2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. Thanks to all of you who follow me and who comment! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,700 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Merry Christmas!

Christmas graphic 2Today, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let us be thankful for family, friends, health and happiness.

And this version of “Hallelujah” says it all:

Here’s wishing you a Happy, HEALTHY New Year!

Published in: on December 25, 2013 at 6:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Book I Want to Read Part II

by Amy Hale Auker

In spring 2006, I left the Texas panhandle on an extended camping and hiking trip with my ten year-old daughter.  Seven Amy photoweeks of sleeping in a tent in state and national parks in the western United States.  From southern New Mexico to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming.  We got a motel room every seven to ten days for laundry and bathing.  Then we’d restock our cooler and go again.  (For the complete story of that trip, you’ll have to wait for the book.)  Before we left, I asked family and friends for reading recommendations—and spent a small fortune filling a box with books.  And so, Kerouac, Garrison Keillor, Edward Abbey, Jeanette Winterson, Stegner, and Mary Oliver hiked into my life. I will never forget reading Sexing the Cherry in our tent in Zion National Park, and even now, I turn to certain passages the way one would open a box of hand-crafted chocolates.  I also read Cormac McCarthy and a McMurtry book I had never taken the time for.  I read Kingsolver’s essays and some Michael Pollan.

I was both ruined and reborn.  No more small and safe for me.

In 2008 came the next person and next event to change my reading life.  I moved in with my now husband , and we combined our libraries.  Piled on the dining room table were copies of Harper’s, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Sun.  He comes from a family of avid readers and they are just as likely to loan me Henry Miller as Jane Smiley.  I discovered Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeffery Eugenides, Philip Roth, John Irving (hallelujah), Ann Patchett, Annie Proulx, Junot Diaz, Elizabeth Strout, Thomas McGuane, George Saunders, and Jennifer Eagan.  I bounce off of Elmore Leonard from time to time and have gone back to revisit Cather and Anne Tyler and Louise Erdrich because I no longer have to check them out of the library.  And when Collum McCann came into my life, I spent weeks with Let the Great World Spin. I read every short story published in the New Yorker and then seek out other things those writers have written.

winter of beautyEvery essay starts out with a good question. This one started with why did I switch genres from creative non-fiction to fiction, and why do I choose to write literary fiction?  I love the personal essay, the lyric essay, and I know that I will always write them, but that kind of writing is often exhausting.  The me, me, me, what do I think, what do I think theme is quickly exhausted.  Plus, there are some stories that I cannot tell in an essay because they are not mine to tell. When I was standing before our bookshelves five years ago, waiting on the long slow molasses of the university press to finally get Rightful Place in print, my husband mentioned that he reads to be entertained.  So, I set out to tell the stories I can’t tell as my own.  I gave those stories to my characters, the characters who can make those stories come alive.

Though I live in the West and write from the West, often about cowboys and life and work on a ranch, I don’t enjoy reading westerns where bullets fly or someone highjacks a train or a stagecoach or a campfire in every chapter.  I don’t enjoy reading a romance where within five pages we know who is beautiful, who is ugly, and that there will be a proposal or a wedding at the end, after much difficulty, of course.  The truth is that when the bullets stop flying and the wedding is over, someone must clean up the mess. In the cold hard light of a morning after the honeymoon, the plumbing backs up in the bathroom and down the hall.  Sometimes cute puppies die and sometimes young men have epiphanies and sometimes the weather is more real than the news.  And fifteen years into a relationship there are hurdles and hearts that look completely different than wedding cake and vows.  None of us have bows on the tops of our heads, tying us up into easily defined packages.

One of the lessons Elmore Leonard brings to us is that there are no villains.  There are no heroes.  There are humans on a book coverhuman journey with no beginnings and no endings.  The exploration of the human heart, the human journey, as well as our strong ties to sense of place bring me back again and again to the page.  I value good writing, the strong and capable use of language, as well as breaking the rules in just the right way to bring power to the page. I fall back on the theory that I should write the book that I want to read.  Have I done that yet?  No, not all the way.  I wonder if even Colum McCann has achieved that.  And yet, each time I pick up my pen or put my fingers on the keyboard, each time I struggle with the questions of character, plot development, and structure, I know that when the writing time is done, when I retreat from office to couch in front of the fire, a book will wait for me there.  And someday, I hope, someday, to write the book I want to read.

(Note: I left out so many great writers that I love, so many great books that I am firmly attached to, but the name dropping had to stop somewhere!)

Amy Hale Auker writes and rides on a ranch in Arizona.  She is the author of Rightful Place, 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction. Her first novel, Winter of Beauty, was released by Pen-L Publishing in October.  You can read a current essay of Amy’s in the January 2014 issue of Cowboys&Indians magazine, on newsstands now. http://www.amyhaleauker.com

Published in: on December 20, 2013 at 6:30 am  Comments (5)  

The Book I Want to Read Part I

  author photoAmy Hale Auker writes and rides on a ranch in Arizona.  She is the author of Rightful Place, 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction. Her first novel, Winter of Beauty, was released by Pen-L Publishing in October.  You can read a current essay of Amy’s in the January 2014 issue of Cowboys&Indians magazine, on newsstands now. http://www.amyhaleauker.com

by Amy Hale Auker

My current Amazon order looks something like this:  the new Ann Patchett memoir about her writing life, The Goldfinch, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, a novel by Lionel Shriver (she’s a woman!), an advance order for Anthony Doerr’s new book, and Howard Zinn’s history of the United States.

My father threw out the television when I was in the fourth grade, but my reading life began long before that.  In fact, I do not remember a time when I could not read and I stared with dismay as Jill and Ted single-syllabled their way through my kindergarten class taught by a recent college graduate.  My father made peace by promising her I would sit still through the lessons if I could read anything I chose.  Then he drove to the nearest big city bookstore, returning to our tiny country parsonage with a bag of books: Charlotte’s Web, the whole Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, Anne of Green Gables and many more.  I sat still during class—and lunch and recess and free play and art and any time someone would leave me alone, my brain firmly wrapped in a book.

As writers, we know our writing life is defined by our reading life.  But what defines our reading life?  For the most part, our reading life is informed by libraries.  And libraries are influenced by region and the reading demographic in that area.  Our personal shelves are often defined by season or inner journey with the fluff being donated to the Friends of the Library fundraiser each year.  The shifts in my reading life haven’t always been in a straight upward trajectory, but rather, wind around in loops.  Inspiration to stretch, to read the “hard” books, has often come from surprising places.

I read “The Glass Menagerie” because it was in one of my father’s high school literary anthologies, the same reason I read Poe.  I read The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes twice during junior high when I was tired of Cherry Ames, Grace Livingston Hill, Nancy Drew, books about girls and horses, and Janette Oke.  I discovered Irving Stone when my mother caught me sneaking smutty romance novels, and once again my father made peace. He gave me The President’s Lady which was shelved next to The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Origin, and Lust for Life.  Imagine what would have happened if he had steered me toward John Irving!  I read Heart of Darkness because I was in Academic Decathlon my junior year in high school.

When my life became formulaic and prosaic, so did my reading life.  Too poor to buy books, I was dependent on small town libraries and country librarians.  But still, I devoured the written word.  While pregnant, I read every book on gestation and the birthing process. While nursing, I read about lactation and found out surprising things about humans in general.  When I began to homeschool my children, my reading life took many growth spurts, and I discovered the wonderful world of fantastical literature.  Arthur Ransome, J.K. Rowlings, Brian Jacques, and Jean Craighead George, to name only a tiny few, inspired me.  Of course, also during those years, I embraced simple, sweet, straightforward stories that could hold my brain still long enough for me to drift off into much-needed sleep.

The inspiration to read “hard” books came again the summer my son was fourteen.  He read “The Red Pony” that spring for part of his literature course.  In June we went to the big city library and he showed up at the circulation desk with a huge pile of books.  When I wearily asked him what was going on, he explained to me that he was going to “read every book that man wrote.”  And he did. I hope Steinbeck heard him from the grave. Because of that moment and a series of separate events, I began to, once again, read the hard books.

The last several years for me have been defined by both the reading and the writing.  My exposure to great writing now stands firmly on a foundation of years spent seeking out writers who get the job done, stands firmly on a foundation of my love for language and the poetic use of language.

My journey as a woman has been marked by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Leaning into the Wind, Ride the White Horse Home, the writings of Jean Shinoda Bolen and Maya Angelou, and the weeks I spent reading, The Mists of Avalon—twice.  The evolution of my faith has been marked by the discovery that there are more books of wisdom than the one I was taught from as a child.  My writing life has been influenced by possibly the same books on your shelf:  Cameron, Goldberg, Lamott, Dillard, Strunk and White, et al.

Over the past decade, my reading life got huge boosts from two people and two events.  My non-fiction editor and friend winter of beautyAndy Wilkinson pointed the way to great essayists:  E. B. White (which led to the poet Donald Hall, which led to both Rilke and Rumi), Verlyn Klinkenborg, Merrill Gilfillan, Terry Tempest Williams, and Dan Flores.  Andy directed me to Gretel Ehrlich and Robert Graves.  Hard books, hard reading, but well worth it, both because of their beauty and their aid in developing focus.  Andy gave me my own copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Please join us tomorrow for the second installment of Amy’s reading and writing journey.

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 6:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Breaking TWIG a Thought-Provoking Read

8 x 10 updatedby Deborah Epperson

Thanks, Heidi, for inviting me to be your guest today. I’m honored to share some thoughts on your blog about my book, Breaking TWIG.

Set in rural Georgia in the 1960s, Breaking TWIG is a coming-of-age novel about Becky (Twig) Cooper, a young woman trying to survive the physical and emotional abuse of her mother, Helen, a beautiful, calculating woman. Not even Twig’s vivid imagination, keen wit, and dark sense of humor is enough to help her survive the escalating assaults of Helen and a new stepbrother, Donald, but help comes from an unexpected source–Frank, her stepfather.

The first thing readers usually want to know is if the storyline is based on my personal experience? I am quick to say my mother was the polar opposite of Helen. My mother was loving, kind, and supportive. I had a large, wonderful extended family also, but it was my mother, Betty, who encouraged my writing. Mom passed away before Breaking TWIG was published, but she did get a chance to read it. The book is dedicated to her.

The second question I’m asked is what was the inspiration behind the story? Frankly, the idea stems from my college studies. I majored in biology and English and have always been interested in the issue of heredity verses environment in child development. Which one has the most influence on a child? At times, Becky (Twig) worries that she has inherited her mother’s “picker” ways and her gene for chicanery, but Becky also believes having one person who loves and believes in you is all a person needs to keep hope alive. Growing up, both Becky and Henry (a family friend) had one parent who berated and abused them, and one parent who gave them unconditional love and support. Helen had no such love or support system when she was a child. I wanted readers to think about how important the roles of unconditional love and a supportive environment—or the lack of these two influences—are in helping to shape a child’s development into an adult.

The largest writing difficulty was in regards to the changing relationship between Frank and Becky. It shocked some author photoreaders. I hadn’t planned that relationship, but as many writers have said — characters in a novel seem to take on a life of their own. Also, there are racially-charged words that are not politically correct in today’s society, but they were typical of the language used in the Deep South in this time-frame when traditions like segregation were colliding with Civil Rights, integration, and Vietnam.

My goals in writing are to remain true to my characters, and to tell a good story. A story that shows nobody is perfect, life is messy, and we all fail more often than we’d care to admit. But with faith, love, and perseverance, we can find the strength to continue toward our own truth with a bit more forgiveness and understanding for others and for ourselves.

Today, I’m working on a romance-suspense called Caddo Girl. It’s set in Louisiana in the 1970’s. After it’s completed, I’m doing a sequel to Breaking TWIG because so many readers have asked me to continue Becky’s story.  They have actually called me to ask if Johnny and Becky ever got together. I tell them I don’t know. My imagination hasn’t got that far yet.

Thanks for stopping by and have a blessed holiday season.~ Deborah

Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your writing journey with Breaking TWIG. I loved the book and I’m looking forward to reading your next one!

You can find Deborah on her Website, her blog, on Twitter @DDEpperson,  on Facebook, her e-mail, and the book is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon.

Published in: on December 13, 2013 at 6:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ava Wilson Writes of Treasures Found

ava website pics 054Please welcome Ava Wilson, author of the Driftwood Diaries and Under a Klondike Sky. These books are written with the premise of a bookstore owner who finds old diaries and letters and tells the stories through her discoveries.

Driftwood Diaries Synopsis: Three women’s stories are revealed in their diaries found by a book store owner. An abused wife finds herself lost in the wilderness of Kodiak Island, Alaska. Marie discovers love and bravery in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Another young woman travels by wagon to Colorado and Texas after the Civil War, hiding a scandalous secret. Susan’s diary reveals a husband’s betrayal, and her struggle to make a home for her children on the tall grass prairie of Texas.  Margaret, as an aging grandmother, remembers a special Valentine’s Day while growing up poor during the Great Depression.

Under a Klondike Sky Synopsis: Letters found in an antique sewing box describe Abigail Parker’s journey to the Klondike gold fields in 1898. The long trip by stagecoach and railway from central Oregon to Seattle is just the beginning of a story rich in detail with harrowing adventures and poignant love. Soon after her steamboat arrives in Dawson City, Abigail is forced to deal with disaster and betrayal in the hostile environment. Befriended by dressmakers Molly and Esther, performer Klondike Kate, and the beautiful half-breed Etta, she survives her first ice-bound winter in a small log cabin. The clamor for almighty gold shapes the town’s inhabitants, causing men and women alike to justify the means to acquire it. Three very different men come into Abigail’s life, but only one deserves her love.

Many family histories have been unearthed by such discoveries. Where did your ideas come from andThe Driftwood Diaries cover how did you decide to write your books in this format?

My husband and I owned a rare bookstore for several years, and discovered many personal items among our estate purchases: letters, invoices, old photos and vintage greeting cards. When I decided to write my first novel, The Driftwood Diaries, I liked the idea of having a bookseller find old diaries that revealed astonishing lives. Reader comments encouraged me to follow the same idea when I wrote Under a Klondike Sky. Most of the stories I write have been simmering in my brain for years, the results of an over-active imagination! However, my new novel is inspired by an obituary I read last year.

When did you first discover you were a writer? I’ve always been a voracious reader, and from a young age I thought, “I can do that!” Short stories dominated my writing for decades; however, when a major magazine paid for my travel article in 1991, I began to take it seriously.

What has your writing journey been like up to publication? Slow! Once I started writing The Driftwood Diaries I was still insecure in the construction of the story. I knew readers would be intrigued by the settings and history, but worried about my character development and plot. When the book was ready to publish, I worked through the self-publishing process. I chose to form my own publishing entity, Crooked River Publishing, and hired a terrific printing company for designing the cover and format. They also printed Under a Klondike Sky, and will take care of the new novel. Of course, being my own publisher means that I house the inventory and handle marketing, orders, and shipping.

Both of your books feature stories set in Alaska. Have you lived there? Yes, we lived in Alaska 38 years, and were fortunate to witness the wilderness in all its extremes.  My experiences there are especially reflected in the story about Kodiak Island. When my husband asked me to marry him, I said I didn’t want a boring life, and I’ve certainly had many adventures since then.

Did you base the books on actual people? Several historical characters come and go in my second novel Under a Klondike Sky, but my stories are about fictional people. For one of my stories in The Driftwood Diaries I used a memoir written by a great-aunt, who described a journey to the unsettled Texas prairie in 1877, for information about settlements, hardships, and children’s roles in the westward movement.

Is there a message in your stories? My goal is to reveal how regular women of their time in history discovered untapped “gumption”, or bravery, to solve the oppressive or dangerous situations into which they’d been thrust. A sweet romance is usually just below the surface of my stories, since I am a romantic at heart.

What books or writers have most influenced you? As a young adult I became a passionate reader of Australian writer Nevil Shute and frontier writer Janice Holt Giles for their amazing character development within dynamic historical events. Later, Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Prodigal Summer, made me want to be the best writer I could be.

Klondike Sky coverWhat was the hardest part of writing your books? For many years, I would find all sorts of excuses for not finishing my first novel since I wasn’t sure of my skill. When it was finally on paper, I kept editing over and over, and almost overworked the story. After six years, I finally turned loose of the manuscript, publishing it for better or worse! Under a Klondike Sky was completed in a year and a half.

Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? I encourage aspiring writers to join a local writers group, whose mentoring and critiques are valuable sources for understanding the writing process and self publishing. Being in the company of other writers always gives me a boost!

Are you working on another project? A new novel, yet unnamed, which takes a young woman from depression era Fort Rock, Oregon, to the killing fields of WWII, should be in print by late winter.

A short bio: Raised in the panhandle of Texas, I married young, and we headed north to Colorado. Following college, we moved to Alaska in 1965, driving the muddy Alcan, which was a precursor of the life I’d have over the next 38 years. We raised three daughters, hunted, fished, and explored while engaged in making a living. I began experimenting with short story writing and magazine articles, with my first paid acceptance in 1991. Owning a rare book store prompted us to travel across the US in search of elusive titles, and opened up a new interest in early 20th century cover art illustrators. During this time I always had a work in progress, but was eager to get one particular story published. We moved to central Oregon in 2005 to be closer to our extended families (and Alaska was getting too cold for our aging bones!) With encouragement from my husband and daughters, in 2010 The Driftwood Diaries fulfilled my dream of having a book in print; Under a Klondike Sky followed in 2012. Two short stories have won awards in contests sponsored by Central Oregon Writers’ Guild: The One-Eyed Goose in 2011 and Weekly Rats in 2012. My third novel is slated to be in print by late winter. When I’m not writing (with my yellow lab, Sophie, at my feet), I’m in the garden or making cookies for the grandkids.

Where can we find your books?

Check your local bookstore or use the following:




Kindle editions:



Published in: on December 6, 2013 at 6:24 am  Comments (1)  
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