2020 has been a year for the record books. Everyone across the globe has been challenged during this time, and yet there have been some good things come out of it. Although so many conferences have been canceled this year, many have shifted to an online venue, opening up access to many who would not be able to attend otherwise. This is true of the Kentucky Christian Writer’s Conference. I am so blessed to have led the Teen Seminar last year, and while this year’s seminar has been pushed off to 2021, I am pleased to say that the online KCWC conference will be open to teens for this year.
Not a teen? The KCWC is a great opportunity for writers of all levels and ages. The faculty line up and topics are fantastic, and if you register, you will have access to the recordings for 6 months. Below is the key information to know, and I encourage you to visit the website to get a look at the classes being offered.
Have you ever wondered about how authors come up with characters? I’m sure every author has their own process, but I can guarantee you, it is similar to making new friends. In the beginning, you don’t really know much about them. Sometimes you’ll have a name, sometimes not. The same goes for descriptions, personalities, jobs, etc. They are just this person that is sort of an enigma, and it takes work to get to know them.
While I struggle to make friends with people existing outside of fiction–I can’t say real people because my fiction characters DO become real to me–I always get very excited when it comes time to meet my newest characters. I thought it might be fun to take you through a little bit of my process as I get to know a character I’m developing for a short story. At this point, I know VERY little about my character. I’ve already brainstormed a few ideas with my critique partner, but Harriet is still very flat on the paper.
What I do know:
Harriet Carmichael is a bit of an outsider to the upper-class society in which her family partakes. She goes beyond avid gardener to more of the botanist level, and she relates better to the plants than people. In fact, most people find her odd even though gardening was a perfectly acceptable hobby for upper-class women of the time.
She is forced to attend the Christmas party of a woman who is skilled at double-edged compliments and making Harriet feel even more insignificant than before. However, while at this party, she receives a note or a gift (not sure which yet) from a secret admirer. No matter how much she wishes it were true, she can’t believe its authenticity. However, something happens (again, don’t know what yet) will send her on a hunt to discover the true identity of the letter writer. Was it another cruel joke of the woman, or had someone really seen her and wanted to get to know her better?
That’s it, that’s all I really know right now, but I’m really excited about writing this brief story. Depending on how it turns out, it may be my Christmas gift to my newsletter subscribers. But I digress…
After attending the Online Character Summit this weekend, I am determined to take some of what I have learned and carve Harriet into a deeper more human character that we can all relate to on some level. So here we go:
Getting to Know Harriet
This portrait by George Clausen is how I physically envision Harriet at the moment. She’s nothing extraordinary, and her clothes are rather dull. She tends to wear browns in order to disguise her constant work in the soil. From here, it becomes sort of an interview process.
Me: So Harriet, who are you? Why do you feel you that you don’t fit in? It can’t just be your love of plants.
Harriet (rubbing hands together and then tucking them behind her when she finds dirt under her nails): I don’t really know much about people, and honestly, I don’t understand them. People are unpredictable. Plants follow certain rules, I know what they need to coax them into vibrancy, which ones to pair together, and which ones to plant in order to entice or repel certain insects or animals. I love being able to create and work within God’s creation. Plants are exactly what they are supposed to be. People? Not so much.
It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s that I don’t know what to make of them. Some are genuinely who they appear to be, others opposite from what they present to the world. I have a few friends, but mostly, I am uncomfortable around people. I don’t know what to say. I don’t enjoy the same things as my peers.
I like books about gardening, plant life, and even scientific articles about altering plants to be more sturdy against the elements. Miss Austen, Mr. Dickens, and the such leave me baffled. I can play cards, play piano, and embroider as required, but why would anyone want to do those when you can be outside? In fact, I hate winter. I spend most of it planning my next garden or tinkering in the greenhouse/conservatory. The best days are the days I can go to the university and work in the botany department (need to check that was a thing then).
Oh, thought! Have her compare different people/personalities to different types of plants!
And so it will go for a few days. Harriet and I will be having some deep conversations and some lighter-hearted ones. What are the things she likes? The things she fears? What does she want more than anything? What does she believe about herself? What does she need to learn? etc. These are hard questions to draw out, but I love the excitement of it.
Just so you don’t think Harriet is fully developed before I put words on paper, this initial examination is rarely what she ends up looking like as I actually write. Harriet will grow and define herself, shedding some of the things I thought we decided in the beginning. She will develop her own voice and become a real person. Even scarier, she will start making her own decisions and direct my story in ways I never envisioned.
I hope you enjoyed a little sneak peek of my process in developing characters, now I really am going to get off here and dive into uninterrupted conversation with Harriet. I’m starting to get caught up on reading, so look for more steady book reviews in the coming months. 🙂
Do you like gardening? What things do you think Harriet will need in order to rightly portray someone who loves plants, maybe even more than people?
Welcome to the end of a crazy month (so crazy, I’m a day late on this post) with the prospect of one more left to go. It’s wild how much our world can change within a matter of weeks. I pray you are staying home, staying healthy, and if you are one of those essential workers getting out every day to serve the rest of us, THANK YOU SO MUCH. My prayers are with you no matter where you may be working.
I am back at editing my Secret Service story, so to shake things up a bit, I thought I’d share the inspiration for each of my Secret Service heroes.
Meet the Heroes of Counterfeit Love
Broderick works as an undercover Secret Service operative during the early 1880s. He is focused, loves puzzles, and sees his service to country as primary in his life. He pursues justice and truth with care so that no innocent person comes to harm and all who are guilty face a punishment befitting their crime.
His goal in Counterfeit Love: Ferret out the leaders of an elusive counterfeiting gang before they can get the new counterfeit twenties into circulation and damage an already fragile economy.
The Challenge: His former fiancée has somehow become entangled with the gang. She is innocent, but how can he prove it and protect her while doing his job?
The real inspiration behind the character:
Andrew L. Drummond, Chief of the Secret Service between February 1891 and January 1894 – The initial inspiration for this story came from his book True Detective Stories. One of my favorite stories is where he was “arrested” and escaped jail with a counterfeiter in order to build the trust of an elusive gang. Where did his escapades lead him, but Cincinnati? The location of my story.
While Andrew Darlington may not seem the hero type, he is a man trying to overcome a secret past which could cost him his job as a Secret Service operative. Therefore, he strikes every case with a vengeance. Collateral damage don’t matter so long as the criminal is brought to justice and put behind bars.
His Goal in Counterfeit Love: Prove Theresa Plane is the real mastermind behind the elusive counterfeiting ring. No one knows better than him how corrupted and devilish a woman’s soul can be.
The Challenge: Broderick Cosgrove has been swindled by the woman and now he must work around a fellow operative to bring the truth to light.
The real inspiration behind the character:
William P. Wood, Chief of the Secret Service from January 1863 to May 1869
Chief Wood earned a reputation for rash aggressiveness. In the book Illegal Tender, David R. Johnson described Chief Wood as “prowl[ing] the boundaries between legitimate and deviant society” and “lacking scruples and good judgment.” This was the basis for my backstory for Darlington. He is a complex character which you only scratch the surface of in Counterfeit Love.
Poor Josiah Isaacs is an accidental play boy. He can’t help it that women take his friendliness to be flirtation, and bless his soul, he’s incapable of purposely breaking a woman’s heart. He’s been cornered into a proposal multiple times, and uses cases which take him away from home to convince the women he’s not a good for them so they break it off. He’s smart, caring, and understands Broderick’s position, but duty to their job must have the final say in the case.
His goal in Counterfeit Love: Allow Broderick–his partner and friend–the support and space he needs to prove whether or not Theresa Plane is guilty, but stand firm in revealing the truth should evidence prove otherwise.
The Challenge: Withholding information from their superiors could cost their job, and when the evidence continues to point toward Theresa Plane’s guilt, his friendship with Broderick becomes strained.
The real inspiration for the character:
There isn’t one particular Secret Service operative who stuck out to me to inspire Isaacs. He is sort of a meshing of many operative stories and characters. For me, I wanted a character who would play off the others and be fun to develop, and what more fun can I have than with a man who doesn’t mean to flirt and keeps getting engaged even when he never wants to marry? The story I have planned for him will be so much fun!
Welcome to a new feature I’m doing this year during the last week of each month. The topics of Notes from the Author’s Desk will vary. Sometimes it will be fascinating research I’ve discovered, exciting writing updates I want to share, or just something reading-related. I’ve left this open as a sort of whatever fits the needs post.
If you have questions you’d like answered, send me an email and it could become one of the topics for Notes from the Author’s Desk. I look forward to sharing a bit of my writing world with you!
I’m a little behind again this week, but with good reason. Love Inspired announced two weeks ago that they are opening up a trade book line of historical romance. So for the last two weeks, I have been editing away at my Counterfeit Love manuscript and will finally be ready to send it off to my agent this evening.
During the editing process, God called me to cut my very first chapter, the one which had won and been a finalist in five or six different awards. It was brutal to let it go, BUT I couldn’t let it go all the way. I’ve turned it into a subscriber-only download for my newsletter. It only takes about fifteen minutes to read and gives you an idea about my writing style. I may have even gone gung-ho and created a cheesy book cover. Don’t judge, I can’t even match my own clothes. If you already subscribe to my newsletter, don’t worry, an email is coming out in a couple of weeks with the download and some extra news. 😉 (And here’s the link to subscribe if you are interested!)
In a world of counterfeits, who can they trust?
Cincinnati, 1884: Raised more as a soldier than a proper Victorian lady, Theresa Plane is determined to save her grandfather from treacherous creditors, but he harbors a secret that threatens their future. When he is murdered, his betrayal leaves her to fight for her home and face threats to her life alone.
After months of undercover work, Secret Service operative Broderick Cosgrove is on the verge of arresting a notorious counterfeiting gang. However, when evidence reveals his former fiancée, Theresa, is entangled in their schemes, the case takes a personal turn. Protecting her and proving her innocence will risk his career and his cover, but he cannot fail her again.
As complications drive them deeper into danger, betrayal threatens their survival and tests the limits of their faith and hearts.
Here’s a little secret about the download if you aren’t already a subscriber: You can sign up for my newsletter, download the chapter, and then unsubscribe if you aren’t interested in continuing to hear from me. But shhh, I’m probably not supposed to admit that. 😉
Before I take off, I wanted to remind you of one more opportunity:
Don’t forget you can sign up for a chance to win an e-copy of Patti Stockdale’s WWI love story, Three Little Things. For you’re convenience, I’ve put it right here for you to go ahead and enter.
That’s it for this month’s Author Desk. Hopefully, next month I’ll be right back in the thick of the Civil War and sharing all the fascinating things I’m learning there. Have a great week, and know I’ll be praying for you!
Welcome to a new feature I’m doing this year during the last week of each month. The topics of Notes from the Author’s Desk will vary. Sometimes it will be fascinating research I’ve discovered, exciting writing updates I want to share, or just something reading related. I’ve left this open as a sort of whatever fits the needs post.
If you have questions you’d like answered, send me an email and it could become one of the topics for a Notes from the Author’s Desk. I look forward to sharing a bit of my writing world with you!
What’s in the Writing Works for 2020?
The New Year has brought a new challenge which I never thought I’d face, the writing of a Civil War novel with the potential for a series. This is not a time period I have ever really desired to write in–not because it isn’t filled with potential story ideas, but because I understand both sides of the War and felt I could never do it justice.
Kentucky has the unique history of being a border state and ending more Confederate in their leanings after the War than at the beginning of the War. It was a state who could see both sides of the argument, had their own polarized opinions, and struggled to remain politically neutral. As a (nearly) life-long Kentuckian, I’ve grown up with this unique viewpoint as the grounding for my understanding of the Civil War. Neither the North or South were villains.
To communicate this in a story, to give an honest view of the people during the Civil War which is today, still such a delicate topic, has intimidated me beyond belief. Pre-Civil War, great! Post-Civil War, you got it! But to write during that period? No thanks, never will it be on my agenda.
Pro Life Tip: Never tell God you’re never going to do something. It’s an almost guarantee He will call you to it. So here I am, researching my bottom off to gain a clear understanding of the war and all of its many facets. The Civil War is so incredibly large in scope that it is impossible to become an expert on every area, so I started wide and narrowed down to what actually ended up being my own state’s involvement with the War.
The Research and Project Focus
It wasn’t my intention, but it’s where God led me. He also led me to examine war correspondents–who were the self-proclaimed “Bohemian Brigade”; the little talked or written about laundresses of the armies; the Confederate capture of Columbus, KY; the Battle of Belmont, MO (just across the river from Columbus); and the Battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.
So far I have over 60,000 words typed up in research notes. That’s the length of a small novel. That doesn’t even count the 20,000 or so words typed up for character descriptions, brainstorming, my “sloppy synopsis”, and other tools I use to help develop my story before getting to the actual draft. And all of this is since Christmas break–just over a month.
No wonder I haven’t read much in the fiction world. I HAVE read about sixteen non-fiction research books (in part and in whole) and countless online resources, with plans for a couple of research trips in the works.
It’s still too early to share much about the story, but watch for posts on the last Tuesday of the month to learn what’s going on with the project and my writing world.
What I CAN tell you is this story involves a Kentucky woman with Successionist leanings whose brother has enlisted in the Union Army. Circumstances come about to bring her to be a laundress in her brother’s company. Throw in a war correspondent, a suspicious Union officer, and conflicted loyalties and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
I’m still hammering out details and examining plausibility for many things, but I’m excited for where God is leading this story so far. So come back each month to check out research, Civil War stories, sneak peeks at my progress, or any other news that may arise this year.
A Question (or two) for You
What part of Civil War history interests you? What do you wish you knew more about? Anything you wish you saw more of in Civil War fiction?
So I had intended to post my review of Yours Truly, Thomas this week, but God woke me up at 2:30 in the morning and wouldn’t let me go until I wrote this…and I think it will apply to everyone out there on some level.
So in case you are feeling rejected, unworthy, and unwanted, you’re not alone.
Yesterday I received a rejection on my manuscript…again. The simple answer is I only need one “Yes” to move me from “aspiring” author to “published” author, but the reality is the “No” still hurts.
And it hurts no matter what form it comes in, whether it be a rejection in a relationship, career, or long awaited goal…because deep down, we all want to be accepted and loved by our peers. I know God wants to be King of our Heart and that we should not value other’s opinion of ourselves (or our writing) above HIS opinion. But the human condition, such as it is, struggles and still hungers for the approval of others.
Maybe this is just the revelation of my sinful heart. In fact, I know it is. But the first step in changing is accepting you have a problem, and so I stand here before you saying I have a People Problem. I’m a people pleaser.
Yet, I’ve always felt like the square peg trying to fit into the round hole. Oh, everyone likes me well enough, but I never seem to quite fit in. When everyone was reading Harry Potter (I did try people) and romance novels, I was reading stories like The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, War of the Worlds. When romance authors today do polls of their favorite romance movies or novels, I’m woefully ill-equipped. I’ve not seen most of them, and the ones I did see were snarky and sarcastic (Ten Things I Hate About You). The only classic romance novels I read were Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and a few required reading at school. While I enjoyed them well enough, it’s the adventure stories that draw me.
I love the action of battles between good and evil. The romance of the hero rescuing the girl, or even the girl rescuing the guy. I like complex stories that engage the mind. Movies like Now You See Me and The Tourist.
Kiss scenes gross me out. I seriously cannot watch them…and I’m a married woman, for heaven’s sake! My husband is the romantic one, and while I love it, I don’t seem to have the same knack for it as him. And I feel awful, because it doesn’t mean I love him any less, I just am not good at creating surprises for him that are romantic.
I feel so woefully out of place in this world, and yet, I’m supposed to market myself? Get people interested in what I have to say? There is a quote I wish I could use from a dear friend’s manuscript here, but since it’s yet unpublished I can’t. Suffice it to say, she taught me, it’s not the words I have to say, but the words Christ has to say through me.
May the stories that well up from within me come from His precious place. Because I am not enough, and I think that is the point.
We are not enough…without Him.
We are not good enough, because only He is.
My words will fail and be forgotten, but His words have stood the test of time, crossed barriers they should have never crossed, and been spread across the world and cultures despite strong suppression in many places.
I’m still hurting. I still have no idea where I fit in this marketing world. I still feel like my crazy story ideas are square pegs trying to fit into round holes. But I’m choosing to rest in His words.
Specifically, in Psalm 139.
So if you are like me, and you struggle to find your worth, whether it be in the midst of a relationship or career rejection, or just in the midst of living everyday life, this Psalm is for you. It was written with YOU in mind. And even if you have read it a million times, slow down, read it out loud word for word, and really soak it in.
Any emphasis below is my own, but I encourage you to pray over it. To write His words on your heart.
Because no matter what the world says about you, Jesus wants you. Wants you so bad that he choose to suffer to rescue you. His story is the greatest romance story ever written, and you are His CHOSEN bride.