Monday, May 28, 2012

Doing a Little Research

An interesting thing happened that became the basis for my current novel. In 1995 my father gave me a packet with letters and stories from my great-grandfather and my grandfather. As I read them, the “what ifs” began swarming through my brain. One particular letter my great-grandfather wrote to my great-grandmother was dated in November of 1864 shortly before the battle of Nashville during the Civil War. That letter so intrigued me that I began researching Manfred and Sally Whiteman.

The more I learned, the more fascinated I became with their story and their lives. My grandfather was captured and sent to Point Lookout Yankee Prison in Maryland and was released just after the Armistice in April of 1865.  Upon his arrival in St. Francisville, he and my grandmother Sally were married in Grace church there.

His long walk with his younger brother back to Louisiana led to many stories told by them to their children and passed on in the family. The more I read, the more I wanted to tell their story in a novel. I met with my cousins, and they agreed the story should be told. Thus was born the novel, Homeward Journey. It sat around for years until it became the first book in a new three book proposal to Charisma. Although the title is changed, the story is the same.

Of course, we didn’t have all the facts, but the ones we did have are incorporated into the story. I gave my hero and heroine my great-grandparent’s names as well as his brothers and her brothers and sisters. Even portions of Manfred’s letter to Sally are included in the story as well as a few stories we’ve heard passed down in the family.

Research for historical writing can be quite difficult, but it never ceases to amaze me with the things we can learn about our ancestors. Researching this novel not only shed light on my own family, but also gave me an insight into the Civil War that was not there before. Reading letters and first-hand accounts of the events sheds light and gives meat to the story.

Researching can uncover facts and tidbits of information that become fodder for a completely new story. So many authors say they don’t write historical because of the research that must be done to “get it right.” That’s the fun of the research for most of us who do write historical novels.

Story ideas can come from anywhere at any time whether it’s while we are researching or simply observing life around us. In fact, a lot of what happens in real life would not be believable even in fiction. Still, we can glean from it and come up with plot ideas and situations that mirror what we know and what we’ve experienced ourselves. The world is full of stories. We just have to find them.

Friday, May 25, 2012


One of the most exciting parts of the writing process is seeing your cover for the first time. This past week has been a crazy time on the cover front!

First of all, I received a letter from Realms that they were gearing up to create the cover for Dark Hour--the third and final installment of The Coming Evil Trilogy.

As one publisher works on that, I get word from my other publisher--Hasslein Books--that artist Pat Carbajal has produced this dynamic cover for my upcoming unofficial guide to the Back to the Future franchise. The book's not even finished yet, and I already have a cover! How great is that?!

And if all of that wasn't enough, even while I'm drooling over Pat's art, I get Thomas Mason's stunning rendering of the cover for Rift Jump--my next release, coming this summer from Splashdown Darkwater!

I feel incredibly blessed to have such talented artists working on my books. Now if I can just make the books half as cool as all these covers!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Reading and Writing and Conferences, Oh My!

I must confess I have never been to a writer’s conference.
Well, that is not entirely true. Back in the early 1990’s I was co-director of the short lived Southern Christian Writer’s Conference for about three years and I spoke exclusively on writing plays. And, I attended Hutchmoot 2010 a quasi-writer’s conference although Hutchmoot defies categorization as it should.
And so, this year I planned on attending the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference in North Carolina. I made plans literally a year ago to attend the conference. As I examined the courses offered, I realized the emphasis of this conference was on first time published writers -- in other words, those who want to be published. But, there were offerings on publicity, marketing, and social media. Perhaps it was the best way for me to network with other authors and learn more about publicity and marketing -- in other words advance my writing career.
I also wanted to attend this year’s ACFW conference in Dallas but managed to snare one of the one hundred slots at Hutchmoot 2012 which sold out in the first seven minutes! It is the same week as ACFW. What to do? I chose the more intimate, community minded Hutchmoot. Will it advance my writing career? Could the BMCWC have advanced my writing career? I don’t know. It is more and more challenging to “advance the writing career” in today’s marketplace.
But, there is a reality I have to face. I am a published author and my business depends on this little thing known as WRITING. I spend so much of my free time (other than my day job!) on social media and promotion, I realized I was NOT spending time on my writing. And, I have a manuscript due in December. But, Bruce, you say, this is May.
My manuscript for my fourth book, “The 10th Demon: Children of the Bloodstone” was the completed manuscript that landed me a book deal. I am very proud of it. I think it was my best work to date after writing the first three books before getting my contract. I have since learned, thanks to my awesome editor, Andy, that my writing generally is so-so at best and he has pushed me to become a much better writer. And here is my conundrum (how’s that for a fancy word). My fourth book comes in at 150,000 words but my contract specifies a maximum of 75,000 words per book. I met recently with Adrienne, my rep at Charisma, and commiserated over this problem. How do you literally cut a book in half and still maintain the story, the plot, the characters, etc.?
Suggestion: make it two books. The problem is, I am in a countdown mode moving from the thirteenth demon down to the first demon. If I split this book in half, I have two books about the same demon and this throws my entire plan off kilter. I could bring in two demons for this story, but I can’t make that work with this story. So, what to do? What to do?
First, I prayed and prayed. I have always believed that I will never write a word unless God is inspiring it; unless it is His work for my life. If this is meant to be, I will find my divine inspiration to decide what to do with this book. Have you found yourself in a similar situation? Do you turn to God for guidance?
Second, I read some books. A good writer has to be a good reader. I already participate in an online book review every month and this takes up much of my reading. But, I wanted something different. I read “Thunder and Rain” by Charles Martin. What an amazing book! What an amazing author! Guess what? It inspired me! It made me sit back and really take a hard look at my story. How do you make sure you read regularly? What types of books do you read? Do you go outside your genre to read good stories?
Third, I cancelled the conference! I wasn’t feeling very well anyway and fearing that I was, once again, passing a kidney stone. So, the decision was made a little easier. But, I realized that if I had an entire week off, my time would be better spent WRITING than attending a conference and promoting my career. After all, if my book stinks, my career sinks! So, what about you. Have you found writing conferences helpful? If so, in what way? If they were a waste of time, would your time have been better spent writing?
While I am here huddled over my word processing program, my fingers flying over the keyboard (Thanks to my sister who told me to take typing in high school!), my brain desperately trying to put together the shortened strings of my story, I hope you are WRITING and READING regularly. And, if you have some words of wisdom and advice, by all means share them. I could use them! And, if you are at the BMCWC, tell Alton Gansky I said, “Hi”.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Case of Mistaken Identity

"So where do you get your ideas?"

Yes, it's the most-asked question any author gets. My answer: Everywhere. And it's true. Anything can spark the imagination and get a story idea burning. One never knows when the creativity bug will bite and something as mundane as waiting too long at the doctor's office will get the gears turning and the plot machine fired up.

Recently, I had just such an event happen. Not that it was mundane--it was anything but that--but it got me thinking about crimes and characters and intrigue and suspense.

I received a letter in the mail from our local court requesting my appearance at a rescheduled hearing. The way the letter read, I was being charged with DUI, possession of drugs, an expired license, and a slew of other infractions, including having "improper" tires on my vehicle.

I knew they couldn't be true, I would never put improper tires on my car.

At first I thought it must be a misunderstanding, a case of mistaken identity or maybe identity theft. So I headed over to the courthouse to straighten the whole thing out. The clerk was very obstinate and an argument ensued. I lost it; I'm sorry, I just did. Said things I would normally never say, cursed, almost climbed over the counter to get to her. As a result, I was arrested and placed in a holding cell until the whole matter could be settled. About an hour later a police officer came in and said the charges stood and they were moving me to the county jail until the hearing date.

Okay, that last part is made up. I'm sorry for leading you on but I wanted to show how easily reality can slip into fantasy.

I did go to the court  and the clerk (who was very nice and said I looked like Michael J. Fox) did straighten things out. I'm to appear as a witness. A couple months ago I witnessed an accident where a woman ran a stop sign and caused a collision. I pulled over, checked to see if everyone involved was all right (which they were), and waited for the police officer to arrive to give my statement. Now, apparently they need my testimony in court. This should be interesting.

So I wanted my readers to get a taste of what it's like to take these every day occurances and turn them into a story. I ran a contest where readers could "finish the story" from the point of someone receiving a letter saying they've been charged with a bunch of bogus offences.

The winner would co-author a short story with me about just such a thing happening.

The response was incredible and in the end I had my winner: Aaron Reed, a pastor in Ohio. Aaron and I will write and e-publish a short story that will be released before the end of the year. Watch for it!

So . . . where do you get your ideas?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Release of Annie’s Truth

We all work our tails off writing, waiting for the payoff for all those hours spent and then THE day finally comes, the best part about writing, release month for your book. I say month instead of day because of all the fantastic events and surprises along the way.

We are fortunate to have a publisher who invests in publicity for our work. I’ve seen my book cover pop up in a number of different magazines, and Christian Fiction Blog tours. We’re also blessed to have other authors who promote our books. Making those connections through the years has become invaluable in supporting each other when the big day finally rolls around. This group is one of those I plug, even the genres I don’t read I suggest the books on this blog to readers who do.

The blog spots, interviews and reviews started showing up in places I didn’t even know existed, and the fan base for Amish is crazy good! I’ve come to appreciate my website more than ever now that book clubs, libraries and the local town newspapers ask about my book through that venue. Working pro bono for one of them came in handy. Paying my dues writing articles, devotionals and columns not only built up my sagging resume but also helped those in the industry remember me.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people care enough to inquire about my books and ask where to purchase one. From relatives and neighbors to my Bunko group and friends from church, remember my release day is drawing near. Even the folks in Lancaster who I visited last year on my research trip have contacted me to get some books for their groups. Kinda funny to think of Amish reading about Amish!

Mentioning all of these people is my chance to thank them for taking the time and caring about my writing journey. I’m sure my experience pales to most other authors, but for me I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Annie’s Truth Blurb:
After learning the truth about who she really is, can this prodigal daughter be accepted back into the safety and security of home?

Annie Beiler seems to have it all—a loving family in a tight-knit Amish community and the affections of an attractive and respected young man. But when she learns that she was adopted after being found as an abandoned newborn, she sets out on a journey to find out who she is.

Her father is strongly against her decision to leave, as it could mean Meidung, or excommunication from the community and even her family. But Annie knows she must find “the path that has her heart.”

As Annie’s search brings her into the fast-paced world of modern life, she is confronted with all of the temptations she was warned of. Her quest for self keeps her from returning, but when she finds out the truth, she becomes so broken Annie reaches a point of no return, and has to make a choice.

Can she make her way back to the order and security of her family? Or will she remain an outsider—torn between her two worlds?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Series or Stand Alone Winner


I want to thank each of you who responded to my post about series and stand alone novels. I really appreciate you taking the time and I wish I could give books to each of you. However, if you didn't win I will be doing another give away at on Tuesday the 15th, which is the official launch of Chameleon. Please stop by if you get a chance.

((((DRUM ROLL))))



Friday, May 11, 2012

Series or Stand Alone? Give Me Your Opinion and You Might Win Both My Books!

I've tweaked this post a bit from a previous post on my personal blog due to time constraints.  But I really want to pick your brain. Do you enjoy reading a series or do you grow easily bored? Do you like contemporary novels or historical? What's your favorite genre? If you are a writer what do you prefer to write and what do you prefer to read? In this crazy world we live in where are you going to spend your money when you have time to relax? Will it be a book or some other type of activity you enjoy? Can you tell I've been thinking, a lot? I want to know what you think, too.

I went snooping on other blogs to try and answer some questions for myself as a writer who will very soon be completing the third book in my Ravensmoore Chronicles which will probably release in May of 2013. Chameleon is available now! Do I want to write another series? Should I try to expand this one? Should I try writing stand alone novels for awhile? These are things I will have to decide at sometime with help from my agent. So while you're thinking about these questions here are some ideas I discovered from others out there in cyberspace.

The Bookshelf Muse asked this same question related to YA. She has some interesting comments.
Here's a look at this question from Book Worms at Goodreads.

And James Scott Bell discusses Going Deeper With a Series Character Maybe it's the deeper angle that is so enjoyable with a series. As writers we get the chance to explore and as readers we get the opportunity to find out more about what makes certain characters tick.

Some interesting views here at Time for a Return of the Stand Alone Novel?
Good thoughts at eBookworm too, Is the Stand Alone Novel a Lost Art?

I've been scanning my bookshelf and I just got hooked on another series. This one by C.S. Harris who has lured me into her Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries. I love to read and write novels set during the Regency era and Harris has an awesome character in Sebastian. I would have been deeply disappointed if she hadn't written more books after What Angels Fear. These novels are not written for the CBA and are not for the faint of heart are fascinating. Harris has used her degrees in history and her non-fiction work regarding the French Revolution to bring her characters to life in a way that makes me want to visit them again and again. Harris has more experience than me and more books, but she's come closest to doing with Sebastian what I've done with Ravensmoore. The fact that she's written past book three makes me wonder if  I should do this with my characters? I'm writing historical romance with strong mystery/suspense elements.

Then of course all those critical issues like sales, reader interest, etc., come into play.

So whether you're a reader, a writer, or both, what do you think? Are you a series reader or do you prefer stand alone? And if you could only pick one, what would it be? Thanks for helping me explore this idea. I really want to hear from you. Leave your e-mail address if you want a chance to win autographed copies of  both my books. Secrets of the Heart and Chameleon,  Book Two in my Ravensmoore Series.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

4 Case Studies in Creators and the Stories They Loved

Nearly fifteen years ago film director Peter Jackson decided his life goal was to remake King Kong. But he couldn’t get the financing. It had been remade. Badly. So instead he acquired the rights to the Lord of the Rings, knowing it would be successful, hoping to leverage it into the chance to make King Kong. Indeed, LOTR was successful and he was given the green light to make Kong. Which was not great, did not perform nearly as well as LOTR, didn’t impact pop culture, wasn’t memorable, and hasn’t really endured.

Nearly forty years ago George Lucas was a hard-edge, downbeat young film maker who couldn’t bring himself to write a happy ending. On a dare he decided to make something light and fluffy. The result was Star Wars. Which he ultimately fell in love with, and wanted to make his way. Two treatments and four drafts later he finally was able to make the movie, but not with everything he wanted because the technology wasn’t advanced enough yet. 16 years after the last of his original trilogy was released he released the first in his prequel trilogy. It was what he really wanted to do, the way he wanted to do it. It was not great, did not perform as well as the originals, didn’t impact pop culture in the same way, and is not a beloved masterpiece like the classic trilogy.

Thirty years ago James Cameron, while working on Piranha II: The Spawning got very, very sick, and had a fever. A metal skeleton holding steak knives crawling away from an explosion. He woke up and started writing The Terminator. It was what he wanted to do. His agent asked him to stop writing, knowing it wouldn’t sell. So he fired his agent. He made the movie on a shoestring budget. It wasn’t expected to be successful, either critically or financially, but it became socially, culturally, aesthetically, and financially significant, spawning four sequels, a television series, and a billion dollar franchise.

Twenty years ago JK Rowling was sitting on a bench at a train station waiting for a delayed train. The idea of Harry Potter fell, fully-formed, into her brain. She took six years to write it her way. Found an agent to shop it. Took a year to find a home. Broke all sales expectations by selling 30,000 copies of the first book, and then broke every record imaginable by sell 450 MILLION books in the series, and becoming the most financially successful film franchise in human history.

What do these anecdotes tell us? Well, George Lucas and Peter Jackson couldn’t turn their love into success. JK Rowling and James Cameron did. Sometimes we do our best work when we step back emotionally and just do what we’re good at. It becomes great because other people love it. And sometimes we love it so much, our own love makes it great. So for those of us trying to write something people will remember this is an interesting question. Do we write because we know it’s what audiences love, and hope to share in that love, or do we love something and try to make it work? I’ll be perfectly honest: the former is far more common than the latter, but when it works, it explodes. And nothing is ever the same again.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Her Lilac Blouse Complimented Her Eyes --- MY FOOT!

Ah, the male mind. What woman can truly comprehend its complexity? As an author of romantic fiction, I certainly try – quite a feat, although having a husband and 3 sons helps.

Still, I don’t think like a guy. Case in point, I would have once described, in great length, a woman’s attire as she strode into a room at the very point when the handsome hero gets his first glimpse of her. In his viewpoint, I’d elaborate on details of each article of her clothing.

Well, I’ve since learned that if I’m writing the scene from a male’s point-of-view, he wouldn’t likely notice how her lilac-colored blouse complimented the hue of her violet-blue eyes.

Some men might, yes. But most men – particularly alpha heroes – probably would not.

To illustrate this point, I conducted my own personal survey. That’s right. I emailed my grown sons. I consider them “alpha” males, so I asked them if they’d noticed the clothing their significant others wore the first time they’d met (shirt, jeans, skirt, dress, etc). My sons’ replies were as follows:

“Mom, are you kidding me?”
“Mom, is this for one of your books?”
“You don’t want to know what we noticed, Mom. We’re dudes, ok?”
So much for the lilac-colored blouse complimenting her eyes.

Of course, I can recall the clothing my sons’ girlfriends wore when I first met them. One gal was in Army fatigues with her hair pulled back into a tight bun, as she and my son had just come from their weekend duty. Another was casual, wearing jeans and a tee shirt. Another had on a cute jumper and wore her hair all curled and femininely cute.

But, realize this: I was “the mom” checking these new girlfriends out – and I’m a writer who is trained to notice details.

The average guy is not.

But I went ahead with my survey anyway and asked the top alpha male in my household. My husband. He said that when we met he first noticed my blue eyes. Then he noticed that I had a pretty smile. (Aw…okay, he gets to eat supper tonight.)

My point is this: be true to your characters. If you’re in your male character’s POV, then think like a guy. And men, don’t snicker. You’ve got the same problems – women’s points of view. Sometimes I’ll pick up a book written by a male writer and find I just cannot get into the story because I can’t relate to the female character. She doesn’t think like I do – or any woman I know, for that matter. And I love it (NOT) when male writers assume that just because she’s a woman their female characters can have mood swings to fit the scenes and/or plotlines. No, male writers still need to do character charts and all their characters should have believable motivations. Not all women kill somebody simply because it’s that time of the month.
But never fear, all you bewildered bards, Gender Genie is here! That’s right. There is a website dedicated to help writers check their characters’ points of view. Simply copy and paste a scene into the Genie Gender and it’ll come back telling you whether its orientation is male or female.

Of course, Gender Genie is a computer-generated program so it doesn’t have the corner on character viewpoints. However, it is a tool. Authors are the ones who need to know and understand their characters’ thoughts and the motives behind their actions.

So now I’m curious what readers say. Has the viewpoint of the opposite sex in any book(s) you’ve read really bugged you because he or she just didn’t think like a guy or girl would – or should?  I’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Late Starters

When one’s writing career begins late in life, a sense of urgency infiltrates one’s life. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. Although writing and telling stories have been a passion since I was a child, publication never seemed to be an option. I had no idea how to even begin the process. Teachers in high school English and college professors told me that I gift for putting words on paper, but I still had a bit of a problem with mechanics. That problem led me to minor in English along with my Home Economics major. Then my love of writing led to a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis on creative writing and teaching composition.

My first novel was born during my freshman year at Baylor University in the spring of 1954, and I still have the original, yellowed pages and all. Then life intervened with a husband and three sons and a teaching career that spanned thirty-six years. All this time I wrote short stories and jotted down ideas for novels.

Hope for anything more than a few novellas, articles in magazines, and stories in compilations when my seventieth birthday rolled around. Who wants to take a chance on an author in the winter season of life? Tamela Hancock Murray encouraged me not to stop, and she continued to submit my proposals.

 Enter Debbie Marrie and Strang. She liked my story and took a chance on this older than usual writer and on my seventy-third birthday offered a contract for Becoming Lucy. Since that time, three years ago, ten novels and one novella have emerged with number nine hitting the bookshelves this month. A new series is in the works as well as an electronic edition of contemporary novel.  

That’s where the urgency comes in. The goal is to write as much as possible and publish as many books as possible in the time left whether it’s one more year or ten more years. I want to get all the stories in my head out there. With two bouts with cancer behind me, the Lord has a purpose for keeping me around, and I don’t want to miss any opportunity.

Patience has never been a virtue of mine, but God has taught me to wait for His timing, His timing is always perfect. He taught me to persevere even when hopelessness tried to set in. He reminded me that His plans for me were filled with hope. My prayers were heard and answered when God chose the right people and the right time.

After almost seventy-six years, a lot of life is under the bridge as well as so many experiences of God’s grace and mercy in my life. Through my stories others can see just how great our God is.

So my writing advice for the day is to pray, be patient, and persevere. If writing is God’s plan for your life, He will make it happen.