Archive for June, 2009


Interview of G.G. by Historical Novels Website

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

After writing the book review of The Last Waltz, (see last post) Margaret decided to interview me.  The short interview follows:
Jun 29, 2009, Interview with The Last Waltz author  G.G.Vandagriff

It’s a pleasure to have historical novelist G.G. Vandagriff visiting the blog today. G.G. is the author of The Last Waltz, about a Viennese woman and her search for love, beginning on the eve of the First World War and ending with a dramatic escape during the Nazi takeover of Austria during World War II. She has also written a contemporary mystery series featuring a sleuth who is a genealogist. Welcome, G.G.!

Before reading The Last Waltz, I didn’t realize how different the Austrian experience was from the German experience of the two world wars. Did your research turn up anything that surprised you?

I actually studied the history and politics of Austria while I was living there. My professors were Austrians. I didn’t know their story either. It is so full of pathos, I felt it needed to be told. I really got the impression that the Austrians have been having an identity crisis ever since they lost their empire. I came to know that they are very distinct from the Germans. Germany only came together as a nation in the late 19th century. Austria had been an empire for over 500 years. Their national culture is far more cosmopolitan and deeply ingrained. At the time of WWI, Germany was still culturally diverse – a group of nation-states.

Are any of the fictional main characters in your book inspired by real people?

The characters grew in my mind over a period of thirty-three years. To me, they seem very real, however they are totally imaginary. Their identities were inspired by the political factions they represented, but they ceased to be symbolic to me and became real somewhere along the way. For them to be more than superficial, I had to live with them daily for many years. I am sure even the men have something of me in them!

What was it like to turn to a serious historical novel after writing a mystery series?

Actually, the mysteries were a "filler" until the serious novel could be worked out. I needed real life tragedy and personal victories in the face of opposition that I didn’t have when I began the novel at age twenty-seven. And I knew it. I also had to learn that an epic like this one had to have more than one point of view. I had to develop my male characters fully. Once I added scenes from their points of view, the novel came alive.

Thanks, G.G. Your novel certainly reflects your many years of living with these characters and their setting. Readers may be interested in our review of The Last Waltz, which is both a romantic love story and a fascinating look at Austria during and between the world wars.


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Pleasant Surprise on Historical Novel website!

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

The Last Waltz

by G.G. Vandagriff

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
The Last Waltz by G.G. Vandagriff

At nineteen, Amalia, the fictional Viennese heroine of The Last Waltz, feels an almost instinctive dread of war. In 1913, with most Austrians blissfully unaware of World War I looming on the horizon, her fiancé, a gifted German violinist, has been studying music in Vienna. Infected by the martial spirit rising in Germany, he announces his eagerness to follow in his Prussian father’s footsteps and prove himself as a soldier.

Amalia’s family, descended from aristocracy and eager to climb back up the social rungs, is intent on preserving standards of propriety and displays of wealth that are already becoming outmoded. But her beloved Uncle Lorenz, a socialist who lives in near-poverty so he can support his favorite humanitarian projects, has a gentler, yet stronger influence on her character.

Amalia hates her titled fiancé’s obvious delight at the prospect of war, but the thought of breaking their engagement appalls her. He is not, however, her only admirer. A magnetic Polish doctor whose attraction to women comes second to his yearning for a free, democratic Poland, as well as a kind-hearted aristocratic friend of her Uncle Lorenz both take an interest in her, leading to numerous complications and wrenching dilemmas of the heart.

While the focus of The Last Waltz stays firmly on Amalia and her personal life, the two world wars have as searing an effect on her as they do on other Europeans of her time. The novel offers a perceptive and fascinating introduction to the politics of pre-WWII Austria, a setting that has been neglected amid the outpouring of novels about Nazi Germany. In many ways, the Austrian setting is far more interesting, as the artistic Viennese society gradually splinters into groups that cannot neatly be classified into pro-Nazi or anti-Nazi. The dissention within Austria paves the way for a German takeover and Amalia’s dramatic, hair’s-breadth escape attempt.

The Last Waltz is a good choice for readers looking for a moving, well-written love story without explicit sex. (2009, 591 pages)

More about The Last Waltz at Powell’s Books


Tristi’s Writing Challenge

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Writing

I hereby challenge myself to finish the end of Rachel’s edit, as well as finishing Crazy Ladies up to the time they go to Florence.


The Test

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Essays

This is an article that I wrote for Meridian this week.  It received such a good response from it, I thought I would share it on my blog.

Many years ago, when I was working on one of the drafts of The Last Waltz, and also suffering from bi-polar disorder, I had an experience that changed my life. I wish to share it in hopes that whomever needs to hear it will feel its calming truth.

I was writing Part II of my novel which takes place during the worst of the trench-slaughter of World War I. One of my characters dies at the battle of Verdun. He is a German, one of 336,000 to die in that horrible battle. Anyone who has studied that war knows that such a death was futile, useless, and accomplished nothing. As I was doing the laundry one particular day, my heart was so heavy that my movements were all slow and dull. All I could think of were the millions of men who perished in that war in the midst of the worst sort of hell I could imagine. Then, into my heart came the words, "You cannot carry this, G.G. You were never meant to carry it. There was only One who could, and He has already done it."

A weight lifted from me, and I took a deep breath. Then, another message came, "Death is not the ultimate tragedy. The ultimate tragedy is not doing what you were born to do."

I do not claim to be a prophet. Perhaps this message was meant only for me. However, the more I thought about it, the greater significance it had for me. As has been said so often by so many, this life is the test, not the reward. When we lived with our Heavenly Father, I think He knew us as well, or perhaps better than our earthly fathers do. I know, from blessings given by priesthood authority, that He gave me a mission to perform for Him on earth. I do not know for certain, but I imagine every one of us had the same experience. Looking at your life through that lens, it should become clear, when the time is right, just what your loving Father expected you to accomplish. Perhaps it was to be the first member in your family, like my husband. Perhaps it was to stop a chain of negative behavior that goes back generations. Perhaps it was to teach, to train, to witness, to serve, to sing, to write music, to dance, to invent . . . the list is endless.

When we are living hand in hand with our Savior and Father in Heaven, doors will open so we can accomplish what needs to be done. Our greatest enemy will be self-doubt, which can crumble faith faster than anything.

My husband continually reminds me that the test in this life is not whether we succeed or fail, but whether we are righteous or unrighteous. If we concentrate on being personally righteous, we will not take a wrong turning. We will not "miss" performing what it is we were sent here to do. The Lord holds each of us in the palm of His hand. Even if we do not know where we are going, we can trust that He does. "Christ knows the way out and He knows the way up," Elder Holland told us in his 2006 Conference Address, "Broken Things to Mend."

When people ask me if I am bitter that the management of my bi-polar disorder took twenty-five years to accomplish, I can honestly reply: "No. Because I did what I came on earth to do." Then I quote D&C 132: 24: "For this is life eternal to know God and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent." Any road that takes us to that destination is the road we were meant to take.



   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

On this Sabbath Day, I feel totally overwhelmed by my blessings.  Ever since my recovery three years ago, the Lord has opened the windows of heaven.  I feel like Job after his trials.

My greatest blessing, of course, is the atonement of Jesus Christ.  Through it, I have been enabled to manage my bi-polar disorder, to heal relationships damaged by years of illness, to relearn the skill of writing and surpass my own abilities, and, of course, to be forgiven of my sins and have the prospect of a life with my Savior and Heavenly Father.

Next, comes my family.  I have a husband who is totally without hang-ups (though he does have interesting eccentricities) who has been loyal through terrible trials.  He is brilliant and spiritual and very in tune as a patriarch.  Our family has weathered the storm of my long illness because of his calm and steadiness.  My children never knew me until three years ago.  David had lost the woman he married.  But he made up for my lack and stuck with me through it all.  If you want to read his side of the story, check out our book Deliverance from Depression: Finding Hope and Healing through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

My children are all independent and devout.  They have been protected in this economic downturn.  My sons businesses are thriving, and my son-in-law has an excellent job with a prosperous legal firm.  We draw closer as a family all the time.

I have a beautiful grandson who warms my heart and allows me to appreciate toddler-hood that I couldn’t appreciate with my own children because of my illness.

I have a career that I love and a publisher that appreciates me, supports me, and encourages me.

My friends are a fantastic blessing.  My “old” friends from college and high school are gems in my life, having known me before I was ill.  My friends who saw me through my illness cannot be overvalued.  They are pure gold.  And then there are all my new friends I have met through Storymakers.  They are so unbelievably generous and without guile, so supportive and helpful. I have never known writers with these qualitities.

For all these blessings, I thank the Lord today.


Say a little prayer . . .

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Writing

Today I finished my next to the last draft (one more for typos) of The Only Bright Thing, the most difficult and challenging thing I have ever written.  It is full of powerful emotions and situations.  It is NOT light fiction.  I think it will appeal greatly to those who loved the complexity of The Last Waltz, though it is only 249 pp.  It concerns a woman recovering from a great obsession, trying to sort out her emotions while she is in the fifth year of her marriage, pregnant with her second child.  I don’t want to say too much about it, or I will spoil it for future readers.

My prayer is that Shadow Mountain will see its great spiritual potential, though there are scenes that are emotionally difficult.  If you like your fiction to be substantial, please join me in hoping that my efforts will be rewarded!

Now I am cleaning my desk.  Pain from surgery only a memory!


Spiritual Refreshment

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Spiritual Musings

I remember when we lived in Missouri and the closest temple was seven hours away.  We would leave the children with a baby-sitter and drive down on Friday, do a session that night and then spend all day Saturday in the temple, leaving late for the drive home.  I would cry when I had to leave the temple and the pure love and closeness to my ancestors that I felt there.

Then when we moved to the Utah Valley and had the Provo Temple seven minutes away, it was the balm to my depressed body and soul.  For a three month period, I did an endowment every day for my German ancestors who’d lived in Russia.  As soon as my son went to college, I applied to be an ordinance worker, and worked two days a week for five years.  Those were five very difficult years, and I spent my stint as a worker in the Celestial Room in hour-long prayers.  All the things I prayed about were resolved miraculously.

Then came my miraculous healing from depression.  My fellow temple workers were all so happy for me!  They had become like a host of mothers to me.  Too soon, however, I was obliged to end my service because of all my orthopedic problems (temple ordinance work is hard!  I don’t know how those elderly sisters do it!).

Since that time, when not laid up after surgery, I have tried to attend once a week.  When I was getting my writing career going, I went even more often.  I needed the revelation and confirmation that I would always receive during my prayers in the Celestial Room.

Yesterday, I was finally able to return for the first time since my surgery.  Yes, I had to take my walker, but I made it!  I have missed the peace and safety so much these last weeks.  Especially after reading the conference talks—so many of which were about the safety of temple covenants.  I am refreshed, revitalized, and recentered.  I thank my Heavenly Father for the gracious gifts of temples where we can get a peek at the Celestial Kingdom.