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?