Finding inspiration – The Open Road, a novel

I’m pleased to welcome M.M. Holaday to my blog today. You may remember Holaday (aka Nan Johnson) from the story she wrote about Perkins Corner, a post that struck a chord with many readers. Holaday has published her first novel – The Open Road – and it launches this month.

Set in the American West after the Civil War, as settlement hastens the close of the frontier, The Open Road tells the story of two adventurous young men, a horsewoman, and an Arapaho who discover the depths of their character as they tie their fates together in a heart-felt story of friendship. Click here to read my review.

In this post she answers a frequent reader question: ‘Where did you get your inspiration?’

Drawing from the inspiration well

By M.M. Holaday

Writers gather ideas from all sorts of places. For me, a lyric from a song on the radio or a tactile experience like weeding the garden will spark an idea. That random thought is filed for a time when I need to add texture to a story. But then there are other experiences that etch themselves deep into our hearts and minds. As I wrote The Open Road, a poem, a novel, and my grandmother inspired me.

The yearning for connection

I confess I do not understand nor appreciate every line of Song of the open road by Walt Whitman. He goes on and on for forty-plus stanzas; perhaps he is intentionally long-winded to show how journeys themselves are long, winding, sometimes arduous, sometimes delightful, and filled with an array of experiences, moods, and people.

His opening lines are exciting and the most quoted: Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road. Recent Volvo commercials have familiarized more great lines from the poem: The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine. All seems beautiful to me.

The very last lines of the poem, however, grip me and break my heart every time I read them. For all the bravado the traveler expresses about getting out of libraries and into living life, he ends the poem with: Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me? Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

In the end, the traveler in the poem wants connection; he wants companionship. The final lines speak volumes to me and inspired much of the plot and interplay between Win, Jeb, and Meg, the main characters in my story.

Importance of place

I read Willa Cather‘s My Antonia for the first time as an adult over 25 years ago. Cather beautifully captures the bittersweet attraction, platonic love, loyalty, caring, independence and interdependence, and ultimately shared memories, between Jim Burden and Antonia Shimerda. The connectedness they shared was similar to what I wanted for Win, Jeb and Meg.

In contrast to Whitman’s poem, Cather gives the reader a profound sense of place. Antonia represents home, as the narrator states in the Introduction before Jim takes over telling the story, More than any other person we remembered, this girl seemed to mean to us the country, the conditions, the whole adventure of our childhood.

Jim’s recollections of his Nebraska prairie farm and Antonia are tightly interwoven; it is impossible to think of one without the other. I wanted to examine the “connection to place” from the different perspectives of Meg, Jeb, Win, and Gray Wolf.

A lively grandmother

A third important influence that helped shape The Open Road was my grandmother. I only knew her as an old woman, but when she was young she taught school and spent her summers working in Yellowstone Park. Before she married, she and her girlfriend sailed for Europe, expanded her world view, and perhaps caught the travel bug that she and my grandfather later shared. In her senior years, she still had infectious energy; her conversations were always lively, but they had substance. She was grounded and steady; I could count on her.

While no character in the book is patterned after anyone I know in real life, Meg comes the closest to being modeled after my grandmother. She embodied the push-pull dynamic of home and adventure that tugged at Meg.

What ideas or inspirations can you trace to specific books, experiences, or people? What made a deep impression?

Author M.M. Holaday

A graduate of St. Olaf College and the University of Minnesota Graduate School of Library Science, Nan Johnson (who writes under the pen name M.M. Holaday) is a former reference and rare-book librarian. She lives in Missouri where she writes and where she and her husband maintain a tall grass prairie.

To learn more about Holaday, visit her website.

The Open Road is available on Amazon in hardcover and ebook formats.

Her kind of historical fiction

girl-mountain.400x625.rev“I’m blown away.” That’s what I thought as I read The Girl on the Mountain, a novel set in the West Virginia mountains at the end of the 19th century.

The characters are vivid and likeable (except for the ones we shouldn’t like). The language precise and fresh. The plot engaging. Beyond that, author Carol Erwin knocked me out with the way she wove in historical details to make me feel as though I knew the people, place and time. There are no famous people in this story, no memorable historical events. Nonetheless, it’s terrific historical fiction.

I invited Carol to share how she came to write this story and how she looks at historical fiction. Her thoughts fit right into the “How much of historical fiction is history?” question I blogged about recently.

My kind of historical fiction – Carol Erwin

I like historical fiction that enlarges my sense of life in other eras. Though I’ve always liked history, in fiction I care less about the unfolding of actual events and more about what they meant to people of that time.

In other words, I’m interested in characters. They don’t have to be historical figures, but they do have to seem real. I’ve always been impressed by the capacities of ordinary people, especially women, and was privileged to know several who lived in my small corner of West Virginia in the late 1800s. These women aren’t the subjects of my historical series, but their qualities definitely inspired me.

Mt.Women450x601The Mountain Women series begins with The Girl on the Mountain, a novel about ordinary people in a time of no particular significance. I began imagining a story about two adventurous girls, one privileged and one homeless. Where and when did they live? I wanted a familiar setting, but one a bit wilder than the farm community where I live. I did not have to go far, for I live near a region of virgin forest that was cut down in the late 1800s. When I revisited a non-fiction account of logging and lumbering in West Virginia (with its hundreds of old photos) I found the setting for my story. Eventually my two girls became May Rose, the young wife of a logger, and Wanda, her stepdaughter.

Even in soft-core historical fiction (my term), some elements must be true. I believe the truest features in The Girl on the Mountain are the mountains and streams, the sawmill, logging operations, and the artifacts of daily life circa 1900.

Research helped me authenticate and populate the story with details, but I had personal experiences that made me comfortable with them. I know the look and sound of sawmills. I’ve ridden an old logging train, climbed steep hillsides to pick blackberries, dug potatoes, stepped through creeks, raised and chased pigs, participated in old-time hog butchering, and used pen and ink to keep account books.

I felt comfortable describing life in 1900 because it’s not too distant. As a child I sometimes visited outhouses where the pit was covered with lime and the seat worn smooth. I named many characters after grandparents, grand aunts and uncles, so I didn’t have to research to know if the names were valid for the period.

When forty years ago I moved to my present location, I felt like I’d stepped back in time. The whole valley was made up of farms that had descended through several generations, and many of my elderly neighbors still used implements and carried on practices from the 1800s. Because of them, I know about neighbors helping neighbors and details like the operation of wood cook stoves and the scrape of a shovel into a coal bucket.

I tried to substantiate every historical detail. In The Girl on the Mountain I included references to well-read books of the period, used calendars of 1899 and 1900, and researched to make sure certain items were in use then, like canned milk. I had such a good time researching that I found much more detail than I could use.

One funny story: a friend who read the first few pages told me I should have a hen instead of a rooster simmering in the pot, because people had many hens but one rooster. I didn’t refute her, but I’m the one who has raised chickens, and I know that from little chicks you get as many roosters as hens. Guess which ones go into the pot?

Finally, the historical detail I chose had to be important to May Rose, the main character. I tried to keep her in mind with every description – what she saw, understood or thought about and what those things meant to her.

How much history you put into your kind of historical fiction will depend on your purposes, plus how much history you know and care to research. If you want to dramatize well-known events and give historical persons a new breath of life, you will rely on your expertise as a historian or researcher. If you want to write realistic period fiction, you may need only to learn enough to feel like you’re living at your chosen time.

Thanks, Carol Bodensteiner, for asking the question: “How much of historical fiction is history?”

Thank you, Carol Erwin, for sharing your perspectives on historical fiction with my readers. I highly recommend Carol’s novels. Click to read my review of The Girl on the Mountain. Follow the links below to her books and to learn more about her.

Carol Erwin

Carol Ervin has been a teacher, business owner, and writer and designer of marketing materials. She lives with her husband on a hillside farm in West Virginia with a steep lane and a spectacular view of wooded mountains. She loves West Virginia’s rugged streams and foliage and the history and culture of the region’s hardy settlers. Her historical novels include The Girl on the Mountain, Cold Comfort, and Midwinter Sun. She recently published a science-fiction/dystopian, Dell Zero.

The Girl on the Mountain

Cold Comfort

Midwinter Sun

Dell Zero (science fiction)



Book marketing – It’s not always about sales

Photo by Larry Baker's wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls in 2009.

Now what?

Author Larry Baker (The Flamingo Rising, A Good Man and others) posted this picture to his Facebook page this week, and I laughed. It captures a fear most authors harbor: ‘What if nobody comes?’

It’s not a groundless fear. It happened to me this week. I spend considerable time in advance of events to help ensure their success. But what I can’t do is guarantee people will come.

Over the past week I participated in six events to market my novel Go Away Home: a writing conference, two bookstores signings, a gift store signing, and two library book talks. The marketing side of the writing life.

Here’s an abbreviated look at how I promote and work events.

Bring my own audience – The event host isn’t the only one responsible for getting people to come. Authors need to work their own contacts, too. I use email marketing and social media to generate interest. A ‘save the date’ mailing three weeks in advance, and a reminder three days ahead of the event. I create Facebook events and invite. I tweet. Results of this effort reinforce the importance of using many ways of reaching people: At one book store event, all but one person came as a result of my email campaign. At one library event, none of my contacts came.

Alert media – I sent news releases to media in each town. To the best of my knowledge, none picked up the news for these events. I’ll keep doing this, though, because particularly in smaller towns, I’ve seen terrific pick up.

Stand and deliver – Even though I could sit down, I communicate enthusiasm by standing. I smile and make eye contact, then I ask anyone who meets my gaze if I can tell them about my books. Most will say yes. I pitch my book in 30 seconds or less. Once I’ve given the pitch, I ask questions to keep the person engaged. I put a book in their hands as we talk.

One of my events was in a gift store that also served lunch. The owner had me set up at a table at the edge of the lunch area. I took my books to the tables as guests waited for their food to be delivered. I kept this pitch very short and made sure not to overstay my welcome. An idea for next time: Create table tents to alert people I’m there and to keep my books in front of them as they eat.

Be flexible – I was on the road mainly to market my new novel, but at one library, the book discussion group had just read my memoir and that’s what they wanted to talk about. So we did. I included messages about my novel when it was relevant.

What if no one shows? In spite of all my efforts, at one library, that worst-case scenario happened. I was all set up and the audience didn’t show. I felt worse for the librarian than for myself. She’d done a lot to get the word out, but for who knows how many reasons, no one came.

I’d whiled away a half hour on my own, then a miracle. One young girl walked in the door. Turns out she was the librarian’s daughter. I learned she’d written a story and in that small town, she had found no writing support. We talked one-on-one about what she was writing. How she could get support from her teachers. How she might engage her classmates.

At that library, I didn’t sell any books. I didn’t share the story of my novel or my memoir. But I did something more important. I encouraged another writer.

Now that I’m back at home, feet up, glass of wine in hand, reflecting on the week, I count all the events a success. Everything that happened is part of the writing life. I reconnected with friends. I made new friends. I sold quite a few books. And I encouraged another writer.

That last achievement? Priceless.

* Photo by Larry Baker’s wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls – 2009.

Song of Australia – Stephen Crabbe historical fiction author interview

Life on the Australian home front during World War One. 

Song of Australia--cover resized for webThe World War One centenary has many authors writing stories to illustrate that time. As I’ve been writing about life in the Midwest United States 100 years ago, it’s been a pleasure to discover other authors writing about the home front in their own countries.

One of those is Stephen Crabbe of Australia. His novel Song of Australia weaves three connected stories. German-Australians were the largest minority group in the nation as the country joined the British Empire to fight against Germany. As in the United States, people of German descent faced sudden hostility by their neighbours and the government. Meanwhile an adolescent boy who believes Christianity is a way of peace questions how he can worship with people who believe God wants him to fight – and perhaps die – in the war. Amidst the suffering caused by adults, gifted child-musicians find a way through music to help the world heal.

I invited Stephen to share the ‘story behind the story’ of Song of Australia.

What inspired you to write this story?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one thing: a number of factors all seemed to coalesce. However, at the core was the memory of my childhood piano teacher. Her passion for music and the development of the talents of young people was extraordinary, but it was a few decades later that I realised this. By then, of course, it was too late to thank her. I mention this in the acknowledgements section of my book—and my hope that her spirit will live on through the stories I tell.

How did you approach the research to understand the attitudes toward German-Australians during World War One?

Apart from recalling stories I heard from older relatives in childhood, the research was almost exclusively online. There are certain very helpful websites devoted to German-Australian history. I found old newspapers the most stimulating. In them I read reports of parliamentary debates and law court sessions (published almost as verbatim transcriptions in those days), letters to the editor, and sometimes accounts of an incident the day before. All this gives a sense of being right there listening to conflicting voices in the community of 1914-18 South Australia. Isn’t it remarkable to see all these old newspapers now so readily accessible online!

It certainly is. Research and writing can turn up much we don’t expect when we start out. What did you learn in the process that surprised you?

I was taken unawares by the variety of characters leaping out of the bush to claim a part in the story. I had never been conscious of most of them before drafting, and they would try to lead my story on new journeys that one book just could not contain. I had to be so ruthless in throwing these characters into the cupboard! There they had to stay until I had another book to accommodate them. Some of them are now allowed out to play in my new work in progress.

You studied piano. How did your own music experience come into play in writing?

As I reflected on the memories of my childhood music education, I could use my adult experience as a music educator to find new perspectives. The psychological theory of multiple intelligences, for example, gave me the idea that one individual could know the world and communicate with it principally through music, while another would rely on language or mathematical logic or another cognitive modality.

One theme of Song of Australia is the power of music to heal. Please share your thoughts on that idea.

We humans can hear long before we can see: our first aural experiences are in the womb, and the complex brain-wiring that occurs as a result is established at birth. Research shows, for example, that the new-born baby can not only distinguish its mother’s voice from others, but also recognise specific tunes heard before birth. Music can thus invoke that sense of security we felt when snugly nursed in the womb. Music—and especially singing—binds people together in a way that vision does not. It can create bridges of understanding that have nothing to do with logic and language. Research is now indicating that our ancestors developed language only after they could sing, because the mechanisms and techniques of song are the building blocks for linguistic development. So music can connect us with our deep past and with each other, both as individuals and as a species. This is healing.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

For one thing, that sense of renewal, as if they’ve had an excellent holiday trip to a very interesting exotic place. I will be gratified if the renewal comes from not just a few hours of mere escape from the daily grind, but from living the possibilities of a different way of perceiving life. I also hope that Australians in particular will consider our nation in at least a slightly new way.

What’s next for you?

My work in progress is a novel featuring the main characters in Song of Australia, still during World War One on the South Australian home-front. With a couple of new major characters, they continue to grapple with some of the same issues and confront some new problems as well. It’s only in the initial stages, but the structure of this narrative is already looking more complex than Song of Australia. And it will be a longer book.

Thanks for joining us, Stephen.


Stephen Crabbe

Stephen Crabbe

Stephen Crabbe was born in Adelaide, South Australia. His ancestors—Scottish, German and English—were among the earliest colonists from 1834 onwards.

Stephen studied classical pianoforte from the age of five until his late teens. He read widely in English and loved to explore all other languages. Eventually he became a school teacher and eventually specialised in music, a vocation he still follows part-time.

Stephen was always driven to write, but in later years he did this more seriously. His scripts were produced on screen and many of his articles were published. The main focus of his writing now is fiction. He lives in the rural south-west of Australia.

For more on Stephen and Song of Australia:

Song of Australia on the Australian Amazon site 

Song of Australia on the US Amazon site

Stephen’s Blog

On Facebook

Writing from a place of hope – Rachelle Ayala

I’m delighted to welcome author Rachelle Ayala to my blog today. When I met her this past year, I was attracted first by her willingness to help a hopeless social media newbie (me). In addition, I’ve been blown away by her prolific creative output; she published three books (including the just introduced Hidden Under Her Heart) representing three different genre’s in less than two years. Whew!  I had to know more about her, so I invited her to share a little about herself and her writing.

* * *

Hi, Rachelle!  Welcome.  I know you’re busy, so I’ll jump right in. You’ve written across several genres – historical fiction/Biblical, technothriller and women’s fiction. How do you approach the challenge of building a market for three such different novels?Hidden_Under_Her_Hea_Cover_for_Kindle

Hi Carol. Thanks for having me here. Everything is new to me and I’m new to the readers. I’m not too concerned about crossing genres because I write what I’m interested in. I have found readers who like my storytelling and are eager to read my books regardless of the stated genre. One reader called it the “Rachelle Ayala” genre. In her words “It is almost magical, maybe mystical, the way she can intertwine a few different types or genres, into one book.” [link] By writing three novels that are so different, I avoid limiting myself to certain audiences. The common thread in my writing is deep identification with a flawed female protagonist as she works through untenable problems and falls in love. It appeals to readers who are compassionate and willing to immerse themselves into another person’s life while suspending judgmental attitudes. Another reviewer said she should dislike Jennifer Cruz Jones (Broken Build) for the mistakes she made, but something drew her to feel for her.

Since we’re all flawed in some way, I just say, thank heaven for compassionate friends and readers! The volume of writing you produce is inspiring to me. It makes me wonder what inspires you to write?
I write because I have hope. I hope for a better world, kinder people, and understanding. People cannot really understand what motivates someone else without walking in their shoes. While we personally cannot have every experience possible, fiction is the closest in getting ourselves into someone else’s life. By exploring their motivations, desires, fears and hope, I can lead the reader into situations where she can experience the emotions of the story characters. This hopefully leads to acceptance of people who are different or have had different life experiences from the reader.

Experiencing other lives is one of the things I like best about reading fiction. Writing and publishing are fraught with possible pitfalls. What’s the part of the writing process that gives you the most trouble?
I pretty much enjoy the entire writing process, including giving and receiving critiques. I suppose it is obsession. It takes me time to get into character, but once I’m in, I see almost everything through their viewpoint. For example, after writing Maryanne Torres, a nurse who is pregnant from rape, I am now joining pro-life groups, including those who advocate for rape babies. I never gave much thought before about the rape and incest exception. But now that it has touched my character who is so close to me, I’ve gained a new perspective. My new character is so different from Maryanne and right now I’m trying to change myself into someone who does not want love, who avoids commitment and does not easily trust. My family has to suffer through these mood swings and personality shifts. Ha, ha.

My husband struggles with my mood swings as I write, too.  But he’s really happy when I complete a project. Where do you find the most joy in your writing?
The entire creative process. I daydream and get a lot of ideas when I’m out walking or jogging. Now that I’m writing, I look forward to visiting new places and noticing details. I never have to force a story to go in a prescribed direction. But I do like to challenge myself with seemingly impossible situations, where I write myself into a corner and plausibly extricate my characters and plot.

You do have an amazing ability to get your characters into and out of trouble. Speaking of getting characters out of trouble, you’ve helped me more than once to navigate the world of social media.  In fact, you’re one of the most knowledgeable and helpful social media people on the planet. How do you find time for it?
*Blush* You are too complimentary. Having a computer background helps. I pretty much grew up with the computing industry and the Internet. I’ve always been comfortable meeting and interacting with people online when it was only USENET newsgroups and e-mail digests. I enjoy social networking so it is relaxation time for me. I learn from others as much as they learn from me and believe that sharing information makes us a true online community.

It has been fun to learn at your knee and now be able to pay it forward. So, what’s next for you?
I’m working on a story about a woman who is hardened toward feelings and emotions. The last man she said “I love you” to was her father right before he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. This will be a romantic suspense and involve a past and current mystery. I’ll also touch on physical disability. The two characters I have in mind are hard to love. This will present a challenge with reader identification, but I’ll worry about that later. First, get the story down, right?

Get the story down. I agree that’s the first and most important task. No matter the genre. I wish you well, Rachelle, as you continue on this remarkable writing journey filled with hope.  Thanks for talking with me.

More about Rachelle Ayala:

Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has over thirty years of writing experience and has always lived in a multi-cultural environment.

Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers.

Visit her at: or follow @AyalaRachelle on Twitter.

Rachelle Ayala’s books: Michal’s Window,  Broken Build and Hidden Under Her Heart
Rachelle’s blog:

5 Yoga Exercises For Your Writing Routine

Not long ago, I wrote about how walking stimulates my writing. Writer and yoga instructor Stephanie Renée dos Santos commented that she’s found yoga to be a great help to her writing. I asked her to share exercises anyone can do and she agreed.  Welcome, Stephanie!

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A Writer’s Daily Yoga Practice

First, I’d like to thank Carol for inviting me to share ways writers can incorporate yoga into the daily writing routine.  I write five days a week.  Normally, I write in the morning for three hours and another two-three hour session in the afternoon in what is called the “unit system.” I write for 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break (For information about this writing method visit my blog post: Up Productivity: Writing & Editing).  In the 15 minutes of downtime, I do housework and/or practice yoga.  I am a yoga teacher when not writing, and like everyone some days I have tight regions in my body. I do yoga stretches to open and relax these areas–allowing me to comfortably write for long periods of time.

Writers often suffer from physical pain in the eyes, head, neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips. This stress in the body can inhibit or block creativity. A daily yoga practice helps reverse and relieve bodily tension; when the body is eased, so are the tensions of the mind.

Below are 5 yoga stretches most writers can perform easily, no matter your age or flexibility. (All postures are recommended to be done slowly and mindfully, meaning pay attention to what is going on inside your body–but don’t judge or attach to what you discover, just notice.)

  1. Shoulder rolls: Lift your shoulders up towards your ears, then slowly pull your shoulder blades back and together and down, continue repeating this circle.  Be conscious of your movements and tell yourself it is “okay” to let go and relax, while massaging out any tension in this region.
    Neck Stretch

    Neck Stretch

  2. Neck stretch: Begin with your eyes closed. And breathe in through your nose and out your mouth for 5 breaths with your head upright.  Then, gently let your head ease over to the right, stretching out the left side of your neck. Count 15 breaths, then using your right hand, help your head back up to an upright position.  Pause for 5 breaths, eyes still closed, and repeat on the left side, remembering to help your head up with your left hand.  Returned to center, keep your eyes closed, breathing in through your nose and out your mouth for more 10 breaths or however long you like, absorbing and basking in the relief of this stretch.  ** I suggest getting out of your regular writing chair and onto a blanket or yoga mat in a seated position or on a cushion, or sit in another chair, or on the edge of a bed to do the shoulder rolls and neck stretches.
    Forward Bend, Lower Back Stretch

    Forward Bend, Lower Back Stretch

  3. Hip circles:  This pose is done standing up.  Place your hands on your hips and slowly begin moving your hips in a circular motion, while breathing in through your nose and out your mouth for 10-15 breaths, then change circling direction for another 10-15 breaths.  At the end release your hands from your hips, letting your arms hang down by your sides. Then shake out your arms turning your waist side to side like a windmill, while flexing your knees shaking out any tension in the body.
  4. Lower back stretch:  Standing with your legs the same distance apart as your hips, knees slightly bent, inhale through your nose and then out your mouth and slowly bend forward at the waist, letting the weight of your head and shoulders draw you down to the floor, surrendering your weight forward for 10-15 breaths, stretching out the lumbar and legs.  If you are unable to touch the floor, I suggest you use a chair or blocks to rest your hands and weight into, in order to get the most benefit out of this stretch and to not aggravate the lumbar region. Inhale through your nose while coming up, vertebrate by vertebrate. 
    Standing Side Stretch

    Standing Side Stretch


  5. Standing Side Stretch: Stand with both feet waist distance apart, breathe in through your nose and out your mouth and reach up your arms into the sky, then with the right hand grasp your left wrist and stretch to the right side, opening up the left side of your torso, shoulder, and arm, taking 3-5 breaths.  Then repeat this on the left side for 3-5 breaths.  You can do this stretch, moving side to side 5-10 times or as many as you like.

I strongly encourage writers to begin a regular yoga practice at home and with a qualified teacher in your area, it will help you and your writing in profound ways:  patience development, concentration, fluidity of creativity.

Happy writing!

Yoga in ParisStephanie Renée dos Santos is a fiction and freelance writer and yoga instructor. She is currently working on a historical novel set in 18th century Portugal and colonial Brazil. Stephanie leads Writing & Yoga Retreats/Workshops in Brazil and the United States. For more information please visit: or email or Facebook: Stephanie Renee dos Santos.

Upcoming Workshops in USA:  July 13-14, 2013 half-day & full-day, Writing & Yoga Workshop, Bellingham, WA;  July 2013 (exact dates to be announced) 3 nights, 2 full-day Writing & Yoga Workshop, Oregon Coast, OR. Visit Stephanie’s blog for workshop details:

TAN – A story of exile, betrayal and revenge – Book Review

TAN David LawlorTAN by David Lawlor is a gripping novel that tells the story of Irishman Liam Mannion, beginning before World War I and continuing into the Irish War of Independence. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Liam is exiled to England and endures five years of trench warfare in France before making his way back to his homeland as a member of the infamous Black and Tans, a group that served as a brutal strong arm force for the English crown. Stationed in his hometown of Balbriggan, Liam is forced to confront his own divided loyalties, as well as those of his own family, and face the brute who framed him.

Before reading this novel, I knew little about the Irish War of Independence. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard the term “Black and Tan” until I picked up this book and then, coincidentally, they were mentioned in the current season of Downton Abbey. But this is why I love historical fiction. In the hands of a skilled author like Lawlor, I’m transported to another place and time to learn about events that mattered a great deal.

Lawlor is a fantastic storyteller. He created characters I cared about, crafting even minor players in ways that made them memorable and real. I was pleased to find that the women in the story were written with intelligence and courage, substance and compassion. Lawlor builds the action in scene after scene in a way that makes the book hard to put down. Fortunately the frequent battle scenes that create an abundance of tension and anxiety are balanced with moments of humor.

The author’s sympathies are clearly with the Irish, but the story fairly points out that both sides in a war are capable of brutality, both sides have legitimate points of view. Because Liam’s own brother sides with the British, readers face the complicated reality of families torn apart by war. No one gets off easily in this one.

Many characters speak in Irish vernacular, which took me a while to settle into, but which ensured I was immersed in Ireland. The dialect didn’t get in the way of enjoying the story, since it could all be understood in context.

TAN made me want to know more about the Irish War of Independence. Lawlor has me eager to read his next book.

The Angry Woman Suite – Author Interview

Join me in welcoming Lee Fullbright to my blog today. I recently met Lee through my growing network of  historical fiction writers. Lee is the  author of the award-winning The Angry Woman Suite, published earlier this year. I’ve invited her to share some of her writing experiences.

Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog site, Carol.

Tell us a little about your book.

The Angry Woman Suite is a historical suspense novel about a celebrity double murder in Pennsylvania, in the early 1900s, and the attendant repercussions on several generations of one very fragile family, as told by three very different narrators. It was a Kirkus Critics’ pick, a 5-starred Readers Favorite, and winner of a 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award. 

What inspired you to write historical fiction?

Looking back, I realize that my first “grownup” reads were largely, and accidentally, historical, like Gone with the Wind, Jane Eyre, Ramona, and The Good Earth, because those were the books that filled my mother’s bookshelves. Then, in my early teens, I became enamored with Anne Boleyn’s story, and that started my love affair with the Tudors. I read anything and everything Tudor-ish. 

So, I’ve always loved history, and not just the signing of this pact and the taking of that country, but imagining the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life: the music and art, the manners and customs. 

How do your novel ideas come to you?

In the case of The Angry Woman Suite, it was a random excursion to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, site of an infamous Revolutionary War battle, which gave me an idea. I was wandering a lush field of an old battlefield, imagining the horror of the fight between the British and the Colonials, and what it was they were fighting for; what was at stake—and all of a sudden, out of the blue, I thought of a young girl fighting against her family, for her freedom. And that was it. I could hardly wait to sit down and start piecing together Elyse Grayson’s fight for autonomy in the 1950s, as told by a young woman looking back on her life.

What has been your worst moment as a writer?

That’s an easy one. It took me a very long time to “corral” The Angry Woman Suite’s backdrops, as I was mentally all over the place, dropping story lines right and left. It wasn’t just Elyse’s story in the 1950s, or the 1777 battle that serves as her metaphor, but there are two other narrators of The Angry Woman Suite. Both are male—one is Aidan Madsen and the other Francis Grayson—and both intersect perspectives with Elyse’s, in shifting time frames, to tell the novel’s larger story of a celebrity double murder in the early 1900s and its subsequent fallout on three generations of one very fragile family, which is Elyse’s stepfamily.

So, lucky me—and I’m not being facetious—but I also got to research the Jazz Age, art, big band music, and oh, the list goes on, all the elements I got to play with, in order to re-create sixty years’ worth of a tale (not counting that Revolutionary War battle metaphor) about a girl’s search for autonomy, a young man’s for an identity, and an older man’s quest for justice.

I pieced my narrators’ stories together carefully (working at staying mentally “corralled,” so I didn’t lose myself or stories), each of their chapters like patches on a quilt. I started the novel with Francis’s voice, then went back in time to Aidan’s and the murder at the core of this saga, and then moved forward again, to Elyse’s, and so on, and back and forth I went, until I finished.  

And then I joined a writers group, and, lucky me again, but my group loved The Angry Woman Suite—that is, until they heard Elyse’s voice, and then they wanted to change everything.   

I’ll never forget when sister-writer Shelley said, “I think you should start the book with Elyse, and not with Francis.”

My heart skipped way too many beats. Didn’t Shelley know what that would entail? Yes, she had some good reasons (for wanting me to start with Elyse), but you don’t just copy and paste chapters and everything falls into place nice and neat, easy-peasy. No, once I’d start ripping—not cutting, but ripping—I’d have a big ol’ mess. I’d have what used to be a book. I’d have remnants

I drove home after that meeting and crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head, thinking, kill me now. All that work down the drain (because as soon as I’d heard it, I’d instinctively known Shelley was right). It would take a year, at least, to make a book again, if I even could, and then it would still be rough.  

Sounds like a tough journey, and one I can so relate to! To balance that, tell us about your greatest moment as a writer.

Winning a 2012 Discovery Award for The Angry Woman Suite—and Elyse Grayson, as a young girl, is this novel’s opening voice, thanks in large part to Shelley and my entire writers group. It was the right decision.   

I’ve been inspired by your writing experience, Lee. Congratulations on having all your work confirmed through the Discovery Award! And, thanks for joining us.

For more information on Lee Fullbright and The Angry Woman Suite, here are links to guide you:

Lee Fullbright blog/website 

The power of ANYone

Writing earlier this week about The Power of We for Blog Action Day has caused me to think about The Power of One. As I sat down to write, up popped the story of Talia Leman and her new book.

Have you heard about Talia Leman? Talia is a 17-year-old Iowa girl who has set out to change the world. Her philanthropic efforts started when she was 10. The Hurricane Katrina tragedy that left almost a million people homeless struck her heart and rather than collect candy that Halloween, she collected money. The “Today Show” picked up the story and children across the country joined her cause.

The $312 that Talia collected on her Halloween rounds that year was compounded by donations from local companies like Hy-Vee to increase her total contribution to hurricane relief to $250,000.  The total collected by kids that year for hurricane victims was report to be an amazing $10 million.

Since then, Talia has formed a non-profit called RandomKid based on her philosophy that any random kid can make a difference. And now she’s written a book – A Random Book About the Power of ANYone – published by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster and released earlier this month.

If you dig very far into Talia’s story, you’ll see Talia’s had a whole lot of encouragement and assistance from a whole lot of people, so her story demonstrates the Power of We. But she also demonstrates the Power of One person as well as anyone I’ve read about lately.

One person has an idea. One person has the passion and the perseverance to push forward through adversity. One person figures out how to rally others.

Do you have a good story of the Power of One person? I’d love to hear it.

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap – Author Interview

I’m pleased to welcome Paulette Mahurin to my blog today. Paulette is a writer of historical fiction and author of the book The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. Though I haven’t read her book yet, the story is so intriguing, I’ve moved it to the top of my stack.

Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your great blog site, Carol.  It’s really a pleasure to have connected with you!

Tell us a little about your book.

In the late 1800s, Britain changed its laws to make homosexual sex a criminal act. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap starts with this news going out over telegraph wires around the world. When the news hits a small Nevada ranching town, it throws the town into chaos—in particular a lesbian couple fearful that all the homophobia generated from the news of Oscar Wilde‘s imprisonment would cause others to now be suspicious of them. This is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended consequences and how love and friendship heal.

What was your inspiration?

I was taking a writing class and the teacher brought in a bunch of photos for us to do an exercise on writing a ten-minute mystery. My photo was of two women, dressed in what looked like turn of the 20th century dress, standing very close together. It screamed out to me, “lesbian couple.” Prior to that, I had been dealing with a person who was gay and in the closet, afraid to come out because of molestation and prior abuse issues. All this dovetailed together into the seeds for the story. When I started my research into that time period, Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment rang out as a key homophobic event in history that I could use to create an air of persecution and move the story along. It would be the news of his imprisonment, that spreads around the world. When it reaches the small Nevada town where Mildred Dunlap lives with her partner, Edra, it throws the town into a frenzy of hatred and prejudice.

When I was doing research into lesbians in history, I learned that women friendships, even displays of affection or living together as spinsters, were acceptable. But were the women to have been suspected or labeled lesbian, then they were diagnosed as insane and thrown into mental institutions. Their treatment was rape, to cure them so they could then enjoy men.

I am a Nurse Practitioner specializing in women’s health. When I read that, I thought of all the beautiful, kind, decent-hurting-no-one women I provide for, and I couldn’t put this story down. It screamed to be told.

What advice would you like to give to other writers?

An author writes. Just sit down and do it and don’t let the critic in your head get in your way. Doesn’t matter the time put in or judgments involved by self or others, a writer writes. Leave the editing and critiquing up to others when the writing is ready for that but pay attention to seeking out supportive positive friends for feedback in the early stages so you don’t get your creative light turned off.

All your profits are going to the first and only no-kill animal shelter in the county where you live. How did this come to be?

I’d love to quote from a recent article in the Ventura County Star (the largest circulating press in Ventura County, CA, where I live, in which I answered that question:

Paulette Mahurin’s eyes light up when she talks about the dogs. An animal advocate, the Ojai resident and her husband, Terry, have been rescuing Rottweilers for nearly three decades.

When her beloved rottie, Tazzie, died last year at age 15, she was heartbroken. In addition to losing her best friend, the dog had been her constant companion throughout Mahurin’s life-altering bout with Lyme disease.

In honor of the 15 years spent with her beloved companion Tazzie, as well as her desire to support no-kill animal shelters, proceeds from the sales of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap benefit the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center.

After Tazzie died, my husband and I went to a kill shelter to rescue other dogs. I was still grieving her loss when I saw all those sad faces behind bars, on death row. I wanted to do more to help, more than just bring a few dogs home. This happened around the same time as I completed my novel and also heard about the first no-kill shelter opening. It just came to me to donate my profits to them.

Thanks for joining us, Paulette. Good luck with your book and thanks for helping out the animal shelters.

For more information on The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, here are links to guide you:

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap WEBSITE
TWITTER: @MahurinPaulette