Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Miracle in New Hope by Kaki Warner & a Giveaway

 Read an excerpt here!
Kaki's back! This time, with an e-novella just in time for the holidays. I can't wait to snuggle up with this book and a cup of tea. Cookies too. This e-book will be released on Dec. 11, but you can pre-order it now! Imagine, a Kaki Warner story sent straight to you on Dec. 11 without you lifting a finger! Oh, the technology!
Check out this blurb:

Amidst the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains in 1871, Daniel Hobart keeps to himself—a man with a hole in his heart that matches the scar on his face. But when Daniel starts having visions of a young girl crying out for help, he begins to fear that solitude may have caused him to lose his mind. Determined to find out the truth about the mysterious girl, Daniel travels into New Hope and learns that she’s the missing daughter of widow Lacy Ellis. 
After a year of heartbreak, Lacy isn’t sure what to make of Daniel’s claims of seeing her daughter. But when he sets out to find Hannah on his own, Lacy decides to join him, allowing herself one last chance to hope. And as they retrace the long-cold trail of Hannah’s disappearance, two broken people manage to take some small comfort in each other, and in the possibility of a miracle… 
So enticing! Naturally, I had to ask our author a few more questions. Welcome, Kaki! 

What exactly is a novella, and how was the writing process different for you?

A novella is a work of fiction that’s longer and more complex than a short story, and shorter than a full novel. It usually runs 15,000 to 40,000 words and often covers a shorter time span. Since most novels range from 80,000 to 130,000 words, you have to limit description, backstory, and long narration or introspection. You’ve probably heard how in a novel every scene must move the story forward? In a novella, every word must do that. You still have to introduce the setting and characters, establish a conflict, and build toward a crisis that leads to a climax and satisfying ending, but you have to do it by using fewer adjectives and adverbs, and with less extraneous dialogue and more precise description. Gads.

MIRACLE IN NEW HOPE came in just under 40,000 words, and it was a battle to keep it that short. In my full-length novels, I take a long time to develop the characters and relationships, and I also add a host of secondary characters—including the setting, which I think of as a character, too, but one that necessitates a lot of description. I had to pick my scenes carefully, make sure each drove the story where I wanted it to go, yet showed my characters in varied situations. Since MIRACLE is a Christmas novella, I also had to keep that foremost, too. Sound daunting?  It isn’t. Just start with a single event (in my case, an avalanche) and build the story from there. Try it. It’s fun.

Are there plans for more novellas?

I hope so. I had a great time writing MIRACLE. That’s not to say it was easy—it still had to have all the elements needed to create a good story and compelling characters—but it was a nice break for me, and certainly taught me discipline. But right now I’m contracted for three more Heartbreak Creek novels, and a short story for an anthology, so I’m pretty busy. That said, I’ve long thought it would be great fun to go back for a Christmas visit with the Wilkins clan. We’ll see.

Which characters or scenes did you particularly enjoy writing in this new story?

I love these characters, especially Daniel, the hero. Here’s a man who has lost everything—his family, his looks, his purpose. He’s content to live the rest of his life as a recluse, making furniture for rich folks, and talking with his loyal companions, a hound and an escape-artist horse. Don’t worry. They don’t talk back. Not really. Yet Daniel hasn’t let bitterness or loss rob him of his sense of humor and determination to do what he thinks is right, which is what leads him on a desperate search for a child lost in the Colorado Rockies. Sounds like a downer, doesn’t it—a scarred man, a grieving mother, and child who was presumed dead a year ago? But it’s not. It’s about hope, second chances, and the courage to believe in the impossible. I guarantee a tear and a giggle.

Do many of your real-life experiences find their way into your books?

Some. I’ve never been in an avalanche or tunnel explosion, thank God, but I have been within coughing distance of a forest fire, raised horses, children, dogs, lived in snowy mountains, chased cattle, watched loved ones die, and laughed a lot. But the drama and angst you find in a romance novel? Not really. I’ve had a charmed life. So I guess it’s a good thing I have a vivid imagination, right?

If you had to write a book in a completely different genre or set in a different part of the world, what would you write?

Since the settings in my books are like secondary characters, I’m reluctant to write about places I’ve never been. The American west is where my heart and imagination reside, even though I’ve lived in cities (under duress). So I’m content to write about what’s most familiar. Yet I’ve also thought it would be fun to use the historical west as a setting, but add a touch of the paranormal to it. MIRACLE has a tiny element of that in the psychic connection between Daniel and the lost child. But I’ve left it to the reader to decide if it’s something paranormal, or miraculous, or simple faith and hope at work. And no matter what my sissy daughter says, it’s not creepy.

How will you be spending your holidays? 

Lucky me! A road trip to Texas and a long visit with the prince. Oh yeah, and his parents, too.  A hot, snow-less Christmas. What a treat. No, really. We’re looking forward to it. Beats sliding around on icy roads and having to plow our steep, quarter-mile driveway all the time (or so my husband says). But we’ll sure miss the princesses, who live up here. Oh yeah, and their parents.

Readers, we would like to know how YOU will be spending your holidays? What do you have planned? Whom will you see? Two random winners will be selected on Dec. 9 to receive Miracle in New Hope for your e-reader. Please include your e-mail.
(Don't forget: if you don't have an e-reader, you can still download the free app for reading on your phone or PC.)  Congratulations to winners, Christi and Kim! Thank you to all who commented. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful For You & a Giveaway

I am so thankful this year for friends and readers who have taken a minute out of their day to support A Story Club! I started this blog as a way to share the great books I've read, with a few writerly thoughts along the way, and I still strive to do just that. I've even had some gracious authors give of their time and resources, answering questions and offering advice. Each of those interviews has meant so much to me.

Your comments and thoughts have blessed me, your love for reading has encouraged me, and your interest in my writing has motivated me. 

Never fear, the year is not over and I have some great interviews still in store. . .stay tuned! Subscribe by e-mail so you'll never miss a post-- or go like my Writer Facebook page, where I always announce my newest post. My page focuses on writing, reading, and fabulous authors I want you to know about, plus a few silly comments thrown in now and then. I would love to chat with you there!

As a way of saying 'thank you,' I would like to give away a collection of a few of my favorite Trader Joe's products. These will be hand-selected and shipped to one commenter (U.S. only). I'm just telling you, you'll like this-- I think I have good taste. And it's a unique, great store. 

So I would like to know: What is the best book you have read this year? What makes it the best? 
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
(Random drawing held on Nov. 28- please put your e-mail in your comment!)

The winner is. . .eyeballlucy! Congrats and thank you to all who gave great recommendations!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Minecrafting a Story: A Ten-Year-Old Writer Shares Advice

In his Free Writing time at school, my son has been crafting a story which has caused quite a stir around the fifth grade classroom.

He agreed to an interview for A Story Club. Maybe we can all get a glimpse into the creative mind of a ten-year-old. Welcome, Matthew!

So I hear you've been writing a story based on one of your favorite games, Minecraft. What exactly is this game, and why is it so popular?

Minecraft is a game about placing, destroying, and mining blocks. The goal is to mine diamonds, which are found in caves. They're very rare. Once you get them, you can make tools and armor. Then you have to kill Ender men and collect Ender pearls. You also have to go into the Nether, kill Blazes, get Blaze powder, and then craft Eye of Ender. Then you release them into the air and follow them to the stronghold. You go through the portal into the end, and fight the Ender dragon. 

Then there is also a free-play mode, where you have unlimited resources and unlimited health.

How is your story based on the game?

My story is the journal of a guy who appeared in a Minecraft world and had to survive. He invited his friends in. There is an evil guy named Herobrine, and he is trying to steal their stuff. They have to kill him. 

What made you decide to write it as a journal?

It just sounded better.

I heard that when you traded stories at school, some kids did not want to give you your notebook back.

Yea, they didn't want to stop reading it, and they were begging me to write more.

Do you think that people need to know about Minecraft in order to enjoy the story?

No, some kids did not know anything about the game and they still understood the story. I think it would make a lot more sense if you did know the game.

How much have you written?

Part 1 is complete. I've started Part 2, and there is a sequel planned.

What is your advice for other young writers?

Write about what you really like, and it will turn into a good story.

We have an excerpt! Sit back and enjoy.

(From Minecraft. . .)

Day: 13
     I've been up all ni. . .*snore . . . . . . . . .Ugh, Ugh! was the sound I awoke to. It was Herobrine! He fell for my trap. I attacked him and Rueben came running. The next thing I knew Herobrine dropped the diamond sword and ran.

Day: 14
    I've been up all night partying. I still want to kill Herobrine. Rueben had a close encounter with a Creeper last night. It was about 11:00 p.m. and he was barking at me, so I figured he wanted to kill a sheep. I let him out. About 10-20 minutes later I started to get suspicious. I went outside to see what he was doing and this is what I saw: Rueben cornered by a Creeper. I attacked the Creeper and killed him. Rueben is grounded from sheep-killing now.

Day: 15
    Today was just a normal day. I did some mining and found some coal.

Day: 16
    Guess what?! I found out how to join a multiplayer server! I'm switching to a LAN world right now! Really *click* I think I will allow 1 person in for now. A message appeared on my screen-"JoeGuy61" appeared in your world! I think I'll send him my coordinates.

Well, there you have it! Very exciting stuff. I can see why the other kids were hooked. 

What do you love about young people's stories?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Story Tips from Vampires

It was a rare event. I was home alone on a Friday night, with the tv and Netflix to myself. Feeling the urge to get lost in something good, I happened across The Vampire Diaries. Hey, I thought, I'll just give it a try. I never did watch Twilight, and only read the first book. (Sorry, people!)  And just like that, I was hooked. By the way, there are articles out there contrasting TVD with Twilight, in case you're interested. They're quite different.
Now I have to admit that my book writing has been derailed by this drama. As soon as one episode ends on Netflix, the next one begins in 15 seconds. I have 15 seconds to listen to this eerie music and decide whether to close it or watch "just one more."
In order to justify this habit, I began to wonder what these vampires could teach me. What can I use in real life, other than knowing how to keep an original vampire dead? Surprisingly, I did find a few useful ideas.

To begin with: Every episode has a resolution of at least one problem, and then more mysteries open up. Every episode also moves the plot forward. Each one is building up to the next, which are all building up to some end. In book chapters, we need to build and keep the suspense running. Resolving now and then, to satisfy the reader-- but then starve them again to keep pages turning.

There are two vampire brothers, one "good" and one "evil." Except that later, the bad one turns good, and the good one turns bad (or does he?) The bad one begins to show a lot of "boy scout" moments that make you really like him. Plus, he's laugh-out-loud funny. We need characters like this- with faults, but boy scout actions. Make us laugh. Show a little vulnerability. It wins us over.

Klaus is the name of the villain who causes shivers. I absolutely hate him. So I studied him to figure out why. First of all, he's done BAD things like kill off almost all of his family. Secondly, he's selfish. He's bent on breaking this curse that will hurt a lot of people in the process, but will give him a ton of power. Third, he's already very powerful physically, and not much can defeat him. And last-- this is the part I can really use-- he's unpredictable. Which makes him very, very scary. You just can't tell what he'll do. However, I've now seen a tiny glimpse into his loneliness and disappointment when his plan doesn't work. So, he's vulnerable too. But this is just a ploy to see inside his bad deed-doing, and make him more three-dimensional. It's not working, Klaus. I still despise you.

The heroine is strong-willed, independent, and a little stubborn. But she's brave, and a good friend, even willing to die for those she loves.

The hero is brooding, moody (hey, he's a vampire), and self-sacrificing. He has values and lives by them. And he looks into his heroine's eyes and LISTENS to her. Sigh.

source: freepixels.com
All the supporting characters are really well-developed and have their own plot-lines and issues going on. There isn't really one of them I dislike-- they're all interesting.

Sometimes people and vampires die. But then again, in this show, sometimes they can come back. I guess in writing, you have to keep it real if you're not writing fantasy, but you can still draw on those emotions.

The setting is pretty cool-- Mystic Falls, a small town in Virginia. The town has a historical society, with "founding families" who are on a council. They're constantly throwing "Founder's Day" parties and all-school car washes, and "Miss Mystic Falls" pageants, and masquerade balls, and campfire nights, and a myriad of other community events where everyone participates. A little too ideal, but it gives great opportunities for Very Mysterious Things to happen. What opportunities can we create for our characters?

source: freepixels.com
Finally, I like the historical flashbacks. These vamps have lived a LONG time. We don't get the backstory except in bits and pieces here and there, as the characters reveal them. This should be obvious in writing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must watch Season 3, Episode 4 before the sunrise.

Any other fans out there? They're just about to start Season 4 on tv, so pretty soon, I'll be out of episodes to watch. That's probably good news for my novel.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Reviews in 15 Words or Less

Now and then, I enjoy reading a really good memoir or non-fiction. In this blog, I have been featuring each book in its own spotlight. Not so this time. Since I adore lists, here is a lowdown of books I've read the past few years. And this is only Part 1. As a bonus, I'm including a review of each one, 15 words or less.

The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls): Most impactful book I've read in ten years. Heartbreaking, inspiring, loved it.
source: freepixels.com

Half-Broke Horses (Jeannette Walls): Story of Walls' grandmother, told in her voice. Frontier life in Texas, worth the read.

The Firstborn Advantage (Kevin Leman): If you are a firstborn, you may feel strange how well this book pins you. 

The Birth Order Book (Kevin Leman): Same as above. Especially helpful as a parent and spouse, learning others' birth orders.

Born on a Blue Day (Daniel Tammet): Memoir of a man with Asperger's Syndrome. Eye-opening, brilliant mind. 

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World (Eric Weiner): Different views of happiness in various parts of the world. Entertaining, fun to read.

Escape (Carolyn Jessop): Jessop's life in the FLDS sect, abusive, horrific, makes you want to scream. She escapes.

Safe Passage (Ida Cook): Amazing tale of two sisters who rescued Jews from Nazis. Lots of opera love. Enjoyed!

Unsweetined (Jodie Sweetin): Stephanie from Full House tv show. On drugs. Lots and lots of them. Gets better. 
*I had to read this, as she was the only decent actor on that show, in my humble opinion.*

The Great Typo Hunt (Jeff Deck): Interesting trek around country to fix typos in public places. Funny. This would be fun.

What about you? Do you break out from reading fiction? What good memoirs or non-fiction have you found recently? How did they impact you? You can use more than 15 words, by the way.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pondering the Short Story

As I sip my "Mellow Moments" tea, I am thinking of my book characters. I have a lot of them in my novel-in-progress. I don't know right now if I'm breaking any rules, but the fact is, they just keep coming to me as I write. It's likely I have way too many, and I'll probably be told someday to shave the numbers. But I can't kill any of them off before they've had a chance to shine. We all come across numerous people as we go about our day. Really, sit and count. Surprising, isn't it?

This week, I happened upon this blurb: "Write short stories. Fail faster." Hmm, interesting. But then- nah, I'm not really into short stories. But what does that mean? I'm working on a novel, forget it. Wait- I like doing things faster. Don't like to fail. But-- Stories? Love 'em. Short? Less commitment. Maybe there's something to this, but not for me. Or is there?
credit: freepixels.com

While I pondered this for a couple of days, I realized there is a lot I still don't know about my characters. So I listed all of them, marked the ones who were minor characters, then wrote a question I had about their past life. The entire page swarmed of short stories begging to be written. One character told me something interesting about his past, which I transcribed in one evening. . . *I know non-writers think it weird when writers talk this way, but there really isn't a better way to describe it*  After this, I was intrigued. I was hooked. I found the source of the blurb and bought the book in order to learn more about the craft of writing the short story.

I began to have this thought that just maybe, by writing the characters' stories, it could improve my novel. Of course, it would give me an amazing amount of writing practice. Just possibly, I could then share them with readers- if that time becomes right. How fun would it be to get a glimpse of these guys, then come across them in a novel and realize that you know why they just did what they did-- even if the other characters don't.  

It's also possible these stories won't be seen until after the novel. I liked the premise of "Fail Faster" because it's true-- it does feel pretty good to get a piece of writing finished and shined to a polish. The failing part just means that it's out there, floundering on its own, and has a good chance of rejection. But, something learned now can mean more success later.

By the way, did I mention that I love my characters? I'm having so much fun figuring out what happened to them before they came to be in my story. I hope I get to introduce them to you very soon.

What about you? Do you have any thoughts on short stories? Do you read or write them? What do you like/not like about them?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Triple Giveaway and Q/A with Lori Lansens

The Summer blog series is coming to an end. . .it's a little sad. . .but in this Triple Giveaway, I'm sure you'll find something great to read. That has been my hope all along-- to introduce sublime authors and their masterpieces. So I'm happy to bring you Author Lori Lansens, and three wonderful stories, starting with The Girls.

This is a fictional autobiography of conjoined twins, Rose and Ruby Darlen. They are twenty-nine years old at the book's beginning, and are joined "by a spot the size of a bread plate" on the sides of their heads. Rose is compelled to write their life story, and figures they can finish it by Christmas (seven months away). Ruby is also expected to contribute chapters, and the girls have said they won't read what the other has written. The book is written with the chapters changing between Rose's and Ruby's portrayals of the events in their life. 
It was very hard to believe this book was fictional. The details and the characters are just so real, and the reader feels every joy and trial they go through- the mark of a wonderful book.

Rush Home Road was Lansens' debut novel. It is a powerful story of Addy Shadd, an elderly black woman whose world is turned upside down when five-year-old Sharla Cody, abused and neglected, shows up on her doorstep. Sharla has been abandoned by a mother who takes off for the summer, and is not as sweet and easy to care for as Addy originally thought. However, they develop a deep bond that also helps Addy work through many of her past heartbreaks. Addy was born in Rusholme, a town in southwestern Ontario, settled by fugitive slaves in the mid-1800's. Addy longs to return someday, but she has had a hard life. The author does not gloss over many of the hardships both Sharla and Addy have experienced, so readers, take this into consideration. It is well worth it to make it through the themes of hate, love, and forgiveness.

The third novel I want to share with you is The Wife's Tale. Although I liked each of these books, I'd have to choose this story as my favorite. Mary Gooch's husband, Jimmy, fails to return home on the eve of their twenty-fifth anniversary. Throughout the day, Mary processes what has happened, and remains in denial that he may have left her. She thinks back over her life, and all the ways in which being obese since the age of nine has affected her. She has settled into an inert lifestyle, unhealthy in most ways, disappointments causing her to wear "a path from the bedroom to the refrigerator." Once she accepts his disappearance, she is shaken out of her comfortable life in Leaford, Ontario, to begin a journey to California to find him. Through the journey, she ultimately transforms herself into a person no longer dragged down by weight physicallly, which also changes her fears and habits into confidence. She finds relationships, and she finds herself. I loved reading Mary's story-- it is like the ultimate makeover. 

The author, Lori Lansens, agreed to answer a few of my questions!
How did you decide to write that first book?
I had known the characters of Addy Shadd and Sharla Cody in Rush Home Road for as long as I can remember. The book is set in the landscape of my youth in southwestern Ontario. When another artistic venture went astray my husband encouraged me to write the story I had been imagining for so many years.

Where did you get the ideas for these novels, and how are they connected?
I don’t get ideas for books so much as I get characters. The characters always come first. The characters sprang from my hometown and my youth in Rush Home Road. The characters of Rose and Ruby in the girls grew out of my preoccupation with early motherhood. (I felt physically bound to my children - that was the jumping off place.) Mary Gooch in The Wife’s Tale is a character that I’d written about in different guises. I am preoccupied by the relationship of women and weight.

What kind of feedback from readers have you enjoyed most?
I get messages from my website about all of the books and each has been a favorite. I suppose it depends on the reader.

What do you hope readers will take from these stories?
I enjoys novels that move me. I also enjoy stories that provoke me to shift my perspective.

Do you have any more novels in the works?
Working on my fourth book now but I don’t like to talk about work in progress.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I have two children ages 10 and 12. My husband works long hours and is often out of town for weeks at a time. Does that answer your question? :)

What advice do you have for new writers?

Well said, Lori! Thanks to the author, I have A SIGNED COPY OF EACH BOOK to give away! Please let me know either 1) If you're a writer, do you get ideas first, or characters? How does it work for you? OR 2) If you're a reader, let me know which one of these stories you'd like to read most. Any particular reason?

Find out more about the author at her website. A random drawing will be held 8/26 (US/Canada only).

Congrats to Quilt Lady, .ambre., and Lisa P for each winning a book! You will be contacted for mailing details. Thanks for participating.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

8 Lessons Learned in 8 Months of Writing

The close of summer is a sad time for me, even when the temperatures have been over 100 degrees here in the Midwest for most of it. I still love the sun, the swimming, the freedom, the vacations, the flowers, the red, white, and blue, and the fun with my kids. I have found myself reflecting this week on what I have learned in the eight months I have ventured into the world of writing.  
1. When in serious doubt about where your book is going, resist the urge to go back to the beginning. Plunge ahead, and get to the finish line.
I still get these moments where I think, How in the world am I going to get out of this mess I've created? Is it even worth it? Maybe starting over will lead to some new ideas. But I've read and heard from others that finishing is so important. As in life, you can reflect on the past for awhile, but then you have to move on. Eventually, I'll be back to the beginning, but if I do that now, I'm going to lose momentum. I might also lose what my characters are trying to show me. I can't just leave them hanging now, can I?
2. Brothers can be great encouragement, especially when they're as funny as mine.
One day, I was lamenting over the fact that I didn't know whether to use real street names since my scene was in an actual city, in an actual point in history. Some of my historical facts were going to be accurate, but then there was that "fictional" part. I said, "What if someone actually tries to follow my directions and sees that this place doesn't exist?" He imitated for me the type of person who would do this, and then told me about the most amazing nerd, also known virally as "red shirt guy" in this one-minute video.

I will laugh and think of this every time I'm worried about that one person who's going to come to my book signing, and call me out on an inaccurate detail.

3. When you're in the zone, and your subconscious writes something seemingly out of nowhere-- chances are you've probably read it somewhere.
I informed an author friend that my character had uttered a phrase I had never used before, nor ever remember even hearing. I was amazed by how it just spewed onto the page, and even further, did not even mean what I thought it meant. ("Inconceivable!" "You keep saying that word- I do not think it means what you think it means." - Princess Bride, of course).
I was almost utterly embarassed when she said, "Well, that is funny. But if you look at my book-you-just-finished-reading on page 203, you will see that phrase used." What? How had I not remembered reading that, but my brain had somehow absorbed it? And funny enough, she used it right.

4. When you write about a brave character, it might just tend to make you braver in real life.
We often write about the kind of character we wish we could be. But sometimes, real life and fantasy overlap. To believe in something, and give it life on paper, we are not only creating a fictional character, we are creating new parts of ourselves. So if you are trying to improve some characteristic in yourself, consider writing it into a fictional character. Then imitate. But use this power for good, not evil.

5. Writing is one of the few wonderful places where, if you hit a roadblock, you can skip it and go ahead into the future to write a new scene.
Writers have different methods, but this one has worked for me. Who says you have to write straight through, just as you have to live life in a certain order? Maybe if I skip ahead to a future scene, I'll get my answers to get through this point in time. If only life were actually like this! Think about how much you learn when you look back at a problem you once thought was so huge. But then again, in life you have to fight through those obstacles to learn and grow. There is no other way.

6. History is incredible. It gives the springboard behind writing historical fiction because there are so many little tidbits you can bring to life.
When I started, I took a year (in the 1800's) and began to look at events that happened during the year. My research took me to a situation in which a young lady is mentioned. She is the only one who stands up to a bully in defense of a man, of all things; her name is never given. The writer did not even know who she was at the time. She did exist as a blip in history, and the moment I read it, I thought, that is my character. Everything took off from there. If you are wanting to write, this is all it might take to spur your imagination. Pick up a piece of history and go from there!
7. Social media is so time-sucking, but it's also a lifeline.
I have to be thankful for Facebook, because it has allowed me to connect with so many new readers, writers, and friends. I have enjoyed supporting them along their journeys, and the great thing is, they have also supported me. Writing can be lonely, but knowing there is a system out there of friends who care about what I'm doing-- it's so amazing to me. So here's a call to "like" my new writer's page on FB. I would love to interact with more of you. Let me know what you're up to, so I can support you, too! Just knowing that someone else is looking forward to my book has kept me going many times.

8. Celtic Woman on Pandora makes a great soundtrack by which to write. This, and New Age Essentials.
Sometimes I can't get rid of the distractions until I stick my earbuds into my laptop and get the music going. I have found that concentration has been one of my biggest enemies, and this is almost like classic conditioning. I hear the violins, my fingers know to write. (Well, I wish it happened exactly like that). This music has dramatic highs and lows, beauty, sadness, joy. Drums beating, sounding like a herd of horses across a plain, rainstorms, nature, flutes. Whether the sound of history in Ashokan Farewell, or Irish fiddlers, or haunting themes from Lord of the Rings and Braveheart, it's all there. I love music as much as reading and writing, and love how it helps my imagination.

 Have you learned any lessons this year? Either in reading, writing, or life?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview with Genevieve Graham & a Giveaway

Two great novels were recently born, and I wanted to make sure this didn't go unnoticed here at A Story Club. Never before had I experienced following an author around as she spread excitement for her first-ever written novel-- in fact, if you challenged me to trivia about Genevieve Graham, I would likely win since I blog-stalked her for months. I learned a lot about the process of debuting a book from this new author. She said it was a little like sending her baby out into the world, and this intrigued me. So what was this baby? Let's start with the books.
The year is 1746: Maggie Johnson has been gifted with “the Sight” ever since she was a child. Her dreams bring her visions of the future and of a presence she knows is not a figment of her imagination. She calls him Wolf, having watched him grow from a careless young boy into a fearsome warrior, and she trusts him with her life and her heart.
Andrew MacDonnell is fascinated by the woman who has visited him in his dreams for as long as he can remember, entranced by her beauty, knowing deep in his soul that she is as real as he. Although he doesn’t know who she is, Andrew believes that destiny will bring them together.
When tragedy and war strike their homelands, both Maggie and Andrew suffer indescribable losses. Separated across an ocean, the bond they share nevertheless grows as they sense each other’s pain, lend each other strength, and embark on a journey of the spirit to find and love one another at long last…

My thoughts: This book took time to write, and not a word was wasted. It beautifully pulled me into the Scottish Highlands and the Cherokee Culture until I felt I was there, looking on as the events unfolded. It was a book that had so much heart and research behind it, by an author who wanted to provide a really good story. She respected her readers enough to take the time to do it right. I would recommend not rushing through it, but taking the time instead to absorb the details.  

Sound of the Heart

Dougal MacDonnell, a fierce warrior from the Highlands of Scotland, is able to hear the thoughts of other men and dream how the future will unfold.

Devastated by the loss of his family during the Battle of Culloden in 1746, he fosters a deep hatred for the English. But when Glenna, the love of his life and a Scottish outlaw, is captured and shipped overseas, Dougal is forced to join an English army made of vanquished Scots. Now fighting on the side of his sworn enemies, he embarks on a journey that will take him across the seas to the colonies.
There he will risk everything for the chance to find his true love. 

My thoughts: Again, I was swept into another world with Graham's signature lush, historical detail. Her painstaking research adds to the depth of the story and characters. This book was a page-turner, and I felt so much everything the characters went through. The first book I absorbed, but this one I read late into the night. Everything about it was amazing.

Out of the Shadows...Coming Fall 2013! Adelaide's story finally told. We can't wait!

While reading some of Genevieve's articles posted on other blogs, I came across one that I felt summed up so perfectly why I like to read (and write) historical fiction. She let me post it here as a permanent page on my blog. Don't forget to take a few minutes to check it out!

Now, on to the interview! Welcome, Genevieve! 

You have had many reviews; why do you choose to read them? How important are they to authors? 
I think reviews are hugely important to both authors and readers. Sure, you'll always have readers who love your work and readers who … aren't quite that keen (and sometimes those can hurt depending on how they're written!), but every opinion matters. A lot of authors don't read reviews, but I think it's important to know what kind of impression my writing is making. Also, as a reader, I need to know why I should put my money into a book – especially by a new author.

At the same time, reviews don't influence how I write. They will, perhaps, change the direction I'm taking with marketing, but not my stories. Those are what they are, love 'em or leave 'em.

What words do you love to hear about your books?
I really love the word “epic”, and I love to read that my stories were so much “more” than the reader had expected. Of course it's great when they are compared to books by my favourite authors, but mostly I love when people say they are excited to have found a new voice who has captured their imagination and made them a “reader for life”. I am determined to satisfy those readers' appetites!

What is the strangest thing you have ever done while researching?
Well, I toyed with the idea of joining a Gaelic choir (though I don't speak a word of that language!). Does that count?

The Olympics are coming up-- as a Nova Scotian, who is your favorite Canadian athlete of all time?
Oh wow. Sorry. I can't do just one.

I'm a fan of figure skater, Kurt Browning, whose energy and sense of humour is only rivalled by his incredible athletic abilities. He's also a wonderful ambassador and supporter of children's charities.

In the late 70's I watched in awe as the “Crazy Canucks”, five amazing, crazy-brave downhill ski racers, changed the world of downhill skiing. One of them (Ken Read) was a member at a ski club where I grew up, as was the legendary Nancy Greene and another skiing superstar, Laurie Graham.

Can I include Northern Dancer? He was our most famous race horse. :)

Speaking of Canada, what is the best thing you have that we don't? 
The best thing? Ack! There are SO MANY best things! I suppose I could go all “free health care” and “low debt” on you, but I'm not the least bit political, so I'll stay off that track. It's hard to say this without sounding insulting, but I think the best thing about this country is the people. I've travelled a fair bit in my life, and everywhere I go it's the Canadians who seem the most humble, the least demanding, the most easy-going. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and our population both grows and changes daily with our fairly liberal immigration policies, but I kinda like the way Canadians keep to ourselves without making huge international splashes. Once in a while someone does something heroic, but even then it's kind of done quietly. Oh, and we're really good at laughing at ourselves – though we know the joke's not really on us!

How can you live so close to Prince Edward Island, and have never visited there? (This is my scolding question).
Oh, there are SO many places I need to go in the east coast! Prince Edward Island is only one of those – if you can believe it, I've lived in Nova Scotia for four years and STILL haven't gotten to Cape Breton! That's especially bad considering I have to get to Fort Louisburg – one of my heroes just about came ashore there, and I haven't even gone to see the spot! And Newfoundland – oh, I'm dying to get out there. Soooo beautiful. I guess it's because
a) I'm a hermit, forever writing and editing
b) my kids are in school so most of the year's too busy for them
c) even our summers seem packed with stuff, though I can't think of most of what we do
d) we're always saving money. Travelling's not cheap, you know!

In your editing life, have you ever edited a really exciting or important document? 
As for editing, well, every author's book is important. I have worked with a couple of special books, like “The Qualities of Wood” by Mary Vensel White (Harper Collins). I did get a somewhat ... um ... crazy email from a 75 year old man who is currently in prison serving a life sentence for murdering four fellow university professors ... Obviously I turned that job down, but it sure stands out as my #1 strangest request!

If you could go back and thank a teacher in your life, who would it be?
A lot of my teachers did the ultimate, which was to help me believe I could do it. My writing mentor, Rona Altrows, was the first to believe in my writing (after my hubby!), so I thank her for giving me the confidence to keep on going. But the rest of my life has been made infinitely better by some very special people, like my karate teacher, Shane Higashi, my first oboe teacher, Frank Morphy, and my high school band teacher, Bob Krueger.

What is one thing on your bucket list?
Spend a few weeks alone with my hubby in Scotland.

What do you do when you are not writing?
I read, I edit, I bake, I watch movies ... I hang with the family.

What is the best writing advice you have received?
Write for yourself, not anyone else.

Thank you so much for visiting A Story Club!
Since I happen to know that Genevieve burns candles while she writes, I will be giving away a prize pack of votive candles from 5b&Company Candlemakers out of Kansas City, MO. The scents of Manly Man, Woodland Fern, Rawhide, & Red Clover Tea will be perfect as you read Under the Same Sky and Sound of the Heart. . . Just leave a comment to enter, and the winner will be drawn randomly on 7/31. (US/Canada only)

Winner Update: Caroline! Congratulations!

From Genevieve … what's the #1 thing you look for in a book? Think of your favourite book—if you have one. What do you love about it the most?

You can find the author at her website, on Facebook, Goodreads, and on Twitter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

SecondStoryStitches for 18"dolls & Book Tote Giveaway

Made with a vintage hankie
Today we have a different kind of story: a story of stitches. For this post, I wanted to feature my mom, Barb Leatherman, and her Etsy shop, Second Story Stitches.The story begins when my daughter received her first American Girl doll, which is an 18" doll. We chose a doll that looks very much like Allie, down to the same colored glasses. Since she spends a lot of time with her Gram, we knew they both would need a doll. So Gram also received her first 18" doll at Christmas! Thus the vision for creating her own clothing and accessories was born.

Barb in her sewing room, doing what she loves!
In the doll world, 18" dolls have been made by other companies, so if the American Girl is not appealing, there are other options! The brunette doll shown here is Barb's doll, which is a Madame Alexander. Also, the AG and other lines often feature BOOKS that come with the dolls, so you can sit and READ with your girl and her doll!
Made with antique buttons
Blue satiny party dress
Kimono-style booties
We love the American Girl doll line, but there are alternatives for those like us who don't always have the budget for their clothes. Barb has lovingly sewn the most detailed and high-quality clothing for these dolls, and posts them at affordable prices ($5-$20). You know it's not coming from China! In addition to doll clothes, she has crocheted hats and booties for babies, crocheted hats for older girls/women, quilted bags (great for books or a Kindle), basket "cozies," and doll quilts-- for any size doll.

Quilt w/vintage nursery rhyme
Doll quilt and pillow
Cute cargo pants
Barb states that she makes these items in her "second story" sewing room, and uses recycled fabrics, giving them a "second" life. She has utilized beautiful handkerchiefs, vintage buttons and materials like lace and eyelets. Experimenting with new, soft yarns is also her specialty.
I am not just being biased when I say that these pieces are even cuter in person than in the pictures!

Sweet seersucker pj's

Doll-size chef apron and mitt
SPECIAL OFFER! Why not try ordering for a special girl in your life? For the next month, Barb is offering FREE SHIPPING to US/Canada.  If you mention that A Story Club sent you, I'll throw in a goody from me! 
Lavender dress w/hair bow
Win this!
GIVEAWAY! Go ahead and leave a comment for Barb~ let her know which item you like best from her shop. A random winner will be drawn to receive a hand-crafted, gently lined, quilted tote bag, perfect for books, a Kindle, your lunch, or as a purse! (US/Canada only). Drawing on 7/22. Update: Congrats to our winner, Sarah! 

You can keep up with Barb on her Facebook page, Second Story Stitches. Go "like" her page to see when she posts new product! Or just because you like her :0)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Short, Sweet, and So Anne Tyler-ish

I would guess that most readers have read at least one Anne Tyler book in their lives-- even if in school. My introduction to her books was in college, when I had to read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant for an English paper. From there, my Anne Tyler-athon took off. I don't know what is addicting about her books. I can't really explain it. You just know if you read it. The Accidental Tourist, of course, was made into a movie. Breathing Lessons, Saint Maybe, and Ladder of Years are a few other favorites.

It has been years since I've read any of her books, and I thought I had moved on. Then I saw she had a new book out called The Beginner's Goodbye and it was only 198 pages! I only mention this because I have a huge pile of books to be read, and a book under 200 pages, well, yes I could handle it. I was also curious to see how a book of such length would be good-- because I knew it would be.
I should have known it would be amazing.
Once again, Tyler creates the most intriguing characters, in the most interesting situations. Aaron is a middle-aged man who loses his wife unexpectedly and tragically. He works in a publishing business that produces "how-to" books, and this is his own story of coping with a loss. His deceased wife keeps reappearing to him, which complicates things. He can't seem to figure out why others don't want to react to her presence. When she speaks to him, he begins to put the pieces back together and can eventually move on with his life. He has a host of friends, a few family members and co-workers who surround him with support and try to help him the best way they can. However, Aaron responds as many would who have suffered a loss-- he doesn't want them to help, he wants to be left alone, and he is sick of all the meals piling up, which he can never eat. There are some real emotions to be felt, and yet it is not a depressing book on death, despite what it may seem at first glance.

The humor and little details Tyler packs in keep the book flowing along so well, it is hard to find a place to stop. If you have never read an Anne Tyler book, I would highly recommend this one. At 198 pages, you can't go wrong. At the most, you will be in awe at this writing and slightly envious (if you're a writer) that she could get away with such a short novel. But if you're a reader, you will appreciate it from beginning to end, and probably thank her for putting out another treasure. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Into the Free and Giveaway with Julie Cantrell- Leave a comment below to enter!

"A long black train scrapes across Mr. Sutton's fields."

This is one of those unforgettable first lines that pulls a reader into another world. These ominous words begin Julie Cantrell's debut novel Into the Free, which has rocketed to both the New York Times and the USA TODAY bestseller lists.  This lush story is set in Depression-era Mississippi, and is told from the viewpoint of ten-year-old Millie Reynolds at first, then skips ahead to sixteen-year-old Millie. Here's a quick synopsis:
Millie Reynolds knows firsthand the shame of family secrets. With an abusive father and a “nothing mama,” she craves a place of true belonging. Over time, the gypsies that travel through town each spring offer acceptance. Then tragedy strikes and Millie leaves her world of poverty to join a prominent family on the other side of town. There, with the help of unlikely sources, Millie uncovers painful truths about her family’s past as she struggles to face a God she believes has abandoned her. When unconditional love is offered, Millie learns the power of forgiveness and finally discovers where she belongs.

So with that summary, I must tell you there is much, much more to the story. This was truly a book that I read late into the night. Millie is a character who endures a lot of heartbreak in her life, as well as some happier times, and I was along for the journey with her. Every character she encounters has some impact on her life, and they were all amazingly real. I felt I knew pieces of each one. 
The author, Julie Cantrell, has quickly become a huge inspiration to me. I am so honored that she would answer my questions and take time to meet my readers. 

Welcome, Julie, to A Story Club! 

Was there one incident that sparked the idea for this book?

Yes. When my family moved to Mississippi from Colorado eight years ago, I discovered a tiny blurb about Kelly Mitchell, the “Queen of the Gypsies” whose gravesite was located in Meridian, MS. I was fascinated by this and began researching the history of the Romany Travelers across the southeastern US. The story emerged from that idea, but the Travelers are now a small thread within an entire fictional world where my main character, Millie Reynolds, shares her life with us.

How did you discover Millie's "voice?"

I honestly have to say, Millie just spoke to me. I have always had a big imagination, and working with young children enables me to tap into that pretend world. I simply gave in to the power of fiction and let Millie tell me her tale.

There were so many aspects to research for this book. Did you do this before you sat down to write, or as you wrote along?

I had done a little research before, and I thought I was going to write about the Travelers. However, that’s not the story that came to me when I started to write. So, I just let the story unfold organically, without editing or researching or worrying one bit about any of the formalities that limit creativity. I had no plans to ever show anyone the book, so I was completely free to pretend. It was a joyful experience. One I will always treasure.

After that original draft was complete, I conducted extensive research to fill in the historical details and make sure the story was authentic to the setting. That was equally fun for me, because I love to learn new things and I certainly learned a lot by writing about the early American Rodeo, the Romany Travelers, the 1920s-30s, and the role of religion in the Depression-era South.

I completely loved how you wove in the theme of "why does God seem to let bad things happen?" I think so many people also ask this question. At what point did you know this would be a major message in the novel?

The ironic thing is that I didn’t write the book with any specific moral message in mind. I just told Millie’s story as she wanted it to be told, and in the end, she left me with a beautiful, inspirational message of survival and faith. That’s when I realized this book was never mine to keep. I took a deep breath and dared to show my agent, Greg Johnson (WordServe Literary). The rest has been an incredible journey.

Whose story surprised you the most as you were writing?

Everything about this story was a surprise to me. I did not outline, and I had no idea what any of the characters were going to do until they did it. So, in the parts that make you cry, I cried. And in the parts that make you laugh, I laughed. And in the parts where you want to shake Millie and tell her to wake up and make a better decision, I definitely did that too. But I resisted my personal desires to control her character. Instead, I let Millie be Millie, and in the end, I loved her so much I wanted to share her with others. I’m glad readers seem to love her too.

What do you like to do when you are NOT writing?

My life is insanely hectic. First, and top priority for me, is my family. I am lucky to have married my best friend from childhood. We have two amazing children who are both very active. We operate a sustainable farm, which means we raise our own eggs, milk, veggies, fruit, and meat. We also board horses and welcome a ton of pets who enjoy calling this place home. We also have a very busy house, full of friends nearly 24/7 because we are loud and we love to laugh, we always have something to feed everyone, and we have a slight obsession with games, especially Just Dance on the Xbox. I am old and fat and look ridiculously pathetic trying to keep up with the younger, hipper dancers, but I do try. This makes for insanely cruel video footage that will someday be used to blackmail me, I’m afraid.

On top of that, I also am a speech-language pathologist and I teach English as a Second Language to elementary students. Plus, I am an active volunteer in our community where I am particularly devoted to our local Literacy Council.

I love writing, and I will always write, but it has not become the main focus of my life. It’s just one small part of who I am, and something I tend to do in the dark, quiet hours when no one is watching. I guess you could say, it’s my dirty little secret.

What is your advice for aspiring authors?

Go for it! I assure you, if I can do it, anyone can.

Here’s the thing. I never took a single writing class. I have no clue what I’m doing, and I’m probably breaking all the rules without even being aware I am doing so. I was told by my high school English teacher that I’d never succeed at writing, and a bestselling author refused to endorse Into the Free, warning me instead that readers would throw it across the room and that it would never sell.    (Christina here: Gasp! What! They must have been insane!)

I don’t know how Into the Free ended up with a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and a place on both the New York Times and USA TODAY Bestsellers lists, but I sure do count my blessings daily and thank God for allowing me to share Millie’s story with readers everywhere. I’ll say again, this story was never about me, and the power of this entire journey has been the reaction from readers who tell me every single day how much this book has inspired them, renewed their faith, or helped them heal old wounds.

Have I learned a lot through this process? Absolutely. Do I feel better prepared to write the sequel? Yes, I think so. Would I do it all again? Without a doubt. And I sure hope anyone out there with a story to tell will do the same.

But ultimately, my big advice is this: Write because you love to write. Write because it’s the way you process the world around you. Write because it makes you happy, and because you’d rather spend your time writing than almost anything else. Write because it’s part of who you are, and how you think, and who you are meant to be. Write because you write for YOU, not for anyone else. Not for fame, or money, or awards, or recognition. Not even for publication. Write because without it, you are less of yourself than God intended you to be. Write. Simply write. And let the words fall where they may.

Thank you, Julie! I get chills every time I read this last paragraph. I am so glad to have met you and hosted you here. Come again when the sequel is out!

Readers, leave a comment, and you'll be entered into a random drawing for a SIGNED COPY of INTO THE FREE! Also, if you go like Julie Cantrell on Facebook, she is having an incredible giveaway opportunity right now. If you don't win a book here, there are more chances on her Facebook page! You can also find out more about Julie at her website. Thanks for visiting A Story Club! (Drawing on 6/30 for US/Canada only).
Winners: Lisa P. and Kyla H. both win copies of Into the Free. Thanks for participating!