My guest this week is Wilma F. Smith, author of The Esther Vice House, a memoir about her mother.

Synopsis: During the spring of 1929, a terrible accident forever changes the life course of Esther Clark, a young teacher in a rural Indiana schoolhouse. As she races out the door, she is shocked to see six-year-old Willie writhing on the ground, holding his bloody eye. A whirlwind of events carries the unwilling and skeptical Esther through revival meetings by a traveling evangelist and dumps her in despair when the school board unexpectedly fires her. What’s more, her mother shames her into an unlikely marriage that propels her on a cross-country life journey that challenges her faith, explores the hardships of poverty and loneliness, and ultimately provides testament to the perseverance of the human spirit.

Wilma, Tell us the motivation for writing your mother’s story.

I always admired my mother for her tenacity in coping with adversity and sheer poverty. She was determined to raise her three children with an appreciation for beauty, education, and caring for others. Her life was never easy, and she coped with two antagonists—her mother and her husband—while she sought ways to prepare her family for a happier life than she experienced. One day, after I had retired, Mom showed up at my Camano home with a box full of letters, keepsakes and journals. “Maybe someday you’ll write about us,” she said. “There should be some interesting stories in here.”

What made you decide to write it from first person POV?

I had a tough time writing the first chapter, about the boy who lost his eye. I had tried using the omniscient point of view, but it wasn’t working. I found a creative writing group at our RV Park in Tucson, and they were instrumental in helping me find the right “voice”—that of my mother. Once I re-wrote the chapter from her point-of-view, the narrative flowed. I became my mother.

Was that POV easier or more difficult, either by putting yourself into the character’s feelings and reactions or by trying to avoid it?

When I put myself into Mom’s character, I felt I could see clearly where the story was going and what events were important to write about. When I read her journals, I was able to “get inside her head” and recount her narrative as though I were Esther.

Did your mother read any of your manuscript before she passed on? (If so, what was her reaction?)

I am so sorry that she passed away before I wrote her story. I’ll always wonder if she would have approved of the way I presented her.  She probably would tell me I made her look “too good, too smart.” She was a humble woman, often unsure of herself.

What was your process like in researching, writing and publishing this book?

I traveled to Indiana several times over the past years, exploring the towns and countrysides where Esther and Thomas lived. I went to the courthouse and found vital records of their families, and visited a cemetery in a lonely churchyard where Thomas’ family was buried. I walked the streets of Garrett and tried to imagine Esther walking home from the interurban train stop in town. I read through years of Esther’s journals and reflections, and studied accounts of Clark siblings’ reunions that occurred from the 1970s. All five living Clark siblings wrote anecdotes of their growing-up years. And, I referred to my own journals that I have kept since high school days.

I decided to begin Mother’s story with her one-room school tragedy and to end it with her amazing adventures in retirement. What a resolution that was…a triumph over struggles, poverty, and despair.

I can’t say enough good things about the two writing critique groups I’ve experienced in Burlington, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona. Every week I had the opportunity of reading my story to a small group of authors who read critically and made helpful suggestions to make the writing better. Also, I thank my son, Antony Smith, a wonderful writer himself, who took the time to help me improve my writing. My sister, Cyd Li, read each chapter and added her perspective of our growing-up years. My husband, John, encouraged me and wouldn’t let me quit. Finally, I thank you, Heidi, for completing an early edit of my manuscript, which helped me move forward with a measure of confidence.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I submitted my manuscript to a number of agents/publishers during a two-year period, but received only rejections. In 2010 I attended the Whidbey Island “Chat House” for authors. There I was encouraged by two different agents to submit my manuscript. One agent encouraged me to consider self-publishing as an option. When I learned that the publishing process takes at least two years, I decided to go ahead with publishing it myself. I have been very pleased with Gorham Printing in Centralia, Washington. They guided me through the entire process and designed the cover as well.

Was this a good experience for you? What advice would you give authors wanting to self-publish?

Yes, it was a good experience. I researched several other printing options, and am glad I went with Gorham. For authors wanting to self-publish, I would recommend a very helpful reference, Publish Your Nonfiction Book, by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco, a Writer’s Digest Book. Another worthwhile (and voluminous) reference is The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier.

How are you marketing your book?

I am working with local bookstores that take my book on consignment (The Tattered Page in Mount Vernon, The Snowgoose Bookstore in Stanwood, and The Next Chapter in La Conner). I have done readings and sold copies at art exhibits, arts and crafts shows, and book clubs. Our local newspaper, The Stanwood Camano News, published an article about my book. I have a blog ( where I am sharing photos and anecdotes about the people and places in the book. The blog is connected to PayPal for those who wish to purchase The Esther Vice House. Also, anyone interested can send me a check for $13.00 (includes tax and shipping) at 119 Vista Del Mar Street, Camano Island, WA 98282.

Tell us about your background and have you written before?

I spent forty years in the education field—as teacher, principal, superintendent, university professor, and consultant. I have published articles and books—but all of these were in regard to my profession. However, ever since I was in elementary school I wrote plays and short stories for fun. It wasn’t until I retired that I seriously considered writing and publishing a book like The Esther Vice House.

Do you have another project in underway?

Yes! Currently, I am working on the story of my career as a teacher, administrator, and professor. I had the privilege of serving as a principal and superintendent at a time when very few women were chosen for these positions. “What? A woman principal?” Over and over I had to prove that I was capable to fulfill those responsibilities. But mostly, my story is about the wonderful children, young adults, and fellow educators who made life interesting, worthwhile, and full of laughter and tears. I’m titling it All I Ever Wanted Was to Teach First Grade.

That sounds like a wonderful title. Thank you for joining me today, Wilma.

Wilma F. Smith is a retired educator who served as teacher, principal, superintendent of schools, consultant, and senior associate for a national network of schools and colleges. She is a member of the Skagit Valley Writers League in Burlington, Washington, and participates each winter in a creative writing group in Tucson, Arizona. She is married to John E. Smith and lives on Camano Island, Washington.

National Day of the Cowboy (and Cowgirl)

July 23 celebrates our western heritage.

Western writer J.R. Sanders has organized an event, “Read ’em Cowboy!” at the Barnes and Noble in Redlands, CA. Even if you can’t attend the event, you can support western writers and a worthy cause

By using vouchers found on the Facebook page, a percentage of your purchase at ANY Barnes and Noble store will go to the Western Writers of America‘s Homestead Foundation, which promotes the literary preservation of Western culture, history and traditions. If you buy online at Barnes and Noble  just enter the Bookfair ID# (10510444) when prompted at checkout.

And they like National Day of the Cowboy so much, they’re extending it for 5 days! You can make purchases in-store or online anytime from July 23rd through July 28th and B&N will honor the vouchers/Bookfair ID# .

Here’s a perfect excuse to add to your Western library (books, music, movies all count), get your Christmas shopping in early, and support Western culture to boot.

Leave a comment on this blog about what “cowboy” or “cowgirl” means to you or a favorite anecdote, and I will enter you into a drawing for your choice of a copy of Cowgirl Dreams or Follow the Dream.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Punctuation

There was big news on the punctuation front a few weeks ago: an unfounded rumor that the Oxford University Press was getting rid of the “serial comma.” That’s the final comma in a series, as used in most books but few newspapers. (The Tribune would write “blood, sweat and tears.”Most books would write “blood, sweat, and tears.”) If the uproar confounds you, read this article in the Chicago Tribune by Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer.

Book Promotion: The Foundation

Karen Cioffi is stopping by today on her virtual book tour with her new children’s book Walking Through Walls. Here’s her excellent advice about promoting your book.

By Karen Cioffi

Every author has thought it, said it, and heard it: promotion is the roll-up-your-sleeves, and dig-in part of writing. It’s the much more difficult and time consuming aspect of writing that every author needs to become involved with . . . if he wants to sell his books.

To actually sell a book, you need to have a quality product. This is the bare-bottom, first rung of book promotion . . . the foundation.

 Creating a Quality Product

The very first step in book promotion is to create a quality product. Hopefully, you noticed I said create a quality product, not just a good story. What this means is that all aspects of your book need to be top notch.

A. The Story

To start at the very beginning, the first factor to be dealt with is to be sure your story has all the essential elements. According to Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, there are five major elements of a story: characters, setting, plot, point of view, and theme.

All the elements of a story should complement each other, should move each other forward, draw the reader in, and end with a satisfying conclusion. They should work together to create a story that will be remembered.

Suppose your story is action packed and plot driven, but it lacks believable and sympathetic characters, it will fall short. The same holds true if you have a believable and sympathetic character, but the story lacks movement. Again, it will be lacking. As with all things in life balance is necessary, the same holds true when writing a story.

B. Join a Critique Group

Yes, this is part of creating a quality story. Even experienced authors depend on the unique perspective and extra eyes that each critique member provides. They will help find: grammatical errors, holes in your story, unclear sentences and paragraphs, overuse of particular words, and weak verbs, among other elements.

They will also provide guidance and suggestions.

Check out this article for more information about joining a critique group:

Critiques are Essential

C. Editing

Yes, again, this is a necessary step to take to ensure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before it becomes a book. Look for an experienced and qualified editor to help tweak your manuscript. But, before you send it off to be edited, self-edit it first. There are a number of articles out there in cyberspace on self-editing. Take the time and read a few, then go over your manuscript.

D. Cover and Design

This step is more relevant to those who decide to self-publish, or use a Print-on-Demand (POD). The cover is the first impression a reader will usually have of your book, next is the interior design. These aspects are just as important as the story itself. I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression that you only get one shot at making a good first impression. Well, you can relate that to your book cover.

Don’t skimp on time, effort, or money when coming up with your book’s cover and design.

Tip: If you are writing a children’s book, do not do your own illustrations unless you’re a professional illustrator.


Karen Cioffi is an author and ghostwriter. Her new MG/YA fantasy book, Walking Through Walls, is based on an ancient Chinese tale.

Longing to be rich and powerful, twelve-year-old Wang studies the legend of the mystical Eternals. Certain they are real, he journeys to their temple and begins an apprenticeship with the Eternal Master. There he enters a world of magic where not everything is as it seems, and where he learns the magic formula to ‘walking through walls.’

Walking Through Walls should now be available through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and book stores. If it’s not yet listed, it will be very soon!
You can also order the book today at:

To learn more about Walking Through Walls, its touring schedule and contest, and purchasing information visit:

To learn more about Karen and her books, visit:

Please be sure to stop by Nancy Famolari’s Place on July 15th for the next stop on the Walking Through Walls Tour.

Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (22)  

Why Write Westerns?

I didn’t set out to write westerns. I just wanted to tell my grandmother’s story,. Since she was a bonafide rodeo cowgirl, my books are classified as “western,” although not in the traditional 1800s “old west” sense. I like to say they are “stories of the west,” stories of the heart, of courage and strength.

I love this reason quoted by John Locke in an interview with Jean Henry Meade on her blog, Writers of the West:

“Why westerns? Let me tell you something. Westerns are magic. When you read a western, you’re viewing the world in microcosm, because there’s a fixed time and setting, generally, with endless possibilities. The whole dynamic of a man and woman optimistically venturing into an untamed land with little more than a horse, gun, wagon, meager supplies…and a whole lot of courage—is the very definition of heroism. Courage is at the core of every western. And every good western offers adventure, heart, and a classic confrontation between good and evil.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Courage is the definition of “Cowgirl Up!” something my ancestors and my characters do.

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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Celebrating Our Flag on Independence Day

Does the familiar sight of the red, white, and blue unfurling in the breeze still bring tears to your eyes? Does it make you stop and think about what it means, or have we all become so jaded we don’t even place our hand over our hearts when the National Anthem is played?

No one knows with absolute certainty who designed the first stars and stripes or who made it. The story I grew up with is that Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress who was acquainted with George Washington, made the first one, but its design is also attributed to Congressman Francis Hopkinson.

On June 14, 1777, to establish an official flag for the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

Flags dating before June 24, 1912 sometimes show unusual arrangements of the stars and odd proportions. On this date an Executive Order designated the official design of our flag.

Flag etiquette includes this rule, which I see violated many times:  “It is generally not desirable to fly the flag outdoors when the weather is particularly inclement because exposure to severe winds and rain may damage the flag or the pole on which it is displayed.”

I remember putting up and taking down the flag at my one-room country grade school, and we all had to learn the proper way to fold it and to hoist it.

We also said the Pledge of Allegiance in school at a time when “God” was not considered a “four-letter word.”

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Published in: on July 4, 2011 at 1:26 am  Comments (2)  
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