Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wonderland Winter Weddings

 Today in my hometown newspaper they printed the following snippet from 100 years ago, on December 24, 1909.

'Many marriage licenses have been issued at the courthouse to couples who have chosen the Christmas season to wed. Up to noon today, 61 licenses had been sold this month, as compared with 35 up to the same time in December 1908.'

In doing a bit of research, apparently Christmastime was a favored time of the year to wed in the 19th century into the early 20th. My great great grandparents were wed on Christmas Day in 1862 when they eloped. 

Imagine for a moment what it must have been like to have a Christmas wedding. Holly and evergreen. Snow. A horse-drawn carriage to carry the couple away on their honeymoon. A reception coupled with the celebration of the Holiday.

To the writers who visit this blog, consider having your hero and heroine wed during the Christmas Season. Think of all you could do with this, instead of a spring wedding.
What conflict could a winter wedding add to your story? Perhaps the carriage meets with snow drifts and they have to abandon it and walk to the nearest lodgings. Perhaps a snow storm delays the grooms arrival and the bride has grown nervous that he may have left her at the alter. 

There are lots of scenarios. I think I'd have a blizzard, their struggle to join each other at the church. Or the storm delays the city clerk from opening the courthouse to issue licenses. Or that they've eloped and hurry off on a sleigh to a cabin in the snowy mountains and get stuck there for days.

Share what you would do with a winter wedding in your story.

Each photograph was taken in 1909. If you move your cursor over the photo you can get a better look at the period clothing and jewelry. The last picture is remarkably clear, as if it were taken in 2009.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Day of His Birth

The Bible does not give the actual date of our Lord's birth in either the Gospels or the Epistles. In the Old Testament scriptures, such as Isaiah, his coming is foretold. The Gospels tell us shepherds were in the fields and there was a star in the east, that magi from Persia saw and followed. These men were not kings, but men who studied the stars. Their journey did not take days, but it is clear by the gospel account that it took a long time, and that when they arrived their found the 'child' in the 'house'. This word for 'child' in Aramaic means a child that is a toddler, not an infant.

So how did we arrive at the date of December 25? It was celebrated as the winter solstice and rebirth of the Sun by the Romans. The earliest reference to celebrating Christmas is found in an illuminated manuscript dated 354 AD. In the 4th century, the Pope and Roman Catholic leaders set the date at December 25 to offset the pagan feast day.

Recently, PBS aired a documentary on the Magi. It was extremely interesting. Scholars have studied the star of Bethlehem, and by 'turning back the clock' through the years, they were able to come up with a theory as to the time of our Messiah's birth. There are two school of thought, as far as I can surmise. In the heavens that night Jupiter, the King star representative of the birth of a king, was in the constellation of Virgo - the Virgin. Thus the date these scholars have come up with is September, in the Jewish month of Tisre, during the Feast of Tabernacles, near or on the Day of Atonement. The other theory is that he was born in April during Passover, that his star was in the constellation of Aries which represented Israel. (Note: This information is based on astronomy, not astrology.)

In my family, we know December 25 is not the actual date of Jesus' birth. So, we celebrate it as a day of remembrance that he came into the world to save us from our sins, and a day for family to gather and express our love and devotion to each other.

Blessings to you throughout the Holidays.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tis the Season for Baking Traditions

 This is one of my favorite cookie recipes at Christmastime. I've made them for as long as I can remember. They were a big hit with my boys when they were little, and remain a family tradition to this day. 
Use your favorite cookie cutters. You can decorate them with sprinkles or ice them when they are cool. A tip to adding sprinkles is to brush the cookies with a bit of water and then add the candies. This recipe can be used for any holiday.

Christmas Shortbread Cookies
3 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
Mix these together in a bowl and set aside

2 sticks of butter softened.
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon of your favorite extract. (I prefer almond.)

First, using an electric mixer, blend the butter until very smooth and creamy. Then add the sugar gradually...egg, and then extract.

Add the flour mixture slowly. You can refrigerate the dough to make it easier to roll out.

Tip: To roll out the dough, lay a piece of wax paper on a counter top or table. Place some dough on it, then another sheet of wax paper. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin. Cut into shapes and lift carefully off the wax paper. 
Place on cookie sheets. Add sprinkles.

Bake at 325
10-12 minutes
Cool on a baking rack before decorating with icing.

Rita Gerlach lives with her husband and two sons in a historical town in central Maryland, nestled along the Catoctin Mountains, amid Civil War battlefields and Revolutionary War outposts. Her newest novel, Surrender the Wind, has received four stars from Romantic Times Magazine, and has been heralded by readers and book clubs as a page-turner, and one of the best historicals they've read this year.

Rita's Website:

An inspirational historical romance makes a great gift. Best price of the year for Surrender the Wind. 

You have my permission to copy and paste this post to your blog. Let's pass on the recipe and a good book.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Agents. Writing. Heroines.

One reason I started this blog is I wanted to share the step-by-step adventure of getting published. I think I did a pretty good job of giving my readers the facts of what happens after you sign a publishing contract. It was an eye-opener! And it was fun! I had no idea what it would be like, and so I figured neither did my fellow aspiring authors. 

So now, I'm moving along in a new path, a new experience. I've been writing for years, and now I have a literary agent that is in my corner, in my ring, coaching me, routing me on, rubbing down my aching muscles (figuratively), putting me back in the ring and keeping me on my feet. That's right. Writers keep your feet on the ground.

So now, InSpire too will be moving in a different path. I'll be blogging about my experience with my agent, in such a way that you will know what to expect when you are offered representation.

Let me begin by saying my agent is first class. She is approachable, kind, friendly, and I felt a connection to her that was a sheer joy. You all know about queries, the etiquette of approaching agents, and the agent search. What happens when an agent replies to you with an offer of representation? Well, first you will probably sit stunned for a few days until it starts to sink in that this is real. You'll receive copies of the contract in the mail. I signed four and sent them back.

It's sinking in now. My heart is beginning to really race that this is for real. I had a phone chat last week with Diana, and when she asked me who I liked to read, I stumbled. I finally got out 'Marylu Tyndall' and 'classics'.  But I failed to say Liz Curtis Higgs is one I greatly admire. Phillip Lee Williams is a favorite secular historical fiction author who I think is the next Mark Twain with his Jenny Dorset novel, as good as John Jakes with his Civil War novels. I kind of froze, and said I pick books out by the back cover blurb. Doe!

We discussed the series I want to write and I gave her a deadline of six months for the first book. However, the sooner I write, polish, and finish it, the sooner she can begin to rep it out there to editors. 

I went out and bought a thick spiral notebook, labeled it 'Before the Scarlet Dawn', and began writing. I already had 30,000 words in my Word document, so I picked up from that point. I've been writing everyday, all day for almost over a week, by hand, and have several chapters written in rough draft. Tomorrow I'll transcribe them to my word doc, edit and revise. I'm going to have this book finished sooner than six months. Writing scenes out by hand for some reason causes my brain to visualize and write faster.

The awesome thing about having an agent like Diana is I now have time to write, instead of sending out queries, proposals, and manuscripts. How wonderful!
My feet are now held to the fire in many ways. Get the books written...but written well. I promise to give my readers a series that will keep them glued to the pages until they read 'the end'. 

If I were to chose actress to play the heroines in this Dusk to Dawn series, they would be the following:

Anne Hathaway as Eliza Breeze Morgan

Natalie Portman as Darcy Morgan (Eliza's daughter in Book 2)

Billie Piper as Sarah Cameron (Book 3) 

Tell me what kind of visual these photos give you of the heroines by posting your comments. What kind of temperament do they possess? What kind of woman do you think each shall be in their respective stories? Do you use visuals to help you develop your characters?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mega Book Signings - How to Pull It Off

Since mid-October, I had been posting on Facebook and Yahoo groups about a book signing event in Maryland that would bring several Christian writers together. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, that joint book signings are more profitable, more fun, and a better way to meet readers, than a solo signing.

How it came together: 
On a sunny afternoon, in mid-September, three writers met for lunch for the first time. Over cups of steaming green tea and plates of fried rice, Leah Morgan expressed her love for Christian authors and her desire to bring them and readers together in the central/western Maryland area. Wanda Dyson and I were enthused about the idea. 

Thus was born the idea of a joint book signing event at Leah's church. In one week, the event evolved from a few authors to ten. When the event day came, we had a total of seventeen authors attending. This came about by contacting authors we personally knew in the area. Most were from Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Leah's favorite author, Lisa Samson, lives in Kentucky. But that didn't stop her from letting Lisa know what she was working on and asking if she would be interested in attending. Lisa brought her bright smile, her pleasant laughter, and her talent to the Hagerstown Hometown Holiday Book Festival and sold lots of copies.

Back to the beginning. Leah approached her pastor about use of the church hall. No problem. The church was behind us one-hundred percent, and anything we needed they would try to provide. The hall was large. The church had large tables that could seat two authors each. The kitchen was right there. Clean restrooms. Lots of parking.

Leah then approached the local Christian bookstore about the event. The church had an account with them, and they could easily provide the books. However, the manager was not interested in the least. This was baffling and disappointing. If any bookstore should be supporting Christian authors it should have been this one. They were also unwilling to put flyers out or a poster up. It was unfortunate. We would have made a lot of money for that store in just 3 hours. 

Having run into a brick wall with ********** Christian Bookstore in Hagerstown, Maryland, Leah decided to approach Borders. The manager was enthused and said he knew this was something big and that Borders would want to be a part of it.  So, after going through some red tape with corporate, Borders supplied the books for the event. They ordered 25 copies per title, and had Leah pick them up and load them into her van.

Leah walked into her local Starbucks and told them about the event. Starbucks donated the coffee. The ladies in the church baked their little hearts out, and the bakery table, as you see in this photo was incredible. The proceeds went to two of the church's ministries. And a gentleman in her church printed up the flyers and posters for free.

We had gift basket drawings. A table set up with free items sent in from CBA authors from across the country, such as bookmarks, postcards, flyers, pens, and magnets. All the authors' books were set up in the middle of the room in genres. The authors' were seated two to a table all along the perimeter. The tables were covered in white tablecloths, and a Christmas tree decorated in gold added to the holiday atmosphere.

Leah contacted the local Christian radio stations, and was asked to do a live interview. Here is the link. You will learn a lot from her if you are interested in pulling an event like this off. Scroll down the page to 'Special Events' - '11/30/09 Leah Morgan.

On the day of the event, authors arrived early to set their tables up and to meet each other. We were provided with a delicious lunch, of chicken noodle soup made by Leah, hot bread and homemade apple butter.

We sold over $3000 worth of books in three hours. Authors gained new fans and new friends. It was such as success that we will have it again next year.

If you want to put an event like this together here are some tips.
1. Meet with a few authors you know that would be interested in putting an event like this together.
2. Let your author friends in the area know you are thinking of holding a book signing and if they'd be interested to let you know.  Make a list. 
3. Secure a location. A church is a perfect place to hold an event of this size. 
4. Meet with the manager of the local bookstore. Tell him/her what the event is. How many authors are attending. What kind of advertising will be done. See if they will set up an account with the church if they do not have one.
5. Acquire a credit/debit card machine from your bank. You will be charge a fee for this. But it will help, in case the bookstore cannot provide a register.
6. Make a trailer video showcasing each author and their books.
7. Make a flyer.
6. Put up a website and a blog about the event.

Solo signings are fine. But joint mega-book signings are a lot more fun for both authors and readers.

Event trivia. One of my high school classmates showed up, and she won my gift basket. We hadn't seen each other in 35 years.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Taking It One Step at a Time

I first began writing in 1989 after my cousin, a famous romance author, handed me one of her novellas at a family reunion. After reading it, I thought to myself 'I can do this'. I had always had the desire to write stories, but never the incentive. Well, I should say the incentive was overshadowed by life. I was distracted from it, and without a nudge from somewhere, it was only in the deep recesses of my mind.

In 1989, I was a new mother, and my focus was on raising my boys, being a homemaker, and a wife. But in the quiet hours when the babies were asleep, or playing quietly in their room together, I would write in my three-ringed binder. 

Years later, I had my first book published, then two more though a print on demand company. It was not a bed of roses, but I learned to separate the hard knocks from the desire to write. I decided no matter if I never got published legitimately I would continue writing stories.

Eventually the hard work and perservance paid off. In August, Abingdon Press published Surrender the Wind. This month I was offered representation by Diana Flegal at Hartline Literary Agency.

Think of your writing career like stepping stones across a muddy path. Take one step at a time. Be patient as you make your way to dry land. If you lose your balance and slip into the mud, pull yourself up, shake the mire from off your feet, and move on. When you reach dry land (publication), there will be more required off you. So be prepared for hard work and deadlines. You'll be going uphill most of the time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole

Happy Thanksgiving. Here is a recipe that is a family favorite of mine. If you are tired of the same ole' sweet potatoes with the marshmallows on top, you'll love this recipe.

Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole

3 cups mashed cooked sweet potato (about 2 1/4 pounds)
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup of skim milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 lightly beaten egg whites

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon chilled butter
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

1. Combine the first seven ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well.
2. Spoon mixture into a square baking dish coated with cooking spray

For the topping
1. Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and flour in a bowl.
2. Cut in 2 tables of butter until it resembles coarse meal. A pastry cutter works well, or a food processor.

3. Stir in chopped pecans.
4. Sprinkle over top sweet potato mixture evenly.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Yields 8 - 1/2 cup servings

I usually double this recipe if we are having a large gathering.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Well-Watered Garden

Annette Hart Kristynik has a really lovely blogspot called, 'A Well-Watered Garden'. Recently she read and reviewed my newest novel 'Surrender the Wind'.

'This book is one of the most romantic books that I've read,' Annette wrote.

If you've considered reading this novel, read Annette's full review. If it doesn't convince you, I don't know what will. 

On another note, I've decided this year that I'm going to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping online, and avoid the crowds.  How about you? Books make wonderful gifts. has 'Surrender the Wind' for $8.33. And if you buy three copies of this or a combination of books that amount to $25 you get free shipping.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas Season. I'm starting mine out this Saturday.

Book signing
Saturday, November 21
12~2 pm    Cokesbury Christian Bookstore
North Rolling Avenue
Baltimore, MD

Book Signing ~ Hagerstown Hometown Holiday Book Festival

A gathering of 16 CBA authors
Saturday, November 28
1 ~ 4 pm   Virginia Avenue Church of God
Virginia Avenue, Hagerstown Maryland 

Visit my Homepage at:

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Today, my husband and I drove down to my mother's for a visit. She'd been stuck in the house almost all week, and was itching to get out somewhere, and suggested a place to go have lunch. Hersey's Restaurant is in the heart of Montgomery County, Maryland, but off the beaten path, down a back road lined with small businesses for home improvements and across from the railroad tracks. We pulled up to an old house converted into a respite for those hungering for country fare.

Adorable inside, with poky little hallways, walls painted bright yellow and green, with antique chairs and pretty country decorations on the walls, I felt like I'd walked into a home instead of a restaurant. Hersey's prides itself in having the best homemade fried chicken with mashed potatoes in the area. And although my doctor advised against it for both of us, we ordered it with a 'let caution to the wind' attitude. It was delicious and I don't think I will have to eat for a week.

The amazing part about this jaunt was our waitress Vicki. A medium height, fifty-ish blonde, she was the only waitress in the place, and waited on the few customers, it was late afternoon, like they were family. After we had finished our meal, she chatted with us and told the most amazing story of God's mercy and grace that I think I've ever heard in person. Though her life has been full of trials, she smiled lightly and told her story with an air of thankfulness that we so lack in our self-centered society today.

Here is Vicki's story. She married young at 18, and moved with her new husband to Tennessee, to a small town where everyone knew everyone, and most were related. He wanted his children raised there, and so as a dutiful wife in love she agreed to move from Maryland to the deep south, where family ties run deep. She bore two daughters. One died this past year after a fall in a McDonald's and hitting her head. Sorrow etched Vicki's face as she told us about her precious girl, but she forced strength back into her features and went on.

Her first husband gave her a beautiful house, on the mountain, secluded from everyone and everything. He would work from home, sometimes for months, and she grew lonely, frustrated, and their marriage began to fall apart. 

She decided to leave, but made the mistake of telling the mailman, someone she trusted, someone who came to the house everyday, the only person she'd see for days on end that she thought would keep her secret. He told her mother in law, and as Vicki waited for the bus, which never came, along a lonely road in the late evening, her husband pulled up in a truck drunk, tossed her girls inside, pulled out a gun and shot her in the leg. She said it felt like fire. Then he shot her other leg and she collapsed. Next he shot her in the side, and she lay in the road with her life's blood pouring from her wounds into the dirt. 

Her body was overcome with pain, with fire, and she wanted to die. She saw the truck approaching her, and she thought for certain he was going to run her over. But he stopped in front of her and got out. Then he picked her up, carried her to the side of the road, and threw her over a cliff. She fell and rolled through dried leaves. The leaves pressed against her wounds and stanched the bleeding. Now she was unconscious.

She told us it must have been around 15 minutes later, otherwise she would have died, when a trucker came up that road, a road so less traveled. He saw a great amount of blood crossing it and thought a deer must have been struck. He stopped, got out, and went in search of a wounded animal that he thought he should put out of its misery. Instead he found a young mother left to die, laying in the leaves.

Vicki went on to say he gathered her up and put her inside the cap of his truck, all the while telling her she was too young to die and holding her close to him as he drove. He got her to the hospital just in time. She never saw him again. 

Was he an angel? Or was he a man that listened to the still small voice of God telling him he needed to stop and help a wounded deer, yes a dear child of His that needed help? It was nothing short of a miracle. I sat engrossed listening to her story. I had to share this because so many of us today feel such hopelessness and despair. Even so, God is still with us in our darkest hour. He will not forsake us, and even if things do not go the way we want them to, His will is right, He has a plan. And in the end all will be well, when He creates a new heaven and a new earth, and wipes away all tears from our eyes. When that day comes, there will be no more sorrow or death, no more crying, for all things will be made new.

Whatever you are going through, cast it all on the shoulders of Jesus. How? By going to him and saying, 'Here, Lord. You take this burden. I am not strong enough to carry it. I surrender to your will."

The house for Hershey's Restaurant was built in the 1890's and for about 90 years housed the local post office. It also served as a general store and later became the restaurant in 1952. It was run by a family named Hershey and has nothing to do with the Hershey Chocolate Company.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writer Interrupted

Wouldn't it be great if there were never any interruptions in our lives as writers? If only we could shut out the world for the day and write our hearts out. If that were reality, I know this writer would get a manuscript finished in a much shorter span of time. But alas, it is not the real world. We will face a multitude of interruptions.

Dealing with it is sometimes frustrating. But if you accept that fact that things are not going to always go the way you wish, and that your schedule is going to have stuff knocking it aside, life is easier.

I have to share with you that I've had a marvelous experience this month...a kind of revelation on what direction to take in regards to the current book I've been writing. Advice --- look at each and every bump in the road that might set you back in your story as a positive. How do I know that to be true? I've experienced it enough times to know.

I started writing Beside Two Rivers just prior to when I signed my Abingdon contract. I sent a portion of it to my editor, who graciously called me and let me know there was a problem with two characters in regards to who and what they were. Even though, their position, race, gender, etc. was historically acurate for the times, I pondered her comments and realized how wise she was in the advice she gave me. Characters are the bones of your story. Make them people your readers will care about, relate to, and come alongside during their trials.

Anyway, I proceeded to dismantle these two characters. One was transformed into an old family servant that had been with the character of Eliza since her childhood, and jouneys from England to the New World with her. The other changed completely, to a fiery red-headed indentured servant named Sarah...who may end up having her story told in a third book.

I worked through the rest of the manuscript, until by September, I was three quarters of the way finished. Then everything stopped within me. It wasn't exactly writers block...but a long pause. Then I got a comment from an editor that said the beginning read like a prologue. Hmm. Thoughts and ideas began to stir and I then realized the beginning chapters of Beside Two Rivers have to go into another novel...Eliza's story. Before the Scarlet Dawn.

What these moments of 'writer interrupted' gave me was a three-book series. The Dusk to Dawn Series. Book 1 is Eliza's story, how she struggled to gain the love and acceptance of the man she adores, her jouney in the Maryland wilderness, her lonely life when he goes off to war, the birth of her daughter Darcy, and the trials that beset her that cause her to fall from grace. Book 2 is Darcy's story, and her journey to discover the truth about her parents, and her relationship with an Englishman who is mysteriously connected to her mother. Book 3 will be Sarah's story and how she came to indenture herself. I haven't written the proposal for Book 3, but I have for Books 1 and 2. Those are with an editor of a major Christian publishing house who kindly requested them.

So interruptions can lead to developments in your writing career that are huge stepping stones. Embrace them and seek out what exactly God is leading you into. If you are quiet, humble, and listen, you'll know.

A bit more since I haven't blogged in so long.

My computer completely up and died. I backed up my manuscripts but may have lost other documents. We are hoping we can retrieve them from the hard drive.

I'll be signing books at the Cokesbury Christian Bookstore in Baltimore on Saturday, November 21 from 11:30 to 2.

I'll be signing copies of Surrender the Wind at the Hagerstown Hometown Holiday Book Festival on Saturday, November 28 at the Virginia Avenue Church of God from 1 to 4.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Writer's Saturday

After a busy week of planning for the Home for the Holidays Book Festival, and working on the new novel, I went to bed last night with a sigh that Saturday would greet me when I open my eyes again. Hubbie and I went to China Garden for lunch, one of the oldest and best Chinese restaurants in Frederick, Maryland. Afterward we headed up Route 15, a scenic drive that heads north toward Gettysburg. Our destination was Thurmont and Colorfest. Every October the entire little town has a mass yard sale. I can't believe what I got for $1.75.

Now, on the way my mind was absorbing the beauty of the farms, the fields rife with white flea bane, and the Catoctin Mountains to the left of us which are now turning with the autumn colors. You probably experience this same thing while riding down a country road. 

Yet, something caught my eye that totally distracted me from my moment of writer's euphoria. Along the side of the road I spotted a handmade sign, about the size of a yard sale sign that read 'Biscuits and Gravy'. We both saw it and said, 'Hmm. What's that all about.' Another sign approached about 10-15 yards ahead that read 'Scrapple Puddin'. We were further taken back and laughed. Then another sign. 'Liver and Onions'. Then 'Next right'.  

The signs were for Eunice's Restaurant. On the way home on the other side of the road, were the same signs. I told my hubby these people are brilliant. I bet that people pull into this little restaurant out of sheer curiosity. These are definitely not dishes in the top ten favorites. But isn't it a bit interesting they'd advertise in this way?

Back at home I did a search online and found a couple articles in local newspapers about this country cooking retreat. Five stars, and the fare was more than liver and onions and scrapple puddin'. Crab cakes and desserts to die for. And Eunice's has a page on Facebook! Wow. They urge customers to come in and try their Reeses peanut butter, key lime, and pumpkin pies, and coconut cake.

All this got me thinking about a twist in marketing. What can we as an author do similar to this, in honesty of course, to attract readers? What little signs can you put up on the electronic highway that spark curiosity? 

I'm giving it the weekend to think it over.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lavender Ladies and Purple Prose

Forget the 'Purple Prose' part. That was just to draw you in. I know I'm bad, and I apologize for that. However the 'Lavender Ladies' is a real deal. I could call them 'Shades of Lavender Ladies Book Club' due to their fab photo where each is wearing that stunning color I adore in sweaters and tops. Really, they are 'The Boyd's Book Reading Circle', and they chose Surrender the Wind for their October read.

It really touches this writers heart to hear that a book club has chosen my novel and will be discussing it. It's a bit scary too. But that's okay. 

I'm still running toward the finish line tape for Beside Two Rivers, and set my deadline for January 1. But for the last couple weeks, I am at a rapid walk instead of a sprint. A huge event is on the horizon Thanksgiving weekend that I am co-coordinating with best selling suspense author Wanda Dyson and writer Leah Morgan. It's going to be a huge book signing event in Hagerstown, Maryland, consisting of 13 authors (as of this date) some Christy Award winners. I'll let you know more later.

For now, I have to close, but not without sending my regards to the Boyd's Book Reading Circle. Thanks, ladies.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not Enough Hours

As I grow older, the days seem to go by swifter. Where they were once placid currents, they are now either cascading rapids, or deep waters. As an author, more hours seem to go into marketing and promotion than writing. I am yearning for a getaway to the mountains where I can sit and write by hand all day.

I went on a one-day trip 3 hours from my home into the western mountains of Maryland. It was beautiful and remote. We stopped at the Savage River. Four hours went by without the sound of an airplane, people, only the occassional fisherman driving down the road to the Orvis Lodge. It was so incredibly quiet and peaceful among the soft murmur of the river and the calls of chipmunks and chicadees.

I read. I prayed. I wrote one page. Just one, but it was good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

History in My Own Backyard

History surrounds me where I live in Maryland. How fortunate I am that I have Fort Frederick to the west, Fort McHenry to the east, Civil War battlefields such as Antietam, Sharpsburg, and Gettysburg nearby. My town was founded in 1745, and old houses, churches, and other buildings have been preserved with pride.

A few Saturdays ago, we drove up to Baltimore and I had the privilege to meet author Marylu Tyndall. She was in town from California to do research for a series of new novels she is writing set during the War of 1812. After galavanting around the Inner Harbor, we headed to Fort McHenry.

I was embarrassed to admit as a Marylander I had never toured the fort. It was breathtaking, especially as we stood on the high hill overlooking the harbor and watched the sailing ship, The Pride of Baltimore, glide silently as a butterfly across the water.

One thing that clung to me, besides the awesome sense of the sacrifice men made to keep our country free, was as a storyteller there must be a dramatic question to every story I write. Without a dramatic question in a novel, readers will set it down. It will not be a page turner.

A single, powerful question is what a good story is based on. It will unfold to the reader through the actions of your characters and vivid scene that grips them with cliffhangers. I will illustrate through some well known stories.

Jane Eyre: The dramatic question is will Jane find true love and acceptance and will Rodchester ever have her as his wife?

Pride & Prejudice: Will Elizabeth and Darcy see that what one thought was pride is actually a subtle insecurity, and that what the other thought was prejudice is really caution, and will they ever declare their love for each other?

Post the dramatic question of your novel where you can see each day. Practice writing is several different ways.

What is the single powerful question that is about your novel?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reader Empathy

Okay. What I'm about to write is not to toot my own horn. It is meant to illustrate the title of this blog post. So bear with me.

Sitting outside on my mother's porch last Sunday, she told me some of the comments she has gotten from her friends that are reading 'Surrender the Wind'. She said, "Inga said she is in love with Seth, and so worried about him and Juleah, that she can't put the book down. Annette said the same thing. She loves Seth too, and is worried about Juleah." She then let out a little giggle. "I know what they mean," she said. "I fell in love with him too, and I worried so much about what was going to happen to him in Juleah that I couldn't stop reading." I replied, "Thanks, mom. That's what I want to hear."

Why? you ask. Shouldn't I want to hear aculades of praise about the plot, the narrative, and dialogue. Well, sure. But here is the one thing that raps all that up into one neat package. It should be the goal of every writer to cause the reader to be worried, concerned, and attached to your characters, especially to your hero and heroine. They want to feel these emotions. I know I do when I start a novel. And if I do not, I usually do not finish the book. I must be captured by emotion. I must be drawn in so closely to the problems, the fears, the danger that the characters are in to keep me glued to the pages.

In a nutshell:

  • Strive to bring the reader to the place where they feel the emotions of your characters. Do this by action. The sweat on your hero's brow, trickling down his neck. The tension he feels as he watches danger approach.
  • Keep in mind that for most people emotions, such as empathy, are deeply felt and deeply hidden. Do not be afraid as a writer to keep it this way --- in check and in control. If your hero keeps his passion in control, let's say his desire to strike out due to mounting emotions and wait for the right time and the right place to let loose, then you will avoid banking over into melodrama
  • The greatest way to tap into your readers' empathy is by exposing your characters core emotions, no matter how deep seated they may be. While writing about the suffering your heroine is going through, perhaps she suffers privately, when she is alone, without others noticing. Something might trigger her hidden pain, either through scene or dialogue, and she opens up.
  • Think of times when you experienced rejection, a break up, the loss of a loved one, failure, danger. Write down what your felt and how you reacted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Your characters are to become real people to your readers. Drawing on your own experience is the best way to flesh out your characters, and build empathy in your readers.
Share in the comments section a novel you have read where you felt empathy so much so for the characters that you were unable to put the book down.

My list- to name just a few.

Jane Erye
Jenny Dorset
North and South
The Year of Wonder
Daughter of Liberty
The Poldark Series

Monday, August 31, 2009

City Mouse / Country Mouse

On Friday, August 28, we drove up to Baltimore's Inner Harbor to see my son play at Rams Head Live, one of the most popular band venues on the east coast. We arrived early, and walked around the harbor area. My heart pounded when viewing the USS Constellation with her tall furled masts, open portals with the canons jutting out, and her magnificent her black lacquer haul.

I looked up at the skyscrapers cluttering the skyline, alongside my husband and oldest son as we stood on the red brick pavement. No trees. No grass. Just concrete and glass made up the landscape away from the harbor. A few pigeons and sceeching seagulls, but no birds, and no bird songs. I could never live in the city.

The trip made me thankful for the little house I own on the corner of two intersecting streets. For the park behind us. For the mountains in the distance, the field of tasseled corn, the grove of evergreens, and my tall sugar maple which is showing hints of autumn coming. On Sunday morning, I stood on my deck and looked at the colors. Greens and golds. And a sky that is open and blue without the tops of tall buildings intruding upon it.

I'm reminded of the saying, 'take time to smell the roses'. What is it about the places we live? Why do some prefer the harshness and coldness of the city, and others a small town, or the country? What does it say about our personalities?

I suppose for me I want the quiet and beauty of the country. I'm not an ocean person either, though the waves crashing on a shoreline is glorious to behold. I prefer the sound of birds echoing in the forests, and the thunder of a rushing trout stream.

Why do you life where you live, and how does it affect you as a writer? Could you write well living in the city, aloft in an apartment skyscraper. Or would the country inspire your craft?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keys to Writing a Dynamic Novel #2

Showing actions that reflect personality.

We've all done it. It's in our nature as writers to observe people. We sit in a business lobby, an airport, a coffee shop watching the comings and goings. Our eyes lock onto the woman in the white fur coat with a small white highland terrier cradled in her arm, or the harried-looking business man who looks like he slept in his suit all night. We see how their appearance reflects their personalities. Or what they are going through.

In writing a novel, there is a drive to focus on the physical details of our characters. But descriptions are empty without the show of emotions. You have to give the reader the whole package. Appearance and personality. What kinds of behavior in your character convey his/her emotions?

Here are a few.

Your character is overjoyed at some good piece of news. She isn't a bump on a log just to sit there and stoically respond. Instead she may do some of the following.

Kick off her shoes and whirl around the room.
Break out the carton of ice cream from the freezer and tear open the lid, exclaiming it is time to celebrate.

Bad news arrives, and as it is being told to her give your reader a strong visual set of actions to show the emotion that is building in your character as the news unfolds.

She twists something in her hands.
She messes with her hair.
She turns away, shuts her eyes, and pumps her legs up and down without her feet leaving the floor.

Make a list of personality traits you have developed in your character. Next to these traits write out some of the actions your character will do to show those traits. You do not want to say 'she felt sad'. You want to show she felt sad. A list will help you develop a well-rounded character that is flesh and blood, which is what your readers want.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wonder what I sound like?

Feel free to share this podcast with others.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Keys to Writing a Dynamic Novel

(Outside my window, at 9 am, the cicadas are whirling in the trees, the sun is strong, the sky clear and blue, and the heat rising. The field of corn across the street looks thirsty this morning, and my zucchini is dying off. My tomatoes are plentiful though.)

InSpire has covered my journey from contract to publication for my newest novel 'Surrender the Wind'. Now it's time to go down a different road and blog about the craft of writing good literature. Notice I said 'literature' not simply a 'book'. It is my belief that Christian writers should be writing the greatest fiction in the world. It should be par excellence, ab
ove the norm, literary, and have a gold standard. It is something we need to strive for, to be the best in all we do, to stay humble, and give the glory to the One who poured a talent into us.

You'll read lots of articles, blogs, and what not on the keys to writing a dynam
ic novel. I'm afraid I am adding to the multitude of tomes out there.

Here is what I've learned in a nutshell.

Writing a novel plunges a writer into another world. It demands that you become so intensely immersed into the lives of your characters, and I mean all of them, minor and major, that they become living, breathing, people to you. If you do this, you will develop your characters fully. You will 'flesh them out' so to speak. Thus your readers will grow attached to them.

Writing good fiction is not a formula. Formulas do not necessarily create a page-turning story. What does is vivacious characters. What exactly makes up your chara
cters and brings them to life?

Describing their appearance
Showing actions that reflect their personality

Let's start with dialogue. This is a conversation between characters that give the reader insight into the characters lives, personalities, likes and dislikes, their past, future goals, opinions, and concerns. It should flow naturally, but with emotion, whether intense or stoic. Dialogue is the best way to reveal a character's past instead of using either backstory or flashbacks. Watch a movie in your genre and listen to the dialogue between the characters. Listen to a conversation between people in your presence. How did her husband explain why he forgot their anniversary? How did the wife reply?

When it comes to describing your characters, give the reader just enough information that allows them to paint a picture in their mind of them. If you have trouble with this try this technique. Go online and look at a portrait. If your book is historical find a portrait of the past. If contemporary find a photo that reflects your character as you see him or her. Actors' portraits are great for this.

Say you are writing a historical and your female character is a beautiful woman of the Renaissance. She is totally stuck on herself due to her beauty...and possibly her wealth and family status in society. The painting here is called 'Vanity' by artist Frank Cowper 1907.

Write down what you see about this woman. Her hair - its texture, color, and length. Her skin which is luminescent and pale. The strings of pearls, how she has looped them through slender fingers. Her eyes, how they are looking downward, not shyly, but arrogantly. The curve of her mouth and the tilt of her head. Flesh this character's appearance out and give your reader a strong visual of what she looks like, and how her looks reflect her personality of vanity and arrogance.

I must pause for now. In the next post, I will cover actions and growth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Romantic Getaway

I've put up a page that is solely quotations from authors about 'Surrender the Wind', as well as an endorsements video.

You'll find:
Marylu Tyndall
Golden Keys Parsons
J. M. Hochstetler
Bonnie Toews
Michelle Griep
and Mrya Johnson

I will add others as time goes on.

If you have time to visit, please do. And if you'd be so kind to leave a comment, it would be much appreciated.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Man and His Horse

This morning in the Frederick News Post ~ 100 years ago on August 7, 1909.
The well known and familiar horse, “Dave,” belonging to Mr. Marshall L. Etchison, and used by him in his furniture and undertaking business, died yesterday afternoon. For twenty-five years “Dave” did his work faithfully and well, and in all that period, he never showed a single ugly trait.

He wasn't given a grand name like Spitfire or Thunder. Just plain ole 'Dave'. Sounds fitting to his demeanor, don't you think? The people of old Fredericktown must have really liked 'Dave' so much that they made an announcement in the Post about his passing into equine eternity. I imagine him harnessed to a wagon, or to Mr. Etchinson's hearse, parked along Market Street on a hot summer afternoon, the children stroking his nose, a matron giving him an apple, and Mr. Etchinson beaming with pride over his faithful and gentle beast of burden.

One hundred years later, if you take a stroll downtown in the historical district, you will find a shaggy dog made of cast iron called Charity. But where is ole Dave's memorial? On the corner of West Patrick Street is The Red Horse Inn. On the edge of the parking lot, in the grass in front of the restaurant, is a small coral and a red stallion standing within it. A top the motel, is another red horse. I think whenever I drive past the Red Horse Inn, I will refer to that red horse as 'Dave'.

Writer: In your stories do you have animals? I do and they are usually horses and dogs, and the occassional orange tabby. Animals are an integrial part of our lives, and adding them into your manuscript, subtley, enhances not so much the storyline but the development of your characters.

Let's say you have a gentle workhorse in your novel, loved by all in town, owned by one of your characters. Think of the ways the character of a horse like ole Dave could add realism to your story and help develop your characters.

In Surrender the Wind, my hero Seth Braxton owns a steed called Saber. In the opening of the book, Saber has brought Seth through the Revolution. He means a great deal to Seth, one reason being he was a gift from his father when he was 16. Not to give away the scene, but Saber is caught in the crossfire. Hungry British soldiers would not let him go to waste, and it devastates and angers Seth profoundly. Having Saber as a character, brought out Seth's personality. For when a man is compassionate and kind to his beast, he will be compassionate and kind to man.

Visit my redesigned website at

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Viewing a Review

On August 1, Abingdon Press launched their fiction line. Surrender the Wind was one of the first four books. Now reviews are pouring in, along with interviews.

This review recently appeared online. I feel honored, but I cannot say that I would stand beside two of the greatest writers of historical fiction on an equal footing.

I would not mind standing in their shadow though.

I must mention that Charles Dickens is one of my favorites when it comes to characterization. One thing I love about his writing is how he brought to his stories a cast of many characters, each unique, each so profoundly developed in their role that some of his minor characters are as unforgettable as the major ones. I learned from Dickens to do the same, and not to be afraid to write stories with lots of interesting characters, not just a hero and heroine, but supporting characters that enhance the story to another level.

Your opinion on this post, and Ms. Toews' review is welcome. She has a place where you can comment on her blog.

Seize the Day!

P.S. Boy would I love a book cover like the photo from Bleak House on my next novel, Beside Two Rivers.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lethia's Journey - A True Story

Once again, I am posting an actual event that has been hidden in obscurity for 100 years.

From the Frederick News Post, Frederick, Maryland:
August 3, 1909

While in a delirium resulting from continued ill-health, Miss Lethia Harbaugh, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. E. F. Harbaugh, an aged couple, residing at 115 Clayton avenue, Waynesboro, Pa., left her home about 10 o'clock last Thursday night and walked a distance of nine miles across the Blue Ridge mountains to her former home in Sabillasvill
e, this county.

That is not a real picture of Lethia, but one I found online that is dated 1909 to give us an image of a woman of the day.

Writer, as you read the post, think about this brief story and expand it. Use it as a writing prompt. I have taken it and put it in my file for a scene in a novel I am writing.

Think. . .

What health problem do you suppose Lethia had that would result in delirium? Whatever it was she had it a long time. The website gives the following definition.

A sudden state of severe confusion and rapid changes in brain function, sometimes associated with hallucinations and hyperactivity, in which the patient is inaccessible to normal contact. Symptoms may include inability to concentrate and disorganized thinking evidenced by rambling, irrelevant, or incoherent speech. There may be a reduced level of consciousness, sensory misperceptions and illusions, disturbances of sleep, drowsiness, disorientation to time, place, or person, and problems with memory.

Delirium can be due to a number of conditions that derange brain metabolism, including infection, brain tumor, poisoning, drug toxicity or withdrawal, seizures, head trauma, and metabolic disturbances such as fluid, electrolyte, or acid-base imbalance, hypoxia, hypoglycemia, or hepatic or renal failure.

After reading these details, I have difficulty believing Lethia was delirious. How could a woman leave her parents house at 10 at night, in the dark, on a hot and humid summer night, and walk the distance of 9 miles across the Blue Ridge Mountains to her home in Sabillasville with only the moon to guide her? This would have been a treacherous journey even in the daytime, and she would have needed to have a keen sense of direction. I live near the foot of the Catoctin Mountains, which are part of the Blue Ridge, and where Lethia's home would have been. Sabillasville is located in the mountains outside of Camp David. There is no way I would trek through those mountains alone in the daytime, let alone at night.

These mountains are riddled with rocky terrain, fallen trees, mountain streams and creeks. Lethia made a dangerous journey home, and wouldn't you think it would have been frightening? Think of being out in the mountains at night! And one other thing. Back in those days, mountain lions were in the area. Lethia's journey grows more and more scary the more I dwell on it! She had to have been a brave soul, determined, strong.

Next interesting fact: Lethia was the daughter to aged parents. Either her mother had her late in life, or Lethia herself is up in age. Let's assume her parents are in their seventies. Lethia may have been in her fifties in 1909, or she could have been a younger woman. The article doesn't say. So you have to use your imagination. To me, she had to have been younger and in good physical health to make it ten miles over the mountains.

Something dramatic had to have happened to cause her to leave in the night...or maybe a better word is 'flee'. Was she abused in some way? Were some kind of arrangements made for her that she was running from? Did her parents want nothing more to do with her for some godless reason and told Authorities she had been ill and delirious to cover themselves?

Apparently Lethia made it home. Home! That was her make it home. That was what drove her to travel on foot 9 miles through dangerous mountains in the night. Perhaps the man she loved was there. They referred to her as 'Miss', so she was not married, nor likely to have had children waiting for her. But something or someone motivated her to get back home. I certainly would love to know more about this brave woman and her story.

What if Lethia was ill? Then it would have been nothing short of a miracle that she walked 9 miles through the mountains on a hot August night. Otherwise, I doubt she would have survived such a journey. No doubt Lethia told this story to her children and her grandchildren and was looked on with shining eyes for her bravery and in awe at God's hand in protecting her.

What do you think was Lethia's story?