Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Opportuinity you may not want to pass up: Romancing America

Here is a great opportunity to stock up on Romancing America series for yourself, or to give as a gift.  Barbour is having a special on 6 titles in the series for the e-book edition.  For the month of October they are only $2.99 each.  They can be purchased at the promotional price from your e-reader online retailer of choice.  Visit the Romancing America website to see which titles are part of this special.

Midwife's Legacy is part of the promotion.  Hope you are able to take advantage of the special price!  Most websites make giving e-books as a gift easy as well.

Have a blessed week and may you be encouraged.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Guest Interview with Susan Meissner, author of the Girl in the Glass

It’s a pleasure having award-winning novelist Susan Meissner here with us today to talk about her newest book from WaterBrook Press, The Girl in the Glass, a part-contemporary, part historical novel set in Florence, Italy 
1. Susan, tell us where the idea for this story came from.
For our 25th wedding anniversary a few years ago my husband and I took a much-anticipated eight-day Mediterranean cruise. One of the ports of call on the Italy side was close enough to Florence to hop on a bus and spend the day there. When I stepped onto Florentine pavement I fell head over heels in love. There is something magical about Florence that I didn’t see in Rome, or even Paris if you can believe that. The artistic genius that meets your eye no matter which direction you turn is unparalleled. The beauty created by mere mortals during the Italian Renaissance is jaw-dropping. It was the perfect place to bring a disillusioned present-day character who needs to re-invent her life. That’s what Renaissance means: rebirth. I went back a couple years later with my mom, daughter, sisters and nieces and knew I just had to set a story there and somehow involve the infamous Medici family.

2. I know exactly how you felt!  We only had a day there and it was enchanting from morning until evening. So what is the story about, in a nutshell?
Meg Pomeroy is a disenchanted travel book editor unsure of her father's love, still smarting from a broken engagement, and whose normally cautious mother is suddenly dating a much younger man. Her perspective on everything that matters is skewed. She escapes to Florence, Italy, on a long-promised trip, believing her father will meet her there. True to form, he’s a no-show, but the trip allows her to connect with Lorenzo DiSantis, a writer she’s met only via Skype and e-mail, and Sofia Borelli, a tour guide and aspiring writer who claims she’s one of the last Medici, and that a sixteenth-century Medici granddaughter, Nora Orsini, speaks to her through Florence’s amazing statues and paintings. When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives are indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what it has to be?

3. I loved how you interwove the past and present struggles of Meg and Nora and Sofia. One of hte things I was so impressed by in Florence were the highly educated tour guides so Sofia is really true to form. The Girl in the Glass refers to a painting that the heroine of your novel, Meg, loves. Describe the painting and what it stands for.
Because this story is set in Florence, against the backdrop of the most stunning art that can be seen today, I wanted there to be a current day painting that connected my main character, Meg, with this amazing city. The painting Meg loves features a little Florentine girl mimicking a statue whose marbled hand is extended toward her. The painting hung in her maternal grandmother’s house; a place where Meg felt loved and safe. Meg hasn’t seen the painting since she was a little girl. When her grandmother died, everything in the house was sold or parceled out to other family members. Meg knows the statue in the much-loved painting is real, that it is somewhere in Florence, and that it is likewise beckoning her to come. Since she doesn’t know where the painting is, she is set on finding the statue itself. In a way, the lost painting represents Meg’s perceived loss of her family when her parents divorced and everything stable in Meg’s life turned upside down.

4. Yes, that painting and Meg's hope to find it really deepened the story for me. Nicely done! In its review of The Girl in The Glass, Publishers Weekly said that this book is like taking a trip to Florence. What kind of research is involved in creating that kind of experience? Why do you think readers love to take those kinds of journeys in a novel?
The best kind of research is that which lets me usher the reader right into the time and place I want to take them, without them feeling anything — no motion sickness, if you will. So I need to know everything, not just facts and figures but even the subtle nuances of a time period. It means a lot of reading and note-taking. I usually end up collecting more data than I can possibly use, but I don’t always know what I’ll need until I am into the story, and the characters start talking and reacting and deciding. I think readers like the thrill of being somewhere they couldn’t visit any other way than through the pages of a book. Novels let us experience the lives of other people without having to make any of their mistakes. And we can also share their joys. And their victories. And the lessons they learned in the crucible of life.

5. Novels are also like maps helping us make our way in a new place and lessening some of the anxiety or fear of the unknown. One important plot in The Girl in the Glass deals with Meg’s disappointment in her parents’ divorce and her father’s behavior in the years following the divorce.  What inspired this particular thematic exploration of disappointment with parental expectations?
My parents have been happily married for over fifty years so I had to research this aspect for the novel. I like to think of myself as a hungry observer; I tend to watch people, study them, to learn from them. I have seen a lot of people who grew up in homes where their parents had divorced and I’ve seen the effects of that severing. Some have never gotten over it. Childhood life-changers tend to stay with us. And the family, especially the parents, are the child’s universe. When you upset that you upset quite a bit.

6. As a mental health professional, I'd say you are a superb observer of the human spirit. Your stories always ring true in the relationship department as well as everywhere else! Your last few novels have had important historical components in the storytelling. Some of the history of the famous Medici family is included in the novel. What was the most fascinating thing about the Medicis and how do your reconcile their infamous behavior with their unquestionable contribution to the world of art?
The Medici family both appalls and fascinates me. On the whole they were shrewd, conniving, opportunistic, unfaithful, vengeful, murdering rulers, who of all things, loved art and beauty. Michelangelo, DaVinci, Donatello, and so many other Italian Renaissance artists, wouldn’t have had patrons if it weren’t for the Medici family. They wouldn’t have the financial backing and opportunities to create all that they did. I don’t know if we would have the statue of David or Brunelleschi’s Dome or Botticelli’s Primavera were it not for the Medici family. They made Florence beautiful and yet most of them were addicted to leading un-commendable lives. That is astounding to me. They weren’t — taken as a whole — admirable people, and yet look at the legacy of beauty they made possible. I like to think that demonstrates there is hope for all of us to be able to see beauty in spite of living with much disappointment. You don’t have to look hard to find ugliness on Earth, but beauty is there. Don’t close your eyes to it.

7. Your words remind me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's words "Earth is crammed with heaven. Every common bush afire with God. Only he who sees it takes off his shoes." The Medici's didn't see it but they opened the doors for the rest of us to see it. One of your point-of-view characters is a little known Medici family member named Nora Orsini. Tell us about her. Why did you choose her?
Nora Orsini was the daughter of Isabella de’Medici and the granddaughter of Cosimo I. In the Girl in the Glass, Nora’s short chapters precede every current-day chapter, as she tells her story on the eve of her arranged marriage. Very little is known about Nora Orsini, so I had the glorious freedom to speculate, which is the reason I chose her. I wanted the literary license to imagine beyond what history tells us. There is, however, plenty that is known about her mother, Isabella Medici. Nora did not lead the happiest of lives. I wanted to suppose that the beauty of her city offered solace to her, and that if it were indeed possible for Sofa, the tour guide that Meg meets, to hear Nora’s voice speaking to her from within the masterpieces, she would speak of how the beauty that surrounded her kept her from disappearing into bitterness.
As always, you did a fabulous job, Susan. Where can our listeners connect with you online or learn more about The Girl in the Glass, and your other books?
You can find me at and on Facebook at my Author page, and on Twitter @SusanMeissner. I blog at I also send out a newsletter via email four times a year. You can sign up for it on my website. I love connecting with readers! You are the reason I write.

Participate in a great giveaway to win this beautiful piece of artwork from Florence or a basket full of Italian yummies...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Next Best Thing- I'm tagged

I’ve been tagged! Some wonderful authors have generously found a way to share their readers by introducing them to new authors. It's called The Next Big Thing in which authors answer 10 questions they hope will help one of their books become just that. I'm not sure about the next big thing...I once wrote a book about not confusing fame with fulfillment - but I am grateful to Sandra Byrd author of terrific historical novels (a favorite is To Die For) set in England. She was tagged by author Debra Brown who also owns the English Historical Fiction Authors site and Nancy Bilyeau for passing the goodness along. So here are my ten answers.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

Releasing April 2013
1. What is your working title of the book?
One Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?
Most of my novels are based on the lives of historical women and this woman, Dorothea Dix, engaged me as she was an early reformer for mental health, something I've been involved with myself for many, many years. This quote of Dorothea's is also an inspiring thought:
 "In a world where there is so much to be done. 
I felt strongly impressed that there must be something for me to do." 
~Dorothea Dix 1802-1887.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
Historical Fiction. Some people call books based on actual people "biographical fiction" but to me the story is more than biographical though I read several biographies of Dorothea before writing this novel.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What fun! Catherine Zeta-Jones - to play Dorothea. She was said to be a raving beauty from all accounts and at the same time charming, tough, winsome, and able to work with legislators from all 32 states to get reforms passed. She must have also been smart, right? And Dorothea was quite tall and graceful as well.

Emily Blunt - to play Anne Heath, Dorothea's best friend

Liam Nelson - to play Samuel Howe, legislator and mentor to Dorothea

Glen Close - to play Madam Dix, Dorothea's grandmother whom Dorothea tried so hard to please

Tom Cruise - to play William Channing, Federal Street pastor who was charismatic and also not very tall

Colin Firth - to play President Millard Fillmore, confidant of Dorothea

Elizabeth and William Rathbone were English friends, Quakers and reformers as well who were so important in Dorothea's life. I'd like an actual couple to play them but I'll have to think about who that might be. Brad and Angelina?

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Turning a childhood of tragedy into a reformer's heart, Dorothea Dix hopes to bring relief to those suffering from mental illness forgotten in almshouses and debtor's prisons; but she meets her greatest challenge in the halls of congress where her idea for national reform is challenged by railroad magnates, homesteaders, land grand colleges and proponents of slavery and where her fight for "the least of these" brings a crisis of her own soul.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book will be published in April, 2013 by WaterBrook Presss, a division of Random House. My literary agency is Hartline Literary Services in Pittsburgh.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Six months and then another two months in revision work. I'm still making tweaks and will until they tell me it's gone to print!

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Mozart's Sister, Caleb's Crossing, The Shape of Mercy. All are based on the lives of actual people who are novelized to give us a way of not just seeing what and when they did something but possible scenarios of why and how they might have felt.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've always been interested in the biographies of early reformers such as Jane Adams and I read of Dorothea while I was still in middle school I'm sure. After I became a clinical social worker and later the director of a mental health clinic, providing quality services to the mentally ill were paramount in my professional life. My second career of writing became blended with Dorothea's story through a friend who was a former superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital, Dr. Dean Brooks. He urged me to tell Dorothea's story as a novel and when he read the first draft said he'd known of her all his life but had actually met her for the first time in my book.

I was also inspired at this time to explore the history of mental health treatment as we face so many challenges today in meeting the needs of the mentally ill. I hope the book might pique the interest of a young reformer to take on the task of relieving the suffering of others.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Regina Music Box
Copyright © 2012 The Meekins Antique Regina Music Box
I was blown away by how many things this one woman accomplished! She opened a school for girls at the age of fifteen. She wrote best-selling books that earned royalties her entire life. She didn't get involved in mental health reform until she was nearly forty and then even though she'd been sickly through much of her life, she traveled all over the country on stagecoaches assessing the condition of the mentally ill. She wrote legislation for the states even though she wasn't allowed to testify at hearings because she was a woman! She was also an animal lover and like so many of us who are, I think they brought her much relief to the frustrations of her chosen work. Music boxes and kaleidoscopes were also special and she would give many of them to patients in jails and hospitals to bring comfort to the mentally ill. She was very generous and as the famous psychiatrist Karl Menninger once noted: "Generous people are rarely mentally ill." A good thing to remember!

Please visit these fine authors I’m tagging to learn if their next book might be the Next Big Thing!  Keep in mind, they may not have their post up yet about their upcoming book, so just poke around and check back to see when their "Next Best Thing" post is up. It's a great way to learn about new authors and you just might discover your "Next Best Author!"... or rather not cause that's me right?

Marjorie Thelen
Susan Meissner
Lisa Tawn Bergren
Nancy Rue
Erin Healy
Liz Johnson

If you are new here, I would love to hear how you found me. Check out all the places just off to the left side over there and see all the places to connect online. Thanks for taking the time....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Covering new Things...

I can't believe I haven't written sooner!  So much to do but then we all have that happening in our lives, right? especially in the summer months.
     I do want to share a couple of covers with you.  This soft and peaceful view is the cover of my new devotional for people going through hard times. It's especially meant to encourage caregivers, the 65 million of us in this country who look after parents, spouses, children, sisters and others struggling with health, aging and disability issues. It will be published in January. I hope you'll look for it. It's somewhat personal in that I share the struggles of moving, leaving, dealing with health challenges, the deaths of my parents and sister and caring for others while not forgetting to care for ourselves. I love the colors and with my new love of gardens, I think this cover is especially appealing. I makes me want to sink into those grasses and look up at the sky and sigh.  But I'd love to hear what you think.

     Here's the next cover - for my novel that will be out in April.  What do you think? I love the gestalt of it, that overall look of an historical woman wearing an usual bustle; the flower (I don't know what it is, do you?) and the split of the woman and the words. 
      Dorothea Dix was an amazing woman for her time, truly remarkable. She started a school for girls when she was only 15 herself in 1817 in Massachusettes. Later she also ran a school for poor children unable to afford schooling during a time when we didn't have a free, public education for everyone. She was a successful author publishing her first book at 20 yet she didn't really feel that she'd accomplished her life's purpose. She suffered from health issues, from family rejection and abuse and was nursed back to health by a Quaker couple in England.  But she still didn't now what God had called her to do in her life until she was asked to teach a Sunday School class for women prisoners. As she left, she crossed a courtyard into a debtor's prison (where witnesses to a crime were also held until the trial! Wouldn't that make you not want to testify!) and there she saw the wretched condition of the mentally ill housed among the debtors and witnesses. The cells were freezing and the wardens refused heat saying that the mentally ill couldn't feel hot or cold. She knew better and the experience began her lifelong journey to relieve the suffering of many. What she faces in getting laws changed will sound amazingly contemporary. 
    My editor emailed me late last night saying "Wow!" to the revisions I made to the manuscript last month. She's happy with the changes - I do think I discover the real meaning of a story when working on revisions - and the project moves forward. A huge sigh from this author and I'm hopeful you'll enjoy this work of fiction based on fact.
     Thanks for stopping by. I'll be having an interview before long with a favorite author of mine so stay tuned here, on Facebook and in my Story Sparks newsletter. And don't forget to let me know what you think of the covers. There might still be time to tweak them!  Thanks, Jane

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mondovi WI & The Midwife's Legacy (win it!)

Photo Credit: Betty Christenberry, "Mondovi Hills"
Mondovi, Wisconsin is my home town. Nestled in the rolling hills of the western part of the state, only 100 miles east of Minneapolis, 2000 residents serve the local farming region and provide home port for one of the country's larger trucking firms. I see their blue vehicles right here in Oregon with "Mondovi, Wisconsin" printed on the side while driving down I-84. A little blast from home. Our dairy farm sat three miles from town and in the summer my friend Julie and I would walk to Mondovi past green fields, Holstein cows ripping at grass. We were watched over by shadows of hardwoods...maples, oaks and elm, dozens of song birds, a few pheasants now and then and deer eyeing us warily. We'd have lunch with one of our grandmothers then walk back home, a great adventurous day! What freedom we had!

Photo Credit: Betty Christenberry "Mondovi Lake"
I decided to set my Midwife's novella "A Mother's Cry" in Mondovi in the 1860s. Mondovi didn't have much going for it then, just a village with a grist mill and good German, Norwegian and Swedish stock to clear fields and operate general mercantile stores. Churches, banks, and of course the post office gave it the sturdiness that promised a long village life. I kept Mirror Pond (it's a lake now) and even included a few local names from my childhood that I hope will be fun for local readers to see.

My protagonist is a widow, a midwife, who also has raised an infant that Adele delivered ...but the mother died. She's pretty happy with her life on the farm and the joy of Polly, now sixteen...until a banker comes into her life. Can she change her ways for him? After all, Polly will one day move on to a life of her own, trained as a midwife by her "Mamadele" as she calls her. Or will Adele discover secrets about her banker suitor she wished had been left in his safety deposit box!

Meanwhile, as Adele does her work of bringing babies into the world, she keeps a journal. That journal will appear -with additions- throughout three other author pieces. Rhonda Gibson brings you to the Oregon Trail for her midwife work. Pamela Griffin introduces you to the challenges of a midwife in early Oregon and the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905. Trish Perry finishes the legacy in fine style in contemporary Portland. Each of these midwives has a romantic challenge and a professional one. The legacy handed down through generations proves to be a blessing for each of the midwife's as they pursue their calling.

I'm being inducted into my High School Hall of Fame in September so this story coming out this year with the Mondovi connection is just added frosting on a truly wonderful childhood cake. I'll be speaking at the local library too, a place that gave me a library card before I started school. Thank you for that! I hope you enjoy the story and the entire Midwife's Legacy collection!

Read an excerpt of The Midwife's Legacy at the end of the post.

As noted above, the journal travels throughout a few other stories.  Journals are treasures that are passed down through generations.  With today's technology, keeping a journal has taken on a new meaning.  Do you journal? How do you keep it? Or maybe you have been impacted by a journal given to you.  Please share!

If The Midwife's Legacy is of any interest to you, it might be worth your while to check out the blog site which features books of the entire Romancing America series.  A great place to get the low-down on all the books you can win as well.

Would you like a copy of The Midwife's Legacy?  Leave a comment below and fill out the Rafflecopter form to enter to win.  The more you share & connect, the greater the chance to win.  Have fun!

fine print: Contest ends Sunday, June 17th 11:59pm. USA Winner will win a signed copy (Jane Kirkpatrick). Non-USA winner will receive an unsigned copy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Midwife's Legacy

To read more about Midwife's Legacy, visit Barbour Books

Friday, May 18, 2012

One garden and the fragrance of mint that changed my writing life

One day in the 1990s, when the car was in for service, I rented another and drove from Portland south to Aurora, a little town on the Pudding River. I'd long seen the signs that Aurora was an historical district and I wondered what was there. I found the museum first thing and paid the small fee for the tour and followed the docent around. There were maybe six of us on the tour. My cell phone rang and I could see it was from the car place but the signal wasn't strong enough for me to respond so I had to leave the tour, drive to a higher point in town and then get the news that my car needed more work and would I authorize it. Of course, Jerry was out in the field at the ranch during the day and I couldn't reach him and I didn't know whether it was real or not, whether I should give the mechanic the go ahead or wait another day until I could talk to Jerry that evening. It was all very annoying AND I was missing the tour.

I finally decided to tell the mechanic to go ahead -- who can feel safe if a mechanic is telling you the brakes are all bad? and risk Jerry's wrath if I'd messed up. I returned to the tour and got there in time for the Emma Wakefield Herb Garden visit.
Emma Wakefield Herb Garden in the background
Secretly, I think it was the herb garden with each plant labeled for what the colonists might have used that herb for in healing, cooking, cleaning, that really caught my attention. I loved the aroma, the colors, the names of those varied plants and the garden is what I remembered when I left that day. A few years later I wrote the Change and Cherish Series about Emma Giesy (not the namesake of the garden. Emma Wakefield was a contemporary woman who donated and then kept up that lovely garden plot just outside of Emma Giesy's home). Gardens in that era -- the 1850s -- were critical for family survival and I can still smell the mint that would have freshened the breath after one of those hefty German meals that Emma would have served. It was the garden that brought me back to Aurora and changed my writing life.

Do you think you could survive on produce only from your garden? What are must-haves in your garden, or if you don't have one, what would be your must-haves?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Garden Pride

Example of 1910 Painted Glass Slide
When I researched the story of my grandmother's life as an early photographer, I had access to some of the photography association's annual meeting programs. It surprised me to see that someone was showing "slides" in 1910 of gardens in the Northwest which was what Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, were known as then. Apparently the slides were composed of black and white shots that were then colored by hand and displayed using a kerosene projecting lamp. It was the custom during that time for people to hire professional photographers to photograph their gardens and it must have been a lucrative business for a young female photographer.

People devoted long hours to their gardens that were not just vegetable gardens. Perhaps it was a status mark to have plants that were simply there for beauty and landscape rather than practicality of feeding a family. For whatever reason, flower gardens flourished and having a photograph of one's garden hanging in the parlor was considered quite the appropriate thing to do.

Condon City Park (photo credit: Erin Seale)
This era also began the idea of public spaces, public gardens. Arboretum provided public visiting but these were often managed by universities or large estates where the individual set resources aside for maintenance of the gardens. That cities or states would begin to offer spaces just for loveliness was truly a new idea at the turn of the last century. I'm reminded of that when I walk along Bend's River Walk or take my lunch in Condon at their fine park. As a public, we decided gardens and parks were worthy things and I'm so grateful! What a change of attitude can come from spending a few minutes in a quiet, flower-scented place.

How have you appreciated a public space or garden?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Winners Announced: Last week's Where Lilacs Still Bloom Blog Hop

Sorry, we are a day late in announcing the winners for last week's blog hop.  Thank you for your patience!

Thanks to everyone who participated this past week.  Did you meet a new author? Do share with us!

Congratulations to each of our winners.  An email has been sent out to each of you from Impact Author Services.  Please be sure to reply to that email by THIS FRIDAY, May 4th 11:59pm to claim your prize

Runner-Up Winners

Jane Kirkpatrick: Teresa N.
Sandra Byrd: Jax
Cindy Woodsmall: Sonya
Katie Ganshert: Linda M.
Susan Meissner: Emma
(prize: Signed copy of Where Lilacs Still Bloom, and hosting author's newest release)

Grand Prize Winner

(Prize: Signed copies of all 5 hosting author's titles & $50.00 Visa Gift Card)

A huge thank you to each of our authors who hosted last week as well as to everyone who continues to support Where Lilacs Still Bloom as word spreads.

AND....since it was just announced, a round of thanks to all the fans in the Pacific Northwest! Where Lilacs Still Bloom is #10 on the best-seller's paperback fiction category. PNBA Bestseller List April 22

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Day 2 for the Where Lilacs Still Bloom Blog Hop (comments for Sandra Byrd)

Thank you dear friend Sandra Byrd for being today's host! 

Since Sandra doesn't have comments on her site, everyone has been instructed to comment here for your entry into the contest.  If today is your first day joining the hop and you are a little confused as to what to do, where to go, just visit here for instructions.  They are pretty easy, I promise!

Today's question (unless Sandra posted one):
What will you be planting this year in your garden? Or if you don't have one, what would be planting if you could?

A few other fun places to participate and engage.
  • Do you have a picture of last year's garden, or one that has just gotten planted? Let's see them! One place is on the Pinterest Community board, Celebrating Spring with Friends.  Anyone can participate, just visit the link.
  • Or the other place if you are not on Pinterest is Facebook.  Share your photos that speak of Spring to you on my Facebook page
  • In honor of Where Lilacs Still Bloom, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group is giving away a membership to receive flowers for a year.  Enter here to win.
  • Don't for get to visit & comment on each blog so you can enter to win!
  • You can also follow me on Twitter, and you might find the monthly Story Sparks of interest too.

Tomorrow be sure to visit Cindy Woodsmall

Monday, April 23, 2012

Join us for the Where Lilacs Still Bloom Blog Hop, the inspirational garden & first chapter

Welcome! This week we are celebrating the release of Where Lilacs Still Bloom which just released on April 17th.  You will meet inspirational and best-selling authors, and hopefully be touched by the story of Hulda Klager's life and legacy of her lilacs.  What's a blog hop without prizes?...Not one of my blog hops!  Visit here for those details.
April 23-27: Where Lilacs Still Bloom Blog Hop
Tuesday: Sandra Byrd
Wednesday: Cindy Woodsmall
Thursday: Katie Ganshert

Hulda Klager's lilac gardens offered an unanswered question: what was it about this garden that drew thousands of visitors in the 1920s to Woodland, Washington, a small town north of Portland, Oregon? People came by train and cars, by steam boat and some even walked. Was it the story of her perseverance, that she endured chronic floods with their small acreage nestled between the Columbia River and the Lewis? Maybe it was her admirable character, a woman who taught herself horticulture and then used her skills and knowledge to pursue a passion? Gardens were of interest in the 1920s, that's certain but to come so far just to see a lilac or two?
The "Iron Garden" is in front. Shaped like an iron, Hulda created it because she said it was a close to a flat iron as she wanted to get!
Once I visited there, I discovered something of the answer. There is beauty there and Hulda's spirit of giving seems to hover over the Ginkgo Tree, mist around the over-flowing basket held by a sculptured young girl. (The statue on the cover of Where Lilacs Still Bloom is an actual statue in the garden). Hulda's delight in flowers for their own sake, reminding us that though they may be fleeting, the aroma of lilac, the delicacy of a Sweet William are meant to be savored, to take time for.

There is a story in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus is visiting in the home of a leper and a woman breaks an expensive alabaster jar and pours the perfume over his feet in a sign of honor. Jesus disciples are horrified we're told, deciding that her gesture is a waste of good resources. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus tells them in some translations that "she has done a good service." But the Greek word used is not Agathos, that suggests utility but rather Kalon that is translated as something not only good but lovely. (This distinction was noted by a Lutheran Pastor from River Forest, Illinois in a piece he wrote for Christina Century Magazine.) I love the idea that Jesus understood that something was good AND lovely AND perhaps even a unique expression of anointing.

I think that's what I felt when I first entered Hulda's garden, a kind of anointing. Here was a woman who left behind something lovely, something good, an honoring of creation by the way she lived her life and by the way she helped a small plot of land to flourish. I believe it's what others experience and what they told their friends about who then began making an annual trek to Woodland each spring between April 21 and Mother's Day.

Last year's bloom, Hulda's Lilac
We're at 3000 feet altitude here so my lilacs won't be blooming for awhile yet. But I happily await the blooming of my lilacs from her garden...they've leafed out but the promise of spring is still head! And I hope to see lots of you in Woodland that opening weekend when we will be in the presence of flowers appreciated for their beauty and for Kalon, something lovely.

If one tangible item represented you and the mark you want to make on this world when you leave, what would it be?

Interested in reading the first chapter? Great! Here it is: First Chapter, Where Lilacs Still Bloom

A few other points to note:
  • We continue to collect Spring-time Pins on the Pinterest Community board, Celebrating Spring with Friends.  Anyone can participate, just visit the link.
  • Not on Pinterest? Share your photos that speak of Spring to you on my Facebook page
  • In honor of Where Lilacs Still Bloom, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group is giving away a membership to receive flowers for a year.  Enter here to win.
  • Don't for get to visit & comment on each blog so you can enter to win!
  • You can also follow me on Twitter, and you might find the monthly Story Sparks of interest too.

Will plan to see you tomorrow over at Sandra Byrd's place

Monday, April 16, 2012

A garden given as a gift

If you've never been to the Oregon Coast, you might not have encountered Shore Acres State Park. It's five acres of formal gardens where people now get married (because of the beautiful location) or families gather for picnics at the tables available just outside the entrance gate of the garden. Built by Louis J Simpson as a gift to his wife, this wealthy industrialist, financier, boat builder, town-founding man would have his ship's captains bring varieties of plants from around the world to have them planted in this lovely garden beside the sea.

The woman he built it for was Cassie Hendricks Stearns Simpson and it's her story told in A Gathering of Finches. Today thousands of visitors come to the garden and Friends of Shore Acres rescued the garden from ruin in the 1970s returning it to its glorious beauty. At Christmas time, volunteers string hundreds of thousands of lights among the plants and provide umbrellas for guests so even if it's raining (which it often is!) visitors can still enjoy the fabulous beauty of this sea side garden.

I spent many days in that garden, gazing into the Japanese pool, meandering through the rose garden, imagining the pergola covered with ivy. The guest house still stands and each year a lucky person's name is drawn to be able to spend a night in that house. So far, our name hasn't been picked! But that didn't keep me from dreaming. That story, of this garden being given as a gift, was part of the unanswered question that drove me to research and write that novel. What kind of woman would inspire all of this...and why didn't anyone talk about her? I had to answer that question but it was the garden that asked it.

Have you ever looked into the history of a garden to find a story waiting to be told?

This and That
  • Can you believe that TOMORROW is the official release day for Where Lilacs Still Bloom. Have you pre-ordered your signed copy?
  • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers is giving away a Flower Membership for a year.  Talk about flower-cheer all year round! Enter here
  • April 23-27 I will be hosting a blog hop to celebrate the release of Lilacs.  There will be some great authors to meet if you have not yet already done so.  And of course there will be some prizes involved too!
  • And for a little fun, those of you on Pinterest might want to participate in a Spring-Time community board I created.  Visit the board for instructions on how to participate.
  • If you are not on Pinterest but have some great Spring photos (whatever images represent Spring to you), feel free to upload them to my facebook page. Would love to see them!
  • There are a lot of events happening due to the release of Lilacs.  Most of them will show up on Facebook, however to see everything I will be doing all in one place just visit the events page on my website.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A ledge garden to remember

Jane Sherar had a garden. It was carved from a rock ledge overlooking the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. She and her husband ran a hotel that at the time - the late 1800's- was the largest structure between San Francisco and Seattle. The hotel called the Sherar House was built where a bridge crossed the Deschutes River on the Old Dalles Military Highway. The Dalles was a bustling town along the Columbia River at the time and shipments to the gold fields kept people on the road heading into Eastern Oregon.

Descendants told me about Jane's garden and I had photographs of little bridges leading from the third story of the hotel right out to that ledge garden high above the river in the rimrocks. In my book, I had her plant vegetables but also a sweet grape arbor. It just seemed like the perfect place. Watering wouldn't have been easy with the garden high above the river but they had hotel employees - many employed from the nearby Indian reservation - who likely carried heavy buckets of water across those little bridges out to the garden to feed those thirsty plants.

Before I finished the book, A Sweetness to the Soul, where the garden is mentioned, I received a phone call from a man who said as a boy he'd stayed at the Sherar House hotel one summer. His father was an engineer and worked on the fish ladder there. The man told me that his brother, father, mom and this now elderly man had the run of the hotel. "Do you remember the ledge garden?" I asked him.

"Oh yes. I slept on the third floor and the bridge went from my room out to that ledge where the railroad goes now."

"I don't supposed you'd have any idea what they planted there?"

"For certain they had sweet grapes. Some of the old vines still stood."

The hotel burned not long after they'd spent their summer there but I will always remember the delight of discovering that something I'd written in fiction had a basis in fact...I just hadn't known that when I wrote it. It's a garden to remember. Photos show the hotel but sadly, not the garden... You can see them here

What gardens have you visited that are worth mentioning?

Just came across this video and wanted to share it with you.  Enjoy the cheer it provides.

This Spring things are starting to get busy around here....
  • Next Tuesday is the official release day for Where Lilacs Still Bloom. Have you pre-ordered your signed copy?
  • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers is giving away a Flower Membership for a year.  Talk about flower-cheer all year round! Enter here
  • April 23-27 I will be hosting a blog hop to celebrate the release of Lilacs.  There will be some great authors to meet if you have not yet already done so.  And of course there will be some prizes involved too!
  • And for a little fun, those of you on Pinterest might want to participate in a Spring-Time community board I created.  Visit the board for instructions on how to participate.
  • If you are not on Pinterest but have some great Spring photos (whatever images represent Spring to you), feel free to upload them to my facebook page. Would love to see them!
  • There are a lot of events happening due to the release of Lilacs.  Most of them will show up on Facebook, however to see everything I will be doing all in one place just visit the events page on my website

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring is Here

It's officially spring and I thought I'd blog about a few gardens I've come to know.

Homestead Garden
My mom planted a vegetable garden and every year we'd harvest it and can green beans and freeze chopped up tomatoes and carrots but what I remember best was weeding and "my mistake" sometimes pulling up those fresh carrots, brushing off the dirt and popping them in my mouth. Sweeter than candy. The memories of my mom in her housedress, ankle socks and white nursing shoes as she crawled on her knees pulling weeds is also a sweet reverie, especially since this month marks the anniversary of both what would have been her 92 birthday and her death. Sorry, no photos of that Wisconsin garden.

When we began our grand adventure with our homestead in Oregon, my friend Sherrie Gant and I planted a garden... in August! The photograph doesn't do the garden justice as the sun beat down on our carrots and peas and beans and lettuce but you can see in the background how we were roughing it those first months while the barn and later the house was being built. We pulled our trailers into the shade of ailanthus trees where our neighbor had both running water and an old machine shed. Now that site is the home of wonderful people who built a lovely house there. They don't get to spend much time there garden.

Our garden was well fertilized with the goose guano we scooped up on the gravel bars of the John Day River. We mixed the guano with the soil that hadn't been tilled for thirty years or more and it produced a luscious crop. In the fall, we moved our compound to the actual homestead site but I'll never forget the camaraderie nor the good memories of that first garden along the river.

This Spring it's going to start getting busy around here....
  • April 17th Where Lilacs Still Bloom will finally be in stores!
  • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers is giving away a Flower Membership for a year.  Who wouldn't want flowers delivered every month for 12 months! Enter here
  • April 23rd will be the start date of one great Blog Hop to meet some other creative authors.  Of course there will be some prizes to give away.
  • And for fun, a Pinterest Community Board has been created to share your Spring Pins. 
  • With the release of Lilacs, lots of events are scheduled.  Maybe I will see you at one of them?
Share your Spring photos with me on Pinterest, or feel free to load them on my facebook page too.

Do you have a garden tip to share? Please do!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

First post on Where Lilacs Still Bloom

Thought you would find it here huh? Well, surprise! I posted the first glimpse of Where Lilacs Still Bloom over at RomCon.  If you are a hopeless romantic this is a great website to find romance titles with some honest reviews.

romcon badge

Here is a little bit more about them: We are unapologetic romance fans! RomCon was born from a deep passion and appreciation for the stories that resound in each of us. RomCon was created by romance readers, for romance readers and has a dedicated staff of amazing volunteers who help us with everything from posting blogs to organizing events and even designing computer graphics and programming. We have a growing list of fabulous author friends excited about meeting readers and planning fun events at our annual convention. We are women (and a few fellas) who love to read, love to chat, and really love to combine the two!

So head on over. Would like to hear your thoughts on the post! have an opportunity for first dibs on a copy of the book!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Blast from the Past!

parasailing in Cabo Jan 2012
While in Mexico last month, vacationing, my writing life intercepted as it often does with the everyday. Not only because I rose early, well before sunrise, to work on my current manuscript (titled tentatively as One Glorious Ambition) but because of a poster I saw on the wall of the smoothie place near the hotel. We'd gone there because we had a free coupon for a smoothie (and they were delicious!). While waiting, I turned around to read the bulletin board with posters for restaurants, language immersion classes and - here's the intercepting part - a three week meditation course one could take. It was the picture next to the course description that engaged me: it was of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who once ruled over a remote Oregon Ranch and who played a role in the second section of my book The Land of Sheltered Promise. 

The Bhagwan is deceased but his teachings live on under the name of Osho. I'd known that but I hadn't expected to find the group offering classes in San Jose del Cabo in southern Baja.

It was our next to the last day there or I might have pursued it, just out of my need to constantly research, to see if any of the people there had once been in Oregon. But seeing his photograph was a reminder that it has been thirty years since my friend from Wisconsin and I made the trek there the day after the election when the cult assumed the political authority over the small town of Antelope. We'd known one of the principals when she had been a therapist back in Milwaukee while my friend and I were in graduate school together.

Now, the property the cult developed about 15 miles from Antelope is known as the Washington Family Ranch, a Young Life Wildhorse Canyon site with a new junior high camp having opened last year. That camp extends the ministry to the thousands of high school ages kids who come to the camp from around the world. We haven't been to visit the new camp yet but we will. This non denominational Christian camp reaches more than 750 kids each week during the summer and serves as a place for adult retreats as well.

It was another reminder that we can't see what the future holds but that we can trust the words of Jeremiah: "I know the plans I have for you, plans for good, not for harm, to bring you a future and a hope." In the deepest despair for the people of Antelope in the 1980s, they could not have known how the town and the ranchland nearby would one day bring joy and light and wisdom to the lives of children but I hope that knowing that it does now, brings them some comfort.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Interview with Bob Welch

Bob Welch has been in my life (and Jerry's too) since 1982 when I took a writing class from him at Central Oregon Community College.  Certain that I had the word "fraud" written on my forehead and that soon all would know I had no business being in a writing class, I crept into the student desk and hoped no one could hear my heart throbbing.  You'd think I'd just tried to steal candy from a store!

Over the course of the eight week class, some of that anxiety ceased. I was encouraged to submit a few of my assignments for publication and later that summer successfully published several of them.  But whatever success came to me resulted from the kind, funny, insightful , wise and encouraging instructor of that class, Bob Welch.

Here are just a few of his accolades:   
  • Author of 12 books. 
  • Thirty-six years in the newspaper business. 
  • Two-time winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnist’s best-column award. 
  • Two-time winner of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association’s “best writing” award. 
  • Published in such magazines as Sports Illustrated, Runner’s World and Los Angeles Times.  
  • His book, American Nightingale, was featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. 
  • He's a former adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Oregon
  • Founder and director of the Beachside Writers Workshop.

For the past four years I've been a guest lecturer at Bob's Beachside Writers course, a long weekend on the Oregon Coast.  I'd like writers everywhere to experience a weekend with Bob Welch.  You'll find that same kind, funny, insightful, wise and encouraging man and broaden your writing skills while opening your heart to the dream to tell that story that simply won't let you go. 
I invited Bob to be a guest on my blog this month.  I hope you'll enjoy his voice as much as the thousands who read his column in the Eugene Register Guard weekly and those of us who read his books do.

Do you remember what you were thinking when your "students" walked into that class in Bend, Oregon in 1982?
I was 28 years old, the Sunday editor of The Bulletin and, though the course was called Freelance Writing, had published exactly one story. I was thinking: What are you doing here? Remember, these were the days before Bend’s population exploded; the folks at Central Oregon CC didn’t have a lot to work with, so I was the any-port-in-a-storm choice. But the fact that I’m still teaching 30 years later suggests it was a good experience.

How did you become an award-winning columnist and author?  I mean, what did your mom put in your cereal that gave you the power and energy to accomplish what you have? (Bob, maybe you can tell us how many titles, columns, awards etc. here or I can add that into the intro)
Behind every dream there is what I call “dream makers,” the folks who, like a NASA rocket, give you the thrust to head into space, then break free and splash into the ocean — while you get all the glory. It’s not fair, but it’s true. And I was blessed to have a handful of these people. But I digress. What originally got me interested in writing was the Tudor Tru-Action Electric Football Set, an electric game where players buzzed around as if the team manager had put Deep Heat in their jockstraps. When it broke, I began making up my own games, racing the players around the field, announcing each play — even plopping mud on the field to give it that “authentic” feel. When I finished a game, I’d write a two- or three-sentence “story” about it and draw a “photograph” of the action. I still have a sample from Age 7. 

My mother, Marolyn, gave me a Smith-Corona typewriter and a record of college fight songs. My father, Warren, made me custom goalposts out of coat hangers. What they really gave me was far more important: permission to use my imagination, which I believe is at the foundation for all writing, fiction or non-fiction. In fifth grade, for career day, my teacher, Shirley Wirth, helped me to accomplish what I wanted to do: interview Oregon State basketball Coach Paul Valenti. I walked out of that interview thinking: What can stop me now? She, like my parents, was a dream maker. So was Jim McPherson, my newspaper advisor in junior high and high school; Roberta Shaw, an English teacher at Corvallis High;  and professors at the University of Oregon. I got something different from each, but the common gift was a belief in myself that I could be a writer.

Which do you prefer, writing that concise, pithy columns of 700 words three times a week or writing concise pithy 85,000 word books?
Great question. I’ve thought about this from time to time, and the answer is both. I’m that rare sprinter who likes to run an occasional marathon. The 700-word columns are like challenging day hikes. Everything happens fast. Research. Planning. Writing. The 85,000-word books are like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. You have to pace yourself, expect obstacles and take one step at a time. But, eventually, you reach your goal. Advantage of the column: constant feedback with readers. Advantage of books: the joy of total immersion, particularly in the research part of the journey.

I know that when you worked on American Nightingale, an Oregon Book Award Finalist and a title that got us watching you on Good Morning America, you said you took over a room and color coded pages of dialogue, narrative etc. and hung the pages all around the wall to get a balance within your book and know where to revise.  I was impressed with the idea of getting that inside of your story to get it right. What other practices do you use to give your readers the constant quality of your work?
I write my books on a 13-inch laptop computer and often feel a lack of perspective. So, yes, I confess to putting all 300 pages of the book on three walls of The Register-Guard’s photo studio. I had color coded various parts of the book: action, for example, might have been marked in red; dialogue, in blue; parts that didn’t include my main character, in yellow. Perhaps a half dozen other designations. Thus, when I stood there, in essence, inside my book, I noted all sorts of nuances (for better or worse) than I hadn’t noticed while it was looking at it on that laptop. I could see chapters that were too long, stretches that were too boring and needed action, pages and pages where I didn’t update the reader about what the date was — things such as this. Ironic you bring this up because I’m doing the same thing next week with another book, Resolve: From the Jungles of WWII, the Epic Story of a Soldier, a Flag, and a Promise Kept.

What would you say was your biggest barrier in getting published...or did you have any  discouraging moments before you saw your first words in print?
I caught a fortunate break on my early books; a publisher actually came to me. That was a company that published only Christian-oriented books. When I decided to broaden my market, it was a steep climb. American Nightingale was turned down by 26 agents before one finally said yes. He had it sold to a Simon & Schuster imprint in two months. I found him at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland. I highly recommend this; you pay for a 10-minute session with as many agents as you want. If you truly have a book worth publishing, you’ll get at least some nibbles and hopefully catch a fish.

Your books have been published by east and west coast publishers and you've self-published successfully as well.  Which do you prefer?
I don’t think the difference between my publishers has been so much regional as scope; as I said, one, Harvest House, had an obvious Christian niche, the others — Atria and St. Martin’s Press — were broader in scope. But there’s a huge difference between self-publishing and letting someone else do that for you. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Self-publishing: You make all the decisions: name of book, look of book, time it will come out, etc. But you also have to market it yourself, get it in stores. Not easy. Finding a publisher: They market it for you, get into lots of stores. But they make most of the  decisions, can be slow getting the book out and, unless you’re someone important like John Grisham or Jane Kirkpatrick, probably won’t do much to promote your book.

Wow, you put me in the same sentence with John Grisham!  Thanks for that.  I digress. Besides Beachside Writers, you teach other classes in writing.  What made you decide to teach classes in the first place? 
I had been teaching at the UO and, frankly, found it discouraging. I’m a full-speed-ahead sort of guy and I found that in a class of 16 students you might have only one or two of those folks. Too many students seemed as if they just wanted a grade; learning wasn’t that important. Meanwhile, I’d been asked to teach at someone’s workshop and decided, instead, to start my own. I love it. We’ll have 50 students and 48 of them will be totally locked in.  (Nobody’s perfect.)

My favorite book of yours is Where Roots Grow Deep.  I remember reading an advanced copy, out loud, while Jerry drove the car somewhere.  We both laughed so hard at times he had to pull over and on more than one occasion we both had tears that fogged our eyes and required the same pause in the drive. Your ability to move people with your words is something I greatly admire.  Want to tell us how you do that?
The key to triggering laughter or tears begins with being attuned to the world around you as a writer. I have this sense that ideas are like the wind and we’re all sailboats. Some people raise their sails and see where it will take them, others don’t even notice the ripples on the water. Once you have the idea, the key is to trust the story. Don’t get in the way of it. I remember this 102-year-old woman who attended Beachside Writers. She was a wonderful writer and had this young (relatively speaking) mentor named Dave who was helping her publish her works. “In Colorado,” she told me, “we had a pond and as winter hardened the swans would swim around the edges of it to slow down the inevitable freezing of it. Dave was my swan.” When I heard that, I knew I had the perfect ending for a story.” I didn’t need to say, “they had a really close relationship.” Or “she didn’t have much time.” Instead, I just told the story. Let the power be in the showing, not the telling.

What's the one book you want to write but haven't gotten around to yet?  Is there a novel in your future? And what are you working on now?
My sister Linda Crew, a novelist, is always encouraging me to write a novel and, for the first time, I did start putting down some notes on one. Having been a journalist since 1976, I’ve met so many fascinating people that I could use as characters. All I need now is a plot, which is a little like starting a shipping company and saying, “I’m all set. Now all I need is the ships.” I’m toying with the idea of a book on writing, specifically about what I call painting with words — showing instead of telling. Meanwhile, weirdly enough, I will have two — maybe three — books out this fall: “Fifty-two Little Lessons from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” (Thomas Nelson) “Resolve: From the Jungles of WWII, an Epic Story of a Soldier, a Flag, and a Promise Kept.” (Penguin). And perhaps a self-published book on my adventures hiking Oregon’s portion of the Pacific Crest Trail last summer.

If a would-be writer were to come to your Beachside Writers course in March 2012, what would you hope they would take away from that weekend?
The absolutely unwavering belief that they’re a writer and three extra pounds because of the fantastic home-cooking done by our very own Ann Schar. Plus a notebook full of information to chew on for the next year — and e-mails of folks just like them whom they can encourage and be encouraged by. Writing can be a lonely pursuit. Beachside is an island of togetherness — with campfire s’mores.

What do you hope you will take away from a weekend with writers and a focus on the writing life?
A reminder that words are powerful, important, and written by people with passions far different from my own, but literally change the world in big and small ways. I always leave a Beachside weekend drained by three days of interacting with people and inspired by the optimistic energy of writers whose abilities are far less important than their will to write. And, of course, I leave having once again been reminded that my writing student from the early 1980s — Jane something — has made her teacher proud.

Thanks for being my guest.  Is there anything else you'd like to tell us that I didn't ask? 
Sure. As writers, we make a difference in the world. The nurse I wrote about in American Nightingale, Frances Slanger, saved a poem in her scrapbook that says: “Drop a pebble in the water/Just a splash and it is gone/But there’s half a hundred ripples/Circling on and on./Spreading from the center/Flowing to the sea/And there’s no way of knowing/Where the end is going to be.” As writers, we are those ripples. And there is no way of knowing where the end is going to be.

Thanks for a great interview. You should have been in the newspaper business.

To sign up to attend one of Bob's courses, connect with him via social media, or learn more, visit his website or you can also email him

A small snippet for the next Beachside Writer's Workshop:

Next session: March 2-4, 2012.
Times: Friday 6:30 p.m.-Sunday 12:30 p.m.
Location: Yachats Commons, Yachats, Ore.
Teachers: Bob Welch, Register-Guard columnist and author of 12 books, of Eugene; Jane Kirkpatrick, novelist and author of 20 books, of Bend; Roger Hite, expert on self-publishing and author more than 20 books, of Eugene; and Bunny Thompson, veteran freelance magazine writer who’s written extensively of her round-the-world sailboat voyages, of Sisters.

Thanks for spending time with my first official writing teacher!  Do you have any questions for Bob?
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