Saturday, December 15, 2012

Profiles in Courage

If you’ve ever experienced a critical time when you felt like you’d hit a brick wall with nowhere to turn, you’ll identify with each woman in these true stories. If you’re at that point now, you’ll draw strength from how these courageous women found healing and hope in the future. In these difficult times, this book might be just what you need to help you face tomorrow.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Great Place to Find Good Books

Last Thursday evening, Sylvia Ross and I had the opportunity to sign our books (East of the Great Valley and Lottie’s Legacy) at the Book Garden in downtown Exeter. The sidewalks were full of people having a great time Christmas shopping in the local stores. All the buildings were lit up and the old fire truck was giving people a ride around town. It was gratifying to see so many people in the book store buying books as gifts. We sold a satisfying number of our books, which was a thrill, and we had a chance to see old friends and met new ones.

Monday, October 29, 2012

E-reader competition

I found this on the website of Russo's Book Store in Bakersfield. It was too good to pass up. GG

This has been floating around the internet for a number of years.  To the best of our research the author is unknown, so we do not know to whom to attribute it.  Enjoy!

Announcing the new Bio-Optical Organized Knowledge-device (BOOK). The BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: No wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use even a child can operate it. Just lift its cover!

Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere -- even sitting in an armchair by the fire -- yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc. Here's how it works...

Each BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information.  These pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs in half. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now BOOKs with more information simply use more pages. This makes them thicker and harder to carry, and has drawn some criticism from the mobile computing crowd.

Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. The BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it. The BOOK never crashes and never needs rebooting, though like other display devices it can become unusable if dropped overboard. The "browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet, and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an "index" feature, which pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open the BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session -- even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOKmarks can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with an optional programming tool, the Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Stylus (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, the BOOK is being hailed as the entertainment wave of the future. The BOOK's appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform. Look for a flood of new titles soon.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Taste of the Arts Festival - Visalia

I joined a number of other members of the Tulare-Kings Writers at the September 29th Taste of the Arts Festival in Visalia sponsored by the City of Visalia. Held at The Old Lumber Yard on Oak and Garden Streets, it was the first time that writers have been included. It ran from 11 A.M. – 5 P.M. with each of us having a table on which to display and hopefully sell our books.
It was quite hot that day, but the people who put on the event were great. The staff came around to each booth with cold water on an hourly basis. They brought us a Subway box lunch that had been donated by the Tulare County Symphony. And in the middle of the afternoon, volunteers showed up to give us an opportunity to take a break. I couldn’t have asked for better treatment.
On the following Monday evening, in conjunction with the Arts Festival, the Tulare-Kings Writers held a literary show-and-tell at Café 210. Several of us had an opportunity to read from our works: poetry, short story, or excerpt from a book. It was so much fun to hear what other writers have produced. And we had a chance to sell a few books too. It was a great evening.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Kindred Crimes by Janet Dawson. My choice for September

The Friends of the Library Mystery Readers Group in Visalia decided to choose a new-to-you mystery for September, which meant the members could pick a new book by a favorite author, or a book by a new-to-you author.

I chose Kindred Crimes, Janet Dawson’s debut mystery. Kindred Crimes was nominated for Shamus, Anthony and Macavity Awards in 1991 and won St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest.

A simple missing person case turns out to be more complicated than San Francisco P.I., Jeri Howard, ever thought it would be. Jeri is hired by Richard Foster to find his missing wife, Renee. The woman left their son with his mother and disappeared. During the first few days of searching, Jeri learns that Renee isn’t the woman’s real name, but when she reports that to Richard, he fires her. Normally, that would be the end of it. Not for Jeri. She doesn’t like being fired and she doesn’t like leaving a case unfinished. It’s evident that Richard’s parents are pulling the strings, that they hate the missing woman, and believe she’s guilty of child abuse. Is it true? Jeri is all the more determined to find her.

Thus begins this fast paced mystery, leading the reader from one page to the next like a chicken following a line of corn kernels. Using the missing woman’s real name, Jeri probes into Renee’s family background and learns that years earlier the missing woman’s brother murdered their parents. He plead guilty and went to jail without any explanation.

Before long Jeri has located other family members and one of them, the aunt who raised Renee, hires Jeri to find her. The trail of bread crumbs (or corn kernels) leads to the brother, now out of jail, and a troubled younger sister, who seems to hold the key to the unfortunate family saga. Along the way, Jeri uncovers a blackmail scheme; gets beat up by a couple of thugs, and is shot at by a killer. When push comes to shove, Jeri Howard is a pretty tough lady and can handle herself well.

Even though I guessed the core of the mystery early on, I enjoyed this book because of the fast moving pace and the characters. In fact, I’ve already loaded the next in the series to my Kindle.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What I did on my summer vacation

Had lunch with friends Sylvia Ross and Carolyn Barbre after the Tulare-Kings Writers' meeting.

Went to San Luis Obispo for a Sisters in Crime book signing

Joined some sisters and a mister for a cool day at Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo

Monday, July 23, 2012

A blog post with Marilyn Meredity

This weekend, Sunday, specifically, I'll be sashaying over to Marilyn Marilyn's blog at to tell all about my journey to publication. Check it out.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Friday, the 13th

Friday the 13th held no bad luck for me. After the article Carolyn Barbre wrote about me and my book in the Sun-Gazette, I spent most of Friday on the patio at the Wildflower Cafe in Exeter signing copies of my book, Lottie's Legacy. I had a chance to reconnect with folks I hadn't seen in a long time and catch up on the news in their lives. Made some new friends too. And several of my chums from our critique group came out in the mid-day sun to support me. I couldn't ask for more loyal friends. It was great day in spite of the fact that the ambient temperature reached 100°. There was a little breeze from the north, but by 2 pm I was ready for a shower.
Now I must get back to work on the next book.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ray Bradbury and E-Books

My local newspaper featured an opinion piece by John Sweeney, editor of The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware. In it he revealed that Ray Bradbury warned about books ‘in the air,’ and that he never would have allowed a digital version of “Fahrenheit 451” to be released if Simon & Schuster hadn’t told him that unless he agreed to it, they would no longer keep the book in print.
A number of authors have expressed concern about the impermanence of digital books because e-books can be removed, revised, and reloaded. In fact, they can be endlessly revised and perhaps even subjected to censorship. It doesn’t take much to imagination to envision various scenarios along that line.
Remember the big flap over Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and how it was altered for young readers? In the years to come, if your child’s text books and library books are all digital, think how much easier it will be for a publisher from sanitize such classics for the schools. The picture of our real history, warts and all, will be lost if that happens.
At this point, I must say that I embrace digital books. I have over a dozen books loaded in my Kindle. Just last week I uploaded my own book, Lottie’s Legacy, to Kindle, and I hope many people will enjoy my offering.
But I also have several shelves of books made of paper, some very old. I have my mother’s nursing textbook from 1915, where I’m able to read about medical and nursing practices of that time. In the future, if as predicted, brick and mortar libraries disappear, current books like that would be lost in a digital haze. Historians and genealogists constantly comb the world’s archives for authentic source material. Without libraries, will our history be lost?
Each new advance of science, technology and art comes with a hazard, whether it’s genetic engineering or e-books. It’s my opinion that we must consider the issue of digitalizing all written material carefully. The truth is, we need both types of books. That’s my opinion. What do you think?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Useful ASCII Character Codes

Ever notice when you using Word to write a document and you need a special letter or symbol, like a tilde ( ˜ ), word doesn't have it. That’s when an ASCII character comes in handy. I’ve listed some of the more commonly used ones below. To achieve these characters press & hold down Alt + the number listed, and the desired character will appear on your page.
’ = 0146           This reversed apostrophe is generally used to abbreviate a year as in ’80.
¢ = 0162
° = 0176          As in, it’s 93° today
ñ = 0241
é = 0233
¿ = 0191
æ = 0230
™ = 0153
£ = 0163          I hope these will be useful to someone.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Murder at the Library of Congress

I confess this is the first book of Margaret Truman’s books that I have read. I picked it because the Mystery Readers group I belong to decided that this month we would read a mystery with a famous person as a character or one that was written by a famous person.
This book, published in 1999, opens with a break-in and theft of an oil painting from a museum in Miami. A security guard is shot and killed. Two of the three burglars are picked up right away, but the painting is not recovered. Within hours it is on its way to LA where it is exchanged for money.
The scene then switches to New York, where the main protagonist, Annabel Reed-Smith, receives an assignment to write an article for the magazine, Civilization, about the search for the diaries of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the friend and sailing companion of Christopher Columbus. The mysterious diaries, if ever found, would be very valuable, especially to the Library of Congress. She has two months to research and write the article.
Annabel takes the reader to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and we are introduced to the important characters and the workings of the Hispanic and Portuguese reading room. She soon learns that the leading expert on the subject she’s researching is a man who is despised by almost everyone who comes in contact with him. He is pompous, mean-spirited and vicious. The man, Michele Paul, is murdered (of course). That sets everyone in the department on edge because only a limited number of people have access to the reading room where he is found dead. It must be an inside job.
An aggressive TV reporter, Lucianne Huston, is sent from Miami to DC to cover the story and immediately unearths information about the disappearance eight years earlier of another Las Casas researcher. She keeps the pot stirred by hounding people with questions,  piecing the facts together and reporting what she learns on the TV news. Her boss tells her to follow the money and she does. She uncovers a tax evasion scheme of a very wealthy man who is connected to the Library of Congress.
The search for the truth takes the reader from Miami to Washington, DC to Los Angeles to Mexico City and back to DC. The murders are solved, corruption is uncovered and justice is served. I won’t reveal if the diaries are found, or if the painting in the original scene was important. You might want to check that out for yourself.
This book is a fast read, reasonably well written and interesting to anyone, like me, who doesn’t know much about the Library of Congress. I checked the reader reviews after I finished the book, and most gave the book three stars. Some of her other books got rave reviews, so I would read another.
Margaret Truman-Daniel was a prolific author. She began her writing career in the mid-fifties with a book about her father. Her mystery series began in 1980, and she wrote a book a year until she died in 2008 at the age of 83. Her last book was published in 2012, though probably not completed by her.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tulare-Kings Writer’s Consortium

I ambled into the Tulare-Kings Writer’s meeting at the Café 210 in Visalia Saturday morning. It’s a happy group of writers hoping to become a bigger consortium and do great things for local writers.They meet the third Saturday of every month.
Steve Pastis, the moderator, brought us up to date regarding Visalia’s TASTE OF THE ARTS that will be held in September.
The speaker this month was my friend Marilyn Meredith. Marilyn has written over 30 books, and so she knows more about the publishing industry than she could tell us in the time allowed. She talked about e-book publishers and how to find one that is right for your book. One website she mentioned that might be helpful was and she stressed that legitimate e-publishers are not like the vanity presses, they do not charge the author. Some even produce a trade paperback as well.
Every writer needs a marketing plan, according to Marilyn, whichever way you choose to publish your book. That was the second topic she covered. It starts with a “brand,” meaning what type of book you are promoting: fiction or non-fiction, mystery, romance, erotica, adventure, whatever. In any case, your name comes first – on your website, your blog or on Facebook. Every possible means should be used to get your name out there, except robbing a bank. Some other ideas were: book trailers, book reviews, press releases, an author page on Amazon, and Kindle boards. All great places to promote a book. She mentioned that is a good place to buy business cards. It’s not too pricey and the results are very good.
Marilyn practices what she preaches, so of course, she brought along a few of her books just in case someone wanted to buy one. I went home with her latest: No Bells.

Friday, May 11, 2012

2012 Central California Writers’ Conference

The kickoff to the Central California Writers’ Conference was held at Willow Bridge Books in Oakhurst where Mary Benton and I had an opportunity to chat with many of the people who would be conducting workshops the next day on April 28th. It was also a good chance to choose a couple of books to buy. Not that I don’t already have more books at home than I’ll ever be able to read. Still, I couldn’t resist.
The two-day conference itself was held at Sierra Sky Ranch, a rustic 100-year-old converted ranch house just 10 miles from Yosemite's southern entrance. Set in a wooded area with a sloping lawn and a long veranda, the resort lends itself to relaxing. Among the lesser-known charming features of the ranch are the pet cats: John Wayne, Mo and a calico, who is an avid hunter. John Wayne, a fluffy, black and white fellow, is seriously overweight, so evidently he is on good terms with the cook.
Ghosts occasionally prowl the ranch house. I didn’t see any, but last year one of the attendees swore she caught a glimpse of one on the veranda. Over the years, the kitchen and the bunk house have had numerous visitations. I wonder if the owners have a high employee turnover rate because of it. Nothing like having a ghost peek over your shoulder to check on dinner.
The conference organizers limit attendance to 100, and that means the workshops are small enough for everyone to get acquainted, exchange ideas and e-mail addresses. I recognized several people I’d seen last year. As I listened to people talk about their projects, I was impressed with the many great stories that will soon become books that I want to read. In one of the sessions, a man talked about a real life work situation that he wanted to turn into fiction. The group brainstormed and gave him some great ideas of how to structure it to make his story come alive without getting sued.
Although all of the workshops were excellent, I gleaned the most from two. The first was Bonnie Hearn-Hill’s Focus on Character: Who’s Driving Your Story. Even though I’d heard much on the subject before, there was one particular point she drove home that gave me much to think about. And that is the “hole in the gut” that our protagonist must have to drive him or her to action in the story. She stressed that it should be the result of something that happened in the character’s childhood. And that the antagonist must have a “hole” of equal proportions to drive his or her action.
The second was Steve Mettee’s presentation was on The Hero’s Journey: Making Your StoryResonate with Readers at a Primal Level. Steve’s workshops are always relaxed and fun. He used The Hunger games and The Lord of the Rings to illustrate his points. At the end he reminded us that in essence all of us are on a hero’s journey in our own lives. There is much to overcome in a writer’s life.
The banquet Saturday evening was chance to relax and make new friends. The highlight was the short story awards. Best of all, my friend and fellow Sister in Crime, Mary Benton, won first place, including a check for $100, for Bernetta, The Not So Good Witch. It’s the first chapter of a book that will soon be in the hands of an agent as a result of the conference. Congratulations Mary!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mystery Readers book for April

The Mystery Readers group I belong to chose to read a mystery either written by a California author or a mystery that takes place in California. I chose Silence is Golden by Penny Warner. Warner's feisty heroine, Connor Westphal, is deaf and that's the unique part about the book. Warner carries off the disability with style. The fact that Connor can't hear, but gets along very well anyway, is very refreshing. The story takes place in Flat Skunk, a town situated in gold country. When local prospector, Sluice Jackson, finds gold in an old mine, the town is flooded with gold seekers. Soon after a gold tooth is found at the same site, a skelton is unearthed and Sluice claims that it is his great-grandfather who went missing for 150 years ago. A murder follows (of course) and an attempted murder, which Connor must solve. It was a fun read with good natured eccentrics and a little romance for good measure.

Friday, March 23, 2012

John Noel, another Exeter Writer

I want everyone to meet John Noel, another member of the Visalia-Exeter Writers and contributor to Leaves from the Valley Oak.

Welcome, John and thanks for joining me on my blog. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in York, Pennsylvania, a small industrial city with a claim to being the first capital of the United States. I grew up playing in Penn Common, which had been given to the city by the Penn family.  Across the street from our row house Revolutionary War General “Mad Anthony” Wayne had executed mutinous soldiers. Confederate troops had camped on the common when York became the northernmost city captured by the Rebels in the Civil War. Perhaps such surroundings gave me my lifelong love of history.

My family moved to California as I entered high school, and I went on to Fresno State to graduate with a degree in history. I taught in the Exeter area for 39 years. My wife Patsy and I have five children and seven grandchildren. Other than reading and writing, my main vice is playing in rock bands with other old guys.

How long have you been writing, and what was the stimulus that got you started?

I started early. The men of my family were newspaper men of one sort or another, so writing was natural and encouraged. As I got older, my skills saved many a grade as I whipped out a credible paper on a Sunday for Monday delivery.  To supplement my teacher’s salary, I began writing part time for local newspapers.  Needing to fit the information within the limitations of column inches taught me how to whittle away excess verbiage and leave the good stuff.

But my real stimulus was teaching writing in the era of Whole Language. The movement emphasized metacognitive thinking: How do we learn to write? What do writers do? I read a myriad of how-to books on writing, reading, and organizing a writer’s workshop within the classroom. As part of the teaching process I wrote along with my students. They had to see my own trials and tribulations, my own successes and failures as I prepared pieces for classroom publication. We had to establish a community of writers within the classroom, a safe harbor where budding writers could take risks and rely on each other for support. One learns to write by writing. That’s what I did, and that’s what I hope my students took away from their time with me.

The stories and poems in the anthology are really fun to read. Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas have always been hard for me. I worked best in a newspaper-type environment. My editor would tell me what he or she wanted and give me a certain space to fill. These days I mostly write autobiographical vignettes that I hope my grandchildren may get a kick out of some day.

How did your upbringing color your writing?

As I said, my family was in the newspaper business. Even as a child I read two newspapers every day. My early attempts at writing were encouraged both at home and in school.

What books or authors have influenced you in your writing style?

I have always been drawn to nostalgic writers who tell of their youth with warmth and humor. Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story) would be my go-to example. When I dabble in poetry, my style (but unfortunately not the depth of my talent) leans toward e.e. cummings and Charles Bukowski. I also write poetry for children in the vein of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

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

I guess my most joyful single moment would have to be when I got the phone call from Children’s Writer that I had won the grand prize in their history article contest. But overall, my most rewarding times were when I was writing with kids. To see young writers making breakthroughs was priceless.

What’s your latest project?

I have two that I am polishing at the moment. Both are slightly embellished but mostly true stories from my youth. The Chronsiter Chronicles is about unrequited puppy love, and The Spelling Bee is the tale of childhood adventures with creative spelling.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Journaling, Diaries and Such

The nice thing about any kind of journal is that there’s no wrong way to do it, and no one proper thing to write about. I keep my journal in my computer. It’s much easier for me than a notebook. I prefer typing to longhand—too slow. My journal is a catch-all for story ideas, notes about people and the things I learned during conferences I attend, and progress on my book. It’s also filled with remarks about things I observe when I’m out and about town. Journaling is such a habit now that I wouldn’t feel the day was complete if I didn’t leave a comment.
As I was about to enter junior high, my brother, eight years my senior, gave me a diary for my birthday. He gave me a piece of advice along with it. “Don’t write anything in this that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the local newspaper.” I’ve kept that in mind. Years later, I tossed that diary in the trash. I regret doing it. Although I doubt there was anything of significance in the contents, I’d like to be able to go back and read what that girl had to say about her world.
I kept a diary during my early high school years too. I ran across it the other day and read a few pages. Not very inspirational, mostly comments about the amount of homework I had, the movies I saw, and the boys I was dating, and not much about what I was thinking. But with only five lines, what can you say? I did a lot of homework and complained about it almost every day.
After my marriage, not long after graduation, and the birth of my children, I had no time for a journal, though I sure wish I had kept one. I also wish I’d kept a journal when I was in nurse’s training. Some very interesting and funny things happened.
 I’ve kept copies of the letters I’ve written over the years, and in a way, they are a journal too. I’ve always been a letter writer, mostly to my favorite aunt, but also to cousins in Wisconsin where I was born. When I got my first computer in 1984, I began printing a copy of my letters for a file. The file is pretty thick now, and though I rarely read them, I know they are a record of the ups and downs of life. I was doing a lot of genealogical work then, and I wrote numerous letters related to that. Now I keep my copies in a file in my computer.
My first real writer’s journal started in 1991 because I was taking a creative writing class at the local college. It was a requirement for the class. We had to turn in our journals once a week for review and comments from the instructor. From that point on, I knew that journaling would be important to me.
With email, twitter, Facebook and blogs, I sometimes wonder if journaling will become a thing of the past—like letter writing. I hope not. Do other writers keep a journal? I’d be curious to know how many do.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Starting a Writer's Journal

A journal is one of the best tools a writer can provide for themselves. And it’s so easy to start. You can use a hard bound notebook, a composition book from the local drug store, or a file in your computer. Or you could simply write on scraps of paper and toss them in an empty shoe box, though I wouldn’t advise that method.
The first thing to decide when you’re thinking about starting a writer’s journal is where you are most likely to use it. It’s important to keep it in a place that will draw your attention, such as beside your bed, your easy chair, or maybe in “start up” in your computer so that it will pop up when you start your computer.
If you’ve never kept a journal before, you might wonder what you’d record. How about story ideas for future projects, observations of scenes or people you come across in everyday life, or the progress made with current writing. It can be used to keep notes when you attend a writer’s conference or comments from your writer’s critique group. Recording dreams might lead to story idea. If you’re a poet, a line or two scribbled might lead to a new creation.
You read books, I’m sure. Use your journal for a book review. It’s for your eyes only, so expound on the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Record a quote you really liked or an example of badly written parts. Did it have too many adverbs or run on sentences? Give it your best critique.
Most people think they don’t have time for journaling. You might be surprised, if you give it a try. Take the first step. Write a line a day. Or a whole page on the weekend. After a month, go back and read what you’ve written. You might decide to add to it, or you might want to edit what you’ve written. Either way, it’s good practice. And months later I think you’ll be glad you started your journal.
I’ve been journaling since I was a teenager, and next time I’ll tell you about some of my experience.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Meet Patty Sabatier, a poet

I’d like everyone to meet Patty Sabatier, a poet who contributed several poems to Leaves from the Valley Oak.

Patty, your life has been an open book, literally, to those of us in the Visalia Writers’ group. Tell my readers a little about yourself?

I was born and raised in southern Louisiana, near New Orleans.  As an adult, after spending two years with the Navy as a nurse and 12 years as a Catholic nun, I traveled away from Louisiana. and gained a broader view of life. Learning to deal with a diagnosis of bi-polar mental illness at age 28 has been the biggest challenge of my adult life. Along with this, and through this challenge, I also learned the key to compassion as a nurse. Non-judgmental, active-listening to myself and others, has helped me become a better  person. I now work as a public health nurse with the Tulare County Health Department and am emerging in my personal life as a writer.

Where does the inspiration for your poetry come from?

Most of my poetry comes to me in the early morning hours when I rise to greet the day with prayer and meditation. Just reading one line from my favorite passages in the bible and other meditative books, stimulates me to wonder and wander in thought. Writing helps me ground this thought in reality and express it so that others can share these private moments in my life.

How long have you been writing poetry?

I began to write down my morning meditations in 2009, so that they could be critiqued by the Visalia Writers group. I have always kept a journal of my daily thoughts and actions, but never written in it for the purpose of sharing with others. In 2009, I left graduate school where I was focusing on becoming a therapist. I then turned to writing as a means of expressing a desire to do more with my life. The Visalia Writers group has helped me develop my writing into poetry.

How did your upbringing color your poetry?

As a child, I was often awed by the presence of God I found in simple things like the wind in the trees, or rays of light streaming from the play of clouds and sun. I felt very isolated and lonely, and this tendency towards intuitive, introverted thinking brought  me great joy and companionship. Today, my prayer life which is mostly introverted, intuitive meditation has blossomed into a desire to share this joy and inner companionship with others in writing.

What books and authors have influenced you?

In my young adult years, reading authors who taught about prayerful living like Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton filled my reflective time. They taught me how to approach prayer and God.  Then I developed an interest in Carl Jung and his second generation writers like Marie-Louise Von Franz, Murray Stein, and Monika Wikman and their stories of a Jungian approach to the spiritual life. I was particularly helped with my bi-polar illness by the writings of John Weir Perry, a Jungian psychiatrist.  I suppose that most of my poetry has been encouraged by these authors who try to express the mystical, mysterious side of life and personal growth.

 What’s your latest project?

I am in the process of completing my life story and how I used Jungian therapy and spirituality to heal my bi-polar mental illness. I believe this psychology of personal growth has many insights for people with mental illness and can give them tools for seeking a balanced and whole life instead of a life broken by neurosis or psychosis. I am hopeful that my story will also help therapists and families of the mentally ill.

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

Having to verbalize and express in a concrete manner so that others can understand something as subtle and mysterious as a spiritual journey. Its healing force has encouraged me to discover the exact words and events that led to my growth. Writing my story as a book was not easy. Like the wind that you cannot see but you know exists, my spiritual life has been forceful in my history, helping me cope with disappointments, failures and even, at times, moments of ecstasy. 

The Visalia Writers group asked questions about the writing I shared and forced me to clarify and explain aspects of my healing and personal growth. Their questions led me to a firm grasp on my integrity as a woman, dedicated to a faith-filled life. I am very grateful to them for their perseverance with me as a writer.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Dorothy Bodoin book

I finished A Shadow on the Snow by Dorothy Bodoin a few nights back. My reading time is in bed during the hour before I go to sleep.
Here’s my summary. Protagonist, Krisha Marlow has problems; no permanent job, no love life and little money. One thing she has, a cabin in the woods of northern Michigan, which she inherited from her great aunt. She travels to Huron Station with the idea that she’ll dispose of her aunt’s belongings and sell the cabin. As the story opens she has arrived in a snow storm, managed to rear end the local sheriff’s patrol car and gets lost on her way to the cabin. To top it all off, she discovers a man hanging from a tree with an arrow through his heart.
Huron Station is a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business. She soon learns that a local hunting protestor is first on the list of suspects. However, when he is not held, she begins to feel uneasy since she saw the driver of a car fleeing the scene. Odd things begin to happen, from someone watching her cabin, arrows in the snow, to strange dreams and a radio that turns itself on. The locals think she shouldn’t stay in such an isolated place, but Krista is certain she can handle herself even while she seeks to question key people in the plot. The climax comes in the middle of a blizzard in a tense scene where all the aspects of the mystery are revealed.
Bodoin’s ability to convey the sense of snow, wind, freezing cold and isolation made this reader pull up the covers and snuggle down underneath. Bodoin is particularly skilled at creating the sense of a harsh environment. Oh yes, and there’s a little romance too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Meet Donna Leach, short story writer

Today I want to introduce Donna Leach, another one the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak. She’s a longtime member of Visalia-Exeter Writers.
Question: Tell us a little about yourself, Donna.
I am a lifelong Tulare County resident. I enjoy traveling whenever I get a chance, but no place feels like home to me, except the valley. I’ve held many jobs over the years and owned my own business, but after four or five years I get restless with the same routine and move on to something new. I wish I could be one of those people who are comfortable spending twenty or thirty years with the same company, but I get too bored. I need challenges and mental stimulation. I try to keep myself busy learning to do new things. My newest hobby is growing exotic plants and propagating trees from seeds. I’ve also started oil painting.
The one area of my life I don’t get bored with is my marriage to my husband, John. We are celebrating our twenty year anniversary this year and are planning a getaway to St. Thomas in the eastern Caribbean. We love going on adventures together.

Question: How long have you been writing?

I’ve written non-fiction, reports, and press releases for various jobs over the years, but I didn’t get serious about writing fiction until I joined the Visalia Writers Critique group. Since joining, I’ve learned so much. I had an article published Lifestyle Magazine and was paid for it-a big thrill. I’ve written web contents for two websites, written online product reviews, I have a book Frightful Family Tales on sale on Amazon, and I have three stories in Leaves from the Valley Oak.  
Question: As I remember, you’ve entered online short story contests. Do you still do that?
Yes. I just submitted a short story to Glimmer Train. One day, I hope to place in their contests. They are a challenge that I am determined to conquer.
Question: What inspired you to write Grave Secret, which is featured in Leaves from the Valley Oak?
Good question. I don’t recall which publication I started that story for, but during the writing process the story took off in a different direction on its own, which happens quite often for me, and I didn’t submit it because it no longer fit the contest criteria.
Question: How do you develop your characters?
I don’t do it the way books tell you to. I don’t sketch out an identity for each character from the start. I begin writing about one character and along the way another one pops up on its own. It is sort of a natural process that occurs in which I contribute little conscious effort towards. If it didn’t happen that way, and I had to labor over it, I probably wouldn’t enjoy writing as much.
Question: Why did you choose a particular setting and time period?
For Grave Secrets, those events were easier to imagine happening during the early 1900s. I think country people during that time had a naive innocence about them, kind of like The Waltons.  For other stories, it depends on what kind of plot I have in mind as to what setting and era I drop the story into.
Question: What books and authors influenced you?
I have to admit, I don’t take the time to read much. The last book I bought was Water for Elephants two years ago. When I have time to read it’s usually non-fiction, a how-to book of some sort so I can teach myself how to do something new. However, I occasionally like to read historic non-fiction or satire, some mystery and an occasional horror story as long as it isn’t satanic.
Question: How did your upbringing color your writing?
My mother married at age 15 and had 5 children by the time she was 23. I, being the second born and oldest daughter took on the role of entertainer to my younger sister and two little brothers so Mama could do the laundry, cook, and clean. I suppose that’s how I developed such a vivid imagination. We didn’t have much money and usually lived in the country with few neighbors, so I made up stories to tell my siblings or games for us to play. Most of the games had a challenge or risk involved and all were funny as heck. One game, the Throne of God, consisted of me (God) judging the talents of my younger sister while sitting on the john. She had to perform a dance or some acrobatic feat to my satisfaction, otherwise if she failed I pushed the button and an imaginary trap-door opened beneath her feet dropping her out of heaven. Then, we switched places. This also may be the reason I developed such an odd sense of humor.
Needless to say, we spent most of the time allotted to us in the restroom playing games instead of showering. Outside games consisted of tree limbs becoming our ships at sea and my two little brothers were hungry sharks that we had to evade in order to get the treasure box and get back into our tree ship. Dirt devils were tornados and we were the Wizard of Oz gang.
And the list goes on. I also had horrific nightmares occasionally because of my active imagination. I definitely believe I rely on that imagination developed during my childhood to conceive a storyline now. Most of my stories include people with little resources, or humorous characters, or stories with a twist at the end. If these are influences from my childhood, I can’t wait to see what the twist at the end is going to be in my life.
Question: What is your latest project?
I decided to tackle script writing. It is a lot different than fiction writing for books because on the screen the actor must speak or use body gestures to tell the story. There are no internal thoughts or author narratives, usually. The show-don’t-tell rule works on the written page, but in scripts the opposite is true. I started one story, but came to a block in which I’m still working out. I always have other projects going simultaneously to bounce between. I like writing short fiction because I can finish it before I get bored with the story. Someday, when my life slows down, I’d like to complete a novel.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What I'm Reading

I'm a bit behind on my blog. After fighting the flu virus for 2 weeks, I'm finally feeling better, so I thought I'd talk about one of my favorite groups. I belong to the Mystery Readers at the library. Unlike most book groups, we pick a theme, not a specific book or author. This month the book was supposed to have cold weather setting. I have a closet full of books, so I had no trouble finding one to fit the bill. I settled on A Shadow on the Snow by Dorothy Bodoin. Perhaps I'll make some comments about it in a later blog.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Suzanne Clevenger, an inspirational writer

I'm pleased to introduce Suzanne. She is another of the contributors to Leave from the Valley Oak. Her true stories are only part of a larger work that she hopes will be published this year.

Welcome Suzanne. Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m amazed to find that I’m actually using some of the skills I learned in high school. While attending Redwood High School in Visalia in the fifties, I worked on the school newspaper as a reporter and editor. Today, I’m using some of those skills in my writing. I also participated in and won a number of speech contests with the Lions Club. Today, I’m a Christian speaker and have had numerous opportunities to speak at women’s retreats and other events. In high school, I also served on the student council and had the position of publicity chairman for school events. Several years ago, I organized an interchurch women’s conference which required some of those previously learned organizational skills.

Visalia, California has been my home most of my life. My husband Ron and I will celebrate our twenty-fifth  anniversary this year. We have a blended family comprised of four children and seven grandchildren and live on the outskirts of town. He and I have both experienced previous marriages and divorces, and today we have a rewarding ministry reaching out to couples facing difficulty in their respective marriages.

Besides writing, I enjoy working in our gardens, quilting and knitting.

How long have you been writing? 

I’ve had an interest in writing since high school, but didn’t get serious about it until just the past few years. I think college, marriage, having children, and work overshadowed any writing aspirations I might have had. I laugh about it now, but when I was a young mother, I contacted one of those writing schools advertised in the back of a magazine. Someone actually came to my home to talk with me about it. Gosh, I was inexperienced then. He must have shaken his head when he got back into his car and drove away.

Where do you get your ideas?  

Life. I consider myself an inspirational writer and have learned that God never wastes a moment of our life experiences. He wants us to grow from them, whether they are good or bad, and hopefully, we can share those experiences with others to help them grow as well.

How have you done your research? 

Once again, from life. As I’ve ministered to women over the past twenty years or so, I’ve found they all have one thing in common. They are all looking for hope to get them through a difficult ordeal. Many of them have given me permission to tell their stories to others in order to let them know they are not alone.

I also find great inspiration from the Bible. I am impacted by the relevancy of the Scriptures in today’s world. It doesn’t matter what we’re dealing with: finances, child rearing, marriage, pain, joy, loss, success, conflict, betrayal or renewal—it’s all covered between the pages of the Bible.

How has your life colored your writing? 

My life has been pretty ordinary for someone who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s. Life was much simpler then. Families spent more time together and seemed closer in so many ways. There weren’t the many distractions we have today. I hope to recapture some that way of life in future writing projects I’m thinking about.

I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was twelve. In my thirties, during the women’s liberation movement, I went a little crazy as did so many women during that time. I made a conscious choice to do what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted. I moved far away from the life I know God had planned for me. It was only by His grace and forgiveness that I was finally able to get back on track and follow Him as closely as I am able. I still stumble from time to time, but my hope in Christ has not waivered since my return to Him. And it is that message of hope I want to pass on to others. He’s only a prayer away.

What other books and authors have influenced you?

Oh, that is a hard one. I must admit I’ve never been an avid reader, but I’m working on that now. I really enjoy books that inspire me and help me grow in my walk with the Lord. I’m still trying to figure so many things out. Many authors are good at that, but Anne Graham Lotz is one who never ceases to amaze me in her writings. She seems to always hit the target dead center. Jill Briscoe is another one. I own many of their books and have had several opportunities to sit under their teachings in person. The devotional that really helped turn my life around is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

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

Probably the process itself. It takes a lot of discipline to make the effort and time to write, and I’m not very good at that. I have so many interests, and it’s easy to become way too distracted during the day. I will say that I had a couple of devotionals accepted and printed by another author. When Tyndale House Publisher sent me a complimentary copy of the book , The One Year Life Verse Devotional by Jay K. Payleitner, I was thrilled. I was an honest to goodness published author. Wow! That was exciting.

I’ve never been paid for any of my writing. I think that will be my next biggest thrill. To get paid for something you enjoy doing must be the ultimate.

What’s your latest project?  

I’ve been working on a book which is a compilation of several women who have gone through tough things: abortion, infidelity, loss of a child, husband’s addiction to pornography, mental illness, tough love toward a child, homelessness. All of these women clung to the hope they had in Jesus to get them through. It is my hope a publisher will accept my manuscript before the end of the year.

I’m also in the beginning stages of memories from my childhood. That will, of course, reflect life in the forties and fifties. My main purpose is to pass these stories on to my children and grandchildren, but if it happens to get printed …. Well that would be great too.