Seasonal Changes

Back in the forties, autumn saw my heroines harvesting the last produce from their victory gardens, hauling burlap bags of potatoes and carrots to the hideaway under the windmill, drying walnuts to pick through on winter nights, and stripping dry bean and pea pods to save for next year’s seed.


With more time ahead for indoor work, perhaps some women looked forward to sewing and mending. Addie didn’t, that’s for sure. But she did enjoy knitting sweaters for the soldiers, and even tried her hand at fine stitching.

Recently, I found an amazing cache of someone’s hankies from that bygone era at a garage sale. The more I consider them, the more they overwhelm me with a sense of all the time someone spent  stitching their decorative touches.


Can you imagine the hours this required? And how about these?


So many colors … so much creativity. Picture some weary woman crafting these in her “leisure hours” after a full day of hard physical labor.


Those of us with limited stitching skills (I sew on buttons and  do hemming. Period), stand in awe. Besides fashioning these gems, the Greatest Generation women and their forebears carefully laundered and ironed these useful items, these tear catchers.

How things have changed, eh? Paper tissues catch our tears during life’s ups and downs. I’ve been going through some changes too. Yep. Because of an eye challenge, my computer time is now greatly limited – yes, I’m looking into one of those new-fangled speak-into-your-computer programs.

The past few weeks may have found me remiss with online duties, and that may continue. But stories still bounce around in my head, and the sequel to In Times LIke These will release with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas in February 2017.

Several readers have encouraged me lately with their reviews of Addie’s story – one woman commended me for not giving Addie an easy way out. I try to hard to avoid pat answers, which really don’t help struggling people much. In her words:

            I appreciated that you didn’t have easy answers for Addie’s troubles.  I tend to shy-away from Christian fiction for fear of the platitudes. I have recommended this read to a couple of my friends.

So satisfying – words from readers mean so much! For those who’d like to communicate with me, I check my e-mail address, most often. Thank you.

And thanks for your patience, and oh! I’ve shared the title of the sequel numerous times, but it’s been changed to With Each New Dawn

As fall transforms into winter, may you keep discovering new reading delights!

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:

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Scene Visits and Perseverance

Recently, I met the man who built our house, and he said during the excavation, workers found a Native American matate, or grindstone. I’d been having Abby, the heroine of a novel set here in 1870, watch for the natives–now I have evidence they were really here–nice to spend some time in the setting, as Tracy Groot shared with us last month.


In the past two years, someone already unearthed a pumice pestle, perhaps the one used with that grindstone. Pretty cool, eh?

And here are a few pottery shards found in front of our place. Our friend gathers them when she comes up here, in an area where water washes down.


I have yet to discover one, but I’m getting the idea of what to look for, and enjoy the “hunt.”

This past couple of weeks  my writing has brought a few bumps in the road: a rough critique of a would-be novel’s beginning and word from the editor of my first contracted women’s fiction novel: your file’s been corrupted. Send me another. Oops.

Well, that’s the writing life, I’m thinking. Take the downs with the ups and keep at it. Some day, you’ll hold your fiction book in your hand, just as some day, hopefully, I’ll find some pottery shards right in our front yard. Yes, this is a picture of what I  peruse in my search.


Anybody want to share how you’ve persevered in your writing life, or in anything else, for that matter? I’d love to hear your stories.

Setting and Scenarios

Our neighbor Roy, 93 and a World War II veteran, feeds the elk regularly. One of them even allows him to stroke her muzzle. What a great hobby for someone who sacrificed so much building airstrips on Pacific Islands seventy-some years ago.

IMG_1255_2Yesterday I heard him croon to an elk, “You back again? Getting a little selfish, aren’t you? You know I like to feed the deer, too.”

Roy writes his story one day at a time and the elk act it out. He just supplies the grain, or shall we say, fodder?

There’s so much novel fodder here under the Mogollon Rim. One of my novels (hopefully publishable at some point), tells the story of a young woman desperate to belong. After losing her family in freak accidents, she’ll pay any price, and does. Every day, she watches the sun climb DOWN the Rim, since it first has to peak over the other side to reach this valley.


Ah, how life twists things around! Dottie, the World War II heroine I’ve mentioned before, experiences the topsy-turvy effects of a horrendous war.

But both of these characters, and all of us, find courage and tenacity during these tough times. The question is, will our characters make changes necessary to their well-being?

Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “All change is preceded by crisis.” And for fiction writers, crisis is integral to the plot. And as Tracy Groot shared with us the past two weeks, so is the setting: feeding Arizona elk  or working at a 1947 small-town Iowa boarding house demand different mindsets. In both Dottie and Abby’s lives (and our own), character and setting meld with plot as crises arise.

I’d like to hear your favorite fiction crisis . . . Scarlet O’Hara’s dilemma, the harried chase in True Grit,  or some other difficult situation? Or share how you blend setting and scenario in your own writing.

Sara Goff won the giveaway of Tracy Groot’s The Sentinels of Andersonville–congratulations! Thanks for stopping by, and have a great, creative week!

Tracy Groot on Setting and Site Visits


Elk and javelina epitomize these rugged Ponderosa forests, the setting for one of my novels, and time spent here makes all the difference in writing.

Today, Tracy Groot shares about visiting the site of your novel.

“Site visits are very important. “The land speaks” even decades or centuries or millennia later. Visits have an orienting effect and always, always, always yield the unexpected: my visits to Andersonville for The Sentinels of Andersonville yielded impromptu interviews with the mayor, a storeowner, a museum curator. 

“Visiting a site can infuse your story with small but important details–lovely specificities that round out the tone of many scenes. Also, check out any local museums—they usually have dynamite bookstores.

“My visit to France for Flame of Resistance yielded such a wealth of information, I cannot imagine how the book would’ve turned out without it; I ate the local food in Normandy, visited multiple WWII museums, talked with elderly folk who’d been around during the war. Priceless! And fun! And we’ve learned to combine site visits with family vacations, to save money.”

Did I mention I’ve been working on a World War II series set in Southern France for a looooong time . . . maybe a visit is in order!

Last week we focused on character, so here’s a bit more from Tracy on that. (Can’t you just see character in this scrounger eating food scraps?) 


Character always informs story and plot for Tracy. “I love what British historian Arnold Toynbee said, that character results from a person’s heredity and interaction with his environment; so I research where one of my characters is from to  develop his or her story and personality. Getting to know the character and realizing how they act or react, helps to inform plot.”

What story does Tracy resonate with most?

“Each book has something that is a part of me—scenes in every one came from the gut—and it’s still a thrill and joy that these scenes actually made it to paper. It’s hard to nail down a favorite—I usually pick the one I’ve last worked on, ha ha! Maggie Bright, a story about the rescue of the British army at Dunkirk, is a current fave. It comes out in May 2015.”

Heartfelt thanks to Tracy for giving us an inside look at her vocation—perhaps readers will get a feel for the commitment she puts into each novel. And writers, she’s given us a wealth of food for thought. Feel free to comment about anything and everything. And be watching for Maggie Bright.

Please include contact information with your comment in order to vie for the prize of Tracy’s The Sentinels of Andersonville. We’ll announce the winner next week and send the copy to you posthaste.