Category Archives: Author Guest Post

Guatemala for Research by H. Schussman

img_20130915_110013_333-1El Tiburon (The Shark) was the second of the McGee spy series. The main characters, Sean and Sport, have a knack for getting in trouble. Quite honestly, they are fun to write about… Especially Sport. She is a feisty, athletic, physician, and she can usually take care of herself. She’s extremely independent, but when she is kidnapped by a drug boss and dragged south to Guatemala she must depend on others to survive.

She escapes the drug lord’s compound and hides in a garbage can. On garbage collection day. The garbage collectors toss her into the dump truck and haul her off to the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. She’s rescued by a group of Guajeros.

This is where the research became intense.img_20130916_112841_607

Let me give some of my background. My husband and I have been to Guatemala several times. In fact we’ve had a seven-month long exchange pastor. What’s that? Periodically churches will send a junior pastor to the states to make connections and to learn new things (and teach us new things). We are known for our spare room. I’ve lost count of how many people have lived at our home in the last thirty years. So Marvin came for seven months followed by his sister Karina for four months. We flew to Guatemala for Marvin’s wedding, in which we were the God-parents (a big deal in Guate). Each time we’ve gone we’ve stayed for a month to go to language school, and to loaf around as only Americans can do. As I write this, Karina—my Guatemalan ‘daughter’, is sitting across from me at my kitchen table. She came for a Christmas visit.

So I know Guatemala fairly well. El Tiburon takes place in Antigua, a town I know. The wine bar, the restaurants, the textile shops, the rock-n-roll bar, are all real places. So research was easy for Antigua.

The garbage dump is a different story. This is a tremendously sad story of a people group who’ve lived for generations inside the dump, subsiding off the refuse and money from recyclable garbage. Their homes are made of discarded metal sheets and wood sticks. Last count there were about eleven thousand people living there… six thousand of whom are children. Now the research had to kick into high gear. The Guatemalan government isn’t proud of this community. Many years ago a magazine did a story on these people and there was a general uproar from human rights activists around the world. The result? The government built a wall through the dump to separate the Guajeros from their dump. Now the government can honestly say, “No people live in the dump!” So they crawl through the fence and resume their work. The community is officially called La Limonada. It is extremely difficult to go there and help these people. To visit you must have a guide, which I couldn’t manage.

img_20130916_151634_505

My story celebrates the strength of the Guajeros. I chose to make them the heroes and characters with integrity. They rescue and protect Sport. In exchange she provides medical attention and education. The little school, Vidas Plenas, is real, but I’ve never been there so its description is a figment of my imagination. Their struggle is real. The harvesting of their youth for gangs is real. Their medical issues are real. I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed writing about a group more in my life. It was incredibly challenging to place my main character there.

Currently there are several groups working with the Guajeros. There is much to be done, but it’s almost impossible to help them. The best way is to provide education and continue the fight against drugs. It makes me sad to think of the reality. The only way I could make the situation known was through my story-telling. Let me know what you think after you read El Tiburon.

A Rainbow’s Journey by J.J. Johnston

GUEST POST BY J.J. JOHNSTON, AUTHOR OF THE RAINBOW WITH DULL COLORS.

Cover Art Redone

The 1992-1993 school year had just begun. My 80’s perm was growing out, and I felt confident in my purple and teal silk shirt. It was my first year of Jr. High, and my chance at a fresh start. No one at my new school knew me as Dog-face Davis, and I hoped they never would.

It was mandatory for all 7th graders to attend a Life Skills class. It focused on helping us develop healthy self-esteem.  After three years of being bullied, I desperately needed it.

Our Life Skills project, that year, was to write a self-esteem book for children. As our teacher showed us an example, a dull little rainbow crossed my mind. He felt unvalued and insecure. Very much like Dog-face Davis.

We were given blank books and set loose. I wrote and illustrated the story in no time. Archie, the rainbow, was small and dull, but after he believed in himself, he became the biggest and brightest rainbow of all.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017, married with ten children, I no longer cared what others thought of me. I only cared how God saw me. But I had to watch my own children struggle to fit in, and great self-esteem wasn’t going to change their reality like it had for Archie in my original story.

My one son is bullied for being short. He won’t grow taller with a positive attitude, but he can still make a difference.  Another one of my sons is autistic, and he’ll never not be autistic, but he still has great purpose.

Inspired by my children, I decided to rewrite my little rainbow story. I wanted kids to know that God uses us as we are. He did create us, after all.

THE RAINBOW WITH DULL COLORS RELEASES NOVEMBER 30, 2018!

How My Day Job is Like My Other Job by Diane Wylie

GUEST POST BY DIANE WYLIE, AUTHOR OF DAUGHTERS OF THE CIVIL WAR

Science-VS-Art-1 for Diane's post

Let’s face it; there are not many authors who can afford to live off their royalties and write novels full time. The rest of us need a regular day job to eat, wear clothes, and have a roof over our heads. Did you notice that I threw in an extra word in the first sentence? Yes, I deliberately wrote “write novels” instead of just “write”. Why? Because I count myself lucky to be a full time writer, but I am actually a technical writer during the day.

There are many similarities between writing romance novels and writing technical documents, even though I did have one literary agent advise me to avoid mentioning my profession. It was obvious to me that she viewed my career as a negative strike against fiction publication, but it really isn’t. I’ll tell you why.

So, I write mostly historical romance, but even when I wrote my contemporary fantasies, the same techniques were applied. First, you must do the needed research. In my day job, I research facts about chemicals, genetics, microbiology, and all kinds of scientific information. I can apply those same research skills to my novels to research facts about ancient Mayan idols, medical techniques during the U.S. Civil War, magician tricks, the San Francisco earthquake, falconry hunting, and so on. You get the idea. Research is essential for both jobs.

What else? Putting the words down with the correct punctuation and syntax is a crossover skill. If you can’t string together a paragraph that follows all of the rules of grammar, you won’t make it as a technical writer or a novelist.

Organization is also a skill you need for both types of writing. A scientific paper follows a certain flow of ideas, just as a novel does. You need to wrap things up for your technical conclusion, just like you would for the end of your fictional story. Loose ends are not appreciated in either type of writing.

Finally, practice, practice, practice. I get to practice all of these skills (and get paid) during the day and apply them again at night. But I must admit, my romance writing is much more entertaining.

Setting the Scene of Forgetting My Way Back to You by Karina Bartow

GUEST POST BY KARINA BARTOW, AUTHOR OF FORGETTING MY WAY BACK TO YOU

Every story has a setting, whether it be an exotic locale in Europe or the protagonist’s living room.  Early in my writing journey, I experimented with creating my own fictitious towns, as many authors masterfully craft, but I couldn’t “feel” the story when I did so.  Thus, I began setting my characters in real places, preferably ones I’ve visited.

Forgetting My Way

In the case of Forgetting My Way Back to You, my newest novel, it took me years to decide on the location.  My earliest draft had the characters set in Rhode Island.  Because I’d never been near the area, I soon changed it to Florida, but another state lingered in my mind.  I played around with the idea, until Pennsylvania won out at last.

Since I’d gone to Philadelphia, I wanted to base it around there.  Being a country girl, though, I felt more connected to a small town for this particular story.  After much more deliberation than one might deem necessary, I settled on Coatesville as my protagonists’, Charlee and Hunter’s , home.

Despite it being a day’s drive from my home in Ohio, I wasn’t able to visit the town until after I finished the book.  It disappointed me that I couldn’t use my “field research” to implement in the novel, but seeing the sights confirmed that I made the right choice.  Without giving too much away, Coatesville is the cozy hometown environment I hoped it’d be.  While it isn’t the middle-of-nowhere neighborhood where I grew up, it’s far from life in the big city, which would make a dreamer like Hunter restless and longing for more.  At the same time, the undoubtedly tight-knit community and warm landscapes would draw him back in time.

The stop I enjoyed most was The Cameron Estate Inn, in nearby Mount Joy.  The nineteenth-century mansion serves as a bed & breakfast, a restaurant, and a popular wedding venue.  In Forgetting My Way Back to You, Hunter takes Charlee there for dinner on a first date, but his romantic plans are thwarted when they discover two weddings are being hosted there.  He uses charm to navigate several unexpected twists, and in the end, the evening plays an integral part in reuniting the high school sweethearts.  It’s always been my favorite scene, but after going to the gorgeous place, I love it even more!

The Inner-Workings of a Writer’s Mind by Leslea Wahl

GUEST POST BY LESLEA WAHL, AUTHOR OF WHERE YOU LEAD

Where 3D

Because I am a writer who doesn’t use an outline and usually just lets the story go where it may, I often have trouble remembering exactly how each story is formed. I truly believe the Holy Spirit guides my work and I love seeing the twists and turns a story makes along the way. I always have a starting idea and some rough thoughts of where the story should go and maybe even a scene or two that I want to include but getting to those points is often a fun and unexpected journey.

The idea of my YA novel, Where You Lead, started as a momentary incident that happened years ago when my husband and I were first married. We had recently moved to Washington DC from Colorado and one afternoon we were eating at a Pizza Hut restaurant. I was returning to our table from the restroom and saw my husband sitting at our table. His back was to me so I only saw his dark hair. For some reason I thought about other Pizza Hut’s I had been in throughout my life and how they all looked the same. And I thought, wouldn’t it be crazy if I sat down and instead of looking up and seeing my husband’s face it was actually someone from my past, and all the amazing memories I had of us dating, getting married, and moving to DC, had never happened.

This, I thought, was the beginning of a great novel. I pictured it more as a novel for adults – the leading character abandoning her life and searching for this mysterious stranger that she was sure existed. But since I wasn’t a writer back then, I just stored this thought away.

Fast-forward many years to after my first novel, The Perfect Blindside, was published. This story idea was still rattling around in my head, but I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly be made into a YA novel because there was no way a teenager could drop everything and search the country or world for a mysterious stranger. I again put the idea on the back burner and began writing my second novel, An Unexpected Role. But that little spark wouldn’t leave me alone.

Finally, a few ideas on how to change it up and make it work for YA began percolating in my mind. I decided to set the story in Washington DC, since that is where I first had this idea. I began jotting things down in one of my daughter’s old notebooks. (I’ve kept this notebook and it has been fun to look back on my notes and thoughts.)

The notebook includes lists of places that I had loved when we lived in DC. As I began thinking about those years when we lived inside the beltway, so many memories came flooding back. I still could remember those feelings as young newlyweds when living on the east coast, and especially DC, felt like a different world from out west. But we loved our time there. The history, the old buildings, the civil war battlefields, it was all so fascinating. In this book I’ve not only included our favorite places but also some of the quirky things and incidents that we encountered.

This story has been a labor of love but also required quite a bit more research than any of my other books. In a way, Where You Lead, is part history lesson, city tour, and mystery all combined with a message of listening for God’s call in your life. I hope readers enjoy this fun adventure.

Irish Keys by Claire Fullerton

GUEST POST BY CLAIRE FULLERTON, AUTHOR OF DANCING TO AN IRISH REEL

Claire with Key

I’ve had many people ask about a certain picture on my website, where I’m standing against a gray stone wall on a windswept day, in the middle of an Irish field, with what are obviously the ruins of a monastery behind me. Observant people said to themselves, “Wait, there’s a ruined monastery behind her, why is her back turned as she looks into the camera, holding a set of keys in her hand as if it were the bigger focal point?” I’m so glad for the opportunity to explain.

We kind of knew where we were heading, my friend Tama and I, and by this I mean we had a loose plan with regard to how we were going to spend the afternoon in Gort, Ireland. We’d been freewheeling across the countryside in a rented car the size of a match box, with its steering wheel on the right side, while we drove on the left of the two-lane road as if trying to best a test for dyslexia.

Tama is a devout Catholic, who has a thing about historic churches, which is why we couldn’t have adhered to a plan had we had one. “Stop,” Tama would shout every time we spied one of the dim, ominous structures off in the distance. We’d scratch the gravel driveway and wander inside, our solitary footsteps crossing the marble floor in a tread- ye- lightly and humble yourself echo off the cavernous vaulted ceiling. We did this so many times that after yet another sweep inside a church, I’d take to wandering the halcyon graveyards to read the Irish tombstone inscriptions, while Tama would light a red votive candle and fall to her pious knees.

I thought I was alone in the yard when a voice came sailing from behind me. “Have you found your way to Kilmacduagh monastery?” it queried. I turned to find a young woman taking in my outlander attire of three quarter down jacket and rubber soled shoes. “It’s just up the road there,” she continued, pointing. “Just knock on the door of the middle house across the road and ask Lily for the keys.”

I was standing behind Tama when she knocked on the front door of a low slung house on a sparsely populated lane. Across the lane, placid fields of damp clover shimmered in the afternoon mist as far as the eye could see. On one verdant field, a series of interspersed ruins jutted in damp metal-gray; some without roofs, some with wrought-iron gates, and one in particular beside an impressively tall stone spire, which had  two windows cut in vertical slashes above a narrow door raised high from the ground. Immediately the front door opened, and a pair of blue water eyes gave us the once over with an inquisitive, “Yes?”

“Are you Lily? We’re here for the keys,” Tama said.

“The keys, is it? Just a moment there,” the woman said, and after closing the door, she opened it seconds later and handed us a set of long metal keys. “Just slip them through the door slot when you’re through,” she said, closing the door with a quick nod.

I can’t say there was any indication of which key went to what, among the cluster of gates and doors throughout the 7th century monastery called Kilmacduagh, but we figured it out. I was so tickled over the keys that I couldn’t get over it. “Is this weird?” I said to Tama. “We could be anybody. It’s not that there’s anything anybody could steal, but that’s not the point.” I could wax rhapsody over the hours we spent unlocking gates and pushing through doors in the eerie, hallowed grounds, but that’s not my point either. My point is that’s Ireland for you: a stranger offering directions without being asked, Lily handing over the keys like an afterthought, and Tama and I trolling the grounds of sacred space when nobody else was around. But suddenly a German couple appeared as we were on our way back up the lane. They looked at us wide eyed and queried, “What is this place?”

“It’s a 7th century monastery,” I said, “here, take the keys and slip them through Lily’s door when you’re through.”

Irish Keys

I’ve had many people ask about a certain picture on my website, where I’m standing against a gray stone wall on a windswept day, in the middle of an Irish field, with what are obviously the ruins of a monastery behind me. Observant people said to themselves, “Wait, there’s a ruined monastery behind her, why is her back turned as she looks into the camera, holding a set of keys in her hand as if it were the bigger focal point?” I’m so glad for the opportunity to explain.

We kind of knew where we were heading, my friend Tama and I, and by this I mean we had a loose plan with regard to how we were going to spend the afternoon in Gort, Ireland. We’d been freewheeling across the countryside in a rented car the size of a match box, with its steering wheel on the right side, while we drove on the left of the two-lane road as if trying to best a test for dyslexia.

Tama is a devout Catholic, who has a thing about historic churches, which is why we couldn’t have adhered to a plan had we had one. “Stop,” Tama would shout every time we spied one of the dim, ominous structures off in the distance. We’d scratch the gravel driveway and wander inside, our solitary footsteps crossing the marble floor in a tread- ye- lightly and humble yourself echo off the cavernous vaulted ceiling. We did this so many times that after yet another sweep inside a church, I’d take to wandering the halcyon graveyards to read the Irish tombstone inscriptions, while Tama would light a red votive candle and fall to her pious knees.

I thought I was alone in the yard when a voice came sailing from behind me. “Have you found your way to Kilmacduagh monastery?” it queried. I turned to find a young woman taking in my outlander attire of three quarter down jacket and rubber soled shoes. “It’s just up the road there,” she continued, pointing. “Just knock on the door of the middle house across the road and ask Lily for the keys.”

I was standing behind Tama when she knocked on the front door of a low slung house on a sparsely populated lane. Across the lane, placid fields of damp clover shimmered in the afternoon mist as far as the eye could see. On one verdant field, a series of interspersed ruins jutted in damp metal-gray; some without roofs, some with wrought-iron gates, and one in particular beside an impressively tall stone spire, which had  two windows cut in vertical slashes above a narrow door raised high from the ground. Immediately the front door opened, and a pair of blue water eyes gave us the once over with an inquisitive, “Yes?”

“Are you Lily? We’re here for the keys,” Tama said.

Dancing Review

Story Inspiration: Restless Spirits by Jean Marie Bauhaus

GUEST POST BY JEAN MARIE BAUHAUS, AUTHOR OF THE RESTLESS SPIRITS SERIES

3D Restless SpiritsRestless Spirits is one of the few books or stories of mine that I can pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration.

It was Halloween night, 2004, and my friends and I went to see The Grudge (this was exactly two nights after I had met the man who would become my husband on a semi-blind date, which might be why it stands out so well in my memory). Afterwards, I was pondering the mechanics of the curse, and I had questions.

Questions like, if someone dies a violent death and becomes a vengeful, murderous spirit, then what happens to their victims, who are also violently murdered? Do they also become cursed vengeful spirits? What if the original spirit kills enough people that those spirits decide to turn around and gang up on the original spirit who killed them?

And thus the main plot of Restless Spirits was born.

So by the time I actually started writing Restless Spirits for Nanowrimo in 2008, it had evolved a bit. It’s funny how your subconscious keeps working on a story and shaping it into what it’s supposed to be even when you think it’s the last thing on your mind. I can’t even tell you where my protagonist, Ron, came from (although I’ll try to make a few guesses in my next post, when I talk about character inspiration). I just know that the moment I started writing in her voice, she just sort of took over and told me the story. That was the first and, so far, only time I’ve ever successfully pantsed a novel, as well as the first time I’d won Nanowrimo, mainly because Ron simply wouldn’t stop talking to me until her story was told.

It actually took a few more years–four, to be exact–before I started writing the book. In the mean time I was working on my first post-fanfiction novel, the Cyperpunk Faeries in Hollywood tale I was calling Hero Factor,which has since become lost before I could make it fit for public consumption, and it’s probably just as well. I was also falling in love with that aforementioned blind date, planning a wedding and settling into married life, among other things.

I wish all of my narrators could be so chatty. It certainly makes my job easier.