Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spotlight on Aften Szymansky

I've had so much fun since I started doing these spotlights and book reviews. I've gotten to know some wonderful fellow writers.

Today I'd like to tell you about Aften Szymanski.

Aften and I have traded manuscripts in the past and she has encouraged me in my writing. Although I have never physically met her, I feel like we have become friends.

She writes stories for young people that help them to deal with some of the crazy stuff that they have to face growing up. I read one called Liar Lindy Brant that brought back some of those awful feelings I had when I was in middle school and there were misunderstandings and mean kids who made the most of them.

Here are her answers to my four questions.

1. Tell me a little about yourself. Anything fun or goofy that we should know?
When I make ramen noodles I add tomato sauce, sriracha, lemon juice, and a little soy sauce. Sometimes I’ll add thin sliced onion, capers, or green olives to the cooking process, or green peppers. However, if I have any kimchi in the house- it’s all about kimchi in my ramen.  I love ramen noodles.

I love to travel and have been to Germany, Haiti, Ecuador, and Mexico. I want to travel more, but since I’ve been married and had kids it’s been more difficult to find the time and money.

I startle easily. If you’ve been standing in front of me for three minutes, but I was looking down—as soon as I look up I will freak out at you. Also, don’t approach me in silence, from around a corner, or at night without first making your presence known well in advance.

When I was thirteen I purchased the script for Return of the Jedi so I could study writing from my favorite movie. I also bought Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a script. (I loved George Lucas works until Jar Jar Binks came to be).
After reading the scripts I bought I wrote a Christmas play and somehow convinced my siblings to play parts in it. I made them rehearse for a month and a half so they could perform for our parents. It was a tragic comedy about three self-absorbed elves who scheme to overthrow Santa, who they believe gets all the credit and does none of the work. They’re later tricked into believing Santa choked to death on a tainted cookie, and then have regrets when they realize they aren’t prepared for the social skills demands of Santa’s job requirements as well as coordinating the drops worldwide. Santa later laughs at them because he ‘totally played them’. They learn that everyone has a valued role in the production of Christmas joy and Santa tries harder to show his appreciation and recognition for the elves effort.

2. Where do you live and what is it like to live there?
I live in Star Valley, WY where there is snow a minimum of five months out of the year. My first year here it snowed on September first and we hid Easter eggs in three feet of snow when spring came. We invest in quality hot chocolates because it takes the drab edge off of winter. I own a lot of sweaters. I own no tan lines…

3. Tell me a bit about your family/home life (if you don't mind).
I’m a mom first, writer second, and part time educator third. Day starts with getting kids up and ready for school all except my youngest who gets to hang with me most days. Up at 6am, read scriptures as a family, breakfast, hair and out the door. I double check my list with things to get done and then drag around for another hour debating getting myself out of jammies.
It generally takes me until 10am to think straight. I’ll sometimes get a workout in before 10am, but not always. At 10 I get to work going over any revisions or writing done the previous day and from there plunge into the new days work. I tend to my three year old the whole time so it’s a very broken day’s effort, but I love that.
When kids get off the bus it’s homework, dinner, and reading time. We read every night. My husband’s reading The Hobbit to our kids for a second time now—it’s their favorite.

4. Why do you write? What do you write? Do you have any weird writing habits? (I know that's three questions; just tell me about your writing.)
I write at the kitchen table. I have no office space, which works well for a mommy-writer like me. My kids constantly interrupt me with needs, questions, demands, and hugs. It’s nice to be accessible as well as let them see that I am dedicated to the thing I love—writing.
Every day I make sure to write. Even if my only time is right before I switch my lamp off and fall to sleep. I have a standing goal of writing 500 words a day. I don’t expect more of myself because I have a lot of demands throughout the day and can’t always anticipate free time. But 500 is doable for me no matter what demands are set. It’s the way I unwind.
Weird habits? I fill empty Pepsi bottles with water so while I’m writing I can reach for what looks like a soda, but it’s really water. Except that it’s clear and Pepsi is the color of bubbling manure, so it only really tricks my mind if I’m totally into a scene and reach and drink without looking too closely at the liquid inside the bottle.

Books by Aften:

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

IT'S ALIVE! Thanks everyone.

My book is out and I'm so excited.
I hope I haven't been driving everyone crazy tooting my horn about it, but . . .
It's here! It's here! It's here! (excessive exclamation marks are allowed today.)
Check out the side bar for all of the great places you can buy it  now.
I still can't believe it . . . I'm an author!

And before I forget: THANK YOU to everyone who has helped me along the way. My friends from my writing group "Friendzy" Carla, Krista, Leah, Melissa, and any others who have popped in over the years. To all the people who have read my books and encouraged me. I won't list you because I'm sure I would forget some, but you know who you are. Also to my online friends and writer's groups, The old time Litopians who are now The Drunken Beagles and the new Litopians who I have yet to get to know better, the Writers Think Tank bunch, The LDStoreymakers, LDS writers and I've probably forgotten someone here too.
To Creative Prose Publishing for seeing the potential in me and helping me bring it out. Also to my fellow authors at CPP for all their help with cover reveals, blog posts and book release parties. You guys are the best.
Last but not least I would like to thank my family for putting up with me, and especially my girls for reading my books and giving me honest opinions.
There are so many wonderful helpful people out there who have helped me to capture this dream.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Movie Review: Dinotopia

Okay, time for my first ever movie review.

Just watched last night, for the second time, the movie Dinotopia.
(Photo taken from internet: maxresdefault.jpg : James Gurney illustration.)

This movie is inspired by a book written, and illustrated, by fantasy artist James Gurney. It's a beautifully illustrated book published in 1992 by Greenwich Workshop.
The movie is about four hours long, but does not drag. It takes you with a pair of brothers whose plane crashes and strands them in a strange and unheard of land called Dinotopia.

As the name implies the land is populated not only by humans but by dinosaurs. No one ever leaves Dinotopia. The brothers eventually see that they have to become a part of this society. Carl, the rebel is assigned to a hatchery where baby orphan dinosaurs are hatched. David, who ironically is afraid of heights, is assigned to the skybax riders school. He has to learn to ride large pterodactyl like birds.

Things are not as ideal as they may seem at first in this land. The prime sunstones are failing and the carnivores are on the rampage. In order to restore the sunstones and the peace, they need to go to the land beneath to get more stones. Part of the problem however is that the land beneath is forbidden and protected by carnivorous monsters.

David and Carl end up being the only ones who are not so limited by tradition that they do not dare to try. They, with the help of a rather nasty fellow who betrays them in the end, find the land beneath and restore the prime sunstone, thus, saving Dinotopia.

I like this movie. I had forgotten what a fun little adventure it was. The land created by James Gurney is delightful. The story is entertaining and it's fairly well acted. If you like Journey to the Center of the Earth, you would probably like this movie. I would recommend Dinotopia to viewers of all ages.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Bride Lottery by Kristin Holt

The Bride Lottery by Kristin Holt is a sweet historical romance set in the early western USA.
Evelyn Brandt has made a bad choice and ended up an expectant unwed mother. Her socially upstanding parents force her to take the next west-bound train to an uncle in California where she is to give up the baby for adoption and pretend it never existed.
On the way, she falls in with a group of mail order brides on their way to a mining town. Not wanting to give up her baby, she joins them, in hopes that she can find a better way.
The resulting romantic adventure is heartwarming and fun.

I enjoyed this book. It is a sweet romance, meaning there are no sex scenes. It does however, imply that both parties are experienced. It also illustrates the consequences of those mistakes which redeems it in my eyes.  I'd rate it PG on the morality scale.
I've always enjoyed stories about mail order brides. The idea of an arranged marriage that works out is sort of fun. This one is no exception.
Over all I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, and you know how stingy I am with stars. It's a good read.

About the Author:

1. Tell me a little about yourself. Anything fun or goofy that we should know?

My varied past includes:

Attending 5 elementary schools, 2 junior highs, 1 high school, and 2 universities

Working as an RN in Labor and Delivery and Certified Childbirth Educator

Delusions of Medical School

Piccolo section leader in marching band

7 surgeries (maybe 8…I’ve lost count)

Collecting enough fabric, patterns, and notions to fill more space than my card-making paper supplies—and that’s really saying something

26+ years of marriage to one wonderful guy and raising our four children

Residence in 7 states

Visiting romantic locales: Costa Rica, Hawai’i, the Panama Canal, Brussels, and Paris

Shedding 70 pounds, working for Weight Watchers of SLC as Receptionist, Leader, and ultimately, Territory Manager

2. Where do you live and what is it like to live there?

I live in northern Utah. I grew up all over the United States and have vivid memories of virtually every region. One of the things I love best about Utah: we enjoy four distinct seasons.

3. Tell me a bit about your family/home life (if you don't mind).

I count myself blessed to have been married to the same wonderful guy for almost 27 years. We have 4 kids who are mostly adults now (the 'baby', at 17+ thinks she's an adult, and the others are legally adults).

4.Why do you write? What do you write? Do you have any weird writing habits? (I know that's 3 questions; just tell me about your writing.)

I write because I love it. I find the creative process of storytelling blends with the technical processes of editing, formatting, and Indie Publishing in a way that fits my personality splendidly.
I write Sweet (wholesome) Western Historical Romance--about half of which are mail order bride romances. My setting of choice is the late 19th century American west. One of my series is more Rom Com (romantic comedy) than Western or Frontier (The Husband-Maker Trilogy). Because I live near, have lived, or have traveled to the locales I set my books in, it's natural. The setting is always an integral part of my characterizations.

While I've worked set schedules in the past (as an RN, and as a territory manager), I find the freedom of working solely as an author refreshing. Quite possibly my biggest quirk about in this self-employment world is I find it either a challenge to sit down and actually write or find it difficult to walk away from my work (because I've fallen in). I may or may not have an "all or nothing" personality--the jury's still out.

Perhaps of most interest, I write sweet (wholesome) romance because I firmly believe that the tender, sweet, falling-in-love elements of a story can and should be of greater impact when sexual intimacy's not in play. It's very possible for sweet romances to show through the story, that the hero and heroine have developed a deep and abiding love for one another and are fully committed. When I began writing romance, my daughters were much younger, and my personal desire, as their mother, was that they not have to learn the hard way that sex and love are not the same thing. I chose to cater my writing to selective readers who love romance but prefer the absence of strong language and want books free of sexual content. I label my books with the familiar movie ratings (though TV or gaming ratings might be more effective). I call them G or G/PG, and have been amused when reviewers say "this book isn't PG, it's G-rated". Good. That's the audience I'm aiming for.

See more about Kristin and her books on these links:

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Coincidence, by Danette J. Hansen

I'm having fun already with my new series of book reviews. To start with I read something I would probably have never gotten around to reading otherwise. I haven't read a mystery of any sort for quite some time and I can't say I've ever read a genealogical mystery before. Following is my review as posted on Goodreads.

CoincidenceCoincidence by Danette J. Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

A historical, genealogical mystery, this book is set in Holland during World War II. Is is clear that the author did her research. I learned, in a pleasant way, about that era in Holland's history.

The book is two stories in one, a modern day romance and a family history mystery. Both stories were delightful and the transition between the two worked well. It is tied together as well by the family link of Annaliese and her great aunt. There is also a rather awkward love triangle that livens things up.

Annaliese has gone to Holland to be part of a research team that studies the hybridization of plants. When she arrives, she boards with a woman who leads her into the shadows of the past and that is where the mystery begins.

If you have ever had the genealogy bug you have probably experienced the feeling that one of your ancestors is trying to tell you something. Annaliese goes beyond that, having visions and hearing voices. Sometimes making the solving of the mystery seem a little too convenient, but I didn't mind that, the journey was fun enough that I believed it.

The only reason I didn't give the book a full five stars is that I thought the parts that were supposed to be from her aunt's diary read more like a novel. I took me out of the story a little. Nobody writes that way in their journal, at least not in my opinion. Also there was a slight problem with my believing that the journal would still be where it was found, and still readable.

Coincidence is still a really good read and I recommend it to readers from young adult up. It's squeaky clean and even a little educational.

(View all my reviews on Goodreads)

Now for a little about the author. If any of you are in the Logan UT area today. Danette Hanson is doing a book signing at Hastings in Logan.
If like me, that's too far to go you can learn a little about her on this blog. I asked her four questions. Here are the answers. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

1. Tell me a little about yourself. Anything fun or goofy that we should know?

I'm a mother of four, with a wonderful husband. My children get a kick out of my made up words. It's not like I'm 
trying to make up words, they just come out funky and weird sometimes. Like when my daughter had her learning permit,
I'd say, "Turn on your dinky donk," or "Reverse and go real slow." My children all wonder what kind of things I'll say 
when I turn 80.(My husband too I'm sure) Maybe I can create fun characters in my children's books like Dr. Suess did.
My crazy children stories usually have to do with bubblegum. I've always loved gum. One thing you should know about me is, I love to laugh

2. Where do you live and what it like to live there?

I live in Cache Valley, (Utah) in the small town of Wellsville. It's a lot like my home town of Alamosa, Colorado in where it snows too much, for too long and is much too cold. 
Even though I don't like the snow per say, my children can actually tube down the hill just in our back yard––which they love. So I guess that's not a bad deal. They can be out in the white, cold stuff while I stay warm inside and watch them out the window. I really live in a beautiful place, love the area and the people. It's a great area to raise a family.

3. Tell me a bit about your family/home life (if you don't mind).

Let's see what is there to tell.... if I get on the computer too early, I'll get sucked in and none of my house chores get done. True story. My husband teases that he hasn't had a home cooked meal for months. My children are older now (my baby is 14) so I can get away with writing more, which can be a good or bad thing. I make jewelry out of spoons and forks. Love all things artsy. (So pinterest can eat up my time too) That's probably why my children are so creative, they've been around crafty things their whole lives. (Grandma is real creative and artistic too and they love to spend time with Grandma) I draw, some. Have always loved art. However, I do more coveting of those who draw more than anything.

4. Why do you write? What do you write? Do you have any weird writing habits? (I know that's 3 questions, just tell me about your writing.)

Well, I didn't really want to write until later in life. In fact, in school if we had to write a book report, I just watched the movie instead. But I guess I've always had a vivid imagination and I've always named anything that looked to have a personality. It's got to have personality to get a name. I did a course with Children's Literature Institute and loved it. Now I can't stop writing. In fact, I have too many ideas and not enough time. When I ask my children to listen to what I've written, they say, "Oh, I've got things to do. Maybe later." Then I duck tape them to the chair and make them listen. NOT really. They all support me (as long as I cook them dinner. That's why Katee is in our family so she can do the cooking.) I absolutely LOVE my family! And they would be lost without me––who else is going to talk like they're from another planet without even trying? 
I love to laugh, write, read, and go to the movies. I’m a foot zoner so I like to learn about holistic living.
I believe there are magical moments in life––and if there isn’t for a time, then that’s when you wish for magic. Writing is magic. I get to discover the story just like a reader. As the magical elements fall into place in a story I've learned to recognize that’s really how life is; magical when you least expect. 

To learn more about Danette J Hansen and her books, check out the links below.

Website /  Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook 
Coincidence Amazon / Barnes&Noble / Kobo
Space Gum picture book Amazon