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
A short, sweet and steamy, Valentine romance. What do you do when you hate Valentine’s but your best friend needs you to capture her special day? Well, you pull up your cowgirl boots and head to Colorado to photograph the reenactment of their proposal. Instead of hiding out and ignoring Valentines as she’d planned, Ali stumbles across the Eros of her dreams and is swept up in a local and family (Max’s family) romantic comedy that has grandma conspiring with the local angel to get her favorite grandson a bride before the next Valentine’s Day.
Beauty and the Baller by Ilsa Madden-Mills
What do you do when your worst one-night stand turns out to be your new neighbor and the only job you can find makes him your boss. The good news is, he doesn’t remember you. Yay! This romantic comedy is packed with family drama, self-image, coming home, second chances, choices, football and romance. This is a fake it until you make it kind of romance. When the town of Blue Belle goes overboard trying to keep the new coach, former NFL star Ronan Smith happy by throwing all the pretty women his way. Ronan turns to Nova, his surly neighbor to act as his fake girlfriend, but is true rom-com style, this farce is sure to fail. The question is: who wins in the end. I loved this story and was surprised by how much. This is definitely one to read again. I will be looking for more books by this author.
You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly
This was a fun and fantastic romantic comedy with a little suspense thriller thrown in for good measure. What happens when the spy novel you co-wrote with a dying friend turns out to be true? What if your book boyfriend turns up at the school where you teach and sweeps you off your feet? Okay, that’s not exactly how it happened but whew, he’s definitely better than the book.
Sleep No More The Lost Night Files, Book 1 by Jayne Ann Krentz
The beginning of another great suspense series by JAK. Pallas and Ambrose seem to be suffering from a similar incident, an incident that changed their lives and made them feel they were going crazy. Lucky for Pallas, she was not alone when she experienced her lost night. Can she help Ambrose discover the truth before they become victims of the sleep institute.
JAK weaves our real fears with the possibilities and comes up with an edge of your seat suspense story, adds in a bit of romance, friendship and a few unique characters and I just can’t put the book down. Breathlessly waiting for the next in the series.
The Kidnapped Christmas Bride by Jane Porter
Jane Porter is a new author for me but I’m glad I’ve discovered her. This story wasn’t quiet what I expected but it definitely delivered all the feels. Trey Sheenan just wants a little time with his son after five years in prison but his fiancé McKenna Douglas is getting ready to marry another man. When TJ decides he’s going with his dad, McKenna can’t let him go without her. What happens next is a slow reveal of past hurts, unforgotten love, and the promise of a future together if Trey doesn’t end up back in prison for kidnapping a bride on her wedding day. This was a lovely story of discovery, love, family and the magic of Christmas.
The Upside Down Christmas by Kate Forster
Marlo’s life in Sydney is turned upside down when her part-time lover suddenly starts ghosting her and she finds out what her friends really thought about him. With Christmas looming, she is determined to avoid the holiday, but her flatmate Alex has other plans. His gentle coaxing and terrible Dad jokes, not to mention his washboard abs soon have Marlo thinking of Alex as more than a friend. Christmas doesn’t seem so bad when you have someone to share it with.
A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone
This steamy little rom-com was a lot of fun and definitely not your normal holiday story. What happens when you cast a plus-sized adult film star and a bad boy former boy band member in a family-friendly Christmas movie? What could possibly go wrong? This was a laugh out loud and sometimes cry out loud adventure in romance. Bee Hobbs and Nolan Shaw are each other’s biggest fans and can’t fight their attraction for each other, but they both have too much to lose to risk it all for a fling. But what if it’s not just a fling? This has all the feels wrapped up in leather and stays.
The Christmas Contest by Scarlet Wilson
Obsessed with all things Christmas, Ben and Lara are pushed into a radio station Christmas contest with a prize of $10,000. Both have great causes they want to win the money for but when the two of them fall in love, they could lose it all. This was a light-hearted holiday romance worth the read.
Along Came Holly by Codi Hall
A grumpy-sunshine holiday romance. Holly is all about Christmas but her neighbor, Declan is a true Grinch. When she hires him to set up her display for the festival of lights, they get to know each other and find they’re just right for each other. Family, small town and Christmas, what’s not to love.
The Plight Before Christmas by Kate Stewart
What happens when your brother brings your ex to your family’s big, holiday get together? There’s not enough alcohol to numb the feelings that surface when Whitney and Eli have to spend the week together, especially when he’s not as bad as she remembered. Can they learn to forgive the past or are they destined to repeat it? This was a fantastic romance filled with fun and family drama.
The Package by K. Bromberg
Everything goes wrong for Jules and then she finds herself stuck in an elevator with a handsome stranger. When their packages get switched, the mix up turns out to be the best part of her Christmas when the handsome stranger arranges for her to return the package and makes her Christmas wishes come true.
Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter
Taking a job at Christmas as a temporary housekeeper to keep from facing Christmas without her family, Harley is thrown into the middle of the Sheenan’s family drama. This story has all the feels. I sobbed, laughed and fell in love with these characters. You have to read this one with a box of tissues and a bag of chocolate.
A Very Merry Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
Three dates before Christmas is all Gretchen has to survive and she’ll get what she wants, control of her wealthy family’s charity. She could do so much good with the Winthrop money. All that’s standing in her way is country music star Colton Wheeler. He’ll agree to be the face of their family’s whiskey brand but the price might be too high for both of them.
With the help of the Bromance Club these two won’t stand a chance against romance.
Warriors, Queens, and Intellectuals by Joyce E. Salisbury Great Courses
An eclectic view of inspiring women from different parts of the world and different times in history. A great source for research.
Portrait of a Scotsman by Evie Dunmore
Manipulated into marriage by financier Lucian Blackstone, whose past and business practices strike fear into the hearts of Britain’s peerage, Hattie Greenfield, banking heiress is willing to go toe to toe with him to get her way.
A sudden trip to Scotland allows Hattie to see the real man she married. As her opinion of her husband softens, she knows she’s in danger of losing her heart.
Can this mismatched couple overcome their difference to find their happy ever after?
This was a rollercoaster ride of emotions. I loved it.
Bio: I retired from Craven Community College in 2009 and am a newbie to the author scene. Plan to bring two items to the event: my dad’s memoirs and my doctoral thesis of 1982, just published.
Sherri: Welcome to my virtual café. If I ever win the lottery or become the heir of some unknown wealthy relative, I plan to open a coffee shop by the river but until then, I go down the wildlife ramp and dream. Have you always loved books?
Murdina: Hi Sherri, so happy to meet you. Have enjoyed the interviews you have done with the “lucky 35” of this November event as well as the interview KB did of you. You’ve said “do what scares you.” Love that. My own mantra, if I were to verbalize it, would be: every wrong road is a good road if it leads you home…
Yes, I have always loved books though, oddly, I cannot remember anyone actually reading to me in my childhood. At about ten I fell in love with horses which led to all those books with titles like The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns, The Son of Black Stallion, The Island Stallion etcetera. Next for me came Ivanhoe, then The Count of Monte Cristo and ultimately, the discovery of my two great adolescent heroes, Jane Austin and Charles Dickens. Remember the sorrow I felt when I realized I had read all of Austin’s novels and, at fourteen, the tears running down my cheeks as I read “it is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better place I go to than I have ever known…”
Sherri: How did you come to publish your father’s story? What is the story behind the story, Blackhouse God’s House?
Murdina: My father was a complete mystery to me. When he came home from work he would talk at dinner about biblical characters, David a favorite of his and historical figures like Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox, current folks like Roosevelt and Churchill. But he spoke very little about himself or his past in Scotland.
So, when my sister Christine died in 2011, I inherited his papers. My brother-in-law Jim mailed me 2 big “If it fits it ships” boxes containing about 2,000 manuscript pages. Some of them I called sermons for himself. Others were commentaries on famous people he just wanted to write about, like John Barrymore. But the bulk of his writings were about the people of his village, Skigersta, in the Isle of Lewis.
I found the papers fascinating on two levels: they revealed a father I never knew and they gave me glimpses into a world that no longer exists. The world he left behind I found both exotic and familiar and discovered where my father had been living for 60 years since his immigration in 1924. He was right there in his own blackhouse at 7 Skigersta, surrounded by his mother, brother and three doting sisters, listening to the marvelous tales spun by his brilliant neighbor, the bard, enjoying the warmth of the peat fire, the babble of gaelic on every lip, the feeling of utter contentment – and the sounds of laughter.
Sherri: Your father grew up in rural Scotland? Have you ever visited? Do you still have family there?
Murdina: My father, born in 1903, grew up in a village of 300 souls in the northern part of Lewis, the youngest of five children. He seems to have been a very observant child and one from an early age who was able to appreciate the rugged beauty of his surroundings. He also appreciated the various types of human life on display in his village as seen in one of his titles: “Of worthies, wags, wits and oddballs.”
The blackhouse that Angus lived in was made of stone and topped with a thatched roof (museum pieces now). There was a peat fire in the center, sleeping quarters at one end and 3 cows at the other. He went to school until age 14 and was happy to depart the scene after that despite a visit from the minister pleading for him to go on. Tellingly, he describes his school days under the heading “My Own Dark Ages”. Let’s see, his education began when at 5 his teacher threw him out a window. But I digress…
Like many in the village, his father was a fisherman-farmer and Angus would no doubt have followed in his footsteps had not life intervened in the form of World War I and post war unemployment, poverty and civil unrest. The British government found a way to relieve the pressures of this situation by offering free passage to Canada in exchange for two years of labor on Canadian farms. Dad was a part of this diaspora in 1924. The next year he found his way to New York City to work for a Skigersta neighbor who had made good in the New World, D. B. Mackay, shoetree manufacturer. His adopted daughter, Effie, was his secretary and chauffeur. She and Angus were married in 1936 with brother Norman coming along in 1942, me in 1944 and sister Christine in 1947.
It has been one of the unexpected pleasures of my life to have visited Lewis 3 times and to have discovered first and second cousins, to have met both mother’s folks and dad’s folks, people from different parts of the island and from different denominations. What lovely people – and so welcoming to me and my friends.
In 2012 when I travelled with dad’s ashes, my first cousin John Murdo, his wife Mary, 2nd cousin Isabel and brother Donald came from one side of the island to the other to meet me in a howling rainstorm! Boy, was I so grateful we had not had to navigate from our B&B to them! We swapped photos and stories. I went to church in Stornoway with my cousin Alex’s widow, Catherine. She loaned me a “bonnet”, as you can’t go without one.
At the Ness Historical Society, I met dad’s sister Margaret’s family where Catherine’s daughter, Margaret Anne, put her newborn son in my arms for a photo. What a whirlwind. Loved the group photo. [Shakespearean aside: I said to my friend Catherine, I didn’t even have time to comb my hair before they shot the photo. She replied: “It wouldn’t have made any difference…” Comforted by the fact all my relatives had uncontrollable curly hair too!]
Sherri: What kind of research and how long did it take you to write this book?
Murdina: My dad’s life story was set against a backdrop of very big events on the island of Lewis, events such as World War I, the purchase of the island by Lord Leverhulme, the sinking of the Iolair, mass emigration in the 1920s and denominational discord. In addition, about 8% of the texts were written in gaelic without an English translation, so I needed a translator. Fortunately, I found one in Annie MacSween of the Ness Historical Society.
With respect to World War I, I knew very little, but what was important here was how the war impacted the island. It is said that the island suffered the greatest proportional loss of life during the war of any district in Scotland. Angus has several fascinating stories here. He tells of the mailman delivering the news of the war on a quiet Sunday bicycling through Skigersta while blowing a whistle(!) to draw attention and another tale of his dad and six others dodging a German sub while out fishing. Grief is everywhere of course -both individual and communal – as islanders dealt with the loss of loved ones.
Who knew you could “buy” an island? The soap magnate, Lord Leverhulme [Bodach an t-Siabainn (the soap man)] did just that in 1918 and had great plans for Lewis’ development. Societal unrest toppled his plans and he left in deep disappointment. So, poverty and unemployment did not find their savior here.
The sinking of the Iolair is a story I knew from my parents. Mom wanted one of her three children to write a book about it. We didn’t. John MacLeod did [When I Heard the Bell]. On January 1, 1919 the Iolair struck the ‘Beasts of Holm’ in Stornoway harbor and 205 Lewisman returning from war in France perished. The Stornoway Gazette led with the story the next day with “Grief Unutterable” – as perfect a designation for the reality in this close bound community as words could come. Dad translated the first gaelic version of the tragedy, portions of which are included in the book.
Denominational discord is what most closely affected my father’s life growing up in the first part of the 20th century. Most of Skigersta belonged to an offshoot of the Free Church of Scotland called The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The split had taken place in 1898 and divided the 23 villages that constituted the province of Ness in northern Lewis. Almost all of Ness rejected the new group, using both shunning and verbal hostility as their main expressions of disapproval. This is the backdrop of a number of my father’s stories: students slinging stones and insults, teachers being abusive physically with a strap as well as verbally, doctors refusing to visit sick and dying patients. A dismal tale but one that is behind the island now.
My father clearly wanted, in his sketches, to honor the courage and faith of his parents and neighbors in sticking to their principles, whatever the cost. And although I am not of my father’s denomination, I too, in promoting Blackhouse God’s House celebrate and honor those people long dead now – for their faith, their love and their communal solidarity in hard times.
In answer to your question, Sherri, about how long it took to write the book, the answer is – way too long! I was not under any deadline, so I rather poked around with it for 8 years. Not sorry, really. In retirement I was enjoying the luxury of leisure – only a word in the dictionary for most of my life.
My translator and I settled into a snail’s pace. I’d send her a list of 15 gaelic words and phrases. Two months later she would send back answers for 7 or 8 of them, which I would incorporate into the text and then construct a new list and send it on. After a couple of years, I grew tired of no answers in some cases and resorted to filling in the gaps myself with my gaelic dictionary and Google.
I took a year and a half of baby gaelic at Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Skye, with Zoom classes every Monday morning at 5:00 am. (What was I thinking? What was I trying to prove? At my age?) Didn’t take. Did ok with the written word but I would need way more than an hour a week of hearing the language to get any good at speaking it. So, for purists out there, whatever is a mangled gaelic translation, send me the corrections!
Sherri: Your second book is from your master’s thesis? It is the religious history of London Calvinistic Baptists, why is understanding our religious history important to Christians today?
Murdina: Sherri, thank you for asking! The book [London Calvinistic Baptists 1689-1727: Tensions within a Dissenting Community under Toleration] is my Oxford doctoral thesis, submitted in 1982. It contains a Forward by Larry Kreitzer of Regent’s Park College, Oxford and a Reflection by the Author by me. Dr. Kreitzer has kindly updated the footnotes – all 400 pages of them, bless him!
Of course, it is a delight for me to see the thesis in print. It still has historical value because: (1) it is based on original manuscript sources (2) it tells a story that has not been told before based on such sources (3) it contributes to the narrative of English Baptist history and (4) it contributes to the history of the Christian church.
By the time William and Mary brought the Glorious Revolution to England in 1689, Baptists and other Dissenters from the Church of England could look forward to relief from persecution. The worst, dark days were over, days when pastors were torn down from their pulpits and thrown into prison where they died of disease and neglect. Under William, being a Dissenter was no longer illegal. In their new lives they would be second class citizens, to be sure, deprived of opportunities for public service and education, but no longer subject to prison for their faith.
The thesis traces the fortunes of one group of Baptists, Calvinistic Baptists, in the capital in the period 1689-1727. It asks, and seeks to answer, why they did not organize themselves in a way that was traditional for them since the early 17th century, i.e. through associations.
Attempts to organize in that way were made in London but were sabotaged by internal tensions, first over the issue of hymn singing and later over the issue of open or close communion. London ministers lined up on one side of these issues or the other and participated in a furious pamphlet war that sapped the life out of efforts to get them to cooperate in associational life. What the London Calvinistic Baptists ended up doing was to organize exactly as the Presbyterians and Congregationalists did, in ministerial fraternities, which led to a process I call the ‘ministerialization” of corporate life.
That, in a nutshell, is the thesis.
Sherri: What do you hope people will take away from your books? Why are these books important?
Murdina: For my dad’s memoirs, I hope the reader is able to celebrate, with my father, the variety of human personalities he has shared with us, personalities set in a particular time and place – Scotland, early 20th century. He certainly gives us a nice bunch of beloved oddballs, quirky people like the pastor who was afraid of chickens or the man who gave flour to his cow (it died) or the husband-and-wife team battling over how to pile the peat in front of their house. He gives us the devout, like pastor Duncan Macbeth, praying on his knees for the men at sea in a thunderstorm, wearing out his slippers, his own mother a magnet for ministers, his sister Annie washing the feet of the elderly who had walked 8 miles over the moor, barefoot, to communion.
He serves us up tales of his neighbor Norman Morrison who was brilliant in everything he did – sailor, poet, a leader of men, a charismatic personality and so much larger than the little island he lived in. Norman makes me think of the brilliantly colored fish who swim deep in the oceans, fish that have only recently been seen because now we have the technology to do so. Who sees them, to admire their beauty? Only God does.
Who sees the spiritual beauty of these people in this forgotten speck in the world, this little village, this little Lewis, this little piece of Scotland? My father “saw” them and they responded back by “seeing” him and giving him as an eternal reward his identity, his place, his contentment, his home.
Regarding my thesis, I would hope that those who have an interest in history – in English history, in Baptist history, in Calvinist history or in Christian church history – will find something of interest in the commonalities here amidst the particularities of 18th century London. For Baptists in 1689 their worst days were behind them, yet they fell to squabbling among themselves, both sides quoting from the same sacred book. What might they have accomplished working together?
Sherri: You are a historian, what would you love to explore historically, either for research or perhaps, you would love to time travel back to that time period?
Murdina: Well, I started a project in 2010 that brought me to the National Archives in Madrid. I was researching the life of Maria de Bohorquez, a woman who was burned at the stake in Sevilla in the 16th century. She was one of a cluster of Protestants, mostly priests and nuns, who met to explore the thinking of Martin Luther. She was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman who did not reject her but allowed her to get a wonderful education. She knew Greek and Latin. All I knew of her is that when imprisoned, they sent a cadre of people to argue with her in her cell, and night after night, she argued back, quoting scripture. Quite impressive a defense, apparently. I was so much hoping to find transcripts of these conversations in the archives, but after 30 days I ran out of time and money and had to go home. Still would love to explore her life, among other things because I taught Spanish and the language, at least, would be one less hurdle.
Sherri: What are you working on now?
Murdina: I am working on a devotional book based on the writings of John Bunyan. My idea is to select twelve of his writings, one for each month, and to provide, for each day, a selection from that work, then some relevant scripture passages, and last, a commentary. Have started with Pilgrim’s Progress and the month of December.
My idea is not to write a scholarly work, for which I have no experience, but to write a devotional as I learn about the world of Bunyan scholarship. Only 350 years’ worth out there, I know, but I am having a ball with the literature so far.
Sherri: If someone wanted to write a memoir or biography for a family member or ancestor, where would you suggest they begin?
Murdina: Don’t think I can speak to that with any great expertise except to say that the best place to start is probably the staff at your local library, who can walk you through online sources, explaining the peculiarities of each.
In my case, since my father was from Ness, I started with the Ness Historical Society. Through this contact I met a kinswoman who has been working on ancestral ties in Lewis for 40 years, Ann Thomson. Here I found my gaelic translator. Consulted with Bill Lawson of Seallam in southern Harris and paid for him to do a family search. Did family research in libraries in Glasgow and Edinburgh in person, but they have online services. Explored ship passenger lists for dad’s name. Every road, even one that leads nowhere specific, has to be seen as part of the journey that will lead “home.”
Sherri: What is your advice for anyone who wishes to publish their first book?
Murdina: I asked a relative for advice and he gave me the name of his publisher. That did not work out. Second suggestion was a source in Stornoway that also did not work out. So just googled “Christian publishers” and got the name Christian Faith Publishing. On my third try, then, I found a publisher. Paid a fee for their editorial assistance and they worked with me for nine months. There were some frustrations along the way, but all in all I am happy with them. Particularly happy with the cover of Blackhouse God’s House.
Sherri, thank you so much for this opportunity to meet at your Creekside Café and to have the chance to talk about all this stuff! What a joy it will be to meet you in person as well as all the other authors on November 20.
Sherri: If you enjoyed this interview with Murdina MacDonald come meet her in person at the Author Sunday Book Festival, November 20th, 1 to 4 pm at the New Bern Farmers Market, 421 South Front Street, New Bern, NC.
My facebook page is under Murdina D. MacDonald and my Instagram username is: blackhouse_godshouse.
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?
When you start a book do you want it to begin in the middle of the action or do you prefer a slow build up? Brandon McNulty did a YouTube video that made me think, what is the best way to open a story.
As a reader I like both depending on the story. If I start reading and a character is being shot at or chased, I’m interested to see what happens next. BUT…I also enjoy getting to know a character a bit before they’re thrown into the pot of boiling water. The rom coms where we see a little bit of normal life before everything goes haywire, or the cozy mystery that starts with what appears to be just an average day in the life of the sleuth or the accused.
Which version has more power to attract the reader?
Her arms and legs trembled with fatigue. The dizziness and nausea still lingered but self-preservation pushed those discomforts to the back of her mind. From the shore she could see the yacht burning. She flinched as a second charge exploded, demolishing what was left of the life she’d begun to build. Shivering in her wet clothes, she knew she couldn’t wait around until her strength returned. An ex-con couldn’t be found this close to a crime scene. Stumbling barefoot over the rocks, shells and detritus that littered the shoreline, she hoped she wasn’t leaving bloody footprints behind. Slowly, she made her way home by the backroads praying no one would see her and note her appearance. It wouldn’t pay for anyone to connect her to the murders.
She turned off the vacuum cleaner, her head still bobbing to the music coming out of her headphones. The boat swayed. Were they being boarded? No one was due to arrive until later tonight. Quickly, she shut off her phone and pulled her headphones out. Angry shouts from the upper deck caused her heart to pound. She needed to hide. Hurriedly, she stowed her cleaning stuff it the tiny closet, and herself in the shower. She wasn’t supposed to be here. If her parole appointment hadn’t run so late…the boat started moving. Oh shit, oh shit, please don’t head out to the ocean. What do I do? The boat stopped. Breathing a sigh of relief, they weren’t far from shore. Her relief was short lived at the pop of silenced gun shots. Balling into the fetal position at the bottom of the shower, she blinked back tears and nausea. Another boat came along side, scraping the hull. Thank God, they’re leaving. The odor of gasoline warned her things were about to get worse. Creeping from her hiding place, she tried not to look at the dead bodies. She leaped into the water as the smaller boat drove away from the yacht. She felt the percussion and for a moment feared she’d drown from the nausea and dizziness of the impact. She floated on her back until she could get her bearings then swam to shore. She stared back at the burning yacht as another explosion rattled the night. Not waiting for the trembling in her legs to ease, she made her way home along the backroads hoping no one noticed her leaving the scene of the crime.
As you can see, number 2 has more details, but does it give you more or less? Number 2 gives more background information, orients the reader a little more but it takes away some of the punch the first has. If you started reading a book that opened with either of these, which would be more interesting? Would it really matter to you? I believe there are many different types of readers as there are many different types of writers. There is no one-way is the right way. It’s a matter of what fits the story, the genre, and the individual taste. While I like both, I would tend to go with the first to create that intense reaction and then build the character more in the next scene especially if I’m writing a fast-paced suspense. If it’s more of a psychological thriller, the slower pace might be best.
I’d love to hear your opinion. As a reader or as a writer, what do you think is best?
I put my writing career on hold for so many years while I wrestled growing boys into independent men. Now, it’s my turn and it’s not as easy as I’d hoped. No one is banging down the doors to get to my books or to demand my autograph. Although I did have a fantastic audience today, I didn’t read my own stories, because they were second graders, and my books aren’t designed for young minds.
Today I joined other illustrious members of our community to go read at our local school for Read Across America. One of my good friends, Ms. Christy, the second-grade teacher, and my neighbor asked if I’d read to her class. She told them I was a famous author. Well, the famous part is stretching it, but everyone is famous in a small town. The children were wonderful and a boon to my flagging ego. They were delighted to learn their teacher was one of the inspirations for my character, Dana the heroine in White Gold. After reading Dr. Suess’ Daisy-Head Maysie and making paper flowers, the kids asked for my autograph and a couple wanted me to come back and read one of my books. I told them I had a short story I’d written for my grandchildren that I could bring. I think that’s what I’ll do.
What a marvelous treat. I was a little afraid, to tell the truth. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to read to young children, even my grandchildren, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to connect. It started out as a favor for a friend, a thing to do to support my community but it became more. Today made me realize how much this community and the people in it inspire me.
As I told her class, Christy along with my sister-in-law Denise and my good friend, Mary, all combined to help me create the character, Dana.
Dana Windley who later becomes mayor of Leeward, is a community leader. She is an entrepreneur, a small business owner, a volunteer for the school and her community. She also does charity work raising money for things like breast cancer and her local firefighters and paramedics squads. Dana would be the one you would see at the school reading to the children, planning events for the community and doing all in her power to support her town, her friends, and her family.
The Leeward Files and The Harrell Family Chronicles are about REAL people, living in a small town just like where I come from. The town of Leeward is struggling to rebuild after several devasting blows. My home has suffered hurricanes, the loss of businesses and our high school, it is a town that was dying but we are doing our best to revive it. Just like the characters in my stories, there are very real people working to see that the town of Aurora, not only survives, but once again thrives. These people, this town, this community of supporters are the inspiration for my stories and what keep me writing.
Chrome Pink, my first novel in the Leeward Files Series is the book I’m promoting.
Rae Lynne is one of the strongest characters I’ve ever written. After being raped and ostracized during high school, Rae Lynne turned to drugs, alcohol and cutting to help her with the pain. With the help of her friends and her grandfather, she learned to focus her anger and fear on her art. Piercing and tattooing took the place of cutting, and eventually her desire for control helped her relinquish the drugs. Unfortunately the battle of the booze took her a little longer to conquer.
People often think an addict is someone who doesn’t care but too often they are people who care too much. Rae Lynne’s natural empathy battles her years of abuse. Her kindness is proof of the strength of her character. Because of her friendships with Dana and Jenna, and the support of her grandfather and brother, she finds the courage to face her demons. But it is her own determination that helps her succeed in her battle against alcoholism as she learns to love and trust herself.
We cannot love others until we first learn to love ourselves. Sometimes the greatest demons we face are those inside our own heads. I love this character because she represents hope. She overcame one problem after another. She survived and even learned to thrive simply by not giving up. She faced weakness but she fought through it.
The Pamlico Writers’ Group will host a tent at the 26th annual Aurora Fossil Festival, Saturday, May 25th. Our members will take turns signing and selling books, and answering questions about our group’s upcoming events and regular critique meetings.
The Aurora/Richland Township Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Aurora Fossil Museum will welcome vendors, musicians and more to the town of Aurora Friday, May 24th. Opening ceremonies and entertainment on Friday evening start at 6 pm.
Starting at 8 am on Saturday: vendors, rides, exhibitors with crafts, fossils, minerals, jewelry, food. Fossil displays, talks, digs and an auction that supports the museum, 5K run, veterans breakfast, parade, and more …
Tammera will have the newest addition to her series, the Water Street Chronicles, “Sleeping Mallows,” as well as her first book, “Drenched Sunflowers.” (Look for more about Tammera in our upcoming chat.)
For Alison Paul Klakowicz, the Fossil Festival is a homecoming. Stop by and visit, buy a book and learn what other projects she had planned. (You can also check out our previous interview!)
Retired nurse and former Children’s Church minister, LaDonna Holloman shares her faith through her fiction. Come check out this exciting young adult Christian Fantasy/mystery. (Check out our interview coming soon on this website!)
Local author, S L Hollister will have her latest book, “Titanium Blue,” on sale along with the rest of her Leeward Files series. (Leeward is the fictional version of Aurora, complete with Fossil Festival.)
Jim Keen is the finance officer, webmaster and former chairperson for the Pamlico Writers’ Group. He is an avid sailor and writes non-fiction about sailing and family.
M K Graff is the award-winning author of the British cozy mystery, Nora Tierney series and the Trudy Genova, Manhattan Mysteries. She is a favorite of Pamlico Writers’ conference attendees.
Stop by and visit, let’s talk books and writing. We’d love to meet you.
See you at the Aurora Fossil Festival.
sherrilhollister.com/Suspense She Writes Bookstore Dismiss