Sharing A Brain

A number of years ago, I attended a writing workshop focused on injecting more emotion into the opening scene of a story. The leader of this workshop, DiAnn Mills, used an effective tool for teaching this writing skill—she tapped into the personal emotions of every writer in the class and encouraged them to pass those emotions on to their fictitious characters. For me, the workshop resulted in a more powerful opening scene, and landed me my first contract. Continue reading

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CELEBRATING The Most Eligible Bachelor

The Most Eligible BachelorI am tickled to announce the release of The MOST ELIGIBLE BACHELOR Romance Collection from Barbour Publishing. I am blessed to join eight other wonderful authors—Erica Vetsch, Kathleen Y’Barbo, Amanda Barratt, Cynthia Hickey, Shannon McNear, Gabrielle Meyer, and Gina Wellborn—in this collection of historical novellas that portray marrying for all the right reasons.
The Most Eligible Bachelor romance collection on Amazon  Continue reading

Posted in character photos, character's occupations, drawing for free book(s), gift basket giveaway, historical fiction, Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection, News, novella collection, Promotional giveaway, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

STORY IDEAS?

iStock_tell-your-storySmall1As a writer, I am often asked, “Where do you get your ideas for stories?” The answer varies as much as the many stories that line the shelves of bookstores. I’ve stumbled across items in antique stores that set my creative juices flowing. Idea have sparked from overhearing conversations or watching people interact. Even the sight of an empty park bench can make me wonder about the people who have sat there, waiting. Have you ever seen initials carved in the trunk of a tree or on the railing of an old wooden bridge? I wonder about their story. Continue reading

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS?

A few years ago, I decided to quit making New Year’s resolutions because they always made me feel like such a failure! When  I read that several of my writer friends were choosing a word or a phrase to apply to their lives, instead of making resolutions, I immediately liked the idea. This was something I could do and view it as a work in progress rather than either an achievement or a failure.

So I prayed for God’s leading and He pinpointed areas in my life that needed growth. Three years ago, I learned deeper levels of TRUST. Doesn’t mean I never need to be reminded to trust–it just happens more easily because I’ve gotten a lot of practice.

When the second year of using this new concept approached, God impressed on my heart that He wanted me to seek PEACE. So many attributes of Christ go hand in hand with peace, and I’m learning (still a work in progress) to reach out and grasp His peace instead of stressing over little things.

2014 was the year God led me to BE A BLESSING. I would venture to say I wasn’t always a blessing to everyone I met, and again, He is still teaching me. But God showed me how to be a blessing to others by having others be a blessing to me. So I’m learning by example.

This year I’ve asked God to create an awareness in my spirit of the difficulties other people are going through and to learn to show more COMPASSION. We can’t always know the circumstances others are experiencing, but we can take a moment to stop and think, and be slower to judge. When I remember some of the sorrows I’ve walked through and wished people had cut me a little slack, those memories serve to help me keep a more compassionate attitude. People are far more likely to be attracted to Christ and His people when we demonstrate His mercy.

So “my word” for 2015 is COMPASSION. God, please give me a tender heart, a merciful spirit, and a readiness to offer comfort to those You bring into my life.

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INTERVIEW WITH ELAINE COOPER

Bethany's CalendarI recently had the blessed opportunity to be a pre-reader for Elaine Cooper’s new book, BETHANY’S CALENDAR. The book is a timeline of events no parent ever wants to face–the journey she traveled with her daughter who was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Since I, too, have traveled through that valley called Cancer with my own child, I could relate to so many of the events Elaine vividly depicted in this book, especially the way God carried her and comforted her during those heart-wrenching days.

BethanyIn the world’s eyes, Elaine and I have both “lost our children to cancer.” But in God’s eyes, He had a very special plan for their lives, and their testimonies reflect His grace and faithfulness.

Here is a peek into the depths of emotion Elaine shares in BETHANY’S CALENDAR:
In January of 2002, Elaine’s world flipped upside down. What started out as a beautiful New Year for the mom of three, turned into a living nightmare when her 23-year-old daughter, Bethany was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.
In the months to come, Elaine not only used her nurse’s training, she learned to recognize the hand of God on her daughter’s life. Bethany’s Calendar tells the story of Elaine and Bethany’s journey and the many ways God helped their family to survive. It is a story of fear and faith, commitment and compassion, told with gut-wrenching honesty while sharing unwavering faith in God.

Elaine graciously agreed to appear on my blog and answer a few questions for me:

CONNIE: One of the things I like to say to a parent who has lost a child is, “Tell me about him/her.” I never had the opportunity to know Bethany, so I don’t know what made her smile or where her passions directed her or what her favorite snack was. Can you share a little bit about her?
♥ELAINE: When Bethany was little, she would get ice cream ALL OVER HER FACE! We thought she was just messy and would help her get cleaned up. Only when she grew up did she confess that she purposely smeared the ice cream all around her lips, like lipstick! The joke was on us!
Bethany was always looking for a good movie to make her laugh. She LOVED Doris Day comedies (“Pillow Talk” was a favorite). She also liked being alone to write in her diary—a fact that we so appreciate today with her written reflections left behind.
She enjoyed books immensely from the time she was little. And she hoped that one day she would write a book of her own.
CONNIE: What a picture!! I can see her with the ice cream all over her face—a happy kid. She sounds like a young lady who looked for things to smile about. I’ll bet she enjoyed making others happy as well. It’s interesting that she liked writing her private thoughts in her diaries, especially since her mother is an author. Bethany must have caught that writing gene from you.

CONNIE: I love the excerpts of Bethany’s journals you included at the beginning of each chapter. They not only give the reader insight into Bethany’s heart but also the way she was raised. How did reading her journals affect you?
♥ELAINE: Reading through her numerous diaries was such a comfort and I discovered so much about her that I had not known previously. I spent all of New Year’s Day, 2014, reading her diaries in chronological order. It was amazing! I never knew how excited she was when her brother got saved, or just how close her heart was to God. It was a gift from her to all of us.
CONNIE: She gave you such a treasure. Without knowing it, she left her legacy, her testimony, as an example to others. I’m reminded of
the song, Find Us Faithful:
May all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe,
and the life we live inspire them to obey.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.
I never knew Bethany, but judging by her
journal excerpts, I think this song is talking about her.

CONNIE: Cancer is never something we want to happen, and a diagnosis blindsides not only the patient but also the family members.
I remember one time my son said, “I thank God for the cancer, because without it, I never would have realized the extent of His power and mercy. The cancer opened my eyes to God’s hand in my life.” How did Bethany (and you) regard your cancer journey?
♥ELAINE: I can’t really speak for Bethany, but for myself, the journey was a time of discovering who my greatest friends were and are. I also discovered God’s incredible grace in so many situations. Mostly it was so emotionally painful—but I can see God’s hand in the many lives Bethany touched in inspiring ways, despite her illness. And her faith remained so strong, despite the unexpected journey.
CONNIE: I know what you mean about discovering God’s incredible grace. If you are like me, you probably have many more stories of the way He carried you through times when you couldn’t remember how to put one foot in front of the other. But He was faithful, and through His faithfulness, you were faithful. Bethany grew up seeing God’s faithfulness in her mother, and learned how to be a faithful child of God by your example. Watching our children demonstrate their faith is an awe-inspiring thing. I’m grateful you have those memories.

CONNIE: If Bethany could tell people one thing today, what would it be? How will your book, Bethany’s Calendar, share with people what Bethany would want to communicate?
♥ELAINE: I think Bethany would tell people that our lives are short and eternity is forever. She would probably want others to know that each birthday is a gift—but our greatest gift is eternal life. No cancer cell can destroy that.
CONNIE: I like that—no cancer cell can destroy God’s greatest gift. I think your Bethany and my Jonathan had the same message to tell: life is short, no matter how young you are. Don’t waste a single day, and serve God now while you have the opportunity.

If you would like to win a copy of BETHANY’S CALENDAR, leave a comment below.

Thank you, Elaine, for sharing your heart and your book, BETHANY’S CALENDAR, with us.
If you would like to know more about Elaine’s incredible cancer journey with her daughter, visit her website at: http://www.elainemariecooper.com
Look for her on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/ElaineMarieCooperAuthor
Follow her on Twitter: @elainemcooper
And check out BETHANY’S CALENDAR on Goodreads: Bethany’s Calendar

Elaine CooperMORE ABOUT ELAINE: Elaine Marie Cooper has released her first non-fiction book, Bethany’s Calendar. It is a personal memoir of her daughter who died of a brain tumor and how the Lord was their strength during the darkest journey of their lives.
As a novelist, Elaine Marie Cooper has written Fields of the Fatherless and the Deer Run Saga. Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ and the history of the American Revolution, a frequent subject of her historical fiction. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her novels.

Posted in ACFW Author, Bethany's Calendar, cancer journey, chronic or terminal illness, Elaine Cooper, grief, Guest Bloggers, new release | 3 Comments

WRITING DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Being a writer often means working on my own timetable. I don’t punch a time clock and I don’t work “regular hours” like many who report to work at an office. But I put in as many—sometimes more—hours than someone who “works a regular job.” I will often put in three or four hours at the computer after supper and work until 11:00 or midnight. If a friend wants to go shopping or out to lunch, I can usually adjust my schedule to make room for that. And of course there are the inevitable errands—grocery shopping, run to Walmart, take kitty to the vet, haircut, Home Depot, etc. Not to mention the hours dedicated to church-related activities.

Nov blog 001That said, how does a writer work around the holidays? In past years, many of my well-intentioned writing schedules fell by the wayside as added holiday activities encroached on my already-crowded schedule. That manuscript I planned to finish by January stretched into February, and my poor critique partners thought I had fallen off the face of the earth waiting for me to send their chapters back to them. I knew I needed to come up with a better, more efficient plan.

In September, I thought long and hard of all the holiday planning I needed to do. Christmas shopping is something I’ve always done early—normally starting in the spring and tucking gifts away. I pondered over my gift lists, thinking I’d make it easy on myself this year by purchasing gift cards for the kids on my list. At least that sounded easy until I realized they all have their favorite stores, so running hither and thither will still take a whole day. Making a gigantic batch of my homemade trail mix to send to sisters and other kinfolk means trips to at least three different stores to find the ingredients.

Of course I needed to plan days for cleaning and decorating. We bought one of those pretty electric fireplaces for the sunroom, and I didn’t have any decorations for that, so I scheduled a run to Hobby Lobby. I didn’t find exactly what I had in mind—either in autumn or Christmas decorations—for a price I was willing toNov blog 003 pay. So I perused the craft aisles and picked up assorted artificial foliage, blings and baubles, and holiday embellishments. Oh, don’t forget a container and Styrofoam. And a pack of glue sticks. And ribbon. Now I needed to schedule time to get crafty and put all this stuff together into something creative that looks better than the ready-made stuff in the store.

Time to sit down and write. Well, I got one scene written before I realized I must get that autumn arrangement done because we had company coming. And while I’m at it, this cornucopia needs refreshing. After a few hours in my basement workroom, the Nov blog 002autumn arrangement for fireplace is done. Tossed out old cornucopia and made a new one (after another trip to Hobby Lobby). Scarecrows and pumpkins and gourds, oh my!

Did someone mention cooking? Oh, yes. I am cooking for Thanksgiving. Two days needed for making pies, homemade stuffing, praline sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry relish …

Sit down at the computer and work on the next scene. Study synopsis. Change synopsis. Of course, my characters decide to be uncooperative, so I sit up arguing with this fictitious person until well past midnight, trying to coerce him back into my planned synopsis, when right in the middle of writing it hits me—I forgot to buy new candles for the table. Another run to Walmart in the morning. Okay, now do I have time to squeeze in some writing time? Oh my foot, I forgot to put Thanksgiving napkins on my list. Back to Walmart.

Of course, I have to clean the house again as I take down autumn decorations and put up Christmas decorations. Oooh, that door wreath looks awfully tired and worn out. I should really make a new one this year. Back to Hobby Lobby.

To eliminate more running around, I will make an exhaustive list of baking ingredients for Christmas so I can get everything in one trip. Yes, not only am I cooking Christmas Eve supper and Christmas Day dinner, I’m also baking Christmas cookies—LOTSChristmas cookies of cookies—for two separate Christmas activities at church. Did I say LOTS of cookies? Like fourteen different recipes? Somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy dozen cookies? Hmmm, how did I get lassoed into that? Oh, that’s right, I said, “Sure, I’d love to do that!!”

I hear a voice calling my name. It’s … it’s … my character from my manuscript. He has an idea for a plot twist. Of course it will mean re-writing five previous chapters, but hey, I have time for that. Right?

Posted in creating characters, critique partners, fictional characters, Finding time to write, holiday planning, holidays, Not enough time, scheduling | 3 Comments

TIME TRAVEL–for research

It’s no secret that I love research. Of course, my husband may have a differing opinion, especially when supper is late because I’ve been “time traveling.” Since I write historical fiction, sometimes it’s not easy finding the details I need to make my story authentic. But that’s where the fun comes in.

For instance, do you know the sound made by a sawmill in 1838? I do. We tend to assume all sawmills have a giant circular blade that cuts through the wood.  But those circular blades didn’t come into use until later in the 19th century. When I learned that the blade was long and vertical, and was propelled up and down, I had to know what my character heard as she neared the sawmill. saw-mill-demonstrationIt took the better part of the afternoon—and yes, supper was late that day—but I hunted through websites and historical society resources until I found a video of an actual historic sawmill from the 1830s that has been restored and maintained. Oh, the wonderful whumpety-whumpety-whumpety-whump sound it made. I kept replaying the video, watching the men working the wood and listening to that magnificent sound. I closed my eyes and memorized it. I imagined myself in my character’s shoes, walking down the road, rounding the bend, and crossing the footbridge, listening to that sound as I drew closer.

I became so sucked in to the scene that when a strange, foreign noise invaded my senses, I was startled, and wondered, “What in the world is that awful racket?” (The phone was ringing.)

I have traveled to a hot mineral springs and experienced soaking in the heavenly waters—in the name of research, of course. I’ve newechota47tramped around a mountain meadow once inhabited by Cherokee Indians, and sat in the sweet grass and listened for their cries on the wind as they were forcibly removed from their land. I’ve strolled through museums and have run my fingers over a hand-made cradle, (How many babies were rocked in that wee bed?) and examined the way the craftsman assembled the cradle without a single nail.

I’ve wandered through old cemeteries and wept over the headstones that reflected such a short life for the one buried there. In one such cemetery, there was a row of headstones bearing the names of seven children, none of whom lived past their first birthday. Can you imagine the agony that poor mother felt laying her babies to rest?

Fredericksburg Sunday House 4A couple of years ago, I traveled to the Texas hill country where I met with two of my writing buds, Eileen Key and Lynette Sowell. We toured the historic town of Fredericksburg and even stayed in one of the little dwellings that were dubbed “Sunday Houses.” Numerous tiny houses still line many of the streets there, and one became the setting for HOPE’S DWELLING PLACE, in Sundays In Fredericksburg.

WW1 and Chaplaincy Museum 009Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Fort Jackson, South Carolina and visiting the Chaplaincy School and Museum. Since the hero in my upcoming project was a chaplain during World War 1, I needed answers to several questions. I’ve found there isn’t nearly as much material available about WW1 as there is about WW2, but the gentleman I met at the Fort Jackson Chaplain Museum–historian and museum technician, Tim Taylor–was a wealth of information. I was grateful for the time he spent me, allowing me to pick his brain.

While visiting the actual setting of one’s story is preferable in order to soak in the full flavor and surroundings, it’s not always possible. I visited the Chaplain Museum because the hero of my current book was an army chaplain during WW1. But I can’t go back in time and insert myself onto a battlefield to experience the sounds of the artillery and gunfire, the screams of the wounded, or the combined smell of gunpowder and blood that in all likelihood haunted the memory of those soldiers who survived. The only way I can recount the atrocities of war is through deep digging of the resources available and talking to those experts who have the knowledge to pass on.

Research—some writers hate it. Others, like me, get lost in it.

Posted in historic details, historic sawmills, historical fiction, New Echota, north Georgia fiction, novella collection, Research for fiction, Sunday houses, Sundays in Fredericksburg, Trail of Tears, traveling | Leave a comment

WHO IS THIS PERSON?

Who hasn’t read a book and encountered a character that seemed familiar—as if you’ve met that person before. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about finding images—vintage photographs—to represent the characters in my historical fiction. Those pictures help me SEE my characters, but how do I know what lies under the skin? How does an author go about creating the emotional makeup of a character?

Most of us can name several unforgettable people in our lives. That can be good or bad. A few people in my life stand out in my memory, but not necessarily because they were a blessing. I recently based one of my characters on my sixth grade teacher. This woman delighted in publicly humiliating her students, mocking kids who didn’t catch on as quickly, or had a hard time memorizing. I cannot recall a single classmate saying they liked her. I remember the smirk on my teacher’s face when she ridiculed a student and the scorn in her voice if the child was leveled to tears. Does this description endear this teacher to you? Of course not. So when I needed to create a character for one of my stories who thought she was better than everyone else, talked down to others and made them feel inferior, I thought of my sixth grade teacher. I took those traits and used them to form a fictitious person nobody liked.

Not exactly the way one might choose to be immortalized.

On the other hand, I’ve known people who saw the good in everyone and unkind words never crossed their lips. They were thoughtful and generous and giving. One such was a dear friend Miss Suewho now resides in heaven, but she lives on in my memory as the kind of person I’d want to be. She loved God, loved her husband, was generous to a fault, and had a smile that chased shadows into hiding. I’ve never met a more tender-hearted person. Consequently, I’ve taken several of her personality traits and infused them into several of my characters. Nobody can take my friend’s place—and I’m sure her family would agree. But somehow I hope she’s pleased that I’ve chosen her to inspire characters with whom readers will fall in love.

In our stories, it’s imperative readers like our main characters, and dislike our antagonists. The hero and heroine aren’t perfect—they have flaws to make them real and needs to make the reader sympathetic toward them. Because there must be a spiritual arc, the protagonists may start out with a weakness in their faith so they can grow over the course of the story. I take these aspects into consideration when creating my characters, and I almost always envision a person—or perhaps even several people—whom I know or have known. My current hero has the compassion of a man from our church and the insecurities of a kid with whom I went to school. The heroine in my story reminds me of my pastor’s wife back in the 1970’s, but she also displays a bit of frustration much the way a friend of mine does.

When people ask me where I get ideas for my characters, I direct their attention all around us. I use personality traits from people with whom I come in contact every day, people from my past, people I love but don’t get to see very often, and even those individuals I may encounter only once in my life, but for whatever reason, they’ve left a lasting imprint. So if you read one of my books and come face to face with yourself, just know that you have make an impression on me that I wanted to duplicate.

Has there been someone in your life who has made an indelible mark? Whether you’re seeking to emulate someone yourself or pattern a fictitious character after them, real life relationships offer invaluable insights to crafting a make-believe character.

Posted in ACFW Author, character photos, creating characters, fictional characters, historical fiction, Research for fiction | Leave a comment

Thanks for joining my party!

Thank you for celebrating with me! Winning the Inspirational Readers Choice Award has been such a thrill, and sharing it with my readers is only right since my readers are the ones who made it possible.

IRCAI have drawn three names for the winners of a copy of SUNDAYS IN FREDERICKSBURG, the novella collection in which my winning novella, Hope’s Dwelling Place, appears.

Fred bookcoverAnd the winners are…

***drumroll please***

Cheryl Stevens (no, we are not related!!)
Carol Smoak
and Jamie Garrett
I will be emailing these ladies to get the books in the mail.

Again, thank you to my readers. You’re the best!

 

Posted in ACFW Author, drawing for free book(s), historical fiction, Hope's Dwelling Place, Inspirational Readers Choice Award, novella collection, Promotional giveaway, Sundays in Fredericksburg | Leave a comment

CELEBRATE WITH ME!!

Two weeks ago, I was honored—not to mention thrilled out of my socks!—to received notification my novella, Hope’s Dwelling Place, had won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Since I couldn’t be present when the winners were announced in San Antonio, the award was mailed to me along with a certificate. They arrived last week, and the engraved silver keepsake box is exquisite.
IRCA 001
IRCA

Sunday's in FredericksburgTo celebrate this award, I am giving away three copies of Sundays In Fredericksburg—the collection in which Hope’s Dwelling Place appears. To enter the drawing, leave a comment and be sure to include your email address. I will draw the winners this weekend.

Posted in ACFW Author, drawing for free book(s), historical fiction, Hope's Dwelling Place, Inspirational Readers Choice Award, News, Promotional giveaway, Sundays in Fredericksburg | 8 Comments