Friday, August 30, 2013

A Peek Into What It Takes to Write Authentic Historical Novels - Lena Nelson Dooley - With a Giveaway

One of the things I like most about writing historical novels is finding nuggets of information to make the time period more accurate. While I was writing Maggie's Journey, book one of my McKenna's Daughters series, I was having a hard time picturing Seattle, Washington Territory, in 1885. I had looked for books and computer links but still didn't have much to go on.

When I quit working full-time and stayed home to write (the first time that happened), I started volunteering in our local library. I'm a real people person, and writing is a solitary endeavor. Imagine my surprise when they put me in the back of the library mending books. Still not much contact with actual people. But I learned a lot about how a library runs.

Every library has a reference librarian. This person will help people find the information they need. Since the advent of cell phones with nationwide free long distance, I have contacted a few of these librarians when I couldn't find information.

I decided to contact the Seattle Public Library. I didn't ask for anyone to do my research for me, just a few suggestions on books about the time period. I hit the Mother Lode.

Seattle Public Library system had digitized literally thousands of historical photos and loaded them on line by decade. I used a number of these pictures to help me construct in my mind the areas of the city that I could use in my book. Also, I found a similar site for San Francisco, which is one of the settings in the book three, Catherine's Pursuit.

At one time in writing Maggie's Journey, I wanted to find the name of a nice hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1885. When I used Google to find the information, a map of St. Louis in 1885 appeared along with photos and text about various buildings and areas of the city. Another valuable moment.

Here are a few of the links I used:

The use of research enriches all my books, whether historical or contemporary.

If you've read my McKenna's Daughters books and Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico, please share with us which of the settings you liked best.

I'll choose a winner from all those who leave comments for an ebook copy of one of these books:

The Spinster and the Cowboy

The Best Medicine

You can choose the book you win in either a Kindle or a Nook edition.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

Last month I wrote an article entitled “Putting the ‘Motion’ in Promotion.” This month’s article is the sequel.

I decided to enter another local parade and advertise my books. My wife and I put 900 pom-poms on our truck, and I mounted a mock up of my two book covers on the back. I wanted to let people know that my books were available at The Cardston Book Shop, a local bookstore, so I had a sign made up to that effect. Remember, I wanted to advertise MY books and let people know that THEY were available.

As the parade got underway, imagine my surprise when people ignored the mock up of my books and focused on the sign. “Oh,” I hard many say, “it’s a sign advertising the Cardston Book Shop.” To them my book covers were merely examples of what the store carried: books! As I passed in front of the bookstore itself, the owner was sitting outside with his family, watching the parade. He called out, “Nice of you to put a float in the parade for us.”

All that work and my books were hardly noticed! But in the end, I just decided to laugh about it and hope the other authors whose works are featured in the bookstore appreciated my efforts. So you never know just how your promotional efforts are going to be received. Or perceived.

Well, one good thing. The bookstore owner is more than willing to continue carrying my books. I mean, after all, I’m his chief promoter.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Genre Expectations Versus Cliches (Or, How To Keep Readers From Rolling Their Eyes)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Ok, I'm going to start out by acknowledging that all genre writing requires adherence to some formula. Romance requires a happy ending with the couple united. Science fiction and fantasy require speculative elements while mysteries generally need a dead body ("onscreen" or off).Whether the author decides to use a little or a lot of formula depends on how much he or she wants readers to recognize themes or tropes, common literary devices, in the story.

What's the difference between genre expectations and clichés? How do you keep readers engaged if your story centers upon time-tested themes such as love, revenge, or coming-of-age? Since I write romance, I'm going to use the genre as an example. Let's look at some formulas and those dreaded clichés.

Romance Formula #1: A Happy Ending

As human beings, we all desire to be loved. Despite our knowledge that sometimes love doesn't last forever, that strife and separation between couples does occur, we hold out hope that there is someone out there who will love us continually, flaws and all. That's why romance is one of the most enduring and popular genres in the market today. A story that features a couple whose relationship doesn't survive the end of the book is not classified as a romance. It is a story with romantic elements.

Romance Cliché #1: A Dainty, Simpering Heroine

Sorry. My sarcasm starts to show whenever I get on this topic. Romances of yesteryear typically featured the standard 5'2, 98-pound dainty darling. Her sixteen-inch waist and ability to cry on cue were usually all it took to wrap the big, tough hero around her pretty little finger. Today, as you can guess, most readers don't appreciate this type of heroine. Blame women's lib or the decreased popularity of tight-laced corsets (I say tight-laced, because anyone who's ever been to a Renaissance Faire or steampunk convention knows that corsets are very much still in vogue ;-) ).

Romance Formula #2: Conflict Between The Couple

Actually, this formula applies across the board. There is no story without conflict. With romance, in particular, readers want to see the hero and heroine battle and banter for control, even as the two fall in love. The writer can't "seal the deal" too early by having them declare their love for each other in the middle of the book.

Romance Cliché #2: Pining Pairs

Yes, yes, we know the romance hero and heroine cannot stop thinking about each other, even if they're mad enough to throw something at the other person. That doesn't mean they sit around all day writing sonnets dedicated to the color of their true love's eyes. They should have other equally pressing things to do, such as -Oh, I don't know- earn a living, save the family farm, jump off a sinking ship, dodge bullets from the outlaw's Winchester rifle, whatever your plot requires.

Romance Formula #3: Characters Need To Meet ASAP

Thanks to fast-paced action movies and the instant gratification that is online media streaming, we are conditioned to expect things bigger, faster, and in our grasp last Tuesday. If you write romance, your leading man and lady need to make each other's acquaintance within the first couple of chapters, if not paragraphs. Readers simply have too many other things pressing on their time and attention in real-life than to wait around for the author to leisurely get the plot gears turning.

Romance Cliché #3: Characters Need To Act On Their Attraction ASAP

I can't tell you how many times I've explained to well-meaning friends that not all romances are bodice rippers. While there are certain sub-genres that contain a high level of heat, not all romances push the boundaries of morals and self-control. Since I write sweet romances, my characters experience the tensions and temptations that any normal-functioning adult in love would feel, but because of my faith, I don't write explicit scenes or have the characters engaging in premarital sex.

That doesn't mean the story will appeal only to a dour ninety year-old grandmother. Sometimes the most intense romantic scenes in novels are those that engage the mind and take command of a full spectrum of emotions, not just the tactile senses, although those are very important, too. Read the classics and take notes. There's a reason why Austen and Bronte are still popular two centuries later.

All that being said, recognizing formulas necessary for good genre writing and avoiding clichés isn't very hard. Use what I like to call the eye-roll test. Read parts of your manuscript aloud. If certain scenes give you the involuntary urge to glance skyward or you get a little antsy about another reader perusing your prose, chances are there's a cliché waiting for the delete button.

What are the funniest/most annoying clichés you've come across in books?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Setting Goals

Houston Independent School District begins classes on Monday for the new school year. What happened to summer? When I was teaching school, I looked forward to the summer days when I had no papers to grade or grades to average. I set goals for getting things done around the house, activities for my children, and for travel. Most of them were met, and I think it was because of the limited amount of time I had to do those things that I really wanted to do.

Now that I’m retired and have become a published writer, those goals have changed mainly because of deadlines. This summer as I finished up one contract and am waiting on a new one, I found that I needed goals now just as I did when my children were at home, so I set a goal to have the first novel of the new series completed by a certain date.

Goals give us direction and something to be accomplished in a particular amount of time. One of the reasons people give up on their goals is that they set unrealistic goals. Sure, we like to aim high, but if the goal is too far out of our reach, we can become bored, discouraged, or even frustrated that the goals aren’t being met.
Short term goals help us move forward to that one big goal. Goals to meet deadlines make meeting the deadline easier if we stick with the schedule and the goals set. Setting weekly or bi-monthly goals can hone or ultimate goals to doable chunks.

If a writer is undisciplined or disorganized, a goal may be the only to get anything done. Success in meeting the first short term goal leads to enthusiasm for the next step. If we set a goal of writing 2500 words a day, five days a week, we have to be careful not to let the days we don’t accomplish the goal frustrate us to the point of anger and giving up.  The wiser thing to do is to look at each day’s schedule and factor in the time needed for unexpected life happenings. Set a goal that is attainable for that day and move on to the next.
Of course, the closer one gets to the deadline, the more important writing goals become. The ultimate goal is to have a completed manuscript by the deadline, but it takes smaller goals along the way to achieve the ultimate one with our editor.

Answer the question here and have a chance to win a copy of my newest release, Love Stays True.

What types of goals do you set for yourself as a writer or for anything else in your life? What tips do you have on achieving your goals?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pocket Muse

An author friend of mine introduced me to this book, The Pocket Muse, Endless Inspiration for Writers by Monica Wood. The book gives inspirational tips for writers. Here are a few examples: 

A radio that receives a single station

Write about the one who got away, but it's not a person 

A man is seeking a woman who is not safe, why isn't she?

Create a character who has to be the center of attention

A museum guard who touches the paintings

Write about the prodigal son in the point of view of the unappreciated older sister

A faucet that delivers something other than water

Change no to yes and see what happens

A man walks into a bar but it's not a bar

Write about the one who refuses to fit in

A household item becomes the source of a family war

I could go on with these fun pieces of creativity but I'd like to see what you come up with...give it a try!!! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Author-Reader Partnership

Authors and readers need each other, so I like to think of the relationship between the two as a partnership. As we write our stories, we should always remember those who pay hard-earned cash to keep us in ramen for a few months. By the same token, readers need to let us know what they like or don't like about what we do. It can be done in a very straightforward, professional way, or the two can form a friendship on the side – just like you'll see in the business world.

How can readers participate in this partnership? First of all, thank you for buying our books. We appreciate you way more than the money you spend, even though we value that as well. What I like my readers to do, first of all, is to find a way to let me know your thoughts.

I want to see honest reviews on sites such as Amazon,, or Barnes and Noble. If you love my latest release and leave five stars, know that I'm fist-pumping all over the place. However, if you don't care for something, please give my book the number of stars you think I deserve…and then tell why. Was my heroine unsympathetic? Did the hero's actions not make sense? Did the book leave you depressed?

Readers can also send notes via email or snail mail to the publisher. Most authors have links to an email address on their websites. However, if you are more comfortable with snail mail, please send your message to the address that you'll find on the copyright or title page of the book. Most publishers will forward these notes to the authors. Let us know what you like, what you didn't care for, and what you'd like to see in the future.

Authors need to take these messages to heart. Even though it's impossible to accommodate every single reader request, it gives me a better idea of who my readers are, what they like or don't like about my characters, and how willing they are to read my books in the future. I value my reader letters enough to keep them in a special file that I go back to read periodically so I can stay with what works. 

One example of what I've done based on reader requests is add recipes when I mention special dishes in my stories. In Sweet Baklava (2011 release), I added a bunch of Greek recipes in the back of the book. One of my readers said that after she finished reading the story, she put it on her cookbook shelf. That made me smile.

How do you see the author-reader partnership? What else can authors do to make the reading experience more enjoyable? What can readers do?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Repeat Offenders

I am in the final phases of editing my manuscript for “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”. I have a tripod set up in my study with a huge post it note easel. Currently, I’m looking at my list of “repeat offenders”. Like most authors, I tend to have repeat mistakes in my manuscript. Here is my list and maybe some of you could share what’s on your “repeat offender” list:

1 -- RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. One of my spiritual gifts is teaching. And, I am an apologist, a defender of the truthfulness of the Christian faith. Therefore, I tend to “lecture” in my manuscript. After all, I want the reader to fully understand what I am trying to communicate in a particular paragraph or in a line of dialogue. What the reader misses when I “explain” is the joy found in reading a well written passage that forces the reader-- really, invites the reader -- to work with the author to understand just what is going on. When I read a book, I want to join the author in the discovery process. When I resist the urge to explain, I am leaving some of the work of discovery to the reader!

2 -- No Cartoon Action. This problem comes from my years of working with theater. After over 20 years of writing, directing, and producing plays I tend to ask actors to over exaggerate body language or facial expressions. On the stage, this “cartoon like action” translate well. But, on the written page, such action can become farcical or contrived. I have learned to carefully portray the action sequences to make sure they make sense in the real world.

3 -- Five senses in every scene. One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. Bradbury excels at bringing all of the senses into his scenes. My theater experience pushes me into paying careful attention to what is seen and heard. But, the tapestry of the written word allows a richer canvas. I want to explore the tactile experiences in each scene. I want my reader to hear the ambient background sounds and to smell the sometimes awful but often exotic fragrances in the air. Another of my favorite authors to use all of the senses is James Lee Burke in his Dave Robicheaux novels. The stories take place in New Orleans and what better place can you think of to afford a rich palette of sensations?

4 -- What is the Mystery Box? J. J. Abrams, director of the new Star Trek movies and developer of such shows as Lost has an incredible lecture to the TED conference. Here is the link and my editor, Andy Meisenheimer suggested I watch this. Abrams has a “mystery box” given to him by his late grandfather. The box came from a magic store and Abrams has never opened it. Our stories always should contain a “mystery box”. What is in the box? What is the mystery? The best stories are ones of discovery as we are led deeper and deeper into the world of the story’s “mystery box”. In my latest novel, “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos” there is a mysterious “box” at the center of the story. But, the mystery is now really what is in the box. The mystery is why does my protagonist want the box? Watch the video at this link and you will never again write a story without your very own personal “mystery box”! And, after you watch the video you'll see why I have another reminder to add the "Jaws" scene and it is NOT what you think!

5 -- Real World Conversations. Another carry over from my playwriting experience is the need to convey exposition through dialogue. In theater, there are no paragraphs to describe setting and mood. Narration can help, but is often stilted and slows down the pace of the show. I tell my theater classes to avoid “as you knows”. For instance, the maid answers the phone. “No, Mr. Smith is not here today. As you know, Mr. Smith is a very wealthy man with many ties to the oil business. And, as you know, he is a legal battle with his estranged brother over his late father’s oil business.” You get the idea. While I don’t use “as you know” consciously, I tend to pad my dialogue with explanatory phrases. Just as I mentioned above in RUE, I have to pull back and make my dialogue sound natural. Reading it out loud helps.

My list is longer than five items, but I’ll stop for now. What areas of improvement do you suggest a successful author should look at?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mosquito Inlet, Lighthouse, and Giveaway!

I recently spent two weeks vacationing and visiting family in Daytona Beach Shores.  And although this post has nothing to do with the Regency time period I've written my last three novels in I find lighthouses and the sea  fascinating and wanted to be certain to visit this lighthouse while I was in the area. I am a native born Floridian. I came into the world in 1955 in Coral Gables, Florida. Although my family spent only a short time there it is my birthplace, so when I visit Florida I like to learn as much as I can first hand about this state. The lighthouse experience was one of my favorite aspects of this vacation.

The lighthouse is 175 feet high and it's Florida's tallest lighthouse. My family and I climbed every step of the steep spiral staircase. That's 203 steps! It was exhausting and exhilarating. I'm not one that enjoys heights but I have to admit that I loved the spectacular view at the top and the breeze. I think it hit 91 degrees that day.

Our two daughters made the climb first and when they came back down said we'd regret it forever if we didn't go up and so we did. Both my husband and I were grateful for the landings along the way where we could take a breather.. It's not possible to pass others on the staircase because it's so narrow. If someone is coming down you wait on the landing until they pass.

The lighthouse was erected in 1835 when the area was known as Mosquito Inlet. Don't you love it! I think I've got a novel brewing. :) Anyway, I digress. Although the lighthouse was built in 1835, storms and an Indian attack crumbled the building. It wasn't until 1887 that it became a functional lighthouse.

You'll be thrilled to know that even though you may be far from Florida at this moment you can take a virtual tour HERE! Enjoy!

There is a wonderful museum on the grounds that you'll see if you take the virtual tour. It was awesome! We bought our t-shirts and of course I had to pick up a book titled, Tales of Ponce Inlet by Ayres Davies.

"In 1897, author and journalist Stephen Crane was en route to cover a brewing revolt against Spanish rule in Cuba, when the ship he was on, the SS Commodore, sank off the coast of Florida. Crane escaped in a small dinghy with several crewmen, and they eventually sighted and steered for the Mosquito Inlet Light. Crane used this experience in his short story "The Open Boat"." You can read more HERE!

"Though accurate, the name Mosquito Inlet proved a deterrent to increased settlement in the area. To correct this problem, the name was officially changed to Ponce de Leon Inlet in honor of the famed explorer, and the lighthouse became the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse." More HERE!

If you'd like to win a copy of Mystery of the Heart (You can read the first chapter here.) Please leave a comment about the last light house you ever visited or one that you would like to visit. Don't forget your e-mail addy and I'll pick a winner after midnight, Pacific Time on Sunday, August 11th. I'll post the winner in the comment section of this post.

Jillian Kent explores the darker side of Regency England. Her latest novel, Mystery of the Heart, released in January 2013. Her first novel, Secrets of the Heart will introduce you to asylum life, and Chameleon will take you into historic Bedlam itself. But never fear, romance is alive and well in all of Jillian's novels.
Chameleon, recently finaled in the Selah Awards at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and is now a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award through Romance Writers of Americas Mystery and Suspense Chapter.
@JillKentAuthor on Twitter

Jillian also writes and coordinates, The Well Writer, for the Christian Fiction Online Magazine.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Writing This Summer - Lena Nelson Dooley

Some really fun things have been going on with my writing the last few months. 

 In Texas, we have summer for a long time, so I'll start with May. Last year, Maggie's Journey won the Selah Award for Historical Novel from the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. This May, Mary's Blessing was one of three finalists for the Selah Award for Romance. You already know that Jillian Kent one of the other finalists. What a privilege to share that with her.

I was unable to attend the conference, so one of the members of my local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers and the critique group that meets in my home, Marji Laine, accepted my certificate for me. And she was a finalist for one of the unpublished awards. Way to go, Marji.

She didn't get to bring my award to me until late July. Here we are at critique group when she gave it to me.

A review by Wendy Newcomb for Mary's Blessing:

WOW! Mary's story is one that tears at your heart. She takes everything that is handed to her, and it's a lot, but keeps on going and giving her best for her family. She shows such strength for having to take over a household at such a young age with no resentment or anger. Sometimes maybe a little wishful thinking for some time for herself, but she pulls herself together and continues on with the life that she's been given.

I'm so glad I have the third book, "Catherine's Pursuit", so I can get started on it right now. All I can say is that if you get "Maggie's Journey" you might as well get the other two at the same time, that's what I did and I'm really glad.

Thank you, Wendy!

I've also published some of my backlist books that are out of print as ebooks that are available both on the Kindle website and the Nook website.

The Spinster and the Cowboy
The Cactus Corner singles scene is shrinking. . . . Many were unmarried by choice, others by circumstances, but single women living the 1800s carried the unfortunate label of “spinsters.” Once branded, can a spinster find love?

India Cunningham is happy running the ranch her father left her when a man she doesn’t remember from her childhood arrives to help her. Can she trust Joshua Dillinger, or is he there to steal her land?
The Spinster and the Cowboy (Spinster Brides of Cactus Corner) - Kindle

Christmas Confusion
Lori Compton, mayor of Mistletoe, needs ideas for ways to prop up the sagging economy. After having her heart broken by the former pastor, she doesn’t want to spend time with the new pastor.

Rev. Russell Brown has plenty of ideas, even one that includes his spending the rest of his life with the beautiful mayor. Will Lori be able to move beyond her hurts and recognize God’s intentions for the future of the town – and for her own future?
Christmas Confusion (Montana Mistletoe) - Kindle

The Best Medicine
When Thomas Stanton shows up at the holiday party of Rose Fletcher’s best friend, his appearance reminds Rose of the infatuation she felt for him when he worked on her father’s ranch. Although her heart wants to continue those long ago feelings, her mind reminds her that he doesn’t share her faith in God.

Thomas can’t understand why Rose seems so standoffish. Will it take God’s intervention to show these two people just what He has planned all along?
The Best Medicine (Snowbound Colorado Christmas) - Kindle

Can You Help Me?
When Valerie Bradford asks a Home and Hearth store employee for assistance, she doesn't realize that she'll get more attention than she bargained for.

Austin Hodges can't believe what the feisty blond plans to accomplish all by herself. Because of his profession, he knows how much help she needs, but for right now, his advice will have to do.

God must lead them through the misunderstandings they encounter toward a bright future together.
Can You Help Me? (Carolina Carpenter Brides) - Kindle
The ebooks are also available at: 

I still have two more books to go. I'm waiting on one cover to be designed right now.

And I'm really excited about my next project. I am the screenwriter for a Christian romantic suspense movie that is heavy on the suspense. I'm adapting Pola Muzyka's novel Abducted to Kill about persecuted Christians in the 1990s. The movie will release in 2014.

And I've read several good books this summer.

What books have you been reading?