I Love Research!

For the first time since college I’ve immersed myself in scholarly works of history, books dedicated to specific topics and specific time periods. I used to be one of those people who dreamed of documenting the life of an ordinary person in an extraordinary time or finding a connection between two things hitherto unconnected. I’d write an informative yet interesting book as my doctoral thesis before moving on to my real love: historical fiction.

Well, grad school never materialized—but the historical fiction did. As I began rewriting my historical novel into two historical romances, I found myself needing to research once again, needing to heed the advice of my college history professor.

He was unusual, this professor, in that he didn’t poo-poo my dream of writing historical fiction. He only adjured me to write out of my knowledge of a time and place, not to fictionalize a famous event or person. I’ve never forgotten his advice or the time he took to give it to me.

So after a complete re-do of my first three chapters, I high-tailed it to the local university library. Back in my element. Back to years of research for college history classes. Eager to unearth the knowledge that would explain my characters, give them accuracy and motivation, and provide fodder for plot twists, I brought several books home with me. But I found myself wanting to stay in that place, to lose track of time while perusing entire shelves of interesting titles. I felt like a college student once again, the world wide open before me.

I still have some research left to do before I let myself become engrossed in my storyworld once more. But my storyworld will be so much richer for the time spent reading about the real thing. And since I love both aspects, it’s a win-win situation!


Pining for the Classics

I’m a classics girl at heart, but over the past year or so, I’ve forced myself to read more current fiction, stuff published in the last four or five years. I felt this was necessary to my growth as a writer, to understanding the markets and what is making it through the arduous publishing process.

I’ve found some great authors, read some entertaining and moving stories. But I’m pining for the classics again. I want to wrap myself in the stories and characters that transcend time and culture. I want to study masters of the craft—even if they wrote in omniscient points of view and used passive verbs. They managed to tell stories that remain about characters that shape our own lives.

So, after sighing through four hours of Masterpiece Theatre’s new production of Jane Eyre, I’m off on a classics binge, the movie stirring the appetite within me to read Charlotte Bronte’s words once more. Some titles—such as Jane Eyre—will be pulled from my bookshelves and experienced for the 2nd, 7th, 20th time. Some will be books and authors I’ve heard of but haven’t yet added to my list of “have-read.”

Now if I could only read them in front of a blazing fire with nothing else calling for my attention . . .


On Characters

I’m always looking for examples of three-dimensional characters in books. I mean, that’s what the writing books tell you to write, but what do they look like? In the past couple of weeks I’ve read two books that have these characters in abundance: Also the Hills by Frances Parkinson Keyes and The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy.

For me, a three-dimensional character is one that comes alive. The person is no longer confined to the page. It is someone I know so well that I imagine someday I will pass that person in a mall or at a restaurant. I’ll recognize them, have to stop myself before I speak. But it goes beyond the physical even. I find myself wondering about that person, as if they lived and breathed, wondering what their future holds (or held.)

Those are the characters I want to in my own books. People that leap from black and white into glorious Technicolor, that linger in the reader’s mind for days, weeks, years to come. Characters as complex as people really are, whose decisions and feelings make sense in the context of their past, their culture, their place in time.

If I ever make it to Ireland, I imagine Kit and Clio, Helen and Martin and Maura will be everywhere. If I visit New Hampshire, I know I’ll spy the Farman family and their neighbors—or at least the remnants of them—in some small villiage. They will be old by now, having lived their youth during WWII.

So I read on—making new friends, re-acquainting myself with old ones. And I return to my own work-in-progress inspired.


A Lesson from Moses

I was reading, again, the story of Moses, and I was struck by a profound truth I’ve often overlooked, yet find playing out in my own life and the lives of those around me. The truth is this: sometimes we just have to pay attention to what God is doing. Our attention opens the door for him to speak and act.

In Exodus 3, Moses goes up on Horeb with his father-in-law’s flock. No big deal. Pretty mundane, in fact. There he sees a bush burning, but not consumed. “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight,” he says in verse. 3. Okay, so all that I’ve seen before. But the beginning of verse 4 leapt out at me today. It says this: “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look.” It all started with Moses noticing what God was doing—noticing the bush in the midst of his daily drudgery and turning aside to look.

Then God spoke to him. God didn’t call out to try to get Moses’ attention while he was looking the other way. He spoke once Moses noticed the bush and stopped to look.

Have you seen this in your own life? I have. When I stopped to look—and call about—that first writers group, I ended up with a critique group and writer friends and more confidence in my calling to write. When I paid attention to the possibility of attending my first writers conference, it led a fun trip, some encouraging words from people in the publishing industry, and again, confidence that the Lord had called and gifted me to write.

It all begins with stopping and looking at those things God is using to get our attention in the middle of our normal, daily lives.


To all you writers out there groping in the darkness of your room with only your computer screen for company:


It was just about this time of year 5 years ago that my husband saw a tiny announcement in our local newspaper. A Christian writers group meeting about 15 minutes from my home.

“You should go,” he said.

“I don’t know.”

“Here.” He handed me the cut out square of paper. “At least call the number and ask about it.” (Hm, I wonder if he regrets that yet!)

I summoned all my courage and called. Then I showed up at the meeting. Since I had been really working on my writing for the past couple of years, I even had something to bring for critique. I took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

A few months later, I found myself in a critique group with people who knew a whole lot more than me but took me in anyway—Leslie Wilson and Mary DeMuth (and Suzanne Deschidn, before she moved away.) We formed a bond. We named ourselves Life Sentence.

All of a sudden, I had a real support system for my writing life, people to help me move toward my dream. Since then, I’ve met so many others through conferences and online writer organizations like The Writers View and American Christian Fiction Writers. I’ve written a lot. I’ve published a bit. But most of all, I’ve made some really good friends.

So what are you waiting for? Find out who else is out there—in your city, in your town, in cyberspace—pounding away at the keys of their computer, wondering if what they’ve written is worth reading. Link arms and walk the journey together. It’s always better that way.


The Big Picture

Lots of thoughts about goals and mission statements and such have been floating around my writerly associations since the new year. I’ve been pondering these things. I know that my writing has been a bit haphazard over the years and I suddenly have a need to know what I’m doing, what I’m aiming for. I think it would give me more confidence in pitching my work to editors and agents. But the big picture has always been a bit of a challenge for me to see. I see details. I see the moment.

So I began by considering my desires as a reader. As a reader, I want a book that hangs together well—in other words, a good story. I don’t want a story to try to tell too much or too little of the lives of the people involved. I want some meaning, something relevant to flow out of that story and pierce my own heart.

But I want more than just a good story. I want it peopled with multi-dimensional, believable characters. Characters that I believe in. Characters that struggle with their lives, their feelings, their relationship with God and others, just like I do. I want to watch them, learn from them.

And I want colorful, strong words strung into sentences that have a rhythm to them—the rhythm that fits the story they tell. Words that make me hurt with their beauty or their pain. Words that make me feel the story and the characters.

For me, the most powerful fiction has been all of these things—and I have come away changed from the reading of it. So shouldn’t that be the type of fiction I want to write? I know this definition doesn’t really encompass a genre, but I’m okay with that for now. Looking back over my three completed novels, I see I’m working toward my goal. All three have a compelling premise—and I’m getting better at spinning a good premise into a good story. All three have characters who struggle not only with their physical circumstances but internally as well. They grow. They change. And with each novel, my words fit more exactly. I seem to have more control over them to make them do what I want them to do.

But even in this, the story and words seem to be only the vehicle for the character. That’s what really excites me—making the character come alive, making the reader feel their feelings until that character niggles a reader to the point of saying, “I see some of that in my own life; Lord help me change, too.” That’s what I want my stories to do. Challenge. Encourage. Be a catalyst for change.

I’m not sure it I’ve come up with a mission statement or a doable goal, but it’s something, a framework in which to fit all the other details of what I write.



I’m in a quandary over what to do next. In the past six years I have taken two online writing classes through a major university, attended three big writing conferences, finished and submitted various articles and short stories with a variety of success, and finished three novels that have all been rejected in some form or fashion.

Now what?

Time to move on to the next project. But the decision is daunting. The quality of my writing has risen over the past six years. Now it’s a matter of story—and timing. I have several ideas in my head, but which is the right one? I continue to pray about it, but have no clear direction. Do I work on the Young Adult novel that spins in my head occasionally? What about the historicals? I have two or three ideas there. Contemporary? A strong romance element? Suspense? Mystery? Women’s fiction? Literary fiction?

See what I mean? Do I just pick one—eeny, meeny, miney, moe—and jump in, or should I be more intentional?

I read an interview with Ted Dekker. He also wrote three novels that didn’t sell. The fourth one did, but he wrote it more intentionally for the market. Is that what I need to do now? I know publication is not necessarily the be-all and end-all, but it sure seems like the Lord has moved me closer to that in the past few years. So do I ignore all that, or do I take it into consideration as I ponder the next book?

I’ll strategize with my market-savvy critique group, Life Sentence, on Wednesday, but I’d love to hear some other general responses, too. What do you like to read? What do you see a need for in fiction—besides something well-written? (Okay, so I’ll rant more on that later.) If you know me at all, is there a certain genre you can picture me writing and promoting?

Meanwhile, I’ll grind out some more newspaper articles for our school. But I’d rather be writing fiction . . .


Reclaiming Nick

I have always loved fiction that shows Biblical truth rather than tells it. Reclaiming Nick, Susan May Warren’s latest romance release, does just that. Chronicling Nick Noble’s return to his family ranch to face the past, Reclaiming Nick has captured my heart with its true-to-life characters, page-turning plot, and heart-rending truths.

I was privileged to talk with Susan May Warren about this new book which begins the Noble Legacy Series.

Me: Being from Texas, a western-themed romance is right up my alley. Have you always liked cowboys and/or things western or is this a new arena for you?

Susan: Oh, no, I’m truly a cowgirl at heart. My earliest pictures are of me in cool red boots, a turquoise hat and a fringed skirt riding my pony, Sun Dancer (aka, the springy horse in the corner of the basement). I longed to live on a ranch when I grew up, and train horses. My only Christmas wish growing up was a pony. And my favorite shows were Bonanza and Big Valley, and I grew up singing songs from Oklahoma. So, writing a story set in the modern day west, one into which I could interject my sass and favorite things about cowboys was a perfect fit for me.

Me: Where did the idea for Reclaiming Nick and the Noble Legacy series begin?

Susan: Reclaiming Nick, as you might guess, was not the original title. However, when I began to write the story, I realized that these stories were so family driven, that the books had to belong to the main characters. Hence, why we decided to name them, in essence, Nick, Rafe & Stefanie. However the themes I use are taken from Philippians, and are about being the people God desires us to be, people called by his name. His NOBLE name. *g* Actually, the name Nick Noble was born before we decided on the series name, but now I see how God orchestrated it all to work together. As for the idea for Nick – the premise came from a story of grace that is revealed in the book – one that deeply touched me. I began to wonder what a gift of grace might look like, not from the recipient, but the giver…one who never thought he’d never be redeemed. Hence, the story of Nick Noble, the prodigal, who longs to “reclaim” the legacy he forsook.

Me: What is your favorite part of the writing process—research, writing, editing, or marketing—and why?

Susan: I probably enjoy writing the best. Research is fun because I learn so much and it generates ideas, but the writing process for me is like watching a movie, in short scene selections. In fact, I equate writing to the “unraveling of ideas from my brain.” Sometimes there is a snag I need to work out that isn’t so fun, but while I am writing, I have a snarl or knot of story in my head, and I love the discovery of the story threads. (I make it sound like I really don’t know what is going on, but more, it is just the fact that as soon as I unravel one thread, another one surfaces!) Editing is fun only because I enjoy sitting down to read the book and see what God has done. And Marketing – I love to share the message of the story, and watch what God does with it, but by then, I really want to move onto the next story!

Me: What is one thing you hope to accomplish in 2007 that you haven’t done before?

Susan: Wow, I don’t know. I’d like to write a bible study, and a non-fiction book. But on a personal level, (and I know this is sad), I’d like to take a no-kids-along week-long vacation with my hubby. We travel a lot separately, but haven’t gone on vacation for more than one night alone in, well, probably since our honeymoon! I think 18 years is too long to wait between romantic get-aways!

Me: Amen to that, Susan! I think a romance writer, especially, should get more romantic get-aways! Thanks for giving us some insight into your writing and your life.

As for Reclaiming Nick, let me just say that I got the book yesterday afternoon and I’m almost done! I’ve only put it down out of necessity. And I’m already looking forward to the next Noble Legacy book. Taming Rafe should be out around August of 2007.