Monday, June 20, 2016

Here Comes Summer

After a week of graduations and celebrations of the end of the school year, I’m taken back to my own school days.
When June arrived, I couldn’t wait to be free for the summer. Although I loved school, I looked forward to spending three months with my friends.

I remember waking to the scent of lilacs drifting into my bedroom with the warm summer breeze. They weren’t supposed to grow in our area, but my dad was an amazing gardener, and he planted the bush. It bloomed every year, long after he died. So did the sweet peas he planted. Each year, he saved the seeds at the end of the season to plant the following year. Several years after he died, Mom pulled up all the volunteer plants and threw them over the back fence. But those stubborn flowers didn’t die. Instead, they came up on the other side every year for as long as I can remember. Both sweet peas and lilacs are among my favorite flowers. They remind me of Dad.

We had lots of kids our age on our block, so we had no problem finding someone to play with. When we were small, we roller skated up and down the sidewalks. One year, we used chalk on Diane’s driveway and garage to create a roller rink.

When we got a little older, we rode our bikes to the park where we did crafts, played tennis, and swam in the swimming pool. We often took picnic lunches and ate at the covered tables. We sat beneath the trees on the hill and rested or read.

I spent many hours in the shade of the willow tree in our front yard reading. When the other kids ran around in the heat of the day, I searched for a cool spot. I have never been able to spend much time in the sun. My fair skin has always burned and peeled or burned and blistered. But books were my escape. Through them, I could travel to other locations and meet new people.

One summer, a Sharon’s grandmother taught us to play canasta. We played every day that summer at one house or another. The tournament continued the next summer. I wish I still remembered how to play, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten.

One time, we had a snack stand. We sold hot dogs and other food from our kitchen window. My mother was painting the bathroom that day, and I still can’t believe she allowed us to do this. I’m sure the supplies probably cost more than we made.

As the afternoons cooled, we took to the streets. We played Red Rover and other team games. At dusk, we played ‘Ditch,’ a variation on tag. We could hide anywhere in the front yards on our side of the street. ‘It’ stayed near a streetlight and counted to 100. We each waited, hardly breathing until ‘It’ left the streetlight. Then we ran to the streetlight and tagged home.

We stayed out until a parent called their children home for dinner. Several adults had distinctive whistles. As soon as the first of the kids went home, our game broke up.

We often had sleep-overs with our friends. Sometimes we slept outdoors under the stars.

Our parents didn’t have to worry about where we were because we congregated at one house or another. Most mothers stayed home, so an adult was always present. They were friends, so everyone knew where we were and what we were doing.

Looking back, we had an ideal Norman Rockwell-type childhood. Our lives at home may not have been perfect, but our neighborhood was a safe place with families who cared about us.

By the time September rolled around, I was ready to return to school, although lots of my friends were not.

How did you spend your summers? What are your favorite memories?

Monday, June 13, 2016

Happy Graduation

'Tis the season for graduations. Whether from preschool, grammar school, middle school, high school, college, grad school, or trade school, it marks a major transition in life. Graduations are rites of passage, of which we have few in today’s world.
Graduation marks both an ending and a beginning. It represents the end of one level of education and the start of another, or the next step in life.

I remember my grammar school graduation. We lined up on the playground and marched into the auditorium. Several people spoke, and we sang a couple of songs. Our names were called, and we were handed our certificates.

Then, in the evening, we had a party. Some of the kids danced, but no one asked me. I remember feeling such disappointment. For me, graduation was anti-climactic.

Last year, we had a grammar school reunion. I was surprised to learn how insecure we all felt. The guy who was the class heartthrob (yes, you, Jack) said he was totally oblivious to how many girls had crushes on him. At the time, my crush was Larry. Some things never change.

I remember high school graduation vividly. I went all through school from kindergarten with most of the same people. We began as babies together. After high school, we scattered. Until our reunion in 2014, I hadn’t seen or talked to most of my classmates since the night of the all-night party following the ceremony in the stadium where we collected our diplomas.

This year, we bought cards for three girls.

Our neighbor, Claire, graduates from grammar school. She is fourteen going on thirty—scary smart and wise beyond her years. She is also in our critique group, and has been since she was ten. All of us old folks are so proud of her. She is one of our best critics.

The daughter of a young lady who grew up across the street from us. She spent lots of time with us growing up, and we were like her second set of parents. (Her folks served the same role for our daughter.)

Kaitlyn is graduating from high school. When we received her announcement—with photos—we could hardly believe how adult she looked! We haven’t seen her in a couple of years. My, how she’s changed!

Our last graduate is Brooke, the young lady we have been mentoring. We attended her ceremony on Monday morning. After working with her all year, we wanted to be present when she received her diploma.

Each of these girls will soon begin the next phase of their lives. One will go on to high school, and the other two will start college.

Graduations are special times and deserve to be acknowledged.

So, happy graduation to all the 2016 graduates! Congratulations on your accomplishments, and all the best on your next step.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Life Isn't Fair

Life isn’t fair. That’s just how it is. It doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it often doesn’t make sense. Don’t bother asking, “Why?” There simply isn’t always an answer. Actually, there usually isn’t a satisfactory answer.
If life were fair, I wouldn’t have lost my dad when I was seven and my brother was four. I did. (Today would have been his 100th birthday.)

If life were fair, tragedies would only happen to those who deserved them. They don’t.

If life were fair, the best people would live long lives, and those who abused drugs, alcohol, and other substances would die young. They often don’t.

Mean drunks live long lives.

Innocent children die. Parents leave their families far too young.

If life were fair, each family would experience problems equally. They don’t.

Our friends have had more than their share of difficulties. Tom badly injured his knee years ago while working as a firefighter. The first surgery to repair it was botched. In the intervening years, he’s had numerous additional surgeries. None solved the problem—or relieved the pain. Last year, he had a knee replacement. A week after the surgery, his tibia shattered. As a result, he had his leg amputated below the knee. A week later, he had a heart attack. He recovered and is now learning to function with a ‘bionic’ prosthesis.

His wife, Robin, had a stroke several years after Tom’s injury. It was followed by a heart attack. Either one could have killed her, but they left her with some paralysis. While in the hospital, she contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion. She has survived far longer than the original prognosis.

We sometimes compare their situation to that of the biblical family of Job.

Another family has also experienced far more than their share of tragedy. The mother died at age thirty-seven leaving three small children ages four, six, and twelve. I was her same age and identified with the younger kids. The father died about ten years later.

This past week, we learned that one of the youngest son’s newborn twin sons died suddenly. Not fair!

How do people survive these kinds of shattering events?

The answer for me is: faith. I truly don’t see how anyone can get through life’s toughest times without believing in something larger, more powerful than we are and that there is a greater plan. The comfort of believing we will see our loved ones again keeps me going and at peace.

Each of us copes in our own way, but I also believe having a group of friends who will stand with us in compassion and support can keep us going when we couldn’t do it on our own.

Life isn’t fair. Nothing is guaranteed. Each of these devastating events—whether our own or others’—is a reminder of how fragile life is.

For me, the only appropriate response is gratitude for the good things in life, for those around us, and for whatever time we are given.

How do you cope with loss—your own and others'?

Monday, May 30, 2016

Being a Mentor

When I was working, I was blessed to have had several mentors who taught, advised, and guided my career. I’ve always been grateful to them. Larry had also had wonderful mentoring, so we both knew the value of someone to show the way.

Last summer, our daughter’s best friend from high school contacted us. Her high school-aged daughter, Brooke, would start her senior year in the fall. For her senior project, she was required to find a mentor to work with her throughout the year. Since her subject was writing, her mom asked us if we would be her mentors.
 Brooke attends a college preparatory high school located on the campus of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Larry's alma mater). The requirements are high, and expectations exceed most other public schools.

We began meeting with her during the summer. She described her intention for approaching her project and told us what she expected from us.

During our initial meetings, in addition to answering questions, we loaned her several of our favorite books on writing. As the project progressed, we suggested others. When she completed each of them, we discussed what she had learned and why she had found it valuable.
Early on, we suggested she consider writing a novel during the year, culminating with publication before graduation. We challenged her to start with NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month, during which writers are challenged to write every day in November, completing a book by the end of the month.

In early December, we got together with Brooke and asked about her book. Although she finished the book, she decided she didn’t like the story and didn’t think it was something she wanted to publish. In fact, she never shared it with us. However, she started another book, and we talked quite a bit about what she had learned from the one she wasn’t happy with. We told her nearly every writer we knew had at least one or two early works they would never complete. (I have a couple myself.)

Since I also edit, I discussed the process and my approach. In the spring, a client asked me to help him self-publish his book. With his permission, Brooke spent the daywith the client on the phonewhile I uploaded the manuscript and covers (one for the ebook and a second for the print one). She sat next to me, watched each step on the screen, took notes, and asked questions. At the end of the day, she understood the entire self-publishing process.

While we were working with Brooke, Larry completed one of his sci-fi books in the McGregor Chronicles series. We always use beta readers to review each finished book. We asked Brooke to read this one and give us detailed comments. She did, and we appreciated her contributions.

Near the end of the school year, we began discussing the marketing and publicity necessary in order to promote the work. We covered the use of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, website, and blog.  

Throughout the process, Brooke asked thoughtful and considered questions. Many were about identifying and locating a reader base, creating memorable characters and unique plot lines, and writing series books.

We thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her. Her interest and enthusiasm made the whole process a pleasure for us. I certainly hope she felt the same way.

Last week, she prepared and presented a PowerPoint of her project. She told us she got an outstanding grade. Judging from the time and effort she had put in, we weren’t surprised.

In two weeks, we plan to attend her graduation. We’ll feel nearly as proud of her as her folks as we hear her name announced.

Have you ever had the opportunity to be a mentor? Did you enjoy the process? Would you do it again? (We would.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Meet Christie Shary

Today, I’m happy to introduce Christie Shary, my final co-author of the Aspen Grove romance anthologies. Christie appeared in the first four Aspen Grove books. Welcome, Christie.
1. When did you first start writing?
I have always loved words. I began writing when I was in elementary and secondary school, but much more so after I graduated from college. However, I started reading at a very young age, as we always had the National Collector's Library classics in our home. I remember reading Gone With the Wind when I was about ten, and continued to read all of the great classics after that. I loved the written word and decided if those authors could write great stories, I wanted to learn how to write them, as well.

2. What do you like about story telling?
I love to take my readers on an adventure. I also want them to like, hate, or at least form a relationship with my characters.

3. How do you create your characters? Are they based on real people?
I create my characters partly from people I have met in real life—mainly from people who made an impression on me. I also create them from my imagination. They are generally strong and independent females who want to make an impact upon the world. They are also characters who have had some type of a problem, which has greatly impacted their lives, and one they know they need to get beyond to find true happiness.

4. Where do you get your story ideas?
I always get my story ideas from my real-life experiences. I have been fortunate to live a rather exotic life in many ways, and also a life with some real heartbreak, yet so many wonderful and exciting times. I try to incorporate these experiences into the lives of my characters. My stories are almost always set in unusual and often foreign landscapes. By doing this, I feel I can take the reader on a vicarious journey to a place they have never been. I also delve into many cultural issues within my books. I must admit most of my writings are quite autobiographical. I truly feel that one writes best about what they know the most about.

5. Besides the Aspen Grove romance anthologies, of which you are a co-author, what other books or series have you written?
The first book I had published is titled The Blue Mosaic Vase. It is a coming-of-age story set in turn-of-the-century Iran, and tells the story of an impoverished Muslin orphan boy—his trials and tribulations, and how he overcomes all odds stacked against him. It is also a love story, based on the six women who greatly impact his life. (By the way, he doesn't have six wives.) The main character is based on a person I knew very well, thus it is a biographical novel. It was the winner of the EPPIE Award for best single-title mainstream novel.
My second published book is titled Amelia. It was co-authored with my writing group friend, Harvey Mendez. It is a novel based upon the disappearance of the famed flyer, Amelia Earhart, and is set mainly in the South Pacific. It not only contains a great deal of factual information, but it is also a murder mystery, which features young Amelia Adams, a young, mysterious Amerasian woman linked to Amelia Earhart by more than name alone.
My third book is Lucky Dog: The True Story of Little Mexico City Street Dog Who Goes International. It is a heart-warming and multi-cultural page-turner, told by a little yellow homeless mutt we adopted, a dog with more stamps in his passport than most Americans. By the way, Lucky was actually the street dog that my husband and I adopted from the streets, while we were living in Mexico City for four years. This book not only follows his life before and after he finds our forever home, but as he journeys back to California and finally onto to London and Holland. Lucky Dog was a finalist for the EPPIE Award.

The above-books were published several years ago. I am currently working on several others, including a sequel to Lucky Dog titled Saying Goodbye… This book tells the story of the final days of Lucky's life, and may provide great comfort to a reader having to say farewell to a beloved pet.

I am also doing a final edit and rewrite on the novel I wrote more than twenty years ago, Jenny's Homecoming. It is set in the grandeur of the Grand Teton mountain range in Wyoming and is the love story of a part-Native American widowed school teacher and the forest ranger who finally helps to heal her wounds after losing her husband in the Vietnam War. I expect this novel to be published during the upcoming year.

Finally, I have pretty much dedicated the last six years of my life to writing a thousand-page non-fiction book titled Eliza's Legacy. Not only does it tell the story of my mother's life—a little farm girl born in 1909 who lived to be almost 102, but it also tells the pioneer history of my family, dating back to the 1600s in France, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. Many of my ancestors came to join the Mormon Church. This book not only tells about my family's journey across America by covered wagon and handcart, but it also describes how they helped to settle Utah, their experiences with polygamy, and so many other interesting true stories. It includes actual pioneer diaries and documents, plus excerpts of accounts of the assassination of Joseph Smith and the pioneer exodus from Nauvoo. It is filled with individual stories of heroism and lives lost. I tell my family's love stories, including that of my parents, as well as their part in the building of the transcontinental railroad, in which my great-great grandfather played a role. While I initially wrote this book to be distributed only to family members, I am receiving requests from other sources. Who knows where it will end up? I am now compiling photos for Eliza's Legacy. It should come out late this year.

6. Aspen Grove is based on two Colorado mountain towns. Have you created any other fictitious locations for your books?
The Aspen Grove anthologies include some of my most recent writings. Regarding their fictitious setting of Aspen Grove, it seemed very real to me, as my husband and I lived near Denver, Colorado for several years. I've always loved the mountains, and grew up surrounded by the Rocky Mountains in Utah, so I felt right at home in this setting, even though it was not real. As far as settings for my other books, they are all actual places, often in Third World countries. These books are set in places I know well or have at least visited and learned to love.

7. Did you enjoy writing as part of a group? Why or why not?
I actually did enjoy writing as a group for the most part, mostly because of the other writers I wrote with. We all got along well and respected each other's opinions and writing abilities. On the other hand, I prefer to write alone as I like to have my own artistic license, and I prefer to make my own decisions regarding my work. In addition, I didn't really know very much about romance novels, as I don't read them, so I felt rather inadequate in writing them. However, the main reason that I dropped out of the group was certainly not because I had problems or differences with the other writers, but because I did not have the time to continue writing them as I had so many other ongoing writing projects.

8. The Aspen Grove romances are collections of novellas. Do you like writing that length? Why or why not?
No, I'm not a real fan of the novella. I don't feel a novella offers the opportunities to really delve into the characters in depth, nor into the setting, both of which I feel to be of utmost importance in my writing. Also, I am a person of words and descriptions, and the novella format does not give me the opportunity to develop these fully.

9. Of everything that you have written, what is your favorite book to date?
I have really enjoyed writing all of my books. Each one is very close to my heart. And I believe each one of them serves a particular purpose. However, if I had to choose one book, I suppose it would have to be Lucky Dog. I loved that little dog so much, and he was such an important part of my life. In addition, it is a book I believe can be read and enjoyed by anyone. For it is true, simple, funny, sad, informative and entertaining, all at the same time. I think that is what makes it such a good read.

A former English teacher, Christie Shary is a graduate of the University of Utah, with minors in English and Middle Eastern studies. She has had short stories and poetry published, as well as several novels, which include The Blue Mosaic Vase, Amelia, and Lucky Dog, She was also co-author of four of the Aspen Grove romance anthologies, of which Snowflake Secrets, the first, was her favorite. She has been married to Tom for almost fifty years and has two grown sons, and a part-time grand-dog named Ripley. Her passions include reading, writing, skiing, camping, gardening, and traveling around the world, having visited more than seventy countries. Although from Utah and Southern California, she has resided in Mexico City, London, England, and Amsterdam, Holland, but is now retired and lives in Dana Point, California, where she continues to write and travel extensively.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Meet Sherry Derr-Wille

This week, meet Sherry Derr-Wille, another of my co-authors of the Aspen Grove romance anthologies. Sherry participated in all six books in the series. We met at a conference in 2006. She lives in Wisconsin. I live in California. I read a couple of her books, so I knew she would fit with the kinds of stories I wanted to tell in the anthologies. She was the first person I asked to be a part of the project. Thank goodness, she said yes. I hope you enjoy getting to know a little about her.

When did you first start writing?
I was a sophomore in high school in the fall of '61, and the teacher said if we got an A on the first test, we could sit in the room and write for a year. I was never told to stop the assignment, and forty years later, I found out I was the only one who liked the it. OOPS, it was a little too late as I'd already signed seventeen contracts. You might say I became an overnight success after forty years of writing.

What do you like about storytelling?
I just love to bring characters and stories to life. As I go back and read previous books I've written, I am amazed that these are really my works.

Where do you get your story ideas?
Some just come to me, some are things I've seen or heard about, and others begin as dreams. Each one is different.

How do you create your characters?
To be truthful, my characters create themselves. What I have in mind when I start, usually changes as their personalities come to light. Are they based on real people? Some are and some are a combination of many people. No matter which they are all visible in my mind.

Besides the Aspen Grove romance anthologies, of which you are a co-author, what other books or series have you written?
The Becky Series, The Birdsinger Series, The Quade Series, Those Gals From Minter Wisconsin Series, The Double M Series, The Rhonda Pohs Series, The Secrets Series, The Outlaw Series, Summer’s Child, Donegal’s Mistress, Port of Fear, Transplanted Love, When Their World Died..., Never Too Late for Love, Never a Bridesmaid, Family Secrets, The Tour, RX Love, Mockingbird, Mistaken Identity, Montana Rose, A Father's Love, and Blue Eagle Feather. I think I have all of the Sherry Derr-Wille books, but if I've missed a couple, I apologize.
Aspen Grove is based on two Colorado mountain towns.
Have you created any other fictitious locations for your books? Most of my towns are fictional. The most famous is Minter, WI based on Milton and Janesville, WI. I've also created fictional worlds when I'm writing fantasy.

Did you enjoy writing as part of a group? Why or why not?
I do, and I don't. I love the challenge of writing as a group, but to be truthful, I'm a solitary author. I've had fun with the Aspen Grove anthologies and have learned a lot from my writing partners.

The Aspen Grove romances are collections of novellas. Do you like writing at that length? Why or why not?
It depends on the day. There are stories that unfold in the shorter version and others that need 30,000-70,000 more words to come to fruition.

Of everything you have written, what is your favorite book to date?
That's a loaded question. It's like asking who is your favorite child/grandchild/great grandchild. In a pinch I guess I would say Summer’s Child, Donegal’s Mistress, Mistaken Identity, and The Outlaw Series, but to be truthful, I love them all.

Sherry Derr-Wille is a country girl at heart but gave that lifestyle up when she married her high school sweetheart, Bob Wille, 52 years ago. After living in the small town of Milton, WI for over 30 years, they moved to the big city of Janesville, WI [population 60,000]. Together they have three children, nine grandchildren, and four and a half great grandchildren. Sherry is the author of seventy-six books in the genre of romance, family epics, murder mysteries, and naughty books. Books number 77 and 78 are The Return of the Ancients, a work of science fiction, and Sky Eyes, a Native American story.