Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Raven’s Heart

A Raven’s Heart, a novella included in the collection: Love Unexpected, With All My Heart

In the midst of my having been put on bed rest from my writing (that’s one way of describing how it felt) one of my editors asked if I would be willing to write a novella to be part of a book that would include novellas by two other authors. In case you don’t already know, a novella is a miniature novel; much longer than a short story, and much shorter than a novel. I really wanted to be writing even though it was difficult if not impossible, but a novella being much shorter than my typical project felt like something I could take on. I prayed about it and felt good about taking the challenge.

I was told they were looking for stories that had the elements that diehard romance readers love. That’s what was selling, and I think this novella project might have been somewhat of an experiment. So I pondered what those elements might be, and as I always do when I need to write something, I prayed for an idea. For all the skill I’ve gained in writing, if I don’t get some inspiration from the other side, I’ve got nothing and it just doesn’t happen. An idea came and I went with it. Although it ended up having many stereotypical elements of romance novels, which I don’t necessarily like to do in my work. But I decided if the story had some stereotypes in it, I needed to at least give it some emotional depth, as Anita Stansfield is known for. Of course, I was kind of in a creative abyss, so I can’t say whether or not it turned out well. I heard some rumors that it’s a good story.

So, yeah . . . stereotypes: Heroine is orphaned and living on the mercy and kindness of one of her parent’s friends. Heroine tries to find work but can’t. Heroine inherits a country estate that is worth a lot but needs a great deal of work. It comes with a few servants. One of them is a handsome, brooding stable hand with a dark secret.

Oh, and . . . I love ravens. So, I incorporated that into the story.

As for the experience of writing a novella, I found it more difficult than I expected and don’t know if I’ll do it again. Just because it’s shorter didn’t make it easier. I’m accustomed to getting into more depth and allowing the plot to flow in a certain way. I felt like I had to compress it in order to meet the length requirement, and it just didn’t feel like my cup of tea. After all, I’m very good at making a short story long.

The Garden Path

The Garden Path

This book is the sequel to The Wishing Garden. Initially I had intended to make it more of a series, but I was told (carefully and kindly but still not to be mistaken) that this story was not the “favorite” of mine among those who were publishing it. Was it his tattoos, his gang-affiliated family members, the interracial marriage, the age difference? I don’t know, but I confess that it knocked what little wind out of my sails that was left. For those of you who have followed my work, you know that there was a long gap between the publication of these two books, and after this one I went into more than three years of complete burnout out that made it impossible for me to write at all. My creative brain just flat-lined. It wasn’t the issues of this book that did it; I was already at the edge with my health getting worse and the fact that I’d continued to put out four books a year in spite of it. But this did feel like that straw that broke the camel’s back.

Anyway, personal issues aside, I do love this story. It’s about redemption and fresh starts and forgiveness. The journey that Whit and Mary take to start a new life—both literally and metaphorically—is close to my heart.

The Wishing Garden

The Wishing Garden

The basic premise of this book combined a few things I’d had swimming around in the back of my head for a long time. One of them was the idea of a reformed gang member and ex-convict to fully embrace the gospel and start his life over. I’ve certainly heard of it happening, but unfortunately it comes with a lot of judgment from some people, and it’s a difficult path. It would certainly take a great deal of faith and humility. Whit is a hero with much of both.

In my historical novels I have often addressed the challenges of crossing social barriers—titles, wealth, education, etc. Social barriers might have been different historically, but they are certainly far from extinct. In this book, Whit is Hispanic, and Mary is white. He is poor and she came from a wealthy upbringing. Wanting to delve deeply into the issues of prejudice and judgment, I felt strongly about adding one more that I had wanted to write about for years. Whit is much younger than Mary. Ironically, this was the issue that gave me the most flack as I went through the evaluation process for publication.

I know a couple, active in the Church and happily married for several years, who have a twenty-two year age difference—and she’s the older one. I believe there are certain elements of compatibility that should be carefully considered in marriage. I don’t believe that the color of skin or age should be an issue as long as values and priorities are united enough to make a successful marriage. Originally I had their age difference seventeen years. I had the characters struggle with it and trying to come to terms with it. But I felt very good about how it was written. However, when it was submitted I got hit with a firestorm. I told the powers that be who control my publications that this was not a doctrinal issue, a moral issue, a spiritual issue—it was an issue of bigotry and prejudice which had been validated by the negative response. Ironically, I had written a book previously where the man was more than twenty years older than the woman he married and no one batted an eye.

In the end I had to change the age difference to a little over ten years, and I had to adjust the tone in the book to make certain my readers would know this was not ideal. Seriously? I believe it’s a good story nevertheless, but I still feel a little irked over having to change Mary’s age. Don’t tell anybody.

The Captain’s Rose, Volume V in The Buchanan Saga

The Captain’s Rose, Volume V in The Buchanan Saga

First a note on this saga: I self-published it because of complicated issues I shall not endeavor to explain. Doing so was a great learning experience and an utter disaster. It was one of the most difficult seasons of my life, and I made no profit, but rather went into a great deal of debt which I’m still trying to conquer. Spiritually, I have learned that this was a Zion’s Camp experience for me. It didn’t accomplish what I had hoped for, but apparently I learned what God wanted to teach me.

Anyway, some years later a friend who is also a writer called me and suggested I get these four volumes available as e-books on Amazon. (Technology had taken publishing into places I’d not imagined when I’d originally published the books.) This would solve the problem of some of them being out of print, and all of them being impossible to distribute. At least readers could have access to the story, and perhaps it would generate some much-needed income, since this came to pass when my writing hiatus had taken me off guard. I protested in response to her offer, not emotionally or physically capable of taking on all that I would need to learn. I’m a writer, but I’m lousy with business anything and everything. However, my friend was very good at both. She’d been doing the same with some of her own books, had figured it out, and she was offering to do this for me out of the goodness of her heart. Voila! I sent her the cover art and final Word documents for the books, and she got them on Amazon. A slow trickle of income has continued from these books ever since, and I am SOOO grateful! It has helped keep the bills paid every month. Then I realized there was still another volume of this series not yet published because my resources had dried up. So we decided to get it on Amazon as well. We didn’t have the ability to get it into print form at that time, but it could be released as an e-book, my readers would have access to it, and I could hopefully generate some more income. My daughter did a painting for the cover, while I went through the aging manuscript and polished it up.

I’ve received more than a few complaints about this not being in print form. I understand readers want to have the actual book, and it’s a compliment to me that they care enough about my stories to want that. But I doubt that anyone who hasn’t been in the business has any idea what it takes to put a book in print. The good news is that print on demand is becoming easier due to ever-improving advances in technology, and one of these days I have plans to re-release the whole series the same way we’ve done with The Horstberg Saga (written under the pen name Elizabeth D. Michaels). This same friend eventually created an actual publishing company and has helped me get Horstberg in print and in several versions of electronic format.

As for the story of The Captain’s Rose, it’s jumping ahead to the next generation following the four previous books that focus on Ritcherd and Garrett and the women they love. This is a dual love story about two cousins who both have broken hearts, both sail the world to try and cope, and both eventually find love and fulfillment—but not without a lot of life-threatening adventure, drama, poignancy, and dilemma. All the stuff of a good novel. There are certain facets of this book that make it one of my favorites.

When I wrote the first draft of this book, I left it unfinished because life happened, as it often does. But in my mind I believed I had written notes to tell me how it would end. When I went back years later to finish it, there were no notes anywhere, and I had no idea how I’d intended to
conclude the story. It was my own story and I had no idea what was supposed to happen. Eventually I figured it out and it turned out to have a great ending, so I’m grateful once again for the inspiration that guides me. But writing about this adventure had some adventure of my own. It usually does.

Passage on the Titanic

Passage on the Titanic

A strange series of events led to my writing this book, and it has been an amazing—and often difficult—experience. Immersing myself in hours of documentaries, movies, and much reading (I love Google!) about this event, has often been somewhat traumatic and emotional. It was a terrible, terrible thing that happened! And getting close to it can be painful. However . . . there are aspects of the story that shine with great elements of the human experience, and an illustration of how we can find messages that can be applied to our own lives in a positive way.

The seed of inspiration for me came from a woman named Irene Colvin Corbett, who died on the Titanic. As far as I know, she was the only Mormon on board. She was a niece by marriage to Joseph F. Smith, and a remarkable woman. She left a husband and three children to go to London for six months and learn to be a midwife. She was on her way home when she died. I have mixed her story into the lives of some fictional characters, revolving around this horrific historical event. In some ways, Titanic is the 9-11 of its day. We, as adults, have lived through a tragedy that changed our culture and makes us look at life differently. That’s how Titanic affected people in 1912. The Centennial of the sinking coincided with the timing of this project. It’s my hope that my readers will find this a fulfilling tale that is educational, but mostly inspirational.

The sinking of the Titanic is so enormous (as the name implies) that I can barely touch on all the facts and its impact on humanity. I’m barely showing the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) in trying to tell a story that illustrates how it affected the survivors and the rescuers. I have purposely woven the romantic element of the book into this principle. The heroine is a survivor, and the hero is a rescuer. As they work together to cope and overcome, we can see through their eyes what it might have been like in some small way. And of course, as with all of my stories, the bottom-line message is that there’s only one way to find true peace, and if you read my books you know what that is.

Shadows of Brierley, Volume IV: In the Valley of the Mountains

Shadows of Brierley, Volume IV: In the Valley of the Mountains

That is surely my longest title of a book, and initially they weren’t going to use it for that reason, but as the editing process evolved it was concluded that the title was fitting. So glad they used it; I think it’s a beautiful phrase, and it certainly encompasses the essence of life in the Salt Lake Valley where the Saints were trying to start over—both literally and metaphorically.

There are years skipped from the end of volume three to the beginning of volume four. Gillian is grown up, and they are now in the Salt Lake Valley, as opposed to being in Nauvoo where the last book ended. As always, I write from inspiration. A story comes to me and I write it in the way I see and hear it. But I still do my homework in reasoning it out and making certain it works. In this case, I realized that there are many stories of crossing the plains and all the hardships that took place between Nauvoo and Utah. I’ve written a little about them myself. I realized that there wasn’t a lot to say that hadn’t already been said. So, I jumped ahead and took on a unique situation with Gillian being the heroine during the time when the Salt Lake Temple is being built.

One of the things that I love about this story is the dilemma Gillian finds herself in as two dramatically different men both love her and want to marry her. Through her the reader can learn a great deal about what’s important in choosing the right spouse, and also a lot about judgment and real love. And I loved imagining the scenes that took place at the temple sight, knowing that they too were not unrealistic for what was going on at the time.

In writing this book and others in church history where temples are being built—and left behind—I am often struck with gratitude over how blessed we are to have so many temples in our midst when these people—sometimes literally—gave all that they had just to help build a temple. There is a great deal of depth in that principle alone that I hope my readers will grasp through this story.

Shadows of Brierley, Volume III: A Distant Shore

Shadows of Brierley, Volume III: A Distant Shore

Since this series for me was about mingling the lives of some pretty great characters with some typical scenarios from church history, I felt a strong impression to take on the challenge of writing about the challenges of the missionaries and their families during those early years. Full-time missions have changed a great deal since then. It was not uncommon for Joseph Smith to ask men to leave their families behind and travel to faraway places to preach the gospel. The faith that it took to make such sacrifices is difficult for me to imagine—or at least until I wrote this book. Writing a story often gives me a strange sense of empathy, as if getting into a character’s head while they are experiencing their trials and struggles allows me to feel what they might feel; not perfectly, of course, but at least enough to portray a story with some emotional accuracy.

After Ian and Wren have gone through so much just to be together and be living in Nauvoo with the Saints, it seems too much that the prophet would now ask Ian to go back to England and be away from his family for a few years. Showing what took place at both ends brings into perspective the challenges and great strength of character it took, and yet many, many families did this.

I had to throw in some miracles and angels, because I know that they are both all around us, and it was a lovely full-circle experience to have Ian go back to his native Scotland and find himself needed to assist in a family crisis. I also love the way this story goes deeper into the bond of friendship shared by Ian and Ward as they embark on this endeavor together.

As I wrote the story I unexpectedly realized how metaphorical a mission can be of the veil that separates us from those loved ones who have passed on. For Ian and Wren their separation was difficult but temporary, just as it would be for a couple who had made eternal vows and lived for those blessings.