September 23, 2013


This morning, as I was sipping coffee and reading the few pages that now constitute the Monday morning newspaper, our lights went out. At least some of them did. In the kitchen, the fridge was still operating, but not the stove. The toaster worked, but not the microwave. Our computers were powerless, as were our chargers and garage door opener. The overhead light fixtures--in some rooms--worked, but not in others. Most table lamps lit up, but not all.

The automated response to a call to the power company promised that they were working to fix our problem. We were mystified about how they could tell what the problem was, much less fix it from a distance.  A few hours later a lineman came to climb our electric pole and investigate. He reported that one of the three lines into our house had come loose. It took him a while, but he repaired the line and seemed as pleased about that as we were.

This episode reminds me that two-thirds is never as good as the whole. Writing a novel involves at least three-thirds: plot, setting and characters. Try writing with only two of the three. I've gotten carried away with one of the three, jumping into great detail about a character's appearance and back story but forgetting the she exists in a time and place or that she has a problem to solve. So, like an effective electricity delivery system, it's good to keep all three wires firmly in place--at all times. If one comes loose and loses power, so does the novel.

September 16, 2013


I've learned that the research notes I accumulate while writing a historical novel can often lead me astray. I can get so immersed in the fascinating facts I'm uncovering that I forget my purpose--to write a piece of historical fiction that will carry young readers to a different time and place where they'll follow a likeable,  interesting character as s/he faces difficulties and solves a problem.

Two weeks ago I was working on a chapter of a new book set during World War I. It takes place in Kansas City and focuses on life on the Hone Front of the war. I had discovered a government leaflet about making a fireless cooker, the 1918 version of today's Crockpot. The main character's mother is continually thinking up projects to keep him busy and out of trouble, so making the cooker seemed like a gift from the research gods. I could show that the need to preserve energy and cook nutritiously was prevalent nearly a century ago.

The government's directions were detailed and precise. Too much so. My character and his buddy got so involved in the materials needed and the steps to construct the cooker that I lost track of my story. It turned into a massive info dump without adding anything to the plot and without revealing anything new about the characters. Three paragraphs of lists and instructions.

"Whoa!" was the unspoken but clear sentiment of my critique group. Did they really need to know all this? No. Did they find it interesting? A bit. Did they think I should deeply cut it? YES!

So I did and ended with three short sentences of dialogue that indicated what the cooker was for and that it was way too complicated for two 12-year-old boys to actually build. I was able to get across the government's purpose in promoting it during wartime.

I've always had this problem with research. I fall in love with every little detail, which leads me to another set of details and then to another and so on. I usually end up far afield from where I started, but fascinated by what I find in the process. I need to learn when to hold and when to fold when it comes to historical research so that I'll have a winning hand when I sit down to write!

August 26, 2013


This summer I came across a file of family mementoes that included two tributes my father had written to honor fellow workers at their retirement parties. His job was hard manual labor--working to maintain the turbines that supply electric power to our area. The men he worked with over the years had a special camaraderie heavily seasoned with "powerhouse" humor. Both show through in my father's writing as he sent two friends off into the world of retirement.

I reflected, as I read his words, that people who didn't know my dad would have been surprised to learn that he read a lot. I remember complete sets of Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain on our bookshelves, alongside the encyclopedia set that played a big part in our dinner table discussions. Those same folks would never have suspected that my father had a flair for composition. In those two tributes, he managed to honor the personality and character of each man and also point out their foibles with gentle humor.

Over the past weekend, I discovered a delicious piece of writing by my mother. Although she graduated high school with a scholarship to a local college, she couldn't afford to buy the textbooks and so didn't use the scholarship. Years later, when her children were mostly grown, she enrolled in another local college and began taking night classes. For one of her English classes, she wrote a humorous essay titled, "Food for Thought." It makes clear that eating out with six children is an adventure full of surprises.

So, both my parents had a way with words. Maybe there is a writing gene. My five siblings and I have inherited it in different ways. Some of us are eloquent speakers (not me!) and some lean toward the written expression of how we feel or what we believe. Like my parents, we all love to tell a good story--and none of us are above embellishing it a bit!

August 15, 2013


I recently posted something about serendipity and since then I've thought about how much it plays into things--at least for me. I have no idea what gave me the plan to introduce WHISPER ISLAND by having someone portray Primmy. Imagination? Inspiration? Probably both. But when I mentioned the idea to my friend Joyce and asked if she thought her granddaughter Deanna would be interested in a little acting gig on the Outer Banks, she jumped at it, as did her daughter Nancy, Joyce's sister Brenda, and the very talented young lady, Deanna.

Primmy and I enjoy a good laugh.
They were all on board and laid plans to meet in Rodanthe for the book's official launch on July 10. What a week we had! Deanna, besides being a poet, singer, musician, artist, is also a very convincing actress. She put across the character and voice of Primmy, the main character. More than that, she answered questions as if she were the character and made it clear that she'd read the book and understood it.

I'm so fortunate to have had her innumerable talents in North Carolina and again for two signings in Kansas City. I look forward to more outings with Primmy--and to more visits from my Serendipity muse!
"No, you can't be a Life-Saver. It's too hard for a girl. Drat!"

Primmy and her new friend on the Outer Banks.

August 6, 2013


A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to England and was sharing some photos from the trip. Many of them were signs she'd seen along the way, and we teased her about her choice of significant photo ops.

I've rethought that. After my trip to the Outer Banks to launch WHISPER ISLAND, I looked over my photos and found that I'd captured several pics of signs that had caught my attention. They all seem to capture the spirit and ambience of the place where I shot them.

Ocracoke is a small island, but the main road gets lots of traffic.
This sign reminds folks to be extra careful as they pass through.

Lunch at water's edge at the Jolly Roger in Ocracoke was fun--until the storm set in. Maybe the pirate on the sign knew something that we didn't.

In case you didn't get the message, this gull made sure you kept your casting low.
Parents at the Gulf Coast Cafe get fair warning to mind their kids.
This sign by the front door of our little cottage-by-the-ocean says it all!

July 30, 2013


As a writer, I've learned to be on the lookout for those serendipitous signs that might lead me to a new book idea or unstick me from a plot point I've gotten hung up on. It might come in a bit of a overheard conversation. I might come across an article or photograph that meshes with what I'm writing--or planning to write. Sometimes a dream--mine or someone else's--connects.

I know along the way I’ve missed some of those signs. Often I’ve neglected to make a written note about them, sure that I'd remember. Years ago, that might have worked, but now I'm less and less skillful at recalling even the most significant markers of my day.

For some reason unclear to me, I've begun to think more and more about a sequel for WHISPER ISLAND. It might be because I've become attached to Primmy and her independent character. I want to see where her free spirit takes her. At the same time, I've learned more and more about a dramatic, heroic rescue of the British tanker Mirlo off the shores of Rodanthe during World War I.

I'm now in the middle of a historical novel set in Kansas City during that "war to end all wars."

Serendipity has struck again! I've already done a lot of research about the war and I now know--and love--much of the history of the Outer Banks and ocean rescues. My research efforts could mesh in a sequel about Primmy six years after WHISPER ISLAND's story. I knew that she still would be kept from joining the Coast Guard (formerly the US Life-Saving Service), but I need to get her to Rodanthe as a seventeen-year-old young woman. What could she do for a living? What profession do I know most about? Teaching. Hard to imagine feisty Primmy as a schoolmarm, but I think she'd be spectacular!
"It's right across the road, Anola."

When I mentioned this idea to James Charlet, "keeper" of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Historic Site, he pointed across the road. "That's the schoolhouse that would have been here in 1918." The building has been added to to create a community hall, but the central structure remains.

A sure sign that Primmy's story will continue!

July 24, 2013

Strolling Along Social Media Street

 I've learned over the years that writing a book is a play in three acts.

The curtain goes up on Act One, the birth of an idea that grows and develops in several scenes as the plot unfolds and characters enter and exit.

Act Two involves multiple scenes: writing, revising, rewriting, revising, editing, submitting, acceptance (eventually) and publication (finally).

Act Three may seem anti-climactic because the book is done, but for me that last act has been the most difficult. I've resisted the demands on my time and energy. I wanted to get on with my writing; the next book had already taken shape in my imagination and I longed to get it going. I've resisted jumping into the social media scene, but now I know I need to learn it all so I can give my latest book, WHISPER ISLAND, a good send-off. I've come to realize that, if a book was important enough to work on for several months, it deserves my efforts to get it before the public eye.

When I planned the WHISPER ISLAND launch at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Historic Site in Rodanthe, NC, I knew that just traveling there and signing books wouldn't be enough to give my book the debut it deserved.
Rodanthe Beach,Outer Banks, North Carolina--another great place to stroll!
So several weeks before the launch I took some baby steps onto Social Media Street. Now I stroll along slowly but surely. I'm on Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook and LinkedIn. I own a smart phone. I tweet and pin and post. I have circles and pages. I've learned how to link and like.

And you know what? After the initial stress of learning something new, I'm beginning to enjoy it. I have a long way to go, but I'm getting there.

July 13, 2013

Welcome to Whisper Island!

Whisper IslandLast week, Peter and I drove to the beautiful Outer Banks in North Carolina for the launch of my new historical novel for young readers, Whisper Island.
On July 10, the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station -- the site that inspired the story of Primmy and her quest to serve in the U.S. Life-Saving Service (a precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard) -- hosted a delightful book launch. The young readers of Rodanthe were among the first to purchase Whisper Island, and I had a great time signing their copies of the book! The launch party also included games for the kids and live demonstrations of the life-saving equipment at the museum by the U.S. Coast Guard.

This marks the start of a summer full of readings, book signings and other events to promote my new book. Stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our time in North Carolina:
The launch event was held at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, North Carolina

Signing books for the first young readers to buy Whisper Island

The Coast Guard demonstrates a Life-Saving drill of long ago (left);
I was thrilled to meet Myrna Midgett Peters, whose ancestors were Life-Savers (right)

April 9, 2013

Spring Surprise

A spring surprise--While looking through our gardening storage areas, many and scattered, I came across a planter with two green sprouts emerging from the soil. I struggled to remember what might have been planted there and decided it was either a long-forgotten amaryllis or a long dear mother-in-law's tongue. Why I considered the second option is beyond me at this point and at any rate, it was faulty thinking on my part. The shoots were, indeed, from what I had thought was a defunct amaryllis. It had been so long since it had appeared that I couldn't remember the color. I put it on the deck and wished it luck, as I do most of my plants, knowing that they're pretty much on their own once they go outside. This morning I woke to glorious white blossoms, soon followed by several more.

I'm hoping that, like my amaryllis, a few months of hibernation from blog-writing will now become a beautiful blossoming of words and thoughts, embellished with graphics and photos. No, I'm not just hoping, I'm determined!