Interview with Lu Ann Brobst Staheli about “Men of Destiny”

Lu Ann, how has your family background affected your writing, if it has?

My mother was a writer, although she had never had anything published. She wrote poetry for every family occasion, happy and sad. She wrote letters to all of us, no matter how spread across the country. She wrote her life story in a journal. I think my mom would have embraced the internet and used it as a means to touch, teach, and love. Although she told me I’d never make a living as a writer, she still supported my dreams. She once arranged for me to work at the Anderson Herald though the Explorer program so I could learn about the newspaper business. My grandmother was also a writer. She had huge dreams of writing the All-American novel someday, and although she wrote short stories, to my knowledge the only thing she had published was a poem about the sinking of the Titanic a few days after the tragedy. Her poem, “The Lost Ones,” was published in the Chicago Herald American. She always gave me gifts that would teach me how to write and expand my vocabulary. Both she and my mother were avid readers, as I turned out to be.

What gave you the nerve to attempt your first novel?

I had always wanted to write a novel and I had made several false attempts, but when my mother passed away I wanted to write her childhood story. It was an emotional experience, but I felt like she was with me the entire time. I used her journal plus stories she had told me about growing up in Southern Indiana in the 1920s and crafted a story. Leona & Me, Helen Marie has not only been an award-winning novel, but it has also brought my mother to life for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who didn’t know her well. The completion of one book gave me the confidence to write another, and here I am today looking forward to publishing novel number five this summer.

Please describe your writing process.

I write both fiction and non-fiction, and the process for each is different for me. When it comes to fiction, I know where I’m going to begin, and usually know where the story has to end, but the stuff in the middle is often what they call writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. Because I understand the workings of plot (I’m not only an avid reader, but I also taught English for 32 years), I can usually keep myself pretty close to a structure that ties the whole story together so I don’t stray too far away from where the story needs to be, but finding the exact right spot to begin can be difficult. When I write non-fiction, I start with a basic chapter outline then as I do the research I drop pieces that I discover or draft into the right chapter in the book file. When a chapter has collected a lot of information, I go back and organize it, looking for questions that I need to answer to fill in the rest of the story.

Where you do your best work?

I work in my home office most of the time, but many of my ideas come to me when I’m ready for bed. I love the note feature on my cell phone! I often draft passages, outlines, and even huge chunks of a chapter on my phone.

Please give us a brief rundown of the plot of Men of Destiny: Abraham Lincoln and the Prophet Joseph Smith.

men of Desteny


Because the book is non-fiction there isn’t a plot per se, although there is a story. The book looks at the parallel lives of Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith, considering how their humble beginnings produced two men who have become almost legends as they rose to organize a church and lead a country. Each chapter takes readers into an aspect of Joseph and Abraham’s lives, tells about the things each experienced while looking at how their lives were similar, then draws a conclusion about not only both men, but about the things we see happening in our country today.

What goal did you originally have for your books and/or writing?

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I was an avid reader almost from birth, and idea of making up stories myself that other people would read and enjoy seemed like a path I would like to follow. I discovered in grade school that I was good at writing, a skill that carried me through many a class or final where I “created” pretty answers that convinced a teacher I knew what I was talking about, even if I didn’t. I stuck with short stories, essays, and poetry in high school, branched into screenplays in college, but I didn’t write my first novel until twenty years ago. Between college and then I wrote newspaper columns, magazine articles, and scripts for live events, all providing a great training ground for the writing I do today. Of course, not all of my goals are met. What author doesn’t want to sell more copies, make more money, and complete more projects?

How did you decide whether to self-publish or find a mainstream publisher?

Because of the subject matter and the need for cover art that included the images of Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Smith, I felt it was necessary to go with a traditional publisher. I also wanted a local publisher to be behind the book as far as getting distribution and supporting the marketing I have been able to obtain. With my fiction, self-publishing has been the way to go. I’ve been writing books targeting to so many different audiences that to try to go traditional would not only slow down my publication schedule, but it would also limit me to a specific target audience. I wasn’t willing to give up that freedom anymore. Besides, I’m getting too old to wait around for a New York publisher to accept a manuscript, and get a book through their calendar and into the market. I want to be able to publish more than a book a year. 😉

How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?

If the pieces keep falling together. Since I’ve had hundreds of magazine articles also published I’ve developed a feel for when the idea is complete. No more questions in my mind need to be answered that fit directly with the subject at hand. For instance, as I did research for Men of Destiny, I ran across other topics that were of interest—Lincoln’s interaction with Brigham Young, for instance—but to go there would have taken me far from the comparative I intended between the lives of Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln.

Where can we find your books?

All of my books are listed on on my author page:

Thanks, Anna, for the opportunity to talk about my books and my writing.

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