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Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Amy C. Blake

SONY DSCI’m so excited about May’s theme, creating characters, that I’m starting a day early! Here to discuss characters in her latest release is YA fantasy and suspense writer, Amy C. Blake. Welcome, Amy!

Which comes first when creating a story – characters, plot, or setting?

I usually have some idea of plot and setting, but I need to know my main character in great detail before I can do much with a story. Since what happens in the plot depends so heavily on my protagonist’s personality and background, I’d say character is the most important factor for me.

Do you use a different approach for villains and heroes?

My hero is a critical part of my story, so I get to know him/her completely before I start writing. While I also need to know my villain thoroughly, that character is somewhat dependent on my hero. In other words, I want my villain to be the best antagonist to fit my hero. For instance, in my Levi Prince series (my new release The Fay’s Apprentice is the third book in that series), Hunter is the perfect villain for Levi. Hunter is rich, self-confident, and insolent. Levi is poor, gawky, and self-conscious. In addition, the ancestors of the two boys shared a similar antagonism to theirs, a factor Levi is only beginning to understand by his third summer in Terracaelum.

Who was the easiest character you’ve created? Who was the most difficult?

The easiest character is a toss-up between Patience from Whitewashedand Levi from my Levi Prince series. Patience was easy because I tend to be impatient like she is. Levi was easy because he’s a homeschooled pastor’s kid like my own children. Christy from Colorblind was the most difficult because she’s super sweet but was also not a believer during much of the story.

What do you think is the key for creating main characters that readers can relate to?

I think it’s key that my main characters be real. They need to be basically likable people but with at least one flaw many readers share. As I mentioned earlier, Patience tends to be impatient. Many of us battle that tendency as well, so she’s relatable. However, Patience isn’t just impatient. She’s also kind to a young mother trying to pacify twin babies on an airplane, and I’m careful to show that side of her personality before I show her flaw(s).

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a character?

My main characters are all homeschoolers, something I haven’t seen in the mainstream or Christian markets. As a homeschooling mom of four, I wanted to show that home educated kids are well-rounded, likable but flawed individuals, just like everybody else.

To follow Amy, visit her at the following sites:

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FaysApprentice_FlatOn Levi’s third summer at Camp Classic, he’s torn between two responsibilities. On the one hand, his parents expect him to watch over his little sister Abby, who has no clue their summer camp is a haven for mythical creatures. On the other hand, Mr. Dominic wants him to train at Fort Terra, a full day’s hike away from his sister, because of Levi’s previous encounters with the demon sorcerer Deceptor. Although he enjoys training with his friends, Levi finds life at Fort Terra difficult thanks to the ongoing tension between him and Hunter and the stress of having his former kidnapper Regin as his chaperone. When the woman Regin claims to be the evil sorceress Anna appears, Levi faces a whole new challenge. (Book 3 in the Levi Prince series)

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Award-winning author Amy C. Blake is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother of four. She has an M.A. in English from Mississippi College and has written articles, devotionals, and short stories for a number of publications. She’s also writing two series for the Christian market, her Levi Prince YA fantasy series and her On the Brink Christian suspense trilogy.

WhitewashedColorblind, and Tie-Dyed, featuring three homeschooled girls on the brink of adulthood…and danger, are available in paperback and Kindle. The Trojan Horse TraitorThe Fall of Thor’s Hammer, and The Fay’s Apprentice, about homeschooled pastor’s kid Levi Prince and his adventures in Terracaelum, are also available in paperback and Kindle. She’d love for you to visit her website at amycblake.com.

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blog & Giveaway By Jen Turano

email imageI am excited to welcome Jen Turano as guest blogger today. Along with giving advice on writing historical romance, Jen is providing a signed copy of her latest book Flight of Fancy. To enter the drawing for the book, you must be a U.S. resident and leave a comment below. You can comment from now until March 3 at 5 p.m. EST. I will notify the winner that day.

I met Jen at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference in 2017. I overheard a conversation about Appalachia and said my YA novel was set in West Virginia, but I was from eastern Ohio. Jen said so was she, and we discovered we were both from the same hometown and our dads taught at the high school together. We hadn’t attended high school at the same time, so I didn’t know Jen when we lived there. Jen brings a sense of humor to everything from her plots to her dedications and emails. So happy to have you here to day, Jen!

What inspires you to write historical romances set during the Gilded Age?

 I first became interested in the Gilded Age after reading “The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York.” It was a riveting read, which then led me to read “Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt,” and after that “’King Lehr’ and The Gilded Age,” by Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, a memoir that lent a clear flavor for the times even if it was less than factual in certain chapters. At the time, in my humble opinion, I felt the Gilded Age was a somewhat overlooked period of history, so I thought it might be fun to rectify that. Because it was a time when men were making fortunes practically overnight, and society, especially in New York City, was becoming more powerful than ever, I knew I’d have enough fodder for stories for years.  

 Are there other time periods you would like to write about?

When I first started writing, not that those efforts will ever see the light of day, I wrote Regencies. I still adore that time period, but if I was going to write something other than Gilded Age, I’d write contemporary now.

 When creating a story, which comes first? Character, setting or plot?

I always start with character because, here’s the thing – readers don’t really connect with plots or settings, but they form attachments and develop feelings for characters. They don’t care about a missing locket, but they’ll care about the lady who needs to find that locket because it’s her only memory of her parents. If you can get a feel for your characters, know their desires and their weaknesses, a plot and setting should develop quickly after that. 

What’s the most unusual source of inspiration you’ve used in a story?

A goat – long story, but I was stuck, couldn’t figure out how to move the story forward, but  then this goat sprang to mind and I was back in business. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write historical romance?

Get to be an expert on the time period you want to write. Historical readers expect certain things in the stories they read, and if you’re unfamiliar with, say, the fact that Mrs. Astor was the queen of New York high society, a reader will know you’ve not done your proper research and there’s little likelihood that reader will pick up another one of your stories or tell her friends about you. You should also know the market – different time periods go in and out of fashion. A few years ago, you were hard pressed to sell a Civil War story, which made it very frustrating for those writers who’d written Civil War books but simply couldn’t find anyone to publish them – nor did they do well as self-published books because readers weren’t interested in that time period. Occasionally, certain periods come back in fashion, but it can take quite a few years for that to happen. Go to your local bookstore and library often to see what they’re displaying in their historical section, and then read as many of those books as you can because that’s a wonderful way to learn what is expected in your time period and what is not.  

Thanks so much for all the great advice!

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Check out Jen’s latest Gilded Age romance here!

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Named One of the Funniest Voices in Inspirational Romance by Booklist, Jen Turano is a USA Today Best-Selling Author, known for penning quirky historical romances set in the Gilded Age. Her books have earned Publisher Weekly and Booklist starred reviews, top picks from Romantic Times, and praise from Library Journal. She’s been a finalist twice for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards and had two of her books listed in the top 100 romances of the past decade from Booklist.  When she’s not writing, she spends her time outside of Denver, CO. Readers may find her at www.jenturano.com or https://www.facebook.com/jenturanoauthor/or on Twitter at JenTurano@JenTurano.

 

 

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Bettie Boswell

39760465_2130678013617363_178544449079476224_nMy friend Bettie Boswell is joining me today because as a writer of both words and music, she brings an informed view about how the two arts interrelated. Thanks so much for stopping by, Bettie!

Music and the written word have characteristics that are both similar and yet very different:  Patterns, rhythms, and lyrical phrases fill music and the written word. Both have meanings that are clear and hidden. Both reach for the listener’s heart and emotions. They move at varying tempos. They both involve pitches but what a difference between the two. Highs and lows move throughout the song and the story but again they have contrasts in meaning. A symphony has distinct sections and so does a story. Picture books may have a recurring refrain and so do many songs.

By popular definition, music is organized sound. The written story consists of organized words. Organization makes the difference between a rambling journal entry and a well-written novel.

Music begins with a BEAT that binds the piece and the performers together. The story has a heartbeat that ties the tale together through either a theme or an outline designed to show changes along a hero’s journey. In writing, the beat can also refer to actions that keep story movement going between conversations in quotes.

RHYTHM adds sparkle to the music by breaking up the constant beat. Rhythm forms patterns that repeat and change. Patterns reveal FORM in the music and make the music memorable and easier to perform. Surprising rhythms are exciting to listen to and make each composition unique. Certain rhythms indicate genre, be it Jazz or Baroque or Rock. When an author pens a story, they will follow certain word rhythms or plot types that will take them into genres such as Young Adult, Picture Book, Mystery, Romance, or Suspense.

PITCH in music makes the music sing as the melody moves through high and low notes. Stories also move through high and low events for the main character. Pitch can strain or relax the musician’s abilities. In the writer’s world, a pitch can be one of the most strenuous events that the author will experience. Will they easily sing out the essence of their story to an editor or agent, or will they over do it and ruin their chance at having their voice (story) heard?

Speaking of voice, in music there are many TIMBRES (tone qualities.) In a symphonic orchestra, a b-flat played on an oboe will sound very different from one played on a tuba or a viola, yet they are in tune with each other.  A singer can also perform the same note but he or she will have his or her own unique voice. Authors are encouraged to find their own voice for telling the story in a genuine way. They also need to find special voices for the players making up the orchestra of characters found in their book.

All those voices playing together create HARMONY or dissonance in the music or the story. When things go well there is harmony; when they don’t there is dissonance. Dissonance creates tension in both music and the story. It happens when two voices get too close and create a displeasing sound. Dissonance creates the desire to resolve the sound into something more pleasing. When those two voices give each other a little space, they find harmony and a happy conclusion is the result.

Writing is like being the conductor of an orchestra. The author keeps the beat and rhythm going and knows when to speed up or slow the TEMPO of the story. They know what voices should be part of the story and where to cue the reader that something is about to happen. They lead with quiet or loud words when approaching the DYNAMICS of each scene. They direct emotions by using smooth lyrical sentences, or staccato phrases to make a point. Just as a songwriter chooses the perfect lyrics for a ballad, an author finds words that are meaningful to their chosen audience and to themselves. They stand before that audience, give it their best (after many rehearsal hours of revising,) and hope that they receive a singing review for a work well done.

Best wishes and Merry Christmas to all aspiring writers and musicians,

Bettie Boswell

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Find Bettie’s Christmas short story “Fred’s Gift” as well as my country noir one “Debt to Pay” in the anthology below. Click here for ordering links.

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Bettie Boswell is an author, illustrator, and composer for both Christian and children’s markets. She holds a B.S. in Church Music from Cincinnati Bible College and a Masters in Elementary Education from East Tennessee State University. She lives in Northwest Ohio. Her numerous musicals have been performed at schools, churches, and two community theater events. When she isn’t writing, drawing or composing, she keeps busy with her day job teaching elementary music. You can find her online on Twitter @BboswellB and on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Sandra Merville Hart

SandraMervilleHart_Headshot2I am excited to have my friend Sandra Merville Hart guest blogging today. Sandra specializes in Christian fiction set during the American Civil War. I mentioned her newest book, A Musket in My Hands, in my post last Thursday. It’s based on the fascinating, true stories of women who would disguise themselves as men to fight in the army. You can learn more about this novel after the interview. Welcome, Sandra!

Why did you select the Civil War as the time period for your novels?

 I’ve been fascinated by the Civil War since childhood. Aunts and uncles discussed the turbulent period with my parents and grandparents around the supper table. While in elementary school, I asked them to explain. My aunt said, “It was a terrible time in our history. Brother fought against brother and father against son.” It sounded awful. I had a brother. I didn’t want to fight him in a war.

After that, every mention of the Civil War captured my attention. I always wanted to find out more. Choosing to set my novels in this tragic period of American history allowed me the freedom to research what had always fascinated me.

 Which comes first – research or storyline?

For me, research comes first. I have to know what happened historically. I usually begin with only a hazy idea—a story question or a main character living in a particular town. History fills in the rest of the gaps.

For instance, studying events surrounding a particular battle shows what citizens endured as well as the soldiers. Once I know that, the story begins to build in me. I plop my characters in the midst of the turmoil to transport my readers back in time.

 What resources do you rely on for research?

 I use a variety of resources, beginning with nonfiction books about an event or time period that I check out from the library. I usually start with a stack of about twenty books. From there, I might check out more books as I expand my search to information available online.

I also plan a trip to the site of the Civil War battle, if at all possible. I visit the battle site and museums local to the battle. Usually there is someone working in the museum who is excited to talk about local history—what a treat to find someone like that! I eat in local diners and shop in quaint stores where I can talk to the folks who live there. In other words, I get a feel for the place. This adds a layer of authenticity to my novels.

 What is the most unusual resource you have used?

Maps are a resource that most folks don’t think about, but I use them extensively. Finding a map that was drawn shortly before the time period covered by the novel is such a treasure! You may find that the Johnston family lived on Broadway Street above their mercantile. Or that the bank was located on Main Street across from a Farmer’s Market. The train depot was mere yards from Mrs. Jones’ Eatery. Incorporate these details where they fit into your story and you’ve added another layer of authenticity—especially for long-time residents of a city.

Interesting! I’ve used maps, too, when researching the setting for my short story and novel. What advice would you give to someone interested in writing historical fiction?

Don’t neglect the research. Even if your novel isn’t set around a particular event, discover something about what was happening historically. Maybe a couple of men reading a newspaper on a train discuss the next presidential election or a stagecoach robbery out West or how the crops need rain. Two women talk about the next play starting at their city’s theater or a traveling circus coming to town or last week’s church picnic while their children play on the town’s square.

Search for something about the novel’s location that is interesting or unique. If it does not work to incorporate it into the story, consider writing an article on your blog. Your readers will probably enjoy learning about it, too.

Thank you so much for stopping by! My theme for my blog this month is food and family and posts for “Historical Nibbles” fits right in. To learn where you can follow Sandra, check out the links below.

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Award-winning and Amazon bestselling author Sandra Merville Hart loves to uncover little-known yet fascinating facts about our American history to include in her stories. Her debut Civil War Romance, A Stranger on My Land, was IRCA Finalist 2015. A Rebel in My House, set during the historic Battle of Gettysburg, won the 2018 Silver Illumination Award and second place in 2018 Faith, Hope and Love Readers’ Choice Award. A Musket in My Hands, where two sisters join the Confederate army with the men they love, released November 8, 2018. Her novella, Surprised by Lovein “From the Lake to the River” released in September of 2018. Trail’s End, in “Smitten Novella Collection: The Cowboys” releases in August of 2019.

Find her on her blog, https://sandramervillehart.wordpress.com/.

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“Can I count on you in times of great need?”

 Callie Jennings reels from her pa’s decision that she must marry his friend, a man older than him. Her heart belongs to her soldier hero, Zach Pearson, but Pa won’t change his mind. Callie has no place to hide. Then her sister, Louisa, proposes a shocking alternative.

Zach still hears his pa’s scornful word—quitter. He’s determined to make something of himself as a soldier. He’ll serve the Confederacy until they win the war. If they win the war.

Callie and Louisa disguise themselves as soldiers and muster into the Confederate army in the fall of 1864. Times are tough and getting tougher for their Confederacy. For Callie, shooting anyone, especially former countrymen, is out of the question—until truth and love and honor come together on the battlefield.

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Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Mary Ellis

Mary EllisI am pleased to welcome Mary Ellis to my site today. Mary writes in several genres, including historical and Amish fiction. But my interview today will focus on her inspirational romantic suspense novels. She’s also a fellow Buckeye! Hello, Mary!

Which comes first when writing a mystery – plot, character, or setting?

Definitely setting. Once I find a town or neighborhood that inspires me, plot twists and characters start popping into my head.

I discovered that while reading What Happened on Beale Street. Memphis and its blues scene defines the story.

You write both romantic mysteries and cozy mysteries. What’s the difference?

I believe I’m the wrong person to ask this question. After reading several “traditional” cozies and talking to several cozy authors, I don’t think I’ve ever written a true “cozy.” Although my mysteries are often set in small towns and are “sweet” in nature, I always have at least two points of view (cozies are usually from one point of view) and I always write in third person. According to my editor and agent, cozies are usually written in first-person, something I have never done. I would describe my books as mysteries with romantic elements. I dare not describe them as romantic suspense because readers of those usually expect a far more sensuous story than I can deliver. So….if you come across a better definition of “genres”, please pass it along! Because after 25 published books…I’m still confused!

 What are some unique challenges to writing mysteries?

I’m usually a “plotter” by nature, but when I switched to mysteries from historical romance, I found plotting more necessary than ever, especially to maintain the book’s proper pacing. As “clues” to the whodunit are dropped in, each should be “bigger” and more important to the storyline than the last.  Frankly, I can’t see how a total “panster” can build the necessary suspense. Either you’ll reveal too much too soon, or you’ll land in the soggy middle where nothing much happens other than you increase your word count.  I’m certain some mystery writers can “wing it” successfully, but they must have better memory than me.

 What do you do to renew your inspiration when it is running low?

 Ahhh, finally an easy question!! I renew my inspiration with travel. One-hundred percent of the time, my story and characters have sprung from an area I found intriguing. It could be close to home like Ohio’s Amish country, an hour away, or perhaps several hours away like many Civil War battlefields. But lately I’ve been writing mysteries set in the South. Thus far, I’ve set my books in New Orleans, Memphis, Natchez and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Savannah, Charleston, and Pensacola. Keep in mind I live in Ohio. My current work-in-progress is set in St. Simons Island, GA, a place where I plan to spend the winter.

 What’s the most unusual source of inspiration you have ever used in your writing?

 I believe the most unusual source of inspiration was an overheard conversation in a lovely restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Okay, true confession time—I eavesdropped on a marital spat that became quite loud at times. My mind started working overtime with “what if the husband did this” and “what if the wife did that” during the rest of that vacation. Hopefully the couple resolved their difficulties and they are still happily married, but that spat gave me fodder for my first published mystery called, “Something Very Wicked.”

What a great story behind the story! 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write mysteries?

 Read lots and lots of mysteries, in the various sub-genres. Find the niche you feel you can fit into, but don’t belabor the “rules” of the genre and sub-genre. I wrote and sold several mysteries that frankly my editor didn’t know how to pigeon-hole. But she loved the stories and published them anyway. Get a feel for what you want to write and then go for it. If you try to write exactly like someone else you won’t sell the book.

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hiding in Plain sight 4 (2)While working to locate her adopted client’s natural siblings, Kate Weller tries to prove her landlord’s father not guilty of murder before someone who wants her dead tracks her down.

Interested? Check out the link on Amazon.

Mary Ellis has written twenty-five novelsincluding Amish fiction, historical romance, and suspense. First in the series, Midnight on the Mississippi,was a finalist for the RT Magazine’sReviewer’s Choice Award and a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award for 2015. Fourth in the series, Sunset in Old Savannahhas been nominated for a Bookseller’s Best Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award for 2017. In August, Severn House released Hiding in Plain Sightbook one of Marked for Retribution Mysteries. In January Kensington will release her mystery novella, Nothing Tastes So Sweet,for the Amish Candy Shop Anthology. www.maryellis.net or www.facebook.com/Mary.Ellis.Author

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