Monday, September 16, 2013

Welcome Julia Asel Thomas and a Guest Post: "Life Experiences in Fiction"

Welcome Julia Asel Thomas, author of Loving the Missing Link, with the fun topic of “Life Experiences in Fiction”. As I am a writer of fiction as well, I know that I am always weaving bits and pieces of my own experiences into my writing.  It seems nearly impossible not to pull from your own life!  And, as I read different works of fiction, I'm always wondering what inspired the writer to create a certain character or if the setting is a real place.  Thanks, Julia, for explaining how reality and fiction can mix together to make one great story!    

Life Experiences in Fiction

In my first formal creative writing class, my writing professor told the class, “Write what you know.” I hadn't heard that old standby before, and it baffled me. I asked my teacher how I could write what I know without writing an autobiography. The older gentleman smiled indulgently and said, “You couldn't write the truth if you tried.” Again, I was confused, but over the years I have come to understand exactly what he meant.

What I was worried about back in the class so long ago was whether I would inadvertently reveal secrets or flaws of my family and childhood friends. What I have learned is that, although I use plenty of the details and emotions from my life, I only use them as raw material for a story that has little or nothing to do with my own reality.

Imagine if you were given a beautiful Persian rug and told to make it your own. The way I write fiction is like unraveling that rug until all I have left is colorful threads. I take some of those assorted threads and design a new creation. The new work will be different from that beautiful Persian rug even though the material came from that same place – in writing, it all comes from my life, experiences and research I do on my own. Yet, the end result will have its own character, its own picture and its own effect on the viewer. Heck, it might not even be a rug, but it might be a hat or a shawl. The important thing is that I begin with what I have been given in life and craft the pieces together in a new way to make my own creation.

            One way I achieve this is to give my characters some of the technical skills I have learned over the years. For instance, I once took a course in electronics design and repair. In the book I am currently working on, there is a male character who is in electronics school. His experiences are and will be completely different from the ones I had while studying electronics. But I make the story more believable and authentic by using the jargon, references to the equipment and technical details I learned in the class. The same is true of the bassoon player in Loving the Missing Link. Yes, I did study and play the bassoon, and I use those details to enhance my character’s story.

            Another ploy I use is to ask, “What if … “ constantly when I am re-sculpting my experiences into fiction. In my debut book, Loving the Missing Link, I asked myself many questions as I developed the story. What if I had been an only child instead of one of seven? What if my mother had been a helicopter mom? What if my family had not been so well-respected in my small town? What if I had dropped out of high school to run away from the possibility of failure? The questions led me to surprising answers that helped me craft a story that is, at the same time, me and not-me.

            And in the end, I think that is what all of my fiction is. It is the meeting place between the person I am and have been, and a different me that exists only in my imagination. The results can be surprising, fascinating and unique. What they never are is a direct rendering of the events and people in my life. I leave history to historians and choose to spend my time and energy creating my own alternative universes. Write what you know? Definitely. Write the events of your life as they happened? Well, for me, the answer to that is no, no, never in a million years. I’m here to write fiction and that is what I am committed to doing.

Stop by The Muffin for a wonderful interview with Julia!

Meet Julia:

Julia Asel Thomas writes stories with vivid descriptions, authentic dialogue and revealing narration. Her debut book, Loving the Missing Link, presents the engrossing and moving story of a young, small town girl who grows up, lives and loves while trying to find a balance between despair and hope.

Like the protagonist in her debut novel, Loving the Missing Link, Julia Asel Thomas knows small town life. However, Julia's experiences were quite different than Cheryl's. Julia is the middle child of seven children and the daughter of a church organist and a business manager. Growing up in the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, Julia's family enjoyed a reputation as a bright and interesting family. Julia thrived on the quiet and carefree life she lived in that gentle place.

When Julia was in high school, she earned a scholarship for a trip to Cali, Colombia as a foreign exchange student. The experience, although it only lasted a few brief months, had a profound influence on the rest of her life. After her time abroad, Julia realized in a very real way that, although customs may differ from culture to culture, the substance of human emotions is constant. We all need love. We all need to feel secure. We all have happy moments and sad moments. Back from Colombia, Julia become ever more interested in capturing these human emotions through music and writing.
After high school, Julia took a break before going on to college. During this time, she married her husband, Will. Will joined the Air Force, and Julia accompanied him to bases around the country, taking college classes in each town where they resided. Their two children were born in Las Vegas, Nevada, while Will was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. Married in 1976, Julia and Will are thrilled to celebrate each new anniversary and look forward to staying together for life.

Julia began writing fiction at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher gave her the assignment to write about "My Worst Day." Julia took the opportunity to concoct every possible disaster a young child could face during the course of a normal day. The teacher loved her work and asked her to read it to the class. From then on, Julia wanted nothing more than to be a writer.

In 2007, Julia began earning her living by writing articles, press releases and website content for a number of clients. As she settled into a routine of working every day on her writing, the old urge to write fiction resurfaced. In 2012, Julia started with a story she had written in 1985 and continued it to create the story in Loving the Missing Link.

After Julia's husband, Will retired from the Air Force, they moved back to Missouri and now live in Kansas City, Missouri. 
Find out more about this author by visiting her online:


Loving the Missing Link

Young Cheryl struggles to find her place in the world beyond her small Missouri Hometown in this debut New Adult novel by Julia Asel Thomas.

Julia Asel Thomas tackles several 'big issues' (acceptance, self-education, and self-understanding to name a few) in Loving the Missing Link. For Cheryl, things are a little more complicated than the ordinary low self-esteem of a lower class teenager girl in a small town, and the ending was full of twists and turns I hadn't expected. The main character, Cheryl, struggles to find herself amidst the demands of her mother, expectations of her teachers, and the unconditional acceptance of her boyfriend, Jerry. Cheryl is very much a loner who has trouble expressing her thoughts and feelings to others; she finds a haven in her journal and what is so difficult to express in life is captured on those safe pages. 

Readers will find themselves cheering her on as she began on the path to self-understanding.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Welcome Cami Ostman and Susan Tive with a Guest Post on "Motherhood In and Out of Religion"

Welcome Cami Ostman and Susan Tive, authors of the anthology: Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions.  In today's guest post, Susan Tive shares her views of motherhood from two very different perspectives, that of Orthodox Judaism versus Mainstream America.  There's some surprising lessons to be learned.  Please comment with your thoughts! 

My Orthodox Motherhood
Thoughts about Motherhood In and Out of Religion
Susan Tive

While many of my non-religious and atheist friends might not want to hear this, I’m going to say it anyway: My years of motherhood inside Orthodox Judaism beat, hands down, my experience parenting within mainstream America.

I’m well aware that my experience and opinion won’t make a whole lot of sense to many; how can a restrictive religion provide a mother with a good environment in which to raise her children? Aren’t we all happier living a free, more permissive, modern American lifestyle than following the traditions of our ancestors?

An unquestionable “Yes” was what I had presupposed before I became an Orthodox Jew at the age of 25.

As a young college age woman in the mid-80’s I chose a path that went against the grain of my generation. I chose motherhood over graduate school. Having lost my own mother in my late teens, I was excited, even anxious, to become one myself. I did not feel that I was being asked to sacrifice “self” for ‘family’ in making this choice. Motherhood and individual growth were compatible and there seemed to be no reason to choose between the two.

However, a harsh reality took hold during my years as a young mother. The slings and arrows of judgmental questions and unsympathetic stares from friends and strangers took their toll. “When are you going back to work?” friends asked with no knowledge that I had put in more hours than was legally allowed at their own jobs. “What are you doing with your life?” “Are you really thinking about having more?”
In the mid-80’s it was not cool to be a young mother. Even the vocabulary was changing: Young women were supposed to be breaking the glass ceiling, wearing power suits, and on the pill. Children were their reward for when the degree was finished, the house was bought and a good chunk of retirement and college savings were salted away. Women could then consider starting a family and struggle to conceive a brood if they still wanted one.

I had done it all wrong. Backwards. No one viewed motherhood as a legitimate or worthwhile profession for a young woman.

According to Orthodox Judaism however, I was right on schedule, maybe even a little late. When I showed up at my first orthodox event, a Hanukah party, I was the one with the fewest children in tow. The other mothers had three, four, even five children. No one asked me the dreaded questions about what I really intended to do with the rest of my life, or made me feel like I had some awkward skin rash or large M etched across my forehead.

I felt welcomed, accepted, and appreciated as a mother. I did not have to explain myself or justify my identity. Parenting as a full time job? They understood this from life experience. These orthodox women smiled and did not judge, they accepted us into the fold, into the family of the Jewish people, and we belonged.

Early on I was taught that the home and not the synagogue was the center of Judaism. There was a keen understanding of the power that lies in the small and often overlooked interactions we have with our children and partners in our homes about the simplest and most mundane things. The outward ceremony and songs of public worship and community gatherings were important, but Orthodoxy recognized the vital influence women had in their own household and tried to support us in utilizing this power to benefit our families, and by extension, the entire community.

This recognition of the value of being a mother was the opposite of what I had found in the secular world, where the main focus was on celebrity, extravagance, and crass materialism. The home was rendered boring and mundane, raising children a job that was better suited for low-income women and nannies. Motherhood boiled down to biology. Cooking and cleaning were labeled drudgery, and in the course of one or two generations many of the traditional outlets for women to express their ingenuity, intelligence, and creativity were trashed and replaced by MBAs, law school and corporate management.

As a mother in the (orthodox) community, I was given responsibility not only for my own family but for the well being of the community itself. I served on the board of the day school, hosted guests and dignitaries, raised money, took classes, traveled, and planned and executed events. My skills and abilities were not only valued but they were put to use. When I had a problem, the rabbi was there. When someone in the community was ill, died or needed help, we would all rally. When a holiday, a wedding, or a birth was to be celebrated, everyone generously came together to make it happen.

These community events were a natural part of our lives, we were responding to what God told us to do. It wasn't about ‘want to’ or ‘like to’ -- living this kind of life simplified our decision making down to learning and remembering what God had already proscribed for us to do as women, as mothers and as community members.

It would be untrue to say that I miss Orthodoxy, but I do miss many aspects of the supportive community I experienced while living within it. I think that the secular world and mothers within it could benefit from adopting some of the practices that flourish within religion. Mothers don’t need restrictive rules to get people to cooperate and help one another. Mothers have enough in common that they should be able to come together, even with glass ceilings and power suits to contend with.

Author Bio(s):

Cami: Cami Ostman is an author, editor, life coach and a licensed marriage and family therapist with publications in her field. She blogs at and on blogger team. She has appeared in several publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Adventures Northwest, the Mudgee Guardian in Australia, and La Prensa in Chile. Cami is a runner and a dog lover who lives in Bellingham, Washington.

Susan: As a writer, editor and researcher Susan has worked on a variety of academic articles exploring psychology, feminism and religion. Susan’s interest in these subjects led her to become an editor for several non-fiction titles including Faith and Feminism and Rachel’s Bag. Her new anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions will be published in April 2013 by Seal Press.

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                                     Book Summary:

Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced and rejected extreme religions.

Covering a wide range of religious communities—including Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Calvinist, Moonie, and Jehovah’s Witness—and containing contributions from authors like Julia Scheeres (Jesus Land), the stories in
 Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet.
Paperback:  328 PagesPublisher:  Seal Press (April 2, 2013)ISBN-10:  1580054420Twitter hashtag: #SLWExtreme

Beyond Belief; The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions is available as a print and e- book at 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Welcome Elaine Drennon Little and a Guest Post on "My Favorite Authors/Favorite Books"

Welcome Elaine Drennon Little, author of A Southern Place

Thank you, Elaine, for stopping by and sharing your love of books and reading with us.  Many of the titles/authors you mention definitely strike a fond remembrance for me like Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird and the wonderful Beverly Cleary.  

Be sure to check out Elaine's favorite books that she enjoys as a "grown-up". And if you're looking for a great new read, A Southern Place looks intriguing!

My Favorite Authors/Favorite Books

I started my “book hoarding habits” (my younger daughter’s term, not mine!) at a young age. As an asthmatic child, my mother began to reward me with a couple of those “Golden Books” for children every time I had to see a doctor, which was quite often. Soon the bookmobile began stopping by every month, both encouraging and fulfilling my needs for all the Carolyn Haywood, Lois Lenski, and Beverly Cleary I could read while sneaking in and creating a second fetish for those historical biographies with the blue covers. (Whatever happened to those books? They were the bomb!) There were a few favorites I insisted on owning—The Velveteen Rabbit, Tom Sawyer, and Heidi were probably the most over-loved, but once I got past the Golden Book stage, my parents became firm supporters of the public library as a way to remedy my “book fix.”

The cards in the back pocket at the Camilla Library could prove I was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s greatest fan; I’d start with Little House in the Big Woods and read clear through to These Happy Golden Years, then start over at the beginning. I took one of those books home from each library visit until I was a teenager; when my first child was born, I bought them, one by one, reading them aloud until she was old enough to read them herself.

My teen years were a torrent of a reading affair—I learned about sex from Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon, learned what I thought was “life” from Taylor Caldwell and Janice Holt Giles, and I must have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a dozen times. I guess my lifelong love of Southern Fiction started then as well, Gone With the Wind, the Beulah Land series, and Peyton Place were all favorites until I read To Kill A Mockingbird, which I still today consider one of the most poignant and timely books ever written.

Life happened and my reading habits changed but never ended. I’ve held a secret torch for Pat Conroy since a work peer I thought I didn’t like brought me The Water is Wide during a hospital stay. I not only become a lifelong fan of the author, but the “giver” became and is still a close personal friend. That’s the greatest gifts that books give us, I believe; they open separate worlds with common grounds where strangers can easily relate, and even enemies can see that none of us are really that different. All that and a plot, a conflict, and characters who become your friends---what’s NOT to love?

Of grown-up authors and books, I have too many to name but I will try.
My favorite first sentence is in Peachtree Road by Anne River Siddons.
My favorite paragraph is on the last page of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy. Though I love dozens of traditional southern literary writers, I’ve only been recently been able to admit what must be my favorite book.

 There’s a book called “Liberating Paris” by Linda Bloodworth Thompson (who also wrote the TV series “Designing Women”) that has forever made me want to write about where I grew up. In A Southern Place, I wanted to do for my part of South Georgia what she did for the fictional town of Paris, Louisiana, if that’s possible. There are other books I read again every few years, Rainey by Clyde Edgerton, Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith, and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird.  I love the classic southern authors—Faulkner, Larry Brown, and more recently Ron Rash. I guess the one author who’s had the most influence on me is my friend and former college mentor, Silas House. I love all his books, and his advice and encouragement have been monumental to me.

It’s hard to put a finite ending on my favorite books and authors, because honestly, I LOVE the fact that I could easily find a new one, as important as all the rest, in what I read tomorrow, the next day, or next year. I’ve added so many must-reads to my list just from this blog tour that I could hibernate a good month or two before I come up for air. The internet, blogging, and the invention of the e-reader have given book hoarders like me a way to hide their addiction and become more possessed by it than ever, and truthfully, I’m loving it!

Here is a link to my own blog, where a list of favorites lives down the far side of it. But remember---there could and will be many more to come.

Hoarders unite---this is OUR time!

A Southern Place is a moving book that is expertly written! Mary Jane Hatcher--everyone calls her Mojo--is beat up bad. She's in the ICU of Phoebe Putney, the largest hospital in South Georgia, barely able to talk. How Mojo goes from being that skinny little girl in Nolan, a small forgotten town along the Flint River, to the young woman now fighting for her life, is where this story begins and ends.
Mojo, her mama Delores and her Uncle Calvin Mullinax, like most folks in Nolan, have just tried to make the best of it. Of course, people aren't always what they seem, and Phil Foster--the handsome, spoiled son of the richest man in the county--is no exception.
As the story of the Mullinax family unfolds, Mojo discovers a family's legacy can be many things: a piece of earth, a familiar dwelling, a shared bond. And although she doesn't know why she feels such a bond with Phil Foster, it is there all the same, family or not. And she likes to think we all have us a fresh start. Like her mama always said, the past is all just water under the bridge. Mojo, after going to hell and back, finally comes to understand what that means.

Paperback:  294 Pages
Publisher:  WiDo Publishing (August 6, 2013)
ISBN-10:  1937178390
Twitter hashtag: #ASPLittle

A Southern Place is available as a print and e- book at 

About the Author:
Adopted at birth, Elaine lived her first twenty years on her parents’ agricultural farm in rural southern Georgia.  She was a public school music teacher for twenty-seven years, and continued to dabble with sideline interests in spite of her paid profession.  Playing in her first band at age fourteen, she seemed to almost always be involved in at least one band or another.  Elaine’s writing began in high school, publishing in local newspapers, then educational journals, then later in online fiction journals.  In 2008 she enrolled in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, where upon graduation finished her second novel manuscript. Recently retiring after eleven years as a high school chorus and drama director, Elaine now lives in north Georgia with her husband, an ever-growing library of used books, and many adopted animals.

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