Giving Thanks

I have so much to be thankful for: my wonderful husband, our families, our friends, the tasks and talents God has given us. This holiday we took a “mini retreat” in Leavenworth, WA, a lovely little German town in the Cascades. Another thing to be thankful for: God’s gift of our beautiful world.We awoke this morning to sun highlighting the snowy peaks of the Cascades, and fog clinging to the sides of the mountains.

The Enzian Inn, where we stayed. What a delightful place!One of the ornately-painted shops downtown. Brings back fond memories of visiting relatives in Germany, where my mother was born and raised.

And, one of my favorite things of the season: Christmas lights!

Published in: on November 28, 2009 at 3:53 am  Comments (3)  
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Meet Kathy Stemke, Children’s Author

Kathy Stemke has a passion for writing, the arts and all things creative. She has a B.S. from Southern Connecticut State University and Covenant Life Seminary, as well as graduate coursework from New York Institute of Technology and Columbia University. Hanging her hat in the North Georgia Mountains, she has been a dancer, choreographer, teacher, tutor, writer and an antiques dealer for many years. As a freelance writer Kathy has published several articles, and she is a contributing editor for The National Writing for Children’s Center.

Welcome to my blog, Kathy. Tell us about your first book.

My first book, Moving Through All Seven Days, was an outgrowth of a blog post.  This book inspires movement as children learn about the days of the week. The lyrical rhymes also teach them how to spell each day. The activities at the end of the book are designed to reinforce the concepts as well as give impetus to movement exploration.

Here is a review of Moving:

“This fun book is full of lively rhymes, clever illustrations, and engaging activities sure to be fun for all the kids in your class — or out of it. I knew I was hooked when I found myself filling in the missing letters on the Complete Each Word activity. Kathy Stemke, can I be in your class?  Pretty please?”

Margaret Fieland, Author/Educator

What other children’s books have you written?

I plan to write a series of picture books with environmental themes. Trouble on Earth Day is almost ready to be released.  This is a fun and educational story about a Squirrel who helps a new friend while learning to recycle. This book is full of great recycling ideas, craft projects, and worksheet pages.

I recently completed the second book in this series titled, Wonderful Water Explorers. This book opens up conversation about water preservation with a story of a thirsty bluebird named Charlie, who has lost his ability to sing due to a lack of water. When he meets up with his squirrel friend, Shelby, they set out on an adventure to find fresh drinking water and to bring back singing to the forest.

Guardian Angel Publishers will publish my book titled Sh, Sh, Sh, Will the Baby Sleep? In this action packed story a boy named Zachary must keep his new baby sister asleep.  In the process he finds out that he loves her very much.  This book and the activities included in the back focus on teaching children about consonant blends.  Teachers will love it.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes, I’ve been writing as long as I can remember.  I write poetry for self-expression.  I’m working on a book of poems about life from a dancer’s point of view.  Here’s an example:

An Empty Stage

Coiled torso frozen on an empty stage,

a living sculpture trapped in place

with no gown of tulle to hide her age

only weeping knees below her waist.

Framed in light, her insides groan

with pent up passion poised for release,

she now waits long and alone

for rhythm to carry her to peace.

But I remember her unencumbered

prance, so light for one held down

by unfulfilled dreams remembered,

floating above her tattered gown.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my third book of the environmental series, which is about air pollution, as well as a picture book about dancing wood fairies.

I’ve also started my first YA fantasy novel. Although I’m still fleshing out my characters and plot, I’m very excited about this story.

View Kathy’s book trailer for Moving...

What type of book promotion works for you? Any special strategies you’d like to share?

Because my books have teacher activities in them, I belong to several teacher groups online.  This is a great way to keep in touch with what teachers are looking for in the books they buy for school, as well as develop friendships.

My free Movement and Rhythm Newsletter reaches over 350 teachers and parents each month.  I continue to add subscribers everyday.

I belong to a wonderful virtual book tour group, Writers on the Move. This is a good way to develop an online presence, and develop friendships with other authors.

I do library and school visits in my community.  I plan on writing a teacher tips column in my regional newspaper.  While giving away great educational activities to the community, I will let them know about my books.

What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Take an online course on writing, which will teach you the basics of writing, and give you support.  There are several great authors who offer coaching clubs and even critique your work as you learn.  There are also week-long online conferences with several brilliant teachers to inspire you.

Read good books in the genre you want to write.  Explore what makes those books so special.  Take what you like from these successful authors and develop your own voice.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?

Thank you, Kathy, your books sound wonderful!

Readers, be sure to leave a comment and you will be entered in a drawing.

For you authors out there: Why not increase your visibility and readership with VBT – Writers on the Move. We’re a group of authors who use cross-promotion as part of our marketing plan.

Finally, don’t forget VBT has a monthly Mystery Site Giveaway: a free book or a guest spot on the VBT – Writers on the Move’s blogsite!

Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 6:06 am  Comments (15)  

Writing the West Into a Story

My guest today is Craig Lancaster, a fellow writer and Montanan, whose debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, has just been released by Riverbend Publishing of Helena, Montana.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Craig’s book!


By Craig Lancaster

In my late teens and early 20s, as I began cutting my teeth on the literature that spoke most toLancaster4LM me with the most resonance, I found myself drawn inexorably West – into the seaside shanties and other-side-of-paradise locales of John Steinbeck’s California, into the mind of Wallace Stegner’s Lyman Ward, and into the shadow of Ivan Doig’s Two Medicine Country of Montana, among other literary destinations. I marveled at these great writers and their ability to cast a story against a backdrop so vivid that it became a character unto itself. They led me into places I wanted to see with my own eyes.

In the first few sentences of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck does this masterfully, setting the scene of the infinite sadness to come. His descriptions are full of color and the shape of the land. By the time the two itinerant workers at the center of the story, George and Lenny, appear a page later, they’re trudging through a world that is splashed brilliantly across the reader’s mind:

It’s conceivable that Steinbeck could have set the core story anywhere – a cattle ranch in New Mexico, a dairy farm in Oregon, a feedlot in deep West Texas. But it wouldn’t be the same. Central California, snug against the mountains separating the verdant Salinas Valley from the sea, is where the story belongs. Steinbeck made it so.

I suppose that those of us who write start out idolizing certain authors to the point of mimicry and then, if we’re lucky, develop our own voices and zero in on the stories we want to tell. In the 20 years that lapsed between my first reading of Of Mice and Men (or, for that matter, of Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair) and my writing of my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward, I found myself drawn to an aspect of the West that is different from those that I had been absorbing through others’ words. As my main character, an obsessive-compulsive Aspergian named Edward Stanton, confronts the rapid changes that transform his life, he does so in a small city (Billings, Montana, where I live) that is very much his milieu. Edward is acutely aware of his place in the world – its rhythms, its geography (he doesn’t like left turns, and so whenever possible he plots a driving route that doesn’t include them), its politics (his father is a powerful elected official) and such. The West with which I’m most familiar – the one that plays out in this regional hub city that constantly strains as its borders – becomes part of the story’s fabric.

Here’s a small section of the story that illustrates what I mean. This comes about midway through the book, as Edward prepares for an online date that he has managed to wrangle as he begins to deal with the world that is crashing into his front door:

Here are a few things you should know about Rimrock Mall, so you’ll understand why I am dreading today’s visit there.

Rimrock Mall is the biggest mall in Montana. Because Billings is such a geographic oddity — atcover 100,000-plus people, it is the largest city in a 500-mile radius — it isn’t just Billings people who come to the mall. I read somewhere, maybe in the Billings Gazette, that half of northern Wyoming does its monthly shopping in Billings, and it stands to reason that a good number of those people end up at Rimrock Mall.

If you walk through the Rimrock Mall parking lot on a weekend — I would rather not, but I am setting up a hypothetical statement — you will see license plates from all over Montana and Wyoming and even other places. Montana makes it easy to pick out where license plates are from: The first number is the county code, and the counties are numbered by the population size of the counties when the system went into effect. Yellowstone County plates have the number 3 on them, because it was the third-largest county, population-wise, back when the system started. It should be No. 1 now, but that would make the people in Butte-Silver Bow County angry, so it stays at No. 3.

Anyway, when I am driving in Billings and someone in front of me makes a wrong or erratic turn, I get angry if I see a 3 on his license plate, as he is from here and should know better. If I see a 27 — that’s Richland County, an agrarian (I love the word “agrarian”) outpost in far Eastern Montana — I don’t get so mad. That’s someone who perhaps doesn’t spend much time in Billings, and I have to be a good person and remember that Billings can be confusing to outsiders.

I am dreading today’s visit to Rimrock Mall.

Setting isn’t just a place to drop a story. Done right, setting becomes something like a story’s center of gravity, an anchor to which plot lines can be tethered and held in place, allowing for a book’s architecture to stand strong. While I’m partial to the writers of the West, they certainly don’t have the market cornered on brilliant use of setting. It matters not whether you get lost in Anne Rivers Siddons’ Maine or Pat Conroy’s South Carolina or Larry McMurtry’s Texas. They’re all worthy destinations.

To order Craig’s book, 600 Hours of Edward, on

Craig’s Web site:

Craig’s blog:

Writers on the Move

ballonsDuring November, VBT – Writers on the Move is having its ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! For those who don’t know what VBT is, it’s the Virtual Blog Tour gang and do they EVER have a fantastic party lined up.

To celebrate this accomplishment, we are having a STUPENDOUS Blogaversary Tour! I am featured first at Dianne Sagan’s blog.

Daily postings and daily prizes! But, that’s not all, we’re still having our Mystery Site Giveaway: the Anniversary PRIZE is a $25 (US) GIFT CARD.

Visit the VBT – Writers on the Move blogsite for all the details.


Don’t forget to check back right here on Wednesday, Nov. 4 for Craig Lancaster’s guest post on “Writing the West Into a Story.”

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