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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Undiscovered Treasure in our Back Yard

Who knew? Purslane, a native Arizona plant I included in one of my novels, also grows in our Iowa back yard. But I only recently discovered at the Des Moines farmers’ market that purslane is edible and also offers a TON of health benefits.

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Suffice it to say I’ve now re-instated  a weed into my vegetable patches. And we’re eating purslane in salads, soups, and a truly delicious pesto.

Sometimes we say, “Who knew?” about other treasures hidden in our own heritage. Maybe a fresh whiff of wisdom reveals a different side of a conundrum that has puzzled us for years, and we grasp the meaning behind someone’s behavior.

Maybe even our OWN behavior . . . life’s journey finally exposes a facet that we’ve missed until now. In the past couple of years, for example, my husband has discovered amazing sights, simply by taking the time to look  up.

 

IMG_9379Until Now might make a good title for a novel some day … Kate, the heroine of With Each New Dawn, experiences many until now moments. Maybe that’s because as an orphan, she entertains so many questions about her past.

What a positive thought–the more questions we have, the more opportunities for new discoveries. May the rest of your summer send some your way! (Just found a purslane plant with bright yellow blossoms!)

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THE COPPER BOX

Today, we welcome debut author, Suzanne Bratcher, whom I met a few winters ago in Arizona. I’ve visited Jerome, the setting for her mystery, and even read a bit of the story early on. Suzanne is offering a free print copy of her novel to one fortunate commenter. Enjoy! 

Suzanne, I’d like to know how the plot idea came to you, and if you saw the ending from the start, or if the story evolved as you wrote. 

The plot grew out of the setting. Jerome, Arizona advertizes itself as “the largest ghost town in America” and “the billion dollar copper camp.” From my many visits to Jerome, I knew it would be the perfect place for a mystery, particularly a mystery with a connection to the past. I wanted to use the copper connection, which is so apparent in Jerome, so a copper box became the object someone was willing to kill for. I think of mystery writing as telling a story upside down and backwards. To do that I have to know the ending before I start writing.

Tell us how the setting influenced the characters of your novel. 

Because Jerome is a ghost town, I imagined characters who had come to Jerome to face ghosts from their own past. Marty Greenlaw’s ghost was a four-year-old girl with golden hair who appeared in a recurring nightmare, a child who turned out to be Marty’s little sister who died twenty-two years before. Paul Russell’s ghost was his dead wife Linda, killed in a car wreck Paul blamed himself for. He was in Jerome for the summer doing his best to fulfill Linda’s dream of rebuilding an old house across the road from Marty’s grandmother’s house.

 

Your title and cover certainly attract the reader – please explain how they came to be. 

I wanted a title that would make a reader wonder what the book was about. Boxes always make me curious because I wonder what might be in them. The cover was designed by Diane Cretsinger Turpin of Mantle Rock Publishers. Diane read a synopsis of the book and then asked me about covers I liked on books I’d read. I sent her several, and she went to work. She sent me three or four ideas, and I picked the concept of the young woman and the copper mine. This cover is what she came up with. I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

Do you have another book in the works? Tell us how it compares to The Copper Box

I’m finishing a romantic suspense novel called Guardians of the Canyon. I started it while my agent, Jim Hart, was looking for the right publisher for The Copper Box. Guardians is set in Arizona, and the two main characters are a woman and a man who fall in love, but the plot isn’t a mystery; it’s suspense. I’m also starting to consider possibilities for a sequel to The Copper Box. Jerome is a perfect setting for a series of mysteries, and Marty and Paul make a good team.

Any advice you’d give fledgling authors, and lessons you’ve learned along the way that might help others avoid pitfalls? 

Read, read, read! Find contemporary books you wish you’d written and study how the writer put the story together. When an agent or an editor makes suggestions about your writing, don’t get defensive. Listen and take it to heart. The published version of The Copper Box is very different—and much better—then my first vision of the story. The dual point of view, the starting point, and even the genre all grew out of comments I first took as criticism. But the more I thought about each comment, the more I saw new possibilities for the story.

Thanks so much for being my guest, and congratulations on your DEBUT AUTHOR DAY!!!  

Thanks for having me. I’d like to let your readers know of an early order incentive I’m offering. Anyone who orders the paper copy of The Copper Box by June 12 and sends a copy of the receipt to suzannebratcher@gmail.com will receive the free feature article, “The Story Behind the Story.” It tells about my personal connection to Jerome and goes into more detail about how The Copper Box came to be written.

An Unlikely Romance Author

Welcome to Janell Wojtowicz, with her debut novel, Embracing Hope. If you’d like to qualify to win an e-book copy, please leave a comment below. 

Embracing_Hope_CoverHow did you chose your genre, Janell?

If someone had told me thirty, twenty, even ten years ago that I would publish a Christian romance novel, I’d have guffawed and rolled my eyes. Puleeease! I’m a serious writer! I’ve reported on the Iowa caucuses, covered a murder in a small town, written fund-raising letters telling true stores of tragedy and triumph, and pitched centennial celebrations to national media.

No way would I write sappy love stories where there are always happy endings—usually with a handsome man on one knee holding a diamond in a little black velvet box—or better yet, a beautiful bride in a princess ball gown floating down the aisle to that handsome man.

Well, crow should be my main course at every meal. In November 2016, my debut Christian contemporary romance novel, “Embracing Hope”, was launched to the masses. I blame it all on a BBC version of “Jane Eyre” in 2007. The night after watching the movie, I dreamt the beginning, middle and ending of what was published nine years later.

When I first started writing the novel, I was hesitant to admit it was a love story, and a few times I got snickers when I told people. After all, they knew me as a journalist/PR professional who wrote about emerald ash borer, mission trips to China, and pig (yes, pig) judging at county fairs. Then I began finding women who said they liked Christian romance. It’s a clean, uplifting genre, they said. They aren’t reluctant to leave the book lying around the house where their daughters and granddaughters might find it and ask to read it. They don’t blush at erotic images or cringe at the foul language.

I’ve learned that there are THOUSANDS of Christian romance authors out there, and it’s a popular and growing book niche with millions of readers. Dare I admit that some of those ardent readers will find my novel sweet and sappy? Probably, after all, there’s a happy wedded-after—except not on bended knee or in a ball gown. My goal is to make readers cry, so keep a tissue handy when you read it. One reviewer told me she got so involved in the plot that she felt the need to pray for the main character! Yet Christian romance has attracted a growing audience because most novels have a message beyond romance. In my case, the message is of hope and forgiveness in the aftermath of tragedy.

I’m still a little hesitant to say I’m a romance novelist. Get over it, Janell! After all, if my brother, a Baptist preacher, feels comfortable telling his congregation that his sister wrote a Christian romance—and read it himself—then I can be comfortable admitting it, too.

My name is Janell Butler Wojtowicz, and I AM a Christian romance novelist!

 Thanks so much. I can relate, because I really didn’t plan on writing fiction, either. We appreciate hearing your story, Janell. 

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Born and raised on an Iowa farm, Janell was one of those kids who loved to write the dreaded “What I did on summer vacation” essay. It’s no surprise she spent her entire 30-year career in writing. Much of it has been the “people stories” of trial, tragedy and triumph, which are reflected in her debut novel. Janell is a freelance writer/editor, and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Frank, live in New Brighton, Minnesota. She has two step-sons, a step-daughter-in-law and three step-granddaughters. “Embracing Hope” is her debut novel.

NOVEL SUMMARY

Christian college dean Drew McKinley mourns his dead wife and still wears his wedding ring.He stumbles on a desperate journey to understand God’s motives for her tragic death. Crossing his perilous path is Allison, a graduate student and new employee in the dean’s office. Even as she deals with financial hardships, she recognizes Drew’s unresolved grief from her own loss. Putting up a roadblock is Chris Whitney, the handsome but egotistical student senate president. He carries the secret burden of a dysfunctional family and a below-the-surface temper.

The road Drew must navigate is fraught with career upheaval, a reawakening heart, substance and domestic abuse, a violent assault, and the struggle for forgiveness and restoration. Will Drew finish his journey to embrace the hope God offers, the love Allison shares, and the guidance Chris needs, or will he turn his back on all three with catastrophic consequences?

You may reach Janell here:

 Buy Links for Embracing Hope

Preserving A Small Iowa Town’s Cultural Heritage

Yesterday at a book talk in Riceville, Iowa, library director Betsy Morse showed me a local artifact preserved and on display. What a heritage for this small northern Iowa town. Although we live only half an hour away, I was not aware of this tribute to an early Riceville citizen’s foresight.

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The people of Riceville own this curtain, and five more used on the Brown Opera building stage, built after a fire devastated the town in 1901.

Frank A. Brown, livery merchant and hardware owner, added the Riceville community room above his store, and townsfolk enjoyed many events here. These hand-painted stage curtains were installed at some point and the room was decorated with stencil art.

Obviously the library views this work of art with great pride, and rightly so! The carefully preserved pull-down curtains stand as a great example of a small town preserving its artistic and culture heritage.

For views of the other five curtains people enjoyed as backdrops for plays and during intermissions, see the Riceville Public Library website.

A Holiday Toast to “Old” Writers…

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We woke up to the season’s first snow this morning, transforming our grey, early-December Iowa into a wonderland. Today I’m sharing author Jane Kirkpatrick’s November post, because it holds encouragement for “old” writers. Like a fresh snow covering, we have a great deal to offer the world. May her words bless your Christmas stockings off!

Francis Bacon wrote: “Age appears to be best in four things; old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.” I present this wisdom as four “old” authors this past month have spoken to me about getting published. They have terrific story ideas, the time and energy to pursue their craft and demonstrated perseverance. What they’ve shared about finding a publisher is astonishing. At one conference, an editor said publishing older authors for the first time is just not cost effective because they “don’t know how to do social media or even what a platform is.”

Of course we know what a platform is. It’s a pair of shoes. No, really, it’s a mission statement, what one is willing to stand behind and for. We older authors have had platforms for years as young people going to war or taking stands against them; about the environment; as parents advocating for kids; as business owners and/or employees working long hours with integrity because we believe in what we’re doing and in the communities we’re doing it in. We know how to create a writing platform, one we can stand on and for, just as we know how to write a story.

More importantly, we bring life experiences to the stories we tell. We know how to create empathy for a character because we’ve shown empathy for others in order to live in community. We know how to give voice to those seldom heard because we’ve been listening for years. And we know how to memorialize, how to write about what matters not only to ourselves but as ways to reach others, most of whom are much younger than we are. Perhaps we can prevent in real life the mistakes that our characters make by telling stories constructed on our platforms.

As for social media…one of my “wise” author friends noted, “We have networks from years of working, contacts made while researching, people excited for us in retirement as we pursue another occupation, that of becoming an author.” We can get thousands of friends and “likes” and Twitter followers. She noted too that while many of us aren’t savvy about social media, we have resources to hire people to help us with the technology required of this writing world. At the very least we have 15-year-old grandkids or nieces and nephews to offer guidance. And because we read and are a part of this fascinating world, we also undertake new challenges with vigor knowing that even old rats, when given new mazes, grow new brain cells. If an old rat can learn new tricks, I can!

With my latest book This Road We Traveled about (in part) a 66-year-old woman who didn’t accept her adult children’s plan for her life and struck out on the Oregon Trail with her own wagon, I’ve become especially sensitive to the passions of age. It was what Tabitha Moffat Brown accomplished after she was 66 years old in 1846 in her adopted state of Oregon that moved the 1987 legislature to name her “The Mother of Oregon.” Many of the historical women I write about came “of age” in what we might call their “old age.”

The Psalmist wrote “The Lord knows my lot. He makes my boundaries fall on pleasant places.” Personally, I think publishers are missing the passion of a great story when they let a border like age define an otherwise very pleasant place. Bring on that old wood, aged wine and trusted friends! And yes, old authors.

Thanks so much, Jane. If you’ve yet to read any of her wonderful historical fiction, now would be a great time for a taste! 

Oh MY!

Tonight when my husband and I returned from a walk at the close of this rainy Iowa day, we were looking up at the roof for some reason, and I spotted something that looked like a bird…sort of. But bigger.

Lance is nothing if he’s not persevering. He hung out until he captured an image of the creature…I can’t believe it! We have cardinals, house wrens, hummingbirds, and of course, crows in our yard. But this…never thought I’d see the like. Not here in our yard.

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Isn’t this the cutest baby owl? I’ve never spied one before, and this one added excitement to a rather gloomy, although productive day here in the Midwest. I’m a lot like my fiction characters, I guess – it doesn’t take a whole lot to make my day.

And this experience also goes to show that you can enjoy someone else’s hobby almost as much as you enjoy your own. Barn owls have made appearances in my historical fiction, and this little one…oh yes, you can bet she (or he) will pop up somewhere in a future story.

Through Raging Waters

This week, I’m delighted to introduce Renee Blare, author of The Snowy River Chronicles. 

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Raised in Louisiana and Wyoming, Renee started writing poetry in junior high school. After having her son, a desire to attend pharmacy school sent her small family to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, and she’s been counting pills ever since. While writing’s her first love, well, after the Lord and her husband, she also likes to fish and hunt as well as pick away on her classical guitar.

Nestled in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains with her husband, crazy dogs and ornery cat, she continues to serve her community as a pharmacist while penning her Christian stories any chance she can get.

Reading some comments about Renee Blare’s novel entices me:

Raging Waters is indeed a wonderful read and I also highly recommend To Soar on Eagle’s Wings. So hurry and catch up—I’m waiting for Book Three! – DiAne Gates, Author of Roped

Once again, Renee Blare has delivered a powerful and suspenseful romantic novel. Readers and lovers of such will not be disappointed at her writing talent. – Carole Brown, Award-winning Author

Book Two of the Snowy Range Chronicles launches July 8, 2016 –  TODAY!! and propels the series upward to new heights. Suspense takes
on new meaning as the small town of Timber Springs faces the storm of the century during the peak of spring runoff. Paul Fitzgerald and Melissa Hampton must fight the battle of their lives as thunder and lightning reveal more than just rain.

If Mother Nature has her way, Timber Springs will never be the same… 

A warm spring and early rainstorms melt the snowpack. Spring runoff compounded by the storm of the century sends Timber Springs into a tailspin. 
Tossed into the role of rescuer, local pharmacist Paul Fitzgerald must face his past before the whole world falls apart. While he fights to contain the beast around him, he finds his steadfast control slipping through his fingers. And life…everyone’s life…hangs by a thread once again.

Melissa Hampton has her own demons to battle. After she learns of her mysterious beginnings amidst her mother’s keepsakes, she faces more than just the river rushing outside her door. Now, she must discern friend from foe…but as waters rise and tension climbs within Timber Springs, she needs to rise to the challenge or lose the only man she’s ever loved. 

Can two people find each other through raging waters?

Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/tE055Wyzaso

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Through-Raging-Waters-Renee-Blare-ebook/dp/B01HBSB9BM/
(shortened) http://amzn.to/28NQIF3

Renee is giving away one free kindle copy of her novel to a commenter.

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Renee loves to interact with readers and invites you check out her website, blog, and social media.

Website: http://www.reneeblare.com/
Blog: http://reneeblare.blogspot.com/
Group Blog: http://diamondsinfiction.blogspot.com/

Good morning, sunshine!

A quiet Sunday morning, but after a great rain last night, our plants are grinning all over the porch and deck.

Geraniums garner fresh sunshine . . . the plant on the right has TWELVE blossoms right now.

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Rosemary and basil greet us . . .

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Petunias and johnny jump-ups join in.

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Yesterday the first edits for A Purpose True, the sequel to Addie’s story, arrived. A time to pay attention to details, to make things better, to brighten the world around us, and to enjoy the process.

Already, tomato blossoms promise a fruitful summer . . . what more could we ask?