Book Production · Books · Christmas · Memories · My Thoughts

Revising my Christmas book in July: Imagine That!

Christmas in July - revising

Revising my Christmas book in July seems absurd, but I have been. You see—to get a book out for the holiday season, now is the time! I have been working on it for a couple of months! Here’s what’s happening!

Last year, I researched popular e-book genres and found out that travel books and Christmas books were on the list. I thought, “Wow! I have both hidden away!” Then I let it go!

So in the early spring of this year, I researched the best time to publish a Christmas book on one of my favorite writing/publishing apps, Publisher Rocket. I thought it would be October or November, giving me plenty of time to get it finished. No, I found out I needed to get it out into the hands of holiday readers by August/September (see chart below).

This app has guided me in a variety of ways as a self-publisher, and I respect Dave Chesson, who created this app and this helpful website:

So, with this in mind, I moved forward, contacting my editor I’ve used for my last three books. But I didn’t hear from her, and I was still suffering from neuralgia from the shingles I had in April 2022. Being on pain medicine for the neuralgia fogged my brain and my ambition, so I let it slip by for a month or two.

When I finally heard from my editor, physically I felt better, so I created a timeline with her: I sent my manuscript off to her on June 19, 2023. She sent back her critiqued version on July 12. Then I read her email comments and highlighted specific suggestions. After that, I went through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, enjoying her comments and accepting her revisions.

She suggested I write a couple of adult Christmas memories because I had just a few in the manuscript. That spurred me on to write four new chapters, enjoying the remembrances. Then I sent it back to her and am waiting for her final comments.

During this time my editor had my manuscript, I focused on the book cover and description. I paid 100 Covers to do the cover (see cover, but title isn’t exact).

Hair on Fire cover - revising

I paid Bryan Cohen’s Best Page Forward to do the description. Gladly, I have finals for both of them. I need to tweak both before finalizing them.

I have wrestled with the title using a website, my book coach, and coaching group to help me. This is my title and subtitle so far: Hair on Fire: My Heartwarming & Humorous Christmas Memoir.

But here are other options for the subtitle. What do you think?

  • A Christmas Memoir
  • A Heartwarming Christmas Memoir
  • A Heartwarming and Humorous Christmas Memoir
  • A Joyful, Heartwarming and Humorous Christmas Memoir
  • Hair on Fire: A Head-Warming Christmas Tale

Now I am waiting, waiting, waiting for my editor’s final response. Then I complete my editor’s suggested revisions in August. I love this back-and-forth process. She assured me it would be back by August 8-10. When the manuscript looks exactly the way I want it to, then I use Vellum, a Mac app, to create the interior of the book. Finally, I upload it to Amazon and various other e-book distributors.

Holding the proof copy in my hands always gives me such a warm sensation—I almost have to pinch myself to see if it’s a dream. If it looks good, it’s available to buy.

Here’s your chance to pre-order this book,

Finally, I love revising my Christmas book—rereading those precious memories touches my heart each time. When you get your copy, I hope it touches yours.

Have you ever thought of writing a book? Which subtitle did you like the best? Let me know!

News, News, News!

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? meme - revising
Vacation with my book and heal!

Listen to my twenty-three minute interview on Masterfesto Media Podcast with Isabel Elias about my book Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?:

Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo meme - revising
Take your iPad and Flippo outside for a summer reading day!

Get your free 50-minute audio recording of Flippo! Click here for easy access!

Audiobooks · Books · Memories · My Books · My Thoughts

When Did I Start Writing?

When did I start my writing? My uncle extolled an essay I wrote in high school which surprised me. I didn’t see myself as a writer then! After reading it, I shocked him when I told him my plans after graduation in 1971—business courses. But his compliments lingered in the back of my mind—hiding in my subconscious.

Larada's graduation picture - start
My graduation picture, 1971

Then on a visit back home a couple years later, my journalism teacher simply said in passing, “Send me a copy of your first book!” Shocked, I just stared at her, but she was serious! So in 2014, I sent her a copy of This Tumbleweed Landed. She had an emphasis on my start.

My Publishing & Writing Timeline

Larada's Five books meme - start
Winter meme - Flippo Book

1985—I wrote When Will Papa Get Home? after a visit to the ranch and I found a blue marble at the Phillie homestead. I did nothing with it until 2015.

1987—Working at the middle school as a language arts/literature teacher, I wrote an article for the Raton newspaper, Raton Range, about a flamenco dancer who came to the Shuler Theater.

1991—I wrote This Tumbleweed Landed in a professional development workshop and did nothing with it until 2013 when I started revising it. I self-published it in 2014.

1993—Mom and I self-published Let Me Tell You a Story as a gift for my dad for his 70th birthday. We published it here in ABQ at AlphaGraphics. A friend of mine worked there (manager of the store), and they turned out beautiful. We printed a copy for everyone in our immediate family, and I printed twenty-five extras to use in my classroom.

2007—Tom Cummins, lifelong friend and historian, and I self-published Branson-Trinchera Historic Photos with This was my introduction to online publishing and POD (print on demand). Before POD, you had to print 10,000 copies of a book. POD allowed you to print whatever number you wanted, which made self-publishing affordable.

2012—The year before I retired, I researched self-publishing companies and found the top 3:, (an affiliate with Amazon and has become and I decided to go with and now

2013—I edited and revised This Tumbleweed Landed, adding prose (essays I wrote in the 1991 professional development workshop) because of the Black Mesa Writing Workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron.

2014—I self-published This Tumbleweed Landed and had a fantastic response to it which so surprised me. Really, I hadn’t planned on doing much more. I still questioned myself as a writer.

2014—For family Christmas presents after mom died, I self-published From Grannie’s Kitchen: Pies, Cakes & Christmas Candy, Volume 1, and family members said I needed to sell them.

2015—I edited, revised and self-published When Will Papa Get Home? Which I wrote thirty years before.

2015—I created another family Christmas present and self-published From Grannie’s Kitchen: Beverages, Bread, Cookies, Meats, Vegetables, Mis. & Records of a Rancher’s Wife, Volume 2. Mom had too many delicious recipes to put in one cookbook, so I created a three-book series.

2016—I re-released/self-published Let Me Tell You a Story, originally released in 1993.

2016—For another family Christmas present, I self-published From Grannie’s Kitchen: Casseroles, Mexican Dishes, Relish, Sandwiches, Salads & Desserts, Volume 3.

2016-2017—Giving myself a couple years after my mom’s death, I edited, revised, and self-published A Time to Grow Up: A Daughter’s Grief Memoir.

2017-2020—I interviewed, edited, revised and self-published Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo.

2021—Because of the coronavirus pandemic, I edited, revised and self-published Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?.

2021-2022—I recorded, edited, revised and released my first audiobook, Let Me Tell You a Story.

2022—Enjoying my first audiobook so much, I recorded all thirty-one chapters of Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?, then I edited and revised six chapters for the audiobook, but shingles stopped me initially and then the neuralgia afterwards.

2022—After learning so much from writing Marshall Flippo’s biography, I started writing I Said Yes!: How I Learned to Write a Biography, but shingles stopped me on this project too.

Looking to the future, I have the following projects lined up:

  • A Colorado Country Christmas: A Collection of Memories
  • An Extreme Costa Rica Trip: A Travelogue from 2020
  • 3 books poetry series
  • 1 Haiku poetry book
  • Eye Witness to Life—a novel I wrote in 2016

How does a writer start? Kind words, encouragement, years of trying? As you can see, my start came years ago. Have you read any of my books? If so, which is your favorite?

If not, why? Wholesome, family-oriented stories! Country-life, nostalgic stories and poetry about a simpler life—try one!

News, News, News!

~For me, it’s Christmas all year long! Here’s a variety of Christmas greetings from Flippo & Neeca, featuring his song, “When It’s Christmas Time in Texas”:

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? meme

~My new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? WON the 2022 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in the Body, Mind & Spirit Category. Have you bought your copy yet? Vist my website:

Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marsahll Flippo

~Have you bought a copy of Flippo’s biography yet? Believe it or not—it’s been two years. Go here for your hardback or paperback: or at Amazon.

Books · Dancing · Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts

Recordings of Flippo: 14 Different Labels!

Marshall Flippo - recording king

In Marshall Flippo’s square dance calling career, he recorded over 222 records for fourteen different recording labels. He started with Blue Star Record Label, owned by Norman and Nadine Merrbach. During his illustrious career, he moved on and worked with many recording labels. Here’s how it went after Blue Star!

Move from Blue Star to Chaparral Records

Flippo’s loyalty to Blue Star records and Norman and Nadine Merrbach kept him there for twenty-seven years, but times changed. The move to Chaparral welded lifelong friendships for Flip with the callers at that record label: Gary Shoemake, Ken or Kenny Bower, Jerry Haag, Beryl Main, and Scott Smith.

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo (2020): 257.

Flip and Neeca talked about the royalty issues with Blue Star Record. After much deliberation, he chose to move. His big concern was Norman and Nadine. Flippo was a people person—he loved people; they produced his first hit, “The Auctioneer” which rocketed his career. He didn’t want to hurt their feelings, and he commented to me how his move changed their relationship.

Flip retold many stories about the Chaparral callers, and once again, his connection with people affected his choices. The staff callers did various popular Chaparral weekends all over the country, with hundreds of dancers in attendance. Flip found his niche.

Years later, when I interviewed Flippo for his biography, his go-to guy was Gary Shoemake for any details he couldn’t remember, and he told multiple stories about each of the men listed above. These five callers became family to him.

Also, this rowdy gang traveled internationally, and some of his most hilarious stories told in his biography are about these travels and these men.

Sets in Order

“Then Flip did albums with Sets in Order with Bob and Becky Osgood. Flip never did do a single for Bob. He was always on an album with a bunch of other callers where each caller did one song. He was on quite a few of his long plays that he put out.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo (2020): 285.
2 Sets in Order Album Covers: 18 & Lucky 13th Jamboree. Source: Just Another Square Dance Caller
Masaharu “Doc” Hiraga
2 Sets in Order Album Covers: 18 & Lucky 13th Jamboree. Source: Just Another Square Dance Caller,
Masaharu “Doc” Hiraga

Flip did not know how many Sets in Order albums he did, but Mike Seastrom connected with Masaharu “Doc” Hiraga from Japan, and Doc sent me pictures of six album covers. Then Ted and Karen Clements sent me pictures of four more, and I found others. Last count: he recorded twelve Sets in Order Albums and twenty-five Blue Star Long Play Albums, enjoying every moment.

Other Recording Labels

As Flippo’s popularity grew, he expanded out to other labels. Some label owners were personal friends, and he only recorded a couple of songs with some of them.

When asked how many recordings Flippo did, he responded, “Exact number of songs I called, I have no earthly idee how many.”

 Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo (2020): 285.

Flippo recorded for more than Blue Star and Chaparral. Rhythm Records is Wade Driver’s company, and Flip did a few here and there. Also, he did one on River Records. “I believe I just done one or two for Chinook out of Knoxville, for ole Ted Frye.” The Internet showed that Ted Frye was owner of Square Tunes and Pioneer Records.

When I listed the number of record labels he recorded with, he replied, “Holy mackerel! Good Lord a Mercy, some of them I don’t even remember. A bunch of old records. Well, the one from Knoxville—Ted Frye’s ole one. They’d call you up and say, ‘Hey, can you do this number for me? Will you do it?’ Of course, I usually did somethang. Some of ’em were terrible, but I did. I did one for Riverboat, I thank was. I hated for anybody ever to hear any. I don’t know whether he released ’em or not. But it was God-awful!”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo (2020): 285.

The Fourteen Record Labels

Flippo’s popularity put him in high demand. Here are the fourteen labels who recorded with:

  1. Blue Star Record Label –
    1. Single song – 171 records
    1. Blue Star Long Play Albums – 25 albums
  2. Dance Ranch Record Label – 6 records
  3. Bob Cat Record Label – 1 record
  4. Chaparral Record Label – 24 records
  5. Desert Gold Record Label – 1 record
  6. E-Z School Record Label – 1 record
  7. ESP Record Label – 4 records
  8. Four Squares Record Label – 1 record
  9. Rhythm Records Record Label – 6 records
  10. Riverboat Record Label – 1 record
  11. Royal Record Label – 3 records
  12. Square Dancetime Record Label – 1 record
  13. Square Tunes Record Label – 2 records
  14. Sets in Order Record Label Albums – 12 albums

Notice that Flippo only recorded albums for Sets in Order, and that he recorded twenty-five long play albums for Blue Star.


Flippo’s recording career fascinated me—I was more interested in how many records he recorded than he was. When I asked him which of his recording was his favorite, he surprised me. As a lifelong Texan and country boy, I figured it would be one of the country and western songs.

When asked about his favorite recording, Flippo responded, “Oh, geez! I have no idee. ‘Every Street’s a Boulevard’ is probably—you know .”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo (2020): 289.

If you are interested in perusing the lengthy list of songs Flippo recorded, be sure and buy this amazing biography!

In comparison with today’s square dance world, I can’t even visualize Flippo’s popularity during the heyday of square dancing. He said he’d take a stack of records to a dance, and they’d all sell out—imagine that!

What was your favorite Flippo recording?

~ Check out my blog post from last week. I usually advertise my blog on one of the social media platforms, and they rejected it because of the topic! Please, read!

~MY FIRST AUDIOBOOK IS AVAILABLE: Go to Audible to buy my first audiobook, Let Me Tell You a Story

~Do you listen to podcasts? Here are three podcasts with my interviews about my new book & some Flippo stories:

~Buy a copy of Flippo’s biography on my website: or at Amazon.

~Here’s a variety of Christmas greetings from Flippo & Neeca, featuring his song, “When It’s Christmas Time in Texas”:

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? Meme

~Are you on a spiritual path? Do you want to heal from the horrible effects of the pandemic of 2020? Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks:

Audiobooks · Books · My Books · My Thoughts

My Adventure Continues—Audiobook!

A young man joins me on my adventure!

My new adventure has taken over! On November 29, 2021, in my blog post, “Audiobooks—My New Adventure,” I alerted you about my new adventure of recording audiobooks. I don’t know if you’re a consumer of audiobooks, but this market is growing like crazy, so I’m jumping in with both feet!

Two months later, I have recorded and released my first audiobook, Let Me Tell You a Story, the nonfiction booklet of how my granddad put our ranch together during the depression when many others were losing theirs. I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and what a pleasure it was to reread this little gem!

Why I picked this one to be my first?

After finishing the audiobook training, I started with the shortest book I had, so this one won! It’s more the size of a chapbook. I didn’t want to do one of my sizeable books, in case the process became too difficult, but it was a breeze, thanks to good training I received.

What was the process like on this new adventure?

At first, I didn’t know whether to record everything and then take the audio through the editing and adding the effects process on Audacity, the app suggested. So, at first, I did a couple of recording and then did the editing and adding the effects. But I realized, once I started recording and got into “the zone,” I didn’t want to stop.

So, then I changed my plan—I finished recording the rest of the book and did the editing and adding effects. As I focused on the editing, I became more proficient at finding the places where I breathed and deleted them more easily.

I had such great instructions on doing the effects in Audacity. It really became a checklist of twelve steps to do for each recording, and it went quickly. I just wanted to make sure I did each step, so I took it slowly and methodically.

As a final run-through, I sat with the book in hand and listened to the audio to make sure it matched the book. It did!

How to get my audiobook out to the world?

My training taught me to put it out to two sites: and, and it warned me it could take three to four weeks for publication.

First, I tried, an affiliate of Amazon, and I had trouble because my book didn’t come up in my list of books. I spent several days and emails before that problem got solved—I could use the ASIN number (Amazon Standard Identification Number) off of the listing.

Each site had a different setup for uploading the files. Because we have a horrible internet connection, I saved each chapter as a file. You could save it as one file if you have a fast speed connection.

Each site warned the files had to be uploaded in the order you wanted them to be on the audiobook. I liked’s set-up for uploading because their system stopped any chance of uploading the files out of order.

For, it took about a week and a half to two weeks to go live! And how excited I was! I’m still waiting for any distributors from to go live.

What is my current audiobook project?

At the beginning of the year, I made a schedule for recording my books:

  • Let Me Tell You a Story—January
  • Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?—February

I was right on schedule for February, but recording Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? has gone much quicker than I thought it would. Today I finished recording Chapter 25, Christmas 2020 with Charles Dickens, so I’m way early. Last Wednesday, I recorded nine chapters! I couldn’t believe it!  

Since I have thirty-one chapters in the book, I only need six more chapters, Appendix A and the closing credits to finish the recording. I plan to finish the recording on Monday or Tuesday of this week. Then I can easily finish the editing and adding effects by the end of the month.

What are my future plans for this adventure?

Here’s the rest of the schedule I made earlier:

  • When Will Papa Get Home?—March
  • This Tumbleweed Landed—April

With my speed of recording so far and the length of both books, I might record both books in March. I don’t want to rush, but I do want to get as much done before the heat of the summer hits. I can’t stand recording when it’s hot outside in my closed in little recording studio (really our walk-in closet)!

What about my two longer books?

In my November 29, 2021 blog post, I wrote, “Two of my books—A Time to Grow Up: A Daughter’s Grief Memoir and Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo are too long for the audiobook format.”

I’ve rethought that stance. A writing friend suggested I do a set for my longer books. What do you think? Would you buy an audiobook set of Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, specifically?

What have I learned about this adventure?

Both the audiobook training, Audiobooks Made Easy, by Derek Doepker, and Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasts and Voice Technologies by Joanna Penn helped me initially. But here are some tips I learned in the actually recording:

  • Take off anything that can make noise while recording. The earphones fit snugly over my ears, so I took off earrings and the chain I use for my reading glasses.
  • Drink room-temperature water before recording. I drank some ice-cold water once and my voice crackled.
  • Use your laptop or iPad instead of paper to read from. When I first recorded, I printed up pages of my script. Then, when I shuffled through the papers, it added a noise I could easily eliminate.
  • Have a file system for your recording files. I created three folders for raw audio files: original recordings, and duplicated edited files, and effects files. Then I created another file for the mp3s to be uploaded to the different sites for distribution.
  • Use an external hard drive. My laptop has limited storage space, so I bought a 2 terabytes external hard drive and save to it.
  • Wear supportive shoes. After standing still in the same place for nearly an hour, I realized good shoes helped how I felt afterwards.
  • If you are going to offer a .pdf for your audiobook buyer, make sure you have the URL correct before recording. For my first book, I posted on my website all the pictures that were in the book so the buyer could go there and see the visuals included in the book. For the Coronavirus Reflections book, I have created a personal reflection journal the consumer can download to respond on.


Elderly woman joins me on the my adventure

I love adventures and this is one for sure. I hope to have four of my six books on audiobooks by this summer, and then hopefully the other two finished by the end of 2020. Do you buy audiobooks? Audiobooks are for any age! If you’d like to sample my first audiobook, you can at

~Valentine’s Day Special at my Etsy Shop, Larada’s Reading Loft. 40% “This Tumbleweed Landed” paperback until February 16, 2022.

~MY FIRST AUDIOBOOK IS AVAILABLE: Go to Audible to buy my first audiobook, Let Me Tell You a Story

~Do you listen to podcasts? Here are three podcasts with my interviews about my new book & some Flippo stories:

~Buy a copy of Flippo’s biography on my website: or at Amazon.

~Here’s Christmas greetings from Flippo & Neeca, featuring his song, “When Its Christmas Time in Texas”:

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Bette? meme

~Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks:

Books · family · My Thoughts · Ranching

Truth and Fiction: My Next Two Books!

Cowboys working cattle—truth

Truth and fiction! My next two books again centered on ranch life and my family through truthful nonfiction and historical fiction. One was truth—how my granddad put our family ranch together during the depression when others were losing theirs. The other was historical fiction where I fictionalized a story I had heard my whole life.

Let Me Tell You a  Story—Truthful nonfiction. Truth
Dad on the cover!

The Truthful Nonfiction–Let Me Tell You a Story

My dad celebrated his 75th birthday on March 20, 1993. So, Mom and I worked together on producing a chapbook of the story of how our family ranch was put together for his gift, titled Let Me Tell You a Story. Dad dictated the unique stories to Mom about the technique Granddad used to put together our ranch during a time when many lost their homesteads. Dad, the master storyteller, relished the telling and retelling of these familiar family stories. Then I typed them up on a 2E Apple computer with floppy disks. Then Dad helped me edit it, which was hilarious for this ole cowboy—he didn’t trust computers but immediately saw their usefulness. As a finishing touch, we added pictures to it.

Originally, I had copies printed for only our immediate family members and twenty-five copies for a classroom set for my literature class. Again, this lay aside for over twenty years. In 2016, I self-published it, again. It has become a favorite in Etsy Shop, Larada’s Reading Loft.

To tell the truth, this small chapbook warms my heart each time I reach for it because Dad’s words live on in it.

When Will Papa Get Home? Historical Fiction. Truth
The Philly Place

The Historical Fiction—When Will Papa Get Home?

In 1986, I taught my first year in Denver, Colorado, and the school district lent me a 2E Apple computer for the summer. I visited my parents on our family ranch, and we ventured to my favorite homestead on the place, the Philly Place. It got its name from the original owner, Philadelphia Cardenas. I had been there many times, but this time as I was leaving the homestead, I stopped out of what was the living room, looked down and found a blue marble.

I asked Dad about it, but he did not know. “Probably some arrowhead hunters out here with kids.”

I stuck that marble in my pocket, went back to Denver, and the story came pouring out of me, based on a story I had heard my whole life, told by Dad in Let Me Tell You a Story:

Charlie Garlutzo was working for the County Sheriff Department. Bob Gleason had “Phillie” (Philadelphio Cardenas) up on cow theft. Charlie got the one hundred and twenty acres bought from Phillie for seven- teen dollars and fifty cents an acre while he was scared about the charges. Garlutzo had the choice of selling the land to either Horner or Doherty. He chose to sell it to Horner.

Phillie was sentenced for a one-year term but got out in seven months for good behavior. Had Garlutzo not got the land bought from Phillie when he was scared, he would have been right back out there, back in business.

Larada Horner-Miller, Let Me Tell You a Story ( 2016): 15.

So, I fictionalized this true historical story and made the supposed culprit a horse thief with a twist. I told the story through the eyes of the daughter of the man accused of the thievery, and the blue marble belonged to her. The sheriff falsely accused her papa, and the story unfolds. Through extensive research, I wove their story of immigration from Mexico to the high desert prairie of southeastern Colorado. In doing that, I discovered how much I liked research and dove in. I researched adobe house building and much more.

For this book, I laid it aside for almost thirty years! After my successful stab at self-publishing, I released When Will Papa Get Home? in 2015. My aunt now owns the Phillie Place, and she gave me and my brother to revisit it to take pictures. So I took the picture on the cover. We had a delightful day rummaging through the ruins and marveling at how much of the original homestead was still there.

So, I featured truth and historical fiction in these two books. Retelling my family history in the one book encouraged me to jump into the historical fiction in the next. Enjoying both genres, I loved celebrating my country roots and heritage.

Do you have family stories? Truth or fiction? Share your thoughts! (Scroll down below!0

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? Truth

Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks:

Book Production · Books · Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts

Interviews—Do Them Successfully!

Women talking on the phone - interviews

“Interview someone.” Yesterday’s assignment for this challenge reminded me of an amazing series of interviews I did. I orchestrated forty hours of interviews from 2017 to 2018 for my fourth book and learned so much. In 2017, a writing project fell into my lap, the biography of the most famous square dance caller in the world, Marshall Flippo. He lived in Tucson, Arizona; I live close to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We did a face-to-face interview to start with in October 2017 in Tucson, then one more in March 2018. So, most of those interviews we did over the phone.

Larada & Marshall Flippo
Larada & Marshal Flippo

My Suggestions for successful interviews

  1. Be in a quiet space for the recordings. The second face-to-face interview we did in a restaurant with lots of background noise. Even though I did mosts interviews at home, several had interior background noise from my cat and my husband, but it was mostly undisturbed.
  2. Set a specific time and length of time. Think of the age of the talker and set the length accordingly. Flippo was 90 years old, so we did an hour each week.
  3. Have specific goals and questions prepared ahead of time, but let the person go where he wants. A friend warned me that Flippo might hijack the interview, and he did. But I wouldn’t have gotten those extra captivating stories.
  4. Record the interviews and back up regularly to multiple places. To record, I used an iPad app, VoiceRecorder, and left a copy on my iPad. Then I uploaded the file immediately after the interview to DropBox, an online storage space. I regularly made a backup of that folder on DropBox.
  5. Number and date each recording for later reference.
  6. Take handwritten notes. I filled four steno-pads and numbered the notebooks and dated them, following the numbering system of the recordings. I also noted each time where I was when recording.
  7. Ask questions about spelling and specifics immediately–don’t wait. Flippo passed away before I could get answers to all my questions, so I had to ask his son and ex-wife.
  8. Don’t stop the talker from sharing a memory multiple times because Flippo went deeper and added details each time he recalled it. The meat of the stories and memories is in the details. So when I wrote the book, I laced the details from the multiple renditions together.
  9. Listen to what the talker is saying and not saying. When asked, Flippo avoided his first divorce at first, and I knew this was a key part of his life and painful. When the time was right, his sharing was heartfelt and authentic.
  10. Limit your responses because the focus is on the person interviewed. After transcribing these interviews, I realized I laughed uproariously at Flippo’s stories, and my laughter blocked out his comments that followed. My laughter made some parts difficult to transcribe.
  11. Use a visual aid to stimulate memories, stories, and ideas. Flippo’s ex-wife, Neeca, put together three photo albums/scrapbooks of his calling career during their marriage, and we went through them page by page. He physically had the scrapbooks, and I had a digital copy. They sparked so many stories I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise; he had so many.
  12. Don’t comment–you may have an opinion about what is being said, but refrain from commenting. Your opinion doesn’t matter.
  13. After transcribing interviews, ask questions you have from unclear recordings or information you don’t understand. Flippo died before we finished, so I didn’t have the luxury of asking him. Again, his son and ex-wife helped me out tremendously.

Finally, I know that my advice about interviews is for a biography with multiple interviews. The meat of these suggestions still applies. Enjoy the experience and savor the time someone shared with you—it’s a privilege!

What advice would you give for having a successful interview? Add your comments below.

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?

Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks:

Book Promotion · Books · Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts

SWAG Strategies for Book Promotions

Money & books

I’m sure you’ve heard the term SWAG and loosely know what it means—cool stuff given away for free to promote something. People love free stuff, and it’s a great way to advertise your books and reward your current readers or future readers. So, SWAG works well with book promotions, but it must relate to your book somehow: the cover, characters in the book or the setting.

Here’s where the term SWAG originated:

The freebie swag, sometimes also spelled schwag, dates back to the 1960s and was used to describe promotional items.

When I first started my book business in 2014, I started with bookmarks for SWAG.


A key SWAG item for authors is a bookmark, so I have created bookmarks for each book and given them away for free anywhere I can. I also include all of my bookmarks in any book order. I order them from and have been happy with everyone. Most are two-sided which you pay extra for, but the newest one is only one-sided.

In 2020, I released the biography of the most famous square dance caller in the world, Marshall Flippo. I created a book pre-order system and had a monthly drawing for SWAG—items I purchased with his picture on them. Now that sounds expensive, but it wasn’t.

Inexpensive SWAG Sources:

I used two online photo companies:

I have bought from each of these fantastic companies regularly for several years, so the SWAG for Flippo’s book promotions cost me nothing but the shipping. Weekly I get advertisement from them, and often they offered several items for free—my cost, the shipping. So, I waited until one company offered the suitable items for free and ordered them. I stockpiled several for the Zoom Launch Party and gave them as door prizes.

Look at a sampling of some I bought:

SWAG Samples

I also made book bags, spiral notebooks, and coffee mugs. The most popular were the deck of cards and the coasters. In reality, the choices are limitless. If you do not receive emails from these companies, sign up for one or the other (or both if you create photo gifts). You’ll probably need to buy something to receive the emails with the free promotions.

Ultimately, the recipient of the SWAG connects it to your book and might encourage a sale or two. That’s its main purpose: advertisement for your book.

What do you do for SWAG? Share your ideas in the Comment section below.

Visit my website to find out about my new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? and my other five books and three cookbooks:

Books · My Thoughts

Am I Invisible?

Am I invisible?

Am I invisible as an author to the world? Do books scare people so much? Where have all the readers gone? Are you out there?

In 2017, I am sitting at a craft fair in a small rural town in New Mexico. The subjects of my books are ranching, history and recipes—topics I thought dear to this population’s hearts. So I felt this would be a good place to sell my books. I came here the year before and did pretty well on sales, but this year I feel invisible.

I love to people watch, and country folk are my people, so seeing them is like looking in a mirror. As I sat there with my booth near the front door where everyone has to pass by, most people walked right on by like I’m not there—invisible. I offered free bookmarks to many and only a few refused, but I have to get their attention or they would walk right on by.

One young woman refused the free bookmark, then came back a few minutes later and looked at my books—I think she felt bad in refusing it.

A woman reading - invisible

It’s amazing to me to see how people ignore books. Any time I can, I gravitate towards books, but that’s the nature of a reader. I like paperbacks and hardbacks I can hold in my hands, turn back a page or mark up. I enjoy grabbing my iPad and reading on Kindle or iBooks. It just doesn’t matter. An enticing book comforts me in a way nothing else can. The pages transport me from the here and now to some other world, and time stands still!

I taught Language Arts and Literature for fourteen years in a middle school, and the decline in the ability to read and interest in reading broke my heart. Every year I taught, it worsened to the point I had to teach phonics to sixth graders.

What do you think? What is your experience? How do we create more readers?

Visit my website to find out about my six books and three cookbooks:

Books · My Thoughts

My Bookshelves: What Do They Reveal?

Stack of books - bookshelves

Bookshelves reveal so much about a person. All my life I’ve loved libraries and bookstores. The stacks of books, big and small, comfort my spirit, so I’ve created a mini version in our home. I have a very eclectic combination of titles, so I’d like to share my bookshelves with you.

One of my bookshelves
One of My Bookshelves

As an English major, I collected Norton’s Anthologies at Colorado State University, books three to four inches thick, forty years old, and I still can’t let them go. They feel like good old friends. While at the university, I added to that collection Milton and individual Shakespeare plays I studied in my upper level classes. I have one Louis L’Amour book, Sachett, which we read in my Shakespeare class when we were reading Julius Caesar, comparing the two characters. I’ve revisited the Shakespeare’s plays over the years when I’ve wanted to renew my acquaintance with a specific play. Also, I have kept The Iliad of Homer and The Odyssey of Homer.

Because I studied the classics, I added Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, Walt Whitman’s poetry and T. S. Eliot’s poetry. This summer, I focused on Hemingway’s writings after watching the Ken Burns’ document. I read The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast to sample one of his novels and his memoir, but I’ve labored long on his short story collections. It fascinates me how he can take a single moment in time and write it to the fullest. At the university, I studied Charles Dickens, and I’ve stored his books in our storage shed.

My other bookshelves
My other bookshelves

I love poetry. On my poetry shelf, I have several books by my favorite current poet, Mary Oliver. I also have several poetry collections, and a slim Emily Dickinson book highlighting her special poetry. I also have a local Mexican poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca’s book, Martín & Meditations on the South Valley.

Being in the Southwest, I love reading books about Native Americans. I have two classics, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Black Elk Speaks. Surprisingly, you won’t see my favorite author, Tony Hillerman’s books on my shelf because my husband has them on his. Several years ago, I collected the Don Coldsmith’s Spanish Bit Saga series with rich stories about the Plains Indians dating back to the Spaniards coming here.

One of my favorite educational professional development workshop was the Latin America Database Workshop, and I gathered a nice collection of Latin writers like Eduardo Galeano and Rigoberto Menchú.

Over my years in recovery, my bookshelves dedicated to this vital part of my life have grown, but my mainstay is Alcoholics Anonymous. I have many other books addressing alcoholism, codependency, family of origin issues, and incest.

Because of my wide reading in recovery, I met Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, and stockpiled several of her books on my bookshelves. My favorite is When Things Fall Apart. I also learned about Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, in my recovery wanderings and have a collection of his poetry.

One of my largest collections is my religious books. I have an assortment of Bibles, commentaries and study aides. My favorite commentary is the William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series on the New Testament. I read one of these daily.

Included in my religious collection is C. S. Lewis’ The Narnia Tales, which I reread last summer after a forty-year break. How delightful that was to revisit Narnia and get reacquainted with Aslan.

As a middle school English teacher, I collected so many books over the years to have available in my classroom for my students, but I have given most of them away. I kept limited books from teaching years like Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl and books about her life. Also, I have all the Harry Potter books, but they’re in my husband’s library. I will never forget seeing a small sixth grader carrying around his copy of one of the Potter books and it was almost as big as he was!

My professional library of books addressed class managing and other education topics, and you guessed it—writing! But I gave most of them away, except for Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequality, a book telling the sad tale of the inequality of education across the United States.

As a writer, I’ve gathered writing books for many years. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones heads my list of Nat’s, but I have several of her books. I used that book in teaching writing to my middle school students, changing my attitude towards writing. It freed me up to see myself as a writer, and many of my students did the same. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way changed my life many years ago with her tool, Morning Pages. I still do them every morning.

To date, I also have an extensive digital library on Kindle, iBooks and Kobo. I joined the digital world with reluctance at first. But now, I enjoy using my iPad to read a book, especially when we’re traveling.

Recently, as I looked at my bookshelves, I saw several books I bought, put on the shelf and never read. I decided it was time to read them, so I’m working my way through those titles right now.

In conclusion, I hope you’ve enjoyed your travels through my personal library. What you see here is a wide range of interests and flavors—that’s me! I believe in diversity and a multitude of possibilities.

What do your bookshelves look like if you have a personal library? What are your favorite books?

Recent Blog Posts You Might Have Missed:

Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better? Bookshelves
Read, reflect and respond on the beach!

My new book, Coronavirus Reflections: Bitter or Better?, is now available:

Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo - bookshelves
Add Flippo’s biography to your bookshelves!

~HAVE YOU ORDERED YOUR AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF THE FLIPPO BIOGRAPHY? Go to the homepage on my website & pay for it there:

~Here’s Christmas greetings from Flippo & Neeca, featuring his song, “When Its Christmas Time in Texas”:


~Stop by my website for all the information you need about me & my books:

~Drop by my Amazon Author’s Page:

~VISIT MARY ZALMANEK, A FRIEND’S BLOG: Cooking in a One-Butt Kitchen | Eating Well in Small Spaces: