Archive for April, 2009


The Last Waltz Website

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in contest, My books

Have you ever wanted to go to Vienna?  To take a virtual tour, visit the website – – my brilliant husband just created, and be certain to visit the Vienna section—all of it.  You will see panoramic views of gorgeous buildings inside and out.  Those of you who have read my book, will love to visit the place where all the action took place!  The only objection I have is that Rudolf doesn’t look like that.  He looks like Richard Armitage.


I’m off to see the wizard . . .

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Future Plans

My wizard is, of course, my grandson Jack.  He exercises tremendous recuperative and restorative powers upon my soul, which is battered from working far too hard.  For instance, in a recent blog post, my daughter Buffy reported that Jack has, for reasons known only to himself, decided that his name is Tyrone.  He tells this to everyone he meets.  When I read that, I had my first belly laugh in weeks!

We are going to do all manner of crafts I have sent ahead in a huge box.  I intend to bring home some of his artwork for display in my office.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, I am writing a book about our adventures called:  The Extraordinary Adventures of Jack and His Nana.

In other news, I am in the process of determining my future plans.  My product director and I met last week, and definitely nixed the idea of a sequel to Waltz.  That is the kind of effort one puts forth once in a lifetime, I think.  The years it would take me to match it with a sequel are years I just don’t have.  (I am reminded of this continually, as I am about to undergo my third orthopedic surgery in a year.   This week I got the disheartening news that a fourth one will be necessary.)  So! It is time to explore new paths.  I left a proposal and a finished manuscript, written long ago and recently refurbished, with her and she is going to let me know what she thinks.

She already likes the proposal, which is good since it entails traveling to Tuscany for local color.  I am tentatively planning a trip there in September.  My husband is iffy about accompanying me.  Anybody up for a boondoggle to Sienna?  We could make it a group trip! (Like Enchanted April).


Kathi Petersen’s Interview

   Posted by: G.G.    in Reviews

Read the entire interview here.

At a signing a couple of weeks ago, I saw a new book titled, The Last Waltz. I read on the back of the book that it takes place during World War I. As many of you know I wrote a nonfiction childrens activity book about that great war, so I was more than a little intrigued. The author, GG Vandagriff, is on one of my internet loops so we’ve exchanged emails a couple of times. She’s an amazing person and I wanted to do an interview with her so you could get to know her, too.

Thanks, GG for the wonderful interview!


What inspires you and motivates you to write the very most?

I feel compelled to write about the redeeming power of love and how it can change the world. In LDS books I write about family and the atonement. In my non-LDS books I show love as a redemptive force. My favorite fictional heroine is Margaret Hale from Elizabeth Gaskill’s North and South, who changes her whole town with her love and adherence to righteous principles. When my daughter was reading my Last Waltz, she paid me the ultimate compliment of telling me that my main character, Amalia, was like Margaret Hale.

What compelled you to write your first book?

My first and last book is The Last Waltz. I started writing it when I was 27 and knew it was way beyond my writing ability at the time. However, Austria was such a part of me after living and studying there, and her story is so compelling and untold in fiction, that I knew it had the makings of a great epic. I just had to go through my own fire before I could write about characters who went through one of the greatest challenges in history.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Since I was nine years old I have been scribbling stories about alternate realities.
Tell us a little bit about your current release.

In December 1913, the city of Vienna glitters with promises of the future for nineteen-year-old Amalia Faulhaber. Daughter of a prominent merchant, she is schooled in the fine art of flirtation by her aristocratic grandmother and in issues of conscience by her socialist uncle. Then, almost without warning, life takes a dramatic turn as simmering political unrest escalates into World War I, the most deadly war the world has yet known.

Amalia is devastated when the Prussian baron Eberhard von Waldburg breaks off their engagement to return to Germany and a commission in the army. But while Europe descends into darkness, Amalia is forced to confront even greater challenges. Disillusioned and heartbroken, she discovers a budding passion for democracy that sets her life on a new and unpredictable course.

Her family torn apart and impoverished by war, Amalia struggles to find her way in a changing world. Should she marry an idealistic young doctor who shares her political views or the wealthy Baron von Schoenenburg, who promises to provide safety and security in a violent, tumultuous time? Her growing political conscience sets her apart in the social circles of Vienna, but is it worth the personal cost to her and her family? And what can she do when her beloved Austria rushes headlong to embrace Hitler, threatening to destroy everything she loves?

In this gripping tale of love and war, a dazzling young socialite of the old world contends with deeply contradictory notions and personal crises to become a woman who would be extraordinary in any age.

What about your family? Do you have children, married, siblings, parents? Has your family been supportive of your writing.

I am married to a wonderful man who actually edits everything I write, as well as helping me out of tough spots, and co-creating my plots. He co-wrote the book on depression. In Arthurian Omen, he wrote all the poetry. He actually cleans, does laundry, and grocery shopping, so I can work, even though he has his own work. My oldest son is 31 and has his own company. He tells everyone about my books. My daughter was my main editor for The Last Waltz. She is twenty-eight and married to a wonderful man with one child—the joy of my heart—Jack, who is three years old. My father recently passed away but he encouraged my writing all my life. The Last Waltz is dedicated to his memory because he pushed me to publish it for 33 years. He loved the story and thought it was my best work. My mother is also deceased. My brother lives in Hawaii and is a writer and professor at BYU Hawaii. My sister and I are extremely close and she is one of my pre-submission readers. She has dubbed me the Drama Queen and loves to shop with me and choose dramatic clothes for me. (She is a Talbot’s woman through and through, so she loves to dress me).

The main characters of your stories – do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?

I put some of myself in all of my characters. The men as well as the women. Alex, from my genealogy mysteries, is most like me, although I don’t know karate. I am quirky like Briggie, though I don’t fish or hunt. I would like to think that some day when I grow up I could be as brave as Amalia in The Last Waltz.

Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?

I had a wonderful writing mentor before I was published. She really taught me to write through her edits. She had a way of making me dig down inside and write very close to the bone. Nowdays my favorite writer is Marisa de los Santos, author of Love Walked In. She is a real inspiration to me because she is a literary writer who writes about the power of love to effect change.

When growing up, did you have a favorite author, book series, or book?

I loved romantic suspense when I was young—Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Holt, Anya Seton. When I was in High School I discovered the Russians—Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. I admire them tremendously. Tolstoy is my favorite all-time writer, and Anna Karenina my favorite book. When I was older I became captivated by the great 19th century writers: Austen, Bronte, Gaskill, Trollope, and Dickens. I feel much more at home in the 19th century literary world.

What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?

My favorite mystery writer is Earlene Fowler. She writes beautifully, her books are clean, and she has fabulous characters. You want to live in her world. I find myself returning again and again to EM Forster—Room With a View and Howard’s End. As I mentioned above, I just discovered Marisa de los Santos. Right now, I am going through a literary phase and reading mostly classics and good modern lit, like Possession by A.S. Byatt.

When they write your obituary, what do you hope they will say about your book/s and writing? What do you hope they will say about you.

I hope I will be known as a woman who loved. I hope my writing will have brought people into a world where love changed things. I hope I will have brought comfort and solace to as many people as possible.

Tell us about where you grew up and a little about where you live now – city? Suburb? Country? Farm? If you could live anywhere you want to live, where would that be?

I grew up in Pasadena, California, attended Stanford in Palo Alto, California. I lived and studied in Austria near Vienna. I worked in Boston for two years, got my master’s in Washington, D.C., met my husband in Chicago and lived there for a year. Then, six years in California, 16 years in a tiny farm community in Missouri (where there was nothing to do but raise children and write), four years in Oakwood, Ohio, and finally 10 years in Provo. This is the favorite place I’ve ever lived. If I could have my choice of anywhere to live, other than Provo, I would choose Oxford, England.

Bring us into your home and set the scene for us when you are writing. What does it look like?

I am very fortunate to have my own office which I have recently painted cranberry. It looks out over the entire Utah Valley. It is lined with faux antique glass fronted book cases. On the walls are antique prints of Oxford, a plaque given me by my cousin—”Life is God’s Novel. Let Him Write It.” My husband recently framed all my book covers that hang above my cluttered computer desk. My desk is crowded with framed photos of my family, including a picture of my husband and me when we were dating, and my third great grandparents who were extraordinary people whom I try to live up to.

Do you watch television? If so, what are your favorite shows? Does television influence of inspire your writing?

I have recently started watching television to unwind. My favorite programs are NCIS, The Mentalist, Law and Order, and The Closer. But my favorite things to watch are movies made by the BBC of the classics. My favorite movie of all time is “North and South”—a BBC production with my favorite actor Richard Armitage. If I could have my wish, I would love for him to be in a production of The Last Waltz as Baron von Shoenenburg.

Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?

My husband, my father, my friends—Kathy Petty, Sandra Whitaker, Rachel Nunnes, Rondi Peterson, Anna Stone, Dixie Barlow, to name a few, my sister, my daughter, and now the Storymakers. Oh, and of course my editor, Suzanne Brady, and my product manager, Jana Erickson.

How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your books?

Some of them are named after ancestors. In the Last Waltz, the main character is a many times great grandmother. I wrote a friend in Austria who supplied me with the names for all the different classes of people I wrote about in the book. Briggie is named after my great grandmother “Johanna Brighamina Poulson, who hunted and fished.

Do you have book signings scheduled? If so, when and where? Also tell about your blog and website.

Blog is Websites are:,, and I am doing three signings at the Orem Barnes and Noble—the first on 23 Apr, then mid July, then Mid-August. I am doing a signing tour, probably in June where I will visit Barnes and Nobles in Southern California, the Central Valley, Northern California, Seattle, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. I always sign at DB on Ladies’ Night and at Seagull whenever I’m asked.


Meridian Review of The Last Waltz

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

A wonderful review of The Last Waltz on Meridian Magazine by Jennie Hansen.  Thank you!

Romance novels are often maligned because of the simplistic formula central to a large share of the books in this genre, but once in awhile one comes along that breaks free of the supposed mold and delivers a powerful love story that touches the hearts of even those who don’t generally read love stories. Such is The Last Waltz by G. G. Vandagriff. There will be many who will insist this book is not a romance, but rather an historical novel. They may be right because it is also a powerful story of Austria in the years leading up to World War I and continues on through the rise of Hitler’s power. The smaller print beneath the title aptly describes the content as “A novel of Love and War.”

It is the year 1913 and Amalia Faulhaber at 19 is the daughter of a wealthy Austrian merchant and great granddaughter of a Count. She moves in aristocratic circles and is trained for little more than flirting and snaring a suitable husband with a title. She is shocked and embarrassed when her fiancé, Prussian Baron Eberhard von Waldburg breaks off their engagement in order to return to Germany and a commission in the army.

Keeping her broken engagement a secret from all but her grandmother and an uncle, the impulsive young woman courts social ruin by becoming involved with a Polish doctor, Andrzej Zaleski, who has already been claimed by another woman. This is a time of great political intrigue and the rise of fascism, communism, and socialism. It’s a time that saw the destruction of monarchies and the rise of dictators representing the various political factions in Europe . It is a time too when Vienna was the apex of European society. From her uncle Amalia learns a great deal about the socialist movement sweeping across Europe . She also becomes keenly aware of the tenets of democracy from his friend, Baron Rudolf Von Schoenenburg, and from her doctor friend, she learns of independence and democracy. A quarrel and harsh words send her fleeing to Berlin and the baron, who in spite of his noble sacrifice loves her. Their hasty marriage precedes three years of heartache and a solidification of her emerging views on democracy.

Schoenenburg and Zaleski continue to play a prominent role in her life as she faces personal loss, the end of the war and the devastating aftermath, growing political involvement, motherhood, and at last the rising threats of Stalin and Hitler. Torn between the love of two heroic men and her love for her country, she meets life, love, and war head on.

Published by Shadow Mountain , this novel is not specifically LDS but there are strong religious overtones as Amalia seeks a personal relationship with God beyond what she can find in the structured churches of her childhood. She comes to accept man’s responsibility instead of blaming God for the wars and cruelty of the turbulent time in which she lives. Through her work in hospitals and associations with other nurses and her wounded patients she learns that God works through human hands.

As Amalia faces struggles with her family, betrayal, love, madness, obsession, patriotism, and a world torn by conflict, she grows and matures from a sheltered, impulsive teenager to a mature woman of nearly forty, secure in her beliefs and values. She also learns lessons concerning the differing facets of love, passion, fidelity, and sacrifice.

Though I read an advance review copy of this epic tale, I found few errors or typos, so I expect the bound volume will be excellent in this regard. The background has been researched with tremendous care by the author who lived in Austria as a young woman on a study abroad program and through her years of fine tuning the story which followed. Passions ran high during the time period Vandagriff portrays concerning the different political movements in Europe prior to and during the World Wars, and she has presented these philosophies and the wars that resulted in an understandable and accurate fashion. Her characters are strong and likable, yet flawed in ways the reader can visualize and accept. The plot and theme carry brilliantly throughout the entire almost six hundred page novel without the repetition or sags often seen in novels of this length.

The Last Waltz is a book to savor. It educates; it is filled with action; the tender love story is mirrored in the political conflicts of the day, it is filled with points to ponder, and it entertains. The only fault I found with this novel is its length. It is difficult to find time to read a novel this size, and the fact that it is a hard story to set down, can conflict with getting anything else accomplished. Yet I found it worth the time expended and I recommend this book to all readers


Decision Time: Sequel to Waltz?

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Future Plans

Many of you have asked about a sequel to Waltz.  I realize that the book cries out for one, and I have a loose plot—Amalia working for the SOE (Special Operations Executive, one of Britain’s World War II spy organizations that used female agents) undercover in France, Andrzej doing the same thing in Poland, Rudi with the RAF, and Chris decoding German messages at Bletchley.  Told from all four points of view.  However, as you may have noticed, I am a slow writer.  I can’t take 33 years to do this one, but it will be another epic.  Hermann Wouk took ten years to write his sequel to Winds of War!  My crazy friend, Alana has suggested a hilarious title: “And the Band Played On!”  Isn’t that a completely nutty way to describe WWII?

I have a completed ms The Only Bright Thing that is an allegory of the fall.  It is quite literary and I was going to try to sell it in NYC, but after the wonderful job Shadow Mountain is doing with publicity and financing a signing tour for Waltz, I think I am going to hand it in to my product director tomorrow and see if she thinks it would be right for Shadow Mountain.  It is another manuscript that has been years in the making.  Five years to write, and another fifteen to work over and refine.  So, I am hoping that can be next year’s offering.

This fall, The Hidden Branch, my latest and probably last Alex and Briggie will be published.  For those of you who haven’t read my mystery series, it’s much different than Waltz, but it is funny and entertaining.  Briggie is especially outrageous in this one where she and Richard (her sixty-something swain) have several brushes with the law.  For those of you who thought Alex’s fiancé Charles was too good to be true, you will see how right you were!  Plus, you will find everything you wanted to know about Armenians and take a nice visit to Huntington Beach, California.  Now, I just need to layer one more time before I send it off tomorrow.  Nothing like barely making your deadline!


Michele Ashman Bell’s Review of The Last Waltz

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

From Michelle Bell’s blog

Last Waltz, is a stunningly written and researched and raises the bar in LDS historical fiction. GG Vandagriff’s beautiful writing style and ability to make each page come to life, makes this book an experience to read. This book is at the top of my list of favorites.

I am so excited to have had the chance to interview GG and find out about more about this wonderful woman and incredible author.

Here’s my interview:

M.B.: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

AUTHOR:I had a very tumultuous, unhappy childhood and was pretty severely introverted. In order to cope, I invented fantasy worlds. They weren’t about princesses or dragons, they were about ordinary people who had ordinary lives. The story wasn’t as important as the alternate reality that I could lose myself in. My Aunt who was very creative (she was bi-polar like I turned out to be) started calling me an “authoress” when I was nine and was very encouraging. I wrote endlessly and she always listened to my stories and gave encouraging comments.

M.B.: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?

AUTHOR: I was very timid about my writing and feared rejection. As a consequence, I wrote for years on the same books (The Last Waltz which was just published was begun when I was 27. Another book, yet to be tried was The Only Bright Thing which I worked on for about 6 years). Finally, I took a class from the head of publishing at Andrews & McMeel. They published strictly non-fiction and for class we had to write a book proposal. The idea popped in my head to write about family history from the point of view of finding our true identity. I called it, Voices In Your Blood. My proposal really excited the publisher, and she asked me to submit it to her house. I did, was accepted, received an advance (they do that in the real world), and had an absolute ball writing and promoting that book. Concurrently, I was working on a “potato chip book”–a light mystery about two genealogists–Alex and Briggie. I got an agent immediately, first try. However, she was not a good agent and was not committed to selling my book. After seven rejections, she just said, “Write another mystery for me and we’ll try again.” My free lance editor who was really responsible for teaching me to write, said, “Make Alex a convert and send it to Deseret.” This was in 1993 and no Mormon mysteries had been published, but I got almost instantaneous acceptances from both DB and Covenant. I decided to go with DB. They published two books in the series, but then I got very very ill and couldn’t write anymore. Ten years later, after I was miraculously healed, I found an Alex and Briggie on my hard drive. I didn’t even remember writing it. I called my editor at DB and she talked to the product director. They wanted it immediately. I demurred and said I thought it needed a lot of editing. That book became Tangled Roots and I was on my way.

M.B.: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?

AUTHOR: I battle discouragement because I never think what I write is any good. My standards are impossibly high because my ideal is Tolstoy! I also did try to market one of my other books nationally and met with nothing but rejection. That was really difficult. I also get discouraged because most publishers (non-LDS) want what I refuse to write. Even my Shadow Mountain national books are placed in the “Inspirational” section of the bookstore instead of where they belong. I deal with these setbacks by putting myself in the hands of the Lord. If I do the very best that I can do, I know that He will take me where I need to go. Instead of being frustrated, I need to be and try to be grateful that I’ve come this far.M.B.: What is your writing schedule like?AUTHOR:I start every morning at 8:00 and write until I can’t go anymore (usually around 3 or 4. Then I take care of business for about an hour or so. At night, I just try to get my mind off my writing, because my subconscious needs to ferment. The only day I don’t write is Sunday. However, all my kids are gone now, so I don’t need to work around their schedules like I did for years.M.B.: Where did your idea come from for this book?AUTHOR: I lived in Austria when I was in college. I learned its 20th century history and thought it fascinating. No one in the states ever studies Austrian history. However, it has much to teach us. Before I was married, I also had a very complex love life,(drama queen) so I had no trouble getting my heroine in a mess. I plotted this book on the bus on the way to work when I was 27. I am now 61 and it is finally in print. (And I can safely say it is not a potato chip book)

M.B.: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

AUTHOR: Read Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, and follow her directions for daily writing exercises. Then choose a special friend or two or three who also like to write. Meet once a week, do writing exercises together, and share. (You can also do this on line) You will be absolutely amazed at how your writing will flower. It will come from the deepest part of you. Your “writing bones”. It will not be superficial, but REAL. Once you have started a book, listen to what your characters tell you even if it means a massive rewrite. Real emotion and real characters are the keys to first class writing. I don’t know this because I have arrived there yet, I just know it from reading my favorite authors. A new favorite is Marisa de los Santos–“Love Walked In.”

M.B.: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sitdown and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outlinefirst?

AUTHOR: It’s different every time. The best ideas always come when I brainstorm with my husband. He is my co-creator in every way, though he will never take credit. I always have to start with something I love and am passionate about–a time period, a country, a place, a pursuit (genealogy). Then I have to get to know my characters really well. If I neglect this step, my writing has no life and I have to go back and explore every phase of my character’s personalities–even things that don’t go in the book. My mind is naturally devious, so even if I outline, my book comes out differently. I always learn something from my characters. To me they are very real.

M.B.: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer’sblock? If so, how do you deal with it?

AUTHOR: I never get writer’s block, but I do get exhausted. I know a scene is coming I don’t have the energy to emote through. When that happens I go watch a movie or go out to lunch or take a nap. Coming back refreshed always works.

M.B.: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music whenyou are writing?AUTHOR:I do listen to music–mostly Celtic.

M.B.: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

AUTHOR: I have to feed my mind with good stuff. I have to read the scriptures. I have to go to the temple. I have to pray ALOT. And I listen to a lot of Rachmaninoff if I’m writing an emotional scene.

M.B.: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

AUTHOR: My first editor really taught me to write. She inspired me by pulling the good bits out and telling me to showcase them. She taught me not to use a hackneyed phrase. She taught me to look DEEP and DEEPER inside myself for material. She was always encouraging. I couldn’t have had a better teacher. Her name is Lavina Fielding Anderson. Some of you may know that she was excommunicated about 12 years ago. That was after I worked with her. Our differences are doctrinal, but she is still my friend and still cheers me on. (Even though I am about as conservative as you can get)

M.B.: Do you use a critique group during the writing process? Why or why not?

AUTHOR: My critique group is on the internet and goes from California to Washington, D.C. There are about five or six people that read all my manuscripts. My sister and my daughter, friends from Stanford, and new friends. They are all great.

M.B.: Anything about yourself that you would like readers to know about?

AUTHOR: I think I’ve said it all.

M.B.: Any final words you would like to share?

AUTHOR:Seek the best counsel and never give up.

M.B.: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?

AUTHOR:My books are available at Seagull, Deseret Book (stores or on line), Barnes & Noble (for Shadow Mountain, which includes my latest book, The Last Waltz) on line or in stores, Amazon, or through my website They are all in print except for Voices In Your Blood which can usually be found on Amazon, Alibris, or e-bay.Please add any other information, like a brief bio or bookdescription, that you would like.See my website for my biography and descriptions of all my books. My blog has reviews and descriptions of my latest: Thanks, Michele for caring enough about our LDS writing community to do this!–


LDStorymakers: A nurturing haven

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Authors

After having spent a rich evening with many of the Storymakers last night at a benefit for the Pleasant Grove Library, I just want to express my thanks to Scott Savage and all the wonderful nurturing women who have taken me under their collective wing.  Everyone has been so kind and generous with their time and advice.  I feel a part of a great hive of workers for the Kingdom.  I have, in a previous life, been involved in many writing groups, which made me hesitant to join this one.

Those groups were not nurturing, but cut-throat.  I have published nationally and had a New York agent, and those experiences were extremely difficult.  Because of those experiences, I can appreciate how truly unique Storymakers is.  No one is in competition.  You all probably don’t realize what an incredible thing that is.  Not only that but everyone is willing to help everyone else.  I also have an on-line system of friends and an actual social life (Rachel regularly drags  me away from my computer along with TJ and my husband).

I will be out of town for the Storymaker’s conference and the Whitneys, but wish you all the best in your great efforts to “build a body of literature that will reach the heavens”.  Orson F. Whitney said something approaching that.

Thank you all.


Cindy Beza’s Interview on From the Grove

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

Interview with GG Vandagriff

April 2, 2009 by csbezas

Be prepared to meet an absolutely amazing person. Not only does she write lyrical stories in a way that moves your heart and enlarges your mind, but she is an altogether pleasing person. I’ve recently met GG Vandagriff via an interview and can’t wait for you to learn more about her.

C.S.: GG, tell us a little bit about yourself.

GG:I have been writing since I was little. My life was unhappy and so I created fantasy worlds with the kind of family I wanted to have. All of my books are meant to explore the true meaning of love (familial, romantic, friendship) and how it changes lives. I also got into genealogy with a lot of enthusiasm, because of my need for family. It was very healing and very helpful to my wounded psyche.

C.S.: What was the process of discovering that love for words?

GG: My best friend Dianne and I had kind of a reading club when we were teenagers. We read romantic suspense and passed our books back and forth. Then, in my honors lit class in High School, I discovered the Russians. I fell in love with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. My husband is a poet and studied poetry in depth when he was in college. He imparted his love for poetry to me, teaching me how reading it aloud was the only way to get the full meaning. We had poetry evenings with our kids where he recited poems all the time they were growing up. They liked “The Congo” by Vachell Lindsey the best. It scared them to death and now would not be considered “p.c.” In fact, poor Vachell has probably been burned in effigy.

C.S.: :0) So how have you refined your ability to write? How many drafts do you have to go to until you can get the words on the page to match the scenes in your heart?

GG: I had a wonderful editor who worked with me for five years on one novel, until every word was perfect. I learned to write from her. (I am saving that novel until the time is right to publish – it is literary, which is a hard sell) I don’t work well under deadlines, because I need the freedom to layer my books. I’ll get the basic storyline down, then I go through it from each character’s p.o.v., layering in their personalities. That often changes the whole novel. The theme usually emerges when I’m at this point.

Then I go through and develop the minor characters. I remember when writing Tangled Roots, I left the three eccentric pets in the mansion where they had lived with their mistress who had been murdered. I didn’t remember until the book was finished that I had left them all alone. The book was due Monday. I spent all day Saturday layering in the pets and their idiosyncrasies. It gave the story much more texture. For some people, it was their favorite part of the story!

C.S.: I think this is why I so enjoy your writing. The effort and nuance you add make the event of reading so worthwhile! What is your process for staying engaged in a story, when you get to the huge middle portion of novel writing?

GG: David (my husband) and I call that the “Serengeti Plains.” But to answer your question, I set goals for completing so many chapters a week. I also use this part of the book to go deeper into my characters and their motivations. I use conflict between characters, or internal conflict to keep the reader engaged. Also, minor characters can help me through this section by demonstrating engaging idiosyncrasies.

In a mystery, of course, this part is where there is another murder or the hero is in danger. It is really important to keep the suspense building. But I think there is suspense in romance and straight lit too. The trick is not to reveal everything all at once, to keep the readers guessing.

C.S.: What is your process of overall story building? Do you outline? Do you not?

GG: I try to start with something I feel passionate about – a place, an idea, a historical period. Out of my passion, the plot outline develops in my head, but I keep it loose, because my books are all character driven (even when they have a strong plot). I try to stay absolutely true to my characters. This is often inconvenient, but when your characters are “alive”, it’s imperative.

The book I am writing now under deadline is driving me crazy, because I had it finished and then one of my characters reared up and said, “That’s not the way it happened!” Now I’m having to change the whole thing. It is much more engaging, but I am exhausted trying to get the whole thing revised before my deadline in 2 weeks! I would like the chance to layer a little more, but I’m not going to get it. I think Rachel Nunes must have an IQ of about 200, because she can do everything the first time through! I can’t even imagine that!

C.S.: What have you found to be the single most effective tool against discouragement? And how do you combat the dreaded “I can’t write. What am I doing writing?”

GG: If I am feeling that way, I usually go to the temple, read my patriarchal blessing, pray a lot. That re-infuses me with a sense of mission. I know the Lord will help me if I just sit back down and start writing again.

C.S.: Once you get back to writing, and your first draft is finished, what is your process of revising?

GG: The revising is the icing on the cake. That’s where I have fun. I take out all my hackneyed phrases and find metaphors. I look out for places where I “told” rather than showed, and change those. The revision is where the novel comes alive for me. I do the thing with the characters as explained above. I “go deep”.

C.S.: And you do it so well, GG. Tell me about your most recent book, The Last Waltz. It is an absolutely lovely story. I don’t usually read this genre, but I became enthralled with this book! It has become one of my favorites and I believe it will become a classic work.

GG: I spent years and years writing that book. I had the history down cold. I knew the plot line. But the characters just wouldn’t come alive. Last year, I finally asked myself, “What would Tolstoy do?” (This is an epic, so I could ask that kind of question.) I finally realized my problem. I was writing about the most complex society, steeped in decadence and neuroses (Vienna), the worst war in history (WW I) and I was trying to do it through the eyes of an innocent 19 year old! Of course I was having problems!

I changed the whole thing so that it came from multiple points of view. It is a complex plot that included many men. I did a whole life history for each of the men. Then I wrote Amalia (my main character) from each of their points of view. What she meant to each of them revealed their own characters, and made Amalia much more interesting. The book was always meant to be a metaphor for the society and politics of Vienna between 1913-1938. Writing it this way made that task much easier. From that point on, the book almost wrote itself because I knew the characters so well.

C.S.: Which character was hardest for you to write?

GG: My main character. She was flawed, but I had to make her sympathetic. It took years to transform Amalia fro an empty-headed beauty into a rare, principled, strong woman who could carry the story. I think I was way too young when I started the tale. I needed my own life experiences to write of a woman who had passed through fire.

C.S.: As you said, this story was years in coming, decades actually. How did you handle the research and keeping it all straight?

GG:I have massive files. Fortunately, I wrote the history first, when I still had a brain. The history was a ready-made plot. Populating it with real characters and not cardboard ones was the hard part. I had gone to school and studied with Austrian professors in my long-ago youth. So I had the “zeitgeist” (feel for the era) down cold. It was like visiting Vienna every time I sat down to write. I never could have written the book without the feel for Vienna I got while living there.

Also I should mention that I got my BA and MA in the history, politics, and economics of Central Eastern Europe, so I was pretty well educated about the times.

C.S.: What you wrote manifests that, GG. And the many reviewers speak highly of your efforts. So, since this was a book long in coming, any final words to discouraged writers out there? In your opinion, do you have to be talented to become published?

GG: I think everyone has an inner writer. If you want to tap into it, you need to pay the price. That means doing writing exercises, some times (in my case!) for a long time. You need to become acquainted with your right brain.

The best time to do them is early in the morning. You take a trigger (a poem, a picture, a piece of music, a memory, the first line of a novel) and write without stopping for 20 minutes anything that comes into your head. You do this every day. No one is going to read it, so write everything. This is the writer in you.

Then, one day, a character or a story will appear. Be patient with yourself. Two excellent books are Writing Down the Bones, and The Artist’s Way. They both go into this process in much more detail.

C.S.: Thank you, GG. You’ve been most kind. And for those who’ve not yet gotten their own copies of The Last Waltz, you absolutely must. Get it for Mother’s Day, get it for graduation gifts, get one for yourself. It is that good.

GG’s website/blog is here. She also is a journalist for Meridian Magazine, with articles and content that will inspire and life you.


Heather Moore’s Review of The Last Waltz

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

Shadow Mountain, March 2009
Review by Heather Moore

Modern teenagers of today might think people of early twentieth century Europe were a simple lot. After all, they rode in carriages, wrote letters by hand, and attended formal balls. The nobility did little else but gossip and discuss Parisian fashions. Yet, in GG Vandagriff’s newest novel, pre-World War I Austria explodes with intrigue, volatile politics that would eventually bring the Austrian people under Hitler’s rule, and a love story that proves that a woman’s heart is as vast as the ocean.

In 1913, Amalia Faulhaber is just nineteen years old, engaged to a Baron who will secure her family’s social status. Her life is predictable as she follows the pattern set by the aristocracy. Then her fiancé breaks their engagement, telling her he must follow his childhood dream and join the Prussian army. He leaves for Germany that same day. Amalia is devastated, but even worse, humiliated. She hides the break-up until she can deliver a valid explanation to her family.

Yet as she is struggling with feelings of being rejected, she meets two men. One is another Baron—an Austrian who promises to choose her over his country. The other, a Pole, who holds the same ideals as Amalia and haunts her dreams and every waking moment.

But a terrible misunderstanding drives Amalia to make a mistake that she will pay for a lifetime. Soon after, World War I breaks out, and Amalia is forced to face her ghosts and heal from tragedy. She copes by working as a nurse, becoming a witness to unspeakable horrors.

Her family loses their position in society and politics and war take over any hope of Amalia ever marrying for true love. Austria is thrown into chaos as various government ideals struggle for power. Family members are forced to choose sides. Fortunes are lost. Jews are persecuted. Amalia’s only salvation is developing a relationship with the Lord. And she must learn to trust again.

Before reading this book, I’d never given too much thought to those who lived in pre-Hitler controlled Austria. Of course, I’ve seen the Sound of Music enough times to understand that those who did not swear allegiance to Hitler were in mortal danger. Yet, the events leading up to this historical time were fascinating. The Last Waltz was truly an epic love tale, spanning four decades of Amalia’s life—following her through triumph and tragedy. She’d lost so much, yet came out so strong. And through all of her temptations she remained a virtuous woman.

If I was to nitpick one thing, I would have liked more time and attention spent on the literal last waltz that took place near the end of the book.

Yet, overall GG Vandagriff has a talent for immersing the reader in a different time and place. I was interested to read her biography and discover that she’d lived and studied in Austria. The Last Waltz is also a novel that was thirty years in the making. I’m grateful it finally made it to me.

You can read more reviews at Heather’s blog, LDS Readers