Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Have Finished!

I don't know for sure how it is with other writers when they finish a project, but for me, completing Trail of Storms brought elation, tears, and a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of creativity, in that order.

Thank you, all you readers and critiquers who have put your souls into giving me advice. It is well and truly appreciated.

I already have a one-sentence summary written. I will write the one-page synopsis tomorrow, and then I WILL SEND IT OFF!

Now I've got to let the emotions drain out of my fingertips. I feel very weak, and very humbled.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Last week I got two unexpected visits from folks in the Valley.

The first was from my oldest son and his three boys. They stopped in to say "hi" as they journeyed to an annual camping event known in Mormondom as "Fathers' and Sons'".

Said campout commemorates the restoration to the earth of the priesthood that Aaron, the brother of Moses, held. This is called the "Aaronic Priesthood." Since this restoration took place in spring in the early 1800s, each church family unit (ward or branch) sponsors an overnight activity in April or May for fathers and sons. They typically pitch a tent, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, get breakfast cooked by the leaders of their unit, hike, climb hills (often as a competition), sometimes engage in shooting matches, and return home covered with sunburn and/or mosquito bites. Fatherless boys or boyless fathers often adopt one another for the occasion.

Anyway, my kin came to say hey and use the bathroom, and I introduced the younguns to the exciting task of removing spider webs ('tis the season!) from the house with a cute little tool called "The Webster." Mine is quite ancient, and since the original telescopic wand expired years ago, my late husband duct-taped the round green head to a yellow broom-handle pole.

I can't find a picture of Webster on the Internet web, and I'm too lazy to take a picture and upload it, so you'll just have to imagine 3-inch-long green nylon broomstraws poking out of a half dome, brush-like head.

All too soon, the visit was over and the boys were on their way to camping adventures.

The very next day, my __________, well, my __________, the father-in-law of my other married son (someone needs to invent a word describing our relationship!), knocked on my door in the late afternoon.

He had been camping up on the Rim, decided it was too cold to stay another night, and broke camp. That is, he attempted to break camp. His pop-up camper declined to pop back down. Very slowly, he drove down to my place and asked if he could leave the recalcitrant camper in my park overnight, as he didn't think it was safe to try getting home in the dark.

We found a spot, he backed up and unhitched, and that was that. He and the kids (my son and wife) came up the next day and fetched the tag-along home.

I imagine I'll be seeing more drop-ins in the next few months. The weather is balmy, the breeze is fresh, and campers will descend in droves. I only hope they'll contain their campfires and put them DEAD OUT before they leave! I sure don't want to leave home, like last year, due to a wildfire.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I Love Being a . . .

Of course you expect me to fill in the last word of that declaration, and it should be "Writer," yes? Of course I am a writer. And of course I love it.

But, last night I had a little blip. My inner musician surfaced and caused me to lose sleep.

I blame it on the
music in my head.

This is the week I'm supposed to finish up all the little corrections on my book and send it off to a certain publisher, right? Well, instead I've spent at least two days checking out blogs and doing research on the Internet--but not anything relevant to my book or my next novel. I've been downloading MIDI files of patriotic songs.

Why? you ask (and I do, too).

Because I bought this music program several years ago that I've put off installing on my computer. It's notation software, for writing down/printing off any musical compositions or arrangements I might have lurking in my head (and they've been coming out lately!). I had the notation software, and I have this electronic keyboard, plus a cable thingie to hook it up so I could play and see the notes appear on screen. At least that was the plan. For someday.

I opened the cable thingie last week and discovered that my new computer doesn't have the 15-pin joystick interface I needed to attach it. Bummer! I found a USB powered interface on the Internet, ordered it, received it, opened it (discovering that the manual is not there, but I think I can figure out how to install it), and it's still sitting near my computer. Waiting for someday.

Late last week I installed the notation software and let the icon sit on my desktop. I even moved it around a bit, but I didn't open it. You see, I have this novel to finish!

Well, last night I remembered that I'd left my dial-up connection open, and returned from watching "Deadliest Catch," to check my email.

That's when everything went to heck!


Not only did I open the program and discover that when I opened the MIDI files in it, I could see the notation guts of the songs--some in up to seven tracks--I scrounged around and found some long-ago-written music and entered it into the program.

Do you know how alluring hearing your music played flawlessly on a piano, or a church organ, or by a string ensemble, is?

Sheesh! I didn't get into bed until 5 a.m. this morning.

AND MY NOVEL STILL ISN'T FINISHED! Yes, I'm yelling, but it's at myself. Today I'm headed for the library with my laptop and flashdrive to get away from the music so I can finish those last little changes.

Did I ever tell you how badly I can get distracted? It's the ADD.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Author Interview: Christine Thackeray

The Music in my Head : Today I woke up to the lilting melody of "I Sing the Mighty Power of God" from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's CD Consider the Lilies. (I only had to look at two CD's to find the title!)
My guest today is Christine Thackeray, the author of the newly released novel about visiting teaching from Cedar Fort, The Crayon Messages.

Welcome, Christine! What made you start writing?
That is a tough one. The truth is that writing has always been a way for me to organize all the crazy thoughts floating around in my head and I've done it forever. When I was young, I'd give my brothers and sisters little books that I had written and illustrated for their birthdays. When my father passed away he still had one that I had totally forgotten about.

How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
It is shocking but The Crayon Messages was my first completed manuscript that I'd really polished and sent in - and it sold! I'm still pinching my arm but I did have 13 rejections and a major rewrite (it was originally a murder mystery- long story.) For a book in the LDS Market, 13 rejections is quite an accomplishment- I think I sent it to every possible publisher.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
It depends on the project. I am doing a new non-fiction book with my sister called Latter-Day Truths in Narnia. That is actually much more "simply flying" because the more research I do, the more my pre-conceived notions fly out the window. With fiction I usually see my most poignant scenes with complete clarity and then write and rewrite to get there in the most realistic way. For me there is always a point, a heart, to what I'm trying to share so when you finish, you see with my eyes. For me that is goal. With fiction it is all about emotional response and personal growth.

How do you choose your characters' names?
Where do you come up with these questions, Marsha? Names are REALLY hard. I do have seven sisters, have moved nineteen times and have always been quite social so usually I use the names of the people I am copying. My fiction is like a script and most of my characters are people I've known that I imagine are acting in a whole new set of circumstances (so I guess it isn't really them.) But if I picture them (acting as my character) I find the individuals in my story stay more true. So Sonja is a great friend of mine that has an edge about her and Cath is my incredible sister. Other names I had to change so they didn't have the same first letter or same ending. Names are tough. But I think I've talked to most of my friends that are in the book so I won't be in so much trouble. (The bad guys are never real, though--they are made up.)

What type of writing schedule do you have?
My children get on the bus at 8 a.m. and then I go walking until 9:30 with friends. From 9:30 to 2:30 I try to focus on writing. Unfortunately, I'm very naughty and too often don't put my work away when the kids are home. I'm trying to get better at that.

How do you handle life interruptions?
I fail at it. So often when something else comes up, I drop the ball and focus on what screams the loudest. Sometimes it's children, YW's or bills. I try to simplify but most often just get less done. My son is going to the MTC soon and rather than stress about it, I'm leaving for Utah the week before to go out and stay with my mother so we can do all our shopping there. Rather than spending months nitpicking over every little thing, we are just going to blitz it. By compartmentalizing, I don't let things bleed into everything else but often a lot of things just don't get done.

Do you get blocked? Any hints on how to stave it off?
So far I haven't had time to get blocked. My problem is the opposite--too much input. I can't write fast enough for all my ideas and then my language gets sloppy and redundant. Now ask me that in a couple of years and we'll see where we are. Right now I know my next five or ten projects and am dying to have the time to crank them out.

What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?
The other day a neighbor of mine knocked on the door and told me she had stayed up the night before reading my book. Then she said the strangest thing--that I had to write a book on depression. I was shocked because I don't think The Crayon Messages is about depression at all, but ironically I do have a thick folder file of research on the subject and someday in the next few years I'm going to write the book that has been brewing in my heart for years, Dealing with Depression Through Gospel Principles. I think there needs to be this watershed of ideas both from general authorities, professionals and individual experience. Don't get me started but that one is coming--someday.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
I love creating something new and beautiful. I love the actual writing of writing. Unfortunately, that is only a little portion of writing. I wish I had a personal editor that could read my mind and do all my rewrites (like James Patterson.) I also struggle with rejections and poor reviews because I want everyone to love me. Doesn't everybody?

What is your advice for other writers?
When I used to practice the piano my teacher said, "Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." I worry that some writers continue to write and write with plotlines that aren't marketable and word choice or sentence structure that isn't up to par. If you are going to write, then learn from people in the industry. Join writer's groups, use critique forums, take classes or workshops. Read good books and figure out what makes a scene really good. Improve as a writer. I think it is idealistic to think that persistence alone will cut it. Also, be willing to reach into non-fiction even if your heart is fictitious, write articles for magazines and newspapers, and be willing to co-author.

Tell us about your new book.
The Crayon Messages: A Visiting Teaching Adventure is a story about Cath, who has just moved to a new ward. Her husband is traveling and she doesn't feel like she has a friend in the world. When she gets a visiting teaching route she is excited, hoping to make some friends, but then she is told it is only a letter-writing route consisting of the most inactive people in the ward, who have requested no contact.

When she calls the woman assigned to be her companion, Gwen, the elderly woman says she's in a nursing home and hasn't had visitors in months. Cath calls all the sisters on her route and guilts them into visiting Gwen, but when she gets there she finds Gwen asleep. Gwen has KLS, a sleep disorder where she may sleep for weeks at a time. Cath decides to grab some crayons and have the women write her so that when she does wake up, she'll know the world hasn't forgotten her. What no one suspected would happen is that Gwen writes back, changing each of these women's lives forever.

My main character, Gwen Keen, was a real woman I visit taught in a nursing home. Unlike the story, when she died there were only a handful of people at her funeral and her grave was paid for by a charitable organization. It made me sad because she was such a hoot--I loved her!

What is your next project? What do we have to look forward to next?
Latter-Day Truths in Narnia is completely written and should be coming out in the next few months. Then I'm working on my next visiting teaching adventure called Lipstick Wars, about a young mom with a toddler who likes to escape, which causes her to meet a reclusive neighbor who changes her life. It's a great story. I'm also working on an historical fiction piece about King Herod, showing the other side of the story--I think he has been too demonized. His mistakes are more similar to our own than many of us would imagine.

What other work of yours has been published?
This is really my first one, if you don't count roadshows and letters to the editor. I'm brand-spanking-new.

Thank you for the interview, Christine.
Thanks, Marsha.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Music in My Head

For some reason, I've been waking up lately with a song going through my head.

You know, the sort of annoying thing that stays with you throughout the day?

Yes. That kind of thing. Well, I noticed it right away when the song was "Bringing in the Sheaves." I know this is a hymn sung by various Christian denominations, but I never really learned it, as it's not commonly used in LDS services. I thought maybe it was because I recently had seen the film, 3 Amigos, which features the song in one of the final scenes.

The next day, the same song floated through my head with the rising sun.

And the next day.

And the next.

I tried to think if it had any significance in my life. Was I going to be called on a mission? Did I need to upgrade my food storage?

The next day the song changed. Now it was "We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet." In light of the recent change in LDS Church leadership due to the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, I figured that was appropriate.

The song changed again. Yesterday. "The Star Spangled Banner."

Let's see. What is the nearest patriotic holiday? Flag Day is in June, but that's a couple of months away. Then there's the Fourth of July after that. But Francis Scott Key's poem, "Defence of Fort McHenry," was written in September, during the War of 1812.

Aha! Someone sent me an email claiming that Barack Obama doesn't like our current national anthem and would change it--if he had his druthers--to something less . . . patriotic, like, "I Want to Teach the World to Sing." Yikes!

I did find out the fact is that was a creation of a humorous columnist, so I got hoaxed. The mere thought of changing out a song dear to the heart of the majority of Americans (even though it's difficult to sing) must have sent my brain into spasms.

At any rate, I want to let you all know how much I revere this beautiful anthem. Whether it's sung in a ballpark or stadium, at a picnic, at a display of fireworks, or in a church service, the majesty of its music and profound words touches my heart and brings out deep emotion. It is my fondest hope that we, as Americans, will do our part so that ever and ever, until the Lord shall come, "the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Working My Way Through the Notes

I mentioned earlier that I have six pages of critique notes to plow through. I've now almost finished with Page One, which has six items.

I've addressed the first five--deciding not to make changes relevant to one--and am working on the sixth, which needs to be dealt with in several places in the novel. You can imagine that just finding the location the notes relate to takes time. Yes, it's slow going, but I'm picking up speed.

Some of my notes are quite cryptic, like "Inconsistent: Brother Jeff & Miss Becky". Others give me clear goals: "Heppie and Jessie look daggers at Ned for swearing in cafe--make it clear." Okay, that may not mean much to you, but it works to jog me into clarifying the wording of a sentence that is currently a bit ambiguous.

Other notes say things like, "Becky needs to coo over the baby." A small thing, yes, but a detail that will bring additional warmth to that scene.

Oh goodie! I can check off this note: "Ned's curly yellow hair? Put in somewhere earlier. Does Jessie like it? So different from James! George, sandy hair?" I found a place early in the book where I'd already mentioned Ned's hair, but it was light-colored and straight. Oops! I fixed that, and found an appropriate spot to talk about George's hair color, too. Check mark!

I believe I've addressed part of the "lament . . . the pain of broken ribs again" problem, but can surely add a word or two there. Half a check mark!

This final tinkering process is part of the work of re-writing and fleshing out the characters and their actions, and it's a fascinating part. I owe a great deal to all the critiquers who have helped me make my book stronger. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

AML President Has His Say

Eric Samuelsen, President of the Association for Mormon Letters, gave this Presidential Address, entitled "Towards a Mission, minus the statement," at the AML Annual Meeting in Provo, Utah, on March 8, 2008.

I found it quite profound and thought-provoking.

Back to Work

Last Saturday I had that all-important chat with my final critiquer. It lasted for maybe three or four hours as she scrolled through my manuscript, giving me her insights. I frantically took notes, since she's that good and I pay careful attention to her comments.

The tax stuff is over, and I've even put most of the files away, resolving to keep better tabs on my paperwork this year so next year's paper-gathering doesn't take so long. It's a yearly resolution. Somehow, I still spend a couple of days making sure I have all the records I need.

I've made the requisite separate trips to town to mail my taxes and shop and get my temple recommend renewed. When I locate the Jiffy-Lube coupon, I'll be back down the hill to have car maintenance done, but that can wait until next week.

Now I have six pages of scribbles to decipher and digest and use to tweak my manuscript. I may have to re-write a few scenes to deepen them. Amazingly, my friend didn't suggest any scene cuts. She liked the one I was having second thoughts about. Hurray!

All right. Back to work.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Well, This is a Surprise!

It's snowing!

That's right folks. Up here in the high country, it's 34 degrees and snowing. April 9th, 2008.

I glanced out the window to see how hard the "rain" I heard on my roof was coming down, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but large puffy white flakes that hit my hand when I opened the door with a splat of water. Now the flakes are larger and starting to stick on the ground.

It's after Easter, for heaven's sake!

Word Verification Now On

Sorry, folks. Due to a little six-comment high-jacking this morning, I have turned the aggravating word verification on. I hope it won't be for long, just long enough to discourage Jason and his ilk from advertising his $900-a-month-extra-income site from my blog. Of course, wouldn't you know it, he has hidden his profile, the cowardly little so-and-so, thus I can't post comments on any blog he may have put up. Not that I would ever deign to do something like that.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Author Interview: Jaime Theler

My Author Interview today is with delightful writer Jaime Theler, whose new book, Enjoying the Journey: Steps to Finding Joy Now, was just released by Cedar Fort, Inc.

Welcome, Jaime! What made you start writing and how long have you been doing it?
I actually can’t remember when I started writing. My mother is a writer and so I just grew up writing down ideas and stories. In fact, I still have a notebook full of stories from when I was seven or eight.

What other work of yours has been published?
My first book is Parenting the Ephraim’s Child: Characteristics, Capabilities, and Challenges of Children who are Intensely MORE. It was published in 2004 by Horizon Publishers.

Your published books are non-fiction. Do you have fiction projects inside you?
I am very comfortable writing non-fiction, but as a reader I am addicted to fiction. I have tons of ideas in my head. I am learning more every day on how to craft a good story, and I am actually almost finished with my first novel. It’s been fun!

Your mother was your co-author on your previous book and had input on your new one. What is it like working with a collaborator who is your mom?
My mom and I are already very close, so working on writing projects together just gives us more to talk about! It is wonderful to have someone who cares as much about the details as you do to bounce ideas off of. As collaborators we can bring different experiences to the table to give the book more depth. I have loved working with her.

How do you decide what topics to write about? Does your publisher make suggestions?
I once attended a leadership meeting where a successful BYU professor and author spoke. He was a very engaging speaker with a great sense of humor. I can't recall the topic he discussed, but I can remember a flippant comment he made at the beginning of his talk. He said if you want to really know how to do something, write a book about it. So my first two books came about because I needed to figure out something in my own life. My publisher doesn’t make suggestions, but will tell me what they think when I approach them with a possible topic.

How do you research your topics?
I always do extensive research as the first step of my writing. In fact, for this most recent book I have three huge binders full of talks and articles that I first sifted through. And that doesn’t count all that I still have saved in folders on my computer (because I was tired of using so much ink). It is really through research that I figure out what the framework of my book will be. I will look into almost anything that comes to my mind and see what direction it takes me.

What type of writing schedule do you have and how do you handle life's interruptions?
I wish I had a writing schedule. I fit it around my family’s crazy schedule to the best that I can. Luckily, I have three days a week where all three of my children are in school for a few hours. I also try to write after my kids are in bed for the night. I have cut out any time I might watch TV and use that for writing instead. My husband is great at taking over and ordering me to go work, too. The best thing for me in handling life’s interruptions is to make sure my attitude is in the right place. I write when I can, but when life gets in the way, I don’t wail and beat my chest. I just take care of what comes up, and then get back to writing as soon as I can.

What have you always dreamed of writing, but haven't yet?
I have always dreamed about writing a really good fiction novel, the kind that people will stay up to read. I also want to write stories that make children’s eyes shine. I just love the faraway look children get when gripped by a good story.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
The thing I like most about writing is looking at the finished product and realizing that I did that. And better yet, that other people want to read it too. The thing I like the least about writing are the days when you get tired of looking at your own words, when every letter on the keyboard feels like you are pushing through mud to get it there. Writing has its good days and bad days.

Tell us about your new book. I love the joyful cover!
My new book is called Enjoying the Journey: Steps to finding joy now. As Latter-day Saints we strive for joy in eternal life, but there came a time when I realized that I was not finding that promised joy on the way there. We all know people who glow with joy, and who attract others because of it. The Lord wants us to be happy—right here and right now. There are many good books on joy, but I had heard from many people that they wish that those inspiring messages would go a step further and tell them how to apply the ideas in life. So, each chapter of Enjoying the Journey guides you through important principles with specific steps to help you apply what you learn to your feelings, thoughts, and actions. It is my hope that my book helps others reach for their full potential as a child of God and find the joy the Lord intends for each of us during our journey back to His presence.

What is your next project?
My next project is children’s fantasy, which I plan to send off in the next few months. I also have a couple more non-fiction ideas bouncing around, but they’re still nebulous at this point.

What is your advice for other writers?
The most liberating thing for my writing has been to understand and embrace the fact that rough drafts are usually pretty bad. Most of us don’t have the most wonderful work of art pour from our fingers from the starting gate. It is through the rewriting that the polish and shine of your work comes through. So my advice is to keep going!

Thank you for being my guest, Jaime.
Thanks for letting me do the Interview!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Charlton Heston - Defender of the Constitution

America lost a great defender of the Constitution this weekend with the death of actor Charlton Heston.

Heston, who died on Saturday, April 5, suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for several years, just as had another American hero and fellow actor--former President Ronald Reagan. In addition to serving as president of the National Rifle Association, Heston was elected president of the Screen Actor's Guild six times.

Known as an advocate for Second Amendment rights, Heston took great pride in being an American. He and his wife, Lydia, sent the following message to US troops in Iraq in 2003:

"There is no duty more noble than that which has called you across the world in defense of freedom. Yours is a mission of hope and humanity for the oppressed. Rest assured that while pretend-patriots talk of supporting you, even as they condemn your noble cause, an unwavering vast majority of Americans share and take pride in your mission. You represent all that is good and right about America and are the true face of American patriotism. You walk in those same righteous footsteps of all those patriots who, before you, fought to preserve liberty for all. Our prayers and our personal gratitude are with you and your families. May God Bless You, Charlton and Lydia Heston."

Heston was presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, at the White House by George W. Bush in July, 2003.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

My Gratitude Journal

Several weeks ago, author Kerry Blair inspired me to start a "Gratitude Journal." Alas, I suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which has a component of short-term memory loss. This means that unless I can embed a task into my schedule so deeply that I cannot forget to do it, the task will go undone.

I do have a few thing in my schedule that almost always get done. I pray when I arise, I take my pills. At night I reverse that sequence. If I am interrupted, I may forget my pills, but that does not happen too often. I have my medications in a weekly container so I know at a glance if I need to catch up on the day's allotment.

Unfortunately, after three days of entries, my Gratitude Journal got buried under a map and a couple of credit card statements, and I stopped writing in it.

Today I listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir before LDS Conference began. Such waves of gratitude to my Heavenly Father swelled over me that I knew I needed to unearth that brightly-covered little book and jot down my feelings. I went to get it, and now I will list a few things that came to me.

1. Gratitude that a young boy sought a private place to pray about which church he should join, thus opening the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.

2. Gratitude for the orderly succession in the Presidency of the Church, and a new Prophet of God.

3. Gratitude for music--another passion of mine. Especially, I am grateful for the clear way music brings me messages from my Heavenly Father: "Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand" (Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, #85, "How Firm a Foundation"). I needed that message of love and uplift when we sang it as brothers and sisters all over the world.

4. Gratitude for the opportunity to listen to prophets of God twice a year in General Conference.

5. Gratitude for the chance to stand during a Solemn Assembly and raise my hand with my Relief Society Sisters--and later, with all the members of the Church,--to sustain a new prophet of God and presidency of the Church, and a new apostle, through the exercise of the principle of common consent that we use in the Church.

6. Gratitude that I am not the person needing the helicopter that is circling overhead.

I am going to put my Gratitude Journal in a new place, and intend to embed writing in it into my rising or bedtime schedule so that I will draw closer to God through my expressions of gratitude.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dragging My Feet

I don't know how it is with you, but when I know I'm doing a final edit on a book, I can hardly bring myself to get to it.

This week was supposed to start out strong with the final polish of my manuscript before I sent it off to the prospective publisher. Well, Monday and Tuesday flew by in a blur, and I never even opened the file!

Today I buckled down, and went through the whole thing, doing a side-by side comparison with a critiqued file from another writer, including extensive notes. I made a lot of little changes, ignored some suggestions, and arrived at the end.

The End!

That sounds so final.

It is pretty final, except that I have one more much-valued critiquer to hear from. It might be a week before I get all the notes from her, as she works a full time job. I know she's up to page 106 of 295, so maybe I'll know more by the end of this week. I hope so. I don't want to get into foot-dragging mode again, 'cause it takes a couple of days to get beyond that. I'd prefer to have the manuscript out the door so I can get on to something else.

Like taxes.

Oh gag!

Why can't we just pay a flat rate like a tithe and be done with it?

Sorry. Rant off. Subject closed. Have a great day!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Author Interview: Rachel Ann Nunes

Our Author Interview today is with Rachel Ann Nunes, one of the most best-selling and beloved authors in the LDS market. Rachel is a busy wife and mother of six children, and lives in Utah with her family. She also is the founder of LDStorymakers.

Hi Rachel. Welcome to my blog. This new book is your 27th novel. What made you start writing?
I've always loved to read, and I began to dream of writing my own book very early in life. By the time I was in seventh grade, I knew the goal of being an author was firmly fixed in my mind.

How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
I wrote several short stories in seventh grade and started my first novel when I was seventeen. Then I was busy with school, a mission, getting married and having children. I wrote some during those years, but it was only after I'd had my third child that I really became serious about my writing. Since I'd planned to have more children, waiting until they were grown wasn't an option. I wrote two days a week for that first year, and then five days a week the next, and it was during that second year I wrote Ariana: The Making of a Queen. It was accepted in 1995 and published in 1996, selling out of its first printing in little over a month.

What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
I never make detailed outlines. In fact, the only time I ever did that before beginning a story, I never actually started writing it. I guess I already knew what happened, so what was the point? Usually, I know where I want to begin and generally how I'd like it to end, and a few scenes in between. I like to be surprised with the rest and where the journey takes me. Sometimes the book doesn't end up where I thought it would.

How do you choose your characters' names?
In the beginning I used names I liked or made up. I've even used a few of my children's names over the years. Now I mostly look through the phone book to spot a name I want. The only exception is if I'm searching for names in a specific country, like say, India. Then I'll use online sources.

You have six children. What is your daily schedule like?
Busy. I'm in the car a lot. I now listen to books on CD so I don't hate the carpooling as much as I used to. I write in the morning after I get most of the children off to school. I work better when I'm fresh. I usually write in my pajamas, and I don't bother to comb my hair until later. The book must come before such mundane things! I'm thinking I should post a sign at the door: SCARY-LOOKING WRITER AT WORK! ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I still have a child home at this point, so I'm interrupted a lot. Sometimes I have to leave my computer on all day to reach my daily goal. I would normally be able to finish in a few hours if I didn't have the interruptions and errands that are associated with running a household full of children. After the children come home from school I rarely write. I'm too busy helping them with all their homework and driving them to lessons.

How do you handle life interruptions?
Interesting question. When I was younger, I could easily keep my mind on two or three things at once. I could pause in the middle of writing an exciting scene--maybe to solve a dispute or pick up a child from a piano lesson--and come back and start writing exactly where I left all with no change in the flow. I could write with children talking around me, or holding a wiggly infant on my lap. But lately I find I crave more solitude for writing, and if I'm interrupted during a scene, I'll sometimes need to read through it again before I can pick up where I left off. If the kids are making noise around me, I'll stop whatever I'm doing and get them settled--and out of my office--before I attempt to write. But I thing this is a natural progression of both my age and my position as a published author. These days I'm not so anxious about getting something written in record time. I have time to be more particular about how I get the writing done.

I know I could solve a lot of interruptions simply by shutting my office door, especially during the summer when the kids are home all day, but I very rarely do so. I want my children to know they come first. They're pretty good to come in and out as they need me. They've grown up with me writing, so it's a part of their lives. Setting your own schedule has a lot of rewards. I get to go on all the school field trips and see all their performances. Interruptions might just be what keeps authors from becoming completely eccentric.

Do you write to music? If so, with lyrics or only instrumentals?
Very, very rarely do I write with music on, and never with lyrics. Occasional I find music will help me catch a mood, but mostly music just interferes with the voices in my head. I need to hear them to get the story right.

What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
I have one food rule: Never eat chocolate at the computer. Since I love chocolate and writing, I might never leave my office again. I do often eat lunch, fruit, or vegetables at the computer. It's a good way to get in the veggies. Other foods are off limits because it'd be too easy to take in mindless calories with little or no nutritional value.

But occasionally when I'm under a stressful deadline that requires overtime writing, I will buy one of those huge bags of peanut M&M's, turn the household over to my husband, shut my office door, and break my chocolate rule. I'm a morning writer, but chocolate will keep even me writing all night, if necessary.

What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

The act of sitting down and seeing that first draft emerge from my imagination, as real to me as anything that is going in the real world, is always magic. Sometimes writing is like slogging through mud, one word at a time, but often I'll hit a time when the story is coming so fast I can barely type in the ideas fast enough. Those are times I live for.

The thing I like least about writing is the business end. It's the accounting part, the tax returns, mailing contracts, letters, and manuscripts. Leaving my family for a book signing or to speak at various places is also a challenge. While I love talking to my readers and enjoy enriching the community, appearances take a heavy toll on me. Something usually suffers when I'm away from home, and you can bet I'm making sure it's not my family. Usually, it's my sleep or my writing time that suffers. I've had to cut way back appearances these past years in order to keep up my writing pace and my health.

What is your next project?
I just finished a manuscript called Eyes of a Stranger that will be out around September 2008. Now I'm working on another novel. I don't even have a working title yet, but the opening scene has a man kidnapping his own child in order to protect her from the mother. The story was inspired by a clip I read in a newspaper some years ago. It has strong potential, and I'm excited to see how it'll turn out.

What is your advice for other writers?

Read everything you can get your hands on in the genre you wish to write. Attend writers conferences, network with other authors, and write regularly. I'm a firm believer in the saying "Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration."

Tell us about your new book.
Fields of Home, published by Shadow Mountain, is not quite like any other book I've published. It's similar to other nationally published women's fiction, though without the smut and questionable values.

After fighting her way through a bitter and hurtful past, my character Mercedes Johnson has painstakingly carved out a life of quiet contentment on a Wyoming farm with her husband, Wayne, and their three sons. All that changes when the birth father of Mercedes’ oldest child returns to Riverton. Dr. Brandon Rhodes threatens the carefully balanced life she and Wayne have created, but especially Mercedes' own perceptions of her life because she still cares for this man who should have been her husband.

In Fields of Home, everything happened because of one decision Mercedes made many years ago, a choice that can never be altered. Or can it? My purpose in writing this book was to tell a story that could belong to any woman. I've found that many of us wonder what might have happened if we had taken a different path at some point in our lives. Where might it have led?

Yes, I've often wondered the same thing. What other work of yours has been published?
As you said, I have twenty-seven book published. Some of the most popular are the Ariana series, originally published by Covenant in 1996. In April/May 2008 Deseret Book is republishing the first three Ariana novels in one book called The Ariana Trilogy. Other books include Winter Fire, No Longer Strangers, Chasing Yesterday, and The Independence Club (a
Whitney Finalist novel)--all published by Deseret Book in the past three years. Shadow Mountain also released my novel Flying Home, just last fall. Though I am primarily a novelist, I have two award-winning picture books, The Secret of the King (2005) and Daughter of a King (2001), published by Shadow Mountain and Covenant, respectively. To see all of my titles and read sample chapters, please visit my website,

Thank you for being my guest today, Rachel.
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