How Do I Write?

Today I am taking part in a blog post relay after an invitation from Shirley Corder who lives and writes inspirational books in South Africa. She has published Strength Renewed, Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer and is currently working on two projects: Out of the Shadows:Reflections of Lesser-known Women in the Bible and Naomi’s Long Road Home:Living with Heartbreak and Shattered Dreams. In addition to beingan author, Shirley is a registered nurse and cancer survivor (1997), and a pastor’s wife. She was born in Scotland, grew up in Rhodesia, and now lives on the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

To participate in this blog tour, I have to answer four specific questions, then pass on the baton to three more writers you can read about at the end.

3 book covers1. What am I working on? My first three novels are based on my rodeo cowgirl grandmother. The next novel will be the next generation, and based on my mother who immigrated to America from Germany after WWII. I’m calling it An American Dream.

 2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? This is always a difficult question to answer. I think it is different because it does follow my grandmother’s and mother’s lives. All of my books feature strong, independent women who have done something a bit unusual for a woman in their generation. In my “Dreams” trilogy, I tell the story of the growth of women’s competition on the same bucking stock as men and then how it gradually declined, ending in the early 1940s due to the wars’ influence and an all-male rodeo association.

3. Why do I write what I do? I grew up riding horses on a ranch and I did ride with my grandmother. I just wanted to tell her story. A lot of family history gets lost because nobody writes it down. I chose to fictionalize my family history because it gives me more freedom to develop characters and create a storyline, and sometimes to give a story the ending it should’ve had.

4. How does my writing process work? I’m a “pantser” rather than an outliner. Because of my background in journalism, I tend to write spare first drafts, so that draft is really my outline. Then, with the help of my critique group partners, I go back and flesh it out. I may do several rewrites before I’m ready to submit to a publisher.

And now, I pass the relay baton on to Tammy Hinton, Janet Oakley and Libi Astaire. Their posts will be up on May 26. Please visit them as well!

Tammy HintonAward winning author Tammy Hinton has accumulated a Will Rogers Medallion Award, Spur Finalist from Western Writers of America, Willa Finalist from Women Writing the West, and a Finalist from the Western Fictioneers group. She refers to her genre as women’s historical fiction. Her novels include: Unbridled and Retribution. Devoted to Antiquing appeals to those bitten by the collecting bug. Her short story, “She Devil Justice”, will be published in an anthology, date undetermined as of this writing. She and her husband, Herb, love the red dirt of Oklahoma.

Check out Tammy’s blog!

Janet OakleyJanet Oakley is an award winning writer of historical fiction. Tree Soldier won the 2012 EPIC ebook award for historical fiction and as well as the grand prize for Chanticleer Books Reviews. Currently, the novel is a quarter finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. It’s prequel, Timber Rose, launched on April 6, 2014. Another novel, The Jossing Affair, won first place in the Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction for 2013.

In addition to writing novels, her published essays and articles appear in the Cup of Comfort, The Seachest, and the Mount Baker Experience. “Dry Wall in the Time of Grief” was the top winner in non-fiction at Surrey International Writers in 2006.

An historian and educator, she teaches hands-on history at museums, schools and historical parks. In addition to writing and historical pursuits, she loves gardening. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, loves its history and writes every day. No matter what. Janet blogs at Historyweaver.

Libi AstaireLibi Astaire is the author of the award-winning Ezra Melamed Mystery Series, which is set in England during the Regency era and follows wealthy-widower-turned-sleuth Ezra Melamed as he solves a series of “white cravat” crimes affecting members of London’s Jewish community.  Here’s Libi’s blog.


Published in: on May 19, 2014 at 6:08 am  Comments (1)  
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The Magic of Creating

?????????????????“Why do you write?” Most authors hear that question or its near relatives—“With the market so impossible, why on earth do you keep at it?”—over and over and probably ask ourselves that every time we spend a day marketing. I’ve heard a dozen answers, none much more satisfactory than “Just because,” and I don’t suppose my answer is much better, but I can’t resist trying. So here goes.

I see a woman in the distance, her hair flowing in the breeze, standing where I am, in the meadow above the sea. Dreamy, floating on air. When I get home and take pen in hand (not really, but computers sound so mechanical), I enter into her sense of unreality, which I share, and discover she’s from Minnesota. At this point, she emerges from me, Chicago born, with an enduring sense of incredulity at having landed on the Santa Barbara coast.

But once I name her, she acquires her own destiny and I drop away. I don’t know how this happens. I recognize some elements of her story as transformations of my own experience much as we recognize dreams as arising from our hopes and fears. Such transformations are the magic of the unconscious, not to be interfered with. She is Myra and her world is about to collapse. This became HOME FIRES, the novel that was released in December, 2013.

Let her go, and she will take me places my conscious mind never dreamed of or even wanted to go. I saw one heroine heading for adultery, and my conscious mind rebelled. I stopped writing until I gave in and gave her her head. In HOME FIRES, the surprise was of a different, and more amazing, sort. Myra, torn apart by her husband’s infidelity, mortified at her own willful blindness to it, retreats to her art studio. Here she is.


 Myra turned on the light, finally, and stared at the print run, which was, in fact, complete, and she was in no mood to mat either prints or watercolors of sea lions playing in the surf, tide pool creatures, clouds of silver-winged plover—scenes from a life that had vanished. Instead, she taped fresh paper to her drawing board, and soon an oversized hen with disheveled feathers and long scrawny neck appeared from the point of her pen.

“Matilda. That’s surely your name.” She smiled, as she cast the day’s shame and humiliation onto the paper. If Matilda wasn’t art, so what? She brought laugher. “You need company.” She laid the chicken aside and took a fresh sheet. A porcupine. Eyes narrowed, he was calculating the distance to a heron who stood nearby, his long beak in the air. Alphonse. That was the heron. And the porcupine? Rufus. That would do nicely.

Feeling blood flow through vessels that had been numb since morning, Myra drew out still another sheet. Quills flew, striking not only Alphonse but a gull who had the misfortune to fly by. The gull tilted and crashed, giving out a long drawn-out screech. Eustasia, Myra named her, as the gull’s squawking brought Matilda’s head, at the end of her long neck, into the picture, and Alphonse flapped his wings, knocking Rufus over as he took off.

“You’re the clumsiest heron I’ve ever seen,” Matilda remarked.

“Bad knees,” Alphonse answered.

So there they were. An overgrown chicken with too much neck, a porcupine with lousy aim, a gull bristling with quills, and a heron with bad knees. “I think you’re going to be great company,” she told them, taping them in a row above her desk. She sat back and looked at them, her body released from the day.


The adventures of The Rabbleville Varmints, as they come to be called, become an on-going strip throughout the novel. Here is my artist-friend Helen Gregory Nopson’s depiction of them.HomeFires critters

No reader will be more surprised than I was at the sudden emergence of much needed humor in this story. I assure you Myra is the cartoonist, not me. It was as though beneath the level of creativity that created Myra, another emerged.

Why write, you ask? Because it’s magic.

Judy was born, raised, educated and married in Chicago, and raised her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She went back ????????????????to school as an adult and began to write, winning two writing awards from the university—one for a novel and another for an essay.
Following a divorce, she began teaching academic writing at the University of Michigan and continued at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she was active in developing career paths for non-tenured faculty. Though she continued to write fiction during those years, she published largely professional articles and, finally, a textbook (Engaging Inquiry: Research and Writing in the Disciplines) with colleague, Mark Schlenz.
Judy has now moved to Washington State to write fiction full time and has two other novels published: Nowhere Else to Go and The Inheritors.

Painful, Beautiful Individuality

by Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling

ArtOfFallingSmallI was fifteen, and I had a legal problem. I stood facing an official representative of the Department of Motor Vehicles, whose role was to fill out my learner’s permit application.

“Last name.”


“First name.”


“Middle name.”

“I don’t have one.”

The woman peered at me over her half-glasses and spoke with the tired expression of one who has heard it all. “No one likes their middle name, but you have to tell me. It’s the law.”

Apparently it hadn’t been illegal for my parents to fail to give me one. How did they know they wouldn’t get their desired boy until child five? They’d run out of girl names they liked.

I shrugged. “Sorry.”

She started to write in the space. I read upside down, hoping not to see the word “Sorry.” She wrote: NONE. This made me feel like a ZERO.

I had a good long heart-to-heart on this matter with my best friend, Ellen, the next day. We were on the upper deck of our neighborhood swimming pool, making fudgies. We’d opened a pack of brownies from the vending machine and rendered plucked-off sections pliable by rolling them between our hands. I was fashioning the body for a little fudgie pig while Ellen and I tried to think up a middle name for me.

I needed something that would make me fit in with all the other three-named people in the country, but at the same time distinctive enough to stand out. When I’d told my mother what had happened she’d been unconcerned; she figured her daughters could use their maiden name in the middle once we get married.

I did not think I should count on that.

It was as if this portion of my identity remained elusive. If I could rename myself by the time I got my real license, it could be official. So I sought Ellen’s advice. But she said, “I don’t know, Kath, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t get a middle name. It’s kind of exotic.”

“What do you think of Margaret? Kathryn Margaret. I like it better than Ann Margaret, don’t you?”

Ellen thought it over as she lined up her fudge art on the deck railing. I expected Ellen would like the name, because she liked me, and was not the type to lash out with the God’s-honest-truth like members of my family. “Too Catholic. Makes you sound like a nun.”

“Oh.” I realized the huge mistake I could make by renaming myself. If I made a bad decision, I’d have no one to blame but me.

“My dad’s middle name is Weist.”

“Kathryn Weist Graham.” Ellen Patricia tried it on. She didn’t like her own middle name, and never used it. She wouldn’t need one for long—she was beautiful and tan and classy and already had a boyfriend who was nuts about her. “I like that one.”

“But it’s a family name,” I said. “It seems like it should be bestowed, not claimed.” I pressed a little tail to my pig’s behind. “I guess I could just use Nonnie.”

“Nonnie? Where’d that come from?”

“The lady put it on my permit form yesterday: N-O-N-E. You could pronounce that Nonnie, right?”

We laughed. I added my pig fudgie with its drooping tail to Ellen’s svelt snake on the deck railing. The forecasted storm would wash them away, but concerns about fitting in and distinguishing oneself would be themes I’d revisit again in my life.

My artistic aptitude would not end up expressing itself in the realm of edible sculpture—the very next year I discovered dance, then later, writing. But in my choreography and in my debut novel, The Art of Falling, I would continue to explore what defines our individual contribution as an artist—how to be enough like others to fit into the market, and how to be individual enough to be distinctive.

My protagonist, Penelope Sparrow, struggles with this theme in regard to body image. When the strong and resilient body she blames for ruining her dance career saves her life after what should have been a deadly fall, giving her an extraordinary chance to reinvent herself, can she fight her obsessive need to fit in and embrace her individuality boldly enough to leave a distinctive mark on the Philadelphia dance world? Join her, and see!

Kathryn Graham Williams Craft ended up with plenty of names, thank you, but that’s a whole different story. She isCraft_small_photo the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, which was released on January 28 and has already gone back for a second printing, and While the Leaves Stood Still (due Spring 2015). Her work as a developmental editor at, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads Craftwriting workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.

Published in: on February 13, 2014 at 6:54 am  Comments (13)  
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Books, Books, Books!

CowgirlDreams Front CoverThis week has been new book week for me. My editor from Globe-Pequot/Twodot Press sent cover designs for my novel series (they’re republishing Cowgirl Dreams and Follow the Dream along with the new novel, Dare to Dream), and we went back and forth on the choices their designer had made. At first I was not happy with the new covers and felt they appeared to be “romances” rather than the “working” west cowgirls I’ve written about. But the publisher’s experience in sales and marketing prevailed, providing a “theme” for my novel trilogy.

I will share the cover for Cowgirl Dreams here. This one I did like from the beginning. The other two have some tweaks to be made yet and I will preview them at a later time.

Today, I also sent my publisher the manuscript for Cowgirl Up!, a non-fiction book about the old-time rodeo cowgirls of Montana. This book tells the story of women’s rodeo, from its heyday in the early 1900s when women competed with men on the same rough stock to its decline due to injuries and deaths, societal pressure, the beginning of the RAA–a men-only organization–and WWII. Alice Greenough riding bronc

Cowgirl Up! is a departure from my comfort zone in fiction. Even though I began my writing career in journalism, this is my first non-fiction book. As you might imagine, I’m a little nervous to find out if I’ve done the subject justice and if my editor approves of the way I’ve written it.

Wish me luck!

Published in: on January 31, 2014 at 6:05 pm  Comments (13)  
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Circles of Deception Probes Crop Circles

by Frances Evlin

CirclesDeceptionInstantly, Risa knew—the man was going to jump.

Thus opens Circles of Deception, my novel about the crop circle phenomena. Risa’s flash of intuition propels her into the world of the circle-makers, individuals with extraordinary mental abilities. And into my long-time favorite unsolved mystery.

To help you understand what I am going to rave on about, please look at photos of these amazing works of art. One such site is It lists them year by year since 1994, three years after they gained worldwide attention, thanks to two retired English gentlemen who claimed they’d made all of them from 1978 to 1991.

Their story is one of the first you will find if you Google crop circles. The formations were not as complex then as they are now, and their confession sounded plausible until I got to the part where they said they made the “grapeshot” small circles by pole vaulting, to avoid leaving paths through the crop. That claim presented a serious credibility gap.

Anyone who looks at recent crop circle formations will see they have progressed far beyond the point where they could be made with a center pole, rope and stomper board.

They are no longer simple circles. In fact, many are not circles at all, but incorporate geometric designs, and representations of animals, birds and other creatures great and small. Those that still feature circles may include 3-D elements (Sugar Hill, August 1, 2007) or intricate floor lays (Etchilhampton, July 25, 2011).

I do not believe these formations are made by ETs. God created the universe and science does not know where it ends. We do know it contains thousands of planets. It is unreasonable to presume that only Earth is populated with intelligent beings. Novelists and screen writers often portray ETs as other than humanoid, but God created man in His image, so we can further presume that Beings from other planets would at least resemble Earth dwellers. However, it equally unreasonable to hypothesize that ETs would venture through space only to leave field art designs that Earth people are unable to interpret.

The designs are much too complicated and precise to be made by weather anomalies.

That leaves only humans as the probable formation makers. Eliminating those designs that are obviously contracted to publicize an event or advertise a product, we are left with other field art of unexplainable origin. A phenomenon, a modern mystery.

So I wondered what sort of individuals could be creating them. They would have to be people who: (1) had an excellent grasp of math, particularly geometry; (2) had some knowledge of architecture, to know how to lay out a pattern, even on hilly ground; (3) were willing to stomp around for hours at night in all kinds of weather; (4) had spouses or family members who did not question their frequent absences; (5) had a reliable vehicle with enough cargo space to haul their tools; (6) were risk-takers, foolish enough not to care about being caught and prosecuted for trespass or criminal mischief; (7) were sufficiently dedicated to their mission to never utter a word about it to anyone other than their circle-making buddies.

It was that last requirement that intrigued me the most. People like recognition. If they create something fantastic, beautiful and/or inspiring, they want the world to know they did it. Remember we are not talking about only one nationality or one ethnic group. Crop circle formations have appeared in twenty-five countries. The network of circle-makers would have to be worldwide. They would want to compare notes, to see who is contemplating what sort of design. Can’t you imagine the jealousy, the hard feelings (anger?) if a group in Country A was all set to put down a never-before-seen pattern only to find a group from Country B had done it within the last twenty-four hours?

What would be the consequences if a group became careless, left telltale footprints, let themselves be seen or otherwise jeopardized the mystery the phenomena needs to survive? Would members of other worldwide groups forgive and forget? Wouldn’t there be serious punishment for the offending group, followed by public denunciation of that group as frauds?

A similar scenario exists for an individual circle-maker who became disenchanted with the whole idea and declared s/he intended to go public. Is there a secret society, ala some university groups, whose threats (physical, social, financial) would force that person to keep quiet?Crop_circles_Swirl

Did the British government set up Operation Blackbird only as a disinformation campaign? Why doesn’t the scientific community seriously seek to solve the origination of the formations instead of declaring all of them hoaxes and ridiculing those who research them?

Those are the thoughts that ricocheted through my mind when I visited the crop circle near Wilbur, Washington in 2007 (simple circles, not a stylized Teddy bear.) Who ARE these people? True, some folks are gifted at creating designs, although why they would choose cereal crops as their medium of expression baffles me. HOW do they escape detection? In over thirty years, and with up to 10,000 formations recorded worldwide, nobody has been prosecuted for trespass and/or criminal mischief? Some of the formations have appeared within sight of a major highway and no motorists noticed someone skulking about in the dark fields? (Wickham Green, July 29, 2010). Amazing!

And where are the “practice” formations? The attempts that turned out to be less than perfect? Once in a while, a poorly executed formation will appear, but the great majority are found in fine shape. This field art cannot be done over. There was no sloppy early version of The Milk Hill Galaxy of August 12, 2001, with its 409 circles of graduating size. And it has not been replicated, in spite of a Crop Circle Challenge offering approximately $160,000 to do so.

I think we have two phenomena here: The tantalizing circles and the mindset of the individuals who create them.

Frances Evlin is the author of eight novels: two mysteries, one YA, and five fantasy. She is a Pacific franceslNorthwest native whose love for creative writing predates her years involved with marriage, children and employment in the lumber industry. She appreciates the power of the English language and enjoys tinkering with words, as you will discover when you read her books. She enjoys reading soft-boiled mysteries, light fantasies and ghostly paranormals. Not sure if she’s an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist, she strives to live up to her motto: Don’t ever get daunted.


Published in: on January 10, 2014 at 6:37 am  Comments (2)  
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Adeline: A Story of Memories, Growth, and Life

Adeline coverI recently read and enjoyed Adeline, a small but moving book, almost a memoir, an essay on life and its narrow winding path, and growth in maturity and spirituality. I asked Mary Ann to talk about how this book came about.

by Mary Ann Hayes

The story of Adeline has been playing in my head for so many years, I can’t even say how long. It takes place at a mountain lake in Northern Idaho where I spent my summers growing up, exploring nature with my two sisters and four brothers. There was, and still is, something magical about the place: the old cabin my dad threw together with materials scavenged from buildings one step away from the wrecking ball, the giant evergreens towering everywhere, the massive mountain arms surrounding our small body of water.

Things happened there that have stayed with me my whole life. My brother Jim died of cancer and spent the final days at our lake. His death, the significance of losing him, is depicted in the character Beanie.

The old woman Adeline herself is who I’ve always hoped I would be by the end days of my life, a person who has learned the impact and necessity of love and forgiveness. A woman who is a combination of those who shaped my life and taught me to value what is real and honest and good.

The story of the mountain lion came from a night we had an unexpected visitor on the patio outside the cabin door. The terrifying screams of the huge cat are unforgettable yet absolutely wonderful at the same time.

The mountain stream is one we would follow way up and deep into the forest to check on our water line. It was and still is our water supply for the cabin.

The actual road leading to the lake is not treacherous, yet it is windy and narrow in places. It has always been a reminder to me that life is a narrow winding road we need to travel on with patience, alertness, and awareness.

The demon and the angel were from a reoccurring nightmare I had as a child. They battled for my soul and left headshotme sleepless many a night and for many years.

I began by listing the important things I knew needed to be included in the story such as the willows, the channel, the road, and of course the bridge. I let the character of Adeline stroll through my mind as she made her way from the start to the finish, listening, and then writing down her thoughts and memories. Her memories are, of course, the memories I have when I am there, especially now as I get older.

Once I had an outline down on paper, and I knew I’d left nothing of significant importance out, I couldn’t stop writing. It just flowed! I hope I can write another story like Adeline some day. It was a dream for me.

Finding a publisher was the trick. After careful research, I sent my manuscript to Tate Publishing and Enterprises. They are one of the largest Christian publishers in the country and although Adeline is not a religious story, it certainly is spiritual. It was a pleasure working with them.

Mary Ann Hayes lives on an island in Washington State with her husband of thirty-five years and  two dogs.

She says, “My passion for writing stems from a love for the English language. Words are amazing. They are strong and powerful and must be used with consideration. Words can make or break a life, the power in their use is so great. Naturally, a love of words leads me to be an avid reader. A good novel on a rainy day is like rich dark chocolate and a fresh cup of coffee.  It doesn’t get much better.”

Mary Ann has also written A Friend Like Frank, a contemporary women’s novel, a bit of a romantic comedy, which is available in paperback and as an e-book through Amazon, or autographed through her website,  She has a sequel due out soon, The Trouble with Tony.

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