Thursday, January 08, 2015

A STAR TO STEER BY - AnnaLee Conti - One Free Book

Welcome, AnnaLee. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
In my first novel, Till the Storm Passes By, several of my characters are inspired by my life growing up in Alaska. It is set in 1953, a time period I remember well. The main character tends to react emotionally as I might have in the same situations at her age. The second novel in my Alaskan Waters series is set a generation earlier so the characters, Norwegian immigrants, don’t resemble me that much, but I do write from personal experience about love, family secrets, and forgiveness.

What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
The thing that provoked the most laughter in my writing critique group was when I wrote: “‘He’s dead?’ she croaked.”

Another time, at a church women’s retreat, I was in a small group assigned to write a rap about the topic. The other members of my group teased me for correcting all the grammar. My writing group calls me “the grammar police.”

When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I always loved writing in grade school. When as a young teen I read my great aunt’s nine published Christian novels, the desire was born in my heart to write novels too. While my husband was in seminary, I worked in editorial at our denomination’s publishing house. The first article I submitted to our premier magazine was published. The editors I worked with encouraged me to write and submit stories. Soon, I was also writing church school curriculum on assignment, which I continued to do for 25 years as a pastor’s wife. In 2002, I published Frontiers of Faith, a nonfiction book about my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, who went to Alaska by faith as pioneer missionaries in 1917 and spent 65 years there—from gold rush to statehood and beyond. As I researched that book, I came across snippets of stories that triggered my imagination, and my Alaskan Waters series of novels was born.

Earlier in my writing career, I wrote church school curriculum for three different denominations. Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I began reading biographies of great Christians and missionaries and Christian historical and Biblical fiction as a teenager growing up in a missionary family in Alaska. On cold winter nights in Alaska, we had no television or radio, but my dad belonged to a Christian book club that sent one or two novels each month. As I read them, I wanted to check out the historical or Biblical facts. That led to an interest in history and theology. I have an extensive home library of Bible commentaries, theology, and books on Biblical counseling, the Bible and science, devotionals, and writing and have taught many ministerial preparation courses. I love to read. When I feel like my writing well is running dry, reading Christian fiction fills it up again. I also read a variety of magazines.

How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Keeping our minds focused on the Lord and seeking His will and guidance in all we do is key. A motto on my grandparents’ wall I read frequently as I was growing up has been my life’s motto too: “Only one life—Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” That guides all my decisions.

Now that we are retired from fulltime ministry and teaching, we still have to seek God’s guidance in our choices of activities. We continually remind ourselves that people have a wonderful plan for our lives unless we make Spirit-led choices.

We have always had a favorite place we try to visit two or three times a year—Beavertail Lighthouse on the tip of Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay between the mainland and Newport, Rhode Island. We discovered it when we were stationed in Rhode Island in the Army for two years in the early seventies. Our son was born near there at Quonset Point Naval Base. Sitting on the rocks watching the waves roll in on three sides carries away our cares and renews our minds. It was there that Till the Storm Passes By was birthed and the plots developed for my Alaskan Waters series of historical Christian novels.

How do you choose your characters’ names?
I remember names of people I knew from the time period I’m writing about. Since many of my characters in the Alaskan Waters series are Norwegian, I googled Norwegian names common in the time period. I try to find names that seem to fit the personalities of my characters or names I like.

What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
As a young wife, I prayed long and hard that God would give us a son, promising I would raise him to serve the Lord. He is our only child. Today, he serves the Lord and is raising his five children to serve the Lord too.

If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Growing up in Alaska I always admired the majestic beauty of bald eagles. I especially love the way they soar above the storms.  I want to fly above life’s storms in my life, too, though I have not always been as successful as I’d like to be.

What is your favorite food?
Ice cream. (An interesting fact I learned some years ago is that Alaskans eat more ice cream per capita than any other state at the time that survey was done.) I used to eat a cup of ice cream every night before going to bed. It was so delicious, creamy, and soothing. When I broke myself of that habit, I lost ten pounds! Now I usually don’t keep it in the house.

What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I carry stories in my head and jot notes on scraps of paper, but finding blocks of time and disciplining myself to write them was my challenge. Joining a writing critique group helped me to set writing goals and stick to them.

Tell us about the featured book.
Between 1825 and 1925 more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to the United States. Many settled in Alaska’s Panhandle to fish the Inside Passage, which closely resembles the fjords of Norway. A Star to Steer By is the second novel in my Alaskan Waters series, a historical family saga based on the lives of a fictional Norwegian immigrant family who settled in Southeast Alaska in the 1920s.

The first book, Till the Storm Passes By, is set in 1953. In it, Evie locates the Norwegian family she never knew in Alaska. The second novel goes back a generation to tell her parents’ love story:

Tales of the booming fishing industry in faraway Alaska and big money to be made there in 1920 lure 19-year-old Norman Pedersen, a Norwegian fisherman, to immigrate to Alaska to make his fortune. Norman thinks of Kristina Michelsen as his North Star, for centuries used by sailors in navigation at sea. He plans to return to marry her, and she promises to wait for him—even if it takes years. But Norman becomes entrapped in a prison of his own making. Will he ever find his true “star to steer by”?

Please give us the first page of the book.
Near Ketchikan, Alaska, Fall 1922
Norman Pedersen hunched his body into the biting wind as he stood at the bow of the seiner. Even that discomfort could not distract him from the relentless, crushing pain in his heart. A cacophony of voices assailed his ears, but he did not share the excitement.

Full of hope and ambition, he had come to Alaska to make his fortune and marry the love of his life. The future had looked so promising. But now, he felt like a man sentenced to a life behind bars. He’d let down everyone he loved.

How could I have been so stupid? How did I fall into this trap? Is there no way out?
I’m only twenty-one years old, and my life is ruined. How did I let it come to this?

Narvik, Norway, Fall 1919
Norman Pedersen stood at the bow, rope in hand, ready to jump to the dock as soon as the Viking nudged into its mooring in the harbor at Narvik. The long summer days were over. He turned up his collar against the chill Arctic winds that swept up the fjord.

Behind him, the four large islands of the Lofoten group, with smaller ones between, trailed off from the Vesteralen Islands into the Norwegian Sea like a gigantic backbone. From January to April, fishing boats followed the cod migration to their spawning grounds among the many islands scattered along northern Norway’s broken coast. Norman had spent the summer aboard the Viking with Ole Aarstad and Hans Orsen shipping salted and dried codfish from the Vesteralens to Bergen, one of the foremost fish markets of the world.

As much as Norman loved life at sea, his heart also swelled with pride for this land of his fathers, the Vikings. The majestic mountains, narrow valleys, and rushing waterfalls tumbling down the almost perpendicular walls of the numerous fjords never ceased to amaze him.

But at this moment, all he wanted was to be with Kristina Michelsen.

Something caught the sun’s rays and flashed out miniature beacons from the bluff overlooking the sea. His heart quickened when he spotted a girl buffeted by the stiff breeze. Kristina! It had to be. She always wore her mother’s large silver brooch at the throat of her shirtwaist. Her long, dark skirt billowed behind her as she gazed out across the water. Norman hoped Kristina, just past her seventeenth birthday, was looking for him.

As the Viking drew closer to land, Norman could see the wind whip golden strands of wavy hair across the girl’s face. He recognized the characteristic toss of her head as with her hand she shaded her eyes. Norman pictured those eyes, as blue as the beautiful fjord before her, straining to see his boat. He waved, and she waved back—vigorously.

His heart rose in anticipation of being with Kristina again after his long season at sea. He remembered the rosy tinge the breeze always brought to her cheeks and the pearly white teeth that sparkled between the sweet, smiling lips painted only by Nature’s deft fingers. In spite of the chilling wind, he warmed at the thought of kissing her. Maybe this time he’d get up the nerve.

He’d first seen Kristina in church two years earlier when at sixteen he’d finally gotten up the courage to run away from his elder brother’s estate in Oslo. Arne’s wife, Hilda, was so overbearing he couldn’t wait to escape to his older sister Alma’s home in Narvik. It had been a good decision. He’d been hired as a deckhand on the Viking, and he’d met Kristina Michelsen. It wasn’t only her pretty face and winsome ways that drew him. She too had lost both of her parents at a young age.

How can readers find you on the Internet?
Twitter: @AnnaLeeContiw

Thank you, AnnaLee, for sharing this new book with us. My father was half Norwegian and half Swedish. His family emigrated to Minnesota. Your book has moved to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Readers, here are links to the book. By using one when you order, you help support this blog.
A Star to Steer By -
A Star to Steer By (Alaskan Waters) - Amazon
A Star To Steer By (Alaskan Waters Series Book 2) - Kindle

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)

Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.

The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 4 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.

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Anonymous said...

Would love to win. Angela in KY

Britney Adams said...

A Star To Steer By sounds like a wonderful story! I enjoyed meeting AnnaLee Conti and appreciate the giveaway opportunity.

Britney Adams, TX

Anonymous said...

This sounds good and it's set in a different location than I usually read. I'd love to give it a shot!
J.C. -Indiana-

AnnaLee Conti said...

I wish you could all win. I loved growing up in Alaska and have tried to share its beauty and the wonderful people who lived there. You may want to read Book One in the Alaskan Waters series, Till the Storm Passes By, first, but each book is a complete story in itself too. I hope you grow to love Alaska as I do.

Melanie Backus said...

Thank you for a great interview, Lena! This book sounds wonderful.

Melanie Backus, TX

Mary Preston said...

A period in history I know so little about. I'm going to enjoy this.

Mary P


AnnaLee Conti said...

My grandparents went to Alaska in 1917 as missionaries and spent 65 years there, so I grew up on stories of those days. While my characters are all fictional, the stories are based on true accounts. And I have lived in or visited most of the towns I describe. Alaska is so big that capturing it in words is a challenge. Having lived there for more than 20 years and studied its history, I can write from personal experience.

Deanna Stevens said...

An Alaskan story of family.. sounds sooo good! Dee S, NEBrrrraska

Anonymous said...

would love to win. Angela in kY

Lynda Blevins said...

I'm glad to have a chance to find this book. Lyndie In Duncanville Tx

Sharon Richmond Bryant said...

Enter me!!
Conway, SC.

Patty said...

I love to read about the settling of the American frontier, and I guess Alaska could be considered that!

Patty in SC

AnnaLee Conti said...

Yes, that's why Alaska's nickname is "the Last Frontier."

rubynreba said...

Since I have Norwegian heritage, I know I would enjoy this book.
Beth from IA

AnnaLee Conti said...

I had many friends of Norwegian heritage while I was growing up in Southeast Alaska where the Alaskan Waters series is set.

Anonymous said...

Oh I sure enjoyed this one Lena. It sounds very interesting. I would love to win it. Another new author for me. Thanks, Maxie from Texas.
> mac262(at)me(dot)com <

Granny's Attic said...

I really enjoy stories about early settlers. lisajcowell(at)cs(dot)com in Ohio

AnnaLee Conti said...

To see pictures of Alaska, check out my Alaska boards on Pinterest.

AnnaLee Conti said...

Lena, Thank you for hosting me on your blog.