Friday, December 30, 2011

West Coast Writers' Conferences, 2012

I am so jazzed. Marilyn Meredith has featured Leaves from the Valley Oak on her blog. Take a look.

The other thing I'm jazzed about is the lineup of Writers’ conferences coming up right here on the west coast in 2012. It’s a great way to meet other writers as well as agents and publishers. I always come home full of resolve and inspiration. There are four high on my list, two of which I have attended in the past.
Left Coast Crime, March 29-April 1 to be held in Sacramento at the Sheridan Grand Hotel. This big mystery conference is rarely so close to home. For info: http://
Central Valley Writers Conference, April 28th will be held at the Sierra Sky Ranch near Yosemite Valley. This is a small conference with registration limited to keep it writer-friendly. A friend of mine, Flora Burlingame, met an agent from Fireship Press at this conference last spring, and now her book, Charcoal and Chalk, has been published and is available at Amazon.
For those most interested in police procedures and how they might be useful for your book, there’s the Public Safety Writer’s Association Conference (PSWA) held in Las Vegas in July 12-15 at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Not as close, but not too far away either. More info:
A favorite of mine is the Central Coast Writers’ Conference at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo. The date is Sept. 21 and 22, 2012. The conference is followed on September 23 by the Central Coast Book & Author Festival at Mission Plaza in SLO. It’s a great time of year to get away from our summer heat and enjoy the coast.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why Writers Write

I was touring a few blogs today and found one writer who, after stating some grim statistics, wondered why writers write. My answer is – because we can’t stop. We’d write with a stick in the dirt if there was no other method around.
Most of us have kept a journal since childhood. I know I did. Later, when my children were small and did, and said such funny things, I wanted to share them. So I wrote long letters to my mom and my aunt. Snail-mail letters are becoming a thing of the past, but I still write to a cousin of my husband’s mother. She is elderly and enjoys looking forward to something in the mail - besides bills.
Writers write because they love books; the adventure waiting behind each cover. Someone new and interesting is waiting there to take you on a journey to a new place that you'd never visit otherwise.
Writers write because there seems to be a story behind every situation. Recently, a friend told me about how her great grandfather immigrated to New Orleans in the early 1800s. He’d been a high ranking officer in Napoleon’s army, but in New Orleans he was relegated to collecting sewage in a wagon. Ah, there’s a novel in that little bit of history. It sets the imagination into motion.
So many ideas,so little time. So many characters wanting a voice. So writers, keep scribbling! There's a New Year ahead and adventures to record.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lianne Card, poet, travel writer

I’d like to you meet Lianne Card, another one the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak.  You’ll find her poetry in the book. She’s a longtime member of Exeter Writers.
Lianne, tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Canada of Ukrainian ancestry and became a naturalized US citizen after September 11th.  I grew up in a multicultural enclave in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a prairie city where learning was intensely respected by our immigrant communities. I knew from an early age that I wanted to experience the world as widely as possible. I moved to California in 1979 and spent 15 exciting years working in Silicon Valley during times of great optimism and growth in the computer industry. I have learned to love all of California with its diverse geography and people. I was able to enjoy living in Aptos, hearing the surf during winter nights, then appreciated the delights of Paso Robles wine country before moving to Exeter in 2003. 
How long have you been writing?
 I have been writing since primary school when I won a contest with a knock-off Nancy Drew mystery. I began keeping a journal in high school, a practice that persists until today. I have boxes of journals in the garage, and hope to live long enough to refine that raw material. My writing practice continues to be sporadic for my outer life has always been complex and many-faceted. I love writing getaways when I can be far from phones, people, and the Internet.
How did your upbringing color your writing?
My father loved poetry and committed hundreds of Ukrainian poems to memory. He would often recite to me. Later, I was coached to recite poetry as a performance art. I learned to respect the inner meaning of words, and project my voice to the back rows of the balcony. Wonderful English teachers in high school shared their love literature. Hearing the rhythms of language has always moved me. My mother and older sister both loved reading.
I love your poems. Where do you get your ideas?
Most poems come to me as an image or phrase from every day experience. I might glimpse a scene while driving, or be surprised by a phrase in an interaction with another person. If I can follow and explore the thread of the beginning, a poem will gradually take shape. Although the meter matters, I have also come to appreciate how a poem looks on the printed page.
What books and authors influenced you?
It would be difficult to narrow my influences, for I have read voraciously all my life. I loved the Beat poets – especially Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder. I once had the good fortune to be able to be in a small group class with Alan Ginsberg. He emphasized the importance of randomness in poetic language. In a more traditional style, I still believe in Wordsworth’s assumptions about poetry. When you experience a place or an event, and recall it later, it then comes from a deep inner well where it has been stored. That “recollection in tranquility” filters out what is not essential. What is remembered is enhanced and sometimes more clear than what was grasped in the original moment.
Although I have focused on poetry in this interview, I also have been a great fan of creative nonfiction, especially literary travel and memoir. I love the works of Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer and Bruce Chatwin. All have the ability to tease out what’s universal and what’s unique about each place they experience. I appreciate how their perspectives simultaneously express the personal, the social and the historical.
What is your latest project?
I have been working on a memoir of a trip I took to Europe and the Middle East in 1967. It is a coming of age story and a snapshot of a historical turning point for my generation. I hope to complete it soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winnie Furrer, Author, Historian

Today I’m interviewing Winnie Furrer, one of the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak. Winnie is a longtime member of Visalia Writers.

Welcome to my blog, Winnie. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born into an Imperial Valley pioneering family in 1928. My father and mother died at an early age, leaving me and my brother and sister to be raised by my grandparents. By age ten I was working outside my home. World War II had started, and two new military bases were built in the valley. I kept busy babysitting for military families. Washing carrots in the sheds with the fruit tramps and weeding fields of onions also kept me busy until my grandmother came to yank me home. I also worked as a soda jerk and as a skating car hop. In 1946, upon graduation from high school, Ma Bell found me. Like the majority of the girls in my graduating class, I started my career as a telephone operator.
I was married in 1950 to Arnold Furrer, had two children and moved to the San Diego area. While working for Ma Bell, I held many male-titled jobs, mostly due to the Women’s Liberation movement. For ten years I worked as a technical writer. Arnold and I divorced in 1967. I retired in 1982 as a senior engineer. Arnold passed away in 1983.
Lewis, my son, died in 1997, and my daughter, Theresa, passed away in 1998. Her two daughters were both pregnant at the time, so I moved to Hanford to help out. Now there are five great grandchildren, and I’m in love with each one, so here I’ll stay.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been telling yarns since I could talk. In high school my teachers told me that I was a good debater and a decent writer. I listened and started a journal.

Where do you get your ideas for your stories?

My grandparents kept boarders and roomers. We kids sat out on the front lawn and listened to the adults tell stories about their childhood. I felt that their real-life stories should be written down for later generations. I still feel that way. My great-grandchildren are also a good source.

How have you done your research?

I was lucky to have my grandparent’s generation live long lives. I could ask question of them directly. Since they are now gone, I rely mostly on diaries, journals, maps and the memories of other family members. I also use the internet.

What’s been your most rewarding experience during the writing process?

Verification of some segment of my grandparent’s lives is most rewarding. When I find a part that is accurate, I know they really lived the event. That makes me even more proud that they got through those hard times, and I remember them with pride and some humor.

How did your upbringing color your writing?

It was a stimulating childhood. There was no TV. The only time the men in the household agreed on a radio station was when night Joe Lewis was fighting. Our mixed family talked all evening, every evening. We children were allowed to take an active part and encouraged to ask questions. The environment not only helped build character, but also the experience showed us how each participant reacted.

What books and authors have influenced you?

The first novel I read, I found in Grandma’s library. It was Call of the Wild by Jack London. It made me want to be there in the wilderness. I thought about it for weeks. I wanted to give others that feeling. At San Diego State, I took a class on Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It taught me to read critically and to never use a word that wasn’t needed. I try to live up to Hemingway’s standard, but I’m afraid I fail most of the time.

What’s your latest project?

I have three stories of the Pollard family’s wagon trip from Colorado to California in the 1890’s. One is a journal my grandfather wrote during the trip. He was sixteen. Another was written by his brother and sister during their middle age. The last is a sketchy one written by my grandfather’s mother when she was in her declining years. I’m trying to melt them into one accurate story.

Where can your work be found?

Some of my work can be found in newspapers, such as The Imperial Valley Press, the San Diego Union, Fresno Bee, and The Hanford Sentinel. Articles can be found in the Visalia Lifestyle Magazine, Modern Maturity, and the Firstdraft Literary Magazine. Short stories are the Imperial Valley Museum archives.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sylvia Ross, Poet, Author, Artist

Today I’m interviewing Sylvia Ross, another of the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak.  Sylvia not only contributed several of her poems and a memoir to the anthology, but she also helped with the production. She did the graphics on the cover and made all the interior pictures better. She’s a longtime member of Exeter Writers.
Sylvia, not only have you authored children’s books, you’re a poet and artist too. Tell us about yourself.
My husband and I chose a country life, but I was raised in Los Angeles. My mother was one quarter Native American, and my own number on the state’s Indian Roll was 30326. After high school, I worked for Walt Disney as a cell painter until my first child was born. Subsequently, I earned a B.A., and as our four sons grew older, their need for clothes, shoes, and music lessons drove me into a teaching career. I taught at Vandalia in Porterville, CA, where the kids from the Tule Indian Reservation were enrolled. I enjoyed finding connections with my own origins through the Indian kids and their admirable families. I was a good fit for the school and it for me.
How long have you been writing? 
Oh, since I first found out that my fingers could make marks in mud. I was an inarticulate child, but once I learned to use the ABCs to make phonetically correct words, I felt that I had a voice. That led me to being a girl too shy to give an oral book report but who earned the English award at 8th grade graduation, and to being a woman who struggled desperately through college speech class, but had the blue book proficiency to easily graduate with honors.
How many books have you written?
I’ve written four books: two cultural works for children, Lion Singer (2005) and Blue Jay Girl (2008 ) published by Heyday; a collection of poems and drawings for adults published this year and titled Acorns and Abalone; and a novel titled Acts of Kindness, Acts of Contrition.
I’ve also given many readings during the past ten years. My work was included in a cultural arts exhibit called Sing Me Your Story, Dance Me Home which toured museums and other venues, 2009 through 2010. With three other writers, I was invited to read at the Modern Language Association’s International Conference in San Diego in 2003, and I read at U.C. Irvine’s California Indian Conference in 2010.  I’ve written for an award winning quarterly magazine, “News from NATIVE CALIFORNIA,” for many years. I have poetry and short stories in the anthologies: The Dirt Is Red Here (2002); Spring Salmon, Hurry To Me (2008); The Illuminated Landscape, A Sierra Nevada Anthology (2010); Leaves from the Valley Oak (2011). An minor abstract from an article I wrote is included in the book: Seaweed, Salmon, and Manzanita Cider (2008).
How did your upbringing color your writing?
My mother’s people were storytellers; my early teachers were Irish nuns, fond of literature and grand storytellers all.  Parochial school exposed me to the rhythms and eloquent vocabulary of the Bible. I listened to the Latin mass weekly as a child and was also exposed to the sounds of other languages I didn’t speak or understand. I understood early on how sound could nuance content.
How do you develop your characters? 
 I don’t know. My characters are greatly altered but naturally are modeled on people I’ve known. I put them into fictitious situations and let them react as they might.
What books and authors influenced you?
The author Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote A Little Princess, brought me through a complicated childhood. My copy of her book was an old edition (1937) with illustrations by Ethel Franklin Betts. (Burnett’s book is still being printed but in an updated version - which is more politically correct and not quite the same.)
Later, all the great writers: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Flaubert, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost and James Joyce impressed me.  California’s John Steinbeck, England’s D.H. Lawrence and Paul Scott were influences. At the present time, Charles Frazier, David Gregory Roberts, Barbara Kingsolver, Neal Stephenson, Allan Furst, Elizabeth George, Gil Adamson, and Kazuo Ishiguro are still influencing me.  I am fond of books in translation and films with subtitles.
In college, I studied with the poet, Robert Mezey, and the novelist, John Stewart. They both went on to other campuses and greater honors. I was lucky to have been taught by them.
What is your latest project?
After completing the novel this past month?  I plan to give the house a good cleaning, lie on the sofa and read.
Where can your books be found?
They can be ordered through The Book Garden on Pine St. in Exeter, and at The books published by Heyday can also be purchased at I can be contacted at or by regular mail at P.O. Box 44040, Lemon Cove, CA 93244

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meet Mary Benton, author of Dulsey and Winds of Time

Today I’m interviewing Mary Benton, one the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak. She’s a longtime member of Visalia-Exeter Writers.
Question: Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in Visalia, California, the heart of the San Joaquin Valley.  My entire life has been spent on a farm. As a kid, my parents had a dairy. I had a horse and started riding when I was five. As a teenager, I rode with the Visalia Rockettes when they first started.
Through the years, my husband and I raised cotton, alfalfa, vegetables, fruit and nut trees. At one time we had a fruit stand on our ranch. We did a thriving business selling sweet corn, melons and fruit. I helped start our local Farmers’ Market and managed it for twenty-two years. Our small acreage is now all in walnuts. My husband has passed on, but I still love it here in the country. We were blessed with three wonderful children, who in turn gave us caring and loving grandchildren.
When I get up in the mornings, I take a walk to admire the trees and plan out my day. My walk is twofold. It gives me my daily exercise, while enjoying the comradeship of my two dogs and one eleven-year-old cat who thinks he’s still a teenager. Wouldn’t it be great to still be able to climb a tree, play jungle cat by hiding in a ditch and waiting for the unwary to stroll by and then pounce, scaring the bejeebers out of the hand that feeds you.  
Question: How long have you been writing?
I've written off and on since I was a teenager. I didn't write seriously until I started taking writing classes at the College of the Sequoias in 1997.
Question: How many books have you written?
I’ve written two novels. Dulsey, a Western Adventure, and Winds of Time, a Traditional Western. I’ve completed my third novel, Plain Molly, which is being considered by Oak Tree Press. I also have two short stories included in the Visalia/Exeter Writers’ Anthology.

Question: What books and authors influenced you?
Tony Hillerman has always intrigued me with his ability to describe not only the sight, but the smell surrounding the scene he has created. Larry McMurtry is also good at getting into his character’s head. Also, Mark Twain, with his ability to capture his character’s dialect.
Question: How have you done your research?
Primary research is done on the computer. The library, personal research books, and physically going to the location that is the background to my story. If the location is out of State, I research the real estate ads to get a sense of the terrain, trees, grasses, and general feel of the area. Old newspapers is a good source for timely events. Maps are a great help to pinpoint travel distance. 
Question: How do you develop your characters?
I get an idea for a story or plot, decide who will be telling the story, then sit down and start writing. I let the character tell me the story. As he or she rambles on, they reveal their personalities, just as someone would if you were to meet them for the first time and engaged them in conversation. I might add some background to flesh them out, but I really find it’s easier to let them have free rein. Side characters seem to leap in, insisting they’re part of the story, and lo behold, they sometimes become such a big part of the story that they almost overpower my main character.
Question: Why did you choose a particular setting and time period?
I’m interested in history and I often wonder how the world looked when the pioneers and trappers moved west. Great characters can be created from these men and women who faced the unknown, the hardships, and sometimes overwhelming grief to establish new homes, farms or businesses.
Question: How did your upbringing color your writing?
When I was small, children were seen, not heard. My favorite past time back then was to eavesdrop on the adults’ conversations. I developed an ear for dialect and can “hear a person speak in my head,” whose accent or speech pattern is a bit different.
Question: What is your latest project?
I’m currently working on my latest novel, Cantu Crossing, a Western, set in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1870’s. It involves a gold shipment stolen by the notorious Vasquez gang from the Visalia Stage near Elkhorn Station. To research this project, I took a drive through the area where the old stage route ran. I also poured over books in the library and have found references in some of my personal files. As I write, my characters are stepping out of the shadows and telling me how it was. I can’t wait to hear more.
Question: What inspired you to write The Headgate featured in Leaves from the Valley Oak?
This story is based on a true near-drowning I experienced when I was about eight years old. While my parents were picking tomatoes some of us kids went swimming in a nearby canal. Only one  problem, I couldn’t swim. My older brother pulled me out by my hair. He was thoroughly embarrassed by the whole incident, as there were some really cool girls swimming and his idiot sister had to mess up the whole afternoon by nearly drowning. The rest of the story is pure fiction.
Question: Where can your books be found?
Winds of Time can be purchased through Avalon Books, or Dulsey can be purchased through iUniverse as a soft cover, and is also available through Kindle. Leaves from the Valley Oak can be purchased through  All books can be purchased through me at You may also read excerpts from my books at my website.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Serial Killers

I went to Alliant University in Fresno today with the San Joaquin Sister in Crime to hear Dr. Eric Hickey tell us about serial killers. Some facts I learned: In the last 7 years there have been 147 serial killers, defined as 2 or more killings with a pattern. There are 40 thousand people missing in this country.
Some of the cold cases are now being solved with the new DNA technology. One case recently was 50 years old, a man caught because evidence had been stored that contained DNA.
I don’t think you want me to describe some of the scene he told us about.
Most serial killings are sexual motivated and are perpetrated on weak women. So I guess the take away for us is, don’t be weak.
If you’re interested in more information about serial killers, Dr. Hickey has a book that can be found on Amazon. He is often asked to consult on major cases.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our Leaves have finally sprouted

   It's finally published! After eight long months of work collecting, editing, and getting the art work just right, the Visalia-Exeter Writers anthology is launched! Mary and I learned so much in the process. I learned more about using Word for desk top publishing than I knew existed. When you have mulitple authors, the formatting becomes tricky, especially when you want the book title on one page and the author's name on the opposite page. Now that it's done, I can say it was worthwhile.
   The pictures turned out better than I expected. The graphics work my Sylvia Ross is splendid. And the stories and poetry are fun to read. It's going to be great for Christmas gifts.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Talk About Marketing

I recently received an envelope in my snail mail containing a booklet with a short mystery written by a writer in New Jersey. Inside the front cover and on the back cover was a promotion for his novels, with brief recommendations by several bloggers. I was directed to his website and given links to where his e-books could be purchased.
I received this gift was because I belong to the Mystery Readers sponsored by the library in Visalia. I registered out group with Mystery Readers of America and ended up on a mailing list.
I was impressed by this man’s ingenuity for promotion. He felt that if I liked his short mystery, I might take a look at his other work. From a business point of view, this would be an expensive way to promote a writer’s work. I don’t know how many mystery reader groups he sent his story to, but it cost him 65 cents to mail his story to me. Since his e-books sell for $2.99 & $4.99, maybe he got enough hits to make it worthwhile. What do you think? Is it a method you would consider?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Harvest Your Dreams

Do other people have story characters sprout in their dreams? Of course I have to get up in the middle of the night and scribble down my dream. Sometimes in the morning I can’t read my own scribbles. About a year ago, just before waking a little voice said, “She back.” And another voice said, “Who back.” The answer was Claudia. That little snippet became Larceny’s Reward, a short story about a guy who’s always looking stolen something and is trying to cover his tracks.
Then there was the morning I woke up early and remembered that I’d forgotten to put out the trash barrels. I scrabbled to get dressed, thinking the neighbors wouldn’t appreciate seeing me dash out to the street in my shortie nightgown. As I dragged the cans out, I thought, I wonder what it would be like to discover a dead body in your trash can. And that’s how Trash Day in Tulare County came to be written. It wasn’t exactly from a dream, but who cares. The main character is Iyla Zindorm. Poor Iyla is crazier than a pet coon and what that discovery does to her psyche is a crime.
If you happen to want to find out about these stories, they are both featured in Leaves from the Valley Oak, an anthology created by Visalia-Exeter Writers that will be coming out sometime in October through
Where do your story ideas come from?

Friday, September 30, 2011

How I Solve Story Problems

It happens to all of us at some point. Writing is going along well and boom. A problem or stumbling block comes along. If I let the protagonist do that, the next scene won’t work, or she has to get herself out of this mess. How is she going to do it when she left her weapon at home.
Sometimes I begin to question my original idea, but most often I try a few strategies first.
One is to sleep on it. Somehow my brain goes to work when I sleep, and sometimes I wake with a good idea.
Gardening in very therapeutic. My brain can work on all kinds of ideas while my hands are pulling weeds.
A good long walk is kind of like gardening. It’s undisturbed time to mull over ideas and besides, exercise is always good for the brain.
Sometimes I get someone else’s take on the problem, like my son. I get a guy’s angle on it.
And then, in the end, I may just let the protagonist do what I don’t want him to do and see what happens. After all, there’s always the delete key.
Maybe other people don’t run into stumbling blocks when writing. But if you do, how do you handle it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I wanted to be accurate in a story I'm writing, so I checked the internet for the price of gas in 1998. It was around $1. I couldn't believe it. I checked several sites to be sure. That was it. What a differnce a decade makes. My question was: Could she fill a Ford Explorer with $20.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I want to thank everyone who has posted a welcome or comments about my blog and my ignorance. I appreciate it. I'd thank each individually, but I haven't figured out how to do it yet. Maybe tomorrow I be smarter.

Blog Confusion

I'm on a journey around the long learning curve. I wanted to thank James for his post and couldn't figure out how to do it. Then I wanted to follow his blog and couldn't find it. I thought I'd follow his and ended up following my own blog. Stupid. I'll keep poking buttons and no telling where I'll end up.

Friday, September 23, 2011

More on Blogging

I had much to think about after attending the Central Coast Writers' Conf. Got a great handout with tips on blogging.
1. go to and sign up for a profile that's compatible with all blog platforms.
2. Comment like crazy on other people's blogs.
3. Choose a blogging platform such as which is simple or WordPress, which is good too.
4. Make sure the title is something with your name in it so that others can find you.
5. Decorate your blog with a couple of photos.
6. Bookmark you blog or you may never find it again.
7. Keep your blogs short, 600 - 1200 words and only one subject per post.
8. Go tell your friends that you've made a blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Putting out my first blog is a bit intimidaing, considering that it can be read by anyone, anywhere in the world. I want to let people know that Visalia-Exeter Writers will have an antholgy, Leaves from the Valley Oak, coming out soon via CreateSpace. It has a variety of work included: poetry, short stories, and even a memoir. More later ...