Monday, December 14, 2015

Holiday book list 2015

I love books. I love the lure of a new story, visiting places I haven't been, finding hope in the promise for better ever-afters, and discovering new itineraries to self-discovery and connections with the wider world of people around me. If I enter a book store, time drifts; and I can browse for hours, marveling at the creativity that's sprung forth from fellow authors. At the holidays I am especially susceptible to becoming lost in the shelves, whether they belong to a library, a store, or happen to be my own.

Here are a few titles I've been drawn to for those on my gift list this year.

How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan. Illustrated by Lee Wildish 

This is a fun delight, focusing on holiday traditions of wonder and magic.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees. The rhyme works and the story is heart-felt, which means that this will be one that will be read again and again.

The Lightning Queen by Laura Resau. A story inspired by interactions between characters from different cultures. This one is set in Mexico about friendship that spans generations.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. This book is sure to please my sailor-dad, although I wish I had more time to spend reading it before I have to give it away. What is it about? The subtitle reads, "The forgotten war that changed American History."

And lastly, what am I reading now?

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. Set in Tennessee, this is another story that mingles two worlds into one through examining bonds between nations and families of the Scots-Irish and Cherokee descent. Since my father's side of my family is descended from marriage between Scots-Irish and Cherokee of Tennessee, I was drawn to this story.

Happy Holidays! Happy Reading! Happy Feasting!


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coat of Many Colors - Tis the Season

Without a doubt, I am no expert on the culture of film. When I find I have a little free time to burn, I'll check out the latest offerings available. Lately however, I'd found myself lamenting at the lack of movies and TV shows that offered any sort of meaningful dialogue that extended beyond people simply talking AT each other, or issuing commands. I guess I have missed shows or films that offer displays of human connection and companionship. I guess I have grown tired the endless barrage of dystopian stories hinged on awful leaders and the results of poor decisions.

Just when I thought I would forever leave the television off and avoid the theater altogether, along came Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors. It seems silly to think that someone my age finally felt happy over the fact that she had a film to look forward to, but it's true.

And as I watch it, it's apparent that I was right. Finally, I was lucky to stumble across entertainment that meant something other than one side winning or losing. Finally, I was lucky to be able to sit down to enjoy a real story about real people. Isn't that what life is about?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#NANOWRIMO - Consider your setting

By now, if you are a writer going through November, you are well into the midst of it -- writing that new novel, or rewriting that old one, or writing out gobs of nonsense in-between the bursts of word-smithing genius. It is, after all, National Novel Writing Month. NANOWRIMO

In order to get to this point that you are at, it's quite probable that you put a bit of time into getting your writing environment ready. Perhaps you cleared the clutter from your desk, sharpened the pencils, adjusted the lighting, or burned some incense.... All to prepare yourself for the process of sitting down to spend the next 30 days with a set of characters that will take life on the page. Characters with wants and needs. Characters with thoughts and challenges. Characters whose decisions help shape the plot driving through the heart of your novel.

However, there is one other character that may be standing on the sidelines, waving its figurative arms as you blaze through the literary forest, all the while slamming the text madly across the page. This is a character that can add depth and persona to the story you are wanting to tell. This is a character that can definitively engage your readers and lead them to turn the pages on a deeper, more intimate level. This character happens to be your setting. And as clearly as your main character asks for chai latte to go with that buttered ham-and-cheese croissant en route to meeting whatever imminent fate awaits around the next corner, your setting has a voice that ought to be heard. Perhaps not as equally as your main character who tosses that cardboard cup, still half-full, into the trash can on her way out the door, but definitely as noticeable as the damp chill that lashes at her face as she steps on to the sidewalk, causing her to pull her jacket more tightly closed before looking left, then right, then left again.

California coast
Masterful writers engage the setting as a powerful character, whose role in the novel can add substance through subtle warnings, hints, reprimands, or rewards.

In Kim Fay's novel, The Map of Lost Memories, the setting seems like a character of its own, both mingling with and driving the emotions of the main characters.

----The night seemed to shift, as if Shanghai were settling down into its foundation. A fitful cool struggled to press in from the distant East China Sea. Irene heard propellers thrashing against the black Whangpoo River. And she wondered what in hell had just happened, while below in the dark a melon had been split, its sweetness clinging to the humid air.

Matthew Kirby introduces the strong hold of the setting that the characters must deal with in the opening lines of Icefall.

---- The fjord is freezing over. I watch it from the edge of the cliff near our hall, and each day the ice claims more of the narrow winding ocean. It squeezes out the waves and the blue-black water, while it squeezes us in. Just as Father intended it to Winter is here to wall us up, to bury us in snow, and keep us safe.

And lastly, the characters in The Underneath by Kathi Appelt are deeply connected to and affected by their environment. This connection occurs, quite literally, from in the opening lines of the story.

--- There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a little while, and then abandoned on the side of the road. A small calico cat. Her family, the one she had lived with, has left her in this old and forgotten forest, this forest where the rain is soaking into her soft fur. 
--- How long has she been walking? Hours? Days? She wasn't even sure how she got here, so far from the town where she grew up. Something about a car, something about a long drive. And now here she is. Here in this old forest where the rain slipped between the branches and settled into her fur. 

It's effective, this use of setting by a writer. It helps the story make sense. It offers a sense of perspective. It also can help establish familiarity, even in places that are new to your reader. Thus, during the quieter moments of November, take the opportunity to consider your setting. How is it faring? Are you treating it with some attention? Does it need you to look toward it with patient eyes?  Perhaps doing so will help put your novel on course for a deeper dimension.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Earth Day and Stewardship, a challenge for writers

Earth Day came and went, and I wrote this post, but forgot I hadn't finished it. So, here we go.

It seems like as time goes on, Earth Day is no longer just a day that garners a bit of attention from a minority of the population once a year in April. Instead, the idea of Earth Stewardship has slowly taken hold of the public at large, as well as religious institutions and world leaders, presumably due to the problems that loom around every natural resource on our planet and which can no longer be so easily ignored. As such, this year marks numerous upcoming conferences and media events that spotlight the ramifications of adverse ecological change on the health and sustainability of the human population.  Of course, humans aren't the only living beings that will be affected, but it is with us and our fate that many can most easily relate, and so that is where the attention will predominately lie.

Keeping that in mind, I've decided to turn my attention to one of my own communities -- that of writers, and issue a challenge. Writers have a way of starting things. Garnering attention. Getting people to notice something and get excited about it. Things like, A to Z mystery series, cooking series, mysteries that involve cooking, furry creatures that evoke kindness, angels that inspire good deeds, ideas of life after death, and even ideas of cheating death.  Thus, I would like to challenge all writers to take notice of the way that all people depend on a healthy planet. And with those thoughts in mind, I would like to challenge writers to start invoking another idea, one that can go along with so many others that have taken hold -- the idea that tending to a healthy Earth is a good thing to do, an appealing thing to do, a smart thing to do, and maybe even sexy thing to do. Whatever slant works for you, my challenge is to have you see if you can work that perception into your stories. Not to teach -- that's the last thing we want to showcase in our stories -- but just to have the idea be an integral, inherent fiber of the overall fabric of whatever world it is that you strive to create in your storytelling.

I don't watch a lot of television, but I did catch that the series "New Girl," starring Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day, has the idea of stewardship written into the story line of at least one episode with the fact that she apparently prefers environmentally-friendly products, for example. Thus, this challenge is doable, and I suspect it is already being done in many areas. But that doesn't mean that there isn't room for more growth in this area. Many more writers can inspire readers to take notice of what it means to live a sustainable life and how it can be done. Many more writers can write in a way that gets their readers to reflect on stewardship, and then perhaps some will be inspired or see how they can make changes toward achieving their own healthy, sustainable living.

We've got plenty of documentaries that show us the problems our world is facing, from slaughtered and diminishing dolphin populations, to dwindling giraffe populations, to deteriorating oceans that are drowning in plastics, to dwindling forests of all kinds, to melting glaciers and dying polar bears, to disappearing wetlands, to decreasing song birds and raptors, to unsustainable water practices, to toxic spills from industrial and agricultural wastes, and the list goes on and on. Yet, the source of the problem is the same. Us. And the problems continue. Not only with us, but most certainly with every other living creature on the planet, and also with the nonliving natural resources on which everything depends (i.e., water, air, soil, land).

But we as writers can be a part of the solution in showing how sustainable and Earth-friendly actions can be effortlessly done by simply infusing these behaviors into our stories, our characters, our decisions. And we as readers, perhaps can learn from them in a way that doesn't detract from the entertainment that we sought in the first place.

As a writer, I'm challenging myself. I'm challenging you. And I hope that in some way that will translate into challenging readers, who in turn can share and challenge each other..

Happy Earth Day. Happy Earth Year. Happy Earth Living. Happy Stewardship.   

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Got Eggs? The egg shortage of 2015

I recently read about the millions of chicken deaths in the Midwestern chicken farms due to some sort of bird flu, which has resulted in a shortage of eggs in the US and sky-rocketing egg prices. So, today I thought I'd share a recipe for an egg-free Black Forest Cake that I used to rely on many years ago when I was suffering from numerous food allergies that had descended upon me all at once after getting a weird immunization booster for being out of the country within the 10 years prior.  (I became allergic to all the foods in my system: milk, wheat, chicken, coffee, bananas, etc. But that's another story.)

Believe it or not, this cake was often requested at many social gatherings I went to, not only for the health-aspects of it (lower calorie), but for its great taste.  Perhaps the ingredient list will nudge you toward being creative with modifications to your own favorite recipes, if the need arises.

Black Forest Cake (from the Food Allergy News Cookbook)

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup milk-free, soy-free margarine (I use regular margarine now. And sometimes I substitute 1/4 margarine for 1/4 cup applesauce.)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tablespoons oil, 3 Tablespoons water, 2 tsp baking powder, beaten together
1 1/8 tsp vanilla extract

canned cherries (I skipped this part, and just frosted the cake up with vanilla frosting)

I also need to add another optional ingredient, which helps offset the absence of eggs:  a small pinch of xanthan gum. This helps the cake to rise and stay risen after baking. Don't use too much or your cake will be stiff.  A tiny bit does go a long way. However, xanthan gum is expensive. Yet, it will last forever, and you can find that you can use it in many different recipes that need help in maintenance of consistency, like custards, or cheesecake, or whatever. That is an upside to the cost, provided you do a lot of cooking and dare to be adventurous in the kitchen. Xanthan gum also helps if you are gluten/wheat intolerant and need to bake with alternative flours, such as rice or tapioca or others. I found it especially helpful in those types of recipes I when had to develop them, because I couldn't eat anything else.

Back to the directions: 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 round cake pans (I used a 13x9, instead). Cream together the sugar and margarine. Add the water and beat together. Sift dry ingredients together and add to the mixture. Add oil, water, and baking powder mixture. Add vanilla and beat well. Pour the batter into pans. Bake 30 minutes.

When cooled, spread canned cherries on top of one layer, put the other layer on top and frost with chocolate frosting.

Again, I used a 13 x 9 pan to make a single layer chocolate cake that I topped with vanilla frosting. Explore and enjoy your own!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

World Read Aloud Day, March 4, 2015

March 4 is World Read Aloud Day, sponsored by a group called WorldLit, whose mission is to "empower young people to author lives of independence, hope, and joy."

I love this mission statement, because I believe that one of the first steps toward living a life filled with independence, hope, and joy, is through learning to read and learning to read well.

However, a life of independence does not imply a life that is removed from others. Rather, a life of independence, spawned through developing a love of literature and development of one's own voice, actually becomes a life lived in connection with others. I believe these connections occur because reading nurtures a sense of empathy, which gives us the capability of linking ourselves to others in understanding and action.

Some of my very best memories from childhood are of those where I was sitting in my mother's arms, with my brother at my side, reading from storybooks aloud. Both my brother and I relished those moments with her, and bedtime often involved negotiations for "one more story," or at least one more page from the large bound book we frequently read from.

Indeed, I don't think the power of sharing favorite passages or even whole books aloud diminishes with age. Haven't you often shared a favorite or thought-provoking section of anything you've read--part of a magazine or newspaper or book--by reading it aloud to whomever you're with?

At some point or another, as adults, we've all read something aloud, or listened to writing being shared in some way. Today, more than ever, in a world being gobbled up by tech games and video, I encourage us all to consider fostering this cherished art -- reading aloud.

Since March 4 is World Read Aloud Day, how will you celebrate? What will you share with another person in your life?

Happy reading aloud day!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Weber State University Story-Telling Festival!

Treat yourself, Treat your family! 
Clearfield City Storytelling Festival
Event:  19th Weber State University Storytelling Festival
Dates/Times:  Monday-Wednesday, February 23-25, 2015, 9:30am to Noon each day with afternoon campus workshops and evening concerts
Out-of-State Featured Tellers:  Syd Lieberman, Lyn Ford, Kim & Reggie Harris, Pippa White
Treasured Tellers:  Virginia Rasmussen, Phyllis J. Savage
Utah Tellers:  Laurie Allen, Cathy Barker, Karl Behling, Daniel Bishop, Elaine Brewster, David Bullock, Kristen Clay, Cherie Davis, Kim Davis, Suzanne Decaria, Joan Effiong, Ann Ellis, Ted Erekson, Carol Esterreicher, Stephen Gashler, Mark Gollaher, Alan Griffin, Richard Hatch, Rachel Hedman, Suzanne Hudson, Billie Jones, Kathleen Lund, George McEwan, Jean Andra Miller, Janine Nishiguchi, Ginger Parkinson, Sam Payne, Aleksa Poulter, Tamra Pratt, Holly Robison, Sharon Rogers, David & Carol Sharp, Rene' Sheets, Jan C. Smith, Nannette Watts, Lynn Wing, Kate Young
Cost:  Free, open to all (only cost for those who wish to attend the Storytelling Festival Dinner at 6:30pm on Tuesday, Feb. 24th)
Monday-Tuesday--Eccles Conference Center (Peery's Egyptian Theatre), 2415 Washington Blvd., Ogden
Wednesday--Davis Conference Center, 1651 N. 700 W., Layton 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday meme

One of my writers groups took the challenge to create memes. I'm not even sure what a meme is, but I thought I'd go with a pic I was playing with, even though it did not turn out the way that I'd imagined. This photo was taken a couple weeks ago on one of the few remaining carriage roads in New Hampshire. I used to walk and ride horseback on this road a lot while growing up as a kid. Those old New England rock walls run along the side of it, but they are hard to see in this photo, and have trees growing up from within them, anyway. Nevertheless, it is fun to wonder whose hands moved all those rocks into place 400 or so years ago. I see them everywhere when I go back home, although most are gone and are not as grand as they were with those rocks being moved into other uses.

The roads I walk today are a lot different from those of my youth, but some of the dreams I had when I was younger, still remain the same.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Two Lists for Book Lovers with Guest Author, Janet Kay Jensen, plus a Giveaway for her book, Gabriel's Daughters

It's the season of lists.

December brought us shopping lists, to-do lists, naughty-and-nice lists, and wish lists.

January brings us goals or dreams for the coming year, along with lists on how to achieve them.

Thus, I felt it was only fitting in hosting a post for Janet Kay Jensen to celebrate the publication of her new book, Gabriel's Daughters, that I should ask her to come up with a list of her own.

Lucky for us, Janet responded with two! As it goes, these lists are perfect for book lovers all around. You'll certainly want to check out these titles or revisit the favorites that you share in common.

So, here we go!

What are some of your favorite books and why?

1. To Kill a Mockingbird  by Harper Lee. The voice in this story is so clear and honest.
Author Janet Kay Jensen

2. A Separate Peace by John Knowles. An allegory about the small wars that take place in the human heart, as boys in an exclusive prep school prepare for World War ll and the world around them falls apart.

3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. She evokes a sense of place, and fate, that are unforgettable.

4. Mansfield Park  by Jane Austen: You can say what you like about Jane, but I think her humor is deliciously wicked. 

5. Anything by Charles Dickens: I think he created some of the most memorable and vivid characters in literature.

6. Atonement by Ian McEwan: Events unfold that can’t be taken back, and their effects last for generations. 

7. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Twain’s biting humor and social commentary take a back seat to the romance of floating down a raft on the mighty Mississippi.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, and Ann Patchett.

Thank you, Janet!

As for me, I have been thoroughly enjoying my advanced reader's copy of Gabriel's Daughters. So I decided to come up with a list in describing my experience with her book.

5 Reasons I love Gabriel's Daughters

1. Deliciously perfect.   Many passages gave me pause, simply because I stopped reading in order to go back and reread what I just enjoyed for its flawlessness. Here's an example.

  Chef Damian was a large balding man with a big, booming voice. As a graduate of a renowned culinary school, he ran an efficient kitchen. His white coats were always starched and his hat appeared to be two feet high. Damian had a broad smile with a flash of gold between his front teeth and he rarely spoke without large gestures. As long as Harry stayed out of the kitchen, the two men maintained a working relationship.
  "I make the food," Damian explained. "He does the business. We both make the money."

2. Bordering on poetic.  This goes along with number 1, but here's another example to show you what I mean. It's passages like these that kept me glued to the story, and looking forward to reveling in others that would surely follow.

  She heard the soft "Whoo? Whoo? call of an owl in a scraggly juniper tree, and Mormon crickets answered in accusing unison with their rhythmic "You-you, you-you, you-you" chorus. She knew her memories of this night would glimmer with moonlight and smell of sagebrush while in the distance she would hear the owl's mournful question and the cricket's mocking reply.

3. Mysterious.  Would Zina's past catch up with her? And if it did, what would be the consequences?

4. Layered. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter seemed to possess lives of their own, with some allowing for personal reflection and all connecting intimately with progression of the story.  Here is one:

  Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great. - Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

5. Captivating. I simply couldn't get enough of the characters. Each one seemed to step off the page and into my living room as living, breathing human beings. Janet did a wonderful job of creating them, working them seamlessly into the story. As I read, I wondered what would happen to them as Zina's story unfolded and drew them into her decisions. I couldn't imagine how their futures wouldn't be left unaffected by her own.

By now, you are surely wondering what this book--which has so handily captivated my attention--is about. I highly recommend it. 

About the book, Gabriel's Daughters: 

Wrestling with issues of polygamy, homosexuality, and modernity, Gabriel’s Daughters examines them through the lives of the large, loving, and polygamous Martin family. The story is told primarily through the eyes of Zina Martin, a young girl who—upon discovering she is impregnated by her “sterile” teacher and will soon be married off to a man three times her age—escapes the enclosed polygamous town of Gabriel’s Landing, Utah. Zina then embarks on a journey of self-discovery, yet she can never fully escape the longing she has for her family and even the controversial and outdated lifestyle she once lived. Through both tears and triumph, Gabriel’s Daughters reveals a moving story that not only acts as insightful social commentary but also prompts readers to re-evaluate their lives.

About the author, Janet Kay Jensen:

Janet has written other books titled, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys (Bonneville Books 2007) and The Book Lover's Cookbook (Ballantine Books 2003), and not surprisingly, has won some awards. You can connect with Janet at her blog (, website (, and social media at twitter ( facebook ( While you are on facebook, I recommend stopping by to say hello and "LIKE" her page. 

Also, be sure to enter the Gabriel's Daughters book giveaway below! This book, which is published by Jolly Fish Press, will be available from major booksellers on January 20!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year Resolutions!

Now that I'm looking ahead at a whole new year, with a whole new blank slate, I figure it's a good time to start filling that slate with a list of goals. Although I'm not sure if despite what I write, FATE has something else in store for me considering the 2 dreams I woke from on the past two mornings. Today, I was steering a sailboat through craggy, black rocks in strong winds and choppy seas. Yesterday, I was running from a crazy person intent on causing me harm. What's weird is that it's been a long time since any dreams graced my sleep.

Perhaps the fact that I escaped both scenarios without crashing or capture should lend me some peace of mind. Or perhaps the dreams meant nothing, and are simply linked to the migraine that's been lurking at the edges of the right frontal lobe of my brain -- a place that my bad headaches like to call home. Nevertheless, I resolved to make a list today to welcome in 2015, so I shall do it.

1. I'd like to cook more from recipes. Yes, I know how to cook, but with working more than full time, I tend to just stick to what I know and what is easy, which can get boring. So, at least once a week, I'd like to pull a cookbook off the shelf and find something unusual to make.

2. I'd like to make sure I keep getting to gym, so that I can keep hold of my health. It simply makes running around, particularly on the treadmill, a lot easier.

3. I'd like to take more time to do what I enjoy doing -- things that don't involve deadlines or commitments -- things like writing, drawing, hiking, or fishing.

There you have it. It's a short list, but my daily to-do is long-long-long, so I hope to find a way to squeeze these three big things into my each of my weeks to come.  Advice for doing so, or encouragement is always welcome!

Happy New Year and best wishes for your own hopes and good dreams!