"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fun with Google Earth

I've discovered Google Earth is a handy tool for doing research. I like to use it when I’m writing about a place I can’t visit. Even when I’ve been to a location, I usually find I need more information when I get into the actual writing, so rather than revisit a place, which is usually impossible, I turn to Google Earth. You can virtually visit nearly any place on the planet without leaving your office chair. You can get the geographic image of a place from space and also zoom right down to travel roads and streets as if you were right there. Just click on the “yellow man” icon and drag him to where you want to be on the map and he’ll put you on the ground. So if you haven't done so already, give it a try the next time you have to travel from home for research. It’s a great feature.

To download, go to: www.earth.google.com

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sidekicks

The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Laurel and Hardy. Han Solo and Chewbacca. Captain Kirk and Spock. Batman and Robin. Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Did you ever wonder why a story’s hero or heroine more often than not has a sidekick? Now imagine that main character without the sidekick. It would be pretty dull, wouldn’t it?

A sidekick is one of those major secondary figures whose main purpose is to show the hero’s good side as well as his not-so-good side. They have to be a pretty cool character themselves and both you and your reader might find yourself liking them just as much as the main character. But they aren’t there to steal the show. They are there to make the show better. Their function goes deeper than just having someone for the hero to talk to. If they weren’t important, the hero could just talk to a horse, a dog, a cat, or himself. And, unless the horse is Mr. Ed or the cat is Midnight Louie, it can get pretty dull pretty fast.

A sidekick is a way to show your hero’s personality. How does he respond to the sidekick? Is he nice to him? Does he treat him with respect? Or does he act superior to him and treat him rudely? Will he die for him? Chances are if he won’t die for his sidekick, then he isn’t much of a hero. As a reader, we get to see the hero’s true personality simply by the way he interacts with his sidekick.

His sidekick can come from just about anywhere. He can be a friend, a servant, a business associate, a sibling, even a parent. He will act as a sounding board for the hero. Dialogue between the two is a good way to show the hero’s thoughts without long, boring passages of introspection or narrative. A lively interaction between a hero and his sidekick advances the plot. And it’s always a good idea to have somebody who has your back because we all know the hero is going to get himself into a pickle and somebody is going to have to rescue him.

The fun thing about sidekicks is that they are usually polar opposites of the hero or heroine. They can be combative, contrasting, or complementary, but they need a strong personality of their own that allows them to stand up to the hero who is often willing to push his weight around if allowed. The sidekick keeps the hero grounded.

Of course, you don’t have to have a sidekick. Your hero could just talk to his cat, but he’ll be much more interesting to the reader, and your story will have a rich layer it might not otherwise have.

*Image "Dancing Dogs" by Federico Stevanin courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, October 19, 2012

Interview with Western Writer Eunice Boeve



Eunice Boeve grew up in Libby, Montana and Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Married to a native Kansan, she has lived in Kansas since 1957. A mother and grandmother, retired now to writing, she has worked with special needs children and in their family owned funeral home. She has five published books for children, two for adults, and several magazine articles and children's short stories.

You live in Kansas but also spent part of your life in Montana and Idaho. Can you tell us about your background and how it not only led you to become a writer, but how it influenced the western stories you write?

We lived on a small ranch in northwest Montana until I was fourteen. We then moved to Idaho and lived in town. (I never got over missing the ranch, even now after all these years, a part of me still lingers there.) My dad raised horses and worked for the U.S. Forest Service, packing horses with supplies for fire crews, lookouts, and trail crews.  He died when I was five, but we stayed on the ranch another nine years. 

I think both my parents influenced my interest in writing and if there is a “writing gene” I probably inherited that from my father.  My dad was forty before he married (my much younger mother) and had spent those years “cowboying.”  He wrote a book about his cowboy days and a horse only he could handle. (He loved horses and was, perhaps, an early-day horse whisperer.) Unfortunately he didn’t get his book published (only sending it out once before his death in 1943) and in our move from Montana to Idaho in 1951, the manuscript was lost. My father craved life in the outdoors, loving the isolation of uninhabited land, traveled on horseback, but he also loved jokes and story telling in the company of others and his family life in that small, brown house on Libby Creek crowded with seven children.

My mother haunted the local library and read to us in the evenings from that county storehouse. Influenced by our daddy, we loved Will James and Zane Grey and other western writers, and influenced by our mama, we favored such non-western writers as Gene Stratton Porter and Louisa Mae Alcott. My mother also recited poetry and loved to sing. 

One might also look at the combination of my being an exact middle child and in addition touched with a bit of survivor guilt as the scrawny girl born a few years after the death of a strong husky baby boy. So I was always eager to prove my worth, to please, and, perhaps, also to be counted.


Ride a Shadowed Trail won the 2009 J. Donald Coffin Award given annually at the Kansas Authors Club convention. Can you tell us about it as well as your new release, Crossed Trails.

A judge for the Coffin Award called Ride a Shadowed Trail “captivating in both plot and character.”  I like to think that is true. The story, set in mid-1870s Texas, begins with the murder of eight-year-old Joshua Ryder’s mother. Taken in by an old cowboy, he learns the trade and ten years later hires on with an outfit taking a herd of longhorns to the markets in Kansas.  The ranch owner, a widow, accompanies the herd, taking along her son, Lee, and daughters, Belle and Kit. Josh and Belle fall in love, but fate intervenes and then Josh learns the identity of the man who murdered his mother.

I hadn’t intended to continue Josh’s story, but so many readers asked, “What happened next?” and since I didn’t know, having left him planning to go with a trail herd to Montana, I decided to see for myself and wrote Crossed Trails. Set in Virginia City, Montana in 1877-78, Josh, whose life experiences have led him to believe he is unworthy of love and family, had planned a life of self-imposed exile when he crosses trails with a woman of the Nez Perce and her newborn baby.  Instilled with a deep sense of responsibility, Josh soon finds himself the provider for a family of sorts, which includes an old washerwoman, a little girl whose Chinese mother is dead and whose white farther is an outlaw, as well as the Nez Perce woman and her baby. The love of a redheaded woman,  and a murder charge, further complicate Josh’s life and leave him with two choices: cut and run, or figure out a way to evade the hangman’s noose long enough to clear his name.  

You’ve also written middle grade books, including the most recent, Echoes of Kansas Past: A Travel Through Time. How will it appeal to children, and what can they hope to learn from it?

 Echoes of Kansas Past—A Travel Through Time is targeted for 3rd through 5th grade children.  It is the story of twins, Jack and Mollie, who accidentally activate their parents’ time machine and travel back into Kansas History.  The twins actually live the experiences through the magic of time travel.  Sometimes they are spectators, as in listening to a speech by Susan B. Anthony; sometimes they become people of a different race and culture, once as runaway slaves, another time as small first graders in a non-integrated classroom with Langston Hughes, once as orphans on an orphan train, and once as Kanza Indians in 1620. They meet President Eisenhower as a boy, and experience the fear of a suffocating dust storm and a nearly suffocating grasshopper invasion. Through these experiences they learn and hopefully the reader will too, that not only does Kansas have a rich heritage, but also life isn’t always fair. I also hope the reader will feel connected to the twins whose personal lives are revealed before, during, and after their adventure in the time machine.

Much has been said about social networking as the new way to promote one’s books. What do you find to be the pros and cons? And do you have any other suggestions for writers to promote their work that you have found beneficial?

 Ahhhh, social networking, the boon and the bane of many an author’s existence.  We authors can now get our work out there and before more people, but there are so many more of us now that more avenues of publishing have been opened for our ease in getting our work in print.  So, I wonder, is our small voice in this mix just as faint as it was before?  I have a website, I blog, I do Facebook, and I try to keep up with Goodreads, but usually lag behind there. Much more than that and my writing time gets crunched.  I also mail and email flyers that usually earn good to fair returns.  I have a blog and get a number of readers, but few comments, especially from non-writers. I’d like to capture that audience in comments on my blog.  I’m thinking it might be a good idea to pick a mix of authors who write in your specific genre and follow them faithfully, leaving comments so they know you’ve visited their websites. And then they need to go to ours and return the favor, and maybe slowly we’ll drag in the non-author readers who will leave comments. Some readers of my blog have left comments in e-mails or on Facebook, but it better serves the author, I think, if the comments are left on their blog page. My latest publisher is one who lists for their criteria an author-kept website. I wish I could afford to hire a “Cracker Jack” publicist and stay in my hidey-hole and write, but alas I cannot. So I keep plugging away and try to maximize social media and the regular kind of advertising but not so much that my writing time suffers.

In your opinion, and in your experience, what aspect of the writing/marketing process presents the biggest challenge for writers in today's changing publishing atmosphere?

 Pretty much what I’ve stated above. Getting your name and your work out in the midst of zillions of others trying just as hard to get their name and work noticed is tough.  I love to write, but I’m not so fond of marketing.  I live in a rural area far from cities of any size, so it’s cost prohibitive for me to travel. Not sure that works so well now either.  I’m afraid our reading audience is dwindling too.  I do think author interviews such as this are helpful.  People seem to be interested in the writing process and how ideas are transited from the brain to a bunch of words that coalesce into a story.

Every book, whether historical or contemporary, involves a lot of research. What do you like most about the process? And how can an author know when he/she has done enough to start writing?

I hate to start my research and then I get so wrapped up in it that I hate to quit. But there comes a time when I know that, okay, it’s time to fish. The line is baited so drop it in the water and see what kind of a haul you’ll have to take to market. Sometimes I have to go back and do more research. In “my soon to be back in print” book, The Summer of the Crow, I didn’t know a pet crow would come into the story (obviously I didn’t have the title yet either) so I had to stop and research pet crows. It was fun research as they are interesting creatures.

Is there anything you would like to add that might be of interest to readers?

It might be of interest to know that unlike many who write fiction and must plot their stories and so know the beginning the middle and the ending in advance, and I suspect those who write mystery stories, do need to do that, but I do not. Early on, I tried to plot out the story, but the plot soon fell by the wayside and what happened was not what I thought would happen and sticking to the outlined story seemed to inhibit it and make it dull even for me.  So I’ve learned it is best to start with a character, a setting, a time, do research of that time and place and then start the writing.  I never know exactly what will happen nor do I know who the other characters will turn out to be (such as their background or even their names). And sometimes the names I choose, they won’t respond to. I thought Beth was the name of the girl in this story I’m working on now, but I soon had to change her name to Anna.  For some reason she wasn’t a Beth.  Names are a puzzle to me. Why a character under one name refuses to come to life but jumps right in if I change his/her name, I don’t know.  I just call it magic.

Are you working on a new project?

Right now I am working on a serial story for five Kansas newspapers that sponsor a program called Newspapers in Education about some kids sent west to Kansas on an orphan train. The story will run as a 16-chapter story beginning in mid-January 2013. I’ve done two others; in fact Echoes of Kansas Past began as a serial in the program and ran in 2011 as a 16-chapter story. I added ten chapters to make it book size. In 2012  I wrote "Missing You,"  a WWII story, for the program. I intend to add ten more chapters to it and make it into a book like Echoes.  I hope to have it out next spring/summer.

I hope to start on another western novel soon and am pretty sure I’ll take up a branch from Josh’s story, namely the little girl in Crossed Trails as a grown up young woman.

But there have been other stories I’ve imagined I’d write and so far have not, so we’ll see.

To visit Eunice's website or to purchase her books, click the following links:

Echoes of Kansas Past   

Ride a Shadowed Trail 

Crossed Trails  

All Books:

Eunice's website:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kindle and Nook Editions of "Came A Stranger"

Original Paperback

Slowly but surely I'm releasing my backlist as ebook editions. In the spring Desire's Treasure came out and now I have Came A Stranger available for all you Kindle and Nook readers. Came A Stranger was one of my most popular western romances and received several awards and five-star reviews. It was the winner of Affaire de Coeur Reader’s Choice Award for “Outstanding Hero," and it was a finalist in their "Best American Historical" and "Best Overall Historical" categories. You can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both the ebook and paperback editions.

Seth Sackett is a necessary evil, and Maggie Cayton despises him even before she sets eyes on him. But he’s the hired gun who can prevent Big Ben Tate from forcing her and her children off the White Raven Ranch, and her opinion of him can be put aside long enough to accomplish her goal.

For twenty years, ever since she was a young woman of seventeen, Maggie worked alongside her husband to build the White Raven Ranch out of the wild, untamed wilderness of Wyoming. Then suddenly her husband is dead, and she suspects the bullet was bought and paid for by wealthy rancher and neighbor, Big Ben Tate. Facing the full responsibility of the ranch, her children, and her aging mother, Maggie is encouraged by many friends to sell out. But she’s fought too many odds and too many battles with man and nature to give up without a fight. She’s also experienced enough to know she can’t go up against Tate alone.

As Sackett tries to resolve the war between her and Tate, Maggie discovers that Sackett is not what she expected a hired gun to be. He’s more than a loner, a man whose presence casts a dark shadow of dread and danger. He’s a man with a quiet charisma who readily establishes a position of authority with the ranch hands and gains respect in the hearts of every member of her family. She has every intention of ignoring his blatant sexual advances, but she soon finds herself giving into the traitorous desire he so easily evokes.

What Maggie doesn’t know is that Seth lives in a private hell of memories and harbors a bitter secret that haunts him day and night. He has come to save the White Raven Ranch and protect its inhabitants, but his sojourn there will be one of enlightenment. As he falls in love with the indomitable Maggie, he dares to dream for things he never believed himself worthy of having. But the only chance he has of seeing those dreams come true is to reveal to Maggie the darkness of his past and risk losing the only love he’s ever known. 

ebook edition
“An action-packed, sensual page-turner. Came A Stranger is impossible to forget.” Affaire de Coeur

“A truly enjoyable read [with] endearing characters from beginning to end. Ms. Sandifer has the unique ability to look within the human spirit. An engaging talent that draws the reader in.” The Literary Times

“Powerful, sensual and delightful. The characters are unforgettable.” Romantic Times


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Environment and Your Protagonist

Have you ever wondered how you would have turned out if you’d been born and raised in a different part of the world by different parents? Would you still behave the way you do, believe in the things you believe, have the same values, or would you be an entirely different person with an entirely different outlook on the world and an entirely different set of rules by which to live by? I would imagine a study has been done on this somewhere by someone and probably paid for with your hard-earned taxes. But all that aside, as a writer, you will want to consider your characters’ environments to help you understand who they are and why they are unique.
   
We often look at a past event, usually traumatic, to help define our characters in some way. This event might be the catalyst that has made them take a certain path or develop a certain opinion, emotion, or world attitude. It could even be a parent’s or sibling’s behavior that has made them determined to grow up just the opposite. A person’s entire formative years usually have the most impact on who they become later in life, but the picture is larger than one event or one driving influence. True, a person can break away from a bad childhood but something about those years will have still defined that person’s personality in some way. How the person deals with it is of utmost importance as well.
   
Let’s take two sisters, for example, raised on a ranch in Montana in the late 1800s. They seldom interacted with anybody but their family and a few neighbors a few times a year. Life isn’t easy out on the ranch; there are many hardships and many challenges that the family faces to carve out a living in this harsh land. One sister grows up to be completely self-reliant, loving the tall mountains and the vastness of this untamed land. She loves riding her horse along with her father and brothers, rounding up cattle and chasing wild horses. She could never imagine living anywhere else and hopes she can marry a man who will enjoy the same type of life. She can’t envision herself living in the confines of the city. For her, it would be a fate worse than death.

Her sister, however, hates being twenty miles from town. She longs for pretty dresses, the city, and sophisticated men in dapper suits. She has no desire for the rough cowboys she’s been around her entire life whom she considers uncouth at best. She doesn’t like to be involved in cattle drives or roundups and prefers to stays in the house with her mother cooking, cleaning, sewing, reading romance novels, and picking wildflowers. She resents the ranch’s isolation and the monotony of life that sees no change but that of the seasons. As soon as she’s able, she plans to leave, even if it means marrying the first man to come along who will take her away.
   
So how has this same environment defined each of these sisters? And why has each taken opposite ends of the spectrum? To take it one step farther, you could ask yourself what would happen to these women if they were forced to leave their comfort zones. What if the sister who loved the ranch ended up married to a rich man in the city? And the sister who wanted to go to the city ended up with a rancher she didn’t love on a nearby spread? Or take it another direction. What if they both found themselves in another country learning a few culture and a new language, forced to make a living any way they could? How would the environment of their formative years affect the way they deal with their new situation?
   
Environment can have a monumental impact on defining a character, but one has to ask if a person would develop the same traits had she or he been born and raised in a different environment. Are our good and bad traits inherent regardless of who raised us and where? Is it in our DNA to be honest, self-reliant, responsible, courageous, ambitious, optimistic? Or is it in our DNA to be a liar and a cheat, irresponsible, cowardly, gloomy and unsatisfied? Besides personality traits, don’t overlook the talents and skills your characters will develop that can come only from their given environment. These are also part of who they are and what they will become.
   
Your characters, like you, have more than one defining moment in their lives that have shaped their minds and their dreams and put them on the path they’ve chosen to follow. Despite what traits might be inherent in their DNA, the social and physical aspects of their childhood environment will have left them with attitudes, mores, and beliefs that could only come from those early formative experiences. Whether they hold onto these or rebel against them will be for you the writer to decide, but your characters will be richer if you delve deeply into the environments in which they were raised.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Author Interview: Velda Brotherton


Western author Velda Brotherton has a career spanning many years and many writing accomplishments. Her first published works were newspaper articles, features, and a historical column. Since then she has gone on to write many fiction and nonfiction books. She was recently a finalist for the prestigious Women Writing the West award, the WILLA, for her nonfiction book, Fly With the Mourning Dove. Among her recent releases is her seventh western romance, Stone Heart’s Woman

You’ve called yourself, “a pure country girl.”  Can you tell us a little about your background and what there was about it that not only led you to become a writer, but how it influenced the stories you have chosen to write?

Being pure country is more a feeling than reality. When I was five we moved from a small log cabin in the Ozark woods to my great grandparent's home in a small town. I had only to cross the highway to get to school. Huge events in the world interfered with my remaining a country girl. World War II sent my parents to Wichita where my dad enlisted in the Navy and my mom went to work at Boeing. You've heard of Rosie the Riveter, well Mother worked on the B-29s and after the war we remained in that booming Kansas town until I married. But always we returned to Arkansas several times during the year to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles and I loved it. Playing in the woods with my cousins, I imagined myself living the life they enjoyed.

Well, some 20-odd years later, that dream came true when hubby and I brought our two children to Arkansas from New York where he worked at Pan Am. Here we bought land and built a home not 15 miles from where I was born. This country girl had come home at last. We indulged in all the things I'd always dreamed of. Bought some cattle and a tall, beautiful Kentucky Walker mare, chickens, pigs, rabbits. Grew our own garden. The whole nine yards.

We remain here today. Though the animals are gone we still own the land that butts up against the Ozark National Forest and has a live creek running through it. We've let a lot of it go wild to accommodate the birds, deer, fox, bear and other critters as we are in a wildlife management area.

I've been happily writing here for over 25 years now. We travel for research and conferences, but not as much as we once did. I've turned to promoting heavily on the Internet because managing book signings and lugging books around the country to events has become too difficult. I'm just getting too old for that. But one never gets too old to write.

You started writing newspaper articles, features, and had a historical column, but your first published novel was a western romance. Stone Heart’s Woman, your seventh, was released in February 2012. What led you to launch your novel-writing career in this genre and do you have any more romances coming up? 

The entire thing was purely a fluke. My mother saw the ad in a newspaper looking for a feature writer. I'd been doing a lot of freelance newspaper work through the local craft outlet. That's a long story, but they'd asked me to write a weekly column profiling the various crafts people who exhibited at the outlet, and so I was hired for the newspaper job. That led to interviews with people whose families had settled here in the early 1800s. Surprisingly, Arkansas, especially the western portion, is very western indeed. Think Judge Parker and the U.S. Marshals stationed in Ft. Smith who regularly went into Indian Territory after the bad men of the era, Fayetteville was the hub of cattle drives going northwest on the Cherokee Trail, and also a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail Run. We've got as much western in our veins here as have Texans, it's just a different variety of the west.

Then I met a cowboy by the name of Dusty Richards, who today has over 100 published westerns and was recently voted the best living western writer. He introduced me to Western Writers of America after my entry in his annual western contest won first place. I attended, pitched that very same book to an editor from Penguin and the rest is, as they say, history. It became my first western historical romance after some tweaking 'cause it was a pure western originally. That was Goldspun Promises, now Montana Promises available through Kindle.

Though I have to admit I'd never read romances, still only read a few written by close friends, I love writing western historical romances. They free my soul to relive those days that come so close to being like the childhood I'd dreamed of while growing up in Wichita. And yes, more are coming.

One of your nonfiction books, Fly With the Mourning Dove, was a finalist for WWW’s Willa Award. What is it about and what inspired you to write it? 

This book tells the story of my mother's cousin, whose parents homesteaded in New Mexico after World War I when her father returned from the war and took land given to veterans. Edna was six when they moved to Tres Piedras, then Old Taos onto their ranch. She shared her many stories with me when we'd visit her in New Mexico, and loved my westerns. She kept saying I should write her story but she didn't want it to be a romance. 

She began to write down her memories and send them to me along with those I'd taped or recorded when we visited and it wasn't long before I knew we had a book. I wrote it as creative nonfiction in the style of a novel and she approved the manuscript before I submitted it. We were both so pleased to have Fly With the Mourning Dove final in the prestigious WILLA Literary awards named for the esteemed southwestern writer, Willa Cather. The book is still available and will continue to be so. In this day of conversion of rights, I plan to see that it remains on Kindle after the exclusive to the publisher expires. Isn't this a wonderful time for writers with so many opportunities to remain "in print?"

You’ve been successful writing in many genres. Do you have any advice for others who would like to “branch out?”

Probably one of the biggest mistakes a writer can make, promotion wise, is to write in many genres. Yet, if you have the urge to do so, don't worry about how difficult it will be to promote your work. We all should write what we're passionate about. You'll find a way to tie your work into a platform that you can promote if you really want to. The important thing, if you write in a variety of genres, is to make your name well-known. Concentrate on that by writing articles and blogs. Spread the word on the Internet by offering the kind of information readers crave. They'll naturally gravitate to your books when you do that.

The information can be anything from subject matter taken from your books to things you learned researching that readers might like to know. If you write nonfiction, that opens up many more avenues for sharing tidbits of knowledge. Dig deeply into research and you will learn things that most people don't know. Share and you'll make more friends and friends translate to readers.

What is at the heart of all your books, regardless of the genre in which they fall?

My deep admiration for the people who settled the west, especially the women. Think of their plight. Second class citizens without the right to vote, they followed their men into situations that challenged their very existence. While doing difficult physical work they carried and bore children, many died doing so, then they watched their children perish to accidents and disease, lost husbands and continued to raise their families in what was actually a foreign land. These were some of the strongest people and women to ever live. 

Out of all your books, is there one that gave you the biggest challenge, and why? Is there one that you could say “wrote itself?” One that is your favorite?

If I had 14 children (that's the count of published books today) and you asked this question about them, what sort of reply would you expect? The biggest challenge was probably the first western romance because I'd written it one way and the rewrites meant an entirely new slant on my work. Another huge challenge was learning to use a computer. My first books were written on an electric typewriter from Sears. I wore it out writing three big novels, my learning books, that remain stored to this day.

Actually, oddly enough, the book that wrote itself was my first born, a little nonfiction book of interviews/essays about people who remained in Arkansas and one who had to return to re-embrace the joy of living here. That's me, of course. The book is Wandering In The Shadows of Time, which is still available and was originally published by Seven Oaks Books in Conway, Arkansas in 1994. Interviews in it include one with Al Houser, the man who told me he was the first baby born to the Ft. Sill Apaches after they were released with their leader Geronimo from Florida to return to Oklahoma. Al was also a war hero. Several other interviews are near to my heart. No one in that book is alive today but me. I updated it about 10 years ago.

As for my favorite. Making that choice is no more possible than if they were all my children. I love them all. I always like the last one I'm writing while I'm working on it, but once it's done, I go back to liking them all, and that's as it should be.

You’ve also written a cookbook. How do you ever find the time to cook!

I don't, but my mother did. The cookbook came from her collection over about 80 years and they're all authentic Ozark recipes. I was approached at a conference after winning the WILLA and asked to do a cookbook that contained stories of growing up in the Ozarks during the Depression. Because my dad was a great story teller, I could incorporate his stories and my mother's recipes. This book was pretty easy to write. I occasionally cook something, but mostly it's dinner whatever I can put together and then every man for himself, so to speak, for breakfast and supper.

When not writing, what do you enjoy doing? Any hobbies?

I don't have time for hobbies. What I enjoy doing is spending time with our lovely daughter, her son and daughter and a darling six year old great grandson. We have a pool we share and so summers are spent out there or grilling or having birthday parties, celebrating holidays, that sort of thing. Our daughter lives just through a stand of pine trees next to us.

I enjoy a weekly meeting with a critique group that I've been a part of for 28 years. We nurture and mentor young writers, and currently have 8 published writers who were published after joining our group. Dusty Richards and I sort of run the thing.

You are now launching your back list as ebooks and have learned how to format and design covers. Any advice or suggestions?

Dig in and don't give up. Ask for help from those who have already learned and when you learn something help others. It's a steep learning curve unless you are really good at formatting, computers in general, and design, but believe me, if I can do it anyone can. 

I began by having my books scanned by Blue Leaf because I no longer had computer files on them. Then I downloaded a free book from Smashwords on formatting. Even then, you have to do a lot of digging to access the formatting steps. There are excellent tutorials online for uploading to Kindle. Google until you find the one that suits you. There's a lot more to it than Kindle would have you think. I use Mobi Creator to upload my books, but they must be properly formatted first and therein lies the work. If you know html it will come easier, but if you don't, Mobi Creator takes care of the html for you.

Find an online stock photo company you like. I use Dreamstime but there are others. I just found what I wanted there at a decent price. Remember copyrights protect you too, so don't use copyrighted work on your covers.

And authors, please heed this piece of advice. If you've written a book and think it should go on Kindle, have it professionally edited and listen to what the editor has to say. You can ruin your future writing reputation by uploading a book that isn't ready to be published.

What’s next?

I've started a series about the Victorians who settled in Victoria, Kansas. They attempted to transplant a piece of England and live the same sort of life in America. These were for the most part Remittance men, second sons of Lords etc., who could not inherit by English law. I'm working on editing the first of three books. Each will feature one of the women who came over to marry and find a better life. Of course, such plans often go awry.

The experiment ultimately failed, some of the Victorians blended in with American life, others returned to England, and Germans settled nearby the town. There's no sign today of the Victorian castles and homes that were once there. For that you have to go to Victoria, Texas. Ah, I wonder what sort of stories I might find there one day.

Velda’s Kindle books: http://www.tinyurl.com/7dr9mbn

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Flawed Character

Many writers believe that if they can make their protagonist quirky or even flawed in some way, it will take the character from being flat to well rounded. For example, you could have your protagonist be a heavy smoker with a weakness for prune juice; a mad scientist who grows exotic green beans in the back yard for research purposes only; or a young woman who buys so many books she has only pathways through her apartment and has put herself dangerously close to bankruptcy. But quirks and flaws are not real characterization. They are not the thing that makes us care about a character or compels us to keep reading. They are only superficial traits unless they hold some relationship to, or involvement with, your main plot line. Not that your characters can’t be quirky or flawed, but those things alone won’t carry the story.

Another type of flat character is the one more commonly seen, the one who doesn’t have any flaws or quirks and seems to be simply in the story to move the action forward. He’s the stereotypical good guy and he’s doing everything a good guy is expected to do. He is handsome and brave and sexy and wears the white hat. Even if he wears a black hat there isn’t any dirt on it. He rides along throughout the book but it’s the action, not him, taking center stage. Maybe we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him because he got jilted ten years ago by the only woman he ever loved. But if the old love affair has nothing to do with the present action, it’s a torch we would just as soon he douse.

For a reader to care about a story, there has to be something at stake for each of your main characters, and whatever is at stake has to be directly related to the present story line. It is not only what that character might lose, but also what he might gain, for these stakes will drive him. They will motivate him. A character’s goals, desires, and fears should also be considered; these can create inner conflict as well as exterior conflict with other characters. Consider the challenges each character will face in achieving his goals and desires.

Scenes, even beautifully written, will not keep the reader’s attention if those scenes are filled with murky, shadowy characters who have no personal stake in the outcome and who appear to be there only as place holders to drive the action forward. We all love quirky characters, but remember that flaws and idiosyncrasies are only the icing on the cake. They will never be a substitute for the cake. To create truly “flawed" characters, start with what’s at stake.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Your Writing Adventure

One of my favorite quotes pertaining to writing is by E. L. Doctorow. He said, "Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That is how I feel when I start a new book. I might have the opening in my mind, and a few scenes in between, maybe the ending (which will usually change), but the rest comes as I travel that long, dark road with the “headlights” opening the way around each bend and over each hill, showing me things I wasn’t expecting and involving my characters in adventures I hadn’t planned.

Not all writers go about it this way. I am thoroughly amazed and impressed by writers who sit down and plot every last detail out before they put one word to paper. They use elaborate outlines up to a hundred pages worth--some even scene by scene. And there are those (it’s rumored) who even construct storyboards, sketches and all.

But this degree of organization not only boggles my mind, it makes me highly suspicious. Certainly these individuals run into some bumps in the road even with their detailed planning!

For me, every book idea is like a river, continually changing. Invariably, no matter the preparation I undertake beforehand, when I start writing, the characters say things I wasn’t expecting, do things I didn’t anticipate, open doors I didn’t know existed, and head down roads that weren’t on my map! Then along comes an intriguing character or idea that becomes integral to the story and not only puts my elaborate outline in the ditch but ultimately makes the book better and stronger. I always discover things about my characters and my plot that I simply couldn’t see until the writing began and the characters came to life. I’ve also discovered that these surprises are what makes the writing journey so challenging, fun, and rewarding.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how a writer gets from page one to the end. Some methods are better than others for each of us, but there is no right or wrong way. Do what works for you. One way or the other, all you really need when you embark on your writing adventure is a spare tire, a full tank of gas, and a really good set of headlights.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Publishing Changes in Our Future


With the tremendous success of ebooks and the closure of many bookstores around the country, everyone in the publishing industry has had some new challenges to face. For those of us who have been in the industry for twenty or thirty years, the changes might be harder to get our minds around. Things simply aren't the way they used to be, from submitting your work, to selling it, to marketing it. It's a whole new way of doing business and things are changing so rapidly it can be rather daunting for those of us used to doing things the old way. But there's a lot of information out there if you can find the time to weed through it. Here's an article and a site that has a lot of good information and might be of interest to many of you, both new writers and seasoned. "Five Big Publishing Stories of 2011" at Digital World.