A Dream Worth Having

My guest today is first-time novelist, Catherine Madera, author of Rodeo Dreams. This story is about fifteen-year-old Cindy Crowe, who adopts a mustang and pursues a dream of barrel racing fame. If only she can keep from being distracted by disappointment, rhinestoned rodeo queens, and a certain cute bull rider. Ultimately, Cindy discovers that any dream worth having has the power to break your heart…and change your life forever.

Catherine, this is a wonderful story for adults as well as young adult readers. Tell us what inspired you to write this book.

In 2004 I read the young adult book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Even at 32 years old I found the book delightful—fun and heartfelt. It reminded me of being a teenager and the importance of friendship. Though I’d never thought of myself as a fiction writer, I thought that if I ever did write fiction I’d want it to be something like the Pants books. I loved the classic horse stories as a child and worked to create an intriguing story that combines elements I never grow tired of: the drama of pursuing a dream and friendship (between humans and also human/horse friendships). My protagonist is a teen but I wanted to write a story I would enjoy reading.

How did you come up with the title and the theme? (Great minds think alike!)

Yes they do, Heidi! I love cowboy/girl culture and rodeo. And fighting for a dream is a universal theme that is endlessly fascinating to me. As to title, nothing else came to mind at the time. Shortly after I began writing, however, I had what I now call a “T-shirt from God” moment. I’d been feeling discouraged with my first attempts to write the story and that old negative voice we all fight with was berating me for wasting time on the thing. I remember a conversation I had with God that said, in essence, “What’s the use?” That very day I went into town and stopped at the feed store to buy a couple items for my small farm. I took a few extra minutes to look through some clothing that was on sale. My mouth dropped open when I pulled out a shirt that had a vintage rodeo cowgirl on the front wearing red boots. In rhinestones underneath it said, “Rodeo Dreams.” I bought the shirt. It may sound weird but at that moment I felt God’s encouragement to keep going.

Wow. That is so cool! I love anecdotes like this.

Have you always been a writer?

I was always an avid reader and enjoyed writing poetry, etc. in elementary school. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer when I worked on the school paper my senior year in high school. For many years after, I dreamed about becoming a journalist—flying to the scene of exciting stories and meeting interesting people.

What was your first published piece and when?

My first published piece was an essay for the now out of print Victoria Magazine in 2000. It was called “Horse Heaven.”

You’ve written many essays and non-fiction magazine articles. How did you get started in this writing arena?

In 2004 I won a national contest for Guideposts Magazine (one of fifteen women nationwide out of 3,000 entrants) and had a remarkable, intensive, all expense paid five-day trip to Rye, NY to learn to write inspirational non-fiction stories. That experience changed my life and birthed my freelance career. Most of what I know about story telling I learned from Guideposts. I still write for the magazine and other non-fiction publications.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (though I sometimes wish to be an outliner!). I work from a general idea of major events in a story but no firm idea of how I’ll get from one scene to the next. My characters constantly surprise me!

Have there been other authors or books that have influenced you?

An important early influence was my first editor at Guideposts, Jim McDermott. He taught me so much about the elements of story. The books that have helped me the most include: Writing for the Soul, by Jerry Jenkins; Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; and On Writing, by Stephen King. Very recently I also read Donald Millers outstanding new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It has great wisdom for writers about how to create a great story as well as inspiration for life. I also consider the northwest writer Sibella Giorello (The Stones Cry Out/The Rivers Run Dry/The Clouds Roll Away) an important mentor and friend in my writing life. The encouragement of those a bit farther along the road is critical.

You are a cowgirl in your own right. Did you grow up riding and barrel racing or is this a recent development?

I grew up with horses and have done lots of different types of riding. However, I’ve never barrel raced! In a curious twist of life imitating art, my eleven-year-old daughter has become serious about the sport of barrel racing. She takes lessons on her Quarter Horse, Cowboy, and we do local shows and 4H. She would like to do junior rodeo in the future. I own an Arabian stallion named Eli and enjoy dressage and trail riding.

How do you think your childhood background has influenced your writing?

I moved around as a child…a lot. Seeing many different places/people perhaps inspired my curiosity and fascination with people’s stories. I also grew up in a home where books and reading were very important. My father, especially, encouraged a love of good writing.

You decided to self-publish your book. Tell us what influenced this decision and what your experiences have been in doing this project.

I spent about four years editing the story, submitting it to contests and my critique group, and pitching to agents and such at writer’s conferences. I received enough positive feedback to feel like I had something worthwhile. Unfortunately, it was bad timing in the publishing industry. I knew that, regardless of my solid experience writing non-fiction, I’d have a tough time getting an agent. I’d always thought self publishing fiction, in particular, was a bad idea. “Kiss of death” were the exact words, as I recall. However, God seemed to have other plans for me. He very definitely gave me direction to self publish and put the people in my path to help. Most notable, perhaps, was my graphic artist, Karen Bacon. From the beginning, Karen “got” my vision and I love what we created together. I also opted to use a printer, not a vanity press. This kept my printing cost down and also got the book into the major distribution channels immediately and with almost no effort on my part. Self publishing can be a confusing maze of choices and options with numerous pitfalls and ways to waste your money and compromise your copyright. I feel blessed that my experience has been extremely positive and low/no risk.

What are you doing to market Rodeo Dreams?

Good question! I have been pretty low key but am selling the book slowly and steadily through word-of-mouth, Amazon/Barnes, and also in a couple niche stores in the area. I am getting the book in front of my target audience through groups like 4H and horse expos/events. I am also interested in presenting the book at elementary schools and am looking into ways to do this. As every serious writer knows, marketing these days is almost exclusively up to the author whether you go through a traditional publishing house or produce the work as I have. It can be tough but also a good opportunity to learn and grow.

Are you working on another fiction project?

Yes. I am working on a sequel called Rhinestones. In addition, I’m about a third of the way into a work of women’s fiction.

Here’s a fun question for you: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you have to have? Assuming I can’t have my husband, Mark (thinking deserted), I’d need good coffee, my Bible, and my Smart Wool socks/long underware for potentially cold days. I hate being cold!

Catherine, thank  you so much for sharing your publishing story with us.

Rodeo Dreams is available on Catherine’s website, The Writer’s Way, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Women’s History Month

Because March is officially Women’s History Month, I want to take the opportunity to honor my grandmother, Olive May “Tootsie” Bailey Gasser. She was the inspiration for my novel, Cowgirl Dreams, and most likely contributed genes to my strong, independent spirit.

She was the consummate horsewoman and much preferred to be out riding than in the house pushing a dust mop. The thing about her that inspired the book was the fact that she rode steers in rodeos during the 1920s. I love knowing that about her!

What a legacy our foremothers left us.

Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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Author Interview: Liz Adair

Liz photoI’m happy to welcome Liz Adair to my blog today. Liz is the Pacific Northwest author of five novels, including her new Western love story, Counting the Cost, and she is co-editor of her mother’s letters in Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan. Liz is also known for her Spider Latham mystery series, for The Mist of Quarry Harbor, and teaches workshops on “Using Family History in Fiction.”

Counting the Cost is a wonderful, bittersweet story that takes place in New Mexico in 1935. I take it this is somewhat of a departure from your usual writing. Tell us what inspired this book.

LIZ: This is a departure.  My other books were all carefully plotted, have aCounting cover bit of intrigue in them, are set in contemporary times, and are lighter fare. Counting the Cost simply welled up inside me and forced itself out my fingertips. I think it was part of my grieving process after my mother died, for the story arc shadows her brother’s life.

I understand that you grew up in New Mexico on a cattle ranch. How does that background influence your writing?

LIZ: Actually, it was my mother who grew up on a cattle ranch, but she married a man who worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, so we were hydro-electric gypsies. Two of my uncles worked cattle all their lives, and trips back to New Mexico were full of cowboy stories and horseback riding.

How big a role does setting play in your books?

LIZ: Setting plays a major role. One of my reviewers noted that I write about small town people.  I think that’s because I’m a small town person myself, and it’s a comfortable voice.

You give workshops on using family history in fiction. Is all of your fiction based on your family history?

LIZ: All my fiction relies heavily on family history.  I call it Green Fiction.  Recycling, you know?  It may just be that I don’t have any original ideas.  Or that I’m lazy.  But, it works for me.

How close do your characters resemble family members?

LIZ: It depends on the character.  Often I take characteristics from one and add them to characteristics of another so that the resultant composite can’t be recognized. However, because I’ve used a physical trait of someone I know well—like wispy hair, for instance—I know how this person feels about and deals with that grooming challenge.  Combine that with another family member’s ambition or trustworthiness, and I’ll know how they will react in a stressful situation. The two combined traits, and what I know of their original owners, work together to create a three-dimensional hybrid, and I don’t have to spend hours on a back story or character bible to know how this person will react when the chips are down.

I’m not out to embarrass anyone or hurt any feelings.  It’s just easier to mine the personalities of people I’ve grown up hearing stories about all my life. When I get finished, they’re not family members any more.  Each has become his own person.  Characters tend to do that.

What are the pros and cons of writing about family members?

LIZ: The pros are that they are easier to know and trust as they move the story along.  A con would be if you created a caricature and hurt someone’s feelings.  I think you have to be careful.

When did you first start writing?

LIZ: In earnest?  Probably in the mid-1980’s.  Oh, I always dreamed of being a writer, but I didn’t have the discipline before then.  I didn’t have a clue what it entailed.

What was your first published book?

LIZ: The first two in the Spider Latham Mystery Series came out at the same time.  That was The Lodger and After Goliath.  The third in the series, Snakewater Affair, came out a year later.

Do you feel that your writing has grown since then?

LIZ: Oh, my, yes!  I’m a much better writer now, and I attribute that to being a part of an active writers’ group.

Afghan Cover_1Tell us about Letters from Afghanistan. Were the letters written to you?

LIZ: Yes.  I was a young mother when my parents went to Afghanistan in 1965.  My mother and father both worked for the Agency for International Development (AID).  Dad was in charge of purchasing machinery and teaching the Afghans how to maintain it, and mother ran a small hotel/restaurant that catered to the American contingent and visiting diplomats.  She had fifteen Afghan men working for her, and she became very involved in their lives. She would write long letters home about her interactions with them.  Some letters were hilarious; some were poignant, but none were dull.

I was a busy mom and teaching school to boot, and I’d enjoy each letter and put it away.  It was only years later, in 2001, when I went to edit the letters for the family, that I discovered what a treasure these letters were and what a window they were into the soul of the Afghan peasants.

Have you traveled to that country?

LIZ:  I haven’t.  By the time I was able to do that kind of traveling, it wasn’t safe.

On the back of your book is a blurb stating that part of your book sales go to benefit Serving Women Across nations (SWAN). Tell us a bit about this group.

LIZ:  SWAN is a humanitarian outreach organization that was begun by my two daughters, Ruth Lavine and Terry Gifford, and I. The purpose is to help women and children through microloans, malaria medicine, mosquito nets and school supplies and uniforms. Terry is the motivating force, and it is she who travels to Bolivia every year to oversee the microloan program there, which includes a mini-business course and continuing education as the women take out loans and become entrepreneurs.

Most of the funding for SWAN comes from the “Pattie Wagon,” Terry’s concession trailer that you may see at ball games or at Sedro Woolley celebrations, and SWAN also sponsors a Century Bike Ride that coincides with Sedro Woolley’s Blast from the Past.  You can find out more about SWAN by visiting www.swanforhumanity.org

Where can we find your books?

Probably the easiest way is to go to Amazon.  My mysteries are out of print, but can still be found on line. The Mist of Quarry Harbor, which is set in the San Juan Islands was published by Deseret Book and is sold mostly in their outlets. My newest, Counting the Cost, was published by Inglestone Publishing, a small company in Phoenix.  Any book store that doesn’t have them in stock can order them in, but Amazon is probably faster. Also, check out the book trailer.

Thank you for sharing with us, Liz.

Thank you, Heidi.  What luck to have found you manning your booth at the Sedro Woolley Fourth of July Celebration.  As I read your book about your grandmother, Cowgirl Dreams, I see that we have much in common. We’re kindred spirits.

Yes, indeed. I love making connections that way. Meeting new friends is part of the reward in having a book published.

Liz will be a presenter on “Using Family History in Fiction” at the Skagit Valley Writers League/Pacific Northwest Writers Association “Connections” Workshop Oct. 17 in Mount Vernon WA.

Published in: on October 9, 2009 at 1:07 am  Comments (5)  
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A Mending at the Edge

BOOK REVIEW: A Mending at the Edge by Jane Kirkpatrick

“Of all the things I left in Willapa, hope is what I missed the most.”

In the third of the “Change and Cherish” series, Jane Kirkpatrick continues the story based on Emma Wagner Giesy, the only woman sent to the Oregon Territory in the 1850s to help found a communal society.

Emma and her three children escape an abusive marriage and move from their homestead in Willapa to find safety in Aurora Mills, Oregon. Aurora was part of a utopian religious community that moved initially from Bethel, MO in the 1856 to the Washington Territory.

She has had great tragedy in her life, her heart has been broken, and hope seems out of her reach. And new troubles come from resisting the patriarchal leadership of the colony. But Emma’s spirit is strong and she longs to make sense of her tragedy and find a way to move forward, living with uncertainty in life, and a constant renewing of her faith.

Through her quilting gatherings, Emma begins to weave and God sends the thread to mend relationships, like the frayed edges of cloth. When a child in the community dies, she tells her children to picture heaven as “a place where young girls quilt, all day long … and she never has to take any stitches out …” Death reminds her of the loss of her first beloved husband, and she decides it is “the mark of our character, how we let others be the patch in our lives when we felt most torn apart.”

Emma has sehnsucht, a German term that means a deep longing, a passion to find meaning and to be spiritually engaged. She eventually realizes that her continued seeking and questioning has been an important part of her faith journey. “It couldn’t be wise to become so certain of how God worked in the world that we stopped seeing evidence of divine surprise.”

Her eventual acceptance of Aurora and its communal life is exemplified by her sister Kitty, “… We all live in this place together, this Aurora, and that has the same … I don’t know, comfort, I guess. People know one another and care about one another even if there are skirmishes now and then. There always are in families.”

And that sense of family is what restores Emma’s hope and her strength in self. When her son thanks and compliments her on an appliquéd picture of her children, she concludes, “What more could any mother wish for? What more could any woman want?”

Jane Kirkpatrick says, “As I learned of some of the trials Emma and her husband faced with the landscape and with the leader, I became more and more convinced of her fortitude and her wish to do what most 21st century women wish for:  to do the best we can for our families without losing ourselves in the process. Her struggles represented contemporary issues of many faith communities wishing to sustain their own practices while still being relevant in the larger world. Fiction is really made up of change, causation, conversation, conflict and characters. It’s the weaving together of those qualities along with landscapes, relationships, spirituality and work that creates the turmoil. Just as in our lives!”

Jane’s writing is a delight to read, a patchwork quilt rich with metaphors, as she tells Emma’s story of obstacles, loss, and conflict to find personal growth and satisfaction in giving and serving others. A Mending at the Edge is a wonderful conclusion to a woman’s story of strength and perseverance.

Jane Kirkpatrick is the award-winning author of 14 historical novels, two non-fiction books, as well as numerous articles. Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft, a non-fiction book of interest to women’s studies, historians, quilters and craftsman will be out in December.

A Mending at the Edge is available at www.waterbrookpress.com or www.amazon.com

ISBN 978-0-7394-9545-2.

Heidi M. Thomas has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is the author of a soon-to-be published novel, Cowgirl Dreams. She teaches memoir and beginning fiction writing and does freelance editing for fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of CWGI, Women Writing the West, and Skagit Valley Writers League.

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Author Interview: Larry Partridge

Today, I’m talking with Larry Partridge, retired pilot and author of just-released novel, Kindred Spirits, a story of “magical realism.” In this book, an American pilot flying relief missions into war-torn Cambodia deliberately crashes his airplane to avoid hitting a group of orphaned children. To his shock, he discovers he can see, hear and experience what’s happening around him, but-he’s dead. An Apsara, a Buddhist guardian angel, rewards the pilot by saving his spirit. He may become mortal again when he wishes, but cannot return to family or friends. This is story of adventure, intrigue, and love.

Larry, this novel is based somewhat on your own experiences flying relief missions into Cambodia during the mid-70s. You’ve published your memoir of this time in Flying Tigers Over Cambodia. What inspired you to write this novel?

One evening in Saigon, over a cold one, a fellow ricelift pilot asked me what my closest call had been so far. I said on March 11th, during take-off, a 105mm artillery round hit the runway 100 yards ahead of us. He said 100 yards was not close at all … he and his crew had seen several while at the ramp less than 50 yards away. I took a sip of my cold Tiger beer, then explained we were traveling at 120 miles per hour. Translate speed into time and you have a miss of two seconds. If we had started our take-off just two seconds earlier?  He admitted … that was close, very close.

How did you learn about the mythology of the Apsara?

Later on, another pilot who was literate in the religious beliefs of Southeast Asians, told me about Buddhist deities called Apsaras who guided the spirits of heroes who had fallen while protecting the innocent. My close call was still very much on my mind. The innocents were a group of war orphans who lived off the end of the airport runway.  If we had taken the hit and had tried to abort the take-off, we would have run right through the area occupied by the orphans. My novel grew from those seeds.

Is your hero, Pete Peterson, based on you?

Yes, has to be. I think in fiction the writer only knows what he or she would do when exposed to an extreme situation.

Have you always been interested in writing? How did you get started?

I finally got an A in high school English. The grade and admiration I received from classmates, especially the young ladies, felt pretty good. I took up writing for the school newspaper (even printed it myself in shop) and later wrote some stuff for the Air Force when I did a tour there. Since then, I have written columns for magazines, mostly aviation related and collected a bit of cash for that.

There’s an interesting story to your cover image. Will you share that with us?

My youngest son has studied graphic arts and agreed to do the cover designs for my novel. He was searching for images of airplane accidents when he saw a photo on the front page of The London Times. It was spectacular but he would have rejected it as it was not the same type of airplane in my story. However, when he glanced at an ad beside the photo he saw it was a dating service called “Kindred Spirits.” We had to use that. An added bonus was the fact that though the airplane was totally destroyed by fire, all aboard escaped with no injuries. This fact meant we could use it with only the photographer’s permission. There were no family members to be offended or hurt.

Tell us why you decided to do Print-on-Demand publishing with Amazon’s program.

Booksurge looked good but I decided to try “Create Space.” CS was difficult because I had to learn how to publish a book as I went along.  My only investment was paying for three book proofs.  It is a print-on-demand service run by Amazon.  I keep all rights to my work and the royalties are excellent.

Do you have advice for others who might want to pursue that route?

It is not easy, or at least it wasn’t for me. I have two capable editors who were paid, but I had several moments where I wondered if I could put together something that looked halfway professional. I think it worked okay. There are still a couple or three errors that I missed but I don’t think I have ever read a book written by anybody that haven’t had at least a few.

When did you develop your interest in flying?

Probably a couple of months before I was born.  My mother was a private pilot and Secretary/Treasurer of the Felts Field Flying club in Spokane, Washington.  She blamed me for grounding her when the combination of morning sickness and exhaust gases in the open cockpit became too much. My father was not medically fit for the Army Air Force in WWII but was a civilian maintenance test pilot at a depot just west of Spokane.  I had three uncles who flew during that war. One was shot down over Germany and spent over a year in a Stalag. I spent a lot of time around airplanes and started official flying lessons when I was fourteen years old.  Paper route money got me a half-hour of flying a month. A stint in the USAF as a navigator, then flying charters for the then new Kenmore Air Harbor. Alaska bush pilot was next, then Alaska Airlines. Then, during a lay off at Alaska, I was in flight test at Boeing. Flying Tigers (airline) took me in and 22 years later, I retired.  A very good life.

How did you get involved in the Cambodian relief project?

We were on a scheduled run from Manila, in the Philippines, to Bangkok with a stop in Saigon, South Vietnam.  At Saigon, we were told that there was a DC-8 loaded with 96,000 lbs of rice there, but the crew scheduled to fly that airplane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia was stuck in Anchorage, Alaska because of weather problems. Could we leave this flight for the other crew and fly the rice to Cambodia early the next morning?  The next words made it impossible to refuse … our agent told us there were literally thousands of people starving to death. There were rumors of cannibalism. Some were eating freshly killed victims of the war there. We went to the hotel in Saigon then, after a short sleep rose at five in the morning to fly our first load of rice to Phnom Penh.

How many missions did you fly?


What are the rest of your crew doing these days?

They’re not. Two committed suicide and the other died of complications from emphysema.  Heavy smoker. I wondered in my book about the operation if we had done any good. I received a very nice letter from a gentleman named Sody Li, Director of The Cambodian Institute at UCLA. He stated our efforts had saved several thousand from starvation and allowed them to escape to Thailand. Too bad this news was so late in coming. I think my two friends would have not taken their lives after hearing that.

You’re still an active pilot. What kind of planes do you fly?

A couple of Cessna light aircraft and occasionally a really neat turboprop … very fast.

You’ve had a fascinating life, Larry. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Kindred Spirits and Flying Tigers Over Cambodia are both available on Amazon.com

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 4:12 am  Comments (2)  
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