Friday, March 30, 2012

Sweet Glory and Giveaway with Lisa Potocar

Sweet Glory is a great book I just recently finished, and I am thrilled to have the author, Lisa Potocar, as a guest today! This is Lisa's first published book, and I think it would make a great gift for any female in your life~ especially with its gorgeous purple cover. How about in an Easter basket? What a great way to educate and inspire at the same time.
Jana Brady is a teenage girl who disguises herself as a boy, "Johnnie," to join the Union army during the Civil War. The story revolves around Jana, and the others in her unit who experience the thrills and the horrors of the war. Along the way, there is a special guy who suspects Jana's true identity and works hard to find out the truth. . . .  You can find Sweet Glory on Amazon by clicking here.

My Amazon Review: 
In reading this book, the Civil War came alive for me. The reality of what it was like for young soldiers to go into battle was so descriptive, I think the author was somehow there. The characters were so likable, and there was a sweet love story interwoven. There was also enough suspense built up that I followed it to the end-- I knew that our main character was going to make it out of her predicament, but I just didn't know how. Then the HOW was surprising and unpredictable, but still completely on track with what I knew of her!
While this was more of a story behind the Civil War, the author stayed true to historical accuracy, and she even points out in the back of the book what is fact. This was a great addition to put in, especially for younger readers. It's obvious when a story is a labor of love. The author's passion showed through every page, and I am hoping that she will write more books like this one! It is worth the read, especially for any patriotic American!

Lisa, welcome to A Story Club!
Will you tell us how you found the idea for your book?
First, thank you, Christina, for having me as a guest on your “A Story Club.” Great title for a blog! Second, I greatly appreciate your lovely introduction of me, your kind words about Sweet Glory, and your enthusiasm for my “Fact and Fiction” section—that was a fun document to write.
Anyhoo—it’s a long story, but I’ll do my best to abbreviate how I happened upon the idea behind my story. I’ve always loved to read/I didn’t always love history—at least not until I was well into my thirties. After great reluctance, I was coaxed into touring some of the colonial homes in Newport, Rhode Island. In one such residence, the guide (dressed in period garb) exorcised some ghosts with his melodic voice; they came out to play with me, and, magically, brought my senses alive to the past—I found an appreciation for it in everything around me--the furniture, d├ęcor, and household implements. I returned home from my sojourn, eager to feast upon historical fiction, amongst my favorites: John Jakes’s Kent Family Chronicles and North & South trilogy. (Though, more recently, I’ve become a HUGE fan of award-winning Kaki Warner’s historical romances, including her Blood Rose Trilogy and Runaway Bride Series). Er…uh…yes…back to the “how” in your question. The more I read, the more my curiosity especially around the Civil War times grew. When I began digging into non-fiction, I stumbled upon this little known fact: at least 300 women disguised themselves as soldiers to fight for their country too. One woman—a soldier, nurse, and spy—kept calling to me from the graveyard of records as though she wanted me to tell her story. Aha! My main protagonist, tomboy Jana Brady, who trims her auburn tresses and rides off as Union Cavalryman Johnnie to fight in the American Civil War, was born.
How did you decide the best way to balance your historical facts with the fictional story?
Wow! This is an incredible question; one that I’ve never been asked or thought about before. But it does resurrect that overwhelming feeling of me swimming (maybe even a few times nearly drowning) in volumes of historical facts—all of which could thrill readers if sketched in artfully, only a fraction of which I knew I could possibly use—or else write an encyclopedia of Civil War times—NOT! Because I couldn’t decide which to toss and which to keep, I turned to my characters for help. And they didn’t disappoint! All through the writing of my story, they’d tickle my brain to remind me of something exciting in my research that would work well for them in given scenes or situations. Come to think of it, it was quite the bizarre but reciprocal relationship: The “real” me thought out and wrote their fiction while they, the imaginary, pointed me to the facts. No...I’m not cuckoo. Just ask my characters. LOL!
Are you currently working on another project, and can you tell us anything about it?
am! And ever so gleeful to have marketing and promotion and social media reined in enough to allow me to be back playing the mad scientist in my cellar lab to create my brain children. I’m actually experimenting with two separate projects: The first is salvaging large chunks of a full-length historical novel (also set during the Civil War, only in the South) that I wrote some time ago—my stepping stone to Sweet Glory—to weave into a new idea that I’m really gung ho to sit down and mold. The second is a sequel to Sweet Glory. I never even would’ve entertained the notion if it hadn’t been for readers demanding one. It took some time for me to imagine such a story, especially one geared more to young adults but with adult appeal. I don’t quite have the ending worked out for it yet, but I’m hoping that with a little more digging in the archives, another little exciting morsel will reveal itself as it did for Sweet Glory.

What have you enjoyed most about publishing your first book?
I’ve been having a grand old time, getting back out into the public, meeting new people, and presenting my novel’s subject, which has been near and dear to my heart for many years now. I’m so appreciative of the warm receptions I’ve received and of the great interest in my story everywhere I’ve gone. 

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Four things:

1. Read! Read! Read! -- Especially books in your chosen genre and for your targeted audience.

2. Hop on opportunities to hone your craft via writing classes, workshops, and/or writers' group meetings.

3. Make sure your writing is the very best it can be before you send it out to agents and publishers-- seek feedback from these experts via writing contests, activities for this at conferences, your targeted audience, and/or book clubs and join a critique group-- though for the latter,  it can be difficult to find one in your area that's compatible with you and your writing.

4. NEVER EVER give up on your work or believing in yourself!

Thank you so much, Lisa! I'm so happy for you and honored that you gave of your time to do this. I'm excited to hear there's going to be a sequel!
Readers, it is your turn! Lisa is generously giving away two signed copies of her book, Sweet Glory.

Winner Update: Debbie and Marne Ann! Please send your mailing addresses to me at Congratulations!

What about you? Has history ever surprised you? Do you have a question or comment for Lisa?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day Trip for the Soul Part Two

From the quaintness of Blue Eye, Missouri, we continued north. The scenery remained beautiful, and we said good-bye to hilly roads as we joined the Interstate. It wasn't too long before we saw the signs for Joplin. It was a necessity for us to drive through, since we had not visited the town since the EF-5 tornado struck on May 22, 2011. We personally know many, many people who have volunteered time and effort to help the people of Joplin. Our community has really wrapped its arms around Joplin, as have many others across the nation. It was still a sight to see, although
there is so much rebuilding going on. There were some buildings that looked as though they had not been touched since the day they were destroyed. Had people lost hope and just left? The thing that is striking, though, is the trees. They look as though they have been sheared off at the tops. It's simply indescribable. Over 160 people were killed as a result of that tornado. I thought again of one of many heroes~ Jeff Taylor, a 31-year-old police officer from another city, who was working tornado disaster recovery on May 23. He was killed by a lightning strike while working to help others suffering from the deadly storm. He left behind a family, and a community who mourned him but honored his sacrifice. Driving through the city, we felt a solemn reminder of all we have to be thankful for, and that life is everything. Materials can be replaced.

A peaceful pond along the nature trail
The stream looked so perfect to explore
Heading back to the Interstate, we saw a sign for the National Monument for George Washington Carver. We Midwesterners recall that George was a famous Missourian who gave us the all important, delicious, nutritious idea for peanut butter. So we thought it fitting to go ahead and check out this monument. Would you have envisioned this as a large stone sculpture inscribed with nice words? I did. However, I was wrong. 

We had to drive several miles back into the gorgeous country to find ourselves at a building with the most wonderful museum inside. From the entryway, we followed the path outside that led us past an old graveyard (surrounded by stone walls to keep out livestock). Then we meandered on the nature trail, learning some things about George along the way. For instance, he used to wake at 4 a.m. to walk the woods, in meditation and prayer. The 1881 Moses Carver home was next on the path. Moses and Annie Carver raised George, and although George did not live in this exact home, he visited there during his school years. Finally, we came to the spot where George was actually born. It was a crude little wood foundation of a shack just to show the replica of George's birthplace. Since I have recently been absorbing lots of history, I was particularly touched by this story. George's mother, Mary, was an enslaved person, owned by Moses and Annie Carver. After the Civil War, there was a lot of unrest and violence around the state lines of Missouri. One night, raiders kidnapped Mary and the infant, George. Moses Carver hired a man, John Bentley, to locate them, but he was only able to find and return George. Whatever happened to his mother? George was also ill for much of his childhood. However, from this sad beginning, George was raised by the Carvers as one of their own children, and given great opportunities for education. He overcome race obstacles, and became the scientist who gave us the 101 uses for the peanut, among other inventions. 

We all ate a peanut butter cup as tribute to George as we left the monument. It was a different kind of reminder that even someone from the most humble and difficult beginnings can make an impact on the world. George gave all the credit to his Lord, with whom he spent much time each day. And it was an amazing God who gave us this sunset on our way home. What a day!

One of my favorite quotes came from Carver himself:

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Day Trip for the Soul

I'm going to stray off the beaten path for a day, and reflect on some of the amazing sights I saw in one day during my vacation.

We stayed in the state of Missouri*, visiting a popular tourist destination, doing only a couple of touristy things. Our last day was designated "Nature Day"--by me-- so that we could just enjoy the weather and the sights. We drove wherever our Subaru wanted to take us. So first, we headed west out of Branson to stop at one of our favorite places, Roaring River State Park in Eagle Rock.

Trout fishing season had recently begun, and the river shores were lined with fly fishermen, from young children to the experienced anglers, with camo and tall black rubber boots. We glanced in the rainbow trout pools at the hatchery, then hiked Deer Leap trail, which ends in an overlook over the entire hatchery. A family was flying kites off the overlook, and the ice-cold pool beneath was the most beautiful blue-green. Spring was peeking through at every turn, from the purple redbuds to the yellow forsythias, to the white flowering dogwoods, the violets and daffodils.

Back on the ground, we ate a picnic lunch, watched butterflies, and then sat on the rocks by the river. I have a heart-shaped rock collection at home, so I looked for some to add to that. The kids skipped rocks, and I dipped my toes into the frigid clear water. The sky was blue with puffy clouds, the sun warm, and the breeze refreshing. I could have stayed there all day.

The tree that begged to be climbed.
From there, we traversed north. The road was hilly, and winding, through dense trees, then opening to gorgeous green valleys. Cream-colored and fuzzy brown cows grazed contentedly, some sitting in little ponds. It was breathtaking. Then we passed through some tiny towns that just made my jaw drop.

Nestled in the woods, I saw trailer after trailer, surrounded by uncountable junked cars and piles of trash and tires. Bright-colored kids' plastic playthings next to laundry lines, next to untamed brush. It was obviously the place for people who want to live, undisturbed by society. For many, there is probably no other choice, given the rampant poverty. It brought to mind a movie my husband and I watched last year, Winter's Bone. This was actually a book first, written by Daniel Woodrell, and I have to admit I have not yet read it. The movie is about a teenage girl (played by Jennifer Lawrence, who stars in The Hunger Games) who goes in search of her drug-dealing absent father, in order to save her family's farm. It was actually filmed in Taney County, Missouri, where popular Branson is actually located. The homes used are real; some of the actors were actual people just living in these parts. The film is very hard to watch at times because 1) they are extremely poor 2) Ree has to take care of her brother and sister because her mother is so checked out mentally 3) she has to fight against her entire crazy, meth-using extended family to find out anything about her father  and 4) there is violence used against this 17-year-old girl that is not pretty to witness. The thing is, you get the sense that this is all reality. Of course, the story itself is fiction, but I got the eerie sense I was looking in on a world where the action was currently taking place. It is that real. And not hard to believe, since Missouri has the highest seizure of meth labs in the country.

The spring starts in the rock at the top of this cliff.

I felt like if I had stepped out of my car and walked up to any of those secluded homes with the "no trespassing" signs and animals roaming around, I would have seen some of the characters from this story.

More to come in my next post! Our journey was not yet over.

*For those not familiar with Missouri, we are right in the middle of the U.S. The part of Missouri we visited was down in the southwest, close to the border of the state of Arkansas.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Curious or Just Strange?

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon is a great read. I found it by recommendation, and am glad I picked it up. It was quick, and something unique in fiction.

The setting is England, which is why the word "curious" is in the title. Everyone knows that here in America, we would probably say "strange" or "bizarre" but the British like to say "curious" because it sounds better, I guess. (The title is a quote spoken by Sherlock Holmes in an 1892 book, so that explains it). There is also a bit of language in this book, so be forewarned. 

Our narrator is a 15-year-old boy with some form of autism. Christopher John Francis Boone tells the story of his crime investigation as part of a school assignment. After finding his neighbor's poodle dead in the front yard, he sets out to solve the case. His father repeatedly warns him not to interfere, but he stubbornly goes out to investigate the murder and interrogate neighbors. He wants to prove his own innocence in the whole matter. Along the way, he uncovers some other shocking details about his own life. Specifically, he untangles a web surrounding his mother's previous disappearance from his life. 

I love being able to get a glimpse into the mind of someone who thinks very differently from most of the world. I really wanted this boy to find out what had happened, and most of all, to find his mother and make his own way. All odds were against him, which adds to the suspense. 

To find out more, click here for the Wikipedia link. (The author does not claim to be an expert on autism or Asperger's Syndrome, and education is not the purpose of the book).

Have you read this book? Leave a comment about your thoughts-- does this sound like something you would add to your reading pile?
P.S. In case you're still trying to figure out the comment thing, just go to the pull-down box and comment as "Name/URL." You can leave your name and skip the URL box. Then continue and publish!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to say "Maeve" & a Giveaway!

Everything I know about Ireland, I learned from one lady. Maeve Binchy. I don't even remember when I started reading her books. They have always been there, and they just keep coming. Mrs. Binchy is a classy lady who does not do Facebook or blogs. She requires letters to be sent to her-- in Ireland. I fully intend to do that, but for now I wanted to talk about her latest book: Minding Frankie.
Once again, we have a child who needs a parent. Hmm, I guess I like this theme. The child is "minded" or "raised" by a flock of people who all want to help out. If you have read her other books, you will recognize how familiar characters will pop up. She is a master at creating unique characters, in the distinct setting of Ireland (sometimes they do appear in the U.S.)
The following description is from her author website.
Baby Frankie is born into an unusual family. Her mother is desperate to find someone to take care of her child and she doesn't have much time. Noel doesn't seem to be the most promising of fathers but despite everything, he could well be Frankie's best hope. As for Lisa, she is prepared to give up everything for the man she loves; surely he's going to love her back? And Moira is having none of it. She knows what's right, and has the power to change the course of Frankie's life... but Moira is hiding secrets of her own. Minding Frankie is a story about unconventional families, relationships which aren’t quite what they seem, and the child at the heart of everyone's lives.

I have a few of her books!
I liked the storyline of this book, the way that neighbors all pull together for a cause, and even the "nosy" social worker. I have been in her shoes. If you are already a fan, I think this is her best book of the past few I've read. If you have never read her books, there is a 99-cent short story download you can sample AND a very short story on her website. I will also say that I almost NEVER read short stories, but Maeve's (and L.M. Montgomery's) are THE only ones I spend any time reading. I did use all of that capitalization for EXTREME emphasis!

GIVEAWAY time! I'm going to give away a new copy of Minding Frankie to a random commenter. Let me know if you enjoy Maeve Binchy, and if you have a favorite of hers. OR let me know something about Ireland, in keeping with St. Pat's coming up. Have you been there? Are you Irish? Have you found a pot of gold? 

(By the way, it's just MAYV).

And the randomly selected winner is. . . . Alissa! Congratulations!