Can you pinpoint a life-changing experience? Mine was on a camping trip. We were in our RV, unable to go outside because of a snowstorm. I was stuck with kids, dogs, a husband, a sister-in-law; there was nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs … until sis unearthed Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers. We took turns reading aloud to each other. At page 150, the weather warmed and everybody went fishing--except me. You couldn’t drag me away from that book. I quit reading at 3 am when my flashlight went dead.

I was officially a romance reader, and I had a whole new world to explore!

I was surprised that SSL’s post-Civil War history was based on fact. A bigger surprise was that I, a history hater (flunked out of high school history), loved the historical detail and craved more. I couldn’t wait to see if the bookstore had more of the same.

A hundred plus historical romance novels later, I acquired a new craving: to write, which wasn’t too surprising since I come from a family of writers. My mom wrote true confessions (the kind you read under the covers with a flashlight), my brother-in-law, Martin Dardis, co-authored Money Players: Inside the New NBA (Pocket Books), an acclaimed examination of pro basketball, my brother, Gerald Clarke, is the NYT bestselling author of Capote (Carroll & Graf), the 1988 biography on which the film, Capote, is based. Additionally he wrote Get Happy (Diane Publishing), a biography of Judy Garland, which is scheduled to be a movie starring Ann Hathaway and he wrote Too Brief A Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote. Visit my brother at: www.geraldclarke.com.

While I do indeed write a lot of non-fiction – magazine and newspaper articles – my heart is in writing romance novels. I especially love writing historical romance novels.

My writing goal is to give readers what Rosemary gave me: a joyfully painless history lesson wrapped in an emotional, action-packed story. It was the Oscar-winning actor, Jack Palance, playing an educated Apache warrior in the movie Arrowhead, who first got me interested in Apaches. Years later I became good friends with Jack and a host of Western actors. See my blog for interviews.

Because I am a huge animal lover, I try to include at least one animal in each book to lighten things up. Animals are such fun to work with, even the fictional ones. Next to my husband of many years and my writing, animals are my great love. I generally have 15-18 dogs and 4-9 cats and kittens living at my house on any given day. Most are fosters and will eventually be adopted through the rescue I began Have A Heart Humane Society. If you love books about dogs, you’ll enjoy Oscar Goes Camping written by me and my friend, Gene Stirm, the most talented man I know and the kindest. The book pokes fun at campers and camping through a dog’s eyes. 100% of each sale goes to the rescue to help pets. Oscar Goes Camping is available on Amazon in a trade size paperback. A great gift for dog lovers and campers.

Find out about synchronicity.

This is the speech given by Mindy Neff and Sue Phillips in recognition of Chelley Kitzmiller at the October 2005 meeting of the Orange County Chapter of RWA.

Recognition Service Award for Chelly Kitzmiller

Sunday, October 16, 2005

I know there are a lot of people in this room who don’t know Chelley--mainly because she moved off to the Tehachapi mountains! But I think it’s so important for our members to understand our chapter’s history, and for all of our past presidents and board sisters to be recognized and remembered. Today, we’d especially like to recognize and honor Chelley Kitzmiller, the very first president of our chapter, and I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you about this remarkable woman. Way back in the day when authors had little or no access to other writers or writing workshops, Chelley was an avid romance reader with a burning desire to write. So, when she saw an announcement that Rita Clay Estrada was coming to California to establish a Romance Writers of America chapter, Chelley not only attended, she raised her hand and volunteered to lead our new chapter, organizing and putting in place many of the programs and services we still have and use today. The first OCC meeting was held in Chelley’s house with only a handful of members. Later, the meetings moved to a restaurant and included lunch and a general meeting. It was Chelley’s idea to give out flowers for sales like we still do every month. She gave out daffodils, and somewhere along the way we’ve merged into roses. She also set up the raffle--like we’ll be doing this afternoon--and along with another member, began the OCC Unpublished contest and the mentor program. Although we no longer have the mentor program, it was very successful for many years and together with the contest, both programs have been highly instrumental in growing our chapter’s membership. Because I wanted you all to know more of the personal side of Chelley, I asked Sue Phillips and Jill Marie Landis for some highlights. I’ve already stolen Sue’s thunder by mentioning some of her memories, so I’ll let her tell you what Jill Marie Landis had to say. Jill says: “Anyone who really knows Chelley will tell you that the phrase, "That's impossible" rarely enters her conversation. She's tireless, loyal, enthusiastic and generous. Her close friends know to run for cover when she says, "Hey, I have an idea..." because she always has an idea. “Chelley is always on the move. Her enthusiasm and creativity know no bounds. Since her move to the mountains of Tehachapi, she's started two successful bookstores and a Radio Shack, and organized a Tehachapi street fair--and that’s only a few of the things she's done. Early in her career as a writer, she also worked as a publicist for other authors. She has a gift of pushing people to do better, or to at least see the other side. "Chelley's husband, Ted, is a self-proclaimed "Acorn Shaman." He reads the acorns in the fall to predict the weather in Tehachapi. It started out as a joke to everyone but Ted, but now folks stop by the Radio Shack (which the Kitzmillers own in conjunction with their daughter's bookstore, Books and Crannies) and ask for weather predictions before planning their vacations. Her great love is animals. All kinds of animals. She is forever taking in abandoned dogs, Chihuahuas in particular. At any given time they have from six to eight of them around. (Jill calls them the piranha pack.) Chelley has two burros, an assortment of fowl, a cockatiel, cats, and an occasional goat. When she lived in Orange County, she owned a monkey.

Recently Chelley has taken up photography and is taking weekend workshops and classes so that she can submit and sell photographs along with her free lance writing for magazines. She also sells a line of her own photo cards. In addition to doing her own writing, she has ghost edited for a major New York Times author. Currently she has a novel being submitted to publishers, she's working on a new book, and is under contract with Time West Magazine for a major travel article on the El Camino Real and California Missions. I have to say, Chelley, that you are one amazing woman, and we’re very lucky that you were here 24 years ago, willing to give your time and energy and talents to take a handful of romance authors and hopefuls under your wing, setting in motion the fabulous Orange County chapter that we are today. Would everyone please join me in a toast to Chelley Kitzmiller, who raised her hand 24 years ago and became the first president of our Orange County chapter. Thank you, Chelley! In appreciation for all you’ve done for our chapter, we’d like to give you this plaque in honor of your leadership and service as our first OCC President.