The Humble Milkweed

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Probably many of my readers recall picking milkweed as children–such an unique plant.

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Yesterday my twelve-year-old granddaughter and I reveled in the superb softness of milkweed down. She sent it flying far and near, and piped, “Grandma, it’s softer than my special silky blanket!”

For the sake of the Monarch butterfly,  people have started re-growing this “weed” that used to flourish in Iowa’s ditches. Back in the forties and fifties, milkweed fluff was everywhere.

Many of us ran our fingers over the satiny floss that floated like dandelion fluff on sunny fall days. But few realized how vital this wispy white stuff had been in the World War II effort to save sailors’ lives. The Japanese controlled kapok, the normal life vest filler, so milkweed floss became a workable substitute.

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I’ve been reading an incredible book called And If I Perish, about nurses and doctors who risked–and often gave–their lives to help wounded soldiers. My research also gave me the story of an Indiana sailor who suffered in the waters of the Pacific and would have died without his life belt. He brought it home as a keepsake, and when his mother looked it over, she realized the inspection number on the belt belonged to her.

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Yes, she worked in a factory that produced life belts and vests. Such an ironic twist to this sailor’s story of deliverance. The war era is full of these stories–I can’t get enough of them.

 

One thing is certain, I’ll never look at milkweed quite the same way again.

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October musings

I read an article recently about smartphones hijacking our brains. The author maintains that using smartphones spikes our stress levels, reduces our attention spans, and basically renders us less intelligent.

Well, that’s one thing I won’t have to worry about, since my “smart” phone can’t even figure out what I’m saying when I try to text.
Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. My phone has even been known to use four-letter words when I was only trying to make a simple statement. Here’s an example.
Last winter I texted our daughter that her dad was out taking birdie pictures. The next thing I knew, she’d sent me a message asking if I ever read my texts before sending them–my so-called “smart”  phone had written DIRTY pictures. ARGH!!
Long-term studies have yet to be completed to reveal how smartphone usage affects developing brains.
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Last week, our grandchildren were in a crew of middle-school students from our church  to do fall clean-up work at a beautiful camp not far from here. Sigh…seeing photos like this does my old heart good–no technology here, just plain old muscle-building.
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And communal joy.
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OOPS….I guess a couple of the boys are taking pictures here…with their phones.
Ah, well! I suspect spending hours editing manuscripts each day may also affect my brain.
Back to this article I read. Having a phone that isn’t so smart gives me one less thing to worry about, and lots more time to enjoy the photographs my husband continues to snap. It’s “just a hobby,” he says, but wow—he’s getting quite accomplished at this.
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The Book I Never Wanted to Write

I asked Lillian Duncan what advice she has for writers, and she said, “DON’T GIVE UP! It took me 15 years to get a traditional contract, and now I have almost 20 books published! If I can do it, so can you. But not if you give up your dream!” Now, Lillian, please tell us about the BOOK YOU NEVER WANTED TO WRITE.

Puzzle House is the book I never wanted to write.

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What??? Let me explain. Rachel Summers, the main character in my new book, Puzzle House, has brain tumors due to Neurofibromatosis Type 2.

Neuro…What?

That’s what I said when my doctor told me I had brain tumors and something called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2 for short) in 2012. It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. After all, I felt fine, but I was wrong—really wrong!

So what exactly is NF2? It’s a rare genetic condition that allows tumors to grow anywhere on the nervous system, but especially in the brain (almost always on the auditory nerve and vestibular nerve) and the spine.

The Rare Disease Act of 2002 defines a rare disease as one that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States or about 1 in 1,500 people. So exactly how rare is NF2? About 1 in 25,000 to 40,000 people (depending on what source you use) have it so as you can see it’s extremely rare which is why you probably haven’t heard of it either.

The tumors are almost always benign, but there’s two meanings for benign. One being non-cancerous and the other being harmless. The good news is that my tumors are not cancerous, the bad news is they are definitely not harmless.

So how has NF2 affected me? Without going into all the gory details, since being diagnosed I’ve had two Gamma Knife Surgeries, three rounds of chemo, and countless months of being on steroids. Because of the tumors and/or the treatments, I have chronic fatigue, balance issues that affect my mobility, complete deafness in one ear and partial deafness in the other, neuropathy and severe pain in my arms and legs that also affect my mobility as well as a multitude of “less severe” symptoms.

After reading all that you might think Puzzle House is a really depressing story, right? I certainly hope not. My first goal when writing a story is always to entertain and that’s true with this one as well. In fact, the subtitle of the story is a novel of healing and hope.

I’m not going to give away the plot but I’ll give you a little hint. While unconscious after an auto-truck mishap, Rachel has a very special visitor who asks, “Do you want to be healed or to be a healer?” She makes her choice and that’s when her adventure begins.

Let’s get back to the healing and hope part of the novel. Nia is a 14 year-old girl who has lost hope and wants nothing to do with Rachel or Puzzle House. But they’re stuck with each other for the week so Rachel shares her story with Nia as they work her puzzle together.

It’s true that Puzzle House is a book I never wanted to write, but it’s also true that God uses all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) and I believe that’s what He’s done by inspiring me to write Puzzle House.

Why did I choose a puzzle theme? Because in many ways life is like a puzzle—not a box of candy! A lot of pieces  have to be put together before you can see the whole picture. Many times we don’t understand why we need a particular piece of our puzzle but God does.

That’s where faith comes in. It’s not easy to keep trusting when we’re suffering, whether it be from a physical condition like brain tumors or some other difficulty. But if we trust God with all the puzzle pieces of our life, He will use them to create a thing of beauty.

 

Lil2016bfix Lillian Duncan…Stories of faith mingled… with murder & mayhem.

Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.

Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all of us. To learn more about Lillian, you may visit her at www.lillianduncan.net or www.lillian-duncan.com. She also has a devotional blog at www.PowerUpWithGod.com.

Unique Interests

Sara L. Foust visits us today with news of her debut novel, Callum’s Compass. I hope you enjoy reading how her unique interests melded in the writing of this book.

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I seem to have a unique set of things I find fascinating. Pirates. Treasure hunts. Mushrooms. Owls. The way water runs down hills in little mini-streams when it rains. Blue heron cranes. The elk in our East Tennessee mountains that were reintroduced years ago. Cicadas. Rocks. Lightning.

It has taken a long time for me to find a way to combine my passion for nature and these unique interests with a love of reading and my faith in a way that honors God in what I do. I observe and then I write. I prayerfully tell the stories in my Romantic Suspense novels of women and men who live life outdoors, learn about new parts of their inner selves, and journey toward God. And it is so much fun!

When my first novel, Callum’s Compass, is released on November 7th, a dream I’ve had since second grade will come true. The story of Kat and Ryan and their painful pasts, freedom from guilt, and journey to love, takes place in the East Tennessee mountains I love. Full of adventure and treasure hunting, this book has allowed me to finally  put some of my unique interests to good use. I have plans for that pirate fascination of mine, too, in my next series.

But, for now, I will be bringing (if all goes well) a set of three novels to readers in the Love, Hope, and Faith Series. All three are tied together by the mountains of Royal Blue near my home, a cast of characters that need to find a part of their spiritual life that’s missing, and some good, clean romance amid the excitement and adventure.

I hope readers will enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them, that they may learn a little about some part of nature they weren’t familiar with, and that they will be inspired by the journeys to love, hope, and faith my characters take.

Callum’s Compass

 Facing betrayal, wild animals, meth-addled drug makers, and their own fears, can Kat and Ryan discover the golden treasure and God’s love?Published by  Mantle Rock Publishing

How to reach Sara:

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Author Bio:

Sara writes Inspirational Romantic Suspense from a mini-farm in East Tennessee, where she lives with her husband and their five homeschooled children. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Tennessee Mountain Writers. Her debut novel Callum’s Compass won second place in Deep River Books’ 2017 Writer’s Contest. Sara finds inspiration in her faith, her family, and the beauty of nature. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, camping, and spending time outdoors with her family. To learn more about her and her work or to become a part of her email friend’s group, please visit www.saralfoust.com.

Of Toads and Insect Wings…

How can October be here already? That means November’s almost here too, and then…

Does anyone else feel as though time is flying faster than it used to? It’s been two weeks since forty-some authors gathered at the Waverly Iowa Public Library’s first book fair. Here are our signatures, sent out by an attendee who made sure his sweet daughters received every name in person.

 

OOPS – I couldn’t get that graphic to upload. So instead I’ll share one of my

IMG_3485husband’s shots. What does little fellow have to do with the book fair? I could probably think of something, because tying things together and making meaning from seemingly diverse segments of life is what writers do, right?

I’ve begun instructing a memoir class in for the Austin, MN community education organization – six lovely participants, and making meaning is what we DO! Last week I also facilitated a workshop for the Kossuth County Genealogical Society. So great to meet a whole roomful of people working hard on their family histories!

The next day, I met several more creative folks in a workshop for the Sioux Center public library, and then at one in Sheldon, Iowa. I can tie all this together by pointing out that workshops energize us, and driving…well, not so much. I feel a little worn around the edges…speaking of fragile, observe this delicate insect.

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Back home, my editing awaited. Oh yes…editing on the sequel to With Each New Dawn, and more work on another WWII novel that highlights the POW camp at Algona during the war.

So, October is peeking it’s head around the corner, and here we are. This month, we’ll host a couple of authors with their new releases, so away we go.

Roses Galore!

Catherine Castle visits us today with her story, A Groom For Mama, and she’s giving away a free e-book to one commenter. Thanks for joining us, Catherine.

                    My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose

Readers often want to know if authors insert themselves into their books. I’ve noticed that there are a few things that always seem to slip themselves into mine. Flowers tend to be one of those things. That’s probably because I’m a gardener and love flowers.

My newest sweet romantic comedy, A Groom for Mama, is no exception. At one point in the story, Allison, Jack, and Mama visit a rose garden. So I thought it would be fun to show you some pictures of the rose gardens I’ve visited.

Columbus park of Roses, Columbus Ohio

picture  2 Innswood Metro Gardens

 

Isn’t this bench inviting? This garden has hundreds of rose bushes. The minute you walk into the park you’re surrounded by the heavenly scent of roses. I imagined the garden Allison, Jack and Mama visited smelled as heavenly as this one.

 

Innswood Metro Gardens – My husband took the shot of the roses through a circle opening in a lattice gazebo. I just love the juxtaposition of the dark and the light.

Kingwood Center garden

 

 

This as another artistically composed shot from my husband’s camera. He was an art student, so naturally he looks at the composition of a photograph.

The Roses at Disney World.

picture 4 Roses at Disney World

 

This picture was taken during Disney’s Flower and Garden Show. Every year in March-May they display hundreds of beautiful flowers. If you’ve never been, and you love gardens, you really should try to get there. It’s fantastic.

 

Catherine’s garden

 And of course, I couldn’t show you the lovely pictures of gardens I’ve visited without including one of my own award-winning garden. This is the view out of my office window. I planted knockout roses and ribbon grass around the ugly transformer box in the front of my yard. I got tired of looking at the hulking green metal box all the time.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little trip through the roses. Now, I hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from A Groom for Mama.

AGroomforMama2_200Beverly Walters is dying, and before she goes she has one wish—to find a groom for her daughter. To get the deed done, Mama enlists the dating service of Jack Somerset, Allison’s former boyfriend.

 The last thing corporate-climbing Allison wants is a husband. Furious with Mama’s meddling, and a bit more interested in Jack than she wants to admit, Allison agrees to the scheme as long as Mama promises to search for a cure for her terminal illness.

 A cross-country trip from Nevada to Ohio ensues, with a string of disastrous dates along the way, as the trio hunts for treatment and A Groom For Mama.

EXCERPT:

 Beverly’s pale face broke out in a smile. “Jack!” She took the flowers from him and buried her nose in them. “They smell wonderful.” She waved him inside, hugging him as he passed by her.

He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and then glanced around the foyer.

“She’s not here right now.”

“I’m just making sure the coast is clear.” He followed Beverly into the kitchen, the click of her shoes against the hardwood floor leading the way. The house slippers had disappeared with Allison’s arrival, and Beverly had started dressing up more. He was glad to see that. He eased his tall frame into the bar chair in front of the peninsula and set the fruit basket on the counter. “I’m planning to stay as far away from Allison as possible.”

“Is that so?” Beverly’s voice held a hint of sarcasm. “You’ve been over here a lot more since she arrived.”

“Son-in-law prospects, remember?”

As she retrieved a vase from the cabinet, he busied himself untying the string around the flowers, ducking his very hot, and most likely, red face from her view. She hit closer to the mark than he cared to admit.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay, for now. Allison’s not doing well, though. The doctor visit hit her hard. She’s determined to save me, in spite of the odds.” Beverly took the flowers from him and dropped them into the vase. “Have you got some men for me?”

He swept the fallen flower leaves off of the counter into the waste can beside the bar. Then he concentrated on flicking imaginary pollen off the granite into his hand.

“I’ve been thinking, Beverly, are you sure you want to go through with this? Wouldn’t you rather spend what time you have left with Allison just being together? This bridegroom business has to be a bone of contention. I hate to see you two in disharmony.”

“Jack Somerset. Are you trying to get out of a deal with me? Because if you are—”

“Of course not. It’s just that—”

“—you don’t want to see her with someone else?”

His head snapped up. “I’ve had her once already and found her to be a contrary woman.”

Beverly grinned. “Me-thinks thou dost protest too much.”

No answer to that. Until their breakup they hadn’t ever argued. Back then, even when they didn’t see eye to eye, they could talk. He took a set of folded papers from his hip pocket and slapped them onto the counter. “Here’s the first set of men.”

“This one looks okay,” Beverly said as she scanned them, “but let’s scrap the rest.”

He checked her selection. “I think we should let Allison decide. After all, she’s the one who’ll be saddled with the guy.”

Beverly cocked her head and studied him. “What an odd way to put it. She’s supposed to fall in love with the man and live happily ever after, you know.”

Supposed to being the operative words.”

Want to read more? You can get A Groom for Mama at Amazon.

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About the Author:

Multi-award-winning author Catherine Castle has been writing all her life. Before beginning her career as a romance writer she worked part-time as a freelance writer. She has over 600 articles and photographs to her credit, under her real name, in the Christian and secular market. Besides writing, Catherine loves traveling with her husband, singing, and attending theatre. In the winter she loves to quilt and has a lot of UFOs (unfinished objects) in her sewing case. In the summer her favorite place to be is in her garden. She’s passionate about gardening and even won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club.

Her debut inspiration romantic suspense, The Nun and the Narc, from Soul Mate Publishing was an ACFW Genesis Finalist, a 2014 EPIC finalist, and the winner of the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award and the 2014 RONE Award. Her most recent release, A Groom for Mama, is a sweet romantic comedy from Soul Mate Publishing. Both books are available on Amazon.

Buy link for A Groom for Mama www.amzn.com/B074SZSGB1

 Catherine’s website: https://catherinecastle1.wordpress.com

Catherine’s blog: http://catherinecastle1.wordpress.com/blog/

Catherine’s Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/catherinecastle

Catherine’s Goodreads page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7085414.Catherine_Castle

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorCCastle   @AuthorCCastle

Facebook: https://facebook.com/catherinecastleauthor

Stitches Thru Time: http://stitchesthrutime.blogspot.com/

SMP authors blog site:   http://smpauthors.wordpress.com/

 

 

The Power of Story

IMG_7762I met author Terri Picone at the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference this summer, and asked her permission to reprint this article about the power of STORY… and she has also agreed to share a prize-winning story with you at the end of this article.

Your Reader’s Brain on Story by Terri Picone

Coffee, chocolate, exercise, and . . . story?

Seems like a trick question from a standardized test. But after reading Lisa Cron’s book, Wired for Story, it’s simple.

Cron shows that just as when we eat specific foods or engage in physical activity, reading a story causes our brains to release dopamine. This truth reinforces pleasurable feelings, enabling our survival.

Readers needn’t feel guilty about indulging in an afternoon or evening of reading story. Reading a novel is not frivolous. It is fundamental.

From earliest days, stories around the campfire proved to be more than entertainment. Those who heard stories learned how to avoid danger. The brain reacts in the same way whether we run from a tiger or engage in a story with a character that shares a boat with a large tiger. The advantage of story is we don’t have to take the risks. We can learn from story. We’ll know what to do the next time we meet a tiger.

Our brains are programmed toward story. Our brains instinctively tune-in when we hear “once upon a time.”

Writers can capitalize on this whether we write fiction or nonfiction. Whatever we write, we can illustrate our nonfiction points with a story. Good stories sell, as proven by the marketing community who use story plot in their campaigns.

Writers play a powerful role in the world since brains are created to crave story. Knowing this, we can use our craft of story to share the passions in our hearts with readers. Don’t forget—it’s a proven matter of survival.

Here’s Terri’s prize-winning 2017 story, published in Idaho magazine- it’s still in my mind after reading it some time ago. If you’d like to ask Terri any questions, ask away!

https://www.idahomagazine.com/contests/fiction-writing-contest/colors-of-a-river-2017-first-place-winners-circle/

Check out Terri’s author FB page@Terri Picone, Writer

Glories

I’ve never had much luck with morning glories, but this year, decided to try again. Wow … it’s struck me how extremely fragile they are–yet many consider them a weed.

IMG_3856These didn’t bloom until the second week of September, but take a look…their periwinkle hue is So beautiful! In this photo of my husband’s, you can see how transparent the blossoms are…talk about delicate.

 

They burst open in the morning, but around noon, start to close up, and by mid-afternoon, you’d never know they’d shared their color with the world.

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Contemplating these gorgeous flowers’ short-lived blooming time set me to thinking of parallels. The most obvious, perhaps, is my faith. Though I’d rather it be constant, full-blossomed all the time, and reliable, reality says otherwise.

I waited all summer for these blossoms to show their glory, and truly appreciated them when they finally appeared. Not like steadfast marigolds that keep blooming the entire season, these frail lovelies can make their appearance and fade before you get a chance to observe.

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Still, they’re beautiful, if only in fits and starts. And all this reminds me of another fact: normal standards fall short when measuring worth.

Those who seem weakest may make a huge difference in small and seemingly insignificant ways. My World War II research overflows with people who tended their posts, no matter how mundane. No setting the world on fire, but still a certain glory in making a contribution.

My characters are like this, everyday folks intent on doing their best. One of them recently told me I’m not finished with her story, even if I thought I’d reach The End. No, she wants to contribute more, desires to make a greater sacrifice for the war effort.

Back to the drawing board … here’s hoping the result will enhance her story. And during the rainy, overcast day while I worked on that plot, guess what happened? More glories, multicolored!

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Writing Through Immersion

Please welcome Norma Gail Thurston Holtman today, who is giving away either a paper or e-copy of her debut romance novel Land of My Dreams. Your choice, just leave your contact into with your comment.

Norma, please tell us how your work takes shape. 

LoMD Bookvana cover

When the idea for a story begins to consume my mind, I mull it over for days or weeks until I grasp the characters and setting. I’m a pantster, only plotting when I get stuck or something doesn’t work.

When I finally sit down at the computer, I write in layers, first getting concepts on paper, the story deepening with each pass. Each time through the story, I concentrate on stronger hooks at the beginning and end of scenes. The characters emotions deepen, their dialogue strengthens, their interactions with setting and other characters reveal deeper meaning, and the plot intensifies. Most important, the spiritual journey of the characters congeals.

Creating a story world is very much like a method actor preparing for a role. Immersion is the key. See the setting as another character. Read books, watch movies, talk to people, do anything that helps you identify with every possible aspect of what your characters will experience. Live their life in your mind.

I create playlists on my phone for each story, try the food, travel if possible, and craft metaphors that paint clear pictures for my reader. I make screensavers that contain hundreds of photographs showing flora, fauna, geography, architecture, and everyday activities.

Research is critical. I study the geographical area, time-period of the novel, history, local hotspots, food, clothing, traditions, music, and matters of importance to the people. These have to be believable and recognizable to people who live or visit there. There is nothing wrong in creating fictional places, but there needs to be a balance with reality.

 

My debut novel, Land of My Dreams is set in Scotland and New Mexico. I do a lot of contrast and comparison, and readers seem to like it. Scots-Gaelic and lowland Scots, as well as slang create interesting language differences. The Scottish people use English words in ways that are unfamiliar to Americans. In my home state of New Mexico, both Spanish and Native American words are part of everyday conversation. The two locations create some interesting interactions between the characters.

 Writing fiction is a great adventure. At some point, the writer and characters merge and the characters take over; leading to scenarios the writer never imagined. When the writer feels the emotions of the characters, readers will as well. © Norma Gail Thurston Holtman, August 28, 2017

Norma 2017

Norma Gail’s debut contemporary Christian romance, Land of My Dreams, won the 2016 Bookvana Religious Fiction Award. A women’s Bible study leader for over 21 years, her devotionals and poetry have appeared at ChristianDevotions.us, the Stitches Thru Time blog, and in “The Secret Place.” She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Historical Writers of America, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Norma is a former RN who lives in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband of 41 years. They have two adult children. If you’re interested in connecting with me, I invite you to follow my blog, join me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads, or Amazon.

 

Echoes of the Heart

I’m pleased to introduce Donna Schalter with The Story Behind the Story of Echoes of the Heart. To one commenter, Donna will give the reader’s choice of an e-book or a print copy. Thank you so much, Donna. 

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If you’ve ever wondered if a writer’s conference is worth the time, effort, and expense, let me assure you: it is!

My involvement in The Pony Express Romance Collection began several years ago at at an ACFW Conference, where I met up with my dear friend, Mary Davis. I asked her what she was working on, and she said she was putting together a proposal for a Pony Express novella collection. I said, “I’d love to be part of that.” She already had the four authors she needed, but if anything changed, she’d contact me.

The next month, hubby and I were planning a long weekend away, and I suggested we do some Pony Express research, “just in case”. So we traveled to Julesburg, Colorado and on into Wyoming, following the trail. Along the way, we stopped and talked to folks at visitor information centers, museums, and anywhere that advertised the Pony Express. People still love the romance and allure of the Pony Express, and it seemed as though everybody had a story.

Another month goes by, and Mary emailed to say an author had to drop out because of other commitments, and was I still interested. You bet I was! The initial concept was four stories told in chronological order at the same station, Echo Canyon Utah, with some carryover of characters from one story to the next.

And so began my romance with the Pony Express. We went through several iterations of the proposal, and the format changed to nine authors at different stations with no overlap of characters.

If I hadn’t been at that conference, I wouldn’t have known about this opportunity. At other conferences, I’ve made contact with other editors, publishers, and book packagers and been blessed to work with them on various projects. So while classes are important, don’t forget the benefits of networking!

Schlachter DSCF1330_Donna resized

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Her current release, Echoes of the Heart, a 9-in-1 novella collection titled “Pony Express Romance Collection” released April 1. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. Donna loves history and research, and travels extensively for both.

www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com

www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW