Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Character Traits: Why Does Laura Grace Bake?

The characters who stick in our minds the most are the ones who have identifiable actions and traits that are unique to them in the story. Some characters run their hands through their hair when upset or worried. Others fiddle with their glasses. Finding the right trait for a character is as important as their name and more important than hair and eye color.

A writer has to ask themselves: what makes my main character stand out? I got lucky with FRIENDLY FIRE'S main character--Laura Grace Chandler. She showed up in the very first scene I saw her in with her identifiable trait--her delectable baking.


“Isn’t it great, Laura Grace?” A grin crinkled my friend Jen’s eyes as she looked around the room, then she turned to me. “I didn’t expect so many foster kids, but we have enough goodies for an army. And it wouldn’t be a party without your teacakes.” 

I piled my cookies closer to the edge of the tray so the little ones could more easily reach them better. “Glad they’re a hit. You had a good idea to give the foster parents with a bit of respite.”


I've been asked many times what exactly what type of baked good tea cakes are. ;-) So, I thought you'd enjoy the recipe for Laura Grace's Tea Cakes. Thanks to my sister, Thea, I have a copy of the oldie, but goodie tea cakes we enjoyed as children.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 cups self-rising flour

Mix all ingredients except for the flour. Gradually add flour until the dough is stiff enough to roll out. Roll out and cut. Be sure to roll it out between 1/8 to 1/4 inches thick.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Don't cook until the cookies are brown. They will be too crisp and burnt on the bottom.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies depending on what shape cutter you have. Ice if you wish. Our family loved butter cream frosting.


Laura Grace has somewhere between 50 and 75 different fun cutters. Butterflies, birds, fish, leaves, Christmas trees and bells...you name it and she has it. 

Have fun baking and save me a cookie. ;-)


Thanks, Charlotte Rains Dixon, for this new mantra: Process is everything. Product happens. ;-)

Next Week: Snips and Poetry Week!


Barbara Rogan's A DANGEROUS FICTION is on sale today in paperback! Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Author Interview--Normandie Fischer

 I heard about Normandie Fischer’s debut book through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Loop in 2013 and I love both of her books. She has a fresh voice and her characters are real people full of realistic life that springs off the page. Check out her website HERE and you’ll find a multifaceted person in her own right. Besides writing, Normandie is a talented sculptor. 

With her days chock full - designing jewelry for the shop she co-owns with her best friend, sailing her sharpie, and hanging out with girlfriends - Tadie Longworth barely notices she's morphing into the town's maiden aunt. When Will, a widower with a perky daughter named Jilly, limps into town in a sailboat badly in need of engine repairs, Tadie welcomes the chance to help. Her shop becomes Jilly's haven while Will hunts boat parts, and Tadie even takes the two of them sailing. It's the kind of thing she lives for, and it's a welcome distraction from the fact that her ex-boyfriend Alex, aka The Jerk of Jerks, is back in town. With his northern bride. Oh, and he's hitting on Tadie, too.

Those entanglements are more than enough, thank you very much, so it's almost a relief when a hurricane blows into town: at least the weather can match Tadie's mood. When Will and Jilly take shelter in her home, though, Tadie finds herself battling her attraction to Will. Even worse, the feeling is mutual, tempting them all with what-ifs that petrify Will, who has sworn never to fall in love again. Mired in misunderstanding, he takes advantage of the clear skies and hauls Jilly out of there and back to his broken boat so fast, Tadie's head spins.

With the man she might have loved gone, and the man she wishes gone showing up on her doorstep, Tadie finds herself like a sailboat with no wind; becalmed, she has to fight her way back against the currents to the shores of the life, and the man, she wants.


Love conquers all?
Maybe for some people.

When Samantha flies to Italy to gain distance from a disastrous affair with her childhood best friend, the last thing on her mind is romance. But Teo Anderson is nothing like her philandering ex-husband or her sailing buddy, Jack, who, despite his live-in girlfriend, caught her off guard with his flashing black eyes.

Teo has his own scars, both physical and emotional, that he represses by writing mysteries—until one strange and compelling vision comes to life in the person of Sam. Seeking answers, he offers friendship to this obviously hurting woman, a friendship that threatens to upend his fragile peace of mind.

But not even sailing the cobalt waters of the Mediterranean can assuage Sam’s guilt for destroying Jack’s relationship and hurting another woman. Soon the consequences of her behavior escalate, and the fallout threatens them all.

Sailing out of Darkness is the haunting story of mistakes and loss...and the grace that abounds through forgiveness.


ZM: After working in a visual medium, what led you to write? Did you ever consider other genres besides Women’s Fiction?

Normandie: Although I discovered the sensory delight of molding clay a year before I wrote my first poem (at thirteen), both media have served as creative outlets during various stages in my life. I love to sculpt, to work in three dimensions, but writing allows me to see or imagine or hear or think and then conjure worlds from words: something from nothing in two dimensions. It’s also immensely portable; I couldn’t have taken clay along on our sailboat.

Stories require enlarging. I’ve been an editor, a poet, a writer of non-fiction. Suddenly, I had to dig a little deeper, to exercise uncertain muscles and keep my brain nimble. In front of me, a few keystrokes away, were new worlds, the ability to people stories and find control in an otherwise out-of-control world.

I didn’t set out to write women’s fiction. I set out to write stories. My agent first dubbed these women’s fiction because they seemed to fit better there than anywhere else. After all, they’re usually about a woman’s journey, oh, and maybe a man’s or a child’s or a town’s.

ZM: You’re books really have deep hearts that readers can connect to. Tell us about your writing journey from draft to publication.

Normandie: What a lovely thing to say, Zan Marie. I write stories that show up on my radar, a what-if from a line or two or the imagined bits of a person’s life, from pain I’ve seen or pain I’ve experienced. People have always fascinated me, which is why I loved to sculpt them and learn their stories. And I’ve always been the listener, the one others came to with their hurts and needs.

When a what-if, a bit of dialogue, or an imagined scene shows up, I write and store it on my hard drive or in a notebook for later use. I have the beginnings (or middles) for dozens of stories that I may one day complete. (Or not.) Sailing out of Darkness is actually the third full-length manuscript I wrote, and Becalmed the fourth.

Becalmed almost wrote itself. I began with a what-if from my aunt’s life and had no idea what would happen to my protagonist, Tadie, what decisions she would ultimately make. As I wrote, all sorts of lovely folk showed up in the Beaufort of my imagination, and Tadie’s choices emerged from the possibilities that opened for her and Will. And, oh, for Jilly. I loved Jilly.

Sailing out of Darkness went through various iterations before landing in its final, published form. In Version One, the story began at the wrong moment in time, because I found myself wanting to excuse Sam’s behavior and so cluttered the writing with backstory. Version Two (or three, who can remember?) fell before my husband’s scrutiny. Do you have someone like that? Someone who doesn’t scruple to tell you the truth about your work? This time, he looked over his glasses and suggested I dump the entire first half and begin in the middle.

The middle? I had thought it ready to submit. I swallowed, squinted, and reread the thing. (Yes, it felt like a thing by then.) He was right: off with its head. The almost-final version began with us there, in media res, which turned out to be the true beginning and not actually the middle of the action at all. Oh, and then some beta readers coughed at the prologue. What? More to discard? I loved that chapter! Snip, cut, sigh…

I’m a tweaker, a slasher, a rewriter, an editor, which means that my book editors finally have to snatch the copy from me with a “Don’t you dare make another change. Proofing only allowed.” It’s the perfectionist in me.

This may not be what you asked at all. I’ve just told you about the writing journey and not the publishing journey. From inception to publication took years of reminding myself that each rejection should be seen as a blessing, that each one gave me a chance to revise and rewrite, to begin a new story, which I could then revise and rewrite, again and again as I watched the years pass. And in the efforts, in the learning, I had years of sailing, of living, of loving. It’s not over until it’s over, is it? If the joy isn’t in the doing, then what’s the purpose? Yes, I longed for a published book, but, more than that, I longed—and still long--to be the best writer I can be…the best me. I wish the journey were easier. I think it is for some people, but that may be because they have less to learn than I.

ZM: I think you answered the question perfectly, Normandie!  Many of your characters are sailors. How important has the experience of sailing been to generating your stories?

Normandie:  I’m not sure the sailing itself has been crucial, but we tend to write about what we know and love, don’t we? Places—Italy, the sea, Beaufort, New York, Mexico--sometimes cry out with a “Me, me, pick me,” and I turn my head in that direction…because I must. I love boats and being on the water, feeling the breeze rush across my skin, hearing that slap of waves on the hull, experiencing the freedom of moving at a slow pace, at one with the elements. There’s peace on the water countered by moments of terror in a storm, and all provide fodder for stories.

ZM: That sounds lovely!
Normandie: Living on a boat for those years informed much of my life, as did living in Italy, as does living in the South. These influences can’t help but touch my writing, though my second Beaufort book has nothing to do with sailing, and another I’m revising has characters who run amok in Italy and the Middle East. 

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?

Normandie: Oh my, books, books, and more books. They’ve been my best friends for a lifetime. I don’t think I can pick one name—there are too many, and my favorite at this moment may not be my favorite when I pick up a new-to-me author tomorrow. I tend to read stories that consider the human condition; stories of love, be it platonic, familial, romantic, filial, or agape; stories of hope; stories that show heart and depth. I love the deep and lyrical work of Athol Dickson, the tender stories of Charles Martin, the comedy of manners of Jane Austen, an occasional suspense or mystery. Since joining WFWA, I’ve read a number of books by my fellow women’s fiction writers from which I’ve certainly discovered favorites—too many to name.

ZM: What’s next? Are you working on a new book? 

Normandie: I’m always working on a new book or revising an old one. Another of my Beaufort books is making the rounds now as I search for a new agent, and I’m rewriting my very first story, the one that garnered an award for me as the best new writer of 1994—which just shows you how long I’ve been at this. (I should never, ever have prayed for patience.) The beginning of the third Beaufort book waits on my hard drive, along with another story that’s set in Mexico. So much to do!

ZM: I need that reminder on praying for patience. ;-) Thanks for your time and wonderful stories, Normandie! 


Normandie had the best of several worlds: a Southern heritage, access to schooling in the DC area (which meant lots of cultural adventures), and several years of sculpture studies in Italy. It might have been better for her if she'd used all these opportunities more wisely, but it's possible that the imperfect and the unwise also add fodder for the artist and the writer.

Her life changed radically when she married the love of her life at an age when some would have said she was over the hill and way past her prime. (Clich├ęs often speak the truth, don't they?) A lifelong sailor, she was delighted to find that Michael also longed to cruise lovely waters, which is what they did from Northern CA to Mexico, spending too-few years in the incomparable Sea of Cortez. Sea Venture, their 50' ketch, is back home in North Carolina now because Normandie's mama needed care. Still, it's gorgeous there, too, and she can write from home as easily as she could on the boat.

Her two grown children, son-in-law, and two step-sons are handsome (or gorgeous, as the case may be), talented, and a delight. And now there's a new granddaughter in the mix--woohoo! She just wishes they lived a lot closer to home.

Look for Sea Venture's clipper bow and beautiful lines when she slips into a harbor near you.

Next week In the Shade of the Cherry Tree, is a rare fifth Tuesday of the month. I'll share an example of one of my main character's traits. See you in the Shade!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mini Book Reviews: D. Benton Frank, P. Callahan Henry, L. Penny, K. White

Writers are told that the first thing they should do to prepare to write is to read. No one can accuse me of skimping on that step. ;-)

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND Dorothea Benton Frank--Women's Fiction
I haven't read any of Benton Frank's books before and I will definitely seek out her other titles after reading Sullivan's Island. This book is a pitch-perfect rendering of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and the author's deft weaving of Susan Hamilton Hayes' live in 1963 and 1999 is a story to remember full of the history of Civil Rights and human pain.

THE STORIES WE TELL Patti Callahan Henry--Women's Fiction
This is Callahan Henry's best book to date. The deftly perfect title sets up a great stories about we tell ourselves and each other. Lovely, rich characters and true to life situations makes this a great read.

STILL LIFE Louise Penny--Mystery
The mystery and its unfolding are very good, but the constantly shifting POV was hard to read. I kept having to go back and figure out whose head I was inhabiting. I liked Inspector Gamache very much, and would read more in this series if not for the POV issue.

A LONG TIME GONE Karen White--Women's Fiction
A Long Time Gone is one of Karen White's best. The interwoven stories of three of the Walker women of Indian Mound, Mississippi is a captivating. All of the stories come together in Vivien's story of loss, redemption, and renewal.

DOOMS DAY BOOK Connie Willis--SF
This deft handling of a time travel story will keep you on the edge of your seat. Willis is a multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards winner and her craft shows through loud and clear. This isn't a new book and some of the technology is a bit dated, but that doesn't hold the story and great characters back.

Pick a book and enjoy your summer!


Next Week: Don't miss my author interview with Normandie Fischer! You'll love her books. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Setting--World Building Shouldn't be a Stumbling Block...

...but for many writers it is. I'll admit to having to learn how to physically plant my stories. I'm a dialogue first sort of writer. Setting has been one of those craft items that I've had to seek information about and make myself practice. ;-)

Instead of summarizing another blogger's post, I reblogged a great one. Here's Charlotte Rains Dixion's "Build Your Fictional World" from June 28. Charlotte is a writing teacher and coach, free-lance journalist, ghost writer and author. Her debut novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior is a delight.

Recently, I was the judge in fiction-writing contest.  My job was to review the finalists in the novel first chapter portion of the contest, and select the top four winners.  It was fascinating because every entry had a good concept for a story.


Every entry but one had viewpoint issues (a topic I'll address in a separate post soon), and the other big problem I saw in nearly every chapter was a failure to adequately develop the fictional world.

While the set-up was interesting and the characters good (though also undeveloped) what I saw over and over again was not enough care taken to fully create the world of the story.  And I don't care if you are writing a contemporary novel, an historical story, or a science-fiction novel set on another planet, every novel has a world of its own that the reader will inhabit for the length of the book.  And it's your job to write that world so that we, the reader, truly feel as if we've stepped into it.
Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  Don't rush.  In many of the contest chapters, I felt like I was being escorted through the scene in a whirlwind.  Don't be afraid to slow down, to share description and details (see #4), to evoke the senses (see #7).  I guarantee that your problem is not writing too much, but too little.  Lay it on thick and write more than you think you should and you'll come out about right.
2.  Root the reader in the scene.  A simple technique is to continually hark back to the physical world in a scene to keep the reader reminded of where she is.  Otherwise, your reader will feel like she's floating in the air.   Use simple references to accomplish this--She leaned against the counter, or He set his coffee mug down on the table.  Doesn't have to be anything fancy.
3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast.  I learned this from a friend who learned it from the late Gary Provost. When you're writing a scene that would pass slowly in real life (such as an afternoon lolling on the couch) do it quickly.  We don't need the details.  And when you're writing something that would happen really fast in real life (like a car accident), slow it way down and note every detail.
4.  Telling details are your friend. Details are what bring a scene alive, such as the red rose petal on the wood kitchen table, or the solitary raindrop sliding down a window pane as a storm begins. But, don't include every single detail, the trick is to choose the ones that will illuminate the scene.  And that's something for you to decide.
5.  Setting is more than just location.  Setting is, of course, your friend when you're creating your fictional world, because it is what your characters walk through.  But it is much more than just the lovely ocean they live beside, it is all the furniture and accessories that fill the house they live in.  And guess what else it is?  Time.  Big difference between San Francisco 1906 and San Francisco 2014.
6.  Characters interact with their worlds in unique ways.  A man who grew up in Manhattan is very different than a farmer from Iowa.  The unique worlds of characters influence them in specific ways, and in return, causes them to exist in their worlds in certain ways.  Take advantage of this.
7.  Use your senses.  Obvious, yes, but also easy to forget.  One of the least under-used senses is smell.  Noting the aromas or odors of your world can be very evocative.  And how about touch?  When was the last time your character described the feel of a fabric beneath his fingers?  Or taste?  (Which reminds me, food can be very specific to different worlds also.) We get accustomed to our primary senses of sight and sound.  Adding in the others will bolster your world.

Photo by an ciss


And now the nifty link of the month:
Nathan Bradford: How to Plan a Novel without Actually Outlining


Next week's blog is the ever popular Mini Book Review featuring Dorothy Benton Frank, Karen White, Connie Willis, Patti Callahan Henry, and Louise Penny. Don't miss it! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Poems and Snips Week

July comes in the Tuesday the first and I had to find a bit of my own words for you.

Here's a favorite poem to go with the season of gardening and in honor of my very own gardening guru, my hubby. ;-)

 Hidden Timber

Hidden timber,
Bones of a flowerbed,
Limiting untamed growth;
Producing Flowers and Beauty;
Roots directed, and
Guided deep.

Hidden man,
Bones of the soul within,
Limiting untamed whim;
Producing Honor and Courage;
Strength directed, and
Guided deep.

--Zan Marie Steadham
April 5, 2009


Here's a snip of what I've been writing for FRIENDLY FIRE this week:

“So, why did you discourage me when I wanted to help her?”
Her jaw tightened then she let out a sigh. “You’re not going to like this.”
I bit my lip. “Go on.”
Her eyes glistened with tears. “You’re on your own. Tom’s not here any more.” Her shoulders dropped. “I didn’t think you would be able to take care of her by yourself. She’s not an angel, no matter how many times you call her one.”
I stared at the dregs of my tea. 
So. That’s what she thought of me after decades of friendship. I thought she respected me. But no. All she saw was weakness now that I was without Tom.
Dragging my gaze from the tea, I met her eyes. Flames of anger rose and I felt my face heat. “Really? You think I’m so lost. After all this time—” My voice shook and I turned from her as hot tears began to roll down my face.
I rose and headed for her back door. It would be a long time before I came back. “Thanks for the tea, but I’ll leave your opinion of my abilities to help Samantha with you.”
My hand was on the doorknob when she touched my shoulder. “Laura Grace, stay. Listen to me.”
“Why? So you can make me feel like an inconsequential nothing?” I turned the knob. “Thank you, but I’ll pass.”
I was out of the door and halfway to my house, when she caught up with me. “Laura Grace! I said you’re doing a wonderful job.” Her voice shook. “You asked me why I discouraged you. I answered truthfully. Now, I know better.”


Have a safe and happy Fourth of July! ;-)