A bountiful May 5

It’s been way too long since my last blog post, and I apologize, but I have not been idle. I’ve been moving ahead with my first draft of Ahote’s Path, and have now completed the first three (of what I expect will be 7) sections of the book. But to be honest, the book and my blog took a back seat this past month to family. Early in May, my eldest son and his wife came out to spend Mother’s Day with me. This was special for a lot of reasons, but in particular because they are expecting a baby at the end of August, a little boy.  But they aren’t the only ones. My other son and his wife are also expecting a baby boy early in October. My first go at grand parenting is going to be doubly exciting, and I can’t wait to meet these little boys! 

Now, it is hard to upstage the impending arrival of my first grandchildren, but my daughter, Jamie did her very best to give the family lots to talk about as well. In May, she finished up a rather spectacular run of performances in the Phoenix area. Phoenix Theater hosted an evening of Jamie’s music that was incredibly well received.  Then, just a week later, one of her musicals, Cursed, opened for a one weekend run. Jamie wrote, produced, music directed and performed in the show, along with many actors who have been with her now through several of her musical productions. I have come to know and love these young people over the years that Jamie has been in Phoenix. They aren’t just part of Jamie’s production company, they have become a community. Together they have all grown as actors, singers and, most importantly, as friends. For this group, for all of us really, this run of Cursed was bittersweet. Jamie is leaving Phoenix this summer for New York City, to get a Master’s degree in musical theater at NYU. I’m sure the finality of her imminent departure was on all of their minds. I know it was on mine. No one took the moment for granted. It was hands down the best performance I’ve seen from this group.  Every single one of them put their whole heart into it. It was a perfect way to cap off this chapter of Jamie’s life. With the performances now behind us, we are all systems go for the move to NYC. There were a lot of moving parts that had to come together, but almost all of the pieces have now fallen into place. I have no idea what the future will hold for my talented daughter, but she certainly will be in the right place to figure it all out. 

 

There is yet another thing I want to share that happened in May. I met a soprano here in town. Now, that may not sound like such a big deal to you, but for me, I have been searching for a satisfying creative outlet for my singing for quite some time. From the moment I met Shira something just felt very right. We have already begun to work up a program of duets and arias. Our plan is to perform it somewhere here in Sedona, under the stars, at the next winter’s solstice. It has been a lot of fun finding music and having someone so well matched with my voice and abilities to sing with.  To make the partnering even more perfect, it turns out that, like me, Shira is very drawn to the healing art of Reiki.  We will be bringing our gifts of song and reiki together in a very  unique way to greatly enhance this Sedona winter solstice experience.

I have another interesting bit of news to share with you. In May I was also interviewed by Tom Fallwell for his podcast series, Write On With Tom Fallwell. Tom is also an author of the well-received  Rangers of Laerean series.  I had a lot of fun talking with Tom. If you’re interested in hearing the interview you can find it here: http://www.tomfallwell.com/podcast.html. My interview can be found on episode 8, about ten minutes into the podcast. I hope you’ll check it out!

And now, before I sign off on this post, I’m going to leave with a clip from Jamie’s big debut at Phoenix Theater. This is the finale from the evening, performed by the ASU Lyric Opera Theater, directed by Toby Yatso.


Out Of The Mouths Of Babes 10

A lot of my author friends have been out there recently doing book readings and book signings at indie bookstores and well attended conferences around the country. But, last week I had a very special book sharing opportunity of my own, one that touched my heart deeply. I got to share my book with my sister’s first grade class. 

Now, my book isn’t a children’s book, and when my sister first asked me to come in and talk to her kids I was a little uncertain. But this visit was supposed to be more about having her students meet an actual author than it was about having me talk about my book. They’d been able as a class to have good discussions about characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution, and now Ann wanted for them to meet someone who had used all these elements to complete a published book. Ann had told me this was a smart class, but I’ve seen high schoolers struggle to understand these essential elements of story-telling. I was curious about a first grade class that was already capable of understanding and using these elements in stories they had written and illustrated on their own. On the day I visited the school, these stories were all being proudly displayed in the school auditorium.

Anytime you sit down in front of a group of 6 and 7 year olds, you do have to be prepared for anything. I hadn’t anticipated the kinds of things they would ask, or the directions our conversation would go, but I was comfortable enough to just set a basic direction and then see what happened. At one point I decided to tell them a little bit about my book. We talked a little bit about why it was called Cha’risa’s Gift, and one smart, little guy figured out her gift wasn’t an actual present she’d been given, but rather an ability she’d passed on to others in her family. As we talked more, I figured the children might be intrigued by my character, Ahote, because of his experiences with going to school. I told them how the people in Ahote’s village hadn’t wanted their children to go away to the Indian boarding school, but that the soldiers had come and taken their children anyway. I explained how after several years at this boarding school, Ahote no longer knew where he fit in. He felt different from the people in his village now, and also well aware of the many ways he was still different from white men. He wasn’t sure where he belonged anymore. After telling the kids Ahote’s backstory, I asked them if they had ever felt different from everybody else.

The conversation that ensued took up the rest of the class period. It turns out they all felt different, but unlike Ahote, they were not confused by their differences, instead they utterly embraced them. One little ginger haired boy, looking just like he’d come off the pages of an Irish story, told me he was different because his dad was from Spain. The little blue eyed girl next to him proudly announced that she was different because she had been born in Germany and that her mom still spoke German to her. Another little boy told me he was different because he’d been born in Japan. I had one little boy stand up and start bouncing all around with excitement as he told me that he was different because his family was Irish and that meant they all were Vikings. Another little boy told me he was different because he could climb so very high, as high as a bird, and that he had eagle eyes with which he could see everything. So I told him about another character in my book that had a similar ability; that this character could see through the eyes of a bird and knew what it felt like to fly. Well, this little boy went on to tell me that he also could fly, and proceeded to let loose such a rich description of his own experiences as a bird that I felt very encouraged for the future of story-telling. My sister let the story go on for a bit, but it was clear this little fellow would be a long while before he ran out of steam, so she kindly but firmly told the boy he needed to wrap it up.

There was time for one last question, and so I picked a little blonde girl in the back row. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Is it true you sing opera? And will you sing a song for us?”

I looked over at my sister. She was grinning ear to ear. “I told them you sang,” she happily confessed.

“Oh? And how did this come up?”

Ann explained that the art teacher often gave the kids their instructions for the day in a faux operatic voice. Apparently this was enough for the kids to believe they loved opera. Well, thanks to my sister, it was clear I had to sing a song. The only problem was I hadn’t sung, let alone warmed up my voice, in weeks. I’d been so focused on getting ready for the Brains to Books Cyber convention, and on making my National Novel Writing Month goals for April, that words not songs had dominated all my energies.

I got the kids to agree to do a warm up with me before I sang to them. So, with varying degrees of aptitude, the whole lot of us did a series of five note scales. I took my enthusiastic singers up as high as I dared. Then, there was nothing left to do but start singing, I launched into a passable acapella performance of an Italian art song, “Se tu ma’ami.” I was a little tentative at first, but it didn’t take long before I was in character, flirting with the shepherd boy, but also scolding him for thinking I would follow his lead. All the while, I kept a wary eye out for my sister, wondering if soon I too would be told to wrap it up. The entire class, plus a few passersby outside the door, followed my performance closely all the way to the end of the song, and then I received a very enthusiastic round of applause.

When the lunch bell rang, I watched the kids file out the door. My mind went back to our conversation on our differences. It struck me that there has always been this emphasis in our society on who is different and who belongs. I couldn’t help but think of these children, so many of whom came from families who had been U.S. citizens for a generation or less. This is not something you’d have ever been aware of when you first walked into this classroom.  For all that they claimed to be different, at first sight I could not have told you which of these children had a long American pedigree, which were first generation American, and which ones hadn’t even been born in this country. I would have told you I saw more of what these kids had in common than I did of how they were different. They were all learning together in my sister’s classroom. Together they’d mastered how to read, how to tell a story, how to do math. They all broke bread together and played together. And apparently they all shared the same love of listening to people sing in full operatic voice.

Every class has a personality, much as each child has a personality.  They are shaped by several factors. When things go right, these include loving and supportive home environments, and good teachers whose own unique gifts are supported and encouraged to help them impart learning.  I’m sure I will never truly know exactly how Ann’s class this year resulted in such a perfect environment for learning. But here’s what I do know, these children with their differences, their commonalities, their curiosity, creativity, and love of opera are a reason to hope for the future.

In case you would also like to hear my full on operatic tones, here is a recording of me singing “Se tu ma’ami. It isn’t the acapella version the class got to hear. It’s from back in the day when I was a voice teacher, when I often sent my students home with a copy of the songs to practice with.


Here’s a story for you :) 4

Hi Everyone,

April has been a busy month and it’s taken me longer to get around to my next blog. I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo this month, challenging myself to get 20,000 words written before the month is out on book two, “Ahote’s Path”  I think I’m going to make it! I’ve written 16,397 so far. And I apologize in advance to my beta readers. It is going to be well over 50 pages I’ll be sending you once I’ve had a chance to edit all this forward momentum.

In the meantime, I do have something to offer you on my blog. It’s a short story, and it features Cha’risa as the main character. I wrote it earlier this month for the Brains to Books Cyber Conference. Some of you may have run across the story if you were checking out my links at the conference, but for those of you who did not, I’m pretty proud of this story. It is a short read, a bit on the spooky side, and it draws attention to proposed  tourist attraction that threatens one of the most sacred places in the Grand Canyon, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers

Before I offer up this story, there is one more thing I would like to say, and that is thank you to the many of you who responded to my desperate pleas for help during Brains to Books, when I was trying to win the cover wars contest. The outpouring of support was incredibly heartwarming. I had no idea how many of you were actually reading my posts, let alone willing to go to bat for me in my hour of need. It was probably childish of me to want something so badly, but there it is, I really, really wanted to win. But you know what? I already had won. Natalie made a winning cover, and so many of you had my back. I lost cover wars because I didn’t understand the rules well enough. Next year I will know better! And Natalie has already said that she is willing to make the cover for Ahote’s Path!  The Havasupai home in the Grand Canyon is stunningly beautiful.  I’m sure however Natalie illustrates it, it will be hard to beat!

 

Okay, so without further ado, for your reading pleasure, here is my short story, The More Things Change.

The intercom squawked. “Mr. Fox, your 2:00 appointment is here.”

Lamar hit the intercom button. “Send her in, Ms. Whittier.” He sat back then smiling. He’d been hounding his associates for months to find the perfect spokeswoman, and from what he’d read in this woman’s file, she could be the answer to all of his PR problems.

As the woman entered the room, Lamar stood and walked over to her. He towered over the tiny woman, who was dressed simply in a flowered, calico dress. On her small feet was a pair of well-worn cowboy boots. While the dress was modest, the tie around her waist accentuated a still comely figure for a woman in her mid-sixties. Not a woman of much wealth, Lamar observed; that would help him with his pitch.

“Welcome,” he said, giving the woman his brightest smile.

She nodded back, not smiling, but meeting his gaze with self-assurance. She had beautiful eyes, a warm brown, that held both an innate kindness and curiosity.

“Sit,” he encouraged her, and pointed to one of his leather arm chairs. He watched as she sat. Her hair was so long, she had to move it over her shoulder to avoid sitting on it. It was perhaps her best feature, dark with dramatic gray streaks. She looked every bit the wise woman. Lamar silently congratulated his team. They may have finally gotten it right this time.

“Would you like some tea, coffee, water?” Lamar offered.

“Tea would be nice,” she said.

He smiled again and walked over to the intercom. “Ms. Whittier, can you bring some coffee for me and a cup of tea for my guest.”

“Certainly,” Ms. Whittier said over the intercom. “What kind of tea does she like?”

“Herbal,” the woman answered.

Lamar parroted that back over the intercom, and then took the seat beside her.

“So, Mrs. Connor,” he began “Shall I tell you a bit about us here, at Grand Canyon Escalade?”

“You may call me Cha’risa,” she said.

“Well, if I’m to call you Cha’risa, you must call me Lamar.”

She nodded and then asked, “If I may, Lamar, can I ask you a question before you tell me more about your company?”

“Certainly,” Lamar smiled.

“How did your people find me?”

“Ah. Well as best I understand it, my associates just put it out there, hoping for the Universe to answer, and apparently the Universe has offered up you.” He had meant to be charming, even a little funny, but she took him quite literally.

“That does explain some things,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow, and then offered, “I think what I find most intriguing about you is that you seem to have a gift for straddling two worlds. It says here you gained the trust of the citizens of Flagstaff, while at the same time maintaining a strong connection to your Native American roots.

“Well,” Cha’risa said, “All that was a long time ago now.”

Lamar brushed off her concern. “The more things change the more they stay the same, right?”

“No, not in my experience,” she replied. “People are meant to grow, to evolve. It is actually an illusion that we all keep circling around the same old issues. It isn’t a circle at all, it’s a spiral.”

“Really?” Lamar pretended to be interested, but in truth what she said made no sense to him. “So,” he continued, “shall I tell you some about Grand Canyon Escalade?”

“Yes, please do,” she encouraged.

Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, he started in. “I’ve been working for a while now on a project to make the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon a tourist destination.”

“Really?”

“Yes, let me show you.” He grabbed some plans from his desk and carried them over to the coffee table, just as Ms. Whittier entered with the tea and coffee. “Set them right there, will you?” He nodded his head toward the end table sitting between the two chairs.

“Thank you,” Cha’risa said as the secretary set a steaming cup of peppermint tea down beside her.

The secretary smiled back at her as she placed the coffee near her boss, and then left the room. Lamar never noticed as he unfurled the plans and smoothed them out on the table before them.

“So the proposed development is located here,” Lamar pointed to a spot on the map on the eastern rim of the canyon, clearly within the Navajo reservation.

Cha’risa leaned forward studying the area intently.  “That is right above the confluence.” She looked up at him questioningly.

Excited, Lamar continued to tell her more about his vision. “That’s right! The heart of the Grand Canyon, right where the Colorado and the Little Colorado meet, that’s where we’ll build a tourist attraction to rival all the others! I have big plans, Cha’risa, big plans!”

She waited for him to continue, so he jumped right back in. “Up on the rim we’ll have a hotel, a restaurant, an RV center, a cultural center, all kinds of attractions. But that’s not the best part! Right here, at the rim, we’ll build a tramway that will shuttle as many as 10,000 visitors a day down into the canyon. We’ll build an elevated walkway along the cliffs for easy access in and around the canyon floor, and we’ll also build this!” He pointed to a large amphitheater also below the rim. Can you just picture what concerts would be like inside those canyon walls, under the stars?”

When Cha’risa looked at him next, her eyes were somber.

“You do realize,” she said, “that the confluence is sacred ground for many tribes, mine included.”

“Yes, but just think of it,” Lamar insisted, “once only the most determined souls could access this place, now anyone can go see it!”

Cha’risa was quiet a moment considering her next words. Finally she spoke. “When my first husband went to this sacred site, to Sipapu and the salt caves, he ran all the way from the Hopi Pueblos. It was a journey of many miles and great hardship. When my son went, it was along a different path, but it also required a long and difficult journey both physically and spiritually.”

“So you get what I’m envisioning!” Lamar enthused. “Once this project is approved, people will be able to make the journey in comfort, in a glass tram, in just ten minutes.” He sat back beaming. It was only after an awkward silence that it began to occur to him that Cha’risa might not be seeing things quite the same way.

When she broke the silence, her words were again carefully chosen. “What makes the experience to Sipapu sacred is as much about the journey as much as it is about the place. You are putting at risk spiritual practices that have been in place for thousands of years.”

Lamar was still trying to think of a way to bring the conversation back on solid footing when Cha’risa asked, “Lamar, why do you think I would make a good representative for this project?”

Lamar gave a silent thanks that the conversation was now moving away from the all this spiritual mumbo jumbo. “Well,” he began, “we are looking for someone who can be reassuring, someone who can speak to the tribes of the region and be a voice they would respect and trust.” He looked at her then. “I think you could have a steadying influence on a lot of these loud nay sayers.”

“Are a lot of people are fighting this?”

“There are some environmental groups, some indigenous groups, and the one I personally find the most frustrating, the Grand Canyon Trust.

Tell me,” she asked. “Do you think your project can benefit the Navajo, the Hopi, the Havasupai, the Zuni?”

“Oh, it will definitely benefit the Navajo. We’re going to need a lot of service workers for all these facilities we’re building. The Navajo are in desperate need of jobs, and we’ll bring those along with us in spades.”

“So, you’re talking about maids, waitresses, handymen, landscapers, that kind of work?”

“Precisely! And you better believe it could make a big difference in addressing the levels of poverty on the reservation. Of course the Navajo have to do their part too, to make this all happen.”

“So what is it you need for them to do?” Cha’risa’s face was carefully blank.

“Well, the Navajo nation will need to pay about $65 million for the initial infrastructure, and they will be responsible for its maintenance. They’d have to sign a non-compete for any business activity along 40 thousand miles of access roads into the development. They’d also need to claw back about 420 acres of grazing rights belonging to their people.”

“That seems like a lot to me. Is that all you’re asking?”

Lamar studied her closely, and for the first time since the interview started he began to feel unnerved. He had the strong sense that if he held anything back, she would know.  “There are a few more small details,” he admitted.

“Such as?”

“We would need the Navajo to pre-approve business site leases without prior review by Navajo offices of historic preservation, environmental protection, parks and recreation, and a few other key agencies. We’d also need them to override some pesky resolutions against Escalade.”

Cha’risa raised an eyebrow. “Who has resolutions against you?”

“Hmmm, well there’s the Bodaway-Gap resolution, and there are others as well by the Lechee, Cameron, Coal Mine and Tuba City chapters. There’s also one by the Dine Medicine Men’s Association and the Western Agency Grazing Committee.  Oh, and there is also a pesky Inter-tribal Compact with the Hopi that we’d need the Navajo to get around…”

“Enough, Lamar. I’ve heard enough.”

His face fell. “You’re not interested, are you?”

Cha’risa shook her head.

“It pays well.” Lamar felt it had to be said.

“Look, Lamar, no matter how much you paid me, you’d never get what you needed from me.”

“Why not?”

“You do realize I’m Hopi, right? It says that in your file there?”

Lamar looked more carefully at the file then shook his head. “It just says Native American.”

“I don’t suppose you are aware that there is a long history of distrust between the Hopi and the Navajo?” Again he shook his head.

“I thought not,” she said. “I bet it also doesn’t say anything in that file of yours about the fact that I have a checkered history.”

Lamar took a closer look at the small woman in the flowered calico dress. “You do? What on earth could you have done that would raise eyebrows?”

Cha’risa shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  “I have dedicated my life to healing people, but there was a time when I crossed the line between a medicine woman and a witch.”

Lamar leaned in closer. “What exactly did you do?”

She regarded him with an unblinking stare. “I killed some men with a single thought.”

Lamar gaped at her wanting to disbelieve it, but what he saw in her eyes made him gulp and sit back, putting some distance between them.

Cha’risa got up, leaving her tea untouched. “Mr. Fox, If you send 10,000 people a day into the heart of the oldest spiritual center in all of the United States, you will destroy something irreplaceable.  How many places are left on this earth where we can be at one with the harmony and serenity of a sacred place?  If the universe raised me from the dead and sent me to you, it is for one reason only. The Great Spirit needs me to fight against this plan that serves no one’s best interest but your own.”

She held his eyes with hers for several moments longer than was comfortable. When she left the room, an uncanny chill stayed behind. Lamar took a deep breath and then picked up his now cold cup of coffee. It was only when he tried to raise the cup to his lips that he noticed how badly his hands were shaking. He couldn’t take even a single sip.

Author’s note:

This short story began as a challenge that a few of us who love writing historical fiction set for ourselves. We were to pick an historical character from one of our books and have that character interview for a job in current day, 2017. I chose Cha’risa, the central character from my book “Cha’risa’s Gift” for this challenge. Cha’risa is a Hopi medicine woman who lived from 1866-1945. The job she is interviewing for is with a development company (not a fictional one) in Scottsdale Arizona that has tried repeatedly to get approval for a project called Grand Canyon Escalade, which would allow them to build a resort property on the East Rim of the Grand Canyon using Navajo lands. All the information Lamar shares with Cha’risa is actual information associated with the project. For anyone who wants to know more about this project, and about those who are opposing it, here are a few websites you can check out.

 

http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/stopping-grand-canyon-escalade

https://www.americanrivers.org/2016/08/grand-canyon-escalade-happen/

https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-news/grand-canyon-escalade-theres-a-lot-of-unknowns/

 


Chris Navarro on Embracing The Struggle 3

 

Today, I am going to switch it up just a bit and move away from the writing world to introduce you to someone in the art world: bronze sculpture artist, Chris Navarro. Chris and his wife Lynne are my neighbors and my friends. Lynne and I have become very close over the years, and recently she just signed on to be one of my beta readers. Chris is also a friend, and he’s also an inspiration to me. He’s a well-spring of creativity coupled with a healthy dose of cowboy grit.  All I need to do is walk past his property, offer up handfuls of oats to his champion roping horses, and immediately I am reminded that here lives a guy who really understands what it means to risk everything to follow his dreams.

If you’re wondering what horses have to do with Chris’s path to becoming a nationally renowned artist, you’ll soon discover that horses and rodeo riding are integral parts of his journey as an artist. Chris has always loved horses. As a teenager, he particularly loved everything that had to do with rodeos and the fierce independence that characterized the cowboy way of life. Halfway through college, Chris and three of his friends left school to become professional cowboys on the Mid-States rodeo circuit.  Chris traveled that circuit for two years, and did well enough to make it into the finals. However, an encounter with a bad tempered bull named Slim Jim, ended up bringing Chris to a fork in the road. While riding that angry, nearly 1,800 pound creature, Chris suffered a bad foot injury, and with no money for a doctor, Chris asked his friends to take him home. “There I was. My foot was mashed. I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I’d spent two years packed four in a vehicle, bulleting down a highway in an attempt to make the next rodeo so I could experience that eight second high. All I had to show for it was a variety of injuries, a couple of belt buckles, a battered gear bag, and a passel of memories both good and bad.”

As it turns out, however, Chris actually had more to show for that experience than just those fancy belt buckles. All those years spent riding in rodeos had taught him to be a risk taker, it had taught him that fears are meant to be faced, and it had taught him how to accept the losses along with the wins. Chris acknowledges that bull riders and artists actually have a lot in common.  Both require you to believe in yourself and to be mentally tough enough to stand up to the challenges.

I have to admit that when I decided to write Cha’risa’s Gift I was not aware of how I would come to need that kind of cowboy grit. It is a skill I am still trying to learn. But what Chris has demonstrated to me over the years is that if you want to succeed, you have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your vision. I’m going to tell you a particular story about Chris, one that illustrates exactly these qualities of mental toughness, risk taking, and the unwavering faith you need to apply to whatever it is you set your mind to.

What you first need to understand about Chris is that he is extremely intuitive. His whole journey as an artist began in the first moment he saw the famous bronze, “Two Champs” by Harry Jackson. The statue depicts a cowboy riding the famous Wyoming bucking horse, Steamboat. As soon as Chris saw it, he felt his whole world view change. The power and beauty of the piece spoke deeply to him and he felt a strong desire to own it. At a price tag of $35,000 though, buying it was not even in the realm of possibility. But Chris was not deterred. He couldn’t afford to own that piece, but he could afford to try making something like it on his own. Chris literally didn’t know anything about bronze work, or art of any kind for that matter. So, he went to Goedicke’s art store in Casper, Wyoming the very next day, and got his first introduction to sculpting, along with the necessary materials, from the owner of the store. Stashing the art supplies in his truck, he then drove to the Natrona County Library where he got the librarian to show him all the books they had on sculpting. And so began a self-taught education, one that relied heavily on the school of trial and error. It demanded his weekends, nights and vacations. It was not an inexpensive venture either. When he drove to Cody to cast his first bronze, he learned it would cost $1,000. His first couple of years sculpting, he spent more money at the foundry than he did selling art. But the memory from his first sighting of “Two Champs” spurred him on. He’d had a vision and had grabbed onto it with the ferocity of a bull rider. The gate had opened; he was committed to the ride. 

Much the same thing happened thirteen years later when Chris decided to create his first monument. Chris was driving past the Cheyenne rodeo arena when an image flashed into his mind, an image of Lane Frost, a young man who had won the world championship in bull riding in 1987. He then lost his life competing at the 1989 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. As Chris continued driving, the images of that fateful moment replayed in his mind. He saw Lane riding the bull masterfully, saw him hold that seat all the way to the final whistle, and heard the exultant victory announcement of the 86 point score. But then tragedy struck. As he came off the bull, the bull whirled and gored Lane, killing him.

He was just 25 years old. No one had ever created a monument to a bull rider before, but suddenly, in that instant, Chris knew he had to it.

By this point in Chris’s career, he understood intimately that having a vision and making that vision a reality were two very different things. But, what he also knew was that he would find a way to make his first monument a memorial to Lane Frost. Chris first approached Lane’s parents. They had never met Chris before, but they loved the idea and threw their support solidly behind it. Chris then went to the Cheyenne Frontier Day Rodeo Committee. His original pitch to the committee was to have them split the fund-raising for the monument with him. The committee turned him down. Chris thought it over and then told the committee that he would raise all the funds if they would provide the pedestal for the monument. They accepted this new proposal, and Chris was now on the line to raise $250,000 dollars.

Chris didn’t have any experience fund raising, but lack of experience had never stopped him before and it wouldn’t stop him now. During the 1992 rodeo, Chris was given a full access pass to help him with his project of raising funds for the memorial. He offered every $1,000 donor a maquette (an 18” by 8” bronze replica of the planned monument). In addition, he told these donors that they would have their names engraved on the memorial base plaque. A gallery in Cheyenne also had the maquettes available, and the owner, Harvey Deselmes, took an active part in helping Chris achieve his fundraising goals. Chris also gave a maquette to the champion bull rider that year. When the bull rider went up to accept his prize, the rodeo folks made a public announcement about Chris’s project to raise funds for a memorial to Lane. API picked up the story, and soon, Chris’s monument was getting national attention. In one month’s time, Chris had 15 of the required 250 donors. Soon after that, he’d reached 55 donors, and with that number, Chris knew there’d be no stopping this project, even if it meant dipping into his family savings. That sacrifice was never needed, Chris’s fundraising efforts proved very successful and he raised the entire $250,000. But, that was not the end of this story.   The Lane Frost memorial was about to encounter a whole new set of road blocks.

Chris had just started the enlarging process for the memorial when tragedy struck. Chris’s father had suffered a major stroke, and sixteen days later, he passed away. His father had planned to come to the memorial’s dedication ceremonies scheduled for that July. He didn’t live to see that day, but he was there in spirit, for Chris had carved his father’s name into the clay at the base of the sculpture.

After the funeral, Chris returned home and started to work intensively on the monument. His own studio was too small for a work that size, so he moved into the Caleco Foundry in Cody, Wyoming. There was a small apartment above the foundry, and that is where Chris lived Mondays through Fridays, working 12 to 14 hour days on the sculpture. On the weekends, he would drive back to Casper to be with his family. By early March, the massive clay sculpture was nearly finished. Chris was just about a week away from being ready to cast the bronze.

On the night of March 6th, disaster struck. Chris woke in the pre-dawn hours struggling for breath. Smoke had overtaken his small room above the foundry. He tried to get out the door, but was overwhelmed by the acrid fumes rolling up the stairwell. Down below in the foundry, an electric heated clay box filled with 100 pounds of petroleum oil base clay, had caught fire.  The smoke was now so thick in Chris’s apartment that he had to crawl on hands and knees to reach the phone to dial 911. Things were deteriorating so quickly that Chris could see that he wouldn’t be able to wait for help to arrive. He made his way to a small window, tossed out what items and reference materials he could save, and then crawled out the window himself making a 15 foot drop to safety.

The fire truck arrived shortly after and soon had the fire extinguished, but the project had suffered a lot of damage. Much of Lane’s rodeo gear that Chris had borrowed from the Frost family to use as reference material, had also gone up in flames. Lane’s boots, the one he’d been wearing the day he died, all the photos of Lane Chris had borrowed from the Frost family, and Chris’s sculpting tools were among the casualties. The clay image had melted in places and had burned entirely off the steel armature in others. Chris would need to scrape off all the charred clay before he could once again begin the laborious detail work. It was a severe blow to the project, but by the middle of that morning, Chris had ordered more clay and replacement sculpting tools.  He finished the memorial in time for the July 24th dedication.

Commissioning that monument on his own had begun as a labor of love, a way for Chris to leave his mark, showing that he’d been here and that Lane had been here, and that they’d both embraced the struggle holding nothing back. But the monument also marked an important turning point in Chris’s career as an artist. Sales of Chris’s work increased dramatically after the monument’s dedication, and Chris’s reputation as an artist spread well beyond the confines of Wyoming.

“I figure we all need a certain kind of toughness, and single-minded determination if we’re going to pursue our dreams. We can’t quit or give up, not even in the face of insult or defeat. I think we have to learn to trust our instincts. I believed I needed to do the memorial. Once I started the project, I never looked back.” (Chris Navarro, 2009 “Chasing the Wind” page 15.)

For anyone who would like to learn more about Chris Navarro you can find him at: http://chrisnavarro.com/

Chris also has a new book out called “Embrace The Struggle” filled with his story and the stories and pictures that go along with many of his most famous works of art.  Here’s the amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Embrace-Struggle-Chris-Navarro/dp/0692693890/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Chris is all about creative journeys, and just last week, he said that he has been thinking about turning his hand to writing a book of fiction. I won’t tell you any more than that, of course, there will be cowboys and horses and rodeos in the story, but there will also be so much more. It is a story about a man finding his way back from the darkest of places, finding a path to redemption. Knowing that inspiration has once again struck Chris, I’m feeling pretty certain that this book will become a reality.

 

 


The Power of the Written Word 3

I attended the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend. The Festival took place under an incredibly blue sky and a hot, desert sun that brilliantly lit up the Sonoran landscape and surrounding mountains. Every year for the past nine years, the Festival has overtaken the center mall of the University of Arizona campus for a weekend during the University’s spring break. It is a huge celebration of literature, whose primary purpose is to improve literacy rates among children and adults. All of the events are offered to the public are free of charge, including a wide array of really amazing lectures and workshops by well-known authors and well-placed people in the book industry. The vast majority of the Festival’s revenues come from citizens who choose to pay a yearly fee to become friends of the Festival, and all proceeds from the Festival go to supporting local literacy programs.

This was my first time attending the Tucson Festival of books, and my very first book fair as a published author. I bought a two hour stint in the adult fiction tent on Saturday for $35.00. I also entered the Festival’s Masters Literary Awards Competition. My book, Cha’risa’s Gift, ended up placing as a semi-finalist. There had been hundreds of submissions to the competition, and the judges had been drawn from a pool of this year’s big name authors/presenters. Needless to say, it was a very exciting way to start off my first experience with the Tucson Festival of Books.

I only sold one book during my two hour slot, but I was having such a good time, the lack of sales wasn’t enough to dim my spirits. Then, to my delight and surprise, I discovered that over the course of the day I had sold an additional 8 books on-line and the following day another two. I sold enough books to break even on my investment in the Festival. But honestly, book sales can’t even begin to describe the value of this weekend. All around me, there was an air of excitement and fun. Books were changing hands by the thousands; children’s events were successfully inspiring a love of books in a new generation of readers. And for those of us older bibliophiles, we were offered, for free, literally hundreds of quality lectures, seminars, and workshops on a wide range of topics.

I had a chance to attend two of the workshops on Sunday. One was a workshop entitled “How to Build an Indie Readership,” by author Lindsay McKenna. The other was called “Getting Your Book Reviewed,” by Claiborne Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media.

You might know Lindsay McKenna as Eileen Nauman. She’s an award winning author of more than 100 books, and a pioneer in using electronic media to further her publishing goals. When you first meet Lindsay, you are struck by two things. One is that she is just a powerhouse of energy, and the second is that she is a risk taker. She started her career with traditional publishers; however, the nature of her contracts resulted in her being responsible for much of her own marketing. She began to wonder if she might be better off striking out as an indie author. She decided to take the risk, using $40,000 of her family savings to make the switch. That first year was a slow start, and she had a lot of sleepless nights wondering if she was going to be able to earn enough to re-fund the family savings. But she kept a level head and continued looking for those things that would bring her a good return on her investments. Eventually, she cobbled together a plan of action that enabled her to reliably bring in about $100,000 a year.

One of the key elements of Lindsay’s plan involved reaching traditional readers through blog tours. But, she made it clear that it has to be with a company that really knows what they’re doing. After trying out several, Lindsay now highly recommends Tasty Blog tour. They offer a five day tour for $120 with between 60 and 80 stops. Her plan also involved making sure that a book was up on Amazon, Kobo, Apple and ibooks before booking a tour and that strong analytics were in place before a tour. Lindsay recommended subscribing to Booktracker, which she said is the best way to keep track of sales and rankings across a variety of platforms.

Another element of her plan involved contests to generate interest, and she recommended Freshfiction.com. For $1,500, this service helps an author to run/promote a contest every month for a year. She said that this investment resulted in 10,000 new followers. In fact, three-fourths of her indie readership came from this investment. Lindsay indicated that the ultimate goal is for writers to run contests from their own websites, but said that it’s good to start with the wider exposure that a site like Freshfiction can offer.

Claiborne Smith has been Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media since 2013. Kirkus Media is an expansion of Kirkus Reviews and was formed to help Kirkus respond to the many changes and challenges currently facing the publishing industry. Claiborne is a quiet but very well-spoken and thoughtful man who possesses such a keen intellect, that you can’t help but be inspired by his words.

In listening to Clairborne talk, it was clear that Kirkus reviews is still much more focused on traditional authors than indie ones. However, Kirkus is attempting to respond to the changes indie authors are driving within the industry, and has recently begun accepting galleys from indie authors. Clairborne made it clear that it is important to send galleys with plenty of lead time; about four months before publishing. There is also a service Kirkus offers where indie authors can pay for a review. The cost is $425.00, and if the author doesn’t like the review, the author can ask that it not be published. But, the honest truth is that for the indie author, Kirkus is not the right starting point. Claiborne made a strong argument for the importance of becoming involved at the local level; adding your voice to your community. He made the suggestion to try to get your local papers to review your book, but not to stop there. He encouraged us to consider writing reviews for our local papers. He suggested we could offer to help out with book events within our communities. He also mentioned reaching out to local book store owners, to find out not only what they can do for us, but what we might be able to do to support them. In short, the message was to become an active, positive, literary influence within our communities.

He also wanted us to go beyond our physical communities, taking this principal and applying it to social media. He wanted us to consider writing posts that went beyond news about our work and our writing goals. He encouraged us to share some of the interesting research we uncover in our journeys as authors, or to talk about writers we admire. The key part of  Claiborne’s message was for us to find ways to take our social media interaction to a deeper level, one where we share what we were passionate about, hopefully igniting that  passion and excitement in others

Clairborne got me thinking about the ways in which I could have a greater impact on the people whose lives are most directly influenced by me every single day. This was a message that resonated deeply with me; a perfect takeaway from a weekend that was meant to inspire literacy in our communities.

In these unsettled times, when a thoughtless tweet could start a war, Claiborne reminded us that the best defense we have is our capacity for intellectually engaging with others. Our words matter, it is how we share the best of ourselves with others.

 

 

 

 


Interview with Heidi Angell 1

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d be interviewing Heidi Angell during her book tour to announce the release of her newest book, The Hunted. The book went up for sale on February 18th, but the book tour is still continuing until March 1st.  This interview unfolds much like most of the interactions between Heidi and me. I ask Heidi lots of questions, and she responds with thoughtful answers that often include a smattering of humor. Without further ado, I’d like to present Heidi Angell, an author of broad scope, amazing marketing skills, and a wonderfully, big heart. I am only one of many Heidi has taken under her wing. She has been a kind and patient teacher, and I am very lucky to have found her along this journey I have been making as an Indie author.

Ilana: Tell us a little about your new release, The Hunted.

Heidi: The Hunted is the highly anticipated sequel to The Hunters Saga. This is a series for those who long for the old days of monsters being monsters. It is a gritty urban fantasy with a touch of horror. In The Hunted we get to see the Werewolf side of the world I am creating. It is a saga, after all, so expect many more books in this series!

Ilana:. You say vampires should be killed not kissed. Can you tell us why you feel so strongly that vampires shouldn’t be romanticized?

Heidi: I wouldn’t say I don’t think they should be romanticized. I enjoyed True Blood and Twilight, and Vampire Academy as much as the next urban fantasy fan. But I saw that there were a group of (mostly young men) who were being marginalized and left out. And honestly, as fun as it was to watch Buffy fall in love with Angel, I kind of miss the good old Lost Boys/ Dracula/ and even Blade days, when monsters were monsters, and these apex predators were given the proper respect and fear they deserved. Even if that means you have to kill them 😉

Ilana: In our first interview together you talked about your experience in high school with a stalker. Do you think that experience influenced your feelings about vampires, who are most definitely stalker creatures?

Heidi: Ha, ha, no. My stalker was never as cool, or even as scary, as a vampire. I would never give him that power. Though, reading Twilight did give me twinges. No one should aspire to such unhealthy relationships.

Ilana: Do you think you could ever love a monster, and if so, which monster would it be?

Heidi: I struggle with the idea of “loving monsters” to be honest. I mean, even with Beauty and the Beast, the concept that a monster can be cured of their monstrous behavior simply because of love and understanding, that really bothers me. We are setting women up for abusive relationships with these kinds of stories. Women should never be taught that they can “fix” a man. The reality is that if a person has a problem that makes them a “monster,” whether its anger management issues, drug addiction, unhealthy relationship issues, stalking, etc., that person cannot be “fixed”. They can choose to change, but they must want that change for themselves, not because of someone else. And even then, it is very difficult for them to achieve that change.

But the light and fun answer would be Werewolf.

Ilana: What makes your tale of vampires and werewolves different from others?

Heidi: I use fantasy as a way to layer lessons into the stories. My goal is to shine some light on issues in society and address them from the safety of fiction. There are a lot of layers to my stories. Lots of different lessons for readers to get what they most need. One of which is obviously the idea that you can’t change monsters, they have to want that change for themselves. Another is the concept of gender roles. There are lots of other layers in there, and I leave them for readers to explore for themselves. I don’t want to be that author telling people what they should get out of a story 😉

Ilana: In this series, who is your favorite character and why?

Heidi: Agh, I can’t pick just one, so I’m going to say both Fury and Havoc, because they are the two who are the only common thread throughout most of the stories. (A couple of the future books will just have one or the other.) To me, they really aren’t two separate people. They are who they are because of each other.

 

Ilana: What have been some of the highlights of this book tour? What have been some of the low points?

Heidi: Oh goodness, it’s still too early to tell. Some of the highs were definitely the awesome fun of the launch party on Facebook, and I had some really fun tour stops. A few of the lows: My cover artist wasn’t coming through, and I was completely freaking out. Fortunately, (another awesome high) Karina Kantas, a fellow author, saved my bacon, and very probably saved me from having an aneurysm. Another low was that this was the first book launch I started before everything was finished and ready to go. From the beginning, everything felt really rushed. I was always behind getting reviewer copies, interviews, and spotlight materials out. For a type A personality like mine, it was really stressful, and a couple of my planned stops baled as a consequence. But, the plus to all of that was I realized even if things aren’t perfect, they can still turn out alright. I was panicking about not having my pre-order up in time, and not getting enough reviews on release day, and a host of other type A nonsense. In the end, this was actually the best week of sales I’ve ever had, and the highest number of sales for a new book during launch.

I still think that I will wait on the next launch until I have key pieces in place so I’m not constantly stressing myself out. But it was a good test!

On the whole, this has been a great launch and I have worked with some really wonderful and understanding people. I love them all!

 

Okay, readers, that is it for the interview, but for those of you intrigued by The Hunter’s Saga, there is still a promotion running that will continue until March 1st.  The Hunters, Heidi’s first book in this saga, is currently available for free. All you need to do is subscribe to Heidi’s weekly e-newsletter, which you can find here: http://heidiangell.us1.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=ccaeddb69b8097d3b977d8ebf&id=cdc6ef35ed

 

 


Accolades for Cha’risa’s Gift 4

Hi Everyone,
I wanted to share with everyone some exciting news. My book, Cha’risa’s Gift was a semi-finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Competition! There were hundreds of very talented authors competing in this competition, so making it into the semi-finals was very much a crucible moment for me. It is so hard, when you put your work out there, to know how it will be received. Once you take that plunge, you quickly learn that there are literally thousands and thousands of voices out there, all with stories to tell, all clamoring to be heard. In such a crowd it is very hard to get noticed, and even harder to get feedback. So this moment really was like a ray of light for me. I had been judged and found promising by a distinguished jury, in a festival that has become a mecca for writers here in the Southwest. With the arrival of that notification, I could say with much more confidence that I had written a story that truly resonated with people.
I think by now, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ve noticed that a lot of what I have written has focused on describing crucible moments in the lives of people. I can tell from the comments I’ve been getting, that sharing these stories often strikes a chord for many of you. We all have our crucible moments. They happen when the sum of our life experiences come together in just such a way that we are forced to make a choice. These are the choices we make that change everything. We aren’t often aware of how critical this moment is when we are in it, but what defines it as crucible is that the choice requires us to take a risk and open our hearts. It can be a decision to put pen to paper and tell your story; or it can be a decision to leave London to marry a girl in Alaska. It can be as simple as risking a single kiss, but once it’s made it fundamentally changes everything.
The story of Cha’risa’s Gift is told through a series of crucible moments that happen in her family over the course of four decades. I thought it would be fitting in this blog to celebrate this first accolade for the book by shining the light on Cha’risa’s big crucible moment. None of what follows could have happened without it. In essence, this is the crucible moment on which the entire book hinges.
Cha’risa turned from him, fighting off a smile. She decided she liked his persistence. After all these years of being doubted, it felt good to hear him take her side. Still, for his sake, the words needed to be spoken. She took a moment, and he waited for her, not uncomfortable with her silence.
She did not look at him when she spoke again. “You need to understand that the line between a medicine woman and a witch is a fine one. The knowledge I use to heal can also be used to harm. Truly, the only difference between the two is how one chooses to use that energy.”
“I’m listening,” he said, encouraging her to continue.
She took a deep breath and once again met his gaze. “My people are always aware of this. They notice when someone is no longer using this power for the betterment of others.” She paused a moment and then admitted. “Four years ago, I gave my village a reason to believe that I had crossed over to the dark side of this power.”
“Did you?” He sounded fascinated.
Obviously, Caleb McKenna was not a man who scared easily, but it only made it more imperative that he hear the full accounting. Cha’risa didn’t like to think of that night, let alone speak of it, but still, she forced herself to relive the events so he would fully comprehend the darkness inside her.
“Four years ago soldiers came to my village in the middle of the night. They came to abduct our children and take them to the Indian School.” She glanced at Caleb. She knew he’d been one of Ahote’s teachers. Perhaps he knew already how her son had come to that school, but certainly he didn’t know all of it.
She continued speaking. “They dragged Ahote out of his bed, all the while shooting their guns in warning. From all over the village, children were screaming as the soldiers grabbed them, threw them across their backs, and carried them over to their horses. I stood there screaming too. I was so afraid. I felt powerless with all their firearms pointed at us, but not my husband. He ran up to where a soldier sat upon his horse, holding our terrified boy in his firm grasp. Kwahu tried to grab the reins, to keep the soldier from riding off with our son. But the soldier raised his rifle and fired a shot. I ran to where Kwahu lay motionless on the ground. I could see the wound to his head. There was nothing for me to do; my husband was already dead. For a moment, the soldier sat there stunned, looking at Kwahu, looking at me.”
Cha’risa took in a deep breath to steady her trembling hands. After a moment, she squared her shoulders and looked back up, meeting Caleb’s steady gaze. She was ready to tell him the worst part of her story.
“When I looked into that soldier’s eyes, I was filled with such hatred. It burned inside me unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It exploded like wildfire, a crazy wind blowing in all directions, and I just opened my arms and let it go. Almost immediately, the soldier’s nose began to bleed. You could tell he didn’t think much about it. He wiped away the first trickles. With his rifle still trained on me, he rode away from our village and into the canyon. Soon our village was empty of soldiers, empty of children, and eighteen adults as well, who’d been arrested for resisting. They didn’t arrest me, because they never realized what it was I’d done.”
“It wasn’t long before stories started coming back about some kind of terrible disease striking down people in Keam’s Canyon. All of us were frantic with worry for our children. But when the men they’d taken from our village finally came home, they said the disease only ever affected those soldiers who’d raided Hoteville. They described the symptoms, saying every single soldier who’d participated in the raid began bleeding from the nose, the ears, and the eyes. Our returned men glanced at me as they finished their story. They said it was unlike anything they’d ever seen, and the agonized screams of those afflicted had been terrible to hear. Every last one of those men died.”
With the last of her story finally revealed, Cha’risa let out a shuddering sigh, and then fell silent. The shame of her confession weighed heavily on her, but she knew she’d done the right thing. Now Caleb would understand the darkness inside her, and why he needed to keep his distance. After only a few moments of this heavy quietude, Caleb reached out and took her hand. She looked up at him, surprised.
“They killed your husband and kidnapped your child.”
Was he defending her actions? Another tear escaped her, and she shook her head, not trusting herself to talk.
“I would have fought them too,” Caleb assured her. “I would have killed them if it meant I could save my child.”
“But don’t you see?!” she cried. “I didn’t save him. I didn’t save anyone!” She bowed her head. “That’s the worst part. I had the power to stop them, and I waited until it was too late. I killed those men when it served no purpose, except to vent my own rage.”
More tears fell now, a steady flow that she didn’t even bother to wipe away. Once again she lifted her face and met Caleb’s eyes. “I’ve never said this to another living soul, not even my father, but it is not the killing I regret, or the turn to the dark side of the power. What I regret is that I didn’t save my husband and I didn’t save my boy.”
Caleb leaned in closer, his eyes searching deep into hers. “Next time,” he said. “You won’t hesitate.”
That shocked her. “Are you suggesting I should freely use my dark power?”
“No. I’m saying I understand why you did, and if you ever do need to protect someone you love again, you will know what to do, and have the courage to do it.”
She dropped her gaze from his, shaking her head. “This is a dangerous power to let loose. I have the ability to cause great harm.”
“I’m thinking if you put a gun in my hand I can kill as well as you.”
“You don’t understand,” she persisted. “Every time I open to that power, the darkness will lay a stronger claim within me. How can I risk that? Even I’m not sure if I’m a witch or a medicine woman!”
He put his hand under her chin, lifting her face to meet his. “You’ve given me many reasons why I shouldn’t be interested in you, except for the one that actually matters to me.”
“And what’s that?” she asked.
“You haven’t told me you’re not interested.” Then he leaned in even closer, kissing her on the mouth.
Perhaps she should have stopped him, but it had been many long, lonely years since a man had touched her like this, and had kissed her so tenderly. Without thinking, she wrapped her arms around him, responding to his kiss with a hunger of her own. It was Caleb who at last rested his forehead against hers.
“Can I take that to mean you might also be interested?”
Cha’risa laughed. “You are a fool, Caleb McKenna.”
He cracked a smile. “You wouldn’t be the first to have said so.”
“No good can come of this.”
“Depends on what you mean by good, because I thought that kiss was a lot more than just good.”
She didn’t know what to say, because she had, too.

I hope you enjoyed this crucible moment in my blog. For those of you reading this living in the area, I will be appearing at the Author’s Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 11th, from 2:30-4:30. I hope you’ll stop by and say hi. In my booth, I will have signed copies of Cha’risa’s Gift for sale. I have a great giveaway as well, a booklet of recipes from the book, all of them custom created by master chef, Caroline Lewis specifically for Cha’risa’s Gift.
For more information on the Tucson Festival of Books, please visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org


Book Tour Stop For Heidi Angell’s Upcoming Release of “The Hunted” 1

Hi Everybody,

Many of you will recall that about a month ago I did an in depth story on Heidi Angell on my blog. The story I did was very much focused on Heidi’s life experiences. Today, you’re going to get to know more about Heidi as a writer of Urban Fantasy, and most particularly about her Hunters Saga series. The Hunters Saga is a vampire slayer series for those who believe vampires should be killed, not kissed. Here’s what Heidi has to say about the first book in this series.

What would you do if you found your town had been infested with vampires? For Chris and his brother Lucas, the answer was simple enough: you fight back. Gathering a small band of other people in their town who have been affected by the vampires, they begin a resistance. But after a year of fighting, they have only managed to kill a handful, while the vampire leader has turned five times that many.

Then two enigmatic strangers appear, changing the group’s lives even further.

Fury and Havoc. They call themselves hunters, and want no part in this little band of heroes. Ordering them to lay low, the duo vow to rid their town of vampires. When Fury is injured, Chris aides these strangers, entwining his future with theirs.

Now that the vampires know the hunters are here, and that Chris and his friends have helped them, the group is in more danger than ever before. Lucas is torn between protecting his new family from the vampires, and protecting them from these seemingly inhuman beings who say they are there to help.

After all, what beings could be so powerful as to scare a vampire?

The Hunters Saga has had a very good reception with readers to date. It has received a 4.4 rating on Amazon, and a 4.2 rating on Goodreads. Here’s what reviewers are saying:

Drago: “I spent the entire night reading this (The Hunters) and I’m going to say this, because I never get tired of it: I’m grateful for this author, because in this book: vampires maim, kill, drink blood, and actually fucking die when exposed to the sun.

Joy: “I felt like I was watching a movie ‘cause this one (The Hunters) has the makings of a good one.”

Larry: “This non-stop action packed book will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Heidi has been conducting this book tour on blogs all across the web since the end of January and will continue to do so until the beginning of March. On many of these blog stops, she has focused on introducing people to a new character from The Hunters Saga. It is my privilege today to present to everyone a vampire slayer from this band of young people protecting their town. Her name is Bianca.

Who is Bianca from The Hunters? Bianca is a 22 year old former cheerleader who finds her town infested by vampires. She teams up with her old high school friends Lucas and Screvin, and their rag-tag group of heroes to defend their town.

 Bianca is a unique character, as seen through the eyes of Chris, Lucas’ younger brother. When Chris looks at Bianca he mostly sees the girl she used to be, the head cheerleader at their school. Even now, four years after high school, she can be snarky and obnoxious, but she is also strong and goal-oriented. She fully believes that the best offense is a good defense, but she can always be counted on to be ready to fight back.

 For Heidi, casting Bianca was tough. Bianca needed to have all the looks and charm of a head cheerleader, while at the same time having the chops to play a vampire slayer. Bianca is most definitely not the flakey “Valley girl” version of a slayer that Buffy was.

Heidi found that perfect casting for Bianca in Annasophia Robb. Heidi explains: “I wanted someone who could demonstrate more substance. And Annasophia Robb is an excellent choice! She has the looks, the physicality, and the domineering personality to play a head cheerleader, but she also has a lot of depth and wouldn’t let Bianca get “type casted.” She would be perfect!”

Want to learn more about Bianca and her friends as they battle vampires? You can get a free copy of The Hunters, the first book in The Hunters Saga, simply by subscribing to Heidi Angell’s weekly e-newsletter of bookish goodness. Subscribe Here. The Hunted releases February 18th, but you can pre-order the e-book from your favorite online retailer for only $2.99 (It will go up to $4.99 on release day!) Pre-order Here.

There are still many more exciting stops on Heidi’s tour. Join The Hunted and see the master list!

Check back on my website February 21st, when I will be conducting an interview of Heidi as part of her book tour.

For more about Heidi Angell:

See The Hunters Saga Tour going on now!

Author of The Clear Angel Chronicles,

The Hell School Series,

Learn more at HeidiAngell.com

 


Discovering the Wolf Within 3

My blog this week is about another author I’ve met through the upcoming Brains to Books Cyber Convention. This entry about Timothy Bateson is particularly timely because on February 17th, Timothy will be made a U.S. citizen when he takes the Oath of Naturalization. It warms my heart to welcome Timothy as a fellow American, but it is also a poignant moment, because as he was sitting for his exam to become a citizen of the land of the free, President Trump was signing executive orders banning Muslims from entering our country and suspending our refugee programs. Timothy is neither a Muslim nor a refugee (his father is English and his mother is Welsh), but I couldn’t help but feel that he was becoming a citizen of a country that is now somewhat less than it once was.

When I asked Timothy to describe a defining moment in his life, he didn’t hesitate in telling me that moving to Alaska to marry Sandi back in 2005 changed him profoundly. Timothy and Sandi had met on-line in 2002 through a mutual friend named Cat. It was not one of those well planned introductions. Cat had to pee, so she told Sandi, who she’d been chatting with on-line, to talk with Timothy, who she also was chatting with, as she ran to the bathroom. Cat was in Wales, Sandi in Alaska, Timothy was in London. As Cat left the conversation, she assured Sandi that she would like Timothy. Cat was right; Sandi and Timothy liked each other immediately. They maintained a long distance correspondence for a year before deciding to make it an official relationship. Then in 2004, Timothy went on a ten day vacation to Alaska to meet Sandi and her family for the first time. As soon as he saw her, he knew they were meant to be. He went back to England and spent six months closing down his life there. In the meantime, Sandi planned their wedding, sharing the details with him on-line. They were married ten days after he arrived back in Alaska in October of 2005.

Timothy really had no idea what he was getting into. When he had visited Alaska the first time, it was during the warmer months, and Alaska had been incredibly beautiful, bathed in long, warm days of sunshine. But October in Alaska is already early winter, and the days begin to shorten dramatically. In the cold approach of winter, Timothy came to grips with the new facts of his life. Rural Alaska was about as far from life in London as a person could get. In fact, rather than go to the store to buy their food, many people relied on what they hunted and caught to keep themselves fed. The cars they drove, on snowy, pot holed roads, were all in some state of disrepair and being held together with duct tape. These were people who lived on the edge, with no barriers between them and starvation, or between them and the wilderness.

For Timothy, who was used to the hustle and bustle of London, it was disconcerting that the buffer between him and the harsh wilderness of Alaska was such a thin one. Even so, he found that Alaska grew on him and changed him. The small community around him was a close knit one, because everyone understood that they needed to rely on each other. Timothy quickly learned that hiking, hunting, and fishing were all considered combat sports in rural Alaska. That’s because of the grizzlies. Bears will be drawn to what you hunt or catch, and it’s not unknown to have them turn a speculative eye towards humans either. You need your gun by your side if you intend to get home alive with your catch.

There is nothing about Timothy’s small, rural town that discourages wildlife from wandering down the streets.  People, who don’t know much about the nature of moose, might wonder that Timothy speaks of moose with the same concern as he would a 2,000 pound grizzly. That’s because moose are not only massive, they are unpredictable. One of Timothy’s most heart stopping moments was driving down to his mailbox, getting out of the car to collect the mail, and seeing a baby moose on the far side of box. If there is a baby, he reasoned, the mother was sure to be near-by. It was widely known that it was not good to get between a mother and her calf. Turning slowly, he confirmed what he already suspected; the mother was just on the other side of him. Quickly, he got in the car and shut the door. That wouldn’t be enough to stop a moose that was really determined. They have been known to charge cars. But fortunately, in this instance, the mother just wanted to gather up her calf and head out of town.

Over the years, the wilderness and the wildlife have all conspired to awaken something within Timothy that he’d never known was there; a sense of his own wild side. He talks animatedly about his sightings of caribou, moose, deer and bears. His eyes light up when he describes the opportunities he’s had to hold owls and hand-feed eagles (he has always had a particular affection for raptors). The moment he remembers most fondly, however, is one he had with a very friendly wolf named Angel. Angel lives in a wildlife enclosure and is considered the tamest in her pack. Timothy has a picture of himself holding a dog cookie in his mouth, leaning in just close enough so that Angel can take it from him. After seeing that picture, his friends in London laughingly gave him the name “Snogs With Wolves” (snogs is a British term for kissing). 

Timothy’s writing has been deeply influenced by his Alaskan awakening, but it has also been heavily influenced by his wife, who is a singer/songwriter and is also an author. From the beginning, both he and Sandi have had a very synergistic writing style. In his short story, “Under the Hunter’s Moon,” the character, Art, is actually a character his wife developed in the book she is working on. Art is an Alpha werewolf who leads the pack of werewolves of which, Richard, Timothy’s main character, is a member. Richard was very much inspired by Timothy’s own experiences; a street smart city boy who fully embraces his inner werewolf. Timothy says Richard does his best thinking in the wild, and one can’t help but notice that this has been true for Timothy as well.

“Under the Hunter’s Moon” was first published by Laurel Highlands Publishing, in a 2014 Halloween anthology called “Moon Shadows.”  “Under the Hunter’s Moon” is the first of a set of short stories Timothy is planning, all drawing their inspiration from an urban fantasy trilogy that he is co-creating with his wife. For this series, Timothy is writing book one, which is entitled “Of Wolves and Men.” Book two is being written by Sandi, entitled “A Rose By Any Other Name.” The third book will be written by both of them. Timothy admits that this anticipated experience of co-writing the same book with his wife leaves him with a certain degree of trepidation. I’m less worried than Timothy about their ability to work that closely together. They have an easy energy as they talk about this co-created world where they have already developed so many shared characters and settings between them.

Timothy has an easy going, yet animated, synergistic energy that he brings to his collaboration with his wife. I’ve seen him bring that same kind of energy to the community of authors gathered around Brains to Books. He also talked during our interview of ways he uses that unflappable energy to benefit his small town. He made the choice to become an American because he wanted to have a voice in what happens to the people of his close-knit, rural community. Alaska has a lot of unique issues, the outcome of which can be a matter of survival to him, Sandi, and the people of their town. They all already live so close to the edge financially and in such an unforgiving environment. Timothy is looking forward to exercising his rights as an American citizen to help make sure their voices and needs are heard.

I really enjoyed my snowy February afternoon in Alaska with Timothy and Sandi (via google chat from the relative warmth of Northern Arizona). It was such a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I’m going to end this blog here with a song Sandi composed after 9/11. The song is called, “Freedom’s Heart.” It expresses her love for this country as beautifully now as it did back then. I think that’s really what makes America great; the freedom for all of us to tell our stories, share what moves us, and to have no limits on how we love and care about each other.

For more information on Timothy or Sandi Bateson you can visit their websites:

https://timothybatesonauthor.wordpress.com/

https://sandibatesonmusic.weebly.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 


Angels on My Shoulder Part 2 – How Angels Are Made 3

 

In my last blog, I introduced you to Heidi Angell, the marketing director at Brains to Books. This week, I spoke with Angela Chrysler, the visionary who created Brains to Books.  I really wanted to get to know Angela as best I could in a relatively short videoconference, and so my questioning focused on what made her who she is today, and how her experiences contributed to her creation of Brains to Books. What emerged, was a story of an incredibly traumatic childhood, one that left her floundering in turbulent currents that nearly pulled her under to irrecoverable depths. But, Angela fought her way back out of those dark waters, away from the edge of madness. With incredible bravery and tremendous spirit, she navigated her way back to a safe shore. This is her story, as she told it to me, including her disclaimer: be prepared for a very dark tale. It is filled with the worst of what it means to be human. But, it is also perhaps a recipe for how angels are made.

From a very young age, Angela was horrifically abused by her brother. It began when she was five and he was six, on a sultry, hot summer day. The heat was so intense that the rocks were scorching to the touch. Her brother picked up one of these hot rocks and threw it at a frog. The rock landed on the frog, pinning the creature, and burning its legs. It was still alive when her brother picked up the frog and threw it at Angela. She held the dying creature in her hands, screaming and crying. Her cries brought her mother from the house, but her mother’s response was not what Angela had expected. It wasn’t her brother who incurred their mother’s wrath; instead, it was Angela who was punished for making such a racket. Angela wanted to tell her father what had happened, but her mother said her father hated her and wouldn’t care. Her mother covered up her brother’s cruelty, and would continue to do that throughout Angela’s childhood, making certain Angela’s father never knew of her brother’s aberrations and therefore never intervened. A sense of powerlessness was planted inside Angela that day, and over the course of her youth it took deep root.

Emboldened by the incident with the frog, and the satisfying distress it had caused his sister and also by the lack of parental interference, Angela’s brother moved on to other acts of animal abuse and mutilation that he forced Angela to witness. Initially, he focused on pet turtles, cats and dogs, but each foray into this dark place emboldened him. By the time Angela was 6, he’d turned his abusive attentions to her, beating her up on a regular basis.

By the time Angela was 11, she had suffered so many beatings at his hands that she took to blockading herself in her room. When she refused to come out, her brother retaliated by torturing her cats until she opened her door. As soon as she came out, he would beat her. One of her favorite cats during these years was Tribble. For Angela, Tribble came to represent the only source of unconditional love that she was to know as a child. Tribble understood that without Angela, her world was a dangerous one. Every day after school it became a race, where Angela tried to get both of them behind her bedroom door before her brother could catch them.

When Angela was twelve, her brother punched her in the face, giving her a black eye.  At school, a young friend named Isaac wanted to know what happened, and was outraged by Angela’s circumstances at home. Both of them sensed right from the start that there was something unique and special about their connection, and a close friendship formed that day that lasted all through their high school years. The connection was severed, however, when Isaac moved to Boston shortly after high school, and a jealous girlfriend conspired to separate him from Angela. Due to this young woman’s machinations, Angela and Isaac lost each other for many years.

Meanwhile, Angela began a period of her life where she entered into three disastrous relationships, one quickly following the other, and all of them containing traumatic experiences of sexual and physical abuse. Angela ended up marrying the third man during this period of her life, and together they had three children. It was during this time that Angela’s hold on reality started slipping away. Tribble, her cat, was her only consolation, and she relied even more heavily on Tribble, needing the cat’s presence to help keep her grounded in reality.

A decade went by, Facebook became a thing, and through it Angela and Isaac reconnected. Angela’s husband immediately distrusted this renewed friendship, understanding that Isaac was the only man Angela had ever truly loved. His response was to take some very aggressive actions. He kidnapped the children once, kidnapped Angela twice, and during the second kidnapping, he tortured her with sleep deprivation over a period of three days. When he finally left her alone, she slept for three days straight. When she woke up, she told him to never come back, and within a month they were divorced.

Isaac moved back into town a month later. At last, Angela was reunited with “her Isaac”, the love of her life. Several years later, in June of 2013, Angela and Isaac got married. It was an important step in the right direction, but there was still a distance to travel before they could claim their happily ever after. A month after the wedding, Tribble died. Her cat’s death trigged a sense of anxiety in Angela so deep that she became a shut in, only very rarely leaving her bedroom. Isaac did what he could to help her and keep the house and the kids in order. At the time, her being a shut in didn’t seem that odd to her or the children. Her room became a place for the family to meet and gather. But, Isaac started seeing a therapist to help guide him on how to handle the situation, and he and the kids worked hard to get her to go on outings. About once a month, she would agree to go with them, but every outing was a frightening experience, triggering all of her worst anxieties.

By March 2015, Angela was so inextricably tied to her “nest”, so fearful of leaving, that she concluded she was a curse to the people she loved. She started making plans to free her family from her darkness. She decided she would leave them all and go live in Ireland. Isaac pleaded with her to think carefully about what she was planning. Angela took his words to heart. In the safety of her room, she sat herself down, and began writing a story that she had been thinking about writing ever since she was 15 years old, the story of her life. It was meant to be therapeutic, a way to help her process everything. At first, she thought this story could be told as a blog entry, but one blog post turned into two, and soon, she realized this would have to be much bigger than a blog. Two weeks and 90,000 words later, she completed the manuscript for “Broken”.  Once she saw the entire story in print, she understood two things, one, it was a story she would publish, and two, that she needed to get help.

The road to healing wasn’t an easy one. Angela was diagnosed with five distinct disorders and 44 triggers. She said there were so many triggers the world felt like a prison of sound to her. Almost everything reminded her of pain. She had to unlearn the old narrative constantly playing in her head, that she wasn’t worth anything, and that she had to punish herself for wanting to be loved.

With the help of her therapists, her husband, and her own resolve, things began to change. April 2, 2015, Angela underwent a preliminary psych evaluation in the Emergency Room of the local hospital. On April 6th, four days later, the first Brains to Books cyber conference was launched. People often comment to Angela that they can’t understand how she launched that first cycon all by herself. She laughs as she explains that the reason seems clear to her now, she was completely crazy.

Publishing “Broken” and preparing the Brains to Book’s platform to help her market her book, empowered Angela. Sharing her story, and then reaching out to help others do the same, shifted how Angela felt about herself. She felt encouraged to search out other avenues to promote even greater healing. She downloaded and tried a meditation app called “Calm”. Immediately, she felt a shift to a more stable state of mind. She added yoga to her regimen, and was able to carry that sense of wholeness from her mind into her body. Most recently, she added Tai Chi, and clearly felt the energy and healing of that discipline working its way into her very soul. Angela says this triad of healing modalities was more than just helpful; they became the foundation that enabled her to reclaim her life. She no longer felt powerless; she felt able to handle her triggers. And as she healed, she could see all the many ways her return to health set off healing throughout her entire family.

It wasn’t just her family that benefited from Angela’s transformation. After all she had been through, all the cruelty she had witnessed and suffered, there blossomed within her a strong desire to help others. That desire, combined with the healing energies that she had learned to harness, enabled her to touch the community of authors she had built through Brains to Books in deep and profound ways. Three years into the project, that energy is still palpable. Anyone who enters the Brains to Books community immediately feels how this is an environment of possibility.  Angela loves hearing the stories people tell her, so many of them from introverts who are excited and taking the lead in a variety of projects of their own imagining through the Brains to Books platform. She loves presiding over a place that has so much room for everyone to grow. She laughs at herself now, hardly able to fathom how something that was meant to be an escape from her nightmare, became something so enriching, engaging and supportive.

As winter 2017 takes hold around the country, it finds Angela at home on a snowy night. The family is in the living room, the fire is burning in the hearth, Dr. Who is on TV. Two of her children are snuggled up close against her; the third is nestled against Isaac. Angela is knitting as she watches the show. Knitting is a new form of meditation for her, and it allows her to fully experience this moment of harmony and serenity with her loved ones. Meanwhile, on the Internet, campaigns are launching for this year’s Brain’s to Books cyber conference in April. Brains to Books has seen a 25x increase in membership since its inception year, and 2017 is shaping up to be the biggest cycon yet. For Angela, this is very exciting. It is all part of a greater sense of growth and healing happening all around her, and she appreciates the accomplishment for the gift it is. She has seen life’s darkest depths, but now as she puts it, she’s reaching for the stars, and it is her intention to bring all of us along with her.