Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What's On Your Shelf?

It's nearly 2014. The clock is ticking and tomorrow we'll be in a brand new year. Many writers will begin the year with a new goal--finishing the rough draft (that's me), or revising their novel, sending out queries, or some other goal related to their stories.

What about picking a craft book to read? Have you ever made that a resolution?

I am. Besides finally finishing FRIENDLY FIRE (I promise I will! Honest!), I'm going to try to use the books sitting on my shelf to learn more about making my book better.

I have books of inspiration and craft. My inspiration list are well read.
  • The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I've talked about these before and I still refer to them and their message often. When I'm stuck I remind myself that it's all resistance (Pressfield), and to keep writing every day (Lamott) or any of several truths I learned from King and Cameron.

But when it comes to craft books, I don't have such a good track record. The shelf is full of them, but I haven't finished many. In fact, I haven't started quite a few of them. ;-)

Here's a sampling of what I have on my shelf:
  •   The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass--I know all the reasons to read these two, but tried to before I was a third of the way into FF. I think these will click when I finish goal one (see above).
  • The Writer's Little Helper by James V. Smith--This is my first craft book. It's more of a checklist than anything else. It'll be good to click through after goal one is accomplished.
  • Write in Style by Bobbie  Christmas and Don't Sabotage Your Submissions by Chris Roerden are much like the Smith with added expertise from the authors--both have professional editing experience. I'll be back for them later.
  • Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld--This is another early buy. I floundered on the descriptions of scene types. Now I have a clue about them from experience writing and critiquing and I'll be back to read this one later.
  • The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler--This is another well-regarded craft book, but it doesn't fit my genre. I'll give it another look if and when I ever get back to my long-worked-on and long-delayed SF trilogy.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell--This is a recent acquisition. I'm over halfway through it. It's hitting the spot as a helpful book probably because I was already 85% done with FF when I got it.
Two new books on my shelf are Writing Subtext by Elizabeth Lyon and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Both come highly recommended. I'll get into them when goal one is done. And I have one on order--Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris.This is recommended for its info on emotional beats.

There's a pattern here--Either I tried to read the book way early in my novel, or I've just haven't had time to read them. I foresee more time when goal one is done and FF is out with my beta readers.

Now it's your turn. What's your favorite craft book? Any I don't have yet? ;-)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Babies--Finale

And in conclusion...
All Decked Out!
     The roar of the vacuum stopped. Samantha trundled it to the closet and then stood at my elbow. “Can we talk before you take me home?”
    “May we? Of course.” I scanned her face. Worry tucked her fair brows together and my heart clenched.
    Her eyes were starting to fill. “How do you do Christmas without your husband? I mean…I miss Mom…”
    Tears rolled down her cheeks as my throat tightened. The fact was, I didn’t do Christmas very well since Tom’s death. Reaching out, I gathered Samantha in. The small shoulders shook with sobs as my own tears overflowed and dropped into her curls.
    Her whispered words said it all. “This is my third Christmas since—It’s not getting easier.”
    My heart clenched around my own grief. “It’s my second and I know what you mean, but you kids helped me this time.” I wiped at a tear that had dripped to the end of my nose. “Listening to the boys fuss over crayons and snuggling with the twins helped."
    “I’m sorry your Christmas bell got broken.”
    My hand rose before I thought and wiped her tears, too. “It’s okay. I’m glad none of the kids got hurt.”
    Samantha hunched her shoulders then let them fall. “I want to get Miss Cherie something. I saved a little bit from my allowance. It’s not much.” She tried to keep her tear-streaked face from blooming with hope, but it was a lost cause. “Mom never bought any presents, so I don’t know how.”
    I bit my lip. What mother didn’t buy her child presents? A drug addled one.
   “I think I can help with that because there will be presents this year.” I smiled. “I know just the place. Why don’t we shop a little on the way home. The dollar store had a lot of coloring books. That’ll take care of the boys. How about a big piece puzzle for the girls. They had them too.” And I’d make sure some of the presents had her name on them.
    “Oh! Miss Laura Grace! Thank you.” Her reddened eyes were beginning to twinkle. “Could we get a hat and scarf for Miss Cherie? She doesn’t have any.”
    “Sounds good. Let’s go shopping.”
Sipping hot tea as I lay back in the recliner, I smiled. Samantha’s shopping trip had taken the edge off the bittersweet feeling Christmas had folded about me. Dollar stores were underrated. Five gifts for five dollars and tax had to be a record. The creamy white scarf and hat had included a pair of gloves. The fleece was soft and would look good with any coat Cherie wore them with. And it had been half price.
A fuzzy, yellow head nosed its way into the living room. I chuckled as Sunshine stopped with one foot inside. The deep sniffing breaths were audible at my chair. “They’re gone, little boy. It’s safe.” Golden eyes took in the room then the cat crept along the carpet sniffing every inch where the boys had colored. Standing on his hind legs, Sunshine inspected the sofa.
I laughed as the inspector began on my recliner. “See. All gone.”
                          He blinked at me and jumped onto the arm of the chair. Settling into his usual place with his feet tucked and his tail curled in front, the big cat let out a satisfied sigh.
                         “Get used to it, little lion.” I fluffed Sunshine’s fur. “They’ll be back.”

Have a wonderful Christmas Day and may your New Year be blessed!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Babies--continued

As I promised in the comments last week, here's more of "Christmas Babies" from FRIENDLY FIRE. Enjoy!


     All good things come to an end though, and as the credits rolled Mia slid off the sofa and bounced on the rug. “Beep! Beep!” Her high pitched squeal made me wince.
    Raina’s piping voice joined her sister’s raising the level of cacophony. Samantha reached for Raina to quiet her.
    Mia’s smile widened and her hops took on a frightening forward motion.
    “No!” Samantha grabbed for the little arm, but Mia giggled just out of reach and brushed my Christmas tree.
    Terry’s grab overshot her and he crashed into the branches. Bells and crystal tinkled then an ornament shattered on the hearth.
    Everyone froze. Terry’s eyes were round, brimming with tears as he turned to me. “I…I’m…” His chin trembled.
    Our first Christmas ornament, a paper-thin porcelain bell, lay in glinting shards across the ceramic tile.
    “It’s okay.” I swallowed a lump. If one of the tiny crystal angels, each unique had fallen, I’d just sweep it up, but the bell… How Tom’s face had lit up when we found it… My eyes were threatening to rival Terry’s as my tears welled.
    Then I saw Samantha. She had rolled herself up as small as she could and was tucked back into the narrow gap between the sofa and my recliner.
    Letting my vision of Tom go, I pasted on a smile. “Nothing the broom and dustpan won’t fix.”
    Mia leaned over the wreckage, one chubby hand stretched toward the razor-sharp slivers.
    “Mia.” My back groaned as I leaned over, tucking her into my arms. “Don’t touch. That’s an ouchie.”
    I handed Mia off to Terry. “Let’s clean this up.” The broom made short work of the mess and as I tossed the bits of thirty-four year old memories into the trash can, Samantha slowly unwound. But her eyes were wary, watching my every move, calculating when I’d get angry.
    I swallowed hard once more to clear my throat. The child needed me at my best.
    “Why don’t we color now?” I grabbed the pile of coloring books I’d bought for them, and knelt down on creaking knees in the middle of the rug—well away from the tree. “Pick out a book. I’ve got enough for everyone.” And enough crayons, too. The three little boys settled in.
    Mia and Raina’s eyes began to sink. Maybe a nap was in order for them.
    I finally settled back into the recliner, pinned to my seat by the twins as their sleeping warmth weighed me down. Samantha picked up the bowls and I nodded at her. She stepped over Terry’s legs where he and the other boys sprawled on their tummies peacefully coloring away.
    My eyes were as heavy as the girls’. The soft Christmas music wove its magic through the room. I’d be ready for a silent night when Cherie came to collect this crew.
    I jerked awake. The doorbell had roused me, but it didn’t ring a second time. Samantha had opened the door to a blast of chill, damp air and Cherie’s smiling face.
    “What a peaceful scene!” She lifted Mia off my lap as Samantha grabbed Raina.
    “Won’t you take your coat off and warm up?”
    “No. It’s high time I take this menagerie home for the day. Besides, you helped me finish up in record time by keeping them occupied. Nothing like Christmas shopping with the little grasping hands everywhere.” Cherie’s smile deepened. “You’re a good friend for helping out this way.”
    Jo-Jo tugged at his mother’s jacket. “Terry broke a ormanent!”
    Cherie’s eyes narrowed as she pinned the culprit in her focus.
    “I was catching Mia! She nearly climbed the tree.” His deep brown eyes were welling again. “Honest, Miss Cherie.”
    “Really, Miss Laura Grace?” Cherie’s eyes demanded truth. “Is that the way it went down?”
    Cherie’s focus shifted to Samantha’s white face as she nodded over Raina’s head.    “Samantha and Terry are great toddler wranglers.” I smiled at the two older children. “I couldn’t have managed without them.” I patted Mia’s back as she blinked sleepily from Cherie’s arms. “Think nothing of it.” My heart twinged a bit at my word’s reassurance, but it was better. Not the heartsick ache I’d expected.
    Cherie nodded, satisfied. “Okay then. Time to head ‘em up and move ‘em out.”
    “I’m not done yet.” Jamie grabbed for the box of crayons Samantha was filling.
    Jo-Jo fumbled at his pocket trying to hide a couple of crayons, but Samantha pried them loose.
    “Take the coloring books and crayons with you, boys.” I rose stiffly.
    “Can I stay and help Miss Laura Grace clean up?” Samantha looked from me to Cherie. “Please.”
    “It’s okay with me.” I smiled at her. “I could use the help. Tom did most of the cleaning. What do you say, Cherie?”
    She shrugged. “It’s okay with me if you want to. I’ll come—”
    “No, I’ll bring her home when we’re done.”
    “Okay, Laura Grace. If you say so. Let’s get this crew into their coats.”
Have a happy week among all the preparations. I'll finish this scene all the way out next Tuesday. ;-)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Babies

It's the Christmas season and I wanted to gift you with a bit of FRIENDLY FIRE. This scene is from early in the story and Laura Grace has her hands full. There's more to this, but I didn't want to overload you. I know you have gifts to buy, cooking to do, and cleaning for the holidays. ;-)

Baby-eye view of a Christmas tree

          A cold steady rain had finally lifted the fog, but Cherry Hill was still swaddled in a gray cocoon of winter. I could only hope that the waterlogged flowerbeds wouldn’t drown my mother’s iris. The painstaking digging I had done at her home place after her passing would have been in vain if it did. Maybe the rain would help them grow fat and healthy to bloom forth in all their deep purple glory next spring. I hoped so.
        Though the gray weather muted the Christmas lights on the other houses, inside my home, life bloomed, giggling and wiggling, on the sofa. I had successfully settled Cherie’s five smaller children—all seven or younger—in a line like museum statues. If the statues were alive, and all the children were. And loud. Now why had I volunteered to babysit this crew? On the surface it was to allow Cherie to Christmas shop in peace, but I knew that wasn’t the reason I had agreed. No. I was doing it to have more time with Samantha. The girl had rooted into my heart and I had to be with her. Even if it meant dealing with diapers. Cherie had assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Samantha would to the dirty work. We’d see. So far, no untoward odors had clashed with the cinnamon pine cones on the mantle.
        Peals of laughter rang off the vaulted ceiling as Jo-Jo, Cherie’s four year old, removed his finger from his nose and contemplated it cross-eyed. Samantha drew herself up, hands on hips. “Jo-Jo, that’s gross. Get a tissue.” The girl had her foster mother’s tone and stance down perfectly.
        The boy just grinned as plunged the offending booger into his mouth.
       “Eew!” Samantha squealed. “Don’t eat boogers!
        I had to grin. I’d seen worse in high school classrooms, but Samantha’s reaction was priceless.
        Terry and Jamie joined Jo-Jo on the booger hunt, causing Samantha to sputter.
        Time to stop this. I placed the tissue box on Jamie’s lap and raised an eyebrow. He obediently pulled a tissue out and wiped his finger then passed the box down the line of offending little boys.
        Mia and Raina, the two-year-old twins, pulled a tissue for each hand and began to toss them, landing one on Jo-Jo’s head. He brushed it off and began to tickle his nearest little sister.
        “Enough of that.” I collected the tissues as Samantha smirked at the little boys.
         “Miss Cherie said we had to be careful not to mess up Miss Laura Grace’s clean house.”
          Terry grinned. “Is that why the sofa is covered?” He grabbed a handful of the afghan covering the seat. “To keep the leaky girls from soaking it?”
           The twins just grinned back with their tiny baby teeth and dimples. Cherie had dressed them in matching tops. Their black hair was drawn up in two identical curly puffs. I had to grin back. Diapers or not, the girls were too cute to resist and as sweet as the tiny angels on my Christmas tree.
          “No, I keep the sofa covered to keep Sunshine from scratching it when he jumps up.”
           Terry looked around the room. “What’s a sunshine?”
           “He’s my little boy.”
           “I didn’t think you had any kids.” Wariness deepened Samantha’s eyes to navy.
           “I don’t. No grandkids either. Sunshine is my fat old cat. He doesn’t jump much anymore—just sort of scrambles up. His back claws would scratch the leather if I didn’t cover it.”
           Jamie’s eyes were round. “Where is he?”
            I knew where Sunshine was. “He’s hiding because he doesn’t like to meet strangers.”
           Raina’s squeal of “kitty, kitty” ricocheted off the ceiling and Mia joined in.
           “Not today. Let’s let him hide. He’ll get used to you and come out later. Anyway, it’s movie time.” I hit play on the remote and Disney’s latest began to play.
            The kids settled in to watch and I nodded. That took care of the next ninety minutes or so.
           “Samantha, would you like to help me with the popcorn?”
           She followed me around the breakfast bar into the kitchen where it was relatively calm. I could see the little ones on the sofa as the warm, saturated colors of the cartoon glowed from the TV. That had settled them down.
          “Get us some bowls.” I pointed to the cabinet. “While I start the microwave.”
           Samantha’s bright blue eyes followed me as she handed me the bowls. “Why don’t you have kids? Don’t you like them?” The wariness had entered her voice now.
           I closed my eyes for a moment. How many students had asked me that question over the years? I didn’t want to know. The answer hadn’t changed though. Honesty was required here just as it had been all those other times I had answered the question. I looked into her eyes. “God doesn’t always give you what you want, but He does always give you what you need.” My mouth tightened around my self-consciousness. “Tom and I wanted children and we got a lot of them by teaching—hundreds of them.”
           Her eyes widened. “Didn’t you need kids?”
           I looked at the timer as the homey, mouth-watering smell scented the air. “I thought so, but it didn’t happen. I guess I wouldn’t have been a good mother.”
          “Oh, no! You would have been a great mother!”
           “Some of my students thought so too and even called me ‘Momma Chandler’” I smiled, thankful Kerry Jones had reminded me of that sweet memory. “Let’s go share out the popcorn.”
           As much as I loved hearing Paul Newman’s voice—hearing it come out of a cartoon car just wasn’t the same. But I couldn’t show “Cool Hand Luke” or Butch Cassidy to little kids.
           Though for a couple of hours of relative quiet, I could stand it. Of course it helped if your definition of ‘relative quiet’ could stretch to include a stinky diaper, a little boy kneading his crotch because he needed to pee, two squirming toddlers, and a spilled bowl of popcorn. The children for the most part had been giggling and engrossed in the story with their hands traveling to the popcorn bowls on remote control.
           Only Samantha wasn’t watching the movie. Tension thrummed through her as she sat at my feet trying to catch every falling kernel before it hit the floor.
           I laid my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Samantha.”
           Fear shadowed her blue eyes.
           “I’ll vacuum later. It’s not a problem.”
            She sat back, but the tension didn’t go completely. The child was still reacting to everything, trying to decide how she was supposed to act.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mini Book Reviews: On the Romantic Side


I don't usually read pure Romance. Nothing wrong with it--just not my cup of tea. Then again,sometimes it's just the thing I need for a quick read. Then there's the meatier ones that add in history or are women's fiction with strong romantic elements. Here's a sampling of my more romantic reads.

A SINNER IN PARADISE Deborah Hining--Women's Fiction with a healthy dose of romance
There's nothing not to like in A Sinner in Paradise. Deborah Hining has created a unique, interesting, and feisty main character in Geneva. When she has to return to her West Virginia roots, she learns what's truly important is to love yourself. Everything and everyone else seems to fall in place. This is a truly delightful read. The religious aspects of the story are so deftly handled that it never jars or gets preachy.

THE WEEK BEFORE THE WEDDING Beth Kendrick--Romance with a capital R ;-)
The Week Before the Wedding is a perfect example of what a tasty read can be when handled with characters who are 3-D. No cardboard-cut outs here. Enjoy this one when you need a light fast read.

NEVER TOO LATE Amara Royce--Historical Romance
Never Too Late is a rousing romance with a big heart for the social ills of Victorian England. Add a wonderful flip of the usual older hero/younger heroine and it moves into welcome new territory for romances. The social commentary is so integral to the main female character that it is eye-opening without being preachy. This is one historical romance that will keep you guessing. This is a must read for those who love historical romance.

Check out my interview of Amara from May 14 for more info.

IF THE SHOE FITS Amber T. Smith--Romantic Fantasy
If the Shoe Fits is a hilarious retelling of Cinderella. You'll never guess who is the fairy godmother, I promise. This is a light read that retells the old fairy tale with a mod setting.  Enjoy.

BURNING SKY Lori Benton--Historical Romance
Burning Sky is a must read! The story is deeply personal, rich in history, with captivating characters you won't want to let at the end. This is another book in which the religious beliefs of the characters are integrated with the story with no preaching--just people living their lives based on what they believe. Check out my interview of Lori on August 20 for more info.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Giving Thanks!


It's Thanksgiving week in the US and we're cleaning, shopping, baking, and cooking up a big feast. I wouldn't mind having those turkey cookies! ;-)

And I thought it was a perfect time to take stock and list a few things I'm grateful for.
  • I'm thankful for the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum and most especially for the Writers Exercises folder. I've learned all I know about craft there. Thanks, y'all. You're the best. You've helped me from my first struggling scenes to a nearly finished rough draft.
  • I'm thankful for the Women's Fiction Writers Association and all the support, resources, and friendship that finding a genre home provides.
  • I'm thankful for a few very discerning Beta Readers who helped me see that FRIENDLY FIRE Part 1 was sorely lacking in tension. Thanks John, Sara, Susan, and Deniz!
  • I'm thankful that ways to provide said tension have come to me relatively quickly. This month has seen a great new aspect being added to the manuscript.
I wish for all of you a wonderful end to November and a delicious meal on turkey day!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Return of the Mini-Reviews!

It's been eight months since my last Mini Book Review post and I've read twenty-three new books and reread at least thirty books. Yep, I eat books like popcorn. ;-) At least I have a clue how much back breaking work goes into writing a single scene much less an entire work of fiction.

It's time to share a few more good books with you. Today, I'm sticking strictly with Women's Fiction. In fact, three of these authors are my fellow members of the Women's Fiction Writers Association. All I can say is, enjoy!

The Glass Wives is a sensitive and truthful story of ex-wives, widows, and single mothers—and the children who share their lives. Amy Sue Nathan has a voice that will sweep you into its embrace. Check out my interview of Amy Sue Nathan from May 21, 2013. I'm still in awe of the intensity of The Glass Wives. This is one of those books that really make you rethink the clich├ęs about divorce and puts it into human perspective. This is a must read.

 LOUDER THAN LOVE--Jessica Topper
Louder Than Love is a "twofer". It's a masterful look at a young mother and widow's efforts to come to terms with her loss and how to live again. It's also an unconventional love story--one that will knock you off your feet. Jessica Topper's voice is refreshing and you won't think you've read this one before, because it's an amazing blend of library science and rock and roll. This is a must read.
BECALMED--Normandie Fischer
Becalmed is another truly unique combination of ideas and experiences. The main character--Tadie Longworth--is a jewelry maker, experienced sailor, and (in one of those loaded Southern terms) a spinster. She faces growing older with her old jerk of a boyfriend back in town when she meets a fellow sailor whose little girl steals her heart. Stuck between the old and the new, she's becalmed in a stew of what might have been and what could be. This is a delightful look at what a hurricane can blow in. Becalmed is a delightful read.
THE WISHING HILL--Holly Robinson
The Wishing Hill explores what happens when you think you've run away from your past, only to find that it is creeping up on you when you least expect it. This is a haunting story about recognizing the truth that our lives are made up of many choices and experiences. To live fully, we have to accept the good and the bad. The Wishing Hill is a lovely read.
I promise you can't go wrong with any of these books. So, if you're hunting a good read to keep you comfortable during the long winter nights ahead, check them out!
I promise to not let eight months go by without another installment of mini-reviews. In fact, I hope to do one a month for a while...or more often. Happy reading! ;-)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cherry Hill's Autum Finery and An Annoucement

As the nights turn chilly, the plants and trees start the process of bedding down for the winter. Cherry Hill's trees are fast on the way to their brief moment of glory, dressing out in gold, orange, scarlet, burgundy, and yellow. The bushes are sharing their berries and the squirrels scurry to collect the acorns and pecans for those long winter months.




May your fall be bright and your winter cozy.

Check my new job: WFWA Write-A-Thin Program Coordinator
I'll be working with Catherine Vignolini to help WFWA members to keep working. The main push will be in January. Do you have any writing tips or great quotes to share? We'll need one a day. ;-)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sorry About That...

I had planned to do more author interviews, but real life and my writing have gotten in the way. I plan to get back to them later. Meanwhile, I'll try to put together another list of mini-reviews soon.

It's also been limiting my visits to other blogs. I miss reading all of your lovely posts. :-(

There are a lot of meaningful goings on in my writing life at the moment. Among them are:
  • New critique group--In late September I took part in one of WFWA's workshops. This one was all about Critique Groups. The express purpose of the workshop was to get us all on the same page when it came to critiquing and assigning us to groups. Now I get the excitement of reading three new friends' work. Check out Kristena Tunstall, Jeannine Everett, and Jess Ferguson's blogs.

  • Editing of FRIENDLY FIRE--And as always, I'm working on getting a complete manuscript together for my WIP FRIENDLY FIRE. Currently, I'm working on a huge hole in Part 2. Send good vibes my way, why don't you?
So, if you've got some spare time to lend me, I'll jump on it. ;-)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's Getting Colder...

It's getting colder and the leaves are starting to turn. My doggies are cuddling up to they mommy and daddy more and more. I love it! What better excuse is there to wrap up and read a good book...or three. ;-)

My babies, Casey and Max, agree wholeheartedly.

Maybe we need to sit with daddy...

Or maybe my blankie will be enough...

Ah. Mommy's lap is just right. ;-)

But if you're like me, you need no excuses to read. Though if you have to convince someone else that you aren't wasting time, try the Benefits of Reading for some new reasons to read. I thought you might like them as much as I do.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Once the Book is Written...

Every time one of my friends asks how the book is going and I say I'm closing in on a complete draft, they inevitably say, "Oooh! When will I be able to buy it?" (sigh) And I have to explain to them that it doesn't work that way. But for some reason, their eyes glazed over after I explain the differences in macro and micro edits. How long it can take to find an agent, writing loglines, queries, synopses, etc. All on the top of producing a complete and polished final (if there is such a thing) draft...And so it goes. I'm still at the tiniest of first steps--I'm nearly done with a rough draft.

There are other writers who have explained that so well and one of them is my fellow WFWA member, Kerry Ann Morgan. Check out her latest blog post--I've Entered the Fight...er...Submission Club. She tells the truth with such comedic flair!

Also check out this announcement. The Bookshelf Muse has moved to Writers Helping Writers and celebrating with a great give away.

Part 1--Dreams is now in complete rough draft stage. Currently it's being read by some fabulous writers and non-writers to see if it makes sense to anyone else but me. ;-) John has read 3 chapters and only stumbled on one sentence. Guess what? He was right, it needed moved. (Have I reminded you lately that I love that man?)

And I have a potential logline or one sentence that sets up the story's beginning.
When a retired, childless widow meets a troubled foster child and steps into the breach, she realizes abuse is rampant in her home town—and she’s at ground zero.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sometimes You Just Have to Laugh

Sometimes you find truth and sometimes you find TRUTH! This is the latter. (My favorite truths are # 1, 5, 12, 23, and especially 31.)

Enjoy. ; )

33 Untold Truths Writers Know All Too Well

I'm taking a workshop at WFWA and loving the give and take. I'm so glad I found that group. If you write Women's Fiction, come an join us at Women's Fiction Writers Association.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


You know that feeling you get when you read something that really turns your head, makes you see your life and stories in a new light, and realize you've been looking at everything the wrong way? Well, I'm having that feeling since I read Kathryn Craft's post at Writers in the Storm. Check out Turning Whine into Gold: Surmounting Obstacles. It's opened up a new theme in my WIP FRIENDLY FIRE.

In FF's original form--MOTHER'S DAY--was all about Laura Grace and her childlessness.  Every part of the story at that time was about how and why Laura Grace became a mother. In fact, Samantha was little more than a placeholder child. That was until I couldn't keep from learning more and more about Samantha's story and the idea of abuse being friendly fire, that those closest to us inflict our deepest wounds. Child abuse is a prime example since the great majority of victims are abused by people in their families and neighborhoods--those who should be protecting the child, not preying on them. That new focus forced LG's motherhood into the background.

But after reading Craft's post, I realized that both themes need to run parallel lines in the story. LG has a deep well of motherhood that was not allowed expression in the normal journey most people take. She is childless after 30+ years of happy marriage and a career of teaching has only touched the tip of the iceberg of what she has buried inside. The obstacles to motherhood looked insurmountable. Then Samantha, a child with needs so deep that only a mother with an endless reserve to call on can provide the mothering she needs. And a match made in Heaven was created.

Needless to say, I'm trilled. I've already begun to add this new insight into my WIP, so if you think I'm a bit distracted, I might be. ; )

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Get Ready!

October will be here next week and with it will come ocean-deep skies to get lost in, crisp cool mornings, and the skittering of dry leaves across the ground. The birds and animals know what to do--they're preparing for winter. Squirrels hide innumerable nuts, the butterflies are sucking in nectar and laying eggs, and the birds are eating us out of house and home at the feeders. All of them know they have to be ready for the change that is coming.

copyright Zan Marie Steadham 2013
Writing is no different. A lot of us are preparing for the annual marathon of NaNoWriMo. Not me.  I know my limits and how slowly I write, but I do try to ride on the coattails of my buddies who do push to put up as many words as possible every year. I find that if I've prepared, I can add a lot of words to my manuscript. October is the perfect prep month. I'm going to try to get my soggy middle to stop darting all over the place like a bucket of minnows. If I'm really lucky, one of those darting ideas will pan out to be a tasty way to go to tighten the story and fill in the holes my summer reread found.

Wish me luck! And good luck to all of you who are planning to attempt 50,000 words during November.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Debut Books

All writers want to know the feeling of having their debut novel finally out in the world.  Can you imagine the feeling of seeing your long hard work finally available for others to read? Of course there have to be a few nerves, too. Imaging wondering about how your baby will be received. Someday I hope all of this is more than just my imagination. Someday I hope to join the list below. If you're hunting a good read, try some of these. ;-)

Jessica Topper debuts with LOUDER THAN LOVE today. I haven't read Jessica's debut yet, but it's intriguing.

The rest of these are all great books and I do hope you take the time to check them out.

And a great review of THE GLASS WIVES that explores THE GLASS WIVES meets THE GODFATHER. How provocative can you get! I interviewed Amy Sue Nathan about her debut novel on May 21, 2013

If you're interested in Historical fiction, try Lori Benton's BURNING SKY (interviewed on August 20, 2013) or Kerry Lynne's PIRATE CAPTAIN (interview on March 12, 2013). Check out the review of THE PIRATE CAPTAIN by the Historical Novel Society.

Or if you're more into Romance, try Amara Royce's NEVER TOO LATE (interviews on May 14, 2013).

A Women's Fiction debut I'm sure you'll love is Charlotte Rains Dixon's EMMA JEAN'S BAD BEHAVIOR (interview on February 19, 2013).

And coming soon: Lara Lacombe's DEADLY CONTACT debuting on November 1. I can't wait. Check out the review at RT Book Reviews.

FRIENDLY FIRE update: I'm still moving dirt to fill in the holes my reread in July revealed. All in all, I'm very pleased with my progress. (Off to "dirty my hands" a bit more. ;-)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's here!

Women's fiction writers have a home, a place where we can chat, commiserate, celebrate, learn, and support each other--the Women's Fiction Writers Association. It's an inclusive organization for writers who create stories about a women's emotional journey. Check here for more about the WFWA.

I haven't explored everything yet, but I'm thrilled to see an extensive list of agents who represent women's fiction titles and three workshops for this fall that are free with membership and already enrolling participants. This has been along time coming, but now that the WFWA if a reality, it's far more amazing than I had imagined.

So, if you write women's fiction of any type--chick lit, stories with romantic elements, historicals, mainstream, or literary--you have a home. Come and jump in. The water's fine. ; )

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Anniversaries (and an update on FRIENDLY FIRE)

Copyright, Zan Marie Steadham
Anniversaries are lovely things when they mark happy occasions and evoke fun memories. In fact, our thirty-sixth anniversary is this week and we'll be gone for a couple of days.

I'm working hard to make another anniversary a happy one, too. In March 2008 I woke from a nap with the first scene of FRIENDLY FIRE in my head. By the end of the day, I knew the basic story outline. Mind you, the story has undergone some major revisions and thematic changes, but the story is still there. Laura Grace and Samantha have lived in my mind for five and a half years. I'm working hard to have a complete draft by the end of this year, but if I don't manage it, I do hope to be able to say the rough draft is done by the end of March 2014. That would be a fitting way to celebrate the sixth anniversary of my story, don't you think?

So, keep your fingers crossed, throw a few good thoughts and supportive prayers my way. Maybe you'll be able to celebrate that anniversary with me, too. ; )

Update: I've finished the reread corrections--all bazillion of them. ; ) I'm going to pull all the individual scenes that got noted to need additions, the scenes that are only stubs, and the scenes that exist only as jot lists for a concentrated session of "fill-in-the-blank". Keep your good thoughts coming my way and cross your fingers. ; )

This is for when you are just tied up in knots and know you don't know enough to do the job right. Ira Glass has it all explained. ; )

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What It Takes to be Published and Some Links You Might Like

Congratulations, Patty! You won a copy of BURNING SKY. Lori will be in touch with how to get it. ;-)

Nearly every time I say I'm a writer and that I'm nearing the end of a complete rough draft of my first novel, someone says, "Oh, that means we'll get to read it next year, won't we?"

Er...no. But I also know that when we read books like eating popcorn, we don't have an appreciation of what it takes behind the scenes to get the story into our hands. I know I didn't, but I do now. Here's the best explanation of what it takes that I've ever read. The author is Joanna Bourne, a RITA-winning historical romance writer who knows how to write well and has the ability to teach and explain the craft behind the words. Check out her recent post at her blog post, What to do when you've done what you do. [BTW, if you like historical romance, be sure to check out Jo's Spymaster Series. I promise you'll like them.]

So in answer to my friends' questions on when they can read FRIENDLY FIRE, it will be a while. ;-)

Here's another great post for writers who are having trouble taking the oft-said advice to "Write everyday."  This is from SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) at Red Room--There Are Only Two Things to do Every Day. Susan's excellent advice is for all writers, but especially for those who have gotten themselves tied into knots with unrealistic expectations. [Thanks, Cody, for that lovely link.]

And now for the last bit of wisdom I have to share today...In the last couple of years there has been a concerted effort by bloggers to steer away from the copyrighted images that flood the internet. This is from Lara Lancombe [whose debut book, DEADLY CONTACT comes out on November 1] who suggests:

After you run a search on Google images, click the wheel icon on the right of the page.  Then click 'Advanced Search.'  Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and you will find 'usage rights' as the last option under 'Narrow your results by.'

Click on 'usage rights' and you can tell Google to only show you images that are 'free to use, share or modify, even commercially.'

And that's what I did to get the great image for today's blogpost. ;-) [Thanks, Lara!]

And two for the road... The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors and Handy Advice. Enjoy! ;-)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Author Interview: Lori Benton and BURNING SKY

(Be sure to comment to be included in a book give away of BURNING SKY. [U.S. residents only])

 Lori Benton is another of my Books and Writers Forum buddies where we have shared critiques and words of encouragement for the last couple of years. Lori blogs at Frontier Faith & Fiction where she shares not only her writing life, but also her faith. Lori’s attention to detail and research show up in her writing and shares her resources with anyone who may be interested in reading further into the historical setting of her work. BURNING SKY is a hefty historical full of lyrical language and intriguing characters and their realistic struggles. To see what everyone is saying about this book check out this list HERE. BURNING SKY is a RT Book Review Top Pick for August.

Click to link to Amazon

 “I remember the borders of our land, though I have been gone from them nearly half the moons of my life. But who there will remember me? What I have seen, what I have done, it has changed me.
I am the place where two rivers meet, silted with upheaval and loss.
Yet memory of our land is a clear stream. I shall know it as a mother knows the faces of her children. It may be I will find me there.“

Abducted by Mohawk Indians at fourteen and renamed Burning Sky, Willa Obenchain is driven to return to her family’s New York frontier homestead after many years building a life with the People. At the boundary of her father’s property, Willa discovers a wounded Scotsman lying in her path. Feeling obliged to nurse his injuries, the two quickly find much has changed during her twelve-year absence—her childhood home is in disrepair, her missing parents are rumored to be Tories, and the young Richard Waring she once admired is now grown into a man twisted by the horrors of war and claiming ownership of the Obenchain land.

When her Mohawk brother arrives and questions her place in the white world, the cultural divide blurs Willa’s vision. Can she follow Tames-His-Horse back to the People now that she is no longer Burning Sky? And what about Neil MacGregor, the kind and loyal botanist who does not fit into in her plan for a solitary life, yet is now helping her revive her farm? In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, strong feelings against “savages” abound in the nearby village of Shiloh, leaving Willa’s safety unsure.

Willa is a woman caught between two worlds. As tensions rise, challenging her shielded heart, the woman called Burning Sky must find a new courage--the courage to again risk embracing the blessings the Almighty wants to bestow. Is she brave enough to love again?

 ZM: Lori, I’ve already ordered my mother a copy of BURNING SKY and told tons of other people about you wonderful book. Mother’s review was short and succinct—“WOW!” She’s already put in an order for all your books as they are published. ; )

 The characters are my favorite part. Willa and Neil are so real and so clear. What is your method for getting your characters so rich, nuanced, and deep?

 Lori: Thank you, Zan Marie, for your wonderful support of Burning Sky.

 As for those characters, I don’t have a method—or not one I can break down into a list of steps. But with every novel I write I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters, their backstory, what their goals are and how they will be tested, how they will grow and change, before I begin writing. It’s as if I’m mentally circling them, observing, listening, questioning, and furiously jotting down what they reveal about themselves. It might come in waves, or trickles, scattered over weeks or months, but spending as much time at that as I can before I begin writing makes for less floundering around and trying to nail that stuff down later, when thousands of words have been expended and need to be heavily revised.

 Still, no matter how much planning I do there’s nothing better than putting characters into a scene, letting them confront a challenge or setback, seeing their personalities emerge. Once I start the first draft it’s still an organic process, part intentional construction as I apply what I learned during that mental circling, and maintaining the flexibility to explore surprises when they happen on the page. It doesn’t all get done in the first draft. I continue refining those characters through many passes over every scene, right up to the three main edits that take place once the book passes into my publisher’s hands.

 ZM: That’s a lot of work, but your characters show it with their depth. When did you first encounter Willa and Neil? What drew you to their story?

 Lori: I can’t recall exactly when I first met Willa Obenchain. I’d say it was sometime around 2008, because I was definitely writing her story by 2009. Stories rarely start for me in the same way twice. With Burning Sky, I had a couple of out-of-the-blue visions of Willa, and after asking the bazillion what if and why questions we writers do (that mental circling mentioned above), I knew I had a character with a story to tell.

Neil MacGregor came along years ago, as a hero in a contemporary story with many of the same challenges as the Neil in Burning Sky. For various reasons I never finished that story. When I finally knew it was the historical genre I wanted to pursue, I couldn’t forget the character of Neil MacGregor. Thankfully he made the time leap into the 18th century with surprising ease, and I like who he became there.

What drew me to their story? It’s easier to answer what drew me to them. The story came a bit later. I’m drawn to characters who are caught in the Middle Ground, whether that’s a place on the map historically, a frontier between peoples, or an emotional place between two cultures or races or life ways. I’m not usually drawn to story first (or plot). Usually it’s character, but they’re so intertwined it’s hard to separate the two. That first flash of inspiration contains the kernels of both.

 ZM: I love your Pinterest Board for BURNING SKY! How did you get interested in using Pinterest in this way?

 Lori: Among writers in the Inspirational genre (which I write) creating Pinterest boards for novels is a popular thing for an author to do. Once I discovered this, I realized there was a place for Pinterest in my life. Until then I didn’t get the appeal. Now I create boards for clothing of the time periods I write about too, which have come in handy when the cover designer needs a visual of an outfit I’ve described in the story. Pinterest novel boards are a fun way to engage readers in our story worlds.

 ZM: Lori, your personal story is wonderful. Please share a bit about your journey to publication.

 Lori: It was long. It was winding. It taught me patience. I began writing with the notion of being published in 1991. By 1999 I’d written several novels in different genres, all of which were ultimate rejected for publication. Then I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Months later, in remission, I tried to pick up the writing again and found I was suffering what’s known as chemo fog. Long story short, I wasn’t mentally up to snuff for about five years. I stopped trying to write altogether several times. I managed to write a children’s chapter book in that time (yet another genre!) but it too was rejected across the board.

In 2004 I began researching 18th century American history. I began another novel, thinking I’d give it one more try. I finished that book, but it took years, and a very long time to edit into shape.

I attended a writers conference at Mount Hermon, in California (not my first conference by far), and met my agent there for the first time. But my manuscript was too long for her to consider at that time. I went home and back to trimming. A few months later a group of this agents authors who blog together held a contest. From submitted first chapters they would choose six finalists who they would then pass along to their agent. She would pick the winner. I figure I had nothing to lose, and this way might finally get my writing in front of this agent. I was chosen as one of the six, and out of those the agent picked mine as the winner, which meant I was able to submit the whole (drastically tightened) novel to her. She offered to represent me.

 We’ve yet to find a home for that first novel, but about a year and a half later later she sold the next two I wrote, Burning Sky being the first.

 ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Lori: I wish I had more time for reading for enjoyment. These days it’s usually the ten to fifteen minutes before I fall asleep each night, except for audio books, and I’m far less picky about genre with those. I’ll take what’s available from my library, just so I’m reading something.

James Alexander Thom is one of my favorite historical authors. His books are long, and mostly set in the 18th century (The Red Heart, Panther in the Sky, Warrior Woman, Long Knife). I’ve loved Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter, who wrote the Brother Cadfael mysteries and many more. Susanna Kearsley is another favorite (The Winter Sea, The Shadowy Horses, The Firebird).
 I prefer to read historicals, though now and then I’ll read a contemporary novel if I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. This past year I’ve been zipping through YA Distopian series on audio (and liking most of them). Like I said, I’ll take what’s available in audio, or I might never have ventured into that genre.
 ZM: What is your next book about and when can we expect to get to read it?
 Lori: My next book, The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, is set in western North Carolina (present day Tennessee), 1787-1788, during a time of upheaval in that region following the Revolutionary War. It’s available for pre-order at some online booksellers, but releases April 15, 2014.
Lori Benton was born and raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back to the 1600s. Her novels transport readers to the 18th century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history, creating a melting pot of characters drawn from both sides of a turbulent and shifting frontier, brought together in the bonds of God's transforming grace.
When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching 18th century history, Lori enjoys exploring the mountains with her husband – often scouring the brush for huckleberries, which overflow the freezer and find their way into her signature huckleberry lemon pound cake.
 Remember, if you comment and leave your email address during the next week, you’ll be in the drawing for a copy of Lori’s wonderful BURNING SKY! (Sorry, U.S. residents only.)