Thursday, October 30, 2008

Book Review by Carroll and Lael: A Future for Tomorrow/Surviving Anorexia By Haley Hatch Freeman

It’s hard to imagine a teenager standing 5’9” and weighing only 85 pounds, but that’s the state Haley Hatch Freeman reached when she was at the low part of her terrifying struggle with anorexia. In "A Future for Tomorrow," Haley bravely recounts her journey to the brink of death and back again in a way that is both touching and inspiring.

This struggle began with Haley not feeling good enough, pretty enough, or loved enough. She was surrounded by loving friends and family, but when they told her she was pretty or loved, she discounted what they said: “Oh, they’re just saying that to be nice.” Haley also suffered from body dysmorphia. She had a distorted image of her own body, which led her to see herself as fat even when she was skeletal and in danger of losing her life.

The frankness with which Haley describes her journey is remarkable. She opens her heart and mind to her readers because she feels called to let others know how devastating anorexia nervosa can be. Part of the book is told in excerpts from her journal. showing her progess—or lack of it. Before we read this book, we didn’t understand what young women suffering this disease go through, but now we both feel as if we’ve been through it ourselves.

Eating disorders are on the rise, even among young men. This is not surprising, given the mostly unattainable images of beauty we see in the media. Reading Haley’s book gives adults insight into behaviors which might be early warning signs that young people are in danger of becoming anorexic. "A Future for Tomorrow" is a wake-up call for readers of any age.

The first ten chapters of the book are told in an unusal way. It starts with January 27, 1997, and moves backward until July 17, 1996, at which time it starts moving forward beginning with May 7, 1997. We couldn’t see a reason for this convuluted telling and would have preferred a straightforward story. Nevertheless, the impact is not lost as we move with Haley into despair and then hope and then healing. The pictures at the end of the book are very reassuring, the final one being her wedding day in November 2002.

Much happiness, Haley. You have earned it.

To learn more about Haley, click here to visit her blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Wedding, Vertigo and Unexpected Benefits

I realized this morning that the blog I thought I'd posted about the big trip my family took to Europe last month existed only in my head! So here I am, the morning after the last big presidential debate, blogging about life, love, weddings and how an event that seems unfortunate can have unexpected benefits.

Gary and I started planning for this trip when our daughter, Lisette, who lives in Germany, announced that she and York Hagmeyer were going to get married on the 13th of September. Getting that kind of news is always exciting, but for us it had extra significance. In the years since my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, we've learned that having an event to look forward to changes how one lives in the present. And what better event to anticipate than the marriage of our daughter to a fine man we were proud to welcome into our family.

The celebration was truly an international event. In addition to Lisette and York's friends and family in Germany, four of Lisette's high-school friends from America were in attendance, plus York's host family and friends from when he'd been an exchange student in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I got such a kick out of watching York's exchange mother carrying on an animated conversation with his mother, Heidrun, when neither understood the other's language!

The love that was present during the ceremony in the city hall in Goettingen was palpable, and it carried over to the celebration held in the square in front of the city hall and later to the reception held in a restaurant in Werretal. Even the servers commented on what a wonderful event it was.

I was so proud of my family that night. Gary's toast to the bridal couple was so sweet and touching, many guests told Lisette they wished they had a father who would say something like that at their wedding. David sang a song in German while Lisette and York danced the first dance. Then Gary, who at times during the day had been using canes or a wheelchair, actually danced with me--and I have the photos to prove it!

The party was still going strong when Gary and I finally went to our room after midnight, wrapped in the glow of love, friendship and fun. The plan was to visit a park in Kassel the next day and leave for Rome the day after.

But the next morning, I woke to find the room tilted and sliding to the right. Rats! It was vertigo, which I'd had problems with off and on for years. I closed my eyes for a moment and carefully opened them again, hoping the room would be mercifully stable. No such luck. I stayed in the hotel during that day, thinking by resting I would be in shape to go to Rome. But the next day, it was even worse. Gary, Mattie, John, and David left for Rome, and I left for the a doctor's office.

I never did make it to Rome. Instead I spent the week with York and Lisette at their apartment in Kassel. It was a disappointment not to be with the rest of the family while they toured The Eternal City, but there was something very sweet about being able to spend more time with my daughter and new son-in-law. Once I was feeling better, I had the opportunity to get a picture of what their life in Kassel was like--going to the Saturday market, walking in the city park, and seeing the clinic where Lisette works.

I treasure that time. In fact, I wouldn't want the trip to have turned out any other way. Now we're back to our normal routine, enjoying the glory days of SE Arizona in the fall. Life is good.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Have Pencil, Will Travel

Ever since my husband died several years ago, I’ve been traveling to all of the countries we’d planned to visit together after his retirement. (He died suddenly the morning after he brought home his retirement papers.) Whenever I tell people I’m going to Ukraine or China or Poland, some of them say, “Oh, you’ll find a lot to write about there.” I smile and nod, but the truth is what I’ll write about will be things I learn and observe from the people I travel with.

One of the great Southern writers -- it may have been Faulkner -- said once that he could spend his entire life writing about a square foot of land in the town where he grew up. I’ve written extensively about my home town, the small farming community of Mink Creek, Idaho. Most of it is fiction, but I get my inspiration from the history and customs of that little village, and especially the people, whom I love dearly, both past and present. And so, when I travel, I watch and listen to my companions. I hear their life stories, the way they speak, their attitudes, their comments about the country we’re in and the towns they came from. I observe their mannerisms and how they relate to other people. I make notes in the little pad I always have with me. They, or something about them, may appear in my next book. Very likely they wouldn’t recognize themselves, because the characters I create are usually a synthesis of several people. Sweetie Farnsworth in my Blue Skye was an amalgamation of a warm-hearted woman I knew back in Mink Creek and a Scottish lady I met on one of my trips. Reanna, in Lake of Secrets,was in reality a flighty young woman I knew in high school with a dash of a girl who was part of my tour group in the Czech Republic.

That’s not to say I don’t use the countries themselves in my books, or rather events that happened in those countries. In the trilogy of books I wrote with co-authors Nancy Anderson and Carroll Morris, we had our three characters vacationing together in Williamsburg, Virginia, at the time the World Trade Center was destroyed. Nancy, Carroll, and I had actually vacationed in Williamsburg, but three years before 9/11. On the actual day, September 11, 2001, I was with a small tour group in St. Petersburg, Russia. We were to fly out the next morning, and we were attending a farewell dinner at one of the Romanoff palaces when we passed a vendor’s table and saw the first plane fly into a tower. The commentary was in Russian, so we didn’t know what was happening. It seemed to be an accident, so we went in to dinner. It wasn’t until afterward that we found out it was no accident. We asked the vendor what happened, and in broken English he told us New York was under attack.

Back at our hotel we flipped through the TV channels, trying to locate one we could understand. Finally we found a broadcast from Germany, with English subtitles. We sat there stunned, watching the horror play and replay. We heard that the United States borders had been closed. What was to happen to us? We were shut out of our own country. We would not get home the next day.

The hotel staff wept with us and put up a sign expressing their sorrow and sympathy. Luiba, our wonderful Russian guide, said she would make sure we’d have a hotel to stay in when we got to Warsaw, which was as far as we could go. She hugged us all the next day when she took us to the airport.

The small hotel near the airport in Warsaw had just opened, and the rooms were beautiful. The staff surrounded us with love and concern. The week that followed would have been a pleasure if there hadn’t been such horror going on back in the U.S. The hotel manager gave us a van and driver to take us around the city free of charge. We saw the triumphant rebuilding of the Warsaw city center, which the Nazis had totally razed in World War II. We saw the U.S. Embassy, surrounded by hundreds of people, many of them weeping, and mountains of flowers they’d brought. And we saw the lovely Latter-day Saint chapel, where several of us went to church on Sunday and found peace of mind and the assurance that we would get home safely. We were charmed and touched that one of the Sunday School classes was in English so that we could understand without the missionaries translating.

In the second book of our trilogy, Three Tickets to Peoria, Nancy, Carroll, and I had our characters going through the same emotions that I’d felt when they are stranded in Williamsburg. They can’t get home. But their solution was easier than mine; they simply changed the destination of their rental car and drove to Florida where one of the characters was living.

One need not travel to find inspiration for characters or ideas for events. To paraphrase Faulkner, or whoever it was, I could find enough to write about the rest of my life right here on my own block. In fact, one of my neighbors made an appearance in my book Shanny on Her Own as independent and crusty old Aunt Adabelle. You can tell her if you want to, but she’d deny it. She doesn’t see herself as I see her, and besides I stirred in a hefty measure of my own Aunt Mahalia.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Review of The Santa Letters by Stacy Gooch Anderson

This handsomely presented book begins by giving the reader a glimpse of a happy family -- William and Emma with their three sons and small daughter -- enjoying their time together. But in the second chapter, everything has changed. William has been killed by a hit-and-run driver, and the family is plunged into loss and pain and darkness. Emma, immobilized by grief, wants nothing more than to huddle in the comforting warmth of Grandma’s quilt and think of the past when William was still with her. Christmas is coming, but the joy of the season has died with her husband, as far as she is concerned. She pulls herself together enough to hold down the job she must take to provide for her family, but she feels her life is in total disarray.

Then, to the surprise of all of them, they find a red envelope on their doorstep. Emma is tempted to throw it away. Her children have had enough ‘surprises.’ But the kids are too focused on the mysterious letter to simply dispose of it, so after dinner Emma opens it. The writer of the letter expresses sympathy for their loss and changed circumstances, and then talks about the Christmas season, telling how the word ‘Christmas’ combines Christ’s name with a Middle English word meaning ‘festival’ or ‘celebration.’ The letter goes on to say that a box will be left on their porch each day along with instructions about what the family is to do with the items inside.

The letter is signed, “Santa.”

Thus begins an adventure of mystery and realization and growth. One of the letters speaks of traditions, and inside the box the family finds tree ornaments with instructions to obtain a tree and decorate it as in past years. “Symbols, services, songs, sacraments--they all have withstood the test of time,” the letter says. Another day the letter is about the importance of laughter, with scriptural quotations about rejoicing. Inside the box are a comedy DVD, a box of popcorn, and root beer for all for a festive night at the movies.

And so it goes, with a Santa letter and a box delivered each day. But who is leaving them? There isn’t a clue. Emma is immeasureably grateful to whoever it is because she and her family are once again finding joy and fun in life. They have something to look forward to.

But will they ever find out who this ‘Santa’ is?

This book brings to the reader not only a touching story but also a whole education about Christmas and the Savior and the true meaning of “Santa.”

You can learn more about Stacy Gooch Anderson by clicking here and here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Review of The Journey by J. Adams

There’s an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover. But when I looked at the jacket of J. Adams’ book The Journey, I knew beyond a doubt that I was in for a good read, and I compliment the designer, Jonathan Pace. In a tranquil setting, he has inserted two eyes peering through the tangled underbrush with a hint of both curiosity and fear, which is how Ciran, the heroine of the book, views the new world she is sent to from the familiar kingdom where her father rules supreme.

As a child, I loved fairy tales. This book, to me, felt like a fairy tale at first, but as I progressed through it I found that, like any really good fairy tale, it has a number of levels. It can be read simply as entertainment. Or it can be looked at as a multi-level allegory, drawn from the greatest story of all, the plan of salvation. Right away, in the prologue, the reader is introduced to the ominous opposing force, so before we even meet Ciran, we fear for her safe passage. Then immediately we find ourselves in Krisandor, “a kingdom in which one longed to stay but inevitably had to leave for a time.” Ciran, like those before, had to leave it and go into The World With No Name in order to prove herself and progress. Her father promises that although he won’t be by her side, he will nevertheless be with her at all times. Her brother Sakriel will soon come to be with her, the father promises. “Since he has already made the journey himself, his knowledge will be a strength to you,” he says.

Thus begins this story of the unending battle between good and evil. It winds through scenes of breathtaking danger and temptation and treachery. But there is always the guiding star of love. It is up to Ciran to choose which way she will go.

J. Adams’ lyrical prose keeps the reader wondering if Ciran is truly up to the task of completing the journey, and if we, ourselves, can make the right choices in order to return to the father. The book is indeed a good read.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Virtual Tour a Great Success - by Carroll

Nancy, Lael, and I had never heard of a virtual book tour until we went to the LDStorymakers writers conference last March. We were all amazed at the extent of self promotion authors can do these days, much of it via the Internet. Thank heaven for Tristi Pinkston, our good friend and guide in the world of technology! (See Lael’s review of Tristi’s book Nothing to Regret.) Tristi set up a virtual tour for us and Surprise Packages. Almost every day during the month of August a blogger with ties to the LDS community of readers and writers posted a review of the book and/or our answers to interview questions.What fun it’s been to visit those blogs and discover what the writers had to say, even when the comments weren’t completely positive.

Several reviewers hadn’t read the first two books, so they had a hard time picking up the story lines and getting the characters straight. We’d thought about starting the book with a Cast of Characters page—I’m not sure why we didn’t follow through. Maybe we can plead deadline denseness!

Others wished that we’d written more scenes rather than reporting events via e-mails and phone calls. We wanted to, but word count rules! I guess we could have made the series longer, but that would have had its perils, too.

And then there was a comment on less than stellar editing… No excuses for that.

Here’s a sampling of the positive responses:

Nichole said: We should all wish for a group of friends like this…. I saw parts of myself and my girlfriends in each of these women.

Shirley said: It’s like reading the big, fat, juicy family newsletter you always wish you had.

Karlene said: Not only a great read, but also surprisingly inspiring to me.

And from the two men who hosted us on the tour:

Don said: It reminded me of listening to my mom and her sisters catching up on each other's lives.

Keith said: Being a man, I’m not a big fan of women’s fiction, but I found it fulfilling. I love the blend of characters, the way they fit together in the narrative works well.

We’re amazed at the support that LDS authors give each other through the LDStorymakers group and through being willing to feature each other’s work on their blogs. This is a great community, and we’re honored to be a part of it. We’ll be returning the favor by reviewing new LDS books on this blog.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Book Signing at BYU Bookstore, by Lael Littke

Nancy, Lael, and Carroll with new friends from Australia

Last Thursday, Nancy, Carroll and I signed our three-novel series, The Company of Good Women, at the BYU Bookstore--during Education Week! The final book, Surprise Packages, had been out a few weeks, joining its sister books, Almost Sisters and Three Tickets to Peoria.

Signing during Education Week is always an adventure, starting with finding a parking place near the Wilkinson Center. Nancy, who was our chauffeur, definitely had parking karma. She found us a spot just across the street from the WC.

Finding our table in the bookstore wasn't hard, either. It was marked by a big sign featuring each of our names. There were stacks of all three books on the table, as well as signing pens and the always appreciated bottles of water.

No sooner had we settled down than faces from the past--my past, mostly--came by. Cousins, former students, old friends, a man who'd grown up in my East Pasadena Ward, my Denver roommate from when we were career girls there. Nancy's niece and her four delightful children also stopped by.

Then there were new friends, one of whom we'd just shared a table and a Subway sandwich with. We were thrilled when someone would stop, snatch up a copy of Surprise Packages, and exclaim, "At last! It seems like I've been waiting for this forever!" And when readers who'd already purchased the book stopped to say, "I loved it--it was the best of the series."

A final delight just before we left was meeting a mother-daughter set from Australia. We were on our way out, but they heard us talking and recognized us from having seen the signs above our table. We stopped to visit for several minutes because they were so delightful. Books were sold, pictures taken, e-mail addresses exchanged, invitations given. 

Then it was over, our fifteen minutes (actually a little over two hours) of fame. But from it we harvested new friends, great memories, and a vow to write another book together so we could do this again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


This summer has been a season of firsts for me: two grandbabies reaching their first birthdays, a first luxury vacation to Hilton Head—may it set a precedent please, a first broken water main when we returned—no precedent desired, a first virtual book tour, and a first LDS Book Sellers signing.

I was surprised by the whole convention setup, having no real idea of what it would be like when I arrived. What an amazing amount of interesting information was available to help book sellers succeed in promoting LDS literature and products. A whole week’s worth of classes and seminars were scheduled.

Lael Littke and I signed books for sellers on Friday as the conference was wrapping up. It was a delight to meet the book sellers who stopped by, especially those from the small independent book stores scattered over the U.S. who making an heroic effort to provide LDS material to the Saints in that area. Not to mention that they were all charming to talk to.

Lael returned to manning the Whitney Awards booth and I had a few moments to check out the booths before I had to be at another appointment. Among the “new on the scene” folks I had a chance to meet where the representatives from Silverleaf Press and their companion, Leatherwood Press. Between the two they hand everything from The Sacrament Meeting Time Coloring Book--I am a Child of God, by Madeline Elsey, and Secrets of Companion Planting, Plants that help, Plants that Hurt, by Brenda Little to books on how to be a Union or Confederate soldier.

Then I spent a few minutes with the Book of Mormon Tours folks and had a look at their terrific maps and the new updated Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon by Joseph L. Allen PhD, founder of Book of Mormon Tours.. Package tours and dates call 1-888-226-5205 o5 click on Those are trips I would really like to take!

New on the music scene is Music for Worship, created by popular LDS arranger Brian Jensen. They are a young artists with a fresh new look at sacred music appropriate for Sacrament Meetings and other sacred settings. They currently have four series including vocal, solo, choir and keyboard. For more information, especially if you are interested in mp3 and PDF downloads contact Music for Worship c/o The Song of the Heart Distribution. PO Box 1255, Provo, Utah 84603 or get on line. Website: and e-mail,

My last stop was at Barbs Goodies and Gifts, What a treat. She gave us samples of pretzels dipped in caramel and white chocolate then drizzles in milk. We tasted round pretzels filled with English toffee topped with white chocolate and then white. And, my oh my, true melt-in-your-mouth-couldn’t-have-made-it-better-myself-on-my-best-cooking-day white chocolate popcorn. My daughter and I purely drooled as we savored the samples. To me the perfect Christmas treat is something that tastes better than homemade and it what I would cook and serve myself if I had the time. Barb’s treats at Barb’s Goodies & Gifts are exactly that! The information that I received listed only wholesale prices and purchases had to be made in batches of six. For retail distributors contact her at the website above or at 1060 N Kingswood Road, Kaysville, Utah 84037, or phone (801)-546-2491 or (801) 792-2621.

My best wishes to all these new kids on the block. Try them out!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Impromptu book signing

Knowing that Gary and I would be in the Jerome/Twin Falls area for two family reunions the end of July/first of August, I called Deseret Book to see what I might be able to set up to promote Surprise Packages. I was scheduled for a "meet and greet" at the Boise Deseret Book store (such nice people!), but was told there wasn't a bookstore in Twin Falls.

(True--there is no Deseret Book store there. But as I was to find out, there are two independent LDS bookstores!)

Since I did know about the Barnes and Noble at the Twin Falls mall, I stopped by there to introduce myself and sign the books that were on their shelves. They had Surprise Packages, but not the first two books of the series. The associate I talked to immediately got online and ordered copies of the other two! Reason enough to be glad I dropped in.

Later, Gary's cousin Janet mentioned she'd gone through the recently completed Twin Falls temple and that the open house was continuing. Would we like to go?  Of course! Although she wasn't LDS, Janet called her good friends who were, and the four of us went through the temple together. It's an incredibly beautiful edifice, with amazing workmanship evident at every turn. 

Afterward, the couple drove us to Bell's Family Bookstore, a small independent LDS bookstore they knew of. I signed some copies and talked to some customers , much to the delight of the woman manning the store. (It's so fun to know people love your work!) Having visited Barnes and Noble and this store, I figured I'd done what I could re: promotion.

But on Monday, the day before we were supposed to leave, we were directed to another independent LDS bookstore, Crowley's, a pocket store on the opposite side of the mall from Barnes and Noble. Okay, I thought. I'll drop in for another meet and greet. Not!

It's hard to describe the welcome I received from Richard Crowley! He'd put a lot of effort into getting writers to his store during the temple open house, because he was anticipating a lot of business. He'd asked DB for help in this regard, but they were understandably too busy getting ready for the LDS Booksellers convention to respond to his request. So he was thrilled to have a DB author show up on his doorstep—even if it was on a Monday morning. And he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass by.

Before I knew it, he'd set up a table near the entrance and talked me into staying for a hour-long impromptu signing! I felt sort of silly. Who would stop by on a Monday morning? But I had a delightful time. Who wouldn't when a reader comes looking for Surprise Packages and is totally thrilled to meet one of the authors! I also met someone who knew Lael from her Mink Creek days. And I know that from establishing this personal connection, Richard will direct readers to our series.

Oh, re: the reunions: We had a wonderful time with picnicking with Barga relatives at the Jerome city park. The next day we were at the park again to enjoy spending time with Morris relatives. What nice people they all are. I'm lucky to be part of their family.

Friday, July 25, 2008

How to start a novel: write first or outline first?

In March, I gave a seminar at the LDStorymakers writer's conference entitled, Creating Your Inner Writing Team. One point I discussed was the way one's natural preference (right brain or left brain) can affect the process of writing. While most people have and use both sides of their brains (hee, hee), our natural preference affects how we go about a project. I gave the example of folks who find it easy to outline a paper and then write it following the outline and folks who are frozen at the prospect of beginning with an outline. They have to write the paper first, then the outline!

So now Nancy and I are working on a project (Lael's writing a YA novel for the national market), and the question of how to begin raised it's head. When writing my earlier novels, I had an idea, and then sat down in front of the typewriter or computer and started writing. I often only had the vaguest notion of what characters besides the protagonist would populate the novel and what the plot points would be.

For example, when I wrote my first novel,  The Broken Covenant, I wanted to explore why and how a "good" LDS woman would move from being a devoted wife to having an affair. I had no idea how to begin, so I started writing the conversations I knew this character would have. With the man in question, her husband, her children, the bishop, etc. 

I followed much the same process with my other novels. However, working with Nancy as co-author requires a different plan. Outlining and plotting first! Oy vey! Nancy came up with a great idea. Through brainstorming, we knew who the main characters were and what the general plot line would be (a road trip/development novel). But we had to go far beyond that so we wouldn't waste time going down paths that were unproductive.

Luckily, about that time I got a copy of The Writer's Journey/Mythic Structures for Writers by Christopher Vogler. What a fascinating book. Basically, Vogler shows how every successful work of fiction--humorous, epic, whatever——has a character arc that can overlay classic idea of The Hero's Journey. There's been much discussion, for example, of how The Hero's Journey can be seen in the Star Wars trilogy. 

So I used the points on the character arc that Vogler outlines in the book as a scaffolding to begin plotting the new novel. The points are, 

1.  Limited awareness of a problem
2.  Increased awareness
3.  Reluctance to change
4.  Overcoming reluctance
5.  Committing to change
6.  Experimenting with first change
7.  Preparing for big change
8.  Attempting big change
9.  Consequences of the change
10. Rededication to change
11. Final attempt at big change
12. Final mastery of the problem

I was amazed at how working with these points opened up all sorts of possibilities. Before long, I had a basic structure on paper. Now Nancy and I can have fun filling it out and refining it. 

Of course, even with this outline, new ideas and unexpected plot turns will come up in the writing itself. I'm looking forward to seeing where we'll end up, but happily we have a good idea of where we're going!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Book review

I’ve set myself a goal for the next year to read as many books by LDS authors as I can. I started off with Tristi Pinkston’s book Nothing to Regret because I’m thinking of doing something myself concerning one of the World War II Japanese relocation centers. Here is my review of the book:

Tristi Pinkston knows how to get a story started and keep it rolling. She begins her book Nothing to Regret with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Ken Sugihara, her protagonist, has been happily attending Berkeley, but the events of that day totally change his life. He is Nisei, an American of Japanese ancestry. Much to his consternation, he and all other people of Japanese ancestry on the west coast are suddenly outcasts, looked upon with suspicion and suspected of spying. Almost before they realize what’s happening, they are interned in various “relocation centers” throughout the west. Ken and his family are sent to Topaz, Utah, where they are virtually prisoners.

Life is monotonous in the camp, so when Ken, who speaks fluent Japanese, has the opportunity to go on a very dangerous mission as a American spy in the heart of Japan, he accepts, knowing that serving his country in this way is fully as dangerous as being in the front lines of the war. Thus begins a saga which the author keeps moving at a fast pace until the surprising ending.

The author sustains reader interest throughout the book through unexpected twists and turns. She has done her research well so that it has the feel of authenticity. I recommend this book for all World War II buffs as well as those who just simply like a good story.

Review by Lael Littke

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writing and Weddings

A look through our garden gate the night of the Tropical Twilight Reception.

Planning an garden wedding reception and a plotting a novel have a surprising amount in common. Theme, pacing, overall arc, and effect. The theme, both in novel writing and in planning this reception, set the boundaries and demanded certain elements be included or excluded in the overall architecture.

The theme for the wedding reception we hosted in our back yard on June 21, was Tropical Twilight. When we heard, we knew instantly that it would include tiki torches marking the paths, glittering lights on trees, fence lines, and the rocks walls of the garden, and splashy plantings of brightly colored flowers in coral, hot pink, reds, yellows, and purples. Even the menu was defined by the theme, sauteed chicken with peanut sauce, fruited rice, strawberry and spinach salad, and those wonderful Polynesian rolls baked in a sauce of sugar and coconut milk.

We structured the set-up to keep the guests flowing from the reception line to the buffet to the dining set-ups in the three teak wood gazeboes in the middle of the yard and then on to clusters of intimate seating to encourage long conversations and relaxation.

Pacing the activities to keep the energy flowing took as much care as planning peaks in a plot. Start the live music before the guests arrived to entice them in from yard (joined by a side gate) to yard. Cut the cake when there is a lull in the receiving line. (There never was.) Have the bride and groom take their dance early so that everyone will feel free to hit the dance floor (in this case the basket ball court).

And finally, make the ending short and sweet and don't drag out the clean up.

The creative process takes place everyday in our lives. Whether it's in more recognizable ways like plotting a novel, planning a painting, and designing a garden, or in more subtle circumstances; solving a problem, adding missing elements to a relationship, or parenting a child, we thank the good God who made us for imagination, the ability to forcast possible outcomes and the reason to make choices.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Writer's Desk—to Clean or Not to Clean?

That is the question, especially for this writer's desk. 

In the months prior to the completion of Surprise Packages, my U-shaped desk collected many piles of papers. Some had to do with the book, others with parts of my life not directly related to writing: family, home, church, travel, caregiving group, etc. 
Now that the book is at the printers, I have no excuse for not tackling those piles. But it's so hard to begin! For years, I've bought books on organization in the hope that if I discovered the perfect system, I could lick the problem of the cluttered desk once and for all. But I haven't found one yet designed for a procrastinator who is also a right-brained visual organizer.

The thing about visual organizers (I'm not the only one) is that out of sight really is out of mind. If I can't see it, it doesn't exist. And in an odd way, my piles do work for me--I almost always know which pile holds the particular information I'm hunting for, even how far down it is.

But since those piles are getting out of hand, I have to take some action short of putting items in a folder and filing them in a drawer, which would be tantamount to tossing them down a black hole. My plan is to sort the piles by project or domain, tossing papers that are no longer useful. The writing projects I'll put in individual totes. Papers having to do with domains will go in their own wire basket. 

Finally, I'll put a calendar and a HOT list of tasks by my computer where I can't avoid seeing them. And I'll spend a few minutes every morning and evening identifying what most needs to be done.

I hope this plan will work! Now I just have to get off my duff and get started.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hobbling Through Zion

It's hard navigating the dictionary to find words to describe the canyons of Zion National Park, even for a writer. It's even harder navigating the paths if you're a writer hobbling along in orthopedic sandals supported by two canes and a patient husband. But here I am! Nearly at the mouth of the Narrows on the River Walk at the top of Zion Canyon.

Can you tell by my smile that I felt like I was "all that and a slice of gingerbread?" The only thing that thrilled me more was seeing the golden columbine in full bloom hanging from the walls in the canyon. Where else but Zion can you find woodland flowers flourishing in the middle of a desert?

We ended our short jaunt by arriving in Las Vegas in time to see my five year old granddaughter perform in her dance recital. How's that for a perfect adventure? Two rare desert flowers in one day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Cover for Surprise Packages is Revealed!

From the backliner:
Surprise Packages is the best book of the series! —Erma Carrier
This series is an endearing tribute to women and every kind of love they experience—times three. —Ginger Franz
Fifteen years after meeting at Education Week at Brigham Young University, the friends face new challenges. Deenie, now living in Gainesville, Florida, wonders if a new “where” calls for a new “who.” Juneau’s feelings of guilt come to a head when a secret from her childhood resurfaces. And Erin takes a second chance on love—with unexpected results. Through e-mails, phone calls, and visits, the three women support each other in the face of whatever life brings. But as they anticipate meeting to see if they’ve become Crusty Old Broads, events take a turn that puts the completion of The Pact in doubt.
This third book in "The Company of Good Women" series will be released to stores on August 6th. Stay tuned for more information on the Virtual Book Tour which will be launched July 1st, with stops all over the Internet!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I was born in the era of manual typewriters. My brain was not even wired for electricity. Now I'm trying to impose computer stuff on it which it has struggled to handle, but when I asked it to understand blogs, it totally wiped out. I'm a techno dorkwad (I saw that term in a post from Tami Norton, and it fits so well that I've adopted it). Alas, poor Yorick! I may be joining you, if I keep pushing my mental machinery.

Floating My Fears Away by Lael Littke

I just returned from a cruise to Alaska. Aside from the usual benefits, I found that I gained something else from the trip: I overcame my fear of deep water, just about the last of my lifelong hangups. As a child, I had a list of fears as long as my cat’s tail. In fact, the cat himself was on my list. I’d heard that if you let a cat sleep with you, it would take your breath. Exactly what that meant, I wasn’t sure. But it wasn’t true because the cat frequently slept on my chest and I let him because I loved him. If he took my breath, he gave it back each morning.

I was afraid of the tiger which lived under the porch. Hadn’t my brother pointed out its eyes shining in the dark? In fact, my brother said the tiger had eaten his playmate, George Harry Petey John. He said it was a bloody fight. Since I had never seen George Harry Petey John, I couldn’t say for sure. His playmate, he said, was something like the Holy Ghost, always there if you needed him but never intruding when you didn’t.

My brother alerted me to the Tree Witch who lived in the tall box elder in front of our house. She was there to snatch away children who missed the schoolbus or faked illness in order to skip school and then had the bad judgment to go outside and play. She was related to the Water Woman, a cruel prankster our mother warned us about who pulled little kids under the water of the creek that ran past our house if they got too close. (I wonder if that’s where I got my fear of water. That creek was at least eight inches deep.)

I was terrified of a tall girl named Letha at our small country school. She would peer over the door of the stall in the girls’ bathroom and snarl, “What are doing in there, you little twerp?” Most days I would try to wait until I got home to go.

I won’t go through the whole list, but one by one I conquered most of my fears, or simply grew out of them. But it took a while to overcome my fear of submitting a story in my writing class in New York City. I had taken every writing class offered at Utah State University, but we were mostly Mormons there and my mild little tales were well received. But after I was married and my husband and I moved to New York to pursue further education, I signed up for a class at City College of New York.

The students there were different from those at Utah State. They were sophisticated, jaded, blasé. They’d seen everything, done everything. They wrote stories of sexual perversions I’d never even heard of. How could I hand in my little yarns about Snookie, the shy young Idaho cowboy smitten for the new schoolteacher lady, or Grandma Feeney who saved her best dishes and linens for “company best” and thus never used them – until the day that . . . .

To my surprise, my classmates liked my stories and laughed in all the right places even though they regarded me as something of an anomoly there in the Big City. The teacher, a hard-bitten woman who wore a strip of adhesive tape on her forehead and down over the nosepiece of her glasses so they wouldn’t slide, called me to her desk one day. “Ms. Littke,” she said, looking over the top of said glasses, “you could be a selling author if you’d just write about reality.” “But I do,” I countered, shamefaced at being so country-girl. “What I write about is reality to me.” She stared at me for a long moment, and then said, “Ms. Littke you’re very lucky.”

So much for fears. If that old Water Woman was along with me on my Alaska cruise, I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Good new post by Carroll

I realized after posting Good News and Sobering Conversation that I didn't identify myself as the writer. Pretty important when there will be three of us Crusty Old Broads contributing. I'll figure this blogging thing out soon!

Additional information: For those of you who might not know, Gary and I live south of Tucson, about 45 minutes from the border crossing at Nogales.

Good news, sobering conversation

Great news! Our editor has made the galley corrections on Surprise Packages, the cover photo will be shot this weekend, and the book goes to the printer on Thursday. Yippee!

Knowing our book was on its way, I started my morning walk feeling great. The sun was shining, the air cool and full of birdsong. But then I had a sobering conversation with a couple I met on the road. The wife had a pair of binoculars, so I asked her what birds they were hoping to see. (Our area draws birders from all around the world.) The woman said she had her binocs not to spot birds but to get the license numbers of vehicles picking up illegals at the Lutheran Church we were just passing!

These folks, who live backed up to state land not far from Gary and me, have often seen illegals passing behind their house, waiting at the drop site (sometimes in the church parking lot), or being picked up. They've also seen the shocking amount of trash that mars the desert--the coyotes who pick illegal crossers up make them leave everything behind so they can put more people in their vehicles.

All of this wasn't new to me--I've seen the trash myself when walking west from our development along a dirt road leading out to a pair of water towers. I've seen illegals waiting to be picked up and even a couple in Safeway. But I was surprised to hear that the border patrol had recently told the folks I met this morning not to walk out in the desert behind their home anymore--the coyotes smuggling people and/or drugs wouldn't hesitate to shoot anyone they thought might be a threat!

Until recently, I've not been too worried when walking around the water towers (I'm always with someone). But with the level of lawlessness and violence increasing, I think taking that walk even with companions might be irresponsible on my part. With things the way they are, I can't be sure that I will be safe in one of the most glorious parts of God's creation.

That's sad.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


So here I am, Carroll Morris, writing the first post for our blog, Crusty Old Broads. The other two women who make up the “Broads” in the name of our blog are my sister, Nancy Anderson, and our friend and writing partner, Lael Littke. We’ll be taking turns posting, so you’ll get to know all of us—like getting three for one!

I’m a newbie at this, so I’m imagining that I’m addressing friends as I write, people who are interested in the same things I am, or simply curious about what people are thinking and doing—and why.

That’s what interests me as a writer. My co-authors Nancy and Lael, too. Yes, the three of us have written not just one book together but a trilogy called The Company of Good Women.

I don’t know of any other novels written by a trio, so I guess that makes us unique. We started writing together after vacationing together for over ten years. One day when we were in Moab, Utah, my sister asked, “Why don’t we write a book together.”

It was a good thing we had no idea what we were getting into when we brainstormed about what the theme and story question of the book might be. We decided some things right then that became the basis of the trilogy. We would each write from the viewpoint of a female character. We would explore what it takes to heal the gulf between self and self, self and others, and self and God. Pretty lofty, but I think we accomplished what we set out to do. And told a darn good story in the process.

Anyway, that off-hand question became a commitment and then a driving force in our lives. As the amount of text we generated over the next several years piled up, it became clear that our story was going to be 1200 pages long—or a trilogy! When Lael e-mailed an editor at Deseret Book about our project, the response was immediate and positive!

The first two books in the series, Almost Sisters and Three Tickets to Peoria are available from and The conclusion, Surprise Packages, will be out in July.

Although the books are not autobiographical, it is interesting that three Crusty Old Broads from different parts of the country ( Nancy from Utah, Lael from California and Carroll from Minnesota and now Arizona) wrote about three female characters from different parts of the country and their quest to become Crusty Old Broads!

I just sent off the corrected galleys for Surprise Packages on Monday. What a relief that was. Writing the conclusion to the series taxed all of us, because we wanted it to be satisfying to our readers, to mean something. I think we succeeded in doing that. Now we’re waiting to see what the cover will look like and have the book out on the shelves in July!

Now that you know a little about us as a trio of COBs (Crusty Old Broads), here’s a little about me.

I'm married and the mother of four adult children. My husband and I live in a retirement community south of Tucson. Three of our children live in the West, a daughter lives in Germany.

I love to travel. My husband, kids and I will fly to Germany in the fall for our daughter’s. Then we’ll spend a week in Rome. We’ve rented an apartment by the Spanish Steps—how cool is that!

I love to explore the Sonoran Desert in SE Arizona, vacation in Rocky Point, Mexico (Arizona’s beach), and watch the dramatic storms that come during the summer monsoon season.

Of course, I love to read (currently I’m reading Eat, Pray, Love).

Lately I’ve taken up making small Zuni-type animal fetishes out of self-hardening clay. So far I’ve fashioned a coyote, a buffalo, and a bear.

I love watching American Idol (yeah David Cook!), Dancing with the Stars, and Law and Order.

And I love turquoise—I don’t think a woman can have too many pieces of turquoise jewelry!