Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Mind Warp of Writing and Weather

My dog, Belle, coming in from the snow
Last week marked the first day of Spring—but try telling that to the foot of snow that fell here in Eastern Pennsylvania! Considering that I’m currently working on a novel that’s set in the sweltering heat of a Louisiana summer, it takes more than a little imagination to write a story set there while there’s a veritable blizzard going on just outside the window here. But it can be done, through sheer force of will, a couple of tricks, and lots of imagination.

The Fictive Dream

When reading, have you ever been so transported into a story that you’re a little startled when you come back out of it again? For just a brief second, you’re actually surprised to realize that the heroine isn’t real and right there with you, the setting doesn’t exist, and you’re not in peril or in trouble or in the midst of exchanging witty banter with someone. Instead, you’re simply…you, you’re probably in your bed, and you need to get on to sleep now or you’ll never wake up in the morning!

That trance-like state from which you’ve emerged is what’s called the “fictive dream,” and it’s a wonderful thing, for sure. It’s what makes reading so magical.

It’s also what makes writing so possible, because for an author to transport you to a whole other place, she first has to transport herself there—and then build it up, make it work, and pave the way for others to get there as well. 

I like this quote about achieving the fictive dream, from John Gardner in The Art of Fiction:

"This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer's process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find..."

When It Works

Once you get the hang of it, achieving the fictive dream as a writer is usually not all that hard to do. It just takes a quiet and comfortable space, some deep breathing, and a little mind play. As Gardner says, “…when the dream flags [the author] can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again.”

That’s how it works for me. When I settle down to get started for the day, I’ll usually pause and reflect on my story and characters, then I’ll just back up a few pages and start reading, to get into the flow.

After that, I’m off again, far away in some distant land or time, somehow actually feeling that splintery wood under my bare feet, tasting that delicious bite of peach cobbler, or smelling that gently blowing grass in that meadow as I write. 

When It Doesn’t Work

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple. For some reason, it occasionally takes a far greater effort just to get back in the flow. I wouldn’t exactly call it writer’s block, it’s more like a sensory deficit, where your mind is willing to churn along with the story, but your imagination for some reason refuses to join in.

This can happen thanks to a variety of issues, such as personal matters that are tugging at your mind, some sort of physical pain that keeps bringing you back to reality, or even just constant interruptions by the world around you. Sometimes it's as simple as a bad night’s sleep, which can wreak havoc with a writer’s ability to enter the fictive dream the next day.

For me personally, the biggest barrier I face is weather—or seasons, rather, as in when it’s summer in one world but winter in the other. This can be so confusing to my psyche, in fact, that I have to go to all sorts of lengths to overcome my actual situation and fully immerse in my imagination.

Here’s a short video I made last week when it was snowing, just to elaborate a bit on this phenomenon…

Sensing the Problem

As you can imagine, my solution to this issue involves tricking my senses. For example, if I’m writing about summer in the midst of winter, I may do one or all of the following…

• Put on some music that evokes the fictional location, such as steel drums and reggae for the Caribbean or Zydeco for Louisiana.

• Make myself a location-related snack—such as a pineapple-mango smoothie or some boiled peanuts and an RC cola—to nibble on as I work.

• Surround myself with photos of the location. 

Once I’ve done all of the above, I just try to relax and let my senses lead the way. I may go back a little further than usual with my reading, perhaps by a whole chapter or two, and then get started. Usually by the time I reach the end of the words I’ve written thus far, my fingers are ready to fly. I’m back in that magical place in my brain, the one where the real world goes away and I'm moving around in a reality all my own.

Hopefully, by achieving the writer's fictive dream on my end, I'm able to send you into the reader's fictive dream on your end. That's always the goal, anyway, to send you to  a place in your mind that actually feels more real than the world around you.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Cats, Cats, and More Cats

Drum roll please, the winner of last week’s drawing for a Cats & Quilts coloring book and a pack of Twistable Crayons is:


Congrats to Kathleen, and thanks to all who entered!

Cute As a Button
The actual drawing was yesterday, and when I notified the winner that she'd been chosen, she responded with a lovely thank-you note along with some great pics of the cats on her farm. The cats–and the kids holding them–were so cute, in fact, that I decided to share them here (with her permission, of course.)

Sooooo cozy, there's nothing like a good nap with a furry friend in your arms!

White Out

That's it for now. Enjoy the cats and the coloring, Kathleen and kids! And for everyone else, be sure to come back next week when I'll share a new video inspired by today's crazy spring snowstorm...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A CFSH Redux: How Whisper the Cat Made His Way Onto the Pages of a Novel

If you participated in the recent Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt, then you saw my post about Whisper the cat, which was hosted by Kristi Ann Hunter. Just in case you skipped the hunt and missed it, however,  I decided to repost it here today.

Even if you did participate in the hunt, don't click away just yet. First you'll want to scroll down and enter for a chance to win my new drawing, which I'm holding in honor of Whisper and his role in my next book, The Amish Quilter (coming in May.) The prize is a Cats & Quilts coloring book and a pack of Crayola Twistable Crayons.

Deadline to enter is Monday (March 19th), so don't delay. Winner will be announced on next Wednesday's blog.

Good luck!

And now for that post...


How Whisper the Cat Made His Way Onto the Pages of a Novel

Mariette Smith, cuddling with her own cat on the couch
Readers often ask if I base my characters on real people. Though the answer is no, at least for the humans in my stories, I can’t say the same for the animals.  Most are fictional, but recently an actual real-life pet made his way into The Amish Quilter, co-written with Leslie Gould, which will be coming out in May.

So how did Whisper the cat end up in our story? His owner won it as a prize at the 4th Annual Ovarian Cancer Walk held in memory of Mariette Smith, an amazing woman and dear friend who passed away in 2013. Every year since, loved ones have gathered for an annual walk in her honor, raising funds for ovarian cancer research, awareness, and support.

The flyer describing the
prize at last year’s walk
Mariette was such an enthusiastic reader of my work that my annual donations to the walk’s silent auction have always been books and/or book-related items. Last spring, the timing of the walk coincided with the writing of The Amish Quilter in such a way that I was able (with my co-author’s blessing) to offer something truly unique: the chance for one lucky person to put their actual real-life cat into our story.

To our delight (and relief), the winning feline provided plenty of fodder for the tale. The owner supplied us with pictures, videos, and a personality description that included such quirks as how Whisper won’t drink water unless it’s running from a spigot. Love it!  

Whisper, the winning feline,
enjoying his penchant for running water
For story purposes, Leslie and I decided that the cat would simply start showing up in the barn at milking time—drawn by the dripping faucet over the cows’ watering trough—and slowly make his way into the hearts of the characters. Overall, the green-eyed feline’s role in the story is minor, but his presence is a fun touch, especially the effect he has on two young family members. 

The book comes out in May, so my hope is that you’ll enjoy meeting the fictional version of this cat—and the Amish family he adopts—then. In the meantime, you can learn more about the next Ovarian Cancer Walk for Mariette here. I haven’t yet figured out what I’ll be donating this time, but as always it’s guaranteed to have something to do with books.


A PURRfect Giveaway

Click on the purple "Enter to Win" button to sign up for the drawing for an adorable Cats & Quilts coloring book along with a pack of Twistable Crayons...

Don't delay, deadline to enter is 11:59 pm ET on March 19, 2018. Winner will be announced here on next week's blog, so be sure to come back!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Christian Fiction Releases for March 2018

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Finally a Bride by Renee Andrews -- Her dreams of love haven’t worked out, but veterinarian Haley Calhoun intends to grant an orphaned boy’s wish. She’ll heal Eli’s injured puppy—while resisting his charming counselor, Gavin Thomason, at the children’s home. Still mourning the loss of his wife and baby, Gavin believes he can’t commit again. But in losing their hearts to Eli, will Haley and Gavin discover they’ve found the family they need? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Love and Roses by Sally Bayless -- Looking for a fresh start, former Manhattan lawyer Nate Redmond agrees to arrange the sale of the outdated Rose Park in small-town Missouri, not realizing it has deep sentimental value to his new neighbor, Abby Kincaid—a beautiful widow he’d like to impress. When their plans for the park clash, he learns he’s competing against the memory of her husband, a decorated war hero. With plenty of past mistakes hiding in the in the hedges, can Abby and Nate learn forgiveness and courage in time for love to grow? (Contemporary Romance from Kimberlin Belle Publishing)

Courting Her Amish Heart by Mary Davis -- In this first book of the Prodigal Daughters series, Kathleen Yoder comes home after fourteen years in the Englisher world. Practicing medicine means sacrifice—no Amish man will want a doctor for a wife. Widowed Noah Lambright offers a cottage as her new clinic, seeing how much Kathleen’s skills can help their community. But as their friendship deepens, could love and family become more than a forbidden dream? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The Amish Nanny's Sweetheart by Jan Drexler -- As nanny for her nephew, Judith Lapp is finally part of a vibrant, joyful Amish community instead of living on the outskirts looking in. But teaching her neighbors' Englischer farm worker to read Pennsylvania Dutch wasn't part of her plan. And the more time she spends with Guy Hoover, the more he sparks longings for a home and family of Judith's own. Guy figured he would never be truly accepted by his Amish employers' community - even though the Mast family treats him like a son. But Judith's steadfast caring shows him that true belonging could be within his reach...if he and Judith can reconcile their very different hopes - and hearts. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The Reluctant Groom by Kimberly Rose Johnson -- When Ray O’Brien’s world is turned upside down, Katie Fairchild wants to help, but the personal cost is high. Neither desires a marriage of convenience, but when Katie blurts the first thing that comes to her mind Ray can’t dismiss her offer of marriage. It would solve all his problems except for one thing—they aren’t in love. Can these two friends team up for the greater good and perhaps find love along the way, or are their expectations impossible? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Anna's Forgotten Fiancé by Carrie Lighte -- An accident leaves Anna Weaver with no memory of her Amish hometown’s newest arrival—her fiancé! After a whirlwind courtship, their wedding’s in six weeks…but how can she marry a man she can’t remember? Carpenter Fletcher Chupp takes her on a walk down memory lane, but there’s one thing he wants to keep hidden: a secret that might just lose him the woman he loves. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Grace Restored by Toni Shiloh -- Michelle Thomas has it all. Beautiful and successful, she’s just opened her own law firm in Freedom Lake. What more could she want? When her old flame rolls back into Freedom Lake, she’s intent on ignoring him. But how can she give the widower and his precious twin girls the cold shoulder? Still reeling from the death of his wife, Guy Pierre returns to Freedom Lake to take over as town sheriff and raise his twin daughters. Alone. Yet, life keeps throwing Michelle in his path and sparks of interest began to rise. Will old secrets tear them apart again or can they find the faith to let God’s grace restore what has been broken? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

General & Women’s Fiction:

Justice by Emily Conrad -- Jake thought he was meant to marry Brooklyn, but now she's pregnant, and he had nothing to do with it. Brooklyn can’t bring herself to name the father as she wrestles with questions about what her pregnancy means and how it will affect her relationship with Jake. If Harold Keen, the man who owns the bookstore across from Jake's coffee shop, has anything to do with it, the baby will ruin them both. (General from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel -- When her heart donor’s parents give Megan Jacobs their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. (General from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Sweet Meets by Deborah Raney -- From short stories to novellas, from contemporary to historical, all of award-winning author Deborah Raney’s short works have been gathered into one great collection for one low price. Includes the following novellas and short stories: Going Once, Special Delivery, Haiti's Song, Prairie Lessons, Finally Home, Circle of Blessings. (Women’s Fiction from Raney Day Press)

Historical Romance:

Seven Brides for Seven Texas Rangers Romance Collection by Amanda Barratt, Susan Page Davis, Vickie McDonough, Gabrielle Meyer, Lorna Seilstad, Erica Vetsch, and Kathleen Y’Barbo -- Join seven Texas Rangers on the hunt for a menacing gang, who run straight into romances with women who foil their plans for both the job and their futures. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Chance at Forever by Melissa Jagears -- In early 1900s Kansas, Mercy McClain serves on the schoolboard, determined to protect Teaville's children from the bullying she experienced as a child. When Aaron Firebrook, the classmate who bothered her more than any other, petitions the board for a teaching position, she's dead set against him getting the job. Aaron has returned to his hometown a changed man and is seeking to earn forgiveness of those he wronged. He sets out to prove to Mercy he now has the best interests of the children at heart. Will resentment and old wounds hold them back, or can Mercy and Aaron put the past behind them in time to face the unexpected threats to everything they're working for? (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

Ain't Misbehavin' by Jennifer Lamont Leo -- In Jazz Age Chicago, Dot Rodgers sells hats at Marshall Field while struggling to get her singing career off the ground. Independent and feisty, she’s the life of the party. But underneath the glitter, she doesn’t believe she’s worth the love of a good man. Small-town businessman Charlie Corrigan carries scars from the Great War. After all he’s been through, he wants nothing more than to marry and start a family. But the woman he loves is a flamboyant flapper, used to a more glamorous life than he can offer. As his fortunes climb with the stock market, it seems he’s finally going to win her love. But what happens when it all comes crashing down? (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Most Noble Heir by Susan Anne Mason -- A young man suddenly thrust into nobility is torn between the servant girl he hopes to marry and the father he’s always longed for. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

Safe Refuge by Pamela S. Meyers -- Wealthy Chicagoan, Anna Hartwell, is about to wed a man she loathes. The Great Chicago Fire erupts, postponing the wedding. After escaping to Wisconsin with her family she realizes she loves Irish immigrant, Rory Quinn, and prepares to break the wedding plans, which are still on. Then she learns a dark family secret that changes her life forever. (Historical Romance from Mantle Rock Publishing)

Husband by Arrangement by Angel Moore -- Abandoned by her secret fiancé, the mayor’s pregnant daughter marries the sheriff. Can she overcome her past and help him save the town from corruption? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Beneath a Prairie Moon by Kim Vogel Sawyer -- Abigail Brantley grew up in affluence, but when she is cast from the social registers due to her father's illegal dealings, she finds herself forced into a role she never imagined: tutoring rough Kansas ranchers in manners and morals so they can "marry up" with their mail-order brides. Mack Cleveland, whose father was swindled by a mail-order bride, wants no part of the scheme to bring Eastern women to Spiveyville, Kansas, and he's put off by the snooty airs of the "little city gal" in their midst. But as time goes by, his heart goes out to the teacher who tries so diligently to smooth the rough edges from the grooms-to-be. How can he teach her that perfection won't bring happiness? (Historical Romance from Waterbrook/Multnomah [Random House])

Romantic Suspense:

Beneath the Surface by Lynn H. Blackburn -- After a harrowing experience with an obsessed patient, oncology nurse practitioner Leigh Weston moves home to Carrington, North Carolina to leave behind her troubled past. But when someone tampers with her brakes, she fears the past has chased her into the present. Leigh reaches out for help from her high school friend and volunteer underwater investigator, Ryan Parker. But when Ryan finds the body of a wealthy businessman in Lake Porter, the investigation uncovers a possible serial killer—one with a terrifying connection to Leigh and deadly implications for them all. (Romantic Suspense from Revell - A Division of Baker Publishing)

Secret Service Setup by Jessica R. Patch -- Secret Service agent Evan Novak becomes the target of multiple hit men when someone puts a two-million-dollar bounty on his head. Is it the gunrunner he’s tracking...or a traitorous agent? Framed and wanted, Evan reluctantly accepts protection from bodyguard Jody Gallagher, his former love who lost her Agency career because of him. But then the bounty is raised to include Jody… (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Fugitive Spy by Jordyn Redwood -- A spy with amnesia—and a mission he can’t remember. When Casper English lands in her ER with amnesia, Dr. Ashley Drager learns he has a picture of her…and the same tattoo as her long-missing father. With a dangerous man after Casper, and his memories possibly holding the key to finding Ashley’s father, she secretly whisks him away from the hospital. But can she keep him alive long enough to help him regain his memories? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Monday, March 5, 2018

Scavenger Hunt Giveaways

Well, the Scavenger Hunt is now over, and a great time was had by all. Thanks to everyone who participated! The winner of my drawing for a pair of sterling silver cloisonné earrings and a signed copy of The Amish Quilter is...


Congrats, Jenny! And thanks for playing!

In case you haven't heard, the winners of the Scavenger Hunt's Grand Prizes are...

Linda V.

Doris L.

Brenda H.

You can see the list of prizes they won here.


But even if you didn't win, take heart. I love doing giveaways and almost always have at least one happening on my blog, website, or Facebook page. Right now, visit the home page of my website and look for the GIVEAWAY box, where you can enter to win a free copy of The House That Cleans Itself.


Speaking of giving things away, did you know that you can order "promo freebies" from my website? I've got all sorts of items available—postcards, bookmarks, pens, keychains, and much more—which I'm happy to provide, free of charge, to help you spread the word about my books. To order, simply visit the "Extras" page of my website, or click here to fill out a request form.

Or, if you'd just like a free list of all of my books, visit the "Books" page of my website for a downloadable booklist or click here to request the newly designed printed version, which doubles as an oversized bookmark.

I hope you'll take advantage of these offers and that you'll come back each week for new posts about reading, writing, books, and more–including other, upcoming giveaways!