Interview with Kathi Oram Peterson

I love, love, love people who use their talents to bless the lives of others. Kathi Oram Peterson is just such a person. She also has a new book out and was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me about her book and her background as a writer. You will love getting to know Kathi and you will especially want to pick up a copy of her newest book, An Angel on Main Street. I received a copy to review and couldn’t wait to interview Kathi about it!

Here is a bit about Kathi first, taken from her website:

Kathi Oram Peterson was born in the small town of Rigby, Idaho. Since childhood, she has loved reading and writing stories. After winning the Heart of the West (1994) and Golden Pen (1995) contests, she put her writing on hold to finish her English degree. Upon graduation, she worked for a curriculum publisher writing and editing concept and biography books for children. She now devotes her time writing inspirational fiction.

And now for the fun! Here’s my interview with Kathi…

C.S.: Kathi, you have a new book out. Tell us a bit about it.

 
KATHI: This story has been a work in progress for many, many years. I even wrote it into a screenplay, which took 4th place in a national contest. An Angel on Main Street is set in the 1950s and is about eleven-year-old Micah Connors. He’s been in and out of trouble since he learned of his father’s death in the Korean War. But as the book opens he’s trying to do better. 
 
Micah has promised his mother that in the new town of Bolton, Idaho, he would stay out of mischief. His mom has enough to worry about being a widow with two children, and her daughter, Annie, ill. As hard as he tries, Micah finds the trouble he promised to avoid. As the sheriff escorts him home they come upon a ramshackle stable. Someone is building a Nativity for the town, but no one knows who. While the sheriff and Micah’s mother are talking, Micah’s sister tells him she believes angels are building the Nativity and when baby Jesus comes, He’ll make her better. Worried that his sister might die before Christmas, Micah sets out on a quest to find the baby Jesus. But as he gets nearer to finding the Nativity builder, he learns that angels are closer than he ever believed. 
 
I loved writing this story. Though it is only 99 pages long I worked on it year after year, always at Christmastime, tweaking it here and there until finally it sold. I can’t tell you how very happy I am that it is finally in print. 


C.S.: Everyone who has read it remarks how touching it is. What was your purpose in writing it? And what was its genesis?

KATHI: I love Christmas and it only made sense to write a story about the holiday. I also wanted to write about growing up in a small town in the 50s. I was traveling to Colorado with a group of other writers. We were going to a conference. Everyone was listening to a speaker on tape. I was in the back seat and couldn’t really hear so I started thinking of stories I could write. I knew I wanted a time element counting down to Christmas. I wanted the story to focus around the Nativity. The story took off from there. It’s gone through many revisions, but the main thrust of the story is still the same as I thought of on that trip to Colorado.

C.S.: When did you first think about writing? As a kid? Later on? Why?

KATHI: I liked to write as a teenager. But I didn’t really set my mind to it until after my first child was born. My mother had given me some novels to read. The great ones by Phyllis Whitney, Nora Lofts, Mary Stewart. Jane Austin. I loved those books. One day as Mom and I were discussing the stories, she turned to me and told me that I should try to write a book. She encouraged me. So did my father. He loved to write. I soooo wish they were alive today to see my books published.

C.S.: That would be wonderful in deed. What are some of the ways you approach writing?

KATHI: I have to write to feel my life has purpose. There have been stretches when I haven’t written. During those times I become depressed, things just don’t go right. Knowing this about myself, I’ve tried to write something every day. When I’m working on a book, I try to give myself goals for each day such as a chapter a day or ten pages a day. I’m one of those writers who has to get the story out first, so my first draft is pretty rough. Then I read through it several times correcting punctuation, grammar and pumping up motivation.

C.S.: What are your purposes when you write? Is it part escapist? Is it to share feelings? Or something else?

KATHI: My main purpose is to tell a good story. I hope my readers can escape into my stories as they read them. Feelings play a huge part of my writing. Not mine but my characters (Though I must admit that sometimes I cry with my characters. Don’t tell anyone.). I work hard to show my main character’s inner turmoil, how he/she grows and learns through the course of the story. As the years have gone by my main goal is to write inspirational stories that people can relate to and gain hope from.  

C.S.: What was one of the most enjoyable parts about writing this Christmas book?

KATHI: I mainly wrote on this book during the Christmas season. Working on Micah’s story helped me view the holiday through a child’s point of view. Actually, I don’t think I’ll ever grow up completely so it wasn’t that difficult. I love the wonder and awe of Christmas, the snow, the lights, the feeling of love, and mostly celebrating the Savor’s birth. I really enjoyed these aspects in writing this book. I hope I’ve portrayed that in the story. 

C.S.: What was one of the hardest parts?
 
KATHI: The hardest parts were thinking of the fear that must run through a child’s heart at the loss of a parent and the possible loss of a sibling. When I was a little girl, my mother suffered a heart attack while shampooing my hair for a dance recital. I remember how scared I was. We lived in an apartment over my father’s store, and many times I’d stand at the window looking down on Main Street wondering if she would be all right. She nearly died. When she came home she told us of a very spiritual experience she had. Through her experience I learned that death, while horrible for those left behind, is something not to fear.

C.S.: What are your thoughts on “writer’s block”? Have you experienced it? If so, what do you do?

KATHI: The only times I’ve had writer’s block was when I was trying to make a character do something they didn’t want to do or when I’ve deviated from the story. For instance, in one story I came upon some fascinating information about a historical person. As I wrote the story that character began to take over the story. I became blocked and couldn’t move forward. As soon as I realized what I’d done I had to throw out a couple of chapters, but it was worth it because once again things were clicking as they should.

C.S.: Have you ever been discouraged as a writer? Felt like quitting? What did you do?

KATHI: We don’t have enough time to talk about how often I have felt like quitting. But as I said before, writing gives me purpose, so even though I may become discouraged from a bad review or a severe critique I muscle through it and learn what I can from the experience. I might take a day or two to rethink, and then I’m back at it.

C.S.: What was your path to having this book published?

KATHI: It was a long, twisty path that had its ups and downs. Many times I felt like giving up, but then my friends would encourage me to work on it again. Every year a dear writing friend would ask me, “What are you going to do about Micah’s story?” And I would pull it out again. She can’t say that this year. Well, I guess she could in that I need to revamp the screenplay. Hmm…something else to work on.

C.S.: What words of encouragement do you have for those who are experiencing setbacks or trials at this time of year?

KATHI: It’s cliche, but true…never give up. If you think you have what it takes keep at it. Don’t let someone else’s opinion discourage you. I have a friend that quits writing whenever someone critiques her. You have to develop a thick writer’s skin to survive in this business, because if you can’t take the criticism before you’re published, what are you going to do when people critique your published book? Could be sad times. Believe in yourself. Always be open to learn new techinques that will strength your work and keep at it.

 
C.S.: Is there a scripture that is particularly meaningful to you?

KATHI: I love the scriptures. For my book, The Forgotten Warrior, I studied chapters 24 and 56 of Alma and their verses gained a place in my heart for the story they tell . For An Angel on Main Street it would be Luke chapters 1 and 2. I don’t have one particular scripture that stands out because at different times in my life they all do.

C.S.: What new project(s) are you working on now?

KATHI: I have several books I’m working on: another YA time travel, a picture book, a YA paranormal, and possibly a romantic suspense. Oh and a screenplay.
 
C.S.: Any final words for our readers?

KATHI: I appreciate those who read my books. In this day and age there are so many demands on our time and that they would steal away enough time to devote to reading my book I feel is an honor. Thank you!  

C.S.: An Angel on Main Street makes a perfect, inspirational Christmas gift. Where can readers go to find it?

KATHI: My books can be found at Seagull Book and Deseret Book Stores and at their websites. They are also for sale at Amazon.com.

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Interview with Linda Garner

Sometimes abuse happens. To children. And when it does, it breaks the heart of those who love the child most.

There is a new book that helps parents teach small children how to protect themselves. It is a book you’ll want to find and get, if you have any small children in your home (or if you are a grandparent). The book is called, Some Secrets Hurt, and it was written by Linda Garner.

Linda spent a little bit of time with me, helping me understand more about her process in writing this book. I appreciate her time!

C.S.: Tell us a little bit about yourself (favorite flavor ice cream, vacation, etc). Or perhaps something no one knows yet.

LINDA: Favorite ice cream?  I had to give up ice cream and such when I found out I had diabetes.  Fortunately I love soups and salads and all kinds of fruits and vegetables.  I walk every day, usually 3 miles.  I am very much into health.  

 
I am a people person.  I think people are the greatest.  I love spending time with lots of different people.  I am very family oriented, and love spending time with my family.  I have twenty grandchildren and two great grandchildren.  Yes, it’s true, I have two great grandchildren.  I really am too young to have great grandchildren, but I do.  It’s a long story, so I’ll save it for another time, but if you ever want to hear it, I’ll tell.

My husband of 37 years is my best friend.  He is so good to me.  I hope you all have a best friend like mine. Years ago my mother coined the title Friend-Husband for my dad.  I always loved that title and now that Mom is gone and not using it anymore, I’m borrowing it.  I hope she doesn’t mind.

I like change and a touch of adventure.  I love music.  I sing and play the piano.  I like to do almost everything and wish I had could find time for all the things I love.  I can’t not write.  Writing makes me feel complete.  I love words.  I love the sound and the feel of words.  I love picture books and that is what I write most.
I really love children.  I think children are wonderful.  I guess that’s why I had seven of them.  I really enjoy teaching.  Since I love music and children and teaching, I found that teaching piano was a nice mix.  I have taught Suzuki Piano Lessons for about 26 years. 

C.S.: You’ve led a busy life. What kind of little girl were you? Did you enjoy books?

LINDA: I was pretty ordinary.  I liked school.  I took piano lessons and dance.  I had friends.  Books were the best.  I always had my nose in a book.  Every book was like a new friend. I adored the library.  We moved when I was in 4th grade and our new school had a library right in the school.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

C.S.: What was school like for you growing up? Shy? Outgoing?

LINDA:  I can remember both.  I can remember feeling shy and also being outgoing.  Mostly, I think, outgoing.  School was delightful for me.  I have always loved to learn and I have never been afraid to try new things. 

C.S.: When did you first think of being a writer?

LINDA: I used to make up stories in bed at night with my big sister.  She was a great storyteller and I learned from her to enjoy creating a story.  I wrote a poem in second grade that impressed my teacher.  She asked if anyone had helped me.  I answered yes, because I had trouble with one rhyme and Mom had supplied the word I needed.  The teacher looked disappointed.  I’m sure she was thinking that the poem wasn’t really my work, but it was.  Sometimes I still need help with rhymes, only now instead of Mom I use a rhyming dictionary.

In sixth grade we studied Romeo and Juliet.  That’s when I really decided to be a writer.  I was fascinated with Shakespeare, and I wanted to rewrite it in modern English with a modern setting. My mother discouraged me from taking on such a big project, so it never happened, but the seeds were planted, waiting for a chance to grow.

C.S.: Tell us about your new book. Who is it for? Why did you write it?

LINDA: My book is called Some Secrets Hurt and it is for everyone.The first question people usually ask about my book is “What age is it written for?”  My answer is always the same.  “What age is it not written for?”  This surprises most people because my book is a picture book and it is simple enough to be read aloud to young children.  

Indeed I hope that every young child has someone who will read it to them. However, Some Secrets Hurt is a story about sexual abuse and the message is so important and so powerful that everyone needs to read it.  Adults need this message.  Teenagers need this message. This message is for boys as well as girls. Every home needs a copy.

C.S.: What was the process like for you writing this? How did you go about it? 

LINDA: I had just watched a talk show on sexual abuse.  It was the Jane Pauley Show and she had interviewed two girls who had been sexually abused over a prolonged period of time.  I was troubled by their stories and I knew that many children experience this kind of abuse.  I was angry and I wanted to make a difference.  I picked up my pen and started to write.

C.S.: What kind of research did you need to do?

LINDA:  First, I just wrote from my heart.  I created a little girl named Maggie and let her tell her own story of abuse and healing.  Later I did some research to help me write the parents’ guide which is included in the book.  I also did some research on statistics and that sort of thing.  This was important so that I could talk intelligently about sexual abuse.

C.S.: Were there ever spots where you felt blocked while writing it? Or did it all just come in a rush?

LINDA:  It came in a rush.  I wrote the original story in an afternoon and I made very few changes as time went on.  This isn’t because of my great talent, but because the story came so clearly.  I knew it was inspired, and I knew it was a story that had to be told. 

C.S.: For those new to writing, will you share with us your revision process? What are your thoughts on the importance of polishing a manuscript before sending it to a publisher?

LINDA:  Since I write for children, I am always looking for a way to economize on words.  Of course I absolutely love words, but the fewer the better.  If I can find a shorter way to say something, that is the ideal.  If I can replace a word with a better one, I am happy.  If I can replace two words with one, or three words with one, then I am ecstatic.

When I write a picture book, I don’t have a whole chapter to set the stage.  I have to set the stage on page one. 

I always try my stories out on others.  My critique group is fabulous.  They give me great feedback.  If the story doesn’t resonate with them, I have to figure out what’s wrong.  I also love trying out my stories on my grandkids.  They love me, and they are always kind, but I can tell right away if something isn’t working.

Editors are very busy.  They are only going to give your manuscript one chance to impress them.  It would be silly to send off a manuscript that isn’t your very best work.

C.S.:  What did it feel like for you to finally hold this book in your hands?

LINDA:  It is amazing to hold this book in my hands and to know that it will soon be in the hands of parents, teachers, and children, making a difference.  I am honored to have the opportunity of representing children in a meaningful way.   It is a privilege to speak out on a topic that most people avoid and to create a tool that will empower children to take control of their own bodies. 

C.S.: The illustrations for the book are very touching. Tell us about this.
 

LINDA: When you write a picture book the pictures carry tremendous weight, so having the right illustrator is crucial.  A picture book writer is almost never involved in the selection of the illustrator.  Publishers have artists that they work with, and they choose the illustrator.  In most cases the author and publisher never meet and never collaborate. 

Soon after I wrote the text for Some Secrets Hurt, I met Brandilyn Speth, and discovered that she was an artist.  Though I had never seen her work, I knew that she was the right illustrator for my book.  I felt that we had been brought together for a reason.  I knew that having the book already illustrated would limit the publishers who would work with us, but it felt right.

Brandilyn was the right illustrator for my book.  She had a vision.  She has a love for this work.  When you read Some Secrets Hurt you will be drawn to the illustrations. They are sensitive and meaningful. Each page is a work of art and came from somewhere deep inside Brandilyn’s heart.   I am so thankful for Brandilyn and for the clarity she brought to Some Secrets Hurt.
 

C.S.: Has there ever been a point where you felt discouraged about this book? What did you do?

LINDA: Discouraged?  Who hasn’t been discouraged?  I have been discouraged often, but I have never been discouraged about this book.  I wrote the book quickly, but the process of having it illustrated and published was not quick.  However, I believed in Some Secrets Hurt and I trusted the process.  I believed that it would all come together when the time was right.

Discouragement is a part of life.  It helps us to make changes and to move forward.  It helps us recognize what is not working for us.  When I am discouraged I turn to my faith.  I have strong religious roots.  I recognize my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as my strength and my inspiration.  They are the center of my life.  When things get tough, I trust them to see me through.

C.S.: For your readers, what is one word of advice you’d like them to have?

LINDA:  I would ask them to stand up for kids.  I would ask them to become part of a caring community that works together to keep kids safe.  I would invite all adults to talk to the kids in their care about sexual abuse.  I would ask them to bring this topic out of the shadows and into the light, so that we can empower kids to take control of their own bodies.

C.S.: Thank you so much, Linda, for those words. Any other final thoughts of encouragement?

LINDA: Together, we can make a difference. 

C.S.: Thank you for your time, Linda. You have brought about a very important project and it has been a privilege to talk with you about it!

Linda Garner’s, Some Secrets Hurt, can be found at most Deseret Books, Seagull Books, and even the BYU Bookstore. You can order it online at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and borders.com.  Or if you want the book right away, you can also order online at my publisher, deseretbook.com.

Book Review: Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story

Recently I received an Advance Review Copy of a book that is creating quite a stir. The title is Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story, written by Mark L. Shurtleff. I had volunteered to do a review for the Valor Publishing Group, with no payment of any kind. When I received the (not yet final-edited) copy, I had intended to set it aside—as there were other outstanding reviews to do in lineup before this one.

But I figured I’d thumb through the book to get a general idea of its content, layout, etc. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant to do this review. I’m not a huge history buff and historical novels are usually difficult for me to “get into.”

Was I surprised with this book! Upon removing it from its packaging, not only did I end up thumbing through it (for more minutes than I care to admit), but thumbing through induced me to begin reading the first page (even being behind schedule for the day).

I was snagged. “ So, OK,” I thought to myself, “just a few minutes. My other obligations can wait for a small moment.”

That moment passed . . . and then another . . . and then another. I was shocked how swiftly I was pulled into the story of Dred Scott and his valor. That first page became two pages, and then three, and I found I had to keep reading. Pretty soon I’d swallowed the whole chapter and kept at it for more.

You know that feeling where you just can’t come up for air? Bingo. That was exactly how I felt reading this book. In fact, even though that moment is now more than a month past, I still remember where I was standing when I thought I’d read “just one page.”

I wager that most people will feel this way reading Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story. They’ll remember the time, the place, the day. Why? Because its impact is that powerful and that life-changing.

But that is not to say Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story is an easy read. Far from it. It broke my heart. I’m not sure it is a story for young people, who are too tender yet to understand the injustices in the world. But for those who care, this is a must-read for 2009.

Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story is a book that will change you. For the better. That is why I’m suggesting you may want to consider adding it to your shopping list for Christmas this year. It is a seriously urgent “thinking” book for the discriminating reader.

Freedom once won—such as the freedom Dred Scott triggered for African Americans—can easily be lost. This is a book that will remind you to stand for what is right, no matter the cost.

Here is the cover material from the back of Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story:

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

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

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

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

To explore more about the book and to get one for you, go here.
To learn more about the author, go here.
For great discussion questions for your next Book Club meeting, go here.

Joyce DiPastena’s Illuminations of the Heart

I am not a romance reader. I’d like to say “Never have been, never will be.” But that wouldn’t be true. When I was in junior high and high school, my grandmother gave me a literal laundry basket heaped to overflowing with romance novels. Then she gave me some more.

I devoured them. Hundreds. All. (At the time.)

But it’s been decades since I’ve desired to read another one. Again, I admit that in my youth, I loved reading about far locations and dashing heroes and charming (or not so charming) heroines. I was foiled in their challenges, felt their pain, and adored being swept away into a different scenario than my life.

I can’t say why the thrill of reading romance has passed for me. Only that it has.

But I have a dear friend. Her name is Joyce DiPastena. I have known her for several years now and have admired her depth of study of all things medieval. She will exclaim to any who ask that she is not an “expert” on historical matters during the nearly 1000 years that most people consider history as “medieval.” Yet spend any time with her at all and you will be astonished at the meticulous, detailed world she is well familiar with. Not only will her knowledge be something awe-inducing, but that same knowledge will draw you in to another world, another time. One in which chivalry existed and women were treated differently than today (at least in general form).

That is why when asked if I would review her newest novel, Illuminations of the Heart, I said yes. Even knowing it was a romance. Even knowing how much I no longer like reading romances. Even knowing I was going to have to deal with all the genre-flavor of that kind of a book.

And guess what. I couldn’t put her book down.

I admit it. Me. A non-romance-novel-lover.

Call me silly for not liking romances, but there you have it. Yet Joyce’s book I could not put down. Not because it was a romance, but because simply . . . well, it just was so well crafted in the art of storytelling.

Here is the information from the back cover of Illuminations of the Heart:

“Clothilde.”

He spoke the name on a breath like a prayer. Then he lowered his head and kissed her.

Her heart is lost in that first embrace, her world shaken to its foundations. There is just one problem: her name is not Clothilde. It is Siriol de Calendri.

Trained in the art of illumination in the far-off city of Venice, Siri is directed by her later brother’s will to the county of Poitou in France, where she enters the guardianship of her brother’s friend, Sir Triston de Brielle. Once in Poitou, Siri hopes to find employment in an illuminator’s shop–until Triston unexpectedly snatches her heart away with a kiss.

Triston is a man of quiet honor and courage, but the guilt he carries for the death of his late wife, Clothilde, has left him numb and hesitant to love again. Worse, yet, Siri bears an uncanny resemblance to his lost love. Or does she? Her merry laughter and twinkling eyes are very different from his late wife’s shy smiles and quiet ways. Yet when he gazes into Siri’s face, all he sees is Clothilde.

Then Triston’s past returns to threaten them both. Will his tragic life with Clothilde be repeated with Siri? Trapped between the rivalry of the king’s sons on the one hand and a neighbor out for vengeance on the other, Triston realizes it would be safer to send Siri away. But how can he bear to lose her again?

Siri is determined not to be cast off and not to live in another woman’s shadow. She has illuminated many a priceless book with pen and paint. But can her own vibrant spirit illuminate the darkness in Triston’s soul and make his heart beat for her alone?

Take it from me. A non-romance reader. This is a book you will start and feel you simply must finish. I may never read another romance again, but this one is well-crafted*, intriguing, and one that once read will stay with you for some time. Here is Joyce’s website to learn more about the author and Deseret Book where you can learn more about the book and read other reviews.

Joyce DiPastena's novel, Illuminations of the Heart

* I’m not implying that all romances are the inverse of this one. To the contrary. I simply enjoy other genres and was surprised how much this one pulled me into a medieval world and remained with me long after!