Authors are used to a certain repetitiveness to the questions we’re asked.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
“Do you put people you know in your books?”
“What is your favorite part of writing?”
Depending on the length of the conversation (and the interests of the one questioning), one question inevitably arises. “How does research work?”
I’m going to let you in on an annoying secret. That depends not only on each author but also on each book. The way I researched teachers for Ready or Not was to start asking every teacher I’d ever met if they had done any of their student teaching without working with kids under twelve. A few had. Score! When I worked on Argosy Junction, I dug through every subcultural magazine, article, and personal experience I could think of and tried to contrast the preferences from the legalism.
The Trouble with Nancy found me poring over everything I could find on the Pony Express (firsthand accounts were both easy and hard to find). Recipes from the 1860s. Maps. Even slang. That’s where I learned that women called their monthly cycles their “flowers.” I even found thinly veiled references to boys being abused along the way. I wanted to give them a voice.
I don’t often travel to places for research, but a few books need it. Deepest Roots of the Heart needed me to take that drive from the high desert of Southern California to Napa wine country and Sonoma County up near San Francisco. I needed to drive that road from Napa to Rutherford. If I hadn’t, I’d never have known that Avelino actually lived near Yountville.
A few years back, we went to Red Wing, Minnesota to visit my brother-in-law and attend his daughter’s wedding. Walking around downtown Red Wing, I knew I wanted to set a book there. In fact, my husband noticed something there that actually became the impetus for my Hartfield Mystery, Front Window.
But that wasn’t enough. I wanted a novel set there—something involving a bookstore, although I didn’t know why. That thought sparked another one. I wanted to write a whole series of books that take place in small towns across America. I didn’t know what those books would be about, but I knew I wanted to write them.
Today… I’m in Minnesota. This week my last book, Book, Chapter, & Vows, in the Independence Islands Series released. My books in that series all feature a mobile bookstore, but the book I’m researching right now, right here in historic downtown Red Wing… is a delightful bookstore set in a building I fell in love with—on 3rd Street. Right across the street from my brother-in-law’s church… where my niece was married almost a decade ago. In actuality, my bookstore is a hair salon, and instead of a ballet studio owning the top floor of the church and allowing that church to use the studio for Sunday school classrooms, it’s the other way around. I found out when my niece was visiting that the church actually does allow an exercise studio to use their classrooms during the week!
As with the first two books in the Bookstrings series, Twice Sold Tales has fabulous cover art painted by Joshua Markey. And this is my official “Cover Reveal” of Twice Sold Tales. I hope you love Harper Brevig (an actual Red Wing surname I found), Noah Lampe (another Red Wing surname), and his adorable, ballet-loving son, Benedict “Bennie” as much as I do.
You’ll find a lot of Red Wing culture in this book. From breakfast sandwiches at Hanisch’s Bakery to gifts from the Uffda Shop and more, my goal is to make locals feel like they were there for every bit of everyday moments. You’ll be treated to more special things like River Days and disc golf (my family’s personal favorite so it’s special to me!). I think I’ll even take Bennie and crew out to Lake Pepin (yes, Laura Ingalls fans… that Lake Pepin) for a picnic.
Twice Sold Tales releases this November. I hope you’re as eager for it as I am!
I saw an emu.
Actually, I saw a lot of emus growing up in the Australian bush. Out in the paddocks looking for food, wandering up to a watering hole for a drink, males guarding their chicks. I even saw an emu egg at least once.
The second largest bird in the world behind only the ostrich, emus are prevalent in the bush. They were even involved in the Great Emu War, from which, in my opinion, they emerged the victors (a story for another day).
Only once that I can remember did I have a run-in with emus when I was alone and on foot. And it happened when I was working on the station where most of Persuade Me is set.
Back then, my parents, brothers, and I were the only permanent residents on the station. Everyone else, the owner included, lived elsewhere and only came to stay when there was mustering to be done. I was the station cook, and when the mustering crew came, I was relegated to the kitchen. However, when they weren’t around, Dad would give me odd jobs to do. Things like mowing the yard, feeding weaners, milking cows, running fences, and running the waters.
On this particular day, I was given the job of going to an unused bore to take down the fence. While I’d heard of this bore before, I’d never been there myself. Dad had to give me directions just to find it, so I was already a little on edge.
The only other time I went to a water I’d never been to before, happened to be when I missed the turn and ended up getting bogged in a dry creek bed. The ute I was driving didn’t have working 4WD, so after rocking it back and forth until I figured out that wasn’t going to get me anywhere, I pulled the jack out and lifted the wheels up one at a time so I could get sticks under them. After that, I was easily able to drive the rest of the way across the creek, but then had to cross it again to return to where I was supposed to be going. I definitely got a good run-up the second time!
Once again, being all alone way out bush where I’d never been before was a little unnerving. It was quiet too, with trees all around and not another person for miles. Then out of nowhere, two emus appeared.
Walking slow, they wandered all the way over to where I was rolling up barbed wire. To play it safe, by the time they got to where I was working, I’d retreated to the ute.
Only for them to walk over there and stand by the front of the ute for what felt like forever. They certainly weren’t scared, which is not what you want to see when you’re far from home and all alone!
I did have my camera, and took a couple of photos, but other than that, I just had to wait until they moseyed off. Which took ages, but finally happened. I was able to finish rolling up the fence, and made it home in one piece, something I did with one eye on the bush in case they—or anything else—came back.
Now, if you’re wondering, no, this story didn’t make it into Persuade Me. Other stories from my time working on that station did make it into the book though. Things which seemed pretty unremarkable at the time that make for great fodder for books now.
A Moment of Peace
My daughter’s cat sits in the window of my office while my elderly pit-bull rests on the floor. The birds chirp outside my window, demanding I fill the bird feeders so they can empty it in half a day. I enjoy the sounds from the street as I sip my coffee while my Bible rests on my lap and my journal is ready for notes on what I am reading. It has taken me longer than I would like to get my morning started, but there is a level of peace that fills my office that has me asking God for “one more minute”. I have just had an enlightening time in the word and in prayer — breaking that moment is not something I am prepared to do. That is, until my darling husband rolls in on his Harley, rattling the walls with his Reinhardt pipes. The elderly pit-bull darts from my office and down the stairs to greet his daddy while the cat darts in the other direction. The quiet is broken but peace remains.
It is in that moment that I see where, in the midst of the crazy, I can still find the peace of God. I don’t need every element of life to be just right to rest in Him. I don’t have to have my life together to find peace. Just being willing to be like Samuel and say, “Here I am, Lord. What do you need from me?” is all He needs from me. Sometimes it is just the reminder to take a breath and let Him have the situation. Other times, I need to be still so that a story can reveal itself. Whatever it is, there is something beautiful about resting in the peace that only God offers.
So how does this pertain to writing and fiction?
I’ve said it several times that fiction is just a reflection of our lives and I’ve even shared examples in the past of how I’ve used real life situations in my books. The same can and should be said for our faith journeys. When you read the words of your favorite Christian fiction authors, I feel like it is safe to say that you are getting a glimpse of their faith journey. Well, at least that is the case for me.
As I learn and grow in my Christian walk, I know there are others who could benefit from the lessons I’ve learned. There isn’t a single story that I’ve penned that hours of prayer didn’t provide the writing of the words. Some of the questions I contemplate are things like what biblical teaching needed to be addressed or what does this character need to learn about God and his goodness.
In the first series I wrote, forgiveness was the key lesson. I shared how difficult it can be to forgive someone who hurt others deeply and how God can use that act to heal and restore lives and relationships. Though the series has “happily-ever-afters”, the journey to that end is grueling and painful at times. Especially when the other party doesn’t “deserve” forgiveness. Let me just say, it’s a biblical command, your sanity requires it, and it will be a daily act that you have to walk in sometimes. I am dealing with this very journey now for a new situation in my family’s life. It isn’t fun but I cannot guide others in my family to walk in forgiveness if I am not doing it as well.
You know what comes from that forgiveness though?
So, let me encourage you, dear reader, in two things. One, look for the little faith lessons in the Christian fiction you read. You might be surprised at what you find. And two, be willing to sit in the peace of God even though your world is chaotic right now. It is there that you will find contentment and understanding and maybe even hear that still, small voice.
Mountain Brook Ink (Featuring Tim Pietz)
Thoughts from a Reluctant Romance Reader
Romance isn’t my genre.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, considering my demographic: I’m a male in my mid-twenties. I like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Brandon Sanderson novels. Sure, there are romantic subplots in every genre, and often I enjoy the emotional depth that brings to the story, but I don’t pick up a book to read it because of the romance.
However, after beginning a career in publishing, I couldn’t really avoid romance novels. By now, I’ve proofread and edited multiple Christian romance novels. Sometimes, they were well-written, even enjoyable. But often, they weren’t especially relatable.
Life is messy for young people today. Figuring out a career, often juggling multiple jobs, in order to make ends meet, all while figuring out our identity apart from our family we grew up in and trying to find someone to start a new family with . . . it’s complicated.
In contrast, romance novels often feel simple. Conflict sometimes feels contrived—a foolish misunderstanding that could have been resolved in five minutes instead snowballs and becomes the main conflict of the book. Even if a conflict is deeper, it often feels like the relationship was only missing one piece to its puzzle, and once that piece is found, the story ends happily ever after.
Still, I’ve come to realize, maybe that’s okay. Maybe keeping the story simple also makes it focused, so readers can have all their questions answered and be satisfied and smiling at the end. Maybe stupid misunderstandings do happen in real life, and a story that explores that can inspire all of us to communicate more honestly in our relationships. Maybe a fun and heartfelt happily-ever-after story helps us unwind after a stressful day. Maybe a story that gives us what we expect is exactly what we need in our overcomplicated modern lives.
Finding Harmony is the latest romance read from two of my longtime friends, Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat, and it truly does try to find harmony between feel-good romance and real-world problems. The burden of parental expectations. The responsibilities of being the oldest sibling in a homeschool family. Conflict between generations and conflict between individuals in the church. The tension between pursuing your artistic passion and earning a reliable paycheck. All these conflicts hit close to home for my generation. They’re real and heartfelt, not just thrown in to fit the formula. But the story doesn’t end in angst. It’s sweet. It’s funny. And it will leave you a little more hopeful than when you picked it up.
Romance still isn’t my genre. But then again, it doesn’t have to be. I’ve learned to appreciate what it brings to the table, and I’m thankful for those who write it—and read it. You help make the world a more honest, kind, and hopeful place.
To learn more about Mountain Brook Ink and see our latest books, visit mountainbrookink.com.
Ellis Creek Happenings and Character Quiz
I’m excited today to share with you some fun Ellis Creek happenings, along with a character quiz.
Christian historical romance is one of my favorite genres to write. Something about spending time in “the olden days” is refreshing and provides a much-needed reprieve from this crazy world in which we live.
And yes, if you guessed that I loved watching Little House on the Prairie re-runs, you guessed correctly.
Love from Afar and Love Unforeseen both take place in Montana in the late 1800s. Ellis Creek is a charming little town where everyone knows everyone else. There are delightful characters, such as Meredith, Gabe, Tillie, Willard, Lula, Gideon, and Mollie. There are more challenging characters, such as Leopold Arkwright. And finally, there are timeless characters, such as Mr. Norman and Widow Jones.
Below is a map of the town and the key places.
Mollie, one of the secondary characters in Love Unforeseen works at her parents’ mercantile and also writes for the Ellis Creek Journal. I have a sneaking suspicion that sometime in the future she may “graduate” from being a secondary character to a main character.
Below is a recent article Mollie penned about the happenings in Ellis Creek…
Which Ellis Creek character are you? Go here for the Character Quiz and don’t forget to sign up to win a copy of Love Unforeseen.
Thank you for joining me today for a fun glimpse into the town of Ellis Creek, Montana, and its delightful characters.
This article first appeared at www.pennyzeller.wordpress.com.
Stacy T. Simmons
As I work on my third contemporary romance novel in the Briar Creek series, my thoughts drift to something sweet. The warmth of July makes me crave ice-cold treats, this one I’m sharing features sweet tangy blueberries we all have at our fingertips in our local stores and can be refrigerated before and after enjoying it. It’s a refreshing dessert.
A big “thank you,” to my sweet Mother-in-law Hilda for sharing this delicious recipe with me. It’s a family favorite, have a wonderful and happy July, y’all. I’m going to take a break from writing and do a little baking.
Hilda’s Blueberry Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 box of vanilla cake mix (if you have time to make it from scratch, a vanilla cake recipe works well)
6 cups blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tablespoon bottled lemon juice or 1/4 juice from a lemon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 c butter, softened
2-8 oz cream cheese
4 c confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Place the cake batter into two round cake pans and bake as directed. Let cool completely on cooling racks.
For the blueberry filling:
- Combine blueberries and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Cook until the blueberries soften and release their juices, about 10 minutes.
- Combine the lemon juice and cornstarch. Pour into the blueberries.
- Add cinnamon.
- Continue simmering until the juices start to thicken, about 5 minutes
- Remove from heat, as it cools, the filling will continue to thicken.
Cream cheese frosting:
- Beat cream cheese and butter until combined
- Add confectioner’s sugar and extract, continue to beat until creamy.
Assembling the cake:
- Place a layer of cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake
- Follow with a cup of the blueberry filling spread evenly.
- Put the second layer on top and continue the cream cheese and blueberry filling layer.
- The remainder goes on top of the cake and there might be enough to frost the sides, or if you like to “taste test” the frosting with your family, the sides can be uncovered.
Enjoy, this cake gets moister the next day, but it might not last long enough to find out. Please refrigerate any crumbs that are left over. : )
I had a random thought last week. Shocking, I know. Seems like most of my thoughts are random lately, but this one hit especially hard.
My niece and I were walking around the field after riding our horses, and I pointed out how the trails where the horses walk have worn the ground down. I made a comment about how years of the horses walking the same path have made an imprint, and it hit me how we as humans are capable of the same thing.
Every now and then something we say or do makes an instant impact. Other times, it might take years for a change to take place. I have a tendency to want the instant impact. The good Lord knows how thin my patience is, and He’s helping me overcome that every single day.
Walking across the field and stepping onto the trails left behind by horses that have been gone for five years gave me a swift reminder that anything can be an opportunity for impact. The books I write, the books I read, they are all part of me and in some ways they have helped me and guided me through the years.
As I work on my newest novel for the Suamalie Island series, I’m holding that knowledge in the forefront of my mind. What kind of impact do I want these characters to make?