Archive for April, 2010

There are so many people to thank, and when I was so stunned, it was hard to think at all during my speech.

First and greatest thanks are always to my Savior, Jesus Christ, for the enabling power of his atonement which led to my healing and also enabled me to learn to write again.  I had that part of my brain zapped by multiple ECT’s, and it is truly miraculous that it has regenerated to the point that I can write again.  Writing is so complex and involves so many different parts of the brain.  It also require elasticity of thought, which we naturally lose as we age if we don’t "exercise our brains."  It is absolutely a miracle that when writing I possess this elasticity, but when I’m doing normal things I’m a complete ditz.

Secondly, I must thank my wonderful husband.  There is not a virtue he does not possess and he has won a crown ten feet high for staying and not running from a relationship that entailed so much angst and trial for the twenty-five years of my illness.  Since I have been well, he has encouraged my writing in every way possible–even to the extent of taking a trip to Florence with me (I hired him as a photographer, otherwise of course I would have left him at home)  Seriously, he has read every word I’ve written and added his own perspective–often resulting in the very best of my writing.  A gifted writer himself, he has taken time from his own career to do this, as well as designing all my websites.  The one at http://last-waltz.com is a work of art.  Everyone simply must read his book I Need Thee Every Hour: Applying the Atonement in Our Daily Lives.  It is a life-changer.  Its stories tell of the miracles that have occurred in our lives and those of others because of this mighty sacrifice of our Lord and Savior.

Thirdly, I really need to thank my father, Robert V. Gibson, who is undoubtedly fuming in the Spirit World because I forgot to mention him in my speech.  Not only did he fund my Stanford Education which included my six months in Austria, he always pushed me when it came to writing Waltz.  I gave him sections of it for his birthday and Christmas.  We plotted together, and I’m sure that he considers it just as much his book as mine.  I am sad that he did not live to see this day.  In our last conversation, he decreed, while thumping his cane, that this book simply MUST be published.  Knowing him, he would have made certain that the news got into the New York Times, where he would have listed himself as co-author.

Next in line comes Suzanne Brady, my editor and dear friend who accompanied me to the Whitney Gala.  I am so glad she was able to see me win the award, because if it weren’t for her encouragement after my illness, I might not have gone back to Deseret.  Someone there had told me that they no longer wanted my fiction (during my ten year "vacation" from writing).  Also, she specifically encouraged me to submit The Last Waltz, and then had the daunting task of editing it.  It was too long.  I told her I simply could not take any more out of it.  Someone at DB believed me and lengthened the lines on the pages so that all my words would fit into the prescribed number of pages.

And where would I be without Jana Erickson, my enthusiastic product director?  She has supported me gracefully in all my angst and intensity about my work, despite my numerous, frantic e-mails.  She has many more books than mine to handle, but she always makes time for me.  I am also thankful to Gail Halladay and the PR staff at DB, as well as my wonderful cover designer, Sheryl Dickert Smith, who always seems to pull off a miracle when designing my covers.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t say all that last night?  But it needed saying! 

A final thank you to all my wonderful fans who voted for my book!  This award really belongs to you!

22
Apr

Flash! Miss Marple has been reincarnated!

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Reviews

By G.G. Vandagriff

Tristi Pinkston, Author of Secret Sisters always reminds me of the stories about the Pinkerton Agency—the first independent detective agency in America. Perhaps she is aware of this, for she writes delightful mysteries, and her specialty is quirky characters.

Imagine Miss Marple as a Relief Society President, aided by a beloved eccentric nephew and her sometimes less than able-bodied and occasionally astringent counselors. Okay. Now, they have taken up spying on one of the R.S. sisters by way of her nephews secret devices: a video cam disguised as a refrigerator magnet, a listening bug designed as a . . . bug, and a camera hanging from the trees surrounding the unfortunate sister’s house.

Why is Miss Marple/Ada Lou Babbitt spying? Because, of all the dastardly things, the sister has no food in the house and Ada Lou doesn’t want to offend by bringing in food where it isn’t wanted. She ascertains, through her devious means, that the husband comes into money unexpectedly and there is food, but being Ada Lou Babbitt, she doesn’t stop there. She wants to know where the husband got the money, who belongs to the suspicious Jaguar that turns up every two weeks in this sister’s driveway, and, of all things, who dropped the burger king wrapper in the garage?

One thing leads to another, and before she knows what she’s doing, a murder occurs. Of course, she must solve it! And where is the Bishop while all this is happening? Nursing his high blood pressure. You can see why.

Pinkston’s ever ready sense of humor sparkles through this book, and you can almost hear her reading it. Secret Sisters is a fun read for anyone who loves humor, Agatha Christie, cozy mysteries, and, of course, Tristi Pinkston.

17
Apr

Heroes

   Posted by: GG Vandagriff    in Uncategorized

When we think of this word, I imagine most of us think of the firemen who lost their lives saving others in 9/ll.  If we are of an historical frame of mind, we may think of the prototype—Odysseus in Homer’s, The Odyssey.  Or we may think of a president we admire, a person who has mentored us, the founder of an orphanage in an underdeveloped country, an astronaut, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Winston Churchill, or General Eisenhower.  These people are all undoubtedly heroes.  When we study their lives, we are influenced by their courage, their optimism which refused to lie down in the face of great odds, their ability to rally people and change their hearts—giving them courage.

I have a personal hero who dedicated the best part of his life to me and my survival.  He came into my life unexpectedly and didn’t look like a hero at all.  In fact, he was not even a member of the church and was somewhat tipsy at the time.  But, he listened to a little voice which, oddly enough, told him that I was the woman he was going to marry.  He came right over, and in a manner which I have since found to be totally antithetical to his character, introduced himself and laid all his life’s innermost secrets at my feet.  I was a bit overwhelmed, thought him way too intense as well as far more handsome than anyone had a right to be (I had an innate sense of distrust toward handsome men), but used the opening to bear my testimony of the Gospel.  He asked me to church.  I declined.  (The only church he knew of was a Presbyterian Spanish-speaking church, which may explain my reluctance.)  However, since I lived in a distant city and had returned there, he began a letter-writing campaign and I learned that he was 1.) possessed of a quirky sense of humor, 2.) a devoted correspondent, 3.) trustworthy and completely honest, 4.) a poet, 5.) to be relied on in any crisis, 6.) a wonderful artist, 7.) for some unknown reason completely intent on my happiness.  His presence was not intrusive, like that of a stalker, he was just making himself known and, after about six months, his letters became a fixture in my life.

Then he started calling.  Every day.  Several times a day.  Then, seven months after our first meeting, he flew to Washington, D.C. from Chicago for our first date.  It lasted all weekend.  Oddly enough, I had broken a date with the man I was planning to marry to go out of town and check internship locations for the next year, just to meet this friend who had intrigued me.  (That was the end of the other relationship!)  My visitor went home, and in an action he had thus avoided in his long dating life, wrote a letter declaring his love.  I fell apart.  This could not be. When he asked innocently, “Why?”, I told him it was because he was not a member of my church.  His reply was, “You don’t know that I’m not going to join!”  And that he did.  Ten minutes into the first discussion, he gained a never wavering testimony of the First Vision.  I was the first LDS person he had ever met.

What neither of us knew at the time of our marriage was that I carried the genes of a very serious illness.  This man, my husband, David Vandagriff, was destined for a heroism that would try him to his very core (see I Need Thee Every Hour: Learning to Apply the Atonement in our Daily Lives, Covenant Communications).  In the years before and during my illness, he served as a bishop twice and the member of a Stake Presidency with huge geographical bondaries.  No one who has seen me ill, and then seen me well in the past four years (the woman he married) can believe that he had the compassion, the generosity, the strength, and the courage to descend into the bi-polar Valley of the Shadow of Death with me, many, many times, always gently pulling me back to some semblance of safety.  This is not what he signed up for.  He was married to a woman he didn’t know.  This is how he describes it: The depression began to change her.  The illness did not appear suddenly.  G.G. was the sun in my life, and the onset of her illness was like an extended sunset.  First, the color of the sun changes, turning slowly to red as it drops lower in the sky.  Then, the horizon begins to take slices from that sun, one after another, and the sun grows smaller an smaller until it disappears from sight.  In the sky, there is a glow, a memory of the sun, but soon that glow begins to fade.  Shadows collect in ravines and behind rocks.  Those shadows grow and spread, slowly covering the landscpe.  Soon the world is dark, then black, and a long night begins. (I Need Thee Every Hour: Applying the Atonement in our Daily Lives,( Covenant Communications, 2010, p. 44)

That darkness lasted twenty-five years.  Certainly, long enough for him to forget that little whisper, “That is the girl you’re going to marry”–the girl with the long brown hair in the ugly bridesmaid dress.  It took him to places he never thought he’d go—psych wards, emergency rooms, therapist’s offices.  He had to practice law, provide for his family financially and emotionally as I was sick most of my children’s years at home.

During those twenty-five years, he evolved from a happy man to a man of many sorrows and acquainted with grief.  It was an Abrahamic trial.  But, he did not overcome this trial on his own.  After years of endurance, and times when he would have given up, but for timely intervention from the Lord and his helpers here on earth, David and I were both finally witnesses to my miraculous healing.  I came back to him, not the woman who had left, but a woman much stronger and closer to my Savior in every way, having fought “tooth and nail” to stay alive.

But, the Lord gave me a hero, because he knew that’s what I needed.  David didn’t see himself as heroic material.  He definitely would have opted out if the choice had been given him before marriage.  But he believed in covenants.  He believed that if he did his part, the Lord would perform his—he would enable David to go on.  And David did go on.

And we both learned that heroism comes, not from what we do ourselves, but for what we allow our partner and Elder Brother in suffering to do for us.  Though there is an element of heroism in both our stories, for us there is one overarching Hero—our Savior, Jesus Christ.

To read more about my hero go to http://davidvandagriff.com or http://atonementblog.com

If I were to die in the next few minutes, the things I hope I would be remembered for are that: 1.) my grandson thinks I am Supernana and that my stated purpose on earth is to wield a mean light-saber; 2.) that fed my children, even when in the midst of creating an earth-shattering plot twist; 3.) that even though it took a thousand rewrites, I succeeded in finally producing The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War.

The journey to the latter accomplishment is a microcosm of my adult life. The bare facts, the research, and the consuming need to tell the story of Austria between 1913 and 1938, had their birth in the Austrian Alps, 50 miles from Vienna at the Semmering Pass, where I dwelt in a hotel only partially restored from damage incurred by the Russian occupation. I lived with 79 other Stanford students, far away from urban Austrian life (except on our 3-day weekends) concentrating on the study of German language, Austrian art and architecture, Austrian music, Austrian history, and Austrian politics. Surprisingly, I knew very little about these things, as do most average Americans. I didn’t even know that seventy years earlier, Austria had been the center of European art, science, medicine, and music. In spite of or maybe because of this, large forces were at work to drag it out of its glittering past as the Waltz capital of the world into a new century where international socialism would enfranchise every man and there would be no poor. This made Austria’s aristocracy, stranded between past and future, extremely nervous and quite neurotic. Austrian historian, Frederic Morton has called this period a time of “Nervous Splendor.”

So I learned this when I was twenty. It became part of me, more so than the rest of my education because I had seen the art, listened to the Vienna Philharmonic, heard the stories of the survivors from that time, and most of all because I had visited Auschwitz. A personal quest was born to figure out the dynamics of a world where such an unimaginable horror could happen.

During a very hated job as an international banker while putting my husband through Law School, I had an hour and a half bus commute to and from Los Angeles through the slums of East L.A. This is when I personalized all the forces of that Austrian age into the characters of my novel: the debutante turned democrat, Amalia Faulhaber, the German Lieutenant with the soul of a violinist, Eberhard von Waldburg, the naïve but charismatic socialist, Uncle Lorenz, the proud aristocratic grandmother, Eugenia von Hohenburg Reichart, the passionately nationalistic Pole, Doktor Andrzej Zaleski, and the outwardly misogynistic Baron von Schoenenberg. In a single bus ride, I outlined the plot that was to be built upon and developed as I learned to write during my three children’s growing up years.

The time came when they were all grown up, and I realized I knew next to nothing about the kind of suffering that would occur during a World War in the trenches, the loss of an empire, the loss of status, and nearly all physical possessions. At best, my novel was only a superficial rendering. So I set it aside and wrote light fiction—my Alex and Briggie genealogical mysteries—for nearly fifteen years. Then I suffered a serious medical condition that resulted in my inability to write and eventually sapped all my hard-won skill.

Ten years later, I miraculously recovered, and slowly rediscovered myself as a writer. But there was a change. My soul and awareness of suffering had deepened. I now understood what it took to be a survivor.

I also remembered that my writing idol, Tolstoy, had not written his epics from the point of view of one person, and certainly would not do so from the point of view of a nineteen year old debutante. And so I went into the heads of all my major characters, which finally gave the depth to my work that I had been seeking for so long.

My years of development as a writer, to this particular juncture, owe all to the learning process of writing The Last Waltz. I can only hope that my next book: Pieces of Paris (Fall, 2010) will continue that process.