Interview with author, Stacy Anderson

Feeling like life is tough? Tired of trying? Well, here’s a book you may want to pick up at your local bookstore or online at Life is Tough – I Doubt I’ll Make It Out Alive. And the author is one of the nicest, most humble people you could ever meet. Life is Tough – I Doubt I’ll Make It Out Alive has been called “A great funny journey called motherhood!” I promise you that when you read all 28 mini-chapters it will have been well worth your time. Enjoy getting to know Stacy Anderson, mother of four sons and author of The Santa Letters.

C.S.: Stacy, tell us a little bit about yourself.

STACY: Oh I’m your average run-of-the-mill supermom who descales showers with a single sponge, slows speeding teens with the nod of a finger and stops bedwetting with the use of training pants. I have four boys, am OCD when it comes to a clean house, I hate to iron and love wash and wear. I also do the best I can with what I’ve been given on any single day and if I can be used as an instrument in the hand’s of the Lord for blessing the lives of others, that is my icing on life’s cake!

C.S.: You’ve said it best right there when you said, “I…do the best I can with what I’ve been given.” Your book, The Santa Letters, was a huge hit, but now you have a new book that has come out. Describe it a bit for us.

STACY: In a nutshell, it is life’s lessons learned though laughter. If I hadn’t learned how to laugh and temper the tears, I’d be toast by now. Each chapter is a life lesson followed by a funny story that illustrates that lesson.

C.S.: When did the kernel of the idea for this book first come to you?

STACY: I really began it when my father was diagnosed with cancer at age 59. He was a man whose life had always been centered around service and he felt very useless when he was tied to tubes during his chemo and radiation treatments.

He’d always taught us how to learn much, laugh hard and love well. I wanted him to know that he’d done a good job with us and reached his objective so I captured all of the lessons I’d learned and our family stories, write them up and take them up to him to edit. He would laugh and share the stories to help others laugh which helped them all get through those treatments.

I never intended on it being published, but before he died, he made me promise I’d seek publication telling me that in today’s world, people needed to remember how to laugh. Five years to the day fo his passing, it came out.

C.S.: That’s very touching, Stacy. You’ve taken something very difficult and turned it into something to bless others. Tell me, though, why do you write?

STACY: I write because my patriarchal blessing tells me to develop the talents given to me so that I may bless the lives of my family and benefit the world around me. When I write honestly and openly, people connect with those words and come to find hope, inspiration and sometimes a bit of laughter while understanding they are not alone.

C.S.: Thus you were told to develop talents. When did you first discover the desire to write, expanding that talent?

STACY: Having always had a rather soft voice, I got drowned out by the noise of my brothers and others who were more boisterous. My desire to write was kindled when I was in grade school and a teacher entered one of my pieces in a literary contest. When I won, I truly understood the power of the pen and words and that is how I found my voice – the voice that could be heard.

C.S.: That is beautiful, Stacy. What kind of schedule do you follow? You are a busy women, yet you’ve had two books come out within one year of each other! And both quite different from each other.

STACY: I get my family off in the mornings, get myself together and then head for my office. I am usually down there until the kids come home from school. I do take intermediate breaks for housecleaning, laundry and other stuff when I need to mull a scene, plotline or get into a character’s head.

C.S.: What do you hope people gain from Life is Tough – I Hope I Make It Out Alive?

STACY: That although life is Tough, it is full of priceless moments that add up to the trip of a lifetime!!!

C.S.: What project or manuscript are you working on currently?

STACY: Once I get done promoting this one, I have another Christmas book coming out this fall (The Legend of the Star) so I will have a bit of time to finish up The Inamte Letters – the companion book to The Santa Letters – before having to do promotions on that one.

C.S.: What words of advice do you have for those who are discouraged and are struggling to stay on top of things?

STACY: Don’t insist on perfectionism, or insanity will become your new best friend. Besides there is only one person who walked the face of the Earth who was perfect and He gladly paved the way so we could happily (and in my case – most gratefully) stumble behind.

C.S: Any final thoughts?

STACY: I think my dad said it best when he admonished us to learn much, laugh often and love VERY well! And mix it all with a generous helping of gratitude…

C.S.: Where can readers go to find your books, especially Life is Tough – I Doubt I’ll Make It Out Alive?

STACY: It’s on, at Barnes and Noble, Seagull, Borders, and Deseret Book.

I’d like to thank Stacy for taking the time to chat with us about her life, her latest book Life is Tough – I Doubt I’ll Make It Out Alive, and her future projects. I love people who seek to bless the lives of others. Stacy is definitely one of those. You would do well to visit her website, learn more about her efforts, and add her books to your family’s library.

Interview with author, Kersten Campbell

I have found the most delightful little book. It is the PERFECT Mother’s Day gift. I wish you could hold it in your hands, flip through it, and read some of the chapters. Then you’d see what I’m talking about. But since you can’t hold my copy at this very moment, the next best thing is to get to know the author (yes, she gave me a delightful interview) … and then run immediately to a bookstore and get a copy for you, for your mother, your aunt, any woman in your life. In fact, my thirteen-year-old daughter couldn’t keep her hands off this book once we got it inside our home. It really is that good.

What is the book? It’s the freshly released, Confessions of a Completely (In)Sane Mother, by Kersten Campbell. I remember the day it arrived at the post office. I opened the package and began to flip through the book. I intended then to set it aside in my car to continue my further errands around town. But …. I couldn’t put the book down. That astonished me, because rarely do books seize me that way. You’ll see once you get your own copy; it’s a book that rarely rests because so many hands are fighting to snag it! (And yes, this is a good thing in today’s world where so few read books anymore.)

I’m excited for you to meet the author of the book.

C.S: Kersten, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

KERSTEN: I am a mother of five beautiful children ages 3-13 who loves to read, write, garden, paint, and play with children. My husband and I live in Washington and I joined the LDS church about twenty years ago when I was in college. Since then my life has been the most amazing, wonderful miracle. I love the gospel and what it does for people and the beautiful change that takes place. It is truly miraculous whether you’ve been in the church all of your life, or joined at a later age.

C.S.: I have in my hand your new book, Confessions of a Completely Insane Mother. I adore your book. Every time it comes up for discussion, I tell others they simply must get this book. When did the first kernel or idea come to you for this?

KERSTEN: It was actually an accident. I love reading and received my degree in English Literature, and after I had my fifth child I decided it would be fun to try and write a book. So I sat down and started to write a teen romance novel. Well, I laugh about this now, but it was TERRIBLE…and every time I tried to fix it, it kept getting worse. I thought to myself, “Boy, writing books is harder than it looks.”

But then one day I got this crazy idea that I would try to write humor stories about my family to help LDS women feel better about the ups and downs of family life so they wouldn’t get so discouraged. I decided to post them on a blog, and the few people who read them (Hi, Mom) kept telling me that they were laughing so hard they cried. So then I wondered if I might be able to get them published. And it turned out that Cedar Fort wanted to publish them in a book.

C.S.: What was the process like for you writing this?

KERSTEN: It is interesting. From the beginning I have felt the hand of the Lord in the writing of this book. I am pretty sure the idea came from Him, because it surprised me. And I know the talent for writing humor must be coming from Him because I never knew I had this talent before. It’s like the Lord chose the least of his servants, and made me be able to do this in spite of my many obstacles.

The other miracle is that I only have a short time during my youngest son’s nap in which to write. As any writer knows, that is not enough time to write anything cohesive, yet time and time again, the ideas flow through me as soon as I sit down and start to type. And I know that many of them are not mine. I believe that miracles happen when we put our family and the gospel first, and then the Lord makes it possible to fulfill our dreams, perhaps not in the way we first imagined, but in His way. And His way is always more amazing than anything we could ever dream up for ourselves.

C.S.: When did you discover that just maybe you’d like to be an author?

KERSTEN: I never realized that I wanted to write until after college. Then after I had my first two children I began sending articles to the church magazines and other magazines and I was surprised that they kept getting published. So that’s when I really realized, “Hey, this is fun, and I love it!”

Sending articles in to magazines is a great way to start learning about the process of writing. And there is no time commitment. If you want to do just one article a year, that’s what you can do.

When I finished the humor book I sent it to a publisher who said they weren’t interested in that type of humor at that time. I was really discouraged and was about to file it away for good, when something stopped me and told me to try just one more time. I’m so glad I did, because the next publisher liked it!

C.S.: What would you tell other writers who would like to see their book(s) on store shelves?

KERSTEN: I would say two things. First: Never give up. I believe that writing can be learned. It just takes practice, and then more practice. I still believe that someday I’ll be able to fix that terrible romance book I started.

And secondly: Don’t sacrifice the things that are most important. I believe that all your dreams will come true as you put the gospel and your family first. This is the way that allows you to secure the blessings you will need to be successful as a writer. And it is the only way to true happiness.

C.S.: In your journey to become a published author, what have been some of your most valiant lessons learned?

KERSTEN: My most valiant lesson is that God is a God of miracles. And when we put Him first in our lives and take care of the things that are of eternal importance, then everything else will fall into place. We will see great miracles happen in our lives, including being able to obtain the talents and the time and the personal revelation that we need to make our dreams come true.

C.S.: Do you have any other hobbies that relax you?

KERSTEN: The most relaxing thing I do is gardening. I love the peace and the serenity of taking care of such beauty. It’s another way fulfill my need to create. Creating beauty is such a noble quality of womanhood. I think every woman longs to do it. Gardening, writing and family life fulfill that need for me.

C.S.: What projects do you have that you’re wanting to work on next?

KERSTEN: I would like to work on more humor stories since it is such a joy to me to see this book making women so happy. I am also working on a spiritual book about where mothers can find great power to fulfill their sacred calling.

C.S.: What do you hope readers gain from your work with this?

KERSTEN: I hope they will get a sense that it’s okay to make mistakes and that everyone struggles with the same issues. Mistakes and mishaps were part of the eternal plan. They were supposed to happen so that we could learn and grow. That is why a Savior was provided for us. I hope that the book will empower LDS mothers, helping them to break out of the cycle of discouragement and embrace the opportunity to grow into the magnificent women of God they are all destined to become.

C.S.: Any final thoughts for others, especially if they’re feeling discouraged in accomplishing their own dreams?

KERSTEN: Yes. I believe that the Lord loves every one of us as as a Father tenderly loves His child. He knows of our hopes and dreams and wants to bless us. I know from experience that as we sacrifice to accomplish His work, He is then able to bless us in His own time with more than we can possibly imagine for ourselves. If we stay close to Him through prayer, devotion to our family and the gospel, and regular temple worship…we will be amazed at what the Lord has in store for us. It is through His power that all of our dreams will come true.

Thank you, Kersten. Here is a link to her publisher’s website where you can purchase the book. It is also available at Amazon, at Seagull books online and in their stores.

My readers who know me well know that I never recommend a book I do not like. So with that in mind — Mother’s Day is May 10; Confessions of a Completely (In)Sane Mother truly is the perfect gift.

More with Lisa Mangum, YA Novelist

Last month we were chatting with debut novelist, Lisa Mangum, about her book, The Hourglass Door, set to release May 2009. She has worked as a serious editor for years, but launching her first novel has been an exciting twist in her life.

The Hourglass DoorLisa was kind enough to share a bit more about The Hourglass Door, an imaginative story of two teens working to save life as they know it. Although I finished reading it within two days of receiving it…last month…I still can’t stop thinking about it. It’s that kind of an intriguing read.

C.S.: Thank you, Lisa, for chatting again with us. You have introduced some intriguing concepts within your first book. So I just have to ask, when did the glimmer of these ideas first strike you?

LISA: It was June 13, 2007. Yes, I remember the exact date. I might even be able to tell you the exact time! I remember because I was talking with Chris Schoebinger (my coworker at Shadow Mountain) about young adult fiction and why certain books are better than others. Our conversation was interrupted, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That night after work, I had to drive to Provo, Utah, to attend a writer’s conference and suddenly, there it was. I was driving around the point of the mountain and the story just seemed to drop into my head. It was like Abby and Dante jumped in the car with me and wouldn’t stop talking.

Since I was on the freeway, I couldn’t stop driving, so I just told the story to myself out loud, working out details, repeating storylines so I wouldn’t forget anything. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I outlined the whole thing on scraps of paper I scrounged up in my car. Twenty minutes later, I had run out of paper and was almost late to the conference. I found Chris and told him about my brainstorm. He said, “When did you do this?” and I said, “On the drive here. What do you think?” and he said, “I think you should write it.” So I did. And a little more than a year later, I was finished.

C.S.: As you were working on this manuscript, which part felt the most naturally vibrant to you? Or did you have to work to make the story come alive?

LISA: In some ways, I think the conversations between Abby and her best friend Valerie were the easiest parts to write. I’m lucky that I have friends with big personalities and so I had a lot of real-life material to drawn on and fictionalize.

C.S.: Ah, yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Abby and Valerie. Very real, very fresh. What about the other characters?

LISA:I was surprised a little at how quickly the characters bonded to each other—they felt like real friends or enemies or lovers—and all I had to do was try to keep up. The ending is also one of my favorite parts. I wrote a huge chunk of that in one sitting—just me and the computer—and the story just flowed out effortlessly. I hardly changed it at all during the rewrites.

C.S.: Do you have a favorite character from The Hourglass Door? If so, who and why?

LISA: Is it a cop-out to say that I like them all? J Writing Valerie always made me laugh. I identified with Abby’s quest to break free of other people’s expectations for her. I think Dante is downright dreamy. Zo demanded—and got—many of my best lines (turns out the villain hates to share!). And Leo had such a quiet strength about him, he always reminded me of my father.

C.S.: What are your thoughts about writers groups, critique groups? Do you participate in one?

LISA: I do. We meet every other Saturday morning for breakfast and to talk about our work. We rotate deadlines so we can focus on one person’s story at a time. That way we aren’t overloaded by having to turn in something new every week as well as read everyone else’s work at the same time. It’s worked out really well for us and many of us in the group have finished whole books that way.

I think writer’s groups are essential. It’s the best place to get honest feedback and specific critiques. As an editor, I can’t always give an author details about his or her manuscript. As a writer, I love being able to discuss big picture items—character arcs, pacing, plot twists—as well as the details—does that comma really go there? Is that really the best word choice? I’m energized every time we meet, even when we aren’t talking about my story.

C.S.: Some authors outline; some refuse to. Which kind of writer are you?

LISA: I used to try to write chronologically: Chapter one. Chapter two. All the way to the end. But I learned early on that it’s hard for me to write a book like that. I’d get stuck and instead of skipping the tricky part, I’d just stop.

I took a different approach with The Hourglass Door. After my brainstorm where I mapped out all the relationships and overall plot of the story, I took two or three days and handwrote an outline on the train as I commuted to work. It wasn’t anything fancy, just “Here’s what happens in chapter 1. Here’s what happens in chapter 2.” (Some of my notes were nothing more than “and then something cool happens.”)

Even though I outlined the book chronologically, I wrote whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it. I wrote the first three chapters in a chunk because those were the scenes that wouldn’t leave me alone. But I didn’t write the Prologue until months and months later.

As I wrote, I realized what I had originally outlined wasn’t going to work so the whole second half of the book changed as the story took on its own life. That’s the fun part about writing—seeing how the story changes and following it down unexpected paths.

C.S.: Working as an editor by day and an author in the after-hours, how did you manage to complete this book? Were there days you never wanted to see a printed page again? :0)

LISA: That was the main reason I didn’t write for many years: I spend all morning in a chair, at a computer, thinking about words. Why would I want to come home and spend all night in a chair, at a computer, thinking about words? I was happy just being an editor for a long time. But once Abby and Dante jumped in the car with me and told me their story, I had to figure out a way to balance my day job and my writing.

I wrote a lot on the weekends. I wrote (by hand) a surprising number of pages on the train going to and from work. Honestly, I surprised at how quickly the word count added up and how many pages I ended up with considering I had to write in the fringes of my day.

C.S.: Do you need absolute quiet to be able to write?

LISA: No. In fact, I find I have a hard time working when it’s absolutely quiet. I love stretching out on the couch, turning on my laptop, setting my iPod to shuffle, and getting lost in the words and the story.

I want to thank Lisa for taking the time to chat with me some more about her new book, The Hourglass Door. It releases next month and she’ll be back with us one more time to tell us about her next project and what writers need to know about the submission process to a publisher. In the meantime, you may want to pre-order your personal copy so that you can be first on the block to own
The Hourglass Door!

Interview with GG Vandagriff

Be prepared to meet an absolutely amazing person. Not only does she write lyrical stories in a way that moves your heart and enlarges your mind, but she is an altogether pleasing person. I’ve recently met GG Vandagriff via an interview and can’t wait for you to learn more about her.

C.S.: GG, tell us a little bit about yourself.

GG:I have been writing since I was little. My life was unhappy and so I created fantasy worlds with the kind of family I wanted to have. All of my books are meant to explore the true meaning of love (familial, romantic, friendship) and how it changes lives. I also got into genealogy with a lot of enthusiasm, because of my need for family. It was very healing and very helpful to my wounded psyche.

C.S.: What was the process of discovering that love for words?

GG: My best friend Dianne and I had kind of a reading club when we were teenagers. We read romantic suspense and passed our books back and forth. Then, in my honors lit class in High School, I discovered the Russians. I fell in love with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My husband is a poet and studied poetry in depth when he was in college. He imparted his love for poetry to me, teaching me how reading it aloud was the only way to get the full meaning. We had poetry evenings with our kids where he recited poems all the time they were growing up. They liked “The Congo” by Vachell Lindsey the best. It scared them to death and now would not be considered “p.c.” In fact, poor Vachell has probably been burned in effigy.

C.S.: :0) So how have you refined your ability to write? How many drafts do you have to go to until you can get the words on the page to match the scenes in your heart?

GG: I had a wonderful editor who worked with me for five years on one novel, until every word was perfect. I learned to write from her. (I am saving that novel until the time is right to publish – it is literary, which is a hard sell) I don’t work well under deadlines, because I need the freedom to layer my books. I’ll get the basic storyline down, then I go through it from each character’s p.o.v., layering in their personalities. That often changes the whole novel. The theme usually emerges when I’m at this point.

Then I go through and develop the minor characters. I remember when writing Tangled Roots, I left the three eccentric pets in the mansion where they had lived with their mistress who had been murdered. I didn’t remember until the book was finished that I had left them all alone. The book was due Monday. I spent all day Saturday layering in the pets and their idiosyncrasies. It gave the story much more texture. For some people, it was their favorite part of the story!

C.S.: I think this is why I so enjoy your writing. The effort and nuance you add make the event of reading so worthwhile! What is your process for staying engaged in a story, when you get to the huge middle portion of novel writing?

GG: David (my husband) and I call that the “Serengeti Plains.” But to answer your question, I set goals for completing so many chapters a week. I also use this part of the book to go deeper into my characters and their motivations. I use conflict between characters, or internal conflict to keep the reader engaged. Also, minor characters can help me through this section by demonstrating engaging idiosyncrasies.

In a mystery, of course, this part is where there is another murder or the hero is in danger. It is really important to keep the suspense building. But I think there is suspense in romance and straight lit too. The trick is not to reveal everything all at once, to keep the readers guessing.

C.S.: What is your process of overall story building? Do you outline? Do you not?

GG: I try to start with something I feel passionate about – a place, an idea, a historical period. Out of my passion, the plot outline develops in my head, but I keep it loose, because my books are all character driven (even when they have a strong plot). I try to stay absolutely true to my characters. This is often inconvenient, but when your characters are “alive”, it’s imperative.

The book I am writing now under deadline is driving me crazy, because I had it finished and then one of my characters reared up and said, “That’s not the way it happened!” Now I’m having to change the whole thing. It is much more engaging, but I am exhausted trying to get the whole thing revised before my deadline in 2 weeks! I would like the chance to layer a little more, but I’m not going to get it. I think Rachel Nunes must have an IQ of about 200, because she can do everything the first time through! I can’t even imagine that!

C.S.: What have you found to be the single most effective tool against discouragement? And how do you combat the dreaded “I can’t write. What am I doing writing?”

GG: If I am feeling that way, I usually go to the temple, read my patriarchal blessing, pray a lot. That re-infuses me with a sense of mission. I know the Lord will help me if I just sit back down and start writing again.

C.S.: Once you get back to writing, and your first draft is finished, what is your process of revising?

GG: The revising is the icing on the cake. That’s where I have fun. I take out all my hackneyed phrases and find metaphors. I look out for places where I “told” rather than showed, and change those. The revision is where the novel comes alive for me. I do the thing with the characters as explained above. I “go deep”.

C.S.: And you do it so well, GG. Tell me about your most recent book, The Last Waltz. It is an absolutely lovely story. I don’t usually read this genre, but I became enthralled with this book! It has become one of my favorites and I believe it will become a classic work.

GG: I spent years and years writing that book. I had the history down cold. I knew the plot line. But the characters just wouldn’t come alive. Last year, I finally asked myself, “What would Tolstoy do?” (This is an epic, so I could ask that kind of question.) I finally realized my problem. I was writing about the most complex society, steeped in decadence and neuroses (Vienna), the worst war in history (WW I) and I was trying to do it through the eyes of an innocent 19 year old! Of course I was having problems!

I changed the whole thing so that it came from multiple points of view. It is a complex plot that included many men. I did a whole life history for each of the men. Then I wrote Amalia (my main character) from each of their points of view. What she meant to each of them revealed their own characters, and made Amalia much more interesting. The book was always meant to be a metaphor for the society and politics of Vienna between 1913-1938. Writing it this way made that task much easier. From that point on, the book almost wrote itself because I knew the characters so well.

C.S.: Which character was hardest for you to write?

GG: My main character. She was flawed, but I had to make her sympathetic. It took years to transform Amalia fro an empty-headed beauty into a rare, principled, strong woman who could carry the story. I think I was way too young when I started the tale. I needed my own life experiences to write of a woman who had passed through fire.

C.S.: As you said, this story was years in coming, decades actually. How did you handle the research and keeping it all straight?

GG:I have massive files. Fortunately, I wrote the history first, when I still had a brain. The history was a ready-made plot. Populating it with real characters and not cardboard ones was the hard part. I had gone to school and studied with Austrian professors in my long-ago youth. So I had the “zeitgeist” (feel for the era) down cold. It was like visiting Vienna every time I sat down to write. I never could have written the book without the feel for Vienna I got while living there.

Also I should mention that I got my BA and MA in the history, politics, and economics of Central Eastern Europe, so I was pretty well educated about the times.

C.S.: What you wrote manifests that, GG. And the many reviewers speak highly of your efforts. So, since this was a book long in coming, any final words to discouraged writers out there? In your opinion, do you have to be talented to become published?

GG: I think everyone has an inner writer. If you want to tap into it, you need to pay the price. That means doing writing exercises, some times (in my case!) for a long time. You need to become acquainted with your right brain.

The best time to do them is early in the morning. You take a trigger (a poem, a picture, a piece of music, a memory, the first line of a novel) and write without stopping for 20 minutes anything that comes into your head. You do this every day. No one is going to read it, so write everything. This is the writer in you.

Then, one day, a character or a story will appear. Be patient with yourself. Two excellent books are Writing Down the Bones, and The Artist’s Way. They both go into this process in much more detail.

C.S.: Thank you, GG. You’ve been most kind. And for those who’ve not yet gotten their own copies of The Last Waltz, you absolutely must. Get it for Mother’s Day, get it for graduation gifts, get one for yourself. It is that good.

GG’s website/blog is here. She also is a journalist for Meridian Magazine, with articles and content that will inspire and life you.