On the WOW!Blog Tour with Linda Hubalek and Trail of Thread

A few years ago, I watched a program where modern families lived as pioneers on the prairie–and I was fascinated, entranced, and absolutely riveted. So I jumped at the chance to host pioneer writer, Linda Hubalek and her book, Trail of Thread.

Linda has always loved the prairie–she graduated with an Agriculture/Horticulture degree from Kansas State University–but never so much as when she moved away from her beloved Kansas. She started writing then, about her home and the pioneer women who tilled the soil. She’s since moved back to Kansas, where she keeps bison(!)and once again farms.

Trail of Thread is her first book in a series, told in letter form, from the women who not only survived but thrived out there on the prairie, women who were, in fact, Linda’s ancestors, tilling the Kansas farmlands. I asked Linda to share with us her thoughts on writing for our descendants. Because maybe there’s a riveting book in your family!

What will inspire my descendants?

My mother gave me a page-a-day diary for Christmas the year before I got married. She thought that I could record the planning of my August wedding in this little hard bound book.

I started on January 1st, my fiancé’s birthday, telling of what we did for his special day. And I continued to write short bits of my daily life, besides the intended lists of preparations for our wedding.

Thirty-five years later I’m still writing in a page-a-day book. I sometimes get behind and don’t write for a week or two, but the majority of my life is recorded the 35 books that are stacked in a file cabinet.

The neat thing is I can go back to any given day in any of those years to see what I did, or what the weather was like. I can go back to remember a special person’s birth or death, and be drawn into the same feeling I had that exact day.

My family knows I’ve written down my life—and theirs— through the years. I haven’t written down anything that will embarrass anyone, but I think the entries will give the next generations a good glimpse of their ancestor’s lives, and the times we’ve lived in.

Will that inspire them to keep their own diaries? I really doubt it, although it would be great if someone was motivated to write and pass down more of the family history.

What I hope my diary entries would do is to inspire descendants to remember family members as I mention their birthdays, to learn the history of the family pieces they inherited, and to give them a sense of whom their family was— and did during their lifetimes. My Trail of Thread series, written in the form of letters to other family members, gives the reader a sense of the character’s lives and the history that was happening at that very moment.

Please read the books, and then think how you could pass on your life story to your descendants. How will you inspire them? It’s up to you….

Linda’s giving away an ebook of Trail of Thread to one lucky commenter (and remember, you can download a FREE Kindle reader at Amazon if you don’t have a Kindle!). Oh! And if you’re a quilter, you’ll love that Linda includes quilting patterns in each book, including Trail of Thread!

Find out more about this pioneer series at Linda’s website. And she’s on Facebook, too, so you can keep up with her and her books over there. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ll be reading Trail of Thread. (Comments will stay open through the weekend for your chance to win a copy!)

The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life (Wheee!)

Ooooh! I’ve been excited about sharing The Literary Ladies from the moment I met them!

Technically, I’ve known the literary ladies from Nava Atlas’ wonderful book, The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life, for many years. I met a few of them when I was just a gangly teenager with braces. Reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice made me feel quite elegant, and curling up with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre introduced me to gothic romance (so much more exciting than skinny, pimply boys falling off surfboards at the beach).

Still, I didn’t know the literary ladies like this, their writerly and not-so-writerly whys, and whats and hows of the women behind the books. Nava Atlas did her homework to bring us an inside look at The Literary Ladies, and I’m thrilled to be able to share some of her insights today at this, Nava’s last stop of her WOW! blog tour. So on to the questions!

With the perspectives of all these literary ladies, your book is unlike most guide-to-writing books, and yet it contains an abundance of advice and guidance! So which came first—choosing the literary ladies or finding all that brilliant writing wisdom?
It was definitely finding the wisdom first, then narrowing it down to the twelve authors. I was looking not only for wisdom, but for writings about the universal concerns and obstacles inherent in the writing life, viewed through the experiences of authors who eventually surmounted these difficulties.

It took several years of occasional delving into diaries, collections of letters, interviews, and memoirs to amass enough material for a full-length book. I’m quite a library geek so I loved having an excuse to bury myself in dusty volumes and archives.

As you researched, did you find women writers you hated to leave out? Who didn’t make the final cut, and why?
Above all, I hated to leave out Zora Neale Hurston (ca. 1891-1960). She was not only a literary pioneer with a distinctive voice (best known for Their Eyes Were Watching God), but studied anthropology in the 1920s at Barnard College, where she was the sole black student.

She seemed to be such an exuberant, courageous spirit, but her efforts were always undercut by money troubles. She died alone and forgotten, but then Alice Walker helped resurrect her legacy. Now her books have sold in droves and she is studied widely. However, I just couldn’t find enough about her writing life (other than her money woes pertaining to such) to weave through the chapters.

I almost used Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), author of the children’s classic The Yearling, as she did leave a fair amount of writings on her life as a writer, but there was some indefinable thing about her that somehow didn’t resonate with me; she often seemed to have some axe to grind. Ultimately I thought that twelve was a better number than thirteen, and not just due to superstition!

So many interesting and surprising tidbits of these writers’ lives are included that I’d love to share all the secrets! But since my book efforts are in children’s literature, I’ll go with Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. Can you divulge a shocker or two about sweet Louisa?

Louisa May Alcott was a hard-working, strong woman. The biggest surprise for me was that she wrote lots of anonymous thrillers and gothics before her classic Little Women was published. She did them because she needed the money to support her mother and sisters. She thought of Little Women as just another job, cranking it out to make a quick buck. Both she and her publisher were surprised at its immediate success. One of the anonymous thrillers she wrote, A Long Fatal Love Chase, was republished just a few years ago with her real name. I read about 90% of it; sorry to say I didn’t think it was very good, and LMA may well have agreed with that assessment.

What I like about Alcott was her determination to earn a living from writing and not being wimpy about demanding her due. It took decades of slow but steady progress, but she did finally earn not just a living, but a tidy sum from Little Women and the books that followed. Unfortunately, she only lived to the age of 55, and was pretty well worn out by overwork and illness by then.

If you could sit down and have tea and a chat with any of these women, with whom would you choose to share an afternoon? (Goodness, reading this book has already improved my literary skills!)
I notice lately that some women with whom (see that?) I have been in touch have revived the word “whilst.” So maybe there is a trend toward better grammar and classic vocabulary!

It would be hard to choose, of course. I would have loved to meet them all and do the things they enjoyed doing—go to the opera with Willa Cather (though I found her to be a bit intimidating); stroll with Edith Wharton in Paris, visit with George Sand and all her famous literary and musical cohorts at her lovely estate in central France; and see how Edna Ferber went about transforming her novels into movies and Broadway shows.

I’ve been asked who I would like to meet if I could choose but one, and that would be Charlotte Brontë. Her use of the English language was so exquisite that I imagine she’d be a good conversationalist. She also seemed so tough and determined in persevering not only on her own behalf, but that of her literary sisters, Emily and Anne. She sometimes invoked her small stature, and as another very petite woman I would enjoy looking her in the eye!

I’m sure it’s hard to pick a favorite piece of writerly (Oops! Maybe I’m not as improved as I thought.) advice or inspiration from these literary ladies, so I’ll just ask you to leave us with the quote that resonates with you today.
You know, the word “writerly” (and even “writery”) has come up several times in conversations about this book. My word processing program doesn’t highlight it as an error, so I think we can safely use it; it’s a great word!

Since you’re interested in children’s literature, I’ll leave you with a quote by Madeleine L’Engle (1818-2007), best known for the YA classic A Wrinkle in Time. As both a writer and visual artist, I remind myself that it’s important to take risks, even though it feels like I’m constantly trying to reinvent the wheel:

“Risk is essential. It’s scary. Every time I sit down and start the first page of a novel I am risking failure … We are encouraged only to do that which we can be successful in. But things are accomplished only by our risk of failure. Writers will never do anything beyond the first thing unless they risk growing.”

—From Madeleine L’Engle Herself, 2001

You. Will. Love. This. Book. If you’re lucky, you’ll win the copy I’ve pored over. Leave me a comment about your favorite literary lady, or if you have a question for Nava, she’ll be checking in today with answers. On Monday, I’ll draw a name.

If you’re not so lucky here, don’t despair. Nava has assured me that there are plenty of copies available of The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life. So either way, make room on your shelf for this wonderful book. Seriously, you’ll whee for excitement, too.

Um, you know what I mean.

(P.S. Just heard from Nava that she’ll be making another WOW! blog stop, so we’ll ask her to leave details in the comments. But that doesn’t mean you can slack off here. A wheee in the hand is worth two wheee’s in the future blog.)

Letters From Home By Kristina McMorris

We have an expression around the South that dates back to when writing letters was commonplace. Let’s say you tried a recipe that didn’t go over too well. You might say, “It was nothing to write home about.” Even back when we wrote letters, we acknowledged that taking the time to “write home” about something was special.

And today, I’ve got something special to share with my home readers. It’s a lovely book called Letters from Home by Kristina McMorris who’s on a WOW! Blog tour this month.

Kristina McMorris lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. She has garnered more than twenty national literary awards since writing her first novel, Letters from Home. A graduate of Pepperdine University, she spent twelve years hosting weekly television shows, including an Emmy® Award-winning television show at age nine. Prior to her literary career, she was the owner of a wedding/event planning business and public relations director of an international conglomerate.

Here’s a brief synopsis of this charming story:

In the midst of World War II, a Midwestern infantryman falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware that the girl he’s writing to isn’t the one replying. Woven around this tenuous thread are three female friends whose journeys toward independence take unexpected turns as a result of romance, tragedy, and deception, their repercussions heightened by an era of the unknown. “Ambitious and compelling…[a] sweeping debut” (Publishers Weekly), LETTERS FROM HOME is a story of hope and connection, of sacrifices made in love and war – and the chance encounters that change us forever.

I love the concept of this book, of the letters from home. And I worry that we’ll lose the art of letter-writing what with technology zipping along faster than the U.S. Mail. I asked Kristina to share a few thoughts with us about letters, and the writing thereof. Here’s what she had to say:

“Throughout history, forms of communication have evolved. Telegrams have become phone calls. Mailed documents have become faxes. Letters, even to express adoration, have generally become quick, convenient electronic messages.

For example, here’s a possible note of endearment via email:

Hey, hon! At work, thinking about ya. 😉
The photo you sent was fab…might have to blow it up life-size, LOL.
I’ll call later, k?

In text messaging, an exchange between lovebirds might look like:

“Howz ur day?”
“Gr8. U?”
“Luv u.”
“Me 2.”

And, on Facebook you could even luck out by getting “poked.” (Although I’m still not entirely clear what that means.)

The benefit of speediness in today’s correspondence is inarguable. But have we lost something meaningful in the process? No matter how heartwarming the message might be, how many times do you reread an email? Or a text? A tweet?

Until a few years ago, I had no idea my grandparents had met only twice during WWII before getting married. Upon revealing this astounding tidbit, my grandmother retrieved from her closet a secret collection of the wartime letters responsible for initially forging their bond.

In contrast to the modern-day exchanges above, here is an actual excerpt from one of my grandpa’s letters:

“Every night I dream of you and those nights and days we have spent together. There shall never be another for me but you, Darling. Every part of me is true blue to the one I love…..Gee, Darling, how happy I would be to let you sleep on my arm tonight and every night from now on. I love you! Just 62 more days! Bushels and bushels of kisses, Hon.

Your loving husband,

Indeed, that is the type of letter worthy of repeated readings. In fact, this was the very stack of letters that inspired me to write my first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME, thereby changing the course of my life.

So yes, life is busy, and time always seems in short supply. But every once in a while, take a few minutes to express how you much you care—through a device that doesn’t have an on-button, that is. You never know how deeply your message might reach, or who else you could inspire even decades down the road.”

That is so true, Kristina! In fact, I’m inspired right now. I’m giving away a copy of Letters From Home to one lucky commenter. I’d love to know about the last time you sat down to “write a letter home.”

I think for me, it was the summer I spent in Europe. But I have a feeling I left out all the good stuff in that letter!

P.S. You know every letter has to have a P.S. Here’s yours: For more about Kristina and her book, Letters from Home, check out her website at kristinamcmorris.com.

P.P.S. Oooh! Remember the P.P.S.? I forgot to tell you that the giveaway runs through Monday. I want to give all my readers plenty of time to write home to Cathy C’s Hall of Fame for a chance to win!