For many of us who write fiction, at least I know this is true of myself and some of my writing friends, we broach subjects with our fiction that might not be easily discussed in real life. I can write about a character’s difficulties following her rape from her self-medicating to her pushing others away, but only a therapist or close friend could discuss this touchy subject with a real person. Showing a character going through something so heartbreaking and difficult allows the reader and writer to empathize.
With fiction we can allow a reader and even the writers ourselves to live for a bit in the skin of a person who is hurting so we might better understand those around us who are also hurting. I’m not saying all fiction is therapy or designed to enlighten. Fiction is first and foremost written to entertain, but within our entertainment if we can also learn something or experience something, that is an added bonus.
When I think about some of the books that have touched my soul and left their mark. I’m reminded that not everyone reads the same way I do. Some people simply read a book and move on, but others absorb a book until it becomes a part of them. John Hart’s book The Last Child left me feeling raw and vulnerable. It was one of those books that even years after reading it, I still remember parts of the story, and the main character, thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon.
Have you ever read a book that affected you strongly? I’d love to hear about it. Share some of your favorites or most memorable books and I’ll share some of mine.
The Truth about Lord Stoneville by Sabrina Jeffries
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What attracts you? Like anything else from choosing a spouse to picking out a new outfit, the first attraction is what we see. Book covers are the same. We reach for what appeals to us visually? The pretty ones get chosen first. Isn’t always the case? Not with people maybe, we’ve all met those characters who didn’t attract us at first but whose personalities pulled us in, but let’s face it, we don’t often get that option with books. With a book, we are choosing it based on book reviews, personal recommendations, or its cover. Online you have a thumbnail view amid a crowd of similar books. In a book store you might have more time to choose. You can look inside but first you have to pick up that book.
What makes you pick up the book?
So, what catches your eye? Is it color, a sexy man-chest, an embracing couple, fire and smoke, or something else entirely? I have a friend who doesn’t like the cartoon-looking covers, they turn her off immediately. I like them. Two different mind sets. Two different opinions. I adore Penny Reid’s Winston Brother series covers. They look like cross-stitch. Now, at first, they did make me hesitate. I expected something sweet and old fashioned, but after hearing an interview with the author I realized the cover was misleading. I tried my first Bearded Romance and was hooked. So, do I love the covers because I know the stories and associate them with her series, or have they grown on me? Would I like this same style on someone else’s stories?
When I asked my friend, Susan McIntyre about doing the cover of my book, I showed her the picture I had in mind and before I knew it, she’d painted it. I loved it. As I finished the book, I realized as much as I loved the picture she’d painted, it did not reflect the character in the story. My character, seventeen-year-old half-Lakota, Winnie, was not as sophisticated. While not exactly innocent, Winnie had the hopeful outlook of the young and invulnerable. She was also not completely white. I wanted to honor that. Looking through Deposit Photos I found some lovely Native American women, but they were too old (in their twenties), and the girls were too young. I sent pictures of my granddaughter who is half Cambodian to Sue and asked if she thought she’d represent the Native American character. I thought the representation was beautifully done and hope that by using a woman of color it honors and not detracts from the Native American.
As I was doing the research for this book I was surprised by the number of Native Americans, many Lakota, who performed in the wild west shows. Some of whom were considered prisoners of war and had to have special permission to travel off the reservations. But that is not today’s topic. I will return to this another day.
For me, it was important to honor the history and the character, but does this cover sell books? You have to admit the artwork is stunning, but does it tell the story? Does it represent the book? While I was brought to tears as soon as I saw the picture and it wasn’t even finished, after I really looked at it, I wasn’t sure if it fit the story. The character felt too young. The book, while it has a young protagonist, Winnie is seventeen, it wasn’t YA (young adult genre). But after preparing the cover and putting it on the book and sitting with it a while, I realized the artist had captured the essence of the story, Winnie’s hopeful innocence and undefeatable outlook.
Will the cover sell the book? That remains to be seen. But I believe people will pick it up, especially in print and look at it and that’s the first step in attracting a buyer, and that is the job of the cover. Like pretty wrapping paper on a package or a sharp-dressed man (or one in a kilt) we often check out the package first and before discovering what they have to offer.
What do you look for in a book cover? Have you ever bought a book just for the cover? Show me. I’d love to see what got your attention.
The making of The Americans Are Coming didn’t just happen overnight. In fact, this book has been simmering for several years. I have taken countless classes through Romance Writers of America and my local group, Heart of Carolina on everything from Horses in Literature to Writing a Historical Novel. I have also been focusing more on the cozy mystery aspect of writing. I have really enjoyed following YouTube Author, Jane Kalmes aka Fiction Technician. Jane had a mystery writers’ course recently I really wanted to take but with my responsibilities with the Pamlico Writers’ Group and the Heart of Carolina, the timing didn’t pan out. But I am really thinking about taking it the next time she offers it.
The kernel of an idea came about thanks to my husband, actually his grandfather. In our home that burned David had a whip that once belonged to his grandfather who’d been a performer in a wild west show. When I heard the story, I knew one day I’d write a character who was a performer in a wild west show. Incidentally, David’s grandfather did an act where he snapped quarters tossed in the air with his whip.
Winnie’s name took several metamorphoses. I originally planned to name her Willowmina but since I used Willow in my contemporary story, Willow’s Retreat, I did not want to confuse myself more than normal. Keeping my characters’ names straight is almost as bad as keeping my children’s names straight. Unfortunately, readers don’t like it when you call the role in a story. My kids probably don’t like being called by the other’s names either but oh well.
Winnie, a nickname for Winona, and Harry her love interest were inspired by good friends I’ve known since my childhood, the parents of one of my dearest friends and school mates. They also became close with my youngest son when he began working with Mr. Harry at the museum. Our backyards connected and so much of our lives intertwined. They always seemed to have a good time together and made being around them fun. I couldn’t think of a better couple to inspire my young sleuths.
As the story came together, Winnie became half Lakota and as I began describing her appearance, I used my granddaughter Phalha to help me get an image of the character. You can see a slightly younger version of the character and Phalha in the original artwork painted by Susan McIntyre. Sue used photos I had of Phalha to create the cover of the book. While Phalha is half Cambodian, not Lakota, looking at pictures of Lakota women, I felt she closely resembled them and gave me a more personal connection to the character.
Since I am not a horsewoman, I needed expert advice to help me flesh out my character as Winnie is a trick rider and caregiver to the animals. I turned to another of my granddaughters, Hailey. Hailey is an accomplished horsewoman who trained her horse Cooper whom others felt was untrainable. Not only did she train him, but she’s won countless awards with him. Hailey answered all of my crazy questions and she inspired much of Winnie’s relationship with her horse and the other animals.
My grandsons Psi and Jack were great about helping me with Riley and Harry, inspiring looks as well as some of the fun things they do from the inventions to their reactions. My husband and my sons were also on hand to answer questions about ‘would this work?’ It’s great to have people around who know things or are willing to research them. My husband has become my accomplice on many of my adventures from helping me plan my murders to planting evidence. If our family decides to turn to crime, it could be bad…really bad.
A lot of research went into this story but I’m sure I didn’t get everything just right. I mean sometimes you have to bend things to get the story to work the way you want it to work.
I am so thankful for my friend Cyn Hayden who gave me information on steamer ships for that one little piece I needed to make the story believable. The ending wouldn’t work without it.
I am also thankful for my local library and the women who work there: Robina Norman, Denise Toler and Myra Shields. These ladies are great at finding things I cannot find online. They are my research assistants, my Beta readers and proofreaders. I cannot thank them enough for always supporting me. They have hosted my book signings and even suggest my books to patrons.
I have several Beta readers who make the story better, stronger, less filled with errors. I said less errors, not error-free, I still manage to get a few of those, sorry. Everyone who reads and gives me feedback, everyone who reviews the stories, they all help me make a better story and I appreciate all the love and support, the encouragement and the occasional kick in the butt I need to get these stories done.
The cover design is by my friend and fellow Pamlico Writers’ Group member, Sue McIntyre. Sue is the author of a memoir, Outside Heaven: An Afghanistan Experience and she is also an artist in residence at the Lemonade Gallery in Washington. She has done two paintings for me for this novel. The first based on a photograph I sent her with just a few ideas. I loved it but as I was finishing The Americans are Coming, I realized I needed to represent the main character better. Since she was half Lakota, an obviously white woman would not be representative. I also wanted the first book to give more of the feel of the wild west show. Using photos of my granddaughter, Sue did a lovely job of depicting Winnie.
While she is younger on the cover than in the story, I still feel it is a great depiction of what the beginning of the series is about. Winnie isn’t exactly innocent, her life even before joining the wild west show was hardly easy, nor was she protected from the harshness of life. But Winnie’s outlook is one of hope and love. Everything she does from trying to solve the murder to breaking up her father’s relationship with one woman and pushing him into a relationship with another, is about love and hope for the future.
The Americans are Coming is a murder mystery, but it also has romance, family drama, friendship and a view into living together harmoniously with diverse characters. Fiction should entertain but it should also make you feel something. I hope when you finish this book you feel the connection and understanding I was trying to convey. Happy reading, y’all.
Print books are suppose to arrive today but they won’t have this cover. If you want books with Sue’s original artwork, they are available at Amazon, and I hope to have them available elsewhere very soon.
It takes a lot to get me into a story now. It’s like a magician who knows how the illusion is done, you cannot unsee the process. While I find the behind the scenes work fascinating, there are times when I just want to enjoy the story. I think that’s why I enjoy audiobooks so much. With audiobooks I can just listen and enjoy, I don’t see the mechanics as much as when I’m reading myself.
When I first started writing I had no clue what I was doing, I just wanted to tell a story. I miss those times. Genesis talks about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, once you know the truth, you cannot unknow it. It’s the same for a writer. As a novice, my inexperience allowed me to be fearless and experiment with things a more knowledgeable author would balk at because “it just isn’t done.” But as I learn the rules and expectations of each genre, I find myself hampered by reader-expectations. Even as a reader, it is difficult to truly enjoy a book without seeing how things come together.
I wonder sometimes when I have friends and fans read ARCs of my books and use their suggestions to improve the books if they too lose something. Does knowing how the book comes together ruin the story for an ARC or Beta reader? Am I ruining the experience by asking them to read the unfinished product?
What do you think? Does knowing how the stories are made ruin the experience or does it give you more insight?
What are you reading? Besides craft and research books, here are a few of the books I’ve read or listened to recently:
The Hookup Plan by Farrah Rochon
Mischief by Amanda Quick
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
The Breakup Artist by Erin Clark and Laura Lovely
Deadly Travel by Kate Parker
Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Home for Halloween by KB Davenport
Spy Season by Golden Angel
Flames, Flirts and Festivals anthology by TNRC writers
I like to read diversely and find inspiration from every genre. While my first love is historical romance or suspense, a well-written story no matter the genre can entertain, inspire and fill the well. For me, reading is about refueling, relaxing and self-care because it is my way of unwinding. What are some ways you unwind and relax?
Seventeen-year-old Winona aka Winnie Applegate is a trick rider and archer in Colonel Bill Dexter’s Wild West Extravaganza. Her first act was throwing knives with her younger brother, Riley, who likes to invent things. He especially likes when things that go boom.
When a mysterious benefactor offers to bring their show to England, a series of sabotages turns deadly, and Riley becomes a suspect. To protect her brother, Winnie teams up with a lady Pinkerton agent and Harry McDonald, the young man she believes she is destined to marry.
Secrets and sins come to light as it becomes apparent that it isn’t just the show they are trying to sabotage. The saboteurs are trying to stop the Applegates from reaching England.
The Americans are Coming is An Applegate Mystery, the first in a new Victorian Era Mystery Series.
Winnie is more comfortable throwing knives than knowing which fork to use. She prefers boots and britches to ballgowns and dancing slippers. Will England be prepared for the arrival of the Applegate family?
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From drunk on a plane to falling in love in paradise, Trent sang his way into Melodie’s heart. But when the couple is accused of being the cause of her former fiancé’s death, Trent leaves her to handle things on her own. Melodie Henries will never trust Trent Harrell not to bail when things get hard.
Left broken and disillusioned by one reality show, why would Trent ever agree to do another? But given the chance to make things up to the girl he betrayed, Trent Harrell would do anything, even agree to star in a renovation reality show competition.
Trent’s leaving nearly destroyed her, but Melodie Henries refuses to let him do it again. She’s doing the show to promote her books, not rekindle an old flame. When a stalker blames them for the death of Trent’s former bandmate and Melodie’s former fiancé, the couple must delve into the past for clues. Can they discover the threat in time? Steamy Romantic suspense
As an author one of the first things we’re taught is to write characters readers will love, but as a reader I’ve often enjoyed characters who were less than loveable. Most versions I’ve read and seen in movies and on television of the great Sherlock Holmes is he’s a bit unfeeling, he’s narcissistic and at times even a bully, but the character is, if not loveable, he is definitely memorable. Another character many of us love to hate is Scrooge, and what about Darth Vader? For you Harry Potter fans Professor Snape?
When you think of some of your favorite characters in books and film, are they the heroes or villains? Do you enjoy a traditional hero, or do you find yourself aligning with the antihero? We watch a lot of action films, comic books turned to movies, and I love The Joker, Harley Quinn and Deadpool because they are fun and they are a lot bad and a little bit good, and they like to blow stuff up. But it’s often the backstory that makes us fall for a character even if they’re not exactly loveable. One of my favorite movies is Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel, I really love those two together. Goldie is a rich chic who lets her ego get in the way of doing the right thing and Kurt Russel gets the opportunity to pay her back but, it backfires and the two fall in love. When Goldie goes back to her rich-bitch world she doesn’t quite fit there anymore. We see her change and grow and become more the person she should be. Once that personality has exploded from the box, it’s like trying to stuff a blowup toy back in the package, it just doesn’t fit anymore, not even when you let the air out.
That’s what it takes to make a great character and as an author, I’m still learning. As a reader and viewer, I have found that any character who makes me feel something no matter their gender, sexual preference, ethnicity or period in history, it makes them relatable. If I can imagine myself as that person faced with those obstacles, that author or director has won me over. Whether I like them or hate them, they have garnered an emotional response and that will stay with me.
My friends and I recently went to the theater to see “Where the Crawdads Sing.” It’s a lovely movie and I’m dying to read the book. The main character is different, she’s not easy to relate to but you admire her spirit and her strength. As you see her striving to make it in a hostile world with only a few kind people to help her, you begin to wonder if you could have done this. At the end of the movie, when you see how her life has come to its end and the final secrets are revealed, there is an understanding, especially for women, that makes it very satisfying and brings the main character to a place of relatability.
Who are some characters that you find unforgettable? Why?
The Elemental series by Brigid Kemmerer, her character Nick Merrick was so well-written that even years after reading this story, he comes to mind as one of the most unforgettable characters.
Nora Roberts J. D. Robb character Eve Dallas and Roarke, broken and put back together, these two are opposites in so many ways and yet the perfect balance for each other. They are crafted as two halves of a whole, yet each is a complete individual. I don’t know how Nora Roberts managed this but she is the master and I can not forget this couple.
Jayne Castle, Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick: the Joneses, no matter what generation or planet they are on, these men and sometimes women of the Jones family have leadership and paranormal abilities to give them strength, family honor and legends, and a weakness to overcome that often turns out to be their greatest strength.
Please share some of your favorite characters.
For my writing friends. I’m adding a list of YouTube videos for you to check out on crafting amazing characters.
I keep trying to tell myself that I’ve only been a published author for three years and like any infant I must learn to crawl before I can run. It is difficult not to compare myself to other writers. Like the baby demanding it’s bottle, I want it now. I want to make the sales, to get my name out there, to get a movie deal and retire, but the fruit is sweeter after the climb.
Remembering things my grandmother told me has always given me strength and courage to persevere. She didn’t have an easy life. As a farmer’s wife, a share-cropper’s wife, she knew the hard scrabble of getting by, doing without and learning to make things herself. From her blackberry jam that was both tart and sweet with the taste of summer to selling ladies’ products out of her car down backroads all over eastern North Carolina, my grandmother knew if she wanted a better life, she had to do it herself. My grandfather worked hard. He paid the bills, but anything extra came from what my grandmother could do.
My grandmother led the way for my mother and me. She taught us that we could dream our dreams and make them come true, but no one was going to hand them to us. We had to work for them. I’m proud to come from a long line of hardworking women.
It is sometimes difficult for me to toot my own horn. I grew up believing a true southern lady (which I’ve never been able to be) was humble and quiet. Most people who know me as an adult know I’m a loudmouth with a wicked laugh and sense of humor equal to that of a teenaged boy. But I wasn’t always so vocal. It has taken me years to find my voice. It is often difficult to promote my own books and believe in myself.
Raising six boys taught me to be a little stronger, a little braver, a bit bolder but it has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to believe I might have something worth saying.
When you are promoting your books, you have to first promote yourself. It’s been scary but in the past few months I’ve started a newsletter increasing my readership from the seven original subscribers to 97 in the past four months. I’ve joined a few groups: AllAuthor and Bookfunnel and using their platforms began doing promos for my books. I’ve also bought a couple of ads from Bargain Booksy and joined a couple of free online groups on social media to help promote myself and my books. It’s a lot of work and sometimes a lot of money but I’m hoping that it’ll pay off. I can see steady traffic and that’s a good sign. As my dad would say “scared money don’t make money.” I’m trying to be brave and I’m thankful to all of you who have supported my efforts.
I now have six books out and I’m working on number seven. I’m hoping to finish a novella for an upcoming anthology.
The pandemic has made public appearances difficult. I’d just taken books around to the Brown Library, Riverwalk Art Gallery and The Next Chapter Books and Art Store when the pandemic first hit. I had a book signing at The Next Chapter but there was little traffic in the store that morning. I’m hoping to go back once Janie’s Secrets finally arrives. Covid-19 has messed up a lot of people’s plans but we’re still making progress slowly but surely.
As July ends and August begins, I can’t help but think about grandma’s blackberry jam. It was a lot of hot work to make a few jars but that first taste of sweet, tart jam reminded you that it was worth the effort. Looking at the past 30 days sales and subscribers it may not seem like a lot to someone with thousands of followers but I’m celebrating. Each sale, each new reader, each new subscriber is a blessing and a positive step forward.
Thank you to all of you who repost my promos and try to help me sell my books. Thank you to all of you who leave reviews. Your efforts make a huge difference and I cannot thank you enough. Wishing you all a happy August.
Grandma’s Blackberry Jam with my own twist
4 cups blackberries raw
1 cup sugar, white granulated
2 tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Mash blackberries in saucepan with potato masher. Stir in sugar until becomes juicy. Take out a little juice and mix with cornstarch in a small bowl, return to blackberries and sugar. Bring to a boil. Stir often until thickened. Approximately 15 minutes. Stir in spices and lemon juice. Remove from heat and let cool. Put into a glass bowl, cover and refrigerate until cold. Fill jars to save.
sherrilhollister.com/Suspense She Writes Bookstore Dismiss