Sep 30, 2017


by Deb Graham

 “It’s nice to read about ordinary people, which most of us are."—from a review by Charlotte

My 88-year-old mother just left after a visit extended due to a major hurricane taking aim at her hometown. As she said, “It’s never good when Anderson Cooper says the name of your county on CNN.” Mom’s flying 4000 miles to her home, diagonally across one of the largest countries in the world. She looked vulnerable as her face pressed against the window, waving bravely. Mom’s small, but one of the toughest people I know. Even watching the news on TV when it looked dire, she never had a come-apart. Instead, I noticed how she continued to do what she does, daily working the NY Times crossword (in ink!), ironing everything in sight, and encouraging the rest of us.

I’m thinking about my friend, Ruby, today, too. Ruby died a few years ago at the age of 96.  I guess I should have grieved, but it's hard to mourn a life lived as thoroughly as Ruby lived hers. The paintball episode comes to mind. Ruby and I, along with a few other friends, had a quilt project going; in the space of three years, we made 1006 baby quilts and donated them to Project Linus. Great group, by the way; they believe, as I, that any child dealing with illness or loss will cope better wrapped in a warm soft blanket of their very own. 

When Ruby was much younger, say 94 or so, she and I sat in my home, stitching, talking, being together. My teenaged sons tumbled in, laughing after a round of paintball in the woods. Ruby had never seen a paintball gun. Interested, she asked if she might give it a try. Smirking, the boys agreed. One took her arm --he's been taught respect—and slowly led her to the target set up in the back yard. His brother explained how to shoot the gun, casting glances at me. I could see in his eyes he doubted frail Ruby could even hold the gun up, much less pull the trigger. Ruby took aim. And hit TWELVE bull's eyes in a matter of seconds. 

I can still see the shock on my sons' faces, as their respect for this wobbly old lady soared. Turns out, one of Ruby's childhood chores was keeping down the population of rats on the irrigation ditch on her family's farm.
You can't tell by looking, can you?

 I think my reviewer nailed it. In twelve words, she pinpointed a truth humanity forgets. We’re all hungry for relevance, to be notable, or to be liked or at least noticed. We can do that by just being ordinary. We’re drawn to people who are ordinary; they’re not intimidating. We just don't always have an opportunity to see other people because we are all busy just getting by.

Not wanting to be a "somebody" or trying to become relevant is probably the easiest road to travel through life. It adds a lot of pressure to try to be a "somebody." Once labeled as a somebody, you have to continue to be a somebody in order to feel relevant.

 As an author, I frequently feel like a fraud, as if They expect me to be something I’m just not qualified to do. Teach a workshop on self-publishing?  um, okay. Lead a group through a self-exploration writing exercise? sure, no problem. Tell a group about my experience somehow stringing words into seventeen books? gleep; who am I to advise anybody on anything? Interview  as if I am a real live author? Can’t they see I’m like the wizard of Oz, skillfully directing attention elsewhere? Whatever you do, don’t look behind the curtain!

Charlotte helped me realize how being ordinary is much more extraordinary than I previously believed.

We are surrounded by ordinary people doing wonderful things, sometimes extraordinary things, often without even noticing. Extraordinary is just a couple of notches past ordinary, after all. Maybe it’s not such a high bar to reach; maybe weathering a hurricane or rejoicing as a child learns to read or shooting twelve bull’s eyes is just what ordinary people do.

All it takes is getting up every day and being the best person we can be. Whether your place on this planet includes manning a keyboard, nurturing small people, juggling spreadsheets and bedsheets and paper sheets, do ordinary things- then do a little extra.

I come from a long line of ordinary people, none notable, all extraordinary. I hope to carry on the tradition, and one day, be as tough as my mom. 

Sep 28, 2017

Life is Magnificent

by Kari Diane Pike

Hello Friends!

Did you miss me?

I have most certainly missed you.

I love sharing thoughts and inspirations and learning from your comments. But life happens. I saw my podiatrist, cardiologist, oncologist, dermatologist, optometrist, and gastroenterologist, and child number seven married the man of her dreams, all in the short six to eight weeks since I last posted here. I reached a goal to ride a distance of fifteen miles on my bike, shed nearly thirty pounds, and my blood work results came back better than they have been in years. There has been no progression in my M.G.U.S. and my heart is full of gratitude. Yep, we've been crazy, busy, happy.

During all of this craziness, an experience of a four-year-old grandson helped keep me grateful and grounded:

Mom: Time to get your jammies on and get ready for bed.
Four-year-old: Wait. What? But I want to have dessert.
Mom: It's too late for dessert. It's night time. You need to go to bed.
Four-year-old: Humph. No fair. Jesus ruins all my plans.
Mom: Did you say Jesus ruins all your plans?
Four-year-old: Yes. He ruins all my plans.
Mom: What do you mean by that? Why would you say that?
Four-year-old: Well, you told me that Jesus made the whole earth and He made the day and the night. And you said that since it's night we have to go to bed and I don't get dessert. So He ruined all my plans. 
Mom: 😲

I've pondered on this little discussion for weeks. Part of me is in awe of this little man's reasoning skills. Another part of me laughs out loud when I think about the future parenting adventures that lie ahead for his lucky mom and dad. Deeper thought reminds me that, like our little grandson, there have been many occasions when I've been unable to comprehend why the Lord asks certain things of me. I get a plan in my head, pray about it, set goals, and start putting those goals into action only to run up against what I perceive to be road blocks. And sometimes I wondered, "Why did You ruin all my plans?" or "Why did I feel prompted to make this choice only to have everything fall apart?"

In 2009 we earnestly prayed about moving our family to Utah where my husband had been working for nearly a year. Let me emphasize that word "earnestly". We wanted our family to be together, but we truly wanted to make the best choice and accept the Lord's will. We received a miraculous confirmation to our prayers and decision and used every last penny to relocate. More tender mercies paved the way for us to find a lovely home in an incredible neighborhood. We had no doubt that the Lord had guided our steps all along the way. Until things started to fall apart.

We lost our renters soon after the move and eight months later lost our home in Arizona that held thirteen years of precious memories. Well, "okay", we said. We love it here in Utah and we'll start over. Our landlords had given us a lease with an option to buy, and we had come to love Utah county. We could get over that little bump. We didn't see the hairpin turn up ahead.

A year later, downturn in the economy caught up with Utah and my husband was laid off from his job as a civil engineer. We used the money we had saved for a down payment to get us through six months of unemployment. Our landlord kindly encouraged us to stay in the house until school let out for the summer, at which point they moved back to Utah and we - two adults, three teenagers, a cat, a dog, and a parakeet - moved into our little tent trailer and camped in my sister-in-law's driveway.

The first few days of "camping" was kind of fun. Our two families cooked together and hung out on the porch and played night games. Even having only one bathroom available for eight people worked out because the Texaco station down the street opened at 6:00 a.m. "House" cleaning took less than thirty minutes. What a great adventure! Until it wasn't.

The violent windstorms that whip out of the canyons of Utah county are scary enough when you live in a sturdy house with a strong foundation. The rain and hail and flying debris accompanied by micro bursts of sixty to eighty-mile-per-hour winds are down right terrifying in a tent trailer. I broke down that night. I learned what it means to "cry unto the Lord". Why, oh why, had things turned out so differently than we expected? Had I failed to listen to His will? Were we supposed to stay in Arizona? Had I put my own desires in place and made the wrong choices?

I begged for protection for my family. I pleaded for peace of mind. I cried for mercy.

And then it was quiet.

Oh, the storm outside our canvas walls raged on. But in my heart and in our little home on wheels, I felt love. The thought that grew in my mind:

Just because things didn't turn out the way you expected doesn't mean you made the wrong choice. You are not being punished. You will discover great blessings. Do you think that things worked out for the early pioneers they way they anticipated? Do you think they expected drought and crickets and nearly starving to death? Did they do the wrong thing? No! They followed the counsel of the Lord. They learned. They grew. They endured. And look at the legacy they left for you and others. Laman and Lemuel murmured because they didn't understand the mind of the Lord. They refused to try. Remember what you learned before about being prepared to receive blessings? You are being prepared. Don't be afraid. Faith endures.
Six years have passed since that storm raged. I never imagined we would be where we are today. I can honestly say I count my blessings every night and thank Heavenly Father for "ruining my plans" because the life with which He has blessed me and continues to bless me is far more magnificent than I could ever dream.

Two families tied together through the blessings of eternal marriage. I love being connected to all of these amazing people!

Sep 26, 2017

Writers Conference

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

I spent a few days a week ago down in Gilbert, Arizona, for the 25th Annual Writers Conference put on by American Night Writers Association (ANWA), which is a writers group I started back in 1986. I had a ton of fun, seeing long-time friends again, “meeting” face-to-face with long-time Facebook and email friends, and enjoying the energy of so many like-minded souls together.

The highlight of my trip was a class I gave for two hours on Saturday afternoon. There were several talented writers who attended and found themselves validated in their writing style. It was a joyful class, and I loved being the bringer of that joy.

Have you ever attended a writers conference? What did you take away from the experience?

*Photos by Deb Eaton

Sep 21, 2017

The Main Thing I Took Away From the ANWA Writers Conference

I've been home from the ANWA conference nearly a week. If you recall from my last blog post, one week prior to the conference, I was running around screaming and waving my arms in the air. Okay. This is not unusual for me, but there was a sense of urgency the last time around.

Now I'm home, the deed is done, and the pitches complete. I cannot undo what has been done, and quite frankly, I don't want to. I'm happy.

Not because we got one full and one partial request for our non-fiction, or because they wanted the first fifty pages for my YA novel.

 My happiness doesn't stem from my little sister and I getting first in our respective genres for the BOB (Beginning of Book contest), or from the new writerly friends I made, or even the dozens of pages of notes, ideas, and inspiration I gained while I was there.

I am happy because I took a huge, monumental, earth-shattering (for me) risk and put myself and my writing out there. Nearly every writer fears sharing their work; giving it to someone and risking rejection.  It's almost as scary and walking up to the person you've secretly adored for years, looking the in them eye, and declaring your love to them.

Your heart stutters, stomach clenches, knees wobble, and a cold sweat forms all over your body as you scrutinize every nuance of their body language, mentally screaming for them to love, your work. What if my writing isn't strong enough? What if I misspelled something? What if they don't like the storyline? What if there's a giant, gaping plot hole? What if...?

The what ifs can eat a person alive, bit by bit, piece by piece, until we're crippled with fear. Horrified by the self-perceived shortcomings of our work. We grip our pages tightly to our chest, afraid to show even a scrap of it to those around us. Heaven knows rejection runs rampant in the publishing world.

Writing is painful, at times tedious and, at least for me, the learning curve was much like climbing Mt. Everest. But so is losing weight and/or getting healthy, striving for the Celestial Kingdom, and any other truly worthwhile endeavors in our lives. To grow, we must be willing to endure a certain amount of discomfort or pain.

I've discovered 'no' from one person may be 'where have you been all my life?' from another.  No two people's tastes are alike. And, much like the dating game, we need to be willing to kiss a whole lot of frogs to find our prince (or princess).  But we still have to put ourselves out there and kiss 'em.

So, in a long, winding, convoluted way, I'm trying to say the main lesson I took away from the ANWA Writers Conference is to look fear in the eye and take the leap. The answer will ALWAYS be 'no' unless I ask. And to ask, I must put myself and my writing out there.

Last year the answer was, "not yet." Time will tell what the publishing world currently thinks of our work.  But I have a story to tell, and by golly I'm gonna tell it!

I hope you will join me on this journey and put yourself out there. Somebody is waiting for your story, wishing it would be told.  You don't want to disappoint them, do you?

Sep 19, 2017

Characters & Floating Thoughts

by Terri Wagner

I must confess up front...I am terrible about writing like this. I seem to like writing about what's in my character's head. I like "I" POV. However, I read this article that made me rethink my writing preference. Floating Thoughts makes Jonna Penn's five most common writing mistakes. She is both a writer and an editor.

As I have said numerous times before, I love sci-fi/fantasy. And my favorite are epic stories that span a wide arc. In my most favorite series, the characters often communicated through "thoughts" to each other in times of stress or battle. Better than a cell phone! Their observations to themselves gave me insight to their motivations, especially when they seem to make a decision that appears out of character. So it is a great writing device that makes the characters more real.

Ms. Penn warned in her guest post that drawing out the "thinking" for a surprise ending is not a great way to hook a reader. I am sure we have all read a story based on the character's perspective only to discover later they are in a hospital bed. She suggests finding a better way to jump into action. I realize many stories are based on the fact that it has the surprise ending. They use this technique quite often in teaching manuals because the perspective might be someone with autism, ADHD, is blind, etc. And it helps teachers and fellow students to get inside the head of a person with challenges. I prefer challenges to disabilities because it really is a better description. Think Little People Big World.

Although Ms. Penn's article is short and sweet the way a blog post should be, she has opened my eyes to a bad writing habit of my own. Never ever underestimate the value of action over a lengthy monologue leading to a surprise.

Sep 16, 2017

Sometimes I can see better in the dark with my eyes closed.

Sometimes I can see better in the dark with my eyes closed 

Deb Graham                                                                                                                                                                                             I noticed the other night, as I was wending my way back from the bathroom about 4 AM after drinking too much grape juice before bed, that I was walking with my eyes closed. Odd, so I questioned mySelf.

“Self, why are you walking with eyes closed?”

Without an eyelash’s hesitation, mySelf replied, “It’s dark. I can see better with my eyes closed.”

Well, that was worth thinking about, so I sat down in the dark hallway and pondered for a minute or six. I realized I often close my eyes in dark see better. Outdoors on moonless nights, I often walk with eyes clamped shut. On nights when I need a bathroom run and feel too polite to wake Husband by turning on a light, my eyes don’t open, and I manage to powder my nose, wash my hands, and make it back to bed with toes unstubbed. I’ve mentioned before I often write notes in the night, and I don’t turn on a light for that, either. Hmmm. What does my Self know that I don’t?

Can I really see better with my eyes closed? Yes, I guess I can. In dim light, I strain to make out the outlines of the hotel dresser or the rock in my path. Just before dawn, my eyes ache, trying to suck in the faint light so I can dodge the trees. In the evening, as darkness falls, I scramble to pack up my reading materials so none get left out overnight. If I try to see when there’s just not enough light to take in, my eyes quickly fatigue from being asked to accomplish what they cannot.

But once I’m in full and total darkness, I automatically shut my eyes and rely on my other senses to protect me from falling or crashing into things. And they step up to the task. With my eyes closed, I can sense or feel doorframes, shoes left on the floor,  furniture, even in unfamiliar places, and I noticed I’ve been doing that for years. My inner self guides me, and for the most part, my shins remain unbarked. I don’t like the dark, but I seem to have figured out a way to navigate in it.

How does this relate to writing? I’m constantly running ahead, flipping on lights, researching frantically, drowning in copious notes and ideas and outlines. Maybe relying on self-imposed deadlines, plot lines, charts, and keeping close track of book sales and advertising plans and All Of It is getting in the way of why I started writing in the first place.

I wrote my first book (Tips From The Cruise Addict’s Wife) because I realized I just plain knew more than most people. I’m no brighter than anybody else, but I’m a compulsive reader and have a fear of missing Something Wonderful, right there, when I travel. My first novel (Peril in Paradise) came about because of a question. How could a Bad Guy make use of the fact that immature Hawaiian sea turtles have a predictable migratory path? I had a story to tell!

I write rather a lot; I published two books this summer alone. I’m aware of at least four more brewing in there; there could be more. Am I blocking my own path by not allowing my senses to guide me? By straining to see what lies ahead and get in front of every possible contingency, am I missing the joy in writing? If I get out of my way, would I do better and be happier? Sure, there’s a risk of “failing,” whatever that looks like, or at least flailing, but so what? 

I may occasionally smack my head on a low-hanging shelf I couldn’t see in the dark, but mostly, I get along just fine. Sometimes I can see better in the dark with my eyes closed. With regard to writing, it’s worth a try. 

Sep 12, 2017

I'm back!

by Marsha Ward  @MarshaWard

Month after month I've been forgetting my turn to post. That's a crying shame, because, yanno, the blog is named after me, sorta, kinda. I'm the founder of ANWA, and I blog with a few of my friends.

Maybe I'm burning out. I've been writing a white-hot streak of fiction for several months, and often find myself with no words of wisdom to share at the end of the day.

I've produced ten (10!!!) projects this year, including a brand new short story that was released last Friday. Scandalous: An Owen Family Story is my first venture into the exclusive program at Kindle called Select.

You can find Scandalous on Amazon for purchase, or read it free if you subscribe to KindleUnlimited.

Here's the blurb:
Young Julianna Owen didn’t think flirting with Parley Morgan at the barn raising would lead him to put his hands where they ought not to be. But worse yet, her sister discovers them and Parley abandons her, running off into the woods.
Julianna’s strict father has found where she is hiding, and her world on the Colorado frontier is crashing down around her ears. She thought love and romance was only about going on picnics and holding hands, not rough kisses and hurtful pawing.

Now the consequences of her actions might be beyond what she can bear.

In the 1860s Owen Family universe, Scandalous shines a light on teen hormones run amok during a trying time in the family’s story, as it ties up a loose thread from the novel, Spinster’s Folly.

This edition contains bonus material at the end, an excerpt from the Shenandoah Neighbors story, Bloodied Leather.

I've also been going-going-going this year and I have three more places to go before year's end: The ANWA Writers Conference, where I'm doing a two-hour presentation; an epic road trip to the Northwest, and the Mesa Book Festival. Maybe I can relax during the Christmas holiday?

That's not likely.

I'm just hanging on and hoping to be more consistent with my blogging turn here. So, I certainly will try to be here in two weeks.

Happy reading!

Sep 7, 2017

Jumping Into the Fire

I don't know what I was thinking. If' I'd stopped for even a moment and considered what I was signing myself up for, I would've screamed and run the other way. Apparently, I wasn't thinking. That part of my brain must be defective.
Why do you ask? Because I'm planning on pitching two books at the ANWA conference.  A non-fiction with my sisters, and a YA novel I've written myself.  

Remembering back to last year, I should've known this was a bad idea. The stress of pitching one book can be staggering.  But two? Just shoot me now.  Or at least tie me to a post and walk away.  Apparently I'm out of my mind. 

Not only is it two books, but the submission process is completely different, so I'm learning two things at once.  A non-fiction involves a query, a proposal, and a few sample chapters. A YA novel involves a query, and a completed story.  Even the query formats are different! Ugh. 

And yet I persist.  Sleep is highly overrated, right?  I'll catch up when I die. Which, at the rate I'm going, may be sooner than anticipated. 

Here I am, one week away from pitching, and I'm running around with my hair on fire, screaming like a banshee, wondering how I'm going to pull it all together.  Or if I even can.  

Check on me in ten days. If I answer, you'll know I survived. If I'm huddled in the corner sucking my thumb, you'll know survival is a highly subjective term. 

Sep 2, 2017


I chuckle when people accuse me of being Organized and Efficient. If they only knew-! I also get comments on always being on time; that, I understand. I’m basically shy, and I’d skip a lunch date with my favorite celebrity before I’d mosey in anything.

But the efficient part? I often feel like the Wizard of Oz, one step ahead of being found out, distracting attention over there, away from the curtain. Whatever you do, don’t look behind the curtain!

Credit, if anything, bright little pieces of paper. They’re everywhere, and they help me keep up the illusion of being on top of things.

My mind races like mice on a hamster wheel (why isn’t that a mouse wheel? Everybody knows mice are more active than hamsters; see, there it goes again), juggling a dozen topics at a constant breakneck pace. If I fail to write them down, they skitter away.

 I keep a blank paper in my car, on my desk, in the kitchen, by the calendar, in the bathrooms, in every jacket pocket, in my journal, on the counter by the mugs, the note catcher over my computer, beside my bed...well, just about any place I go in a day, I’m mere inches from paper.

I write down thoughts, appointments, reminders, inspirational snippets, clever phrases I may use in an upcoming book, interesting turns of dialogue I overheard, news I mean to tell somebody, a brilliant idea for a birthday gift, a reminder to check that website for discount tickets.

 I keep an ongoing grocery list, too, a hastily scrawled, sometimes illegible reminder of what I need to buy next time I’m at the store. A recent one read:

6 oz umbrella
bald guy
graham crackers
chicken (on sale)

 I didn’t say they made sense.

I see order when I glance at these little papers, and I appreciate not having to strain my brain to recall what Julie said to tell Jenn, or what that shade of paint for the bedroom is called. Efficiency.

Husband, a few years ago, decided to Do Something Nice for me, and in his mind, that looked like detailing my car. He had it washed and waxed and buffed, and threw away all those scraps of paper inside and vacuumed and it looked so good, he decided to clean the kitchen, too, at least get rid of those pervasive little notes on the cupboard door.  

Besides not feeling as appreciative as he expected, I was dead in the water for about two weeks. I missed a doctor visit (and a dentist), I was lost at the grocery store without my list; plus, I had no idea what was on sale that week, I forgot a birthday, I neglected to send that box my daughter asked me to get for her, I didn’t pick up the prescriptions or photos I had ordered, a friend was annoyed because I forgot a lunch date, the deadline to mail those forms in came and went ....It was a long two weeks.

I find writing an idea down in the moment captures it while it’s fresh, and I can flesh it out later if needed. I admit not all of the little papers make sense; I’m still not sure what “lemon Volkswagens” or “call caramel cookies” means, but until I find out, you can bet I’m going to be keeping them at hand!

Efficient? No, just held together by little bits of colored paper.