The Power of a Three-Letter Word

by Deborah Epperson

Deborah Epperson

When my son was eight, he was hospitalized with a serious illness. Late one night, a nurse brought him a medication. Having worked in a hospital pharmacy, I was curious about the medicine and asked the nurse what it was called. I wasn’t familiar with the drug and asked her to double-check my son’s chart before administering the drug. I admit I felt a little awkward about asking her to check the chart again. After all, she was a health professional and I was a mom who hadn’t slept in three days.

When the nurse returned, she brought my son a different medicine. There had been a mix-up. I was happy I’d asked her to double-check, even at the risk of sounding stupid. She was glad too. All night long, she kept thanking me for asking her to check the medication. A serious accident was avoided because I decided to do one thing—I decided to ask.

Asking for what we want or need is a natural reaction, an instinct. Unfortunately, this instinct has been programmed out of most adults. Children have no qualms about asking for what they want. But after a few years of hearing “Stop asking so many questions,” and “Don’t ask me. I don’t know,” children learn it is safer to keep their mouths shut than to ask a question and risk ridicule or recriminations. Then we wonder why Johnny doesn’t ask for help with his homework and why Suzy never asks for our opinion. They become strangled by cultural conditioning against voicing their questions . . . just as we did.

This conditioning raises its ugly head whenever we want to ask for a raise, for information, for a sale, or for another opinion about a medical treatment. But conditioning is only one of the obstacles that stops us from asking for what we want. Three other barriers to asking are low self-esteem, pride, and fear.

As we grow, we develop an image of ourselves based upon our experiences, especially our childhood experiences. It’s this image that determines in large measure how we feel about ourselves. People with low self-esteem believe the needs of other people—their spouse, their children, their boss—are more important that their own needs and desires. Thus, they don’t ask for what they want because they think their needs are not worth mentioning or they feel unworthy. This is especially true among women, as we often feel it is our job to care for the needs of others first.

Pride stops many of us from asking for what we need. Is it conditioning or ego that makes us believe we need to do everything for ourselves? Perhaps, it’s a combination of both. Television commercials, print ads, and books all applaud the folks who are able to figure things out by themselves. We’ve become such a nation of do-it-yourselfers that we’re afraid asking for help will make us look weak and needy.

The biggest obstacle that prevents us from asking is fear. The fear of being ridiculed, rejected, or humiliated stops us from getting what we want, and stops us from giving the potential giver the joy of helping us.

The benefits of asking are endless. When we discover we can ask for anything, we take control of our lives and increase our personal power. When we ask for what we need, we are allowing the universe and other human beings to contribute to our success, our knowledge, and our happiness. And in doing so, we enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Perhaps Gandhi said it best when he said, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So the next time that small voice in your head urges you to speak up and ask a question, listen to it. Learning to ask for what you want and need will change your life. It might even save it.

Thanks for stopping by,


Welcome, BJ Daniels — guest interview

BJ DanielsBy Leslie Budewitz

I first met B.J. “Barb” Daniels years ago, at Bouchercon, the international mystery convention, in Denver in 2000. Already a successful author of romance and romantic suspense, she was nothing but kind and encouraging to me, an unpublished but hopeful mystery writer. Part of that, I knew, was the special connection we Montanans share—and part was her generous spirit. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and I was delighted when she came to Kalispell in the fall of 2011 to speak at the Flathead River Writers Conference. Now the author of more than 40 published short stories and 70 published books, she remains that generous, open-hearted writer who inspired me years ago.

Barb, thanks for joining us here at Montana Women Writers. Your latest book, Forsaken (HQN, October 2013), is part of your Beartooth, Montana series. Tell us about it.
Leslie, I’m honored to be here. Thank you for the kind words. bj - forsaken.htm

Forsaken is one of those books that I swear wrote itself. When I worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, I did a feature story about a sheep ranch that took their flock deep into the Beartooths for the summer. I met the old sheepherder and his young tender as they came out of the mountains after those long three months in a wilderness. The sheepherder hardly said a word, but his young tender was very talkative, telling me about what they had endured from the harsh weather to grizzlies attacking the sheep at night to the remote, rugged landscape where they’d camped without seeing another soul.

The story appealed to me because for decades that part really happened. Then, like all writers, I thought, what if the sheep rancher was a widowed woman just hanging on by a thread? And what if her young tender came racing out of the mountain terrified and covered with blood and now the old sheepherder, who is like a grandfather to her, is missing. Bring in a greenhorn new deputy sheriff who is determined to go into the backcountry with her because he believes they are going to find a crime scene.

What I love about this book isn’t just that my widow, Maddie Conner, is incredibly strong and capable. She is also in her mid-forties like the deputy. They have both experienced losses in their life. Neither is looking for a relationship.

We’ve been talking lately about what inspires us, and why we write stories set in Montana. To me, those are the same question. Your thoughts?
Montana has such a rich, wonderful history. Not to mention its rugged beauty. But it can also be unforgiving. It’s a place where weather matters. Montana is the perfect character for a book as well as a setting. People have struggled to live here and tame this land since the beginning. It’s not just a backdrop for a story, it is the story. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

When I need inspiration, I drive out in the country. We have a lot of that up here in north central Montana.

Like me, you like good food. You said recently “Whenever I put food in my books, it makes me hungry. One time a character made my oatmeal cake. I actually started to take a bite…but was shocked that I didn’t have a piece next to my computer.” What is it about writers, stories, and food?
I hate books where the characters never eat. Who forgets to eat? Not me. I love heroes who love heroines who love to eat. I want my hero to have a healthy woman who doesn’t pick at her food. Also I equate a healthy appetite with a healthy passion for other things, including life, of course, and sex.

When you spoke at the Flathead River Writers Conference, you talked about openings and gave examples of how the same opening could be written various ways. Do you start at the very beginning, as Julie Andrews sang, or do you work and rework those openings?
I’m a seat of the pants writer so I just start typing. The characters know so much more than I do. I just have to get them to tell their story.

I try to open the story at a point where something big has happened, something that will affect all the characters. I believe that “hooking” the reader is very important. I know I decide whether to buy a book by reading the first paragraph. If it doesn’t grab me through what is happening or the writing or the promise of something to happen, then I will put it back.

I try hard to write an opening that makes a reader unable to do that.

What’s the best part of being a professional writer?
Not the hours. Or the vacation and sick pay.

The best part isn’t even the freedom or getting to be my own boss. The best part is that I get to tell stories. It’s all I ever wanted. So it’s my dream come true. That along with the writer friends I’ve made along the way. Other writers are what keep us sane.

What’s the hardest part?
Actually sitting down and getting the story told. It’s hard, emotionally exhausting work. I can often imagine a book. You hear about writer’s block. To me, it’s when I’m afraid I can’t write the book I see in my head.

After all these years, and all those stories and novels, do you feel nervous when you start a book—or confident?
LOL. I love starting a new book. You know, blank page, anything goes. But I have to start with the right voice. To me, it’s a sound. Finding that “sound” is the hard part. But, sure, I’m confident. I haven’t painted myself into a corner yet.

BJ - awardEarlier this year, you won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense. You won for both your category with Justice at Cardwell Ranch and for all categories overall. What a thrill that must have been! Tell us more about that.
I was out to dinner with my editor and walking back to the hotel when a friend texted me to say Justice at Cardwell Ranch had won. I was pretty excited. Then she emailed back and said I had just taken everything. I was stunned.

I reached the hotel in time to pick up my award. It is a great award. I put it next to my Career Achievement Award for series romance suspense.

Was there a book that got you thinking, as a child, “I want to write?” What books have you passed on to your children and grandchildren?
I was a lazy reader clear into high school. I just liked a good story. I loved mysteries and read all the Trixie Beldon books. My junior year in high school, my English teacher dragged me down to the library and made me check out Exodus. I think that was when I fell in love with books and writing.

My daughter wasn’t much of a reader when she was young. I took her to a bookstore and said, “Pick out anything you want to read.” She started with witches who had taken over the school. My friends weren’t sure she should be reading stuff like that. It got her reading, though, and she quickly moved on to more advanced books. Today her home is full of first edition literature. Now she has a daughter who I know will be reading two of her favorites, A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte’s Web.

What books are on your nightstand now?
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison and Profiler (investigations into the criminal mind) I recently cleaned off my nightstand. I always have a stack of books around.

You are amazingly prolific. You’ve said you write ten pages every day. What secrets can you share?
I treat writing like a real job. I get up in the morning, read my emails, do what social media I do, and then I go to my office and write. I don’t do anything else until lunch time. Then I come home, have lunch with my husband, and if I haven’t written my 10 pages yet that day, I go back and don’t come home again until about 4 or 5 p.m.

The secret is not letting anything interfere with your writing time. I know, you’re laughing right now. It is next to impossible some days. I hear you. But I learned that if you don’t take your writing seriously, no one else will either.

Also I don’t wait for the “muse.” I’ve found that if I sit down at my computer determined to write, something will come. If that doesn’t work, I hit the road. Something about driving… I head for the country. On the way, I will have to pull over and drag out my old AlphaSmart (now called Neo) because my characters are talking to me. If I’m really stuck, I go out in the boat. I’ve come up with a lot of plots trolling for walleye.

You also quilt and regularly go to quilting retreats and workshops. Do you think it’s important for writers to have another creative outlet or resource, to “fill the well”?  BJ - quilt
Boy howdy. I have found that I need another creative outlet as well as time with non-writers. I didn’t realize how important that was until I moved to a small Montana town where I am the only local writer. (That, after living in Bozeman where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer.)

I miss other writers, but quilters have filled that need for people who are creative and doing fun projects. I love my quilter friends. They take creativity to places I can’t even imagine. Plus I love putting the different colors of fabric together. It reminds of me writing.

What’s your next book—on the shelves, and on your desk?
I have another Cardwell Ranch book coming out at the end of the month. I started the series with Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch. (That story definitely proves how huge a part luck plays in this profession. Crime Scene was picked to go to a review group. It did so well, my publisher ended up giving away two million copies of the book to promote the line.)

Which, of course, begged for a sequel. That sequel, Justice at Cardwell Ranch, has grown into five more Cardwell books. (Always be ready to take any book you write and make it into a series. Don’t kill off all your hero and heroine’s families.)

The new book, Christmas at Cardwell Ranch, brings back one of five brothers, who are cousins of an original character. Four more brothers will be returning over the next year.

Meanwhile I have another HQN for the Beartooth, Montana series, Atonement, coming out in March and another next fall, Mercy, the one I’m working on now. I just agreed to a contract for another six books in that series, featuring the Hamilton Sisters.

Right now, I have three series going. It keeps me out of trouble. Kinda.

Leslie, thank you so much for having me. This has been fun!

Thanks, Barb! Visit her online at 

My Grandfather’s Poem

img-602031414-0001By Marie F Martin

Some time in the middle 1930s, my grandfather Yeats wrote the following poem.  He homesteaded a Montana flatland spread just north of Gilford, near a town named Goldstone.  In the evenings after chores, he wrote the rhythms that ran through his mind while doing endless chores in his Red Chief tablet .  The ranch is gone, the town is gone but the poems live on.  I have several newspaper clippings from the Havre newspaper and tried to scan different ones, but the letters were too small to read.  I chose this poem to share because it shows determination.  My heritage goes deep into Montana soil, but also the desire to put words on paper was passed along.  In the photo is my father on the tractor and my grandfather on the combine.  This is before  Mom and Dad were married.  Yep, she married the hired hand.

Wheat for 40 cents

By William Yeats in the 1930s

Oh, please tell me how the farmers in Montana

Can ever pay their taxes and the Rents,

And keep their poor old trucks and tractors running,

When they have to sell their wheat for forty cents?

For at that price you cannot make expenses,

And keep your equipment up in shape,

When you know its worth at least six-bits to raise it,

You can’t help that you’re Just an ape.

Now the tractor needs a set of sleeves and pistons.

For the way it is pumping oil near breaks my heart.

And I’ve cranked and cracked, till my poor back is broken,

Trying to get that cussed thing to start.

The timing gears are rattling and banging.

The old crankshaft is getting mighty flat,

The radiator leaks like a spraying fountain

And nothing that I do seems to help that.

Twas many moons ago it shed the skidrims,

The broken worn out lugs have lost their grip.

And every time the plow hooks on a boulder,

The tractor stands still while the clutch does slip.

And the old truck isn’t faring any better.

To tell the truth, its nothing but a wreck.

And some day, crossing the O’brien coulee,

I’ll have to spill and break my dog gone neck.

When in the rattletrap I go ariding,

I thank the Lord, my heart is good and stout

As in the cab I sit with nerves aquiver

A listening for the rear tires to blow out.

Yes, it sure is great to be an honest farmer

A horny-handed tiller of the soil,

But right now, I’d pass for a first class scare-crow,

All smeared from head to toe with grease and oil.

Didn’t dare to go to church on Easter,

For through my shoes the folks could see my toes.

Indeed there’s very little joy in living,

When you’re wearing gunny sacks for undercoths

They say, of everything there is surplus,

Just what to do with it nobody knows.

Now really, if there’s such an awful surplus,

Why can’t I have a suit of Sunday Clothes.

Oh, I’m sure if people only had the money,

There’d be an awful jam in every store.

They’d soon clean up that over-rated surplus,

And have them jumping round, a rustling more.

Art as a Rorschach Test

by Karen Wills

We’ve all heard of, if not taken, Rorschach tests. They require a subject to tell how she perceives a set of inkblots. What picture does each form? One subject might describe a bat, while another sees a butterfly. A visual artist friend and I were talking. I said my novel, Remarkable Silence, the story of an archaeological discovery that upends the core history of the world’s three major religions, has been a Rorschach for readers. Some see sacrilege, some a way to save the world, and some unpredictable plot twists. My friend countered that all art is really a Rorschach.
Is that true? I think it is for art with enough ambiguity or complexity for viewers and readers to differ in their perceptions of it. We sometimes see differently from each other, sometimes from our younger selves. I loved the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s when I was young. Now I see it as racist. I tried to get into Proust’s, Remembrance of Things Past, in my twenties, but finally put it back on the shelf unread. Now that I have decades of personal past, and realize how fragile and beautiful a thing memory is, I count the book as one of the great works of literature.
I taught Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants to a college class. Two characters, a man and woman, sit in a train station determining whether the woman will have an abortion. It was a memorable discussion, not because of an inflexible stance on anyone’s part, but because there was debate, complete with sketches, about which train the couple actually boarded in the end. Was it the train back the way they’d come, or the one to the city where she would have the abortion? People literally read the story with different conclusions.
I think I agree with my friend. If there’s enough to it, the work, like a Rorschach, says as much about the psychology of the viewer/reader as it does of the work…or its creator. I wouldn’t write the same novel now that I would have at twenty.

Luxury Problems

Ann Minnett MWW photo

By Ann Minnett

The current draft of my second novel takes up more space in my head than it does on my desk. Honestly, this novel needs to simmer unattended in a file drawer for a few weeks while I regroup. We’re a little sick of each other.

second draft

Two luxury problems fill the void almost immediately: 1) autumn is my favorite time of year in NW Montana, and 2) a dream of my third novel, the fresh promise of ‘the not yet written.’

(Pause here to stroll outside, take some photos, breathe clean mountain air, and talk to my husband working on an old MGB in the shop.)


Luxury problem #2 is not so easily handled.

Lucky for me, there’s no better time for a new project than NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which takes place in November. I’m taking the challenge for the first time. This declaration is my way of holding feet to the fire in hopes of following through.

Our own Kathy Dunnehoff spoke about NaNoWriMo at the Flathead River Writers’ Conference last month, encouraging novices to set any personal writing goal for the month. However, most participants set a goal of 50,000 written words. That’s 1,667 words per day, every day. Even on Thanksgiving. Even traveling to Tennessee mid-month for a family reunion. Even…  Aside from self-discipline, all it takes is determined writing without second guesses or edits. That and some planning in October—a story arc and an understanding of my main character.

October 12th finds me without a plan for my NaNoWriMo project and nothing sketched out on paper. Undaunted and with the confidence of one who doesn’t know better, here’s where I start:

The novel will take place in small-town Montana.

The protagonist is a woman who has taken the geographical cure, but no matter where she goes, there she is.

So much for page 1. A rough outline of what happens on page 2 and beyond will fall loosely into place in the coming 19 days. My intentions are clear.  Starting on November 1st, I vow to write with a vengeance and describe my progress next month both here and in my own blog. Ernest Hemingway once said, “All first drafts are shit.” Yes! His famous quote permits my modest expectation for quality—a vital ingredient for NaNoWriMo success.

I’m jazzed. How about you? Have you almost finished that first novel and need a kick in the rear to complete it? Do you have a story that simply won’t stop bugging you? Join in the NaNoWriMo fun. Get inspiration from other writers, and together we’ll finish a piece of writing.

November 30th will come around whether or not I’ve written 50,000 words. The manuscript I’ve set aside today will molder for my attention whether or not I write 50,000 new words. So why not try?