The Adventure of Writing

“Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos… to celebrate a world that lies spread out around us like a bewildering and stupendous dream.”

― John Cheever

Since I’ve never thought of myself as very organized, it’s interesting to ponder writing fiction as triumphing over chaos. But for any of us who has  attempted to control circumstances and people, it makes perfect sense to strive over what T.S. Eliot terms the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion.



Isn’t that what wrens do when they set up housekeeping in a world of predators ready to disrupt their nesting?

Ah, yes. That’s what control freaks try to manage–the inner chaos. Of course, our actions spread out to those around us, and we get the sense we’re doing well, even if everyone else is chafing at the bit.

Anyway, writing fiction helps this type of personality by giving us a whole set of characters to manage. To bring to life on the page, with all their secrets and foibles, passions and dreams.

I just read about an author hard at work on a sequel to her first novel. This past year, life has given her more than a full platter of challenges, including grief, but she’s finding joy in working with her characters.


Kind of like gardening…cooperative plants like ajuga grow just about anywhere with relish,




same for Shasta daisies–we can count on them to flourish and multiply with little care,



while others require a gentle hand, lots of water, and shade.



But the act of tending these plants nurtures us. What a gift–glorious July blossoms to delight the eye!

Much like flowers, the gift we receive in focusing on our stories nurtures us, too. What can we say but thanks?





A Wild Raccoon and Some Outstanding Hens


My husband snapped this photo during my Southwest Iowa book tour this past week. By the way, that area of our state is knock-down gorgeous! Rolling hills, serene towns, village squares, many restored turn-of-the century bulldings (like Ed and Eva’s in Greenfield- thanks again, Ken, for the tour. What an amazing building your community has to enjoy!)

Along the way, Lance sent me this photo, and when I arrived home after visiting several public libraries – Adair, Anita, Winterset, Creston, Red Oak, and La Vista in Nebraska – I asked how he ever managed to take this shot.


Turns out our little raccoon friend had gotten caught in a trap, so Lance spoke with our local policeman. Hopefully, they were able to help the frightened creature. Such remarkable coloring – you’d never know by looking that this animal was held prisoner. So much we don’t notice until we get the full story, eh?

Isn’t that the way it is with people? We interact with all sorts, and since I’m an inveterate “people person,” I really enjoy meeting new folks who attend my book talks. Sometimes we strike up a friendship and continue to communicate, and often, I learn more about the person’s background.

Maybe they’re caught in a trap of sorts, like Addie was seventy-five years ago as the Pearl Harbor attack thrust the U.S. into WWII . Maybe they’re just waiting for a new friend to show up, offering fresh ideas and alternatives they’ve never considered.

My cousin Carolyn allows me to stop and collapse in her spare bedroom on these trips, and she sent me a great photo a few minutes ago. Their pet hens, each with a distinct personality, produced something they’d been waiting for this morning. A blue egg amongst the brown …pretty cool!


Carolyn and her son creatively named the hens. The blue-egg layers (Ameraucana) answer to Mamie Eisenhenner and Martha Cluckington. What’s not to love about that?


No chance either of these ladies would ever get caught in a trap, unlike the thousand hens running loose on my grandparents’ farm in Addie’s era. Nope, these hens enjoy a fenced-in home, complete with a light to encourage more egg-laying as the cold sets in.



Back to my book tour.  My gratitude goes to all the library directors who advertised my visit and continue to promote my books, and those readers who’ve told me Addie’s story intrigued them and piqued their interest in World War II history.

We often discuss rationing at these talks, and the role various foods played. In England, each person enjoyed only ONE EGG every two weeks. Certainly a good time to live down on the farm. 


Sonia Solomonson on Loving Ourselves

On this patriotic weekend, I’m excited to welcome Sonia Solomonson, Life Coach, author and former editor, on the topic of loving ourselves. If you’ve read IN TIMES LIKE THESE, my latest women’s fiction, you’ll realize how her advice applies to Addie, the heroine. Love of country comes easily for her, but loving herself presents such a difficult challenge.

Sonia gives us step-by-step guidelines. And she is offering FIVE free forty-five minute life-coaching phone sessions to the first five commenters here. Wow! When you comment, please leave your e-mail address so she can contact you.

5 Tips for Loving Yourself

Even when we see ourselves as extremely independent and self-sufficient, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we desire to be loved.

To have friends, you have to be a friend, we’ve been told.  The same is true for love: To be loved, you have to love. And it all begins with moi! Start by loving yourself.

Some people think self-love is selfish and wrong. Dominican priest and 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas believed that self-love was akin to pride—or “the beginning of all sin.” However, the Bible does tell us to love God with all our heart and soul and “love your neighbor as yourself.” That little word “as” says that I start by loving myself. Then I have the conditions inside me to love my neighbor in that same way. It all stems from God’s love for us.

Psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm said in 1956 that loving yourself is different from being arrogant or egocentric. He said rather that it means respecting yourself, knowing yourself, caring about yourself and taking responsibility for yourself. I’m with him!

I’ve heard it said that you are the one person who will be with you longer than anyone else will be—and, therefore, it’s crucial that you learn to be your own best friend.

What does it mean to love yourself?

Here are five tips:

  • Accept yourself. If you beat up on yourself a lot, stop it right now. You wouldn’t do that to your best friend, would you? So why would you think it’s OK to beat up or ridicule yourself? You are unique and precious, a true one-of-a-kind. Accept who and what you are. Love and accept all of yourself, what you see as your special gifts and also what you call your flaws. Often, these are two sides of the same coin.

For example, I’m a sensitive person, tuned in to what others are feeling. That’s a good thing—particularly in my vocation as a life coach but also in my relationships. The flip side, however, is something about which I used to be impatient with myself: I am (overly) sensitive about things others say to and about me. I’ve worked hard to tweak that. I also accept that, to some degree, one goes with the other.

  • Take good care of yourself. It means seeing your body, mind and spirit as precious gifts that need and deserve nurture and attention. It’s all too easy to take our bodies for granted and not give them sufficient rest, good food or plenty of exercise. Sometimes we take better care of our cars than we do our bodies, doing regular maintenance checks and taking care of whatever needs attention!

Let yourself feel whatever emotions arise. Are you sad?  Feel it. Perhaps there’s some loss, whether minor or major, that you simply have to stop and grieve. Are you anxious? Stop and deal with it; don’t ignore it. Do deep breathing, yoga, meditation, prayer or whatever helps you. Afraid? Look your fears in the eye and see whether you can bring them down to size by injecting some realism into them. Are things really as bad as they seem? Can you do anything about it? If not, can you let go? If you can do something, can you find a first step and start moving?

Are you happy? Celebrate that. Savor the good moments. Be grateful for them. Remember it’s OK to celebrate your achievements—both small and large. You can have your own little party. Or you can invite someone special to celebrate with you. Share your joy.

Some of us learned at a young age to stuff down emotions—sad and fearful ones or even joyful ones. If so, you may want to do some work around that so you can experience the full range of emotions.

  • Set boundaries for what behavior you will and won’t accept from others. You have a right to expect to be treated well and spoken to respectfully. You do not have to accept put-downs and abusive treatment—and you certainly don’t want to treat yourself that way either. Remember, boundaries aren’t meant to be punitive or manipulative toward others. They’re simply borders you set for yourself to know what’s OK and what isn’t for you—and what you will do if someone crosses that line.
  • Choose life. Insofar as it’s possible given what’s happening in your life, choose happiness and joy. Choose to be positive. Sometimes you simply need to reframe what’s happening and see possibility rather than a problem. When I lost my job, reframing wasn’t easy. I was hurt, angry, and scared. Only when I could begin to see possibility, however, was I able to create a new dream. Mind you, that didn’t happen overnight. First I needed to grieve the lost dream.

I hope you get the idea. There are many other ways to show yourself love.  Whatever you do, let go of the idea that self-love is selfish or decadent. Self-love is really the start of a more joyful life and deeper, more fulfilling relationships. It’s also the way we teach others how to treat us. Sonia C. Solomonson

A writer, editor and life coach, Solomonson writes daily blogs at, where you can sign up for her monthly ezine.



Past the Middle of July …

You can tell by the flowers, especially the petunias– and this summer, by one petunia in particular. It’s a pink one, gigantic, beautiful.

But summer’s at its height, leaning toward the waning side. I pick off probably fifteen faded blossoms a day, but because of the intense afternoon heat, the plant shows signs of wear. It’s getting just plain tired.


So I water it more, knowing it can’t last forever. GATHER YE ROSEBUDS WHILE YE MAY, eh?

Last week, I finished the final edits on one of my World War II novels. Yes, it seemed ready, but the stories never stop. Thankfully, I’m now hard at work on its sequel.

How was it for women of that era when they watered their plants at night, with a loved one in Europe or the Pacific? My uncle was a Ranger in Japan. When my Grandma went out to tend her flowers, did she see him in every blossom? Actually, she had another son in the infantry, too. I can’t imagine.

My debut novel will soon have its release date – can’t wait! The heroine lost a son in WWII, making her a Gold Star mother. And she loves gardening.

IMG_3719For us, this year’s spectacular lily medley was all about glory – wouldn’t you say? Now, they’ve gone by summer’s wayside.

But while they were here, they help with our questions … they cheer us through the wallows of life. And they last, in pictures, through winter’s storms.

I’d like to take each of you for a walk through our courtyard, a simple square behind the house, bordered by a garage and a fence. But this will have to do.

May the rest of your summer be filled with beauty and great photos!


WAIT FOR ME, Jo Huddleston

Our guest, Jo Huddleston, is a multi-published author of books, articles, and short stories. Her debut novels in the Caney Creek Series and her latest book, Wait for Me are sweet Southern romances. She is a member of ACFW, the Literary Hall of Fame at Lincoln Memorial University (TN), and holds a M.Ed. degree from Mississippi State University. Jo lives in the U.S. Southeast with her husband, near their two grown children and four grandchildren. Visit Jo at

WAIT FOR ME finalFollowing is an Jo’s interview with a character from her novel. Wait for Me 

I’m in Coaltown, West Virginia meeting with  Claude Capshaw.

Hello. Are you the owner of Capshaw coal mine #7?

Hey, there. Yes, I’ve owned this mine for about a year.

Mr. Capshaw, do you own other coal mines as well?

Please call me Claude. And, yes,  I’ve bought coal mines in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. This mine here in Coaltown is my latest purchase.

Do you always live in the community where your coal mine is located?

That’s right. I need to be close to the miners when I buy a new coal mine. They need see me around and come to know me as the fair, honest man that I am. My wife, Lillian, doesn’t much like it when we move to a new coal community. In fact, she doesn’t like living anywhere near a coal mine and is a little standoffish, she doesn’t mix well with the miners and their families.

Claude, do you have children? How do they like living here?

We have a beautiful daughter, Julia. I think Julia likes it okay here. Her mother gives her a hard time about spending time with the miners’ kids and forbids her to socialize, especially the boys.

Why do you think that is?

Well, my wife isn’t much like my little girl and me. Julia and I can mix with the people here. But I know it’s hard on Julia when her mother wants her to stay apart from the other kids. Julia’s a normal high school senior, she wants to have friends, and she’s torn between what she wants and what her mother demands. I try to encourage Julia all I can.

How do you do that?

There’s a boy in her class she likes—Roberto. He works after school every day in my company store. He’s a good kid. I don’t criticize Julia or tell her mother when I see them talking. Like I said, Julia needs to have her friends. She’ll be leaving in September to enroll at West Virginia University. I’m in agreement with her mother about that—it’s important that Julia get a good education.

But I think my wife’s only purpose in sending her to the university is so she will be in better social circles up there. Her mother thinks Julia needs to meet more suitable and acceptable young men than those here in the mining community. I just hope her strict rules and plans for Julia don’t backfire and cause Julia to become disobedient. My little girl is a sweet child, but she has spunk. I just hope her mother doesn’t push her too hard or too far.

JO PK full  Jo is offering a free eBook for Kindle copy of her book to one commenter on this  post.

Here is the purchase link for Wait For Me:









Purchase eBook for Kindle and print copies of Wait for Me at:

Here’s the back cover from Wait For Me.

Can Julie, an only child raised with privilege and groomed for high society, and Robby, a coal miner’s son, escape their socioeconomic backgrounds? In a  1950’s West Virginia coal mining community, can their love survive their cultural boundaries?

This is a tragically beautiful story of a simple, yet deep love between two soul mates, Robby and Julie. The American South’s rigid caste system and her mother demand that Julie marry an ambitious young man from a prominent family. Julie counters her mother’s stringent social rules with deception in order to keep Robby in her life. Can the couple break the shackles of polite society and spend their lives together? Will Julie’s mother ever accept Robby?

Characterization in a Single Title/Mainstream Romance by Liz Flaherty

You’ll enjoy Liz. Sit back and relax. 

I’m afraid, now that I said I’d do this article, that I’ve agreed under false pretenses, so let me start it with a duh-generating caveat. I have completed three single title books: a historical romance, a contemporary romance, and one that’s not hardly a romance at all. As of this writing, none of them are sold. That’s the “duh” part—you know, what makes me qualified to write this?

Well, number one, I’m a warm body with a keyboard. Number two, I LOVE characterization. Number three, even though I have enough rejections and editorial maybes under my belt to re-tree a forest, no one has ever rejected or editorially maybe-ed my characters.

It’s the easiest, laziest part of writing fiction, and doing it in single title/mainstream is just exactly like doing it in short/category except it’s…uh…even easier and lazier.

If you’re like me, your characters drive your story. Plot is incidental; it’s just what happens to those people. If you take away your characters—gosh, I hate calling them that; they’re people—the story no longer exists, because it’s not going to be the same story with others as its protagonists and secondary characters.

Oh, my goodness, have I just said something important? Well, that depends. If you write character-driven, you just said “duh.” However, if you’re a plot-driven writer, you probably said, “What is she talking about?”

Have you read any of Janet Ivanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery series, starting with One for the Money? If you have, you know Stephanie’s a smart-talking “Joizy” girl with a hilarious grandmother and a cousin for every crime. If, on the other hand, you’ve read any of Lawrence Sanders’ Archie McNally series, you know Archie’s a rich guy in his 30s who still lives at home and drives a sharp little red Mazerati.

         They’re both young, attractive, witty, and charming. They both have families whose eccentricities add humor and depth to their stories. They both solve mysteries and murders, all the while creating more mayhem for next time. Gender aside, are they interchangeable?


And that, my friends, is single-title / mainstream characterization.

Okay, we all know that we develop our people by giving them individual traits. In a category romance, our heroine may be a little clumsy, a chocoholic, or shy. Something terrible may have even happened to her, a long time ago. Our hero might be a channel surfer, or he might drive too fast, or he may suffer flashbacks of a war fought in a Third World country a long time ago. But any failings they have will be either minor ones that don’t seriously affect the story or they will be in their distant past. This is not because the author doesn’t want to deal with them but because category romances aren’t long enough.

Single title romances are, so all your people’s character traits—or flaws—can affect the story any way you want them to. And if you want that hero to be just six hours home from that war or that heroine to be just three days past the loss of a child, that’s fine, because you have room in single title to address their pain.

And that, my friends . . . oops, repeating myself, aren’t I?

And there’s another part of characterization. If a character starts out with a slightly twitching right eye or a dimple in her left cheek, make sure she keeps it or gets it fixed within the story. If he speaks in a dialect, make sure not to insert enough of it to get annoying, but don’t forget it altogether, or your readers will “hear” your first-generation Irishman speaking with Midwestern nasality. Repeat yourself—just not a lot.

Before I end this, let me add one thought that is purely subjective, speaking from strictly one reader’s point of view, that reader being me. I hate perfect characters. Just as I’m not interested in knowing any in real life, I’m not interested in reading about them, either, because there’s nothing there to identify with.

         Happy writing.


Liz Flaherty admits, only semi-apologetically, that she wrote this article a long time ago. In the time since then, those manuscripts she mentioned in the first paragraph—along with numerous others—have been sold and published. (She is unbecomingly proud of this, so don’t ask her too many questions—she’ll answer them.)

You can Google her name, or you can go to all the on-line bookstores if you’d like to read one (or nine) of her books. You can also visit her at or at where she blogs every Monday. If you ever just feel like talking, drop an email to


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Pondering, Plotting, and Present Circumstances

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” Nido Qubein, businessman and motivational speaker

Reminds me of the TV ad where a workshop facilitator tells participants they have potential, even as his wooden nose grows. No-one wants to be that poor guy learning the very opposite from what the speaker intended.

But this quote doesn’t mess with our potential. It merely says we all start in a unique place. I witness this on a writers’ loop I follow. Definitions get tossed around, interpretations vary, and once in a while, tension results. But the moderators know when to step in and keep things under control.

Often, conflicts arise from writers at various places in their journeys. Drastic changes in the publishing world wreak havoc with expectations and dreams–this can be hard to handle, and undesired emotions surface.

It’s good to recall that in writing, so much depends on ideas and timing. As Victor Hugo stated, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Of course, we all want OUR ideas to find their time, but sometimes circumstances seem bent on hindering an idea from blossoming into its potential. Consider Harper Lee’s next release, for example.

We don’t know the whole story yet, but a plethora of questions arise. Is the story closely related to To Kill A Mockingbird? Who is the hero/heroine? Bottom line, we can’t WAIT!

Most of us thought there was no way any second hero could rival Atticus Finch. Drawn into his little southern town and his kind heart, we never want to leave. He’s too wonderful, too wise, too brave.

But now we must say, “We’ll see.” Right? I mean, who can know what delights lie ahead in this second debut? (Can one have a second debut? Due to time’s passage, it certainly seems so to me.)

Where is the “start” this time? Somewhere long after the finish, or what we deemed was the finish. We thought we had it all in order, but SURPRISE! Ahhh….this would be a good topic for discussion on that loop . . . the surprises our writing brings us.

Anyway, it’s obvious this week’s post is pure conjecture, which is fun sometimes. Letting loose and pondering remind us there’s still room for philosophizing. In some cultures, this activity takes place daily, publicly. It’s a valued contribution to society.

Maybe we ought to allow our characters this leisure, as well. How long has it been since your hero or heroine fell into speculation…just plain old pondering? Oh yeah, we’re supposed to keep the plot moving. It was just an idea, but while we’re at it, what do you think Ms. Lee’s next heroine will be like?

Tracy Groot on character

Learning from Henri Nouwen and Tracy Groot

Though movie renditions of great books usually disappoint, Unbroken was an exception—Louie, the hero, exhibited many childhood flaws, yet developed the strength of character to endure inconceivable torture. Throughout his long life, he inspired many, with humility. Henri Nouwen might have written the following paragraph for him.
“When we say, ‘If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me,’ we choose the road toward darkness . . . But humility is  . . . the grateful recognition that we are precious in God’s eyes and that all we are is pure gift. To grow beyond self-rejection we must have the courage to listen to the voice calling us God’s beloved sons and daughters, and the determination always to live our lives according to this truth.” Henri Nouwen Bread for the Journey
Readers of Unbroken will also appreciate Michigan writer Tracy Groot’s novel, Flame of Resistance. The main character Brigitte opens her heart to grace as the story moves along—to the idea that she’s a worthy human being in spite of . . . well, I’ll let you discover the particulars for yourself.
We all like to see characters overcome obstacles, and the toughest often are internal, hidden from other people, but capable of destroying us. I’m so glad for this book’s imperfect and yearning heroine.
Tracy shares about the process of creating such a complicated plot with a powerful underlying theme.
“I tend to look upon a work as a whole, and for me, a moral premise can stem from multiple sources within the book–it can be one over-all premise for the whole work, or several themes with maybe one premise that can serve to represent the themes.
I don’t focus on moral premise or theme when I begin a work. When I see it later, when it comes to the surface in revision, I may then do some spit-shining to see what I can do to make it come out; but I never make a moral my guiding thread for the writing process. I let my characters play out their lives, and see what comes of it.” 
For aspiring authors, her attitude is freeing, and for readers, the result is powerful. Boy, am I glad she allowed Brigitte’s life to play out—hers is a story I won’t soon forget.
And back to Unbroken . . . if an author hadn’t decided to take on Louie’s story, we would be so much poorer. Just for fun, I’m adding a photo of an elk my husband took yesterday . . . looks like someone seeking a novel with a great character cast, eh?
So, what types of characters draw you in? How does a character take form in your imagination? And for writers, does your writing process parallel Tracy’s, or do you begin from a very solid moral premise?
More from Tracy next Monday, when we will draw a name from both weeks’ comments for a copy of her most recent book, The Sentinels of Andersonville. Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to include your contact information in your comment.