Sandra Wilkins is a home schooling mother of two daughters who finds time to write in spare moments. She hopes to show them that diligence and using God’s gifts as a light in the world will help them accomplish the desires of their hearts. Her passion for historical fiction led her to write the kind of romance novels that reflect the wholesome values found in Oklahoma at the turn of the last century. Gwen’s Honor is the third novel in The Heartland Romance Series from Montlake Romance. The entire series is set in Shawnee just before statehood came to Oklahoma. The first installment, Ada’s Heart, follows an actress, Ada Marsh, who quits her old way of life and befriends two other young women, Rose Dennis and Gwen Sanders. Rose’s Hope continues with their friendship while Rose must decide whether to turn her hopes toward a grieving widower with an infant or to another more persistent suitor. Gwen’s Honor continues the journey with Gwen forced to choose between society’s expectations and her true feelings.
Knowing how busy her life is, I was delighted when Sandra very graciously agreed to answer a few questions and tell the readers of this blog more about herself and her books.
When did you first know you were going to write professionally?
In the late 90’s I worked at an independent books store and met a local author that had actually been published. It was an amazing thought for me and when she wanted to start up a small writer’s group I was thrilled to join. With her encouragement and going to conferences to learn about the craft and business of writing, it finally seemed like the dream that I’d had since childhood could become a reality.
What part of writing do you find most satisfying?
I love when I have an inkling of an idea for a scene and the words flow onto the blank page in front of me. Even after writing several books, it still amazes me.
What part do you find most difficult?
When the words don’t flow! Seriously though, I’ve never been the kind of author that makes myself write every day no matter what. I take breaks and I think that helps with writer’s block. I can think about the story when I’m not writing and get back to it when inspiration hits me. Now that I’m home educating my two children, the spare moments seem farther between, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What comes first for you? Characters? Story? Setting?
It’s a mixture for me. For the Heartland Series—Ada’s Heart, Rose’s Hope and Gwen’s Honor, I had the idea about a series surrounding the friendship of three young women first. Close on the heels of that was the setting of a real town in central Oklahoma that I knew well.
Where do you find inspiration?
The inspiration for the characters in the Heartland Series came from a friendship I had with two women I worked with at that book store. Our different looks and personalities greatly influenced the descriptions of the main characters of the series.
In general, though, music inspires me more than anything. I love everything from classical, to rock and country. The intensity or tranquil nature of a song stirs something in me and I try to convey that mood onto the page. The lyrics of songs can also spark an idea for a scene.
Are your books based on personal experiences or are they completely fictitious?
The stories themselves are fictitious, but I’ve included tidbits that I remember hearing from my grandparents or other people. There was a scene in Gwen’s Honor where a character shows off his “weather rock” hanging from a tree. I remember seeing one of those at my great-grandpa’s house and it was so fun to incorporate something like that into my story. Once, I heard an author say that there is nothing of him in his books, but I can’t say that’s true at all for me. There is something of me in all my characters.
Do you do a lot of research?
My books are period pieces set in the early 1900’s, so I did quite of bit of research in general, but I since I was writing about a real town I scanned lots of old newspapers on microfilm at the library to find out what the city was like at the time. I also tried to include real events when possible.
Gwen Sanders has been engaged throughout the entire series to somewhat wearisome Walter Manning, but just as the date is finally set for the wedding an old childhood sweetheart comes back into her life. As the plans for completing her first novel come together, the rest of her life seems to be unraveling. Her honor is at stake as she faces an unthinkable decision about her future happiness.
What other projects are in the works?
I’m currently working on another series set in historic Chandler, Oklahoma in the year following statehood. It’s so much fun researching a new community and coming up with the new characters. My love for music is more evident in these stories as the most of the main characters play in an amateur band.
What other authors do you especially admire?
The list could be really long! But, right off I can think of Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie and Margaret Mitchell. One of my modern favorites is Diana Gabaldon. She creates marvelous worlds and who wouldn’t love Jamie Fraser?
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Recently, I tried to learn the guitar but didn’t have the time practice it like I should—maybe someday. Schooling my girls and having fun with my family takes up most of my time right now.
Pantster or plotter?
When I write, I definitely fly by the seat of my pants! I will have ideas for scenes that I write down so I don’t forget them and generally know how I want the story to end. Somehow I find a way to connect everything.
What refreshes you creatively?
Listening to music refreshes me, motivates me, makes me sad and makes me happy. Life would be so hard for me without it!
A final word from Sandra Wilkins: “With my writing, I try to take the reader back to a simpler time, but I also hope to show how our lives today still parallel those from the past. Every generation of women and men must overcome obstacles in their lives. Life is full of uncertainty, but I try to show that with God’s help and a little determination those problems can be solved.”
Thank you, Sandra. Good luck with your life and your books.
Sandra Wilkins website: http://www.sandrawilkins.com/
I’m delighted to welcome another guest to Birth of a Novel. Sydell Voeller has agreed to tell us how she came up with the idea for one of her novels, Star Light, Star Bright. But first, a little something about Sydell herself. I think you’ll agree that she’s an interesting person.
Sydell Voeller grew up in Washington State, but has lived in Oregon for over thirty years. Throughout her twenty-year writing career, her published novels for teens and adults have reflected her love for the Pacific Northwest’s ocean beaches, inlets and waterways, evergreen forests, and mountains. She resides in Oregon with her husband. They have two sons and, in addition, have provided a home for several cats, a dog, gerbils, hamsters, and a turtle–but not all at the same time! When Sydell isn’t writing, she enjoys camping, walking, amateur astronomy, reading, and surfing the web.
Now let’s hear how she came to create Star Light, Star Bright.
It was a dark and stormy night—oh, wait a minute! I certainly didn’t want to throw “that” one on you! How could I expect such a cliched beginning to hook your interest, right?
Actually, it was a dark night, a very dark night, in the high desert of north central Oregon, over an hour’s drive from the nearest town. My husband and I were attending the Rose City Astronomers yearly camp-out that August, and I’d purposed to complete my discovery of 100 Messier deep-sky objects with my giant binoculars. The dark skies were almost mystical—nothing like our so-called dark skies in the western corridor of the state where city lights, streetlights, and neighboring porch lights “polluted” the backyard astronomer’s potential for viewing.
I looked up in awe. Ancient as well as younger stars twinkled like diamonds, sapphires, and rubies—an infinity of suns beyond our imagining. The Milky Way, our home galaxy, was breathtaking with its stars massed together so tightly. It indeed looked like a pathway of milk strewn across the heavens! And high in the east, the Andromeda Nebula, our almost “mirror image” sister galaxy, was a fuzzy white orb against the inky blackness. Here in the desert, I didn’t need to use my binoculars to view it as I did back on the west side of the state! (As astronomers like to say, it was visible by the “naked” eye.)
By then we’d set up our trailer and lay back in our reclining lawn chairs, preparing to gaze at the early Perseid Meteor showers that had just started. But unexpectedly my attention turned to a young woman and (presumably) her child—a little girl around 7 or so. Not far from us, they were attempting to set up their own camp: a tent not much larger than a pup tent. The mother squatted awkwardly as she pounded her tent stakes into the rocky ground—no small feat in itself! The girl stood by, watching and saying very little. She was so solemn, for that matter, she never once looked up to admire the meteor showers that streaked across the heavens.
My husband offered to help, but the mother politely refused. Later, as I saw them haul their sleeping bags into their tent, I hoped and prayed the bags were suitable for sub-zero temperatures. The high desert could get mighty cold at night, even in summertime.
Yet what struck me the most about this young woman was the desperation I sensed in her. And her desperation intrigued me. That started the wheels churning inside my head. Hmm…an anxious young mother who appeared to be running away from something. But from what? What could be troubling her so that she was willing to drive tent stakes into the high desert rocky floor without even the aid of a flashlight? (White light of any type is strictly off-limits at Star Parties.) Further, her lack of a telescope or binoculars told me she most likely wasn’t a regular here, where amateur and professional astronomers swapped parts for their telescopes during the daytime and viewed and photographed the heavens at night.
So what indeed had driven this woman to the Star Party site? A marriage-gone-bad, perhaps? A life-threatening illness? Career problems? From there the rest of the “what ifs” continued, and I continued to ponder them the entire weekend. The intrigue wouldn’t let go of me.
After we finished our stint at the Star Party and returned home, I immediately started writing Star Light, Star Bright. And so today, here it is. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
If you would like to know more about Sydell Voeller, you can visit her website or her Amazon author page. Links are below, along with a direct link to Star Light, Star Bright.
Sydell’s Amazon author’s page: http://www.amazon.com/Sydell-Voeller/e/B001JRZ0DU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Sydell’s website: www.sydellvoeller.com
Thank you, Sydell, for sharing your inspiration and your love of nature with us.
Time for another guest on Birth of a Novel. Like so many of my writing friends, I know Barbara Morgenroth only because of the internet – and am immensely grateful to the internet for the friendship. Barb is a true original, fun to correspond with because she always surprises. Evidence: her bio: “Barbara Morgenroth was born in New York City but now lives somewhere else. Envisioning a career as a globe-hopping photojournalist, after college she determined her hop muscles weren’t global strength so turned to writing. No life experience is safe from her keyboard and Barbara has proved that being a magnet for story material may be overstimulating to live through but it’s all ultimately research.” Here’s a snippet from one of her books, a book, by the way, that one reviewer called “laugh out loud funny” and about which another reviewer simply said “witty, simple, crazy, funny, direct”. What more could a reader ask of a book?
He really was very appealing. Those types always are. Pathological liars are always the most enchanting people you will ever meet and womanizers know how to flirt in the most earnest way. The whole point is to make you believe you are the only female in the entire universe for them. For two weeks. They acquire endearing characteristics like the Venus Fly Trap has sweet syrup on its petals so the flies think this is the greatest find in their garden. These guys might know how to cook, serenade you on their guitar or draw cute little cartoon figures on handmade cards to beg forgiveness for standing you up. It was all a carefully crafted performance. He was good. He had the routine perfected.—Unspeakably Desirable by Barbara Morgenroth
Have you ever met one of these charming men?
I knew one.
He was everything a girl would dream of.
1) He was an actor, so that meant he was handsome.
2) He was a skier. (Athletic and fit, not squidgy around the middle.)
3) He was a former Green Beret. (Warrior spirit!)
4) He was a member of the Olympic Bobsled Team. (Famous!)
5) He crewed on an America’s Cup race. (Fit, famous, warrior spirit and can swim!)
6) Need I go on?
He also played the guitar, did the drawings and flew his own plane. He was in a movie doing it, a famous one, but I’ll protect him and won’t say which one.
What is a girl supposed to do with a man like this? Does Mr. X qualify as a bad boy?
You’re probably saying “What’s wrong with this?”
Heck, nothing. Provided it’s all true.
Is it true?
Yes, I saw some photos, and yes, I did fly with him so I know he could at least pilot a plane.
Then we get into a gray area.
How about missing a date because his friend was shot and he was at the hospital and there were no phones around?
Does Mr. X qualify for Bad Boy Status now?
Yes. Mr. X is a Bad Boy because you believe him and he’s not serious.
In books, the love a good woman turns these bad boys around. In real life, not so much. So the best thing to do with a bad boy is to take them as seriously as they take you. They’re fun, they’re terrific to have by your side at a party, they’ll introduce you to activities you never imagined and then you’ll part ways. You will be richer for the experience. He’ll still be a heart-breaker and some day he, too, will have his heart broken because that’s the way the world works.
Barbara Morgenroth is an amazingly prolific writer. Recently, she has been focusing on books for young adults, especially those who love horses. If you would like to learn more about her books, here’s a link to her Amazon page: http://amzn.to/19HdDvK
Thanks, Barb, for stopping by Birth of a Novel.
At the beginning of this year, I talked about the books I had read during the year just past and made a resolution to read fewer books in the year ahead. Foolish? Yes, I now realize that it was. Why? Because, reading isn’t something I do according to plan. After I finish one book, I reach for another, read it, then select another, etc., etc., etc., gobbling them up like popcorn. I suspect this is true for most readers.
What possessed me to even consider such a radical resolution? My objective was to read slowly, to take time out along the way to savor the language and, when finished, take a little time off to think about the book’s theme and the writer’s style – the things we did in school when we were reading books assigned to us with the goal of improving our minds and broadening our horizons. I’m long out of school, but, let’s face it – my mind still needs improving and my horizons could certainly be broader, so it seemed like a good idea. Maybe it was, but it didn’t work for me.
As with most resolutions I began with the best of intentions. I picked my first book for 2013, Life Sentences by Laura Lippman (yes, I would recommend it), and started reading. I planned to pay attention the language, dissect Ms. Lippman’s method of constructing her story, and, most important to me, figure out how she made her characters come so vividly alive on the page. I’d ask myself: What makes this book worthy of a reader’s time? Somewhere along the line, my noble intentions flew out the window. I became immersed in the story and just kept turning pages, needing to know what happened next. In other words, I enjoyed the story and forgot to analyze it.
That happened with book after book – not at all what I had in mind at the beginning of the year. My goal was to become a thoughtful reader and, in the process, a better writer. I still think it was a worthy goal, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not meant to be a thoughtful reader (though I haven’t given up on the better writer part). I’m a lover of stories and, like all lovers, not particularly analytical about my passion. I love what I love and the intellect has very little to do with it. After I finish a book instead of taking time to analyze it, I reach for another. Oftimes, my choice is inspired by the book just finished. That’s as analytical as I get and I’ve decided it’s OK. I read for pleasure. Pure and simple.
Having said all that, I’ll add that the experiment was not a total failure. There was another part of my resolution – one that I was able to keep. More about that … soon.
One of the many pleasures of being a writer is fellowship with kindred souls who share my passion for the written word. One such person is Sarah Richmond. I’m thrilled that Sarah has agreed to write something for Birth of a Novel.
Sarah is the author of two Montlake Historical Romances: Dulcie Crowder Gets Her Man and A Most Ineligible Suitor. Both books are available in paperback and E-book formats from Amazon.com Excerpts from both books can be found at Rose-Adagio.blogspot.com
You know, those nasty characters we love to hate. The writer can pluck the worst and best emotions from a reader by creating believable villains. We keep turning the pages to find out if these dastardly ne’er do wells get what he or she so justly deserves.
I’ve created a list of my Top Ten Villains. I’m sure you have some hum-dingers of your own. Please share them!
10.) King Edward Longshanks: In Braveheart, how very villainous of the King to invoke PrimaeNoctis—the right of the a lord to take a newly married Scottish woman to his bed. The injustice is enough to make him despicable.
9.) Snidely Whiplash: Snidely holds the mortgage to Nell’s home and threatens to evict her if the mortgage isn’t paid. I could never figure out why he tied her to the train tracks, but we children booed anyhow. Also, Snidely has a villainous sneer and is sneaky. More booing.
8.) The Sheriff of Nottingham: The nemesis of Robin Hood, the Sheriff upholds the law not because it’s the right thing to do but because he wants to curry favor with the King. We’ve all known people like him. My favorite Sheriff was played by Alan Rickman in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. (1991) Boo. Hiss.
7.) Gordon Gecko: in Wall Street. First of all, lovely name. Second, greed isn’t good and if you shuddered when he gave his famous iconic speech, we are of the same generation. The oily hair helped make him a repulsive character.
6.) Fagen, from Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. He did take in those street kids and teach them a trade. However, anyone who hurts children is a surefire villain. Unfortunately, we read about people like him in modern times.
5.) Boyd Crowder: The smooth-talking bad boy in Justified. (On the FX channel.) This character is taken from a book by Elmore Leonard called Fire in the Hole. Boyd is complicated because he is likeable and has good traits, (and is a hunk with great hair) but the bad things he does are really bad, leaving a fan dazed and confused about whether Boyd should be punished for his crimes.
4.) Grinch: We laugh at his antics but the message is clear.
3.) Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz: Again a villain who wants to harm children. Her laugh gives me the chills Bad dreams are made of this.
2.) Inspector Javert: In Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, no amount of sympathetic backstory makes up for this dude’s obsession with Jean Valjean, the man who stole a loaf of bread to feed his nephew and served out his prison sentence.
Number 1. None other than the devil himself.The master Villain.Ironically, just the thought of him interfering in our lives forces us to be good.
Thanks, Sarah. I agree. Great villains make great stories and you’ve named some memorable ones.
You can read more about Sarah at http://www.SarahRichmond.com
Patricia Winton and I met when we were on a panel together at Killer Nashville a couple of years ago and have since gotten to know each other better via the wonder of social media, especially Facebook. I am fascinated by her posts about life in Italy and was thrilled when she agreed to share some of her experiences with the readers of Birth of a Novel.
Patricia Winton writes about two of Italy’s great works of art: food and crime. She first went to Italy more than forty years ago, living first in Tuscany for three years. She has lived in Rome for the past ten. She has picniced on figs and wine among Grecian ruins in Paestum, feasted on wild boar in Bologna, shared a plate of tripe with a complete stranger in a Florentine market, and sampled newborn eel along the Tyrrhenian coast.
Her short story “Feeding Frenzy” appears in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press, 2011). You can read the story by clicking on the title. Caroline Woodlock, an Italian-American journalist covering international culinary scene, and Nino Nardo, a professor of Italian culinary history and traditions, first appear in this story and continue in Patricia’s two works in progress.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppy chapter of SinC, and the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
And now, here’s Patricia:
My stories are set in Italy, and I try to spice my work with glimpses of the culture—the history, the art, the food, the traditions. Sometimes I begin a story with a setting in mind and build around the place. At other times, I lace the story with daily habits, such as the evening pre-dinner stroll that many people take, out seeing and being seen before retiring home for a family meal.
The book I’m working on at the moment takes place in Florence. The city’s museums, monasteries, and other buildings house many renditions of The Last Supper. From the early days of Christianity, the last supper has been a favorite artistic theme, and such frescoes often decorated monastery dining rooms. Some of these monasteries still fulfill their religious purpose while others have been converted to other uses, such as conference centers. Florentine museums hold tapestries and wooden panels devoted to the theme. Lorenzo Ghiberti even worked it into one of the bronze panels on the north door of the Baptistery. I first visited some of these works about 30 years ago.
Italian cuisine is the backdrop for my work. As I began planning this book, I saw connections between the cenacoli (as The Last Suppers are known in Italian) and the story I wanted to tell. I needed to go back to Florence to look at the cenacoli I had viewed earlier and to see others I hadn’t visited in the past. Many of the works are housed in private spaces with limited opening hours and days. Spreading a map, I constructed a chart with opening times and locations.
My friend Margaret, an art historian, and I booked rooms in a convent housing one of the cenacoli. Over the next two and one-half days, we viewed eight of the works. It was quite a pace to keep up because we worked in a bit of shopping and some good dining as well. We missed seeing one of the frescoes because the opening time listed on the website had been changed to another day—after we departed. At the Museo di San Marco, we asked several museum employees how to find the painting. We’d follow the directions only to see an exit ahead. Each time we passed through the gift shop. Finally, we sat down there to rest, and on a wall we’d walked past several times spread out a fantastic work by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
A couple of times, we asked about the best way to get to the AndreadelSartoMuseum at the periphery of the city, but we were always told it was too far. On the last day, Margaret left in the morning, but I took a later train. Leaving my suitcase at the convent, I boarded a bus for a short ride. At the next stop, a woman getting on asked if it was the bus for Piazza San Salvi. My ears perked up—that was the location of the delSarto. “Sì, sì,” said the driver. I stayed on board. At San Salvi, I looked for the museum to no avail. I found an 8th century church, I walked up and down the streets leaving the piazza, and I asked passersby where to find the museum. Nothing.
Now, in Italy the best place for information is at a bar, so I entered one, ordered a cup of espresso, and asked my question. Minutes later, I viewed the jewel in the crown of Florentine cenacoli. It gave me the setting for the opening of my novel. I’m glad I was listening to the Italian being spoken on that bus; otherwise I would have missed it. I’m weaving some of these works of art in the the book I’m writing.
To learn more about this interesting person:
Thank you, Patricia. Reading this is the next best thing to a trip to Italy
I’m delighted that Mitzi Kelly, a writer I know because of our Avalon connection, agreed to stop by and share some thoughts about writing. I was first attracted to Mitzi’s Silver Sleuths Mysteries because, like my Jennie Connors mysteries, they feature sleuths who are bit older than the typical amateur detective.
First, a bit about my guest: Mitzi Kelly was raised in El Paso with her three brothers, and credits her parents, Lewis and Lucretia Rothman, for providing an idyllic childhood. There hasn’t been a sport invented that the family was not involved in, and Mitzi vividly remembers weekends where the family rushed from a gymnastics meet to a football game and then to the golf course, and still somehow fit in chores and meals! Her parents are her true heroes and there aren’t enough words to express her gratitude. She loves everything about the huge state where she grew up, from the stark beauty of the desert plains, to the majestic glory of the mountains, to the intense power of the ocean, she’s never had a desire to live anywhere else. Traveling is nice, but there’s no place like Texas!
And now, let’s hear from Mitzi.
In the “whodunit” sphere, the cozy mystery continues to be one of the most popular genres in fiction writing. Personally, although I love all mystery/suspense novels, I have a particular affection for the amateur sleuth(s) who stumbles into danger during the quest for truth and justice. But there is a fine line to walk in writing a cozy mystery where you have to contrast the truly amateur sleuth and the skilled detective. The amateur doesn’t, and never will, get paid for what they do. And they always think they are much smarter than everyone else thinks they are.
When developing the characters for my cozy mystery series, The Silver Sleuths Mystery Series, I knew they had to be believable protagonists involved in believable situations. And, yet, the entire premise for a cozy mystery demands that the reader engage in a suspension of disbelief. I mean, how many ordinary, everyday people do you know who routinely trip over dead people? Having said that, though, writers of the cozy mystery genre share a unique relationship with their readers who want to suspend their belief, even for just a little while. It’s great fun to cheer on an average person who can bring down a bad guy!
I think it’s safe to say that the oldest of my characters, Millie Morrow, age 82, is anything but average. But what she does have are real feelings, and a real compassion for what effect crime has on the victims—attributes that are a real plus for someone who has a deep passion for righting wrongs. That she jumps into the crime-solving mode at the explicit displeasure of the chief of police is of no matter, because with the help of her two best friends, Trish Anderson and Edna Radcliff, Millie feels their activities actually encourage the police to do a better job. Did I mention that Millie is a little eccentric?
My trio of amateur sleuths are unusual in the genre of cozy mysteries in that their age is . . . um, way up there, and in their relationship, and the methods they use in investigating. But they do share many important traits of the cozy mystery sleuth. They don’t use weapons (I’m not counting Millie’s shotgun because more often than not, she forgets to load it), they don’t use foul language, they’re not involved in explicit sex (eeeewww . . . I don’t even want to think about it!), and they are not entangled in crime scenes full of horrifying violence and gore.
So, while some complain that the amateur sleuths in cozy mysteries are not real, I beg to differ. They may not be “real” crime fighters with the latest in technology and training, but they are very real people trying to make a difference in their communities. I will, however, accept the argument that they are nosier than most people with perhaps too much free time on their hands, but if I ever find myself in need of a friendly investigator, I think I’d rather have a nosy neighbor interfering in my life than a SWAT team peeking in my windows!
To read an excerpt from Deadly Policy – http://www.sandracareycody.com/guestexcerpt.html
Thanks, Mitzi, for sharing your thoughts on writing the Silver Sleuths Mysteries with us. If I’m in trouble, I believe I’d prefer a nosy neighbor to a SWAT team too.