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When an Author Has an Urge for Something Different

30 Jun

“I love your books! When is the next one coming out?” Music to a writer’s ears, to be sure.

But what happens when a writer has the urge to write something different than her previous novels? Maybe a different genre, a stand-alone that is not part of an established series, or a young adult novel when the previous ones have been aimed at adults. Will her audience stick with her and her new adventure? Will she find new readers?

I am about to find out. The novel I am currently working on is a departure from my first three which were all mysteries involving Nara Blake, an adventurous young woman from the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Clare.

I am now on about the third revision of a completely different type of novel. Different audience — young adult. Different genre — historical fantasy. The two consistent characteristics are the connection to authentic facts in British history (as I did in Lydia’s Story), and a strong female protagonist.

Without giving too much away, I will tell you that I have taken some historical events of thirteenth century England and created a parallel magic world that explains some of the mysteries surrounding these events. I just can’t get away from the mysteries! Creating a world for a fantasy novel has been great fun as well as challenging. On the one hand, I have the freedom to let my imagination run wild. What if I could slip through a secret doorway and emerge in a castle and in another century? At the same time, a new world needs rules. If magical people can slip from one century to the next, how much do they know about each time and place?

These are complicated questions, but fun to exercise the freedom of working it out. As I have told my students, writing is exercise for the brain, and brains need workouts just like bodies do.

Many well known writers have been criticized for writing novels outside of their established mold. J.K. Rowling will forever be known as the creator of Harry Potter and his magical world, no matter what else she attempts as a writer. John Steinbeck endured criticism for not writing a follow-up to The Grapes of Wrath. And while I don’t place myself in either of their categories, I understand the fine line between pleasing an audience and exercising my creativity, which is what led me to write in the first place.

And if you love Nara and her adventures in my first three books, I am planning another one, which will probably take her to Spain to solve another mystery involving art.

Starting the Whole Dang Process over Again

3 Jan

Llieda dungeon3

A dungeon in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. Might work it into a new novel.

Beginning a new novel is both exhilarating and scary. I enjoy the new ideas for plot details, setting, and characters that pop willy-nilly into my brain. Old characters poke their heads in to say, “Can I be in this one? You said it was a series.” Another says, “I’ll do one more. So you can kill me off in this one.” Then a new character comes in with “Hi there! I’m a little crazy, but I would fit right in with your story. Some of your characters are way too serious!” And I can’t forget the ones who speak to me in a foreign language, begging me to set the story in their home country. “ịHola! Soy de españa y mi pais es muy bueno. Venga aquí!”

Out of these bits of inspiration, if I can call it that, I begin to see the barest outline of a plot. And I say yes to that little voice from Spain. I will set the story at least partially in Spain, Aragon, to be precise. And just in case you are wondering, Nara Blake, Alex Collier, and Lily Carrington, all of whom appeared in The Gate House and Lydia’s Story, will be back. But I have a lot of writing to do before my readers will be able to see what these three are up to in Spain. And is Nara ever going to marry Alex?

The last few days I have been brainstorming and writing down ideas for plot as they pop into my head. My next step was to do some preliminary research. The Gate House and Lydia’s Story both had to do with art theft. My new novel also makes use of that theme. I am looking for a connection between Britain and Spain through art, and I think I have found a link.

I have made a preliminary outline, even though I am not generally a maker of outlines, but I thought this time I would give it a try and see if it would make the process any easier.

As I create the story, I will spend as much time staring into space as putting words down at the computer. But as a dear friend of mine knows, “staring time” is essential for writers, teachers and anyone who is trying to get through the day with their sanity intact.

Try taking a “staring break” today. You will feel better for it.

Forward to the Past

27 Apr

Writers never throw anything away, or at least they shouldn’t. This week I pulled out an old “almost novel” that I wrote before my first one, The Gate House, was published.

This one, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands, is really the original story of my protagonist who appears in both The Gate House and Lydia’s Story. This book tells of the years just before she and her father moved to England, and her life in the fictional Caribbean island nation of St. Clare.

It is interesting to read something that I wrote almost ten years ago, and to see how my style has changed, and the images of my characters. It is a very different book from the last two in some ways. Although it is somewhat a mystery, there are elements of magic that I let go of in the later books.

I think it is a story that needs to see the light of day, for better or worse. I plan to polish it and at least self-publish on Kindle later this year.

If you are a writer, do you sometimes “resurrect” old pieces to rework them? And readers, what about other types of old projects? Is it fun or frustrating to go back something you worked on in the past?

Review of David Bell’s The Hiding Place

21 Nov

Although The Hiding Place is certainly not a Thanksgiving book, I though it appropriate to post my review of this book which appeared in Suspense Magazine. This novel deals with two families and the secrets that were kept for many years. It seemed fitting for the holiday season in that it emphasizes how easy it is to hurt those we love the most.

Twenty-five years ago Janet Manning’s four year old brother disappeared. His body was found some weeks later in a woods not far from the family home. Now, all these years later, a mysterious man has appeared on Janet’s doorstep in the night, claiming to know the truth about her brother’s death. The man disappears, and Janet tries to put it out of her mind, but her teenage daughter has overheard the conversation, and begins an investigation of her own.

The memories of that day in the past, when Janet’s family was forever changed, begin to emerge little by little. Janet had been only seven years old at the time, but still blamed herself because she was charged with watching her little brother that day. But as time goes on, she learns that she was not the only family member who has lived with guilt and secrets for twenty-five years.

I found the title of the book to be particularly appropriate in that it can refer to the way family members often hide the truth from one another, as well as the location where a little boy was buried. The story is about a terrible crime, and also about the “crimes” that human beings can commit against the people they are closest to.

David Bell does a masterful job  of crafting a crime story, with the guilty and innocent existing next to each other, whether they realize it or not. He has also created a tense drama of emotions and relationships. It is a riveting book with surprising but believable twists on every page.

I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season.

Giving Birth to “Lydia’s Story”

25 Sep

My newest novel, Lydia’s Story, is now available all the major book sellers.

If you are a writer, you know what a wonderful rush comes along with writing those words. If you are not a writer, just think of any major project you have embarked on in your life — giving birth to a child, completing a college degree, running a marathon. And as with any major project, the work isn’t done yet. I want people to read my book!

I describe Lydia’s Story as a sequel/prequel to my first novel, The Gate House. I took the main character, Nara Blake, and moved her forward in time by about a year, but then I gave her a challenge. I placed a stack of her great-grandmother’s diaries in her hands, and posed a dilemma. The family has always held that Lydia and Allan Roberts died in the London Blitz in 1940 or 1941, but the diaries go up to 1942. As Nara reads and learns more about her ancestors, she finds that she is on a collision course with a brother and sister from France who are also looking for their lost heritage, but theirs are valuable works of art that were lost during World War II.

I loved the research into how the British worked to preserve their precious art works and cultural heritage as well as protect their island from invasion by the Germans. I loved putting the pieces of the novel together, melding past with present, and tying the sections together with Lydia’s diary entries.

My “baby” is out in the world now. I wish her the best. I will support her as best I can, and at the same time, I am ready to start something new.

 

Where Do I Set My Story?

25 Apr

“There is no happiness in love, except at the endof an English novel.” (Anthony Trollope in Barchester Towers)

The passage through Dover Castle at the right just can’t help sparking my imagination.

How Does an Author Choose a Setting

Why did I set The Gate House in England?

The simple answer to that question is — because that’s where the story is. But obviously there is more to it than that.

Setting is one of the crucial elements of fiction, but it is not arbitrary. A writer cannot pick up the plot and characters of a story from one location and drop them down unchanged in another. Even though the characters are what make readers care and keep turning the page, setting shapes the characters as much as the other influences in their lives.

I think my fascination with setting comes from my love of travel. I often “see stories” when I visit a location away from home. Different locations evoke ideas of different kinds of emotions and plot ideas. Washington, DC, where I spent a recent week-end, is a setting full of enormous political power and history. A story set there must somehow touch on those elements. A trip to Lincolnshire, England, where my husband’s family originated, inspired The Gate House, when we spent an unplanned couple of nights in a bed and breakfast of that name. This setting called me to create a story of mystery and the layers of history that are so present in England.

Setting can almost be considered another character, as the time and place of the story interact with the other elements. Literary themes and human emotions may not change over time, but how the pieces fall together can create unique and compelling stories.

Do you every choose a novel based on the setting? Are there certain setting you prefer?

Bed and Breakfast Food

13 Mar

This post was set up to publish when I was traveling last week, but somehow it didn’t happen. But it is happening now, and I hope everyone enjoys the recipe and thoughts of a delicious breakfast!

My novel The Gate House takes place in a bed and breakfast in Lincolnshire, England. I have stayed in a few bed and breakfasts in  the US, Ireland and the UK, and they all have one thing in common — wonderful food! In the UK it was the full English breakfast, complete with mushrooms, tomatoes and baked beans next to the eggs. In Ireland the breakfast was similar, but there was always wonderful brown bread to go with it. In the US  it can be anything, but there is usually some sort of egg dish as the star of the meal.  Breakfasts also often include something sweet — a pastry, coffee cake, or sweet roll.

Here is a recipe for my grandmother’s coffee that is simple and delicious. Make it and pretend you are staying at a bed and breakfast in England. Or have a slice in the afternoon with a cup of coffee or tea.

Grandma Kate’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

2 c. sifted flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. salt

½ c. butter or margarine, 1 c. sugar, 2 eggs, 1 c. sour cream (yogurt works just as well),1tsp. vanilla

Topping: Combine 1/3 c. brown sugar, packed, ¼ c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1 c. finely chopped nuts (optional)

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream butter and sugar; add eggs one at a time, beating well. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Pour ½ batter into pan, cover with ½ of topping, pour remaining batter over filling and top with rest of topping mixture.

Bake at 350˚ for 40 min. Use tube pan or oblong pan. If you use a tube pan, put a layer of topping in first because you will turn it upside down when you take it out.

Book Review and Other Thoughts

10 Mar

Now that both my parents have passed away, I find myself increasingly interested in the World War II era. And now that The Gate House is scheduled for re-release in May, I am almost ready to submit the sequel to The Gate House, which has a working title of Lydia’s Story.

Lydia is the great-grandmother of Nara, the main character in The Gate HouseShe left diaries that Nara has found, and she learns of her life during World War II in London.

I recently reviewed a novel for Suspense magazine that is set at the end of World War II in Berlin. It is one of a series, and I have not read the preceding one, but I found it an excellent story.

Review of Lehrter Station

Lehrter Station is David Downing’s fifth book in his John Russell series, all named after railroad stations in Berlin which each has a special significance to the story.

Set against the devastation of Berlin in 1945, Lehrter Station is a spy story whose characters struggle to reclaim their lives after World War II. The city has been divided into British, American, French and Soviet sectors, and it is becoming clear that the lines are being redrawn with the Soviet Union as the new enemy for the Western powers.

John Russell is a double agent, spying for the Soviet Union and the United States, not because he wants to, but because he owes a debt to the Soviets for his son’s life. When Soviet agent Yevgeny Shchepkin “requests” that Russell move back to Berlin from London to spy for the Soviets, he has no choice.

Russell and his girl friend Effie, a film actress, return to Berlin and are witnesses to the fragmented lives of the survivors of war. Human life is cheap after the bombings, rapes and mass exterminations of the concentration camps. Since Russell is a journalist by profession, he is on the look-out of a good story as a cover for his espionage activities. He finds a story in the exodus of Jews from Europe to Palestine. But on his return to Berlin, he finds that Effie has been involved in some risky clandestine operations of her own.

Author David Downing portrays an incomprehensibly tragic time and place in history in a manner that shows us the humanity of each character, as well as pointing us in the direction of the world political situation today. He weaves history and fiction together in a way that entertains and makes the reader think at the same time. It is an intelligent and powerful book.


Where do characters come from?

22 Feb

My characters are frequently based on real people, but as the story develops, they take on a life of their own and bear little more than a superficial resemblance to the person on whom it is based.

In the case of Nara, the main character in The Gate House, she is based on the daughter-in-law of a friend from my days in Costa Rica. Her name is Nara, a unique name, and she is petite with dark hair and grew up in a Caribbean island nation. But that is where the similarity ends.

From that basic description, I created Nara Blake, who lives in the Gate House with her father and aunt, and whose interest in art along with her innate curiosity leads her into trouble.

Elaine, the cathedral tour guide who becomes involved with Nara and her adventures, is based on a real guide I met at Lincoln Cathedral. But of course I know nothing about the real woman’s personal life. I created one for the character in my novel.

Next time you are in a public place, look around and imagine a character from someone you see. From that person, you can create a story, or invite him or her into a story you are writing.

Here are a couple of websites I like for help in creating characters:

How to Create Characters http://kathrineroid.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/how-to-create-characters-for-a-novel/

Fiction Factor http://www.fictionfactor.com/characters.html

Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica

Back to Lincolnshire

11 Feb

Since my novel The Gate House is due out in May, I am thinking about the trip to England that inspired the novel. My husband and I stayed in a bed in breakfast in the market town of Spalding in Lincolnshire. We traveled to that part of England because his ancestors had come from their in the 1800s. The bed and breakfast where we stayed was, in fact, an old railroad gate house. In the early days of railroads, a gatekeeper would live in a cottage next to the crossing, and go out to raise and lower the gate as required when people needed to cross the track.

The building where we stayed had been added to and renovated over the years until it became the family home with two or three extra bedrooms upstairs for guests. Our host prepared a delicious full Scottish breakfast for us, and even took us out in his car to a nearby town to visit the church where my husband’s great-great-grandparents were married.

While he was learning about his family history, I was imagining the story that became The Gate House. After all, an old house like that must have a hidden staircase, a secret room or maybe even a ghost.

Check out the “real” Gate House, and maybe book a room on your next trip to England.

A full Scottish breakfast. That black lump is black pudding, a type of sausage made from pork blood and oatmeal.