Friday, January 31, 2020

Life as Research


         Beginning to write a new book is always a fun project, but then to me the process is ongoing. As I writer, I have discovered that you never know when you will get a new idea for a story, and it's important to keep your mind open at all times.  Some of my story ideas began back in my childhood, from just a line I got from my mother when she told us about the first time she met my father. 
She was very young, but she always said that she knew she would marry him some day and she told her cousins that. I used her exact line in my romance, Home Fires Burning.   "I'm going to marry that boy some day."

      That always stayed with me and I found that as I began writing, just paying attention to events, comments and locations were all learning opportunities and could someday be used in books. My life was one big research project for writing fiction.

        When I was working as a journalist in TV and as a public relations writer, my assignments often began the same way – with research. Whether it was reading over newspaper articles or viewing past stories on a subject, I always knew that when you set out to write about a subject you needed to gather as much information as possible. And if you were writing about a person, you needed to know as much as possible about that person.



That didn’t change when I began writing fiction. The subject matter was important, but even more critical was getting to know the characters involved. If I was going to make those fictional characters move or react in the way I wanted I needed to know everything possible about them. I always say in my classes that it is easier to writer about your mother or husband than it is to write about a total stranger. You know how they might react to a situation or a setting while you would have no idea how a stranger might react. That is why I always recommend getting to know characters first, as soon as writers begin plotting their novels. The best story in the world will seem flat if the characters are flat.


And what is the best way to get to know someone? Talking to the person, of course. We’ve all heard of the benefits of interviewing our characters. We’ve even received question lists and formulas that can help us. But too often these questions don’t go far enough. We need to dig deeper. I always recommend, not just questioning someone, but spending time with that person.  If I can’t afford to spend a few hours a day hanging out with that person, how am I going to make it through the necessary weeks I will spend with that character as I get their story down on paper?


But how does that interview process work? If you’ve never done an interview, (even of your characters) how can you go about it? I actually still employ some of the processes I used when I was actively interviewing people as a journalist – whether it was over a new building project or a down home story about life on the farm. There were some things I learned to do on an interview BESIDES just asking questions. The key was to not only listen but to observe.


Here are some things you can consider as you do your character interview:


Where are you doing it? And how makes that decision – you or the character. Well, it is all up to you, but think about it. If your character is a business woman, perhaps you want to do it in her office. If she is a stay at home mom, you might choose her house or you might do it in a park as she watches the kids.


If you are doing it at the person’s house, then by all means, be nosy and curious. Now I am not saying I used to look in people’s bathroom cabinets when I did interview in homes, but as a writer you can. Think about the setting where this person lives. Is it an elegant home with everything in a perfect place? Does it look like the living room was professionally decorated? That will tell you something about this person – and it’s something YOU might be able to use in your story. Something you might not have considered otherwise. How will others see your character? Like you are him or her now? The same is true of the person’s office. Is it neat and tidy or are there personal objects all around like a bat and ball in the corner or pictures of your interview subject on the ski slopes? Is it in a tenth floor corner office with a stunning view or a cramped cubbyhole in a trailer on a construction lot? See it in your mind so that you can describe it later in your book.


If you are doing your interview in a coffee shop, is your character easily distracted by others? Does he or she nod to people or does she totally tune out the chaos around her. If you are having lunch with your character what does she order and does she cut her meat into little piece before she eats it? Okay, these may seem like extreme things to be paying attention to, but these are some of the little things you can keep in your head as you write. How would your character react if she is meeting a stranger in a coffee shop – someone she needs to get information from to solve the mystery or if she is meeting the hero for a coffee date.


Think about how your character might sound on the phone. Does being on the phone make her nervous and it is obvious she wants to get off and be finished with you? Think about who that person at the other end of the phone might be. How does their voice sound? Certain or hesitant?


Again, these are all little things, but as a journalist I was always observing and paying

attention to every detail possible. I still do that as a writer. We all need to pay attention to details because they can make a difference in how you write that character in your story. Those little details set us all apart, not just as writers, but as people, so including those small details make a difference.

            
             What about the questions for the interview? That is another area where it helps to pay close attention. I always came into an interview with a list of at least 5 to 7 questions.  But once the person began to speak, I not only took notes on what they were saying, I was writing down additional questions or posing them in my head to ask later. As you interview your characters, you should keep that in mind too. That’s why I mention that we all can get a list of overall questions to ask our characters from writing classes. 

            
             But… as you ask those questions and write down the answers, consider going off script. Think of other questions that might pertain ONLY to this character, something that might not be on that prescribed list. Look for the unusual, the unique and the quirky. Those can be some of the best answers and can make your characters stand out.

            
              And mainly, listen to those answers. Write them down and when you are stuck at a place in your book where you don’t know what might happen next, it can pay to go back and look at your interview. You might find some answers there.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Romance in the Old West

As someone who has always lived in the western part of the United States, I have been a fan of stories set in that part of the country all my life. I've always particularly enjoyed western stories. Even my books are set in the West. So naturally when I heard about author, Susan Payne's Mail Order Bride series, and her latest book, I wanted to know more.  Susan is my guest in My Writing Corner today.

        Callie St. Michaels, an orphan from New York, felt her only hope for the future was to leave her sous chef position in St Louis.  Finding a job as cook for a group of ranch hands in Sweetwater, Kansas, seemed both prophetic and serendipitous.  She can continue to practice her recipes while feeding a sizable number of hungry men.  Everyone is happy with the outcome except for one man – Seth Harrison, the owner of the ranch and Callie’s employer. 


Callie bonds with her new home – her possibly forever home if the man living in the big house can see her as anything besides a lame woman too young to be doing the job she was doing.  But she was growing to love the ranch, the people who lived there and, she feared, the man who was her boss.


Seth isn’t sure why, but he feels uncomfortable around the young woman his attorney hired as the ranch hands’ cook.  She hasn’t said anything improper, or is unable to do the work required, or is off-putting in any manner.  In fact, she is well liked by all the other employees including his own housekeeper.  So why does he get so unsettled around her?

Susan was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.  Have you always wanted to write fiction? 

I have always had ‘stories’ in my head.  Possibly like young children have imaginary friends, I had whole stories flowing.  When they were finished, I sometimes thought of the characters as if they had moved away and we couldn’t play any longer but I knew who they were and they knew me.  Later I realized I had added to their lives.  They became adults, parents and had children I would take pride in as if I had something to do with their growth and life.  Now before you write me off as more than a little odd, I do know they are fictional but like Jo in Little Women or Dopey in Snow White – these people, their foibles, wants and desires are known to me.


·       What are the challenges of being a writer?

      To leave a character hanging or longing when my own husband needs dinner or my children need counsel.  I don’t put off the real for the fictional but must wear a different hat for a while.  My stories are my escape just as I hope they are for my readers.  I want my readers to find solace or humor or a feeling of comradeship with the characters I write about. Take away some information, knowledge or wisdom without feeling they have been preached at.   

  Tell us about your road to publication. 

      Like most writers I was an over-night success after years of putting words on paper.  As I wrote earlier, I always had stories going but I never put them to paper until I was over forty.  Then my life became very busy with five children and husband who I worked beside.  We did amazing things together that I know will keep the nurses in the old folks’ home laughing.  Even I have trouble listing everything we did.  Everything but write.  Then things calmed down and I joined a local RWA chapter.  So many talented women that I talked myself into not trying since I knew I would never be as good as they were already.  I would never catch up.  I was wrong about myself.  I rejoined when I was over sixty-five and wrote five years before getting enough nerve to send anything in to be published.  I was under contract in less than a month.  So see, I was an over-night success.
   
           How do you come up with your characters?
   
      Hmmm, if you promise not to think I’m nuts, I don’t come up with my characters.  It’s more like they are there waiting for me in my mind and jump out fully grown and formed.  Usually coming to me as couples with both telling me some of their story.  How they felt, how they met, what their problems are.  I often feel like a stenographer trying to keep up with their words and descriptions.  But they stay until I do know what they want and need and then it gets all put down.  Often not as I thought it would end – although I can only think in romantic terms and they always end in happily ever after.  After all, that’s why they come to me.  To help them reach that warm, cozy place even if there is blood, sweat, and tears getting there.
   
    How do you come up with your plots?

–   Sometimes I hear or read about a place or activity and then someone will visit me from that place.  The smallest thing can set me in the desert hearing a mother curse the ever-blowing sand as she buries her child or a man wracked with remorse for taking his family into the wilderness and unknown.  Not all are angst filled but it is the reality of my character’s world that everything was far from safe.

Tell us about your latest book.  What made you write it? 

     Harrison Ranch is the first of a series of a fictional Sweetwater, Kansas.  Callie came to me.  An adult orphan who was trying to make it in a man’s world while her strengths and worth were diminished by the men surrounding her.  She only had herself – and the words of the Sisters of St. Michaels Founding Home in New York City – to make her way.  She not only makes it she helps bring others along with her.  I like her.  She’s got grit and inner courage and vulnerability that she never uses to make others feel sorry for her.  She’s a little bit of several women I have known.  Women who did fight every step of the way to end higher than anyone would have thought.  This is really Callie’s story and I’ve simply put it into print.

What are you working on now? 
      
       More historical with westerns in the forefront.  I find people who helped our country grow had to be so strong mentally and physically it seems beyond what a simple human could do.  Despite Daniel telling Emily he wasn’t the kind to marry, she was so in love with him she couldn’t help herself.  An independent woman working as a telegrapher with the railroad, she didn’t need a husband to make her life worthwhile.  But she did need a husband for the child she was carrying.  Daniel refused to marry her and knowing it was over between them she accepted Daniel’s father’s proposal of marriage in his son’s stead.  Her job and the accompanying room would be gone as soon as her employer realized she was unmarried and with child. Emily needed to make a decision.  The best decision for her child.  Nothing runs smoothly and these three will need some guidance along the way.
       
     What advice do you have for beginning writers? -

      Don’t hesitate to write if it’s in you to put stories down.  Even short ones.  I love flash fiction.  Stories of 500 to 750 words or so.  Many people ask me where should they start a story.  Start where ever you find it – you can always add onto it in either direction as you go along.  Things the reader needs to know or you merely want them to know.  Even professionals argue about where a story begins.  The main point is to put it down – on a note pad, computer, edge of the book your reading.  Where ever you can find it again.  If there are stories in you, they will come out.  Just don’t wait as long as I did.  You don’t want to end up with – “I will write a book” on your bucket list.

      How can readers find your book?

https://www.amazon.com/Harrison-Ranch-Macgregors-Order-Sweetwater-ebook/dp/B082L64NRF/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=harrison+ranch&qid=1576519188&s=books&sr=1-1

How can readers get in touch with you?

http://authorsusanpayne.com

Thank you, Susan, for being my guest and introducing us to Harrison Ranch!  Do you have any questions for Susan?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Adventure & Romance - A Great Combination


Reading a great suspense story filled with action and romance has always been high on my list of great ways to spend some time. Today in My Writing Corner, I'm pleased to introduce the latest romantic adventure from author Peggy Jaegar. Her newest book is A Pride of Brothers: Rick and like her other stories it promises to give the reader action and adventure mixed with a great love story. 


Rick Bannerman's job is to protect. An elite bodyguard and PI , he's used to denying his emotions and ignoring his feelings in order to jeep those in his care safe at all costs. When lawyer Abigail Laine becomes the target of a vengeful client, Rick slips into protection mode even though Abby refuses his help.



Four Years ago Rick Left Abby standing on a balcony alone, after walking away from a kiss that sent them both reeling. His refusal stung and Abby's sworn to forget it and him so she can shield her heart and move on with her life. But now she needs Rick's professional help and her reluctance to accept it could just cost her life.

Can these 2 stubborn and independent people put their troubled pasts behind them and learn to trust one another?

Sounds like a wonderful story, right? I wanted to know more, so of course I asked to interview the characters. Here's what they had to tell us about each other and their predicament:

Rick, tell us about your life right now. What makes you happy?
 In all honesty, I’m at my happiest kicking back and relaxing on the couch, a bowl of chips in one hand, my girl in my other and a sci-fi classic playing on the movie channel.

 What is important in your life?
Truthfully, the most important thing for me is that I never turn out like my old man. He’s currently serving life in prison for the murder of my mother, but before that he was a drunken abuser who beat the both o f us on a regular basis. I am terrified of ever losing control of myself and my temper so I don’t drink alcohol and I’ve never committed to a relationship. Relationships terrify me.

What your memory of Abigail Lane?
Well, we first met at my best friend Josh and Abby’s sister Kandy’s engagement party and when Abby walked into the room my legs got wobbly. All that gorgeous long, midnight back hair was falling down and tickling her waist and her beautiful blue eyes were laughing. When we were introduced and shook hands, I swear my arm felt a shock all the way up to my shoulder. This was one gorgeous woman and I wanted to get to know her better and hopefully talk her into bed.

How did she originally come into your life and leave it? 

Well, she’s not gonna leave it. Not if I have anything to say about it.

What worries you about her now?

After everything that I happened with her crazy stalker I was concerned she might have lost some of her sass and fearlessness. I didn’t have to worry, though, ‘cuz it only served to make her stronger and more committed to helping disenfranchised women and children.

Abigail, were you in love with Rick?

Lust at first sight is more accurate. The minute I met him I instinctively realized this was a man who knew his way around a woman and – Please God! – I wanted to be one of them, even for just one night.

 What drove you apart?

Well, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I got up the gumption at my sister’s wedding ( and by that I mean I’d had quite a few glasses of champagne for courage!) and cornered him on a terrace, tried to seduce him and wound up  kissing him. I thought he was pretty into it because he kissed me back like I’ve never been kissed before or since. But then he pushed me away and basically told me nothing was gonna happen between us, then bolted back inside to the wedding. We’ve kept a wide berth between us ever since.

Why do you need his help now?

I’m still not convinced I do, but my family has other opinions on the subject. One of my client’s husbands barreled into my office the other day and physically threatened me. Unfortunately, Kandy witnessed this and told her husband Josh, who told Rick. My family is like a weird communications device: telephone, telegram, tel-a-Laine. After that, the husband stabbed his wife and kidnapped his son. When his son was found, Rick seems to believe the husband is going to come after me for retribution. I don’t believe that, but Rick is an immovable force of nature when he gets an idea in his head. It’s a charming and totally annoying character trait, for sure.
 
What worries you about seeing him again? 

That I won’t be able to keep my feelings hidden from him, because even though he walked away from and left me freezing and wanting on a terrace, I still think he’s exactly the man I need. Trying to keep those thoughts from flying from my lips, or – God forbid my actions – is tantamount to climbing Mount Everest during a snowstorm: Deadly and difficult!

If you want to know more, you'll have to read on:

Here are the buy links: 


And here are the contact links for Peg if you want to know more about her and her writing:

E mmj122687@yahoo.com 

Thank you, Peggy for being my guest!  Any comments or questions for peggy?

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Trip to Another World

One doctor, one alien lover, one botanist, and one engineer on a desperate mission to save earth from human destruction.  

Book blurbs can really grab one's attention and when you read one like that, you certainly want to investigate further and find out what the story is.  That the blurb for the new book, Retaliation.

It is written by Haley Cavanaugh, and it certainly caught my interest and made me want to know more.  Haley is my guest today in My Writing Corner. She is  a military veteran, wife, and mother who is an alumna of Columbia College. She also says she is, a musical theater nut, and she loves to dive into any book that crosses her path. Haley resides with her family in the United States and enjoys spending time with her husband and children when she’s not writing. She tells us she loves to hear from her readers, and encourages you to contact her via her website and social media. That information is posted below, but first let's get more on her new book. Here is the blurb:


  Sakota saved Astraeus and her friends from certain death, but in doing so, she gained the attention of the Oreck, who will stop at nothing to destroy everything in their path.


With their ship severely damaged, Sakota and her crew land on a nearby planet and seek sanctuary while they make repairs to return home. But nothing on this perfect planet is as it appears, and Sakota soon learns they've traded one danger for another.



Hunted and targeted, will Sakota be able to carry out her mission, or will everyone she cares about be destroyed?



I don't know about you, but the blurb only got me more interested and now I know I want to read on. Let's get an excerpt:

Sakota took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s do it. We’re not going to survive if we don’t.” Hisoka and Tatiana turned around to man their consoles. She ate the last of her ration piece and slipped her hand into Astraeus’s. The escape pod reached the mouth of the black hole, then without warning, surged forward.

When Sakota was a child, long before Alistair rescued her from the orphanage in the squalid wasteland of London, the other children liked to play a game called Lights Out. In the main room where she bunked with fifteen other girls, a shaft of light streamed in from the hallway, in the same spot every night, like clockwork. The adult on night duty would check in once an hour and perform a headcount as they slept.

A few nights a week, a handful of the girls awakened and killed the hallway lights so they could scare and torture whomever they didn’t like among them. It was a powerful systematic lesson, however cruel. Sakota grew up knowing her place at the bottom rung of life. She’d never fit into the cookie-cutter type molding the upper-class girls had been bred for. She’d proved early on that she’d fight back with a vengeance when provoked, but she wasn’t certain which was worse; being preyed upon or listening to other girls’ pleas for help as she lay in the pitch-black room. The memory had stayed with her well into adulthood, as well as the countless times she could and should have stepped in to help instead of being crippled by primal fear and self-preservation. Children could be cruel. But the fear she’d experienced then was nothing, nothing, compared to being sucked into a black hole.

The escape pod whirled inside the conduit and pitched them around in a circle. They spun, at the mercy of inexhaustible energy along the black hole’s trajectory. Though she’d experienced raw fear when the Oreck had taken over the Sleipnir science vessel and killed everyone, this was different. Before, she at least had an idea what she was up against. Three razor-sharp talons emerging from claws didn’t lie. Being sucked into the black hole was like being an ant in a cyclone.

Astraeus squeezed her palm reassuringly. She turned and looked at him. They were both strapped in, tight.

Astraeus squeezed her hand. “Don’t be afraid.”

The speed of the escape pod amplified. Ribbons of light streamed past the windows like gossamer silk as the ship darted into unknown darkness. Sakota gritted her teeth. Oh, screw not acting afraid. She was terrified.

OKAY! Now, if you're ready to read on, here are the buy links.  I know I'm hooked!
 
And if you'd like to know more about Haley and her other books, here is her contact information:

Any questions or comments for Haley?

Friday, January 3, 2020

A New Year, A New Mission

With the new year upon us, let's turn our reading adventure to … well... adventure!  We need some romance added in, of course, and that is where we're headed in My Writing Corner today to start off 2020.

Mt guest today in My Writing Corner is Haley Cavanaugh. She is  a military veteran, wife, and mother. She is also an alumna of Columbia College, a musical theater nut, and she says she loves to dive into any book that crosses her path. Haley and her family live in the United States and she says she enjoys spending time with her husband and children when she’s not writing. She also loves to hear from her readers, and encourages you to contact her via her website and social media.  Her contact info is below. 

Her newest book is Retaliation. It  promises adventure in another world and I know I'm ready to go visiting between the pages!


One doctor, one alien lover, one botanist, and one engineer on a desperate mission to save earth from human destruction.

Sakota saved Astraeus and her friends from certain death, but in doing so, she gained the attention of the Oreck, who will stop at nothing to destroy everything in their path.



With their ship severely damaged, Sakota and her crew land on a nearby planet and seek sanctuary while they make repairs to return home. But nothing on this perfect planet is as it appears, and Sakota soon learns they've traded one danger for another. 


Hunted and targeted, will Sakota be able to carry out her mission, or will everyone she cares about be destroyed?


Want more ?  Let's get an excerpt!

Sakota took a deep breath. “Okay. Let’s do it. We’re not going to survive if we don’t.” Hisoka and Tatiana turned around to man their consoles. She ate the last of her ration piece and slipped her hand into Astraeus’s. The escape pod reached the mouth of the black hole, then without warning, surged forward.

When Sakota was a child, long before Alistair rescued her from the orphanage in the squalid wasteland of London, the other children liked to play a game called Lights Out. In the main room where she bunked with fifteen other girls, a shaft of light streamed in from the hallway, in the same spot every night, like clockwork. The adult on night duty would check in once an hour and perform a headcount as they slept.

A few nights a week, a handful of the girls awakened and killed the hallway lights so they could scare and torture whomever they didn’t like among them. It was a powerful systematic lesson, however cruel. Sakota grew up knowing her place at the bottom rung of life. She’d never fit into the cookie-cutter type molding the upper-class girls had been bred for. She’d proved early on that she’d fight back with a vengeance when provoked, but she wasn’t certain which was worse; being preyed upon or listening to other girls’ pleas for help as she lay in the pitch-black room. The memory had stayed with her well into adulthood, as well as the countless times she could and should have stepped in to help instead of being crippled by primal fear and self-preservation. Children could be cruel. But the fear she’d experienced then was nothing, nothing, compared to being sucked into a black hole.

The escape pod whirled inside the conduit and pitched them around in a circle. They spun, at the mercy of inexhaustible energy along the black hole’s trajectory. Though she’d experienced raw fear when the Oreck had taken over the Sleipnir science vessel and killed everyone, this was different. Before, she at least had an idea what she was up against. Three razor-sharp talons emerging from claws didn’t lie. Being sucked into the black hole was like being an ant in a cyclone.

Astraeus squeezed her palm reassuringly. She turned and looked at him. They were both strapped in, tight.

Astraeus squeezed her hand. “Don’t be afraid.”

The speed of the escape pod amplified. Ribbons of light streamed past the windows like gossamer silk as the ship darted into unknown darkness. Sakota gritted her teeth. Oh, screw not acting afraid. She was terrified.

Okay, if you want more, you'll need to buy the book!  And it sounds like it's worth it!  Here are the buy links:























Thank you, Haley, for visiting today and taking us away to another world in the new year!  Any comments or questions?

Cooling off with Summer Romance

With the summer heat fully upon us, it is time for something to cool us off, and why not look to ta sweet world of ice cream!  When mixe...