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.


Spring’s Surprises

I was about to upload some pictures of buds leafing out, but then this weather map appeared in an e-mail.  

Snow Image

Fortuitous that our county lies right under the P in POSSIBLE, don’t you think? Since I’ve been forging into new areas in my writing, this thought fits: who knows what’s possible unless we give an idea the old one-two?

So I’m co-writing a cozy mystery with an author friend. We’re having great fun. And in the past two weeks, a WWII novella has taken shape right in the hometown of one of my other heroines. It’s a sweet romance–the kind that blossomed so profusely in the wild, crazy days of that era, and will release this summer.

So, storm or no storm, I’m plunging ahead. Hope this finds you doing the same with your passions and dreams. As they say, SEIZE THE DAY!

Going the Distance – Patty Smith-Hall

New Hope Sweethearts 2


Welcome to you, Patty, and to all of your followers! Patty’s new release, New Hope Sweetheartsis now available on Amazon.

Today, Patty shares encouragement for novel-writing … and for life.  Enjoy!


Going the Distance

This past weekend, I decided to decipher all the information on my iPod’s pedometer. It’s like a fitbit, keeping track of how many steps and how long you’ve walked over any given time period. I’m an avid walker but this is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to find out exactly how many miles I’ve walked since the middle of May. To learn I’ve walked almost 175 miles was HUGE, considering that three short years ago, I thought I’d never walk without pain again.

That spring, I had a spinal fusion on my lower back. I’m not going to go into all the details but will say that I couldn’t stand, sit or walk without indescribable pain. But I was determined to get some semblance of my life back. When I asked the surgeon what I could do to speed up my recovery, I was surprised when he told me to start walking. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage that—just the act of putting one step in front of the other had been so incredibly painful for the few years leading up to my surgery, I couldn’t imagine putting myself through that. But if it helped me get better, I’d try anything. Two days after my surgery, I made it around our cul-de-sac.


But I kept at it. Before I knew it, I graduated to the walking track at the park next door. One lap soon became two; two became four. I began carving out time to walk and guarded it because I realized the doctor was right. For the first time in years, my pain was controllable. I was feeling better.

Writing is a lot like that. You look at the possibility of churning out a 90K novel and ask yourself if it’s even possible, or life gets in the way and you only get down 100 words for the day. How are you ever going to finish your book at that pace?

It’s all about pushing ahead, building up your endurance. Realizing you can’t run a marathon on your first day. If we’re honest, every writer wonders, at one time or another, if we can finish a book. Even now, after all the books I’ve written, that fear still gets a hold of me. It’s when we don’t give up, when we push ourselves further than we thought possible that that book becomes a reality. It’s about making daily writing goals and sticking with them.

Here’s a little food for thought: One page(250 words) over 365 days equals a 90K novel for every publishing house. Two pages or 500 words equals two. Two 90K books a year just from writing two pages a day.

That novel doesn’t seem quite as impossible now, does it?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published author with Love Inspired Historical and Heartsong.  She currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She calls North Georgia her home which she shares with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts is now available on Amazon.


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 www.johuddleston.com.

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: http://tiny.cc/bhigxx




Website www.johuddleston.com

Blog http://www.johuddleston.com

Blog http://lifelinesnow.blogspot.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/joshuddleston

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1615694.Jo_Huddleston

Purchase eBook for Kindle and print copies of Wait for Me at: http://tiny.cc/xndfwx

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?

World War II Interview

Yesterday I was privileged to meet an eighty-nine year-old Swiss American. Ruth clearly remembers World War II, when she was a teenager. Eyes bright with recollection, she smiles while relating Switzerland’s “don’t mess with me” attitude. Though completely surrounded by Axis powers, Switzerland bucked the oppressors.

Being a member of the Girl Scouts back then, with girls tramping through the woods, learning primitive cooking, first-aid, and getting actively involved in the war effort, led Ruth to some prime adventures. In the process, she developed her community’s self-sufficient attitude.

Here’s a photo I took yesterday of some self-sufficient Arizona mountain flowers, but back to Switzerland. 100_0778

Having the Alps as sentinels helped, but the Nazis drew up invasion plans. However, they  never occupied Ruth’s country. Resisting them was quite a feat, especially considering all the countries they did occupy.

The Swiss immediately shored up their defenses at the beginning of the war, and all Swiss men served as soldiers from twenty to forty years of age. Ruth’s father kept his rifle handy, like the Minute Men during the Revolutionary War.

Brings to mind something American speed skater Apolo Ohno quipped:

Don’t get mad. Don’t get even. Get stronger, faster and more powerful. Fill yourself with knowledge and empathy and an indomitable spirit, because no one else can do that for you. In the end, it’s your life, your choice and your world. Give 110%, always.”

 Boy, did the Swiss ever follow this mantra—their Press openly criticized the Third Reich, often infuriating its leadership. Berlin denounced Switzerland as medieval and called its citizens renegade Germans.

Attempts by the Nazi party to effect an Anschluss, or connection between Germany and Switzerland failed due to a strong sense of national identity. The country’s belief in democracy and civil liberties stood it in good stead.

Case in point: Ruth remembers a German bookstore that sold only Mein Kampf and boasted a huge poster of Adolph Hitler at the entrance. She and her girlfriend decided to investigate (spurred by curiosity and possibly their Girl Scout exploits). The owner pushed them out and slammed the door to his regret. The Swiss home guard instantly absconded him to the authorities and closed down his so-called bookstore.

We’ll never come to the end of all the stories, and writing about these strong survivors strengthens me. Ah . . . to have lived in that time, though I would be far less bold.

But seeing the light in her eyes as she tells the tale makes me feel I was there, a silent onlooker cheering her on.


Any writers out there, has meeting with actual participants in your historical plot events instructed you? And readers, how does an author make you feel as though you yourself witnessed what just happened—on the Swiss border or elsewhere?



Donn Taylor and Lightning

UnknownPlease join me in welcoming author Donn Taylor.

Today we’ll focus on his novel Lightning on a Quiet Night. He’s graciously giving away a copy to one fortunate commenter.


Donn Taylor portraits 12/7/07

Donn, your hero Jack, who impressed me from the get-go, is a recently returned WWII vet.  How did your war experiences affect you and influence your writing?

I don’t remember too much about my return from Korea except the true bliss of being back with Mildred. She says I was on edge for several weeks, but I don’t remember that. I hadn’t driven a vehicle for over a year, so I had her drive me out onto a country road for my re-initiation. But I was ready for city traffic before the end of the day. I learned quickly that my experiences would not be understood either by civilians or by veterans of other wars, so I mostly just fitted back into their worlds and let it go at that. Mildred had brothers in WW II, so a retuning vet was nothing new to her.

Return from Vietnam was easier because we had an established family. Mildred and the children had stayed in the military community of Columbus, GA, and fortunately received none of the hate phone calls or other peaceful harassments practiced by the peaceniks. We had 30 days to sell a car and a house and ship out to Germany, so we were busy working together.

Aside from having my heroes use routines of night vision without goggles and practicing details like covering phosphorescent watch dials, I think the influence is chiefly in attitudes. “The commander is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen in his command.” That’s the rule both Mildred and I adopted for our lives, and it’s the way my heroes and heroines live. My second life rule is from aviation: “It’s what you don’t see that kills you.” Thus the quest for pertinent information is constant.

I’m reluctant to lean heavily on any of this because so many vets have seen much more and tougher combat than I have, so my role should be to remain in the shadows and give them the spotlight they deserve.

What motivated you to study Renaissance Literature? And how has that study and your teaching evolve into novel writing? Does anything specific about your teaching career lead you to write about murder and mystery?

My undergraduate major was English, so during my military decades I always planned to get a doctorate in English or history and teach. I entered grad school intending to specialize in modern American novel, but that field had moved into philosophies I could not share—not merely naturalistic, but often into nihilism and absurd-universe theories. To use Mao’s description, I was a fish “swimming in a hostile sea.” But a course in Edmund Spenser brought me into a philosophically compatible area. I became fascinated by the remarkably coherent Renaissance body of knowledge and the ways poets, dramatists, and painters expressed those ideas in their work. Those relationships eventually became my dissertation. And today’s Christian worldview, though different in scientific fact and theory, shares the kind of coherence found in the Renaissance worldview.

That has profoundly influenced my poetry. My poem “Married Love,” for instance, is structured in the Renaissance manner, trying to get in all the variations necessary to construct a veritable universe of the subject.

That study has not much affected my suspense novels, but my mysteries (published and pre-published) are affected by it and my college teaching. My mysteries are set on college campuses, and the protagonist (Preston Barclay) is a history professor with a specialty in Renaissance history of ideas. So I manage to work in a few details of his classes. From my teaching years, I also satirize the college environment, with special attention to the shibboleths of political correctness.

Nothing in my studies or teaching points toward mystery or murder. But those things happen in life and thus are good subjects for fiction. The trick is to adjust them logically into the often-quirky campus environment.

Mildred has helped with your research. Is there any resemblance between her and Lisa in Lightning?

            Mildred was always a great help. We talked extensively about my novels, and she came up with some of “my” best lines. (“Two legs, four legs, or boxes. Cargo is cargo.”) She and I did background research for Lightning in the city library in Tupelo, MS, in the state archives in Jackson, and in the MS State University library. And much of the farming information she got by phone from her farming relatives in the state. I’d never have gotten that novel written without her.

She was torn between foreign missions and marrying me. In the end, she got both. She says she became a missionary to some group or other wherever we were assigned. She wrote beautiful letters, but never felt moved to publish, made a special study and practice of prayer, and taught much about it to our family.

Lisa, in Lightning, has some of Mildred’s characteristics—her soft strength, for example. And the love attitudes of Jack and Lisa are the same as ours. There is a lot of her in the heroine Sol Agueda de Roca in The Lazarus File. The more brittle heroines of Deadly Additive and Rhapsody in Red share only her intellectual integrity and determination to settle for nothing less than the truth.

Do you follow a certain process in choosing titles or do they just “pop”?

Titles are one of my weaknesses. I came up with Deadly Additive (worked out logically from the villain’s ingredients for a new chemical weapon) and Lightning on a Quiet Night, which popped into my head way back in undergraduate days. But my writing friend Wanda Dionne named The Lazarus File and named my untitled ms Melodies for Murder, which the publisher changed to Rhapsody in Red. I name my poems according to content.

Donn says, “Lightning is just commercial fiction that partakes of several genres without remaining within the limits of any of them. I’m not a literary novelist. I’m just a commercial fiction writer who tries to inhabit the “genre-plus” region, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.”

Thank you for writing, Donn—literary fiction or not! If anyone has read Lightning On A Quiet Night, feel free to ask questions or leave a comment. And if you haven’t read Donn’s work yet, now is a great time to start. Leave your contact info with your comment to qualify for a free paperback of Lightning. (anywhere in the U.S.)

Links for purchasing Lightning: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Donn+Taylor



Thanks so much for stopping by.

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.