Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sorry about the Hiatus

by Marsha Ward

I've been gone for a few weeks due to a lot of turmoil going on in my life. I'm back, though, and have an announcement.

I've decided on how I'm going to produce my novel, Trail of Storms. Therefore, I will have it available to readers within the next 90 days, if everything goes smoothly.

The book begins in Virginia, and its characters journey across the Great Plains to Colorado Territory and thence through Raton Pass into New Mexico Territory. Here's an early 1900s photo of the Raton Pass area, to give you an idea of the rugged country through which they had to travel:

Think of going through this country by wagon! I'm thankful for good highways and luxurious vehicles.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Does it feel like I've dropped off the face of the earth to everyone or just me? Okay, so I'm back, even if I am a day late ... or a month. My daughter had a fabulous idea to start her own business a month ago and it's been the only thing we've had time to focus on, but guess what? Her website launches next week and we're nearly ready to go!

So I've been writing keyword articles again and press releases and privacy policies ... but this time they've been much more fun. The website is great and I can't wait to tell you all about it! Let's just say that my rough and tumble tomboy has officially become a girl!

I'll fill you all in some more next week. I've got a few more articles to finish up for the site before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


By Marcia Mickelson

This year, we're having a nice, quiet Thanksgiving and I'm doing all the cooking. That's very different for me. I've never made a turkey before. This is my first attempt. Luckily, it will be just for my immediate family.Thanksgiving in my life has been a transitional event. Keep in mind that both of my parents were born in Guatemala and didn't celebrate Thanksgiving until they moved to the U.S. in their twenties. It was a brand new event for them and through the years, it has evolved for my family as we try to get it "just right."I remember when I was in fourth grade, a friend from school asked me what we had for Thanksgiving dinner and I told her we had turkey, rice, and salad. She was like, that's all? That's what you had. I said sure; I didn't know what "you were supposed to have." What is stuffing? Cranberries? What the heck is pumpkin pie?

As the years passed, we began adopting more traditional food into our Thanksgiving dinners. I now love stuffing; it's my favorite Thanksgiving food. Little by little, our family has picked up on all those important facets of the holiday. (Minus the year when our huge, extended family rented out a hall to have a huge Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, we had all the traditional food, but also some tamales and rice. And, then there was the huge sound system they set up for dancing. It was a regular dance party with all kind of Latin music. That year was a little weird, especially for my husband and his friend who joined us that year.)

So, we'll see how it goes this year. Any good suggestions for my first turkey?

And, don't forget Elodia's contest. See the previous post for a chance to win a $20 BN gift card.

A Few of My Favorite Things (And a Chance to Win a $20 Barnes and Noble Gift Card)

My friend Kimberly Black recently blogged about a few of her favorite things. With Thanksgiving just around the corner I thought I’d follow suit. So here they are: a few of my favorite things in no particular order. And at the bottom of the list are instructions on how you could win a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card!!!

1. Dentyne Fire gum.
2. Nic’s Sticks nail polish pens-It’s like nail polish for writers! I’m much better at holding a pen than a brush, so I have these in pretty much every color including my current favorite-midnight blue
3. Sun Kill Moon-Perfect writing music. And my husband loves that the band name was inspired by Sun Kill Moon the boxer.
4. My pillow-top mattress and flannel sheets-Luxuries I’ll always be grateful for. My dad grew up very poor, and he never had sheets until my mom—his high school girlfriend—bought him his first set. The story still makes me cry.
5. My Gilmore Girls box sets-It’s hard to find a show you can watch over and over, but this is so genius, so intricate, that even after multiple viewings there are still things I miss.
6. Victoria’s Secret Pink sweats-I’m addicted. I wear them much more than jeans. I don’t care if Stacy and Clinton say you shouldn’t wear sweats out of the house.
7. My sister-She makes me laugh when I need to laugh, lets me cry when I need to cry, and still remembers playing Saved by the Bell with our Barbies and buying the first cassette tapes that were all ours: Debbie Gibson and Tiffany.
8. Pink Grapefruit-The Sunflower Shop (our area’s answer to Whole Foods) down the road has specials where they sell 10 for $1. I take my reusable totes and buy like 30 at a time and eat a grapefruit with every meal for ten days straight.
9. The Community Pool-Passes are only $13 a month, so I go a few times a week and enjoy the water and watching the tween birthday parties—complete with cute swimsuits, cute water tricks, and cute-lifeguard watching.
10. My hip hop dance videos-I love dancing, and this way the people in the class can’t see me, but I can see them!

So what are your favorite things? Write your answers in the comments and if we get the comment number up to 20 by the end of Thanksgiving day, the names of everyone who left comments will go into a hat, and we’ll pick a random winner who will win…a $20 Barnes and Noble gift card just in time for Christmas!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Broad Spectrum or Dig Deep?

I had a conversation with Tristi Pinkston at the Provident Book Grand Opening about different approaches to historical fiction, and I've often thought about the approach I took to my Civil War series. Tristi and I basically discussed the difference between taking a big look at something, kind of like stepping back and taking in the panoramic view vs. narrowing in on one slice of an event and delving deeply into it.

For example, when I wrote Faith of our Fathers, my goal was to give the reader a very broad overview of the WHOLE thing. Different cities, battles, events, etc. In order to do that, I created characters and placed them in strategic places so we could see all of those events through their eyes.

This approach allowed me to look at the whole of the conflict, but at only, say, a foot below the surface. If an author were to take one particular town, for example, and focus on one family during the Civil War, she would be able to go more like six, ten, fifteen feet deep. As far as she wants to, really.

Historical Fiction is an interesting animal. Seems like people usually love it or hate it. Purist, arm-chair historians tend to prefer the nonfiction approach to history. For readers who like a more humanized, (for lack of a better word), look at history, the fictional element helps. Fiction is also more entertaining, usually, and many readers enjoy that element.

There is danger in fictionalizing history, I think. I felt this weight when I wrote the series. As an author, you run the risk of people thinking that the "truth" as you see it as an author is, in fact, gospel. Sometimes it's just personal opinion. I felt a huge responsibility to portray real, living people as they were, and not to allow my view of things to alter what they may have said or did. I would venture to guess that other authors of historical fiction would agree with me. You just don't want to get it wrong! When I wrote that series, I said a lot of prayers.

Any strong opinions on this, one way or another? Do you prefer fiction or non when it comes to reading your history? Do you like a broad overview or an in-depth chunk?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writers Conferences and Other things on my To-Do List

By Tamra Norton

If I'm not snorkeling in Hawaii or romping through castles in Europe (neither of which I've experienced, but both on my to-do list...along with becoming Stephenie Meyer's BFF, dancing with Maksim Chmerkovskiy and being adopted into the Jolie-Pitt clan--Auntie Tami Jolie-Pitt. I wonder how it would look on a book cover?) I can't think of a better way to spend an entire Saturday than at a writers conference. Just this past Saturday I attended the Brazos Valley SCBWI Conference in College Station, Texas (go Aggies!). In a word--outstanding!

I've been to several conferences over the past five years--even spoken at a few--and I've come to the conclusion that aside from the act of BIC (bum in chair, a.k.a. writing) and, of course, reading-like-a-nut-job, attending conferences is one of the best ways to hone the craft of writing and assist in that seemingly elusive quest for publication.

Here are some of the highlights from my past five years attending various writers conferences.
  • Hanging out with my writer buddies--it just doesn't get any better. These are MY PEOPLE. They totally get that I have conversations in my head with my characters, look for them on street corners and in Target, even cry with them. Really. I'm normal...right?

  • Schmoozing with editors and agents from some of the largest and most respected NY publishing houses and agencies. We've talked shop. They've offered invaluable advice in their presentations. And I've resisted the urge to stalk them during down time at the conferences. These meetings have lead to numerous manuscript submission opportunities which wouldn't have been available had I not attended the conferences.

  • Schmoozing with published authors--many, my literary idols! For a solid hour I sat next to Joan Bauer and we chatted during the author signing portion of one conference. She signed about 75 books. I signed 4. And last year at a pre-conference mingle-thingy, I had a great conversation with Kimberly Willis Holt as we compared our "military kid" books. Fascinating...and freaking fun!

  • I've had several "first chapter critiques" by numerous editors and agents including agent Erin Murphy and author and SCBWI founder Lin Oliver. Wow--now that was the coolest experience ever. She even highlighted a part of my manuscript the next day in her presentation--now that was a validating moment!

  • Because of one of these "first chapter critiques" at an SCBWI Houston conference, I (or my first chapter) won the Joan Lowery Nixon Award--mentorship through the editing process of that manuscript by National Book Award Finalist, Kathi Appelt. Working with Kathi was a phenomenal experience, and that manuscript, MAKE ME A MEMORY went on to be published by a regional publisher and was chosen by the Utah Commission on Literacy as a Book-of-the-Month selection. Its sequel, MAKE ME A HOME was published this year.

Oh, there have so many memorable experiences! These are only a few. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending a writer's conference. Who knows, maybe I'll see you in Hawaii one of these days. I definitely plan on snorkeling...either before or after attending the Maui Writer's Conference--one more thing on my to-do list!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why Facebook is Like High School

by Elodia Strain

I finally gave in. I made myself a Facebook page. I resisted for so long, but I was an advertising major in college and my ad training just wouldn’t allow me to let a good marketing venue sit untouched anymore.

So I sat down at my computer one day, no big deal, and signed up. I uploaded my photo and typed in my favorite movies and TV shows and felt relieved to have finally done this. But the relief was soon to be replaced by something more akin to, well, panic.

It started when I was Friended by an old high school pal, I’ll call her W. I was so excited! I clicked on her page, feeling exhilarated by the prospect of virtually catching up. But soon I was staring at the page, mind whirling.

My page didn’t have a cool background on it like W’s. I just had the white and blue normal ole Facebook page, but W found some trendy wallpaper on some website that apparently specializes in that kind of thing.
I also didn’t have tons of photos on my page like W did—amazing photos that made her look like the coolest person ever to live. I quickly scanned my photo folder to see what I could upload—but most of my photos are of me and my husband, taken by one of our outstretched hands.

And then there were W’s friends. Two hundred and some of them. I stared at the little friend box on the bottom of her page in shock. W and I are from a small California town. How did she have 278 Facebook friends? And how did her friends have so many friends? (Up to 980 in one case.) And, was it just me, or was this whole Facebook thing suddenly feeling a lot like high school? I mean, I was feeling like a total loser, something I haven’t really felt in quite this way since I left the hallowed halls of Los Banos High.

All of a sudden I had the pull to get myself a cooler page, some cooler photos, and some very cool friends.

I started with the friends. But the question was, who did I know? Over the next few days, I discovered the answer as friend requests started coming into my email box. More friends from high school. A few people who read my book. Old roommates. And even some complete strangers.

So this was how so many people had so many friends! I wasn’t a total loser. I just needed to dig out my old yearbooks and college directories—like everyone else was apparently doing—and I’d easily be on the cusp of two hundred friends. Whew.

Relieved, and pretty weirded-out that I’d gotten so sucked in by Facebook, I decided to forget about my boring page and lack of glam photos for now. Because if I were to go back to my high school self and tell her some words of wisdom, they would be: “Don’t worry so much.” And I have to practice what I preach.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's the Little Things...

Winning a gajillion dollars would be wonderful, don't get me wrong. I collected those McDonald's Monopoly pieces last month, reasoning that someone has to win, it might as well be me. Alas, it wasn't me.

I've realized lately, though, just how little things can bring so much joy. Like discovering a certain four-digit code.

A few months ago, my car battery died, so my car stereo thought it had been stolen from the car and locked itself up. It required a four-digit code to reactivate and because we bought the car used, the magic card displaying said code was no longer in the glove box. (What a silly name, "glove box." Like any of use it for gloves anymore. It ought to be called, "Collection of Crap Box.")

So the stereo routinely gave us three tries to guess the code, and then it locked itself up again for a random amount of hours. I could never figure the rhyme or reason behind that number of hours, either. But anyway, the code option would come back on with a loud BEEP, and the kids and I would scream, "Code Time!"

We tried so desperately to guess the code; we all took turns and I was waiting for the moment when someone would guess the right combination and we'd have music in the car again. I was going slowly insane from the quiet. Well, relative quiet. When the kids weren't in the car, it was quiet.

Time came and went and we couldn't get the dang code. I kept thinking of Terminator 2 where the young John Connor has that PIN code contraption that he sticks into the ATM and gets money out on people's stolen cards. (That was when John Connor was a delinquent and before he was destined to save the world.) I needed one of those machines.

I finally just called the dealership, (duh), and asked if there was any way, even though we bought the car used, if they could look up the stereo code using my VIN number. My heart sank, the lady said "no." BUT, if I took off the casing around the stereo and pulled out the stereo itself, I could find the manufacture number and model number on the stereo, and THEN she could look up the code.

Yesterday, I took out my screwdriver and pried the face off the stereo. Oops. Silly me, the lady meant we had to take off the ENTIRE CASING AROUND THE STEREO, THE VENTS AND CONTROL NOBS. Hmm. I decided I needed reinforcements for that, so I tracked my husband down at work and asked for his help. I was relatively certain I could get the casing off, but I wasn't sure I could do it with any kind of, shall we say, finesse.

So we got the casing off, called the woman at the dealership, and got the magic code! I was slightly disappointed that we hadn't managed to guess it, but I was desperate enough to not play the Code Time Game any longer. It was amazing. Punch in four little numbers and voila! Paradise!

It was in that moment when I realized how grateful I am for little things. My stupid little stock stereo in a car that has its share of dings, (again with my finesse issue), and the glorious sounds that poured forth had me in absolute ecstasy.

I started thinking about the other little things I'm grateful for. My kitchen, for instance. It's a galley kitchen, ridiculously small for more than, say, half a person to be in at any one time, but I have all the little gadgets I feel I need to make yummy stuff for my family. ( I even use white flour to cook with, on occasion. Take that, David Woolley!) And even though I don't have all the counter space I'd like, I'm not lacking for anything I feel I need.

My house is small, but we have heat, running water, and fun Norwegian decor. My children each have a bed, miscellaneous and sundry age-appropriate paraphernalia, clothing and cute hair. My husband has the job of his dreams and I get to write pretend stuff for a living.

So yes, while I was genuinely bummed that I didn't collect both Park Place and Boardwalk, (did anyone notice the profusion of Park Place pieces and total lack of Boardwalk this year?) it really is ok. I have a good little family, food in the cupboard and music in my car.

Life is so good. :-)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Veterans Day

By Tamra Norton

Today, Veterans Day, my mind and heart can't help but turn to our brave servicemen and women who have dedicated their very lives to protect the many freedoms we enjoy in this country. What a huge sacrifice! But it's not theirs alone...

My heart also turns to their families, separated by many miles, and often oceans from sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives... Can we even understand how they are feeling today? I'd imagine there are a mixture of emotions--pride, for sure! But also concern for their loved one's safety and well being. Sadness for days and memories missed.

Today I'm going to give the ones I love an extra hug. And today we will say an extra prayer--for those serving, and for those at home.

Click here to read my friend, Alison Palmer's awesome Veterans Day Blog...where she also happens to talk about my two children's novels, Make Me a Memory and Make Me a Home--both dealing with military children.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Know Your Stuff

By Marcia Mickelson

A month ago, I was toying with the idea of going back to work. I did job searches, sent my resume around, and did a few interviews. I received a call from a children's hospital in town. It was the perfect job for me. It was part-time with great hours; I would be off in time to pick my kids up from school. The job was in the Interpretation Department. I would be translating for Spanish-speaking patients and their parents. I grew up speaking Spanish and am fluent. I've also had several jobs in the past that have included translating.

I thought about brushing up on my Spanish in preparation for testing I had to do, but I felt fairly confident. I've basically been translating all my life. It would be easy. Boy, was I wrong. The first part of the testing was written. If I did well, I would come back for oral testing, followed up by an interview. The written test was hard! What was I thinking? There were 40 medical terms written in English, and I had to translate them into Spanish. There were words like congestive heart failure, jaundice, and other medical terms that I have no idea how to say in Spanish, much less spell. There were also 2 paragraphs to translate. One from Spanish to English, which was easy and the other one from English to Spanish which was very hard, especially because it kept repeating the word pulmonary and I had no idea how to say it in Spanish.

I was overly confident prior to the test; thought I knew enough to not study the night before or at least brush up by looking through a dictionary and testing myself. Yes, Spanish is easy for me, but medical terms in Spanish not so much. I learned a very important lesson. Confidence will only get you so far; you have to know your stuff if you want to succeed. So, I never did get the call back about the oral exam. Guess I didn't do so well. I've decided not to go back to work. I'm just going to stay home and continue writing.

Friday, November 7, 2008

What If Dr. Frankenstein Had Loved His Monster?

(Slight change of plans for tomorrow's signing- the Provident Bookstore grand opening has been moved back one week to November 15. All the times are still the same, as far as I know.)

I wanted to send a shout-out to my book club friends and tie in to my odd post title. Book Club met last night and my sweet friends read my newest book this month. So we talked about it and they gushed appropriately for my ego's sake. The hostesses made Indian food and the main hostess wore her Indian shirt.

They were so good to me, and I was really grateful. Also, one of my friends mentioned that she wants to be Isabelle when she grows up. Me too! I love Isabelle. She's all things that are smart and brave and clever. Her flaws and weaknesses only serve to make her that much more wonderful.

When I wrote her in the Civil War series she was little more than a secondary character, a good friend of one of my main characters. It didn't take long, though, for Isabelle Webb to leap to the foreground and there were times I had to hold her back a bit. By the end, she got lots of her own scenes.

So this series is for her. She's so wonderful, and I do say that without guile. This is not an autobiographical book- I only wish it were! But I've come to love this character so much and was so gratified to see that other readers love her too.

So my question for readers is this: have you ever read a character and thought, "Man! I wish I could be her/him!"

My question for writers is this: who's your favorite character you've written to date and why?

Or am I the only writer out there egotistical enough to be totally enamored of one of her own creations? ;-)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Things to Look Forward To...

By Marcia Mickelson

It's November, and there's a lot for me to look forward to this month. Let me share:

Election Day. I just love staying up into the night watching election results come in. And, we have DirecTV this year, so there will be about 100 channels covering the election.

David Cook. David Cook (from American Idol) is releasing his first album this month. I watched him on Saturday Night Live and am so excited for his album.

Twilight. I've read all four books in the series and am excited about the movie coming out this month. If you're interested in taking a quiz to see which Twilight character you are, go to my blog.

The Lexington. On Wednesday, my 3rd grader is taking a field trip to the USS Lexington, a WWII Aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum.

Pull Ups. By the end of this month, we will be all out of pull-ups (training diapers) and that means my 3 year old is officially potty trained. I won't have to buy diapers for a long time, at least not til the next baby. No, that's not an announcement.

Thanksgiving. It will be fun for my kids to have a whole week off and just relax.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Texas in my Chili--Really!

By Tamra Norton

So the other day I was fixing lunch for the kids (chili mac--a staple at our house), and when I opened the can of chili and took off the lid, I found something very interesting--the state of Texas--really. I found Texas in my chili. Apparently a hunk of chili fell from the top, center of the can, which resulted in an almost perfectly shaped cut-out of the state of Texas (where we happen to live AND where this particular can of chili was made.

Now I know what you're thinking. What in the heck does this have to do with writing? Well, my friends, I'll tell you...

Was it simply a coincidence that I found Texas in my chili? I think not!

A miracle? Ummmmm...okay, so not exactly...

But was it incredible? Astonishing? Fantastic? Sure, why not. My kids and I got a huge kick out of it.

Personally (and please, don't read too much in to this like Tami has turned coo-coo-nutzo or anything), I think it's a sign from the heavens telling me that my little ol' "fairy tale" manuscript from this little ol' author from Texas is going to be picked up by some fancy schmancy agent, and shopped around to some fancier schmancier east coast publishing house. And the end result will be something much more incredible than a hill'a chili beans.

Just sayin'...