Archive for May, 2009


Writer’s Serendipity

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Future Plans

It happens once in a blue moon, right?  The happy accident that sometimes defines our story.  Well, maybe it’s because the Lord thought I needed a boost after my surgical trauma, but today (Sunday of all things) I woke up at four o’clock am with the plots for all four of my upcoming Crazy Ladies of Oakwood series.  The series is about a therapy group of  four women who are all single for different reasons.  They watch Enchanted April and decide they simply must go to Tuscany so it can work its magic on them.  I intend to devote a book to each woman—Roxie, the J-Lo look alike who hates men, Sara the woman who became an ob-gyn to please her Vietnamese immigrant parents, but who desperately wants to be a concert violinist, Georgia, the recently widowed wife of a narcissist who thinks she has no identity, and poor McKenzie the controlling perfectionist whose husband has left her for his boat in Florida, causing his formerly straight arrow kids to deviate from the path she has proscribed for them.

The story of each one came sailing from my subconscious mind to my conscious mind at four in the morning.  It was so complete, that I had no choice but to get out of bed, negotiating my walker into the office, where I wrote everything I could remember!  I knew I would never get back to sleep until I did!

So, now I just have to arrange for my first trip—to Florence and Tuscany for McKenzie’s story.  Hopefully, the royalties will make that possible!  Next year I will have to go to the Greek Isles for Sara, then Provence for Georgia, and finally the Scottish Highlands for Roxie! (A Cubana in Highland Dress?—that has to be serendipity!)

Sounds like fun, huh?


Stop to Remember the Miracles

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Authors

In this slip-slidey world of ours where treasures have indeed grown slippery as predicted in the Book of Mormon, there are things that remain to which we can still tether our hope. Miracles.

Miracle upon miracle is recorded in the book When Hearts Conjoin, co-written by Erin Herrin and Lu Ann Staheli, about the wondrous birth, survival, and first-time in the world separation of the co-joined Herrin twins. This book is not about easy faith or perfect people. It is about people who have committed sins, repented, and moved on to build faith that flew in the face of all known medical knowledge of the times.

Beautifully and rivetingly written, this account begins with a marriage on its last legs, and the sudden unwelcome news that Erin was carrying conjoined twins. Not only was their survival way against the odds, the risk to Erin during delivery was enormous. In order to properly deliver the twins by C-section, she would lose tremendous amounts of blood. However, both Erin and her estranged husband Jake felt strongly that the twins should not be aborted (even though the church’s stand of putting the health of the mother first would make it acceptable). They both believed from the very beginning that these girls were part of their eternal family. Erin already loved them. Her pregnancy was extremely difficult, to say the least. However, during that time, Jake miraculously returned home and helped her all along the way.

This tale could have been told sentimentally, leaving out all of the difficulties and the humanness of the struggle. But it is told truthfully, in great detail. As a result, the miracles that this couple faced stand starkly against their trials. Their faith shines brightly against the odds that the girls would 1.) survive gestation, 2.) survive delivery, 3.) survive the first years of their lives, and 4.) would survive the never-before-tried separation. I give this away in this review, because their story is well-known the world over. It is also well known that this 26 year old mother, Erin, who subsequently had given birth to another set of twins, gave one of her own kidneys to her daughter Maliyah, who had none after the separation.

What is not known are the difficulties that tried their faith, the way Jake and Erin chose to honor their temple sealing, the tales of angels from the other side helping the girls to cope with their many surgeries.

This is a miracle to rejoice in, a triumphant tale of the latter-days, a joy to inform us that even in the bleakest of times, the Lord is still there with His angels.

The book may be purchased at


Interview with author, Lynn Gardner

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Fiction, Writing

Lynn’s hallmark as a writer has always been fast-paced suspense that takes place in interesting locals which she carefully researches.  Her latest novel, Pursued, is second in her Maggie McKenzie series, intertwining Maggie’s search for her brothers, who were adopted out at birth, with a world wide plot involving the destruction of major cities and landmarks.  It is non-stop action from page one.  Lynn’s webpage is here.

Following is an interview I had with the very prolific, Lynn, whom new LDS readers may not know very well.

GG: How long have you been writing the Maggie McKenzie series?

When Rubies and Rebels, the 9th book in the gem series was published in 2003, my editor asked what my next project was. I had just completed the research (a trip to Italy and Greece with my husband) on the 10th book, Topaz and Treachery. She asked if I anything else in mind. Actually, I had been thinking about a young photojournalist fresh from college who has a demanding boss who didn’t want her in the first place so he gives her all sorts of ridiculous assignments. She suggested that instead of writing Topaz, I start the new series. Vanished: A Maggie McKenzie Mystery was published in 2004.

I then wrote Topaz, and as soon as it was finished, I started on Pursued, the second in the Maggie series. But the editors didn’t like the twin mind connection, (they didn’t much like it in the first book either, but since I had so much documentation on the research being done on that subject, they relented if I toned it down considerably, which I did.) But with each rewrite and submission, I’d find a new editor looking at the manuscript and suggesting different revisions. At one point, I was so discouraged, I was ready to just forget the whole thing and toss the manuscript “in the bottom drawer” as the saying goes. They encouraged me to make some drastic changes in the story line – which I did.

I had some good advice from my friend, Val, and started over with a new premise, slashed some of my favorite parts which contained the mind connection with the twins and siblings, and the exciting climax which took place in the ruins I most loved in Wales, Tintern Abbey. It is a wonderful, magical place that I could have spent hours in just soaking up the spirit and atmosphere that William Wordsworth felt. He wrote that when his spirits were burdened and he was depressed, he just had to return to Tintern Abbey in his thoughts and remember the beautiful Wye River flowing next to it and he was rejuvenated. But that will never see the light of day. Sorry.

So with all the rewrites and rejections, and more rewrites, you can see that Pursued took four long, agonizing years. Which seems incredible, since Emeralds, the first book only took me two years. It came out in 1995; Pearls, 1996; Diamonds, 1997; Turquoise, 1998; Sapphires, 1999; Amethysts, 1999; (two books that year!) Jade, 2000; Opals, 2001. Then we went on a mission to Armenia, and when I got back, Rubies was published. So apparently, I wasn’t getting to be a better writer during all those years.

GG: What would you consider your hallmarks as a writer?

If you mean, what do my readers expect when they pick up my books, they know they will find in-depth description of place and some history to go with it, a lot of fast-paced action, and a good absorbing story. I love to feel familiar with a place when I’m reading a book because the author has described it so well, so I want to give my readers that experience. I feel everyone should learn something new when they read, even when they’re just reading for escape, and they should be entertained by the story. I want my stories to be unpredictable, so the reader can’t anticipate what will happen on the next page. As I write, I think, what is the worst thing that can happen next? What if? That usually leads off on exciting tangents. I want readers to feel good in the end – not feel the read was a waste of their time. I’m delighted when someone tells me my books got them through a trying time in their lives by taking them out of their troubles for a bit and into another world.

GG: How much on the spot research did you do for Pursued?

As with all my books, I personally travel to the location so I can get the feel of the place first hand, and I research the history so I can include fun things about it, weaving them into the story line. I traveled to England and Wales with two cousins and a friend to do family history research, knowing at the time that I was writing this book, so everywhere we went, I plotted the story and made notes as to what Maggie would be doing there. Unfortunately, much of what I envisioned on the trip didn’t come to pass in the final version of Pursued, but it may ultimately be a better book for some than the first version. I hope so.

GG: Do you outline your books or make them up as you go along or do something in between?

I know the starting point – the inciting incident of the story – and I know where the story should go, and usually have an idea of how it should end. As I begin writing, the characters sort of take over the story and I envision in my mind what they are doing – a movie playing out in full color and sound – and just write what is happening. Occasionally they start down a road that I hadn’t foreseen and it is better, or sometimes I have to rein the characters in and lead them along the story line that I originally conceived. But I do not do organized plot lines or outlines.

GG: Pursued is extremely complex. How do you sustain that complexity? Is it a natural talent or have you developed it over time?

As I said, I’m seeing all this happening in my mind as a movie. There are things occurring at the same time all over the world, so I need to keep the reader up to date on what’s going on. It didn’t feel complex while I was writing it. I was just recording things as they played out for the characters. Does that make sense? Or does it make me sound loony?? J

GG: I think there are two types of writers: a.) the type who can write a book all at once that needs very little revision, or b.) the type (like me) who writes draft after draft, layering the plot and the characters. Which are you?

I used to be the first kind. Sort of. There were always revisions, but nothing too major or time consuming – until Topaz, the 10th in the gem series. I had an editor assigned to me who introduced himself via e-mail saying he didn’t like romantic suspense, never read the genre, but was my new editor, and by the way, my characters were terrible but since they were already established, he guessed there wasn’t too much we could do with them at this point. Our relationship went down hill from there. J The last three books had major issues that required copious amounts of rewrite and revision. But I don’t do several drafts layering plot and characters, though it seems apparent by the editor’s comments that I should have been doing that.

GG: When did you know you wanted to be a writer and how did you decide on suspense fiction?

My high school graduation year book states as one of my goals I will someday write and publish a book. I didn’t even remember that until one of my classmates reminded me after Emeralds was published (39 years after graduation!) But I’ve always written something – I edited a family newsletter for 20 years, wrote Relief Society Newsletters, sacrament meeting special programs for Christmas and Easter, road shows, special Relief Society and Young Women programs. I just had never written a real story – fiction – until I started Emeralds and Espionage.

I love reading suspense and mysteries of all kinds – not thrillers as a rule like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I don’t go for the really terrifying stuff, but when I began writing, it was only natural that I would gravitate to the genre that I loved most to read. I’m sure I read every Nancy Drew mystery as I was growing up, then I read all of my Dad’s Erle Stanley Gardner mysteries, and Agatha Christie, then Mary Stuart and Phyllis Whitney. Then a host of new mystery writers emerged and I devoured them. I love mysteries! When we watch TV, it’s always mysteries or suspense or documentaries – never sitcoms or the alphabet networks. The BBC mysteries are the best!

GG: Are Maggie and Flynn going to get married finally?

(Smiling) I guess you will just have to read the book to find out. I don’t want to spoil the ending for readers who haven’t yet had a chance to get the book.

GG: What are your future writing plans?

I’ve been giving talks for 30 years to women’s conferences, youth and single adult conferences, family history conferences, sacrament meetings and stake conferences and other venues, and I thought now might be a great time to prepare some of those for little gift books. I think in these troubled times, people need a bit of an uplift. And since we are always looking for a thoughtful little gift for Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Days, etc, I thought I might concentrate on that a bit and give my overworked fiction editors some relief. I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear that.

GG: Share with our readers your goals as a writer.

Very simply, I want to entertain, educate and edify with every story. I hope I do that.


Alex and Briggie take to the surf!

   Posted by: G.G.    in My books

On the tail end of my convalecense, I am finishing up my final edit of The Hidden Branch, which I think may be my final mystery.  The Last Waltz has given me a taste for more nutritious fiction, although good escape fiction will always have a place in my life.

Alex and Briggie get mixed up with a crowd of wealthy Armenians who live in Orange County, California.  Don’t ask my why.  My brain just convulsed and out came the plot—a rather strange one involving ancient Armenian treasures, professional surfers, kidnapping, a crisis in the relationship between Alex and Charles, and a big surprise in Briggie’s life.  Full of humor and suspense, I hope it will provide a good finale to the series.

In other news, David’s book on the Atonement—In Common Hours—was accepted for publication by Covenant.  Still don’t have a release date.  He is writing a marvelous fantasy, in between nursing me and spending time on his business.

Have a great Memorial Day everyone!


Out of the Slough of Despond

   Posted by: G.G.    in Friends

This past week has been very interesting as I have dealt with things I thought I wouldn’t face for years—diapers and walkers.  I, of course, am much too young for these things, but they have taught me something valuable about aging.  No matter what you look like outside, aging happens inside, and seasoning too.  A person in this position finds out if they have a sense of humor (fortunately I do, having even come up with the idea of making designer diapers), what their spouse really thinks about them (mine has been unstingtingly faithful, helping me in and out of bath and bed, even scrubbing my back), and what things are really important to you when you’re at the bottom of the slough of despond.

For me those things have proven undeniably to be: the Lord, my family, my friends, and my work.  Not my appearance, even though I had my toes done and my hair dyed the day before I went into the hospital!  Vanity is a very empty measure.  Those (above) who love me most, do not care about how I look, only about how I am deep inside.

It has been a powerful lesson.  My goal is to live like Iris Stout—the 101 year old lady in our ward.  Even at her age, she runs a book club, travels by plane alone, and participates in Sunday School.  She has grasped the essentials of earthly life—surrounded by friends.

My thanks to everyone who has helped heave me up from down under.  Now, maybe I can get some work done!


Sometimes it’s Better to Worry

   Posted by: G.G.    in Future Plans

As my recent surgery came nearer last week, I reflected on how wonderful it was not to be worried.  My doctor assured me, that from him past experience with me, this would be a piece of cake—I would be walking within three days at which time I would be discharged.

I proceeded to make plans based on the information that I would surely be well enough to make an extensive signing trip through the months of June, part of July and part of August.  Then I would take my research trip to Tuscany in September.

The day I came out of surgery, I knew that I should have worried.  Things did not go as I had planned.  Anesthetic  and I do not mix well.  Besides the complications in that quarter, which required putting me on oxygen and a face mask, there was the fact that I had absolutely never experienced such pain.  I couldn’t foresee myself ever being discharged.

Then they mentioned a nursing home.  That totally freaked me out.  I pushed myself to overcome the pain no matter how difficult it was.  I ordered diapers!  I did my breathing exercises, coughing and sputtering from which only increased my pain.

Well.  I’m home.  But all signings for the summer will have to be postponed until September.  And who knows when I’ll be able to see lovely Tuscany?  I am now rethinking my writing schedule.  Except for a few scattered local signings and two big family committments, I have three months to begin or plan a new project.  How strange!  Being the goal-oreiented person that I am, I wonder if the Lord is trying to tell me something?  Like maybe let him do the scheduling?


AML Review of The Last Waltz

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

Reviewed by Jaymie Reynolds

It is December of 1913 in Vienna and Amalia Faulhaber is surrounded by the
whirlwind that is the life of a nineteen-year-old socialite. She is
comfortable and confident in her wealth, her heritage, and most of all, in
her engagement to the Prussian baron, Eberhard von Waldburg. All this comes
crashing to a halt the day that her fiance informs her that their engagement
is off since he is returning to Prussia to fight in what he is sure will be
a glorious war.

In her distress upon hearing her former fiance’s plans, Amalia wanders
aimlessly and finally ends up in a small coffee house where she meets the
handsome but flippant Andrzej. Although she does not yet know it, her life
will be interwoven with his in the long, hard years to come. During this
same time period, Amalia is introduced to the Austrian Baron, Rudolf von

As Amalia comes to know these three very different men, she is forced to
choose between them and the varying futures that each will offer her. Adding
to the chaos surrounding her, Amalia’s beloved Uncle dies, leaving her in
charge of his many charities and the funds he runs them with. Round out the
picture with the two World Wars that her story is sandwiched between and you
have a rough idea of the background for Amalia’s life. Throughout her story,
it is often sheer grit that pulls her through.

G.G. Vandagriff completes her story using vivid word pictures. Once the
reader adjusts to the richness of her descriptions, the story of The Last
Waltz draws the reader in. This book is a very rapid read but requires an
investment of some time due to its length. Ms. Vandagriff’s latest offering
is very appropriately titled. Like the waltz, the storyline picks the
readers up and twirls them from plot twist to plot twist in what is, at
times, almost a dizzying rate of speed.

Although the tenor of The Last Waltz is somewhat different than this
author’s previous books, it does have one trait similar to the author’s
previous writings. For those readers who like to “cheat” by peeking at the
end of the book, it is almost a guarantee that they will put two and two
together and come up with nine. With many authors, one can skim through the
final pages of a book and sum up a story. One thing that seems to be common
throughout Ms. Vandagriff’s books is her ability to weave so many elements
so tightly that one cannot arrive at the proper conclusions without actually
reading her books from cover to cover.

The Last Waltz illustrates the value of so many different kinds of
love…companionship, empathetic love, protective and secure love, and of
course, that vibrant first love. This book is not necessarily the happily
ever after type of love story that causes teen hearts to flutter. Although
the sheer determination of the heroine makes one feel that the endings
scattered throughout this book are not necessarily tragic, this is truly a
romance more of the star struck lover variety.

This book is one that mothers and daughters alike may enjoy. It is not
frilly as many romances can be. This opens the door for male readers to find
enjoyment in this book as well. While teenagers might enjoy this book, they
also may not have the life experience necessary to find true understanding
of the characters and their choices.

The plot line of this book is set mainly in Vienna, Austria and begins at
nearly the same time as the first World War. It encompasses World War I and
the beginnings of World War II. The historical setting of this book serves
to show the clash in cultures, views, and even individual personalities.
This masterful story has an ending that does leave it open to a sequel.
Nonetheless, the author does a good job of pulling in all the loose ends to
give readers the closure that is necessary in a good book. In the end, The
Last Waltz is well worth the time that one will put into the dance.