Making the World a Better Place

Today seems like a good day to point out something good happening in the world.

 Heifer International  helps families in developing nations buy animals or other agricultural products that can reproduce, thus feeding themselves and providing off-spring which they can give to their neighbors, thus helping the entire village.  I donate to Heifer every year in April, for my mother’s birthday, and in November through World Builders.

World Builders is run by my fellow Stevens Point writer Patrick Rothfuss, who gets authors to donate books (Syncopation and The Stolen Goldin Violin are two of the lesser-know titles) and other cool things. You can bid on items or donate to Heifer and get your name in a lottery for items.  Last year (if I’m getting my research right) World Builders raised $311,699.00 for Heifer.  So, join the fun and learn what’s going on at World Builders.

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Interview with George Rogers

George Rogers

Today I’m welcoming George Rogers to my series of author interviews. George is the co-author of For the Love of Postcards. His most recent book is  Among the Leaves, published by Cornerstone Press in November.

Elizabeth: Among the Leaves has the subtitle: A Collection of Outdoor Essays. How would you explain an “outdoor essay?”

George: Anything that has to do with nature.AmongtheLeaves-Cover

Elizabeth: Could you tell us the topics of some of the essays?

George: I say in the introduction that this isn’t a “me and Joe went fishin'” book. I don’t ignore fishing and hunting but I’m more into other outdoor activities, wildlife and the environment in general. Some of the topics are the Apostle Islands and Isle Royale in Lake Superior, prairie chickens, deer, jackass rabbits (now thankfully called jackrabbits), wolves, camping in Costa Rica and climbing Mount Fuji. But mostly it’s about Wisconsin.

Elizabeth: You’ve been a journalist for more than fifty years. How were you able to choose which essays to include and which to leave out of this collection?

George: I tried to choose topics that appealed to people who liked the outdoors, not just the hook and bullet crowd.

Elizabeth: You grew up in Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in the woods as a child. How do you think that has affected your outlook on life?

George: I was exposed to nature as a kid by fishing with my father and getting to see the ruined old-growth Wisconsin forest, and learning what a grand thing it had once been. That doesn’t mean I’m against logging. I’ve cut many trees in my time (and planted thousands of them), but from an early age I learned logging had to be done judiciously.

Elizabeth: Tell us about one of your favorite vacations or travel destinations.

George: I’ll mention several. Northern Wisconsin is always a good one. I like the Gulf Coast of Texas because it isn’t as overdeveloped (yet) as Florida, it’s on the ocean and it’s low-key. Japan was good, but when I was there I was in the military and not really vacationing. However, it gave me the opportunity to climb Mount Fuji. Also I saw some incredibly polluted waters, which was a real lesson.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process or schedule?

George: I’m not on a schedule. I write an outdoor column and a few other things for a weekly newspaper, the Portage County Gazette, but that’s a relaxed timetable. I write any time the mood strikes me and email my stuff in. That way I don’t get in the hair of the real working people. If I were writing another book, I’d set a target – so much production per week.

Elizabeth: How did the idea for Among the Leaves come to you?

George: I didn’t plan to write Among the Leaves. A co-worker from my daily newspaper days talked me into it. I thought it would be a chore but I found out it wasn’t. I should have known that. All my working career I was on a deadline and learned to live with it. Relatively speaking, this was easy.

Elizabeth: Cornerstone Press is a small press sponsored by the English Department at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Students enroll in the Editing and Publishing class, and over the course of the semester select a manuscript, design a cover and layout, edit, publish, market and sell the book. What has been your experience working with this group of students?

George: They were good people, really interested in turning out a good product, and quite professional. I predict a bright future for them.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

George: When I get up in the morning I brew a cup of tea because I don’t like instant coffee and it takes too long to make a pot of regular coffee.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

George: Both.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

George: Anything but shopping.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

George: Much to my regret, I’m devoid of musical talent.

Elizabeth: Mystery or Fantasy?

George: Mystery. There’s already too much fantasy in life.

Elizabeth: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O’Hara?

George: My attitude on this one was adequately summed up by Rhett Butler in his memorable farewell to Scarlett, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

To order a copy of Through the Leaves, visit the Cornerstone Press website.

A big thanks to George for being my guest today.

Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival: Sat, Nov 24

For months, I have thought that the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival was on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I’ve told people that date, publicized that date…. and I was wrong!!! It is

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My husband needed some details about the Festival this morning and went to the website and discovered that the festival is

Saturday, November 24, 2012.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to drive the three hours to Mineral Point only to discover that the book festival was the day before, and we missed it.  I feel sick thinking about it.

Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book signings from 1:00 – 5:00 at the Quality Inn in Mineral Point

There are workshops in the morning at the public library and a keynote address in the evening at the Opera House.  For more information visit the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival webpage.

Got a Cinderella For Me?

Because I’m writing a new version of the Cinderella tale, I’m also reading Cinderella-remake novels.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine and Just Ella, by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  Cinder, by Marissa Meyer is on my to-read list.

I’ve searched Google, and the number of novels re-telling the Cinderella story is large — much larger than my time available for reading.  Do you have a favorite to recommend?  If so, please let me know in the comments below.

(PS My favorite movie version is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. What’s yours?)

Interview with Kim Rendfeld

Today I’m welcoming Kim Rendfeld to my series of author interviews. Kim is the author of The Cross and the Dragon, a historical novel of the Middle Ages.

Elizabeth: Kim, how would you describe your book to someone who hasn’t read it?

Kim: The Cross and the Dragon is a tale of love amid the wars and blood feuds of Charlemagne’s reign. Here is the blurb.

Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Elizabeth: The Cross and the Dragon derives some of its characters and much of its storyline from the French legend The Song of Roland. Can you tell us what drew you to that story and how you decided to make it your own?

Odilon Redon’s Roland at Roncesvalles, c.1869
(Landscape)

Kim: A German legend about Roland (Hruodland in The Cross and the Dragon) drew me to The Song of Roland as I tried to figure out who Roland was.

The epic French poem says a lot about courage in the face of overwhelming odds, but it should be appreciated for its artistic merit rather than historical value. Any resemblance between the events in the poem and what actually happened at the Pass of Roncevaux is purely coincidental.

I used some of the characters from The Song of Roland. My hero’s name is a variant of the namesake of the poem. I used the German variant of Oliver, Alfihar, as Hruodland’s best friend, and Alda, Alfihar’s sister, as Hruodland’s love interest. The villain in the poem, Ganelon, has the same name. Interestingly, the poet who wrote The Song of Roland might have named his villain after Guenelon (also spelled Vénilon), a ninth-century bishop of Sens accused of betraying one of Charles’s grandsons.

When I sat down to write the novel, I wanted my interpretation of the disastrous ambush at Roncevaux in 778 to be truer to the history and to still use the German legend.

Elizabeth: Tell us more about what really happened with the ambush and the German legend.

Kim: What I’m about to say is a spoiler, so readers who would like to avoid it should go on to the next question.

**Spoiler**

The ambush was a true disaster for Frankish King Charles, today known as Charlemagne. It was so traumatic that it was not written down while he was alive. Charles’s invasion of Spain did not go according to plan, but he was able to save face when Muslim Saracens gave him gold to leave. As the Franks retreated through the steep mountain passes of the Pyrenees, Christian Basques (also known as Gascons) ambushed the rear guard and baggage train, killing everyone. Einhard, Charles’s biographer, lists Roland among the dead.

The German legend, however, has Roland surviving the attack and returning to a castle on the Rhine that he had built for his bride. But she was not there. When she’d heard he had died, she took a vow of chastity and joined the convent on the nearby Rhine island of Nonnenwerth. Roland spent the rest of his days at a window in the castle, hoping to catch a glimpse of her as she walked to and from prayers. This legend is not true.

** Spoiler Over **

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your novels?

Kim: I try to stay as true to the history and the culture as possible. All those wars in my book are real. I didn’t make up King Charles’s complicated personal life—at the start of my story, he’s going to war with his ex-father-in-law, who is threatening Rome. And I would never have a medieval woman refuse to marry a guy because she is apathetic toward him. Marriages were arranged, and for aristocrats, the primary reasons were wealth and alliances.

However, the key word in historical fiction is fiction. If I stuck only with what is known about the historic Hruodland, I would not have a story. The only factual mention of him is part of a sentence in Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne. Any interpretation of Roland is going to be fictitious.

Besides, I am a novelist, not a scholar. I make stuff up and make it sound real. But I also believe in including historical notes so that I can confess where I lied.

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Kim: My next project is The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, which is about a peasant Continental Saxon woman who has only her children left after losing her husband, her home, her faith, and even her freedom. It’s a story of familial love, betrayal, vengeance, forgiveness, and recovering from devastation. Many of the historical events in The Cross and the Dragon take place here, but they are from a markedly different perspective.

Elizabeth: Enough about your books, tell us about yourself.

Kim: If it weren’t for feminism, I would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, I earned my English and journalism degree at Indiana University and pursued a career as a journalist at daily newspapers in the Hoosier State. My career changed in 2007, when I joined the public relations team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I’m paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoy it.

Yet, I’ve never outgrown my fascination with folk tales and legends, which led me to write novels.

Elizabeth: How do you think being a journalist has helped and/or hindered your career as a creative writer?

Kim: As you’ve indicated in your question, journalism is both a help and a hindrance. The time and space constraints of journalism taught me to get to the point. Maturing as a writer made me care more about the readers understanding the story than showing off my cleverness.

I also had to unlearn some habits. News writing is an objective report that allows both sides to tell their stories and lets the readers make their own conclusions. By nature, it’s distant. Fiction is intimate. You want the readers to feel your characters’ joys and sorrows. You want to manipulate sympathy and emotion.

Perhaps my experience as a journalist also compels me to include historical notes. I want readers to know the truth.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Kim: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Kim: A toughie, since we have neither in Indiana. Ocean, I guess.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Kim: Hiking. Shopping is so frustrating for me.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Kim: Piano, but I like violin, too.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Kim: Fantasy. But there are times when I’m in the mood for mystery.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Kim: An easy one. Definitely Darcy. He turns out to be a good man. Read all of Wuthering Heights, and you find out Heathcliff is a monster.

The Cross and the Dragon is available in print and e-book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other outlets.

For more about Kim and her fiction, visit her website or  read her blog. You can like her on Facebook, connect with her on Goodreads, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, and check out her Amazon page.

Thanks to Kim for joining me today.

November is National Novel Writing Month

I write all year long, but November is the month I get the most accomplished because of the great fun that is NaNoWriMo.

I’m participating again and hoping to get some momentum going on my steampunk Cinderella story.

If you don’t know about NaNoWriMo, get on over there and check it out. Anyone can write a novel, and this community is supportive and a lot of fun.

The organization has a great Young Writer’s Program as well. So, if you know a kid who writes for fun, or who reads a lot, tell him or her about this.

If you decide register for NaNoWriMo, friend me so we can keep track of each other’s progress.

Happy Writing!