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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Ever-morphing Blurb--Part II


"Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God, my God; where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried."  Ruth 1:16-17 RSV

Entreat Me Not was never supposed to be a book at all, at least that was not my intention at the beginning of my "publishing career."  Originally the final three sections of Hearts Unfold, it seemed the natural place to bisect that 600-plus page monster when I finally made the agonizing decision to do so.  While I would never say that was a simple task--much like I imagine surgically separating conjoined twins--it was the best thing I ever did for Stani, Emily and myself.  What had been an ungainly volume and a sequel (Heart of My Own Heart) , became a series of three comparable volumes which actually started to attract more readers the moment they were published as such last October. But the blurb for this newly hatched edition was the hardest I'd ever tried to write.  How do you summarize the second half of a book without just giving away the end?  And how do you entice readers who, if they look ahead to Book Three, can pretty well guess where this one is going to lead?  So I wrote something I wasn't really happy with, because no matter what, even a middle child--I mean book--deserves a blurb of some kind.

It's finally time to tackle writing a new blurb, one that actually tells the reader what they're in for.  I started working on this at 5:00am, which was my first mistake, but after letting it mull around in my brain for a few hours, this is what I've come up with.  Editor/husband and cover designer/son both approve, so I'll run it up the flagpole here, and on Amazon, of course, and see what, if anything, happens.

World renowned violinist Stani Moss and country-bred Emily Haynes have bridged the distance between their worlds and fallen in love, but neither is prepared for what awaits them on the winding road to happily-ever-after.

Unexpectedly thrust into the midst of Stani's celebrity lifestyle, Emily attempts to adapt to the rigors of touring and a side of Stani she's never seen.  While striving to win acceptance from those closest to him, she must also learn to meet the needs of the man she loves and remain true to herself.  The months they spend together in his world are her first glimpse of what life as the wife of Stani Moss will be, challenging, chaotic and filled with passion and romance.

Finally free from the demands of his career, at least for a few weeks, Stani is eager to learn more about the simple life he dreams of sharing with the girl who first saved him and now loves him, but he quickly realizes that simple is not necessarily what it seems.  When tragedy is narrowly escaped, he stays on in the place he hopes to one day call home to find himself confronted with painful revelations from the past and unexpected threats to the future.  What he discovers at Valley Rise will open his eyes to the reality of a lifetime with the woman he loves and prepare him to join the community that surrounds and supports her.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What's in a Name?

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name. --T.S Eliot

I might have quoted Shakespeare, as in the title, and gone on to talk about the sweet smell of roses no matter what you call them, but today I'm much more in sympathy with the cat.  The importance of our names, the way others use them and even spell them, strikes me as worthy of consideration, perhaps not to the extent of rapt contemplation, but at least a good solid thought or two.

This was brought home to me last night, as it has been before, when one of my books received a very nice review in which the reader started off by mentioning me by name.  (I dare say if the review had not been quite so nice, the use of my name might not have given me as much of a thrill.)  In this and other similar instances, I had an immediate sense of connection with this stranger.  Recently, one of my friends who took the role of guinea pig for my first draft of Hearts Unfold, asked me if I wasn't amazed by how much has happened in the past year.  My answer was a resounding "Yes!" and I went on to say that it was equally amazing to hear from people I will likely never meet, who took the time to tell me they had enjoyed my work.  But, I told my friend, it was even more surprising that they so often called me by name as though we had actually met.  I told her I felt as though the books were making friends for me in ways I never dreamed of. 

There is undeniable power in calling someone by their "singular" name, even in the case of a name like mine which it seems was given to at least one in every twenty girls born in 1952.  I work at the front desk of a hotel, and I make a point to call my guests by name.  I also make a point of trying to spell their names correctly, which I was taught was just a sign of respect.  My husband has a habit, when giving his name, of adding "like the grape juice."  It's surprising how many times the commonest and simplest of names is given an original interpretation.  And it's not at all surprising that we all bristle just a little bit when addressed by someone else's name. 

I've lived much of my life in the deep south, where everyone knows your name, because, of course, your name is "Hon."  But I found that very quickly most people there made a point of learning my "singular" name, because once again, that's a sign of respect for each person's value as an individual. I've also lived in places where it seemed no one bothered to learn my name.  I had the feeling that since I wasn't "from there" they felt I wasn't really "there."  The difference in my sense of community in one place versus the other should be obvious.  Home is a place where you are welcomed by name, a strange land is a place where you are overlooked a stranger.

So pardon me if I get all warm and fuzzy when someone mentions me by name in the context of a review, or emails me as "Dear Karen," or "tags" me on FB when telling their friends about a book they've just read.  It touches me in much the same way to hear a reader talk about my characters as though they're as real to them as they are to me, as in "If Stani wrote letters to me like that, I'd fall in love, too!"  or "I'd like to sit down at the kitchen table with Emily for one of those ham sandwiches!"  That tells me these fictional characters are really "there" for the reader, someone whose name they will remember the next time they meet. That's recognition in the truest and most heartwarming sense of the word.  That's what binds us together not as nameless strangers, but as a community of friends, no matter who or where we are, or how we meet. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Shannon's Daughter"--What We Know So Far

I have to start off by admitting that I don't really want to write this post today.  I've had to tear myself away from a weekend of binge-writing to run a few errands this morning and before I dive back into my WiP, I promised myself I'd get this done.

I'll begin with a little update, in case you want to keep track of the actual progress on the above- mentioned work.  More and more, I think the working title will stick, so until further notice the book we're discussing is Shannon's Daughter.  I've even done some thinking about the cover, but so far my search for potential royalty-free artwork has not produced anything close.  But that's a long way from being a need, more just a curiosity at the moment.  Let's see, I'm into Chapter Eleven now and up to the year 1952 (the year I was born, just as a matter of minor interest.)  The story seems to fall naturally into sections, short periods of time, with the intervening years briefly summarized; and in each section, our main characters will meet, their relationship will shift somewhat and they will part with the hope of meeting again someday.  Or that's what seems to be happening so far.

The work is frankly very different from any I've done before and much more intense.  I've spent eight hours or more writing, actually putting words on the screen, for the past three days.  That's far more than I've done in the past and admittedly limits any participation in the real world.  But I'm so fascinated by these characters, I can't stop following them.  In a previous post I told you a little about Kendall Gregg (The New Man in My Life), and I've discussed what I knew about Peg Shannon from previous books.  It's Peg who is setting the pace now, for me and of course for Kendall, too.  And let me tell you, this girl moves faster than a New York subway train!

Getting to know Peg is kind of like being a journalist assigned to trail someone, a celebrity or a politician maybe, to do a "day in the life" human interest piece for one of those big, glossy magazines sadly becoming extinct in this era of reality TV.  Seeing her up close and in action through the eyes of a man who has more than a passing interest in her, I'm learning what a multi-layered, complex young woman she really is.  I'm not sure it's fair to say I like her yet, but I find her compelling and someone I definitely want to know everything about. 

If it were physically possible, I think I would write constantly until I reached The End, just to keep pace with Peg, to watch her mature and tell the full story of her relationships with Kendall and the other characters in her world.  Unfortunately, she has an annoying habit of forcing me to stop and do a little research now and then--keeping me honest on period details and making sure I don't get too far from the reality of life in her generation.  Thank heaven for Google and Wikipedia!  They provide most of the details I need with just a few keystrokes and then I'm back to work.  Occasionally I've had to turn to the books on our shelves, and I'm actually grateful to my husband for being such a hoarder of old textbooks and those incredibly pesky to pack and move Time-Life Series.  I'm also thankful for the old movies I've watched countless times, which have filled my mind with images now proving useful as stage sets, props and costumes. 

Realistically, I have to stop now and then to meet the needs of my fellas. They still expect a home-cooked meal at least once a day, and my cocker, Raleigh, feels I should spend a little time with him, too. Things like house-cleaning and laundry are going to be hasty if not down right neglected until I get enough of this down to catch up with the chapters already standing in line in my brain.   I'm passing pages of rough draft to my husband and son as quickly as possible, just to get their invaluable feedback from a male perspective.  Writing exclusively through the eyes of a man is new territory for me.  (There's no "head-hopping" in this book.  I still can't get direct access to Peg's thoughts, so the story is told from Kendall's vantage point.)  My son returns his pages asking for more, which is definitely a boost to my writer's fragile ego.  My husband said this morning, before I could make my typical plea for his impressions,  "And yes, I like it!"  In his role of casting director, he says currently Peg is more Natalie Wood and less the Rosalind Russell she will eventually become, whatever that means. 

So that gives you some idea of what's happening with Shannon's Daughter.  I don't want to slack on blog posts, so next time I'll try to find another topic.  Maybe the fashions and habitats of the rich and famous in the middle of the last century?  I'm chock full of that sort of fascinating trivia at the moment!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Begin at the Beginning

". . .a very special love story." 

A secret Christmas homecoming, a blinding snowstorm, and in the course of one night two shattered lives will be changed forever.

Nineteen-year-old Emily Haynes had lost almost everything she loved.  Relying on what seems to be guidance from her invalid father, she returns to her past in hopes of finding some sign toward the future.  What begins as a joyous homecoming quickly becomes a nightmare when a badly injured stranger stumbles on the scene, his brief presence threatening to alter everything she believes about herself and the plan for her life.  A less determined girl might have been shaken by such a harrowing experience, but not Emily.  She is certain she's made the right choice, so certain that in the following three years, she almost convinces herself.

Super-star violinist Stani Moss appeared to have everything, fame, fortune and a career guaranteed to bring more of the same, until one hasty decision placed it all in jeopardy.  Terrified and confused, he struggles not only to recover his former skill, but to find answers to the questions which haunt him.  Throughout his slow journey back, one image lingers in his buried memories of that fateful night--the vision of a girl he's never met.  The journey will eventually lead him to Emily, and beyond that day, everything about his life will be transformed.

Set in the years around 1970, Hearts Unfold begins the saga of two people whose paths should never have crossed, who defy the odds to create a life they can share.  The first of four volumes in the Miracle at Valley Rise Series, this novel could stand alone as a triumphant tale of romance, but there's much more to the story, as Emily and Stani reveal their pasts and strive to bridge the distance between their worlds.  Follow their progress, be entertained by their adventures, and perhaps be inspired by their unwavering belief in the transforming power of love.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Guilty Pleasures--Who'll Go First?

To paraphrase Wikipedia, guilty pleasures are things we enjoy but fear others will get a laugh out of too, at our expense. 

We all have them.  Foods, shopping binges, naughty novels, bad '80's bands.  I confess mine stem from a need, as basic as breathing, to get outside myself, to laugh or cry or sometimes both.  They take the form of music, books, movies and British sitcoms.  I gravitate towards the time-tested guaranteed-to-work variety, returning to those which have worked well for me in the past.  I'm always happy to discover a new guilty pleasure, but there's something comforting about the melody you've committed to memory or the scene where you can't resist saying to no one in particular "Here it comes, watch this. . .!"

Recently I indulged in yet another viewing of "The Way We Were."  After I'd staunched my tears and shaken off my disillusionment, I remarked to my husband that Arthur Laurentz had made me cry again.  We had the honor of sort of meeting Arthur when he was honored at the William Inge Theater Festival here in Independence several years ago, and now whenever I watch that movie, I picture him writing what he confessed to be the personally inspired screenplay, and I wish he knew how devastating that thing has been to me, over and over and over again.  The thing that I can't understand is why.  I'm not Jewish or a political activist, I've never been in love with or lost a man who looked anything like Robert Redford, and yet when Hubbell backs away from that final embrace, from me, my heart breaks right there on the streets of Manhattan every time.  It's qualifies as a guilty pleasure, I guess, letting myself be so taken in by the story that I morph completely into both of the characters every time I watch even a portion of that film.

That's the weepy variety of guilty pleasure, but I have a real penchant for the comedic variety also.  The best place to go for guaranteed belly-laughs for this sober, southern grandmother is PBS on a Saturday night.  It's sort of an emetic for me, a dosing of much needed comic relief at the close of each week. Over the years, I'm sure I've watched Mr. Humphries and Hyacinth Bucket do their thing several hundred times.  At the show's opening scene, I can recognize the episode and predict the laughs.  I never resist the opportunity to indulge because this is therapy, a defense against the nightly news and the daily budget.  John Cleese and the Fawlty Towers gang, and before that the incomparable Monty Python's Flying Circus carried me to heights (or depths depending on your cultural scale) of release from my real life woes no pharmaceutical or counseling session could hope to match. Why deny myself something which makes me feel so good, just because there's the chance someone (with a familial connection and the power to have me committed) will worry I've gone 'round the bend?

If I were to analyse my guilty pleasures, I'd probably admit to being too tightly buttoned up, too reserved to either laugh or cry often enough.  If I cried as often as necessary, I'd be one of those weepy old ladies who makes everyone else uncomfortable.  And if I let out the kind of unladylike guffaw that feels strangely natural, I'd embarrass my family for sure.  I prefer to indulge in tears while listening to the music of John Rutter or--and here's an admission--Josh Groban, who make me tear up even in anticipation.  A few hours reading P.G. Wodehouse, and I might as well have taken a month's worth of anti-depressants.  In order to rebalance my internal scale after too much reality, I'm willing to stick to the tried and true. 

What are your guilty pleasures?  Come on, now, you know you have some!  Share them here and see who can top you!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tricky Words and Tantalizing Phrases

Up until now, I've chosen to pass on the use of certain words and phrases popular with many authors today.  It isn't that my characters don't possess the same physical attributes or perform the same intimate acts, I just haven't felt the need to describe them in quite the same descriptive detail.  I fully realize this may limit my market somewhat.  I can see for myself how well those words and phrases sell.  That said, I'm confident there are readers whose imaginations are quite capable of taking them beyond the page.  They may even enjoy a scene more on their own, if the truth were known, based on their personal experiences and preferences, without the need for me to spell out every move.  All that said, while this approach has worked well for me so far, with this new venture, I find myself hovering at the edge of a verbal minefield.

In telling Peg Shannon's story, there's real potential to employ some of those words and phrases, taking my readers beyond the insinuated to the explicit.  As one reader told me when she learned I was working on this book, Peg is a woman most people will recognize, a woman today fondly known as a "cougar."  Granted, this is how we first met Peg, a mature woman attracted to a much younger man and unafraid to let desire take the lead.  That affair was implied, discussed and even dissected, but never painted in any but the broadest brushstrokes. I doubt anyone has read about it without understanding the precise nature of the relationship, yet I never even mentioned a kiss, much less the other intimacies which must have been shared.  But in telling Peg's backstory, there's real possibility for more detailed imagery, and greater risk of crossing my own boundaries.

I rarely sit down to the keyboard until the words in my head have begun to line up in more or less the order they will take on the page.  Part of my mind is constantly at work, translating scenes into sentences and playing a mental game of tossing words around until they've landed in a number of possible sequences.  Recently, a new feature has been added to this exercise, which I'm coming to think of simply as the "bleep."  Much like those annoying little sounds used to cover the offensive or ill-considered word on television, those words which land on the wrong side of my internal censor are being crossed out and returned for a more suitable replacement.  Images deemed inappropriate for general consumption are likewise being sent back to the drawing board for revision.  My vocabulary and descriptive powers are being tested as never before, and frankly, I'm loving it!

How far will I go verbally with Peg's story?  Probably no further than I've gone before.  That's the challenge, to find a way to adequately tell the tale without those tricky words and tantalizing phrases.  There's still the need, on my part, to discover the emotional and psychological basis for Peg's behavior, as well as that of her counterpart, the aforementioned Kendall Gregg.  Because I prefer characters who at least consider their choices rather than simply seizing every opportunity, there has to be a plot beyond the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake.  And there must be, as there are in life, consequences resulting from those choices, rewards as well as regrets.

So now you see the task I'm facing--to remain on the right side of that fine line I've drawn for myself, still painting a realistic and entertaining picture of a colorful woman's life without delving  too deeply into the details of her lifestyle.  There's also the little trick of, when writing the story of her past, staying within the lines previously drawn, respecting the facts already established in her future story.  I see myself tip-toeing cautiously through this one, rather than the mad and exhilarating dash I've enjoyed previously, when I gleefully followed my characters around blind curves and up dark alleys with no fear of blowing us all to smithereens.
Maybe, if I were wiser, I'd just let this one slide and develop one of the simpler plot lines dangling in my brain.  It might be safer and the outcome more predictable.  But there's some reason I'm drawn to this story, something that must need to be said, or at least something I need to try to say.  There's always the chance it won't even make it to print, that I won't be happy with the final result.  I'm willing to accept that risk, to stretch myself in the effort to bring this to life.  I've taken a number of risks in my time, and there's one thing I'm sure of.  No matter the outcome, I've learned something of value from each one.  With this book, if nothing else, I will have learned some clever new ways to skirt those tricky words and tantalizing phrases.  I may also have learned more about living, about people and about the lessons we can learn from both.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

This Old House

I should begin by saying that I've lived in more houses than I care to count.  I envy those who have made their home in the same home for decades, or in the same town for that matter.  Without ever intending to do so, it turns out I've lived a somewhat nomadic existence.  This house, in which I've lived longer than any other in my life, was not of my own choosing, but is one I will always be grateful to have known.

A little over thirteen years ago, when the world was hovering at a new millennium and Y2K was the buzz word for pending doom, my husband and I set out from our sweet but overly booked life in North Florida, pointing our self-moving van in the general direction of Kansas.  I say general direction because there is no direct route, but a choice of meandering paths connecting the two locales.  That trip we chose to go more or less north by more or less west, with the misguided idea that interstate highways are preferable to roads less traveled.  We've since rethought that notion and on subsequent trips, we've tested most of the possibilities, finally arriving at the conclusion that you can't really get there from here.

But I digress.  What I meant to tell you about was my house.  I'm afraid I most often refer to it as "mine" rather than "ours", not because I don't wholeheartedly share my life beneath this roof with John, but because I'm the one who has the more intimate relationship with its antique walls, windows, floors and eccentric systems.  John just lives here.

This house, built in 1889, began life as a flat-roofed Italianate with a wrap-around porch, a fairly simple structure without much in the way of ornamentation.  It would be unrecognizable to its first occupants today, thanks to the bizarre vision of subsequent owners who raised it off the ground, took away the porch and pitched its roof.  From what I've been able to tell during my excavations beneath a century of misguided interior decor, the smooth plaster walls were initially papered and the woodwork painted.  Since it seems these elements were meant to last the life of the house, however long that might be, any refurbishment was simply applied over the original.  Thus there were layers of paper and/or paint the thickness of sturdy cardboard on the walls, and countless coats in every color of the rainbow gluing the windows shut when I first arrived on the scene.  Add to that the sad state of the cabinet-less kitchen and the horror chambers intended to pass for bathrooms, and my husband made the gentle observation in our first days of residence that he'd been under the impression we were moving into a livable house. 

In fact, we had foolishly come to this house sight unseen.  Well, there had been the photographs, which presented a charming, but deceptively intact image of the exterior, and we'd been given a vague description of the interior, certainly nothing that did justice to its actual condition.  We came on faith and quite honestly, our faith was about to be tested.  We arrived long past dark, after days of driving cross-country, to a cold, crumbling, echoing maze of a seriously aged house.  Daunted, but too exhausted to flee, we slept on the floor that first night and the next morning, obviously still too stunned to think rationally, we moved our belongings in as if we believed we could actually live in this ruin. Once in, my weary husband declared he wasn't leaving until they carried him out on a slab.  And I declared myself in love.

You see, I have this thing about old houses.  As long as they aren't haunted, I immediately fall for them.  (This was not my first affair with an old house, although I'm convinced now it is my last.)  As I stumbled groggily around this one that first morning, I detected nothing but benign if not precisely welcoming energy.  There was an intriguing charm to the quaint (read awkward, ungainly, nonsensical) floor plan and the few original features (fifteen floor-to-ceiling windows in hopeless disrepair, a warped front door and one lonely mantelpiece) not butchered in the name of modernization through the decades.  I immediately began to picture what the house could be when loved back to life.  Frankly, in that first delusional moment, I should have been whisked off to the comfort of a padded cell.  That said, I've loved every exasperating minute of our relationship and the house has loved me back for my efforts.

Thirteen years later, we're not anywhere near finished loving this place, room by room, back to what I envisioned.  We've come a long way, though.  Now by we, understand I mean mostly me.  I did the work, while John earned the money to pay for materials and washed the dishes so I could stay on task.  You don't need the gory details.  Just suffice it to say there isn't a square inch of the walls, woodwork, ceilings and floors I haven't stripped, sanded, patched and painted, at least once and some cases twice now.  Thankfully, several years ago, fate brought my son to live with us and he has taken on the heavier chores of completely renovating bathrooms and rebuilding some of the exterior features I could never have done on my own.  The house has been vastly improved, but like all old houses, it will never stop demanding more of the same.  Meanwhile, we can now live, work and enjoy each other here, which is really all anyone needs to do in a house anyway.

I sometimes question where this house fits in the scheme of my life, whether I was actually meant to arrive here for a further course in resourcefulness, or if the house and I simply managed to forge a relationship out of mutual need, despite the odds against us.  The fact that I've been at this address for longer than any before must have some significance.  Would I have stayed this long if the house hadn't kept me so thoroughly occupied?  Were there lessons about patience and tolerance, about stewardship and frugality to be finally learned here?  There have been times when the demands of the house have provided therapy, focusing my energies away from greater concerns over which I had no control.  I often wonder what might have happened to this house if we had not been thrown together by chance.  Perhaps I should also ask what would have happened to me, had I not landed in a house like this one, offering challenges and rewards only something with its age and experience could.

 My time here has been  filled with milestones, births and deaths, unforeseen changes and even a new career.  The house has a share in all that, not merely as the place where things happened, but a participant in the events of these years we've spent together. I will never recall one without the other, I'm sure.  Of all the places I've lived, this old house has come very close to realizing that elusive dream we all have of home.  For that gift alone, I will count my time here as blessed.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Time for Blatant Self-Promotion--Who Else is Gonna Do It?

If you read my post yesterday you can just skip this one, but I'd love it if you Shared it on FB or used some other means to tell a like-minded friend or two.  Just a simple message, like TRY THIS BOOK--IT'S FREE!  or, if you've read the other books in the series and feel inclined, THESE ARE WONDERFUL BOOKS, WHY NOT TAKE A LOOK AT ONE--AT ABSOLUTELY NO COST TO YOU!

Yesterday was a wonderful give-away day!  Offered for Love climbed the .com Free Best Seller List for Women's Fiction to the mid-forties and copies were snatched up by Brits, Germans and Canadians as well.  So far today, it's holding its own at # 51. Now I'm not big on numbers, but I like to see enough books given away to ensure a few new readers for the series.  I'm well aware that many of these copies will sit unread in Kindles for months, if not forever, but some readers will actually get around to them in the near future.  With any luck, they'll like this one well enough to want to read one or two of the others. 

Like most self-published writers, I don't have a publicist or much in the way of an ad budget, and I have no experience at self-promotion.  In fact, before this whole writing thing barged into my life, I was a very private person without any desire to be otherwise.  Most of the things I've done for the sake of these books are a complete departure from the way I've lived my life for the past six decades. Just putting my face on Facebook was a move I took months to make! 

Anyway, since there's no one else to do it, here we go. 

         Today and tomorrow only, Offered for Love is FREE for Kindle! 

                      Simply click on the title directly above to go to Amazon.com, click Buy and enjoy!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Just When the End's in Sight--Again

First of all, let me tell you that this weekend, April 20-21, the Kindle version of Offered for Love is free.  So if, after reading this post, you want to take a look, it won't cost you a dime!

 If you've been here before, you may already know about Offered for Love, which is the fourth book in the Miracle at Valley Rise series.  What you may not know is that there were times I wondered if this book would ever make it to print.  Or more precisely, if it would go to print with a gaping hole where its final chapters should have been. 

Here's the thing.  Originally, when I never expected anyone to see this story other than maybe my husband and a couple of trusted friends, these four books were just one long, long book. After publishing what are now the first two books as a single volume, with Heart Of My Own Heart as a sequel, I did some serious rethinking.  The original Hearts Unfold was over 600 pages.  The paperback looked like a dictionary!  While it sold (some) and received very positive response from its limited readership, I knew in my heart it was just too long to be appealing to most readers.  So, back to the computer for months of rewriting.  I was determined to remain word-for-word true to the original as much as possible, but there's always room for improvement, so word-by-word, I went over each line.  The end result, Hearts Unfold--Book One and Entreat Me Not--Book Two gave me great satisfaction when finally published last October.  Not only did I feel the writing had been refined, and I hoped improved, but they were wearing beautiful new covers and the series had a new name, which got immediate attention from shoppers on Amazon, judging by the sudden jump in sales.  Heart of My Own Heart--(now) Book Three, remained the same except for a slight change in the front matter (those pages you skip to get to Chapter One) and a revised cover.  At the end of this volume was the proud announcement "Next in the Miracle at Valley Rise Series--Offered for Love" and the first chapter of the fourth book.  Commitment made, all I had to do was actually finish the fourth book, right?  Not a problem, since most of it, including the ending and epilogue were already written. 

And that was my mistake.  Maybe it was the knowledge that out there readers were waiting expectantly.  They were even sending me emails and messages asking when the book would be out, heady stuff for a self-publishing newbie like myself!  I got a little caught up in promoting and visiting with my readers on FB, I guess.  Then there was the inspired idea to write a Christmas piece, just a novella, for which I had an absolutely irresistible angle--a look at the characters forty years later! That went quickly, thank goodness, and Christmas at Valley Rise was ready to publish by the first of November.  By then, Christmas was coming.  I wanted to at least take a little time off to spend the holidays somewhere other that at my desk.  So I left myself an opening, holding to the "In early 2013" date for Offered for Love originally promised.  That would give me plenty of time to fill in those few remaining chapters. (Did I mention that Offered for Love for Kindle will be free this weekend?)

January rolled around and I went back to work, confident that the end was clearly in sight.  Then, on January 12, two things happened.  I came down with the flu, the good old respiratory distress, mind-numbing, aches and fever flu with a side of bronchitis, and our great-granddaughter was born-- three months prematurely.  Now the flu I could get over, thanks to modern medicine, but there's this thing I've noticed ever since I started writing.  Any kind of emotional situation, especially the kind that makes my heart hurt and sends me into "pray without ceasing" mode, is the equivalent of total writer's block.  Creativity shuts down, and any attempt to work through it is a waste of time.  The words just aren't there. This went on for over two weeks.  I told myself Valentines Day was still doable.  If I sort of sneaked back into the work, I might get published by then.  I started to see some progress.  Just a few more crucial chapters and the hole would be closed.

There came a Sunday morning, one when my husband was preaching out of town and I had chosen to stay at home. (That's a subject for another post sometime.)  I sat down at the computer and had a little chat with God, something on the order of "I'll be still and open my heart, and you pour in what I'm supposed to say here, okay?  If at all possible, we need to close this gap, this morning, without any further delay." (You already saw this coming, didn't you?)  By that night, the book was finished!

I make no apologies for believing this can and did happen.  So often, God knows when we just can't get things done and steps in.  I'm not saying he wrote those chapters, but he calmed my mind and made it possible for me to do the work I needed to do.  The writing is still mine, no better than anything I've been able to do before.  But it wouldn't have happened at all without his hand on my shoulder that day.

I'm so happy to hear what readers have had to say about this book so far.  They confirm what I felt about it, that it might touch people in a somewhat different way than the previous books have.  I know that in writing it, I tapped into experiences and emotions close to my own heart.  If--and that's a big if--this is the last time we see Stani, Emily and company, I hope I gave them a proper send-off. 

Just in case you missed the news, Offered for Love is free for your Kindle (and any number of other devices) from Amazon.com this weekend--April 20-21.  Please help yourself to a copy and tell your friends!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The New Man In My Life

Last week I went on record with a post about my latest WIP, titled for the moment Shannon's Daughter.  Now a "work in progress" is just that.  Its personality changes from day to day.  One trip to the computer, the words and images flow like a mountain spring, bubbling brightly downhill.  Next time out, the same words and images throw curves like a rookie pitcher at spring training, seeming awkward and out of control.  That erratic behaviour is precisely what keeps the writer coming back again and again, until every last word lines up in the correct order and every image has become as clear on paper as it appears in her mind.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  What I really want to talk about today is Kendall Gregg.  The name may ring a distant bell if you've read the Miracle at Valley Rise books, especially if you've gotten to Offered for Love.  There's one scene in particular where he plays an important, albeit off-stage, role.

In Hearts Unfold we learned that Peg Shannon has had a number of love affairs, the longest with a well-known English concertmaster.  In Entreat Me Not, we heard that during a visit to London, Peg may or may not be seeing a man named Kendall Gregg, who it turns out is that same concertmaster and, while their affair ended long ago, they have remained "friends."  Not until Offered for Love do we understand the trouble this man may have inadvertently caused.   So who the heck is Kendall Gregg, anyway?

I'm pleased to report that I've finally met the guy, and frankly, I think I'm in love!  Now understand that in order to write a romantic protagonist, he has to first appeal to me.  I certainly can't ask my heroine or my readers to invest in a man I find uninspiring.  Kendall Gregg has definitely measured up so far.  While on paper right now he's just twenty years old and still at Oxford, in my head I have at least the outline of his story spanning over twenty years, right up to his final profound words.  I feel quite sure we're going to have a meaningful and rewarding relationship. 

He's good looking, dark hair, blue eyes, elegantly tall and well built.  He's talented, even gifted, and yes, he's another violinist--not that I have a thing for string players, it just worked out that way.  And he's just a little bit of a rogue.  He's also sensitive and thoughtful, a man easily manipulated by a strong woman.  He's starting out to be the perfect friend turned lover turned back to friend for Peg Shannon.

It's a bit tricky writing a story when you know there are only so many ways it can end.  The series has boxed me in with regard to Kendall and Peg's future.  I didn't want Kendall to become a tragic figure, or meet an unhappy end.  Until I saw that final scene and felt content that everything turned out right for all concerned, I was a little bit leery of letting myself get emotionally involved with this man.  Now, I'm ready to let myself fall, if not head over heels, at least casually in love, a sort of summer romance you know can't really last, but one in which you can thoroughly lose yourself until the leaves begin to turn.

I invite you to check in here for updates on the progress of my--that is Peg's--relationship with this fascinating young man.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Ever-morphing Blurb

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a blurb is defined as "A brief publicity notice, as on a book jacket. [Coined by Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), American humorist.]

I'm glad to learn Mr. Burgess was a humorist, but this particular bit of humor escapes me.  Blurbs, by my definition, are  major pains in the posteriors of most authors.  When required to sum up in a concise paragraph or two the plot, characters, setting and merit of my own work, any talent I have for clever phrasing instantly evaporates.  Most of the writers I know would gladly pay to have someone else write their blurbs, if they only had a budget for such luxuries. 

That said, the one luxury we do have is the open-ended opportunity to get it right.  At least on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, with the click of a key or two, I can change up the "product description" (KDP speak for blurb) as often as I can come up with fresh inspiration.  I'm sad to report that inspiration doesn't come along too often, but today, for some unknown reason, I decided to give it a shot.  The blurb for the first book in my series was looking a little sad, a tad flat and in need of plumping up a bit.  Sort of like a well-used sofa cushion, it wasn't all that inviting anymore.  After a good half-hour of word-play, here's what I came up with. 

A secret Christmas homecoming, a blinding snowstorm, and in the course of one night two shattered lives will be changed forever.

Nineteen-year-old Emily Haynes had lost almost everything she loved.  Relying on what seems to be guidance from her invalid father, she returns to her past in hopes of discovering some sign toward the future.  What begins as a joyous homecoming quickly becomes a nightmare when a badly injured stranger stumbles on the scene, his brief presence threatening to alter everything she believes about herself and the plan for her life.  A less determined girl might have been shaken by such an experience, but not Emily.  She is certain she's made the right choice, so certain that in the following three years, she almost convinces herself.

Superstar violinist Stani Moss appeared to have everything--fame, fortune and a career guaranteed to bring more of the same, until one hasty decision placed it all in jeopardy.  Terrified and confused, he struggles not only to recover his former skill, but to find answers to the questions which haunt him.  Throughout his slow journey back, one image lingers in his buried memories of that fateful night--the vision of a girl he's never met.  The journey will eventually lead him to Emily, and beyond that day, everything about his life will be transformed.

Set in the years around 1970, Hearts Unfold begins the saga of two people whose paths should never have crossed, who defy the odds to create a life they can share.  The first of four volumes in the Miracle at Valley Rise Series, this novel could stand alone as a triumphant tale of romance, but there's much more to the story, as Emily and Stani reveal their pasts and strive to bridge the distance between their worlds.  Follow their progress, be entertained by their adventures, and perhaps be inspired by their unwavering belief in the transforming power of love.

I know I have no objectivity when it comes to a book I've spent much of the past two years writing.  I can only hope these paragraphs give a potential reader some clue as to the story I've tried to tell.  This blurb will have a chance to work it's magic, assuming it has any, of course, in the next few months, because for the moment, there's nothing more I can think of to say. 

I'd love to have your comments on this or any of my posts!

What Gain. . .?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  Ecclesiates 3:1

You probably know the verses.  You've at least heard the song.  You know about a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time for war and a time for peace, and so on.  The final verse is a more practical question.  What gain has the worker from his toil?

Much like life itself, Ecclesiastes is filled with deep, mysterious and often rhetorical questions, ideas to ponder without any guarantee of a straight answer.  Something of a downer, right?

On the other hand, those questions leave open the opportunity to test first one and then the other possibility.  Is this my time to put down roots, or to pull up and start again somewhere else?  What if I'm close to tears tonight, there may be something to laugh about tomorrow, there usually is.  Even in the midst of mourning, there is cause to dance, to celebrate a life well-lived.  Heavy stuff, but then heavy happens, even in the best of times.

The question the song leaves out, that final point about gain, is the one on my mind just now.  We work for a variety of reasons.  First of all to survive, to provide the essentials.  With luck, we work at something we enjoy, something which brings satisfaction along with the paycheck.  We work for a sense of self-worth, for the knowledge that at the end of the day we contributed our share. Maybe we work to keep away boredom, to be in the company of others, or just because working is what we've always done.  Plenty of retirees go right on working at some kind of job, paid or otherwise, because it would seem unnatural to stop. 

As you know if you've been here before, I've tried my hand at a lot of different things. (Check out Career Option{al} in February's archive.) These days, I'm working at being the best writer I can be.  It's a sometimes lonely job, one with unreliable pay and intermittent gratification.  I get discouraged--the majority of writers are pretty easily discouraged, from what I hear.  Then something comes along to give me hope, to restore my faith in what I've done.  Not necessarily more sales, although those are nice.  What really does it for me is the realization that someone has finished one book in the series and come back to get another.  Or those magical moments when someone I'll never meet face to face takes the time to contact me, to let me know they've enjoyed my work.

I'm not hoping to get rich or become famous. That was never my goal.  If I had a goal at the beginning of this journey, it was to finish something I started all those years ago.  Just to put words on paper.  It grew into something bigger and much scarier when I put those words out where they might actually be read.  This seems to be my time to sow, but I'm still not sure what I hope to reap from this venture.  What do I hope to gain from my time as a writer?

The answer is pretty simple, now that I think about it.  I hope to touch someone, to make them think or feel something.  I hope to move them to laughter or tears, or leave them with a little sigh of satisfaction when they reach the final page.  I know what reading has done for me all my life, the places it's taken me and the ideas it's planted.  Some of the simplest stories have left me with the most profound impressions.  If I can do that for even a few readers with these little books, I should be satisfied, shouldn't I?  The other possibility, that eventually a lot of readers will find something to enjoy, is one I can always dream about.  In the meantime, I'll be content to thankfully accept whatever this season brings and look forward hopefully to the next.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What Price Fame?

Okay, right up front, I'll admit the title of this post is a little misleading.  I am really not expecting to make it to famous in this lifetime.  What I really intend to do here is talk a little about the price of things, and in some instances, the cost of pricing things.

I once worked for a major national department store chain.  I won't name names, but you'll likely know who I'm talking about anyway.  They've been all over the financial news lately, and the story is not pretty.  Like many stores of their type, the ones that catered to middle class working families who knew the value of their hard earned dollars, this store took the X % Off Sale approach to the extreme.  Savvy shoppers, or even just the averagely intelligent shopper, routinely waited for the weekend ads to roll off the presses before rushing in to purchase the bargain of their choice.  I worked the switchboard at this particular store, and it was not at all unusual for me to get inquiries about scheduled reductions in certain departments, say from the wife whose husband was in need of a new suit.  She knew that sometime in almost any six-week period, men's suits would go on sale, and she wasn't about to drag her man in before they did.  While I was kept in the dark with regard to these matters, I'm sure there were sales clerks on the floor primed with the information.  When all else failed to close a sale, they would relinquish a "tip" in hopes of seeing them return for the "bargain."

Okay, I like a % off as well as the next person, but I also know there are built in safe guards to keep the store afloat.  We all understand mark-ups and can't really expect a retailer to sell everything below cost.  At some point we all become immune to the thrill of the bargain hunt and settle for paying a reasonable price anyway.  Or do we?  What's happened recently to the above-mentioned chain suggests otherwise.  They apparently decided the American consumer had lost interest in those glossy ads and sale banners. They took a gamble on the simple, everyday low price angle, banking on their decades-old loyal customer base.  The result has been disastrous, to say the least.  Apparently, minus the assurance that "you saved $X.xx on your purchase today," a bargain is not really a bargain.  Regardless of the value for dollar aspect of this strategy, if it hasn't been marked down from somewhere, we don't want it.  We'll take our loyal customer selves elsewhere.

Now I find myself in the business of not only writing books, but figuring out how to sell them.  As an Indy author, I'm allowed to set my own prices based on a number of factors, the most confusing of which has to be that we're talking about the value of an ebook here, ether, air, here today, gone with the press of a delete button tomorrow.  These books won't even end up in a cardboard box at a yard sale priced at a nickel each!  That one out of the way, since it's too much for my 60-year-old brain to wrap around anyway, we try to do a little research.  How much does a comparable book sell for, and does it sell?  Then again, is it really comparable, since that writer uses words and paints pictures I would never dare to, and still plan to look my grandchildren in the face.  So we try to set some realistic goals.  Am I seriously planning to make money, or just take myself to dinner and a movie once a month?  Would I prefer to sell ten books at a higher price, or twenty at a lower figure?  Since we're being realistic here, maybe I should just give them away, since after all, why would anybody in their right mind be willing to pay for the work of a complete unknown?  Obviously, this is an issue clouded by ego, emotional investment and a total lack of objectivity!  Just pick a number!  In my case, after some thoroughly unscientific experimentation, $3.99 seems to be the sweet spot for my novels.

There are plenty of wonderfully clever people out there devising brilliant strategies for writers just like me.  I read what they have to say and think that if I only spoke their language, I'd see how useful their advice could be.  (Any of you, feel free to take pity and contact me here. Just be prepared to lead me gently by the hand to that dim light at the end of the marketing tunnel.)  In the meantime, I'm sticking with the naive approach that a bargain is still enticing, and a happy reader is worth more than money in the bank. 

The point of this post is simply this--for the next three days Hearts Unfold is on sale for just $0.99!  Get yours while they last! ;0)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Here We Go Again--For Real

If by any chance you've been following this blog from day one, you know I've been hanging out at a crossroads.  When I finished Offered For Love, I promised myself I'd take a little time off, check in with my life, before starting another book.  If there was another book to be started.  Well, here we are, a short month later, and I'm at it again. 

I debated the wisdom of blogging about a work in progress.  There's the risk the story could flounder or even fizzle out completely.  There's the even greater risk of giving away too much and robbing the project of its mystique, or even worse sending potential readers running the other way.  I've decided to take the middle of the road on this one.  I'll begin here, today, and plan only to post on moments I feel might interest or enlighten you with regard to this journey. 

So here we go.  Working Title--Shannon's Daughter, which will most likely change.  For those of you who've read my books, Peg Shannon is a familiar and apparently slightly controversial character.  I've mentioned to several readers that I was considering a book about her back story, and met with mixed reaction.  One of my most loyal readers, who calls herself my #1 Fan, has expressed a dislike of Peg from the beginning and declares that she's not sure even I can make her like this woman.  Others have been more gracious, asking if, from book to book, there would be more development of Peg's relationship with a certain gentleman.  And of course, there have been a few reservedly skeptical Oh's, as if they questioned my sanity on this one.

Now let me go on record here as saying that I don't know Peg all that well.  She's one of  several characters who just walked onto the page in the beginning without my having anything in mind for them.  Nameless at first, she was just the "older woman" in Stani Moss's past.  I never expected to see her up close.  However, before many more pages, she popped up again, complete with name and some pretty impressive credentials.  I let her have her head, and I've had a certain respect for her ever since.  While she's lived mostly in context to the other characters, she's gained her own unique persona over time.  Still, I've felt she remained somewhat two-dimensional, seen only through the eyes of others most of the time.  I have to wonder how much more there might be to her.

Peg, everyone agrees, is foremost a woman who lives by her own rules.  She's an enigma in many respects, even to those who know her intimately.  She's done things at times which seemed unwise and or even immoral.  And yet she's not a bad person.  She's extremely generous and supportive, unselfishly devoted to those she loves.  Peg seems to me to be a hungry soul on a blindfolded search for the thing she craves most in her life, whatever that may be.

So what shapes a child into a woman like Peg Shannon?  We know a little about her past, vague references to her relationship with her father, the name of a past lover.  We know much of what she's done, but little about why. There's a lot of gray space around Peg, just waiting to be colored in. Once I started thinking along these sketchy lines, the story began to take shape with surprising speed.  I began to see Peg as more than two dimensional, hear her voice more clearly.  It seemed worth the effort to see where this would take us both.

So here we go again.  Chapter One and much of Chapter Two are written.  The basic plot, characters and settings are swirling in my head.  I am not an outliner!  I write by the seat of my pants.  I'll be just as surprised as any reader at some of the things that appear on the page as I go along.  Honestly, I love the process, the twists, the turns, even the downturns that lead to that wonderful place, The End.  I hope you'll come along.  I won't bore you with updates on word count and chapters.  But I'll try to keep you posted on my adventures with Peg, whatever they turn out to be.

Monday, March 4, 2013

1970, Europe, and Jan

When I was eighteen, having just aced my College Boards and about to take that walk to Pomp and Circumstance, I was presented with the unheard of (in my little village, anyway) opportunity to travel to Europe.  My mother, who'd never been outside the continental US, was the one to first grasp the possibility that I might actually undertake this rare and daring venture.  Back then, if my mother said I should do a thing, I was pretty well assured of doing it.

Fast forward past scraping together the financing, passport applications, barely signing up enough local students to qualify for the trip, the struggle to assemble a suitable wardrobe, not to mention high school graduation,  and I'm on my way.

 Firsts were hitting me from every side.  My first trip across more than one adjacent state, all the way to Atlanta, in fact.  My first time inside an airport, my first time on an airplane.  My first exposure to what seemed a hoard of younger and in large part wealthier and far more urbane teenagers, my traveling companions for the next six weeks. Was I overwhelmed?  Heck, no!  I'd been raised to think that if I wanted to do something, I could do it.  A few city kids in stunningly expensive clothes (I knew how expensive because my mother worked in a department store where that kind of thing was sold, just not to me) whose shockingly adult vocabulary I understood but would never have dared use myself, were not about to intimidate me.  I did, at least, have age on my side.  I was technically an adult, and I adopted the air of one too wise and mature to indulge in their childish games.  The fact that the games were often of a sexual nature and involved illegal drugs was beside the point. I had sense enough to know what I didn't see couldn't hurt me nearly as much as it was going to hurt them when they eventually got caught.

 My aloofness actually served me pretty well.  I think they feared I was a plant, a snitch with connections to some adult authority beyond our chaperones, who were apparently not to be feared, and they were careful to be at least polite to me.  I think they were also just a little envious because from the time we arrived in Amsterdam, I was singled out by our tour guide as the one student worthy of his companionship.  No small honor, most likely bestowed due to the fact that for a twenty-three year old man, I was the least inappropriate choice.  Jan, a Dutch graduate student, was a young man any girl could pretty quickly develop a huge crush on.  Personable, funny, at times masterful, he was tall, with longish blond hair and a striking red gold beard.  In his hippie-like uniform of rough chambray shirts and blue jeans, he walked the pavements of Amsterdam, Bruges and Paris with confident grace.  And much of the time in those first days I walked beside him.

Don't get me wrong.  I was not solely focused on Jan during those halcyon days.  I was bent on soaking up as much culture, history and art as possible, knowing this might be my one chance to do so.  He was in fact a knowledgeable guide and a serious student himself, so we shared an occasional educational moment along with our casual flirtation.  He was a perfect gentleman, a sweet and considerate companion, and when we said goodbye after two weeks, I was sad to see him go.  But all of Spain was waiting for me at that point.  I wasn't about to waste my time brooding over someone who lived a world away.  I allowed myself some pretty fantasies, hoped for a letter or call (there actually was one call) and went on with my real life, the one in which, at the end of this trip, I'd return to my humble home in a village of two hundred souls.  There were still those pesky teenagers to deal with, but even they became more tolerable as the weeks passed.  Some of them were actually bold enough to ask about Jan and what we had "had" together.  I never really told them one way or the other.  I might be that poor girl from an unheard-of speck on the map, but at least I'd acquired a little mystique during my time as Jan's friend.

I still think about him every now and then.  He was a large part of that magical experience, after all.  The fact is, our traveling companions always hold a prominent place in our memories.  The ones we share the journey with, both the good and the less so, become fixtures as surely as the streets and buildings we visit.  We take blurred photos of them standing in front of the world's great monuments, because we want to remember them as well.  I have one photograph of Jan, standing outside Schiphol Airport holding a bunch of red tulips, which he later used like a banner to lead us through the narrow streets to our student hostel that first day.  Sadly, his face is blurred.  That's all right, actually.  I remember just the way he looked to my unsophisticated eyes, the same way I remember my first sight of the all the wonders I encountered in the following days.  He's right there with Van Gogh's Sunflowers and the Eiffel Tower as one of the images I'll always treasure from the summer of 1970.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What a Character!

Now I've promised not to make this blog all about my books, but that doesn't mean I can't talk about them now and then.  I figure it only makes sense to share my experience as a writer with you, even if you never get around to reading what I've written.  After all, you might just be curious what motivates my plots or who my characters are based on, or maybe you're thinking you'd like to write that novel you've been carrying in your head for forty years.  Anyway, this is my blog, so I can write about whatever comes to mind, can't I?

At the moment, I'm not writing, or more accurately, I'm not writing about the subjects I've been so singlemindedly involved with for the past two years.  (I am working my way into another story related to the series, but that's all I'll say for now.)  Turns out, I miss my characters!  I suppose I've lived in their lives for so long, they're like friends I need to check in with occasionally.  They've become part of my family's dinner table conversations, examples of certain situations or behaviors, and I'm pretty sure they're not going to just fade away because I've left them at a particular crossroads, for the time being at least.

I want to tell you about one extremely special character--the one I never saw coming, Stani Moss.  As you know, if you've tuned in here before, the basic premise for Hearts Unfold, the first novel in the series, was one I developed over forty years ago in a short story which ended up in a file folder somewhere.  The protagonist of that story was a wealthy, powerful celebrity who happened to end up in the wrong place at the right time.  Looking back, he wasn't all that appealing, and certainly not as sympathetic as Stani turned out to be.  But here's the thing--I had no idea Stani would turn out the way he has.  For such a sweet guy, he's as stubborn as that old white mule who also proved to be something of a shocker.  (Sorry, you'll just have to read the books to find out about that one!)

In the beginning, when I was done with my little heroine, Emily, in Chapter One, I met Stani--just the way you would if you got to Chapter Two of  Hearts Unfold--as he was crawling into the back of a limo, hung over and suffering mightily from a recent tongue lashing.  I could see him clearly as far as his physical appearance, the red hair, the brown eyes, and I could sense he was a pretty tortured young soul.  But what I had in mind for him beyond the first few chapters was apparently not what he signed on for.  We spent several weeks in negotiation over his personality and character, and I admit, I lost.  I saw him as jaded, cynical and frankly a bit of a bounder.  I wanted him to fight the inevitable, resist the good that was his for the taking.  Stani seemed to see things very differently.  There was a moment, a very real-life moment, when he stood in front of me, on the computer screen anyway, and said in his warm British voice,  "My name is Stani Moss, this is what I do and this is how I do it."  I'm sure there was a gentle smile lurking behind his intense dark eyes as he said that, but honestly I was too frustrated to notice.

A good hundred pages of back and forth even I could see was going nowhere fast were gone with a touch of the delete key, and we went back to try again.  This time, I let go of my manipulative ideas, watched, listened and became increasingly fascinated by this new Stani.  Now he was easy to give voice to, I assumed because now it was his voice and not mine doing the talking.  Now it was also much easier for him to be loved by my heroine, to win her with his disarming sincerity and the beautiful prose of his completely self-dictated letters.  (A word about those letters, in case you get to them someday--one of my earliest readers questioned them, their tone and the nature of the language used, and all I could respond was that I couldn't change them because I hadn't written them.  They had written themselves!)  As things progressed, I just let Stani have his way--with the story, with Emily, and with me.  He's surprised me more than once, made me laugh and cry and cheer at times, and quite honestly, I couldn't be happier with the result!

To check out the first few chapters of Hearts Unfold, take the link on the Where to Buy the Ebooks page above to Amazon.com, where you can simply click the cover to "Look Inside" and read for absolutely free!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Recently I was tagged by author and currently world traveler Jennifer McMurrain to participate in  The Next Big Thing Blog Hop  and share information about my newly published novel, Offered for Love, the fourth installment in the Miracle at Valley Rise Series.  Please forgive me if I don't go into much detail about the plot of the series so far.  I'd rather be vague than risk dropping spoilers! 

Q. What is the working title of your book?
A.  The title Offered for Love was taken from a passage of scripture read at a wedding in one of the earlier books.  It seemed to fit the theme of the extent to which people are willing to go for the ones they love, the  changes and sacrifices they are willing to attempt, which I saw running through this phase of the story. 

Q. Where did the idea come from for the book?
 A.  Since this is the fourth in the series and picks up where the last book left off, it's fair to say much of the idea  was already in place.  Thus far, while they've faced some challenges, the principal characters have been moving ahead pretty happily.  This book deals with some deeper issues, milestones in life such as reconciliation, death and loss.  Most of my plots seem to evolve out of the history of my characters, just as most lives evolve influenced by childhood experiences and opportunities which arise in adulthood.  I wanted to tie up some loose ends, resolve some issues, before I considered moving any further ahead with the story.

Q. What genre does your book fall under?
A.  Good question!  I like the currently non-existent genre of Clean Romance.  Inspirational Romance works fairly well.  I don't think of the series as fitting precisely with current Christian Fiction.  I classify it simply as Contemporary Fiction.  It's set in the 1970's, so it could actually be classified as Historical Fiction, but since I'm a product of that same era, I chose not to!  This is a love story, first and foremost.  While I don't think it follows the typical romance formula, there are many of the same elements, boy meets girl, boy gets girl against all odds, and so on.   There are plenty of love scenes, but I prefer to leave things beyond a certain point to the reader's imagination.  (I have grandchildren, and I want them to eventually read the books without screaming "Ick!  Grandma!")  There are also a number of subplots, some romantic, some dealing with other types of relationships.

Q. Which actors would you chose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A. This question makes me laugh; because since the beginning, when my husband, who is also my editor, started reading, he's been casting the movie.  Every now and then we'll see an actor on TV who, with a change of eye and hair color, might be transformed into my protagonist, British violin prodigy turned super-star Stani Moss.  I like Eddie Redmayne with brown contact lenses, but my husband the casting director, can't see it.  There are a number of actresses around who loosely fit the description of Virginia farm girl Emily Haynes, Anne Hathaway for one, although she'd be too old by the time I sold the film rights.  Disney star Bridget Mindler is another candidate, again with a hair color change.  Some of my older characters are modeled on my classic movie heroes, Cary Grant and Gregory Peck, so good luck finding matches.  Seriously, I've never seen this as movie material.  I like to leave it to the reader's imagination to fill in the sketches and so far, that seems to be working for them.  Stani in particular has quite a little following of admirers, all of whom I'm sure see him differently. 

Q. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A.  In the second year of their marriage, a year filled with milestones in their lives and those around them, Stani and Emily Moss expand the bounds of their love for one another, while facing challenges which test their faith in the plan for their future.

Q. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
A. Self-published.  I was almost 60 when I finally got around to being a writer.  I didn't feel I had time to go the traditional route and Kindle Direct offers a great opportunity to get the work out to the public.  There are downsides to self-publishing, but so far, I'm glad I took this route.  My readership is growing steadily and the whole experience has been very gratifying, not to mention a huge education I never expected to undertake.
Q. How long did it take you to write the first draft?
A. The simplest answer to this question is about 40 years and 24 months.  I started writing what would become a series of four novels in October of 2010, but the story was conceived over 40 years earlier. I guess it took all those decades for me to reach the right time in my life to bring the story to life.  In October of 2012 the first three books were published in their current format and the fourth was about two-thirds complete.  I don't always start at the beginning and work forward: there's a lot of back and forth as I flesh out a plot.  I also stopped last October and wrote a holiday novella as a related title to the series, before I finished Offered For Love.  So, yes, my answer is about 40 years and 24 months.

Q. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A.  I don't like comparisons, but I would say if you enjoy books like Jan Karon's Mitford Series, or the novels of Maeve Binchey, you'll probably be at home with my books.  I wrote the book I wanted to read.  I enjoy character-driven stories with situations I can picture myself in. 

Q. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A.   This particular book, as an addition to the previous three in the series, was inspired in great part by readers who asked for more.  As to the inspiration for the series, I feel strongly that my faith and the life I've lived brought me to the place where I could tell this story.  There have been a number of people who encouraged me, a very special teacher, my mother and my husband.  As with everything in my life, I approached this process prayerfully, and the answers came with profound clarity at times.  As I said, the basic premise for this story was conceived over 40 years ago.  I think it's taken that long for me to learn enough about people to draw these characters and give them credible voices.  They inspire me, which may sound a little weird, but the fact is they have dictated their own development.  There have been times when I tried to make them do things they refused to do, and other times when they completely took me by surprise.  If there's a message, they're the ones who've used me to tell it, rather than the other way around.

Q. What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
A.  I've been amazed at how many times my readers have commented that they felt they were living life right along with my characters and how often they refer to them (the characters) as a family, when in fact they start out as a collection of pretty isolated individuals with no family connection to speak of.  I've also been amused by readers who commented on simple details like food or the farmhouse, which is something of a character in itself.  I tried to create a world, one not too different from places I've known in my life, in which my characters could experience what we all look for--comfort, companionship, laughter, romance and the abundance of ordinary things that add up to a full life.  If that kind of thing appeals, if a reader is looking for simple fantasy as opposed to apocalyptic, for familiar characters minus mystical powers, then this may be the read for them.


So there you have a glimpse of my blog and my writing.  I hope you'll check in here again at valleyrise.blogspot.com for more of my perspective on life, the world both large and small, and the future of my late-in-life writing career.  I also hope you'll take a look at my books.  Just click on the links  for a quick visit to Amazon.com and a "Look Inside."  Thanks to Jennifer McMurrain  author of among other works the delightful historical novel Quail Crossings, for tagging me.  Be sure to check in next week with authors Dawn Allen  and Natasha Hanova  when they share their Next Big Thing!