Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The People Who Inspire Me

I meet people every day who inspire me. Not necessarily to greatness, though.

As a writer I’m always on the lookout for people with which to populate my novels. Many of the characters I create are conjured in my own imagination, but the seeds were planted there by those living, breathing people I come in contact with every day.

There’s the twenty-something who lives with his grandmother, standing there in his robe at 11:30 in the morning with a Rally soda in one hand and a cigarette in the other bragging to me about the Balckberry he just bought.

Or how about the bed-ridden Catholic scholar all alone in a grand house with no one but his manservant to keep him company.

Or the woman in a run-down, cluttered and filthy trailer sitting in front of a massive LED TV with her laptop and iPhone.
Then there’s the poor woman who has no one in the world, depressed, lonely, contemplating suicide. She says, “All I have is this trailer and my stupid dog.”

Or the boy with cerebral palsy and a heart of gold who just wants to walk again.
These are the people who inspire me, who plant seeds in the fertile soil of my imagination. Those seeds will grow and become ideas, characters, people who live in the stories in my head. I’ll give them names and histories, struggles and triumphs. I’ll get to know them and understand them. Some will be folks readers love, others will be villains the readers love to hate.

The crazy thing is, I never know how it’s going to turn out. I never know what is going to sprout next. But while I wait for those ideas to germinate and come to life I’ll continue to talk to people, to observe them, to learn their intricacies and quirks.

I’ll continue to gather seeds.

Do you get inspiration from the everyday people you rub shoulders with?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life in the Late 1800s Was Far Different from Today

While writing Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico, my book that released in May, I came up against a problem. The heroine and her two servants need to travel from Boston to Golden, New Mexico, by train. On their journey, they would also take an orphaned baby. My dilemma? How to feed the baby. The year is 1892.

I knew that when a mother died, a wet nurse (a mother who was nursing her own infant) would often step in and keep the baby alive. Or the people with the motherless baby would hire a wet nurse. On wagon trains, when a mother of an infant died, other nursing mothers on the wagon train helped feed the child. All this information wouldn't help me with that book, but it did help me with my upcoming McKenna's Daughters Series with Charisma House. Book one, Maggie's Journey, will release in October.

In my search for information, I found that the first commercial infant formula was invented in Europe in 1869. The powdered formula was added to warmed cow's milk. A version of this formula was also sold in the US that same year. However, the cost of $1.00 per bottle was prohibitave for most families.

Henri Nestle created a formula, also in Europe, to treat malnourished babies. This formula didn't require adding cow's milk to the powder. When mixed with water, it was the first complete formula. In 1870, Nestle brought his infant formula to the US. It sold for only $.50 per bottle, still a rather high price for most families. But through marketing, this product was available worldwide, including throughout the whole United States.
I'm sure the Nestle name is familiar to you. If you go to the Nestle website, you find that the company is still very active in helping underdeveloped countries feed their babies.

I decided to use Nestle Infant Food in my story.

I own a 1897 Sears and Roebuck catalog. In that book, there are a number of formulas available for order. And the nursing bottles are quite interesting. There is one shaped like a banana. Others are teardrop shaped clear glass with writing molded into the side. I've chosen to use the teardrop one to fit with the tears over the loss of the mother in my Love Finds You book.

And they even had three different colors of rubber nipples in that catalog.

I love the way that research leads me to so much interesting information.

So as a reader, have you found information in novels that helped you realize how different things were in the era where the book is set?

What are some of your favorite historical novels?

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Regency, Mad-Doctoring, Romance, and Medicine

I love researching my Regency era novels. For those of you who haven't ventured into this kind of research yet be warned: it's addictive. Of course you have to love history or it might not have the same effect on you.:) I'm a counselor by day and have worked in the mental health field for years so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I'm fascinated by books like: Undertaker of the Mind: John Monro and Mad-Doctoring in Eighteenth-Century England (Medicine and Society) by Jonathan Andrews and Andrew Scull and Customers and Patrons of the Mad-Trade: The Management of Lunacy in Eighteenth-Century London, With the Complete Text of John Monro's 1766 Case Book by Jonathan Andrews and Andrew Scull.

PhotobucketI always felt sorry for King George III. Can you imagine losing your mind and your job, let alone the ability to reign as king because of a medical disease that no one even knew existed, let alone had any idea how to treat?

PhotobucketRoy Porter wrote my kind of books: Blood and Guts: A Short History of Medicine, The Cambridge History of Medicine, Quacks: Fakers & Charlatans in Medicine (Revealing History),Patients and Practitioners: Lay Perceptions of Medicine in Pre-industrial Society (Cambridge Studies in the History of Medicine), Medical Fringe & Medical Orthodoxy, 1750-1850 (Wellcome Institute Series in the History of Medicine). If you've never heard of him just go to and look up the volumes of books this guy wrote. I think he wrote something like 80 before he died at age 55 not long ago. Porter is an incredible resource.

PhotobucketWhile researching information about the origins of the stethoscope I discovered via Porter's book and the internet that the stethoscope was invented in 1816 by Rene Laennec.

Dr. Laennec had been trying to listen to the heart of an obese woman and because it was necessary for him to put his ear to her bare chest he didn't want to be inappropriate, so he rolled up a newspaper and listened to her heart that way and voila it worked well. He could hear the sounds of the heart more clearly and the history of medicine took a new direction: the development of the stethoscope.


PhotobucketI've read that it was Charles Thomas Haden who brought the stethoscope to England. He became a friend of Jane Austen when he attended her father.

Internet resource:

The movie Miss Austen Regrets depicts a jealous Jane Austen silently fuming over the attentions paid by a young doctor to her 22-year-old niece, Fanny Knight. The doctor, Charles Thomas Haden, is portrayed by Jack Huston, with Olivia Williams as Jane and Imogen Poots as Fanny.

There's so much more I wanted to share with you, but it will have to wait for another post. I hope you've enjoyed this post today and I look forward to sharing more in the future on the subject of fascinating historical medicine.

My novel, Secrets of the Heart, The Ravensmoore Chronicles, Book One will debut on May 3, 2011 and is currrently availabel for preorder at most online bookstores. You can read the first chapter on my website Jillian Kent

Questions: Do you like doing research? Have you ever discovered a historical fact that just blew you away? What historical novel, romance or other, have you read lately that delighted your spirit?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Decoding Your Personal Past

By Andrea Boeshaar

I enjoy meeting, mentoring, and encouraging other writers. Oftentimes newer writers will ask me where they should begin. How should they start unpeeling the layers of their hearts, captivating energy and emotion? I reply by suggesting they write what they know. Sounds cliche, I know. But allow me to explain.

One of my heart’s desires is to compile a booklet for each of my three sons depicting the origins of our family. It’s been a challenge and, as I search a myriad of Internet databases and talk to relatives, I find myself wishing that of my family members would have kept a journal.

For instance, I would love to have a glimpse into what my dad’s mother thought about things, about her children, her husband, her in-laws. She died when I was about five so I only have vague memories and a scant few photos of her. And I never knew my maternal great grandmother. Had she kept a diary, it would have likely been penned in Norwegian. What a treasure that would be. What a keepsake! But my great grandmother was a hard-working woman whose daily goal was keeping her children fed and clothed while her husband was away, laying railroad track in upper Wisconsin and in Canada. Perhaps she thought keeping a diary was a time-waster, after all who would want to know how many strawberries she canned that morning or how many ears of corn she picked for supper. Who would care that she sent two of her sons out into the woods to hunt rabbit for the stew she prepared or how many cows she and my grandfather owned?

I’m sure she wouldn’t have fathomed that her great granddaughter, sitting in her centrally-heated home on a March evening, typing away on her computer (after dashing out and buying one of Applebee’s Oriental chicken salads for supper) would have LOVED to know what life was like in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

About 20 years ago, I did coerce my grandfather into telling me about his grandparents. In a nursing home at that time, he dictated to my mother and then I typed it up for that year’s family reunion. Now my grandfather’s memories are preserved in writing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Bestemore or “Besta” as we called her (meaning “grandmother” in Norwegian), was a wonderful gardener. I especially remember the bleeding heart bushes blooming in the spring. She had apple trees and gooseberry buses for jam. Her garden was a thing of beauty, arranged in raised beds with little paths between the plots of vegetables. I remember eating in Besta’s summer kitchen, a lean-to with a wood range (stove), table, chairs, and a cupboard for dishes. It was the coziest place when it was cold or rainy.”

How precious my grandfather’s memories are to me. My “Duppa,” as I called him, died at the age of 90 back in 1998. But his memory (and those of the rest of my ancestors) lives on – and more poignant than ever since a small slice of the past has been documented.

As people living in the 21st Century, we have invaluable tools at our fingertips that can enable us to record history as it happens. We can journal or blog about how events such as the political landscape, 9-11 tragedy, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the Japan earthquake and tsunami shaped our lives or our way of thinking -- for future generations. We can record the miraculous things God is doing (and has done) and track our spiritual growth as a testimony. All we have to do is stroke the keyboard, unlike my grandmother who bent her knuckles on a manual Smith Corona typewriter.

So, attend those upcoming family reunions and let the elderly relatives bend your ear. Ask them what they remember about growing up and, with their permission, get it on tape or video. Then write about the event. It's a fabulous way to decode your past and I guarantee those invaluable keepsakes are worth the effort!

Do you already write about your family history? Do you blog or journal? What have you discovered about your past recently?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Downside of Niche Marketing

Should writers find a niche and stay there? Conventional wisdom says yes. Me? I'm not so sure. I while back, in a short post entitled Specialization and Books, blogger Becky Miller pondered this trend toward "niche-ing" (or is it niching?) in contemporary fiction. At some point, a writer is asked to identify their niche, what genre they write, and where their stories fit in the market. Nowadays, this is Writing 101. But Becky reflects upon the inherent deficiency of that demand:

In the effort to target an audience, we lose some who don't know to look in a niche they do not necessarily identify with. Perhaps this communication problem is why so many books take on a dual tag: romantic suspense or adventure thriller or science fantasy. Are the tags helpful? I don't really know.

I haven't seen bookstores expanding their sections to include the new dual tags. Christian books, even in Christian book stores, have yet to be sorted into sub genres. And I find the niche concept confining. I love fantasy, but I also read mystery, romance, even mom-lit, though I am not a mom. I don't really fit as a niche reader.

While authors are typically encouraged to find a niche and work it, I happen to find "the niche concept," like Becky, "confining." I mean, I don't read that way, so why should I write that way? For instance, I'm currently splitting reading time between Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Angelology by Danielle Trussoni, Bohoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, and Godric by Frederick Buechner.

Question: Is this unusual? Do people tend to read all over the map? Or are readers, for the most part, "confined" by genre?

For the aspiring author, the question can be very confusing. On the one hand, the novice novelist is told to write what they want to read, write what drives them, ignore trends and follow their heart. On the other hand, we're told to find a niche, a genre, a market brand, and build a base of readership. And, according to market experts, you can't build readership by being all over the map.

So which is it? If, as a new writer, I aim for a specific genre and target the market, I may end up writing something other than what I really want. But I'll gain readers who will, perhaps, follow me into uncharted terrain. Yet if I write what I want to read -- what my heart tells me to write -- I may feel satisfied, but I'll potentially undermine the opportunity to build readership. So which is it?

My first novel is "niched"; it's a supernatural suspense. But my current novel (the one in process) is wigging out. It keeps veering into other genres. Of course, I keep trying to steer her back into her "niche." But, to my dismay, the story has a mind of it's own.

So what should I do? Follow my heart or the market? Follow my story or conventional wisdom? Are you a "niche reader," or do you tend to wander all over the map? And does writing for a niche audience have a downside? Or does being "confined" ultimately pay off? For an author, do niches become ruts or runways?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Prayer, Patience, Perseverance

The road to having a full length novel published has been a long, difficult journey for me. The Lord has been good to me in opening the doors the past two years, but at times I had begun to wonder if He was ever going to answer my prayers. I prayed and had many prayer warriors who did the same. Deep in my heart I believed God would answer when the time was right, but several times I wondered if He’d checked the time because I certainly wasn’t growing any younger. Still I persevered and kept writing proposals for my agent, Tamela Hancock Murray to submit to various publishers.

Rejection after rejection came, but still I persevered. God would reward my efforts if I didn’t give up. I adopted Galatians 6:9 as my writing verse and truly believed it would happen for me.
Patience is not my long suit, but I learned that without patience, I’d be frustrated to the point of giving up. Then one day Tamela called and said an editor was interested and wanted to offer me a contract. It seems that the publisher had decided to launch a historical fiction line, and my manuscript happened to be on her desk at that time. They wanted a four book series so Winds Across the Prairie was born from that first manuscript.   This happened on my 73rd birthday.

My experience taught me that striving to improve and do my best with the talent He has given will bring results. The years of attending writing conferences, reading books to perfect my craft, finding critique partners, and being willing to listen to the advice of experienced writers paid off with that contract. It also proves that age has nothing to do with acceptance or rejection. If a story is good, the plot and characters believable, and it shows a serious effort by the writer to be professional, editors will take notice.  
Those who have multiple books circulating understand the importance of perfecting their craft and never cease to seek and learn more. Those who are still waiting for that first contract must practice patience, pray, study the craft, and persevere with their writing. If it is to be, it will be, but not until God determines the time.

So, my question for you is: What has your writing journey been like?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interviews or Reviews?

So, The Strange Man is out and I’m having a blast promoting it. I really like getting out there and pushing the product and talking it up. I’ve had some great reviews, and done some fun interviews and I’m discovering an interesting thing about myself that I always subconsciously understood but never fully realized.

I actually prefer interviews to reviews.

A review is so subjective. The Potential Consumer is reading another person's opinion of a certain product and therefore base their opinion, not on the product in question, but on another person’s interpretation of it. That seems really detached to me.

I’m not generally one who pays attention to reviews. Most of the movies I like are critically panned and would never, ever grace something like the Oscars. Don’t get me wrong--I’m eternally grateful for everyone who has reviewed my book and recognize that there are those who buy a book based on a trusted opinion. A good review is a wonderful thing, I’m just not--as a consumer--personally invested in reviews.

What I am interested in are interviews. Here’s a prime example, so prepare to be enlightened:

Folks I present to you...

Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Yes, that’s a real movie. No, it’s not a very good movie. It’s ridiculous, cheesy, low budget, and to most, would fall in that “so bad it’s good” category. But, you know what? I’ve watched the commentary and the interviews with the makers of it--three brothers (the Chiodo Brothers) who are passionate about this project. To many, Killer Klowns might be considered a waste of film, but to these guys, it’s a boyhood dream come true, a love letter to their childhood. Listening to their intentions, their heart, their struggles to get it made, to see the care they took in crafting this movie, the unbridled joy and satisfaction they felt as they realized their dreams--suddenly I love Killer Klowns. I’m moved by it, in fact, because their passion for it has covered the blemishes of the imperfect movie and now I see art (though, I’ll admit it’s still not a “good movie” :p).

An interview, to me, is a product in and of itself. Only, in this case, the product is Me: The Writer. But instead of forming an opinion on my book secondhand--like they might from a review--the Potential Consumer can form their opinion of me in a very personal, one-on-one way. Maybe they’ll like me, understand my heart. Maybe that will prompt them to buy the book. The stories I write are usually scary and full of monsters and many have told me "That's not my kind of book." But, as they get to know me and see where I'm coming from, they give it a shot and discover that it is their kind of book, they just didn't know it yet. And, to me, that's the strength of an interview.

So, that leaves me curious how others feels. A question for readers: When considering purchasing a product (book, DVD, etc), what influences you more--a review or an interview with the creator/artist/whatever?

And, likewise to writers: Recognizing both are important, which do you prefer in regards to your own work--reviews or interviews?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Life Happens

Once upon a time, shortly after dinosaurs ruled the earth, I was a television news producer at a CBS station in San Antonio, Texas. It was one of the most frustrating jobs I have ever taken on. The problem was I am a task oriented, accomplishment driven personality type. In the odd way my brain works, my self worth is measured by how many things I got done in a day. I probably need deliverance. Nonetheless, not only must I get things going, I must get them finished. Neatly. With a bow where appropriate. I do not like loose ends and I do not like do-overs. Just prior to taking the job of producing a six o'clock newscast, I was a promotion director, meaning I produced commercials to market the television station. I was good at that job. There was a script, everyone followed his/her lines and no one argued with me, and at the end of the day I and all the directors, technicians and actors had produced a work of art.

The world of television news is nothing like that. For one thing, there is no script. A producer goes to work every day with no idea what is going to happen. But the more challenging thing for me was there was no way to know when you were done. Life kept happening. After my show was wrapped and ready to air, news continued to break, daring me to ignore it and go to broadcast without it. Believe me, I tried.

The first day I soloed as a producer was in my mind to be an Emmy worthy production of timing, topic, and flow. Everything was ready. Then ten minutes before going live on the air, Elvis Presley died. Yes, I know how old that must make me. When the news director came tearing into the control booth with the wire about Elvis and how we were going to be the first in our city to break the story, my reaction was "Sorry, it will have to wait till ten o'clock. My show is done." Needless to say, if I had not adjusted by attitude, my first solo newscast would have been my last.

Writing fiction is a lot like producing news. As the characters come to life, they tend to insist on going their own way regardless of how I imagined it in the beginning. Against my personality bent, I have learned to set them free to take the story wherever they will. Sometimes, I cannot wait to see how it ends.

What about you? What things in your past make you a writer today?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interruptions in a Not-So-Perfect World

For the artist, the creative spring is a constant surge of crystalline water, bubbling from the mind and soul and flowing down and through an unbroken landscape, unhindered, unimpeded, free to find its own path, to chart its own way.

Yeah, right. In a perfect world, maybe, but as you know all too well, ours is a far cry from a perfect world.

So how does the author, the artist, the creator, keep that spring of creativity flowing in a world of distractions and interactions?

First, we have to acknowledge that it is not a perfect world, that it is the rare author who gets to hide himself away in a seaside bungalow for three months and focus on nothing else but his craft.
Interruptions exist. Now, by interruptions I don’t necessarily mean to convey that they’re always negative. We have a new baby in the house. Her arrival has interrupted the flow of my writing a new book, but it is in no way negative. It’s a part of life. Family interrupts a writing schedule, but they are never to be considered negative. Work breaks my creative flow every morning, dams that spring at 6:45 a.m. But that’s not . . . well, okay, sometimes that is negative.

The fact is, for the creative type the spring does constantly flow, it just doesn’t always have an outlet readily available. I’m constantly in creative mode, mulling over story lines, plot options, character traits, descriptions. But whether I can put those ideas to paper or not depends on what’s occurring in the world around me.

Perspective helps here. I understand that I am not solely a writer. In fact, I’m not primarily a writer. My roles as husband, daddy, friend, employee must come first. I must direct that spring of creativity around and through the landscape of my life. It must adapt and change as my life changes. And sometimes, as is the case now with our new arrival, I must dam it for a season, slow it to a trickle or let it pool altogether.

Sure, it would be nice to live in a perfect world and have a seaside bungalow as an escape, a place to allow my creativity to fully express itself. But the joy of writing, of creating real characters living in a real world, is not found in seclusion, it’s found in mucking through this life with everyone else, dealing with the interruptions and obstacles and pitfalls and mountaintops.

So how do you deal with interruptions? In writing? In life?

Monday, March 7, 2011


I'm in the middle of the second phase of rewrite/editing on my first book in the McKenna's Daughters series with my editor at Charisma House. Sometimes, when I'm working so intently, my brain needs a rest. So James and I went to see The King's Speech.

I'll tell you honestly that James and I don't usually go to see R-rated movies, but we'd heard so many good things about this indie, low-budget film. Then it won the Oscar for the Best Movie and Colin Firth received his first Best Actor Oscar. After talking to people I trusted who had seen the film, I decided that the reason it received the rating was intrinsic to the story, not things thrown into the plot to gain the rating.

I'm glad we took the chance. Yes, there were words I don't like to hear, but they were only used enough to make the point they needed to make, and the director/writer/whoever didn't belabor the point.

The acting was superb, by both Colin and the man who played his speech therapist. And the cinematography was beautiful. I loved the costuming and seeing the lovely old English buildings. We came away with a deeper understand of the problem faced by so many people. So my mind had a rest and we enjoyed the ride.

Have you seen The King's Speech?

If you did, what did you think of it?

If you didn't, what is your most recent movie experience?

Friday, March 4, 2011


We all need sleep. There's days I wish I didn't have to sleep because there is so much to be done, but sooner or later the mind and body call me to sleep. Of course I try to cheat my need for sleep now and then by drinking my coffee. Caffeine and Sleep  But I don't think it's worth it, really.

You all know how much better you feel when you have enough sleep. I'm a full-time counselor for nursing students and I'm a writer, wife, and mom. If I don't get enough sleep I don't function to the best of my ability in any of these roles. Yet there are times when I push past my need for sleep which typically leads to getting sick.

It seems that many are sleep deprived today and that's why I want to challenge you to study up on the importance of sleep and encourage you and your families to get enough rest. These Sleep Facts may help you sort things out. Don't forget that Daylight Saving Time starts on Sunday, March 13th. I hate losing that hour. It's just not right. Throws me off completely for awhile.

Some of us deal with insomnia and others with sleep apnea.  Some of us can't sleep because our spouses are snoring or our spouses can't sleep because we are snoring. Others take medicine to help them sleep and some have no problems getting to sleep.

And then there are more dangers behind the wheel with those of us who don't get enough sleep.

Sleep Deprivation Risks: 1 in 20 Fall Asleep at Wheel, CDC SaysMore Than One-Third of Americans Say They Get Fewer Than 7 Hours of Sleep a Night

Unhealthy Sleep Habits This segment aired on ABC World News last night (3/3/11).

I wish our entire country would just take naps in the afternoon at work. Wouldn't that be nice? So when is the last time that you took a nap, had trouble sleeping, or just wished you could capture some more zzzzzzz's?

Proverbs 3:24 ESV reminds us: If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

If you could have an extra 24 hours added to your week for just this week, how would you spend it?

Wishing you wonderful nights of sweet slumber,

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the Desert

Right now I’m in the Arizona/Mexico desert. I’m far from my normal life, and the places where I normally write. But as an author and a man I am exactly where I need to be.

In the Bible the desert has always been a place of growing developing. A place of transition between one thing and another. Similar to the Belly of the Whale where Jonah spent three days before being spit onto the shore, the men and women of the Bible who went through the desert always came out on the other side changed. Indeed, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert before he started his ministry. The Children of Israel spent 40 years. David fled there before becoming king, and Elijah was there when he was carried into the Heaven.
Right now I am also in a literal desert. And like those who have gone before me I find myself growing, changing, and transitioning into a new phase of my life.

With my 27th birthday only a few short weeks away I am once again going through my yearly tradition of reassessing my life and determining if I am the man I’ve sought to be. This year I’ve found myself spending this time on the southern border of the United States, and the central question of my life is my spiritual development.

Every year my grandmother spends two months out here with friends. When she’s done she needs someone to driver her back to Colorado. This year was my turn, and I’ve been here with my grandmother since last week (we start driving home tomorrow). The result has been a time of spiritual reawakening: of asking myself what role I have given faith in my life lately. The answer to that question has been sobering. Over the last few years there have been serious aspects of my faith that have been left unattended. This, inevitably, couldn’t last.
So, here I am, growing and changing like a good character in a book, being asked to face the things I don’t want to. It’s time for me to relearn humility, passion, and the reality that God is not a really great backup plan. Mostly, I’m learning to worship. Though I am excited to get back to my home in Colorado so I can start work on my new novel, I also know that this, right now, is where I belong.

Where are you? And what desert has God called you to travel through at this time in your life?