Thursday, September 24, 2015

Guest Author Interview

I thought you might like to read a guest blog interview I did with Sharon K. Connell this week about my life and background as an author:

Introducing Writers and Authors and the works they produce.  
Please take time to get to know these talented people.
If this website will not allow comments, please feel free to make them on 
(Please note that older interviews will no longer have pictures in order to make room for the newer authors.  My apology for this.  GoogleSite does not allow the space.)

September 23, 2015

My Guest Author interview today will be with…

AnnaLee Conti

I met AnnaLee when she was featured on another author friend’s blog at the beginning of this year.  Please join me in welcoming her to my website and Facebook Group Forum, Writers and Authors

When did you know you wanted to become an author, and why?

I come from a family of readers and writers.

My grandparents, Charles & Florence Personeus, traveled across the continent to Alaska in 1917 to serve as pioneer missionaries. As newlyweds, they left Bible school in Rochester, New York, not knowing even how much it would cost to get to their field of ministry. They went by faith and lived by faith in Alaska for 65 years. My parents, Bob & AnnaMae Cousart, also lived by faith as missionaries in Alaska, where I grew up during the fifties and sixties.

My missionary family members were readers and writers. Grandma Personeus was a storyteller and kept everyone entranced with her accounts of their early days in Alaska. She also read books aloud to us when we grandchildren visited each summer during our childhood. She’d read to us as we did the dishes and in her spare time—books she’d enjoyed as a child. She was also a prolific poet and wrote curriculum for Sunday school quarterlies and articles for church magazines. My mother also wrote continued stories and composed songs for us, for her Sunday school class, and eventually for publication.

My great-grandfather, George Newton LeFevre, wrote and published his own newspaper, The Christian Home, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. It was instrumental in getting the Prohibition Amendment passed. He also wrote a genealogy of The Pennsylvania LeFevres. For many years, my great aunt was editor of The Sunday School Times, a magazine published in Philadelphia. She also wrote nine Christian fiction books under the pen name of Zenobia Bird published by Revell. Recently, I discovered that Beverly Lewis and I share the same LeFevre ancestry.

As a young teenager, I discovered Christian fiction and read all of my aunt’s books. My father subscribed to a Christian book club to provide us with good reading material for cold, dark winter nights. We could hardly wait for the two selections that arrived each month. Those pages influenced my world view and my attitudes about life and love. And my dream to write Christian novels was born.

How long did it take you to write your first novel?

About 3 years of actual work, although I jotted notes for it for years before I actually started writing it. In the early seventies, we were stationed in Rhode Island in the Army. We discovered Beavertail Lighthouse in Narraganset Bay. That has become our favorite one-day get-away ever since. We love to sit on the rocks and watch the waves crash in from the Atlantic Ocean on three sides of that rocky point. As I sat there, I’d imagine scenes I’d like to write and jot down notes, descriptions, characters, etc. These became the opening scenes for Evie’s story in Till the Storm Passes By.

What was your biggest problem in writing your first novel?

Writing the middle. That is my struggle now on my third novel too.

How long did it take you to publish your first book?

I loved writing in school and took one writing course in college. After six years as an Army officer, including a tour in Vietnam, my husband felt called into the gospel ministry. While he was in seminary, I worked in editorial at Gospel Publishing House. The editors I worked with encouraged me to write and submit short stories and articles for publication. Soon, I was also writing Sunday school, children’s church, and VBS curriculum on assignment. When we began pastoring, I continued to write curriculum on assignment as well as freelance articles and short stories for more than 25 years.

While I was working at Gospel Publishing House, my grandparents visited us. The year was 1973. Grandma handed me a packet and said, “Many people have asked me to write our story, but I’m too old to see it through by myself, so I’m placing all my written accounts in your hands to do with as you think best.” In 1982, I holed up for a week and wrote the rough draft of Frontiers of Faith. Before Grandma died in 1985, I was able to read it to her and Grandpa. It wasn’t until 2002 that I was able to get it published by 1st Books, now called AuthorHouse.

But I still wanted to write Christian novels. As I was researching the book about my grandparents, I came across several fragments of stories that triggered my imagination, and the idea for my Alaskan Waters series was conceived. At the time, I was teaching fulltime and writing a daily devotional for the website of a Christian radio network. When I was forced to retire from teaching due to an injury, I joined a writing critique group at a local library, and began writing my first novel. Till the Storm Passes By, the first title in my Alaskan Waters series, was published by Ambassador International (Emerald House) in 2013.

Are you published through the traditional method, or are you an Indie author?

Ambassador International is a shared venture that features aspects of both traditional publishing and the Indie route. We share the cost of editing and publishing the book; they assist me in marketing it and pay me royalties.

What is the biggest thing you have learned in the process of becoming an author?

Writing a book is a lonely, difficult job that requires a lot of self-discipline. I write because I have stories of faith to tell—stories that are carriers of truth about God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace. I am called by God to write. I write because I can’t not write.

What would you most like to see changed about your own writing, if anything?

I am happy with the three books I’ve published so far. I want to continue to grow in my ability to write stories that touch the hearts of my readers. Over the years I’ve observed that unless the emotions are touched, people don’t change. And my goal in writing is for people to see Jesus in my writing and for their lives to be “conformed to His image.”

What is your genre?  Do you think you may write in another at some point?

At this point, my genre is historical fiction. I learned a lot of history from reading that genre as a teenager. After I would read a book, I’d check out the encyclopedia (and the Bible, if it was biblical fiction) to try to discover what was fact and what was fiction. I still enjoy doing that.

How much time do you spend writing each day?

Ideally, at least four hours. In reality, some days I don’t even sit down at my computer. Other days, I write all day. I’d like to become more disciplined about this, but life interferes. This year, my husband had open heart surgery, and I had several procedures on my back. That slowed me down on my writing.

Where do you like to write? 

I have an office in our spare bedroom lined with bookcases (full to overflowing), file cabinets, and my desktop computer. When I started out writing, I wrote longhand in a living room chair and typed it on an electric typewriter. Curriculum had to be typed to an exact stroke and line count. That required retyping over and over until I got it right. Now, I love writing on the computer. I can edit without having to retype the whole thing.

If you could go anywhere, where would you most like to go to write?

I’d like to visit Strasbourg, France. My ancestors were French Huguenots who escaped martyrdom at the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in the mid-to-late 1600s. When my husband was stationed in Germany in 1968 in the Army, we drove along the Rhine River and looked across at Strasbourg, but we couldn’t cross into France since he didn’t have an international driving license. I’d like to write a historical novel about my LeFevre ancestors. Visiting Strasbourg would help me place it in its setting.

My ideal writing place would be a house on Douglas Island overlooking Gastineau Channel and Juneau, Alaska, or overlooking Lizianski Inlet in Pelican, Alaska, where I could derive inspiration from the scenes as I write my Alaskan Waters series and my blog’s faith stories about growing up in a missionary family in Alaska.

What experiences in life have contributed to your writing? 

I believe all of my experiences contribute to my writing. Extensive travel has certainly helped me write accurately about the settings of my stories. During the fifties and sixties, my family and I traveled by large and small prop airplanes, ferries and boats, trains and subways, and cars all over Alaska and coast to coast across the United States. So far, I have lived in or visited 46 of the 50 states including Alaska and Hawaii, taken an educational bus tour across Canada as a teenager, spent a year in Germany in 1968, visited Belgium and Austria, touched down in Ireland and England, and toured with a group of pastors for a week in Israel in 1986. For the past eight summers, my husband and I have driven cross country from New York to the West Coast and back to visit family and friends.

How have the experiences in your life contributed to your writing?

I say with the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:3,4, “Blessed be … the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Having gone through earthquakes and floods in Alaska, separations during the Vietnam War, experiencing the many trials and tribulations as well as the many joys in pastoring, surviving three major car accidents, living by faith and seeing God supply our needs, etc., I am able to forge characters who also find God’s comfort in tribulations. As a writer, I have more to say and I think my characterization is more true to life having personally gone through those hard experiences of life and I share those stories in my blog, “Nuggets of Faith.”

How many books and poems have your written? 

I’ve written and published three books so far and am working on my fourth. I have also written several poems—usually only when I have a strong sense of inspiration. A few are on my website:

Have you written anything else?

I’ve already mentioned the curriculum, short stories, and articles I’ve written. I also like to write devotionals and paraphrases of familiar Bible passages, such as 1 Corinthians 13. One, entitled “Essays and Empty Sets,” was published in a couple of youth magazines in the seventies.

Do you have a biggest fan?

My mother was my biggest fan. She would tell everybody about my books. She was bolder than I am. She probably sold more of my first book than I did! She went home to be with the Lord in 2012. My 93-year-old dad continues as a big fan and encourager. I know he prays for me every day.

Are you an avid reader yourself?

Yes, I love to read, especially Christian fiction. I can get so engrossed in a book that I don’t write, so I work to balance reading with writing.

Who is your favorite author (aside from yourself, of course)?

I have so many favorite authors (Tracie Peterson, Colleen Coble, Candace Calvert, Beverly Lewis, Miralee Ferrell, Linda Nichols, to name a few), but if I can name only one favorite, I’d have to say Karen Kingsbury. Her stories touch my emotions very deeply. Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings series is one of the best Biblical fiction series I’ve read. On the lighter side, I also enjoy Julie Klasson’s books. They remind me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a favorite classic.

Do you have a favorite character in any novel, including your own, and why do you call this character your favorite?

Here again, I have so many favorite characters it is hard to name just one. Evie, in my book, Till the Storm Passes By, is perhaps my favorite so far. She had to overcome so many hurts, tragedies, and personal losses that made forgiving a challenge for her. I see a lot of me in her temperament.

Do you have aspirations of your work becoming a movie? 

Several in my writing group have said that Frontiers of Faith would make a good movie. I even started writing a screen play based on it, but it requires extensive reorganization.

Whom would you like to play the leads?

I’ve always thought that Meryl Streep looks a lot like my grandmother, who is the main character in the part of the book I’d use for a screen play. Harrison Ford looks a little like my grandfather.

Where were you born, where did you grow up, and did this have any bearing on how or about what you write?

I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the end of World War II. When I was 2 years old, my parents returned to Alaska as missionaries, where we lived by faith. I lived in Juneau until I was 12, then Pelican for 2 years. Pelican had no high school, so my parents moved us to a pastorate in Seward, Alaska, where I went to high school. I met my husband at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where I earned my B.A. in music and elementary education. I love Alaska and miss it terribly. Writing about it is the next best thing to living there.

I lived in Alaska from 1948 to 1970. As a writer friend put it, people who never leave a place grow with the changes and don’t notice them because they happen so gradually. For those who move away and return many years later, the way we left it is indelibly embedded in our memory. While I have visited Alaska a number of times since I left, the memory of Alaska as I knew it is still fresh in my mind. While exploring themes such as God’s love and human love, forgiveness and reconciliation, rebellion and redemption, fear and faith, death and sorrow, I showcase the majestic beauty and fascinating history of the Alaska I remember.

Note from interviewer:  AnnaLee did not mention her second book in the Alaska Water series.  Here is a picture of the cover.

Where did you spend most of your life?

I grew up in Alaska, but I have spent most of my adult life in New York State, where my husband and I came in 1977 to pioneer a new church planting in Gloversville (40 miles northwest of Albany). We have pastored three churches and are now retired from pastoring.

Tell us a little more about yourself personally; family, friends, pets, hobbies, etc.

My husband and I are both ordained ministers. (I am the fifth generation ordained minister in my grandfather’s line.) I have taken an active part in all of our pastorates, serving as minister of music, Christian education, and women’s ministries, and on our New York State denominational C. E. and women’s ministries committees. We both sing solos as well as together and in choirs, and I have directed choirs and musicals and played the piano for services. Serving as the bookkeeper in all the churches we pastored provided an enjoyable break from all the demands on my creativity.

We have one son, whom God gave us in answer to prayer. (That story is on my blog.) He is an elementary school teacher in Newburgh (just across the Hudson River from where we live in Beacon). He has given us five grandchildren: a girl and four boys ages 22 to 13. It is our joy to see them grow up in the ways of the Lord. The family lives in a house built by my husband’s grandfather in 1938.

In addition to reading, I enjoy watching Hallmark movies with happy endings, scrapbooking, and other arts and crafts. I have taught tole painting and have also filled my house with decorative plaster craft lamps and bookends I have painted. I’ve also given many to family members as gifts. I used to sew my own clothes (until it became cheaper to buy readymade and alter them to fit). I also crochet, embroider, and do counted cross stitch and crewel work.

In fifth grade I decided I wanted to be an elementary teacher, so I earned a teaching certificate in college. I actually only taught in schools for four years. I found my niche in adult education, teaching GED classes for eight years. But God never wastes our experiences. My degree in education equipped me for my work in Christian education and writing church school curriculum. For a number of years I have taught Bible and ministry preparation classes to prepare people for pastoring and other church leadership. I view my writing as an extension of my ministry gift of teaching.

Do you have any words of wisdom for future authors?

Raymond Obstfeld said, “The main difference between successful writers and wannabe writers is not talent—it’s perseverance.” I taped that quote to my computer.

To that I would add, read, read, and read good literature. Write, write, and write!
Study the craft of writing:
·       The mechanics: good vocabulary, spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.
·       The techniques of plot, characterization, structure, emotions, themes, dialogue, etc.
·       Resources: local libraries, magazines on writing (The WriterWriter’s Digest), websites for writers and of writers, local writing groups, and writing courses in college or online.
·       Develop a platform on social media, develop a website, and start writing a blog.

When do you think your next book will come out?

I’m hoping to finish the third book in the Alaska Waters series, Beside Still Waters, and have it published by the spring of 2016.

Where can your readers and future readers contact you?

Blog “Nuggets of Faith”:
Twitter: @AnnaLeeConti


Thank you, AnnaLee Conti for your time and the opportunity to present you, the author, and your work.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Blast from the Past

I thought I had collected all the historical memorabilia about my missionary grandparents, Charles C. and Florence L. Personeus, when I wrote my book, Frontiers of Faith, about their adventures of living by faith in Alaska from 1917 to 1982.

Then last week I received an unexpected call. The Alaska Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God in Alaska is writing a book of the history of the Assemblies of God in a Alaska for their centennial celebration coming up in 2017.

Since my grandparents were the first missionaries from our Fellowship to go to Alaska and they spent 65 years ministering there, their story would be featured in the book.

As Jack Aiken, the designated writer, gathered materials for the book, he had found a box some unknown person had left at the ministry office in Anchorage. The items in the box, according to Jack, were more of a personal nature, probably of interest only to the family.

He described photos, cards, postcards, memo books and tablets containing my grandma's writing. When he read a signature on several tiny greeting cards from 1908 to 1912, it caught my ear. I recognized it as my grandma's great-aunt Salome, who had spent 40 years as a missionary in India and had influenced Grandma to become a missionary too.

"We'd be happy to send you the box," Jack said.

I thanked him. After chatting about the early days in Alaska, we said goodbye.

When the box arrived, I looked through it eagerly. What fun to see what it contained!

Grandma never had been able to throw things away. And she had carried on an extensive correspondence with hundreds of people, sending birthday cards and letters to everyone she ever met in their travels across the United States to itinerate for support. When at the age of ninety, due to health concerns, she and Grandpa had to move from Alaska to Washington State to live with my parents, much had been finally discarded.

Where did this box come from? The personal nature of the items obviously indicated that they had belonged to Grandma, and she had saved them for sentimental reasons. Yet, they were not items she would have given to anyone but family. None of our family have lived in Alaska since the 1980s. Who donated them to the Ministry office in Anchorage will probably forever remain a mystery.

One 3 1/2 x 6-inch little booklet among the personal items caught my eye: "A Hand Book of Vacation Trips in Alaska and the Yukon on the White Pass and Yukon Route," printed in the United States in 1938. Its 55 pages contain historical background, descriptions of points of interest, and photos of scenic routes, complete with train and boat schedules, distances, and fares.

This guidebook confirms and clarifies all the extensive research I have done online for the historical background for the major setting of the third book I am currently writing in my Alaskan Waters series of historical Christian fiction.

Grandma is no longer here to answer my questions about the early days, but this booklet she saved does.

Is that coincidence? I think not!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The War is Won!

Today, September 11, we remember the tragic events that took place on that date in 2001 that ushered in the war on terror.

Two hundred one years ago, on September 13, 1814, the United States was embroiled in another war--with the British.

Francis Scott Key
We all know the story: a young United States attorney, Francis Scott Key, obtained permission to board a British warship in an attempt to arrange the release of an American prisoner detained on board.

He was forced to stay overnight on the ship. From that vantage point he witnessed the British bombardment of the fort which guarded the entrance to Baltimore harbor.

In the dwindling light of day, he could see the American flag, with its fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, flying over Fort McHenry. As darkness settled over the harbor, he watched intently to see if the proud, star-spangled banner was still there.

All through the night, the red glow of exploding ammunition kept bringing Old Glory into view.
When the gray dawn finally broke, Key strained to see if the flag was still there. Finally, the morning sunlight washed away the smoke from Fort McHenry. Yes! The white stars and red stripes wore a new look of hope and courage.

The young lawyer was so moved that he pulled an old letter from his pocket and wrote on the back of it these stirring words:

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad strips and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the rampart we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

We all sing that first verse, but few know the words of the fourth verse:

Oh, thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when the cause it is just;
And this be our motto: In God is our trust!"
And the Star-spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Can there really be any doubt that America was made and preserved by God, as our National Anthem states?

Our National Anthem celebrates the victory of our nation in war. But the songs of the Church down through the ages celebrate the victory over sin and death that is ours through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the cross He paid the price for our sin; and when He arose from the grave, He conquered death once and for all. The battle is won! His victory is ours!

After Japan surrendered to American forces in World War II, many of their soldiers on isolated islands of the Pacific did not hear for many months that the war was over. To them, the battle still raged.

Have you realized the victory that Christ died to win for you, or is the battle still raging in your heart? Are you still a prisoner of war to Satan? I encourage you to surrender your life and your will to Jesus Christ and be set free today to live a life of victory over sin and its dreadful consequences.

The original star-spangled banner is so fragile it is kept in near darkness
at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Are You an Encourager?

An old farmer had a mule that didn't know its own strength. As the farmer hitched up the mule to a two-horse plow, he would say, "Giddy up, Will. Giddy up, Kate. Giddy up, John. Giddy up, Betty Lou."

A neighbor heard him one morning and stopped to ask, "How many names does that mule have?"

"Oh, he has just one," the farmer replied. "His name is Pete. But I put blinders on him and call out all the other names so he will think other mules are helping him. That way, he does the work of at least two."

I don't know about mules, but studies show that people who receive encouragement can accomplish things beyond all expectations. Encouragement works far better than "constructive" criticism.

If you form the habit of giving everyone around you at least one word of encouragement every day, you will find it beneficial. You may not make two mules out of them, but it will make both of you far better people.

The apostle Paul urged believers to "encourage each other, and build each other up" (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NLT). 

Years ago, in some denominations a person could obtain a ministerial credential called "exhorter's papers." The person's ministry consisted of personally encouraging and strongly urging believers in their churches to keep on living for the Lord. I often think we need to reinstate that credential. That's my goal as as retired minister in the church we attend.

This Labor Day, whether you are the employer or the employee, consider how you can encourage those with whom you work and begin to apply this principle on the job. You'll be surprised how much it will mean to everyone around you and how much more can be accomplished.

Encouraging works with children too. Instead of always criticizing, catch your child doing something right and praise him.