Friday, July 16, 2010

THIRTEEN MOONS, by Charles Frazier

Thirteen Moons is, at its heart, Will Cooper's fictional autobiography. In the early years of the nineteenth century, when Will is twelve years old, he's given a horse, a key, and a map and sent out on his own as a bound boy. His destination will be a trading post in the Cherokee Nation.
Frazier opens the story with Will as an old man. The voice he uses to communicate Will's heart to the reader is perfect. As an example, here's Will's take on old age: "It’s a bad idea to live too long. Few carry it off well. But nevertheless, here I am. In retreat but still in play, so to speak."
Will becomes something of a legend as his life unrolls, and his decision to set the record straight is what propels him to write his autobiography.
I loved the language used in Thirteen Moons, and the historical details. The book takes the reader beyond superficial "history" and delves into minute details, both of the Cherokee way of life before they were herded off their land, and also into politics in the early days of Washington, DC.
The heart of the novel (no pun intended) is Will's love for the elusive Claire. To me, her character was not as believable as Will's. I felt Ada, in Cold Mountain (Frazier's first novel), was more thoroughly developed. However, since Thirteen Moons is Will's story, perhaps he could only describe what he perceives Claire to be.
I enjoyed Thirteen Moons, but found it slow going at times. It's a book written for the general market, so there are some language issues, as well as scattered sexual situations. I'd still recommend this novel based on Frazier's skill as an author. For me as a writer, writing as good as his is necessary reading, just to see how a master performs his art.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Deborah Vogts and her husband have three daughters and make their home in Southeast Kansas where they raise and train American Quarter Horses. As a student at Emporia State University studying English and journalism, Deborah developed a love for the Flint Hills that has never faded. In writing this series, she hopes to share her passion for one of the last tallgrass prairie regions in the world, showing that God's great beauty
rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there. Visit Deborah at her web site: or at her Country at Heart blog:

When opposites attract, sparks fly--like an electrical malfunction. That's what happens when former rodeo queen Natalie Adams meets the new pastor in Diamond Falls. A heart-warming contemporary romance set in the Flint Hills of Kansas where a former rodeo queen abandons her
dreams in order to care for her deceased father's ranch and her two half-siblings, only to realize with the help of a young new pastor that God can turn even the most dire circumstances into seeds of hope. Spanning the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each story in this series reveals the struggle of the people who live there and the dreams they have for the land until they come full circle in a never-ending cycle, just as man comes full-circle in his understanding of God.

DEBORAH, HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A PUBLISHED AUTHOR? My debut book, Snow Melts in Spring, released in July 2009. It is the first book in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series, which are contemporary inspirational romance books published by Zondervan. Seeds of Summer came out in June.

I wanted to be a writer since I was in high school, and the dream stayed with me all this time. It wasn't until 2002 that I began taking serious steps to get to the goal. I joined a local writer's group and an online writing organization, ACFW. I joined a critique group, read writing how-to's and attended writing conferences. I met my first agent at a national writers' conference. We hit
it off at our meeting, and she gave me some tips on making my book series "bigger." I did that and submitted my idea to her and she took me on. We shopped my Seasons of the Tallgrass series for a year and had a few bites (one of them Zondervan) but no sale. In the end, she released me, which was a real heart breaker. However, we don’t always see the big picture like God does, and six months later I signed with agent, Rachelle Gardner with WordServe Literary, and we had an offer from Zondervan three months after that.

I LOVE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS! TELL US, HOW ARE THE STORIES CONNECTED? The Seasons of the Tallgrass series is connected by the fictional ranching community of Diamond Falls, which is set in fictional Charris County, KS in the heart of the Flint Hills. Each book will stand alone, concentrating on a different season of ranching with a new family of characters, yet readers will see their favorite characters from previous books because they are part of the community.

For example, readers met Clara Lambert in the first book, and will get to read her story in book #3, Blades of Autumn. Also, many readers fell in love with John McCray, the grumpy old dad in Snow Melts in Spring. My plan is to bring him back in the fourth book with a sweet romance of his own. He’ll remain a secondary character, but in this way, I hope to bring the series full-circle to a satisfying end.

while we are in 4-H and raise and train American quarter horses, we've never had much opportunity for pageantry in this part of Kansas.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT MISS RODEO KANSAS? My husband and I read lots of horse magazines at our house, two of those, Western Horseman and AQHA’s America’s Horse. So, when he’s finished with a magazine, I’ll go through with an eye for possible story ideas. I’ll tear out pages of articles, or even pictures for possible characters, and then I’ll file those papers in an idea file.

When I’m ready to write a new story, that’s the first place I’ll go, sifting through the articles and pictures. So, to make a long story short, many of the pictures I’d filed away happened to be of past Miss Rodeo America queens. From there, my imagination soared. I began asking questions like, what if this happened? Or what if she did this? Plus, in creating the Seasons of the Tallgrass, each of the stories have a strong female character. For Snow Melts in Spring, you meet Mattie Evans, a large animal veterinarian, and in Blades of Autumn, you’ll read about Clara Lambert as she runs a small town cafe'. I knew I wanted to have one book that had a female rancher in it, and that’s how Natalie’s story was born in Seeds of Summer.

WILL NATALIE APPEAR IN FUTURE BOOKS IN THE SERIES? Yes, in the third book, we’ll visit Jared and Natalie again as their December wedding is planned. And then, hopefully, readers will be able to attend the event in the fourth book!

WAS IT HARD TO USE A RODEO SETTING? WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DID YOU DO IN PREPARATION FOR THIS BOOK? A lot of online research, as well as all those articles I mentioned above. I also had a great deal of help from those at the Miss Rodeo America (MRA) headquarters who answered specific story questions and helped with possible story scenarios.

For instance, for Seeds of Summer, my scenario went like this: What happens when a former Miss Rodeo Kansas (and current MRA first-runner up) is forced to abandon her dreams and return home after her father’s death to care for the ranch and her two half-siblings? Then, just as she’s getting used to the change and her new circumstances, what would she do if she is suddenly called on to be Miss Rodeo America? What about the ranch? What about the kids? And what about the blossoming romance with the new pastor in town?

DeAnna Power, Raeana Wadhams, and Amy Wilson (MRA 2008) all helped a great deal in working out my scenario, as well as answering many small questions that would help lend au
thenticity to the story.

Because this part of Natalie’s life has already passed, I focused mainly on the facts. Where is the pageant held? When does her reign begin and end? Where might she go during her reign? How might she be involved after her reign, etc.?

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE MISS RODEO AMERICA PAGEANT? Most of my research dealt with MRA. The story begins in Las Vegas with Natalie losing the pageant or winning first-runner up, depending on how you want to look at it. For her, it was a heartbreaker. Then the story jumps right in to her current dilemma after her father dies and she’s back at the ranch. Not only is she dealing with her father’s death, but also with having to give up her dreams. I dump a lot on this girl at the start of the story, so she has a great deal to overcome. But that’s what memorable stories are made of—people who overcome horrible odds, and become an even stronger person for it.

So back to your question, I learned a ton of information about the MRA—and loved every minute of it. I tacked pictures of past queens in various outfits on my storyboard (which is a bulletin board filled with pictures of my characters, their homes, pets, etc.). And because Amy Wilson was the current MRA, I followed her story online and in magazines, and strange as it may seem, I felt as though I knew her. LOL. My research pinnacled last summer when I met Amy at her home in Colby for an interview. She is such a lovely young woman, and she honored me by
showing me her queen items—which again, leant authenticity to my story.

Another thing I especially enjoyed was viewing the video clips online of the MRA pageant. This helped me so much with the closing of my story. Because I write in close 3rd person point of view, in my mind, I was living Natalie’s story, so at the end when she is on stage and reliving all that she’s overcome that year, tears just poured from my eyes. I felt like I was there--and I hope you will too. ;)

WERE THERE ANY SURPRISES YOU FOUND ABOUT RODEO PAGEANTS? Many things, actually. I was surprised at the amount of learning required for the interview portion. Good grief! How do these girls keep all that information in their heads! LOL. I am awed at the amount of expertise required to complete the horsemanship events. Riding with confidence on an animal you've never ridden before takes a LOT of skill and courage. And carrying those flags, and shining those boots (and blackening the bottoms of those heels). I greatly enjoyed viewing the various leather dresses—and imagining what Natalie would wear. So fun!

WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL TAKE FROM THIS STORY? I'd like readers to remember how important family relations are and that we can get through our difficulties if we remember to love and forgive each other. I also hope to give my readers a taste of the Flint Hills and of how God’s beauty rests on the prairie and in the hearts of those who live there. I pray that I've created a believable story that will take you through the highs and lows of Natalie’s summer, and that will bring tears of sadness and joy to your eyes. After all, it’s a story about family and love and conflict, and of ranching and horses, that’s topped off with the joy of being a queen. Who wouldn't love it!!!

Readers, please leave a comment with your email address in order to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Seeds of Summer. The drawing will be held on Sunday, July 18.

Monday, July 5, 2010

SEEDS OF SUMMER, by Deborah Vogts

Seeds of Summer is a true-to-life story about family bonds. Set on a cattle ranch in the Flint Hills area of Kansas, Seeds of Summer reflects Vogts' love for the area and her knowledge of ranch life.
The story opens when the main character, Natalie Adams, is one of two finalists in the Miss Rodeo America competition. Natalie has spent years in preparation for this moment, and when she comes in second, she’s lost more than a contest--she’s lost her focus. To compound events, her father is killed soon after in a ranch accident.
Natalie is forced to leave college to be a full-time ranch owner and mother to her younger half-sister and brother. Parenting is never easy, especially with children who are acting out their grief for the father in rebellious ways.
Through her little brother, Natalie meets the new pastor in town--a man she suspects of making her little family his personal mission project. Vogts has incorporated the faith element organically, so that it never feels forced into the story.
Seeds of Summer is filled with realistic characters and situations. Vogts' use of a rodeo background adds depth and interest. I recommend this novel--and be sure to try the recipe for Chelsey's Spice Pancakes included in the back of the book. They’re delicious!
Deborah Vogts will appear as a guest on my blog tomorrow. Be sure to come back and leave a comment for a drawing to win a free copy of Seeds of Summer.
My thanks to Zondervan for providing me with a copy for review purposes.