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.


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

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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?



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.