attention to the wording on labels. Sometimes you think you're getting something that is whole grain or 100% whole wheat, but in reality you're not.

7. Work on Ensuring Healthy Relationships

Stress from Relationships is draining and wears you down. This is one of the greatest steps you can take toward positive health.

8. Develop a Positive Attitude

Attitude plays an enormous role in health and healing. A positive attitude is a key trigger for maintaining your overall health. A negative attitude drags you down and, frankly, everyone around you.

9. Educate Yourself on How to Improve Your Health

Read books, watch videos and attend classes and seminars regarding healthy living, cooking and lifestyle. Invest in your health, it's worth it.

10. Take extra Vitamins and Minerals

Today’s food is void of many of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to stay healthy. A good bio-available multi-vitamin will help you stay healthy. To tell the bio-availability of a vitamin drop it in warm water (about 97 degrees – or roughly the same as our normal body temperature) and watch what happens to the vitamin within the first 5 minutes. Does the vitamin still have a hard coating around it or is the vitamin infusing with the water? What happens after 10 minutes. The infused vitamin is the more bio-available and works faster to deliver the nutrients your body needs.

Now I know it's hard to change everything at once. So, just change one thing this week. Just one. Work on it until it becomes a habit then start on the next one. Our health is something we should never take for granted.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Interview with Susan L. Corpany

Susan grew up in Salt Lake City, and is part of the Mormon audience about which she writes. She has also experienced many of the things about which she writes. Married at 25, widowed at 26, remarried at 31, divorced at 40, remarried at 45, she has done graduate work at the School of Hard Knocks and has enough material to last her for several more books.

She is a mother/stepmother of six and now a grandmother to two beautiful little granddaughters. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband, Thom, who is a Sociology professor at the University of Hawaii. She loves to travel and see the world and she loves to stay at home and enjoy the paradise in which she lives.

She is the author of Brotherly Love, Unfinished Business, Push On and Are We There Yet, and Why Don't the Airlines Ever Lose My Emotional Baggage? She considers herself sort of a cross between Erma Bombeck and Eliza R. Snow and says she writes under her first married name "To honor my first husband and not to embarrass my current one." She is currently working on several other novels. She also is a regular contributor for Meridian Magazine, providing uplifting, humorous and insightful articles for Latter-day Saints.

M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Susan: Okay, here goes. I will try to keep this shorter than my actual books, but I make no guarantees. Like many authors, the seeds were planted young. The first time I remember anyone paying attention to my writing was when I was in Primary. I had written a poem about our Sub for Santa project. I gave it to my teacher and she gave it to the Primary president, who read it to everybody. I thought I was hot stuff. But I’m not sure I ever vocalized that I wanted to be a writer. When you tell people you want to write a book, they look at you like you have grown horns, so I was a closet writer for a long time. I wrote in high school and took writing classes in college. I still am for that matter, chipping away at the old degree.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my older brother, a senior, was the poetry editor for the school literary magazine put together by the Creative Writing class. Thinking I had an “in,” I submitted a bunch of poems. I got one Haiku published. Joe offered to retrieve my entries with the comments of the class members on the back. Many of the kids in the class fancied themselves literary critics and tried to outdo each other with their excoriating comments. There was nothing constructive about their criticism. I remember the only comment I got that was close to kind or helpful was “if she wasn’t so hung up on rhyme, she’d be almost good.” I cried for hours, stuffed all my writing into the drawer of my nightstand, and refused to show anyone else anything I wrote.

When I was a senior, I was the poetry editor and my best friend, Julie, was the editor of the magazine. As we began to pass around the entries, without the name of the author visible, some of the remarks brought my experience right back to me. With our teacher’s permission, we went to the library and looked up obscure poems by renowned poets and entered them for publication. After the unkind remarks were forthcoming, our teacher told everyone that they were critiquing Longfellow and Walt Whitman and clued them in about their place in the writing universe and gave them some serious direction about being kind. Even though I knew those authors weren’t going to read the comments, it was a small victory.

I remember getting together when I was about 23 with an old friend from college, Dave. (Dave was the name of all the guys I dated for about four years. I once wrote a memoir of my dating years, and it included a chapter called “Those Were the Daves.”) Anyway, I remember we were sitting in his basement, and he was being serious, a rare event for him. He asked me what my secret ambition was. He went first and told me he wanted to be a mission president. I told him I thought he would make an awesome mission president, that he was open to all kinds of people and would make a good leader. Then I confessed to him that I wanted to write a book. He laughed out loud and asked me if I was going to write my life story. I got mad at him and told him that not very many mission presidents had wild haircuts like his and were mistaken for investigators when they went to church. I think that was the first time I admitted to myself or anyone else that I wanted to try and write a book.

After my first book was published, I tracked him down and sent him a copy that said, “Hey Dave, are you a mission president yet?”

M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

Susan: I was the Relief Society president in my ward, and one of my counselors was a nurse. She had been treating a lady in the hospital who had manuscripts all over her bed and had told her she was a literary agent. She had also discovered the lady was LDS, and so she had told her about my novels. When my friend told me this literary agent wanted to read my manuscripts, I was ecstatic. After she read the two manuscripts, she agreed to accept me as a client. I received a contract to publish my first book, Unfinished Business, just as my marriage was ending. Having already lost my first husband in an accident, I felt God was giving me something to hang onto to prove that my life was not a cosmic joke.

The call offering me a contract came on my birthday, and the man had a French accent. I have a brother who does many different voices. He does a spot-on Elmer Fudd and Pepe Le Pew. He used to call ward members and take their Kentucky Fried Chicken orders before the actual Dutch brother who always did this Elders Quorum fund raiser. (Brother Wouden has since passed away but Richard still occasionally calls one sister in our old ward from the great beyond and tells her it is Brother Wouden with some inside info and that she’d better make sure she’s got her food storage.) Anyway, this guy sounded a lot like Richard’s Pepe Le Pew, and I was about to call him on it and tell him how unkind it was to play a joke like that on me on my birthday, especially with everything else that was going on. Then the man mentioned the name of the literary agent, something my brother would not have known, and I knew it was for real.

This was a mainstream publisher, not an LDS publisher, and although my agent was also LDS, the publisher insisted on keeping the blurb on the back the way their marketing department had written it, assuring me that they knew better than I did. The few remaining copies from this printing should be collector’s items someday—an LDS novel with back cover copy that proclaims “They promised to love each other until death do us part . . .”

We started the process, the editing, cover design, and shortly before my book was due to come out, that publisher went bankrupt. They told me I could purchase the printed copies and sell them myself. I didn’t have a lot of disposable income, but I was willing to figure something out. I called and found out that they had 10,000 copies—of the cover. I ended up with fifty copies of the actual book. (It should also be a collector’s item because of the dedication to my ex-husband and three step-children.) About this same time I also had won a free trip to Scotland and was going to take my son to the land of his father’s ancestry when we found out that the airline was going bankrupt and unless we could take the trip within three weeks, we would not be able to go. Only the small print said I had to make my reservation four weeks in advance. (I won’t add in the other things that took place that year to make it a memorable year.) I was pretty much ready to give up on writing and several other things.

M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

Susan: Let’s see, I think we’ve got a little overlap from the previous question. I guess like in high school, I got sidetracked for a while, but I never quit writing. I just quit trying to get published.

A couple of years after my divorce, another old friend, a different Dave, came to town on business. I was living in Florida at the time. A strange turn of events resulted in me being laid off from my job and then being called back again, leaving me completely free during the two week period he was in town. He was also single, so we spent a couple of weeks hanging out. Looking back, of course, I see God’s hand in all that. As we took day trips around south Florida, I brought along chapters of the books I was writing and read them to him. As we sat on Cocoa Beach waiting for the space shuttle to take off, he asked me where I had sent any of my stuff. I told him I had just been through a divorce and didn’t need any more rejection and was certainly not going to go looking for it, which is why I was not putting myself or my writing out there.

He left town with chapters from my novels and headed back to Salt Lake. He called me a few weeks later and told me I had an appointment in December with Corey Maxwell of Bookcraft. Corey was very enthusiastic about Unfinished Business and had years ago, before I met the literary agent, written me my nicest ever rejection letter for Brotherly Love, assuring me that it was a difficult choice and that they had struggled with the decision. Then he had written, “I hope that doesn’t sound like a line from Steve.” At the time, I was encouraged that someone had actually read the book and knew who the characters were.

Having enjoyed my couple of weeks with Dave, I had decided maybe it was time to start dating again. I had never believed that I would sign up for a dating service advertising myself like a used car, but I posted a profile on LDS Singles Online, figuring that the delete button was always available, from both ends. Through that website I met Thom Curtis, a recently widowed college professor and family therapist from Hawaii. Not understanding that LDS Singles would post a temporary profile on him, he had done some late-night research trying to come up to speed on online dating in order to counsel clients whose partners were engaging in online relationships while still married.

I didn’t think we would ever meet, considering the distance. I knew that his loss was recent and that he was not looking to meet women romantically, so I decided to part with one of my few remaining copies of Unfinished Business, since the book was loosely based on my experience of losing my husband in my twenties. He told me how helpful it was to him, and to at least one of his children, so I stuck my neck out and asked if he would be willing to pull out his family therapist credentials and write a letter to Bookcraft about how the book had been helpful to him. He was president of the Hawaii Association for Marriage and Family Therapists at the time. His letter exceeded my expectations. He sent me a copy of it and I showed it around to my family at my grandfather’s funeral and asked them what they thought of this widowed guy in Hawaii.

Back to the writing, I had believed that I was on the verge of being accepted when Deseret Book bought out Bookcraft. Corey Maxwell was no longer my contact, and the new fellow told me he didn’t think people wanted to read a sad story about someone who died, that they would much rather read a love story with a happy ending. After quite a bit more waiting for word on the book, Thom and I had realized we had a rapport and had met in person and started a long-distance courtship. He told me that if Deseret did not publish Unfinished Business, we would get married and start our own publishing company and publish my books.

Thus Hagoth Publishing was born about a year after we got married. We published Unfinished Business first, then Brotherly Love as a prequel, and then followed with Push On and Are We There Yet? In the last two books, Beverly gets remarried to a widower. They were almost finished before I married Thom. My books have come to life in a number of interesting ways, enough to almost make me superstitious. For example, both Bob, Beverly’s fictional new husband, and Thom, my real-life husband, have blond daughters who were on the swim team in high school. Having written about Beverly’s adventures as a step-mother, as well as my previous less-than-wonderful track record in that regard, left me worried during our courtship when entire chapters came to life with Thom and his five children. In finishing the books, little bits and pieces of my real life crept in, but most of the series was written previous to my marriage to Thom.

M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?

Susan: I have no set writing schedule. ADD runs in my family. The only thing I do on schedule is go to church and take out the garbage. I am back and forth across our island quite a bit, spending lots of time at our vacation house, either cleaning or writing. But while cleaning, I am also often mentally writing. I turned the extra bedroom in our house into a writing office and it is now very conducive to writing, as well as to playing computer Scrabble.

M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is
good enough to write a book about it?

Susan: My ideas always come from real life somehow or other. With Unfinished Business, I drew on my experience as a young widow. Since the experience was different at 26 than it must be at 86, I often found myself saying “Someone should write a book.” Eventually I realized I could and should be that someone.

One I am working on now called “Unto the Least of These” came from something a former bishop of mine in Florida did. He dressed as a vagrant and rummaged through the dumpster at the church building looking for something to eat while the ward members pulled up to go to church. I take it a little beyond that with my character, Bishop Matthew Fisher. Having just suffered a devastating loss, with no one left at home to report him missing, and was what some feel is hopelessly idealistic to start with, he impersonates a homeless man for a longer period of time to see if anyone in his ward will be charitable to the man. It has been interesting to write.

I don’t know if I judge the ideas as good enough to write about. I don’t decide whether it is good or not until after I have written the book. If I am able to conceive of characters I think I can get people to care about and a compelling story, I go ahead. I write lots of things that probably won’t ever be published, some because the subject is no longer topical. I write them anyway, because I started them, and because they may have value to someone, even if they don’t have value to a publisher monetarily. I have been lucky enough to know of some concrete ways my books have made a difference in someone’s life. I call that non-monetary royalties.

Heaven Help Us! is coming out soon. It was inspired by a cheap boss who used to give the people in the sales department lottery tickets when we had a good month. I used to think about how embarrassing it would be if I won. Then I realized that, to my knowledge, no one had written a novel about a Mormon who won the lottery and all the complications that could ensue. I knew just which minor character from Unfinished Business it would be. I love writing Karen. She is a hoot. Thom has been waiting a decade for this book, reminding me that I sent him a couple of chapters when we were dating. He says he is looking forward to reading something of mine without any of my angst in it. I’ve done the self therapy, so this one is pure fun.

Lots of lines and situations from real life end up in my books. I am always on the lookout, especially for funny or touching events that I can put in my books.

M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to
have their manuscripts become books in print?

Susan: Don’t quit your day job. Don’t give up. Understand that not all the rewards will be monetary. Maybe none of them will. When you feel discouraged, go to the library and look at all those books and remind yourself that they were all written by someone.

M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit
down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline

Susan: I put my books together like a puzzle. First you put together the outer edges so you have a framework. Then you look for the pieces that fit together easily. You group all the blue pieces together, but you may find out it is a lake and not the sky. When you get most of the way through, you can tell what is missing and you fit those last few pieces in. Sometimes my characters do things I did not expect them to. Sometimes I just feel I am following them around and writing about what they do.

M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's
block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Susan: I always have many half-finished, one-quarter finished and one-sixty-fourth finished works in progress, so when I want to write, I can find something to write about in one of them. If the story is not progressing in one area, I jump to another. I write what I can visualize at the moment. I don’t experience writer’s block, per se, but I do sometimes find plot holes I could drive a Mack truck through.

M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when
you are writing?

Susan: I need relative quiet, no immediate noise and an organized work space. I cannot work with clutter around me. I can tune out the television in the other room. I don’t usually listen to music, but I do listen to the coqui frogs outside the window.

M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

Susan: I am inspired by real life. I watch people. I eavesdrop. I seem to have a mind that holds lines or ideas until I need them, even though I cannot often remember other important things like where I put my car keys or the combination to my storage unit, or the number of my storage unit. I once used the bolt cutters to remove the lock on the storage unit next to mine, because I could not get my combination to work. Rather embarrassing, to say the least.

M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Susan: My mother, because she read to me, taught me to read and to love reading, and through reading, I inadvertently taught myself about writing.

Interestingly enough, two of the authors who have made a great impact on my writing just received Lifetime Achievement Awards from LDS Storymakers. (One of the reasons I made the trip is to see them both receive their awards.) Orson Scott Card had read some of my short stories and is the one who initially encouraged me to try and write a novel. I enlarged a couple of lines from an e-mail from him and hung them on my bulletin board in which he told me, after reading “A Month in the Life of a Relief Society President” that I was every bit as talented as I had imagined in my wildest dreams. That kept me going in spite of the rejections and setbacks.

Most recently, my friend Kerry Lynn Blair has been encouraging me and helping with the editing of my latest novel, Heaven Help Us! Kerry is able to zero in on exactly what needs to be fixed and improved and yet still convince you that you are Shakespeare reincarnated.

The one who has made the biggest difference, though, is my husband Thom. He bet the farm on me. I have paid back a couple of bales of hay so far, but he never loses faith in me, even when I lose faith in myself. He always tells people he fell in love first with my writing and then with me.

M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

Susan: I use an online group, ANWA, but I don’t have an in-person group, which I think would be helpful. I’ve been meaning to put one together on the Big Island of Hawaii. I have a name for it—BILDS. I am the idea person. I don’t always follow through. I know it is very helpful and I should probably work harder at getting some writers together.

M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?

Susan: Unfinished Business is my firstborn, and there is only one firstborn. You make all the mistakes on your firstborn, but firstborns seem to survive it. I think it is the one that has been most helpful to people, either widowed people or people who are dealing with someone who has had a loss. But I love all my other “children,” too.

M.B.: Any final words you would like to share

Susan: Find your own strengths. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Each writer has their own style and their own strong points. Don’t belittle your accomplishments. If what you write helps people, you have done a good thing, even if it is just to give the youth a great skit for camp or a roadshow to perform. Don’t let others belittle your accomplishments either. Improve your craft, learn all you can from other writers, and write the book(s) that is/are inside you, whether or not they will be published or become best sellers. They may do as much for you as they ever do for anyone else.

M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

Susan: My son is passing copies around at his singles ward. My stepson has a bunch in his garage. I have some in a storage unit in Provo, if I could only remember the combination., BYU Bookstore, You can also e-mail me at for signed copies. Many libraries in Utah also carry them, but in these trying economic times, it really helps stimulate the economy if you buy them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Announcement and contest from Valor Publishing, "Am I Not A Man: The Dred Scott Story"

Valor Publishing is pleased to announce that pre-orders for Utah State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s novel, “Am I Not A Man: The Dred Scott Story” are now available on the Valor website. By placing your order between now and Labor Day, you will receive a discount price and your copy will be signed and numbered by Mark Shurtleff.

This book is truly incredible. You not only learn the history of the story but you are entertained and edified at the same time. Mark’s writing is incredible and he has managed to weave his research in with his storytelling to create a masterpiece.

"Am I Not A Man" is the story of an illiterate slave, Dred Scott trusted in an all-white, slave-owning jury to declare him free. But after briefly experiencing the glory of freedom and manhood, a new state Supreme Court ordered the cold steel of the shackles to be closed again around his wrists and ankles. Falling to his knees, Dred cried, "Ain't I a man?" Dred answered his own question by rising and taking his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dred ultimately lost his epic battle when the Chief Justice declared that a black man was so inferior that he had "no rights a white man was bound to respect."

Dred died not knowing that his undying courage led directly to the election of President Abraham Lincoln and the emancipation proclamation.

Dred Scott's inspiring and compelling true story of adventure, courage, love, hatred, and friendship parallels the history of this nation from the long night of slavery to the narrow crack in the door that would ultimately lead to freedom and equality for all men.

You can order your sale-priced, signed and numbered limited edition copy of “Am I Not a Man” by visiting before Labor Day. There are only 5,000 copies of this special edition being printed and once they’re gone, they’re gone … and the sale price ends on Labor Day. You can request that Mark personalize your inscription, and your book will be mailed to you before the stores even get their copies. For more information, visit

Win dinner with Mark L. Shurtleff at the Market Street Grill and a free copy of "Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story"

Valor Publishing and Mark L. Shurtleff, Utah's Attorney General and the author of "Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story" are excited to launch the following contest:

The first paragraphs in the "Am I Not a Man" The Dred Scott Story" echoes the cry of the oppressed and enslaved:

"To him, the river sang. It intoned but one word, repeated with every ripple, and lap, and tide. One word that began with a gurgle far to the North, crescendoed through the heart of a nation, and climaxed in the Deep South with such force that no power on earth could hold it back. One word that bled from every pore. One word: FREEDOM!

"The "Father of Waters" sang, not with the splash of waves lapping against the levee, for the Mighty Mississippi was wide, and thick, and slow. It slid like a solid mass of glacial mud that had been moving toward the sea since before the Fall of Adam. It was ancient by the time Moses led the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. No, its melody was something more profound and ancient, and it harmonized with something deep inside Dred, and filled his very being so that he was powerless to ignore it. He turned toward the river, closed his eyes, and whispered the song of the slave."

To enter, please submit a 600-word essay on the concept of Freedom. Pay attention to your spelling and punctuation, and email your entry to the contests link at Our Selection Board will review the entries and select the winner, which will be announced here on our website on October 1, 2009 by 5:00 p.m. MST.

Prize: The winner will receive an autographed and personalized SPECIAL LIMITED FIRST EDITION of Am I Not A Man? The Dred Scott Story along with dinner for two with Mark L. Shurtleff, Utah State Attorney General, at the Market Street Grill in Salt Lake City, UT. (If the winner is located out of Utah, or otherwise not able to attend the dinner in Salt Lake City, a gift card will be awarded for a local restaurant.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Interview with Lori Nawyn - a woman of unlimited talents

What a thrill and pleasure it is to present this interview with the amazing, talented and incredibly versatile Lori Nawyn. I did a little googling and sniffing around to find out more about Lori and I was blown away by the scads (my Grandma Bauer's favorite word) of stuff this girl is involved in. I'm talking serious talent in writing and art, and majorly involved in blogs, social networks and other stuff I don't even know the name of.

Just to give you some background about Lori and to give you an idea of what makes her tick, I've posted her bio from her blog.

I’ve always dreamed of writing and illustrating books. When I was ten, a fifth-grade essay contest gave me the confidence to proceed. From there, to having my first short story published in a Ririe, Idaho high school newsletter, to simultaneously working for two local newspapers, one regional paper, and freelancing for several periodicals during the early ‘90’s, I’ve found great satisfaction in the craft of writing. My greatest blessings, however, have come from meeting the people whose stories I’ve helped to tell.

I’ve gleaned a great appreciation for people in all walks of life as I’ve learned first-hand that every soul on this earth has something of value to impart to the rest of us. In my works of both fiction and non-fiction, I’ve tried to bring the philosophies and ideals of those I've interviewed not only onto the printed page but into the hearts of my readers. I will never forget the courage of aviator Ralph Glasgow, the passion of railroad enthusiast Delone Bradford Glover, the determination of my own grandfather, inventor H.L. Wiese, or the faith of pioneer candy maker Annorah Coleman Boden. These individuals are among just a few of the wonderful people who have touched my life and made me want to strive to reach my personal best. As my writing efforts have expanded, an unanticipated bonus has been the relationship I’ve formed with my readers. I am grateful for their support and for the cards and letters I’ve received from all over the world.

As much as I love writing, and my various art and photography endeavors, my family is paramount in my life. I am married to a wonderful man who is a firefighter and together we have four children, two granddaughters, one llama, two Huskies and one loveable mutt. Snowmobiling and hiking are two of my passions. My grandmother, Esther, was the most phenomenal woman I’ve ever known. Throughout my life she loved me and believed in my potential, helping me find the e courage to be who I am. A few years ago, when I was photographing her for the book Hearts and Hands, I told her how beautiful I thought her hands were. She studied them for a moment and then remarked that they were the result of a lifetime of “hard work and innocence.” When I reach her age, I hope I can look at my own hands and know -- in whatever I’ve written, drawn, painted or photographed, or in any of the ways I’ve touched the lives of others -- that I’ve worked hard and done all I could to be the person I was supposed to be.

Here is my interview with Lori:
M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Lori: In fifth grade I had obnoxious down to a science. The class clown, I always looked for ways to get a laugh. Acting out was how I dealt with my emotions. When my teacher gave the class an essay assignment I decided to write about earning respect, second chances, and friendship. To my surprise the essay was well received by my classmates and teacher. I was amazed to find I’d stumbled on a way to cope with my feelings without being obnoxious. I knew then I wanted to write.
M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Lori: Though I knew I wanted to be an author I didn’t believe in myself. My mother told me writing was not my forte and that I shouldn’t embarrass myself by attempting it. I loved to do research and there were many aspects of local history which fascinated me: the Golden Spike and rail history, CCC camps, the music of the Big Band Era, etc. Drawing on what I learned I wrote some articles that were picked up by my hometown paper. Gaining a bit of confidence I branched out and ended up freelancing for several newspapers and magazines. I started writing short stories in the late 90’s and two of them were included in an inspirational compilation, The Magic and the Miracle of Christmas, Volume I. The book was very successful, which instilled in me the desire to continue writing.
M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Lori: Almost every step of the way! Although I enjoyed a small measure of success with my short stories and articles I realized, in recent years, that I ached to do more—I discovered I wanted to be a novelist. It’s been a tough journey, fraught with self-doubt, but I’m blessed to have wonderful people in my life who encourage me to reach for my dreams. I’ve now finished several book length works and I currently have a novel under consideration, as well as requests for a couple of manuscripts.
M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?
Lori: Most days I get up before everyone else and work for two or three hours. During the day I can usually find a few cracks in my schedule as a mom and artist so I grab my laptop and steal a few minutes more. Thursday nights my husband takes over so I can have several hours to myself.
M.B.: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is
good enough to write a book about it?
Lori: I’m never at a loss for ideas. I have numerous stories in my heart which beg to be told. I love to examine how people perceive themselves and others, where and how they glean strength and courage, how they improve their own lives, and how they learn to give to those around them.
M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to
have their manuscripts become books in print?
Lori: Years ago Carol Lynn Pearson told me to follow my passion and intuition. I’ve talked to numerous writers who have given up after only a handful of rejections—I used to think I should give up and throw in the towel, listen to my mother. But now I know that writing is like life—nothing good comes easy. If you want it don’t quit. Ever.
M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit
down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline
Lori: I have a basic outline in my head, but I usually don’t commit it to paper until I’m about halfway through a manuscript. I like to jump right in and get going. If I worry over the process too much then I’m not as productive as when I just write for the love of doing so.
M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's
block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Lori: When I hit a snag it’s because I don’t know my characters well enough. If I take time to write a chapter or two from a different POV, or do a couple of character sketches, I can better figure out how everyone needs to interact.
Other than that if I don’t take good care of myself, i.e., not enough sleep, not eating right, I tend to lose focus. I can sit and write for hours but I have to discipline myself to get up and take a break so that my work doesn’t drift away from where I want it to go. To refresh I lift weights, walk on the treadmill, do yoga (or dance) with my daughter, or go for a drive and take photos.
M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when
you are writing?
Lori: It depends on the story. If I have an intense scene (emotion, action, etc.), or if I’m working on a final, I do need absolute quiet. If it’s a draft I can manage with the usual (blessed) chaos that seems to be ingrained in my life.
M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Lori: Complete character sketches help me get to the heart of things. I want to know why my characters have certain items in their purse (or wallet) and what their goals are in both the worldly and eternal scheme of things. Snippets of family stories that have touched me, photographs (old and new), music, and travel to various destinations (like old buildings and places where I feel a great sense of connection to others) play a part in my writing/inspiration.
M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Lori: I’m just realizing that the people who have been opposed to me becoming a writer have made the greatest difference in my life. As hard as they have fought to tell me I can’t I’ve worked harder to prove that I can.
M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?
Lori: I have an online group, an online critique partner, and several people who read for me. I love it when those who critique my work don’t mince words and call it like it is, yet there are times when I know I need to follow my own feelings.
M.B.: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?
Lori: I’d have to say The Magic and the Miracle of Christmas, Volume II. My story, Through Danny’s Window, is about the father in a military family who questions his convictions after the death of his son. When I receive feedback from people who say my words have touched their hearts and lives I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do.
My peach cookbook is a favorite for a different reason. A lady I’d never met contacted me after finding it on the Internet. She turned out to be my husband’s cousin and revealed that two of his grandfather’s brothers—presumed dead—actually lived and had families. I love doing genealogy and enjoyed piecing together previously unknown generations.
M.B.: Any final words you would like to share
Lori: This year I attended my first LDStorymaker’s Conference. I’ve never met such an incredible group of people. I highly recommend it.
M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Lori: All my books can be ordered through Barry Reeder at Brigham Distributing:
110 South 800 West
Brigham, Utah 84302
Phone: 435-723-6611
Fax: 435-723-6644

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surviving Trek and other fun stuff

I learned a lot about myself last week. I went on a pioneer trek with the youth in our stake. We rode up Parleys Canyon in some school buses then were dropped off somewhere in the boonies where we found handcarts waiting for us.

Let me preface this by saying, I am not an outdoorsy girl. Plain and simple. The minute, and I'm not exaggerating, the very minute I got called to be a counselor in our Stake Young Women presidency I thought, "Crap, now I have to go on trek." (Pardon my French - although that isn't French at all, is it?)

Anyway, for nearly a year our stake leaders and trek committee have been planning trek. I was resolved to go, but in my heart I was dreading it. I don't mind physical exercise and labor, I really don't. Actually I like hard work and exertion, but being outside in the heat, with the bugs and the snakes, wearing a long skirt and a bonnet, did not excite me.

But I went. You also need to know, I look like an idiot in a bonnet. I really do. I would have been a very homely pioneer. But after about fifteen minutes in the heat, you suddenly realize, none of that matters. All you care about it staying cool, surviving, and getting that handcart up the next hill. Oh, and not falling into a gopher hole, of which there are thousands in the Wyoming boondocks.

The first day we trekked about eleven miles. I never saw one tree the entire time. There was no shade . . . at all! When we stopped to take a break and get a drink, most of us stood, while some sat on the ground. That night, we made camp. Almost everyone slept outside under the stars. The other counselor who went with me brought a tent, thank goodness. We were inside and while that helped keep out the cold, it didn't keep out the horrendous snoring going on around us. I have to say though, that the stars were incredible and the sunrise was too.

The next day we walked about five miles, then once we made camp, the kids (200 or so) played games and had a square dance. This day was perfect. Just enough walking, just enough playing, and really incredible food.

That night the temperatures dropped to freezing and the kids woke up with frost on their sleeping bags. That's one brisk trip to the porta-potty, I'm telling you. We broke camp and then walked the final four and a half miles back to the road where our buses met us. By day three we were all exhausted. Without much sleep and with over twenty miles behind us, we were happy to see those four yellow buses waiting for us. But even though the kids faces were dirt and sweat stained, they were also beaming with joy. The entire time I never heard one youth complain. Not once. I saw kids jump to the aid of another when someone needed help. There was teamwork and laughing, singing and a lot of blisters on hands and feet. But those awesome kids did it. And I was so glad to be part of it.

I gained a strong appreciate for those amazing pioneers who did more than I did with much less than I had. Their sacrifice and hard work, their determination and faith, has touched my heart, and I will be forever grateful that I got to experience a small sampling of what they went through.

Take it from me, if you ever have a chance to go on trek, I definitely would recommend it. It will change your life!