After thirty-two years of hoping and writing, I’ve learned a few lessons on the road to publication. Read my guest blog on American Christian Fiction Writers.
Happy to post this author interview with Anne Clare! Anne stopped by last year and wrote about being a new author, which you can read here. Today, she’s here to talk about romance and her WWII novel, Whom Shall I Fear? Welcome back, Anne!
Which came first when writing your novel Whom Shall I Fear?—the history or the romance?
While the history ended up driving much of the final story, I must admit, the romance came first. My initial idea for Whom Shall I Fear?came from a half-recalled snippet of a dream. It was a dramatic scene set in WWII London… which I can’t detail because it would include major story spoilers. From that scene, I worked backwards. How did James and Evie—my protagonists—know each other? What had they been doing during the war? How did they wind up in that dark alley? (Oops! Right. No spoilers.) I filled two journals with their love story, and then the history—the true stories of the muddy slog through the Italian front and the struggles on the British Home Front—gave the story flesh.
On a side note, my current project began in the opposite way—the history of the Anzio beachhead first, the characters and their stories later. Each method has had its complications, but at least this time around I haven’t had to rewrite huge chunks due to timeline issues!
Was it difficult writing from a male perspective?
I find that no matter the character, it takes some time to find their distinctive voice. I spent a great deal of time reading memoirs and recollections of people who lived through the events I wrote about—especially James’s part of the story—trying to get the right tone and timbre for his voice. My husband is also an amazing beta reader and helps kindly point out if occasional things “don’t sound like a guy.” As to the romantic side of things…well, that can be tricky to do well from a male or female perspective. But that leads into your next question…
What do you think is the key to creating a romantic couple readers can root for?
So. A Midwestern man found his wife crying. When he asked her what was wrong, she sniffled and said, “You never say you love me.” He stared at her, shocked. “But, honey, I told you on our wedding day. If something had changed…I would have let you know!” Ba-doom-ching.
Why bring up an “Ole and Lena” joke here? (And if you don’t know what I mean by an “Ole and Lena” joke, well…they’re the “dad jokes” of the upper Midwest. There seems to be an unlimited supply of them, and they are all pretty painful.) I do not come from particularly emotive people. Writing “love stuff” doesn’t exactly come easily. Embracing the romantic element of my story took some time. Fretting over finding ways to write believable romantic scenes for my characters took more time. How should they talk to each other? How could I show that they were attracted to each other? How could I make the attraction justified? Would there be anything…physical?
I’ve found that I tend to focus on romance through action, meaning that I try to allow my characters the chance to show the characteristics that make their relationship believable. This took some trial and error.
In early drafts, I caught myself telling about James and Evie’s admirable attributes. Occasionally, I’d have other people talk about how nice they were, etc. It was…not great. I worked to improve this by giving them opportunities to show their personalities instead—chances for them to spend time together, to talk, to see each other at their best and to see each other struggle. Taking time to strengthen each of their scenes together, making the dialogue and action count, helped the story as well as the romance.
I also found that it can be tempting to try to “sell” the suitability of the romance too hard. I ran into that with Evie especially. I found myself writing a caricature, not a character—she was too perfect in the early drafts. Thankfully, my first comments on the novel by a professional pointed this out. After the initial “oh no!” of receiving criticism, I used it as an opportunity to explore her flaws, make her into a more well-rounded character, AND to improve the love story. A couple with flaws as well as strengths can complement each other, creating a more balanced relationship.
It can be so hard to let our favorite characters have flaws! It really helps to get the opinions of others.
All that Sergeant James Milburn wants is to heal. Sent to finish his convalescence in a lonely village in the north of England, the friends he’s lost haunt his dreams. If he can only be declared fit for active service again, perhaps he can rejoin his surviving mates in the fight across Sicily and either protect them or die alongside them.
All that Evie Worther wants is purpose. War has reduced her family to an elderly matriarch and Charles, her controlling cousin, both determined to keep her safely tucked away in their family home. If she can somehow balance her sense of obligation to family with her desperate need to be of use, perhaps she can discover how she fits into her tumultuous world.
All that Charles Heatherington wants is his due. Since his brother’s death, he is positioned to be the family’s heir with only one step left to make his future secure. If only he can keep the family matriarch happy, he can finally start living the easy life he is certain he deserves.
However, when James’s, Evie’s and Charles’s paths collide, a dark secret of the past is forced into the light, and everything that they have hoped and striven for is thrown into doubt. Weaving in historical detail from World War II in Britain, Italy and Egypt, WHOM SHALL I FEAR? follows their individual struggles with guilt and faith, love and family, and forces them to ask if the greatest threat they face is really from the enemy abroad.
Anne Clare is a native of Minnesota’s cornfields and dairy country. She graduated with a BS in Education in 2005 and set out to teach in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband still live. She also serves as a church musician, singing in and occasionally directing choirs, playing piano, organ, and coronet (the last only occasionally, when she forgets how bad she is at it.) After the birth of her second child, she became a stay-at-home mom, and after the birth of the third she became reconciled to the fact that her house would never be clean again, which allowed her to find time to pursue her passion for history and writing while the little people napped. Although she’s back to teaching part-time, she continues to write historical fiction and to blog about WWII history, writing, and other odds and ends at thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com.
You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @anneclarewriter.
I’m so glad to feature this author interview with Bettie Boswell today. I met Bettie through the local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She wrote a post a few years ago for me about the similarities to writing and music, which you can find here. Today, just in time for Valentine’s Day, she’s here to talk about her sweet romance On Cue.
What inspired you to use a musical as the setting of your romance, On Cue?
I have been involved in several community theater events as both an actor and as an author/composer. One of those events did involve a musical called Just Around the Bend which raised funds for a historical museum in the area. For that program, I was a co-author, did some composing, acted, and participated in the production team. That background provided me with a hands-on experience for the book’s setting without having to start any research from scratch. I was also a music teacher for many years and have always enjoyed anything involved in music making. Authors quickly discover there is always some kind of research and the musical experience in my own community provided an easy way to do that for On Cue.
Yes, it saves so much time if a writer pulls from his or her own experiences for a story.
Is it difficult writing from the male perspective?
I had two older brothers and two children who grew into fine young men. They provided me with some of the experience I needed to create my hero. I also read at least one Christian romance every week, so I have a feel for what that perspective is like in this genre. In earlier drafts of On Cue my critique partner liked Scott’s development better than Ginny’s so I had to work more on the female perspective. One writing workshop I went to emphasized the female writer should make sure the man’s voice sounds like something a guy would say or notice. He isn’t going to recognize a brand name purse or comment on whether she is wearing a flared or a-line dress. He would just notice that she looks amazing in the blue dress.
What surprised you the most about writing the romance in your novel?
I had a lot of fun with the secondary characters in this story. Many of them were not in earlier drafts and that was a shame. They added depth to the story while supporting the main characters. Those characters gave the leads someone to talk to, someone to care about or rescue, someone to add a little humor, and also provided open doors to possible appearances in sequels to On Cue. I am planning to work on one of those character’s stories starting sometime this summer, when I retire from my day job of teaching. The musical in the story has already inspired a prequel that I am working on during weekends, but my current fulltime teaching position keeps me very busy.
I love creating secondary characters, too! And it’s so rewarding when writers find characters that inspires them to write more than one story about them. Best of luck with your new story!
What do you think is the key to creating a romantic couple readers can root for?
They both need something they can overcome for both an inner journey and an outer journey. Scott and Ginny have the outer journey of unwillingly working together to put on a successful musical that will help the historical museum in their community survive. For their inner journeys they struggle with overcoming issues of trust and forgiveness that have arisen from past experiences in close relationships. Main characters have to be real enough for the reader to identify with them. They need to make the reader smile, cry, relate to their faults, and feel their frustrations and victories.
What advice would you give a writer who wants to write romance?
Read as much as you can in the genre. Find a critique partner who has the ability to correct and encourage. Both are critical to the writing process. Don’t give up. On Cue evolved over the course of several years and many of its earlier forms drew rejections from multiple publishers. Always strive to grow your craft by attending conferences, workshops, and supportive groups like local chapters of ACFW. Those activities helped me realize what I needed to do to improve On Cue. Attending those types of events led me to know about my publisher, Mt. Zion Ridge, and led to the opportunity to write for them.
Connecting with other writers and professionals in the industry is so critical. Thanks for the advice!
When a college sweetheart used Ginny Cline’s dreams for his own glory, he stole her joy of composing music and her trust in men. Years later, encouraged by prayer and a chance to help the local museum, she dares to share her talents again. Unfortunately a financial backer forces her to place her music and trust into the hands of another man.
Theater professor Scott Hallmark’s summer camp benefactor coerces him into becoming the director of Ginny’s musical. The last thing he needs is another woman who uses him to get what they want, especially an amateur who has no idea what they are doing.
As Ginny’s interest in Scott grows, her confusion arises over Honey, a member of Scott’s praise band. Mix in a couple of dogs and quirky cast members for fun and frustration as the couple work together to discover that forgiveness and trust produce perfect harmony.
Bettie Boswell has always loved to write. During her career as a teacher she has written everything from worksheets to musicals to articles in educational journals. Recently she stepped out of her classroom and into the world of publishing. She dipped her toe into the profession by contributing to several teacher education books and eventually wrote a leveled reader, “Side-tracked,” relating the adventure of two boys as they work for the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad. Those train tracks still run from Toledo, through Sylvania, (where Bettie teaches,) and into Michigan. As an active member of Ohio’s SCBWI and ACFW, she is involved in critique/support groups from both organizations. She became aware of submission information for a short story collection through the Ohio ACFW group and contributed “Fred’s Gift” (inspired by the memory of her father) to a collection of tales called “From the Lake to the River.” Her debut Christian Romance novel, “On Cue,” was released on November 1, 2020. Follow Bettie on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
I’m very excited to introduce a writer new to JPC Allen Writes. I wanted different opinions on how to tackle writing a novel during NaNoWriMo, and Samantha has provided her insights on outlining a novel. Take it away, Samantha!
I can hear the groans just from reading the title. If you’re like me, you write off the top of your head, starting wherever you please and leaving organization for later. While it’s my favorite way to write, it opens the door for breaks in character, mysterious setting mishaps, and random plot holes. That’s why an outline, even a basic one, can help organize your thoughts and make editing a breeze. Here’s three things you need to know and have outlined before you write.
Characters are the guides in every story. Readers connect and invest in characters. If you don’t have solid characters, you’ll lose the intensity and reader connection to the book that keeps them craving the next chapter.
How do you create a solid character? I won’t go into depth since JPC Allen has a month for characters, but I’ll cover a few points. They have a distinct personality, physical appearance, and back story. Think of a family member or best friend. What key points make them unique? When designing a character, you’re designing a person. Look at people around you for inspiration on what to add or consider.
The setting is the backdrop for your entire book. Especially for a journey with multiple places, the setting needs to be solid so readers don’t get confused or lost while accompanying the characters. Even with one setting, there’s constantly changing components like time of day and weather. These elements can work in your favor, but they need to be solidified before writing.
How do you create a solid setting? Heavy description is the only answer I’ve got for you. I’ve been refining my description abilities for years just so my settings drags readers into the room or roadside. Some of it will get cut in edits, but if you start with lots of description and sensory information (think five senses), you won’t have to add onto it later. Develop the overall setting in a paragraph or two before shifting into writing.
The plot is the major dilemma of the book. You may have subplots that help move along the story, but there must be one main plot that exists from word 1 to word 50,000. Depending on the genre, this plot will vary. Every book has a plot, and those without one or with a poor plot don’t go anywhere.
How do you create a solid plot? Problems don’t simply arise; something changes that results in a problem. Take the characters and setting you developed and brainstorm on what changes. Does the character lose their job? Does the world become too polluted? Now think about the problem that arises from that change. The bigger and more impactful the problem, the more readers will want to know what happens. That problem is your plot.
Final Thoughts: Road Map
Now the three points above are easy enough, but you’re probably looking for the outline. Remember when I said the most basic outline will do the trick? A basic outline doesn’t need to be a list, but a few paragraphs on the characters, setting, and plot. In other words, we just made a basic writer’s outline.
However, I’ve found that while writing, I get a new idea and create a road map. In this scenario, grab a sheet of paper, write some key scenes down, and connect them with lines. That’s a basic road map that literally shows you how each scene moves into the next. This outline doesn’t restrain freethought writing but gives it direction and purpose.
Samantha Seidel is a speculative fiction writer and graphic designer. Her goal is to inspire others to find their inner creativity through imaginative stories and meaningful design. Writing since she was thirteen, Samantha continues to improve her skills as an author and editor. She has a contract for her first book and is ready to publish more. If you ever want a different perspective on a project or some free writing help, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her in Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.
Today my new author is M. Liz Boyle, whom I also met online. Last year, Liz published her first novel, a YA adventure. Welcome, Liz!
What do you consider your first story?
When I was about 7 or 8, I made up a cartoon about a ladybug and a worm named Sarah and Crawler, but the plot was pretty bland! Growing up, I worked on several stories after my Sarah and Crawler days, usually about horse-crazy teenage girls. The bonafide, full-fledged story that I consider my first is a Christian YA novel entitled Avalanche. The plot is much more developed than my earlier stories!
What do you think is the main difference between a writer and an author?
A writer’s work is more for personal use than for sharing, and an author intends to share his/her work with the public. When I hear the word writer, I picture someone lounging in the grass using a pen and paper. I think authors start that way. When they become published authors who write to share ideas with others, hopefully they can keep writing for the love of it, while managing to get their work into readers’ hands.
It would be miserable to become an author and lose the love of writing.
Why did you decide to become an author?
When I first had the idea to write Avalanche, I saw a great opportunity to share an adventure and an example of strong morals with a teenage audience. I love how stories leave us with memorable lessons that we can apply in our own lives, and I’d love to have a positive impact on readers looking for clean adventures.
What was the most difficult thing to learn about being a new author?
I’ve had a hard time with patience, whether it’s trying to be patient while waiting to hear back from editors, reviewers, etc., or waiting for a chance to write down my ideas in the midst of my busy schedule. Sometimes I have a brilliant brainstorm and want to develop it right away, so I get really frustrated if it’s a busy day or week and I need to wait to work on it.
What was the biggest surprise?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the kindness and generosity of so many authors. Before becoming an author, I had the misconception that in general, authors would have an ‘every man for himself’ mindset. I’ve found quite the opposite to be true! Fellow authors are happy and quick to offer advice and support. It’s a great group of people.
That’s been my experience too. What advice would you give to writers who are considering becoming author?
I would advise aspiring authors to read books and articles about publishing and find some credible AuthorTubers on YouTube to learn as much as possible, to network with other authors in a similar genre, and to brace yourself for rejection. It can be discouraging, but keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes on the prize. Listen to constructive criticism, and ignore outright negativity. Also, and I know this sounds cliche, but identify your audience so you can best share your work with them.
When fifteen-year-old Marlee Stanley joins her two sisters and the sons of their family friends on a secretive hike in the middle of the night, she is thrilled and nervous. Battling her conscience, she prays that the hike will go flawlessly and that they will return to the safety of their campsite before their parents wake. The start of the hike is beautiful and wonderfully memorable.
In a white flash so fast that Marlee can barely comprehend what has happened, an avalanche crashes into their path. Buried in packed snow, Marlee is forced to remember survival tips learned from her dad and her own research.
This group of friends, ages eleven through seventeen, is about to endure bigger challenges than many adults have experienced. Digging out of the packed snow is only the first of many challenges. Injuries, cold, hunger, fatigue, aggressive wildlife and tensions in the group make this a much bigger adventure than they ever imagined. As the kids strive to exhibit Christian values throughout the trials, they learn numerous life lessons. But they are nearly out of food, and their energy is waning quickly. How will they ever reach help?
BUY LINKS: Amazon
Liz is an author, the wife of a professional tree climber and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. She received her Associate’s of Arts at the University of Sioux Falls, where she received the LAR Writing Award for her essay entitled, “My Real Life Mufasa.” Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She likes making adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). She has thoroughly enjoyed working on her first novel, Avalanche.